Ancestral Roofs

"In Praise of Older Buildings"

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Beautiful Craftsmanship

Oh I am so in love with this house! I pass it regularly on my walk up Dufferin Street on the way to volunteer at Glanmore National Historic Site. I finally brought my camera this week, and although the day was gloomy, the lovely house looked so at home in its wintry garden that I took a few shots and thought I'd share one.

I'm writing a paper for a history of western architecture course today- a house study. What's the style, etc. I selected this house - its style is Arts and Crafts inspired. There, that's out of the way. Time period 1890 - 1940. Arts and Crafts details that are in evidence on this lovely house (and I draw on my notes from my Ontario Architecture course at Mohawk College, not my own dodgy memory for details): steep roof pitch, earthy colours, recessed entrance to the side, tall slim proportions, broad chimney, asymmetrical facade, cruck-like timber detail in the south-facing porch that opens onto the gardens , craftsman style details in the solid wood exterior doors and the interior woodwork and mantel (I've seen a photo of the inside), small paned casement windows, lack of ostentation or historicizing detail. It's a plain and substantial home making no great show of wealth. It's graceful and elegant, a house that seems to grow organically from its lovely informal gardens. The ivy creeping up the chimney wall just 'belongs'.

But it's the back-story that I am so excited about. One day in the reference library I happened to flip open a book that someone had recommended, the memoirs of a woman who was beloved in the community and a long-time volunteer at Glanmore. The book fell open at a photo of this house - her house!! Coincidence. The house wanted me to know. The book, entitled 'The Girl with the Navy Blue Eyes', is a love story, a woman in love with life, with her husband, her daughters, her church, her community, her social justice and historical volunteer work...and her house. She calls herself "a lucky old lady." Sadly, she is gone now.

As I browsed the book, I picked up a number of details about the house. The young couple built it in 1936. The neighbourhood was just beginning to develop. At the time, Dufferin Street did not extend from Bridge to Dundas (one long block today) but was bisected by a creek which they crossed on a fallen log. There was a market garden on Dundas Street at Dufferin.

The couple chose the Arts and Crafts house design from a magazine. The Arts and Crafts movement in architecture and design emphasized the aesthetic of craftsmanship and the craftsman - a reaction to industrial mass-production in the late 1800's (think William Morris, Philip Webb). This thoughtful orientation was such a perfect fit for a cultured couple, a husband skilled at woodwork, a wife who gardened with curiosity and love.

Their house, this Arts and Crafts style structure, shows wonderful attention to quality, appreciation of detail, and, well...craftsmanship. The honest warm soft brick was recycled from an old school, the interior wood was harvested at the home of a grandfather. The young husband did much of the interior woodwork, carving an oak mantel. I wonder if he built the lovely exterior doors?

I know many people who knew this lady, this family, this house. Wish I had been one of them. I guess I shall have to content myself with loving their house from the sidewalk's edge.


  1. You put such heart into this post, Lindi! Your emotional response to the house radiated off my screen Dufferin...Street.

  2. And you must take me - and I must take my camera! I'm still waiting for the right sunny morning to try to do this lovely place justice.