8 Trefann St., Toronto
Asking price: $2,250,000
Taxes: $7,905.94 (2019)
Lot size: 25 feet by 25 feet
Agent: Erica Reddy (Royal LePage Signature Realty)
In 2004, Julie Dyck and Michael Humphries bought a dilapidated wooden garage on a plot of land in downtown Toronto. They thought the property might provide a place to park behind their Queen Street East home.
At the time, the two jewellery designers were living above their studio in the east-end neighbourhood of Corktown.
“When we bought it, it just seemed like a parking spot to us,” Mr. Humphries says of the 25-foot-by-25-foot parcel on a residential side street.
Over time, the couple considered various ways to use the property. They wondered about building a house but they ran up against planning department rules surrounding setbacks and density.
One summer evening, the two were tossing around ideas with Ms. Dyck’s childhood friend, architect Drew Hauser. Mr. Hauser pointed out that the zoning allowed for commercial and residential use.
By creating an inventive live-work space, the couple could build right to the edge of the lot line.
The couple hired Mr. Hauser to design a modern residence that would make the most of its small, urban footprint.
The house today
Mr. Hauser and his architectural firm designed a slender tower with a ground-floor studio, a rooftop terrace and three floors of living space in between.
The couple says their ambitions were small at the beginning of the design process.
“This is not what we had in mind when we started but we’re really happy with it,” Mr. Humphries says.
The 2,200 square feet is spread over five stories of above-ground living space.
When construction started, Ms. Dyck and Mr. Humphries were both surprised to see the steel skeleton rise in two days. Neighbours were curious but also very supportive of the project, the couple says.
“It was unusual at the time,” Mr. Humphries says of the contemporary architecture in a red-brick streetscape.
Mr. Humphries says he still occasionally sees passers-by studying the house and sometimes taking photos.
“If they linger long enough I go out and talk to them,” he says.
Often the visitors are people who are considering building their own house.
The sturdy steel-and-concrete frame has been reinforced to keep the building secure in the face of all types of weather and other environmental hazards.
“We were building to commercial standards,” says Ms. Dyck. “I think when you have a five-storey building, you do it well and do it once.”
An open staircase connecting the five floors has hardwood treads made from timbers salvaged from the bottom of Georgian Bay.
“It was hard to source 48 stair treads and four landings,” says Ms. Dyck.
The architect allowed light and air to flow between the home’s upper levels by creating an atrium.
The main floor is mainly devoted to the couple’s jewellery design studio, with a polished concrete floor and a large window facing Trefann Street. There’s also a door to a built-in garage on that level.
Upstairs, the kitchen and living area occupy the second level. There’s also a bathroom and a door to an outdoor balcony.
The kitchen has a large island, floor-to-ceiling cabinets and built-in appliances. The kitchen counter was made from refurbished marble cladding that was removed from the exterior of the 72-storey First Canadian Place in Toronto’s Financial District.
The couple also had the same Carrera marble cut into rectangular wall tiles for the kitchen and bathrooms.
The pair both like to cook and Ms. Dyck particularly enjoys baking homemade sourdough bread.
“I use every inch of that space,” she says.
The lounging area has a gas fireplace clad in the same charcoal-coloured brick as the exterior of the house. The concrete floor has radiant heating.
“It’s the kind of comfort I didn’t know I loved,” Mr. Humphries says of the warm interior.
The room also has a built-in corner bench for seating next to the window.
Ms. Dyck says the architects were able to make the space functional by creating lots of built-in furniture and cupboards.
“They just sort of magically found a place to put everything.”
On the third level, the couple has created a flexible space that has served as a home office, TV room and guest bedroom at various times. A built-in murphy bed allows the pair to accommodate guests while still making full use of the room when the visitors leave. There’s also a bathroom on that level and an exterior balcony.
The fourth level is the couple’s master bedroom suite. There’s a bathroom with a walk-in shower and a stand-alone tub. The home’s third balcony is set at treetop level.
There’s also a basement with additional storage space. Mr. Humphries says the house seems tall, but there are few occasions when the couple needs to climb more than one or two flights at a time. The various levels allow the pair to keep their working lives separate from their daily activities.
“When we have clients over it really feels like a separate space,” Mr. Humphries says of the ground-floor office and studio.
Upstairs, the couple can relax, cook and sleep.
“We live between two and four most of the time,” Ms. Dyck says.
The pair have seen lots of changes in the neighbourhood over the years. The Regent Park area to the north has been revitalized with new residential buildings, parks and an aquatic centre. The nearby Canary District has newly built condo towers and a large YMCA.
The St. Lawrence Market and the financial district are within walking distance. The gem dealers and silver and gold casting services the couple needs for their business are also a short distance away.
“It’s close to everything,” Ms. Dyck says of the home’s setting.
The best feature
The top level provides a rooftop terrace and a setting for the barbecue and the hot tub. In summer, Ms. Dyck and Mr. Humphries fill the hot tub with cold water and use it as a plunge pool.
Ms. Dyck also grows tomatoes and vegetables in pots on the sun-filled deck.
Inside, that level has a sitting area and a wet bar with an under-the-counter refrigerator for keeping summer beverages cold.
The couple enjoys spending weekends looking out at St. Paul’s Basilica and the surrounding Corktown neighbourhood. The terrace provides a birds-eye view over the Italianate, circa 1889 church and the many weddings that take place on summer Saturdays.
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