In 2005, Marc Freeman, a radiologist, purchased an almost century-old Tudor in Forest Hill with his wife, who was pregnant at the time. They liked the verdant 2,400-square-foot backyard with massive maple and ash trees, but the house was very dated, with an ’80s-style white kitchen, rusty radiators, and knob and tube wiring. They wanted to make it more kid-friendly.
Soon after the purchase, Marc and his wife hired architect Kohn Shnier, who transformed the property into the home of their dreams: they razed the structure and built a home with clean lines, pleated ceilings and a glass-walled kitchen that opened into the backyard.
The Freemans went on to have three more kids. Just before the onset of the pandemic, they decided it was time to revamp the backyard, which lacked any character. They hired landscape designer Joel Loblaw to transform the yard into a multi-functional space for their large family. It would feature an organic vegetable garden, a basketball court, a swing set and—the pièce de résistance—a nostalgic shed filled with 1980s arcade games and retro art, which Marc had been collecting in a storage room for years.
Now the backyard is so fun that the kids—who range from five to 16, prefer to spend time back there than at the family’s lakeside cottage in Haliburton. “On weekend mornings my wife brews her organic coffee and for a few hours we sit on the deck, sip Americanos and read the paper,” says Marc.
The younger kids will pass the time on the jungle gym or play tic-tac-toe on the patio floor with chalk. For the older kids, the shed is a private retreat from nosy parental ears. The teenagers hang out with their friends, who come over for dunk-offs and rounds of ping-pong.
Marc envisions the shed evolving with time. One day, it could become an office, a bar or even a garden suite for one of the kids. For now, it’s the perfect escapist centrepiece for the backyard.
The covert court is easy to miss, since it uses paver-tiled flooring instead of pavement. “I wanted a surface that was more versatile than a sports court,” Marc says:
The slatted fence features custom-made nature spirit masks by Toronto studio Lubo Design:
Here’s the vegetable garden:
The swings were salvaged from an old jungle gym. “Over the years, all of my children perfected their underdogs on those swings,” Marc says:
The 100-square-foot cedar shed was initially left unpainted, but Marc decided black better complemented the lush foliage:
Inside the shed, the flooring is a durable aluminum and the walls are made from Douglas fir pine:
The retro tabletop hockey game has been reimagined as a patriotic battle royale between the Maple Leafs and the Montreal Canadiens:
Above the tabletop hockey game hangs three refurbished skateboards by painter Sander Pappot:
Marc commissioned Jasper Andries, a Dutch street artist, to create artwork inspired by the Freeman family’s travels. This triptych—a freewheeling take on WWII military themes—is inscribed with a Japanese proverb: “A frog in the well does not understand the vast ocean”:
The surfboard, also by Andries, was inspired by a trip to Hawaii:
Here’s the front of the house: