Mary Abbott grew up outside of Guelph in an old farmhouse so secluded that her parents didn’t bother with curtains. “The land around us was made up of fields and forests,” she says. “It was extremely private.” Abbott has since left the rural life behind. She’s a corporate lawyer, her husband, Kevin Gormely, is an executive at a printing company, and they live in the middle of the city with their two small boys. Still, she channeled her upbringing when they rebuilt their home last year. The property is ensconced in the tree canopy of the Moore Park ravine, so she opted for giant picture windows with no coverings. Even the master bedroom is drapery-free—Abbott and Gormely enjoy waking up with the sun. The couple, working with architect John O’Connor of Basis Design Build, also kept the interiors spare to better showcase their extensive collection of contemporary Canadian art. Spare, but not spartan: O’Connor incorporated natural materials like soapstone, birch and Douglas fir to add rustic warmth. So even though the house looks modern, the palette is as elemental as the towering trees outside.
Bunkie designed by Evan Bare, Nathan Buhler and Jorge Torres
There are many, perfectly rational, even admirable reasons why we should all eschew the quintessential, American-style dream of living in a honking big house on a honking big lot. On a basic level, larger houses are more expensive to build, buy and keep up. They also tend to be energy hogs. Then there’s the cleaning – the more rooms there are, the more dust there is to bust.
Timothy Mitanidis and Claudia Bader’s basement. Andrew Snow Photography
There’s something undeniably odious about the word basement. It unfailingly conjures up a spine-shivering image of something drafty, claustrophobic and dark. But subterranean living spaces offer an important opportunity to accommodate Canada’s shifting housing needs. They work well as in-law suites for downsizers, income rentals for empty nesters or extra sleeping quarters for families who’ve outgrown their current house but can’t afford a larger one in the country’s ever inflating real estate market. And, with the right eye for aesthetics, a basement apartment can be bright, airy and beautiful. It just takes the right lighting, wall finishes and window wells. Here, five tips from top design professionals on how to turn an underground grotto into something glorious. Continue reading →
This driveway in Don Mills, Ont., outfitted with the PG45 Paving Grid, supports the weight of a car while also sucking up excess water. (Green Innovations)
Right now is a white-knuckle time to be a homeowner. Not because of bubble worries in the condo market or fears of an interest-rate spike. Over the past few years, global warming has become undeniably more menacing. It has caused an increase in roof-wrecking, basement-flooding storms and the type of sweltering, seemingly endless heat wave that makes homes feel more like giant saunas.
In real estate, as in love, there are homes that you have a fleeting crush on, ones that you want to have a family with, and others that are just so out-of-your-league gorgeous they become the stuff of fantasies. Such is the case with 87 Highland Crescent, which I’ve loved from afar for years and which is now on the market. Am I going to be placing an offer? Given an asking price of $6.85 million, I’m afraid my feelings will have to go forever unrequited: with Canada’s maximum 25-year mortgage terms, even if I (miraculously) had a 10 per cent down payment, and borrowed the $6.2 million balance, every month I would have to give the bank about $37,000 (assuming a reasonable interest rate of 5.24 per cent per year). $37,000. A month. That’s more than my yearly take home pay. The only way I could swing that would be to invent a time machine, go back about 10 years, and tell my teenage self all about Facebook so I could scoop Mark Zuckerberg. Anyway, the house actually appeared on the market two years ago at a higher price — $7.995 million — so whichever gazillionaire buys it can sleep easy on his mountain of money knowing he got a relative deal. David Bowie is rumoured to be a fan of the home’s architecture, so maybe he’ll snag it for Iman. Sigh, below is why I love it so much.
The Place: A 5-bedroom, $675,000 Victorian in Toronto’s west end. It has 2 kitchens, so it’s either a live-in/rent-out property or the home of a food-hoarding over eater. I wonder what kind of house it would be for me: a way to boost my income, or my waist size? Actually, why not both? I could use all the rent money to buy fancy snacks, like prosciutto…and chocolate-covered prosciutto. It’s win-win-win, because then I could use the rent money to get lipo when I’m too heavy to breath. Yay.
When I’m looking for a piece of fantasy real estate, I usually don’t go for detached, suburban (albeit in a very Dwell magazine sort of way) homes that sit north of the 401 (which, for people who don’t live in Toronto, is a bit like living on the moon). But when I saw 20A Senlac Rd. on Torontolife.com today, I made that soft, sad whimpering noise that I make when I’m thinking “damn, I’m poor and I wish I weren’t.” With an asking price of $1.7 million, it would take me over 40 years to save up a 10 per cent down payment, and then the rest of eternity to pay back the mortgage. If I had kids, I would especially long to live here. True, me having little ones is as much of a stretch as ever being able to afford this house, but whatever paternal feelings I have were stirred by the ravine setting and the perfectly decked out little nursery. Sigh, here’s how I’ll never decorate the house for the kids I’ll never have.
The Place: The four bedroom prefab was designed by celebrated American architect Ray Kappe — who has, incidentally, been featured by Dwell magazine.