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November 18, 2017
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Design is Within Reach in a Toronto Neighbourhood

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An insurgence of modern design homes has spread throughout the peculiar neighbourhood of St. Clair West.

In the west end of Toronto, a few blocks north of Bloor Street, is an area known as St. Clair West. Boasting a number of excellent restaurants, one of the city's best parks, an artists' venue that houses a great Saturday farmer's market and various boutique shops, this little pocket of the city has made a name for itself among the urban trendsetters.

Its unique location - flanked by Corsa Italia to the west, Forest Hill to the east and Little Jamaica to the north - results in an unusual collection of inhabitants who add an abundance of charm and charisma to the neighbourhood. Garnering some notoriety about five years ago, it has been on the rise ever since. Because of its affordable price range, good schools and close proximity to public transit and the downtown core, it was particularly attractive to young, first-time homebuyers and new families.

But there were a few of these real estate hunters who were looking to purchase more than just an average starter home. The community's plethora of small, detached houses circa 1950 presented an additional appeal: guilt-free demolition. Savvy, imaginative 30-somethings with tall aspirations started snapping up houses all throughout "the woods," a moniker attributed to the many "wood" street names - Kenwood, Wychwood, Cherrywood, etc. Let the gutting begin! They took the narrow parameters of the typically 25 or 30 by 120 lots and their certain aesthetic taste and lifestyle values, and set about creating bespoke modern buildings.

Tall and narrow infrastructure satisfies the
lot restraints, but allows for plenty of
family space inside the home.

Julie and her spouse bought their St. Clair West house four years ago, and promptly tore it to the ground. They had a vision in mind for their abode that was anything but humble in style, though it had their minimal, eco-friendly values in mind. "At the time we were looking to buy, the houses in the area were affordable, and in a great community," says Julie. "But, we were looking for something that we could build into a long-term home, rather than a three to five year starter home, and we wanted it to reflect our sensibilities. Since these are older houses, they just didn't meet our modern needs and tastes," she explains of the little redbrick house they originally purchased. Their home is now a tall, narrow masterpiece of environmentally friendly engineering and chic contemporary décor. Oh, and lots of windows. "We really wanted to flood our rooms with natural light," Julie says of the windows, which are a part of the identifiable look. Geometric shapes and mixed-mediums, like cedar and slate, are also signature elements to creating the perfect modern "design home."

Tearing a house down and starting from scratch, or even gutting it or doing a big renovation, can be a daunting and expensive under-taking. Finding little location gems like "the woods" is half the battle. But, if you have the patience, perseverance and vision, achieving your progressive dream home is more than possible. According to Julie and her family, it's all about the preparation; watching the market, and being ready to spring into action when opportunity presents itself. With the right kind of investment and long-term value in mind, anyone can take a house, and make it their home - floor-to-ceiling windows, cubic structure and all.

It's not for everyone, this modern, geometric, minimalist look. But, the architectural style that continues to gain popularity with the consumers and designers alike, is undeniably striking. With some careful planning, the right architect and big dreams, it's not difficult to make a statement on a quiet little street in the city.

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