Church conversion with a steampunk aesthetic
Interior designers Powell & Bonnell highlight ecclesiastical architecture, add luxury
The listing: 40 Westmoreland Ave., Unit 11, Toronto
Asking price: $2,950,000
Monthly maintenance fees: $1,377.50
Taxes: $15,808. 00 (2017)
Agent: Jimmy Molloy of Chestnut Park Real Estate Ltd.
The back story
In the residential area around Bloor Street and Dovercourt Road in Toronto, one local landmark has long served as a symbol of the neighbourhood's ups and downs.
When the area was on the rise in the early 1900s, the architect W.A. Langton designed a house of worship on Westmoreland Avenue. Completed in 1914, the Church of St. Mary the Virgin opened its doors to the Anglican worshippers who lived in the stolid red brick houses on the surrounding streets and worked at the industrial plants springing up close to the Canadian Pacific Railway line just north of Dupont.
Over the years, new waves of Italian and Portuguese immigrants moved in and many families attended Sunday services at the neighbourhood's many churches.
By the middle of the 20th century, an exodus to the suburbs had begun and the inner city neighbourhood began to decline. When another nearby Anglican church closed its doors, the congregation was absorbed into the Westmoreland Avenue parish and the name was changed to the Church of St. Mary the Virgin and St. Cyprian.
In 1973, the City of Toronto listed the church in its inventory of designated heritage buildings.
A description of the building's heritage attributes observes that, while the church "exhibits the crenallated tower and Tudor-arched openings characteristic of Neo-Gothic designs, it is particularly noteworthy for its distinctive brickwork."
As long-time residents moved on, the area changed again as the larger houses were carved up into apartments and the seedier back alleys sheltered criminal activity. The historic church on Westmoreland was deconsecrated in 2002.
But it wasn't long before Dovercourt-Wallace Emerson was undergoing yet another renaissance as artists, chefs and musicians migrated west from more gentrified downtown neighbourhoods.
The streets north and south of Bloor were once again attracting young urban families, who found affordable real estate in the rows of detached and semi-detached brick houses.
But even amid the revitalization, the abandoned church on Westmoreland languished for years.
In 2012, Dog Day Developers purchased the historic church. The developers transformed the site into West40 – a collection of 17 residential lofts completed in 2014.
Fenwick Bonnell of the Toronto-based interior design firm of Powell & Bonnell aimed to highlight the ecclesiastical architecture that the developer had assiduously preserved, while also adding in some luxury and the practical elements that make a home livable.
"It's a little bit like putting a ship in a bottle," Mr. Bonnell says.
The team at Powell & Bonnell envisioned a steampunk aesthetic of black metal and white brick for unit 11, which was formed by merging two smaller suites.
The combined two-bedroom and four bathroom suite is now just under 3,000-square feet stacked vertically on four floors. One of the design team's first moves was to replace one of the unit's staircases with an elevator which makes it easy to whisk the groceries from the underground parking garage to the kitchen and other rooms, Mr. Bonnell says.
On the main level, residents arrive to an entry hall with dark wood concealing the closets, a powder room and a door leading to the downstairs garage. The team decided to take the material of the floors and wrap it up the walls and onto the ceiling, he explains.
The hall leads to a another dusky space that can serve as a dining room or a sumptuous place to relax beside the kitchen. The walls are lined in wood panelling and velvet curtains, while a custom-designed banquette provides the seating.
"It's a reception room – a place where you might have drinks, or you could have dinner or entertain friends," says Mr. Bonnell.
The curtains provide privacy and softness and the architecture creates the impression that the room is left over space from the church, Mr. Bonnell says.
"It's almost as if the panelling was here and the doors were punched in where they had to be," Mr. Bonnell says.
From there, a doorway leads into the kitchen, which is an expansive space with a high ceiling and white walls and cabinets. The transition from dark to light creates a feeling of compression and release, he explains.
The centre of the room is taken up by the kitchen's large island with a an induction cooktop and a seating area large enough for four. Light fixtures descending from mirrored mercury glass above the island add to the industrial aesthetic. French doors open to the private terrace, which is formed from the brick exterior walls of the former church.
A gigantic light fixture hangs above the two-storey terrace.
"It casts a really nice light in here," says Mr. Bonnell of the glow in the kitchen. "It also creates a bit of a sculptural design on the upper level. And it's reminiscent of a bell tower."
On the second level, a sitting room has a view of the impressive light fixture outside. There's also a bedroom, office and bathroom on that level.
Very often in new condominiums, Mr. Bonnell says, the walls and doors can seem thin and flimsy. To bolster the feeling of integrity and strength in the church loft, Mr. Bonnell says, the designers used deep archways, which also serve to capture the doors.
"They form these strong elements as archways through brick," he says of the openings.
On the third floor, the designers created a large master suite. There's a bedroom with views over the rooftops, a large dressing room with built-in cabinets, a laundry area and a sitting room that's open to the loft above. The ensuite bathroom has an enclosed toilet area, a stand-alone bathtub next to the large window and a built-in make-up area.
Mr. Bonnell says a light fixture and hanging sculpture in the vaulted ceiling above the bathtub creates an impression of symmetry in an asymmetrical space and also casts soft shadows at night.
In the bedroom's sitting area, the original wood beams and ceiling have been painted white. The developers had sandblasted the aged wood in a process that removed the dark patina, Mr. Bonnell says. The wood was unattractive in the bedroom area, in his opinion.
"It kind of sucked all the of the light out of the space. It was a distraction more than anything. The decision was to enjoy the architecture and paint it all."
The cleaning also pulled out the grain of the wood, he says, which actually improved the appearance of the painted surface by giving it more texture," he says.
Vintage details such as sprinklers and pipes were left in place and also cloaked in white.
Coffering was added to the ceiling to disguise a bulkhead and also to add polish.
"The ceiling is the last thing that people think to address in an interior," says Mr. Bonnell. "The ceilings have been addressed not just to conceal but to finish the architecture."
During the work on the interior, a carved angel that gazed down on parishioners in the church was damaged when her nose was broken off, says Mr. Bonnell.
"Our contractor performed rhinoplasty and gave her her nose back."
The best feature
The original architecture of the church is most apparent in the top level's open loft with soaring ceilings, wood trusses and original arched windows openings.
Powell and Bonnell created a home gym and a sitting area next to the windows. There's a powder room so residents don't have to interrupt a workout to run down to another level. The open area overlooks the sitting room in the master suite below.
For future residents who don't fancy working out in a home gym, Mr. Bonnell says the area could also be transformed into a studio, a home office or an expansive sleeping area.