New & Old In Little Italy

Development | May 12, 2009

I’ve seen an increasing number of renovated houses for sale in Little Italy in the past few months; some of the renovations were good, some were bad.

The neighborhood hasn’t seen as much turnover as other downtown hot-pockets like Cabbagetown in the last decade, and many homes are coming onto the market for the first time.

Many of these have also been renovated by first-time renovators…


I don’t recall the exact moment that I put the glow-sticks in storage and stopped hanging out at clubs on Richmond Street, but when I graduated to the ranks of the more mature, reserved bars on College Street, it felt like a long-overdue right of passage…

I absolutely love Little Italy.

I love the nightlife, I love the restaurants, and I love the houses on streets like Grace, Clinton, and Manning which are only a stone’s throw from one of the city’s most vibrant areas.

It was probably sometime after I moved back from university that I first walked into a College Street Bar; although the bar, College Street Bar, didn’t exist yet…

What a pleasant change from the university scene where collared-shirted guys were double-fisting bottles of Labatt Ice, and the club scene where anything less than two hits of extacy didn’t put you on a level playing field with the rest of the club-goers.

In the last five years, I have come to appreciate College Street for the twenty-to-thirty-something nightlife it provides, but also for the real estate.  I love old houses that incorporate Toronto’s early history, and some of the Victorian row-houses just north or south of College pre-date the 19th century.

The real estate in Little Italy is a hodge-podge of detached homes, large and small, mixed with longe stretches of row-houses, and the occasional semi-detached homes.  Unlike many other neighborhoods of the city where the properties have similar and structured measurements, the lots in Little Italy are completely scattered.  You may find a stretch of six houses where all the widths and depths are different, and where none are round numbers, ie. 17.58 wide by 112.29 deep.

The trend in North Toronto in the last decade has been to tear down old houses and start from scratch, but in Little Italy, renovators and speculators are keeping the original structures and working within them.  Perhaps this is because so many of the homes are semi-detached or row-houses, or perhaps it is an attempt to keep the original charm of the houses themselves.

Either way, it has provided for some beautiful “new” homes as well as some very strange ones as well…

One issue I have with renovations in this area is trying to squeeze a third floor out of what is meant to be a 2-storey house.

Take a look at the picture below:


Look how many bulkheads and dormers there are!  The ceilings on this “third-storey” are about 5’10” high in the centre of the room, and every corner of the room is different with obstructions jutting out each and every way.

See that door on the left of the picture?  Where does that lead to?  It’s storage under the dormer, but I can’t help but consider this entire floor to be one large storage area!

Considering there is no central-air conditioning in this 100-year-old house, I can’t imagine trying to live up here full time…

Take a look at the kitchen below:


This kitchen is beautiful, no doubt.  But it seems more suited for a condominium than an “old” house.  What bothers me the most about this reno, however, is that they did a “quick-fix” on the kitchen by installing new cabinets (suited for a condo) and appliances without actually changing the layout.  People want open-conceptin newer homes, and the days of having a kitchen that is completely removed from the living room is soooooo 1915…

Here is a typical “old kitchen” in an un-renovated house on Euclid Avenue just to give you an idea of what a blank canvas looks like:


Even an amateur renovator can replace those cabinets, put down some tile flooring, and buy stainless-steel appliances.   But to create the style that people are looking for in a renovated, $900,000 house in Little Italy, you’ve got to open the space!

Here we have an original layout living/dining room that is done quite tastefully and I’d imagine at a low cost:


You can see the living space at the front of the house, complete with the original brick fireplace.  Note the large, rounded-window in the dining room.  The mutual driveway running between the two houses is wide enough that when you stare out the dining room window, you aren’t looking directly into your neighbor’s kitchen!

This is an aesthetic renovation where they left the original walls and most of the original layout, but it works because the house is on a wide lot.

The problem with narrow lots, in my opinion, is the stairs.  Take a look at the photo below:


Narrow, Victorian houses often provide the feeling of “nothing but stairs.”  Bedrooms to your left, hallway in the middle, staircase to your right.  This layout makes the hallways rather cramped and claustrophobic.

But one of my largest issues with houses in Little Italy is the lack of backyard space!  There are very few driveways in the area, and many houses feature laneway parking with garages.


This is a “renovated” backyard but it still looks like crap to me.  You look out your back window and see a concrete wall; is that what $900,000 gets these days?

I guess it’s the style in the area, but I wonder if I would rather park my car on the street, knock down the garage, and have a thick, lush lawn where my non-existent children can one day train for a career in the NFL to make me rich…

I love living in a condo, and I’m not sure when that will change.

But if I had to live in a neighborhood in downtown Toronto, it would probably be Little Italy.

Sure, Corso Italia has more authentic food, but St. Clair and Dufferin is a little “out of area” for me.  I’ll venture up there when I need a Ronaldo soccer jersey…

Unlike North Toronto where the new houses are predictable and you can picture the renovated house in your mind’s eye before you even walk in, every reno in Little Italy is different, and you have to sift through them all to find one that works for you.

There are no shortage of older houses to renovate, and the number of renovated homes in the area that come onto the open market is increasing.

But from what I’ve seen lately, for every good reno, there is a bad one just around the corner…..or, next door…

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