DesignAgency's eclectic design for the Broadview Hotel Toronto

A Toronto building that’s now home to a hotel has a heritage that stretches from soap factory to strip club

Project Info

Design: DesignAgency 
Owners: Streetcar Developments and Dream Unlimited Heritage 
Architect: ERA Architects 
Size: 58 rooms 
Completion date: 2017

Words by Sophie Tolhurst
Images by Worker Bee Supply

‘An important architectural gateway and anchor to the Riverdale community,’ the building that is now home to the Broadview Hotel in Toronto was first erected in 1891. Since then it has served many purposes: it was built as the offices for Dingman’s soap factory, and was briefly an earlier Broadview Hotel, but closest in public memory is its time as the ‘infamous’ Jilly’s Strip Club. DesignAgency wanted to reveal all these layers of history. As Matt Davis, principal and founding partner, explains: ‘We really wanted to make the space feel lived in and layered, not frozen in one style, time or place.’ The combination of the building’s chequered past and DesignAgency’s playful way of handling it meant it ‘create[d] a rather curated and amusing narrative’ for the new Broadview Hotel.

Airy, light-filled spaces enjoy the sunAiry, light-filled spaces enjoy the sun

For this heritage building, DesignAgency worked closely with ERA Architects, who was responsible for maintaining historic elements. At times, there were conflicts between past and present, between the ‘new’ internal building and the older shell. This serves up an opportunity for that ‘amusing narrative’; ‘for example, in the guest rooms, where windows humorously “hang” at varying heights, and where they faced a brick parapet wall, we transformed the scenario into private micro terraces with lush vertical gardens,’ Davis explains.

The neon light design above the bar was co-created with artist Erik PetersonThe neon light design above the bar was co-created with artist Erik Peterson

In the lobby the designers have endeavoured to use materials that keep a local feel: brick, metalwork and frosted glazing, like the factories in the area. This is not restoration, nor does it become industrial chic. The Broadview Hotel has an eclectic mix of styles, and retro and contemporary elements as its design signature. Sometimes the designers dared to go matchy-matchy (floral-print slipper chairs against floral-print wallpaper), while at other times custom-designed ‘conversation pieces’ to fine-tune the mix, such as the lobby’s striking emerald-green leather and brass rail bench, which was conceived by DesignAgency and fabricated by Orior in Northern Ireland.

The private dining space in the turret features a ‘symphony of chandeliers’The private dining space in the turret features a ‘symphony of chandeliers’

Rich materials hint at a propensity for the decadent things in life: marble flooring with inlaid brass detailing, antique brass fixtures, walnut wood, green and oxblood-coloured leathers. For the bar, a hint of the Jilly’s sign is translated into a softer pink neon design co-created with artist Erik Peterson; it is a more feminine take, ‘loosely inspired by the profile of a woman’s face’, and made by Dan Raljic, the son of the manufacturer who created Jilly’s original Seventies sign. Other local suppliers were involved in the process, which is something DesignAgency always endeavours to do, not only to support local designers but ‘to produce original pieces that add that special sense of place to a project’.

The mixing of styles continues throughout the hotel. The bedrooms have a boudoir feel with a ‘softer touch'. Victoriana wallpaper and upholstery comes from House of Hackney, while beds, dressing tables and ‘wet bars’ were custom-created by DesignAgency. Bathrooms are glamorous, featuring white stone, glass and gilded fixtures. Curtains to the floor add warmth and drama and frame large windows – the space is certainly not gloomy.

Floor-length curtains in the bedrooms add warmth and frame large windowsFloor-length curtains in the bedrooms add warmth and frame large windows

The several dining spaces each have a different look. While the Civic restaurant uses a ‘moodier’ palette, there are airy, light-filled spaces that enjoy the sun, such as the Broadview Cafe + Bar, and the rooftop restaurant. The latter’s glazed ceiling and foldaway windows that open onto a terrace provide fluidity between inside and outside. Complementing this is plenty of greenery – plants hang from the ceiling, and dot the outside terrace, while the view over the city is bordered with a number of trees. Inside, the guest can enjoy the view from table, bar, lounge or banquette seating. As evening approaches, the mood in the space shifts, with sunlight replaced by a view of the city lights across the dark outside. Davis describes the rooftop restaurant and the view as a personal highlight. ‘I love bringing people up there because they can get the full feel of what’s happening in Toronto right now,’ he says.

For those who want something more secluded, there is private dining, and for this space the designers embraced the history of the building, leaving the turret almost untouched. Behind a ‘no vacancy’ sign on the door, the turret is furnished with wooden furniture and a dark, large-scale herringbone tiled floor, while its high ceiling is filled with a ‘symphony of chandeliers’. The narrative that DesignAgency has drawn out of this Toronto building culminates in what Davis describes as ‘a dining experience unlike any other in the city’.

Key Suppliers

Custom neon light fixture over bar
Designed in collaboration with Erik Peterson

Custom light fixtures

Black granite stone bar top
Marble Trend

Clay wall finish

Charles Rupert Designs | House of Hackney |

Custom wallcovering with pattern created from wallpaper found on site

End grain wood flooring

Custom lobby bench
Designed by DesignAgency; fabricated by Orior

Coffee tables
Coolican & Company (Local Toronto maker)

ISA (Toronto)

Belfiore (Toronto)

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