A double downtown loft with room for city kids to grow

Written by Carolyn Ireland | Published in The Globe And Mail
In the Press
March 30, 2024

155 Dalhousie St., No. 1054, Toronto

Asking price: $2,750,000

Taxes: $9,516.90 (2023)

Monthly maintenance fee: $2,751.43

Agent: Christopher Bibby, Re/Max Hallmark Bibby Group Realty

The backstory

As Toronto’s real estate market began to pull out of a lengthy downturn in the late 1990s, developers were scouting opportunities to transform some of the city’s landmark industrial buildings into live/work lofts.

The Merchandise Building at 155 Dalhousie St. was created from the shell of a warehouse that belonged to the merchant Robert Simpson Co.

The 11-storey warehouse of red brick over reinforced concrete – designed by the architectural firm of Burke, Horwood and White – was state-of-the-art when it was built in 1910. Later phases expanded the floor space into one of the largest buildings in the downtown core.

Simpsons merged with the U.S. retailing giant Sears Roebuck in the 1950s to become a department store and catalogue concern known as Simpsons-Sears. Later the chain would become Sears Canada, which used the warehouse as a national distribution centre until 1992.

The building sat vacant through the 1990s until the city revised its restrictions on redevelopment and real estate began to recover.

When Toronto resident Rachel Northup and her partner decided to move to a new place together in the early 2000s, the Merchandise Building was the first place they looked. Her partner was intrigued by the makeover of the former warehouse building while he was working downtown and keeping an eye on the construction from his office window.

The two found a suite for rent in 2002. Their 600-square-foot unit was small, but they both appreciated the 12-foot high ceilings, polished concrete floors and large windows that created the vibe of a New York loft.

As the couple made plans for the future, they began looking out for units coming up for sale in the complex.

In 2005, they purchased the two-bedroom unit No. 1054.

The suite in the south-west corner was spacious and bright but, as they settled in, the two were already talking about starting a family.

“We knew it would be fine with one baby but probably not two,” says Ms. Northup.

She says they often joked that they should buy the unit next door if it ever came up for sale.

Just before the birth of the couple’s first child in 2009, the next-door neighbour knocked on the door to let them know she was listing her unit for sale and the agent would be holding an open house on the weekend.

The opportunity was pure serendipity, says Ms. Northup, who had never mentioned the couple’s musings to their neighbour.

“It happened organically and just at the perfect time,” she says.

Ms. Northup and her partner quickly put together an offer and ran their plan past the building’s managers, who gave the go-ahead.

The neighbour signed off on the deal and cancelled the open house.

The loft today

For the first few years, Ms. Northup and her partner put the plan to combine the two units on hold as they raised their son, Liam.

In the meantime, unit 1053 came in handy as a quiet home office and an occasional guest suite for visiting family.

After the couple’s daughter, Moira, was born in 2012, they felt a more urgent need to expand.

They brought in an engineer and designer to come up with a plan for combining the two units into one while renovating their original unit at the same time.

They also needed help to navigate the permit process as the exterior of the building is protected under heritage conservation rules.

After viewing various options, the couple decided to go with a minimal intervention so that they would have the flexibility to divide the combined unit back into two if they ever chose to do so.

One large opening allowed them to keep extra bedrooms and create a separate family room in the second unit.

Today the combined loft has four bedrooms and four bathrooms in 3,164 square feet of living space.

The couple took the opportunity to remove dated finishes such as kitchen cabinets and floors stained in a dark cherry.

They installed new wide plank wood floors, removed awkward bulkheads to expose the duct work and revamped the kitchen and entertaining areas.

The dining room, with a floating buffet, also became a more comfortable space for entertaining. In the living room, the couple added built-in bookshelves and a gas fireplace with a surround of hot-rolled steel.

Ms. Northup was also happy to redo the bathroom, which also had tired finishes.

The couple renovated the primary suite to include a luxurious bathroom with a deep soaker tub and a walk-in shower enclosed in glass.

The former living area and kitchen in unit 1053 were torn out and remade into a large playroom that kept the kids’ activities separate from the more elegant living room.

As Liam and Moira grew older, they moved into larger bedrooms in that area and the playroom became a casual place for them to lounge and watch television.

Ms. Northup says raising a family downtown meant Liam and Moira were able to experience Toronto’s culture, such as skating at Nathan Phillips Square and joining kids’ programs at the Royal Ontario Museum. Their routine included regular walks to the St. Lawrence Market where Ms. Northup gave them the opportunity to pick out new ingredients that she would assemble into that evening’s dinner.

“I think it really encouraged us to make use of the city,” she says.

The Merchandise Building also has an indoor basketball half-court where the kids could play on cold or rainy days. Ms. Northup often met up with other parents with coffee cups in hand while the little ones rode their tricycles around the space. As they grew older, the kids could meet up with friends for basketball.

Another gathering spot is the building’s rooftop, with an enclosed swimming pool, a green roof, and outdoor areas for lounging and barbecuing.

“You have this beautiful view of the city,” Ms. Northup says.

The best feature

“A really nice kitchen was top of my list,” says Ms. Northup, who loves to cook.

Today the kitchen has an integrated refrigerator, Wolf range and built-in wall oven.

To create a pantry and additional storage, the designers borrowed some space from one of the bathrooms.

“They were actually quite clever,” Ms. Northup says of the rejigged layout.

Need advice from

Christopher Bibby

for your