388 Richmond St. West, Penthouse 1, Toronto
Asking price: $3.2-million
Taxes: $8,148.78 (2019)
Monthly maintenance fee: $1,533.35
Agent: Paul Johnston (Right at Home Realty Inc.)
Writers Cynthia Wine and Philip Slayton became denizens of Toronto’s Queen West neighbourhood when they moved to the District Lofts in 2002.
Ms. Wine recalls being immediately drawn to the light in the “soft loft,” which was built with the open spaces, high ceilings and large windows that make converted industrial buildings appealing to so many people.
At the time, the first residents had just moved into the project south of Queen Street West and east of Spadina Avenue. The two towers built around a central courtyard and connected by external bridges rose from a collaboration by Context Development and award-winning architect Peter Clewes of architectsAlliance, who based his design on the principles of modern architecture.
Ms. Wine is a former restaurant critic for the Toronto Star, while Mr. Slayton is a retired lawyer and author. The couple found the building’s location just south of Queen Street and east of Spadina Avenue ideal for immersion in the cultural scene of downtown Toronto.
Since the early 1990s, the surrounding garment district had been an area in transition as textile factories and warehouses were transformed into nightclubs and fashionable restaurants with marquee chefs.
Ms. Wine and Mr. Slayton were happy with their two-storey unit until they happened to pass by the open door of Penthouse One. The unit belonging to Context president Howard Cohen was designed by Mr. Clewes to take full advantage of the south-east view.
Just inside the entrance, the stairs are built on an axis with the CN Tower so that residents and visitors see the tower emerge in the centre of their view as they climb to the second level.
“We saw the door open and said ‘that’s the one we want,’” Mr. Slayton says.
They had a few years to wait, but in 2006 the couple purchased the three-bedroom penthouse from Mr. Cohen when he moved on to a unit in another of his company’s projects.
The house today
The light-drenched penthouse sits atop the 14-storey building.
The layout of the 2,400-square-foot unit is arranged around a circular atrium with the floating staircase at its centre.
The main living area is an open-concept space on the second floor of the unit. That’s where the entertaining takes place, says Mr. Slayton, who is past president of the literary society PEN Canada. Over the years, the couple has hosted PEN gatherings in support of writers and freedom of expression.
Mr. Slayton says guests are often captivated by the view of the CN Tower, which is illuminated with a changing repertoire of coloured lights to reflect a different theme each evening.
“The CN Tower has something going on every night,” he says. “It’s quite dramatic.”
The pair say the open space is filled with light from floor-to-ceiling windows.
The ceiling slopes to more than 11 feet high. A suspended expanse of wood slats adds warmth and softens the rays from a skylight above.
Ms. Wine, who does most of the cooking in the family, notes the open kitchen provides views of the skyline as she works at the cooktop.
The relationship between interior and exterior is very important to the design, Mr. Cohen told the Globe and Mail in 2006.
Doors from the living and dining areas open to a 460-square-foot terrace which stretches across the length of the unit.
After moving in, the couple hired a design firm to redesign the terraces and reconfigure some of the rooms.
On the first level, the master bedroom has an ensuite bathroom with a walk-in shower sized for two. There’s also a vanity with double sinks next to the floor-to-ceiling window overlooking downtown.
The design firm added a Murphy bed to the second bedroom so the couple can accommodate guests on occasion. One quirky design feature is that the bed, which folds away into the wall, has a television embedded in the panel facing the room.
“There’s only one drawback to it: when the Murphy bed is down, you can’t watch television,” Mr. Slayton says.
The third bedroom is currently used as Mr. Slayton’s study.
The author has ensconced himself in the study to write portions of the seven books under his name. He also spends time writing at the couple’s second home in Nova Scotia.
He first gained recognition as an author when his 2007 expose, Lawyers Gone Bad: Money, Sex and Madness in Canada’s Legal Profession, rose up the bestseller lists.
“It made a lot of people mad at me,” he recalls with a chuckle.
His latest title, Nothing left to Lose: An Impolite Report into the State of Freedom in Canada, was published this spring.
The study, he says, has a bookcase lining one entire wall and an expanse of windows facing south.
“It’s a very pleasant, contemplative space without a lot of distractions,” he says.
The apartment tends to be very quiet – partly because of the solid construction of the building and partly because only one wall in the corner unit is shared with a neighbour.
Across the street stands 401 Richmond, where artists, photographers, designers and entrepreneurs gather in the restored red-brick industrial building. From his home study, Mr. Slayton can look down on the building’s flourishing rooftop garden.
In the past decade, Mr. Slayton says, the area has undergone another evolution from entertainment district to residential neighbourhood. Many of the old one-storey buildings that housed bars and lounges have been replaced with new condo towers.
“You really feel you’re living in the heart of the city but gone are the nightclubs.”
The best feature
The terraces provide a tranquil haven on both levels of the penthouse.
The upper terrace is divided into three sections, with one area set aside for dining, another with lush greenery and a seating area with a wisteria-covered pergola.
The couple inherited the birch and conifer trees first planted as saplings when Mr. Cohen was in residence. Over time, they’ve grown tall.
“They’re grown-up trees. It has been amazing,” Ms. Wine says.
The couple also added more planters and a row of cedars along the east wall.
“Now we’re secluded,” Ms. Wine says.
Ms. Wine points out that the terraces have full irrigation systems so keeping the plants and trees watered is effortless.
The lower terrace is a serene space with a reflecting pool. A gentle fountain that keeps the water recirculating is hidden inside a stone.
“The birds come along and bathe in the pool, which is nice to see,” Mr. Slayton says.
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