Welcome to Urbaneer.com’s July 2019 Home of the Month!
This feature provides a snapshot of the journey an Urbaneer Buyer has taken to secure a property purchase in the City of Toronto.
This month I tell the tale of a single creative millennial who, when he contacted me, was living in his first property purchase – a 470 square foot Concrete ‘N Cool Soft Loft in River City – located on the edge of Corktown near King East on Lower River Street. I really like River City a lot! Comprising four buildings completed between 2013 and 2018 by developer Urban Capital, these sexy and sustainable structures (which won BILD’s Best Design Award) are extremely eye-catching. A visually coherent collection of black, white and grey chiselled blocks – stacked haphazardly and bent unexpectedly like steel shipping containers ready for transport at a commercial port – they appropriately give a nod to the historic utility of this once industrial site, while its mix of opaque and transparent glazing plays with the architectural geometry without diminishing its stringent commitment to modernism. The creative product of Montreal architects Gilles Saucier and Andre Perrotte, “the River City complex is recognized as being Toronto’s first LEED Gold Carbon Neutral residential development.” Ranging from studios to large two-bedroom plus den suites that all share certain characteristics, including open concept living spaces, 9-foot concrete ceilings and contemporary finishes, this new neighbourhood comprises 1100 suites and townhomes.
However, as smart and stylish as the condo and complex was, during my client’s three year tenure there he discovered he didn’t fully sync with the environment. He found the modern architecture too placeless, the property management too constricting, and his suite – facing the 11 storey sister building – lacking the privacy he desired. It’s not that he hated his River City pad… he just didn’t love it. And wouldn’t you agree it’s important to love where you live?! One reason was his long standing desire to live in another building; a vintage hard loft conversion called Century Lofts located on Dundas Street just east of Sherbourne Street in Moss Park (in fact, he had even submitted offers on units there in the past). Formerly the Imperial Optical Lens Factory, this 2-storey building dating from 1939 was converted to 41 residential and live/work lofts in 2000. The Art Deco exterior features a stylized version of a Classical Greek entrance, with yellow brick and concrete pilasters cohesively wrapping its envelope. It boasts factory-sized windows, brick exterior walls, and 11-foot ceilings, and I’m quite certain it was constructed in at least two phases (I suspect a portion predates 1939); as some lofts on the westerly section of the building feature wood beam ceilings with steel I-beams, while the eastern portion comprises poured concrete slab ceilings with circular mushroom capped columns.
What my client discovered living at River City is that newly constructed soft lofts are essentially fashioned to mimic many of the desirable qualities of the hard loft, but he found it devoid the insouciant spirit unique to vintage factory conversions. Although imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, admittedly, he noted his soft loft lacked the character and ambience provided by the unique design elements of the industrial buildings they try to mirror. By virtue of their young age (spanning just 25 years in Toronto) and their contemporary construction methods, they comparatively lack the history and authenticity of a hard loft. That said, there is no question that the soft loft offers a wonderful alternative to conventional condominium spaces, and is well-suited to those who like an urbane, minimalist look. However, these modern condominium shelters are not repurposed, but constructed with the sole intention of manufacturing domesticity. Conversely, original lofts in industrial factories were born out of a need by artists and creatives for spaces which permit the flow of light and air, are spatially amenable to creative tasks and celebrate a non-conformist identity. They represent a unique opportunity for self-expression, both within the space and because of the space. Hard lofts also have a uniquely urban vibe, being primarily situated in industrial areas that may have once been – or still are – considered ‘fringe and/or marginalized’. At its historic roots, the authentic factory loft held immense appeal to a cross-section of demographics who did not consider themselves traditionalists.
(Robert Watson Lofts at 363 Sorauren are a great example of the Toronto industrial loft conversion)
I have long been fascinated with the loft lifestyle. In the early 1990s, as part of my graduate research in Housing & Identity at York University’s Faculty of Environmental Studies, I surveyed the residents of the first 20 loft condominium conversions in Toronto to explore how their lofts were designed, finished and furnished to reflect their identities, how they used their spaces as a means of self-expression, and why they chose former industrial spaces as places of domesticity in lieu of traditional shelter options.
Surveying the residents of Toronto’s first 250 lofts to determine who they were, what they did, and their psychographic profiles, I discovered that around one third of the respondents living in these buildings (situated in what were considered to be marginal locations at the time) could be classified as Artists engaged in photography, sculpture, and painting; another third were creative professionals operating in the fields of media, design ,and fashion, and the final third were white collar professionals occupied in health care, finance, and technology. To my surprise, the points of view by which each of these groups reconciled their living environments were surprisingly different.
I discovered the Artists living in their lofts were less invested in the appearance of their homes, and much more concerned with the spatial capacity to create their art. Their spaces were less adorned, fitted in basic finishes, and in habitable condition (think: concrete floors, a simple laminate kitchen, and a white 3-piece bath). Whereas their art was the vehicle for self-expression, the space was about utility and function.
It was the mirror opposite for the second third of my research, who were the creative professionals. This segment of owners were highly absorbed and engaged in their ability to design and modify the space to reflect who they were creatively. This group invested a significant portion of their time, income, and skills in customizing their lofts to reflect their identity. Their one-of-a-kind lofts (think: chef’s kitchens featuring a Garland gas range, floating mezzanine bedrooms, and glass block washrooms) were physical incubators of progressive, liberated self-expression; their homes were their personal masterpieces.
