Mention luxury real estate to most people, and they will likely think of opulent buildings in architectural styles that run from some of history’s most elegant eras to sleek, modern edifices that would be at home on the skylines of the future.
It's not a look that's arrived at by chance.
Whether it's a house or a condo, architects and developers know they need to successfully integrate their projects into the communities they'll call home.
“If you're a good architect and you have the means, you can integrate just about any building in any neighbourhood, assuming you understand the nature of that neighbourhood,” says Adrian Sheppard, emeritus professor at the Peter Guo-hua Fu School of Architecture at Montreal's McGill University.
“Our cities are full of buildings of different styles and sometimes they work very well together. You feel these buildings hold hands.”
That's the approach taken by Jared Menkes, executive vice-president of highrise residential at Menkes Development Ltd.
“We typically draw our inspiration from the surrounding neighbourhood,” Menkes says. “So, for a project like Fleur located at Church and Shuter, we were inspired by the Garden District.
“Harbour Plaza Residences overlook Toronto’s waterfront so that inspired a more nautical theme. The balconies were designed to create a sense a movement, much like waves on the water. The Eglinton is situated in the upscale Yonge and Eglinton neighbourhood so that inspired a more sleek, modern design.”
Menkes says living in a luxury home today actually means different things to different people.
“From my perspective as a condo developer, people tend to equate 'luxury living' to buildings with amenities that cater to their every need,” says Menkes, whose company is one of the largest private developers in Canada.
“It doesn’t matter whether you live in 500 square feet or 1,500 square feet, if you live in a new building in a desirable neighbourhood and have access to things like a gym, pool, private terrace, movie theatre … that’s a luxury home.”
Condo dwellers want amenities that cater to their every need and there is a clear trend toward family-friendly buildings that feature such amenities as children’s playrooms and outdoor playgrounds.
The gleaming Menkes towers are firmly rooted in the 21st century with their contemporary designs, although other styles also dot the luxury real estate landscape. Among those is the 19th-century French Beaux-Arts style, which is derived from classical Greek and Roman forms and known for its elaborate detailing. Often seen on public buildings, it's a style that is also being used successfully by a number of developers.
However, Sheppard says it can be tricky to pull off.
“Paris is the ultimate Beaux-Arts city, where you can find all the ingredients and all the examples of good Beaux-Arts architecture,” he says. “The problem is that the Beaux-Arts architecture of Paris was also very beautiful because they knew how to deal with the subtleties, they knew how to deal with materials in a certain way, how to relate to the street.”
While the concrete canyons of city life do rule, Menkes notes that nature is a major factor in his architecture.
“A connection to nature is important for condo residents, especially in urban locations, and given our city’s climate six months of the year,” he says. “With Harbour Plaza we tried to bring the outdoors indoors by incorporating lots of green as well as a water feature.”
Nature was also an important consideration for Stephen Hunt, principal at Hunt Design Associates of Markham, Ont., in his work designing the most recent phase of The Fairway Collection at Deer Creek in Ajax, Ont., for Grand Homes Canada.
Hunt says that he and his firm initially get the lay of the land when considering the architecture for a project by looking at the demographics of the area and where the developer's plan is geared.
Then, knowing in this case they're in an estate subdivision in a country setting, they start placing homes on the landscape.
“We look for architectural styles and building forms that marry well with undulating landscape,” he says. English and French manor home styles were picked for this project and they also developed a contemporary style that falls along the same principles in terms of style and form of the home, Hunt says.
He says that, even in a two-storey form, the home will terrace down on its ends whether there's a one-storey garage on one end and a one-storey room on the other, to anchor a two-storey portion of the home in the middle. Hunt points out this anchoring of the home is important because it will be seen from a distance as an object on the landscape.
“We want them to hug the landscape, which has been long practised in the French and English countrysides, so when we introduced the contemporary style it was somewhat fashioned from Frank Lloyd Wright and his prairie-style homes where they tend to have strong horizontal lines.
“They look comfortable in the landscape and really try to respond to the setting, [which] is what drove the particular styles that we offered.”
Hunt says that Grand Homes wanted the project to have a real country estate, custom home feel and did not want any one home design repeated. He said that one of the advantages in achieving this was the fact that he worked with one builder so the levels of finish and quality are consistent.
“Often estate communities are a little more eclectic, shall we say, so different purchasers might be bringing in different builders that have different capabilities,” Hunt says. “With this building group, they're able to offer consistent quality among a variety of styles and forms.
Hunt says he is happy with the way the contemporary meshed with the classic design.
“We think they marry well with each other,” he says.
“They might have different ways of treating the windows but it's the silhouette form of the home and the landscape that really catches the eye first and where we look for that consistency.”
Hunt, who has had his own firm for 20 years, says home design and construction is continually evolving. Thanks to networks like HGTV Canada and other media, consumers are also more savvy about what they want.
He said while many desire green-friendly dwellings, they also want smart homes that are pre-wired for entertainment, security and control systems. As always, however, the kitchen remains a focal point of interest. Hunt also says he can see a day where consumers might look at smaller homes, putting more emphasis on the space that is actually used. More open-space plans open the home to the landscape itself, he notes.
“You've got multiple vistas through different rooms and angles and hallways to the landscape so what you're doing is you're taking the centre of a classic country home and you're opening it up to the landscape more than was ever possible before,” he says.
Hunt gives a lot of credit to builder Jerry Coughlan, who originated The Fairway Collection development, and Coughlan’s partners Paul and Jeff Bigioni for building homes that will not just be attractive but will serve their owners well into the future.
“It’s not just pretty; it’ll live pretty for a long time,” he says.
This content was produced by The Globe and Mail’s Globe Content Studio, in consultation with an advertiser. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved in its creation.