City / Neighbourhoods

Build It and They Will Come

Heather Dubbeldam’s 10-year old daughter is so taken with the building her parents have been rehabbing as a co-working space, that she’s offered to work there. Heather says, “She thinks we should have an ice cream store in the back and she would work in it in the summer and after school.” Although Heather and her husband Kevin McIntosh are greatly tempted by the ice cream idea, they have slightly bigger ambitions.

She is the founding architect of the Toronto-based, award-winning firm Dubbeldam Architecture+Design and Kevin is the business manager. They live in the St. Clair West neighbourhood with their two daughters and currently work out of their company’s offices downtown on Richmond Street. For several years, they had been thinking about finding a way to work closer to home while at the same time creating a co-working hub for creative types with similar sensibilities. They finally saw the opportunity when a building came up for sale at the corner of St. Clair West and Westmount Avenue. Kevin says, “It was a very old, three-storey apartment building with what had been a flower shop at the front. It was run-down and bigger than we wanted but it was on a corner and on a main street so we went for it.”
Click photos to enlarge

Thoughts of creating a co-working space, a spot that would engage the local community and a sleek, new location for their thriving business – all within a 15-minute walk from their home – was a no-brainer. Heather describes their vision; “We’ll have a flexible space with a café on the main floor, co-working spaces on the second floor and our own offices on the third.” There’s also an area behind the proposed café on the main floor for a retail space – where the would-be ice cream store could be located.

They acquired the building in June 2016 with financing from the Business Development Bank of Canada – an important resource that impressed them with their willingness to support their efforts. But before they were able to begin work however, they had to deal with the maze of bureaucracy that looms when any building development is proposed but which can be crippling for smaller scale renovations. Kevin recalls, “The amount of red tape was ridiculous. We had to go to the committee of adjustment for one parking space. So it was really unfortunate that it took so much time. We ended up one year behind schedule.” This delay also had financial implications. Kevin adds dolefully, “The cost to carry the building during the period of red tape with the city, could have paid for two staff salaries.”

Now thankful to have overcome the various municipal obstacles, they are looking forward to completing what they see as a neighbourhood project. They are especially grateful for the support they have received from the community, including the Regal Heights Residents’ Association who have been eager to see the corner renewed. “We’re moving quickly now that we have all our permits,” Heather smiles. They’re of course doing all their own design, which can have its particular problems since the couple give priority to their firm’s current clients. “Also,” Heather confides, “It’s a nightmare to be your own client – they take forever to make decisions.”
Click photos to enlarge

Dubbeldam Architecture+Design is committed to environmentally responsible buildings whether they be residential or commercial. ‘Sustainable design’ guides their process and is evident in the new space. The brick building is covered on the outside with eco-friendly paint that will withstand Toronto winters. Construction material is equally sustainable while the interior design includes operable windows that allow for natural ventilation. Heather says, “We’ll have air conditioning but the placement of the windows will create air flow to minimize its use.” Speaking of windows, the new openings are large and plentiful. Heather says, “We want people to see what’s happening inside and we want all the people working here to have a desk by a window.” In fact, the opportunity to bring in lots of natural light inside the old building was a big selling point for the intrepid duo.

Their plans for the co-working space are patterned after the Centre for Social Innovation and its various locations in downtown Toronto (see our feature on CSI) but on a smaller scale. Kevin says, “The space will be a creative hub and could include a teaching café – we’re talking to George Brown about what that might look like. The aim is to keep creativity all throughout the building where ideas can cross-pollinate. We’d like to be an incubator and create opportunities among different design professionals.”

As the gig economy grows and commercial spaces become increasingly out of reach, especially for freelancers, co-working spaces are thriving. Most are located downtown so a space in this particular neighbourhood would meet the need for many whose office is now their home. Kevin explains how it would work from this building, “There will be several options – one would be ‘hot’ desks that could be shared for the day or for the week. Then there would be dedicated desks that would be available to members 24/7. We’ll also have more formal office space that would be more permanent and private. There’ll be two such offices.” The working spaces will be complemented by a kitchen, bathrooms, and a meeting space graced with a harvest table.View of church and streetcar from third floor.

Heather and Kevin are also excited about their own office space on the third floor of the building. With the scaffolding still attached to the window openings, we step outside to get a view of what will be greeting them when they finally move in. “It’s an amazing view of the church [Saint Clare’s Roman Catholic Church] very inspiring, romantic, very European,” Heather beams, as the latest version of the St. Clair West streetcar glides by. The exceptionally high ceilings are a bonus.

We descend to the main floor, which has equally high ceilings and where we peek into the basement level, visible from the ground floor. They envision a basement apartment – which boasts street level windows – that could be rented out to someone who would live on the property full-time. With the basement apartment and the retail space at the back of the main floor, the building is about 6000 square feet. Talk turns again to the café that they’re eager to start work on. Kevin says, “We really want a café to bring people in and create a community hub; we want to have events, art installations and invite the local creative community.”

If all goes as planned, the building should be finished and ready to move into by the end of the year. Heather and Kevin will have a great new workspace for themselves and local freelancers, and a beautifully renovated building that will welcome the community.Doubled building new exterior.

– Miria Ioannou
Photos by Kevin McIntosh. Miria Ioannou and Schuster Gindin

This article can be found in WHAT’S HERE in the sections The City and Neighbourhoods.
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