Exploring Edwardian Residential Architecture In Toronto

Annex / South Annex / Seaton Village, Architecture, Beaches, Cabbagetown / Corktown, City Living, College Street / Little Italy, Corso Italia / Davenport, Forest Hill, Junction / High Park / Bloor West / Swansea, King West / Niagara / Liberty Village, Leslieville/Riverside, Little Portugal, Midtown, Queen West, Real Estate, Riverdale / Playter Estates, Roncesvalles Village, Swansea / High Park / Bloor West Village, The Danforth, Wallace/Emerson & Brockton Village, Wychwood / Humewood - Cedarvale, Yorkville / Summerhill / Rosedale


One of the many benefits of living in Toronto is the beauty of our vintage housing stock. While older residences typically require more maintenance and repair simply because of their longevity, the high-style patina and architectural touches that lend the unique character to these homes are truly immeasurable. In fact, the quality is often far superior to the level of finishes we see in most newly constructed dwellings today. (It’s interesting to note that the mass-produced housing stock we construct today is built to be obsolete sooner, with respect to structural integrity.)

It’s certainly no surprise how popular and coveted century homes are in the central city!


Above: A stately Edwardian residence in Roncesvalles Village that the Urbaneer Team recently sold.


Of particular focus for many Toronto homebuyers are those dwellings constructed during the Victorian and Edwardian eras. In Toronto, our Victorian architecture incorporates a number of architectural styles spanning the mid-to-late 19th century during the reign of Queen Victoria (1837–1901). In the past, I’ve written about two of the most popular in Toronto, being our Bay & Gable Victorian Architecture, and Ontario Gothic Revival Cottages. The Edwardian architecture followed, at the turn of the 20th century, reflecting the very short reign of King Edward.

It was during this era that Toronto experienced the Great Fire (1904), leading to mass destruction in the downtown core. While Toronto’s epicenter was relatively quickly rebuilt, one of the most notable outcomes from the fire was the shift towards higher-quality, safer, and more durable construction materials, such as the use of more brick and stone, which began to characterize the construction of homes.

During the Edwardian era, the evolution of the city of Toronto was in full swing, with major changes happening to Toronto’s infrastructure. While horses and carriages were still common in the streets, with the introduction of electricity there was the emergence of electric streetcars. Much as it does today, access to public transportation influences how and where we live, and as streetcar service expanded beyond the core, so did the population!

Check out these posts on the history of Toronto during this era: “Nostalgia Tripping: Toronto’s Streetcar Suburbs”,  “This Is What Toronto Looked Like In The 1900s” and “Toronto Ontario History – Development In The Early 1900s”.

Fun Fact: in 1890 Toronto had a population of 181,000; in 1900; the population was 210,000, and in 1911 the city’s population was 381,000! Toronto doubled in population in 20 years!). The Edwardian era was a time when we started seeing more pioneering property developers – who would purchase several lots in proximity to each other where they would construct similar dwellings. These were the precursors to the master-planned suburbs we see today, except with none of the architectural banality, big box stores, and gridlock commuting conditions!


Above: A merchant class Edwardian semi, south of Bloor and west of Bathurst. Sold by the Urbaneer Team.


The Introduction Of Edwardian Architecture

On the heels of frequently ornate Victorian architecture, Edwardian Houses represent a shift to a new ‘fashionable’ aesthetic. Simplicity and function with a movement towards comfort became more popular, although designs still conveyed an understated elegance. Because this coincided with the expansion of the modern city as we know it – and the arrival of electrification – this architecture is often found in ‘streetcar suburbs’. During this time streets were being designed broader (like Palmerston Boulevard) and city lots became deeper and wider. allowing homes to have more green space and a stately presence. Furthermore, construction standards and materials improved substantially during the Edwardian era, which is reflected in the design of these homes (i.e. more use of brick, higher quality timber, etc.). As I mention in the opening of this blog, higher quality materials mean greater durability which is immensely appealing to homeowners of a century home. While there will always be replacement and repair as a matter of business, when you start with a more sturdy base, your complications tend to be less. In fact, did you know most production-based housing built today is intended to be obsolete in just fifty years? Almost all our building components today have a life span of twenty years or less. Not so with Edwardian homes built of double brick, and many still surviving with slate roofs.

How can you identify Edwardian homes? Although you’ll see a number of features that cross over from era to era, if you see most of these qualities, you’ve likely got an Edwardian home. Unlike Toronto’s Victorian housing stock which tends to be narrow and tall, with ornate trim like gingerbread, decorative patterned multi-coloured brickwork, and highly complicated stained glass windows, Edwardian housing tends to be boxier, broader, with deeper front porches, simpler stained glass and solid front doors (often inset with glazing).

