June 14, 2024


Swing Your Home

Home of the Week: Cabbagetown house emerges light and bright from two-year renovation

333 Wellesley St. E., Toronto

Asking Price: $3.595-million

Taxes: $11,874.14 (2020)

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Lot Size: 24.67 feet by 128 feet

Agents: Paul Maranger, Christian Vermast, Sameer Ismail, Sotheby’s International Realty Canada

The backstory

Owner Rohan D’Souza is a trained concert pianist and doctor.

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Rohan D’Souza has loved art and design since he was a child growing up in India. His family encouraged his artistic pursuits – allowing him to train as a concert pianist – but they fervently wanted him to become a doctor.

“My parents said, ‘You can do all of that, as long as you still do medicine.’ After school, music was the treat at the end of the day.”

The family moved to England when Dr. D’Souza was a teenager, and he continued his education there. He went on to purchase a Victorian cottage in Wimbledon and discovered a passion for gardening.

“I grew accustomed to having a little quaint home with a small front garden and an enormous back garden,” he says.

Nine years ago, Dr. D’Souza visited Canada on a one-year fellowship. During that time he met his partner, finance professional Neil Bhagat, and the two have lived in Toronto since.

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Today Dr. D’Souza is a physician and scientific researcher at Mount Sinai Hospital and assistant professor in obstetrics and gynaecology at the University of Toronto.

The house was built in 1878 and was designated under the Ontario Heritage Act in 2004.

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When Dr. D’Souza and Mr. Bhagat began looking for a house in Toronto in 2015, they gravitated to Cabbagetown and its streetscape of Victorian architecture.

One day they arrived at a real estate “open house” just as the agent was about to close up for the day. While Mr. Bhagat was parking the car, the homeowner invited Dr. D’Souza in to look around.

The house had been extended in a 1978 renovation and the Victorian façade was covered in stucco, but Dr. D’Souza immediately appreciated the light and space inside. Owners John and Geraldine Culliton gave him a tour of the large back garden.

The house had been extended in a 1978 renovation and the Victorian façade was covered in stucco.

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“Within 15 minutes I knew I had to live in that house. There was some kind of magic – there was some kind of connection. You could see that it had been loved.”

Dr. D’Souza and Mr. Bhagat learned that the house had been in the family since about 1920, when Mr. Culliton’s grandparents moved from the country to the city in order to be closer to medical care.

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A Heritage Toronto plaque shows that the house was originally built in 1878 for Elizabeth Cuthbert, who owned a fancy goods store nearby. The property was designated under the Ontario Heritage Act in 2004.

The House Today

Dr. D’Souza and Mr. Bhagat decided to tackle the refurbishment of the house with the help of designer Margaret Roman of Maggee Gibson Design Inc.

Designer Margaret Roman of Maggee Gibson Design Inc. helped refurbish the Victorian house.

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Dr. D’Souza found an outlet for his creative energy in designing the new home. First, he sketched a house of steel and glass with a swimming pool on the roof.

“Maggee had to sit me down and explain, ‘Darling, there was no swimming pool on the roof in Victorian England.’ We had to go back to the drawing board.”

In all, three plans were submitted and three were rejected before the design fit within the conservation rules governing the style of Victorian architecture found in Toronto.

Along the way, the team discovered that a termite infestation had severely damaged the rear addition and it needed to be demolished. When workers removed the stucco from the façade, the main beam supporting the peaked roof simply broke in two.

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“The original roof caved in while the guys were on the scaffolding,” Ms. Roman said. Fortunately there were no injuries.

The owner-couple had planned to create an ultra-modern interior, but eventually changed their vision.

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The narrow Cabbagetown streets and tight back alley also created problems for artisans who were trying to bring in heavy equipment, including the crane needed to lift the hot tub to the third floor.

After nearly two years of building, the past problems had all been remediated and the solid new structure was in place.

“I was paying people off not to run away at times,” says Ms. Roman, who laughs about the setbacks now.

The completed project saw the façade clad in Rosedale red heritage brick, and the windows restored to their original dimensions. A porch with a canopy above is in keeping with the home’s provenance.

The transformation of the exterior won the Cabbagetown Preservation Association’s award for excellence in restoration in 2020.

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Bedroom with ensuite bathroom. The house boasts 10-foot ceilings.

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Today the home has three bedrooms and four bathrooms spread over four floors. Including the luxurious new lower level with a home gym and sauna, the total living space comes to 4,366 square feet.

Despite the nasty surprises along the way, there were also some pleasant discoveries: Ms. Roman cut a hole in the ceiling in the front parlour and found that a false ceiling was covering up an elaborate plaster medallion.

The couple had planned to create an ultra-modern interior, but the new find changed their vision.

“I wanted to put my grand piano there, under the medallion,” says Dr. D’Souza, who still loves to play music at the end of the day. All of my initial ideas about functionality and modern design went out the window.”

The couple decided to preserve the grandeur of the front parlour and create a transition to a modern addition at the rear.

“Now we’ve got 10-foot ceilings with that beautiful medallion.”

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The original staircase was too damaged to restore, so they replaced it with a floating staircase with open treads and glass panels that allow light to flow from the top of the building to the bottom.

“I’m obsessed with light and the sense of space,” says Dr. D’Souza, who adds that Londoners are very accustomed to blending modern architecture with Victorian.

Mr. Bhagat loves to cook, so he had more input into planning the modern chef’s kitchen with sleek cabinets, double wall ovens and high-end appliances.

The dramatic centre island in the kitchen is clad in black stone with waterfall sides.

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The marble floors throughout the main level, which includes a dining room, are heated.

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“He has been baking cakes for frontline workers,” Dr. D’Souza says.

The dramatic centre island is clad in black stone with waterfall sides.

“We just felt like it was screaming ‘buy me,’” Dr. D’Souza says of the Nero stone.

The marble floors are heated throughout the main level, which also has a dining room, a powder room and a family room with doors opening to a backyard deck.

Upstairs the home has a master suite with a spa-like bathroom and a dressing room. A second bedroom has an ensuite bathroom.

The couple has created a regal home office in black-and-gold Louis XIV style.

The third floor has a third bedroom and a Hollywood-style art deco lounge with doors opening to an eight-seat hot tub on the deck.

Dr. D’Souza says the vista extends to the CN Tower.

“You could actually have your glass of wine and sit in the hot tub and the views are just utterly beautiful.”

The best feature

The home has a large back garden.

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The couple both love the interior, but Dr. D’Souza says his favourite place to spend time is in the gardens surrounding the house. His time in Wimbledon inspired him to plant roses, hydrangeas, lavender and spring bulbs.

“It’s so serene and it’s so sublime,” he says of the backyard oasis. “And there are so many birds in Cabbagetown.”

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