Urban style – a designing couple converts a ’50s triplex into a stylish home

The disparate dreams of two distinct design aesthetics – those of hip downtown loft dwellers and (usually suburban) family types – have both been fulfilled in Esther Cheong and Paul Fantauzzi’s home in Toronto’s Riverdale neighbourhood. As the owners of Z Axis Design, the husband-and-wife team have transformed a boxy 1950s triplex, creating a new hybrid – the four-bedroom family home that looks and feels like a loft.

Why a triplex? The large footprint and boxy shape were perfect for a loft look. “And at the same time we could get the family stuff – a garden, direct access to outside, a neighbourhood,” says Esther. The couple combined their skills and creativity to transform a midcentury ugly duckling into a modern-day swan.

When designing the space, Esther and Paul ensured that their new home had lots of natural light and great views from inside – Esther believes you should be able to see outside from wherever you are in the house and that what you see must be pleasing. Not surprisingly, the new studio-like windows are huge. At the front and back of the house, the windows on all three floors are defined by dark wood “picture frames” that shape the exterior view into inviting vistas that are almost painterly.

Esther and Paul chose the double lot for its mature trees and greenery, and changed the triplex’s old eyesore of a three-car garage into a cottage-style charmer surrounded by rustic flagstone walks and a garden where an asphalt parking lot once was. The backyard was also excavated to allow direct access to the garden from the home’s lower level.

Inside, the loft aesthetic reigns. The cabinetry is low enough to maintain the visual flow of the space, while exposed steel structural beams are a stylish reminder of the design’s industrial inspiration. There’s also a strict uniformity of materials (wood, glass, steel, stone) and a virtual absence of colour. Esther and Paul dislike clutter, so nary a spice rack or coffee maker mars the kitchen counters, though there are many drawers and cupboards underneath. Even three-year-old Bianca’s toys have been marshalled into specific areas and, amazingly, appear to stay there.

It might seem that this austere interior requires rigour, discipline and a meticulous approach to living that may not be suited to young children (Esther and Paul are expecting another baby in the new year). Esther looks surprised and puzzled by this notion. “Even though we’re tidy, this is still a family house,” she says, glancing indifferently at tiny fingerprints on the glass balusters. “They’re easy to wipe off.”

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