Inside Riverdale's laneway biodome
Plants, birds thrive in quirky former auto repair shop
Listing: 885 Logan Ave., Toronto
Asking price: $2,500,000
Lot size: 44.9- by 107-feet
Taxes: $11,400 (2017)
Listing agent: Pasqua Amati, Real Estate Broker, Re/Max Hallmark Realty Ltd.
For nearly 100 years, the long, rectangular brick building at the juncture of two laneways in Toronto's east end has been home to many different things: broken cars, paint, radio equipment, sugar. But today, it houses two zebra finches.
The colourful little birds belong to Peter Cowan, who, 19 years ago, took the warehouse off of Logan Avenue, just south of Danforth Avenue, and turned it into what broker Pasqua Amati calls "a warehouse oasis."
"The birds have been offered to fly away, with the doors open," Ms. Amati said. "But they get there and they turn around and come back. But why would they ever leave here?"
The back story
To understand 885 Logan Ave., you need a sense of its distinct layout, which is a challenging task to describe even for Ms. Amati..
"I was starting to write up this space in the very few characters I get on MLS [the listing service], and I thought 'How do I encapsulate this?'" she said. "I don't even know how to measure it."
The entrance is off the north side, accessed by a narrow laneway that runs east-west off of Logan and Carlaw Avenues. The east side of the building abuts a second laneway that runs north-south.
Once inside, there's access to the attached, two-car garage off to the left and just steps pass that, you enter the main space which runs the full width of the building, which maxes out at nearly 50 feet.
In the main space, there's a staircase at the north end with a waterfall feature built into, a living room area to the east, a kitchen tucked into the southwest end with a dining space off of it and a giant geometric planter built into the floor with multiple small trees and plants, which Ms. Amati describes as an "indoor forest."
To feed the greenery – and help heat the massive space – is an oversized L-shaped skylight made out of polycarbonate, which she estimates takes up one third of the entire ceiling.
"When it's minus-20 [C] and the sun is out, the house is completely heated," Mr. Cowan said.
Sleeping quarters are at the southern end of the first floor (with a walk-through closet accessing the full bathroom) and on the second floor, which also provides access to rooftop deck.
Before it was Mr. Cowan's home, the building's history started in 1919 after the land was purchased by Olive and Frederick Reid and turned into an auto repair shop. The full history has been documented by local historian, Robin Burgoyne, who also found that one of its many owners was Toronto Alderman William Fenwick, who used it as a storage facility during the 1930s.
During she Second World War, it housed a paint manufacturer, an electrical company and at the end, a company called Beamish Sugar. After that, it was used as a storage facility for different companies until Mr. Cowan came across the for-sale sign in 1999.
"I thought, 'wow, what a great building. It's going to be well over a million dollars. I surely can't afford it,'" he recalled.
But curiosity got the better of him and he phoned anyway and found out it was only $450,000. So he and his partner, Stephanie, started the long process of converting the building from its commercial state to a residential home. The first step was getting many permits, which took over three years, and facing his neighbours who were a divided group.
"It boiled down to yeses and nos," Mr. Cowan said, adding that about 22 people showed up to the first city meeting to express their opposition. "I think people thought of it as a long-standing icon of the neighbourhood and I was going to alter it."
In the end, Mr. Cowan got what he needed and construction began in 2003. It wasn't until 2005, though, that he and Stephanie were able to move it.
"A lot of people thought I was crazy when I was doing this," he said. "'Why do you want such a big space? Make it cozy with little rooms.' But that's not my style."
Over the years, Ms. Amati said that Mr. Cowan has been approached by many agents and private citizens who have been interested in purchasing the property, but he wasn't ready to sell. Now that he is, she has had to figure out how to price the one-of-a-kind home.
"I couldn't go by square foot [for pricing]," Ms. Amati said. "Although, I did try to find anything else that was a loft or a warehouse. But it would be a lot more than $2.5-million if it was 5,000 square feet."
"This is property is a rare bird," she added.
One of the most surprising features of the property is how Mr. Cowan blended the outside world inside his warehouse home. For example, the "forest" – some of the trees have grown 3.5 metres tall at times – rises right out of the concrete floor.
The waterfall and pool at the base of the stairs is another feature that highlights this juxtaposition. The idea to incorporate it into his house came after he and Stephanie went on a trip to Barbados.
"We went to a restaurant with a lovely little pool and a waterfall," Mr. Cowan said. "As soon as I saw it, I knew it was exactly what I would do."
The other feature that helps connect the home to the outdoors is the sunlight that pours in through the skylight.
"It evokes an openness to the elements," Ms. Amati said. "There is a 'centredness' about this space thanks to all of the sunlight. It feels spiritual somehow."
While Mr. Cowan is feeling sad about leaving, he is excited to see how the next owners transform the house and is thankful for having the chance to add his chapter to the history of 885 Logan Ave.
"It's no fun getting older, but if you can get older and have a good swing at life, what more can you ask for?" he said. "I had a chance to do what I liked to do [with this home]. And I'm lucky that I got to live it."