We have been exceedingly fortunate to be given the commission to restore one of the most important English Arts and Crafts Tudor houses in Rosedale. In Rosedale, as in many exclusive neighborhoods in Toronto, developers have been tearing down century old houses to make way for what they consider luxury manor homes which are remarkably undistinguished. When we took over the project, a previous contractor had already stripped away all the original finishes inside the house and had turned the interiors into a nondescript builder’s job with blank walls and a run-of-the-mill kitchen. Many of the recessed-panel oak doors were painted white. The original staircase and wide plank white-oak flooring were luckily spared as was much of the exterior of the house. For us, the project has turned out to be an on-going concern with work first started six years ago and still continuing. Our first step was to restore the main floor to its original architectural style by stripping away the store-bought ornaments and replacing them with custom-made pertinent details. The first stage was mostly about dealing with style. The second stage which occurred five years later, was more substantial and involved structural alterations. But before we get into the details, here is some background of the project:
The client that we built the Cortleigh house for in 1993 moved to the States after our firm had undertook two projects for him in Toronto. When he came back we were engaged to look for a house for him and his family. At first we looked in the Forest Hill neighborhood upon the insistence of the real-estate agent. Po Ku strongly recommended Rosedale to the client instead, having known him for twenty years. Rosedale was a quiet, lush, low-key and moneyed neighborhood. Forest Hill which was once home to Canada’s business elite, had become more of an ostentatious showcase for the nouveau-riche. After listening to Po’s succinct analysis of the neighborhoods and taking a late afternoon stroll on a trail in a nearby ravine, the client made a purchase in Rosedale. The property’s Arts and Crafts Tudor details were deftly restored based on drawings and archival research done by Po Ku Design Build. Oak doors were stripped of the paint and re-stained. Oak casings and moldings were installed. Wood paneling that suited the style were put in. Coffered wood ceilings were installed in the library and the main hall. A new hand-carved stone fireplace mantel replaced the builder’s resin-moulded mantel. Ceiling mouldings were added to complement the styles of the living room and dining room. Blank walls were panelled, silk upholstered or trimmed to form integral parts of the interior architecture. The Given (unalterable), the Resultant Style and the Intended Effect guided the course of the project from the very beginning.
The distribution of floor area in the house is such that the second floor holds the most floor space due to the vast area immediately above the double car garage. The main floor comprises a very large living room, a modest dining room, a smallish kitchen, a comfortable library and an attached double car garage. Lacking were a breakfast nook and main-floor family room. The vast space above the garage has always been a family room albeit on the second floor. To access it, one must mount the stair near the front entrance and traverse a thirty foot hallway to reach the family room. While contemplating the possibilities, Po came up with the idea of connecting the kitchen to the second floor family room with an outside stair. The idea developed into constructing a fully enclosed addition in the back containing the connecting stair and a storage room underneath. The addition increased the floor area in the kitchen and provided a much-needed breakfast nook which is connected to the existing family room with half a flight of stair. The second stage of the project included a brand new kitchen installation, a new breakfast nook, connecting stair to the second floor, a new mud room in the back of the garage, adding five inches to the ceiling height of the entire basement, complete renovation of the basement, completely new mechanical system and exterior repair and refurbishment. The fine Gothic detailing of the fascia boards over the front entrance were hand-carved in wood. After many years of neglect, the wood was rotten in many places. The decayed wood was gouged out and a composite repair compound was used to rebuild the shapes.
The existing home was built with brick and stone as loading-bearing elements. Wood frame structures served as floors and roofs. Wood studs were added to hold drywall and insulation on the inside. The foundation, partly stone and partly brick, were typically between 12 to 24 inches thick. Internal partitions were also masonry, supporting load above. So removing walls was not an easy task and requires engineer’s approval. Wherever a small opening was made, an approved steel lintel was installed above the opening. When a large section of a wall was removed, temporary shoring was set up before-hand and steel I beams were installed to support the load above. To enlarge the kitchen and build the new stair, a thirty foot length of masonry wall was removed. In the course of removing the wall, a hidden vault was discovered in the basement surrounded by thick stone walls but without apparently access. The vault was filled with a substance called Perlite which looked like flour. The substance was widely used in the 1920s as insulation. Although harmless and nontoxic, the actual R value of Perlite is under 3, which hardly qualifies for insulation today. We then proceeded to remove almost thirty garbage bags full of this substance from the garage ceiling and the basement. An additional inconvenience when working in the house was that cell phone reception was almost nil – signal was blocked by the heavy masonry walls. The advantage of living in a masonry house is that the house feels strong, solid and very quiet, especially in this case where the masonry extends to the top of the second story. It is almost impossible to duplicate this type of construction today unless one cares to spend over a million dollars just to build the structures of the house. This house is curiously not a listed heritage building. Lucky for us and Rosedale, my client is an art and history buff. If the property had not been bought by my client, it would probably have been torn down by a developer and a pair of contemporary suburban homes would have appeared on the very wide and beautiful lot. Rosedale is loved for its old stone houses and its proximity to the lush green ravines. It is inconceivable that Rosedale can remain to be what it is when its stone houses are replaced by suburban-style luxury homes.
Related Section : Construction Management
Related Section : New Build & Rebuild