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The Art of Romancing

It's all about psychology and making the space feel good

Doug Casey has an accountant's brain, a dreamer's heart and the courage to bring the two together in a series of thoughtful buildings that add life to Ottawa streets.

Doug Casey is captivated by the magic of Charles Rennie MacKintosh, commissioning a glass wall.

He is the Ottawa native who turned from a career in a big-name accounting firm in 1982 to launch his own construction company, Charlesfort Development, which has won a raft of local and provincial design honours.

These days you can find him tramping through the corridors of his twin Gardens towers, which have dramatically changed the geography at the corner of Queen Street and Bronson Avenue.

On any morning, trucks are lined up by the garage doors, bringing supplies to more than 100 trades, plumbers and electricians working at full tilt in the 16-storey towers.

Two years ago, the Sisters of Charity ran a convalescent home for women on the site and today monied urbanites are moving into sexy condos with western views over Le- Breton Flats, the new Canadian War Museum and up the Ottawa River or eastern vistas of downtown Ottawa and the Parliament Buildings.

The twin Garden Towers have a touch of Chicago, New York and the colours of Paris, says builder Doug Casey.

Years before, Casey noticed the low brick building, recognized the potential of the site, and dropped off a letter telling the Sisters he was interested in buying if they ever wanted to sell.

Eventually, there was a tender and he won.

The Gardens are now one of the plushest addresses in town. Prices aren't cheap, starting at $218,000 for 680-square-foot condo and going past $800,000 for a 2,077-squarefoot condo on the northwest corner in the south tower. What you get is quality and maybe even more importantly, a unique product.

The towers have presence, stability and character. Probably because Casey invested in good design and finishing details, including seven glass panels filled with purple roses in the curvy lobby. They were designed by Jason Grant-Henley based on designs by Scottish architect Charles Rennie MacKintosh, the founder of the Glasgow School of Art. It was Northern Art Glass that took Grant-Henley's drawings, turning them into a magnificent wall of coloured glass that artfully separates a room filled with fitness equipment and a pair of elevators.

The same modified rose is etched below every door handle leading into the condos. Iron roses have been crafted by Cairn Cunnane on his forge in St. Pierre de Wakefield, for the front doors.

"It's all about psychology and making the space feel good," says Casey, who can talk a mile a minute and blend phrases into sentences. He also likes to drive around town with his wife, Cheryl, spotting potential sites.

He is not shy about knocking on doors, dropping off letters and pitching novel ideas to develop urban corners.

"We like doing one-offs," says the builder, who trucked in stone from Pittsburgh to complement stonework on the outside of the buildings which were influenced by the work of architect Louis Sullivan in Chicago, the older highrises of New York and the colours of Paris.

It's all about romancing the urban condo buyer, a niche Casey has mastered with the Glassworks, a condo next to the Queensway and the Glasgow, a condo on Bronson Avenue. There have also been townhomes in New Edinburgh and apartments across from the Governor General's residence along the way that all pay tribute to the detailing and lines of MacKintosh.

The Gardens are Casey's most ambitious undertaking, valued at $55 million. His formula has worked with all but four of the condos in the first tower sold and 20 remaining in the second tower.

Cairn Cunnane crafted iron roses for the front door of the Gardens, a luxurious tower on Bronson.

The condos have a large, urban feel with privacy because windows don't look into windows. Inside, duct work is hidden behind coves in the ceiling and granite breakfast bars look into open living rooms. Glass doors and ceramic fill the modern bathrooms.

Now he has launched another infill project of luxurious townhomes on a triangle of land off Bellwood Avenue in Old Ottawa South. The Moorcroft townhomes are pure Casey — unique, pricey and memorable. Five of the 18 townhomes, which will sit on the site of a former school, have been snapped up.

"I'm an accountant and I like to do it once and do it right. I want to build enjoyable space on a human scale. I am into substance and form.

"I might sound cocky, but I want to improve the skyline."

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