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It’s easy to miss. From any of the larger thoroughfares that bisects Craven Road, the little street all but disappears into Toronto’s urban tapestry. Narrow and unassuming as a laneway or back alley, the modest east end row is a tight-knit community, and a stretch unlike any other in the city. While the city’s longest (municipally maintained) fence spans Craven Road’s west side, its east frontage is home to some of the smallest houses in the city — not to mention a couple of the best-designed.

Situated between Danforth and Hanson, Shim-Sutcliffe’s eponymous Craven Road House and Studio is a modern classic. Completed in 1996 and 2005 respectively, the structure is among the few millennium-era projects to be designated a heritage building by the City of Toronto. And more recently, the seminal project was joined by another notable contemporary design, this time courtesy of local architect Anya Moryoussef.

A thoughtful — and inventive — renovation of a deteriorating 112-year-old worker’s cottage, Moryoussef’s design adapts the local vernacular to make the most of its setting while supporting the client’s desire to age in place. The owner, a retired schoolteacher, wanted an accessible, barrier-free home, while prioritizing a budget-sensitive approach that would minimize a lengthy relocation during construction. For Moryoussef, the brief presented the challenge — and opportunity — to thoroughly reimagine the home while avoiding the costs and complications of demolition and new construction.

Maintaining the home’s single-storey footprint was the starting point for the design. While the preservation of much of the building’s foundation and structure facilitated a relatively expedited construction timeline (as well as a more carbon- and cost-sensitive approach), the preservation of at least 50 per cent of the original walls allowed the project to be classified as a renovation, avoiding a lengthy municipal permit process.

However, the sensible plan was quickly complicated when the builders discovered that the foundation required reconstruction — a process which usually entails demolishing the building’s walls. To maintain the exterior walls, the home’s above-ground shell was suspended via a temporary shoring system, allowing the foundation to be repaired without demolishing the above-ground structure. (In a reflection of community spirit, a neighbour also allowed their concrete terrace to be used as a buttress to erect a temporary shoring mechanism).

Working within the constraints of the home’s original footprint — and municipal regulations on wall heights, roof angles, and window-to-wall ratios — Moryoussef set out to “de-construct, transform, re-interpret, and re-construct the home in a completely modern way.” 

Across the exterior, corrugated steel cladding creates a cohesive and unified façade, with the material simplicity enhancing the visual prominence of the sawtooth roof. Inside, the 67-square-metre cottage’s program was re-aligned to reinforce a sense of privacy, with the open kitchen, dining and living space oriented around a south-facing courtyard.

Past a small entryway, the four-room home features a bedroom as well as a painting studio, which can also accomodate a single bed. While a simple and rigorous palette of light, neutral tones unifies and seemingly enlarges the modest space, the design’s defining gesture is the 11-metre clerestory window that spans the length of the home’s sawtooth roof, welcoming in the changing light and the fresh air. Against the palette of an elegantly pared down space — indoors and outside — the movement of light and shadow is amplified and embraced, creating depth and texture from the simplest kit of parts.

Anya Moryoussef Reimagines a Toronto Worker’s Cottage

On Craven Road, a modest yet boldly inventive renovation updates a historic vernacular for contemporary life.

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