We hope this interview inspires you; it definitely inspired us. On this episode, Jason Turcotte, VP of Development at Cressey, and Craig Stanghetta, Principal and Founder of Ste. Marie and celebrated restauranteur, join Adam & Matt to unpack the market, the up-and-coming areas, and Cressey’s latest and entirely unique offering: “Format.” For several years, Jason and Craig have worked continuously on an innovative housing concept inspired by East Vancouver – a blank slate floor plan that buyers can actually control! Their “kit of parts” idea enables purchasers to pick and choose the functions of their home. In short, what works for you, the homeowner? And… who better than Craig Stanghetta, the man behind Vancouver’s trendiest restaurants (Pepino’s & Savio Volpe) to help guide you there! You always thought you were good at design. Now you will be (with Craig’s help).
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Who is Jason Turcotte?
Jason Turcotte is the VP of Development at Cressey. I’ve been here a long time and have been able to build some cool projects around the city. We’re a family run business and have been working here in BC as well as Alberta and Washington state. It’s been a real fun ride for me, and I’ve got to work with some cool people, like Craig.
Who is Craig Stanghetta?
Craig Stanghetta is a Principal/Founder of Ste. Marie. Our design studio is 10 years old now and we started in hospitality. We embedded ourselves firmly in Vancouver by doing that. About 5-6 years ago, we moved into real estate because we felt that living and building was being done with a strong narrative and emotional engagement. We began to work with developers that valued that kind of thinking. With breathing room, we’re able to be even more creative in the real estate world. We’re excited about the collaborations we’re involved in, with teams like Cressey.
Can you tell us about this new project, Format?
Our customer is whoever lives in the home or rents our retail space, and that is who we build for. So, we started looking at who that customer is. We had a changing East Vancouver landscape and the emergence of the millennial buyer. The millennial buyer wants to influence their day to day life; they challenge the status quo. It’s about experiential living – it’s more than just a place but how we influence it, how we experience it, etc. So, we wanted to give our customer experience, selection and choice. It also allowed us to stand out and offer something unique. Format is everything you need and nothing you don’t.
The idea of experience and who the actual customer is – that is what sets us apart. We’ve identified who we’re making this for. So now we can collaboratively work with our team to respond to that. We looked at the units first to see what from the old playbook we could throw out, as well as what potential additions would be truly useful. For example, we offer sliding partition doors, kitchen islands with different options, and additional storage.
We then carried that ethos to the common areas and amenities. We want to ensure the spaces are going to be used and people living there are excited to use them – beyond just being on the brochure. If we can make something useful and beautiful, we think that will resonate.
Would you say the units are a bit of a blank canvas with a la carte options?
Yes. We look at the space as blank as a canvas as possible while still being functional and useful. For example, we know people are still using their kitchens and that space is important. So, we’ve made an amazing kitchen and kept that in. We then look at what we can peel out, and what you can add in as a series of extras.
Besides the principles of flexibility and ability to make your own imprint on your space, we still wanted it to be super sexy. We wanted to stand out from the crowd. Our projects stand apart every single time. That was another guiding principle. We did concrete floors not because they’re cheaper or easier, but because it offers a lot of flexibility. It aligns with the spirit of what we’re doing and can be super sexy in the right space.
Has this been done anywhere else?
There are parts of the world where this process is more common. In some areas, you buy a condo and the expectation is you bring your builder with you. We didn’t want to go that far; we want you to be able to walk in and have everything you need. So, the options, while thoughtful and varied, still allow us to execute what our clients expect.
What’s the process for buyers?
We have developed some great renderings, tools and videos to explain the concept. When people come in, they pick their floor plan based on the space they need, where they want to be, if they want a view, etc. They will then be able to look at a series of options. For example, deciding on where to put closets and how many, the type of kitchen island, etc. The choices are streamlined and put forward in a way that makes the decisions easy. Our website (soon to be launched) will make it obvious what the choices are and how buyers have influence on the design.
Is this an option for people to get into the market a bit cheaper? Is there an affordability component?
Schedule is super important to us and it does impact cost. Being flexible with our design does affect our schedule. Having the option to go for a more open canvas could offer some potential cost savings to buyers. But we are still in Vancouver so it’s not moving the needle hugely. However, you are able to get a unique product that you have influence over, and you don’t have to pay a premium for it.
Why are you excited about the location?
We’ve seen the emergence of Main Street, then Fraser and now we’re hearing about Knight. East Vancouver has been the hottest market for single and multi-family units. Our location is very central. If commuting is part of your day to day, this location works. It is also very nicely connected to Cedar Cottage and by Commercial Drive. We’ve done a few projects there and love that neighbourhood. The neighbourhood is what it’s all about. People love to entertain and live there. The response we’ve gotten so far to the location and concept has been great.
The interesting vendors and community projects happening in this area are reminiscent of Mount Pleasant 6-7 years ago. Things like farmer’s markets make the area very cool.
Has COVID impacted your project?
I think we got lucky. We were already seeing trends of co-working and working from home, which COVID has obviously accelerated, so those amenities were part of our plan. Our entire lobby feels like a boutique hotel – it’s a great place to lounge but also conducive to working and small gatherings. Current circumstances have encouraged us to really embrace that way of living.
People are spending more time at home so having spaces that are comfortable and spacious enough are important. We are aiming for value but none of the spaces are micro. We’re aiming for a gallery style. Even a one bedroom will feel very big and comfortable. Not being right downtown is helpful for ensuring spaces don’t feel too dense.
Has the way the market has been behaving surprised you? What’s in store coming up?
I think it surprised everyone. But that’s what this market has been doing for a long time now – defying expectations. Very few people leave this marketplace. 2019 was an off year so there may be an element of people getting restless or trying to take advantage of opportunities. But the local audience is here and will continue to be here or move here. So, projects that cater to them will do well. There will be ebbs and flows but overall, I see it being steady and predictable.
Favourite neighbourhood in Vancouver: Jason – Lower Lonsdale; Craig – Cedar Cottage / Commercial Drive
Favourite bar or restaurant: Jason – Mangia E Bevi Ristorante; Craig – Pepino’s Spaghetti House
One book you would recommend everyone read: Jason – Steve Jobs: A Biography; Craig – Good to Great by Jim Collins
One piece of advice you would give your 18-year-old self: Jason – You won’t really know anything until you are 35, so listen as much as you can; Craig – be persistent
Something you have purchased for under $1,000 that has changed your life: Jason – camping gear; Craig – a record player to enjoy more music on vinyl