Oh, they are so much more than just windows.
But before going into the esoteric, these more-than-just-windows do need description and context.
Gracing the face of the former Temple Baptist Church at 14 Dewhurst Blvd. near Toronto’s Greektown, these windows present themselves in threes: the trio of tall, arched windows under a massive pediment and, flanking them, a cluster of three above each set of double doors that once led parishioners up small staircases to the main floor. And all feature tiny panes of opaque, mottled green glass and textured, semi-transparent yellow glass.
And the way light falls onto—and then dances its way across—the floors of the condominium units at the rechristened Sunday School Lofts by Grid Developments can still inspire a visitor to break into a hymn.
“I think at one point there was talk of new windows because we weren’t sure exactly how these would stand up to being taken apart and refurbished,” says Grid’s Justin Aykler somewhat darkly.
Not meaning to bring this little tour group down—which includes heritage conservation architect Joey Giaimo, COMN Architect’s Peter McNeil, this author, and project manager Payam Noursalehi of Oben Build—Mr. Aykler quickly explains that the big window companies Grid contacted couldn’t figure out how to reinforce these 1925-era beauties while keeping their historicity, and, even if they could, there was concern about how to warranty a hybrid structure of old and new parts.
And then, as if by divine intervention, Grid found Vito Caputo and his Twins Painting and Decorating, who, all agree, is a misnomer, since Mr. Caputo’s company offers full restoration of windows, doors, and even bricks and mortar. Partnered with Hamann Engineering and Tremonte Welding & Ironworks, magic was ready to be made.
While the results are stunning, they do require close inspection. While a local familiar with the building might decide that only a cleanup or replacement of cracked panes has taken place, in reality a massive overhaul and reconfiguration has been achieved. To ensure that only the best yellow panes remained, the middle portion of each of the big three windows—let’s call them the three sisters—has been replaced with conventional glass, expect where yellow ones travel across to conceal a floor plate that wasn’t there before. And within all of that new leading, there are now operable portions on each sister, including, for second floor unit owners, ones consisting of yellow glass. There are also operable portions on the smaller rectangular windows.
Inside the units, owners can not only touch the original stained glass—there is no storm window or other barrier—they can examine the intricate web of thin, super-strong steel that now holds these colourful compositions together. Jokes Mr. Giaimo: “The windows are stronger than the wall now.”
So what’s esoteric? Well, a lesser developer might have chosen the path of least resistance: a bland reproduction with much chunkier mullions for instance, or, perish the thought, suburban-sized panes that did away with the intricate patterning altogether. Also, retention of the windows and the first sixteen feet of the building’s width (meaning entry sequences are left intact) meant other problems…or opportunities. To wit, no unit in Sunday School Lofts is the same; each must wrestle with the nooks and crannies of heritage, or, in the new bits, how to defer to that heritage.
“This is a nice example of how the façade influenced the design,” explains Mr. Giaimo as he looks around at a unit on the third floor. “If you were to start this from scratch, you’re not going to give anybody 12-foot-plus ceilings.”
“There’re a lot of weird quirks inside,” agrees Mr. Aykler. “You’ll see some low closet heights where we had to go under the stairs, and you’ll see some very deep windowsills where it’s kind of tricky to place a bed, but for the most part Peter and [design architect] George [Popper] have designed great, livable spaces.”
The spaces are impressive. Even the non-heritage units that face Dew Lang Lane are big and bright and feature massive decks for outdoor entertaining. Penthouse owners behind the big pediment get to interact with the heritage wall, and those on the west side of the building get a sweeping view of the city skyline.
And everyone gets the benefit of a new lobby featuring the complex curves required to make a barrel vault ceiling, which, says Mr. McNeil, not only “takes cues from the heritage façade,” it also helps to “lend a sense of arrival and elevate the ritual of going to get the daily mail.”
With only a few units left for purchase, one might say this Georgian Classical gem has arrived on the residential scene wearing its (restored) Sunday best. And while some heritage conversions are a series of compromises or push-and-pull with various interest groups, here everyone agrees that things went easy like Sunday morning (with apologies to Lionel Richie).
“There wasn’t any struggle with this project at all,” finishes Mr. Giaimo. “Justin was on board all the way through, and it’s clear, you see it.”
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