NewsGlobe and Mail: Living in a material world: The importance of materials in luxury real estate
What makes luxury homes stand out is the quality and craftsmanship of the materials used inside and out
Whether you’re buying or renting, what often sets luxury properties apart is not just the architecture and design of the project, but the materials used. That’s why touch and feel is so important in the sales process.
“Although we facilitate a number of transactions using FaceTime or similar digital walk-throughs of properties, it is difficult to get a true sense of the space without a personal visit,” says Janice Fox, broker of record at Hazelton Real Estate Inc.
Most buyers, she says, have questions about what is “behind the walls” and personal visits – sometimes along with interior designers or home inspectors – go a long way to helping them understand a luxury property and the materials that give it its uniqueness.
“Buying real estate is also an emotional purchase and having someone else explain the ‘feel’ of the property is so helpful,” she says.
At a tour of No. 7 Dale, a four-storey, luxury boutique property overlooking Toronto’s Rosedale Valley, you can learn all about the materials specified by architect Siamak Hariri. The expansive windows in all of the suites come from Belgium. A signature material Hariri uses from project to project is crust-faced Algonquin limestone from a quarry in Owen Sound, Ont., which is featured on the facade of No. 7 Dale. The solid bronze pickets on the north outdoor balconies will patina, changing colour and getting richer over time.
Hariri designed the building based on two faces – the south facing over the ravine is more contemporary and the north is more in keeping with the Rosedale neighbourhood. Black granite will clad the infinity edge water feature near the entrance. These types of features are true differentiators for buyers.
“In this higher-end market people really appreciate that quality,” says Hunter Milborne, president and chief executive officer of the Milborne Group, the sales and marketing company behind No. 7 Dale.
The new 2Fifteen purpose-built luxury rental project in Forest Hill is another case in point. The architecture is stunning and puts Toronto on par with the kinds of luxury buildings found in world capitals such as New York, Paris and Los Angeles.
“The architecture of 2Fifteen is one of carefully studied proportion, clad in brick handmade with an elegant scale and understated clay colour,” says Donald Schmitt, principal of Diamond Schmitt Architects, the Toronto-based firm that oversaw the project. “The building pivots on its corner site to capture views across the adjacent, park-like campus, the neighbourhood tree canopy and city skyline.”
One of the interesting features at 2Fifteen is the use of Kolumba bricks, which No. 7 Dale also has on its exterior. Kolumba bricks come from Petersen Tegl, a company from Denmark known for its craftmanship that works with architects, construction clients and artists all over the world. These bricks can also be seen on the facade of the flagship Hèrmes store on Toronto’s Bloor Street in the ritzy shopping area known as Mink Mile.
Bryan Levy, chief executive officer of DBS Developments, says there was a real focus to make the exterior of 2Fifteen special.
“Part of the design working with Diamond Schmitt from the beginning was to create a landmark site at an amazing location of the city,” he says.
Kolumba clay bricks are handmade from various clay types, each one slightly different. They are 528 millimetres long, just 37 millimetres high, and around 108 millimetres deep.
At a recent tour of 2Fifteen, Levy showed how each brick has two fingerprints on each side, from when its manufacturers took the brick out of the mould – a telltale mark of individuality.
Kolumba bricks are manufactured according to centuries-old craftsmanship traditions, and varying temperatures during firing gives each of them their diverse textures and different shades. The brick is frost-resistant, which is an obvious benefit for projects in Canada. The method of production gives the clay capillaries and air pockets where water can expand when it freezes without damaging the brick. The clay used for the bricks has been dug for brick production for centuries.
This type of artisanship is what Levy says sets 2Fifteen apart from other luxury rental buildings in the city.
“We saw that this brick was used on high rises in New York, on luxury buildings, rental and condo,” he says. “We never had seen it used on a high rise in Canada before, so we thought let’s be the first to use this special, custom-clay brick. So, 200,000-plus bricks later, we have a finished product we are proud of. The details are in how the brick comes together – with the grouting, the nuances in how it’s laid. There are bricks that are different shapes for different angles of the building. Perfection in how it would look was our priority.”
Architectural materials are key at North Drive Investments’ 36 Birch project, a four-storey development featuring 27 two-level Garden and Sky luxury residences in Toronto’s Summerhill neighbourhood that was designed by Richard Wengle Architect Inc. Jana Korim, the head of sales for the project, says a signature of the building is that it’s an architectural standout that still seamlessly blends into its neighbourhood.
“At 36 Birch, alongside big glass, you’ll notice Richard’s black mullions and bolt-studded metal canopies complementing rhythmic brickwork details reminiscent of the kind of craftsmanship found on Industrial Revolution-era brownstones and warehouses,” she says.
According to North Drive’s vice-president of development, Frank Carenza, the company’s 10 Prince Arthur condo project in Toronto is another great example of an eclectic mix of materials. Wengle is the architect on that project as well.
“Once again, Richard’s choice of materials respects the Victorian nature of the neighbourhood, with bronze window frames and stone window surrounds on a handcrafted brick and Indiana limestone backdrop,” he says.
“10 Prince Arthur embodies the artistic character of the neighbourhood in a mindful, contemporary, timeless design that seamlessly integrates one of the neighbourhood’s oldest standing heritage sites into a masterpiece of architectural design with elegant, luxurious interiors by Michael London to match.”
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