Beachfront Beauty

Water views were the priority for the renovation of this home

By Connie Adair

Once you live on the water, you’ll never want to live anywhere else, says James Barnes.* When you see his lakefront home, you’ll know why. It’s a city-lover’s ultimate dream – a single-family newly renovated home with only a private backyard and sandy beach separating it from the water, yet close to downtown Toronto.

Barnes discovered the trendy neighbourhood and liked it so much that he distributed flyers to let homeowners know he was a motivated buyer. A real estate agent called to tell him about an estate sale of a house a family had lived in for 40 years.

Over the years, the circa 1918 house had become a hodgepodge of rooms and enclosed porches but it had nice lines, Barnes says.

He bought it in May 2007 and started a renovation project that would take almost three years to complete. The result is a home that’s, “tasteful and subtle, nothing gaudy. It’s consistent with the Arts and Crafts style of the neighbourhood, and it is low maintenance and comfortable,” he says.

The house was gutted instead of demolished to retain its original location close to the shoreline. “One-third of the footprint would have been lost if the house had been torn down and replaced with a new building,” Barnes says.

When designing the home, the priority was water views. With the help of builder George DiGirolamo of G. Colucci & Sons Ltd. and architect Sharon McKenzie, Barnes’s dream home became a reality.

Some windows were moved and more windows and walkouts added, resulting in a home that has ample natural light and great views, even from the shower in the master en suite bathroom and the bathroom in the nanny’s suite.

Ceilings on each level were raised, starting with the lower level, which was excavated to offer nine-foot ceilings. Work included underpinning the structure and reinforcing it with steel beams. Balconies and terraces were built and reinforced to accommodate the extra weight of their new low-maintenance stone finishes.

The lower-level entertainment room has a fireplace, limestone walls and hand-scraped wood floors. It also has a gym, bathroom and tunnel that leads to a new garage, built in a style that complements the house. “It occurred to me that with a freestanding garage with an apartment above for help or a nanny, it would be crazy in Canadian winters to have to go outside. It was also not esthetically pleasing to have the garage attached to the mudroom, so I excavated,” he says. “Neighbours joked about Batman moving in when they heard of a tunnel being excavated.”

The garage has a hoist for an extra car and the open-concept apartment has a vaulted ceiling.

Across the heated driveway from the garage is a walkway that leads to the new mahogany Art Décor front door.

Inside a new formal entrance was built and the stairway was relocated. Instead of creating a completely open main floor with water views immediately visible from the front door, a wall that separates the entry hall from the living room and kitchen keeps visitors in suspense. It isn’t until they move toward the dining room and the centre of the house that fantastic water views reveal themselves through a wall of windows and walkouts in the living room.

The living room is divided into two living areas, one close to the television and one set up for conversation. Two identical rugs define the space and create intimate gathering spaces. Traffic moves between the two living areas to walkouts that lead to the stone terrace.

The kitchen overlooks the living room and is separated from the dining room by ripple glass pocket doors that allow for ambient light and privacy.

The main floor also has a library, a cosy space that has built-in bookcases and a window that overlooks the garden.

The best feature of the house is its lake view, and the second best feature is the millwork, Barnes says. The window mouldings are not the standard diagonal design. Special tools were made to create layers of millwork around the windows throughout the home. They were also made to create the square-tapered pickets on the staircase.

The master suite and a romantic granite and onyx en suite bathroom occupy the lake-side of the home’s second floor. A television is hidden in the bed’s footboard, which can be raised for viewing then lowered to ensure lake views from the bed.

On the third floor, dormers were enlarged and the original attic was converted into a light-filled office that has walls of windows to provide natural light.

The office has a desk that faces the lake, banks of drawers, a conference table and a granite and onyx bathroom. The largest terrace is off the third floor and offers views of the CN Tower in winter and a park in the summer. “It’s high enough to be private,” says Barnes, who has enjoyed many cigars while reading the newspaper there.

He says he enjoys watching the lake year-round, in good weather and “in stormy weather when the lake is angry,” from his safe and secure environment.

Planning for a long-term house, Barnes added an elevator, which came in handy for moving the large slabs of stone and furniture. “I’m 52 and I love tennis, but I might need the elevator one day,” he says.

Other features include radiant heat, protective film on the windows that provides a subtle mirrored effect for privacy, automatic blinds, a panic room and back-up generator.

Although prominent from the beach, the house does not seem imposing on the inside, despite its approximately 7,000-square-foot size. “It’s comfortable and offers a California vibe,” he says.

Barnes figures he must have been born a fish because he loves the water. “I have lived on the water since 1991 and wouldn’t live anywhere else.”

* Name changed at homeowner’s request.