The power of fun

Philippe Starck sells condos fast.

It takes a brave real-estate developer to gamble on someone as eccentric as French designer Philippe Starck to sell yet another condo project in Toronto. Calling from his Paris office, Starck sums up his design philosophy with supreme self-confidence: “I don't know what other people do. I know only my own work.” His most famous creation is the Juicy Salif, a lemon squeezer that resembles a spaceship.

Condos in Toronto are springing up faster than mushrooms. But developer Peter Freed, of Freed Developments Ltd., had seen Starck's work on other condo projects in the U.S. and was bowled over by his sense of fun; he figured the ultra-cool designer could give him an edge. So he commissioned Starck to design the indoor lobby, outdoor courtyard, model suites and floor plans for Seventy5 Portland Street, in the downtown King West district. “I felt the neighbourhood was ready, and wanted to differentiate it from the competition,” says 37-year-old Freed. It is Starck's first project in Canada.

For his debut, Starck offers up a whimsical play on scale in the public areas, and modern, clean design elsewhere. The courtyard's centrepiece is a 30-metre-long table of Alice in Wonderland proportions, running into the interior lobby. (This, Starck says, is part of his vision that a condo building should be more than a collection of separate units.) The building will incorporate two looks: “minimal,” in whites complemented by colourful lighting; and “natural,” in earthier tones and materials. Seventy5 Portland, a modernist structure of glass and concrete, designed by Toronto-based Core Architects, is set to break ground in spring 2007.

Starck says he designs for those members of his “tribe” who appreciate what he does: “I try to help the person who thinks like me.” Freed says he is targeting “a style-conscious demographic” who “can identify with” good design.

Roman Bodnarchuk, chairman of, a condominium marketing firm with offices in Toronto, Las Vegas and Jacksonville, Fla., says every market has its nuances. In Florida, it's landscaping; in New York, celebrity architects push condo sales. With 255 condo projects on the go in Toronto, “there are enormous competitive pressures” on developers to find new ways to stand out.

Starck's creative efforts and Freed's marketing acumen seem to have worked. The project was released in mid-October. Days later, more than 50% of the 200-plus units in the 11-storey building had sold. “We did almost $40 million in business,” Freed says, noting that selling 25-30% of units in the opening days of a project is more typical. Freed says most of those who bought a unit — which range in price from $199,000 to $1.4 million — bought because of Starck's input. Others, he says, came to the opening and fell for the design. After all, in what often feels like a sea of condo sameness, Seventy5 Portland is a Starck contrast.