Toronto architect and interior designer Dee Dee Hannah was driving through her Forest Hill neighbourhood a few years back when something caught her eye and twigged her imagination.
What she saw was a teardown on a 75-foot-wide lot. But what she promptly envisioned was an 8,000-square-foot, two-storey house in yellow-buff brick and limestone with a full basement walkout.
It took a year for that vision to become a reality. It's now about 18 months since Hannah, of Taylor Hannah Architect Inc., moved into the house with her stockbroker husband, Rob Hannah (a partner in MGI Securities), their children, Jake, 12, Rachael, 7, and their two black Havanese dogs, Sassy and Sparkie.
Hannah co-owns Montclair Construction and is the former co-host of HGTV's Love by Design. She has been a guest on TV's Oprah three times, giving millions of viewers advice about design.
"It was a dream come true to be your own client and to be able to do things that you really want to do," Hannah says of the house-building project. "I had only myself to blame if something went wrong because I built it and designed it and did the interior design. I really do one-offs; I don't do repetitives. I look at each site and bring that to the project, so it grows itself. I never have a preconceived idea.
"I wanted to make something really beautiful ... something timeless and elegant. I try to be elegant, as best as I can while I'm slopping through a dirty site.I try not to go off on trends.
"For me, this home is a great family home because I really enjoy it with my friends and family. It is a happy house with lots of colours."
The house has a limestone portico out front with a large built-in brick planter. The landscaping includes three ornamental columnar pear trees. At the back is a stone patio, a rectangular swimming pool with curved corners and a big cedar banquette with lots of brown cushions and aqua piping that serves as an oversized sofa.
As for the interior, Hannah says her house is an architect and interior designer's home. What makes it different is that the plan flows in a circle with double-height spaces and big and small rooms, which she calls an experience of space and volume.
"The decor is transitional because there are lots of antiques, but it's modern in its colour and approach in details such as the draperies," she says. "But it certainly stems from classicism."
Throughout the house, including the basement, there is medium-stained oak hardwood flooring and white crown moulding. All the rooms in the basement are painted aqua blue, including the children's playroom, a laundry room and a gym. The gym has eight-foot mirrored walls to go with the aqua blue painted above as a border.
There is a bathroom by the gym and a powder room by the pool; both have stone flooring in cream with green-grey accents.
The main-floor entrance to the foyer is at the right of the house. The foyer has grey-blue limestone tile flooring with darker, polished accents. The wallpaper is a periwinkle colour. To the left is the great room also in periwinkle. At the front is the living room that opens up to the dining area.
Across the back of the house is an open concept space with the kitchen to the left, a breakfast room in the middle and a two-storey family room to the right. The walls are a light green. In the kitchen there is light-green cabinetry with a mahogany island and greenish-purple counter. Perimeter countertops are green. All appliances are stainless steel.
Off the stair hall is a powder room with a separate room for the toilet and sink. It is painted a green onyx and has a green tile floor. Also off the hall is her husband's office to the right of the family room.
The oak flooring is accompanied by mahogany wood panelled walls. In honour of their move into the home ” and Rob's move into his new home office ” Dee Dee gave her husband of 21 years a gift of two sculpted soldiers, one English, one French. Both were crafted during the 18th century in bronze with blue enamel pottery at the base. In addition to their beauty, the sentimental value makes this Hannah's most cherished decor piece.
Upstairs, there are five bedrooms, three with ensuites.
One bedroom is used as Hannah's office and has pink wallpaper. The guest bedroom has white and beige walls.
Her daughter's walls are pink, and her son's blue and beige. The master bedroom has blue-and-white walls, while the ensuite is painted soft blue and white and has brown limestone flooring.
"My favourite room is the formal great room because I love the scale, the proportions and the periwinkle colour," Hannah says. "I collect antiques and modern art and they are all in that room."
There are four crystal and polished nickel chandeliers that hang in a row across the great room. In the living area is a wood-burning fireplace with a white wood mantel and buff-coloured brick. You could almost call it a walk-in fireplace because the opening is six-feet high.
On the hardwood floor in the living room is an Aubusson carpet. It has no pile and is quite flat. The colours of the rug are soft blue, pink and cream in a neo-classical pattern.
The draperies are white shears with blue, pink and brown silks. The living room also has a Heintzman & Co. black baby grand piano.
Furnishings include an upholstered sofa from Hannah's furniture line, THA, available through her office. The fabric is soft blue, pink, brown and cream in a Japanese-feel motif called Scholar. An antique gold-gilded sofa has the same cushions.
Also in the room are two antique black-painted side tables with wood tops. Antique candelabras in silver with cream shades sit on top. There are two antique coffee tables ” one is gilded, the other painted white. Both have marble tops. Between the chairs is a brass-and-black marble small table.
Along the wall is an antique two-drawer commode in black and gold with a white top.
Living room art includes an oil painting of a winter scene by Toronto-based Drew Harris and two sketches of women's faces by Harold Town. There are also two antique Japanese prints of birds and, like the Harris and Town pieces, they are framed in silver.
Hannah admits that neither she nor her husband is handy. "I have two partners, my husband, who is my partner in life. Then I have my business partner in my construction company, David Strathy, who is what I call my husband with a toolbox. He comes when I need him," she says with a chuckle.
Hannah says this is her dream house, but don't expect her to stay put for long.
She's in the house business and absolutely feels the need to move again.
She'll buy a new lot and start the custom building home process all over again because she so enjoys the experience of picking colours and items and sourcing materials for all her clients including herself.
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