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Using London to sell a Toronto condo - it’s a stretch

"Money & Power. Gucci, Glamour & Gray Matter. Like London's West End, what's unique about Bay and Wellesley is that it straddles so many of Toronto's 'in' destinations." This, from a booklet promoting Lanterra Developments' Britt condominiums, slated to occupy the completely overhauled building known until recently as the Sutton Place Hotel.

So how did the pokey downtown intersection of Bay Street and Wellesley Street West become so fabulous? (The Sutton Place's heyday as a celebrity hangout was decades ago, and the hotel itself has been dead for more than a year.) Reading on, one discovers it's because Toronto, to an extent that may come as startling news to some readers, is really just like London, and the Britt is in the middle of everything. They've got Soho, we've got the gay village on Church Street. They've got Mayfair, we've got Yorkville. They've got the City, we've got Bay and King. And what we lack, in the way of London-style sophistication, elegance, class and so forth, we'll get when the Britt comes on stream.

Even put up against the most over-the-top hype developers devise nowadays, this marketing hoopla is pretty mind-boggling. (London is London, after all. Toronto is Toledo, Ohio, in rhinestone drag.) So it may surprise you to learn that, wrapped in all this froth about the high-toned Britishness of the Britt, there's actually a modest, higher-end condo project that deserves a glance in passing.

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For the record, the renovation and augmentation of the old hotel is being carried out by Page + Steele / IBI Group Architects. Nine storeys will be piled on top of the Sutton Place's original 33. The modernist-dowdy hotel façades will be stripped and replaced by the usual glass expanses.

The city's planners like new tall buildings to look firmly planted on the ground, so this one will have its lowest eight storeys clad in limestone and precast concrete. The 649 suites in the tower and in an eight-storey wing stretching along Wellesley are about as pricey and small as most other inner-city apartments. They range in size from 334 square feet to 1,292 square feet, and in price from $275,000 to around $1,253,000 – numbers that suggest to me the probable clientele of the Britt is the usual mix of investors and empty-nesters.

Like most other residential complexes going up downtown, this building will feature nothing that might tempt families to consider an apartment to be a good place to dwell throughout the life cycle, and not just at the dating stage and at the end of it.

But no residential highrise can be expected to work a demographic miracle. And, anyway, some positive things should be said about this project, especially its insides.

Take, for example, the à la carte "executive butler services" available to residents, which, I suspect, would be especially attractive to downsizing seniors. Grocery shopping and delivery can be arranged, along with babysitting for the grandkids, car servicing, and pet walking and grooming. (Among other luxury amenities, the Britt will have a pet spa.)

Lanterra's interpretation of what the brochure calls "the true essence of London" will be visually most evident, however, in the Britt's common areas, particularly the lobby and adjacent facilities.

Crafted by Allessandro Munge, principal in the Toronto interior design firm Munge Leung, these spaces (of which the presentation centre on Bay is a foretaste) seek to embody an urbane style that is staid without being stuffy, lightly allusive to the foyers and drawing rooms of important Georgian city homes, fresh but not snappy or trendy.

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The elements of this styling include neo-classical mouldings, a harlequin-patterned floor in black and white, and a curving staircase that floats gracefully down to the double-height lobby level. The lobby lounge will carry through this play of aristocratic touches from yesteryear, with wall and ceiling mouldings of its own, and a baronial carved stone fireplace rescued from the Sutton Place's ballroom – all of it very white, tasteful and reminiscent of the sets of Upstairs, Downstairs (though thoroughly bleached in the "modern" manner.)

While this ringing of the old-fashioned chimes is very far from my idea of "the essence of London," it credibly suggests a certain (mistaken) notion about the city that many casual tourists take away. I will be interested to see Mr. Munge's interior scheme after it has been built out. If everything works out according to plan, his lobby and lounge will be quickly dated vignettes of how London looked, circa 2013, to someone who didn't spend nearly enough time finding out what that great city was about.

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John More


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