Corinna Della Serra has the heart of an artist, the confidence of a veteran project manager and the patience of a saint.
It took an excess of all three to complete the transformation of a 1952 bungalow from a cramped, dated rectangle into a 5,000-squarefoot contemporary home flooded with natural light with an art studio in the finished basement and a luxurious 1,000-square-foot mastersuite loft.
Della Serra took on much of the work herself, including the complex tiling of the loft stairwell with split face, silver-grey, travertine cambria strips from Céramique Siena in Pointe-Claire.
Multiple, meticulous cuts were necessary to fit the tiles neatly around the oak stair treads of the $15,000 oak, stainless steel and glass staircase designed by Escaliers Multi Design.com. A mod pendant fixture from Multi Luminaire. com warms the stone wall. To hire someone to complete the timeconsuming tile task would have been exorbitantly expensive – the tiles alone cost $4,000 – so Della Serra did it herself.
Not only did she save thousands of dollars in labour, she came to the realization that she loved the process of renovating – both the creative elements and the handson labour. The 16-hour days for weeks on end were daunting, but rewarding.
“I picked up (the skills) like a sponge,” Della Serra said. “I like to get my hands dirty while I learn new things.
I’ve learned a whole lot about roof tresses and different types of concrete and insulation. You don’t have to be a brain surgeon to do this, but you need patience – and passion.”
Della Serra was familiar with the bungalow because she was living in the house across the street when it came up for sale three years ago. She had landscaped gardens and redone kitchens before, but gutting and redoing a house was a brand new challenge.
The roof was replaced and French drains installed. She hired pros when necessary – electricians and plumbers and excavators – but there was no general contractor.
Della Serra reused materials wherever possible. A diseased poplar tree in her front yard was cut down by the city, so she had it sliced into manageable portions and used them to fashion her master-suite bed frame, the dining room table, various accent tables and some eye-catching artwork.
To even the grade in the backyard all the dirt from the excavation for the extension was used to raise the level from a nine-step walk down from the old back deck to a two step walk down from a new wraparound porch.
Then, the single mom asked one of her three grown children to help her cart hefty rocks unearthed during the excavation to the front garden to create supporting walls for the flower beds. Flagstones were purchased to create a stone pathway.
The main floor of the bungalow was stripped down to the studs and now has two bedrooms, a full bathroom, laundry room, a spacious, open-concept living/dining/kitchen space and a custom butler’s pantry just inside the door from the new double garage.
“I took my time with the layout, watching the sunlight move through the house over the course of the day, studying the garden views through the windows,” she said. “I’d sit and let the house sink in. If you take the time to plan your next step, you really begin to feel the house. For me, it’s not about the final product, it’s about the whole process. I enjoy the trip.”
She also took her time choosing the perfect wall space for her art. What would the best sight lines be from the sitting room or the dining room?
The home’s neutral palette is in stark contrast to Della Serra’s canvases which explode with colour and generous, lyrical angles.
“I guess all that wild colour in my paintings is my alter ego,” she said.
An ethanol fireplace with a glazed, concrete hearth separates a sitting area from the side entrance. Finger-jointed oak floors are laid throughout. Finger joints help reduce the movement of the floor boards as they age.
The kitchen is a subtle mix of French country and industrial. The backsplash is concrete tile, the 3.5-foot-by-9-foot island is antiqued, matte granite.
“I think the design of a house should be a mix of what you like,” Della Serra said. “Good design is the balance of function, form and beauty.”
The loft is Della Serra’s haven. Through double doors offa sitting room is tranquil sleeping area and an ensuite bathroom with custom cabinetry designed by Della Serra. Two north-facing skylights offer views of mature tree tops.
Her walk-in closet is an art-installation in itself, with her elegant wardrobe, handbags and shoes on dazzling display.
If the master suite is Della Serra’s escape, the art studio in the basement is her playroom. Canvases in various stages of creation are propped up against the wall with
the artist’s accoutrements in a tumble on a work table.
A bedroom nook, bathroom and TV room complete the basement layout.
Now that the project is done, Della Serra is holding two open houses, Nov. 29-30, from 1 to 4 p.m. The address is 525 Beaconsfield Blvd. The open houses are fundraisers for the Philip E. Layton School, in memory of Pam and David Marlowe’s 14-year-old daughter Lydia who attended the school and passed away earlier this month. Della Serra is close friends with the family.
Lydia had the rare genetic disorder cardiofaciocutaneous (CFC) syndrome, which typically affects the heart, face and skin.