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Public spaces

Lobbies used to be sterile affairs, providing little reason to linger. Look again, as condos and fancy apartments dress up these shared living rooms

These are the public living rooms designed for visitors when they come knocking on the door of their condo friends. They used to be sterile affairs, home to a rock-hard sofa covered in a sturdy fabric resistant to wear, tear and the occasional cigarette butt.

They didn't invite lingering, except when waiting for a late-night taxi or the pizza delivery man to arrive with dinner.

Now there is reason to pause as Ottawa builders transform these public spaces and race to design fancy condos and apartment complexes where owners and renters want to feel comfortable, maybe even coddled, the moment they walk through the front door.

Charlesfort president Doug Casey wanted the lobby at 95 Bronson Ave. to feel like home.

“What we've done is to try as much as possible to make it feel like home,” says Doug Casey, owner of Charlesfort Developments and the energy behind The Gardens, twin condo towers at Bronson Avenue and Queen Street.

Pull open the solid oak door, stained deep black and whimsically accented with hand-forged wrought-iron steel leaves and branches, and you'll immediately feel the warmth the architects and designers wanted to convey at The Gardens.

The lobby meanders with curves in the walls, ceilings and custom floral carpet, while offering plenty of rich touches that include travertine marble flooring and Alphonse Mucha prints. While waiting for the elevators, visitors can enjoy a bank of stainedglass windows inspired by architect and artist Charles Rennie Macintosh and executed by Charlesfort. Real, not plastic, plants emphasize the garden theme, which, come spring, will play off the landscaping between the towers.

On the other side of the stained glass, condo owners work up a sweat on a treadmill in the well-equipped minigym.

“With a lot of condos, the front doors are metal and feel commercial,” Casey says. “What we've done here is subtle, but it's the sort of thing that will endure.”

Over at 50 Laurier, the idea of elegant public spaces is taken very seriously.

Heavy wooden doors with square glass panes open to the entryway, where two more glass doors keep visitors at bay until the concierge allows access to one of Ottawa's fanciest public living rooms.

Rich terracotta and cream marble lines the floors and the far wall of the lobby, complimenting the maple panelled walls. Light from a huge chandelier adds sparkle, while glass panels separate the lobby from the elevators.

It wouldn't take much prompting to relax in one of the plush couches, sip a coffee, and read the newspaper.

The building, which is one of the city's top rental buildings, was originally planned as a condo, and the owners designed the lobby with elegance as a top priority.

It sets the right tone for well-heeled tenants, including professionals, politicians and diplomats interested in being in the heart of the city.

“The lobby provides a very important first impression when a resident or visitor walks into the building,” says Trish Tuttle, leasing and marketing manager. “As the city's premier luxury rental property, the builder really wanted to portray a classic and elegant feel.”

Further north and just a little west, another new building offers a hidden, but equally interesting, first impression. 700 Sussex is home to diplomats, urban professionals and politicians (Belinda Stronach calls it home).

Next door to the sexy Metropolitan Brasserie, its lobby is tucked away. In contrast to the classic and traditional look of 50 Laurier, the Sussex lobby is stark and cutting- edge, designed for urbanites.

The security holding pen features a black granite table underneath the doorbell security screen and a black granite bench, which sits in front of a giant mirror framed in black slate.

Inside, the concierge sits at a handsome desk in front of a wall of grey concrete blocks. The back wall is lined in blackstained wood panels, while the exposed walls are painted this year's rich grey with a hint of taupe. A sitting area is inviting with an expensive-looking black leather couch.

A large black coffee table complete with issues of the New Yorker and NUVO magazine to peruse sits on a funky, multicoloured rug. The art — an abstract diptych — brightens up the walls across from the couch. In one corner sits an untitled metal sculpture by Ben McLeod, and to its right there's a giant impressionist painting of a girl. All art comes from the Canada Council for the Arts' art bank.

You leave the urban edge and return to tradition, warm mahogany walls and security at Urbandale's Riverside Gate, a highrise condo beside the Rideau River. There are actually twin lobbies, separated by a concierge desk and set against warm mahogany- coloured wood-panelled walls.

The centrepiece of the first lobby is a round, glass-topped table with a bouquet of silk flowers. A long side-table sits against the far wall under a bold-coloured print and next to an armchair by the window. The walls are wood-panelled or lined in a suede-inspired material. The second room has a couch, two chairs and a large piece of bold abstract art. The light fixtures are large half-domes. Stone door handles greet visitors to this complex, the first tower of which is finished while the second is still under construction.

A building that has quickly established itself as a landmark in Westboro is Minto's Metropole condo. The serene lobby mimics the rounded shape of Ottawa's tallest condo, says Minto's senior architect Bill Ritcey.

“The oval was carried through into the lobby, both with the coffered ceiling and the design in the floor,” says Ritcey.

The Zen-inspired lobby features limestone flooring with an oval inlay, and a mirrored wall directly across from a seating area. A long side table breaks up the mirrored wall, leaving more than enough glazing for a vital makeup check before heading out on the town. A creamy coloured berber sits under the glass coffee table that holds a bamboo bowl filled with pebbles. A large abstract painting by Ronald Boaks hangs behind the couch.

Wood-panelled walls in beech and lots of soft light ensures the space is warm and inviting. Even the industrial-strength winter carpets are tasteful. With an outside trim in a slightly darker colour and interesting angles, they look as though they were custom-made for the space.

“In residential buildings, you want to be warm and inviting to give an overall sense of home,” Ritcey says. “We wanted to be warm but also contemporary, so we used beechwood and stainless steel as an accent to give an urban feel.”

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