A stylish reno in Brockton Village
A paradigm shift is occurring: Interiors are being pulled apart, shifted and updated for modern life
Strange things are afoot in Brockton Village.
Here, where College Street takes a header into Dundas Street – which begins its transformation from east-west thoroughfare into north-south artery – and a suburban shopping mall spreads across the top border while urban railroad tracks slash the south, a paradigm shift is occurring.
Here, while the predictable exterior rhythm of working-class dormers, bay windows and porch posts on Brock, Margueretta, and St. Clarens remain undisturbed, interiors are being pulled apart, shifted and updated for modern life.
"I'm in my mid-40s now," architect Wanda Ely says. "A lot of my clients in the last five years have been people who have bought property before they had kids – bought whatever they could get – and their needs have changed because they have a couple of kids."
Ms. Ely is tucked between a basalt-tiled fireplace and a pile of throw pillows on a dining room bench she's designed for Marc Lafleur and Lindsay Page, a couple who admit that this small Brockton Village home was the only thing they could afford back in 2009.
"We thought this house was great, warts and all – and it had a lot of warts at that point," says Mr. Lafleur, who was a grad student at the time.
One big wart of their 1890 home, he laughs, was a tacked-on, shed-like addition at the rear that contained a bathroom; it was so poorly insulated that the pipes would freeze every winter and he'd "have to put police tape across the door."
Five years later and with two little ones, it was time to invest in a usable, light-filled space that made them feel good. They'd seen Ms. Ely's work at the homes of three different sets of friends (they all have kids who attend the same school) and had a general idea of what could be done.
In fact, much like the 1970s 'white-painters' who stormed east-end Cabbagetown and bent those old Victorians to their will, 21st-century folk in west-end Brockton Village, Dufferin Grove and the Junction Triangle require such similar things, one could almost write a manifesto, Ms. Ely says: "There's constantly the complaint of not enough storage when you first walk in, there's no good connection to the backyard, people want more natural light [and] often they want a place suited for entertaining that's a more open space.
"But the thing that I enjoy so much is I don't have the same plan of attack for every person, even if the space were to be exactly the same."
Mr. Lafleur adds: "One of the reasons we chose to work with Wanda was not so we could just download our vision and say, 'Do it, but because we could say, 'Help us explore, help us imagine what's possible,' and she really did that."
So, today, rather than the unimaginative crash straight into the living room after opening the front door, Ms. Ely has installed a screen of vertical wood "blades" to offer a refreshing pause. To the right, there's a bench with built-in shoe storage. As one walks toward the generous storage wall to hang up a coat or hat, the blades gradually turn to give a peek of the home's interior. Beside the living-room sectional, a reconfigured stair (to gain living room space) has a mini version of the same screen.
On the opposite wall, a small fireplace marks the spot where the dining area begins. Here, Ms. Ely has given the couple a long bench to accommodate "big meals" and celebrations, and a kitchen island with stools for breakfast and snack time. It's now a bright and sunny spot thanks to the removal of the police-taped bathroom and the addition of a glass wall with a slim-framed aluminum door by Montreal's Alumilex.
The kitchen's IKEA cabinets have been hacked and customized to the point that they look fully bespoke. And the actual bespoke piece is, perhaps, the biggest design gesture of this "to-the-studs" renovation: A lowered ceiling and pushed-out wall clad in the same basalt tile as the fireplace creates a visual wrap that not only delineates the kitchen workspace, it creates a cozy, sheltered environment for culinary action.
On the walls, jaunty walnut rectangles are storage cubbies, and another on the ceiling is a pocket for three silicone-shaded light fixtures. The island underneath is capped by a whimsical wine cubby featuring diagonal slots that match the angle of the floors – not parallel with the home's walls, floorboards have been set at 22 degrees for visual interest.
Millwork was done by Bellsmith Carpentry and Renovation, which also acted as general contractor.
And while it's all very stylish, it's also "hard-wearing" and durable, since Mr. Lafleur, an anthropologist who works in the design world, asked for materials that could take the abuse of his two young children. "I'm appreciative of good design in all its different facets," he says. "I think, by and large, our life works better [after the renovation]: There's less stuff on the ground, the kitchen is a million times better and, just generally, you like to spend time in these spaces."
Despite the $150,000 price tag for renovating the 530-square-foot main floor (plus approximately 15 per cent on top of that for architect's fees), the couple have no regrets; without Ms. Ely, "we would have had to make a million more decisions on-site," Mr. Lafleur says. In fact, Mr. Lafleur adds, he can already envision, in the distant future, spending his retirement here. In a city in which houses are often treated as social stepping stones, this is a novel concept indeed.
Then again, strange things are afoot in Brockton Village.