68 The Bridle Path
Asking price: $25-million
Lot size: Four acres
Agent: Barry Cohen (ReMax Realtron)
The back story
Even within the exclusive environs of The Bridle Path, business titan Robert Campeau astonished the neighbours with his extravagance when he purchased two lots in the north Toronto neighbourhood and had the houses razed to make way for a 28,000-square-foot mansion built to resemble a château in France’s Loire Valley.
Campeau Corp. was emblematic of 1980s excess, when leveraged buyouts and junk bonds were the talk of Wall Street. Born in Sudbury, Ont., Mr. Campeau became a home builder and went on to build a real estate and retail empire valued at $10-billion at its apex. His brash multibillion-dollar takeovers of such storied retail names as Bloomingdales and Brooks Brothers made him world-famous.
Soon stories began circulating about the unparalleled opulence at 68 The Bridle Path: There were 10 bedrooms, 14 bathrooms, and a ballroom where members of high society twirled around on a dance floor set atop the indoor swimming pool.
The illustrious overnight guests, legend had it, included former prime minister Pierre Trudeau and the actor Jane Fonda. The house itself was blessed by the Archbishop of Toronto.
Then, in the early 1990s, Mr. Campeau’s debt-ridden real estate empire collapsed and he was ousted from the company. He decamped to Austria, leaving his palatial Bridle Path estate to sit empty for many years.
The house today
Today, visitors announce their arrival over an intercom outside the gated estate.
When the wrought iron gate slides back, visitors travel a long drive that winds and dips toward a circular cobblestone motor court encircling an antique fountain. If they happened to notice the dolphin motif in the entry gate, the guests will see it repeated in iron work throughout the house.
The dolphin was a popular emblem in the royal houses of 17th century France, says the current owner, who with his wife bought the languishing property nearly 13 years ago as a home for themselves and their two children.
They brought in a prominent heritage architect – the late Gordon Ridgely – and the interior designer Brian Gluckstein to complete and decorate the interior. Landscape architect Ronald Holbrook created the formal gardens.
The owner begins a tour of the palatial estate by pointing out the symmetry that the architect and designers established right from the front door. A mirror above the fireplace reflects the ornate chandelier hanging from the domed ceiling. The mirror features the same shell motif found in the hand-carved Louis XV fireplace, which was imported from France, the owner points out.
The grand foyer, with a domed ceiling 27 feet above the stone floor, contains a sweeping staircase that rises to a surrounding gallery on the second floor.
The bronze and gilt chandelier once would have been lit by candles but has since been electrified, the owner says. A second storey gallery is a good place for the orchestra to set up during parties, he adds.
Flanking the fireplace, Bergère chairs and delicate pieces of Sèvres porcelain are balanced next to two doors offering glimpses of the great room beyond. “It creates a sense of beauty that brings you forward into the next room,” the owner says.
The sunken great room is designed to evoke a French orangerie, the owner says.
The architect and designers added plaster mouldings and decorations, which were applied with painstaking attention to authenticity, the owner says. They also added a patina to the walls and trim so they would not appear starkly new.
“There needed to be a softness applied to the background to let all of these elements come together in the foreground,” he says, pointing out the antique furniture, oil paintings, clock sets and Gallé glass collected on trips to France.
The great room in turn opens to a 2,500-square-foot terrace that overlooks formal gardens, the owner says.
A horseshoe staircase that connects the garden to the terrace was originally designed so men could ascend up one side and women the other, the owner says. That way, the men wouldn’t catch a glimpse of the ladies’ ankles when they lifted the skirts of their gowns to climb the stairs.
The main floor also offers a large kitchen with a breakfast area overlooking the garden. There’s a formal dining room, a library and Mr. Campeau’s home office.
“I did keep the office chair that belonged to Robert Campeau,” says the owner, who adds he was surprised one day when Mr. Campeau showed up at the property to reminisce.
Upstairs, the master suite has a bedroom, sitting area, his-and-hers en suite bathrooms and dual dressing rooms.
The third floor provides more bedrooms, including the one where Mr. Trudeau is rumoured to have slept. A separate apartment provides a private space for a nanny or household staff.
Throughout the house, the owner has found authentic chandeliers, sconces and period furnishings. The draperies are made of fabrics from such noted French design houses as Scalamandré. They are trimmed as they would have been in a Loire Valley château and held in place by authentic hardware.
The house also comes with a golf cart, which the owner uses to tour of the property. A tennis court at the rear disappears from view behind shrubs and mature trees. Beyond the formal gardens, the lot extends to Wilket Creek.
The house will likely appeal to a buyer who appreciates the location and the authenticity of the renovation, says real estate agent Barry Cohen of ReMax Realtron. “The buyer now inherits the work,” he says of the lengthy design process. “They move into the lifestyle, and they’re 10 years ahead.”
Much of the furniture and many objets d’art will remain with the house.
Sales in the upper echelons of Toronto’s real estate market have been brisk in recent months, Mr. Cohen observes, adding that domestic and overseas buyers have been purchasing Toronto luxury properties. “There’s a lot of world wealth.”
The best feature
The ozonated, chemical-free indoor swimming pool is housed in a 5,000-square-foot, cedar-lined pavilion with windowed French doors that can be opened wide to bring the outdoors in. A circular oak staircase leads from the master bedroom suite down to the pool.
When the retractable floor is in place over the pool, the area can accommodate 300 guests for a sit-down dinner – with room left over for dancing.
Throw open the doors, says the owner, and the merriment can expand onto the terrace overlooking the garden. “It’s such a celebration, this house.”
Editor's Note: A Friday Globe Real Estate headline incorrectly described Robert Campeau as a bankrupt billionaire. In fact, it was Mr. Campeau's businesses that went bankrupt.