Here are some good reads about the period and the distinctive differences: ”Georgian, Victorian And Edwardian Homes: A Guide To Period Architectures” and “Art Deco Or Edwardian: A Pictorial Guide To Early 20th Century Toronto Housing Styles” and “Ontario Architecture: Edwardian Building Style“.



Distinctive Exterior Details

On the exterior, Edwardian homes tend to have facades of smooth brick with accents of timber, stucco, or tile on gables or bay windows. The aesthetic is more relaxed and less ornate than Victorian houses. Gone is the gingerbread trim, the multi-coloured patterned brickwork, and arched windows with intricate lintels or fretwork common in 19th-century architecture. Windows remained sub-divided into smaller square panes – but often on the top half of the fenestration rather than the entire window.

Edwardian homes still incorporated bay windows to maximize light and create architectural interest, usually set on stone sills, but the aesthetic was significantly more understated than the architectural embellishment of earlier styles. Often having broader footprints, deep generous front porches were common, often constructed with slim clustered columns which were unfussy, low railings so as to afford a view of the street to engage passersby when sitting on them. Front doors were large, often inset with a clear glass panel which was far less formal and more inviting than previous door styles, frequently leading into generous foyers that could be closed off from the reception spaces, allowing for a separation between semi-public and private space.



Interior Features

Compared to Victorian dwellings, the Edwardian style was less weighted down with heavy fabrics, ornate plaster moldings, medallions and friezes, and opulent stained glass. Instead, there was a movement to built-in benches, shelving, and cabinetry, simple but cheery – often floral – stained glass patterns and coved ceilings with some, but less, plaster detail. The aesthetic was more relaxed and less complicated, without the status cues of pomp and protocol of the Victorian era, and with a focus on having more light.



The introduction of electricity into the home was just about increasing convenience and comfort into the home; it also influenced décor. Oil and gas, which were notoriously messy, were less prevalent. That meant that homeowners could select light, more delicate décor, as they weren’t as worried about dirt and damage coming from their power source.

And light did abound in Edwardian homes, from décor, the physical introduction of electricity into domestic architecture, as well as from the tendency for floor plates to be broader but shallower. This allowed the incorporation of more – and larger windows – as well as the removal of the heavy draperies on both doors and windows common during Victorian times.



Stair banisters and newel posts became rectangular rather than round, with a cleaner line than the carved intricacy typical of the Victorian era. Window trim and fireplace mantles also had less ornate detail; ceramic tiles on hearths and fireplace surrounds were simpler and more graphic. There was a movement towards uniform oak strip floors rather than refined mixed wood parquetry. In the formal reception room, you might find a thin plaster band of plaster molding under the cove ceiling wrapping the room, which would help demarcate the space, often serving as the dividing point for wallpaper below it and paint (or murals) above, while the dining room would have paneled wainscoting with a plate rail.



Ceiling heights were lower than Victorian dwellings, often nine feet rather than the ten to twelve feet of Victorian architecture, but given these rooms were often wider they remained visually well-proportioned and balanced. In grander larger houses, central heating was provided by coal or coke fired boiler, usually in the cellar. Houses might have either forced-air systems or hot water cast iron radiators to distribute heat throughout a house. In the case of hot water radiators, it usually used a thermo-siphon rather than a pumped system. Below is a detail of a forced-air heating cover.



Broad pocket French doors are not uncommon in Edwardian houses – often separating the foyer from the sitting room, as well as between the sitting and dining rooms – with or without beveled glass depending on the affluence of the owner. For instance, in a past Urbaneer listing, Gracious Manse On Markham Street In The Coveted Palmerston Pocket,  which is showcased in many of these photos – you’ll notice that the pocket doors have beveled glass, which creates a sense of height, keeping the light from being static.



In a carry-over from the Victorian era, doorknobs might still be glass, porcelain, or bronze, but the hardware tended to be smaller and more understated, attracting less attention as a focal point. Electric switches – which was the new fad during this time – were push-button connecting to knob and tube wiring. It’s common to find knob and tube wiring in Toronto, given the age of the housing stock. Click here to read my post ‘Knob and Tube Wiring‘ to learn more.



