Roadblocks? How many ya got?
Tragedies? How’s two?
And a case of mistaken identity? Sure, throw that in.
This is the laneway house that almost didn’t happen, but for the sheer will of homeowners Nuno Ferreira and Joana Quiterio, and the bulldogged determination of architect Tom Knezic of Solares Architecture.
It all started about 12 years ago, when Mr. Ferreira’s parents built a two-car garage behind their house in Toronto’s Trinity-Bellwood neighbourhood. Luis and Fatima Ferreira had the little structure reinforced to take the weight of extra storeys so that, perhaps in the future, they could build an income property for tenants or even a small business, since that portion of their lot was zoned residential-commercial.
Four years ago, with still nothing atop that garage, Nuno Ferreira and Joana Quiterio were renting a one-bedroom, 700-square-foot condo on the Etobicoke waterfront and expecting twins. So, knowing they could never afford to purchase in downtown Toronto, what had been a casual conversation about building on top of that garage became a serious one.
“When I was a kid, my grandma was like a second mom to me, [so] if my kids could have that, it would be so good,” Mr. Ferreira says.
And then the unthinkable happened: they lost the twins.
After a period of mourning, and armed with the conviction that they would have a family some day, the thirtysomething couple began the process by visiting an architect. If nothing else, a new project would help get their minds off the tragedy. The architect, however, wasn’t kind. He discouraged them, scared them with numbers and, basically, “left a sour taste in our mouths,” Mr. Ferreira says. So the idea was shelved.
When it was dusted off a few months later, Ms. Quiterio couldn’t remember the mean old architect’s name, so she searched his address. It just so happens that Solares came up, since their office is nearby. ”So Joana e-mails Tom [Knezic], thinking that we’re actually e-mailing the other guy, and then Tom e-mails us back, excited, [writing] ‘This is right up my alley.’”
“The biggest luck; a total fluke,” Ms. Quiterio says with a sparkle in her eye.
And then the roadblocks started popping up. Since the garage was zoned residential/commercial, it didn’t fall under Toronto’s then-new laneway suites pilot project. Which meant fees. Lots and lots of fees, like $70,000 here and $20,000 there, to the point where their budget was almost eaten up. “At least three or four times, we thought the project was dead,” Mr. Ferreira says.
“Tom is exceptional,” Ms. Quiterio says. “Every time we got pushback [from city hall] and we were, like, ‘Ah, well, that’s probably it,’ he’d say ‘Wait, let me get back to you.’”
Add to that a charts-and-graphs presentation at the Committee of Adjustment by planner Sean Galbraith, and the project finally broke ground in July, 2020. At that point, Mr. Ferreira and Ms. Quiterio were proud parents, and, in the eight months it would take to build the handsome, black-and-silver, two-storey house, they’d welcome another bundle of joy into their lives.
And although it’s a laneway house, its width and height allowed Solares’ Melodie Coneybeare to create generous, family-friendly areas. “The great room, the main floor … this space where they can all be together, I think that was really important,” the architect says. “One of the things that we thought is awesome is that, knowing this is intergenerational, knowing that the backyard is shared between families, opening up that east wall to the backyard … is a possibility, whereas in other laneways that we’re working on, you want that sense of separation, that sense of privacy.”
The amount of light that pours into the Ferreira-Quiterio house is quite surprising. Stand on that first staircase landing and photons are penetrating from left, right, and above via a skylight. Every room, really, benefits from a big window or skylight, and the black-grey-white palette allows the few items the couple splurged on to take the spotlight, such as the thick glass stair guards in lieu of pickets, the waterfall island countertop, or the penny tile in the foyer and bathroom.
Money was saved by installing IKEA cabinetry – but building “around” it to make it look custom – and creating a faux brick wall for one living room wall and the kitchen backsplash with moulded polyurethane panels. Ductwork in the living room was left exposed rather than enclosed in a bulkhead and, in all possible places, storage cubbyholes were added.
And money is constantly being saved due to Solares’ insistence that exterior walls be superinsulated: “One of the things we love about small homes is knowing that that’s the first place to start in creating an energy efficient building,” Ms. Coneybeare says. “And then utilizing every space we can, every little inch … pretty nerdy but we find that pretty exciting.”
It helped that the builder, Laneway Custom Builds, was as fastidious as Solares, and took the time to tweak ordinary things until they looked extraordinary.
And that’s the thing about laneway houses: because they’re small, the percentage of utility must be greater than that of luxury; because the homeowner is so much closer to all of that utility, it should be beautiful. And here, it is.
The most beautiful thing, however, happens outside, when grandma appears in the window of the big house and waves at her grandchildren: “They love that they can just walk over to grandma’s,” Ms. Quiterio finishes with a smile.
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