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.