The Toronto Star
Fri., Jan. 4, 2019
When Kevin Huang and Nita Chen’s daughter was accepted into the prestigious University of Toronto Schools for Gr. 7, the couple didn’t think twice about changing the way they lived.
Their 6,300-square-foot home in Thornhill, with backyard swimming pool, five bedrooms and a six-car garage, was too far from the downtown Toronto school for a comfortable commute. They knew Isabella, 13, and daughter Emilia, 8, would be active in academics and extracurriculars, and didn’t want transportation to be an obstacle to their success — or to their time together as a family.
They rented a condo near the UTS campus at Bloor St. and Spadina Ave., for Monday to Friday living, returning to their Thornhill home on weekends.
“That was too much work. It got exhausting,” said Huang, 47, an insurance risk analyst.
In September 2017, they began to search for a condo downtown where the family could live full-time. A central location was vital for easy access to the girls’ schools. As well, Huang wanted a unit that could be easily sold when the girls finished high school.
“We had two main criteria for a condo: three bedrooms and plenty of space for storage,” said Huang. “We looked at four or five places, including penthouses, but I didn’t feel I could justify the space for the price.”
Chen, 42, was also reluctant to make a home too high in the sky. The compromise was an 18th-floor unit in the Shangri-La Residences on University Ave. Although the two-bedroom, 1,833-square-foot condo didn’t have everything on their wish list, Huang saw its potential. “The three considerations I used when I bought it were size, configuration and value.
“I could see that it could be converted into three bedrooms and that it was sizable enough that it would accommodate our lifestyle. It’s definitely not as big as the house, but it’s livable and family-friendly,” said Huang.
With no third bedroom, an awkward master bedroom design, worn hardwood flooring and heavy carpets, the condo needed to be renovated before they moved in. Isabella has serious environmental and food allergies that require a hypoallergenic living space with no drapes or rugs, and separate dishes and cooking implements.
Huang reached out to Andrea Gray, owner of Andrea Gray Design to help bring his vision to life. “The bones of the condo were good. It was the finishes that were very old-fashioned,” she said.
When it came to reconfiguring for the family’s needs, Huang zeroed in on an open area off the kitchen as a potential third bedroom. Pocket doors and built-in shelving around the existing fireplace create a private sanctuary for Isabella. With the addition of desks and built-in book cases, a basic hallway outside the room blossomed into the girls’ study area.
“The biggest thing we did was define the open spaces,” said Gray. “We wanted to make it modern and take full advantage of the openness of the living area, but functional so there’s a clear flow and definition of zones.”
When it came to decor, they started by sourcing a white oak floor from Spain at Stone Tile, which served as inspiration for every other design decision in the home, from the light grey wall colour to the white quartz island to the custom-made grey sofa to the complementary blue art pieces. See the wood line here http://www.stone-tile.com/collection/wood/the-vern...
“Every time we met to pick out finishings, Andrea would be carrying the floor sample to make sure everything would match,” said Huang.
Chen worked with House Coach Anja Lavigne to help organize and release the things that wouldn’t fit into the condo. “It was very difficult for me to let go of things because everything has meaning. But Anja talked me through whether I really needed something and taught me to categorize and organize in a smaller space,” said Chen.
The family was pleasantly surprised by the relatively smooth construction process, especially considering the scope of the renovation — and in a residence that shares space with a hotel with strict specifications. Huang credits the expedience to general contractor Flavio Di Benedetto. “I was pleased that we were able to stay on time and on budget, despite the coordination required with building management,” said Huang.