Welcome to my blog on housing, culture, and design.
If you’re new to it – although I’m celebrating 31 years as a top producing Toronto realtor – my passion for all aspects of housing and home includes, but is not limited to, my love for city-building, urban and interior design, & home furnishings and accessories.
Today’s blog is about creating a unique urban space, taking risks with design, and buying local, like the fantastic Art Deco bar cart I covet at Spruce Home Decor on Parliament Street!
Find The Special
In a city like Toronto where the ubiquitous cookie cutter condo reins supreme, it can sometimes be a challenge to create a visually-engaging environment when most accommodation options are dated builder’s grade boxes. However, nothing is impossible to transform. All it takes is having a good eye – meaning you intuitively know the basic rules of design – and enough money to modify the space into a better version of itself. If you don’t have a good eye then spend some of the money you’re willing to allocate to your abode to hiring an interior designer or decorator to guide you (go to my Canadian shelter site Canadian Real Estate, Housing, And Home to learn What’s The Difference Between An Interior Designer And An Interior Decorator?).
It all starts with filling your space with well-chosen contents, including furnishings, housewares, floor and window coverings, accessories, and art. Here is a handy post from my Dear Urbaneer Series on How To Best Equip And Furnish Your Home with some design tips including how to choose a couch, display art, and the importance of good lighting. If you’re in rental that offers security of tenure (like a rent-controlled purpose-built building where – given how much rents have soared over the past few years – you’re paying substantially less than what the landlord would charge to the next tenant if you moved out), you have a co-operative landlord who is pro-improvement, or you own your residence, once you’ve curated your contents the next phase to create a unique home would be modifying those surfaces which are worn, tired, or ugly. This might include installing new hardwood or tiles, elevating the walls with panelling or wallpaper, or scraping the popcorn stucco off the ceilings and installing crown moulding. Another point of focus which you may want to address is changing the fixtures, fittings and chattels – whether that be cabinetry, doors, handles, window coverings, light fixtures (don’t forget the dimmer switches) and/or appliances.
Back in the 1990s, upon returning to an elegant spacious Edwardian apartment in Summerhill I had sublet for two years, I found the floors, kitchen, and washroom so sad and forlorn I contemplated giving my notice despite the great location and fair rent. Instead, I approached the landlord and suggested we evenly split the cost of high-design low-cost renovation – which included new appliances, refinishing the floors throughout (I discovered wood parquetry under the wall-to-wall shag, plank floors under the kitchen linoleum and vintage penny tile under the glue stick tiles in the washroom), removing the dropped illuminated ceilings in the kitchen and bath, replacing the cabinets (opting for open shelving instead of uppers to keep the costs down), and installing new white fixtures including a deep soaking tub with subway tile tub surround. I covered the entire $10,000 expense (yes, it was much more economical back then) while my landlord amortized his $5000 portion by reducing my rent by $208 per month for the next 2 years in a new lease. It turned out to be a win for both of us. Why? Because six months later the owner of the near-identical equally-forlorn triplex next door asked me to list his property with the promise I would show prospective buyers my newly-upgraded rental as the ‘Model Suite’. I did, which resulted in my happy seller garnering a sum well over asking in a bidding war and, after asking me to approach my landlord, the losing buyer purchasing the triplex I lived in for an even higher sum providing I agreed to a $10,000 lease buy-out so she could take possession of my suite. As serendipity would have it the timing was right, as The Banquet Hall on Claremont Street, which I had pre-sold as the listing realtor was nearing completion and my investor clients invited me to co-purchase and occupy it. Had it not been for my co-operative landlord things may have been very different.
Here’s a pic of The Banquet Hall (and moi) not too long after I moved in!
If You’re Looking To Buy A Condominium
If you’re in the market to purchase a condominium and you’re not under duress to secure accommodation, be patient. There’s a lot of dreck out there. It’s because most urban real estate is production-based housing – meaning it’s built for profit to the standard of the building code that at best will satisfy your basic physiological need for shelter and safety (the bottom two rungs of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs). If it’s a new project still to be constructed (here’s On Buying A Toronto Condominium Pre-Construction), look for the slick lifestyle marketing package featuring beautiful people drinking by a swimming pool, two women having coffee at a cafe, a guy on an exercise bike in a gym, and a madly-in-love couple holding hands window-shopping. Along with promoting the location and amenities, it’s ultimately a branding exercise to appeal to your need for belonging (Maslow’s third rung) while the sample board of optional design upgrade packages is on display to fuel your status buy-in, feed your self-esteem (Maslow’s fourth rung), and convince you the extra cost is meeting the ultimate dream of self-actualization. But will it?
