With references to his grandmother, the home’s previous owner, the young architect has designed a thoroughly modern space that’s firmly rooted in his family’s past
Full disclosure: we’re new and dedicated fans of Tura Cousins Wilson. Not only did he work on the North York Central Library renovation with Diamond Schmitt, but he recently launched his own residential architecture firm, the Studio of Contemporary Architecture, a.k.a. SOCA, whose gorgeous King West loft reno is featured in our upcoming fall issue. He’s also involved in several community-oriented projects, including a Black Urbanism TO-led re-imagining Little Jamaica on Eglinton West, a soccer clubhouse in Collingwood and a YMCA. As if all that wasn’t enough, he’s even Toronto born-and-raised.
Despite the schedule, Cousins Wilson found time to renovate his own home, too, transforming an old Leslieville Edwardian into a modern light-filled gem that’s filled with references to its previous owner, his Jamaican-born grandmother. Below, he walks us through his home, and yet another reason why we’ve become such big fans.
Designlines: Who lives with you?
Tura Cousins Wilson: I live with my wife Alex Snider Wilson, who is co-owner of Queen Books and expecting our first child; our cat, Marcus; and two roommates, Celia Mendez and Trevor Chan. My wife and I are on the third floor, Celia and Trevor each have a room on the second and we all share the main floor.
Designlines: What part of town is your home located in and how long have you lived there?
Tura Cousins Wilson: We live in Leslieville and have been there for the past three-and-a-half years. The neighbourhood is full of young families and classic Toronto idiosyncrasies that I find nostalgic because it feels very much like the Toronto I grew up in. That being said, having grown up at Yonge and Bloor and later at Bathurst and St. Clair, there are a lot of tucked-away parts of the East End that are still new to me, so I still enjoy going for long walks and stumbling upon unique buildings and hidden parkettes.
Designlines: How old is the home or what style is it?
Tura Cousins Wilson: My home is a three-storey, 110-year-old Edwardian that was built as part of a working- and middle-class streetcar suburb. My love for my home is in large part sentimental since it was my late grandmother’s. It was in rough shape after her passing, so I undertook a major renovation that included underpinning the basement to create a bright and spacious apartment, gutting the interiors and building an addition on the third floor. I designed the house around a 5.7-metre void overlooking the dining room that incorporates what used to be my grandmother’s bedroom as a way to pay tribute to her and honour her absence.
The changes were intended to create a home that could accommodate a new generation and provide flexibility for changing family circumstances. Although the main renovation has been completed, my wife and I are still in the process of making things comfortable and homey with more art and furniture.
Designlines: What are some of your favourite aspects of the home?
Tura Cousins Wilson: One of my favourite features is the front porch, which I rebuilt and restored to its Edwardian glory and painted bright yellow – my grandmother’s favourite colour. The shade also recalls the classic, colourful vibes of many Jamaican homes and provides a splash of warmth during our long grey winters. For me, a front porch is the most public gesture of a house and should not only be somewhere to relax, but be a place to connect with neighbours and community. This thinking led to Alex and I getting married on our porch last summer with our friends, family and neighbours watching.
Another key feature of my home is the two-metre-tall acrylic on mylar gouache portrait of my grandmother by artist Rajni Perera. Located in front of a window and overlooking the dining room cutout, the painting creates a colourful stained glass effect from the setting sun. Looking on sternly with her machete, the piece was meant to evoke my grandmother’s strong matriarchal presence and warm heart.
Lastly, I’d say another favourite aspect of my home is my shower – I love long hot showers!
Designlines: How did your relationship with your home change during the pandemic?
Tura Cousins Wilson: Prior to Covid, I was home mostly on evenings and weekends, but now I’m home 24/7 along with Alex, Trevor and Celia. With everyone working from home, privacy is at a premium, so we’ve all had to set up workstations in separate areas of the house. I have an office on the third floor but have been using the dining room table to do most of my work. Alex’s bookstore has transferred most of their business to online sales and she’s been able to work from home so she’s using the office, while Trevor and Celia both have areas set up in their rooms.
We’re all cooking more meals than ever, and as a result we’re spending more time in the kitchen and dining room. We’ve generally managed to coordinate schedules and haven’t had any issues trying to cook or do laundry simultaneously. The four of us get along really well and the near-constant proximity hasn’t changed that at all. Unfortunately, as a drummer, having everyone home all the time has made it difficult for me to play.
Designlines: Moving forward, with home-time now more important than ever, are there further changes you would like to make to your living environment?
Tura Cousins Wilson: Covid has demonstrated how important comfort and versatility is in a home, so the changes I’m making – and would like to make – are to satisfy those aspects. The backyard hasn’t been finished yet, and having that additional area finished would enable more safe socializing and open up space for a quiet retreat. Choosing comfortable furniture has also become a necessity when there are four people utilizing the space constantly.
Designlines: Creativity and business wise, what strides have you made during lockdown?
Tura Cousins Wilson: Work-wise, I’ve been quite lucky and haven’t had any enforced time off, and in many ways I’ve been busier than I was before Covid. I also find that working from home has enabled greater personal flexibility and spontaneity. Creatively, the pandemic has given me more time to reflect on how precarious our world is. I find rather than change my thinking, Covid has reinforced many of my beliefs as it’s exposed so many pre-existing problems in our society. When things eventually go back to normal, I hope at the very least we collectively question concepts like long work commutes, underfunded public housing, access to nature and the amount of space dedicated to cars. Re-thinking these systems would have a profound impact on our built environment.