‘Round-the-clock need for triple-duty space’

The pan­demic is fu­elling de­mand among condo res­i­dents for ded­i­cated work space

National Post (Latest Edition) - - POST HOMES - Adam Bisby

It was three years ago that the City of Toronto set out to study the ways condo own­ers “hack” their units to make liv­ing in tight quar­ters work for fam­i­lies.

The idea be­hind the pro­ject, called Grow­ing Up, was to de­velop guide­lines for in­te­grat­ing fam­ily- suit­able de­sign into new multi-unit res­i­den­tial projects. As the study rolled out, the city’s plan­ning divi­sion vis­ited fam­i­lies across the GTA for first­hand ac­counts of rais­ing chil­dren in condo units rang­ing from 635 to 1,400 square feet. The work-from-home find­ings it un­earthed now seem like an­cient his­tory.

Of the nine anonymous house­holds it con­sulted, only two made men­tion of work­ing from home, and only one had ded­i­cated home of­fice space. For the most part, dens were used not as of­fices but as bedrooms for chil­dren.

Fast for­ward to 2020 and ded­i­cated home of­fice space, or the flex­i­bil­ity to al­low for it, is a pri­or­ity. Not sur­pris­ingly, ar­chi­tects and de­vel­op­ers are ex­plor­ing ways to en­hance or ex­tend at-home of­fice fea­tures.

“House­holds sud­denly have this roundthe- clock need for triple- duty space,” says Grow­ing Up pro­ject man­ager An­nely Zo­nena — for par­ents’ work, school work and child’s play, plus do­mes­tic uses — “and many condo dwellers must be scram­bling to carve this out.”

Ben Kawarsky is. The mar­ried thir­tysome­thing fa­ther of two young daugh­ters owns a two- bed­room- plus- den unit in the seven- storey High Park Lofts build­ing at Ron­ces­valles Av­enue and Dun­das Street West, and has been cast­ing around for some­thing with a third bed­room now that he’s work­ing from home in­def­i­nitely. “I’m stuck be­tween a rock and a hard place,” Kawarsky says. “Either we force our daugh­ters to share a room and I take over the den as my of­fice, or I con­tinue work­ing at the din­ing room ta­ble and strug­gle to get ev­ery­thing done.”

No won­der house prices out­paced condo prices in the sec­ond quar­ter of 2020. Ac­cord­ing to the Royal Lepage House Price Sur­vey, the me­dian cost of two- storey Cana­dian homes rose eight per cent year- over- year to $ 794,392, while condo prices in­creased 5.3 per cent, to $ 503,983. “As the re­al­ity of ex­tended and po­ten­tially per­ma­nent work­from- home em­ploy­ment sunk in, peo­ple pon­dered both the lo­ca­tion and size of their homes,” says Royal Lepage pres­i­dent and CEO Phil Soper, adding that Cana­di­ans’ de­sire for ex­tra home of­fice space was part of the rea­son for the pric­ing trend. “In­ter­est has been grow­ing in hav­ing more pri­vate spa­ces so you don’t hear your spouse on their Zoom call, or your chil­dren while you’re on your own Zoom call.”

The de­mand for work- from- home space is per­ceived to be great enough that Cam­rost Fel­corp has re­con­fig­ured and en­larged some of the 295 suites in its Up­per East Vil­lage pro­ject un­der con­struc­tion on Eglin­ton Av­enue East near Laird Drive, sched­uled for oc­cu­pancy in mid-2021.

“Slip­ping in desk space, or repo­si­tion­ing a den so that it can be ac­cessed from the main liv­ing area, are some of the things we’re look­ing at,” says Christo­pher Castel­lano, Cam­rost’s head of mar­ket­ing and sales.

Still, there’s only so much you can do with lim­ited square footage and a set num­ber of rooms. In that sense, the find­ings of the Grow­ing Up study were ac­tu­ally pre­scient in its rec­om­men­da­tion that two-bed­room and three- bed­room units should com­prise a min­i­mum of 10 and 15 per cent of new condo de­vel­op­ments.

