This narrow Victorian home gets clever with space-efficient ideas
By Connie Adair.
This home was a typical Toronto semi-detached home that was narrow, long and dark. But under the watchful, detail-oriented and creative eye of designer Michael Stewart, it was transformed into a light-filled home that’s chock full of clever ideas.
The Yorkville Victorian house was renovated with an intelligent contemporary design that makes thoughtful use of every inch of space, making it seem wider than its 15 feet. Despite being windowless on its sides, the home is also surprisingly bright.
Many original features, such as 12-inch baseboards, banisters, the front door and clerestory window, and a large window and stained glass panel, were retained.
A wall that continued past the living and dining room and toward the kitchen at the back of the house created an extremely narrow hallway. The wall was removed and the space was incorporated into the living/dining room.
Since the structural wall was removed, beams had to be added for support. Instead of leaving them exposed, Stewart chose to cover them in plaster and apply maple trim. Maple, either solid or veneer, is used throughout the house. “Maple is a light wood and doesn’t have a strong grain so it’s warm and welcoming. The floors are cherry, which has a darker red quality,” he says.
Stewart doesn’t like the idea of stepping through the front door directly into a living room so he designed a wood cabinet system that is beside the front door and narrows as it extends into the house. It has shelves and a TV on the living room side.
The cabinet, which serves as a separation, is seven feet high and lends a more airy feeling to the room than if it extended to the ceiling.
The wall that separated the living and dining rooms was also removed to let light from the south-facing living room window flow through to the dining area.
The clean modern dining space has a beautiful sideboard, created by furniture designer Paul Epp who has collaborated on a number of projects with him over the years.
An opening from the dining room leads to a hallway that has maple closets on one side. Instead of taking the closet to ceiling height, it is seven feet high, the same height as the doorways and kitchen cupboards. “I’m always looking for ways to simplify things,” Stewart says. “Having some kind of level height makes the space more readable because the eye isn’t moving up and down.”
On the other side of the hall is a panel that extends to backsplash height. It acts as the back of a row of kitchen cabinets and visually separates the hall from the kitchen.
Ensuring no space is wasted, a 2.5-foot-wide powder room was tucked under the stairs.
He says it was the only possible place to add a bathroom. He says he and the owners decided this was going to have to do. “But it worked better than we thought,” he says.
Along one side of the kitchen, Stewart opted for a U-shaped bank of counters, topped with stainless steel. They are practical and easy to keep clean. Stainless steel appliances and drawer pulls create a cohesive look.
The opposite wall has a bank of cupboards that includes pull-out pantry space that’s accessible from both sides, a fold-down bar door and wine nooks that add interest to the otherwise plain wood doors. This area also has two ovens and a fridge.
The eating area was an addition made by a previous owner and features a gable ceiling, which Stewart doesn’t like. However he said making a change wasn’t worth the cost.
The upper cabinetry, which has frosted glass doors, was extended from the kitchen into the eating area, offering extra storage space.
To make the most of the space in the second-floor hallway, a foot of space was taken from the bathroom and bookshelves were built along the length of the corridor. “There wasn’t an appropriate place for books downstairs,” he says.
The hallway widens at the end of the bookcase and gives the entry to the front bedroom a more spacious feel. A pocket door was used in the front bedroom and rear study. When the doors are open, light and sight lines travel through the house.
The master bedroom has a dressing room with a custom closet Stewart designed and a small counter. The en suite bathroom has a tub, a free-floating vanity and window. The second bathroom, behind the bookshelves in the hallway, has a glass block window and a large shower.
An open staircase leads to the third floor, which has a bathroom and a guest bedroom. The ceiling height diminishes to a small window overlooking the street. On a side wall, a wooden bench runs the length of the room. Although an architectural feature, the bench serves a practical use. It hides mechanical equipment and lines. A custom closet is also in this bedroom.
The bathroom here was also redone. The curved pre-fabricated shower fits perfectly into a corner beside a window. It’s not a crime to use standard products, he says. “It’s an economical way to go.”
Overall, the space was opened up as much as possible, but it’s not too open. Some people like the living room, dining room and kitchen to be one open space, he says. “I don’t like the kitchen to be completely exposed. It’s nice to cover because the kitchen is often a mess.”
In this home, the kitchen is not visible from the dining room, nor can it be seen from the front door, although sight lines go through the house to the backyard.
It’s important to watch sight lines. “Go straight through if possible so you can sense the size of the house. It also a way to take light from front to back,” he says. “A very important part of planning, if you can do it, is to have control of the sight lines,” and use them to their advantage.
The existing wood-burning fireplace now sports a clean design with stone trim. About a foot above the traditional mantel height, he set a simple stone shelf into the brickwork and plastered around it. It’s a simple black line, a minimal treatment that’s the perfect place for a small piece of sculpture.