Suzanne Lewis frowns into her phone. In just a few short years, Lewis has gone from door knocking for clients to being one of the most successful agents in Canada, operating (mostly) in the few blocks of ultra-hot Riverdale/Danforth. Today, though, she seems stalled, as she listens to her construction foreman tell her there will be a delay on finishing the renovation of a property she's purchased in the neighbourhood. The news isn't altogether bad, as construction delays are part of the process, but Lewis, who spits ideas and enthusiasms like a raging furnace, finds herself chafing at the delays.
Moments later, she admits she simply wants some reassurance from her construction guy, and her frown dissolves and trademark energy returns..
Such is the knife point of Toronto's ultra hot real estate market.
When Lewis discovered the property at Howland and Simpson Avenue in mid 2016 it felt lifted from another era. In fact, it was a variety store in the early part of the 20th century, and the most recent owners, Sarah and David, kept the property faithfully Victorian and slightly monastic. Sarah, a psychotherapist, welcomed her patients at the front door at street level, and David could often be seen shovelling snow and greeting neighbours in his trademark baritone. They were quintessentially Riverdale.
Then, sadly, David passed away in 2015, and Sarah felt it was time to move on, so up the property went up for sale.
Meanwhile Lewis found out about the house through another agent, who asked her if she wanted to preview it. "When I went to the property," Lewis says, "and walked through it, because I have seen so many houses, I thought 'I've never seen anything like it before.' The high ceilings, the unconventional layout, just totally unique in every way."
The house sits opposite the famous Metropolitan Community Church (see photo above). Aside from a superb Prime Riverdale location, it boasts four bedrooms, three bathrooms over 4700 square feet, as well as a "studio barn," and an unheard-of-in-Riverdale four car parking pad. It blends so perfectly with its surroundings that it never betrays its enormity. The Gerrard streetcar rattles by just 100 feet away, and French fave Batifole is equally close for a glass of wine, but the house itself is dead quiet and recessive, such is its charm.
"Sometimes I tell people I'm renovating this house," Lewis says, "and there is this immediate recognition of both the house and the previous owners. They say 'Oh I was never in the house, but I've always admired the house.' That sort of thing."
I ask Lewis if she had a vision for the property initially. "No, I just knew there was an opportunity. It screamed for me to buy it. There's a bunch of of those sorts of convenience store properties in the area, and they are definitely bigger than your average semi or detached home, except there are very few that are not on main streets. This one is so very rare."
After purchasing the property, Lewis brought in a construction company to do the six months of renovation. Rather more interestingly, she decided she would hire East Room owner and designer Derreck Martin to design the finished property. Lewis has a deep love of design, and her website and Instagram betray her sleek eye and polished aesthetic. "I went through The East Room (a superbly designed co-working space that straddles the Don Valley) and was just wowed at the design, and I sought out Derreck to see if he would help me design it."
As this piece is written, at the end of February 2017, the property is structurally done, but waiting for Martin's finishing touches. While Lewis is anxious about mounting costs and delays, she seems peaked to see what's beyond the curtain. Stay tuned and we'll update with Part 2 soon to show the results.