“They don’t build ‘em like they used to.” This has to be one of the greatest colloquialisms in the building industry. Usually, that statement is used to suggest that today’s standards are below those of yesteryear, but in many respects, modern ideas and technologies can make for a distinct improvement. Case in point, a recent project we designed and built in Toronto’s first condominium highrise building, Helliwell Place. Built 50 years ago, it overlooks the Don Valley and the ever-changing Toronto skyline.
A walk into a mostly original suite, and the views and relatively spaciousness compared to a newly built building was pleasantly shocking, which was quickly soured by cabinets falling from ceilings, duct-tape-sealed shower walls and an awkward ensuite powder room serving the principal suite. And, it was HOT, with electric in-slab radiant heat, south-facing windows and doors, and zero air conditioning. Hollow-core doors, tired parquet floors and an unusual kitchen layout left little to be desired.
Ready for change
The biggest challenge in drastic condo remodels revolve around condo board rules and common elements. Changes we take for granted in single-family homes, such as HVAC, fireplaces, power or data cabling, plumbing locations and structural modifications, can be all but impossible in many instances. In this project, we touched on them all, resulting in a dramatic and impactful transformation
This building has electric in-slab radiant heat, so adding new ceiling-mounted fixtures was a non-starter due to the risk of costly damages. A carefully designed perimeter bulkhead with integrated strip lighting inside provides a nice ambient and refractive glow of light around the great room, eliminating the need for lamps. In the kitchen and bathrooms, the ceilings were dropped to permit recessed pot lights. LED lighting ensured we did not overpower the supply of power to the suite when paired with the other changes we were undertaking.
In some condos, a direct vent gas fireplace is possible, but it’s rare and requires venting. Other options include a bio-fuel ventless unit, or electric. Most electric units can look cheap and fake. A new line of units by Dimplex uses water vapour, LED lights and a crackling speaker to mimic a real flame. These Opti-Myst fireplaces are perfect additions to a condo and what we used for the media centre in the family room.
Relocating existing or adding additional plumbing fixtures to a current condo system creates challenges. First, the drains are all linked with stacks that are tied to suites above and below. Adding fixtures adds drainage demands that could exceed the original design specs. Shifting locations of fixtures could have an impact on the wall or slab structural integrity, which in a highrise is prohibited. In this project, we devised a strategy to add a shower to the principal bedroom by running surface drainage and tying it into existing drains in a concealed manner.
The introduction of air-source heat pump technology in a cold-climate heat pump (CCHP) and a pair of ductless heads was the best solution to add air-conditioning to the suite. These units operate electrically, are hyper-efficient, and can perform basic air movement, intense cooling, dehumidification and supplemental heating up to -25 degrees Celsius.
The herringbone floors, contemporary trim, custom high-gloss millwork and dramatic Canadian mined quartz counters, all paired with system upgrades, including the new walk-in shower, ribbon-fire steam fireplace, air-conditioning and bright lighting, converted this condo suite from its once cutting-edge 1970 debut, into a stylish contemporary home. They might not build ‘em like they used to, but with the changes we designed and built into this suite, it is now the best of both eras.
The last word
When planning your own condo renovation, be sure to start your search at RenoMark.ca, to ensure your project is taken care of by a contractor who abides by a strict code of ethics and conduct, including licensing, insurance and written contracts to protect you and your investment. Make sure those you partner with on your project have the skill and experience needed to successfully undertake your project and you’ll be well on your way to your own amazing transformation!