“I didn’t want to own two lawnmowers,” said Dean Martin, a trim, fiftysomething advertising executive, as a siren drifted up and into the eighth-storey windows, which were also providing a lovely cross-breeze. “I love mowing the lawn up in the country … we don’t need it replicated in the city; so we thought well, it would be kind of cool to move a little bit closer to a high street.
“To have two very similar places – what’s the point?”
And then there was their almost high-school-aged son, said Anda Kubis, an artist and professor at OCAD University. “He was dragged kicking and screaming,” she laughed, “and now he says: ‘Oh my God, thank you, thank you, because I never would’ve met all the cool friends that I have now.’”
Kicking and screaming because Mr. Martin and Ms. Kubis gave up a slice of single-family, tricked-out, mid-century-modern paradise at 835 Royal York Rd. (a home profiled in this space in March, 2011) for a condominium penthouse near Dundas Street West and Keele Street a few years ago.
The driver, they say, was the country property they’d purchased a few years before that on Lower Buckhorn Lake in the Kawarthas, north of Peterborough. Since their city home already had a lot of lawn to mow – architect-designed in 1955, the 2600-square-foot home sat on a large lot beside Mimico Creek – the move made sense. Plus, Mr. Martin added, there was the audio-visual trickery: “You look out the window, a verdant wall of trees with a stream,” he said, annoyance creeping into his voice, “and then you have Royal York Road and the hum of the traffic ruined it. And it was much worse because we were in a bowl.
“Whereas here, we’re on the high street and it’s just as noisy here if not noisier, and I have zero problem with that, because I expect it.”
Speaking of expectations, their country property was delivering, big time. Not only did the couple enjoy being right on the lake, but the Kawartha region differs from rocky, rugged Muskoka by being filled with lush farmland. That meant they could bicycle from berry farm to garlic farm and buy chickens from their neighbours. “It’s amazing,” Ms. Kubis said simply.
But for a duo steeped in media, art and culture, the siren song of the city was hard to resist after a few weeks of bucolic bliss. The couple suggest both need to exist for each to have meaning, like a residential yin and yang. In other words, one shouldn’t have to choose between being a city mouse or country mouse. Mr. Martin recounted the story of a co-worker who, many years ago, decamped to Caledon, Ont., for a log home. “And they went stir crazy,” he laughed, adding that they were soon back in the city.
With the Toronto market still on fire, selling a large city house for a smaller condo and a country property is gaining in popularity. This writer needs both hands to count the number of people he knows personally who are doing it. Even millennials, many of whom can’t afford a home in the city, are adopting a similar model: They’ll rent a city condo and purchase a house or cottage a few hours away in the Kawarthas or Prince Edward County.
But, Mr. Martin cautioned, to do it properly, one must make sure one’s city base is very, very urban. The Junction, of course, counts dozens of red brick, historical buildings, but Mr. Martin also pointed out the window to the “oysters across the street,” at Roux (2790 Dundas St. W.) as well as “the bank, the other restaurants, and now I’m only 30 minutes to my work downtown as opposed to 50.”
Their building, dubbed Duke (for Dundas/Keele) by developer TAS, also sports a very innovative design by Quadrangle Architects. “A big part of it was centred around a variegated façade,” offered Richard Witt, architect and executive principal. While the city will often ask architects to use existing setbacks, heights and other factors to draw up “datum lines” for new builds to adhere to, the odd, patchwork nature of the Junction, combined with the fact that Duke was the first mid-rise to arrive on the scene, created an issue: “There was a very strong idea that this building needed to have some kind of fourth-dimensional quality [so] that, in the future, it would line up with other buildings to come, but still relate to the built form of the area.”
And because it was a pioneer, it wasn’t clear whether bachelors or three-bedrooms would be the hot sellers, so Quadrangle came up with “a slightly different kind of structural system” that allowed them to change the unit sizes while sales were coming in.
Of course, for Mr. Martin and Ms. Kubis, it wasn’t the structural system that hooked them. Rather, it was that their unit was “like a house on top of a building,” Ms. Kubis said, and in a building that had touches of mid-century-modern charm without resorting to glass boxiness.
The glass box is dead anyway. “The thing is, that’s been trotted out in slightly nicer versions of the same substandard product for the past 10 years,” said Mr. Witt, who is involved with the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat. “You need walls, not windows, you need less massive strip balconies … we’re quite aggressive in pushing that agenda, and I think it’s going to change the whole aesthetic of the city for the next wave of development coming.”
If he’s right, that means there’ll be fewer lawnmowers, too.