Gone are the days of a lone concierge sitting behind a sad desk. Today’s swankiest condo lobbies have lounges, baristas and cocktails

Making an Entrance

Gone are the days of a lone concierge sitting behind a sad desk. Today’s best condo lobbies are lounges, bars, cafés and workspaces all rolled into one


Waverley

Where: College and Spadina
Developer: Fitzrovia
Designer: DesignAgency
Number of units: 166

The Hotel Waverly was a notorious Toronto flophouse where outlaws and criminals laid low in the 1960s and ’70s. The new 16-storey residential building on the site, completed in 2021, borrowed the name (with a slightly altered spelling) but not the history. Anwar Mekhayech, lead designer and a founding partner at Toronto’s DesignAgency, says his vision for the space was more global than local. “I wanted to appeal to lots of cultures, not recreate old Toronto lore,” he says.

He took inspiration from the best of contemporary hotel design. In the past decade, DesignAgency has worked with such iconic brands as the Drake, Fairmont, Andaz and Hyatt. Mekhayech wondered if a boutique rental building was really so different from a boutique hotel. It certainly drew a similar crowd—urbanites seeking novelty, style and a bustling downtown vibe. He wanted to inject personality into the property and give it the kind of attention rental buildings rarely get.

The second-floor lounge includes a curio shelf with vintage decor items selected by Carlo Colacci, the founder of Drake General Store

The roomy, double-height lobby houses a coffee shop and cocktail bar. There’s free Wi-Fi for remote workers, who have their choice of lounges, banquettes, and built-in tables and chairs. Residents and non-residents alike can use the space to hang out, take meetings or bang away at their laptops. On the walls hang the kind of monumental artworks—a large-scale painting by mixed-media star Thrush Holmes, a lively graphic by muralist birdO—that most espresso shops are too cramped to accommodate.

Combining luxurious amenities with a sense of community makes economic sense, says Mekhayech. “People want to live in landmark buildings.” This one is open to anyone for the price of a cup of coffee.

The lobby features a mural of a wolf by graphic artist birdO (top left) and a mixed-media piece by Thrush Holmes (top right)

 

The lobby is home to 10 Dean, a coffee shop by day and cocktail bar by night
The lobby is home to 10 Dean, a coffee shop by day and cocktail bar by night

 

Ashley Mulvihill, owner of the online gallery Ninth Editions, curated the art for the lobby. Her selections include this portrait of Frida Kahlo by London-based illustrator Dan Jamieson
Ashley Mulvihill, owner of the online gallery Ninth Editions, curated the art for the lobby. Her selections include this portrait of Frida Kahlo by London-based illustrator Dan Jamieson

 

Colacci sourced this ceramic sculpture from an antiques mall in New Mexico.
Colacci sourced this ceramic sculpture from an antiques mall in New Mexico

 

Nowhere to Be II is a spray painting by Toronto artist Ric Santon
Nowhere to Be II is a spray painting by Toronto artist Ric Santon

 

British artist Harry Allen made this metallic piggy bank by casting a real piglet (it died of natural causes). “Rumour has it,” says Colacci, “that it’s just large enough to hold $1 million in $100 bills.”
British artist Harry Allen made this metallic piggy bank by casting a real piglet (it died of natural causes). “Rumour has it,” says Colacci, “that it’s just large enough to hold $1 million in $100 bills”

 

Ashley Mulvihill, owner of the online gallery Ninth Editions, curated the art for the lobby. Her selections include this portrait of Frida Kahlo by London-­based illustrator Dan Jamieson.
The leather on the banquettes is from Moore and Giles, a North Carolina studio known for its all-natural tanning process

 


Azura

Where: Willowdale
Developer: Capital Developments
Designer: Arcadis IBI Group
Number of units: 358

As the former garden suburb’s name suggests, Willowdale was once lined with stately willow trees. The design of this 32-storey condominium took inspiration from that. Heidi Rose, an associate director at the architecture firm Arcadis IBI Group, references willow motifs repeatedly in the building. She also draws on images of the sea and sky, both of which are conjured by the building’s name, Azura. Shades of teal and blue recur throughout the ground floor. “I always try to create a narrative,” Rose says.

The most dramatic feature in the lobby is the curvilinear screen—a series of vertical wooden fins embedded in a layer of brass—behind the concierge desk. The fins bulge and taper, like the undulating ribbon balconies that encircle the building. The strand-like forms are also meant to evoke the elongated leaves of a weeping willow.

The most dramatic feature in the Willowdale lobby is the curvilinear screen—a series of vertical wooden fins embedded in a layer of brass—behind the concierge desk

At 800 square feet, the entranceway is small—it has the intimacy and opulence of a New York jewel-box lobby. The design team decided to connect it, via a short passageway, to the kids’ playroom, yoga studio, golf simulator, gym and party room—ground-floor amenities that, in most buildings, are located on an upper level. The spacious party room features a central column with an inset fireplace at one end and a lounge and social space at the other. The lobby itself serves as a luxurious antechamber—a portal that leads residents into other, more purposeful spaces.

The ground-floor rooms are also connected thematically by colour. There are pops of blue on the tables and in the upholstery and strands of yellow in the carpets, the bases of the furnishings and the brass lines between the floor tiles. The result is an elegant yet tranquil space that’s full of modern comforts.

