How Far Can You Push Condo Customization? Ask Escher

Interview by Jody Beck. Photography by Gary McKinstry. Renderings by LNG Studios.

Charles Eames once said, “Recognizing the need is the primary condition for design.” The team atChard Development has embraced this statement on many levels within their new project, Escher, a condo development in downtown Victoria. For a company committed to adding vibrancy to the downtown community, it would be relatively simple to develop this project using their proven formula for success. Instead, Chard pushes the envelope with its most notable feature, an innovative and easy to use suite-customizer that allows users to visualize and create the home they want to live in. Using this software, designing your condo becomes a virtual experience – and it’s all in the fingertips. Modern Home Victoria sat down with Jeff Griffiths, VP of Marketing from Chard Development, to find out what it takes to think outside the box.

Tell us a little bit about the new project, Escher? Escher is an 84 suite, 10-storey development located at 838 Broughton Street in Fairfield, just on the border of downtown Victoria. For Chard, Escher represents a change in perspective of how our team approached the design of the project and it’s place in downtown Victoria. We have worked to design a building and individual suites that were not ashamed to be bold, modern and very urban. Our team have created something for the ‘New Victorians’ who are excited and proud to call downtown home, start businesses and make their lives in this dynamic city.

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We approached the project with our architects, Musson Cattell Mackey Partnership, as an opportunity to construct a building that offered a distinct exterior look while maintaining the livability, light and efficiency that Chard condos are known for. Location-wise, the 800-block of Broughton provides an interesting residential opportunity for future owners on a street that is ready for rejuvenation. The site is just blocks from all the downtown amenities owners would expect from an urban development, but located on a quiet street across from the YMCA and just down the block from both the Royal Theatre and Pioneer Park. Other familiar (Chard) details to be anticipated:

  • landscaped rooftop terrace and outdoor BBQ kitchen
  • a program of original artwork for the lobby and all residential hallways
  • electric car charging
  • a dog-wash station
  • boardroom

How many developments has Chard done in Victoria so far? Escher will be Chard’s sixth Victoria development in just over a decade. As a small company we’re very proud of the impact we’ve been able to have in Victoria, especially in the city’s north end with the completed Corazon (2006), Juliet (2008) and The 834 (2011) projects. With The Sovereign (2013), located in Old Town, and Duet (completing this November) in James Bay, we are excited to be developing a building like Escher – with it’s urban infill nature, building form and wide selection of suite types that echo our past downtown developments.

What sets this development apart from any of your other projects? In many ways Escher is an evolution of our past projects. You can’t design, sell and build over 400 homes in five buildings without learning some important lessons along the way. Chard is known for listening and working with our clients and we have taken their feedback and suggestions very seriously and incorporated many ideas directly into the design of Escher.

These items have ranged from refining our suite designs to offer unique floor plans like a large 1 bedroom with 1.5 bath, ideal for those who like to entertain guests while maintaining their privacy but don’t need the size and added expense of a 2 bedroom + 2 bath suite, to refining our kitchen designs and appliance selection to improve storage and usability. As cooks, ourselves, we place a very high-level of importance on our kitchen designs and the quality of appliances we include as standard equipment. In the case of Escher we have products from AEG, Liebehr, Fisher Paykel and GE.

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Other details we’ve added with Escher include some small but exciting details like built-in desks and millwork storage, pendant lights in master bathrooms, standard closet organizers in all bedrooms, USB charging stations and zoned programmable digital thermostats.

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There are other details of Escher that are less obvious to casual observers but that make a real difference to the residents of the building such as the easy, but secure, access to the ground floor bike storage and maintenance facility, our choice of specific in-suite materials and fixtures for durability and ease of maintenance and a custom web-app tied into the building’s security cameras. Owners can view visitors at the lobby and parkade entrance from their mobile device, tablet or computer from anywhere.

Tell us a bit about the customization process and the unique offerings at Escher. Every suite at Escher is available in three designer-chosen ‘base’ finish palettes; we call them Chroma, Fresca and Canvas. Within each palette, owners have the opportunity to change materials, select paint colours and wallpapers for feature walls, choose various built-in millwork options, an alternate table/island in 1 bedroom suites and adjust flooring style and type throughout the suite.

The majority of our customizations are no-charge options with some items such as hardwood flooring upgrades, wallpaper and the more complex built-in cabinetry having modest upgrade charges associated with them. The best way to experience what the possibilities are for suites at Escher is to visit the website and experience the suite customizer first hand.

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An example of how the customizer changes the look and feel of the suite by way of touch screen.

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What drove the decision to offer customization? What can buyers expect when they enter the sales centre Chard projects have always offered two to three colour palettes. However, these palettes have been fairly set and other than working with individual purchasers from time to time to make adjustments to suites, we haven’t had the programs in place to take it further. The options that are available with Escher have been carefully considered and chosen right down to things like the tone of the accents in the natural stone backsplashes and how they will look with the various quartz countertops and natural wood cabinets.

With so many options, materials and colours to choose from we worked very hard with our interior designers, Proscenium Architecture + Interiors, our graphic designers, Signal Creative and 3D renderers, LNG Studios, to craft an online tool that would allow clients to visualize and explore what was possible. We’re very pleased with the solution they designed which is easily accessible on the project website and at our Presentation Centre.

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In our Presentation Centre visitors will find two suite and kitchen mockups in the Chroma and Fresca palettes, finish boards which show physical samples of all available finishes, iPad kiosks which access the online suite customizer and, most importantly our long-time sales team who know the various palettes, options and suites inside and out.

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Is there a particular buyer in mind for this type of product? Our experience building in Victoria has shown us over and over again that there is such a diverse group of people interested in living in downtown Victoria that to focus a building too much on any one group is just not smart. With the possible exception of The Sovereign which from day one has been conceived of as a boutique luxury building, all our buildings have seen such a wide selection of people with diverse backgrounds, occupations and age groups. With Escher we hope to appeal to that same wide group of individuals and families but perhaps those who put a special focus on modern design and their ability to have a hand in crafting their own unique downtown space.

Sales are now under way and we have suites available from $219,000 to $869,000 – offering something for everyone from the first-time-buyer to couples with children and downsizers making the move from Victoria’s single-family homes or relocating from Vancouver or Calgary/Edmonton.

Downtown culture has always been important to Chard Developments. Can you elaborate on this? Without being overly simplistic – we see a direct relationship between a growing and diverse population of people choosing to live downtown, the businesses and cultural amenities they support and the ‘feel’ of downtown Victoria. From our first project, Corazon in the early 2000’s we have seen a desire by both locals and new residents to see Victoria grow, revitalize and rejuvenate. There’s no questioning that over the past 10 years the growth of new business, restaurants and the completion of new downtown homes has had a direct impact on the vibrancy of the city’s core.

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