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Emily and Doug bought their Allenby bungalow nearly two decades ago, thinking they might eventually renovate, possibly increasing its 1,811 square feet of living space by adding a second storey. But then they started a family and decided to wait, wanting to give their two children the run of the place without having to worry about scratched floors and nicked walls.

As the children grew, Emily, a teacher, and Doug, a software executive, periodically revisited the idea of renovating. But the advice they received just never seemed right. It took time to find the right contractor, to settle on the right cost and the right approach. And, as it often does, time altered their perspective. Perhaps “building up,” as many in the neighbourhood were doing, was not the way to go.

All photos by Andrew Snow

The children – who are now teenagers – would be off to university before too long and the couple would be left maintaining a house that was too big for the two of them. The notion of retirement was beginning to dawn and they knew that the condo lifestyle so widely touted for empty-nesters would never appeal.

So they finally decided. It would be a $400,000 renovation that would remain true to their first love, their bungalow, in essence transforming a starter home into a family home that would also serve them in retirement. This way, they would never have to move from the neighbourhood they loved. And the $200,000 they would save by not adding a second storey could go toward enjoying family time at their Bancroft, Ont., cottage and Creemore farm.

“We love our bungalow,” says Emily, sitting at the dining room table with Brendan Charters of Eurodale Developments and interior designer Monica Bussoli. “In Toronto, in general, you always think big, but we didn’t need big.

“Monica has lived in Italy,” she adds. “So when I met her I knew this was a person who could design a small space and make it seem big.” Emily describes the look she wanted as “simple elegance, with a little bit of fun.”

In Eurodale, the couple found a design-build contractor who understood their desire to create a fresh modern interior within the shell of their existing home. “We ripped this house completely apart, so all you saw was the roof rafters, the original subfloor and the brick,” Charters says. “We essentially rebuilt the house from the inside.”

They insulated with high-density spray foam, bolstered some of the structural elements and added high-quality windows, as well as more dramatic siding and trim. Inside, they transformed the front of the 970-square-foot main floor from a 1930s-style space of many walls and little rooms to a modern open-concept design great for family life and entertaining. They gave the space a unified look by using wide-plank engineered hardwood oak flooring throughout.

While the kitchen, dining room and living room now flow, there is also a sense of delineation. A counter between the dining room and kitchen defines the space and creates extra seating. The sense of boundary is further enhanced by a cleverly designed wall-to-ceiling structure clad in walnut veneer with the refrigerator on one side and a pantry on the other, perfectly placed to hide the stove.

The kitchen counters and backsplash were done in organic white caesarstone, which blends effortlessly with the white lacquer cabinets. “Because it’s a small space, you don’t want too many competing materials,” Bussoli explains.

While it was hard for Emily to lose the charming stained-glass windows and wood wainscotting that she had grown so fond of, in the end she knew they had to go. The living room fireplace was retained but reclad in stone. Something she would not give up, however, was a sofa and two chairs that once belonged to Doug’s grandparents. While Bussoli would have preferred smaller-scale furniture for the living room, Emily’s desire to honour the past won out. The heirlooms will be updated by lacquering the carved wood trim (in white, Bussoli hopes) and reupholstering with modern Italian fabric.

The bathroom, down what is left the original hallway, is as bright and white as the kitchen and likewise wastes no space. It retains its radiator, another survivor from the past. Emily prefers radiators to forced air and sticking with them meant no need to add ductwork that would have taken up space.

Down the hall is the master bedroom and her daughter’s room. The daughter’s room, which is only nine by nine feet, has been made to feel larger than it is by adding sliding-glass doors that open onto a deck and and a welcoming backyard shaded by a towering maple. Wall-to-ceiling wardrobes and creative shelving have been carefully chosen to provide storage and display capacity while maximizing the sense of space.

The stairwell leading down to the walkout basement was reconfigured to add more headroom and the downstairs living space was increased by 209 square feet to 1,041 by recapturing the built-in the garage. Losing the garage opened up the family room, which proudly displays a much-loved upright piano that , which will also survive the push to modernity. The family now parks on a double pad at the front of the house.

On this floor, a small but craftily designed bedroom hideaway provides a perfect space for the young man of the house. There is also a large bathroom, a laundry room and extra storage space.

Then there’s the mechanical room, a hidden niche usually glossed over in walk-throughs of a renovation. But Emily is keen to show off her space-saving, super-efficient tankless water heater that fires the radiators and supplies on-demand hot water.

“It was a neat thing to be able to grow the house without really growing the house,” she says. “We’re happy we kept it small. Everyday I come in and I think, ‘yes, it was good to have the courage to keep it small.’”

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