We love our neighbourhood – it has great shops and restaurants, it’s close to work, it has good transit connectivity, and we’ve developed a lineup of favourite parks that we frequent with our little ones. With a growing family, our 2-bedroom home just wasn’t doing the trick any longer. We knew we needed to upsize, and we wanted to stay in the neighbourhood that we love.

This year, my partner and I embarked on a search for a new home with 3-bedrooms in our area. We quickly learned that our search was a ton more challenging than we originally thought it would be. Why? Because 3-bedroom homes in multi-unit buildings are few and far between in the City of Toronto. <br>


Focusing the search on homes for sale in our neighbourhood made things even more difficult.

After speaking with friends and colleagues who have also sought family-friendly housing in multi-unit buildings, we learned that we were not alone. The City’s multi-unit buildings are dominated by small units for singles and couples, and larger units for roommates rather than families.

We researched options and discovered five buildings that would suit our family’s needs. Only five! Can you believe it?

Fortunately, we found something that worked for us, and we love our new home. We also learned lots in the process.

Are you in the market for a family-friendly unit? Here are three questions every potential buyer should ask themselves.

Do all three bedrooms have windows?

We saw several three-bedroom units whose third bedroom lacked a window. As an architect and as a parent, I am not willing to accept a unit without a window in each bedroom. While designing three bedrooms on exterior walls can be tricky at times, it is possible through thoughtful layouts and creative design approaches. In my opinion, windowless bedrooms should be avoided.

Corner units typically make layouts easier to plan for three-bedroom units since they face two directions. Middle units, however, can also accommodate three-bedrooms with windows through strategic configurations. Shallow units tend to provide sufficient natural light because they contain greater access to exterior walls.

In our mini-webinar, How to design family-friendly condos? 3-bedroom unit layouts, I review a variety of 3-bedroom unit floor plans that we explored on our search for a new home.

Oftentimes, a more strategic configuration could have offered sufficient natural lighting in main living spaces while also allowing for windows in all bedrooms. Watch our mini-webinar if you are interested in learning more about this thought process. As a bonus, you will also find out which unit we chose for our family and why.

In smaller spaces, every centimetre of floor area is valuable, and trade-offs can have a significant impact on efficiency. This raises the question: how to design corridors so they would be a useful tool for privacy between the public part of the unit (kitchen, living room) and the private ones (bedrooms, bathrooms)?

Let me explain: in some three-bedroom units, bedrooms open onto the main living area. This eliminates corridors which maximizes the available floor area. On the other hand, there’s no buffer between the most private part of the unit to the most public one. For families, privacy and sound management can be key.

Imagine there is activity happening in the main living area and a toddler napping in a bedroom. In this case, it would be helpful to have a sound buffer. Now imagine that you are a teenager and your parents are hosting guests for dinner. Do you want to open your bedroom door directly onto the party? Or would you prefer a barrier between public and private space?

In our search, we saw some unit layouts with long corridors that wasted valuable floor space. We also saw units with bedroom doors that opened directly onto the main living areas. Both extremes were undesirable. Ideally, it should be possible to have the best of both worlds. That is, small corridors that offer privacy and sound buffers without wasting floor area that could be maximized for other uses.

 

What do the building and neighbourhood have to offer?

For my family, the park is our backyard. Our lives exist beyond the four walls of our unit, so it was important for us to find a place to live that had extra amenities that we couldn’t accomplish within our unit.

For us, the lifestyle our neighbourhood offers made it important for us to stay local. In general, cities need to provide services that add value to lives of those who live in them. Nearby access to schools, community centres, and child-friendly parks amplify the neighbourhood living experience and extend the benefits of the home.

Building amenities are important too. Some buildings offer childcare, playrooms, homework rooms, craft rooms for messy projects, shared outdoor terrace spaces and more. Sometimes, family-sized units are even located near each other to foster a sense of community amongst kids and parents.

Prospective buyers shouldn’t forget to evaluate how the neighbourhood and building amenities can serve their needs and make up for the things a unit cannot provide. In this case, it’s not only what’s on the inside that counts. What’s on the outside counts too!

 

We’re moving in the right direction…

Toronto is seeing an increase in the amount of planned and under construction family-friendly units right now. Soon, families will have more options to find 3-bedroom units that support their lifestyles in the urban core.

This is in part thanks to the lifestyle preferences of millennials, who constitute the largest share of Canada’s national population. Their families are growing, they want more space, and they are resisting suburban lifestyles and long commutes.

Instead, they’re looking for urban lifestyles where family life in multi-unit buildings is the norm. 

Thanks to the City’s Growing Up Guidelines, which outlines best practices for the design of units, buildings and neighbourhoods for families, there’s hope that new supply will better meet the needs and demands of urban families. Check out our blog post and mini-webinar which both spotlight key features from the City’s guidelines that help to advance a mission of family-friendly living in multi-unit buildings.

We deserve well-designed, amenity rich, spacious, light-filled units in downtown neighbourhoods. We don’t need to settle for less. Let’s continue to demand urban lifestyles for our families without compromise. Good three-bedroom units are possible, and we deserve to have adequate supply in our city.

Are you interested in learning more about City of Toronto Urban Design guidelines? Check out our online shop where we have useful resources to help you understand planning and design in the Toronto context. Try out our Planning for Non-Planners course which will teach you the basics of urban planning and analyzing development potential in the City of Toronto.