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Above a mattress store in Toronto’s west end, an unexpected oasis fuels a family’s creativity.
Created from 2,400 square feet of raw industrial space by design-build contractor (and former trumpet player) Matt Brooks and his painter and opera-singer wife Paula Arciniega, the expansive home bursts with energy and colour.
Jazz plays through Wi-Fi-enabled Sonos speakers, oversized artwork hangs everywhere, plants flourish in the huge windows. Outside, the neighbourhood has a gritty feel — cab drivers still ask Arciniega if she’s sure this is where she wants to be dropped off.
Two years ago, when they first brought the kids, Noah, 10, Oliver, 7, and Salome, 3, to check it out, they gave it the thumbs down. But Brooks had a vision of the haven it could become.
His business partner, Eric Adelman, owned the Dufferin and Dupont Sts.-area warehouse and initially Arciniega went to see it as a potential studio space to paint and rehearse opera roles — pursuits too physically large for the semi-detached home the couple owned in St. Clair Village.
But she and Brooks were drawn to the idea of making the space their home. “Matt and I had always thought about converting warehouse space into a loft and here was a chance,” Arciniega says. “We knew we’d have to sell the house to swing it, but the market was good.”
The renovation cost approximately $ 150,000, and Brooks took advantage of recycled doors, windows and lumber to help keep costs down. They also managed the project themselves, through South Park Design Build.
The space was divided into three zones: Paula’s studio at one end; the main area with a galley kitchen, long dining table and chairs, and living room in the middle; and bedrooms with bathrooms at the other end.
“We designed the studio to be away from the bedrooms because Paula often listens to music while she’s painting and working late into the night,” Brooks says.
“I must have reminded him at least a dozen times about soundproofing,” Arciniega adds. “I practise opera and that’s loud, and I like to practise piano late at night.”
The studio needed to be big enough for a grand piano, and for Arciniega’s large painting canvases. As well, the studio doors had to be large to allow moving the piano in and out, since the couple also envisioned hosting chamber concerts. So far they have held one Pocket Concert, a series of classical-music concerts that people host in their own homes. “Matt and I are so social, we thought how fun would it be to roll the piano out and do that.”
The main living area with kitchen, dining and large family room is open — it’s been the scene of countless dinner parties around a long oak table with mismatched chairs.
The floors are magical. “Originally, Paula envisioned white floors but when we met with the epoxy guys, they suggested using a white metallic paint additive because clear epoxy actually makes the raw concrete look darker,” says Brooks.
“We decided to add the white metallic paint and told them to swirl it around randomly to make big abstract gestures. When the paint/epoxy settled, the metal paint fell into the subtle waves in the concrete, creating the striped look,” he says, adding: “We loved it. Another unexpected outcome.”
Tucked between the kitchen and the front entry is a small TV room. They call it the fishbowl, since a corner created from leftover windows allows a full view of the area.
The original design of the bedrooms, Brooks explains, “had a two-section closet for the boys and directly beside a separate closet for Salome . . . One evening, over a glass of wine, we thought why not have her closet be part of a cool sneak-through, kinda like in E.T. In the end I think it actually gave us more storage.”
Many of their furnishings have been inherited or salvaged. Arciniega is originally from California — she and Brooks met there while both completed master’s studies in music. Arciniega inherited her grand piano, as well as a sideboard, a secretary and several dressers from her grandmother and had them shipped from San Francisco. Some of the pieces are handmade, such as the dollhouse Arciniega constructed for Salome.
Sometimes, Arciniega says, creating your special oasis requires being able to see beyond what is unusual, maybe even ugly: The couple took an offbeat space in an unconventional neighbourhood and made it theirs: an oasis retreat for themselves, their family and their friends.
“This home has allowed us all to be more free,” Arciniega says.
“At heart, that’s what most of us want, to be free to be creative, and nothing to confine you. This home has given us a sense of space and freedom, there is nothing hindering our ideas, nothing confinsing us, and is the ideal place for creativity to bloom.”