Camera Lucida: A Victorian Semi Reimagined in Toronto

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Technical sheet

Official Project Name: Camera Lucida
Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Project Type: Renovation and Energy Retrofit
Architecture and Interiors: AMA / Anya Moryoussef Architect

Architect Team: Anya Moryoussef, James Swain
Structural Engineer: Matthew Kieffer, Kieffer Structural Engineering
Mechanical Designer: McCallum HVAC Design
Builder: Inline Fine Build

Millworker: Barlow Cabinet Works

Suppliers: Log’s End (flooring), Avenue Road (furnishings), Fenix NTM (kitchen cabinets and counters), Endicott Brick (flooring), Kolbe (windows), Delta Light (lighting), Artemide (lighting), &Tradition (lighting)

Photo Credits: Doublespace Photography, Scott Norsworthy

Camera Lucida, a project in Toronto, Canada, by AMA (Anya Moryoussef Architect), is a remarkable example of architectural surgery. This 150-year-old Victorian semi has undergone a dramatic transformation, bringing it into the modern era while preserving its historical charm. The clients’ request to retain the essence of their long-time residence presented a unique challenge, one that AMA tackled with a blend of empathy and innovation.

Uncovering History

The clients, who had called this Victorian semi home for over three decades, wanted to make it more suitable for their present and future needs. The house, with its rich history and character, was also a source of discomfort due to its outdated layout and features. Rather than opting for a complete overhaul, the architects chose a different path – uncovering and re-envisioning the home. This approach, in contrast to the wasteful tabula rasa method, focused on unraveling the existing structure.

Preserving the Past

AMA, in collaboration with the contractor, meticulously disassembled the interior, revealing the home’s hidden treasures. Elements such as stairs, trims, hardware, and fireplaces were retained and restored. To enhance comfort and energy efficiency, the envelope and mechanical systems were upgraded. Original single-pane windows were replaced with new aluminum-clad wood windows, and bulky cast iron radiators gave way to radiant in-floor heating.

New Perspectives

The most significant transformation came with the creation of seven new apertures within the house. These strategic interventions, aligned with existing doors and windows, introduced a play of light and views. They broke down the strict Victorian confines, illuminating previously dark spaces. The project’s name, ‘Camera Lucida,’ draws inspiration from an optical device used by artists to reproduce reality on a two-dimensional surface through reflected light.

Balancing the Old and the New

While the house embraced these new reflections and illuminations, its essential features – proportion, structure, and circulation – were preserved. A shifted enfilade and central staircase retained their significance. However, they were now expressed through different materials. The juxtaposition of white-washed pine flooring with iridescent brick tiles marked a transition from light to shadow. The kitchen, a functional centerpiece, featured nanotech surfaces and brushed stainless steel.

A Harmonious Blend

The result is a harmonious blend of the old and the new. Historic elements are intertwined with modern interventions. Original moldings peek through unexpected incisions, creating a unique synergy between preservation and transformation. The colors and materials echo the Victorian era but are revitalized by contemporary building technology. New light interacts with timeless shadows, offering inhabitants a familiar yet unexpected experience of their home.


Camera Lucida stands as a testament to the power of architectural innovation rooted in respect for history. This project beautifully demonstrates that a Victorian gem can be reimagined for modern living without sacrificing its unique character. AMA’s approach of uncovering and re-envisioning is a model for those seeking to breathe new life into historical homes while embracing the future.

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