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

Occupations: Stay-at-home-Mom & Part-Time Operations Manager at The Little Paper and Telecommunications Sales Director and Fine Art Photographer.

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.


hello!neighbor - ana & christian

As your scrolling through the images of this month's Hello! Neighbor tour take some time to stop at look at the photos of the kitchen. One of the things that drew Ana and Christian to this house was the original 1950s cabinetry yet every contractor they spoke to insisted they tear it out and start again. Instead this couple chose to add in a black and white checked floor, a farmhouse style sink and butcher block countertops essentially making it their own. One of my favourite things about doing these house tours is stories like these where homeowners stick to their guns to fulfill their own vision of what home is. Enjoy the tour!

Names: Christian Friis + Ana Yuristy

Occupations: Biologist with Canadian Wildlife Service and Director of Hotel Operations for the Drake Hotel

Do you have any kids or pets? Our daughter Sabine (5 months old) + our dog Toby (an English Setter)  Year Home was Built: 1901

How long have you lived in your home?

Since November 2008 (4 years)

What’s your favorite room?

The kitchen--it gets lots of light, has plenty of space, and its where all the action is whenever we have a gathering of friends and family.

How did you find your home?

We spent a long time looking for a place in the East end (our old apartment was at Danforth + Broadview). We finally expanded our search West and with the help of our good friend and real estate agent extraordinaire Avryll McNair we landed a great deal on our place just before the economic meltdown of 2008.

Where do you get your inspiration from?

I would describe our aesthetic as preference for the worn, loved, and  vintage. Especially when it comes to fabric and furniture--if the design looks 'new' we don't tend to dig it.

How did you end up living in Parkdale?

We absolutely lucked into an incredibly family friendly neigbourhood and street. Close to work (for Ana) and close to the subway (for Christian). Plus with High Park (for Toby) and the shops on Roncesvalles only a short walk away it is an ideal location for us in every way.

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

The layout of the house was pretty typical but we fell in love with the size and layout of the kitchen in particular right away. When we first moved in we had a tough time finding a contractor who was willing to work with the existing 1950s kitchen cabinetry which we loved. At first, everyone we met insisted we rip it out and start fresh with brand new cabinets and granite countertops which is not really our style. Our vision was to match + extend the existing cabinetry along the South wall, and tie it all together with a butcher block counter, simple checkerboard floor tiles, and a farmhouse sink. We think it turned out great! We also designed a bench which doubles as a shelf for shoes and a storage box for outdoor gear since we would need to tear down the mudroom in order to have space for the bi-level cedar deck built in our backyard. Our backyard is pretty shady so we finally learned our lesson that tomatoes and herbs won't work, but our next big project is to landscape with a rock garden and lots of ferns. We also had our bathroom professionally redone after an initial try at doing the re-tiling ourselves. In the living room we built an entire wall of shelving to accommodate a gorgeous old cast iron fireplace front we found on Craigslist.

What would your dream house look like?

Flooded with sunlight on a sugar maple farm in the country.

What was the last thing your purchased for your home?

Fresh flowers--our home's favourite accessory, especially in the middle of the grey winter months.

Thanks Ana and Christian for inviting us into your home.

What's your favourite feature of their home?

All photographs by Kristin Sjaarda for The Marion House Book.


hello! neighbor - shannon & wil

Hello! Neighbor is back after a little hiatus last month and this first home of 2012 has something special going for it - it's on the market. That's right as of this weekend (or soon thereafter) this home could be yours! We can't say that very often. This home is the loving result of the owners, Wil and Shannon. If you live in the neighbourhood you might know Shannon from her charming market store, The Mercantile. Wil  is a talented home remodeller and spends his time lovingly restoring old homes that have seen better days. Since Wil knows renovations first hand, I took the time to ask him a few questions about what he thinks makes a home renovation successful. I think it is very telling that his favorite tools in any home remodelling project are rubber gloves, abrasive pads and paint stripper. Enjoy the tour!


Wil Crothers and Shannon Doyle


Home remodeller and owner of The Mercantile gourmet food shop.

Shannon in her store The Mercantile on Roncesvalles Avenue.

How long have you lived in your home?

We have lived here for 6 months.

When was your home built?

It was built in approximately 1910.

Which room do you spend the most time in? Why?

Shannon: Our favourite room would be the kitchen.  We both love to cook and entertain.

What do you think are the easiest or most cost effective ways to update a home?

Wil: In my opinion the least expensive way to update a home is to embrace some of the elements that you believe make it outdated and juxtapose them with clean modern accents. To use a simple analogy, if the doors in your home are tired and abused, take off the hardware, give them a quick sand and a fresh coat of cloud white paint. If the hardware is more than 50 years old strip off all of the generations of paint and replace them bare. If not buy some ultra modern brushed nickel or chrome hardware. Suddenly the beaten up old door becomes the back drop for the fixture. On a grander scale, the same can be said for every aspect of the home. If the tile in your bathroom is lime green or purple from 1962 find a modern complementary colour or a very cold neutral colour and paint your bathroom to match. Throw in a sleek mirror, high style bath fixtures and an piece of art. Pow! Those nasty old tiles and vanity are ultra cool retro. My best friends in any renovation are rubber gloves, S.O.S. pads, and paint stripper. A home, in my opinion, is sort of like a classic suit.  Don't throw out the suit change the shirt and tie.

What were the major changes you  made to the house?

Shannon: When we first looked at 77 Campbell Ave. we knew the home had great potential. Unfortunately, it had suffered many decades of neglect. Split into apartments it was essentially in rooming house condition. The house has been completely gutted, re-wired, remolded and put back together.

