I’m Steve Fudge, and I sell real estate.
Welcome to my blog on housing, culture, and design in the city of Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
Featured in the media as the epitome of urban domesticity, living in a vintage brick and beam factory conversion or a clean-lined concrete ‘n cool contemporary loft represents the dream urban space for many. Lofts in all their forms have become an established niche of the Toronto real estate market over the past three decades and, as good fortune would have it, I’ve been engaged in Toronto’s loft market since the early 1990s, including 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, the Baseball Globe Factory at One Columbus, and The Movie House at 394 Euclid.
Traditionally, the original loft spaces were created by converting existing factory buildings into residential or live/work use. Essentially, the adaptive reuse of a structure – typically one constructed last century for commercial or industrial production, and built of brick and wood beam timbers or poured concrete with fluted columns – represents the historical roots of the loft market. These sweeping volumes provided a lofty quality to the units (hence the name) with more light and air flowing freely. The phenomenon began in New York and Paris, arriving in Toronto in the mid-1980s with the conversion of a handful of small factory buildings in residential neighbourhoods in the central core of the city (for example 6 Bartlett Avenue having 13 lofts in Bloordale by architect Allan Gorden was converted in 1985, 289 Sumach Avenue having 10 lofts in Cabbbagetown by developer Bob Mitchell was completed in 1985, 75 Markham Street having 16 lofts near Trinity Bellwoods be developer Bob Mitchell was registered in 1986, and 20 Brockton Avenue with 18 lofts in Brockton Village by developer David Jackson was finished in 1987). ‘Hard loft’ spaces as they came to be called like this remain rare today, as Toronto never had a large supply of factory warehouses suitable for conversion. In Toronto, there are only around 60 converted buildings, housing anywhere from a handful to several hundred units.
*394 Euclid Avenue – The Movie House! As a member of the original development team (this was my third loft conversion), I assisted in executing the concept, sales, and marketing of this charming vintage movie house – which I occupied for many years!
As demand for vintage lofts grew but the availability of properties suitable for conversion diminished, developers in the 1990s recognized they could distill and commodify the qualities of the loft aesthetic buyers desired – open plan living, high ceilings & big windows in a more utilitarian aesthetic – to serve this niche market. The result was the construction of hundreds of contemporary condominiums called ‘soft lofts’ that – to varying degrees of success – fulfilled the promise of more modern living. Being newly constructed, these buildings do not have the vintage patina unique to factory conversions, but for those who gravitate toward a clean-lined minimalist aesthetic, they offer an opportunity to live in more contemporary environments.
*This was the Perfect Patio At My Movie House Loft – which was the perfect outdoor sanctuary!
Loft Living And Housing Identity
Lofts originally were a haven for artists and creative souls, in part because of the way in which they permit the flow of light and air and are amenable to creative tasks, but also because they represent the non-conformist identity. They represent a unique opportunity for self-expression, both within the space and because of the space. Lofts also have a uniquely urban vibe – being primarily situated in once-industrial areas – that were once considered ‘fringe’. This was immensely appealing to a cross-section of demographics who did not consider themselves traditionalists.
In the early 1990s, as part of my graduate research in Housing & Identity, I surveyed the residents of the first 20 loft condominium conversions in Toronto to examine the extent to which their physical environments were a reflection of their personalities and the degree to which they subscribed to shaping their shelter as a means of self-expression.
Comprising a total of 250 lofts, my research included identifying who the occupants were demographically, socio-economically, occupationally, and by household structure, as well as exploring their interests, and lifestyles and how these were reflected in their living spaces, I discovered that around one-third of the respondents living in these buildings (most of which were situated in locations considered ‘marginal’ 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 education, 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 Artists 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 more simple in configuration (think: concrete floors, a simple laminate kitchen, and a white 3-piece bath). While their space was about utility and function, their art was their vehicle for self-expression.
It was the mirror opposite for the second third of my research, who were the creative professionals. This segment of owners was 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 with industrial pipe railings, and glass block washrooms with Jacuzzi tubs) 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 ability to design and ‘see it in their mind’s eye’, they instead purchased their lofts ready-made and filled them with contents that expressed their identities. This included hiring designers to help create their mise-en-scene or guide them to the latest ‘objets’ and contemporary art (think: high-end electronic media equipment, pool tables, humidors, and framed cell animation) to serve both 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.
These market segments – the framework for the original ‘loft lifestyle’ in Toronto – underscores how individual a property search can be today, and how the same space can afford not only different purposes but different meanings. Here is an informative past post on How To Search For Your Next Property Purchase while this post helps answer How Do I Know This Is The Right Home To Buy?
*I adored my home sweet home at 200 Clinton – The Button Factory. I led the sales & marketing program for this charming brick and loft condominium of just 13 units back in 1993!
The Vintage Hard Loft
In Toronto, what is defined as a vintage loft condominium is typically the conversion of a building that was originally constructed for a use that was not residential. It may have had a commercial or industrial past, or was perhaps a church, school, or community hall. The key definer tends to be ceiling heights which are higher than those we find in conventional residential design (perhaps except for some Victorian dwellings, particularly those built for the merchant class) and frequently constructed using building materials that were more utilitarian in nature and could support heavy machinery, like exposed brick walls with wooden beams and posts or poured concrete construction including fluted columns. One might also see architectural details or design features uncommon to residential architecture, like steel columns or beams, unusually large windows, or wide hallways with terrazzo flooring.
