hello!neighbor - natalie

We're back with another year of Hello! Neighbor posts for you which I'm so excited about. This tour of Natalie Roth's house counts as number 45 which to be honest kind of boggles my mind. When I started this project I thought we would top out around 12 or 15. Over the years we've ventured a little bit out of the neighbourhood of Parkdale but the majority (80% or more) have come from this small pocket of Toronto. I'm happy to say we have a whole lost of fascinating homes and owners lined up for 2014. Let's get started with Natalie's home. Enjoy the tour!

Name: Natalie Roth


Occupation: Producer & Designer


Year Home was Built: 1900


How long have you lived in your home: 11 years

natalie_hello!neighbor-4What’s your favorite room and why? 

The living and dining room because they have south-facing bay windows which drench the place in sunlight all day long.


How did you find your home? 

I had been looking for a place for months and happened to walk by the place by fluke. My desperation pushed me to take it despite how much work it needed.


Where do you get your inspiration from? 

My travels. I've lived in Europe. Asia and the South Pacific so I've seen a broad range of unusual and inspiring spaces and different styles of living.

natalie_hello!neighbor-12How did you end up living in Parkdale?

I walked by the place one night and thought, "this place has great bones". I didn't know much about the area - I just got seduced by the 13 foot ceilings. And I could afford it.


What did your home look like when you first saw it? What work have you done on it to make it your own? 

The place was a right disaster, everything was painted mauve, there was filthy carpeting throughout the place, walls were cracked and the bathroom looked like something out a horror movie.

I was so excited - and a tad niaive- about this huge make-over project. This was in the days before all the home reno TV shows and I had little idea what I was getting into. I spent months, painting, re-doing floors, building shelves, and discovering the horrors of plaster and lath. But it was a labour of love and also a great way to learn home-reno skills.

It's still a work in progress and just last year I re-did the bathroom myself.

natalie_hello!neighbor-9What would your dream house look like? 

My dream house would definitely have a view of water. Warm turquoise waters preferably.

natalie_hello!neighbor-8What was the last thing your purchased for your home? 

Fresh flowers and fabric. I just sewed some new pillow shams and bought some tulips to drive winter away.

Thanks Natalie for inviting us into your house.

Photos by Kristin Sjaarda for The Marion House Book.

coriander girl - christmas house

Around a year ago, I was scrolling through my instagram feed when I saw a shot of Alison Westlake's house. It pictured a stone fireplace, a roaring fire and a little white bunny named Harry. Alison as many of you probably know runs Coriander Girl, the floral design studio in Parkdale. I was so captivated by her charming house (which is actually a converted church) that I emailed her right away and asked if we could set up a Hello! Neighbour post. (I actually thought I was probably too late and that another magazine or online publication would have snapped her up.) Much to my delight the house hadn't been cornered by anyone else and she was delighted to be asked. However like most people she asked me to give her a few months to get it ship -shape ready. Months passed and life happened and suddenly I was working at Chatelaine magazine. As we were planning our winter lineups I kept Alison's stone hearth in the back of my mind. I just knew it would make a perfect Christmas home. In the heat of August we hatched a plan to shoot her converted church for our December issue. We took so many wonderful shots I just have to share some of the beautiful photographs with you today.

122013_ALISONWESTLAKE_XMAS0782Names: Alison, Tyler and Harry Hogan (the bunny).

Year home was Built: 1887

122013_ALISONWESTLAKE_XMAS0884How did you find your home?

We bought our first property in Belleville because the Toronto market was impossible for us. It was an adorable 100 year old walk up on East Hill, we were treating it like a cottage, coming down from Toronto every weekend. Once we were in the real estate game, I became a bit of an MLS junkie and found the church. We walked in, and I think I gasped, “well, we’re getting it!” You’re supposed to keep your cool in front of agents, so much for that!

It was love at first sight. The expansive ceilings, the hard wood floors, giant gothic windows, I couldn’t understand why there wasn’t a bidding war but our agent explained this is considered really unconventional living.