Regardless, I think it’s worth taking your time to find the special, not only to feed your soul but to protect your resale value. As I wrote in Here’s What’s Happening With The Toronto Condominium Market – condominiums with higher ceilings, excellent natural light, intelligent well-proportioned space plans, quality well-executed finishes, elevated outdoor space and/or interesting unobstructed and protected views are rare.
And yes, this kind of special garners a premium.
Create A Unique Urban Space
No matter what your space is like, the only way to successfully transform accommodations into a personal style statement is by making the commitment to furnish it thoughtfully, by investing time to research and execute it properly, and by implementing it with care and attention to detail. In other words, if you’re buying all your furniture at once from a Big Box Store like Ikea (whom I love – in moderation or by hacking – as I wrote in ‘I See Ya, Ikea’ and ‘Ikea Hacking For Ikea Hackers’, ‘BLeisure, WFH, & An IKEA Hack’), or you purchase all your home accessories at a big retailer like HomeSense (who have some good, and not so good items) then guess what?… everyone who walks through your door is going to recognize all the products they too, saw (and maybe bought) at Ikea and HomeSense.
Now, notice how I wrote “buying all of your furniture at once“. In my opinion, the most successful reflections of Home are those where the furnishings, accessories and art have been collected over time and sourced from multiple places. They represent who you are as you’ve matured (no matter what age you are, nor the ease or challenges of your personal journey), where you’ve travelled (regardless of distance), and what interests you (mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually). In other words, a Home is when the objects surrounding you have meaning and are a reflection of who you were at the time you acquired them. These contents do not have to be expensive or even cost anything (during my travels I will often pick up a stone and bring it home to ground my memories with place). Other people’s trash can be your own treasure (I still have a quirky table I found in a yard sale for $5 when I was 20), and they should have some element of special (whether it’s because of design excellence, pedigree – antique, vintage, a limited edition, inherited, one-of-a-kind- or there’s a story behind how it came into your life). For example, one might display talismans which reflect our faith, frame photos from trips we’ve taken, or stack our vintage vinyl collection on top of a mid-century record cabinet because we love playing a specific music genre. A sports lover might showcase their fandom for a specific team. Or a skateboarder might hang all her skateboards on a wall which, in a grouping, resolves the issue of storage while becoming ‘Art” at the same time. Creating your unique urban space is not about status, but about curating your contents to show the story about who you are.
Plus, give yourself permission to see an object and buy it because it’s so very ‘YOU!’.
Take Risks With Design
Yes, there are a whole lotta ground rules in design if the objective is cohesion which – if you’re seeking a comfortable pleasing environment – should be adhered to.
Here are two blogs which are just but two in the sea of Google that provides an instant crash course for beginners – 10 Rules Of Composition All Designers Live By – and – 10 Interior Design Rules You Need To Know
So yes, there are fundamentals which are important to know and follow. If this intimidates you, be kind to yourself and (allow me to reiterate please) hire a designer to guide you through the process.
Also, there’s creating a home for YOU, and there’s selling your property for profit. Given I’m a realtor, now is the opportune moment to mention that I’m all about your home is a reflection of your authentic self, but when it comes time to sell you may have to Prepare Your Home For Sale.
And, depending on the degree to which you’ve expressed your authentic self in your decor, be cognizant that Home Staging Can Be Important When Selling Real Estate.
Renovating? I share some of my fails in – How To Renovate Your Kitchen With Resale In Mind – and some important advice to couples in – Help! We Want to Renovate, And Keep Our Relationship Intact – and words of wisdom in – Should I Renovate My House In Stages Or Do A Full Gut?
Geez, ok, I better acknowledge that the more concerned you are about resale value, the more careful you should be in your design choices. For example, if you love love love all the shades of green and you’re designing a new washroom, choose white fixtures, neutral tiles and cabinetry which complement green, and use green in the curtains, towels, art and even paint. In other words, anything more permanent which is affixed to the floors, wall and ceilings should have broad appeal, while your accessories and paint colours can be whatever you want. In other words, I do like to say “Don’t Be Afraid To Take Risks!”, as long as it’s done in a manner where your future buyer doesn’t penalize you selecting permanent taste-specific choices.
