Originally built in the 1920s as a butcher shop, the squat New Edinburgh dwelling, which for years had been divided into apartments, was in serious need of an upgrade. That’s when owner Shalindhi Perera teamed up with architect Andrew Reeves for a full-scale reno that honours the building’s heritage  

It was 1988 when Shalindhi Perera’s mother, Ranji, first set eyes on the quirky little duplex for sale in New Edinburgh. She was looking for an investment property, and her daughter was looking for a place to live. It certainly wasn’t much to look at — squat and a bit tired-looking from the outside, dark and cave-like on the inside. A former butcher shop, the building had been renovated on the fly over the years and was now a mishmash of styles and small rooms.

But the price was right and the location was ideal. Ranji bought and Shalindhi moved into the ground-floor apartment. They continued renting out the second floor and, later, a basement apartment. But though Shalindhi quickly grew to love the neighbourhood, she was not quite so enamoured of her house as it truly began to show its age. By 2005, she knew something had to be done. “It was like a car of a certain age,” Shalindhi explains, “when things start to go wrong and the bills start to snowball.” It was time to sell — or bite the bullet and do a complete renovation. After some soul-searching, they settled on the latter and began interviewing architects.

“I needed a vision,” Shalindhi says. “And as soon as I met Andrew [architect Andrew Reeves of LineBox Studio Inc.], I knew he’d make the perfect collaborator.” The two were committed to a modern renovation but equally dedicated to a reinvention that would not make waves with the neighbours. They kept the lines and character of the former butcher shop but gutted the inside and extended the house into the backyard, turning it into a spacious single-family dwelling.

That heritage became apparent soon after the reno began and the contractor’s crew opened up the ceiling to discover a full tin ceiling hidden underneath. Shalindhi had the tiles stripped, then she and her parents painstakingly buffed and waxed them before having them remounted on the wall of the living room.

The kitchen also embraces the provenance of the house, with Shalindhi opting for a commercial-style kitchen and juxtaposing it with the old-world warmth of a solid maple butcher block that acts as both counter and island. Those elements meld seamlessly with the contemporary wall treatments and colourful accents Shalindhi favours. On a hidden exterior concrete wall, she had the contractor, Bill Riseborough of Constructive Behaviour, quickly carve a hunting scene copied from a cave drawing she found on the Internet. “It’s just another link to what the original building was used for — another nod to its history.”