Mon. Nov 29th, 2021

Their first home in Canada was everything Martina Steiner and Hannes Rost are not: ancient, cluttered, and absurdly inefficient.

But the location of the 2,800-square-foot semi-detached house was undeniable. Located between the Annex and Little Italy, it is the ideal neighborhood for the couple, who are both faculty members at the University of Toronto and parents of Eleanor, 3, and Frederic, 1.

“We wanted to live close to work because we did not want to spend our free time commuting. We want to have as much time as possible with the children, ”said Steiner.

"We enhanced it by adding built-in lighting so you, in the middle of all this storage, might feel like you're in this little restaurant nook," said designer Eva Healy about the kitchen nook, which homeowners Hannes Rost and Martina Steiner and their little Frederic and Eleanor enjoy.

“It is only 10 minutes by bike to get to work and about 20 minutes walk, which is super convenient. We consider it a luxury to be so close to work and have the amenities of the city all around us. ”

This luxury did not come without cost. When they bought the house from the 1880s in January 2020, they knew they would not move in right away. A $ 200,000 renovation was needed to remove decades of chaotic change that suited a number of owners over the years – not to mention asbestos and other surprises hidden behind those walls.

The main floor was a maze of walls and rooms. The slam in the middle was a staircase to the basement. At the back there was a narrow passage to the kitchen and a U-shaped counter that one could walk around before entering the sink and appliances.

SO: A narrow hallway led to the back of the house, and to the old kitchen.

Steiner and Rost reached out to Eva Healy, owner of Avenue Design Inc., to transform the dark and cluttered space into an open main floor with a bright kitchen. Her first piece of advice was to open up the back of the home and install oversized sliding doors to draw in light.

“It is a long and narrow house without windows on the side of the house, which means that most of the light came from the front of the house. The main purpose of this renovation was to open it up to bring light into the whole house, ”said Healy.

SO: The old kitchen was dark and a U-shaped counter blocked the sink and appliances.

When it came to designing the kitchen from scratch, Healy and her team took into account the couple’s sensitivity. They wanted something that suited the way they lived in their home country, Switzerland.

“We wanted a minimalist design. We were looking for something European in a way with really clean, simple lines,” Rost said.

In the new, sleek design, one side of the long space is devoted to cabinets, appliances and kitchen work space. The alternative side is about storage and dining, with a banquet built into a wall of cupboards and a cozy round table that can easily accommodate both children and adults.

NOW: "We were looking for something European in a way with really clean, simple lines," said homeowner Hannes Rost.

“I’ve never imagined a layout like this, but it’s phenomenal to live in it. The round table and the niche seat are more flexible than an island with stools because we can move the table. It was meant to be a breakfast area, but we eat there all the time, ”Steiner said.

“The niche is almost architectural in the way it looks. We enhanced it by adding built-in lighting so that in the middle of all this storage you can feel like you are in this little restaurant nook, ”said Healy.

Aiming for a soft, organic look, Healy’s team chose wall cabinets in light gray and a muted back plate in a textured tile. The table top is in Caesarstone that looks like slate. The lower cabinets are laminate that looks like white oak. “Bringing in natural elements with airiness and minimalism created a unique look that they strived for, while being completely functional and practical,” Healy said.

NOW: Eleanor, 3, and Frederic, 1 at the new, wide entrance to the kitchen with stairs cleverly hidden by a half wall, to the left.

Instead of a stove, Steiner and Rost opted for a hob and a separate oven downstairs that are more in line with Swiss life. They also increased the standard depth of the bottom cabinet and countertop by a few inches because it felt more ergonomic for the way they live.

At the entrance to the kitchen, a narrow staircase leading to the basement constituted a design obstacle. “We did not want it to feel like a dark cave you have to enter,” Healy said, “so we created a half-wall effect and a cool, sculptural light fixture on top.”

NOW: The new design for the central staircase, hidden by a half wall, includes modern lighting and art that draws attention to the couple's homeland, Switzerland.

“It really works. Most people go through and don’t even realize there are stairs there. It’s very misleading,” Steiner said.

Anchoring everything in the room is a herringbone porcelain floor with an edge in the edges, which Healy says is a nod to the home’s history. A brass insert acts as a tension point between the new and the old.

When it came to lighting, Healy considered the homeowners’ sensitivity and the character of the house. “As Europeans, they are not used to having the potlight effect that makes everything bright, so we created more interest in the ceiling with recessed luminaires. It draws the eye up and allows the stair light to be the focal point.”

NOW: "I had never imagined a layout like this, but it's phenomenal to live in it," says Martina Steiner, with daughter Eleanor, about their renovated home, which combines original features with modern updates throughout the main floor with open concept.

Elsewhere on the main floor, Healy added a powder room tucked out of sight of the kitchen, built-in storage under the stairs and a renewed foyer to make it suitable for family life.

It turned out to be a challenge to complete the renovation design and construction at the height of the first wave of the pandemic from March to July 2020, but Healy says things coincided well. “We made decisions and presented materials and plans by Zoom. Fortunately, my connections in the industry helped ensure we got the things we needed when we needed them. Looking back, it actually went more smoothly than things are now with the supply chain and labor challenges. “

NOW: Frederic, 1, in the versatile powder room on the ground floor, designed to be hidden out of sight of the kitchen.

The family of four moved into the house in August 2020 and have enjoyed the space, especially the kitchen, ever since.

“It simply came to our notice then. It combines very nicely the functional aspect with the design. We are very happy here, ”said Rost.


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