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Tracy Hanes – Toronto Star
There’s no doubt about it — Toronto condo buyers love balconies. But renowned interior designer Brian Gluckstein is astounded by how few of these outdoor amenities get used to their full potential.
“I’m always amazed when I look at buildings and see balconies that are just these sad, vacant spaces or when people buy condos with terraces and don’t do an extensive number on them,” says Gluckstein.
Yet, purchasers are quite adamant that they want these outdoor spaces and the connection to the outdoors they provide.
“You look at condos built 20 years ago and see they have little window openings and no terraces, which is a change to what people want today,” says Gluckstein. “I just did a focus group for a new condo, and one question they were asked is whether outdoor space is important. Everyone wanted it, as big as possible. One element is that people are giving up their house, but don’t want to give up outdoor space, they just don’t want as big a garden.”
What he would like to see is people create “mini courtyards” on their balconies. “People are putting so much effort into the interiors of their suites — I’ve never seen so much interest in flooring, cabinetry and bedding — they should put the same focus on the outdoor spaces.
“It absolutely is another living space, it isn’t just a ledge hanging off a building, and it’s very valuable living space,” says Gluckstein. “The smaller the unit, more valuable it is. You want to decorate it and style it just like interior.”
He says some condo buyers are starting to treat the balcony as an extension of their indoor space.
“We (Gluckstein Design) design patio furniture for the Bay,” he says. “At our urban location, we’re seeing people starting to address that and we’re designing smaller tables with two chairs. We’re seeing an increase in that type of product. They don’t just want a supermarket stacking chair, they want beautiful patio furniture, beautiful planters.”
Gluckstein says more products are also being designed for balcony and terrace use, such as lightweight fibreglass planters which look like concrete, pewter, stone or terra cotta.
“The big change is that these planters and the new patio furniture can stay out all winter, so you don’t have to worry about storing them,” says Gluckstein. “You can create a beautiful space and don’t have to worry about what to do with it.”
Even the cold weather months offer the opportunity for beautiful balconies: “You can put pretty evergreens out there that aren’t expensive. You can leave them year round or give them away and replace them with flowers in spring.
“I’m also seeing an increase in artificial plants. I like real plants, but artificial evergreens are great for privacy on the sides of terraces. Or you can plant a few pots with real flowers and use artificial hedges.”
The new artificial turfs have come a long way too, he says. “They really are incredible and don’t have that luster they used to. I’m seeing it more and more in places, like in private gardens where grass can’t grow. It looks fantastic and it can soften a concrete terrace and help reduce the heat.”
Gluckstein says the balcony decor should echo the interior of the suite, whether it’s traditional or contemporary. He says there are a range of “fabulous fabrics” available too for patio cushions which are as stylish as those available for interior furnishings, in a wide range of patterns and colours.
Architect Peter Clewes agrees that balconies and terraces are in high demand for new condos.
“Every singe residential (condo) project we’ve done, including the Four Seasons, has balconies,” says Clewes of architectsAlliance. “I’m realizing more and more the importance of balconies. It’s nice to be able to feel the balcony is a space you want to go out to.”
He created wraparound balconies for Cresford Development’s CASA project, inspired by two beautiful buildings in the Yonge and St. Clair area and by Towerhill apartments off Spadina Rd. and has designed similar balconies for Cresford’s MYC (Merton Yonge Condominiums) in Davisville, which will offer panoramic views of the Mount Pleasant Cemetery and city skyline.
“With CASA, the wraparound balconies functionally and visually extend the living space,” says Clewes. “They take the entire frontage of the unit and it provides beautiful living space and gives some passive solar shading on the south and west. Even the small units feel much larger, which is especially apparent on the corner units. The glass in the unit goes right from the floor to ceiling, uninterrupted, with no curb detail or no bulkhead to reduce the height.”
Few condos are built without balconies, but the Residences of the Ritz-Carlton is one notable exception, says Clewes. “Toronto is a very conservative city when it comes to architecture and few people are prepared to be adventurous. The Ritz-Carlton is high-end residential and has a high quality exterior facade. It’s more about celebrating the views and less about being connected to the outdoors. That was very brave (not to include balconies) and successful.”
Clewes says balconies can present a challenge in creating balance between architectural diversity and a sense of consistency between the different condo towers in Toronto. If all projects had wraparound balconies, it would result in a “homogeneity of architecture,” he says. “You have to play with the idea of balconies and give architectural expression, yet a sense of connectedness with other towers.”
