Despite his penchant for building multimillion-dollar dream estates, Lowell Strauss likes to keep a low profile. The business he runs with his wife, Jacqueline, Amalfi West, has no website, and Strauss sidesteps social media.
“In a past life, I was a software architect, so I am supposed to love technology,” he said. “The truth is I don’t. I would prefer to live a more holistic life without social media and the like.”
Strauss hails from Waterloo, an Ontario town about 90 minutes from Toronto. He worked in construction during high school and college and grew up in a house his father designed. Strauss’ father ultimately became a commercial real estate developer and builder, after dropping out of high school to run his parent’s press shop.
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That connection to nature and the elements drives his design philosophy.
He credits this appreciation to his interactions with the Anishinaabe and Ojibwe, indigenous peoples found in Northwestern Ontario.
“When I was younger, I spent months each year planting trees and living deep in the northwestern Ontario wilderness. I lived in a tent, and worked alongside native people, who had this otherworldly contentedness to nature. Indigenous people have a connection to the Earth that we have lost,” he said. “It may sound ridiculous, a guy building multimillion-dollar homes talking about these things, but this is what inspires my wife and I.”
In this interview with The Chronicle, Strauss talks about how he and his wife select building sites, the biggest hurdles he faces and an engineering advancement that’s fundamentally changed the way they design.
Q: How do you select sites for development?
A: We invest in real estate all along the coast. We look for unique and spectacular natural settings. We are very selective about the properties we purchase. Every property has to speak to us for some reason or another. We trend toward spectacular views, oceanfront homes or land with a natural element that sets them apart. Topography is very important since we look for sites that allow for indoor/outdoor living. Having the topography that allows for easy access to the outdoors without much effort but still allows for privacy, expansive outdoor spaces and best views is very challenging.
Q: What’s the most challenging part of your job?
A: Usually it’s the design review process, and sometimes dealing with unfriendly neighbors. It’s very hard not to take it personally when you are so passionate about what you are doing. I mean, yes, we are developers and are out to make a profit, but that is not what drives our process. We don’t even think about budget when we design something. We think about creating the greatest thing we can imagine, and an integral part of that is how that thing fits into the natural environment. I think our work in the end speaks for itself. For us, leaving something magnificent behind, that people can walk past, and it really makes them happy, just like when you first look at a magnificent piece of art, that’s everything to us.
Q: How do you go about selecting fits and finishes for a home?
A: The materials must serve a purpose in terms of how we want a particular space to feel. Every room in our houses has something special about it. We try and always use natural materials like stone, wood, steel or concrete to speak to that. Stone, to me, is very emotional. We once took slabs of fossilized boulders from an ancient landslide and sandblasted them. We used them to panel the walls of a bathroom and it created this incredible three-dimensional effect that people really responded to.
Our Belvedere project has these incredible indoor/outdoor spas in some of the key bathrooms, and will be made from stone slabs with a leathered finish, which will make sitting in them feel soft, sexy and supple.
Q: What enables you to have such substantial indoor/outdoor living designs?
A: We spend a lot of time researching the glazing of the windows and doors we use. We want massive openings, with transparent minimalistic frames, that allow us to literally have walls of glass that make the building feel sheltered, yet transparent. The selection of this type of window and door system has really taken us to the pinnacle of architecture and design. There are incredibly expensive products out there that let you achieve incredible feats of engineering while providing the structural rigidity that is required for such massive open spaces.