About a decade ago, Toronto’s last round of hospitality development resulted in a glittering new flagship from the city’s homegrown upscale brand, Four Seasons (handled by hometown firm Yabu Pushelberg), along with offerings from Ritz-Carlton (originally designed by HBA and BAMO) and Shangri-la (Vancouver studio CHIL crafted the modern interiors). Today, Toronto’s appeal can be credited to being a global hub with a small-town feel, making it attractive to brands that want to feel a part of the close-knit fabric of the city. Consider the revamp of the 55-room Gladstone House by UK firm Elastic Interiors, the $40 million transformation of the Toronto Marriott Bloor Yorkville into the W by local firm Sid Lee Architecture, or the 118-key King Blue, which opened last summer with interiors by CHIL. In fact, according to Q3 2021 data from Lodging Econometrics, Toronto has 65 hotels and more than 9,000 rooms in the works, claiming 27 percent of all rooms in Canada’s construction pipeline.
Another major reopening is the 291-room Park Hyatt, which has reemerged after a four-year-long renovation at the hands of Toronto firm Studio Munge, which drew inspiration from Canada’s dramatic seasons and native landscapes. “Our team had to thoughtfully bring this great dame back to life, respecting its aura while infusing the walls with new relevance,” says firm founder and design director Alessandro Munge.
Munge is also pegged to helm the city’s first Canopy and Curio hotels from Hilton, as well as Nobu’s inaugural outpost due later next year. “Toronto was somewhat of an underground destination on the international scene for the longest time,” he says, “but our city has grown exponentially, becoming a beacon due to multiculturalism and progressive policies.”
Local firm DesignAgency has also been at the forefront of Toronto’s renaissance with a portfolio that counts the Drake’s Modern Wing expansion; Ritz-Carlton’s revamped club-level suites and new restaurant Epoch; the refresh of the 1,372-key Sheraton Centre Toronto’s public spaces; and the forthcoming 160-room Andaz Toronto, which will be part of the Foster + Partners’ mixed-use behemoth—at 85 stories, it will be Canada’s tallest building—going up on the prominent corner of Yonge and Bloor streets in swanky Yorkville in 2023. “The traditional luxury market [in Toronto] has been pretty much set,” says DesignAgency founding partner Allen Chan. “Now, people are looking for a different kind of cosmopolitan experience, something a bit more fun and of the moment. It’s very much about an exploration of and connection to the city you’re in.”
Here, we explore three hotels that are changing the landscape of the Canadian city.
The Drake Hotel
Over the last two decades, the Victorian-era Gladstone House and Drake Hotel have transformed the West Queen St. West neighborhood into a buzzy destination chockfull of bars and cafés. The December unveiling of the five-story Modern Wing from locally based Diamond Schmitt Architects expands the Drake’s presence while upping its roomcount to 51. “One goal was to create a sense of arrival,” says Anwar Mekhayech, cofounder of DesignAgency, which handled the interiors. “We added that sense of a classic hotel with a brass revolving door that leads to a proper lobby.” Inside, an artisanal reception desk from Toronto’s Odami studio greets guests, along with a tucked-away bar and a fireplace relocated from the older building. Guestrooms reference the “colorful whimsy of those in the Classic Wing and play with the materiality of the original building,” Mekhayech continues, “but it’s a more sophisticated take that mixes the high and the low, the cheap and the refined.”
1 Hotel Toronto
The property, which opened last summer in the city’s Fashion District, is an evolution of the brand’s sustainably minded ethos. “1 Hotel Toronto is Canada’s first mission-driven hotel that celebrates the beauty of Toronto’s natural environment and offers an urban oasis in the heart of the city,” says Raul Leal, CEO of SH Hotels & Resorts. “As a world-class city with globally respected sustainability programs, we felt a natural affinity to Toronto.”
For the interiors, Rockwell Group developed a narrative centered on Toronto’s surprising verdant landscape—a tree canopy that covers nearly 30 percent of the city—for its conversion of the Thompson into the 112-key hotel. “We moved away from the old dark and clubby vibe,” says Rockwell Group partner Shawn Sullivan. Instead, the New York-based firm embraced the reclaimed timber and native foliage prevalent in the city. “We chose a light palette that references Toronto’s [location] on the water’s edge.” A living wall in the Flora Lounge and elm floors culled from a dismantled barn in Ontario, bring that aesthetic into the lobby, while wood pieces reclaimed from fallen trees in the area by local makers Just Be Woodsy are another highlight.
Ace Hotel Toronto
Set to arrive this spring, the Ace Hotel Toronto will add 123 rooms to the Fashion District in a new build from local firm Shim-Sutcliffe Architects. Interiors are envisioned by the brand’s in-house creative agency Atelier Ace to evoke the area’s warehouse heritage. “Concrete, clay, brick, copper, and wood reference the history of brickworks in Toronto,” says Ace Hotel Group partner and CEO Brad Wilson. “The guestrooms were designed to feel like cabins in the city, with locally sourced Douglas Fir and vintage furniture featured throughout.” Anchoring the hotel in the city is an art program that will showcase the work of 40 Canadian artists in the rooms and public spaces. “Toronto is a cultural sister to many of the cities in the Ace portfolio,” says Wilson. “It has world-class dining, a bounty of incredible festivals—the Toronto International Film Festival, DesignTO, and Nuit Blanche, to name a few—and a spirit of humble creativity and innovation that we find inspiring. It’s a destination that feels natural to us at Ace.”
This article originally appeared in HD’s February/March 2022 issue.