Olympic figure skater-turned-developer Val Bezic’s latest project is a study in how design minutiae add up to being anything but trivial
By Dave LeBlanc
This is a story about the 1 per cent. No, not the uberwealthy, but rather the 1 per cent of people who commit to the training and discipline that deliver them to the Olympics.
It’s also a story about a new boutique condominium at the corner of Kingston and Winthorpe roads in the Upper Beach neighbourhood.
There’s also a sidebar about ikebana, the Japanese art of flower arranging.
Confused? All of these swirl around Val Bezic, a charming, six-foot tall, silver-haired and not at all silver-tongued A-Type personality who was a five-time Canadian figure skating gold medal pairs champion – with sister and skating partner Sandra Bezic – and competitor at the 1972 Olympics in Sapporo, Japan.
Involved in the home-building industry for decades, including a development based around the restored 1917 Oakville estate of Ryland H. New in the early 1990s, Mr. Bezic’s most recent project is a study in how minutiae – from door hinges and hidden lighting to handrails and data ports – add up to being anything but trivial.
“When they say God is in the details,” the lanky 64-year-old laughs, “that’s my world. My mantra with the trades was, ‘If you show me anything that is builder-standard, I will kick you out the door.’”
And the eight front doors of the Winthorpe Modern are a good place to begin this tale. Glowing a rich honey-red under custom-made LED lights, each sits snugly inside an absolutely flush frame from Germany; long stainless steel pulls are the only interruptions to the composition. “If a person is dressed simply,” he explains, “sometimes one accessory makes all the difference.”
Closing the door from inside the foyer of the 1550-square-foot model suite produces a bank vault-esque clunk while affording Mr. Bezic the opportunity to point to the chunky and expensive hinges. And while they are indeed wonderful, more striking is the sight of the open-tread staircase leading to the second-floor living area: Working closely with Montreal-born, Toronto-based architect George Popper, designer of the building, the sexy stairs excite the eye by placing their structural spine to one side.
It’s a little thing, but it matters.
Just like the hidden lighting that delineates living from dining area upstairs. Mr. Bezic asked Vancouver’s MP Lighting to tune the LED’s temperature to 2000K; this means that no matter how high you crank them, they remain the colour of liquid gold. A fitting compliment to the luscious interior design by Andrew Pike Interiors, where brass, black, wood grain and glossy white rule the day.
In the kitchen, often neglected little things, such as oven height or the storage of baking trays, have been considered – “I tried to anticipate everything,” he says – while upstairs on the third floor, big things start to get consideration as well, such as the placement of a dramatic window that stretches up to meet a 19-foot-high ceiling. This makes the smaller of the two bedrooms seem much, much larger.
This borrowing of space and light happens often at the Winthorpe Modern, and it’s one of the main reasons Mr. Bezic says he waited until the building was completed before placing it on the market, rather than sell off of plans (as is the case with most developers). Plans, he says, never convey intangibles such as airiness and emotion, or, frankly, how much effort has been taken to minimize where ductwork affects ceiling-height, the temperature of lighting or how a certain finish feels to the touch.
He also wanted his potential buyers to clue in as to how different this project is; calling it a “hybrid” of condominium and townhouse models, there are practically zero common spaces save for the ground-level parking garage, which brings dreaded maintenance fees down to a friendly 28 cents a square foot.
And speaking of the garage, this is, perhaps, where Mr. Bezic’s love and practice of ikebana comes into play, as one of the basic tenets of this very old art states: “Complete ikebana from the viewer’s standpoint.” Standing on Kingston Road, there is no indication of garages anywhere; in fact, Mr. Bezic says he’s had many passersby ask him, “‘How can you sell them without parking?’”
Unlike developments that place a big honking door in the middle of a very public façade (architect Sheldon Levitt calls these “a punch in the belly”), Mr. Popper and Mr. Bezic have placed theirs completely out of sight at the back of the building. Cars enter into a clean, wide corridor with four garage doors on either side, and each of the eight private spaces are filled with light pouring in from big, residential-style windows (albeit frosted). This means that, to passersby on the street, they read as rooms. To this end, Mr. Pike has styled one as a yoga studio for a car-less couple.
And something else that’s invisible to the eye? The building’s green roof, which Mr. Bezic had installed to manage rainwater runoff and help keep air conditioning units from overheating in summertime. Oh, and about those AC units: rather than place them on balconies, where they can ruin conversations, they’re all hidden away on the roof.
It’s the little things that add up to the big win.
“The philosophy never leaves,” he finishes. “When you’re in the Olympics, you live in that 1 per cent, that’s what makes the difference between being a champion and not … and every [real estate] project I’ve done, I’ve never gone halfway on anything.”