Image: Stacey Brandford / Styling: Christine Hanlon
Nest maker, know thyself. Here’s how one designer used self-reflection and simplicity to do up her Toronto Victorian.
“There are thousands of inspiring ideas out there,” says designer Melanie Hay, referring to the wellspring of online home decor images, blogs and shops. “You can literally research for months. But in the end, the best design is born of self-discovery. The more you understand who you are and how you live, the better the odds that the rooms you create will be rooms that you love.”
Melanie should know. When she and her husband, Andrew, an entrepreneur, purchased a tall, narrow Victorian in Toronto’s Annex neighbourhood about four years ago, they were two people without a plan – but with about 3,000 square feet of empty space. Needless to say, to a designer like Melanie, this blank canvas meant instant inspiration overload. “My mind was swimming with decorating schemes,” she recalls. “Deep down, though, I knew Andrew and I are nesters, and when we walked in the door, we would want to come home to a space that echoes our life stories.” This is where her approach to decorating the house started.
But it was not as easy as it sounds. “From the beginning, I had to acknowledge that Andrew and I don’t share the same taste,” she says. Melanie loves white; Andrew prefers dark wood. Something had to give. The house already had the towering black doors and high-gloss black banister they both liked, so the couple let these details inspire the look. “Plus, we already owned a black and white rug, a round table with a dark top and a black leather Eames chair, so why not use them?” adds Melanie. Red- and peach-painted walls were redone in shades of light and shadow. Such was the start of what is now the home’s signature black and white colour scheme.
And a little self-reflection went a long way when it came to deciding what to hang on the walls. “Although we appreciate fine art, personal mementoes that connect us to our families matter more,” says Melanie. This realization became the inspiration for the dining room gallery wall. Gathering a few favourite prints, posters and paintings, the designer created a dynamic visual mash-up. The result is a sophisticated yet personal design element. One added bonus? It was totally budget-friendly. “I paired gold-framed heirloom pieces with newer prints in inexpensive white frames to unite the random collection,” explains Melanie. And since not many are forever pieces, she adds or subtracts on a whim. “There are a lot of nail holes in that wall!” she says with a laugh.
In many ways, this ever-evolving approach is a reflection of Melanie’s creativity. “Unlike the homes I design for clients, which are done in one sweep, my house changes constantly. I’ve become incredibly good at moving furniture, which must drive Andrew crazy. This house will never be truly finished,” she says. “And if it ever is, I’ll probably just start over!”
Homeowner and designer Melanie Hay paired her husband’s steel-topped dining table with chairs she bought on Craigslist. “I’ve reupholstered the seats two times already,” she says. Right now, they bear a sophisticated charcoal linen that accentuates the dark walls and striped rug.
“It’s been a bedside table, an end table and a catch- all,” says Melanie of the bar cart she purchased years ago. “Finally, it’s a bar!” The cart is low, however, and the home’s ceilings are very high. To draw the eye upward, she added a painting and a wall-mounted metal stag bust above it.
Melanie scoured big-box stores for large-scale artwork to act as stand-ins for the forever pieces that will eventually accent her living room. That way, she doesn’t have to live with blank walls while she searches for the perfect investments.
The house was built in the early 1900s, but its contemporary fireplace mantel and furnishings achieve an eclectic mix that feels right at home in the space. “If you can’t afford to do a house all at once,” advises Melanie, “then do one room at a time. That way you can afford to invest in key pieces.”
“Decorating one room completely and then carrying that look to the next allows you to really establish a cohesive aesthetic throughout the house,” says Melanie, who started with the living room and finished with the master bedroom, which echoes the rest of the home’s light-meets-dark and modern-meets-traditional themes.
Image by: Donna Griffith | Styling: Christine Hanlon
Hushed tones and plenty of natural light make for a dreamy retreat
When these newlyweds ditched their condo for a house — as so many do — they set their sights upon Toronto’s leafy Summerhill neighbourhood , which they admired for its older homes. The couple found a 2,290-square-foot four-bedroom semi built in the 1930s that fit the bill in terms of age and locale, but it hadn’t been touched since the ’80s.
“It was so dark,” says one of the homeowners, referring to the interior, which was coated in dowdy browns and suffering from tiny rooms and windows, as well as a gloomy kitchen partitioned from the rest of the house. “We needed more light and a large kitchen for my husband, who loves to cook,” she says. Simply put, the house was hardly what you’d call a love nest. So the homeowners enlisted Croma Design’s Ryan Martin and Amy Kent to give their starter house a style transfusion.
“We wanted to create a classically inspired backdrop with clean-lined furnishings and art,” says Amy. The homeowners didn’t want to go too stark or too stuffy, so they settled on a transitional look with bold lashes of black and modern furnishings boasting traditional details. And, of course, they addressed the cramped spaces and lack of light.
To that end, the designers reworked the layout, removing the powder room, relocating the kitchen and expanding the windows at the front and back of the house. “We opened everything up so the light emanating from the new windows and existing skylight would stretch further,” says Ryan.
As for the finer details, near-black accents add striking drama against the palette of soothing greys, blues, browns and whites. “The colours in this home are very subtle, tone-on-tone and easy to live with,” says Amy. “We wanted the house to make an impact as a whole – not for any particular wall or accent to stand out above the rest.”
