"We wanted to move in together," says Jim Turner of the home he shares with his husband Craig Daniel. "We loved the house, we could see the potential. There was no moving of walls, we just put in a new kitchen and hardwood floors. A coat of paint, some spit and Kleenex." Fifteen years later the renovations are complete and the results are part of the tour.
The house is comfortable and modern with the big attraction being the collection of art. An Attila Lukacs dominates the living room, a Charlie Pachter "Queen on Moose" stands on guard by the dining room table, a selection of General Idea's heraldic shields line the upstairs hallway. "The raison d'être is the art collection," says Turner. "We're collectors, it's a collector's house."
As well as the magnificent collection, there are many elegant architectural details. The kitchen boasts eye-catching herring-boned inlaid hardwood; the master bath is an open space with a stone marble floor draining system in the shower that makes room for a luxurious tub; a bedroom wall hosts an exposed walk-in closet that echoes a floor-to-ceiling bookcase hosting a spotlit display of another, different, collection. "I'm a shipwreck fan," says Turner. "We have items from the Titanic and the Lusitania."
All Cabbagetown houses have a history, a provenance, and the Turner/Daniel house dates back to 1872. Daniel was disappointed to find that, despite the age of the house, there were no ghosts, a common neighbourhood status symbol, included in the purchase. Especially as the house had a stint as an ersatz funeral parlour. "They made money on the side by renting out the parlour for viewings," explains Daniel. "But we're still looking for the ghosts."
"And no corpses in heavy rains," says Turner. "We don't know much about the history but there was a knock on the door one day, it was a woman who said she had grown up here. And that her sister had given birth to four kids in the attic."
"That's where the ghosts should be . . ." says Daniel.
The home is inviting and, despite the absence of ghosts and a gallery's worth of art, roomy and understated. What made them decide to open such a personal space to the public for a day? "It was a friend's suggestion," says Turner. "And we love living in this neighbourhood. It's part of living in a historical neighbourhood."
"It's for a good cause," adds Daniel. "It's a fundraiser for the Cabbagetown Preservation Association."
The Turner/Daniel house is just blocks north of rapidly gentrifying Regent Park. Cabbagetown itself is almost overly gentrified, but there are a few holdouts. One of the most spectacular houses on the tour sits next to one of the remaining eyesores: a slum landlord rooming house that refuses to budge.
James Davie saw the potential in the neglected property that he and his partner Mark Hendricks bought. "It was one of the last grand houses that hadn't been restored," says Davie, an interior designer. "I could make my mark on it, it was a blank canvas. I didn't want to attempt to salvage someone else's vision. I kept reminding the contractors that we were trying to build an old house."
The house was gutted, supplemented, a basement added and an attic transformed. The final results are arresting and unique, a Victorian framework and flourishes blended seamlessly with clean lines and modern comforts. "It's my home and my showcase, my calling card," says Davie. Enough of a showcase to be featured in January's Canadian House & Home. (Because the magazine has an exclusive, we are unable to run any interior photos here, the house can only be ogled by joining the tour.)
With the glossy House & Home spread already serving as advertising for Davie's talents, why did they place it on the tour? "There was some arm twisting," admits Davie. "With it already published . . . But with Cabbagetown being what it is, a tight community, it seemed like a good gesture." Davie and Hendriks are, after 11 years in New York, putting down roots in a neighbourhood, raising their family, and becoming part of a community partially created by the Preservation Association. And they are inviting tour patrons to sample just what a transformation can be made out of an eyesore.