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A Modern Home Fashioned From an Old Sewing Shop

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Mazen Studio cuts a house well-suited for the future

In the city’s oldest neighbourhoods are sprinklings of former corner stores, laundries and luncheonettes that have seen business move away and shop windows covered over. When Christina Yu and James Davis bought such a property in Riverdale – a former tailor’s shop that had sat boarded up for about eight years – they tore the storefront back open. Working with Mazen El-Abdallah of Mazen Studio, they pulled the facade off, installed expansive windows and opened up what’s now a home to passersby again.

Mazen Studio Riverdale Taylor shop

Davis (left), Yu and El- Abdallah sit in the front room. It’s kitted out with a Bev Hisey rug, a B&B Italia sofa (from Kiosk) and a Jieldé floor lamp (from Hollace Cluny).

Artwork by Bill Douglas hangs over an Eames Compact sofa. To watch movies, the couple moves the art and furniture aside, providing ample wall space for projecting films.

With a couple of Eames LCW chairs, an extendable orange Jieldé floor lamp and a Stefan Sagmeister monograph on the coffee table, the front room is a fine vignette of creative-industries types at home (Yu is a graphic designer, Davis a TV commercial producer). On the other hand, the three-by-five-metre anodized aluminum windows and worn exterior brick are much less domestic. “There is an industrial feeling about the place,” El-Abdallah says. “There’s nothing precious about any of this.”

Mazen Studio Riverdale Taylor shop

Sliding panels can be added to the bulkhead in the future, to change the loft-like space into individual bedrooms.

The 246-square-metre interior has the open-ended feeling of a loft: the two floors and basement are lit by carefully placed windows and skylights. Upstairs, the bedroom and a living area occupy each end of the house. El-Abdallah points out a ceiling bulkhead that defines the edges of the spaces; the couple can add sliding doors or walls here, to define smaller, private bedrooms.

Mazen Studio Riverdale Taylor shop

It took a smart mix of furnishings to dress this expansive space. Above a Douglas fir dining table hangs a George Nelson Saucer pendant (from Design Within Reach). Bestlite pendants above the stainless steel island top are from Kiosk.

Ralph, the couple’s dog, sits at the foot of Marais stools.

The finishes are also unpolished. The rough-hewn millwork, Douglas fir flooring and slate tiles look ready to get banged up a bit. The kitchen has stainless steel countertops (already acquiring scratches) and commercial appliances.

Upstairs, the living area is defined by a custom bookcase, a Florence Knoll coffee table picked up at Hollace Cluny, and a Havana sofa from Design Within Reach.

But all this took a gut reno that cost about $200,000 – or just $85 a square foot. How to make the numbers work? Strategic spending. For the kitchen, El-Abdallah specified stock cabinetry with custom Douglas fir doors. The bookcases he designed consist of raw two-by-twelves stacked up by the contractor. Those glossy wardrobes in the bedroom? Modified Ikea.

Mazen Studio Riverdale Taylor shop

At the entrance, a custom-built storage unit in Douglas fir features touch-latched cabinet doors for conceal shoes.

“Of course,” Davis says, “lots of money went into things you don’t see.” El-Abdallah worked with local engineers Blackwell Bowick, and there was extensive structural work to eliminate interior walls (Davis speaks knowledgeably about shear walls and “sistering” to reinforce old joists), to incorporate all new mechanicals and to insulate. The result: a home that’s been updated for the long term and is ready for more changes. “You never know, you might have triplets,” Davis says. “But even if this place gets on the small side, we’ll adapt with it.”

The home’s original brick is complemented by an exterior door by Madawaska Doors.

Originally published in our Guide 2010 issue as “Tailor-Made”.

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