The rectilinear chandelier, made by Viso, offsets the organic shapes in the rest of the lobby
The rectilinear chandelier, made by Viso, offsets the organic shapes in the rest of the lobby

 

The centrepiece of the kids’ playroom is a curved wooden shelving unit that also demarcates a central reading space. The wall mural, by Toronto studio Moss and Lam, was inspired by a design on a T-shirt worn by Rose’s six-year-old son
The centrepiece of the kids’ playroom is a curved wooden shelving unit that also demarcates a central reading space. The wall mural, by Toronto studio Moss and Lam, was inspired by a design on a T-shirt worn by Rose’s six-year-old son

 

The lounge seats, with blue-vinyl upholstery and brass bases, call to mind the sun and the sky
The lounge seats, with blue-vinyl upholstery and brass bases, call to mind the sun and the sky

 


Maple House

Where: Canary Landing
Developer: DKT Partnership
Designer: DesignAgency
Number of units: 770

When Matthew Davis of DesignAgency was planning the lobby for Maple House, a residential complex near the Distillery District, he wanted to strike a balance. On the one hand, the space had to be useful. If it was outfitted with the typical lobby amenities—a few scattered benches and coffee tables—no one would hang out there. People would assume, as they often do, that the furnishings were merely decorative.

On the other hand, if the space was over-programmed, it wouldn’t meet residents’ needs. Billiard tables are nice, but they’re useful only if you play billiards. Because the lobby is a kind of hub—it’s located in the middle building of a three-tower complex—Davis wanted it to crackle with energy. “The lobby shouldn’t do one or two specific things,” he says. “It should do many possible things”—provide a place to hunker down over work, kick back over cocktails or curl up with a book.

Art hanging in the lobby of Maple House condo building

To that end, the expansive sectionals are decorated with an assortment of mismatched pillows, which add a homey feel to an otherwise imposing room. The co-working area on the mezzanine has the kind of amenities that are rare in most residential complexes: whiteboards, magnetic boards, and a glassed-in area with a boardroom table that’s ideal for business meetings but also great for game nights or casual drinks.

Davis describes the lobby as a “third space”—less private than a home, more convivial than an office. “The desire for these spaces has grown in the aftermath of the lockdowns,” he says. The four-by-six-metre concierge desk exemplifies this trend: it isn’t intended only for reception and deliveries—it can double as a bar or a DJ booth.

The custom pendant lights above the seating area are made of thin metal strands that trace the outline of a dome. “They almost look hand-drawn,” says Davis
The custom pendant lights above the seating area are made of thin metal strands that trace the outline of a dome. “They almost look hand-drawn,” says Davis

 

The terrazzo-style floors alternate between black and white to differentiate between seating and walking areas
The terrazzo-style floors alternate between black and white to differentiate between seating and walking areas

 

The columns of fluted wood behind the reception desk evoke drapery
The columns of fluted wood behind the reception desk evoke drapery

 

To avoid a corporate vibe, Davis built the co-working amenities into a shelf
To avoid a corporate vibe, Davis built the co-working amenities into a shelf

 


Junction House

Where: The Junction
Developer: Slate Asset Management
Designer: Dialogue 38
Number of units: 150

In 2018, developers Brandon Donnelly and Rick Sole met at Neo Coffee Bar in St. Lawrence to discuss an upcoming project: Junction House, a mid-rise building near Dundas and Annette. They were looking to hire an interior designer. Both agreed that the space should feel similar to the coffee shop—airy, with a mix of raw and refined finishes.

They ultimately commissioned Neo’s designer, Bennett C. Lo, founder of the local firm Dialogue 38, to work on Junction House. Inspired by the thinking of French-Swiss architect Le Corbusier, Lo conceives of condo buildings as miniature cities, with lobbies as the public squares. “In a traditional condo, the lobby is the place where you wait for your Uber,” says Lo. “It’s just filler. That was never going to work for me.”

Junction House condo

At Junction House, there’s a social area located a few steps up from the main entranceway. It’s bathed in natural light and just far enough above street level that it feels a bit like a front porch. The finishes—wood detailing over rough concrete—inject the room with warmth and texture. The space is also practical: it has table and lounge seating, a bar with a fridge and a coffee machine, and double-height bookshelves. Lo likes to think of the shelves as a condo version of the Little Free Libraries found around the city, where residents can share books from their homes. “This is a workspace but also a café and living room,” he says.

The building opened its doors in late 2023. In January, at a party to welcome residents, there were pastries from Mabel’s—a beloved local ­bakery—beer from Junction Craft Brewery and, of course, coffee from Neo. People congregated in the pale wood-panelled parlour, chatting and mingling into the evening.

Instead of the oppressive overhead lighting often associated with condos, Lo opted for a varied approach: built-in reading lamps, tube pendant lights and strip lighting along the bookshelves
Instead of the oppressive overhead lighting often associated with condos, Lo opted for a varied approach: built-in reading lamps, tube pendant lights and strip lighting along the bookshelves

 

The curved wall, made of slatted wood, guides people from the front desk to the shared space
The curved wall, made of slatted wood, guides people from the front desk to the shared space

 

This oil painting by Thrush Holmes was envisioned as a tie-in to the building’s rooftop sign, which spells “Junction House” in LED-lit typography
This oil painting by Thrush Holmes was envisioned as a tie-in to the building’s rooftop sign, which spells “Junction House” in LED-lit typography