How did you end up living in the Junction?

Shannon: When we purchased out first home in the Junction Triangle in 2007 it was the one of the few neighbourhoods we could afford. We have since fallen in the love with the community. The area is wildly diverse, our neighbours range from the original Polish and Portuguese blue collar to members of a vibrant film and arts scene.

Are there certain elements of a home you always try to keep in tact when renovating?

Wil: People love older homes for many reasons but for me it is the craftsmanship. The trims, window casings, banisters, doors and accent pieces are so beyond anything that is available today. Add to that the bumps and bruises of time and it is impossible to reproduce. Generally when renovating I try to remove all of the existing wood work as carefully as possible. Once all of the new drywall, flooring and cabinetry has been installed the contrast of the old ornate mouldings and their patina really pops.

Could you tell me a little bit about the chandelier in your dining room? I understand you made it.

Wil: The craft projects in every renovation are always my favourite part and I try to build unique pieces into each project. Lighting in my opinion is one of the most integral components when setting a mood within a space. Our homes are always open concept so the dining room fixture, in relation to the space, is always the focal point of the main floor. Generally the light fixtures in my dining rooms cost between $50 and $150 to build but their unusualness creates all of the drama. I had seen many variations of bottles, jars and glass containers used in chandeliers and love both the whimsical look and the prismatic light they cast. For this light fixture I used 34 clear wine bottles hung from small gauge aircraft cable. I wanted to use a great many bottles strung closely together to give the feeling of a bouquet and soften the look. I then cut the bottom off each bottle in a somewhat haphazard fashion so that the chipped and cracked ends would both increase the prism effect and break up the monotony of 34 same objects. I then enclosed three cylindrical light bulbs within the most central wine bottles so that the light would have to travel through all of the surrounding bottles to escape. Finally I wrapped the supporting chain in white cotton rope in the fashion of a hangman's noose.

What would your dream house look like?

Shannon: We have always dreamed of creating our own dream home rather than looking for a property that fit our criteria. Our dream home is an industrial cinder block box with a decent amount of property in the vicinity of the Junction Triangle.

What was the last thing you purchased for your home?

Shannon:  Our latest purchase was two grey wool easy chairs from Julien Armand on Sterling Ave.

Thanks Shannon and Wil for inviting us into your home and good luck with the sale!

All photos by Kristin Sjaarda for The Marion House Book.

hello!neighbor - anja and andreas

Well, here we are in the final week leading up to Christmas. No doubt, most of us still have lots to do! If you have a moment, take a look at this special Christmas edition of Hello! Neighbor. Anja and Andreas kindly welcomed us into their home a couple of weeks ago, hours after they finished decorating it for the holidays. It's a really stunning house with many of the original details still in tact including beautiful woodwork in the hallway and the most amazing radiator covers I have ever seen. You'll also notice throughout the house, Anja's own deft sewing skills. She made the pouf in  the living room, the quilt in the master bedroom (styled after a Hudson's Bay Blanket) and the blinds in the upstairs bedrooms. As we head into the New Year, I'll be on the lookout for more homes to feature in the Parkdale neighbourhood. If you think your house would be a good fit, drop me a line.

Enjoy the tour!


Anja, Andreas and Oscar Duess


Client Rep and VP at Marsh Canada Limited  and  Partner and Chief Creative at fisheye corporation.

How long have you lived in your home?

 About 4 years

When was your home built?


Any kids or pets?

Our son Oscar is 18 month and we have three cats, Oswald, Felix and Bella

Which room do you spend the most time in? Why?

Anja: Living room, just love hanging out at the fire place

Andreas: The kitchen. I am the cook in the family, cooking is my way to relax after work.

What were the major changes you  made to the house?

It used to be a rooming house, so slowly over time taking over apartments and returning it to being a single family home. We're carefully peeling back the layers and were lucky enough to find some of the original features, such as cast iron radiator covers and high baseboards.

How did you end up living in Parkdale?

We moved to Canada in 2004 and always lived in the West End, first Roncesvalles, then the Brockton Triangle and finally fell in love with our house on Melbourne Avenue.  We met and got married in London, UK; Parkdale has a very similar vibe to the part of town where we both lived at the time, Islington. When we first looked at Parkdale, we felt at home immediately.

What are your favourite holiday/Christmas traditions?

Love the advent calendar. Candles, yes we have real candles in the tree. Gluehwein (mulled wine), Christmas songs, dinner with family and friends. We are big Christmas nerds.

What is on your Christmas table? Do you have a traditional meal you serve each Christmas?

Andreas: Every Christmas my dad used to make a herring salad for Christmas eve. It's a meal in itself, with beets, walnuts, diced roast beef and sour creme. Every Christmas I plan on making it myself, but it's ton of work, so far I've never got around to it.

Anja: Our tradition is roast version with red cabbage, pan fried Brussels sprouts and mashed or roast potatoes. Dessert is usually bread and butter pudding but this year I'll make a chocolate and red beet cake.

What is your favourite Christmas song?

Winter Wonderland

What are you hoping Santa brings you this year?

Anja: In general that my family remains healthy and happy. If you mean presents, I'd love to find a bag from Sarra Tang' s Hoi Bo design firm under the tree.

Andreas: Materially, we try to reduce clutter and stuff in our lives, so we're not big present people. I love reading, we both love and collect art, that kind of thing. I also love cooking and last year Anja got me a stove top smoker, which was pretty much the best Christmas present ever.

Thanks for welcoming us into your home Anja and Andreas and Happy Christmas!

All photographs by Kristin Sjaarda for The Marion House Book