With innovative design – care of LGA Architects – and some help from the neighbours, a laneway house is born
With Toronto’s stock of detached homes in short supply, laneway houses are an enticing alternative to condo living – and thanks to recent changes in city zoning laws, building one is now within reach of many more homeowners. Your laneway dream house, however, comes with its own unique set of challenges, and requires copious planning, imaginative design and a lot of patience. In the case of this modern 135-square-metre home in Harbord Village, currently used as a medium-term rental, the results were worth the effort.
A collaboration between ZZ Contracting’s Zeke Kaplan, who is also the property owner, and Brock James of LGA Architectural Partners, this project began with a crumbling, 100-year-old house set directly against the property’s back lane. Working within the existing two-storey envelope and utilizing 50 per cent of the existing structure allowed LGA (along with Moses Structural Engineers) to build without seeking zoning variances – a potentially difficult and time-consuming process.
The site’s dimensions necessitated some creative design solutions to maximize space, like a sunken kitchen and oversized “dormers” to house the upper bedrooms. “The design demarcates spaces while also using the square footage in a unique way,” says Kaplan. “The actual footprint of the building hasn’t changed, but between adding dormers and the split-level design, it feels a lot bigger than it actually is.”
Further maximizing the livable area, the home’s glass front accordions open, turning the lush, landscaped yard into an extension of the living room. Upstairs, the master bedroom similarly opens onto a small green roof planted with lavender. Rather than trying to hide the laneway, lane-facing clerestory on the main floor is positioned above head height, ensuring privacy while allowing for light, air-flow and a perfectly framed view of the patinated garages nearby.
The site’s size and location required rethinking otherwise routine operations, like pumping concrete through an unfinished skylight and using trenchless “torpedo” technology to run gas, sewage and power lines underground from the street. The project also necessitated constant cooperation with neighbours to ensure supplies, contractors and machinery could come and go for the duration of the year-long build. “There were a lot of conversations,” says Kaplan. “We were mindful of the density and wanted to communicate that, just so everyone was on the same page.”
None of this complex process is obvious from the finished product, which sits clad in a grey, seamed metal. It’s the only one of its kind on this laneway but, judging from the interest both Kaplan and LGA have received from this project so far, that may not be the case for long.
Originally published in our Small Spaces 2019 issue as Street Smarts.