Below is a photo of a washroom created by Top Interior Designer Kelly Wearstler. I love Kelly Wearstler because she takes risks. Her interiors are ‘a bit out there’, pushing the boundaries of convention and aesthetics. To me the washroom below is so lavish it’s near gaudy. The materials on every surface are expensive which was obviously no issue for the person who paid for this. The design has a nod to Art Deco but it’s also very right now. Will it withstand the test of time? I’m not entirely convinced, but if you’re worried about the resale value this is not what you should do. But if Kelly created this because it’s everything her client wanted and he’s over the moon thrilled and he doesn’t care about resale value then I’m giving her a standing ovation.
If you’re loaded, then does resale value matter?
Buy Local, Like This Art Deco Bar Cart From Spruce on Parliament!
If your Home is going to be a symbol of your self, start by bypassing the big box stores and Buy Local.
One of my favourite shops is Spruce on Parliament because they highlight locally made products while carefully restoring vintage pieces. This is a shop where you can discover vintage treasures from across the province, purchase hand-made products created by North American designers, while discovering one-of-a-kind solutions for your Home. Spruce embraces reclaimed and repurposed materials, married with clean-lined modern textiles, housewares and furnishings, that are both practical and pleasing additions for almost any space! It’s also owned and managed by my friend Kimberly Alke (full disclosure here) which she’s been operating since 2013.
Now, I’m in the process of transforming my 1960s Swell Dwell Purpose Built Duplex in Riverdale which I’m blogging about in the Tales From Tennis Crescent. This means every cent is going towards expanding my home instead of furnishing it. Otherwise, I’d be purchasing the Art Deco bar cart pictured below. Instead, Kim let me showcase it – along with a selection of Spruce Home Decor products – in my SOLD listing I called Concrete ‘N Cool In River City, Corktown.
Check it out!
The perfect addition to this Soft Loft’s entertainment zone, this ready-to-serve brass cart is full of essentials for a deluxe cocktail hour!
Loaded with fantastic locally sourced goodies, here are the items on the cart above, for a Ready, Set, Fete!
• Art Deco Bar Cart $295
• Brushed Brass Candle Holders: $25 ea (Ester + Erik, Denmark)
• Candles: Large $20/pair; Small $17/pair (Ester + Erik, Denmark)
• Coasters: $40 (for set of 4) (Xenia Taler, Toronto)
• Maple Tray with Black Vessel + Cups: $174 (Barter Design, Sechelt BC)
• Collins Glasses: $75/pair with walnut coaster (LSA, Handblown in Poland)
• Jack Rudy Classic Tonic: $25 (Jack Rudy, North Carolina)
• Jack Rudy Bitter Tonic: $20
• Jack Rudy Bourbon Cherries: $25
• Split Tree Cordials: $18/ea (Split Tree, Ottawa)
• Vintage Cocktail Shaker
• Session Cocktails: $24.99
• Essential Cocktail: $25.99
Visit Spruce online to browse these great products!
47 Lower River Street, Suite 326 in River City, Corktown – NOW SOLD
This listing demonstrates my idea of special. Well-situated in a pet-friendly building, it’s well-proportioned, intelligently-designed and features quality finishes. I love the soft loft palette of warm wood floors, cool concrete ceilings, exposed metal ductwork, and floor-to-ceiling glazing – and the fact it features its own private patio just steps from the building’s outdoor pool – makes this fresh sun-kissed suite a unique urban space.
Located just south of Corktown’s emerging King East strip, this deluxe River City condominium is located in Toronto’s first Leed Gold Carbon Neutral complex. And this slice of ‘swizzle & spice’ is just minutes from the Financial Core, The Historic Distillery District, the St. Lawrence Market, and hip happening Leslieville (including the Broadview Hotel!).
Here are some pics of this amazing Corktown listing. I placed the Art Deco Bar Cart in the window, as I like how it floats in the space, complements the transparency of the massive sliding door, and it’s in a handy location whether you’re entertaining inside or out.
Do you love the injection of Art Deco glam as I do?
Find out more about elevating your space in Kim’s Urbaneer posts:
SPRUCE HAS CLOSED THEIR STOREFRONT ON PARLIAMENT
To find their new iteration, visit: https://sprucetoronto.com
If you enjoyed this blog, you may like these other Urbaneer.com posts!
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