The peaks and pitfalls of “rebirthing” your home

Contemplating a major home renovation might make you feel like a Leaside raccoon in the headlights: dazed, disoriented and dashing for cover. Most of us have not been schooled on the process; what is needed is good advice.

One of the best guides is John Bech-Hansen, a Leaside local and hybrid version of a general contractor-meets-design-builder. John was raised in Don Mills but he and his wife Angela decided to grow their family in Leaside. They bought their 1930s Tudor Revival corner home replete with all the traditional bells and whistles: leaded windows, gumwood wainscotting and red brick and Credit Valley stone exterior finishes in 1999. It was in 2001 that he decided to start his own home renovations company – Home Reborn. He has since “done” hundreds of homes, but tends to take on only four or five large jobs a year for his own sanity, as he explains it, but also so he is not stretched too thin, much to the satisfaction of clients who get his full attention.

The first step a homeowner should take is to consult the Residential Character Preservation Guidelines found at leasideresidents.ca. They explain the importance of streetscape, materials, massing and front entrance features in keeping with the Leaside look, whether you plan an addition or have demolished your existing home and hope to build an infill dwelling in its place.

Next, the homeowner, with house survey in hand, needs to decide on going with a design-build company or a general contractor. Each has its own merits and drawbacks with the design build route being like a one-stop shop, so easier in the short term but also necessitating a commitment from start to finish with little chance to compare prices on the project.

John sits down with potential clients and has them create a must have/nice to have list – a good place from which to start. Will you build in a modern style or more in keeping with the traditional Leaside look? These are personal choices which John respects but he does admit that from an environmental and especially aesthetic perspective, “the more of the original structure kept, the better.”

He works with a trusted architect who listens to clients’ preferences and creates renderings that visualize the project while taking into account materials and budget. John explains that Leaside homes built in the ’30s are not environmentally friendly or wired or plumbed according to today’s codes so a key part of his work involves making insulation and mechanical improvements.

John explains that since 2019 building material costs have increased between 60% and 80%, and that an addition that seeks no variances (no requests to the City to build bigger, higher or wider than bylaws allow) usually takes up to nine months to complete – a time frame which many may find daunting. But approaching the project with confidence, a good general contractor/design-builder and a knowledge of the Leaside Character Guidelines will ensure success for the owner and the community as well.

This article was guest contributed by Mitch Bubulj.

About Mitch Bubulj 11 Articles
Mitch is a born and raised Leasider. He worked for many years in South East Asia but ended up back in South Leaside where he raised his family. A member of the North York Community Preservation Panel and a retired English and Social Science teacher, Mitch has a passion for neighbourhood, history and a good story.