18 Croft St., Toronto
Asking Price: $2,489,000
Lot Size: 24.6 feet by 42.7 feet
Agent: Alexis Victor, Royal LePage Signature Realty
Craig Small and Patrick Fay had been running their media and film production shop from offices in downtown Toronto for about 12 years when they started to think about expansion.
Instead of continually renting space, the partners at the Juggernaut figured, they could build a satellite studio which could also serve as a pied-à-terre for the film directors and other creative professionals the company brings in to work on feature films, documentaries, music videos and commercials.
They imagined a nimble space that would serve myriad purposes.
“I spent about three years walking my dog through every back alley looking for an industrial work space,” Mr. Small says. “I was knocking on doors asking people if they would sell me their old automotive garage that was boarded up.”
On one of his forays near College and Bathurst streets, Mr. Small ventured down a quiet laneway lined with garages and a few converted factories. The lane known as Croft Street also happened to be home to music composer David Fleury, who had been settled into a Victorian-era coach house since the 1980s.
Mr. Small knew Mr. Fleury from some past projects, so he gave him a call to ask about the neighbourhood vibe.
That’s when Mr. Fleury divulged that he might consider selling No. 18.
“It took another year of me convincing him to retire so I could buy his house,” the creative director says.
The house today
After purchasing the property in 2016, the Juggernaut partners brought in architect Vis Sankrithi of uoai studio and designer Francesca Piccaluga of Piccaluga Design Inc., to revamp the 1860s red-brick coach house.
After about four years of planning, permits and construction, the building which started out as a shelter for a horse and buggy with a hayloft above, provides 2,625-square-feet of work/live space on three floors.
The transformation included digging down to create a lower-level work space and extending skyward to add more living space.
At street level, the entrance is intentionally abrupt so that the building feels connected to the laneway, Mr. Sankrithi explains in his notes on the project. The brick exterior is partly clad in black metal and there’s a slender yard.
Inside, a steel grate platform runs the full width of the building, suspended above the ground to create the feeling of a “back-of-house” stage. The metal stairs to the lower level are retractable. When they’re in place, lights project the shadows of people climbing or descending the stairs onto the outer walls.
Mr. Small added more theatrical touches to the space, which can be used as a production studio or a garage. Edge-lit Heart, a light sculpture he created of animated LEDs and acrylic panels, was commissioned by Warner Music and singer Michael Bublé for the 2019 Toronto Light Festival, and now hangs on the wall.
“With the sculpture illuminated, it feels more like an art studio,” Mr. Small says. During lockdown, he livestreamed a virtual concert by Communism, using the Croft Street studio as a backdrop for holograms of the band’s musicians projected onto the walls.
For less creative types, the space is equally built for more prosaic purposes: It has a full garage door, loading bay and enough room under the 14-foot-high ceiling to accommodate a car-lift system.
The lower level is meant to be infinitely flexible, Mr. Small says, and he can easily envision it working for a bicycle repair shop or an architect’s practice.
That floor also has a laundry room, mechanical room, kitchenette, powder room and a space that’s currently set up for work but could easily be turned into a bedroom, he says.
Upstairs, the main level is an open-concept space with a ceiling that soars 20 feet to a mezzanine.
Steel frames provide stability for the brick structure and support the mezzanine above.
Mr. Sankrithi and Ms. Piccaluga also used the steel frames and a turning metal staircase to add storage areas and create spaces that are gradually revealed as people walk through.
“The interior flows through a series of intriguing, gradually-revealed ‘moments,’” Mr. Sankrithi says.
For instance, a work area is cocooned next to the turn in the staircase to the mezzanine and a powder room is tucked around a corner.
A modern industrial kitchen has a black slate island and black porcelain countertops.
“We film a lot of food and beverage commercials,” says Mr. Small, who explains the kitchen has a gas range and all of the high-end appliances a chef requires.
A two-story glass skylight illuminates the kitchen and dining area from the east while, at the west end, windows in the living area overlook the treetops of the surrounding residential neighbourhood.
Throughout the main floors, the designers chose wide-planks of white oak for the floors and golden fir plywood to wrap the vaulted surfaces of the exposed upper mezzanine.
“We get this warm, golden glow day and night,” Mr. Small says.
The exposed brick walls hold remnants of the building’s past.
During construction, Mr. Small stopped the builders from removing tar that had dripped down onto the brick – likely from an old flat roof, he figures. He also asked them to preserve original timbers from the horse-and-carriage days, and a rustic hook and chain wrapped around a beam.
“Each one tells a little story and the authenticity is there. I really sweated every detail,” he says with a laugh. “It looks as if it was art-directed.”
Excavating the lower level unearthed a trove of vintage jelly jars and salt and pepper shakers, he says.
“You get this really rich history,” he says. “I really wanted to honour the heritage of this place,”
As he was preserving antique elements, Mr. Small was also embedding state-of-the-art technology: He brought in a broadcast engineer to wire the building throughout with Cat-6 ethernet and Ubiquiti wireless networks. There are keyless fob door locks, a video doorbell and security camera. The “smart” light switches, thermometer, appliances and garage door can be controlled by voice or a mobile phone.
“You can operate the oven by voice if you want,” Mr. Small says.
Just as the building was nearing completion in early 2020, government restrictions imposed to slow the spread of COVID-19 were ramping up.
“We had our launch party March 11 and we closed down March 12,” Mr. Small says.
As editors, colourists and other employees began working from home, the partners at the Juggernaut began to rethink their real estate footprint.
“We’re really good at working remotely,” Mr. Small says.
And even since his days of ambling through back alleys, Mr. Small says, technology has advanced so quickly that the team no longer needs to head into an editing suite with the clients.
“Everything in our industry has been changing for the past five or 10 years,” he says. “Clients are happy to just remote in.”
Mr. Small says he’s fond of the building and he would love to see it in the hands of an artist, a writer or a family who loves the urban environment. The shops and restaurants of Kensington Market are around the corner and all of downtown is a short scooter ride away.
The best feature
The third-floor mezzanine opens to the live/work area below.
The bedroom, with floor-to-ceiling windows, was added to create a luxurious master suite for visiting directors and artists who could simply head downstairs to work.
Outside there’s a private, wrap-around deck with views over the landmark clock tower of Toronto Fire Station 315 and nearby Kensington Market.
The ensuite bathroom has a walk-in shower with rain-shower head and a high-efficiency toilet.
Mr. Small says the upper level provides a private retreat and lots of storage, but it could make a light-filled studio or office.
“It’s very luxe but hybrid.”
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