122013_ALISONWESTLAKE_XMAS0812Why did you choose to live in the country?

Tyler is from Prince Edward County, I’m Toronto born and when my parents divorced my mom remarried and we moved to this area (Quinte West), in fact I grew up 2 roads over from the church. I’ve done the Toronto, Quinte commute since I was 4.

When I was 18, I moved to the city full time. I pursued an acting career and worked in the service industry. In my late 20’s I started to question what I really wanted from a career, it felt like I was supposed to be doing something more. I also finally learned what I needed in a relationship. I met Tyler at a café in Parkdale, he made me my morning lattes and very quickly we became inseparable. Tyler believes that he was drawn to the city to find his love and bring her home. It’s no coincidence that this love inspired my career change, taking a leap of faith and opening Coriander Girl felt a lot less scary with a man championing my every move.

122013_ALISONWESTLAKE_XMAS0523What have you done to the church to make it your own?

The church had a few cheap modernizations that we promptly tore out. We loved the kitchen and didn’t have to do much but upgrade the counters, tile the backsplash and change out the cabinet hardware. There was already an addition on the back for bedrooms and that just needed a good paint job. We had to upgrade the windows, we still have the old ones and dream of restoring them one day but for now we just need to keep warm in here as we heat with wood only. The entire church was painted from floor to ceiling. (imagine Penny(Tyler’s mom) dangling 25 feet up cutting in!) New baseboards and door trim throughout and a chairrail was added for extra charm. The lights were swapped out for the classic schoolhouse style. The biggest job was probably changing the front doors on the church. It used to snow inside, we’d wake up to snow drifts in the foyer. My dad being a general contractor/craftsman was the only person for this job. The church was begging for old doors and we searched for months to find the right ones. These European ones with their arch top and original flower etching could not have been more perfect.



What is your favourite moment/room?

We talked about this and our favorite moment at the church remains the night we found Dance Mix 97, we had a great bottle of red wine on the go and literally danced all over the place. I imagine our neighbors got a good show if they happened to walk by!

122013_ALISONWESTLAKE_XMAS0692 How do you make the commute work?

We long for a time when we’ll get to be here together full time. I’m in the city 3 days a week and Tyler works in Prince Edward County so it’s not ideal but we always have 3 days off together every week and that’s pretty unique.  We’re absolutely in love with our home and so the next move would probably be out of necessity like expanding the family and needing more space although we could build a loft here and add another bedroom.

122013_ALISONWESTLAKE_XMAS0653 What's your holiday decorating style?

As you can see our holiday style is really subtle, almost Scandanavian with minimal less traditional color. Much like at Coriander Girl, we decorate so it feels festive but easy on the eyes.

I’m all about keeping it simple or I won’t do it because the shop is all consuming over the holidays. We lay fresh bows everywhere. I make simple fresh door swags, small and large and you can put them everywhere for an instant holiday look.  My joke is, “put a swag on it!” If you watch Portlandia you might get that reference.

122013_ALISONWESTLAKE_XMAS0752 What is your favourite holiday greenery?

My favorite has to be cedar, the smell is unmatched.

DSC_1363Do you have any holiday traditions?

Our marriage is still so young, I think we’re still finding our traditions. But family is key, seeing as much of each other’s families as we can. And what’s so cool is that are families actually adore each other so we can all get together for one incredible shin dig.

DSC_1428Many thanks to Alison and Tyler for sharing their home with us this holiday season. Check out the December issue of Chatelaine to see more photos.

All photos by Sian Richards.

hello!neighbor - kester & grace

First off, how cool are the names Kester and Grace. I think there's a restaurant name in there if not a very hip bar. By the sight of their home this fictional establishment would be a very interesting place. My takeaway moments from this home are the living wall planter in the kitchen (I want to know where you found this piece and how easy it is to keep fresh and green) and the lovely Spanish looking tiles in the bathroom. Enjoy the tour!

