259 Forest Hill Rd., Toronto
Asking Price: $6,285,000
Taxes: $17,731.50 (2021)
Lot Size: 50 by 125 feet
Agent: Paul Johnston (Right at Home Realty)
When Chris Tweel went to see a mid-century house in Toronto’s upscale Forest Hill neighbourhood in 2006, the four-bedroom home was listed for sale as a teardown.
The Toronto-based architect had a different vision.
The interior was timeworn and some dubious embellishments had been added, but the building stood exactly as the prominent modernist architect Harry B. Kohl had designed it in 1955.
The couple who commissioned Mr. Kohl to design their family home some 50 years earlier still lived there.
Mr. Tweel, who studied at Dalhousie University’s School of Architecture, recognized Mr. Kohl’s original drawing, framed and hanging in the foyer, almost as soon as he entered the house.
Mr. Tweel remains incredulous that anyone would raze the dwelling.
“How could you tear it down? It’s what I would build if I were building today.”
The house today
Mr. Tweel lived in the home with his wife and twin boys for a year or two while they absorbed how the layout worked and the way the light fell.
“We had to gut it but we knew the bones were here,” he says.
When they were ready, the family moved out and the couple oversaw the transformation.
Throughout the house, the Mr. Tweel preserved the original layout. The front façade provides privacy from the street while the rear opens to a verdant garden.
“There’s a real sense of progression in this house: from public to private and to the outdoors.”
Guests arriving at the front door are sheltered by a covered entryway before they step into a vestibule painted in a warming shade of deep red.
“There’s a subtle sense of formality,” Mr. Tweel says. “A lot of people don’t have vestibules any more.”
Inside, the spacious double-storey foyer has a large transom window which brings light to the interior.
“There are so many wonderful walls to hang art,” says Mr. Tweel, who has a collection of works by mainly Canadian artists.
The original staircase felt cumbersome and weighed down by heavy planters, which were a popular design element in the 1950s.
Mr. Tweel had that arrangement torn out and replaced with a floating staircase with oak treads and a glass rail.
Throughout the main floor, the damaged parquet was removed and replaced with black slate.
“A big focus is to use natural materials,” says Mr. Tweel, who avoids manufactured wood and composites.
One of the original owners was an engineer, Mr. Tweel says, and the house became one of the first in Toronto to have an in-floor radiant heating system. The architect preserved the copper pipes used at the time, which would be far too expensive to replicate today, he points out.
The combined living and dining area at the rear of the house is perfectly proportioned, Mr. Tweel says, adding that the room has been the setting for many family gatherings and fundraisers for art and design organizations over the years.
“We were always the ones doing the family parties because we have the space.”
The original kitchen was somewhat chopped up and inefficient, Mr. Tweel says, so he moved a door and rearranged the space.
“In a sense we just streamlined it.”
Today the modern kitchen has integrated appliances and cabinetry with white oak doors. There’s a breakfast area next to doors overlooking the garden.
At the front of the house, a room currently used as a study and home office served as a family room when the kids were young.
Upstairs, the home has four bedrooms.
The primary bedroom has a walk-in closet and ensuite bathroom. Doors open to a Juliette balcony, which faces into the tree canopy outside.
“It’s beautiful when the crabapples blossom,” Mr. Tweel says. “You’re so connected to nature in every room of the house.”
Mr. Tweel took great pains to restore an original family bathroom. He kept the vintage corner bathtub and located some unused tiles that dated to the era when the house was built.
Outside, the garden was originally laid out by landscape architect Lois Lister. The brick patio sits atop a tree-covered slope that descends to the Kay Gardner Beltline Trail below.
Mr. Tweel points out that even the garden is divided between public and family areas, with a secluded spot where he often sits to savour his morning coffee.
The front garden was recently refreshed by Toronto-based gh3 architects.
Mr. Tweel says the family first began searching for houses in Forest Hill because his sons attended Upper Canada College in the neighbourhood. The twins’ friends often ended up at the house because it’s so close to the school.
“This house was always full of kids – it was the first stop.”
The best feature
The living and dining room always had windows overlooking the back garden, but the panes were small. Improvements in manufacturing since the 1950s allowed Mr. Tweel to install Bauhaus mahogany-trimmed windows and doors that stretch across 27 feet.
“They didn’t have the technology to achieve this,” he says, sliding away the glass to open the living room to the outdoors. “It’s like sitting in a covered porch.”
The wall of glass overlooks a serene garden that provides beauty in every season, he says.
“It’s a very calm house,” Mr. Tweel says.
“I think it’s the glazing and the light – that’s the highlight of the house.”
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