In 2017, my husband Arriz and I decided to shake up our lives entirely by selling our completely finished, renovated to the hilt, house in Toronto’s Little Portugal neighbourhood and buying an old Victorian home in Historical Cabbagetown, (the largest Victorian village in North America), in need of a top-to-bottom makeover. I had already decided it was time to leave my post as the Editor-in-Chief of House & Home magazine to start my own boutique design agency and I figured, why not dive into three major life changes at once?! It was all part of a plan to simplify my life: Downsize from a large house, free up some cash to invest and finally buy that house in Mexico that I’ve always dreamt about (See more about that under Casa Louise). This was the year that I was going to make it all happen – and I did!
But it wasn’t easy. Renovating this old Victorian was the most challenging renovation Arriz and I have ever navigated because, unbeknownst to us, the house had a terrible support structure. (Seriously, why do we even bother with home inspections?) But, we got through it.
Unpleasant surprises are, to a certain extent, par for the course when it comes to renovating old houses, so I’ve learned to look for the silver lining in these situations. The fun part of having to open up and reinforce all the walls in the house was discovering what lay behind them. From old photographs to vintage scraps of wallpaper, the vestiges of the people who lived here before were hauntingly beautiful. Despite the undo stress of the reno, I’m happy to have these stories to share.
The house needed all new electrical and HVAC and almost every wall had to be opened up. This is the third floor landing with the walls and ceiling ripped open. The only thing we kept in this area was the original railing and newel post. I think this was about the time that I was suppressing panic attacks about how much extra work this project was going to be.
We uncovered old red brick and this wonderfully aged wallpaper with a home-on-the-range motif under the fireplace breast in the living room. The decaying beauty was quite striking and I briefly contemplated working it into the room.
And on the top floor, Underneath the drywall, we discovered a chimney stack wrapped in a brown and white Graeco Roman themed wallpaper that was beyond dingy. There had been so many different patterns in this house at one time though.
The most intriguing thing we found during the demolition was this small photograph of a young man in a brass frame with no name attached. It was placed in a glass box inside the framing of one of the bathroom walls. We guessed that he likely lived in the house at some point. Since many of the houses in Cabbagetown were once rooming houses, he could have been one of many people who lived here.
When we tore up the 80’s mottled green slate floor in the entry, we found this zigzag pattern underneath. I was over the moon when my contractor sent me a pic because I thought it was marble, (wishful thinking!) It turned out to be linoleum, which still could have been cool, but it was sadly too chipped to stay. It had to go… more on the updated look later!