Back to the Bricks

These homeowners transformed ghastly conditions into great comfort

By Connie Adair
Photos by Edwin Ham

Amin Nizami and Songul Atac have always loved Toronto’s Greektown and visited the area often, from their suburban bungalow in the city’s north end. When a semi-detached home in their favourite neighbourhood came up for sale, they were delighted. They envisaged renovating and creating the home of their dreams, with space and features to suit their family’s needs and lifestyle.

“There have not been many houses available in Riverdale so we looked at this one as soon as it was listed,” Nizami says. “The list price was $749,000. There was one other serious bidder, a builder, so we had to pay a premium but we saw the potential. The price was affordable since it was in original condition with ghastly 1970s updating. We planned on a full gut renovation so we were not put off. We could imagine the possibilities.”

In November 2011, they began a back-to-the-bricks renovation that transformed a warren of small dark rooms into a bright contemporary living space.

The house was in almost-original condition, with only the kitchen and one bathroom renovated and an addition built in the 1970s. “I found cast iron pipes in the walls that once held gas for interior lighting. Rooms were small and had fake panelling on the walls, drop ceilings and 40-year-old carpeting,” Nizami says. “We met with the architect to create a home that would work for our family and lifestyle. We wanted something that would be good for two small kids who are active.”

The joists on the first floor were doubled and reinforced. Exterior walls were newly framed and insulated to current building codes and interior walls were reframed. “By reinforcing all the joists and framing the exterior walls we were able to create an open plan,” he says.

The living room and dining room flow into the kitchen, which in turn opens to the original addition, that housed a bedroom and bathroom. The space now contains a powder room and a mudroom/play area with built-in seats and shelving, and a sliding door that leads to the backyard deck, play area and parking.

In the living room, custom cabinetry was built around a new gas fireplace, that features a snow-white marble, natural stone wall. The cabinetry conceals ductwork and creates symmetry and a focal point. A custom armoire for coats and shoes, cabinetry in the kitchen and built-ins throughout, were created by the same craftsman.

The kitchen cabinetry extends to the ceiling with moulding for a finished look. A window was added over the sink. Although it offers a view of a wall of the neighbouring house, it brings in natural light. The couple originally chose dark counters to go with their white cabinetry. “At the last second, we picked lighter granite that looks almost like ice floes,” Nizami says, adding that they love the way the finished kitchen looks. “The space is bright and inviting, perfect for a family as well as for entertaining.”

All three of the staircases were replaced with solid-oak versions that have tempered glass and stainless steel railings and fittings. The staircases “keep the space bright and modern,” he says.

The second floor has three bedrooms, a bathroom and new laundry closet with stackable appliances. An expanded bathroom includes twin sinks and a bathtub, convenient for a family with small children.

On the third-floor there is a landing with a new walkout to a deck. The roof of the addition was reinforced to accommodate the 180-square-foot deck, which is fenced for privacy and offers treetop views.

A short hallway offers access to the master bathroom and a closet. It then opens to the spacious master bedroom. To make use of every inch, custom cabinetry was built under the sloping ceilings in the bedroom and the bathroom. The master bathroom has two sinks and a large walk-in shower with a tiled bench and glass door.

New mechanical systems include a high-efficiency furnace with a humidifier and air conditioning, a hot water tank, plumbing and a 200-amp electrical panel. New double-pane windows were installed. The roof, flashing and eavestroughs are also new. The lower level has laminate flooring and the other three levels hardwood floors.

The couple incorporated little features that add a lot to everyday living. The sliding glass doors off the mudroom have key access so the family can enter though the back door. A window seat in the master bedroom offers a view of the street from a desk tucked into a corner of the room. In-floor heating in the bathrooms keeps the family’s feet warm. Built-ins under sloped ceilings put otherwise wasted space to use and ensure a clean modern look by keeping everything out of sight. Staircase railings can be unscrewed and removed so furniture can be more easily moved up and down the stairs.

The renovation turned out beautifully but took a lot of time and effort, and was over budget, Nizami says. The nine-month project cost about $200,000 but the results are stellar. “My wife and I are so pleased with how the house turned out, as well as the learning experience of being the general contractors. We have already been approached by a friend to do their house, as well as by the suppliers for this house. I think we made a good impression.” The couple works with Southport Construction, which imports/exports construction-related materials between Canada, Europe and Turkey, and recently started their own business, Southport Fine Homes.