Names: Grace Portelli, Kester Birch


Occupations:Project Manager, Retail environments/fixtures (Grace) - Food Stylist, Television and Print (Kester)

kester62Kids, pets? Grace has one 18yr. old daughter Tatiana who has started her first year at Waterloo; Bio-medical Engineering. We also have a 6-month son named Owen who is concentrating on mobility and solid food.


Year Home was Built (if you know)  1905

kester6How long have you lived in your home?

Owned it for 8 years, lived in it for about 6 years.


What’s your favorite room and why?

Grace: This is a tough question, I'd have to say my favourite room is the back room because it's quiet and sunny and relaxing. It's like a little oasis because of the living wall and all the trees in the back yard and the cedar garage

Kester: My favourite room would be the open concept main floor.  The quiet backroom, kitchen (coffee machine and bar) and sitting areas all flow together yet give us enough privacy and enable us to be very active – we spend most of our day and evenings here.


How did you find your home?

Grace: I had been looking for almost a year.  I had gone on a trip to Australia with my daughter and father at the time and realized that all my cousins at similar ages to me already had homes and families and were quite entrepreneurial which gave me a little kick in the butt to get things moving on my end.  I had also just turned 30 which made me think, "ok I'm not a kid anymore, I need to up the ante.", so I started looking for a home. It took about 10 months for me to find something that was in my price range, that would work for both myself and my daughter and that I could derive some rental income from to help make ends meet.

Kester: Grace had this property as a duplex. I had a loft in the east end that I sold which enabled us to do a top to bottom reno.

kester68Where do you get your inspiration from?

Grace:  A lot of design and home magazines, Living etc, Azure, Elle Decor, etc. Kester did alot of the leg work since I had a more demanding work schedule than he.  But then we'd review all items together and we made decisions excruciatingly slowly by reviewing blogs, magazines and talking to architect friends.  And spending weekends at every type of home reno store imaginable, woodshop, flooring shop, etc.  There was a year where all our weekends were spent at hardware stores... which we both grew so weary of!

Kester: Blogs and design magazines acted as the catalyst for conversation.  I had a number of friends who were designers and architects who gave much practical advise, rules of thumb and affirmed the limitations structurally and budget wise. I also studied design at OCAD and George Brown but did not complete the formal program requirements.

kester77How did you end up living in Parkdale?

I always lived in the west end, growing up in The Junction, Bloor West and Kingsway and I loved being in the West End but I didn't want to live as far west as I had growing up.  Roncesvalles seemed liked the perfect fit.  It was not as sleepy as the other neighbourhoods I grew up in, but it was still very family and community oriented which was important since I had a 10 yr old daughter at the time.  So I began looking there.


What did your home look like when you first saw it? What work have you done on it to make it your own?

Grace: When I first bought this place, it was completely run down and I knew that it would be a labour of love to get this to an inhabitable state but I could totally see the vision.  I rented out the top floor within the year and then took almost another year to move into the rest of the house.  Kester moved in about a year later I think.  Initially I removed two walls on the main floor to open up the space, renovated the basement bathroom and main floor kitchen and separated the top floor from the main floor as a rental.  When Kester joined us we talked about either moving or renovating, it probably took us about a year to come to the final conclusion to renovate.  That's when we did this overhaul.

Kester: The house was very small, chopped up into many rooms – we did a standard white wash and upgrade the kitchen with modern appliances, refinished the patchwork of floors and then ended up gutting it to address serious electrical, plumbing and roof.

kester120What would your dream house look like?

Grace: My dream house would be a bigger version of this home, on a larger piece of land overlooking a ravine.  I don't need anything crazy, I just like the idea of a little more space.

Kester: Still within the city with a larger garden/lot and more mature trees. Lots of glass and interesting materials.

kester113What was the last thing your purchased for your home?

Grace: A beautiful art piece made of wool and spun with other yarns made by a local artist - it's hanging over a "destroyed" chair in our hallway.

Kester: Art, leaf bags, hardwood floor cleaner and currently pricing a built-in cabinet for long coats and winter boots for the back of the house.

kester109Thanks Kester and Grace for inviting us into your home.

