Applewood Glass & Mirror is an industry leader in the architectural glazing industry. The company manufactures a wide range of aluminum and glass fenestration products at its newly renovated state-of-the-art manufacturing facility located in the Meadowvale Business Park in Mississauga. In addition, it sources high-end speciality fenestration products from international companies with which it partners, and installs the products it manufactures or sources.
When the Italian surname ‘Menecola’ is coupled with the word ‘glass’ it conjures images of the glassblowers of Murano, near Venice. But when asked if there was a connection between Applewood Glass & Mirror, founded by father and son, Lorenzo and Anthony (Tony) Menecola in 1979, and the Italian glass tradition dating back to Roman times, Tony Menecola, company president, says no. “My father came from a metal background. He was a blacksmith in Italy before, and when he came here he worked for window fabricators in the aluminum and steel business,” he explains. Still, Applewood has completed award winning architectural glass projects which suggests if the Menecolas didn’t bring the skill with them, they certainly brought a respect and appreciation for glass.
In Mississauga, the elder Menecola formed a company with three others in the early 70s, but as his son recalls, after eight years in a situation where he wasn’t entirely happy, he decided it was time to get out and form his own company with his son.
The timing was fortuitous as the younger Menecola was completing studies in business administration and industrial engineering at Toronto’s Humber College, a leader in polytechnic education. That combined with the industry knowledge and experience his father had acquired dating back to 1955 in Italy, along with relationships he’d formed with builders and general contractors in the GTA, spelled success for the fledgling company.
“We’re primarily a commercial glazing company, so we do commercial, institutional and retail buildings and ten years ago we moved into the high end residential market — not traditional residential windows, but customized contemporary styles — the kinds of jobs that lend themselves to the type of products we put into commercial buildings and so we’ve been slowly building up that part of our business,” explains Menecola.
“When we started there were just the two of us,” Menecola recalls, “and initially we would manufacture and install whatever jobs we had during the day. My dad was always the shop guy, so it was my responsibility to do the invoicing and quotes and all that other stuff which I did in the later hours and on weekends. We slowly grew to the point where we have 40 to 50 employees, (including sales people, estimators, design technicians, project managers and installation technicians). My dad was involved for the first 15 years and then he became an advisor.”
The team’s specialty in the beginning involved glass curtain walls, manufactured under controlled conditions from frame elements that come in lengths of 24 or 30 feet, cut and machined in the shop and assembled with the glass set and sealed in the frames. The finished panels which typically measure five feet wide and twelve to fourteen feet high are then crated on their sides and shipped to the site, where they interlock side by side and are stacked one story at a time.
The work goes very quickly, Menecola says, “and one of the good things about unitized curtain walls is that you don’t need a lot of site staff. Usually you can erect panels with a crew of six to eight as opposed to the old way of doing a large job where you’d have 20 to 30 men on the job.”
One of Applewood’s recently completed projects is the 12-story national headquarters for AVIVA Insurance. While he describes it as a “traditional office building with four glass sides,” it’s unique in that it has different types of glass on each elevation, different colours of spandrel, and special features where the glass create a wing that protrudes past the corner of the building and up past the roof parapet.
When Lorenzo Menecola passed away in 2015, his obituary noted that he measured success in terms of ‘friends and family’ and that emphasis on relationships has continued. For example, the company has installers who are qualified journeymen glaziers on staff, the majority of whom have been with the business for many years. In a commitment to quality and consistency, Menecola believes those values are better served by in-house staff as opposed to sub-contracted installers which are used by many competitors but who can’t always obtain the same quality and consistency.
Furthermore, Menecola maintains that, “You must develop good relationships with architects, builders and general contractors and if you service them and give them good value for what they’re paying you, you’ll get repeat business. That is how we built our business. We do it on a referral business instead of trying to grab everything in town and work for people [we] don’t know. Occasionally you have to take a leap of faith, but I’ll take working with someone I have a history with over working with someone new any day, because you know what you’re getting into.”
That interest in developing relationships extends to suppliers as Menecola explained how a partnership with OIKOS Venezia, an Italian door manufacturing company, was formed. “As we slowly built up our business we started to seek other products we could use to complement products we were installing, and one of them is high-end security doors. We had the opportunity to tour their plant before we decided to carry their product, and before they decided they would have us carry their product, they did due diligence on us.”
What makes OIKOS Venezia doors so special? “They are unique in the sense they can have an almost unlimited number of finishes on both exterior and interior, anything from wood to stone, from glass to tile, and these doors are incredibly strong. They function well, can be made in very large sizes, and have an intricate locking system almost like a bank vault. They’re high-end and they’re not cheap but they’re excellent for the type of high-end residential jobs we’ve been getting into, and that’s one product we’ve sourced out,” he shares.
