hello! neighbor - jenny and rob

This month we're back in Toronto and back to my neighbourhood of Parkdale. I first met Jenny when she invited me over to help her choose some paint colours for her home. However it was clear to me when I walked in that she didn't really need my advice! Her home already looked fantastic. I wasn't surprised when I heard that Jenny has an innovative renovation consulting company called Dwell Contracting. They provide unique services such as advising homeowners on whether they should fix up their current home or buy something new. If you're in the market for a home they will also accompany you to viewings and give you their unbiased opinion on the home's possible future issues or more importantly its design potential. It seems to me like they are filling an important gap in the home renovation market that is not serviced by either designers or contractors. Enjoy the tour!


Jenny Macdonald & Rob Harrison


Jenny: Renovation consultant.  Principal and owner of Dwell contracting.

Rob: Director of Marketing at Alliance Films

Kids, pets?

3 boys: Wesley (nearly 5), and twins Emmett & Gillon (both 1-1/2)

Year Home was Built


How long have you lived in your home?

7 years

What’s your favorite room and why?

Jenny:  I'd have to say our kids rooms.  They have so many nice memories attached to them.

Rob: Our new master bedroom because it's nice and airy- great for reading.

How did you find your home?

Jenny: I had been actively looking for a house in this neighbourhood for a few months.  I saw it first during an Open House.  I really liked that it had a slightly different layout than the standard Victorian.  We'd already lost several in bidding wars and I was determined to get this one.

Where do you get your inspiration from?

Jenny: I've always loved everything to do with design and architecture, so I'm constantly reading blogs, books, magazines, poking around shops, walking the neighbourhood....I'm drawn to textiles, graphic prints, anything vintage, or hand-made, and, mid-century modern design in general.

 How did you end up living in Parkdale?

Jenny: At the time it was one of the only affordable neighbourhood's in the west-end.  That, and the proximity to High Park and family.  We were looking for somewhere that we could feel at home raising a family.  Now, I can't imagine living anywhere else.  I feel so lucky to live here!

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

Jenny: It looked very staged and not entirely lived-in, but it was still warm, and had something special about it.  The previous owner had done a lot of work himself and was a complete perfectionist.  Being in the renovation industry myself, this definitely appealed to me!  We've done work in every room of the house, but the big things were finishing the basement, putting in a 2nd bathroom, and re-working the upstairs.  It had 4 small bedrooms- 2 of which were really too small to be very useful, so we made one big master bedroom and extended the bathroom a little bit.  A linen closet was a welcome addition too.

What would your dream house look like?

Jenny:  Modern, open concept, floor to ceiling windows, south facing so it would be flooded with light, extensive use of natural materials.  On a huge tree filled lot within walking distance of Roncesvalles.  I know- keep dreaming!

Rob:  I love ranch style bungalows.  70's look with a modern feel.  Big yard, big trees.

What was the last thing your purchased for your home?

Jenny: The mirror in the front hallway from Mrs. Huizenga's on Roncesvalles.

Thanks Jenny and Rob for inviting us into your home. Please feel free to ask Jenny any questions you might have about the work they did on their place!

All photos by Kristin Sjaarda for The Marion House Book.

smock cafe and wonder workshop

What happens when you throw three creative forces behind a new business? You get Smock Cafe and Wonder Workshop! A whimsical, new cafe and arts and crafts oasis for parents and their children situated in our lovely neighbourhood of Roncesvalles. I have an exclusive, first look at this enchanting new place.

Sara Wood, the owner and creative power behind Smock Cafe, started looking for a multifunctional space where parents and their children could unwind and connect with others after she found herself sitting on the floor of one too many gymnasiums with her own daughter. Together with graphic designer Courtney Wotherspoon and interior designer Sarah Keenleyside she set about to devise a space that would provide a meeting spot for parents, nutritious and seasonal food, crafts and activities for a wide age range of children and a place for regularly scheduled classes and camps.

Owner of Smock Cafe, Sara Wood.

Entrance to Smock Cafe (with beautiful encaustic tiles from Granada Tiles that Sara installed herself!)

