High-End Hospitality

Everyone’s a VIP at Four Seasons Hotel Toronto. See how the company’s new flagship property is reimagining the guest experience, making for an unforgettable stay.

  The hotel comprises two towers, one taller than the other. Residences occupy the entirety of the shorter tower and half of the other. Recently, the penthouse at the top of the main tower sold for $28 million.
The hotel comprises two towers, one taller than the other. Residences occupy the entirety of the shorter tower and half of the other. Recently, the penthouse at the top of the main tower sold for $28 million. (All photos by Samantha Simmons.)

Something has been lost. In a modern business world so focused on the merits of quantity—more followers, more “likes,” more tweets, more posts, more interactions, more customers, more sales, more acquisitions, more branches, more products, more connections, more everything—something vital to our well-being has been neglected: quality.

However, for Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts, this notion has not gone off the radar. Its keen attention to detail and its focus on customer customization and satisfaction show why quality should be at the forefront of operations. It’s a mindset that has never been clearer than in the brand’s new flagship location, in Toronto, the city where Four Seasons began.

To understand this devotion to quality, you’d have to start from the beginning. When Four Seasons was founded in 1960, by Isadore “Issy” Sharp, its purpose was to create a new kind of hotel—one focused on heightening the guest experience to unprecedented levels. Over the course of the company’s history, it has essentially redefined the hospitality industry, marrying luxury, technology, and convenience together for its customers—ultimately growing to 90 properties in 37 countries on 6 continents. Now, its new Toronto property is taking that vision to the next level.

  Well-appointed seating areas dot the first and second floors, giving visitors a variety of spaces to discover as they explore the hotel.
Well-appointed seating areas dot the first and second floors, giving visitors a variety of spaces to discover as they explore the hotel.

Located in the city’s Yorkville neighbourhood, Four Seasons Hotel Toronto was designed by architectsAlliance, with the interior finished by Yabu Pushelberg—and both the inside and outside align themselves perfectly with Four Seasons’ larger vision. “This property was designed and built from the ground up to represent what we stand for as a brand today and how we will be moving forward,” says Halla Rafati, director of public relations for the property. “Many elements in this hotel have been carefully thought of so that we could show the world where we are heading.”

“Carefully thought of” is an understatement. When you first walk into the hotel, you’re met by a welcoming, plush seating area flanked by soft lighting and stunning artwork, which immediately gives off a cozier, more inviting ambiance than you might expect from one of the biggest hotel chains in the world in one of the biggest cities in North America. That, Rafati explains, is intentional.

“When it comes to the design of the hotel, Yabu Pushelberg tried to create these aha moments—something you wouldn’t expect,” she says. “The areas themselves are very residential. That is where your first aha moment comes. When you walk in, you’re really supposed to feel like you are walking into our home, because this is our hometown.”

The entire experience of arriving, in fact, is meant to feel like a kind of homecoming. The seemingly arbitrary pathways in the outside courtyard, for example, aren’t actually random; from above, the paths and plantings form the image of a blooming rose—a “roseless rose garden,” Rafati calls it. That garden and the adjacent four-storey fountain evoke Yorkville’s roots in the Victorian era, when such flourishes would’ve been commonplace. “It’s about the merging of elements because it’s such an old neighbourhood, yet we are such a modern structure,” Rafati says.

A contemporary yet classic feel permeates the entire hotel. It’s striking yet soothing, it’s modern yet timeless, and it’s anything but ordinary. Not only is the décor unique—Four Seasons commissioned more than 30 artists to create artwork exclusively for the hotel, resulting in more than 1,700 pieces of original Canadian work—but so is the layout itself. In line with Yabu Pushelberg’s vision, the space fluctuates between compartmentalized and open, giving way to a series of intimate seating areas throughout the first and second floors and offering visitors a sense of discovery while exploring. “As you continue walking through the hotel, some areas will close while others begin to open up, revealing themselves—and that is very much like a residence,” Rafati explains.

The towering lobby of Four Seasons Hotel Toronto, designed by Yabu Pushelberg, is meant to evoke a sense of homecoming.
The towering lobby of Four Seasons Hotel Toronto, designed by Yabu Pushelberg, is meant to evoke a sense of homecoming.

Being the flagship for an internationally recognized brand, however, is about much more than having a stunning space. Four Seasons Hotel Toronto also has a strong financial structure in place, setting itself apart as a business through carefully mapped-out “revenue centres”: the rooms, the residences, an event wing, a spa, a restaurant, a lounge, and a boutique shop in the lobby. Together, these targeted areas help solidify the property’s distinguished profile.

