This 42nd-floor penthouse terrace is a serene refuge for its owners in their downtown location.

By Stephanie Whittaker | Photography by Rob Holowka


Far above the hurly-burly of downtown Toronto is a peaceful penthouse terrace, beloved and much used by its owners. It’s a garden in the sky, a perfect spot for admiring sunrises and sunsets, for lounging, dining, entertaining and escaping the busyness of the urban environment.


The terrace, perched on the building’s 42nd floor and running the full length of the condominium, needed a major redesign when the owners called in designer Lisa Aiken to transform it into a luxury retreat. “My clients wanted privacy and places to dine and entertain,” says Aiken, owner and principal of Terra Firma Design, a company specializing in designing and installing terraces as well as interiors. While the couple had inherited a few planters and some patio furniture from the previous owners, there was much work ahead to create the kind of sanctuary the designer envisaged.


One of the key challenges Aiken and her team faced was strong winds, the kind that can send furniture flying. “People don’t realize how much wind there is at that height, close to the lake and among so many skyscrapers,” the designer says. “Safety is always my first concern in this type of situation. We had to ensure that the planters and furnishings could withstand the wind.” That meant altering the weight on the furniture and custom-made planters. “We had to create something that would be as safe as it was beautiful,” Aiken says. “How were we going to place everything without it flying off the terrace? It required many skilled minds, ideas and consideration.” As she does with such challenges, she turned to her husband, Andrew Smith of Andrew Smith Contracting. “He’s our tech guy,” she says. “Everyone calls him ‘MacGyver.’ He figures things out.” And there was a lot to figure out with this complex project, including how to install custom-designed interior and exterior lighting.


The exterior lights illuminate 45 planters that measure 24 by 24 by 24 inches. In addition to providing lighting, the planters offer privacy. “There are buildings all around this downtown area, overlooking the terrace,” says Aiken. “The palm trees measure five to six feet tall and there are six in each planter.” They also visually divide the long, linear terrace into separate garden rooms: a firepit custom-designed by Aiken and flanked by two sofas and two armchairs, a custom kitchen area, a dining space, an L-shaped seating area, a dedicated corner for the owners’ dogs and a private sanctuary off the main bedroom. “I like that you cannot see everything at once,” the designer says. “You have to walk through the space. While each of the 10 dimmable lighting zones is distinct, the design is cohesive in style and colour palette.”


The bedroom patio is the owners’ go-to spot in the mornings. It features thoughtfully chosen fabrics, colours and custom-designed cushions. “It’s a private, sheltered area,” Aiken says. “My clients wanted a section that would be their own little oasis.” And because the homeowners have two dogs, she created an area just for canines, separated from view by the ubiquitous planters.


Another element that delineates the outdoor rooms is artwork. Aiken commissioned her talented artist to create two spectacular murals to separate the bedroom terrace from the adjacent seating area. “We worked with the client on this and made samples until it was perfect, and we built a custom framework to keep the large-scale art safe on the terrace.” On one side of the tableau, raspberry-coloured water lilies echo the cushion colours on the bedroom patio’s wicker daybed. On the other, blue aquatic plants edged in black face the primarily black and white seating area.


Furnishings have rounded edges to soften the linearity of the terrace. Surrounding the fire pit, the decor boasts a creamy-gold palette. “The cushions are specially weighted to withstand the wind,” Aiken says. The 15-foot-long custom kitchen is white with cream and white Dekton finishes. The dining section and next living-room area feature black, white and gold. In contrast, the private patio is a combination of raspberry, gold, green and an animal print.


Despite its central location, the terrace is a refuge for its owners. “They use it constantly,” Aiken says. “It’s unique. Everyone who worked on it was in awe of it when it was completed. But most important, the client’s family and friends loved it, too. When my client saw it after we’d completed it, she cried. And each time we walked into another garden room, she cried again. That made me cry. We are all happy.”