Toronto lane house offers flexibility and rental income opportunities
Door n°1, the acid green? Or door n°2, the royal blue one? Which to enter? Well, if one is just combing through the alleys of Toronto’s Danforth and Donlands Avenue neighborhoods for fun, either, but it wouldn’t hurt to stop and admire this alley house of LGA Architectural Partners because it does so much more than you might expect.
If you’re Robert Burley or Debra Friedman, both acclaimed photographers, and you own both doors, you’d probably choose the acid green, as it opens up to a wide, well-equipped, bright and airy lot. -home office/photography studio on main floor.
The other door, as beautiful as it is, contains a small area of shoes and a staircase leading to an extremely detailed and entirely self-contained apartment; so unless Mr. Burley or Mrs. Friedman are experiencing a domestic dispute so severe that extended downtime is necessary, the two will likely remain in the main house and the small apartment will wait out a life with tenants, relatives or even like an Airbnb.
And that’s the thing: combine a wide lot like this with the spirit of architect Janna Levitt’s steel trap, and an alley house doesn’t have to be something a homeowner forgets. once it is built and occupied. No, it can offer more space to owners via its ground floor as an art or yoga studio, as a writer’s retreat, or maybe also…well, heaven is limit, really.
“It was always designed to be flexible,” says Ms. Friedman, sipping coffee from a colorful vintage mug.
“Okay,” nods Mr. Burley, picking up a piece of honey cake. “We want to have as many options as possible in the future… not to become morbid [but] if one of us makes the transition to the other world, I mean, it would be easy for a person to live in this world.
So true. And imagine the rent that could be generated from the large detached house a stone’s throw from the Danforth and all its advantages?
The rent that can be generated by the approximately 700 square foot apartment down the driveway, according to the couple, is around $2,400 per month. And while that might seem steep for a bedroom (with an optional home office that can double as a second) with a small open-plan kitchen and small dining area, consider some of the niceties LGA has provided: a set of – sliding ceiling doors turn the living room into a balcony that overlooks the driveway; wall registers that have been reduced to abstract rectangles – “We want to minimize surface elements,” Ms. Levitt explains – to reduce visual clutter; kitchen and bathroom storage that resembles a boat in its ingenuity; and a light colored wide plank floor which combines with the ‘borrowing’ of space above the staircase to create the illusion of even more width.
Even sacrificing a small chunk of the main floor so there’s space to shake off the rain and take off your shoes goes a long way toward creating such a happy, livable space.
“So it’s really surgical, every square inch is taken into account,” says Ms. Levitt, who estimates the construction cost around $350 per square foot (in 2019 dollars; things have since gone up).
And despite being a medium-sized company with 40 employees that is usually involved in larger projects such as libraries and educational buildings, LGA likes to tackle the odd little back alley project. “It’s a business decision,” says Levitt. “You might decide not to do them; we decided to do them because they are difficult [and] architecturally, they are really interesting.
However, there are challenges that aren’t the fun kind: depositing and staging building materials is always a nuisance, but even more so with the extremely limited space of alley projects; many contractors are inexperienced with the new form of building (while this was Vanderwal Build’s first alley suite, Chris Vanderwal was a quick learner and everyone loved him); and although the City of Toronto changed its bylaws to allow alley suites in 2018, the city still has some issues to deal with.
“It’s still hard to do [laneway houses] as of right; the city just can’t let go,’ Ms. Levitt says, rolling her eyes. “They’re making it up as they go…and it’s also that there’s no one in town with enough history to look into these things, and a lot of people don’t agree with that, and the instructions are not clear, and [the city] the requirements keep changing. To combat this, LGA always does a preliminary review with the city “to find out what they think about it, and then you can fight it if you know they’re wrong,” she laughs.
Despite the obstacles, it’s safe to say that Alley Houses have become a hit in The 6ix. And, as this sexy black metal standing seam example proves, they can also accommodate family members who can’t afford to buy in this hot market while providing extra space for homeowners themselves. . They can even provide outdoor space: despite losing much of the backyard to construction, Ms. Friedman and Mr. Burley say they are using the newly landscaped patio between the two buildings more than ever.
“We have no regrets,” says Burley. “There’s nothing about it where we thought ‘Oh, we should have done this or that.’ Everything is what we had hoped and expected.