I transformed my garage into a 1,400-square-foot laneway suite. Now it’s my work sanctuary
In 2018, the city started allowing property owners to turn laneway structures into livable suites. David Shedd, now 57, wanted to build a guest house or a potential rental unit, so he submitted an application. Then the pandemic hit, which complicated the building process and altered his plans for the suite. Now, with most companies working remotely, he thinks it will be the perfect work-from-home retreat.
David: I grew up in southern Indiana. In 2001, I moved to Toronto and found a job in financial services. I still work for that company as the vice-president of sales. In 2013, I bought a three-bed, two–bath detached at St. Clair and Bathurst for $710,000, then spent about $350,000 fixing it up. The place had a two-car laneway garage where I parked one of my cars and stored my bicycles and kayaks.
In July 2018, I read about the city’s new laneway suite program, which allowed homeowners to turn their detached garages into suites. I thought it was a great idea. The city was giving homeowners a way to maximize the potential of their properties. At the same time, I saw it as a way to beautify the alley while also adding more housing to the neighbourhood.
First, I reached out to a contractor. I had already worked with Angelo Antolino from Integrity Design and Build Inc. for the renovations of my primary residence, so I felt confident working with him again. Together, we designed a 1,400-square-foot, two-bedroom, one-bathroom suite. I wanted it to be a flexible space that could be used as a guest house or rental unit. We started drawing up the plans that July, but a few weeks later, we realized that my neighbourhood wasn’t included in the initial phase of laneway suite approvals. So we held on to our plans until the second phase rolled out in late 2019.
In September 2019, we submitted our plans to the city. They were approved that December. As part of the approvals, I had to sign a document saying that I would not sever the laneway suite. Severing it would require installing separate utilities, like plumbing, along with registering for city services like garbage collection and mail. So the laneway suite would operate as a secondary unit, similar to a separate basement apartment. In January 2020, we started to build.
Angelo hired all of the tradespeople and arranged for all of the materials. Of course, there were some logistical challenges. I worried that the alley would be difficult for trucks to access, but thankfully, our alley is wide enough for two-way traffic, making it possible for trucks to enter and exit. Finding places to store materials, like lumber and scaffolding, was another issue. Fortunately, our neighbours let us keep stuff in their backyards. Most of the neighbours actually seemed fine with the project. I think they wanted to see how it looked in case they decided to build their own.
We were aiming to finish the project by Canada Day—July 1, 2020. But Covid delayed our project by two months. In a normal build, you might have plumbers and electricians on-site at the same time. But once the city opened back up and tradespeople were working again, Angelo coordinated with them so each group came in on separate days. There were also delays due to the availability of materials. Since a lot of people did renovation projects during Covid, pressure-treated lumber had all been bought up. So we had to wait for that to be back in stock. We also had some kitchen appliances coming in from Quebec, but since Quebec was also on lockdown, there was a delay in getting some of those.
We finished the build in mid-August. It’s beautiful. To be honest, it’s nicer than my main house—it feels like a luxury condo. All said, it cost about $550,000.
The main floor functions as a garage. It’s got radiant heat, high-end baseboards and floor-to-ceiling doors that open up into the backyard. I wired that area for an electric vehicle supercharger. I currently drive a gas-powered car, but I’m thinking of going electric soon.
The upper floor has an amazing kitchen with high-end appliances and a washer-dryer. There are two open-concept bedrooms, but I’m looking at installing some folding doors or Japanese-style screens to divide the space and provide some privacy.
There’s a staircase that goes up to the roof, with a skylight that opens up. We can’t use the rooftop as a patio, based on the current zoning by-laws, but we’re planning to put solar panels on one half, with a green roof of small trees or plants on the other side.
Of course, when I started the project, I thought it would be an awesome place to host guests. I have some friends visiting from just outside of Guelph in a couple of weeks, so that will be a good test. But at the start of the pandemic, my partner and I started working from home full time. We set up offices in adjacent bedrooms in our house, which made it difficult to work, since we’re both always blabbing away on conference calls. So I decided to start working in the laneway suite, using a desk that I lugged over from the main house.
The setup back there is great. My work station overlooks the backyard, a space that I find quite calming. And with the floor-to-ceiling windows and the skylight, the suite gets plenty of natural light. When we built the suite, we ran Internet cable lines over from the house, so the connection is stable. I plan to retire within the next 10 years, fingers crossed, at which point I might rent out my house and use the laneway suite as a pied-à-terre while I’m travelling. In the meantime, however, it’s the perfect work sanctuary.