There are condos, and then there are condos. The latter group surely includes Toronto’s Tip Top Lofts, a remodelling of the old Tip Top Tailors warehouse and office headquarters at 637 Lakeshore Boulevard West.
Five storeys of light-coloured stone, carved and gilded in all the right places in the appropriate Art Deco manner, the original structure was created for the Canadian clothing retailer by Bishop & Miller in 1929. In 2002, the now-heritage building was sold to Context Development, which added three glassed-in floors of two-storey units on top.
Tip Top’s condo-lofts all feature high windows and ceilings, providing wonderful, unobstructed southwestern views of the waterfront (rare in this city smothered by chock-a-block towers). And units in the original building are furnished with huge exposed cement pillars and ductwork.
It was at this prestigious address and in one of these airy units that Dan Menchions, principal in Toronto’s II BY IV Design, found himself in 2007, discussing a commission. The owner, a young doctor, was seeking “a personal retreat,” Menchions says. Too busy with his career to fuss over furnishings and fixtures, “he asked us to ‘give him a lifestyle’.”
Although II BY IV is perhaps better known for creating stylish retail, restaurant and bar-lounge environments, around 10 per cent of its work is residential. Naturally, much of this these days is
centred on condos, which can present a challenge both in terms of space restrictions and, in the case of the Tip Top loft, a tall-ceilinged, slightly chilly, open-concept design. However, “Lofts don’t need to feel cold and sterile,” says Menchions. “You can create spaces by placing the furnishings, rather than relying on walls.”
The pre-installed kitchen in the central living area was not, therefore, isolated from the dining area by a typical work island or bar counter. Instead, a stunning, two-tiered Murano glass chandelier hangs above the round dining table as if pinpointing one’s exact centre of focus. And Menchions has merely sketched in the living room by means of a dark grey wool carpet, anchoring a similarly coloured sectional.
The soft grey, along with the warm walnut tones of an Eames armchair, the room’s long, marble-topped side console, and European-style engineered walnut-strip flooring, imparts a strong whiff of masculinity, well suited to the owner’s bachelor lifestyle. This relatively neutral colouration is enlivened with punches of tangerine in the sectional’s throw
pillows, saturated hues from the room’s scattering of Canadian art and art glass, and a single wall finished in a striking bronze powdercoat. A handrailed ladder situated nearby leads to a small mezzanine that the designer added, taking full advantage of the space’s height. Light, too, can be employed in various ways and at various levels to further define the interior. Menchions has used a mix of halogens, fluorescents and incandescents to highlight certain focal points, including the artwork. There is no downlighting here; rather a perimeter wash around the walls provides appropriate levels of illumination – levels that can be adjusted for different moods and times of day, from day bright to intimate night.
“I think the space is really spectacular,” says Menchions. “The entire condo’s square footage is only 950 feet, but it feels much larger. We used pocket sliding doors as much as we possibly could, because they’re a lot more forgiving of space. And mirrors – a large, leaning one in the living area, and bronze ones in the bathroom and bedroom – help create that expansive sensation.”
The bathroom, like the kitchen, was already positioned before II BY IV’s arrival. But, as Menchions mentions, a clear bronze-tinted mirror along the bath wall lends the illusion of depth to what is essentially a small, shotgun room. Centrally punctuating this mirror is one of those original cement columns, whose mottled tones Menchions picks up in the vanity’s granite bowl basin and marble top.
Another reflective effect, a customized acid-etched bronze mirror with horizontal bronze reveals, is framed by the bedroom’s far wall. A millwork closet is situated to one side, with a guest chair and ottoman before it. The bed itself is a sleek affair, with a straight walnut-veneered headboard that rises halfway up the wall, haloed behind by warm LED backlighting. Adding further interest to the space is a slab of marble cleverly cantilevered out of the wall to serve as a night-stand, plus an intriguing sculptural installation made from tall, fire-torched wooden spindles.
In such a modern, slicked-back setting, filled with avant-garde fittings and art, the latter is a stand-out, offering as it does the only hint of old-fashioned furniture – made all the more amusing because it is, of course, not furniture at all. Perhaps one should view it as a solitary salute to Tip Top’s heritage designation. cI