Tom & Christine's Energy-Efficient & Sustainable Family Home

Tom & Christine's Energy-Efficient & Sustainable Family Home

(Image credit: Marie-Lyne Quirion)

Name: Christine Lolley, her husband and business partner Tom Knezic, and their two kids
Location: Roncesvalles Village; Toronto, Ontario
Size: 900 square feet
Years lived in: 1 year; Owned

Tom and Christine bought their 100-year-old house in July 2013 with the purpose of renovating it. As co-founders of sustainable design firm Solares Architecture, their goal was to create an ultra-energy efficient family home. Their renovation transformed this aging, leaky house into a high-performance home by reducing energy use a whopping 84%!

(Image credit: Marie-Lyne Quirion)

Tom and Christine's home is in the peaceful residential Roncesvalles neighborhood, where there are tons of restaurants, bars, fruit markets, boutiques, pharmacies, and convenience stores. The long-established Polish population in Roncesvalles run authentic delis, restaurants, and shops, and once a year the street closes down for the Polish Festival, with food, drinks, music, and dancing. Tom and Christine's place is also just a few minutes' walk from schools, the Columbus Parkette with its wading pool, and Sorauren Park, a large green space that overlooks downtown Toronto, with soccer fields, baseball diamonds and a farmer's market that opens up every Monday. Queen Street West, an über-cool part of town with tons of antique stores and thrift shops, is also not too far away, and Tom and Christine's office is a short 15-minute walk from their place. "All of this makes it the perfect location for our family," says Christine.

They planned for an open concept on the main floor with a second floor which holds three bedrooms and a bathroom with laundry facilities. They replaced load-bearing walls with steel beams, enlarged window openings, repaired framing, and under-pinned the foundations, then insulated, air-sealed, and added new windows, doors, electrical, HVAC, and interior finishes, as well as a green roof by Skyspace. They also renovated and converted the basement into a 450-square-foot rental apartment which brings in extra income. "The house is small but we feel the design really suits our lifestyle and budget," says Christine.

For all the nerdy details and other projects, too, check out their blog, Solares.

(Image credit: Marie-Lyne Quirion)

Apartment Therapy Survey:

Our Style: Bright, white, minimal, and uncluttered. I’ve always dreamed of living in an all-white house with tons of built-in storage. I regularly purge our house of any excess “stuff,” it’s very therapeutic, so our house stays organized and clutter-free. It makes our home feel like a sanctuary.

Inspiration: I love living in the city, but I love the informality and social-ness of a cottage. I refer to this home as our “Urban Cottage”.

Favorite Element: Definitely my favorite element is the house’s newfound energy efficiency — by completing a full-gut renovation on the 100-year-old building, we reduced energy use by 84%. The home now takes hardly any energy to heat or cool and is always deliciously comfortable.

I also love the totally open main floor. It’s our family space that has everything we need: large front hall closets, a full kitchen with a huge island, dining table that can expand to seat 10 people, and cosy sitting/TV/toys area. And that all in only 450 square feet! The square-shaped floor plan makes it feel larger than it really is, and having windows on three sides gives us changing light patterns throughout the day.

Lastly, we love the rental apartment that we built in the basement. We love the added rental income, but we also love our tenants! We committed completely to the extra apartment by removing the stairs down to that level entirely and building an exterior concrete stair. We feel really proud of how we set up the 400 square foot apartment, with really high levels of sound isolation between the two units, tall ceilings (8’6”), and lots of south-east light streaming in through the windows. We also gave our tenants their own private terrace, which they love.

Biggest Challenge: Fitting everything into 900 square feet! In all honesty though, one of my favorite jobs as an architect is tackling the challenges of designing floor plans and room layouts in tight spaces, so getting into the nitty-gritty of this task with our own home was such a delight. I think we managed to make it work really well for us, with a powder room tucked in off the bottom stair landing, leaving the ground floor open, and creating a playroom/guest room in addition to our bedroom and the kids’ bedroom.

What Friends Say: “Wow, I can’t believe this is only 900 square feet?!” and “How do you keep this all-white house clean?”

Biggest Embarrassment: We ordered laundry machines for the basement that didn’t fit through the door! Such a rookie mistake!

Proudest DIY: Well, in a way our whole house is a “DIY” project. We’re architects, so we designed it ourselves and managed the construction process. We specifically bought the house to renovate it. It was an amazing project to do together, and it was a great way to finesse our skills and try new things. It was our way of “putting our money where our mouth is!”

Biggest Indulgence: Our whole house feels like an indulgence! We tried very hard to stay within a tight budget but we did splurge on a few little things: I love our Miele dishwasher and our Bosch laundry machines. I also love our custom, locally-made wood countertops.

Best Advice: Don’t be scared of a fixer-upper, and definitely have someone on your team who can help bring vision to a seemingly “ugly” house — look for things like access to light, overall structure, the qualities that make a place unique (like our square footprint that lets light in from all sides), and the site or lot the house is on. It’s amazing what transformations can take place.

Dream Sources: Apartment Therapy!


(Image credit: Marie-Lyne Quirion)


  • Benjamin Moore Chantilly Lace


  • Laminate by Torlys
(Image credit: Marie-Lyne Quirion)


  • Orange rocking chair: Eames
  • All other furniture: vintage from our great-aunt, refurbished by local furniture maker Would Wood
  • Blocks: Land of Nod
(Image credit: Marie-Lyne Quirion)


  • Furniture: vintage from our great aunt, refurbished by local furniture maker Would Wood
  • Cabinetry: Ikea boxes, doors, and hardware
(Image credit: Marie-Lyne Quirion)


  • Cabinetry: Ikea boxes, doors, and hardware
  • Counters: custom white oak
  • Fridge: Ikea
  • Dishwasher: Miele
  • Stove: Ikea
  • Microwave: Ikea
  • Washer and dryer: Bosch
  • AC: Fujitsu
  • HRV: VanEE
  • Boiler: Navian
  • (Image credit: Marie-Lyne Quirion)


    • Bed: Ikea
    (Image credit: Marie-Lyne Quirion)


  • Bunk bed: custom by Would Wood
  • (Image credit: Marie-Lyne Quirion)


    • Sinks: Ikea
    • Faucets: American Standard (I wouldn’t use them again though!)
    • Tub: Maxx
    • Toilet: Toto
    • Kitchen sink: Kindred
    • Kitchen faucet: Blanco
    • Bathroom sconce: West Elm

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    Thanks, Christine & Tom!

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