House Hunting in Toronto: An Original Midcentury-Modern for $1.6 Million


This three-bedroom, two-bathroom house designed by the noted Canadian architect James Murray is in Scarborough Village, a wooded neighborhood about 10 miles east of downtown Toronto.

Perched atop the Scarborough Bluffs, a nine-mile expanse of wooded cliffs, the 1,836-square-foot, midcentury-modern house offers unobstructed views of Lake Ontario, with “spectacular” sunrises from its east-facing living room, said Adam Stork, the owner.

A writer and architecture buff, Mr. Stork has left most of the house’s original 1963 features intact, as did the previous owners, who bought the property in the early 1990s from its first occupants. “There aren’t many James Murray houses left,” Mr. Stork said. “I’m hoping whoever buys this one appreciates its significance.”

Murray, who died in 2008, was one of Canada’s most influential postwar architects. He gained some posthumous attention in 2016 when the Toronto-based rapper Drake demolished a 1963 Murray house to build a 21,000-square-foot mansion in Toronto’s upscale Bridle Path neighborhood, angering preservationists.

This house sits on a nearly one-acre lot. A curved driveway ends at the low-slung double carport. A terraced, covered walkway leads to the orange front door, “the same color as when the house was built,” said Valerie Benchitrit of Sutton Group – Associates Realty Inc., the listing agent.

Murray’s modernist motifs appear throughout the house. There are long vertical windows beside the front door, and tongue-and-groove cedar planks make up the ceiling. What appear to be wooden columns and support frames are actually steel beams under wood cladding. “A steel frame is a huge asset,” Ms. Benchitrit said. “If you see that today, it’s done at great expense.”

Japanese-rice-paper pocket doors open from the foyer into the sunken living room, which has built-in furniture, tile flooring and transom windows beneath the raised ceiling. The three built-in couches are framed in wood and set in a “U” configuration opposite a wood-burning fireplace that occupies the bottom of an original stone wall. Two square wood tables connecting the sofas are also built-in, one of which opens to reveal a 1960s-era turntable.

Mr. Stork said he always shuts the pocket doors when he has guests, just so he can slide them open again. “I can’t help myself, because the reaction is the same every time — ‘wow,’” he said. “The lake practically hits you in the face.”

From the living room, three steps lead up to a carpeted space with a TV room and dining room, backed by floor-to-ceiling windows.

The kitchen, off the dining room, is the only room in the house that’s been altered. Mr. Stork added stainless-steel appliances, and the previous owners installed wood cabinets and a kitchen island. The south and east walls of the kitchen are framed in large windows, with a glass door leading out to a deck and the backyard. (Mr. Stork said that Murray visited the house before his death and approved of the kitchen updates.)

The master bedroom and en suite bathroom are at one end of a hallway off the entry foyer, with two smaller bedrooms on the opposite side. “It was designed for two kids in one wing and their parents in the other,” Ms. Benchitrit said.

The master bedroom faces the lake through floor-to-ceiling windows and a glass door leading out to a patio. An adjoining library includes original built-in bookshelves and cabinets, with an attached sunroom. The second bedroom faces the front of the house, with a view of the carport and grounds. Mr. Stork has used the third bedroom as an office.

The unfinished basement is “a huge open room,” Ms. Benchitrit said. A gas-powered furnace, installed by the previous owners, provides forced-air heat and central air-conditioning. A utility room, which Mr. Stork used for storage, could also become a workroom.

The property is about a 30-minute drive from downtown Toronto. Pearson International Airport, on the other side of the city, is also about 30 minutes away.

With nearly 6 million residents, Toronto is Canada’s largest metro area. Long a destination for investors and immigrants, the city has seen a recent surge in population and housing prices, with available supply lagging behind explosive demand, in both the rental and ownership markets.

“Immigration and jobs are the two reasons Toronto is bursting at the seams,” said Beth Sulman, a Realtor at Sutton Group – Associates Realty in Toronto. “That’s why it’s been a seller’s market for years.”

Interest from investors has also ramped up pressure on the market. “I’ve never seen such an appetite,” Mr. Bibby said. “People around the world are looking at us as an attractive place to invest or bring their families, so foreign investment has become prevalent. And we’re just getting started.”

To open the pipeline, TREB has made recommendations to policymakers “to facilitate more supply,” Mr. Mercer said. They include streamlining approvals of development projects and encouraging “a greater continuum of homes to bridge the gap between detached houses and condos,” which make up the bulk of the market.

Although foreign investment in Toronto is on the rise, Mr. Bibby said that fewer investors are coming north from the United States, replaced by buyers from Asia and the Middle East, “either with business interests or family here.”

The Scarborough area is one that “international buyers don’t know much about,” said Cam Forbes, general manager of Re/Max Realtron Realty Inc., which focuses on Scarborough. Most buyers come from within Ontario. A city unto itself before the 1998 amalgamation, Scarborough has “higher incomes and bigger houses to the south, and some poverty and more rentals further north,” Mr. Forbes said. “But it’s evolving, because it’s an incredible value. You can still find homes for less than a million dollars here.”



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