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September 01, 2008

Going platinum: LEED-certified Bridgeland condo

Green bridges the gap between eco-responsibility and chic for design-savvy couple

Shelley Williamson

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Though he never meant to go green, you might say buying his two-storey townhome in the Vento, a LEED platinum-certified condominium, changed Jason Krell’s life.

“I have never lived in a place like that or made that my number one priority, but now that I am here, it’s amazing how you start living differently,” says Jason. “Now when I am out during the day and have an empty can or some paper, I don’t want to just throw it in the garbage, I think ‘I should be recycling.’ ” On the former General Hospital site, Vento and her twin Acqua were built by Ottawa-based Windmill Developments as part of the first in a series of brownfield redevelopment phases dubbed the Bridges. Vento’s 22 townhomes were rated LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) platinum level last year, the highest honour given out by the Canada Green Building Council.

Though it was being marketed as green, that tread-lightly concept was an afterthought for this communications consultant. Like most condo shoppers, Jason was on the hunt for a place to suit his lifestyle when he happened upon this uber-green Busby Perkins + Will-designed address. He was drawn to the pedestrian-friendly community, where he’d wisely picked up a unit for $70,000 six years earlier, then unloaded it for a newer place in Inglewood (“It was over 1,000 square-feet but needed a lot of work,” notes Jason). Once again in the market for a home, Bridgeland made the shortlist, after first mulling over some unsuitable choices downtown. 

He immediately fell in love with the new, fresh-faced Bridgeland’s street-level businesses, including a coffee shop, hair salon and eatery right in the Vento building. “It’s got a very cosmopolitan feel, but then when you go outside you feel like you are in an actual community. You’re not just in the concrete jungle, there’s nice shops and people that know your name at the coffee shop there’s families that live on the street and someone’s grandparents live on the road and have lived there for 50 years.”

After spying the two-storey townhome’s piece de resistance, the rooftop patio that fall day last year, he was sold. And though the digs barely needed any fixing inside or out, Jason asked his partner (and now resident expert) Alykhan Velji, for some decorating advice after moving in. He admits being a little nervous to invite Aly, a well-known Calgary decorator, over the first time. 

“I have seen his work, and it’s amazing so I knew it wasn’t going to go off the rails. But it’s a little bit daunting. I am not a designer, but now that I see how the curtains go with the pillows, with the wallpaper, with the table that I bought, how it all comes together is perfect,” says Jason.

Aly was thrilled to help. “When Jason started telling me he wanted to put wallpaper up, I gave my two cents. It’s just nice that he liked my ideas. There’s no conflict in our styles.”

One area oozing in style is the rooftop. Jason liked the spot so much “as is” he bought the former owner’s patio furniture. “When I walked up there for the first time and saw the view, I knew it was the one.” Now sporting a crisp white paint job and topped with fresh green cushions on Aly’s suggestion, seated on the cosy furnishings in the outdoor oasis is their favourite summer spot, with entertaining friends often on the menu. “Everybody that walks up there is floored,” says Aly. “If you look at Europe, places in Germany… whatever land that they take up, the rooftop has to be a garden or something and there’s not many places in Calgary that do have rooftop patios, or take advantage of the rooftop.”

“People just come to you and enjoy the patio, just have some nice food and beverages. It’s perfect,” adds Jason. It’s also a prime vantage point for people watching or what Jason likes to call “street theatre.” 

Back downstairs a sleek, but massive sofa with chaise lounge also caters to relaxation when rooftop celebrations fall out of season. The living space, open to the dining and culinary hub, complete with a raised bar, is ideal for interacting, whether it’s just the two of them or many. “We like to hang out here, and when it’s nice we’ll go upstairs,” says Aly. “Sometimes when we get home the sun goes down and it’s too cold to go upstairs. We try to go up there as much as possible. But then also, when the sun’s out it gets so hot you can sometimes actually only sit outside for a little while.”

Because moving in means doubling belongings and the potential of conflicting styles, the minor space adjustment (read: sharing one closet) was the only downside to the pair’s merger, but one they take as challenge to change up elements and perpetuate fresh décor. Though first on the waiting list for a storage room in the building, Jason says, “It’s not such a bad thing. If you are not going to use it everyday, then chances are you might not need it. Maybe it’s something you can pass on to someone who can make good use of it.”

A look around reveals evidence of both personalities in the minor tweaks made since Aly moved in, from parsely-hued wallpaper on a dining space wall, subtle tone-on-tone ivory paper in the master bedroom, a newly reupholstered chair in the corner and a darker shade brushed on the walls from its original sage. Luxurious black-and-white curtains crafted by Aly’s seamstress now accent huge windows flanking the main-floor spaces, while an ebony chandelier with an oversized shade makes the eating area pop. 

“The larger pieces, like the couch, are pretty much neutral. I think Jason’s taste is more, if you look at the table for example, a little more rustic looking,” says Aly, adding, “My tastes are a little more modern. I like bolder fabrics and brighter colours, the eclectic. I like mixing and matching everything.”

Metal drums imported from China are among scores of worldy finds Aly has incorporated, with splashes of ethnic art and wooden African masks. “It’s nice that I can bring stuff and it all fits. You buy things that you love and you can always, always make them work,” he notes.  Shades of Jason are seen in a table beside the stairs eked from massive columns and topped with a single pane of glass he had bought from a friend. “Those are the heaviest things in the house,” he jokes. “They are solid concrete, but I got them for an absolute steal,” he says.

Jason is also an avid traveller and the pair plans to share their love of global and creative ventures when Aly launches his pillow line in the new year, following a trip to India to meet with a company that does traditional chain stitching. Jason, who just broke out on his own with Krell Communications, will help market the line, a task he will add to his growing list of future projects. Also on the agenda is pairing up with Vancouver-based Tara Parker Tait PR to work alongside Aly promoting Alberta events like the Calgary Home and Interior Design Show. 

It’s not easy to not be green in this place, thanks to design features inevitably giving back to the planet. Bamboo floors and wool carpets, low-flow showerheads and dual-flush toilets, front-loading appliances, native plants, stormwater collected on the roof to flush toilets, pot skylights in upper-floor bedrooms, granite countertops, use of low-VOC building materials, a state-of-the-art heating and cooling system and an in-house recycling room are among them. “There are still a lot of things about this place I don’t know,” says Jason, adding an architect friend in Seattle still brags to her friends about knowing someone who lives at the well-known condo.

The flexibility of their careers—Jason in PR and Aly, who owns Alykhan Velji Designs, also meshes well within the home’s design and moving towards a cleaner lifestyle. Neither has to commute to an office every day by car. “Basically all we need for both our businesses is a laptop and a cellphone,” says Jason.

Even the approach to the unit, which begins on the second level with access via a common treed courtyard (conjuring up memories of Melrose Place), screams sustainability and style. “When people come up to visit, it’s not like walking into most buildings where you’d be going down a hallway with worn carpet and weird lighting. This is so beautiful, there’s lots of stonework, there’s lots of trees,” says Jason. “You walk out of the elevator, and it’s just ‘bam.’ People think it looks like Vancouver.”

So, was the first taste of living green enough to commit to a lifetime of responsible living for the creative duo? Jason says it’s has inspired some food for thought. “I definitely would like to take some of the features that I have learned about here and incorporate them into whatever the next place is. There’s no point just turning your back on it—it’s important.”


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