- AUGUST 14, 2004

Couple renovates and expands wide-open loft after live-in experiment. Background tracks for a Celine Dion hit were recorded here.

When musician and composer Stephan Moccio, 31, listens to Celine Dion sing her hit A New Day Has Come, he swears he can hear the sound of his wife, Hilary Paul, 30, washing dishes in the background.

No, Moccio doesn’t have an overactive imagination. Rather, the slight tinkling of forks and knives being rinsed likely found its way into the song because the piano, background vocals and strings were all recorded in the couple’s loft (and then mixed in Los Angeles).

Moccio also wrote the music for A New Day Will Come in the loft (Aldo Nova wrote the lyrics). “My neighbours heard it pre-release,” he says, “and when it came out on the radio they recognized everything they had heard here. The place became legendary.”

The couple purchased their condominium in the Brewery Lofts at 90 Sumach St. in 1999. The unit, which now measures 2,400 square feet after a 200-square-foot loft addition, came with only a kitchen and bathroom. The rest was up to them. So, they loaded up all of Moccio’s recording equipment, piano, books and CDs (he owns 4,000) and moved in. They lived in the space for about a year to see how it worked. They realized they needed separate areas for work and living, as well as storage and shelving. They had already had Toronto builder and architect John O’Connor design and install shelving for Moccio’s CD collection and books made from medium-density fibreboard finished with flat lacquer. “We loved them so much that we built the entire loft with John,” says Hilary Paul.

(Although the couple won’t discuss how much the renovation cost, O’Connor says that the price tag for a renovation such as this is around $100,000.) What they did was create two separate open loft levels: one an office space and one a sleeping area near the front part of the condo on the upper level; on ground level, there’s a huge living area, plus kitchen and dining space at the back.

Paul works as a consultant at a Toronto school and even if Moccio had everyone from soprano Sarah Brightman to the members of NSYNC traipsing through the loft 24/7, Paul still needed to be on a regular school day schedule.

All of the areas have privacy from the foyer without blocking off any areas. “If a courier comes in for instance, they aren’t in their living space,” O’Connor says.

One of the most important considerations, explains Moccio, was creating, “something rustic, with wood, to juxtapose the modern concrete wall, that whole cold feeling of these lofts. We come from the country (Niagara Falls area) and we wanted something creative.”

The foyer area is covered in stained Douglas fir plywood with battens in a modern abstract pattern, which O’Connor feels looked like “a musical pattern.” The area is lit with theatrical lights installed in the plywood.

Recycled Douglas fir joists have been used on the two staircases that lead up to the office and bedroom loft areas. The flooring in both areas is from old factory floors that have been refurbished. In the upper loft area, which houses the office and is seven feet high, there is one continuous desk, which takes several 90-degree turns in a zigzag pattern, affording both Paul and Moccio their own work areas.

Paul explains, “It enables us to work together but in totally different spaces. We also have privacy without making it floor to ceiling.”

The bedroom, nine feet in height, is a separate area on its own. While open to the rest of the condo, it also has a curtain that can close off one opening. “We have different schedules so I can just pull it across when I get up early,” says Paul. A huge maple sliding door separates the bathroom from the rest of the loft. It is the original bathroom and the couple hopes to tackle it next.

O’Connor crafted several pieces of furniture for the loft. There’s a huge coffee table, divided into four units, made of old oak planks inside a metal frame on wheels. As well, the dining room table made of hemlock is like a modern harvest table with two moveable ends. And of course, there is the bookcase, measuring 11 feet, which combines storage for books and CD’s.

The kitchen was designed by Brian Gluckstein before O’Connor came on the scene and features a moveable stainless steel island with stainless steel fixtures. The condo’s floors are stained, finished concrete, which the couple reseals every so often to maintain them.

The couple lived on site during the six-week period it took to create the loft areas in October, 2000. That meant recording equipment and associated wires were all pushed into a corner and separated from the workspace by a plastic wall. O’Connor says one of the reasons they picked wood as a building material instead of drywall was so that Moccio could continue working without worries about dust.

Colours throughout the condo are natural, earthy tones. For instance, the dining room wall is a Ralph Lauren shade called River Rock that is textured and needs to be applied with a special roller. Underneath both the office and bedroom loft areas, is a huge amount of storage space, almost like a little underground world inhabited by closets and shelving, along with closets and more shelving. Says Paul, “One of the big problems in lofts like this is storage.”

Despite the fact that the living area has floor-to-ceiling windows, the couple has both canvas shades on the windows and huge green curtains to protect their books from sunlight. Soundproofing has never been a problem, laughs Moccio.

“Except for drumming, because the drums sit on the concrete and reverberate.” And of course, there is that music that manages to filter through the doors, but no one has complained.

In fact, the couple is lucky scalpers aren’t hanging around the lobby.

“One time when Sarah Brightman was here, and she was singing, I went outside to put the garbage in the trash and discovered five people outside the door listening,” says Paul, smiling.

Initially work and home was combined at the condominium. A number of musical groups including Brightman, NSYNC, Edwin and Prozzak recorded in the couple’s home.

“The acoustics were great in the bathroom, so we had cable running out of the bathroom,” says Moccio.

When Moccio did the arrangement for A New Day Has Come, he says, “I was here in my pyjamas for 2 1/2 weeks. I could relax and be myself and not have those boundaries you have when you are at other recording studios.

“But then I crossed the line and I couldn’t put an end to it. I would be eating dinner and thinking I have to be right back working at it. I couldn’t escape.”

Today only a fraction of the CDs and the Yamaha grand piano remain in the loft; the rest of Moccio’s recording equipment has been moved to a downtown studio.

Currently, he is working on his first solo album, which he wrote in the loft, but is recording elsewhere with members of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. The only thing missing will be his wife playing the spoons.