California dreamin’


Heather Greenwood Davis |

In the window of the sales centre for California Condominiums sits a 1958 Porsche Speedster convertible. Pale yellow, roof off, windows down, surf board firmly placed in the backseat: It’s a clear picture of the lifestyle that is being sold alongside the bricks and mortar of the project.

Live here, the ads seem to suggest, and life will be beautifully tailored, artistically designed, sophisticated but simple, casually upscale.

They are qualities that could also be used to describe the project’s creator.

David Feldman, president and CEO of Camrost-Felcorp, is responsible for the inception and design of more than 60 buildings across the GTA and currently oversees about 1,000 condo units under construction across the city.

His work is easy to spot – sleek lines, innovative inclusions, unique designs. He has introduced concepts that were long believed to be faux pas in condominiums and made them work: Build before you sell. Add in open space. Take out parking lots, put in grass.

Today Feldman is highly regarded as one of the top developers in the city.

But he didn’t start there.

Born in London, England, and raised in Hertfordshire, Feldman immigrated to Toronto in 1973 as a supervisor and quality surveyor with Wimpey Construction – at the time the largest construction company in the world. He worked with them building lowrise homes in Toronto for about a year before signing on with a young company that would teach him about highrises and send him off to work on the University of Waterloo.

At the time, his decision to switch employers was based primarily on one thing.

"Everyone drove Cadillacs," he says with a smile and a glint in his blue eyes. "I wanted to work with them."

The company was Cadillac-Fairview and Feldman, who refers to his time there as his stint at "Cadillac University," credits them and one of their founders, Eph Diamond, who died earlier this month, with teaching him much of what he needed to know.

But Feldman wasn’t content building someone else’s vision.

In 1976, he found his way back to Toronto and started up his own company. Camrost was a name chosen out of the air because his assistant thought a name starting with the letter "C" would put them closer to the beginning of the phonebook and customers’ fingertips. It would be 22 years before Feldman would get around to adding a part of his own name to the company. Camrost-Felcorp was born in 1998.

The company, which began by building seniors apartments and co-op buildings, has become synonymous with the city’s most popular and luxurious lifestyle condominiums. From the auspicious living of One Park Lane at Dundas and University to the pinnacle of his empire – The Avenue, currently under construction down the road from Feldman’s own home in Forest Hill – each building has been painstakingly designed and planned.

"We don’t build cookie-cutter buildings," he says. "We like to be innovative."

Case in point: The green roof he put on the top of the old McGuiness Distillery whisky warehouse when converting it to SkyLoft (the first building on the six-hectare development of Mystic Pointe in Etobicoke, which will also be home to California Condos). He says he wanted to ensure that residents had access to a private green space and a unique vantage point from which to take in the city.

Another case in point: Moving the penthouse suites from the top two floors of California Condos to make room for an outdoor theatre, an infinity swimming pool, a sky-high workout area and a martini lounge. All this with prices that start just under $200,000, a move-in date less than two years away and access that isn’t limited to the size of the unit you buy.

"I believe everyone should have the opportunity to enjoy the whole building," Feldman says.

He takes the same view with his own work. Sitting in the lounge of the California Condo sales centre, Feldman, dressed in a finely tailored navy pinstripe suit and silver-lined glasses, says he wouldn’t have it any other way.

"It’s a team effort," he says, noting that decisions are made with input from his architects, consultants and marketing with one theme in mind. "We like to be visionaries."

In an industry that is often hard to predict, Feldman is chameleon-like in his ability to adapt. In the ’90s he watched the marketplace change and shifted his own plans accordingly.

"The demand had been for residential condos as an alternative to rental housing," he explains. "We wanted to make affordable homes and condos for the move-up market and empty nesters and offer an alternative to rental housing."

It was a bold and successful move.

Earlier this century, when it seemed that the condo market could be drying up, Feldman kept building.

"Canada is a country where we have immigrants, more than 200,000, moving into the province every year. That’s why the marketplace is moving. It’s also a key difference with Canada and the United States," he says.

The city, he says, thrives because of that immigration, and its architecture thrives as well.

Feldman may be a few decades older and wiser than when he arrived, but he is no less ambitious.

Nor is he any less willing to get his hands dirty.

Feldman is a full participant in the design of the buildings. He is particular about suite layouts and is a big fan of innovative layouts with "lots of windows." He also wants his buildings to feel "homey" – and has been known to move into some of his projects to test them out first-hand.

He takes his inspiration from places he has visited, hotels he has stayed in and magazine articles he comes across. In fact, his inspiration for the California Condos came from an Architectural Digest issue about a year ago.

Feldman is proud of the fact that others appreciate his efforts. In 2006, the company swept the SAM (Sales and Marketing) awards for their layouts. They’ve won 24 in total.

He’s also proud of the fact that his buildings have become symbols of community living. The Urban Design Institute recognized Marina Del Ray as the best-designed community in the province and he has a key to the city of North York.

While the California project makes no secret of his love for that particular state, he admits to having a soft spot for New York and Paris as well.

It’s no easier for him to pick a favourite from among his buildings.

He ticks off his favourite details over his fingertips and smiles as he remembers the unique celebrations of each – like the 3,000 people who came out to see Tony Curtis at the launch of Hollywood Plaza in 1991 or the cruise he took around Lake Ontario with homeowners in Marina Del Rey .

So, what will he do to celebrate California?

"I don’t know," he says with a smile. "Maybe we’ll ride around in the Porsche."

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