Markham Street

Markham Street

Picnic Design
Toronto, ON, Canada
Project Year
Private Houses
Andrej Kopac

Markham Street

Picnic Design as Architects

It all started with the spiral stairs.

Imagine negotiating a 24-inch wide spiral stair down to the basement patio door, your hands full with plates of uncooked food, just to get to the BBQ, and then hauling all back up to the kitchen (via same spiral stair) due to the lack of a deck at the back of the house to enjoy your dinner? This is what the owners had to endure before the renovation of their house, in the Toronto neighbourhood of Seaton Village.


The growing family of four needed more space, but the spiral stairs, the walk-in pantry, the walk-out basement and the rest of the 80’s renovations simply turned their house into a constant obstacle course.


Not to mention the narrow lot size, a mere 13.5’ wide x 125’ long.


To turn this dark, narrow house - originally built in the 1910’s - into a functional, light-filled, spacious and enjoyable home, Eric Martin of Picnic Design, decided to work with natural light.


By introducing a large skylight on the 2nd floor roof deck, Martin strategically guided natural light through a light shaft, terminating directly above the dining table, the family's command-central, located in the eat-in kitchen. The light shaft, framing a large modern chandelier, offers indirect light onto a den and a new bedroom on the 2nd floor. The connection not only allows for natural light, but also for improved social connection throughout the whole house.


Though the front of the house remained largely untouched, the introduction of new windows and doors, and a larger window in the 3rd floor master bedroom contributed significantly to the increase of natural light pouring into the home from the East during mornings.


Typical to many downtown Toronto homes, the house lacked a proper entrance closet - a must-have for young families. The solution to this was simple, yet bold - expanding the entrance zone right across the front of the ground fl. of the house (the former dining room) with a porcelain tile floor that connects the front door with a new closet on the opposite side, passing the bay window along the way. The bay window becomes a perfect place for a bench on which to sit while putting on your shoes or to perch your bag, coffee and keys while putting on your coat.


To make the interior spaces feel wider, it was important for the full width of the house to be experienced as much as possible. To that end, the use of porosity was very important. The wall that used to separate the stairs from the main spaces was replaced with open wood slats, forming a screen that extends from the ground floor all the way to the 3rd, ending as a guard around the stair opening. A large patio door at the back of the ground and 3rd floors of the house also helped to emphasize the width while bringing in more natural light. To connect the inside and outside, a key decision was made to bridge the kitchen to the backyard over the basement walkout. This eliminated the convoluted path from the kitchen to the BBQ, making entertaining a lot more enjoyable.


In addition to the interior design changes, additional square footage was added. A 2nd floor rear addition provided a much-needed full-size 3rd bedroom. A new dormer on the 3rd fl replaced an inset balcony and gable roof in the master bedroom, which allowed the bathroom to be relocated at the back, creating the space for a new walk-in closet and dressing area. While the extra square footage was a big ask at city hall, ultimately the committee was convinced by the reasonability of the proposed design.


As for the interior finishes, the palette is kept to a very light and neutral background with warm accents. The client is very hands-on and not afraid of colour. The result is cherry wood upper cabinets that contrast a rich teal porcelain tile backsplash in the kitchen, and slate tile with cedar ceiling in the master ensuite.


To further the personal touch, the client, who is very much into music, has arranged the wood blocking in the ground fl. oak stair slat screen according to the notes for a musical score as a tribute to their newly-born daughter.

Fitting that it ends at the stairs.

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