Garden furniture: an idea whose time has come

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Garden suites are a viable option between the extremes of a small condo and a fully detached single family home

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A new type of housing mix is ​​about to see the light of day in neighborhoods across the City of Toronto following City Council’s recent decision to allow the construction of garden suites.

Similar to laneway homes that have been around for several years, the new units will normally be smaller than a primary residence, according to a municipal document released shortly after the Feb. 2 vote.

Although the zoning requirements do not mandate a minimum lot size, they state that “various factors such as location and size of a suite, width and/or depth of the lot, size of the principal dwelling, adequate emergency access and the location of mature trees will determine whether or not a property can accommodate a garden suite.

Yet the decision to allow garden suites was made by council for one simple reason: to create ways to help solve a serious housing shortage.

Supporters include Ward 19 Beaches-East York Councilor Brad Bradford, who said “the reality of buying – or renting – a home is becoming increasingly inaccessible for many Torontonians.

“Our tight housing market, coupled with the city’s growth, has become a defining generational challenge – one we cannot afford to ignore. At the city level, we need to be innovative with our solutions and approaches. It’s going to take all the tools in the toolbox to tackle the problem.

The move also resulted in the creation of Toronto’s “first dedicated garden suite architecture firm”, which was launched a day after the vote of Francois Abbot, founder of Fabrication Studio.

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“We fundamentally believe that they can play an important role in diversifying housing supply in neighborhoods that have existing amenities but have become increasingly unaffordable,” Abbot says.

With garden suites now permitted, he adds, owners are “faced with the daunting task of first understanding what is both possible and permitted in their yard – and then navigating the required planning approvals. – all without existing examples as a reference”.

Abbot, who was a residential architect in Montreal before moving to Toronto eight months ago, uses what he describes as a three-step process revolving around options, design and construction.

Options helps homeowners “imagine what’s possible in their yard based on current municipal and zoning bylaws.” This, in turn, leads to creating renderings, obtaining all required permits, and then finding the most suitable builder for the project.

“By breaking down our service offerings into three simple parts that can be accessed individually or collectively, we want to make the design process accessible while being personalized and enjoyable,” says Abbot.

“What’s fantastic is that whatever happens, you don’t have to buy land – the land is already there.

“Existing regulations and zoning create complexities that require unique solutions to create homes that are both functional and beautiful. These new topologies are incredibly exciting because they are not rooted in the preservation of post-war brick buildings and old construction methods.

Bradford, meanwhile, says garden suites are a “viable middle option between the extremes of the small condo or single-family home that make up much of our current stock.”

They also “provide more housing options for more people in more neighborhoods. This progress is a step towards expanding housing choices, but it is also an important reminder: we cannot sit idly by while the status quo remains. We need to find creative, sustainable and effective ways to open up more housing options, for those who are here now and for those who would like to be in the future.

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