Marble run wall and stowaway reading nook just for kids.

There is definitely a Do-It-Yourself aesthetic behind everything at Smock Cafe. Sara, Courtney, and Sarah threw themselves completely behind this project and did most of the work themselves from installing all the tile work (Sara), to making the Tom Dixon like black lights from Ikea bowls (Sarah), to creating craft boxes that you can do in the cafe or take home and try (Courtney). In addition, Sara's father-in-law, put in 12 hour days  from the moment they  took possession to opening night.

Courtney Wotherspoon, Sarah Keenelyside and Sara Wood.

Matryoshka Doll craft box created by Courtney.

Vintage sink for washing up after crafts in the Wonder Workshop.

DIY craft boxes and tubes available for purchase.

Smock will be serving up delicious, homemade food that is seasonal, organic and local whenever possible. All of the baked goods will be made fresh daily and on the premises. The Wonder Workshop at the back of the space has a magical artist's apothecary where children can purchase small items like feathers, pom poms, bark, ribbon, and buttons to make crafts on the spot. A facilitator will always be there to lend guidance and encouragement. In the lower room of the cafe, is a space for ongoing classes and summer camps as well as for special events and even children's birthday parties.

The apothecary in the Wonder Workshop.

Fresh baked goods in the cafe.

Lower level room for classes and events.

This whimsical new cafe couldn't have opened at a better time for me! Don't be surprised if you find me there on a daily basis in the coming months. Congratulations to Sara, Courtney and Sarah and everyone behind Smock Cafe on their new venture. It's clearly a labour of love!

For more information on Smock Cafe and Wonder Workshop and to register for classes head to their website or if you live in the neighbourhood drop in! They are officially open starting today.

287 Roncesvalles Avenue - info@smockcafe.com - 416-530-0888

{By the way, if you like those DIY Tom Dixon like pendant lights that Sarah invented come back in the next couple of weeks and I'll fill you in on how she made them!}

All photographs by Sian Richards for The Marion House Book.



hello!neighbor - hayley and greg

When I first started this feature on my blog I had no idea how many houses I would be able to run. I had a small list in my head of friends and friends of friends that I knew I could approach and hoped that maybe I would get 10-12 houses. Luckily for me (and you!) I now get people contacting me about featuring their home. That's what happened this month with Hayley and Greg. One of their friends who works for the Canada-wide online magazine Vitamin Daily emailed me about this great home she knew in the Parkdale neighbourhood. After seeing a few photos, I knew it was a house I had to feature. I love how airy and bright it is. Of course, the benefit to me, beyond having another great house to feature, is that I get to know more and more people in my neighbourhood. I should also mention that since we shot this story Hayley and Greg have welcomed son Cy to the world. Congratulations!

Enjoy the tour!

Names: Hayley and Greg

Occupation: Journalists

How long have you lived in your home?

Two and a half years.

Any kids or pets?

Our first baby will be joining us any day now. {Note: Cy Thomas was born on May 6th!}

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

Hayley: Right now it’s the kids’ room. It’s a pretty sweet spot for sewing and imagining good times to come.

Greg: The kitchen. Hayley takes care of making the house feel homey. My main contributions are dishes and dinner.

Is there anything you would change about your house? Future plans?

Hayley: Our house hadn’t been touched since the former owners bought it 35 years go, and it had the orange carpet and Astro Turf to prove it. We tackled a bunch of projects in the first couple years, and there’s a lot more we’ll focus on eventually, but I’m so weary of reno-dirt at the moment that I can’t really think about any of it.

Greg: I can’t believe she wrote that. Trust me – she’s concocting all sorts of plans that we can’t afford.

How did you end up living in Parkdale?

Hayley: If you live in Toronto it seems like your allegiance is either on the west or east side of the Don Valley Parkway, and since our first apartment was in the Annex, our western bias is pretty well set. Our best friends are also Parkdalians so that’s where we targeted our house search. More pals have moved into the neighbourhood since we bought our house, and I love that we can wander over for a porch-visit or to watch a basketball game and be home in less than five minutes.

