Caroline and Alexander have the kind of house that makes you want to come home and throw away half of your possessions. It's clean, uncluttered and full of space and light. Local design firm Studio Junction are the architect's behind the renovation. They have turned this depression era semi-detached house into a contemporary dwelling with a streamlined modern kitchen and rooms that flow easily into one another. Upstairs there are two bedrooms, a office and a large bathroom all flooded with light thanks to large windows and skylights. Enjoy the tour!
Names: Caroline Kassabian and Alexander Irving
Occupations: Alexander: Artist and University of Toronto Lecturer in Fine Art, Caroline: High School Guidance Department Head
Kids, pets? One child, Malcolm, who is 6, no pets
Year Home was Built: in the 1920s
How long have you lived in your home? 10 happy years
How did you find your home?
We were lucky; we only spent about 3 months looking for a home in this very specific area. The main requirement for us was a house that included studio space for Alexander (preferably a garage) and we also wanted something that needed little more than a coat of paint, which is ironic because we did eventually undertake a major renovation -- something we didn’t think we’d ever want to do. After a few years, the potential for the house became clear. We had briefly considered moving to a larger house after our son was born but, because we love our street and our neighbours, we couldn’t really see the point of moving a few blocks over just to have a bit more square footage. We turned our attention back to our home and thought about how we could maximize this particular space.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
Caroline: Having lived in Japan for two years I was really charmed by their clean, efficient use of space. The uncluttered rooms highlighted the architectural lines and allow you to appreciate small details. We both also love Scandinavian interior design that focuses on the way the light enters a room, the beautiful simplicity of textiles, millwork, natural materials and the restrained design of everyday objects like bathroom fixtures, lamps or even glasses and ceramics. A lot of the inspiration for our home comes from the home itself. Over time, spaces just seem to suggest what they need to make them feel more complete. Choosing art and furniture has been a very slow process for us; we definitely didn’t want to go out with the intention of filling the house, just to make it look “done”.
How did you end up living in Parkdale?
I rented for 2 years on Geoffrey Street and Alexander was living in an old loft building at Queen and Dufferin so we knew what a rich and vibrant area this was. We looked at one house outside of this immediate area and were quickly confirmed in our commitment to life in Parkdale. We wanted Malcolm to grow up in this community that really feels like a small town. The shopkeepers have known him since he was a baby and, after work, parents can catch up while the kids run across the lawns. We love that we have ready access to downtown, the lake, highways if we need them and can still walk to shops, parks and restaurants. Roncesvalles itself has been evolving and it’s fun to watch the changes. There is so much potential in this area so it’s good to see that recognized as more independent businesspeople are investing in the neighbourhood.
What's your favorite room and why?
It's a toss-up between Malcolm's room -- I love the bright orange wall, all of his treasures here and there and the way his creations and exuberant vibe fill the space.
A close second is actually our backyard, which has really become an outdoor room with its close connection to the house and the studio. With the sliding doors open, the garden feels more like a courtyard space and lying on the couch outside under the tree and looking at the house is really tranquil and relaxing.
What did your home look like when you first saw it? What work have you done on it to make it your own?
Our house ticked all of the boxes in terms of what we were looking for but, unlike some of the homes in the area, had very little in terms of period detail or architectural interest. The first thing we did was to convert the garage into a studio space for Alec and landscape the backyard. Seeing some symmetry and lovely slate in the back garden instantly made the space feel more like our home.
Slowly choosing the perfect place for each drawing or painting was the next step in making the space truly ours. We always knew we wanted to open up the back of the house to connect the main floor to the garden and studio but we waited to see what kind of changes made the most sense for us. The house had been given a cursory renovation by the previous owners and, while it allowed us to move in with no fuss, some of the quality of the materials left much to be desired.
After a few years, a cupboard door came unhinged just one too many times and we made the decision to renovate right then and there. The original plan was to add a third floor master bedroom, bathroom and deck but that would have meant sacrificing a bedroom to accommodate the new stairs. Ultimately, we opted to add a two storey addition, skylights, new floors, bathroom and kitchen. We have finished the basement, enlarged all of the window openings and clad the front and back facades in ipe. The only new change we're looking forward to is a green roof on the studio and on the cantilevered porch roofs at the front and back of the house.
What would your dream house look like?
Probably a bungalow nestled among trees, close to a beach with lots and lots of glazing to marry the inside spaces with the natural surroundings. But, coming back to reality, we’re really happy with our house the way it is now – the house, the neighbourhood, everything.
What was the last thing your purchased for your home?
Above our bed, we have an amazing aerial photograph of tulip fields in Holland by German photographer Julian Faulhaber. It strikes a lovely balance between the geometry of the field itself with its rows of flowers and the organic intensity of the flowers' colours. We also had a great bench/table made for us by Heidi Earnshaw (top picture). Her work is so well-crafted and considered; the bench reflects an almost Shaker-like simplicity. She came up with an amazing process to transform the oak to an intense black colour while still allowing the texture and grain of the wood to show through. We really enjoyed seeing how Heidi translated our ideas and taste while creating something that perfectly complements the other elements of the room and the adjacent garden.
All photos by Kristin Sjaarda for The Marion House Book.
Thanks Caroline and Alexander for inviting us into your beautiful home!