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the architourist

This beige brick side-split with a hip roof and a big garage door underneath three bedrooms was a simple 1970s affair.Courtesy of manufacturer

Here is a suburban home that is much greater than the sum of its parts.

While one couldn’t call it “superurban,” as its creation didn’t cause the surrounding Etobicoke neighbourhood near Rathburn Road and The East Mall to become more city-like, how about a “superburb” home?

Once owned by Jim Tsourgiannis’s parents, the house in question was a simple 1970s affair: a beige brick side-split with a hip roof and a big garage door underneath three bedrooms; a chocolate-brown front door in the middle; and, on the one-storey portion, a long planter-box underneath a big, rather standard, picture window. The only interesting thing, really, was that this house was in a 1950s neighbourhood that had such deep lots that a new street was created in the 1970s.

With the new millennium already into its second decade, however, a different way of living was on the minds of Mr. Tsourgiannis and Teresa DeLeo when they got the keys to suburban bliss. Eight-foot ceilings? No way. Tiny bedrooms? Why put up with those? And a one-car garage? Who has that anymore?

“I think they were shocked being as old school as they are,” Mr. Tsourgiannis says of his retired parents. “I think they were stuck in the, ‘Why didn’t you just leave the old house the way it was?’ They couldn’t make sense of spending money.”

But spend money they did. Just more than $500,000. However, rather than tear the place down and start from scratch – which was becoming the norm all around them – they called architect Joey Giaimo, then with heritage superstars ERA Architects, now with his own shingle, to come and take a look. While the conversation started with the need for a second garage space for Mr. Tsourgiannis’s vintage Camaro (since sold) and a basement suite for Mr. Tsourgiannis’s parents, the conversation soon drifted towards other things, such as retaining the original home.

The family room was once an old single-car garage from the front façade.Courtesy of manufacturer

The second picture window was installed to open the family room up to even more light.Courtesy of manufacturer

“If there is a way that we can add space and still keep the feel of the place,” Mr. Tsourgiannis says. He then switches gears: “Dollar-for-dollar I think it would’ve been easier to knock the thing down.”

“Would it have been?” Mr. Giaimo asks, unconvinced.

“But we love our home, we’re very proud of it,” Ms. DeLeo says.

They have every reason to be. Not only did the family allow Mr. Giaimo to keep the home’s “qualities and characteristics intact,” they were able to show the rest of the neighbourhood that adding considerable space can be done without resorting to McMansionism. Ironically, there was still push back from some area residents and Mr. Giaimo had to fight it out at the committee of adjustment. He shakes his head at the memory, wondering how “a much more appropriate and contextual addition” didn’t fly through the process. Arguing that the family needed space for their expanding family and showing how a much bulkier addition would interfere with views and light, he eventually won.

Some neighbours, however, still can’t figure out why the home sports two front doors now.

An origami-like ceiling of multiple heights adds visual interest for those gathering around the fireplace column.Courtesy of manufacturer

In truth, the door on the new addition leads into a small foyer that then takes Mr. Tsourgiannis’s parents straight down into their suite (when they’re not in Greece). It also, the architect says, adds “dignity” to what can often be a sad backyard doorway wedged between concrete walls. Speaking of which, by removing the old single-car garage from the front façade and replacing it with a second picture window to what is now a family room, the home looks much more refined, dignified and robust. This also enabled Mr. Giaimo to remove the driveway and the semi-walled pathway to the front door, replacing these with landscaping and a wide, ceremonial pathway from the sidewalk to the wide steps. The planter box was removed and a new slot window was added to bring light into the parental suite.

And, rather than try (and likely fail) to match the original brick colour, the new addition was clad in dark brown masonry that picks up on speckles found in the old, and durable, heavy-gauge, brown Longboard aluminum siding – with very few seams – from British Columbia takes care of things from the waist up.

Inside, thanks to a network of LVL (laminated veneer lumber) beams, eight-foot ceilings are but a memory as an origami-like ceiling of multiple heights adds visual interest for those gathering around the fireplace column (which before was one-sided and backed onto a closet) or around the large dining table.

The dining room table is surrounded by the heat from the fireplace and the light from the window.Courtesy of manufacturer

In the new wing, the master bedroom isn’t huge, but rather “the right size for a bed and side tables,” says Mr. Giaimo, which gifted the couple with a larger closet and a master bathroom with a big tub to wash their two children.

The sum? A small addition, a few small moves on the original – and respected – exterior, and some big moves on the inside: Add these up and it’s a great example of what can happen in the superburbs. This, of course, makes the heritage-minded Mr. Giaimo very happy, since all of his projects work “with the existing buildings.

“Whether they’re vernacular buildings or whether they’re designated heritage, I don’t think we can design from scratch,” he finishes. “All the design really comes off the existing home and this one is a very good example of that.”

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