A family-sized condo in Toronto's Little Italy
When Eric Beynon and Leah Andrew bought the penthouse nearly a decade ago, they weren't expecting to raise three children there
Listing: 308 Palmerston Ave., Penthouse 16, Toronto
Asking price: $1,229,900
Taxes: $4,841.60 (2017)
Unit size: 1290 sq. ft. (interior) + 615 sq. ft. (exterior)
Maintenance fee: $995.17 (monthly)
Listing agent: Justin Aykler, Sales Representative, Aykler Real Estate Inc. and Dan Chan, Real Estate Sales Representative, Right at Home Realty Inc. Brokerage
Nine years ago, Eric Beynon and Leah Andrew were looking to buy their first home. They were armed with a spreadsheet of features they wanted and two clear goals: stay in their neighbourhood – Toronto's Little Italy – and find a place where they could start a family.
Fast-forward nearly a decade and they're sitting in their two-storey, three-bedroom condo at College and Palmerston – managing to have accomplish their goals even without a house.
"We thought for sure we'd have one child here, but we definitely didn't plan on having three," Ms. Andrew said.
The search to get to that point was a long one.
"At first, we had looked at solely houses," Mr. Beynon said, adding that the couple saw over 100 houses during their year-and-a-half search.
"I can remember bidding on houses where we were one of 11," Ms. Andrew said. "It was just ridiculous, but we really wanted a house 'cause we thought we're going to start a family so we need a house."
Then their agent, Justin Aykler, suggested looking at a condo, but there were two problems. There weren't many condo buildings in the area – only 301 Markham St. and 308 Palmerston Ave. – and Mr. Beynon and Ms. Andrew had to wrap their heads around the idea of family life in a condo.
"On the day that we saw this [condo], we had already seen a fairly well renovated house and a fixer-upper," said Mr. Aykler said, adding that it was that moment when they realized they had seen all of their options.
The condominium the couple ultimately opted for was originally constructed between 2005 and 2007 by developers Graywood and Beaverhall Homes. The building has just over 100 units, with the penthouses on the top floor featuring terraces. Situated at the corner of Palmerston Avenue and College Street, it is right in the midst of Little Italy's restaurants and shops.
Penthouse 16 is a south and east-facing corner unit on the top level with two floors – one for living, and three bedrooms and two bathrooms on the second level – and it has a wrap-around 615 square foot terrace.
"It really impressed us because it was essentially a house, seven floors up," said Mr. Beynon. "It was this interesting mental process that we went through in terms of switching our mindsets and saying; 'Hey, maybe we don't actually need a house.'"
In terms of crossing off the features on their house-hunting checklist, the condo managed to surprise them. For example, they had listed "outdoor space" on their wish list, thinking that their future home would need a backyard. But once they saw the penthouse terrace, their view expanded.
"The terrace is tons of outdoor space, it just doesn't necessarily have grass," Ms. Andrew said.
In terms of interior space, at 1,290 square feet, their home is the largest of the units in the building and is similar in size to a lot of the semi-detached houses they had been looking at.
Plus, there were features that this condo had that the "regular" houses they were looking at didn't.
"I remember when we first came in [to the unit], the amount of light really struck me," Ms. Andrew said.
The bought the unit in 2007 from someone who hadn't actually lived in the space. The emptiness was a big bonus for the couple.
"That really helped us envision what it might be like," she said. "This place was in good shape and it was a blank canvas."
The couple did their first renovation in 2010, deciding to make some 'select changes' that made a huge difference to how they lived in the place.
"Everything we did was to try and maximize use of our livable space," Ms. Andrew said.
"It was also to take out the most traditional elements and make them modern," Mr. Beynon added.
The big changes included taking out the small island that was in the kitchen and replacing it with a bigger one with more storage (including wine fridge) and an overhang counter so it doubles as an eating space.
They also worked with Jill Greaves Design to modernized the look of the staircase. This involved replacing the wood handrail with white powder-coated pipes and transforming the landing space upstairs. There, they added a storage unit that acts as their linen closet and a sculptural element they call a 'bamboo screen' that is made out of the same pipes as the handrail.
"It's really trying to do something unique and architectural," Mr. Beynon said.
Seven years and three kids later, they tackled renovation number two and three, which included updating the bathrooms, changing the lower level's hardwood floors from a thinner to a wider plank and switching up the baseboards.
Condo life with kids
Ms. Andrew and Mr. Beynon still get reactions of disbelief when they tell people they are raising three little kids in a condo. But they know that this choice has been right for their family.
In addition to giving their kids an urban upbringing, living in condo has also given them a different perspective about materialism when it comes to buying new stuff. They still buy their kids toys but they've been creative in their storage solutions so that the new items don't cause clutter.
And over their years at 308 Palmerston, they've seen more and more young families join them. They say that there are four or five other families that have kids on their floor alone, which has given them a real sense of community and turned the hallway into their version of a neighbourhood street.
They credit their ability to make their family work in the space in part to the terrace, which is their favourite feature of the home.
"The terrace is so big that it's like another room for the kids," Mr. Beynon said. "They use it all the time."
They also note that adults enjoy the space too, having hosted many dinner parties – seating up to 10 people – out there.
The 10-foot deep terrace was a big factor when it came to valuing the condo in Toronto's market.
"There's aren't many condos like this," Mr. Aykler said, adding that it's not just the terrace that is rare when it comes to this penthouse, it's also its square footage and location.
Mr. Aykler remembers that eight years ago there weren't very many three-bedroom condos in Toronto, let alone Little Italy. That has changed a little, though.
"Now, you're seeing more two-bedrooms and three-bedrooms getting developed cause the market has shifted away from one-bedroom units," he said. "But there still aren't that many."
And in Little Italy, condos are still quite scarce, meaning when Mr. Aykler expanded the area where he looked at comparable units to include Queen West and the Annex. Ultimately, though, the price came down to determining price per square foot, which was more challenging than most condos because "we had to determine how to value the outside space."
As the three kids grow older, Mr. Beynon and Ms. Andrew realized that they were starting to outgrow their beloved home. It's a change they are meeting with excitement and heartache.
"I know the kids are sad about leaving," Ms. Andrew said. "They ask us questions about what it means to leave this place."
They know they are also going to miss the terrace and the neighbourhood, but are thankful for the memories.
"There are amazing surprises as you go," Mr. Beynon said, when talking about the joy their kids get out of playing in their summer sandbox on the terrace.
"It has been a great ride here, we are definitely sad to leave," Ms. Andrew added.