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From New Homes & Condos Magazine
A century-old church evokes a sense of beauty and serenity, and with it, the recognition of its profound historic value. When the opportunity arose to transform an awe-inspiring church space into a residential building, Architect and Developer Bernard Watt jumped at the chance.
In 1906, the Centennial Methodist Church established a brick building at 701 Dovercourt Rd., nestled south of Bloor Street. Aptly named “The Church,” this loft conversion will be carved from this neo-gothic church.
“Because of its uniqueness, this loft conversion is sure to increase in value once released to the public,” offers Shakeel Walji of The Walsh Group, the company heading branding and marketing for the project.
While any Toronto loft conversion is a hot commodity, a church loft conversion truly is a rarity, says Brad Lamb, heading sales for this project. “We’ve never been involved in a church loft conversion, and there have been a handful… in the city – less than half a dozen, and I’ve been doing this for 20 years.”
Lamb calls The Church the “holy grail of super-cool condo living.” Because a project like this doesn’t come often, it truly is a labour of love for those involved. “They generally have to be an architect or contractor to understand the intricacies and cost,” says Lamb. “It’s always more money to do one of these church loft conversions than it is building from scratch.”
For Architect Bernard Watt, a “labour of love” may be an understatement. As the name behind The Church‘s developer Dovenco and BWA Architect, Watt has spent the last 21 years recycling marginally used buildings in downtown Toronto, including the legendary Creed Buildings loft conversion from a fur warehouse, Harcourt Mews loft conversion from an existing church, and high-rise, mixed-use projects like Lawrence Park, Bloorwalk and 99 Hayden condominiums.
Says Watt, loft conversions are commonly warehouses, factories and industrial buildings reworked into residential spaces. “Those tend to be repetitive structures, so it’s relatively easy to cut into small units like lofts. A church doesn’t have that. It’s a totally different space to work from.”
The transformation of the church into 28 unique lofts has its challenges. Watt describes that slanted floors designed to accommodate the parishioners’ view from the pews, and the U-shaped balcony. “Most of it will be removed and replaced,” he explains. “We’re keeping the exterior wall of the church and the roof.” The new lofts, he says, will be rebuilt from within.
Key to the building’s strong street presence are the two symmetrical steeples towering over Dovercourt Road. The building’s exterior materials and details will be restored, and complemented by a new urban front garden.
Watt describes interiors as contemporary-heritage. “What we’re trying to say with that is, the interiors will be very modern, clean, elegant, simple looking,” resulting in a style that emphasizes the new and modern, overlapping the old and historic. “We’re not trying to make units that look old and traditional, we’re playing on that contrast.”
Watt pays homage to the building’s breathtaking interiors by converting the central church area into an atrium, which will greet residents and guests with its original octagonal, stained-glass skylight embedded in the ceiling high above, adorned with turn-of-the-century floral motifs.
Through the atrium and to the lofts, purchasers will find a collection of one– and two-storey loft designs, ranging from 614 to 1,484 sq. ft. With 24 floor plans to choose from, and only 28 lofts, the designs are unique, incorporating contemporary details and elements from the original building that was finished in 1906.
The ultra-modern, Italian-imported kitchens; bathrooms boasting clean lines; beautiful tile; new windows; balconies, terraces and rooftop decks (as per plan) – it’s all in contrast to the timeless beauty of the building’s original features that are being retained and restored – the exposed brick walls, soaring steel trusses, and cornice and vaulted ceilings soaring from nine to 20 ft. in height.
“That this particular developer has decided to offer a finishing package – no other church loft conversion in the city, in the core, has ever offered such a high-end, luxurious quality of kitchens, appliances, bathroom materials and flooring – he’s really stepping it up,” adds Lamb.
The jewel in the crown are the stained-glass windows that appear in 20 of the 28 lofts, in some cases, two or three per unit in various sizes, stretching from floor to ceiling, filtering a flood of gently coloured natural light into the living space.
The twin towers, which set the tone of the building’s exterior and the streetscape, make their mark on interiors as well, employed differently in the plans that incorporate them. In one loft, for example, the tower is a bedroom. In another, the tower is the kitchen. “Imagine, entertaining and having your kitchen and dining room in that kind of space,” says Walji. “It’s tremendous!”
Another exciting feature of The Church is that the developer and architect are one and the same. Those exploring the real estate terrain might expect some bumps in the road, resulting in delays. “The main advantage [here] is that there’s much more control over what’s happening on site,” says Watt. “This is a very challenging project to do, and not any developer with jump into it.
“We’re not doing a cookie-cutter repeat of a project we did last year. It’s full of surprises. Once you start getting into the original building and its addition, you start uncovering and discovering things about it.”
Says Watt, with a large team of consultants, no matter what project, the process gets convoluted. “The advantage to us is, the decision-making process is simple and informed, more efficient and faster… You have one head that is making all the right decisions based on a lot of experience.”
The building has long boasted a strong presence in this well established community, tucked within walking distance to College Street, Little Italy and Dufferin Grove Park. Priced from as low as $209,900 to as high as $649,900, The Church will appeal to young, urban professionals. “Because there is a wide price-range, we’ll have an age group ranging from the mid-20s to the mid-60s, and older.” Lamb calls it a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity – “these lofts will be gone within two weeks of us opening the doors, without a doubt.”
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