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Christine Lolley in their newly renovated kitchen in Toronto's Roncesvalles neighbourhood on Jan. 19.Christopher Katsarov/The Globe and Mail

Remember how long summers felt when you were little? What amounted to nine or 10 weeks, which goes by in the wink of an eye for us oldsters, well, to a 10-year-old, it feels like a year.

So imagine inserting two young kids into a 2 1/2-year house renovation. It’s no wonder Hamish Knezic, now 13, kept asking his architect parents: “Is the juice worth the squeeze?”

Christine Lolley, Hamish’s mother and co-founder of Solares Architecture Inc., laughs at the memory and the “squeeze” of living in 600 square feet with husband Tom Knezic (Solares’ other co-founder), along with Hamish and Moira (now 11). “He felt like he couldn’t get any space,” she says, “but I think they’re happy now; I think they’ve come around and they’re like, ‘Oh, actually, y’all knew what you were doing.’”

To be clear, the 600 sq. ft. part of this renovation was phase two. When Ms. Lolley and Mr. Knezic purchased the Roncesvalles area home in February, 2021, the first phase saw them living in the first and second floors of their unrenovated “old lady house” while they gutted the basement. After a whopping 10 months, when the fully soundproofed, sunny, self-contained apartment was ready, the family shoehorned themselves into it.

“It was kind of fun sometimes,” Ms. Lolley says, “and so easy to maintain; I can be putting something in the microwave and then go to brush my teeth in the morning and then run and get my socks [since] it’s all just on one level … and to clean the whole apartment would take about 45 minutes.”

While “fun” might not be the family consensus, going subterranean allowed Solares to have the first and second floors gutted, and an entirely new – although totally neighbourhood-appropriate – third storey with dormer added.

Eleven months ago, when I last visited the affable foursome (and Ginger the guinea pig), everything above our heads was in (controlled) chaos, and a cacophony of (muffled) drilling and hammering filled our eardrums. It was at that time that Mr. Knezic was able to show me the original, 120-year-old stick-frame building in the middle, and how it had been added to, front and back, over the years. The house, you see, had originally been a much smaller, wood-framed cottage pushed back on the lot and, at some point in the 1950s, a brick addition pulled the dwelling in line with its neighbours.

All of this complicated the renovation: “We were trying to figure out why is the structure so different here,” says Mr. Knezic, pointing at what is now a very clean and tidy bit of drywall over our heads, “and why is this wall so thick? We were putting this drain through, and the plumber cut a hole … and we stood back and you could see, inside the hole, a number 89 – like, the address numbers on the original [exterior] wall!”

Since Mr. Knezic donned the general contractor’s hat, there are plenty of other stories, such as the time it was threatening to rain overnight and part of the roof had been removed.

“He ripped the first quarter off and built the third floor with a roof on top of that,” explains Ms. Lolley. “So we have a quarter of the third floor and then 75 per cent of the old roof. … If you rip the whole thing off and you have a huge rain you’re screwed … so he went up at 2 a.m. with a big mop and he just stood underneath and mopped up any drips that came down.”

“The trick is getting the buckets in the right place,” Mr. Knezic says with a smile.

  • Christine Lolley poses outside of their newly renovated home in Toronto's Roncesvalles neighbourhood, on Jan. 19.Christopher Katsarov/The Globe and Mail

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Today, however, all of that is just a memory. Gathered around the generous kitchen island with red wine and homemade popcorn at hand, the calming materials and colour palette, the triple-pane windows and thickly insulated walls for pin drop-quiet (I can’t hear their basement tenant at all), and the constant exchange of air make for a wonderfully comfortable, three-storey abode for this family of four (well, six, since after Ginger died two new guinea pigs, Gavin and Finlay, moved in).

Up on the second floor, Ms. Lolley opens a door to reveal the “lungs” of the house: “This is the whole home ventilation; this runs all the time when the windows are closed … and it has completely separate ductwork to the heating system. And then these are the air-handling units that connect to the condenser outside. Every floor has its own zone [and] its own thermostat so we can change the temperature – we keep the main floor a little warmer for the guinea pigs.”

With electric condensers providing heating and cooling and an induction cooktop in the kitchen (among other things), there was no need for a gas meter, so the couple called Enbridge to have it removed, “and they were really confused,” laughs Ms. Lolley. “They [said]: ‘how are you going to heat your house? How are you going to cook your food?’ And I said, “it’s okay, we’ll muddle along.’”

Thumbing a second nose at convention, the couple placed their bedroom on the same floor as the kid’s rooms, which allowed the new third floor to become a “basement replacement” with guest bedroom/bath and family room/video game station, where Ms. Lolley recently hosted a “PA day party” for 10 13-year-old boys. Also on the third floor is the laundry room, which contains a condensing dryer and the air source heat pump hot water tank. So, as the dryer “chucks heat into the room,” explains Ms. Lolley, the heat pump “turns it into hot water.”

Despite the long squeeze, this handsome renovation/addition has added a great deal of juice to the Lolley-Knezic family routine, but they caution that it’s probably not for everyone.

“It was pretty crazy,” admits Ms. Lolley. “We give tours to potential clients because it’s a calling card, and people [say] ‘oh, you lived here while you renovated, so could we do that?’ and we say ‘no, probably not.’”

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