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Most Common Types of Architecture in Toronto's Historic Neighbourhoods

Multicultural Influences in Toronto

The city of Toronto has a long and rich history that is reflected in its diverse residential architecture. Although the site was heavily trafficked by the Huron, Ojibwe, and Iroquois, and subsequently by French traders, most of the architectural influences of the city can be traced to British settlers who fled to Toronto during the American Revolutionary War. At the end of the 19th century and into the 20th century, Toronto became a home for more immigrant groups, including the French, Germans, Italians, and Jews, and then the Polish and Russian peoples, as well as the Chinese. 

Georgian, Victorian, Edwardian, and Revival Styles

As a heavily multicultural city, Toronto adopted many subtle architectural influences, but still the pervading architectural styles in historic neighbourhoods today are Georgian, Victorian, Edwardian, and revival styles of Victorian homes. (For detailed information on industrial, commercial, institutional, and residential architecture, see “The History of Toronto Architecture.”)

georgian influence home exterior in toronto

How to Renovate a Georgian Home

What Characterizes Georgian Architecture?

Georgian architecture is known for its definitive symmetry both in the structure’s overall silhouette and also in door and window locations. The most common materials used in Georgian homes are stone, stucco, red brick, brown brick, decorative window headers, and hip roofs. This style was popular in the first part of the nineteenth century in many of Toronto’s more affluent neighbourhoods, such as Rosedale

Common Remodeling Solutions

  1. Interior floor plan modifications: because Georgian homes are built with simplicity and an attention to balanced mass, it can be hard to add on to a Georgian home and make the transition look seamless. Because of this, homeowners often find more success by thoughtfully reconfiguring interior floor plans to make the best use of space. For modern homes, this often means converting to a more open floor plan.
  2. Restoration: since Georgian homes were some of the first to be built in Toronto, they frequently need to be restored. Common issues include water damage and special feature/ornamentation deterioration. Hiring a skilled builder is critical to address these issues with competence and care. 

How to Renovate a Victorian Home

What Characterizes Victorian Architecture?victorian home exterior in toronto

The trend toward Victorian architecture succeeded Georgian influences. With its steep roofs, towers, turrets, gables, dormers, round angles, bay windows, elaborate woodwork, stained glass, and colourful paneling, Victorian architecture was seen as modern and creative. Victorian architecture gained such adherence that certain Toronto neighbourhoods still house some of North America’s largest collections of Victorian homes. In neighbourhoods like the Annex, Victorian homes adopted unique and eclectic architectural elements like mixed materials of brick and sandstone, architectural elements like domes, and more.

Common Remodeling Solutions

  1. Restore the exterior: like Georgian homes, Victorian homes often suffer from slow deterioration in detailing, particularly on the exterior where paint jobs need to be redone, roofing needs to be replaced, and details like running trim, porch posts, cornices, etc. need to be restored. Because Victorians are architecturally more creative than Georgian homes, it can be easier to add an addition, provided that it is tastefully incorporated.
  2. Highlight original features: Victorian homes are a wealth of craftsmanship, and restoring them involves sensitively refinishing and creatively drawing attention to details like original stain glass, hardwood flooring, and built-ins.
  3. Open the floor plan: Victorian homes tend to be quite compartmentalized since each room had a designated and distinct purpose. Most modern homeowners, on the other hand, prefer opening floor plans to create fluid spaces and open lines of sight.
  4. Open untapped space: because Victorian homes are a celebration of creative angles, some houses hold pockets of unused space on their second or third stories. Finding and opening these with appropriate structural engineering practices can significantly add to your home’s usable square footage.

How to Renovate an Edwardian Home

What Characterizes Edwardian Architecture?

A third trend found in Toronto is Edwardian-style homes. Named after Queen Victoria’s son, Edward VII, Edwardian homes are simple yet elegant. Like Georgian architecture, Edwardian homes are balanced and favour straight lines and minimal ornamentation, but they do incorporate colonettes, keystones, voussoirs, etc.

Common Remodeling Solutions

  1. Add light: Edwardian homes can sometimes be dark inside, partially due to the predominant colours of the period and partially due to designs with fewer windows and more walls. Brightening an Edwardian home is an excellent place to start. Bonus: replacing windows and doors also allows you to improve your home’s energy efficiency, as a lot of hot and cool air escapes through drafty fittings.
  2. Restoration: Like Georgian and Victorian homes, Edwardian homes have some gorgeous original features like wood panelling that may need to be restored.

What to Do If Your Remodeling Ideas Aren’t Cutting It

Historic homes can be brimming with charm and potential, but depending on the house, you might feel that the core style of your home’s architecture just doesn’t match your vision. If this is the case, it may be more cost-effective for you to demolish your home and rebuild a custom home on its site. Making a decision of this magnitude should be done in consultation with a skilled architect and builder to ensure that you’ve investigated all renovation options before demolishing and rebuilding.

A Middle Road

If you’re not comfortable with a restoration renovation or a full demolition and rebuild, consider blending modern and traditional features and design techniques to create a transition and contemporary style within the home’s existing footprint. Much of this can be accomplished by opening the home’s floor plan and carefully selecting features and finishes that creatively blend styles. Need ideas? Don’t hesitate to view our award-winning portfolio and contact us when you’re ready to explore options for your home!

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