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A spectacular laneway retreat 11 years in the making

The latest issue of Designlines magazine is about how Toronto is — finally — embracing laneway life. And one of the featured homes is none other than Mackay Laneway House. Pictured above is architect Gabriel Fain sitting on the front steps.

As some of you will know, MLH took over a decade to get built. I first did a design for the house back in 2009. Laneway housing seemed like such an obvious opportunity, and so I designed a compact house that could fit neatly within the confines of my 25-foot-wide backyard.

Technically, it was perfectly workable. But I could tell I was too early. After speaking with city staff, I immediately got the impression that this thing was not going to get approved. At least not now. So I shelved the project until 2017.

By this time, it was clear that laneway housing was on its way to becoming a reality in Toronto. It was simply a matter of time. And so Gabriel Fain and I decided to come up with a new design and try our luck at the Committee of Adjustment (we needed, I think, over a dozen zoning variances).

But it turns out that we were still too early. The project was immediately refused. After the decision, I had a few planning lawyers reach and offer to help me with a pro bono appeal. But I decided to wait until the new laneway policies came into force and the home could be built without any variances.

And that’s exactly what we did. In the fall of 2020 we submitted for a building permit, and about 6 weeks later it arrived. The home was then built that winter and it went up on the market for rent in March 2021. It rented right away, even in the midst of intermittent COVID lockdowns.

At this point, it’s hard to imagine that this form of housing was once illegal. Hundreds of permits have already been issued and this number is only going to increase. In fact, I believe that the humble laneway house is destined to become a defining characteristic of Toronto’s urban landscape.

Toronto is finally embracing laneway life.


  1. doug pollard

    There is that old adage that the longer the gestation period from idea to fruition the better the idea must be


  2. Pingback: I love narrow streets – BRANDON DONNELLY

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