Too Cool for School
Angela Durante, László Dukát and their two kids live in this century-old Uxbridge schoolhouse, which they are slowly, lovingly converting into a self-sufficient, off-the-grid eco homestead
Growing up in Uxbridge, Angela, a photographer with a PhD in history, was afraid of the derelict red-brick schoolhouse down the road, which operated as the Webb School between 1924 and 1980, before being decommissioned and falling into disrepair. In 2017, she was living with László, a house inspector, and their two kids in a detached suburban home in Aurora when her dad called to say the schoolhouse was on the market. The couple had an epiphany. “We realized we were restless and bored, and we didn’t fit into the fancy house,” Angela says.
They decided to sell their Aurora home and move to Uxbridge to convert the century-old, 4,500-square-foot building into a sustainable, off-the-grid homestead. Over the next three years, while operating as a B&B to cover costs, they added a sauna, repainted the brick exterior, and installed solar panels as well as a geothermal heating and cooling system. Sustainability comes at a price (the geothermal system alone cost them 50 grand), but it was a splurge they felt good about. “We don’t have fancy cars, but we have solar panels,” Angela says.
The original building was a sidesplit, with one big classroom (which is now their living room) and a gymnasium extension (now the B&B). When they moved in, there were layers of drywall and plaster throughout. Dangerous electrical dangled from the ceilings and water leaked through the roof and flooded in from underground. They replaced the roof, and took out crusty laminate flooring to expose the concrete base in the bedrooms and the gym. They also tore down several layers of ceiling in the gym to expose the steel beams. Then they furnished it with a cool hanging bed and historic photos of the old schoolhouse.
The family now grows organic vegetables, which they share with guests, on their two-acre farm. They also raise rabbits, sheep, goats, pigs and chickens. They live on the main floor in a stripped-down section that includes a basic kitchen and two small bedrooms. But there’s a 1,000-square-foot attic above the living room that they plan to finish, and a 600-square-foot area where they eventually want to add a master bedroom and another bathroom. “For now, it’s where we grow seedlings, hatch chicks and hang laundry,” says Angela. “Our goal is to be done by the schoolhouse’s 100th anniversary, in 2024.”
The kids, who are homeschooled, love being around the animals, and Angela will teach anyone who’ll listen about her family’s eco-conscious life. Forty years after its decommissioning, the schoolhouse is once again a place of learning.
The kitchen and living room are in what used to be the single classroom. Those floors are the original hardwood—they still have markings where the desks were once nailed down:
They put up the swing in the hall the week they moved in. Angela’s dad built it, and the kids painted the seat:
László keeps bees. He’s been stung six times, but he says you get used to it. He harvested 280 pounds of honey last year, serving guests fresh honey with their breakfast:
Ella and Atilla love hanging out with the animals. Plus, they’re useful. “The pigs till the soil, and so do the chickens,” says Angela. “It’s a permaculture way of gardening with animals”:
Toronto artist Lynn Donoghue started this painting but died before she could finish it. “I asked artist Meredith Blunt what she thought of it, and she said she knew exactly where the artist was going with it,” says Angela. Blunt finished it in 2018:
The family has full run of the sauna when the B&B isn’t rented out, but the kids are its most frequent visitors:
Concrete floors run throughout the extension, including the gymnasium, which was built in the 1960s:
László designed the hanging bed in the B&B. He and Angela built it together using wood from her grandfather’s barn:
Webb School graduates come by often to share their stories. The family display a few historical photos of the students and the schoolhouse:
László and Angela re-erected the original flagpole this year on Canada Day, and they plan to install the school bell (currently on their front lawn) in the belfry in time for the schoolhouse’s 100th anniversary in 2024: