If you’ve ever lived in one of Toronto’s older homes (like Casa Loma, pictured left) or apartments, you have probably wondered this: Why do the city’s otherwise charming Victorian houses lack closets? The most frequently given “explanation” is that in olden times, homes were taxed by the room, and that closets were included in this count. Another legend offered up by amateur historians is that, back in the day, people only had a couple of changes of clothing, and that a peg on the wall was sufficient for their storage needs.
We put the question to architect Michael McClelland, who specializes in heritage conservation. McClelland is also a principal of ERA Architects and a co-editor of East/West: A Guide to Where People Live in Downtown Toronto. This was his reply: “I think the answer is that with most 19th century housing there was an assumption that you would store your belongings in a wardrobe. Wardrobes were big and the rooms were often very small, but that was the idea.” In the interests of heating and style, Victorian interiors were teeny and typically crammed with over-sized furniture and bric-a-brac. “Well-planned closets were an innovation like vacuum-cleaners and sensibly designed kitchens. They started to appear in the early 20th century, acknowledging that in those busy modern times houses needed to be easy to manage.”
These small rooms, however, were not easily retro-fitted to include built-in closets and wardrobes, at least in the downtown core, continue to be a big seller on Craigslist.