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The whimsical atrium of Seventy5 Portland in Toronto, Ont.

Michelle Siu/The Globe and Mail/Michelle Siu/The Globe and Mail







A white glass table that seems to run to the vanishing point of infinity; pompadour-styled chairs, outlandishly carved and heavily spray-painted in white resin; black candelabras dotting the tabletop and metal globes suspended overhead – all are set like props of enchantment in a narrow courtyard. Here is one of Toronto's secret spaces: A set piece of decadence and surrealism, hardly what you would expect from a typical condominium lobby in Toronto's King West warehouse district.

Alice in Wonderland could happily frolic here. Design illusions and a twisted sense of scale – outdoors, white planters lushly planted with burning bush shrubs rise two metres high – are what clearly intrigued French powerhouse Philippe Starck when he sketched a design for the interior lobby and its narrow atrium at Seventy5 Portland. Commissioned by Freed Developments, the dominant builder of mid-rise condominiums in the King West area, Mr. Starck sat in a corner and sketched his idea for the atrium during a meeting with his production design house, Yoo, and the condominium architect, Charles Gane of Core Architects. "The courtyard had already been set out in terms of its dimensions and height," says Mr. Gane, recalling the meeting with Mr. Starck in London. "He sketched for about an hour, coming up with a long table half in the lobby and half out. That really became the genesis of his design. It seemed that he conceived of the whole project while sitting off in his corner."

The interior courtyard measures only 11 metres wide with 10 storeys of condominiums rising above. Facing east, the space is naturally enlivened during the day by morning light. But the conscious artifice of the Starck designs, the ironic flashback to the Belle Époque, the way that the chairs have been heavily spray-painted with resin as if royal thrones from Versailles had been plastic-wrapped and flash-frozen in time, all of this lends a deliciousness to the space. It opens up to possibilities. What a welcome treatment it is, especially considering the formulaic designs (an amoeba-shaped glass table, a couch by Mies van der Rohe, a white shag carpet) that beat most condominium ground floors into submission.

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Seventy5 Portland distinguishes itself with its lively white facade and glass-fronted, cantilevered balconies suspended intimately over the street. The condominium, which houses about 250 people and includes a 2,000-square-foot penthouse now on the market for approximately $2.4-million, recently won the 2011 PUG Awards best new residential building. A flash of yellow, the only concession to colour, is emblazoned over the front entrance and repeated again within the front entrance hall. (Mr. Starck has long promoted the eerie tones of yellow and green, starting with his iconic Café Costes in Paris during the mid-1980s and including New York's Hudson Hotel.) A massive glass sheet hovers just inside the front lobby entrance, the better to enlarge the space and reflect the play of colour, while, next to the concierge desk, a big glass door seems to cut the epic table in half. Rolled away, the table and plasticized, gaudy chairs reveal a courtyard theatre, ripe for anybody willing to match Mr. Starck's obsession with love, romance and urban wit.

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