Toronto condo developers inspired by Italian artisans and traditional craftsmen

When Shane Baghai started building houses 45 years ago, he was inspired by Italian artisans and traditional carpentry and joinery.

In those days there was no Internet, so he would travel to New York and Europe on self-educating trips.

“Watching these craftsmen work fascinated me,” he says. “I put a lot of value in their ideas and workmanship.”

He quickly realized the difference between a mass-produced, factory-designed baseboard and one created by an artisan. So, when Baghai started building his first custom homes, he searched far and wide for the best materials, such as Brazilian walnut or zebrawood. He also sought out the best people to work with those materials, like “a carpenter who uses very few nails because he knows how to join two pieces of wood together without attacking it with hundreds of nails.”

That’s when he came up with the idea of having his own workshop on his farm in Caledon, Ont., northwest of Brampton.

“Every custom home and every condo building that I do has my own carpentry products. The wall panelling is all done by my artisans,” Baghai says, “and even the hardware is put on the doors by the people who make the doors, so they know exactly how the hardware should be placed on it.”

For instance, all of his Leaside Manor’s solid-core wood doors, handcrafted baseboards, casings, moldings, shelves and cabinets are designed, prepared and assembled at the Caledon workshop.

“Our closets are something to see. It’s like a little library: the cabinetry, the drawers, with glass and lighting,” Baghai says.

He employs four artisans at the workshop. “They’re the real musicians, I’m just the composer,” he says.

Many of his developments also feature Italian kitchens by Aran Cucine, a family-owned business with more than 60 years of Italian craftsmanship behind it.

When it comes to luxury homes, developers know their buyers have discriminating tastes – and no detail is too small. Custom work is often evident in every aspect of a project.

No.7 Dale Residences by Platinum Vista Inc., for example, started with the developer’s desire to take the best elements of Rosedale, such as the ravine, the historic homes and central location, and combine them with the best elements of a more contemporary home design.

Siamak Hariri of Hariri Pontarini Architects studied not only the material palette throughout the neighbourhood but also the proportions of the existing architecture. Elements such as the bay windows, pitched roofs, chimneys and heritage red brick mirror the form and materials of the surrounding homes.

“You have this beautiful red artisanal brick from Denmark that mirrors the surrounding heritage homes while at the same time subtle integration of bronze and Algonquin limestone detailing,” says Joshua Shteiman, vice-president of development operations with Platinum Vista.

All residences include Italian kitchens by Molteni&C|Data, as well as custom millwork in the closets, which combine functionality with sophisticated design.

“I think how well integrated each component is – whether that be landscape, architecture, interiors – how they all come together seamlessly to create this living experience that is quite unique and special,” Shteiman says.

Those components are particularly important when matching the aesthetic of a neighbourhood or preserving the architectural details of a historic building. The United Building condos by Davpart Inc. at 481 University Ave. is one of the largest heritage restoration projects in North America and, as such, uses finishes that enhance its fine architectural details.

These include marble-like quartz, classic flooring, premium cabinet finishes, brushed metal details and herringbone wall tiles in the bath, all of which evoke the richness of the era in which the building was originally constructed.

“We have a team of artists we work with to create original light fixtures, sculpture, art and furniture pieces,” says Brian Woodrow, senior interior designer with Tomas Pearce Interior Design. “The soaring double-height lobby will have an incredible handmade glass installation behind the concierge desk and a unique sculptural light fixture that weaves its way across the ceiling.”

The swimming pool will be lined with fine mosaics and have a fireplace. The party lounge will be equipped with bas relief wall panels, glass backlit displays and metal wall panel details. There will also be large, original sculpture and art pieces in the lobby as well as wood, upholstered and bas relief walls.

“These touches are from another era and rarely seen in buildings being created today,” Woodrow says.

Armour Heights Developments eschews anything in which work is outsourced to construction firms, focusing on the finishes first.

89 AVENUE: Armour Heights Developments works with architect Richard Wengle and interior designer Brian Gluckstein, as well as with the same group of loyal craftsmen for many years.


“Our team takes an unrelenting and meticulous approach to residential development with meticulous attention to detail,” says Frank Mazzotta, president of Armour Heights.

His latest project, 89 Avenue Road in Yorkville, combines the talents of renowned architect Richard Wengle with interior designer Brian Gluckstein to create a bespoke building in which every finish is carefully chosen.

“We’re actually building custom homes in the sky,” Mazzotta says. The developer has been working with the same group of loyal craftsmen for many years, delivering old-world craftsmanship.

“They know what we’re all about. We know that they know us and the quality that we demand, and that’s what the Armour Heights difference is all about.”

But it isn’t just about aesthetics; small details can improve one’s quality of life. Materials that reduce sound transmission in the suites and corridors, even in between bedrooms, go well above and beyond standard building code requirements.

The luxury condominium residence will also feature air and water purification systems, as well as a consistent level of humidity at 40 per cent year round. “We put in a lot of wood trim, a lot of hardwood flooring [and] solid-core doors, so if you don’t have the right moisture content, everything shrinks and warps,” Mazzotta says.

The kitchen features a La Cornue gas stove handmade in France, backlit white onyx countertop and upper cabinetry finished in lacquer panels with ribbed glass. The master ensuite features imported Italian marble on the floors, baseboards and shower enclosure, a floating shower bench made of Italian imported marble and polished chrome-framed vanities. The fireplace lounge features fluted plaster mouldings flanking a handcrafted fireplace made with imported Alabama limestone.

“There’s the knock-off, and then you have the Birkin bag,” Mazzotta says. “We’re building the Birkin bag.”


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