All photos by Kristin Sjaarda for The Marion House Book.


hello! neighbor - alexandra&daniel

Hats off to my wonderful photographer, Kristin Sjaarda! When I started my job at Chatelaine I wasn't sure if I would be able to continue this series. It takes time and energy to find these homes and I was afraid I wouldn't have the resources. Well, I was right but Kristin gamely picked up the ball and has been searching out homes and photographing them on her own ever since. I think you'll agree that her latest find is particularly fabulous. Thanks Kristin. Enjoy the tour!

Names/Occupations: Daniel Leibu, CTO & Alexandra Flynn, lawyer

Kids: Jonah (8) & Simon (5)


Year Home was built: 1880s (guesstimation!)

How long have you lived in your home? Since July 2012


What’s your favorite room and why?

I love the dining area. It serves as the core of our daily life – where we have hurried morning breakfasts and long, lingering dinners with friends, impromptu card games, and where the boys protest over their homework. It also defines our style – an open and airy space; a traditional table and chairs with a splash of fun and colour; and a painting that reminds us of a rainy, blissful day on the Amalfi Coast where we bought it.


How did you find your home? 

We had been looking for a few months, but weren't in a hurry to buy. We loved the winding street our house is on, but were initially daunted by the work we needed to do. But, circumstances led to a really great price and we jumped on it!


Were you looking for anything in particular?

Top-of-the-list criteria were: good bones and not yet renovated. We'd renovated in the past and (despite the chaos) saw it as an ideal way to make a space fully our own. The potential for an open living and kitchen space was fundamental. We also wanted a good place for the boys to run around, outside and in. We were coming from a two bedroom/1 bath flat, so at least two bathrooms and a great guest space was high on the list!


Where do you get your inspiration from?

More than anything else, my inspiration comes from spending time in Berlin and Paris, where style seems effortless. I also find that understanding our own design values helps a lot (this time, ours were 'simple', 'minimalist', 'playful' and 'functional', and underscored all design decisions, from room placement to furniture to art). That said, I have wasted many, many hours on Oh Happy Day, AB Chao, marion house book and apartment therapy, and perusing Commute Home's addictive website. And, in the throes of active home decoration, I relentlessly texted my friend (and design goddess), Dana, and my very practical husband, Dan, before any critical decision was made.


How did you end up living in your neighbourhood?

The zones of our kids' school meant living within certain geographical boundaries, which guaranteed a mixed neighbourhood with at least a few decent coffee places nearby, and that was in biking/walking distance to work and school. I also wanted a street and neighbourhood where our children could play with other kids and without fear that speeding cars would run them off the sidewalk. Other than that, we were relatively open. But, now, I can't imagine living anywhere else in Toronto! The Ossington and Dundas strips are fantastic, with interesting, fun places opening all of the time. We have fantastic neighbours, tons of kids nearby, and the best trick-or-treating for miles (fighting words!). Also: Enoteca Sociale and Luna café within crawling distance. What more could you ask for?


What did your home look like when you first saw it? What work have you done on it to make it your own?

Like many semis in Toronto, there were several small-ish rooms on the main floor and some curious additions over the years. We completely gutted the main floor to make it open, moving the kitchen from the rear to the middle to make it the heartbeat of the house. We also added doors at the back that could completely open to the garden to integrate outside and in. We kept as much of the gorgeous, historical details, like the pretty mouldings and stained glass as we could. We finished the basement to create a playspace for the kids and a comfortable guest area, and added new floors, lighting and storage space throughout.


What would your dream house look like?

We are reasonably nomadic people, so I doubt this is the last house we'll be in. Depending on our next steps, our dream house could be a flat somewhere in Europe or a plot of land on Saturna Island or a house boat in Laos – the only essential that we are all there together. Right now, with our kids and friends and family and selves, this house is pretty perfect.


What was the last thing your purchased for your home?

We had the tree fort and outside bench designed and constructed by our incredibly talented neighbour!

Thanks Alex and Dan for inviting us into your home.

All photos by Kristin Sjaarda for The Marion House Book.