Robert Quigg is surrounded by the choppy grey waters of the Pacific Ocean, yet his feet haven't left solid ground.
He stands inside the two-storey penthouse of his West Vancouver waterfront property, called the Argyle. The room's 16-foot-high floor-to-ceiling windows allow for one of the best ocean views in the Lower Mainland.
The penthouse price tag is $8.9-million and the building is the latest luxury project from Mr. Quigg, a carpenter-turned-developer who's made a specialty out of the high-end B.C. real estate market.
"We want to make sure it's great quality and all about design," says Mr. Quigg. "If buyers are there that want to spend X dollars, what can we give them that's cool and fantastic for that dollar amount? That's been the driver."
The distinctive Argyle is covered in Pennsylvania blue stone with waterfalls on each side of the main entrance. The building is in sleek contemporary contrast to the iconic candy floss pink and blue 50s buildings that surround it.
Mr. Quigg, who is a bit of a fanatic for design, calls them part of "Vancouver lore." Anybody who's ever checked out West Vancouver's waterfront knows those buildings.
"It's cool, isn't it?" he says, pointing to a '50s blue building across the way. "I like the railing on that one," he says, pointing to another with distinctive honeycomb railings. "I probably wouldn't have done it as waterfront, but I like it."
The Argyle, on the other hand, is all natural neutrals and earth tones on the outside, sleek white modernism on the inside. It is comprised of a mere nine units - one unit per floor - that are priced between $4-million and $5-million. Three of the units are still for sale, including the penthouse, consisting of 3,800 sq. ft. of living space, 1,700 sq. ft. of wrap-around patio, a private four-car garage, and access to a two-storey fitness centre. The space is finished with natural materials, including African hardwood anigre, limestone and onyx, and equipped with a 500-bottle wine room, bar off the kitchen, media room with panorama view, and spa bathrooms.
The Argyle is tailor-made for the fickle high-end residential market, where Mr. Quigg has exclusively focused for the last eight years. The ultra-driven Mr. Quigg, son of a pulp mill worker from Powell River on Vancouver Island, started out in 1986, at age 19, with $500 and a beat up pick-up truck. Throughout North America and Europe he built commercial developments and high-end housing, until he decided to develop the properties instead. But the hands-on Mr. Quigg insists he still sees himself as a builder first, developer second.
"I was pretty driven my whole life. I like to work hard," says Mr. Quigg, whose parents came from Northern Ireland. "People ask me to talk to their son about how to make it happen and I'm happy to, but if you get up in the morning and go in one direction and just keep going that way for the rest of your life, you'll be okay."
Today, he develops top-end properties such as the $1.5-billion Vancouver Island development at Bear Mountain, near Langford.
The luxury market, says Mr. Quigg, is an unpredictable one, not guided by mortgage rates or economic pressures. For example, of the last 80 to 100 houses he's sold, he would guess that only two were subject to financing.
"It's never a boom time in the high-end market," says Mr. Quigg. "It's not really about market cycle. The market could be booming, and it takes six months to sell. The market could be soft, and someone comes along and says, 'I want that.' At this price threshold, they pretty much buy when they want."
From Mr. Quigg's perspective, the Vancouver market has shifted away from international buyers in recent years. He used to see about 85 per cent of buyers come from outside Canada, while today he sees only 50 per cent. Surprisingly, few of those buyers come from the U.S. The majority of foreign buyers come from Britain, Asia and the Middle East. He adds that it's difficult to define "local" because many of his clients own two or three homes and live in different places throughout the year.
Regardless of where they come from, Vancouver is an international city with enough wealthy people to keep a developer like Mr. Quigg busy.
"We always say, 'We don't have many head offices [in Vancouver] but we have a lot of people who own them.'"
The common denominator, says Mr. Quigg, is that it's a demanding market.
"I'm sure not every developer is going to see it the way I do. And there are a lot of developers who wouldn't want to be in this market because a lot of clients are very demanding, very involved, and engaged at all times.
"You have to envision the purchaser," he says. "I build homes I'd like to live in myself. I think the whole thing through. I want to make sure everything fits and make sure it works. We don't always get it 100 per cent right, but I try."
He's divided high-end buyers into two groups: those who want to build their own dream home and those who want something built as if it were custom without having to do all the work. Mr. Quigg markets to the latter.
"We didn't want to build base spec product, we wanted to build luxury product - that's why we don't do a lot of projects at any given time," he says. "We try to find the right projects. We spend the time and effort on them, and I agonize over every detail, every piece of finishing, to make sure that it will make sense.
"But we can't blow our brains out, because it's still got to be marketable," he adds. "It's about staying on that line between how do you deliver something that's fantastic without making it so unique nobody wants it - or so expensive that it's not viable?"