“Another partnership that comes to mind is with a company called Reynaers Aluminum (an international company, with branches in 37 countries.) They produce large sliding doors with a lift and slide operation, so you can put in a large heavy door and still manage to open and close it if you’re not very strong. They allow you to open a large part of your fenestration up to the exterior if that is something you need.”
Other partnerships celebrated on Applewood’s website include ones with Kawneer, Alumicor, Commdoor Aluminum, CR Lawrence, Agnora and Trulite Glass & Aluminum.
These partnerships are especially important, he says, “as the glass business has changed significantly in the 40 years since we started — it was a lot simpler then. There were maybe four glass selections but now there are so many I can’t keep up.” (Writer’s note: He does!) Today, “Architects are sourcing all kinds of unique things.”
What kinds of things? Take Integral House, for example. It’s well-known in an affluent area of Toronto, has won multiple awards and has been featured in architectural magazines. The five- level custom home was designed by Shim-Sutcliffe and built by Eisner Murray for the owner who’d requested that three to four-storey glass windows at the rear be constructed to resemble a mathematical sine wave. Applewood’s designers and installers accomplished this using custom segmented, high-performance curved glass curtain wall windows that seem to undulate as they wrap three sides of the building.
“There were two parts to that job as we got involved with the glass you see in the front elevation, above the entrance,” he describes. This is a custom laminated acid etched glazing façade imported from Spain. “It’s like a second skin to windows already in place and that glass had an opaqueness to it and was designed to be backlit at night and could light up in colour or all white or whatever the owner desired.”
Initially, “we weren’t really interested in residential buildings because we didn’t realize how much potential there was, but then we did one in Mississauga in 2003 and it was successful, and we started to look at residences more and more.” That first one included a solarium to accommodate plants and trees, a large, round stained-glass window which Applewood custom designed in a style reminiscent of a Piet Mondrian painting, and a side door wide enough to drive a car through. Why drive a car into a house? The owner was a car collector and behind the round window is a Ferrari on a turntable.
In addition to becoming known in the 2000s for high-end residential homes, Applewood has maintained a high profile when it comes to commercial and institutional buildings. One instantly recognizable project completed in 2003 is the six-storey BMW showroom, visible to thousands of commuters daily on the Don Valley Parkway. It was designed by Quadrangle Architects, built by Bird Construction and features a unitized curtain wall, a custom ground floor high-span curtain wall, and windows created from low-iron crystal clear 12mm glass, framed out in white where six new car models are on display.
“From a design and engineering perspective it was a bit of a challenge, but it’s been there for quite some time and touch wood it’s still standing so I guess we did a good job,” says Menecola with typical self-depreciating humour.
Another project “still standing” is Discovery Landing on the Burlington waterfront, a 14 200 square foot landmark building that faces out into the lake and offers prime storm and weather watching views through the pre-glazed unitized curtain wall that encloses the oval-shaped observatory. It has two large pivot doors, one on each end, that can fully open to the outdoors. Designed by Baird Sampson Neuert Architects, it was completed 13 years ago and offers visitors a reflecting pond in summer and a skating rink in winter, a restaurant and art displays.
A new project of which Menecola is understandably proud is the student centre at York University. “It’s similar to Integral House in that it has wood elements that create fins and is an intricate design with lots of elements including glass and wood panels. A challenge for the glass curtain wall construction is that it’s not a square box. It also contained a large amount of interior glazing for railings and stair cases.”
That Menecola is still enjoying his work after 40 years is obvious. “I can’t see myself retiring and fishing and I think I still have a few good years in me that I can offer to Applewood so that is my focus.”
In addition, Menecola is president of the Architectural Glass and Metal Contractors Association. “I’ve been on the Board of Directors for 20 years. We get involved with contract negotiations for the glazier’s union every three years as we are the bargaining agent for the management side of member companies and I sit on committees that deal with apprenticeship and try to get young people interested in becoming installers and glassworkers (Architectural Glass and Metal Technicians). You always have to recruit because workers are aging and approaching retirement and Toronto is still very busy in the construction market. (Apprenticeship programs for glaziers require 8000 hours of practical experience, combined with three 8-week sessions in a school environment.)
Menecola is right about not retiring soon. When we gazed into our crystal ball on his behalf we didn’t see fishing rods, but we did see more one-of-a-kind architectural glass projects — the kind that make Applewood Glass & Mirror an industry leader.