NO MEAN CITY: An affordable modern house in Leslieville? Yes

Cross-posted from No Mean City, Alex’s personal blog on architecture

Yes, that title sounds like a tease. (Eames era Knoll modern Mies van Der Rohe.) But this seems to be the real thing, thanks to MODERNest, a new development company from Toronto architect Kyra Clarkson and planner Christopher Glaisek. Their first project is a new-build house in Leslieville with well-executed modernist architecture, quality materials, and a reasonable price tag.

The house, up for sale right now at $699,000, looks very good to my eyes. (No surprise; Clarkson has an impressive resume, with work at the prestigious offices of Tod Williams Billie Tsien and Shim Sutcliffe.) There are well-configured public spaces with lots of light, and windows framed in Douglas fir; a glass-enclosed stair, above, adds some minimalist flash. Upstairs, a large skylight brings light into the middle of the house. And the back of the second floor cantilevers out over the back patio, offering some elegant wood-panelled shelter for a barbecue.


Photos by Steven Evans. For the full gallery, visit No Mean City.

All this helps to make the most of the space. It’s 1260 square feet, with a finished basement that adds another 500 or so. The plans are tightly designed, and the room sizes are reasonable. (The floor plans are on their web site here.) Keeping it to these tight dimensions is how Clarkson and Glaisek have helped keep the price tag down. And that’s the real puzzle that they have  seemingly solved. Building a modernist house is not cheap. Try and do it in Toronto today with an architect, and hit a $700,000 price point; it’s very difficult. So if they are offering a well-made version, fully completed and landscaped, they will see lots of demand.

This is very exciting, for two reasons. First of all it should – I hope – put more good, contemporary infill houses into Toronto’s older neighbourhoods.  The city’s small-time developers have so little taste and imagination that new single-family houses in Toronto tend to be junk: stuccoed boxes with vinyl windows and faux-whatever ornament that are inefficient and poorly planned.

Second: I often wish that Toronto’s architects were a more entrepreneurial group. The city needs more innovative solutions to its housing needs – redevelopment of smaller sites, different types of units and different forms of buildings. Good architects have answers. But to get them built they will need to become their own clients and drive their own projects. It’s happened elsewhere; in New York, SHOPArc have redefined architects as prefab-building, condo-developing, urban-designing wheeler-dealers. And they’re making a mark on their city. Here’s hoping Clarkson and Glaisek, in their own way, do the same here.


  1. Only in Toronto (or Vancouver) would a $700,000 house be deemed “affordable” or “reasonable.”

  2. Predictable, and fair, comments. But these developers are reacting to the market (and paying market prices for land and construction costs). We are talking about “affordable” for a dual-income professional family, people with the means to buy a house downtown. 

    This house is more than others in its area, but it is brand new and of much better quality. 

  3. BTW, you know that “up for sale at 700K” does not mean that you can get it at 700K, right? It is now standard practice for saler to offer a low asking price, spark a bidding war, and fetch much more than asking. I will bet that if you go in with an offer at the asking price, you chance of getting this thing is nil.

  4. I was hoping the price tag included land.
    So, question is: what would the new build cost be, excluding land price?

  5. $700K is affordable if you have at least $140K for a downpayment and gross around $200K/year. Median incomes in Toronto say this house is highly unaffordable. Anyone who banks that (a small minority) does not traditionally buy in Leslieville. When this looks like a good deal, we know fundamentals are out of whack. Expect a correction.

  6. $250K does sound pretty reasonable.
    thanks Alex.

  7. FYI, she raised the price of the house to 825k, seemingly after everyone obviously tried to offer the 699k.

    -FML Listings

  8. Let’s hope they buy a Spacing subscription out of their extra $125K at least – least they can do for all the hard work above.

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