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the architourist

Liberty Village loft gets cozy in raw concrete and steel

By infusing light and caressing its raw materials, a high-tech renovation softens this Toronto condo

Nima Rafizadeh’s condo in the Toy Factory Lofts was designed by Delnaz Yekrangian of Aleph-Bau.

If Delnaz Yekrangian's design for Nima Rafizadeh's condo in the Toy Factory Lofts had a space frame holding something up, I'd feel more confident trotting out the "high tech" label.

It's got almost everything else from that late-1970s/1980s architecture and design movement: beefy exposed ducts, polished and rough concrete, slick black surfaces, bent steel and an overall masculinity that's equal parts American Gigolo movie set, Richard Rogers's Lloyd's Building and Eb Zeidler's Eaton Centre (the 1977 version, not the current redesign).

Or, maybe not? "It's not that I like that period, but I like the concept behind it," says Ms. Yekrangian – who started her firm, Aleph-Bau, in 2009 after working for Rem Koolhaas. "It goes back to Alison and Peter Smithson in England. That's what they did … the idea of the truth is interesting to me and maybe that's the truth of this loft, that everything is very raw."

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Perhaps it's just that, simply, after two decades in the spotlight, it's time for mid-century modern to step aside to allow successor movements to shine.

And this 1,500-square-foot loft, which was first occupied less than a decade ago after conversion by Quadrangle Architects, was ready for a rebuff, owner Mr. Rafizadeh says: "My objective was to have a place that I can customize; when I bought this with the help of Delnaz, it seemed like a blank canvas, I could actually do something … those cookie-cutter [condos], you can't do anything."

While nothing was worn out, Mr. Rafizadeh, who owns a medical-supplies company, says that "visually, everything was messy" in the kitchen, with its huge millwork column to house the fridge, excessive countertops, and multiple overhead cabinets. Underfoot, cheap hardwood covered up a beautiful expanse of concrete and, in general, there were too many opaque walls.

So, the kitchen was blown away, including the wall that separated it from the powder room (more on that in a moment) and the hardwood was jettisoned and a concrete polishing team brought in. A section of drywall was cut away in the living room to reveal the raw concrete wall, complete with circular grooves from a grinding wheel that Mr. Rafizadeh says reminds him of "fossils."

And although the stair to the loft bedroom wasn't part of the original redesign program, that was tackled also: "You know how it is, you're doing all this work and then you have these Home Depot guardrails, you have to take them out," Ms. Yekrangian says with another laugh, "and then one thing leads to another."

Everything in the kitchen was visually ‘messy’ before owner Nima Rafizadeh had some walls blown away and a concrete polishing team brought in.

The kitchen is where the Netherlands-registered architect concentrated most of her time, and it shows. Here, passing as if they're ships (or rather, monoliths) in the night, two abstract, matte-black rectangles – one sitting on the floor, the other floating on the wall – contain all that her bachelor-client needs: cabinet space, sink, drawer-style fridge-and-freezer, oven, induction top and, wait, what are those little circular cut-outs on the Corian countertop? Oh! To keep things even more visually clean, underneath are little cubbyholes that contain the vent switch, electrical outlets and shelves for spices. Neat.

To illuminate those cubbyholes, a glowing wall stands where once there was an opaque one. Constructed as a sort of enormous jalousie window, the backlit, frosted glass panels give a sense of outdoor-space-beyond, which helps in a loft space with one, albeit gigantic, window. And, speaking of windows, there are two small portals cut behind the glass louvers (which don't tilt like in a real jalousie window) to allow morning light to penetrate into the power room behind. To allow for wine glass storage/display, Uni-Tech Metal Works also provided Mr. Rafizadeh with ultrathin, stainless-steel shelves.

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That same steel makes up the minimalist kitchen island. Not fixed in place, it consists of a floor plate and three pieces of welded steel that are so thin, "we did a lot of experiments," Ms. Yekrangian says. "It's hard to do the welding and still get the 90-degree angle; it wanted to sort of cave in a little." To prevent cave-in, cables pull the two vertical sheets to restrict swaying and splaying. Running his hand over the raw stainless surface, Mr. Rafizadeh says that while some might find it cold, to him it's just like "velvet."

Overhead, serpentine ductwork – which Ms. Yekrangian admits is mostly cosmetic – conceals florescent lighting and adds to the high-tech look.

For the staircase, the original wooden treads and risers were refaced with steel while one wall was clad in a custom corrugated aluminum.

Behind the powder room is the staircase. To save money, the original wooden treads and risers were refaced with steel from Uni-Tech, who also clad one wall in a custom corrugated aluminum; these multiple metal surfaces add a great deal of light to what would otherwise be a dark journey upstairs.

The striking, zig-zag handrail resulted from a conversation with Mr. Rafizadeh's father, who asked for "vertical elements" so he could yank himself up: "I think a lot of design happens in conversation with the client or the client's father," Ms. Yekrangian finishes with a big smile.

And while there are plans to renovate the master bath upstairs eventually, the only intervention thus far has been to have a concrete sill poured; when viewed from the living room below, this lip creates the illusion that the new glass balcony wall has "grown" out of it.

For a budget of approximately $100,000, Ms. Yekrangian has created a space that makes her client extremely happy: "There're so many things I've discovered over the past few months that I've been living here that I always appreciate," Mr. Rafizadeh says. "All my friends who come here say there's warmth [and] good energy."

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