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Home of the Week: Modern Rosedale mansion, old-world feel

4 DRUMSNAB RD., TORONTO

Asking price: $5.795-million

Taxes: $25,525.82 (2014)

Lot size: 110 by 130 feet (irregular)

Agent: Jimmy Molloy (Chestnut Park Real Estate Ltd.)


Photos by Jordan Prussky

The back story

One of the oldest houses in Toronto was built in the 1830s on the edge of the ravine above the Don River. It was the manor house on a vast estate named Drumsnab that would eventually be sub-divided into the properties that currently line Drumsnab Road in Rosedale.

Right across from that original homestead, the house at No. 4 was built in the early 1920s on the street that remains private to this day.

The first owner was Toronto funeral director and First World War veteran Ralph Day, who would go on to become the city’s mayor from 1938 to 1940 and chairman of the Toronto Transit Commission in the 1960s.

Mr. Day had an elevator installed so that his wife, who was disabled, could have access to all the floors of the home, according to the home’s current owner, Robbie Cooper.

Another owner was Jim McCabe, who bought the house in 1959 so that his daughter could walk to the nearby private school Branksome Hall, says Ms. Cooper. The family used the mahogany-panelled elevator as a storage closet.

The house changed hands another couple of times, and in the late 1970s, a couple of new owners moved in: Del Andison and Joseph Bottoms were married after they met on the set of the film Surfacing. Ms. Andison was executive producer of the movie based on Margaret Atwood’s novel and Mr. Bottoms was one of its stars.

The couple undertook some renovations to make the house less traditional 1920s and more ’70s. They added contemporary materials, such as smoked glass mirrors and plexiglass. The very modern master bath included marble and mirrors. Two tulip shower heads spouted water into a large, shallow tub in the middle of the room, according to Ms. Cooper, and the glamorous makeover was featured in a magazine.

“It was a very hip house,” she says.

Another owner took over for a few years in the early 1980s and then the house was sold in 1986 to a prominent orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Peter Welsh. He and his wife, Lynley, lived in the home with their three daughters, who all attended Branksome Hall.

When Dr. Welsh returned to practice medicine in New Zealand in 1997, Ms. Cooper purchased the house.

The house today

When Ms. Cooper took over, the approximately six-thousand square foot house had been modernized by successive owners, but many of the original elements were still there.

Visitors arrive to a stately wood door with iron grating and leaded glass sidelights. Inside, the entrance hall retains some Art Deco touches, with a grand wooden staircase and stained glass detailing.

The principal rooms on the main floor have remained largely unchanged except at the rear, where the house is now more connected to the garden and there is more openness between the kitchen and library.

“There’s been a tremendous amount of effort to respect the architecture of the house,” says real estate agent Jimmy Molloy of Chestnut Park Real Estate Ltd. “It takes a little bit more effort and genius to say, ‘These rooms were built for a reason, but how do we make them work for the way we live today?’”

The living room has a wood-burning fireplace with stone surround, a wooden beamed ceiling and terracotta floor tiles. Looking at the patterns in the tiles, Ms. Cooper guesses they were imported from India. An archway divides the living room from the sunroom and French doors open to the library.

Ms. Cooper says the house is large enough for her family of four kids, but the rooms always felt cozy, too.

“It’s an incredible family house,” she says. “If a house has a personality, it’s warm and embracing and nurturing.”

The wood-panelled dining room has a plate rail, leaded glass windows and a herringbone hardwood floor with mahogany inlay.

“We’ve eaten every meal in the dining room, yet it never felt too formal,” she says. “It always felt like a gathering place.”

In 2000, Ms. Cooper undertook some renovations of her own to strip away the vestiges of the 70s and 80s. She had the bathrooms redone in black and white marble. Oak floors that had once been hidden under shag carpeting were refinished.

In 2005, she renovated the kitchen in a new open plan that connects to the main floor family room and library. The L-shaped room has a circular sunroom with leaded glass windows overlooking the garden. Ms. Cooper had hardwood floors installed to match the herringbone pattern found in the other main floor rooms.

The kitchen has a large island, stone countertops and a stainless steel six-burner Wolf gas range.

An enclosed rear staircase was opened up and now residents heading up and down the floating staircase can look through a bay window to the garden. During the kitchen renovation, Ms. Cooper was visiting the cabinet maker at his shop when he told her that a worker at the auto body shop next door had a forge set up outside.

“His real passion was working with iron.”

She found Steve Bazay and hired him to design and forge the railing for the rear staircase.

Upstairs, the second floor has a large family room with a coffered ceiling, wood-burning fireplace and windows on three sides.

Ms. Cooper says her kids and their friends spent lots of time playing board games and watching television in that room.

The master suite is comprised of a bedroom with fireplace, a dressing room and a bathroom with freestanding claw-foot tub, glass-enclosed shower, separate water closet and double sinks. French doors open from the bedroom to a large balcony.

Two additional bedrooms on that floor share a large bathroom.

The third floor has three more bedrooms and a bathroom.

On the lower level, the basement floor was lowered to accommodate a home theatre room with a projector screen and ceiling-mounted projector.


The best feature

Ms. Cooper says the private, cobblestone street creates a feeling of being a long way from the city – even though the intersection of Yonge and Bloor is a short walk away.

The few houses in the cul-de-sac face an island with towering trees in the centre.

“It’s a very nice little community,” she says. “The beauty of it is you’re so close to everything in downtown Toronto.”

Ms. Cooper recalls that her son played street hockey in front of her house almost every day.

“There was never any reason to call ‘car,’” she says, because so few vehicles entered the enclave.

The neighbours all pitch in for snow plowing and landscaping.

The setting means that the home’s large lot feels very secluded in summer, Ms. Cooper says. The concrete swimming pool is surrounded by a limestone terrace, tall maples and pines, beds of perennials and a pond.

“I think the gardens are spectacular,” she says. “It’s a lovely, serene setting back there.”

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