The Danforth neighbourhood in Toronto runs from Broadview Avenue to Victoria Park Avenue. And with the exception of various infill buildings along the way – some quite strikingly modernist, such as No. 2944 with “New Era Appliances” still emblazoned on its west wall – most structures are from the late 1910s and early 1920s, since the building boom happened after the Prince Edward Viaduct opened in 1918. And although much of it was known as “Automobile Alley” due to the many auto dealerships and used car lots that lasted into the 1970s or 80s, little of those days remains.
Unless one ventures east past Victoria Park. Stretching past Pharmacy Avenue and all the way to Warden Avenue, the streetscape opens up to allow for multiple used car lots, auto garages, light industrial buildings such as Danforth Roofing Supply (there so long the phone number on the sign reads “OX-9 7127″), gas stations and even a few 1950s-era strip malls. It’s an interesting time warp.
Here, too, tucked tidily into tiny lots on narrow streets such as Sneath, Lucy, Emmott, Kenworthy and Byng avenues, are dozens and dozens of the cutest little workers cottages you’ve ever laid eyes upon.
But what to do when a baby is due and cute won’t cut it?
Such was the case for homeowners Brian Desrosiers-Tam and Lindsay Tyler. They’d been enjoying their cute-but-diminutive domicile for about five years when a bun in the oven necessitated a talk with an architect. But, like the best laid plans, life got in the way.
“Because we were debating whether to do this,” says Mr. Desrosiers-Tam as he looks around his renovated and spacious living room, “or to sell and buy a three-bedroom, two-bathroom house on the subway line; so there was a debate.”
Debate turned into decision when the couple began chatting with architects Joey Giaimo and Mitchell May about their options. Since Giaimo, the firm, specializes in heritage work, and since the cottage-in-question was already sitting a seven-minute walk from Victoria Park subway station, and, further, since it also sat on a rare double lot, it made sense to do an addition. Besides, the couple says, their requirements were simple: they wanted to free up the home’s original two bedrooms for children and add a principal bedroom for themselves, and add a second bathroom.
Oh, and that rickety old staircase too, says Ms. Tyler: “It was open, there was no railing, you could totally jump out from the stairs down into the living room, and with a second baby on the way that was maybe something to address.”
They ticked off a few more boxes than that when they got, basically, a second diminutive house.
Although attached, from the street the addition reads like another semi-detached with its own dormer window and its own charcoal-grey and dove-grey siding; the original dormer was kitted out with mint-green siding. “You have all of these colourful houses. … It’s a wonderful collage,” says Ria Al-Ameen, an associate at Giaimo who worked on the project. “So we didn’t want to do just a white house, so we actually picked up colours from the [existing] context.”
Walk up the front steps and one realizes that, with the original front door now living new life as a window, something interesting has indeed taken place. Open the new front door and it all becomes clear, as eyes flick from the generous width of the sky-lit foyer to the new, repositioned (and safe) staircase, and all the way to the backyard via big sliding doors. There is also the matter of the lovely textured and termite-tunneled wood wall beside the stair; that is what the home’s exterior wall revealed after multiple layers of shingle and InsulBrick were removed.
The family also gained some “unexpected space” says Mr. Desrosiers-Tam. While early renders of the large, ground-floor room – and it really is at ground level since Giaimo didn’t bring it up to ‘front porch level’ like the original house – showed it as a utility room with a sewing machine, it has become so much more. Here, Mr. Desrosiers-Tam, already an amateur furniture maker, is learning weaving, and there is also evidence of his other endeavours, such as quilting and fabric dyeing.
“We are crafters, Lindsay and I. … We enjoy our hobbies and it was a place to spread out,” says the 41-year-old. “I can see it changing over time. … It’s quite flexible [and] the ability for me, as a maker, is just to be able to fill in the space with stuff that I’ve made.” The space, which also contains a Murphy bed Mr. Desrosiers-Tam constructed, is also filled with parents or in-laws from time to time.
With simple finishes and such user-friendly, simple spaces, one would think that a project such as this would have been wrapped up in about a year, but, unfortunately, a merry-go-round of changing contractors caused the timeline to balloon to three. However, the budget, which started at an unrealistic $150,000 came in around $300,000. … Not bad considering the old cottage is now twice the width, as are the smiles on the faces of all involved.
“This house is still one of my favourite projects although I’ve been working on all scales,” says Ms. Al-Ameen, who has completed some large, non-residential heritage projects since emigrating from Iraq in 2010. “Working with you guys was just really amazing … and even unfinished details and thinking that they will evolve, because Brian will keep adding and changing and modifying.”
Now if only Mr. Desrosiers-Tam and his friends at Giaimo could get their hands on some of those old car dealerships, this portion of the Danforth could finally move into the 21st century.
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