"I don’t know how many years you have to live in Cabbagetown to be considered a resident,” laughs Steve Yeates, who with his partner, Jeffrey Douglas, has been happily ensconced in the leafy ’hood for 15 years. “Maureen on Carlton St has been there maybe 75 years?” Douglas jokes.
“Our friend, who is an architect, always read his mom’s homemaker magazines,” says Yeates, arching an eyebrow. “When he was nine he read an article on Cabbagetown and announced, ‘Mom, we should move there.’ It’s a typical story. When we lived in the west end we would ride our bikes across the city just to be here. When we moved here I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. We just walked and walked and walked and enjoyed.”
Those who walk through Cabbagetown soak in a unique atmosphere, a certain calmness enhanced by the well-preserved Victorian house front
s. Yeates has been part of the Cabbagetown Preservation Association for 10 years, ever since someone stopped by his illustration and graphic design business asking for help with the group’s letterhead. The letterhead redesign grew to encompass their flyers, logo, newsletters and programs for the Cabbagetown Tour of Homes and the Hidden Gardens and Private Spaces Tour. “I’ve always been interested in heritage,” Yeates says. “So I became the chair of the association for five years. And because of all the graphic work I do, if I tried to leave I’d probably find myself locked in a basement.”
The Cabbagetown Tour of Homes is a singular opportunity to peer behind the Victorian facades. Residents proudly open their doors — from sprawling mansions to restored cottages — and show off their stylish interiors. “It’s not competitive,” Douglas says. “It couldn’t be,” Yeates adds, noting that the interiors vary widely, from Victorian restorations to ultra-modern, completely rebuilt spaces. “You can’t even compare them.” All the houses lie within Cabbagetown’s heritage conservation districts, so the exteriors must remain the same or be gently restored, but Yeates says, “Behind the curtains, anything goes.”
Behind the Yeates/Douglas curtains is a gorgeous, comfortable home that Douglas, who runs Douglas Design Studio, has built from scratch. “It had been cheaply renovated in the ’70s,” he says. “The dining room ceiling was sagging from the removal of a structural beam,” Yeates says. “You can imagine the floor above.” The house had to be gutted, and it took one and a half years to rebuild. “We were looking for a project,” Douglas says. “We wanted a blank slate to demonstrate what Jeffrey can do,” Yeates corrects. “It’s clean neo-Victorian, transitional, a cleaned-up version with modern lines.”
The house functions as a showcase for Douglas’s prodigious skills. “Everything you see, Jeffrey designed,” Yeates says, gesturing proudly. “Including the profile for the moulding, even the furniture.” Except for the dining room chairs, Douglas says: “Those were Steve’s mom’s chairs. They provide some continuity. And they’re just exceptionally comfortable.”
Comfortable is the operative word. “This is primarily a place to live,” Yeates says. “It’s not intended to be gee-whiz style over function. The style is in the quality and detail.” The familiar ease that allows Yeates and Douglas to finish each other’s thoughts made the process of creating their home a simpler task. Douglas is keenly aware of Yeates’s needs and vice versa. The compromises are simple and charming — a tucked-away drawer for Yeates’s baking supplies is balanced by a truly innovative shoe closet filled with Douglas’s staggering collection of footwear.
The collaboration has worked perfectly; Yeates and Douglas race to point out the many small touches that make a big overall impact — a tub without faucets that fills from the ceiling, the aforementioned shoe closet, a Wizard of Oz-esque trap door for bicycles, a crystal ball that anchors a stair railing that Douglas designed — and turn a comfortable home into a work of art.
An oval anteroom — which conceals ample storage — is adorned with framed photographs from a 1960s issue of Western Living
. The profiled home was Douglas’s grandmother’s: “Yes, she always kept flowers on the dryer,” Yeates quips. It’s a home that, after a lot of planning, work and thought, just happens to be understatedly spectacular.
There are eight houses on the Cabbagetown Tour of Homes and, as Yeates says, each is different and each has a story. The common thread is the owners’ pride in their homes and their deep love for the neighbourhood. And for one day they are eager to share with residents and wannabe residents alike.
— Drew Rowsome is a writer and the lead singer of Crackpuppy, and he once again has a severe case of house envy.
Photos by Raul Da Silva
The Cabbagetown Tour of Homes is Sun, Sept 16, noon–4pm
$30. cabbagetownpa.ca, douglasdesignstudio.com, steveyeates.ca