Listing agent:Jamie Dempster, Broker, Re/Max Hallmark Realty Ltd., Brokerage

Realtors will often urge sellers to declutter and depersonalize a house’s interior spaces, but sometimes the most personal elements are a vital part of that home’s story.

That’s the case for Madeleine Greenwald’s home at 269 Glengrove Ave. Renovated and enlarged in 2009-2010 by Toronto residential architect Peter Higgins, the red-brick façade evokes the sombre reserve of Georgian homes (while missing some of the geometric symmetry common to that form).

Inside, a different story emerges as hanging on the wall of the front foyer – done in white panel with picture-frame moulding – is a vivid painting; a riot of colour that features a man in a kayak paddling toward the horizon. Called Sunset Paddle, this is just one of many paintings by Ms. Greenwald that fill the home, a passion that became a second career after her family moved to Canada in 2015.

“My husband got a job up here and we fell in love with this neighbourhood,” she said, thanks to its schools, important for their three children. House hunting in a new country while still living in Chicago was a challenge; Toronto’s market in 2015 was not as scorching as it is now, but homes were moving fast on multiple offers. On the hunt for a turnkey home with no need for renovations, Ms. Greenwald’s husband made an offer on the Glengrove house before she even had a chance to see it, as he was about to board a plane. They got it, the kids were settling in and then an unwelcome surprise.

“Six months after moving to Toronto I was diagnosed with breast cancer,” she said. The treatment and recovery was difficult, as was settling on what to do with her career: she had been a women’s health advocate and lawyer before leaving the U.S.

“One day my husband came home with an easel. It was the greatest gift anyone’s ever given me. It’s brought back a passion that I always had,” said Ms. Greenwald, who studied art at the University of Wisconsin before pursuing a career in law. “When you have cancer you decide, ‘I’m going to do everything now.’ ”

She found support and inspiration in her new surroundings. She took classes at a nearby art school, she joined the North Toronto Group of Artists and the Lawrence Park Arts Collective, and had her work exhibited at churches, real estate offices, local galleries and this past September had her first solo show “Beautiful Ontario,” at the Niagara Pumphouse Arts Centre in Niagara on the Lake.

“It’s been really exciting to have the career as an artist that I really always wanted to have,” she said.

Since moving in, Ms. Greenwald has done some updates, but hasn’t substantially changed much, not least because she was over the whole “living through a project” thing: “We had done a renovation in a house in D.C., and this was our third move in three years … we just didn’t want to do it.”

A home for the hard times

Next to the foyer with the sunset paddler is what could be a sitting room with a cozy fireplace were it not for the baby grand piano (“My middle child played piano,” Ms. Greenwald says). This music room opens into a formal dining room, also accessible from the front hall. At the end of the tiled front hall – with its diamond pattern inlays – is a doorway that opens up to the kitchen and family room that occupies the back half of the house.

“We definitely spend most of our time in the family room/kitchen, it’s the hub of the house,” Ms. Greenwald said.

The room is split almost evenly, and the kitchen is defined by the large island (with sink) that runs parallel to the rear wall and the gas range countertop. The cabinets are two tone: white shaker-style on the walls, dark brown wood on the island and upper storage, with dark stone counters. A butler’s pantry is accessible from the back corner next to the wall-mounted double ovens. On the south-facing rear wall are two sets of French doors and large windows that fill the room with light, making it ideal for a somewhat unique use as a satellite painting studio.

“I do have a separate studio, but I end up painting at our kitchen table all the time,” Ms. Greenwald said. “[The kids] do their homework at the kitchen bar, we play games – we like each other, and we like to be around each other.”

The living room side is framed by built-in shelving on two walls, surrounding the fireplace and flat-screen TV, and a huge set of bookshelves complete with ladder rail to reach the highest volumes. More of Ms. Greenwald’s landscapes and studies pepper this room.

The backyard is a sizable sward of green, and features one of the few major additions the couple put in: a hot tub. “My husband really loves hot tubs.”

The basement is primarily the domain of the kids. It has two guest bedrooms and two washrooms, and a massive recreation space that fits in a home gym, ping pong and foosball, and a hockey practice area complete with artificial ice flooring and a net.

“I manage my 14-year-old’s hockey team, and we have had the whole team of kids in the basement, and parents upstairs … the house is laid out really well.”

There are five bedrooms upstairs – four on the second level and a fifth in the attic that has balcony access – and all the rooms have access to an ensuite bath. The primary suite occupies the back half of house on the second floor, and has balcony off the bedroom, a large walk-in closet and a six-piece showpiece bathroom complete with a stand-alone soaker tub next to the south-facing windows.

In the seven years since arriving in a new country, Ms. Greenwald has lived through a cancer diagnosis, a career change, has gotten two of her three kids off to university and lived through a global pandemic. With family in the United States – including one daughter who attends school there – she estimates she has spent roughly four months of the past two years in quarantine isolation (in that attic room, which became the third studio in the house as she painted prolifically while obeying public-health rules).

They have entertained their community in the good times, and practised outdoor get-togethers (including frequent backyard Pilates sessions) in the tougher times. After all of that, it’s time to downsize and maybe move on. Her solo show was themed around Ontario’s beauty, and one thing she won’t forget is how this place brought her back to art.

“It was really a tribute to this beautiful place that renewed my love of painting and allowed me to keep seeing the beauty in things during a really difficult time,” she said. “For me, art is about optimism. I really paint the world as I want it to be.”

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