Currently, Clewes is working a tower for the Toronto waterfront — “that’s going to have enormous balconies” — that will use a special structural system not used in the city for a long time. “It allows you to do enormous cantilevers to create what will really be outdoor rooms.”
Tips for best balcony use
• Use the same design theme as inside the condo. For example, if you have traditional furnishings and decor, choose the same for your balcony.
• Look for lightweight fiberglass planters which simulate terra cotta, stone or concrete. They aren’t too heavy to carry up in an elevator and can be left out year-round.
• Buy small evergreens to put out on the balcony in winter to add a touch of greenery; give away to friends in spring and replace with blooming plants.
• Buy furniture that’s correctly sized. You should be able to walk around tables and pull out chairs comfortably
• For large terraces, break up the expanse of concrete floor with teak click-together decking or some or new realistic looking artificial turf. Don’t be afraid to use umbrellas and gazebos, too.
Hire a landscape architect to help you design your outdoor space in the sky, advises Gluckstein. Cost will be reasonable the results worth it.
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New homes on the market include Victory Condos, which has limited availability
Suzanne Wintrob, National Post
Housing sales may be booming again, but judging by all the bulldozers and cranes popping up, it appears luxury condominiums are the talk of the town.
From Lake Ontario to tony Yorkville and out to the suburbs, there is hardly a piece of land without a new condo building on it or one in the works. Famous hotel brands such as Trump, Four Seasons and Ritz-Carlton are well into construction, while local developers who held on to land during last year’s financial nightmare have rolled up their sleeves and are back in action.
All the excitement has given buyers and investors an assortment of interesting luxurious options. There are grand residences atop hotels, chic units and penthouses in tall towers, and a new crop of lower buildings boasting garden terraces. Those on the market are selling swiftly, while several new offerings are about to make their official debuts.
“We’re all a little surprised by how the market turned around very quickly,” admits Brian Brown, vice-president of Lifetime Developments and principal of sister company BLVD Developments. “It was almost like somebody turned off the faucet and then all of a sudden turned it back on. It’s as if there wasn’t a slowdown. There has been a lot of pent-up demand. For a period of time, people decided they wanted to sit on the sidelines to see how things were going to shake out. As soon as we heard some good news, everyone was jumping back in and trying to find great deals, great offers and great investment opportunities.”
Lifetime/BLVD is the perfect example of a builder offering something for everyone. While most of the company’s condo projects are situated in downtown Toronto, they come in all shapes and sizes and cater to a wide demographic.
For instance, Liberty Market Lofts in Liberty Village features live-work spaces, with only a handful of lofts and penthouses left and priced to $494,990. Near Spadina Avenue, the pricier 12-storey project Victory Condos on King has just a few suites available. Penthouses, boasting private rooftop patios that match the unit size, range from 800 to 2,500 sq. ft. and $706,900 to $2.2–
million. As an incentive, penthouse buyers will receive free stuff including: a locker, an underground parking space, an upgraded kitchen appliance package and rooftop built-in barbecue and sink. Lifetime is also a joint venture partner with Great Gulf Homes on the 42-storey X2 tower, and will launch three more towers in the fall including the 41-storey Bisha Hotel and Residences in Toronto’s entertainment district. In short, different strokes for different folks.
“There’s definitely a market for every type of product,” Mr. Brown explains. “People feel they’re getting something different, something that fits exactly what their expectations are without having to spend extra money to upgrade. It’s done very well for us.”
Ken Zuckerman, owner of Zinc Construction, shares that sentiment as he prepares to transform St. Basil’s Separate School in Yorkville into a six-storey, 25-unit tiered boutique condo building called Hazelton 36. It is unique to Toronto, he claims, because it will be small but splendid and situated on a residential tree-lined street. Average units will be approximately 1,800 to 2,200 sq. ft. and priced around $1-million, with penthouses as big as 6,000 sq. ft. Expected occupancy is September 2012.
“It’s for people who are independent and want their privacy and want to feel they’re somewhere special,” says Mr. Zuckerman, who plans several more boutique projects now that the market is back where he likes it.
Another newcomer to the luxury condo business, given the economic upswing, is Dunpar Homes. Mark Mintzer, vice-president of sales and marketing, says the company has built more than 2,000 luxury townhomes in South Etobicoke over the past 25 years but the time was right for its first condo highrise. The seven-storey Kingsway Terrace, at the corner of Prince Edward Drive and Dundas Street West, will go to market on April 10 with 80 units ranging from 700 to 2,900 sq. ft. and priced from $400,000 to more than $2-million. The suites are geared to upscale empty-nesters who live in The Kingsway and want to stay in the area.
