An elegant Turkish mansion in Rockcliffe

| December 18, 2017 | 0 Comments
The home of Turkish Ambassador Selçuk Ünal and his wife, Lerzan, is a mansion on a leafy street in Rockcliffe Park. (Photo: Ashley Fraser)

The home of Turkish Ambassador Selçuk Ünal and his wife, Lerzan, is a mansion on a leafy street in Rockcliffe Park. (Photo: Ashley Fraser)

When you live in a Rockcliffe mansion with multiple receiving rooms, three guest rooms, 11 bathrooms, a spacious patio, expansive gardens and an address that is known to be elite, the best way to make it feel like home is to move in with some of your favourite art and pieces of memorabilia.
That’s just what Turkish Ambassador Selçuk Ünal and his wife, Lerzan, did when they came to Canada three years ago with their five-year-old daughter, Irmak. Prints, paintings and objets d’arts from Turkey and collections from Canada make the formal rooms in the residence seem more like home for the family.
The centre façade of the fabulous brick Georgian Revival house is still much like it was when it was built in 1928. It has a fine pedigree. It was originally designed by well-known Toronto architect Ferdinand Marani for Hugh McBean Hughson, son of lumber baron W.C. Hughson on luxe Crescent Road, which houses several upscale homes and embassies. Previously the property of the New Zealand High Commission, the house was purchased by the Turkish government in 1999 as part of a property exchange for the Canadian chancery in Ankara. Turkey then expanded the residence by one third, adding two large wings on either side, with reception rooms and an expansive dining room, a large commercial kitchen and a private suite for the ambassador and his family on the second floor. To maintain the integrity of the house, the Turkish government worked with local architects and the village of Rockcliffe Park. Specially designed bricks were used to match the original façade.

When they moved to Canada, the couple brought some of their favourite art and memorabilia from home. (Photo: Ashley Fraser)

When they moved to Canada, the couple brought some of their favourite art and memorabilia from home. (Photo: Ashley Fraser)

The first things to notice in the sunny front foyer are two bright panels created from handmade ceramic tiles, one of pomegranates, the other of tulips, both recognizable symbols of Turkey. And just inside the door is a Nazar, a blue eye, one of several in the house, hung there by Lerzan. The eye-shaped amulets are good luck charms, believed to protect against the evil eye.
“This a beautiful house,” says the ambassador, who counts stints at the United Nations, Qatar, Geneva and Ireland among his other postings. The couple entertain in the south wing, a long, window-lined cream and white reception room, covered with a collection of Turkish silk and wool rugs. While the furniture covering is mostly turquoise and cream, Lerzan prefers a collection of comfortable red velvet and wood furniture from the 1950s that she retrieved from the embassy on Wurtemburg Street. Several elegant handmade pieces of ceramic and glass from a well-known Turkish company, Pasabahçe, hold places of honour in the room.

The home features many fireplaces, including this one, which is located in one of several sitting areas. (Photo: Ashley Fraser)

The home features many fireplaces, including this one, which is located in one of several sitting areas. (Photo: Ashley Fraser)

“We brought them with us,” Lerzan says, “but they will stay here. “ What will go home with them will be a charming 28-year-old Mediterranean-style piano they bought on Kijiji for their daughter, along with two antique metronomes, one that is 100 years old, the other 60.
“I like to collect vintage,” she says, showing off her collection of blue Wedgwood. Along with their favourite paintings of Istanbul and a moody view of the Black Sea coast that are part of the embassy collection, they have added a charming, more modern piece of their own by Turkish painter Yalçın Gökçebağ. Above the reception area is the family’s private quarters, which includes a bedroom and bathroom along with a sitting room. Their daughter was young when they arrived in Canada, so they turned the neighbouring sitting room into her bedroom.
The north wing of the house boasts a spacious dining room with a podium at the end for large gatherings. The wing includes a full commercial kitchen where a Turkish chef produces the country’s specialties, always a feature of ambassadorial entertaining. Lunch on a recent day included lentil soup, a staple of Turkish menus, a celery dish with olive oil in an orange sauce, softened eggplant with lamb and a dessert of shredded dough, milk and walnuts. The chef also often makes baklava, of course.
The house requires at least five staff to keep it ship-shape, but for large crowds, the diplomatic couple often hires more. With a national day at the end of October, when it’s a bit cold to host a garden event, and crowds of close to 700 invited every year, the ambassador decided last year to move the party to Lansdowne Park’s Horticulture Building, where the embassy could cater its own food. That said, the couple has opened the residence to many local charities, including CHEO, Reach Canada and the Snowflake Ball.

The home features an office for work from home, or a place for residence-based meetings when necessary. (Photo: Ashley Fraser)

The home features an office for work from home, or a place for residence-based meetings when necessary. (Photo: Ashley Fraser)

Just off the front hall are the couple’s favourite rooms, the original library and Wedgwood blue and white dining room, where they entertain friends and groups. Here they have a few more small treasures, including memorabilia from the Royal Newfoundland Regiment that fought at Gallipoli in the First World War, exquisite pink and gold embroidery from antique Turkish wedding dresses and three large poppy paintings by well known Turkish painter Hikmet Çetinkaya, who often spends his summers in Canada and whose work is included in the Canadian War Museum’s collection.
This past summer, the garden apparently produced a bumper crop of fruit and Lerzan planted some magnolias, which made her very happy, she says. Although this posting is probably nearing its end, the couple expect that as a matter of fairness, the next one may well be a hardship post.
But that’s not a problem, wherever they go. “The people give love to the house and that makes the house lovely. That’s what I believe,” Lerzan says with a big smile.

The north wing of the house boasts a spacious dining room, complete with a podium at the end, for large gatherings. (Photo: Ashley Fraser)

The north wing of the house boasts a spacious dining room, complete with a podium at the end, for large gatherings. (Photo: Ashley Fraser)

These playful elephants, made of silver, were a gift to the Ünal family. (Photo: Ashley Fraser)

These playful elephants, made of silver, were a gift to the Ünal family. (Photo: Ashley Fraser)

When they leave Canada, the ambassadorial couple will take a 28-year-old Mediterranean-style piano they bought on Kijiji for their daughter. (Photo: Ashley Fraser)

When they leave Canada, the ambassadorial couple will take a 28-year-old Mediterranean-style piano they bought on Kijiji for their daughter. (Photo: Ashley Fraser)

This ceramic work is from a special collection of a famous Turkish company called Pasabahçe. (Photo: Ashley Fraser)

This ceramic work is from a special collection of a famous Turkish company called Pasabahçe. (Photo: Ashley Fraser)

This sunny foyer is at the front of the residence. (Photo: Ashley Fraser)

This sunny foyer is at the front of the residence. (Photo: Ashley Fraser)

Longtime journalist Margo Roston is Diplomat’s culture columnist.

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Margo Roston is Diplomat’s culture editor.

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