In Toronto, a Spacious Glass House in the Sky

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TORONTO -- When an 840-square-meter penthouse in the new Toronto Four Seasons hotel complex sold last year for 28 million Canadian dollars, it made headlines as the most expensive condominium sale in Canada's history.

And while the Toronto real estate market is thriving, thanks to its history of stable prices and a vacancy rate of less than 1 percent, it is not known for luxury penthouses with prices exceeding 30,000 dollars per square meter, or about $2,900 per square foot.

Now, however, Toronto's first condo of this type -- a 1960s unit designed by Philip Johnson -- is on the market with an asking price of 28 million dollars.

This 953-square-meter apartment was the brainchild of the Toronto businessman Noah Torno and his wife, Rose, who came up with the idea of putting a penthouse unit on top of an office building after they visited friends who lived above Bergdorf Goodman in New York.

The Tornos hired Mr. Johnson, the celebrated American architect, to create a condo that looked like a larger version of the Glass House that he designed in 1949 as a weekend retreat in New Canaan, Connecticut. But this version is 13 floors above Bloor Street, considered to be the Canadian version of Fifth Avenue in New York.

The entryway to the penthouse, which has two stories and four bedrooms and features ceilings that are 9 meters high, or 30 feet, is a large square space with seamless travertine walls. (Mr. Johnson and Mr. Torno personally selected the stone to ensure that it would look like a single piece.)

The only other feature is a replica of the grand staircase of the Four Seasons Restaurant in New York, which Mr. Johnson also designed. It showcases the architect's signature style of mixing metals, in this case bronze with stainless steel frames.

The Tornos also brought in the British furniture designer T.H. Robsjohn-Gibbings to oversee the decorating in an early Modern design mode.

Surrounding the living space is a 465-square-meter terrace that wraps all the way around the condo and comes with setback views of Lake Ontario.

In 2005, a Canadian developer, Jon Love, bought the building and brought in a local builder, Jon Brennan, to restore much of the inlaid wood and bring the unit up to modern specifications.

"We took down all of the walls to remove the asbestos," said Mr. Brennan, who worked on the unit for almost two years. "We pulled up the floors and then laid them again to repair the cracks. We totally took the apartment apart and put it back together."

The penthouse now features an open kitchen with Bianco Lasa marble counters, local white oak cabinets and Miele appliances.

Mr. Brennan also brought in other contemporary high-end features, like a wine cellar with a 1,000-bottle capacity and large walk-in closets.

Because the unit is registered with the Toronto Historical Association, some of the five bathrooms could undergo only a minor facelift, like polishing the marble and updating the fixtures, to maintain the penthouse's architectural integrity.

Mr. Love's redevelopment of the building in 2005 included the construction of 14 residences on top of the Johnson-designed unit. All of the condos, or the Toronto Four Seasons Private Residences, have separate entrances from the hotel, as well as staff and service entries.

Mr. Love estimates that there are probably fewer than 100 people in the Toronto market that could buy the landmark condo, but the city has been attracting wealthy foreign investors, who see the market as stable and the Canadian economy as robust because of its abundance of natural resources.

And real estate agents say it is those buyers -- predominantly from Russia, the Middle East and South America -- who are mainly responsible for the impressive statistic that sales contracts exist for 88 percent of the 52,695 condos under construction in the city.

homes

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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