Taking a Beaches home from 1920 to 2020 during the pandemic

Danielle Bryk on the renovation story of a lifetime

Danielle Bryk is the co-founder and principal designer of Niche & Co. and one of the experts on HGTV Canada’s Home To Win series.

When my husband and I bought our 110-year-old home in the Beaches area at the tail end of 2019, we knew we had a big job on our hands. As an interior designer who’s spent years helping people transform their homes, I was excited to tackle a renovation project of my own and make my mark on the space.

We moved into a two-bedroom condo temporarily, with our daughter and two sons back from the States in tow, fully gutted the house and made plans to build a third storey — and then the pandemic hit. The home sat empty and untouched for months. Meanwhile, the two-bedroom condo became home to our full family of five.

Toronto’s committee of adjustment had closed down, and the city couldn’t send any inspectors to come check the house. It was challenging to navigate, but we were able to get the work up and running.

With all the bleakness of 2020, one of the main elements I wanted to incorporate into the new design was light — and lots of it. Here are a few ways we brought the outdoors in and transformed a dark space to a bright haven.

Floor-to-ceiling sliding doors. It’s an amazing feeling when you can open the door and the backyard becomes an extension of the house. The floor-to-ceiling sliding doors we chose pocket into the wall, so they totally disappear when you open them, creating a clean, seamless look. I knew from day one I didn’t want a door header obstructing the view, and because we were building from scratch, we were able to integrate the structure with the ceiling joists. It’s a subtle difference, but it removes any visual barriers and makes for a cleaner look.

Extra windows. Right beside the sliding doors, we added another floor-to-ceiling panel window to really amplify the natural light in the room. The window faces west, so at a certain time of day it just floods the room with natural light. It’s really important to know the direction your house is facing when renovating, so you can take full advantage of where the sun is shining.

Skylights. On the third floor, we added three venting solar- powered skylights, one of which is right at the top of the staircase. Because the house is so narrow and there are no windows on the north side, it can be quite dark in the second floor hallway, so this skylight helps to flood the whole area with natural light. Fun fact: aside from providing extra light, skylights can also be helpful in regulating temperature and moderating circadian rhythms.

Natural, organic materials. As the pandemic wore on, we shifted our plans from a dramatic, moody colour scheme to something more calm, soothing and, of course, light filled. I decided to paint my main floor walls with lime plaster, which is a great natural product that regulates humidity and gives the whole room a soft, modern and organic feel.

We moved into the new home near Christmas of 2020, and while there are still lots of finishing touches to be made, we’re thrilled to be nearing the end of this whirlwind renovation chapter and seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.

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