One Toronto residents turned old apartment into a writers’ retreat for the weekend

Imagine being in the city of Toronto, hidden away in an 1880s Edwardian brick apartment building, surrounded by tall stacks of books and history. A community of authors, thinkers and historians live in the historical building, which had been empty for a decade. One group of them planned to live in the building themselves, but that idea was nixed after neighbors complained.

In the middle of the old building, early last year, Irene Pecqueur and Isabelle Miro took over.

“When I came here a year ago, it was unbelievably gloomy and dark, with old light fixtures and a dining room wall book-lined and covered in old photographs,” said Isabelle Miro, who with her husband, Isabelle Pecqueur, moved from New York City to Toronto for his role as partner at one of the city’s top law firms.

On one side of the building, a classic austere staircase leads to an apartment with two bedrooms and a living room that converts into a library. Across the room, a pair of bedrooms overlook the alley, facing a courtyard filled with cherry trees.

“The two bedrooms I had were so far into the basement they were almost side by side with the cave at the bottom,” said Isabelle Miro, a musician with a 12-year-old son. “I’m so lucky we moved.”

The entrance to the loft apartment is a practical space: The loft bedroom has a built-in bench, a sink and a small table. Isabelle Miro said she turned the “dysfunctional” space into a private space for studying and creative work.

“We have a couple of really dedicated writing projects on the go and sometimes we need to write there,” she said. “This apartment is so special because it has no doors. A lot of the writing in my previous apartment was done sitting across the room.

“I think this is the ideal writing space,” she said. “It’s one of the rooms that’s very suited to writing.”

The rest of the penthouse is light, with ceiling heights that extend as high as 10 feet. Luxury features include exposed cinderblock walls, oversized windows and large, flat-screen televisions. The living room and kitchen area are decorated with period furniture; the bedroom includes a red king-size bed that’s an upgrade from the bed in the living room.

When Isabelle Miro decided to renovate the space, she looked for ways to preserve the original charm of the home, but didn’t want to overwinter all of the home’s unready items. She found a fabric store that supplied her with lots of pieces for painting.

There was an original mahogany desk from the library that had never been painted, so Isabelle Miro found ways to change it without changing it up, she said.

Throughout the kitchen, the floor and cabinets are covered in large, custom wood-grain tiles with wide, short, three-tier borders.

The dining room area faces one of the most common social areas of the apartment — a small courtyard that starts beyond the stairs and continues to the front door. The courtyard is also equipped with a fire pit for when a late-winter chill hits.

“There’s a courtyard full of books that our friend owns,” said Isabelle Miro.

The middle of the building now includes a library of painted bookcases and artifacts that range from works of contemporary art to a sports turntable.

“She spent months making this,” said Isabelle Miro of her mother’s items. “Some of the biggest pieces are made by hand with 6-foot blocks, nails and glue.”

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