Georgian homes in Toronto

Toronto's history is not long by European standards - it goes back only a couple of centuries - but our city has some very interesting residential architecture.

The oldest existing house in Toronto might be a log cabin dating to the 1790s, which is located on the grounds of the Guild Inn in Scarborough. Worth mentioning is also a small stucco bungalow at 469 Broadview Avenue. Its present owner discovered, during fairly recent renovation, that the house might have been built before 1807. What is remarkable - this little home is still used as a residence.

In Toronto's history several styles were popular as the years progressed. The earliest of these styles was Georgian (or Neo-Classical). Of course builders use 'Georgian' name describing modern homes, for design of which they borrowed some attributes of the original style. Most of the time, though, these homes don't have the proportions and regularity which characterised the style as it was imported from Europe.

Early years of the 18th century in England saw development of style based on ancient Roman architecture, and characterised by symmetry, balance and regularity. This style, named Georgian, was often used in the late 18th century in Toronto.

In Georgian style of architecture the focus of the building is the front entry door, which is located in the centre of the facade. That leads to the centre-hall plan of the interior. The centrally located door is often covered by a small porch. Great attention is paid to the proportion and symmetry, with windows placed at regular intervals on both sides of the entrance. Two chimneys on both sides of the house are also typical to the style. Principal rooms are located on both sides of the entry hall, with the living room (or living room and a study) occupying one side, and the dining room and kitchen the other side of the entry hall.

In Georgian design the entry door is, typically, fairly simple. It is the door surround which reveals the status of the house. The surround often includes a fanlight above the door and narrow flanking windows. In early design the fanlights were simple and rectangular, but later semi-circular fanlights became fashionable. They were usually made of wood, but some grander homes had them constructed in wrought-iron.

Ceilings were often elaborately decorated, with centrepieces and mouldings. Typical floors were unvarnished fir or pine boards. Carpets were usually laid loose on the floor boards, with some principal rooms having wall-to-wall carpeting installed in the second half of the 18th century. Stone floors were typical for entrance halls and kitchens. Beautiful fireplaces, burning coal, played double role of decorating and heating the interior. They were not very efficient, and often produced more smoke than heat, until late 1790s, when a new design of grate was introduced. Grand staircases and elaborate built-in furniture can be found in more expensive Georgian homes. These had finely moulded handrail, terminating in a spiral. Planer homes had narrow staircases. Candlelight was the general source of light in these homes, with some oil lighting introduced in the later 1780s.

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