Hooked on historic homes

This property was featured in the Globe and Mail, please click here to read this article.

Gareth Seltzer on Huron St Real estate

Gareth Seltzer on Huron St Real estate

Gareth Seltzer once moved money on Bay St. for a living. Now he’s made a business of renovating grand old Annex homes. He’s currently on his seventh, a Victorian beauty on Huron Street.

Gareth Seltzer is delighted that the house at 534 Huron was divided up into five apartments in the 1950s.

Had the renovation been done a couple of decades later, the pocket doors, stained glass windows and elaborate plaster work that grace the 1895 mansion likely would have been sent to the nearest dump.

Picture of Gareth Seltzers latest project on Huron St Real estate

Picture of Gareth Seltzers latest project on Huron St Real estate

“They just threw everything into a bin,” he says of the 1970s, when turn-of-the-centuryhouses were overhauled with sliding glass doors and wall-to-wall broadloom.

Now, Mr. Seltzer enjoys drawing the original pocket doors that close off the dining room.

Once the renovation was under way, he decided to open up the stairwell in order to make the floors feel more connected.

At the time the house was built, people preferred to look out toward the street, not to the back, which is where horses and carriages were kept.

“They never embraced the back garden,” says Mr. Seltzer.

As he updates houses now, he makes them more suitable for family living by opening up the back with a large kitchen and a swathe of glass.

One thing everyone seems to want these days is a chef’s-style kitchen, he adds. In this house, he created a combined kitchen and family room with doors leading out to a deck. The kitchen luxuries include a restaurant-quality range, a built-in Miele coffee maker and heated floors.

“I would tend to think people would live in this space,” he says.

The house has four fireplaces, “which in some ways for a house this size is a modest number,” says Mr. Seltzer.

He expects that, back in the late 1890s when the home was built, Mr. Fraser was bringing in more advanced heating and therefore didn’t have a wood-burning fireplace installed in every room. “Now people pine for more fireplaces.”

“I just feel passionate about how many people have opened these doors to have dinner in this room,” Mr. Seltzer says as he scans the panelled walls and oak floors.

He enjoys imaging the life that took place in the houses – seven so far – that he has renovated in the Annex neighbourhood.

“That’s part of what’s exciting about these houses.”

Huron St Real estate by Charla Jones

Huron St Real estate by Charla Jones

His research told him that 534 Huron was built by architect Frederick H. Herbert, who also designed the Robert T. Brodie house next door, as well as stately homes nearby on Walmer, Lowther and Madison Avenue. In Rosedale, Mr. Herbert designed mansions on Elm.

Mr. Herbert’s commercial work included a Bank of Montreal building on Queen Street West and the Sunbeam Incandescent Lamp Factory on Dufferin Street.

The first owner of 534 Huron was prominent businessman Thomas Fraser, who, with his wife Agnes, raised their six children in the house.

When Mr. Seltzer purchased the house the basement was uninhabitable and the third floor was a “rabbit’s warren.”

His extensive restoration included the exterior window sills, which had deteriorated. But sandstone is difficult to find so Mr. Seltzer had to go back to the quarry in Scotland where the stone for the original sills came from in order to replace them.

While the walls were opened up, Mr. Seltzer bumped up the insulation to R20 and added CAT 5 wiring, an integrated sound system and sound insulation.

He added an elevator that makes the trip between the basement and the third floor less of an excursion. It’s also wheelchair-accessible.

The basement, which was pretty much uninhabitable, was excavated and finished with a recreation room, bathroom and other facilities that could become private quarters for a nanny.

On the second floor, Mr. Seltzer took some liberties with the layout in order to create a large master suite at the rear of the house. Behind closed doors, parents can retreat to their own bedroom, spa bathroom and dressing room.

Still, Mr. Seltzer acknowledges, the bathroom with its stand-alone tub, eco fireplace and steam shower with heated floor and bench, could become a family haven.

“In my experience, when you live with children, their bath is usually in the master bath.”

The dressing room has a large centre island and walls lined with closets. “This seems to be the gob-smacking point for a lot of people,” he says.

“I love the freedom and simplicity that a really large closet allows the master bedroom,” he says. “It’s a beautiful, serene, quiet space.”

The master bedroom also has doors leading to a terrace.

The second floor has two more bedrooms with ensuite bathrooms.

The third floor provides a fourth and fifth bedroom, as well as two bathrooms and a family room or home office.

Mr. Seltzer says he has made the rooms as flexible as possible so that people can decide for themselves how to use them.

Similarly, he has left the back yard on the double-sized lot pretty much a tabula rasa. New owners might even choose to replace the old 3-car garage that was torn down. “In the end, these tend to be highly personal decisions about how people use the backyard.”

At the moment, the view from the yard faces the rear red-brick wall of the original Victorian coach house on the adjoining property.

Mr. Seltzer says the house has plenty of parking, but one of his favourite aspects of the Annex neighbourhood is how pedestrian-friendly it is. “It’s part of the new vibrance.”

People walk to buy their groceries, shop on Bloor Street or go to restaurants. And the mix of ages and income levels – from students to elderly long-time residents – means the neighbourhood never becomes too rarefied.

Mr. Seltzer thinks that ambience suits the house at 534 Huron.

“Even though it’s big and it’s a bit fancy, it’s a house for living.”


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