A Great, Secluded Home that Kept Its 1960s Charms Intact
October 22, 2015 | By Dave LeBlanc
Oh, it’s an understated house on a quiet street that backs onto a quiet ravine. But come closer: That starburst escutcheon around the doorknob is a little bit of the space age – this home was born in 1961, the same year Yuri Gagarin went into orbit – to tell you, gently, that there are big things inside.
Then again, the man who built the home, Walter Pugh, who led Pugh Bros. Construction from an early age until he turned it over to his kids, was a member of what Tom Brokaw dubbed “The Greatest Generation.” Also known as the “G.I. Generation,” they did big things but never boasted; in a 2014 Forbes magazine article, Neil Howe wrote that after the Second World War, “G.I.s just kept on building: interstates, suburbs, missiles, miracle vaccines, trips to the moon, and the Great Society.”
So, it stands to reason that folks born between 1901 and 1924 didn’t make a big fuss about their Great Homes, either.
Open that door, however, and you’ll marvel at the living room’s pristine redwood ceiling that zooms upward to a peak, then comes down to meet sliding glass doors that lead to a sun room and, oh, a view of that leafy ravine again.
And if your eye gets stuck on that big stone fireplace, forget it for a moment. If you really want to see how this generation kept things private, hang your coat in that freestanding closet-pod (with ceilings as nice as these, you don’t want walls to come crashing into them) and trot down that lovely, wide staircase.
Take a hard right at the bottom of the stairs – yes, I know there’s a cocktail bar and a pool table, but, trust me, you’re going to want to see this – and pass the second stone fireplace as you zip down the hallway. Now open that white door at the end.
Oh. My. God. There’s a massive swimming pool hiding in here. And that deep end has to be, like, 10 feet.
“That’s my dad,” laughs Walter Pugh’s youngest son, John Pugh, 58, who began working for the family business in 1980. Because of the sloping lot at 33 Sagebrush Lane, he explains, his father could either “fill it in, or put in a pool.
“But to do it became very tricky because the pool is actually under the garage and the master bedroom,” he explains, “so he had to build a very interesting, structurally-engineered garage and floor to support [itself], because you couldn’t have columns in the middle of a swimming pool.” There’s also a very period-appropriate tile mosaic on the back wall, designed by one of the home’s third owners … but more on her later.
Walter Pugh was a prolific Toronto builder. His father started the company in the early 1900s after emigrating from England, and all of Walter’s brothers worked as carpenters or bricklayers; while some would quit, it was the only job Mr. Pugh, who will turn 99 in February, would ever have. He’d take it seriously, too: In 1955, while building Scarborough’s Dorset Park subdivision, he’d see to it that a church was built there also; at Victoria Village, which Mr. Pugh built with partners two years before that, house prices were kept lower than in neighbouring Don Mills by avoiding the cost of architects.
“They built apartment buildings, shopping centres, industrial complexes and thousands and thousands of houses,” John Pugh says. “He bought the north-east corner of Kennedy and Eglinton and we, only three years ago, sold the shopping centre that they built on it – they built it in 1969 and I ran it for the last 20 years for them – and [dad built] all the homes in behind.”
So, it’s not surprising, then, that a home Walter Pugh would build for his family would be a humdinger with an indoor pool. Or that he and his wife, Doris (1920-2005) would agree to leave it a few years later when Pugh Bros. had the opportunity to build the family something else.
It’s also not surprising that, after a second owner would enjoy it for a few years, another member of the G.I. Generation, Harold Warrington (born 1922), would purchase the Sagebrush Lane home in 1967 and live there until a few months ago.
Mr. Warrington, says granddaughter Shea Warrington, was an English-born “self made man” who married “the love of his life,” Isabelle, while the two were helping build the Alaska Highway. After moving to Toronto, he’d sell Wear-Ever pots and pans by hosting dinners that would feature Isabelle demonstrating their ease of use. Eventually, he’d become a “great success” in the metal fabrication field.
The Sagebrush home, continues Ms. Warrington, would become a “hub of activity” for the family “with people around that amazing bar, swimming in the pool or watching sports around a blazing fire.” And Isabelle would design the tile mosaic on the pool wall.
And because both the Pughs and the Warringtons were of the if-it-ain’t-broke-don’t-fix-it school, the home still looks exactly as it did in the 1960s. The rich wood panelling hasn’t been painted over, the main bathroom has so much vintage charm – including three to-die-for pinholed light fixtures – it could host a Joan Holloway crying jag, the intercom system was never removed, and there’s a Rat Pack-ready sauna. While the three bedrooms are small by today’s standards, there’s enough space everywhere else to make up for it, including the large kitchen (the only room that’s been remodelled).
“My father never built himself a castle, he never believed in it,” John Pugh says. “I think the biggest home my dad lived in was probably 2500 square feet.”
So, if you’d like to live like a king or queen in this non-castle, dial up Ms. Warrington’s website; her grandfather has moved out – and no, he didn’t want to – and she’s the sales representative at Royal LePage Estate Realty who’s got the gig.