Penthouse One at 700 Sussex Dr. is not your traditional downtown office. The two-storey suite, blending both office and entertainment space, is every bit as unique as you’d expect from a couple like Tom d’Aquino and Susan Peterson d’Aquino.
Tom is best known for his three decades of work leading the Canadian Council of Chief Executives, while Susan is a former senior official in the Privy Council Office, the Department of Finance, and the Department of Canadian Heritage. They both now volunteer their time with the National Gallery of Canada, Tom as chair of the gallery’s foundation and Susan as chair of the Friends of The Print Room.
While they maintain their residence in Rockcliffe at the Hart Massey house, Susan and Tom jumped at the chance to create a multi-use space, including a guest apartment, in the heart of downtown Ottawa.
“When I knew that this project was going up I thought this was ideal,” says Tom. “How many national capitals in the world can you get a space like this that’s only 100 yards away from Parliament?”
While the suite is in the busy centre of Ottawa, looking out on the Government Conference Centre, the Shaw Centre, the Château Laurier and the National War Memorial, its design creates a visual oasis. The rooms are open and spacious, with clean lines and monochromatic colours – mostly gentle greys.
“When you walk through this space, you might think, ‘Gosh, these guys are obsessed with grey.’ But it was this idea of having something that is soothing,” says Tom.The furnishings are decidedly modern, with significant pieces from designers such as Mies van der Rohe and Cassina. “We’re architectural buffs and great admirers of Mies,” says Tom. Every lighting element has also been hand-picked by the d’Aquinos, including unique Tolomeo, Tizio and Nestore pieces. .
The penthouse is equipped with a sleek kitchen, specially designed for them by the Italian firm Valcucine, whose cabinetry was also used in the office area.
“What I thought was really important here was to take these greys and extend it just as you would do in a garden – a very successful garden requires a sweep of something, rather than a dit, dot and that – so we swept this into here,” says Tom. “And even though these were originally designed as kitchen elements, we took them in to keep the consistency.”
The d’Aquinos enjoy the southern exposure of the suite through floor-to-ceiling windows. “I’m a passionate collector of prints,” says Tom, who points out a piece from the Champlain diaries and the famous and iconic Taking of Quebec. There’s also a collection of Spy prints, including one of Sir Wilfrid Laurier and a very rare one of Winston Churchill. ”But the thing with prints is that you can’t expose them to too much light.” To protect them a double-blind system and ultraviolet shielding were added to the windows.
Reflecting the couple’s world travels, there is a stunning collection of cosmopolitan artwork throughout the penthouse. More contemporary pieces include a Robert Motherwell, but there are also nods to past eras. Ancient Roman pottery tops the bookshelves and there’s a 17th-century Japanese painting they brought home from a monastery.
The overall theme is urban. But Tom says his esthetic sense has also been influenced by a love for nature, which he got growing up in Nelson, B.C. next to the glacier-fed Kootenay Lake.
“As a rite of ritual we used to go into the lake every May 24th weekend and that was just after the ice had gone. When I think about it, it was so crazy. You know when you’re in water so cold you can hardly breathe? We’d jump into the water and swim like mad to stay warm,” laughs Tom.
In the main seating area of the penthouse is a collection of pebble-shaped cushions that look as though they’ve been swept in by a glacial spring. The d’Aquinos found these “Livingstones” in the south of France.
Having easily movable seating is perfect for entertaining, explains Tom. “The design is such that you can have 100 people in here for a reception. Earlier this year, we combined with Zita Cobb, who is at the other end of the building, to do something in support of a charitable hospice event. They said that night there were about 300 people in total. Between her place and my place, it was a breeze.”
Two walls of the luxury condo, which the d’Aquinos call their “Rogues’ Gallery,” feature photos taken with various business leaders, prime ministers, presidents, and monarchs – some from visits to other countries and some taken here at home.
“One of the aspects of Ottawa that I don’t think people fully appreciate is what an interesting city it is. If you think about it, you have people who are elected to political office, you have members of the public service, you have diplomats,” says Tom, adding that there’s a “rich, cultural scene” here. “I think it’s one of the best places in the world to live.”