Greg: Our best friends live around the corner from us so we just naturally gravitated toward the neighbourhood. I was skeptical at first, but really love it now. If we’re going out to grab something to eat, I love having the dual options of Roncesvalles and Queen West. I can run and/or bike to work.

What is your favorite moment/object in your home?

Hayley: It’s a tie between mornings and early evenings, especially in the spring when winter finally takes off. The natural light we get in here just makes you feel good.

Greg: In the summer, on the porch with coffee and the paper. Hayley also had the foresight to push for a functional, but also comfortable, office. I’m surprised how much time I spend in there, but it’s a great place to get lost in a book, or in deep thought.

What influences you? Where do you get your inspiration from?

Hayley: My mom has filled my parents’ home with old photos and objects that embody our family’s history and the people she loves. My style is a more streamlined, pared down version of her eclectic mix, but it’s in the same spirit.

Where is your favorite place to visit?

Hayley: Cherry Bomb on Roncesvalles for coffee and people watching, then a slow cruise home through the antique shops on Queen West.

Greg: Inter Steer, Loons, Mother India, Sorauren Park for a game of Frisbee in the summer or shinny in the winter.

What are you reading at the moment?

Hayley: Anything that might help me and my little buddy-to-be to survive the first three months of motherhood. After that, Perez Hilton.

Greg: I just finished Rough Justice: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer and moved on to the Mayo Clinic’s guide to the first-year of parenthood.

Any links, acknowledgements?

Hayley: Hmm… a big shout-out to the army of friends and relatives we bribed with beer and pizza to help us demolish walls and spruce up this big ol’ semi after we moved in. Every single room needed fresh paint. The vinyl wallpaper in the stairwells designed to look like (fake) fake-wood paneling was especially amazing. We owe them big time.

Greg: I’m really impressed with the level of volunteerism – especially the people behind the Wabash Building Society. It’s really heartening to see so many people care so much about their neighbours.

Thanks Hayley and Greg.

I'll be back here later on today with the winner of the Abstract Expressionist tickets to The Art Gallery of Ontario.

All photos by Kristin Sjaarda for The Marion House Book

hello!neighbor-murray & sian

This month's edition of Hello! Neighbour brings us into the home of Murray and Sian. I have to say that one of the lovely benefits of doing this post is that I am getting to know the people in my neighbourhood! There is something about being in someone's home that tells you so much about them. Murray and Sian's place is no exception. Their home is like a book waiting to be unravelled. I found myself wanting to know the story behind every object, book and artwork in their home. Sian kindly obliged me and by the end of the tour (a few hours later!) I really felt like I knew her a little bit better. Enjoy the tour!



Journalist & Photographer

How long have you lived in your home?

2 1/2 years

Any animals, kids?

1 child, another one arriving in a few weeks.

What is your favorite room?

The den/family room

What is your favorite object/thing/moment in your home?

The lovely light from our southern exposure; the huge old cherry tree in the back yard; the vintage photo of a Peruvian giant from Sian's uncle in South America.

Martin Chamby

What are your future plans for the home?

To move into the whole thing. Right now we live in the top two floors and have a tenant on the first.

Anything you would change?

I'm not sure we would have used marble in the bathroom. It's beautiful and we love it, but it's high maintenance.

Best thing about living in Parkdale?

Our location. We love what Roncesvalles has to offer for day to day, family living....but it’s nice to not be too far removed from something a bit more urban on the Queen West/Parkdale strip.

What original feature(s) of your home will you never get rid of?

There wasn't much left when we moved in -- it had been gutted and made into 2 apartments decades before. So when it came time to do the porch -- which, when we moved in, was an enclosed box of nasty brown aluminum and glass -- we asked an architect friend to sketch whatever came to mind. It was very non-traditional, but we thought it worked with the building's disjointed history, so we went with it. Inside, we reconditioned the upper 3-bedroom apartment for our own use, and will do the same downstairs at some point. We embraced the fact that it wasn't at all precious -- no fussy Victorian details here; it was a big brick box -- so it was a blank slate to create our own blend of old and new.

All photographs by Kristin Sjaarda for The Marion House book.

Thanks Murray and Sian!