When Janet Oh and Eddy Ra first married 20 years ago, they lived in a small condo at the corner of Toronto’s Adelaide Street West and University Avenue. The location was perfect for two young urban professionals, right between the Financial District, where Mr. Ra works in finance, and the bustle of the Entertainment District, where both enjoyed unwinding after 5 p.m.
“At a certain point we thought we should start adulting,” says Ms. Oh, an executive at a kitchen and bath company. So they moved to Markham, Ont., a nearby bedroom community, and for more than a decade, owned a 3,200-square-foot-home, with a lawn and garage and none of the conveniences of downtown life.
Sometimes, adulting means recognizing you’ve made an error, then fixing the mistake. “We eventually realized it didn’t make a lot of sense to be way out in the suburbs,” Ms. Oh says. “I travel all the time for my job so I was never home. Eddy had to commute over an hour to work every day.” In a full-circle moment, the couple ended up back in a condo, a block from their old abode at Adelaide and University. “We’re very social and love to go out,” Mr. Ra says. “We missed all the restaurants,” says. Ms. Oh says.
Condo 2.0, though, was in no way a throw back to their cramped pad of 20 years before. Mr. Ra and Ms. Oh bought a 2,100-square-foot penthouse near the top of the Shangri-La, a hotel and residence where the likes of George Clooney and Johnny Depp have been spotted during the Toronto International Film Festival. Working with interior designers Samer Shaath and Kevin Chan, founders of design studio Nivek Remas, they created a sophisticated space that’s very much grown-up.
At the outset, Mr. Ra and Ms. Oh’s unit was a blank canvas. It had previously been used a model suite by the Shangiri-La’s developers, and was hollowed out when the couple purchased it five years ago. The design could have gone in any direction.
“At the beginning, I started sending Kevin and Samer Pinterest images of beautiful Parisian apartments,” Mr. Ra says. “They said these are nice, we love Parisian apartments too. But you do not have a Parisian apartment.”
Instead of applying ersatz French moulding to the walls, Mr. Shaath and Mr. Chan embraced the particularities of a modern Toronto skyscraper – expansive windows, sharp lines, views overlooking hundreds of glass-and-steel towers. Sometimes, condos are described as boxes up in the air, often in a negative way. Nivek Remas made the concept beautiful.
The studio hired an artist, Christina Ott, to plaster-finish the walls in just the right tint of grey to play off the blues of the sky.
"She came several times to study the light,” Ms. Oh says. “The walls might look uniform but they have a wonderful variation.”
A custom wool-and-silk rug was commissioned in dozens of shades of green, mimicking the look and feel of peering down, way down, at a canopy of trees from the 60th floor. Over the dining room table, ethereal, smoky orbs cluster together like the passing clouds.
In the same way that the aesthetic was thoughtfully attuned to the context, the furniture and layout were carefully considered to suit Mr. Ra and Ms. Oh’s lifestyles. “Before we ever started talking about style, Kevin and Samer asked us a lot of questions about how we live,” says Ms. Oh. “We realized we only have people in to entertain maybe twice a year. So we didn’t need a big dining area. We wouldn’t use it.” Likewise, the dining room table itself, from Desalto, is clay-topped and built for outdoor use. “Our old table was glass,” says Mr. Ra. “It always made me nervous. I could drop anything on this one, jab it with a fork, and it would be fine.”
Cutting down the eating area freed up more room for a gracious living room. Deep-seated Montauk sofas face a clean-lined stone fireplace, all surrounded by windows that twinkle with city lights at night. It’s an elegant aerie for post-work relaxation.
One of the biggest challenges of Mr. Ra and Ms. Oh’s downsize was losing all the storage of their Markham home. “We used to have three bedrooms and we don’t have children,” Ms. Oh says. “There was a lot of space to put things.” As part of their downsize, the two adopted a new habit. “If we buy one new thing, we have to get rid of something,” Ms. Oh says. “It’s one in, one out.”
Nikek Remas also lined a wall in the master bedroom with a bank of custom cupboards, with grey doors that complement the grey panelling on the adjacent walls. The panelling gives the effect of a luxury hotel suite, something the couple appreciates.
When possible, Mr. Ra accompanies Ms. Oh on her work travels (in pre-COVID time, she found herself on the road most days of most weeks). He loves staying at high-end hotels. One of his favourites is the Park Hyatt in Seoul, a tall, glass-y modern tower with simple, wood-lined rooms and commanding city views. He first stayed there before buying his condo. “I can remember standing in our room, looking out the window,” Mr. Ra says. “I remember thinking: if we ever can, it would be my dream to live in a place like this.”
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