Modern Modification

Transitional open living meets heritage personality in this charming Toronto reno.

It’s not every day a custom home designer gets to breathe new life into a space that was once a horse stable. Located on the south end of Palmerston Avenue in Toronto’s popular Trinity-Bellwoods neighbourhood, this fabulous row house was originally built in the late-1800s and was completely converted in a top-to-bottom renovation in 2018. What stands now is a sleek three-storey home that’s full of charm and celebrates the history of what stood in its place more than a century ago.

Marin Zabzuni is the architectural designer who modernized this old home. The founder and owner of Toronto-based design firm Contempo Studio, Zabzuni saw immense potential when he first visited the 1,800-square-foot place. “An artist had been living in the home and he kept the house as true to its character as possible. When he was ready to sell, there were certain aspects of the house he asked the new owner to keep intact,” Zabzuni says. “A developer bought the property and we worked together to ensure those aspects were respected. The house is so full of character and personality. I knew we’d be fully transforming the space, but I knew we’d keep the beautiful exposed brick, beams and large windows that bring in so much natural light. We made sure the finished product turned out as hip as possible while mixing old and new textures.”

Keeping this in mind, Zabzuni took a lot of his inspiration from the existing property. He chose to go with a transitional look—while the space maintains that heritage feel, it’s also reminiscent of a sleek, modern New York-style loft. “It’s very well thought out, very warm, captivating and fresh. We really used what we had and enhanced everything we could while maintaining character,” he says. Zabzuni created an open-concept main floor with a kitchen, small eating area and living room. “We went with a lot of white and light-coloured wood. It almost has a Scandinavian feel. It’s natural and blends well with the rest of the space.” For contrast, he chose deep black for the window casings and door frames. “This addition brings the space up to date. It’s sharp,” he says. The master bedroom was also designed as an open space—it’s so open, in fact, that the ensuite is integrated into the bedroom. The exterior was also given a boost—the brick was painted charcoal grey, the roof was redone and Zabzuni selected glass-aluminum panels for the large paned windows in the front of the house. “It’s hard to say what my favourite part of the renovation is because I’m so pleased with the whole thing—this was a transformation that had its challenges, but we were able to maintain the home’s personality and paid homage to its history,” he says.

It’s been two years since Zabzuni completed the renovation, but he’s now back at the Palmerston residence. The homeowner he originally worked with sold, and the new owner is planning on staying for a while. “He loves the area and wants to make this a long-term home. The thing is, he understandably wants more space, so we’re doing another renovation—we’re leaving most of the house untouched, but building a two-storey addition in the rear. It will include a family room and library, as well as a roof terrace,” says Zabzuni. Construction is set to start this season. “It’s a real blessing to get back to work on this house. The team at Contempo has history here and we’re excited to build onto what we already accomplished in the space. We’re looking forward to the end result.”

Photography by Giulio Muratori

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