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Inside Lawren Harris's onetime home

The Toronto art deco masterpiece was designed for the Group of Seven painter by Alexandra Biriukova in 1930

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The Lawren Harris house in Toronto. '[The owners] were not interested in having us mess with the front of the house,” says renovating architect Drew Mandel. “We thought our renovation actually mirrored the evolution of the house since it was built,' he says, 'because the formal rooms were all intact and in good shape, but the things that didn’t reflect how we live now - the family room, the kitchen where you had these little punched windows for someone to go disappear and make food and come out - turned it into a standard renovation project.'

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The master bath. Architect Drew Mandel: 'The most interesting projects are defined by their constraints…we had a lot of interesting conversations about what is Canadian Art Deco.'

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Another view of the master bath.

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Kitchen as seen through open fireplace. The kitchen was designed by Mr. Mandel in collaboration with a custom millwork shop, and 16 versions of shop drawings were produced. The backlit marble over the Wolf stove is a way to elevate the informal space towards the formal parts of the house: “We talk about it as art.”

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The family room looking to breakfast room. Since the family room has no basement underneath, it’s thought that it was originally Lawren Harris’s garage. It features a wild, colourful sofa by Missoni: “No other colour, we got it with that,” jokes Mr. Mandel.

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In the restored foyer, all cove lighting was repaired, as was all plasterwork. “Banks and banks of light switches were removed to visually simplify the space.

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Kitchen island detail, looking to breakfast room.

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Breakfast room as seen through fireplace. The addition sports a smooth black terrazzo floor (radiantly heated). While some think of schools, subways and hospitals when they see terrazzo, it was used on occasion in residential spaces up until the 1960s, and is a good fit with Art Deco.

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Kitchen showing Wolf stove, looking to family room in distance

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Rear exterior showing pool, breakfast room and garden wall. By widening the house “you push the light further away,” says architect Drew Mandel. The solution was to add a bank of clerestories: “We worked very hard to keep the structure very slim and, in most cases, line up with the mullions.”

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Rear exterior showing pool and breakfast room. During demolition, a mural was found under a wall in the basement “and there was this mad frenzy in the house for a day when we thought that maybe we had uncovered some art that Lawren Harris had done,” says Mr. Mandel (which would pay for the most of the work!), but when a call was placed to previous owners they found out the work was by an OCA student.

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Rear exterior showing addition and, to left, a small part of the colonnade/garden wall.

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The basement wine room.

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