Toronto’s ‘Skinny House’ finally sells for $1.75 million
|Toronto Star 20 Jun 2021 at 07:15|
It goes by a few names: the “Skinny House,” the “House Full of Stairs,” the “Pez Dispenser,” “” (OK, that last one, taken from the house’s listing, might be a little biased).
Now, after nearly three years on the market, and with just as many price reductions, someone is finally calling it their home.
Toronto’s Skinny House is four storeys tall and just over 1,300 square feet. It has three bedrooms, three bathrooms, floor-to-ceiling windows and a whole lot of stairs. On April 20, it sold for $1.75 million, just over half its initial asking price of about $3 million in 2018.
The house at 154 Hamilton St. is unlike anything in its surroundings. Unusually tall, thin and modern, it was built back from the curb and towers over its South Riverdale neighbours.
When the building was completed in 2018, it became a source of consternation for locals, who saw it as too great a departure from neighbourhood architectural norms. Area Councillor Paula Fletcher told the Star’s Donovan Vincent at the time that, “Everyone has been in a state over this particular house.”
Industrial designer Cyril Borovsky built the house from scratch after buying the land in 2016, with the help of an engineer and an architect. From the start, he knew it would be a challenging project. The house could only be about 10 feet wide and would have to be free-standing. Most skinny houses have to be semi-detached or lean on another building, he said.
“It’s a passion of mine to produce things that were impossible to build beforehand,” said Borovsky. “No one wanted to touch this place before.”
Borovsky said he sees the Skinny House as an artistic work, not in a visual sense, but because it’s “one-of-a-kind, a challenge and something that everyone didn’t want to see happen.”
He said he took inspiration from the Bauhaus movement, which “challenged artistic norms with things that were deemed ugly at the time but are now loved.”
He said building inspectors were reticent to approve the Skinny House. “I kept hearing, ‘Why don’t you just build a normal house?’” said Borovsky. “It’s tough to hear that someone wants to deny you a building permit purely because no one’s ever done this sort of thing before.”
Outside of officials, Borovsky said the response to the house was largely positive — or at least, hardly anyone ever came to him directly with complaints, he said.
“Most of the longtime neighbours in the area thought it was wonderful and wanted to come by and see progress,” he said. “They thought it would bring something new and unique to the neighbourhood. I only really had one person expressing vocal disapproval, but I think in the end that gentleman kind of enjoyed the project.”
Realtor Alex Balikoti, who sold the house, said it took a creative approach to sell the creatively designed home.
“It was, for sure, a challenge,” said Balikoti. “This house was a passion project. I don’t want to call it an ‘art piece’ but it’s very unique, like an art piece. There were no comparables for it. We played around with different strategies, different pricing, until we hit the right spot.”
Balikoti said to sell the Skinny House, he first had to dream up the kind of person who would want it. Someone artistically minded, young and without dependants. Someone who would fall in love with the house’s idiosyncrasies, who wouldn’t feel compelled to force it to fit in.
“The real difficulty was getting it exposed to that right buyer,” he said. “It’s trial and error, there’s no framework for it. We advertised in specialized magazines, we invited bloggers, we invited Tik Tokers and we reached out to real estate agents involved in the sale of unique properties.”
Balikoti said the house’s eventual buyer was a “perfect match” for the property and lined up exactly with who he had imagined.
“When you build something from scratch, it’s validating to hear someone wants it,” said Borovsky of the sale. “There’s a feeling of relief that someone accepts your project. I got a lot of compliments from people who went to see the place, but when it’s sold it feels that much more real.”
Of the new owner, who declined to comment, Balikoti said: “From what I understand, they’re planning to live there and enjoy it.”
He added, “It’s a very special and unique house that was looking for a very special and unique buyer.”
Borovsky said he hopes the Skinny House follows the trajectory of other buildings that were initially reviled but grew on people, such as the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre Pyramid and OCAD’s Rosalie Sharp Pavilion. The greatest gift for the designer, however, would be to see the unique house cease to be unique.
“There are certain houses you see and never forget,” he said. “I hope that mine stays in people’s minds like that. But most of all, I hope more people build more houses like it.”
Balikoti said he believes the Skinny House will, in time, grow into an icon.
“There was definitely pushback when the house was getting built,” he said. “As with many great things, there’s always pushback when something is outside the norms of the moment. But usually such structures, over time, become masterpieces. They become landmarks.”