Home is a labour of love in Toronto, Canada

A slow, steady, 16-year house renovation with European influences in Toronto, Canada, has paid dividends for one young family.

The kitchen’s stone sink. Photos by Stacey Van Berkel.
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In the west end of Toronto, a number of American Craftsman-style homes have been renovated by young professionals and new families. But the house that Victoria Mifsud-Teti and her husband Tony Teti chose to make their own may not have appealed to every home seeker. It had been through a period of steady decline, with an absentee landlord, for more than 20 years. But the couple saw something.

Victoria had spent her childhood on the island of Malta, in the Mediterranean, where she grew to appreciate artisanal craftwork and natural organic materials. “In Malta, from age 5 to 16, it didn’t really register to me at the time that we were living in a house that was 150 years old,” she says, “but it had more of an influence on me than I ever knew. And my dad was always building things, working with old wood and weathered things.”

Tony had grown up in Canada, but he also lived for several years in Italy, where he developed an affinity for structures and objects with a sense of history. “We came to share this timeless, historic, textured viewpoint,” Victoria says.

As newlyweds in pursuit of a home, the Tetis, who own a home-decor shop called Rizo Lola, were searching for a classic. “When we saw this house, built in 1922, we saw its architectural bones,” Victoria says. “The possibilities seemed obvious.” So they purchased the property and moved in immediately. The American Craftsman style developed its conceptually distinct European design from the British Arts and Crafts movement. They planned to keep the house’s history, maximise the architecture and trimwork, bring in light – and do all of the renovation themselves.

After five years “and 15 layers of paint stripped”, they say that the work began to feel overwhelming, with no end in sight. But then, there came a knock at the door. Two sisters were standing on the front porch. “We grew up here,” they said. “It’s so nice to see someone finally caring for our old home.”

Such encouragements kept the Tetis moving forward. They completed one design change, and then another, and so on for another eight years before completing the transformation to a cheerful classic home in which they now raise their two young children.

It’s a bright and light-filled environment, with a simplified palette of white and light-reflecting materials, with dark wood or black elements for energising contrast. “I’m a huge fan of lightness,” Victoria says. “Even if it’s rained for four days, I want to feel happy. Light does that for me.” With an appreciation of European and global handmades, they also incorporated classic organic objects – wood, steel, iron, glass, stone and fabric – into a design scheme that’s a little industrial but very refined.

More than any other room, the kitchen epitomises their restoration journey. “Our main challenge was creating a functional kitchen out of what had been a tiny eight-by-14-foot galley,” Victoria says. The now-large kitchen has eight floor-to-ceiling windows to let in light. The pale-grey cabinetry, white trim, Bianco marble backsplash and travertine floor complement the original brick, wood trim and reclaimed barnwood beams.

A new dining room features its original panelling and plate rail, stripped of 12 coats of paint that had been applied over many years. Antique oak chairs, a linen tablecloth and silver serving pieces are from the Tetis’ own retail boutique, as is much of the Euro-chic decor throughout the home. “We wanted to style the house with vintage and vintage-looking pieces that would not look out of place in such traditional surroundings,” she says.

When summer arrives and the sun comes out to play, the focus moves outdoors and into the garden. To make the most of short and precious summer days, they levelled a hill out back to create a garden. Under a wooden pergola there, the family gathers for warm-weather meals, amid stone fountains, statuary, a koi pond and any manner of growing things. It’s another way of living in the light.

Home revival complete, Victoria says that she’s an advocate of their slow, steady pace in renovation. “I think people often buy houses, gut them right away and don’t take time to live with the house,” she says. “The central lesson I’ve learnt is to live with the house for a period of time and develop an understanding of the house and your needs. There’s no need to rush. A true family home takes time to get right.”

Today, their handcrafted home provides the light-filled, classic environment they envisioned when first stepping onto the property 16 years ago. “We haven’t gone with trends; we’ve tried to stay classic,” Victoria says. “And today, I’m still happy with everything we’ve done. It does seem timeless and has the vintage look that we love.”

As a result of their successful renovation, Victoria has begun creating interiors for their retail clients. “I’m not a trained interior designer,” she says, “but as people have seen what we do, in our boutique and in our home, they’ve asked me to help them with interiors.”

Victoria says that she likes to keep busy, and with their two children, a retail store and ­interior-design clients, that seems an easy enough objective to meet. But for Victoria, perhaps even that isn’t industrious enough. “I have to say, I’m starting to get the itch to move and redo another home.”

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