Hidden behind the double front doors of an 1880s ByWard Market red-brick townhouse is a modern gem. With plenty of natural light, generous proportions, an open floor plan, and voluminous space, this period house is more contemporary than conservative, more palazzo than pied-a-terre.
Brian and Alejandra Doxtotor bought the first half of this building in 2008. It was typical of comparable period homes blessed with high ceilings and good bones, and while they loved it, it was also narrow and rather dark. Soon after they moved in, the couple mentioned to their neighbour that if he ever wanted to sell, they would be interested. Some nine years later, he was ready to move, and the Doxtotors began to think big.
The couple knew they wanted to do a major renovation, which ultimately took two years from start to completion. They worked with Conrado Canolo from Simmonds Architecture, “a real gentleman,with a great eye for detail,” says Brian. While they clarified their vision for the project, they ran an Airbnb from the second property for about 15 months. However, when they were ready to begin the renovation in early 2020, they discovered they weren’t quite prepared for the scope of the work. On the ground floor alone, they uncovered multiple layers of flooring — none of it level. So they tore it all out, as they did with much of the remainder of both houses, to create a seamless double wide home that features a glass-and-steel elevator as a focal point.
Both Brian and Alejandra are engineers. Rather than hiding the elevator in a dark corner, they wanted to see the mechanics of it, so it rises through the centre of the house, right up to the rooftop terrace. The stairs also make a statement: made from a single central steel girder, they snake up one side of the house, featuring chunky wood treads and glass instead of a handrail. It adds up to the illusion of a floating staircase.
On the ground floor, a glass-walled wine storage cabinet houses 200 bottles. The custom creation also serves as an airy, screen-like barrier between the entryway and a seating area. An open-plan kitchen, living, and dining room area make the most of light from both sides of the building. Windows offer views with gritty charm: fire escapes and a patchwork of rooftops and brick walls to one side, trees and sidewalks to the other. Walnut cabinetry throughout brings rich tones to built-in cabinets in the living room, floating downlit shelves, and kitchen storage.
For keen cooks, this kitchen is a dream, boasting a six-burner gas top and double oven, a wall- mounted convection oven, and lots of prep space. “Alejandra is amazing in the kitchen,” says Brian. “She uses the space and the tools to make wonderful creations for the family on a nightly basis, with fresh produce, seafood, and meat procured from the ByWard Market merchants. Her specialty is osso bucco with fresh homemade pappardelle pasta.”
The rooftop terrace is Brian’s favourite spot to hang out. It features a full outdoor kitchen, hot tub, seating area, and dining table with a motorized awning. With its views to the Library of Parliament, the Peace Tower, and Chateau Laurier, it offers a beautiful perspective on the city.