Anila Akram grew up in Toronto’s Leslieville neighbourhood, where she rode the Green Line with friends and ate at multicultural restaurants like Maha’s Brunch. In 2016, Akram, by then a brand manager, was scouring the Toronto real estate market for a unique one-bedroom residence in or around Leslieville. But the area had gentrified substantially since her childhood, and her budget of $600,000 limited her to shoebox-sized studios with little room for extravagance.
A few weeks into her search, Akram spotted a 550-square-foot loft for sale in an industrial building on Broadview Street, only three kilometres east of her childhood home. Although she liked the neighbourhood and the building’s industrial brick façade, the condo itself came with an impractical layout. After three visits, she devised a plan: she would offer to buy the loft under its asking price of $540,000 and use the remaining money in her budget to completely renovate the apartment. Her strategy worked. She purchased the unit for $516,000 and spent the cash she saved to hire StudioAC, a Toronto-based design firm recommended by her realtor.
After consultations with Jennifer Kudlats, one of the firm’s principal designers, and a few condo walkthroughs, StudioAC’s team went to work, transforming the makeshift sleeping space into a photogenic bedroom. They surrounded Akram’s bed with a 10-foot-tall white wooden cube, elevated it by three inches and carved a majestic archway that became the bedroom’s entry point. Enclosing the structure was a white, opaque floor-to-ceiling curtain, based on Akram’s love of fabric-heavy, Mediterranean-style space dividers.
The designers named their creation “bedbox” and fashioned the details exactly to Akram’s taste and daily rituals. During their consultations, Kudlats noticed that her client liked to walk around the mirror in the morning to examine her outfit from various angles, so the curtains curved outward to allow more walking space in the bedroom. “The condo started feeling like it was custom-made, as though nobody else could have possibly lived here but me,” says Akram.
Kudlats and her team also built a wall-to-wall banquette under the east-facing window, which Akram used as a work desk, with extra room for her plants and sewing machine. “This ledge gave me more space than I ever had for work, and it let me take in the sunlight all day,” she says.
Then came the finishing touches. The designers painted the loft’s brick walls white and stained the kitchen’s back wall black for contrast. They tied the place together with a silver living room carpet, black kitchen countertops and a rose-coloured mirror for the bathroom. Meanwhile, a few of the loft’s original features remain, like the wooden beams and ceilings, industrial piping and cement-tiled floors.
Akram moved into her revamped home in 2017, and soon began inviting friends and colleagues over to see the place. In no time, the loft became a gathering ground. Friends came in large groups for chats on the banquette and cooking sessions in the kitchen, rarely leaving the place without snapping a picture in front of the bedroom. “Everybody I know has memories of a party or dinner at my place, and a nice photo of the arch to prove it,” she says.
The full renovation cost came to approximately $100,000, but Akram says it was well worth it. The bedbox and curtain masked the feeling of living in a studio, and separated her place into five distinct spaces: a bedroom, mudroom, living room, four-piece bathroom, and kitchen. Although she had to move to Vancouver for a new job in 2020, she kept the loft as a rental property. She has no intention to sell and doesn’t rule out the possibility of moving back in the future. “I’m so proud of it because this loft became mine,” she says. “And you can’t put a price on that.”