“In building our townhomes, we always had a missing link for the person who wanted something all on one floor,” Mr. Mintzer says. “People always loved our finishes and designs but couldn’t do the stairs. We were missing a segment of the market we should have been looking at.”
Dunpar Homes has owned several pieces of land on that intersection for a decade but was waiting for the right opportunity. When the economy picked up, the company made its move. Kingsway Terrace is just one of three buildings the developer is planning for that corner over the next five years.
Some builders are enticing buyers with nostalgia. The Nicholas near York-ville is a throwback to the 1960s, with floors, fixtures and furniture in the 29-storey, 255-unit building designed as an ode to Mad Men. Mark Reeve, a partner at developer Urban Capital Property Group, describes the building as “affordable luxury” given the “first-class” finishes and Cecconi Simone-designed kitchens. The ’60s theme is so ingrained in marketing the property that “one advertising executive wanted to call it the Sterling Cooper building [like on the TV show] but we said that was going a bit too far,” Mr. Reeve quips.
Then there’s the “something different” category. Concord Adex’s 1,800-unit Parade project, covering two city blocks in downtown Toronto, comprises two 38-storey towers linked by a two-storey bridge at the 28 to 30 levels. Parade II – the phase now under construction – boasts two Mike Niven-designed Sky Suites situated within the bridge. Each 4,000-sq.-ft. Sky Suite has three levels, with the living room and dining room located on the bridge and the bedrooms in the tower. There is a walkout from the master bedroom to a private garden on the bridge’s roof deck. Cost of ownership: $6-million.
“Our target is the typical rich and famous, the type of personality that only looks at properties that are one of a kind,” says Brian Fong, senior manager of project marketing at Concord Adex.
The company has never offered such exclusive suites at any of their other projects around the world, he says. They are being sold through a select group of real estate agents.
For those looking for single-family luxury, only three bungalows remain at The Bungalows at Kilgour Estates, ranging from $1.7-million to $2–
million. Simona Annibale, vice-president of marketing at Daniels Corp., says they offer “something very unique in today’s marketplace that even nearby Lawrence Park or Rosedale do not: an intimate connection to the Kilgour Club – an all-encompassing fitness, social and recreational oasis designed by Brian Gluckstein.” Buyers can move in this year.
Condo/hotels are doing brisk business, too, with the big-name brands coming together nicely. The 60-storey Trump Toronto is almost halfway up (“We’re averaging about a floor every week and a half,” says spokesman Howard Tikka) and the first stage of the granite-and-glass curtain wall is complete. The residences are 60% sold but the remaining are exquisite, ranging from a 36th-floor, 1,310-sq.-ft. suite from $2.1-million to a 51st-floor 3,275-sq.-ft. suite from $5.8-million. Hotel condominiums start at $900,000. Trump’s people are hoping for a February 2011 hotel opening, with residence and condo occupancy following that fall.
The 53-storey Ritz-Carlton Toronto is also making inroads, with the building now topped off and 80% of the 159 residences sold. As incentive, buyers will receive a $150,000 gift card they can use at any Ritz-Carlton properties around the world.
“Most of our buyers have stayed at a Ritz-Carlton hotel or resort across the world,” explains Tina Amato, senior vice-president at Baker Real Estate. “They are very familiar with the brand, they know the service and they know what they’re going to get by living above a Ritz-Carlton Hotel. The gift card … is a really special incentive for them to buy.”
Not to be outdone, the 55-storey Four Seasons is now at the ninth floor and the glass curtain wall is going in. The complete project comprises two towers – a 55-floor tower housing the hotel plus exquisite residences beginning on the 24th floor, and a 26-storey tower made up entirely of residences. Both will be completed at the same time, with residence occupancy in mid-2012. The residences are also 80% sold.
Of particular note is the 55th-floor penthouse. At 9,032 sq. ft., it takes up the entire floor and includes 12-ft. ceilings, floor-to-ceiling glass on every wall, four terraces, and a separate 680-sq.-ft. staff suite. The lucky owner gets four private parking spaces and a Four Seasons address. Price tag: $30-million.
“Ninety to 100% of our buyers own residences elsewhere in the world, but most have some Canadian [connection] – maybe they used to live here, or they still live here, or they have kids who go to school here, or they have family or business here,” says Janice Fox, director of sales for Four Seasons Private Residences. “Much less than the majority will live here full-time … so [owners] are never going to have to wait long for an elevator.”
With so much activity, 2010 is shaping up to be a busy year for developers – and a luxuriously satisfying one for those seeking the finest in condominium living.
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