Who lives here: Ferris and Aaron Grant; their sons, Otis, 6, and Alton, 8; and dogs Fred, Judah and Henry. Ferris is a teacher, and Aaron is a video editor.
Location: Carleton Village, Toronto
Size: 1,200-square-foot (111.5-square-meter) main house and 825-square-foot (76.6-square-meter) basement
For four and a half months in mid-2014, Ferris and Aaron Grant would start their day by waking up in the one-room basement they shared with their two sons, Otis and Alton, and their three large dogs, Fred, Judah and Henry. They’d walk upstairs, where a crew of contractors would be waiting for them, having arrived at 7:30 that morning to work on the family’s 100-year-old house in Toronto. While many remodeling guides advise homeowners to move out during construction, Aaron and Ferris couldn’t have been happier to live through it. “Every day we got a new present and a new reveal,” Ferris says.
Ferris discovered the house seven years ago while walking with her infant son, Alton, through Carleton Village, the neighborhood where her mom lived. “It was perfectly hideous,” she says, but promising architectural details and a decent price tag proved appealing. “We bought it because it looked horrible and we were ready to dig in,” she says.
After tinkering with the house themselves over the years, fixing electrical issues and other essentials, even tearing down some walls, Aaron and Ferris decided to stop living in partial construction. They hired Christian Bellsmith, a contractor who lived down the street and had become a good friend, in 2013. He suggested that architect Wanda Ely join the team, who brought an overarching vision to the family’s passionate, but up until that point ad hoc, remodel. Over the next year, various members of the team designed and renovated the downstairs kitchen and dining area and added a new upstairs bathroom and media room; additional upstairs updates also took place during this time.
The original dining room and kitchen sat off a long hallway that stretched the length of the house. They were two separate rooms connected by a pass-through, as seen here. “It felt like a place you had to go in order to get things,” Aaron says of the kitchen. Too many people were jammed into the kitchen whenever guests came over, leaving the dining room and other downstairs rooms unused.
Ferris and Aaron asked Ely to open up the kitchen, eliminating the boundary between the kitchen and dining area to create one communal space. “We wanted it to be clean and simple so that it welcomed and had room for more,” Ferris says. “We wanted to create a beautiful timeless shell that would grow and change as our family grows and changes.” They worked with Ely to design a space that not only accommodated their requests but also shows who they are as a family. “To me a custom design doesn’t mean simply choosing your own layout, fixtures and finishes, but having a vision for a space that really reflects who the clients are,” Ely says. “Getting to know who they are informs the design concepts.”
The new open kitchen blends food preparation and dining in one area. Ely tore down the wall separating the two spaces, as the homeowners had wanted, and expanded both spaces by combining them. “Our scheme was about not just having the kitchen open to the dining room but really ‘mashing’ the two spaces together so there was an intentional blur between kitchen and dining spaces,” Ely says. More windows brightened the space and added storage increased functionality. .
The kitchen has always been a focal point, but it has reinvigorated the family, Aaron says. Ferris and Aaron cook dinner most nights of the week, a task that is made easier by the new kitchen. “Looking at it as a chef or as a homeowner, this is a kitchen anyone can use,” Aaron says. “It just flat-out works.”
The upstairs bathroom used to sit at the top of the stairs. The family decided pretty early on that they wanted only one bathroom in the house. “Space is premium,” Ferris says. “I also don’t like cleaning.” The couple decided to relocate the bathroom to expand it.
The new enlarged bathroom is along the upstairs hall, where there had previously been a guest bedroom. Ely designed the bathroom in halves to accommodate multiple people at once. A space-saving pocket door closes off the toilet and bathing area from the mirror and wall-mounted sinks, so that someone can shower while two other people brush their teeth. Two new skylights brighten this interior room.
Back downstairs, this room off the kitchen was once a bathroom, then Aaron’s office, and is now a sunroom the family calls “the throne room.”
Aaron works a few steps off the throne room in a revamped backyard garden shed. Bellsmith helped Ferris and Aaron move it to its current location from another spot in the yard in the summer of 2013, one year before the home’s renovation. Since there was a shed in the original drawings for the house, they didn’t need any additional permits. They connected the shed to the house with a new deck and enclosed the backyard with a new fence and lush plantings.
“It felt like a gift they had given us,” Ferris says of the design and build team’s renovation. Bellsmith shares a similar sentiment: “It’s special because I got to do it for friends of mine.”
After Photos by Scott Norworthy
ALSO ON HUFFPOST