A few weeks ago, during a spring downpour, I had the opportunity to meet Veronique, Mathew and their son Declan. It was a dark and stormy day yet the moment I stepped through their doorway the greyness faded away. Their newly renovated home is bright and airy with soaring ten foot ceilings. The home is decorated throughout with interesting collections and eclectic array of artwork; everything from Mathew's own photographs to works by their daughter Saskia. It's obviously a home filled with love. Enjoy the tour!
Names: Véronique Claassen and Mathew Merrett
Kids, pets: Saskia, 7 years old, Declan, 6 months, Lenny the dog, 9 years old, Lola the cat, 3 years old
Year Home was Built: Around 1890
How long have you lived in your home? About 2.5 years
What’s your favorite room and why?
Veronique: It’s really hard to choose just one room as my favourite because I like all of the rooms in my house for different reasons. I like the kitchen with the minimal white cupboards, beautiful countertop and big graphic art on the white wall. I like the dining room because it has so many of my favourite things in it; my huge table that can fit 10 kids around it at a birthday party; my Klint pendant lamp from Denmark; the Soviet propaganda posters that Mathew brought back for me from the Ukraine; my owl lamp from Scooter Girl; photos of my beautiful children. I like the living room with the built-in bookshelves that look like part of the wall. I like the chandelier and brown wall tiles in the bathroom. I like the baby’s room because it has so many cute toys and stuffies. And most of all I love Saskia’s room because it is covered in her art and little collections of things and is a personification of all that is wonderful about her.
Mathew: Kitchen. This is where all of the action happens. We designed the island to be multi-functional. This is where our gas cook top resides, pots & pans and flatwear on one side; breakfast bar and activity cupboard for Saskia on the other side. And there's a good chance that you will find Declan on the counter in his Bumbo watching all of the action. Most of our comings and goings are out the patio door so the kitchen is the main expressway.
How did you find your home?
Veronique: We had been looking for a few months but there just weren’t very many houses on the market in the very specific area that we wanted to live. Therefore the few houses that were up for sale had a lot of interest resulting in bidding wars and bully offers with most properties selling for $120K+ over asking. We actually bid on 4 other houses but obviously lost. In the end we decided that we needed to find a house that no one else wanted and renovate it- the old adage of buying the worst house on the best street.
Mathew: I always had a Victorian row house in mind before we started our search and I loved the idea of having a 3rd floor loft and a place with some history. I am involved in a long term photography project with Heritage Toronto, so I have a passion for historical architecture. It was beyond our expectation to end up with a 120 year old detached Victorian, as there are so few of them in this area.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
Veronique: I really love mid-century modern and Scandinavian design, which I confess is heavily influenced by my ex-husband’s parents. When we moved in together in our very early 20’s, they allowed my ex-husband and I to mine the basement of their East Annex mansion. It was filled with vintage teak treasures and art. I still have several of these pieces, including a lovely Danish vanity table and a box of vintage Marimekko fabric that my ex-mother-in-law collected when she and her husband lived in Finland for a year while he did post-graduate studies in architecture. I also love to poke around yard sales, antique stores and charity shops and have several collections of Kitsch. I’ve even infected Mathew with my collecting bug. At the height of my toadstool obsession, he spotted a set of great 70s cookie jars with a toadstool relief design at a yard sale down the street and couldn’t leave them behind. They now live happily on my kitchen counter in all of their kitsch-glory.
Mathew: I am inspired by modern design. I love minimalist, crisp/clean spaces.
How did you end up living in Parkdale?
Veronique: I bought my first house in Parkdale at the end of 1998 with my ex-husband. A few friends of ours had been living in Roncesvalles Village for a number of years and we were no strangers to Aris, Butler’s Pantry and the Revue. (In the early to mid-90’s we even attended many booze-cans in what is now the Sorauren Park Field House on Wabash. No joke!) We bought a semi on Wright Avenue just west of Sorauren for only $185K and slowly, over several years, renovated it with my ex-father-in-law’s help (he’s an architect). When our marriage ended, my ex-husband stayed in the house on Wright and I luckily found an apartment on Garden Avenue, since I didn’t want to move very far away for the sake of my daughter. Mathew swept me off my feet soon after (we’ve known each other since the third grade and dated in high school – it’s a long story!) and when we decided to buy a house together I was adamant that I wanted to continue to live in my little pocket of Parkdale. I truly can’t imagine living anywhere else.
Mathew: I ended up renting an apartment in the area after opening a small gallery in Parkdale and immediately realized that this was a very unique area. We have Queen Streest West with so much character and Roncesvalles which just keeps getting better with the new sidewalks and great new shops and restaurants opening every month, while still retaining some great old Polish delis and bakeries.
What did your home look like when you first saw it? What work have you done on it to make it your own?
Veronique: The house looked really weird when we first saw it. The sellers had put tufted black leather over the inside of the front door – it looked like a 70’s dominatrix dungeon! On the second floor, they had been irritated by the “creaky old floor” and had put thousands of screws into it and then covered it in wood laminate. When we pulled it up you could see that, aside from the screws, the wood floors would have been in really good condition but there was no way of saving it. Many bad things had also been done in the 70s and 80s, such as raising the living room floor and covering it in parquet and lowering the ceilings and covering them in stucco. There was also a DIY faux white brick fireplace with a black and gold woodstove insert. It was a pleasure to watch Mathew take a sledgehammer to it, it was so hideous.
We basically gutted the entire main floor down to the brick, took down the walls and the lowered ceilings and ripped up the parquet, then rebuilt it, to create a big, open, loft-like space. Mathew joked at the time that he could hear the house sighing in relief. In keeping with that light, airy feeling, we decided to keep the walls white, which have the added benefit of showing off our quirky collections and art pieces nicely. On the second floor, we took down stucco covered ceilings and gutted the bathroom which was a pink floral tile travesty. We pushed out the bathroom wall a couple of feet into the back room to make a larger space. I wanted a free-standing deep tub and Mathew wanted a stand-alone shower, so we needed the extra room to accommodate that. We didn’t touch the third floor other than paint. When we saw it we knew it would be perfect for Saskia. She is the envy of all her friends having her very own floor that includes a bedroom, playroom and powder room.
Mathew: Our house had been subject to several bad renovations in the past. The living room ceiling had been lowered 16" and the floor raised 3", possibly to reduce the volume for more efficient heating. The main bathroom was also in a sad 70's state, with the toilet behind the door and barely a trickle of water from the shower. We saw the potential in the space and created our own simple design plan to create exactly what we wanted from the space. Our vision was a very "lofty" feel with the ceilings back up to their 10' glory and the walls removed for a fully open concept.
What would your dream house look like?
Veronique: I fantasize about a very minimal, uncluttered, modern space with everything built-in and seamless; a white wall with a single piece of art; closets that are perfectly organized, like the Pax displays at Ikea; huge windows that let in lots of light. It’s almost entirely unachievable though because I could never hang just one piece of art on a wall and my closets would be quickly over-run by single socks that I can’t bring myself to throw out because I might just find the other one someday.
Mathew: I think it would look a lot like what we have now, but with more light coming in and perhaps a bigger yard. We have plans to replace the stairs with something more modern. Probably floating stairs with a floor to ceiling glass wall and a skylight above.
What was the last thing your purchased for your home?
Veronique: An adorable ceramic toadstool night light for the baby’s room (but really for me).
Mathew: I went out for a Queen West stroll on my birthday and came home with a large white letter M that was reclaimed from an old sign. It now has a home above my record collection.
Thanks Veronique and Mathew for inviting us into your home.
Photographs by Kristin Sjaarda for The Marion House Book.