Habitats: Vaughan Road

Habitats: Vaughan Road

Our homes need to rejuvenate and soothe and energize us - exactly the contradictions that make up everyone's lives these days. But how to do all that without scads of cash? Our city has become infamous for its high rents and unsympathetic landlords, so it's encouraging to know there are still a few deals out there.

Rachel found her amazing rental on Craigslist two years ago, and it was only the third place she looked at. "I knew I wanted to be in this neighbourhood because my son was already in school nearby," she explains.

Rachel shares the house with her two teenagers and a tenant, Matt, who rents one of the upstairs bedrooms. She doesn't have a car, so finding a place near TTC service was crucial; after living in Italy, she says, "I have to live within a five-minute walk from milk and bread, always - a walk, not a drive. Very important!"

Even more crucial was making the house feel homey as quickly as possible; Rachel's house has become comforting and inspiring, essential qualities for someone who spends lots of time experimenting with recipes in the kitchen.


Habitats: Vaughan Road

: a semi-detached 1950s house
Who: Rachel (professional chef & caterer), Giulia (age 15), Joe (age 13), Matt (tenant, university student) plus Kitty Omd (black cat) & Maxville (bearded dragon lizard).
How much: $1200/month rent, plus utilities
Layout: living/dining/kitchen on main floor, three bedrooms & bathroom upstairs plus finished basement, small backyard.
Rachel's mantra: "New love, old stuff." Her best decorating finds come from the end of garage sales, when things get thrown away, and from inexpensive serendipitous objects found at the Salvation Army. Shopping on the sidewalk necessitates a certain DIY ability to reconfigure and repair what you haul home, but it also gives Rachel the freedom to experiment.

She salvages the past and embraces eccentric juxtapositions - which is why there are two cardboard Roots boxes, with their distinctive beaver logo, hanging as an installation alongside two framed landscapes in her living room: she wanted the room to be "the Canadiana wing," she jokes. If she can't find a good place for a painting or piece of furniture, she passes it on to friends.

A shelf near the television displays a collection of snow-globes; the walls are packed with art and souvenirs. Each room in Rachel's house is an invention in process, by definition evolving and shifting as she and her family move forward. A home is more than decorating or architecture--a home is a tangible manifestations of our lives and imaginations.

Each object has its own story: "That's my neighbour who paints," says Rachel, pointing to the kitchen wall. "That's Joe's batik, and those are Mexican milagro ornaments I've had forever, you know how you carry some things around with you everywhere?" Her all-white bedroom is more pared-down, with only frames and her hat collection for decoration.

I take the #90 Vaughan bus home and just to prove Rachel's point, a man boards the bus toting an enormous Group of Seven-style garage sale find. Because this is Toronto, no one cheers, or makes any comment at all, as he successfully drags the ornate wooden frame past the bus driver. But I'm hoping he's going to create his own Canadiana wing, wherever he's heading.

6 Home Questions:

What do you love most about your home? The wholeness of it at such an accessible price - I have a backyard, a front yard, a stoop, two bathrooms, I have choice! It's fantastic.

What drives you crazy? The water pressure...there is none. But that's a problem all over Toronto, right?

What's your favourite place in your home? The couch! Because you can see everything happening, inside and out. The street is right there, the world is your oyster.

What do you like best about the neighbourhood? This part of St. Clair is so real, so eclectic. You've got everybody here, it's not predominantly anything.

What's most surprising about this home? I was surprised how easy it was to throw it all together from recycled things. It was incredible how much stuff we found on the street.

If your home were a kind of fruit, what fruit would it be? Hmmm...I think a kiwi. It's got seeds like a banana, but it's a bit like a strawberry, too.

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