In the fall of 2016, Ellen received a call from a prospective client – who wishes to remain anonymous — asking her if she could help him identify and contextualize a painting in his collection created by Lawren Harris. He purchased this small (10.5 x 14) piece at auction that spring. It was created around 1920 and titled “Toronto House”. He was intent on learning more details about the subject of the painting, including its history, location in the city, and current status. Ellen accepted the assignment but warned him that the search may not yield any dividends, due to the difficulty of tracking down a single structure in a big city like Toronto, along with the likelihood that it may have been demolished long ago by developers.
Soon after this time, Ellen reached out to Jim Burant, retired archivist and art historian, for advice and assistance. The two worked together to solve this mystery. Along the way, she also approached and drew on the expertise of architectural and archival experts from ERA Architects and the City of Toronto Archives. In the end, the main two participants were both ecstatic and astounded when they discovered the matching Harris house at 30 Roden Place in Yorkville. Incredibly, beyond the connection to the celebrated artist, the house also had the added prestige of serving as the long-term office of the eminent local architect Mandel Sprachman from 1971 until his death in 2002. His children inherited the house and held onto it until they put it on the market in the fall of 2017.
Due to the immense popularity of Lawren Harris and the fascinating nature and conclusion of the pursuit of the “Toronto House” painting, the consultants decided to document this story in Spacing Magazine. For more details about the project, you can access the piece by clicking on the title “In Search of the Elusive Lawren Harris “Toronto House.”” Immediately after its release in October, 2017, the story generated tremendous interest and excitement from the public.
Ellen took part in an interview with CBC Radio’s As It Happens a week after the release of the article. The show subsequently published a clip of the interview along with a lengthy summary of the project on their web page. Click here to access the site and listen to the interview. A month later, Ellen and Robert Sprachman — the owner of the house and son of Mandel Sprachman — conducted an interview with CBC TV’s Our Toronto program with Marvel Taruc.
While both Ellen and Jim were extremely concerned about the fate of the Harris house while it was on the market, their fears were assuaged when they learned that the buyer planned to renovate the structure and keep it intact. A year later, Ellen received a call from Jane Ip, the owner of Jeanne Lottie, a design firm specializing in one-of-a-kind purses and bags. She informed Ellen that she had just purchased the Roden Place property from the original buyer to house her business. Her firm was established in 1985 and was previously situated on nearby Scollard Street.
Jane and her colleague, Gillian, invited Ellen to the house for a brief meeting and tour of the recently renovated house. Soon after, Ellen dropped by again with Robert Sprachman to attend their annual Christmas party. The Harris house is currently painted a vibrant shade of pink on the east side of the building — Jeanne Lottie’s signature colour — and adorned with Christmas decorations. Although Jane has only occupied the home for a few weeks, she divulged that she felt an immediate connection and affinity for the space when she saw it for the first time. Evidently, this once time-worn, anonymous abode has morphed into a bright, beloved structure, with an enviable pedigree and future.
The photos below reveal the boldly painted exterior wall facing Roden Place, the architectural elements on the main floor, and the decorative touches introduced by the current owner.