Little Italy is one of those urban realities that make Torontonians glad to call this city home. We love the place because it is both very Italian – vivid and bustling, thoroughly civil – and as cosmopolitan as any similar ribbon of bars and restaurants in Rome or Milan. The low-rise stretch of College Street that runs through the neighbourhood, though always crowded, buzzes with festive electricity.
Not surprisingly, house-hunters of a certain big-city sort – many of them young, immune to ordinary Saturday night sidewalk racket, comfortable with living in close quarters – have been flocking to Little Italy in recent years. What they've found is hardly unusual in any downtown Toronto district these days: low availability of detached or semi-detached houses, and high price tags ($800,000 to $1.5-million) on century-old houses.
But for affluent singles and couples determined to live in this part of town, and undaunted by the prospect of apartment dwelling, a suite in the mid-rise condominium project called Cube could be an attractive alternative to a house.
Designed for Toronto developer Jim Neilas by Quadrangle Architects, the six-storey building sits on a tight lot bounded on the north by College Street and by little Fred Hamilton Park on the south. The streetside front of the ground floor is to be given over to retail – the structure is finished, but not fully populated – and the rear is largely taken up with stacked parking racks and a big tree the city (fortunately) made Mr. Neilas keep.
The convenience of condo living in this spot won't come cheap – but if you are in the market for cheap, you probably won't be scouting out Little Italy in any case. Cube's available one-bedroom, two-storey lofts without balconies or terraces start at around $838,000. There's a two-bedroom, 1,100-square-foot apartment with a balcony carrying a ticket of $941,000.
The larger of the two sixth-floor, two-bedroom penthouses is more than 2,100 square feet in area and is for sale for roughly $2.3-million. The smaller has 1,700 square feet of floor space and is tagged at $1.7-million.
For those prices, you can reasonably expect to get something special (along with a splendid location), and, in the case of Cube, you will. That something is not show-offish or even striking. Rather it's a matter of architectural refinement, a certain attention to detail that's too often lacking in the multi-unit residential blocks going up on the town's main avenues.
Cube's interesting facade, for example, features large, clear glass squares and oblongs mounted in dark fibre-cement frames. It's a simple, strong, well-balanced modernist composition that makes its statement clearly in the visually noisy streetscape, while not shouting down the old low-rise storefronts that line both sides of College at that point.
This combination of muscle and modesty is what the city's planning officialdom has in mind, I imagine, when it envisions the mid-rise residential intensification it wants developers to bring to our elderly main streets. As everyone knows, the initiative is widely opposed by residents, many of whom believe it's a sacrilege to raise anything on an avenue higher than the Victorian roofline. These people should have a look at Cube. It might convince the open-minded – if any Torontonian's mind is open on this question any longer – that dropping a modern, medium-sized housing complex into a mid-block condition can often revive the appearance of a tired shopping strip from yesteryear.
Turning to the interior, we find 21 units laid out with the same generosity that the architects brought to the facade treatment.
Take, for instance, the ample one-bedroom lofts. The north-facing space in these suites is arrayed on two levels, the upper overlooking the living room area on the lower, and all of it lit by an enormous double-height window that opens toward College Street. Each unit is comfortably wide – more than 16 feet from wall to wall. With their close views of the street below and their plain grace, the apartments have about them the pleasant scent of urbanity, which is a mixture of clean, chic austerity and the newest thing.
The south-facing penthouse, on the other hand, has about it the atmosphere of an aerie, a refuge in the treetops from the metropolitan hustle. It has been carved into an open-plan common area (for living room ensemble, dining set, kitchen), two bedrooms and a den that could be put to work as a home office, guest suite or third bedroom. Ceilings are high – upward of 12 feet. Access to the suite's spacious roof deck is by way of stairs or a private elevator. The view from the top toward the south carries the eye out over the urban forest and a wide expanse of low housing fabric between College and Dundas Street West.
Cube is the new face of mid-rise density in Hogtown: sensible, confident, appropriate. I hope its good artistic example is followed in the similarly small residential projects that are due to roll out on our streets in the months and years to come.