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Moving on from 'the Big Hug'

Kurt Browning and Sonia Rodriguez hand over their home with love

Source: National Post
Date: November 17, 2005
Author: Connie Adair

Had he been on skates at the time, Kurt Browning might have done a quadruple jump, and his wife, Sonia Rodriguez, a grand jete. The skater and the ballerina had found the house they knew would be their home.

The couple had lived in the Beach for a few years but "never jelled with that house," says Ms. Rodriguez, a principal dancer with the National Ballet of Canada. But when they saw the home in the Bathurst and St. Clair area, it was a different story. They fell in love with it. "We could see ourselves in it, and see our stuff in it," she says. And it turned out to be just right: Mr. Browning calls their home "the Big Hug."

Toronto-born Rodriguez moved to Madrid at the age of five and trained at Princess Grace Academy in Monaco. She joined the National Ballet in 1990, and was promoted to principal dancer in 2000, with roles including Odette/Odile in Swan Lake, the title role in Giselle and Juliet in Romeo and Juliet. She had the lead role in the Canadian premiere of The Red Shoes for Karen Kain's Farewell Tour in 1997.

Her husband, known for his fast feet, is a four-time Canadian figure skating champion and four-time world champion. In 1988, he completed the first quadruple jump in competition, an accomplishment that earned him entry in the Guinness Book of World Records.

He has been inducted into Canada's Sports Hall of Fame and Canada's Figure Skating Hall of Fame, and is a recipient of the Order of Canada.

Mr. Browning and Ms. Rodriguez, who were married in 1996, bought the house 10 years ago. It was in great shape, she says. The former boarding house had been gutted and renovated by its previous owners, who retained the original woodwork and were true to the architecture of the house, "which we appreciated," she says.

The eat-in French country kitchen with slate floors looks new, but was part of the previous renovation. With windows and French doors overlooking the backyard, the kitchen is "the heart of our home," she says. Although they enjoy meals in the kitchen, they occasionally eat in the formal dining room because "we love the table."

The cosy dining room has panelled walls, beamed ceilings and a ceiling painted a rich, warm red. Red is also used in the main-floor powder room, and in the formal living room.

The living room has a fireplace with columns and a marble mantel, home to Mr. Browning's Gemini Awards, given to the producers of a couple of TV specials he was in. But there's no TV in here. They use this comfortable space to read to their son, away from distractions.

A French door from the living room offers access to the single-car garage. An odd location for such a door, perhaps, but the garage was originally at the back of the house. Because that layout didn't leave much space for a backyard, they moved the garage to the side of the house. They salvaged the bricks from the old to build the new, and the garage blends perfectly with the English brick house. The garage is home to Mr. Browning's treasured Porsche 911.

From the front hall, a wood staircase leads to a landing with a stained-glass window, before turning to reach the second floor of the three-bedroom, four-bathroom home. The second-floor family room, which runs the width of the house, has a built-in bookcase that has shelving and storage space and also accommodates the television. It is a charming room, with a fireplace and windows around two sides. Overlooking mature trees, it is "like a treehouse," Ms. Rodriquez says.

The four-piece main bathroom has antique brass piping for its shower, and a claw-foot tub. The guest bedroom has a walkout to a deck, which was enlarged when the garage was built.

The master bedroom is on the third floor, and has the interesting angles created by dormer windows and sloping ceilings. The room also has a walk-in closet and a bright ensuite bathroom with a glass shower stall and a separate tub.

(The shower stall is so large that at their housewarming party, a friend suggested they see how many people could fit into it. Fourteen, Ms. Rodriguez says. And they were fully clothed, so it might really be 15.)

Although there are no long runs of wall space, there is plenty of space for art in the house. Two Toller Cranston paintings grace the home, one a gift to Mr. Browning in appreciation for having skated at a farewell show for Mr. Cranston, who was a professional skater before he retired to paint.

The lower level of the home is where the couple unwind -- either in the steam shower or home theatre -- or work in Mr. Browning's office.

"Kurt wanted a hockey coach's office," says Ms. Rodriguez. A wall of doors were made to look like lockers; they provide storage space for Mr. Browning's many skating costumes. He also has a large wooden desk and another wall of footlockers, while the wall above the desk has a chalkboard and another is lined with cork. A multi-tasker, Mr. Browning wrote his first children's book, A is for Axel, at this desk.

Another, albeit smaller, desk provides space for Ms. Rodriguez's sewing machine, which she uses to sew ribbon and elastic on to her ballet shoes.

A door from the office leads to the home theatre, with banks of reclining chairs, a ceiling-mounted projector and a theatre screen.

The couple have enjoyed the house, but with one child and possibly more in the future, they need a bigger house with a yard large enough for a pool. They're moving just "six minutes away -- because we love the area," Ms. Rodriguez says.

She and Mr. Browning hope the new owners will love the home as much as they do. "The house reflects the family who lives there -- fun and energetic people with a sophisticated flair," says listing agent Geon van der Wyst of Royal LePage Real Estate Services Ltd., who sold the house the day it was listed.

As for the new owners, not only will they get bragging rights -- Kurt Browning and Sonia Rodriguez made this their home for 10 years -- they'll also get a beautiful house that's been loved by all its owners.