The other identifier is how these properties often have layouts and design elements that amplify the overall sense of space. It’s amazing how height, as opposed to width, directly increases the perception of space. Drawing the eye up, especially when incorporating more natural light, enhances our sense of volume and elevates comfort and livability.
There are a few potential drawbacks to the vintage loft conversion. First, typically, the age of the buildings hinders 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. And, being factories, their locations can sometimes be marginal, while at other times they’re in the very heart of the downtown core. Keep in mind that the city’s own cycle of gentrification has seen areas like The Fashion District and Liberty Village transition from ‘edge’ to ‘chic’ relatively quickly. Really, it comes down to what is on the top of your housing wish list.
Here is a 2bed 2bath Soft Loft we proudly sold in Art Condos at 8 Dovercourt. We called it: The Perfect Canvas At Art Condos Near West Queen West
The Concrete ‘N Cool Contemporary Soft Loft
The concrete ‘n cool contemporary soft loft embraces many of the same design qualities that a hard loft does (e.g. high ceilings, wide-open space plan, decidedly urban finishes like exposed concrete floors and walls, and expansive floor-to-ceiling windows), but are newer condominium constructs. Be careful: you may see design elements like exposed brickwork or ductwork, but those features may have been added to imitate the hard loft aesthetic and, if not executed properly, may present as a bit contrived and artificial.
From a design perspective, a soft loft is essentially fashioned to mimic many of the desirable qualities of the hard loft. Although imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, admittedly, some contemporary concrete soft lofts lack the cool factor ambiance vintage lofts otherwise have. While some might say it’s because this form of purpose-built housing lacks the authenticity of a vintage loft which was never intended to be used as domestic space, more often it’s because there are developers who weren’t committed to intelligent design nor using fixtures and finishing that honours and respects the purity of the loft aesthetic. In my opinion, when done right the soft loft offers a wonderful relationship with space and is well-suited to those who like a pared-down, minimalist look.
One big bonus of the soft loft is that they typically offer a number of sought-after amenities in the building, whereas hard lofts tend to be thin in the amenity department. After all, soft lofts are constructed to meet the design tastes of those who favour loft space, but also to meet today’s expectation of onsite amenities that enhance the quality of life through convenience. For example, you’re more likely to find a soft loft with underground parking and deeded lockers or a state-of-the-art fitness facility.
The construction of soft lofts also created more product with second-storey mezzanines. Typically, the main floor contains the common living spaces, while the second floor has a bedroom(s) overlooking the area below. This configuration allows owners to still benefit from a portion of two-storey vaulted ceilings. Developers also frequently offer private outdoor spaces as part of their construction program, so you’re more likely to see a soft loft with a balcony or terrace.
One further point to consider with soft versus hard lofts is location. Because the growth of the soft loft marketplace has occurred in the past 20 years, they’re situated in areas that are more central and, frankly, in areas where factories never or rarely existed. You’ll find significantly more soft lofts north of Bloor than you will hard loft conversions, as the centres of industry and production in Toronto were closer to Lake Ontario and the rail corridor. Newer soft lofts can be found at Yonge & Eglinton and in The Beach, for example, meaning there’s more neighbourhood choice with this architectural style. However, with the proliferation of construction, you also run the risk of having a ‘loft’ that is more ubiquitous and potentially contrived.
A word to the wise in your loft hunt: it’s becoming increasingly common for developers to use the ‘loft’ moniker as a marketing tool. While these units do incorporate some of the design elements, a space with 9-foot ceilings and a bit of exposed concrete or reclaimed brick does not make it a loft. For me, a soft or hard loft is all about ceiling heights of at least 10 feet high, architectural elements that celebrate natural materials (whether that be wood, brick, or exposed concrete), and design elements that are either factory-authentic or modern and minimalist. For me, a ‘faux loft’ of trendy design elements and conventional ceiling heights is a loft fail. Always be optimistic, but cautious. Don’t hesitate to pop me and email if you require advice!
Looking for a heart-grabbing vintage brick and beam loft to lease? Here’s a great St. Lawrence Market offering for lease that perfect for the savvy urbanite who loves the hard loft look: A Vintage Loft, Steps To St. Lawrence Market!
How would you love to rent a crunchy n’ cool space in a Heritage Building with 1058 square feet of living space spread over two levels?! This 2-bedroom vintage loft is ‘industrial chic’ at its best! Offered for lease at $3,300/Month!
Contact James Ormston at email@example.com for more information or to book a private viewing!
And here’s a dynamic space that we SOLD earlier this year at 200 Clinton. I hold The Button Factory very close to my heart, as I led the sales & marketing program for this charming brick and loft condominium of just 13 units back in 1993, prior to its conversion. I also resided in the complex for its first 18 years! This two-level 1bed+den loft townhouse is one of the more special Toronto real estate offerings on the market right now and nestled in a ‘Triple A’ location, this is ideal for the Buyer craving all the magical qualities unique to loft living!
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-The Urbaneer Team
Steven Fudge, Sales Representative
& The Innovative Urbaneer Team
Bosley Real Estate Ltd., Brokerage – (416) 322-800
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*Love Canadian Housing? Check out Steve’s University Student Mentorship site called Houseporn.ca which focuses on architecture, landscape, design, products and real estate in Canada.