“Had de­vel­op­ers de­liv­ered those ra­tios prior to our rec­om­men­da­tions, Toronto would have been in a bet­ter po­si­tion to of­fer triple- duty space when it was needed dur­ing COVID-19,” Zo­nena says, adding that the city has seen a sig­nif­i­cant in­crease in the num­ber of twoand three- bed­room units planned for con­struc­tion since the draft Grow­ing Up guide­lines were shared with de­vel­op­ers in 2017.

An­other of its rec­om­men­da­tions — “pro­mot­ing flex­i­ble build­ing de­sign for chang­ing unit lay­outs over time” — is be­ing taken up by condo ar­chi­tects such as Vaughn Miller. The as­so­ci­ate with Toronto- based BNKC ar­chi­tec­ture + ur­ban de­sign says condo- dwellers are ben­e­fit­ing from the multi- func­tional spa­ces and fur­ni­ture so­lu­tions that have re­cently be­come pop­u­lar in newer builds. “It’s not re­ally a vi­able op­tion for most peo­ple to buy more space. So we’re see­ing lots of sec­ond-bed­room of­fices with Mur­phy beds in them, slid­ing room di­viders and more com­mu­nal amenity space ded­i­cated to work­ing from home.”

More than one in four Cana­dian em­ploy­ees are free­lancers, ac­cord­ing to a 2018 study by BMO Wealth Man­age­ment that de­scribed Canada’s gig econ­omy as grow­ing at “a phe­nom­e­nal rate.”

The study also found that al­most a quar­ter of all em­ploy­ees were al­ready work­ing vir­tu­ally or re­motely, with 85 per cent of the com­pa­nies sur­veyed fore­see­ing a more “ag­ile work­force” in the com­ing years. No won­der shared workspaces were be­com­ing stan­dard condo ameni­ties across the GTA well be­fore the pan­demic.

The rush to add full- fea­tured co- work­ing fa­cil­i­ties be­gan in earnest in 2016, when Cen­tre­court De­vel­op­ments launched Axis at 411 Church St. The sec­ond floor of the re­cently com­pleted condo tower houses nearly 4,000 square feet of shared workspace ameni­ties, in­clud­ing a board­room, meet­ing rooms, pri­vate and twoto three- per­son of­fices, a kitchen and equip­ment such as prin­ters, scan­ners and video-con­fer­enc­ing units.

Plans for Daniels Corp.’s 33- storey Art­works Tower at Dun­das and River streets in­clude a roomy co- work­ing space with an out­door ter­race. Then there’s Gray­wood De­vel­op­ment’s Peter & Ade­laide condo in the En­ter­tain­ment District, which will add foos­ball and bil­liard ta­bles to its 4,000-square-foot shared work­ing en­vi­ron­ment.

But what of so­cial dis­tanc­ing in spa­ces like these? Cam­rost’s Castel­lano says it can be achieved by di­vid­ing open- con­cept of­fice ameni­ties into mul­ti­ple spa­ces for groups or in­di­vid­u­als to work two me­tres apart. Minto Com­mu­ni­ties, for its part, is al­ready ex­plor­ing the use of break­out rooms and pods in its shared cowork­ing spa­ces.

An­other COVID- fight­ing tech­nique: us­ing easy-to-dis­in­fect quartz coun­ter­tops and porce­lain tiles, as Broc­col­ini is do­ing in the cowork­ing spa­ces of its River & Fifth and up­com­ing Left Bank projects.

“What buy­ers are say­ing, par­tic­u­larly those in small down­town units,” ac­cord­ing to RE/ MAX Real­tron gen­eral man­ager Cameron Forbes, “is that they are re­ally miss­ing the work­place ex­pe­ri­ence and are look­ing to in­ter­act with other peo­ple in a safe way.”

Photo cour­tes y Daniels Corp.

Daniels Corp.’s 33-storey Art­works Tower at Dun­das and River streets will in­clude a roomy co-work­ing space with an out­door ter­race.

Cour­tes y Cam­rost Fel­corp

The de­mand for work-from-home space is per­ceived great enough that Cam­rost Fel­corp has re­con­fig­ured and en­larged some of the 295 suites in its Up­per East Vil­lage pro­ject.

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