The white collar professionals, who appreciated high design, shared a commitment to self-expression similar to the creative professionals. However, lacking the skills to create it, they preferred to purchase their lofts ready-made and demonstrate their identity through its contents. They either hired designers to create their mise-en-scene or they shopped for the latest objets and contemporary art (think: high-end electronic media equipment, pool tables, humidors, and framed cell animation) to serve as status-markers and to showcase their cultivated commitment to trends and styles. This group chose loft living to symbolize both their subscription to modern living and their rejection of traditional housing forms. The more affluent the occupant, the more likely their loft was of a quality and calibre worthy of a magazine feature.
The hard loft is essentially the original, authentic loft, achieved through the conversion of commercial or industrial space. One key definer (aside from ceilings which are higher than suburban residences) is the presence of specific building materials that lend the space a bit of industrial ‘grit’. Elements like exposed brick walls, exposed metal ductwork, wooden beams and posts, or concrete fluted columns, and original factory wood flooring are tell-tale features.
(The photos above are of my own loft in The Button Factory).
The other identifier is how a hard loft’s layout and design elements all combine to amplify the overall sense of space. It’s amazing how height, as opposed to width, directly increases the perception of available space. Drawing the eye up, and opening space to the potential of light and air, creates a pleasant illusion that enhances comfort and livability. With hard lofts being well represented in TV and film when the setting includes an urban centre, one might begin to wonder if there’s anything NOT to like.
Well, there are a few potential drawbacks to the hard loft. First, typically, the age of the buildings hinder energy efficiency, which is a problem compounded by the high ceilings; there is a lot of extra space to heat and cool, and, when the lofts are two stories, air circulation and comfort can be inconsistent. Hard lofts can also be challenged in terms of sound separation, since the brick and wood beam construction has multiple gaps that allow for noise transmission. Furthermore, hard lofts tend not to have outdoor living space – like a balcony or garden – with the exception of some of the smaller complexes. (However, many, including Century Lofts, have a common roof terrace with barbecues and seating.) Being factories, their locations were at one time considered marginal, even though they now might be located in the very heart of the downtown, which may or may not appeal to potential buyers. Finally, hard loft conversions are one-of-a-kind older aging structures, and therefore require more maintenance and repair; the replacement of major building components can be very expensive because they require custom solutions, sizes, or materials. Such is the price of admission to buy the unique!
THE WIN – 365 Dundas Street East – Century Lofts
Which brings us to our Buyer’s purchase. Because he explained in our correspondence how he had long desired this particular conversion, when this unit came to market shortly after contacting me we booked a viewing. As it turned out, the property was already under offer negotiations, but the deal collapsed so we proceeded to negotiate a purchase conditional on due diligence.
Located on the second level, which is considered more desirable by many for being perched above grade, this open plan unit of around 650 square feet has a large window overlooking Dundas Street East, a gas fireplace, a mix of original concrete and terrazzo floors, painted brick walls and concrete ceilings. With a spacious laundry room, 4-piece washroom, and a renovated kitchen, this unit has the unusual feature of a narrow room separated by an original brick wall with metal door which was being used as a closet under a raised sleeping mezzanine, in addition to second larger self-contained sleeping alcove. However, because these areas are spatially tight and can’t accommodate a king-sized bed for this very tall Buyer, modifcations are currently underway to both enhance the utility and tailor it to suit.
Here’s some snaps from MLS of this listing:
What I particularly love about Century Lofts, is that this conversion retains its authentic pretense-free spirit. Whereas its not unusual for loft condominium conversions to gentrify much like neighbourhoods do, in that as units resell over time (in this case it’s now almost 20 years since it was converted and sold as affordable entry-level units to artists and creatives) it’s not unusual for incoming buyers – who tend to be higher-earning and more affluent – to renovate their lofts while collectively exerting pressure on the condominium corporation to collectively upgrade and improve the common spaces into fancier areas. Fortunately, in my opinion, this has not been the case and the conversion feels down-to-earth, communal, and every bit the former factory it once was. That said, the building is in the process of raising additional capital for the imminent repair and replacement of some common building components, so during the due diligence period my buyer took this into account when negotiating the purchase.
Listed for $563,000, our well-informed buyer secured this loft for $535,000!
Congrats to our Buyer!!!
Do you covet a unique urban home?
Through the 1990s and 00’s, I was engaged in the concept, sales, and marketing of several adaptive reuse conversions in the City of Toronto – including The Button Factory at 200 Clinton, The Banquet Hall at 62 Claremont, The Wellington Worx Building at 436 Wellington West, the Baseball Glove Factory at One Columbus, and The Movie House at 394 Euclid. Most of these hard lofts are in century-old buildings and were developed at a time where customization was part of the development program. In addition to their unique qualities, hard lofts are highly-desirable, in part because of their historical industrial pedigree and undeniable aesthetic appeal, but also because of the simple fact that they are in short supply.
Alternatively, if you like the aesthetic of concrete ‘n cool in a modern setting, with the latest finishes and fittings, there are some tremendous opportuinities. Having developed a speciality in Toronto’s Innovative Space Market, including converted coach houses, corner grocery stores, architect-designed homes and low-maintenance living (including sustainable design), if you or someone you love is considering a Toronto real estate purchase, please consider letting me help guide you to the Special.
Here’s a step by step summary of how we analyze the properties our Buyers express interest in:
Did you enjoy this? You may also like these informative Urbaneer.com blogs:
Thanks for reading!
Steven Fudge, Sales Representative
& The Innovative Urbaneer Team
Bosley Real Estate Ltd., Brokerage – (416) 322-8000
– we’re here to earn your trust, then your business –
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