One might still find a second set of stairs for servants in a merchant class Edwardian house, though live-in domestic help was diminishing during this time, so attic spaces began having higher ceilings and bigger windows as they became accommodation for larger families. The kitchen and scullery – still untouched by domestic modernization as we know it today – remained more utilitarian and compact. An owner might still employ day help to cook, clean, and serve, so it remained separate from the formal entertainment spaces. Given Edwardian houses were broader – and four square (four rooms per floor, with the foyer being one), the kitchen was often located behind the foyer, having a narrow long configuration that might connect to a rear porch.

On the second level, the four square layout lent itself to a generous landing, four bedrooms, and a bathroom (often with a separate water closet). A second fireplace – often coal and sometimes electric – would be present on this more private level of domesticity, either in the master bedroom or gentleman’s study, depending on the size of the household.



The staircase in dwellings with a third attic level – unless in an affluent household – remained hidden, narrow and accorded no status – as this highest floor might still be used by help – like a nanny – who would care for the owner’s children (of whom the youngest infants might also sleep on this floor). As a result, the attic might contain three rooms – a larger space with bigger dormer windows and higher ceilings for the resident children and two smaller rooms for staff or boarders. On this level, the floors tended to be pine plank rather than an oak strip.



The basement of Edwardian residences still remained utilitarian, containing electrical and mechanical rooms, cold cellars, and utility rooms. Unlike the stacked stone foundations of Victorian dwellings which were prone to leak, and collected coal dust, brick became the material of choice which meant dampness and moisture could be better controlled. Basements also started becoming higher, and having direct access to outside often from a separate side entrance (which is how help came and went), so they offered greater functionality. Washrooms and laundry rooms begin appearing in the basements of Edwardian residences, as well as additional rooms for whatever needs the household might have.

While all period homes have “that” intangible quality of character, the Edwardian home is refreshing in its subtle shifts in design. They mark how society – and homeowners – began to evolve towards comfort and convenience. Their hallmark of elegance, generous proportions, and their solid crafted construction are testaments to why these homes are so sought-after.





Built in 1920 and encompassing 1348 square feet (plus 763 square feet below grade) of premium living space, this classic detached 3+1 bed, 1+1 bath Edwardian has a well-proportioned traditional space plan that offers several well-designed ‘zones for living’. Lovingly tended by the current owners since 1991, their pride of ownership is evident throughout the home! For those seeking a stellar convenient location, this well-loved, freshly-painted, solid brick residence nestled on a 28.58 x 100 foot fenced lot with a private gated drive deserves a closer look! –> Family-Friendly Wonderful On Woodmount Near Danforth & Woodbine






I absolutely love this  Stately Edwardian Duplex With Lower Level Suite, Steps To High Park. Built in 1929, it’s a sublime example of the comfort and status that domestic Edwardian architecture affords. While it has undergone a top-to-bottom renovation – incorporating modern conveniences and combining a clean-lined aesthetic with more historic elements – the nods to its roots are everywhere! First, you’ll notice the generous lot (including a detached 2 car garage), the smooth brick facade, and the large, covered porch with its curving – almost floral -architectural embellishment. Inside, the formal rooms are defined, but are generous and well-proportioned. The living and dining rooms are separated by glass-paned French doors, which are typical of the Edwardian era.

I love love love that the current owners were able to update this purpose-built duplex – replacing and upgrading the major components – without erasing its history! And seamlessly, I might add. THIS is how you show love and respect for Toronto’s beautiful aging housing stock!





This was a 2.5-storey detached 2100-square-foot Edwardian residence (plus 706-square-foot finished lower level with side entrance), which we sold earlier this year. It had all the charisma of hard-to-find vintage properties yet had been thoughtfully modernized to accommodate today’s busy urban lifestyle. –> An Edwardian Duplex On Sorauren Avenue In Roncesvalles Village!





We also had the opportunity to sell this Edwardian stunner during the Summer. This 4bed 2bath beauty retained many of its period features along with refreshed modern building components and classic contemporary renovations. Check it out –> Living Hip, Just A Hop From Trinity Bellwoods Park.



Curious about Toronto’s vintage housing stock? Here are a few helpful pieces:

Bay & Gable Victorian Architecture In Toronto

The History Of The Ontario Gothic Revival Cottage

Eclectic, Elegant and Cool: The Housing Stock of Parkdale

Gentrification, Densification, And The History Of Toronto Real Estate


Thanks for reading!


~ Steve & The Urbaneer Team

Steven Fudge, Sales Representative
& The Innovative Urbaneer Team
Bosley Real Estate Ltd., Brokerage – (416) 322-8000

– we’re here to earn your trust, then your business –


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