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From ravaged to renaissance is a tale of one East York home's transformation

East York home’s transformation a tale of ravaged to renaissance

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East York home’s transformation a tale of ravaged to renaissance


Once upon a time, on a quiet crescent in east Toronto, a “For Sale” sign sat on the front yard of a post-war 1950s home. The house was in tragic condition. A pie-shaped lot presented some trying limitations, but it was well situated in an excellent neighbourhood, and had a private driveway with an attached garage. Buyers without construction or design knowledge might not see the opportunity to develop a great family home on this property, but luckily, the new homeowners did. The young couple came to us with excitement, a great attitude, and willing to let our team design and build a house that could meet their growing family’s needs.

Master plan and permits

However, this project was no small undertaking. Designing and getting approval of the plans proved to be more challenging than the construction itself. We explored several preliminary plan options, researched the zoning restrictions for the property, and visited the Committee of Adjustments for zoning variances. The final decision was to do a whole interior and exterior renovation project. This included raising the ground-floor ceiling height and rebuilding the second floor; creating a new third-floor study in the attic space; adding a two-storey rear addition with finished basement below; renovating and finishing the existing basement space; and completely remodelling the existing ground floor.

Ground floor greatness

The homeowners had a strong preference to gain more ceiling height on the ground floor, which led to the decision to destroy and rebuild the existing second floor entirely. With new 10-ft. ceilings, we wanted to optimize the space for better living and entertaining, so we decided to remove the walls between the living room and dining room to allow for a better connection to the new, contemporary kitchen. After enlarging the existing garage, we then converted the existing kitchen into a new mudroom and powder room. Overall, the design of the ground floor was intended to be functional for a family to grow and entertain in.

Privacy matters

On the newly rebuilt second floor, we constructed four bedrooms, three bathrooms and a laundry room. The master bedroom features a walk-in closet and a four-piece ensuite with double vanity. Two of the three remaining bedrooms have private access to their own full bathroom. The second floor is spacious enough to accommodate the entire family, and laid out in a way that provides the master bedroom with privacy.

Light and bright attic

To keep the overall height of the house feeling reasonably scaled, we arrived at the design of a unique roof shape that allowed for a generous third floor, which is minimally visible from the street. The third floor addition in the attic is a great feature to the house, as it is open-concept, light-filled and has a walk-out balcony.

Room to spare

Finally, the existing basement and addition were designed as an extension to the family’s living and entertaining space. A spacious recreation/movie room takes up a sizable portion at the front of the basement, while a guest bedroom and washroom add yet another sleeping arrangement to the overall house. There is plenty of designated storage in the basement, and a small home gym as well. The project in East York is one that our team is very proud of. We managed to deliver one family’s dream home, on a property in which they took a sizable risk on purchasing. With the meaning of home taking on a whole new meaning this year, our city, and world, is reminded just how important it is to love the physical space – from function, comfort and design – to make your home the safe haven we all crave.

Photos: Valerie Wilcox

Jessica Millard joined Men At Work Design Build in 2017 while studying at Ryerson University.

The Toronto-based firm offers integrated engineering, design and professional construction services for addition and major renovation projects on old Toronto homes.

Jessica has been involved in various internal departments within the firm, and is currently the company’s Project Coordinator.


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Home reno

Home construction and renovation the largest contributor to Canada’s underground economy

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Home construction and renovation the largest contributor to Canada’s underground economy

Home reno

Looking to custom-build a home or do your dream renovation – and save a few bucks by using unlicensed contractors? One, you’re not alone. And two, it could be a huge, costly mistake. Indeed, residential construction is by far the largest contributor to Canada’s underground economy, according to Statistics Canada. In 2016, this sector was responsible for 26.6 per cent – or $13.7 billion – of this activity, compared to 13.5 per cent for the retail trade, and 12.1 per cent for accommodation and food services.

The underground economy is defined as consisting of market-based economic activities, whether legal or illegal, that escape measurement because of their hidden, illegal or informal nature.

And the numbers are huge – totaling $51.6 billion in Canada for 2016, or 2.5 per cent of gross domestic product, and up 3.5 per cent from 2015.

The underground economy in Canada is even outperforming the total economy – increasing 3.5 per cent from 2015 to 2016, compared to the 2.0 per cent growth in total economy GDP.

Underground economy by province and territory

Ontario was responsible for the largest contribution in 2016 – $19.7 billion, compared to $11.9 million in Quebec, $7.6 billion in BC and $5.8 billion in Alberta.


As a percentage of GDP

PEI 3.1
Quebec 3.0
BC 2.9
Manitoba 2.6
Nova Scotia 2.6
Yukon 2.6
New Brunswick 2.5
Ontario 2.5
Saskatchewan 2.5
Nfld. 2.1
Alberta 1.9
NWT 1.1
Nunavut 0.8


Why you should care

Why should you care about this issue?

On a more global scale, underground economic activity means taxes are not collected – topay for programs and services such as healthcare, education, parks, child benefits, Old Age Security and Employment Insurance.

More directly for you, however, is that an “under the table” home reno or custom-build puts you at risk. Not only do you have limited recourse if the project is not done to your liking, or is over time and budget, but you could also could be liable if a worker is injured on-site during a home renovation or if you unknowingly purchase damaged goods or shoddy service with no receipt.

Always get a contract or receipt

Cash deals with no paperwork may mean a business isn’t paying its taxes. You may be liable if something goes wrong.

RenoMark protection

In the Greater Toronto Area, the Building Industry and Land Development Association (BILD) helps homeowners make informed decisions about renovation projects through a program called RenoMark. The program was established in 2001 and is now delivered in partnership with the Canadian Home Builders’ Association (CHBA) and local home builders’ associations across Canada.

RenoMark identifies professional contractors who have agreed to abide by a renovation-specific Code of Conduct. The Renovators Mark of Excellence makes it easy for homeowners to identify participating professional renovators who have agreed to provide a superior level of service.

Get it in writing

Make sure to get the details of any reno project in writing and signed by both you and your contractor. RenoMark Renovators provide a two-year warranty.

Do your research

Ask for at least three references and always check them

By dealing with reputable businesses that follow the rules, you’re also helping workers. Honest businesses follow health, safety and other employment standards.

The Canadian Home Builder’s Association also offers free and unbiased information on how to hire a contractor the smart and safe way, at getitinwriting.ca


Getting Started with Home Renovation

Reno Expert: Good Help Wanted

What you need to consider before renovating your home



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