“When I say ‘flagship,’ I’m not saying that we’re better than any other Four Seasons property, because that most certainly is not the case,” Rafati says. “It just means that we have identified our main areas of business, looked at them individually, tried to perfect them with our 50-plus years of experience, and put it all together to make a complete, holistic hotel/destination experience.”

Two of those main areas of business—dbar, a lounge and restaurant featuring share plates, artisanal cheeses, house-made sausages and charcuterie, and inventive cocktails from in-house mixologists; and Café Boulud, an elegant but comfortable restaurant featuring high-quality ingredients, internationally influenced fare, and a team of sommeliers to help you navigate the 350 varieties of wine on hand—are also two of the biggest attractions for Toronto visitors and residents alike. Both establishments, conceived by famed chef Daniel Boulud, have their own identities, dining experiences, and highly attentive waitstaffs. Patrons of either will literally get a taste of the quality and customer satisfaction that Four Seasons prides itself on.

“This property is more than a hotel; it’s a destination,” Rafati says. “But it’s important that our restaurants are seen as destinations outside of the hotel as well.”

More than 1,700 works of original Canadian art now hang on the walls of the hotel, both in public spaces and in guest rooms.
More than 1,700 works of original Canadian art now hang on the walls of the hotel, both in public spaces and in guest rooms.

The rooms, of course, are the reason why the hotel exists. (As Rafati puts it, “We are in the business of putting heads in beds.”) But what truly sets a Four Seasons room apart from those in other hotels is not only its quality but its amenities. In addition to each room having a comfortable bed, a sleek work space, a separate seating area, and plenty of natural light, each one comes equipped with a kettle and Nespresso machine (with accompanying flavour options), a digital clock radio with an iPhone/iPod dock, an LED flat-screen TV, another flat-screen TV integrated into the bathroom mirror, and free Wi-Fi. (If needed, faster Wi-Fi can be purchased for a menial fee.) And, to top it all off, each room comes equipped with an iPad for guests’ personal use. (Just don’t check out with it.)

“With the guest room, we recognized the fact that every single one of our guests is a VIP,” Rafati says. “There is no distinction from an amenity perspective inside the room. The only difference is floor level and extra space—and that’s why you pay extra for a suite.”

The idea completely reimagines hospitality’s traditional hierarchy, treating customers equally through quality—in both luxury and technology. “That is revolutionary,” Rafati says, “because suites typically get better amenities than normal rooms. But that’s not the case in this hotel—all of our guests are equally important.”

Café Boulud looks onto Toronto's Yorkville neighbourhood from the second floor.
Café Boulud looks onto Toronto’s Yorkville neighbourhood from the second floor.

As a true destination location, Four Seasons Hotel Toronto also offers private residences for purchase—another area of business for the hotel chain. Within the property’s two-tower structure, residences make up half of the main tower and all of the secondary one. Last year, the penthouse in the main tower sold to a single purchaser for $28 million, making it not only one of the city’s most coveted addresses but also “the most expensive condo ever sold in Canada,” Rafati says.

Being a resident means having a great Yorkville location, but it also means having access to Four Seasons’ many perks, including its fitness area, pool, and spa—the latter of which takes up the entire ninth floor of the main tower and a portion of the eighth, making it both the largest spa in Toronto and the largest in any Four Seasons hotel in the world.

Also connected to the main tower is the event wing—another source of business—housing a large ballroom for conferences, conventions, fund-raisers, receptions, and more. The space, which offers abundant natural light, conforms to the contemporary yet classic feel of the hotel, and it has its own bank of elevators that leads the public from the ground floor directly to event level. This prevents gridlock in the main elevator system and keeps event attendees from mixing with hotel guests. A simple, smart solution.

The decór in the hotel is striking. Four Seasons worked with more than 30 artists who created pieces exclusively for the property.
The decór in the hotel is striking. Four Seasons worked with more than 30 artists who created pieces exclusively for the property.

In a city such as Toronto, there are loads of options for accommodations. But whether you’re travelling for business or pleasure, Four Seasons makes it hard to choose anywhere else. Its slather of service, customization, and detail—as well as its devotion to giving you the best experience possible—aren’t qualities you find every day, and the flagship location will almost certainly continue to make an imprint with its sound revenue streams.

“Luxury is in the details,” Rafati says. “Our guests feel that difference. They get that sense of ‘You know what? I’m really getting a great value for my stay.’” That sense of value goes a long way, and if Four Seasons Hotel Toronto is any indication of where the chain as a whole is heading in the future, then there’s no question it will maintain its legacy of quality.