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Altius Architecture’s Cathy Garrido, in an Etobicoke, Ont., home her company recently renovated, says many high-end residential clients are looking for an 'oasis in the city.'GALIT RODAN/The Globe and Mail

Homeowners investing in a luxury new home build or renovation are making comfort a top priority, with a side helping of eco-friendly design.

Perhaps due to more time spent at home through the pandemic, high-end homeowners are choosing comfortable design features over the crisp, ultra-modern lines popular just a few years ago, says interior designer Cynthia Soda of Soda Pop Design in Toronto.

“Super-clean is gone,” says Soda. “They don’t want the high gloss; they want more warmth.”

Clients are favouring softer lines – like curved cabinetry and pill-shaped kitchen islands – and cozy textures for fabrics and tiles, part of a trend toward making homes more relaxing, Soda says.

They also want lots of windows, skylights and space for indoor plants, she says, in line with the so-called “biophilic” design trend – a desire to return to nature.

Cathy Garrido, managing principal at Toronto-based architectural firm Altius Architecture, agrees. “People definitely want their house to be an oasis in the city,” she says. “They want a really calm space.”

Formal furniture is out, comfy couches are in. People want relaxed spaces that aren’t cluttered, so built-ins are popular, providing a place for everything. As the work-from-home model persists, affluent clients are asking for their condos, houses and cottages to be equipped with one or even two private office spaces, Garrido says.

“It used to be that people left the city behind at the cottage,” she notes. “Now, people take it with them.”

Eco-friendly upgrades

In addition to cozy spaces, high-end clients increasingly want healthier homes with a reduced carbon footprint, says Naryn Davar-Timbre, director of business development for the Nova Scotia-based firm Passive Design Solutions.

“On the luxury end of things, people tend to be quite values-driven,” he says. “They’re interested in net-zero and low carbon.”

Davar-Timbre and his company design and build net-zero/passive homes across the country. These structures feature extra-thick walls packed with insulation, triple-paned windows and premium-quality doors installed with air-tight seals.

These types of upgrades can help make homes more resilient to the effects of climate change. Houses stay warmer in winter and cooler in the summer. When a storm whips up in Atlantic Canada – as they often do these days – Davar-Timbre says his higher-end clients can usually carry on as usual inside their homes. “We keep hearing from clients that the trees were being blown sideways but they could not hear the storm.”

Soda says that many clients building luxury properties are seeking ways to make their homes healthier, influencing the appliances and materials they choose. Families who would once have insisted on gas stoves are opting for induction ranges because of concerns about air quality. Likewise, clients are moving away from materials that might off-gas when planning built-ins and flooring, eschewing particle board and vinyl for solid wood.

Davar-Timbre says his company opts for more eco-friendly materials when they can. “We’re moving away from foams, plastics and vinyl, to get away from fossil fuel products.”

It’s not easy to always choose these products, he notes, because items like wood-framed windows, low-carbon insulation and eco-friendly flooring are often made by smaller companies and startups that charge a lot more than larger operations. Glass, concrete and many other construction products are carbon-intensive to make, with limited green alternatives, he adds.

Another trend Davar-Timbre has noticed is making room for extended family.

“‘Can I put an in-law suite in my home?’ It’s one of the biggest questions I’m getting,” he says. For big-budget clients, renovating to accommodate senior parents isn’t about saving money, he adds. It’s about saving time and ensuring family members get the best support.

Tech that’s intuitive and invisible

The ultimate luxury home today is often pulled together with smart technology features that deliver on clients’ desire for comfort and convenience, says Garrido. In the past, high-end homeowners typically needed wired systems with installed speakers and remote-controlled lighting systems all over the house.

“Now, it’s so much easier,” says Garrido.

Wireless speakers can be embedded into drywall and painted, and mobile apps allow homeowners to program elaborate lighting and HVAC settings for each room at different times of day. Smart appliances inform homeowners if they are in need of a repair or their fridge is out of a particular food item.

Soda notes that many of these high-end features, from wireless tech to climate-proofing to low-carbon materials, can send the most generous budgets into overruns, meaning that even the most affluent clients have to prioritize. But for many, it’s worth it to create that urban oasis of comfort and calm, she says.

“It’s about whatever brings you joy.”

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