Whether the homeowners are upstairs lounging in the relaxed media room or downstairs sipping tea in the more formal living area, there is indeed a clear sense of cohesion, which is a hallmark of this home — and what makes it a far cry from its gloomy beginnings.
A dynamic explosion of hexagonal and subway tiles gives the third-floor bathroom edge. The contrasting grout as well as the blackened metal fittings, chair rail and sconces look sharp against the white backdrop.
Watery blues and greys lend a serene painterly feel to the tranquil second-floor family room.
The long and linear print of birch trees (with hand-applied copper leaf) echoes the shape of the low-slung sofa, which is clean-lined to suit the quiet space.
“I loved being able to customize the house to our needs,” says one of the homeowners. “My husband really loves the new kitchen.”
Image by: Stacey Brandford | Styling: Morgan Lindsay & Stacy Begg
A PR maven updates her Toronto kitchen to create a chic space with staying power.
Christine Faulhaber is no stranger to trends. “It’s my job to be on the pulse of what’s new and now,” says the head of Faulhaber Communications, a PR and marketing firm in Toronto. When this in-the-know gal’s kitchen got an update last year, it was destined to have a covetable current look. But first, the 420-square-foot space – which hadn’t seen more than a coat of paint since the ’80s — needed to be brought into this decade.
Seeking help to gut the room and start over, the well-connected homeowner pulled out her loaded Rolodex and called in designer Amy Dillon of AyA Kitchens and Baths. “For the most part, we kept the layout pretty similar,” says Amy. “But we tweaked things to improve usability.” The upgrades included replacing cabinets with space-saving pullouts, swapping bulky appliances for sleek, well-integrated options and supplanting the old island with a longer narrower one that accommodates seating without impeding flow.
With function taken care of, Amy focused on the finishes, opting for elements befitting this fashion-forward professional. She cites the sleek two-tone cabinetry, open storage and a feature wall sans uppers as examples. “Trends can date themselves down the line,” says Amy, “so I incorporated them in a subtle way, using a neutral palette.” The über-popular encaustic-look backsplash tiles are case in point. “The slew of prints is a bit aggressive,” admits Christine. “But they’re monotone, so it’s a safe choice.” Time-tested additions, such as Mid-Century Modern-style seating, grasscloth accent wallpaper and copper accessories round out the room, cementing its staying power.
Designer Amy Dillon grounded the white cabinetry with dark grey accents — but only a few. “I wanted the space to age gracefully, not look like that typical two-tone kitchen you see so much,” she says. Marble-look Caesarstone countertops, which flow into a waterfall edge on the island, help achieve that goal.
For the dining area, Christine went with one of the hottest trends — Mid-Century Modern furniture — and chose chairs in a punchy shade of blue.
Though Amy chose minimal modern flat-panelled cabinetry, she varied the look by incorporating some open storage. “Display space is important to me,” says Christine, who showcases cookbooks and collectibles, such as her grandmother’s porcelain teacups. “These types of pieces give the space character and make it feel more like the rest of the rooms in the house.”
Christine fell for the bold encaustic-look backsplash tiles immediately. “The prints — there are 33 in total — are mostly traditional, so they have long legs,” she says. For a slightly more current effect, she had her contractor double up on the watery pattern, the only contemporary motif in the bunch. “The backsplash is a safe place to try a trend,” she advises. “Worst-case scenario, I tire of it in 10 years. I’d probably want to change my kitchen by then anyway!”
Christine incorporated touches of copper, the metal du jour, starting with a Tom Dixon pendant light in the eat-in area. The zone received the same space-smart treatment as the rest of the kitchen with dual-tone built-ins.
The whimsical artwork printed on Plexiglas is actually an image from a photo shoot Christine produced five years ago to mark the 10th anniversary of her PR and marketing agency, Faulhaber Communications. She used classic grass-cloth wallpaper as a backdrop to amplify the piece.
Image by: Tracey Ayton / Design: Kerrisdale Design
Get the inside scoop on the year's most popular design trends.
Every year brings with it hot new trends and this year’s design trends are sure to get you excited about making some changes at home. Whether you’re thinking about something small scale like painting your powder room in one of the year’s hottest shades or going bigger with beautiful architectural features, these ideas from designers are sure to inspire!
Credit: Amber Interiors
1 "I think that a top design trend will be spaces that are more relaxed and casual with nothing too fussy or sparkly. Call it a restrained and tailored boho aesthetic; think Amber Interiors. Linen or velvet seating (in performance fabrics, of course), a mixture of woods and textures and nothing matching or contrived. Worn, antique area rugs, handmade block print fabrics and a real plant or two add to the layered yet edited feel and give a home soul." - Interior Designer, Vanessa Francis.
Photography: Tracey Ayton / Design: Kerrisdale Design
2 "Look for interior finishings to take centre stage in 2017. While decorative elements like furniture and wallpaper have traditionally set the trends, increasing attention is being paid to the bones of a house. Applied mouldings, interior doors, archways and window casings are becoming more elaborate as homeowners discover that architectural features can make bold statements too." - Blogger and Designer, Jennifer Flores.
3 "Today, forest green has made a comeback and is seen mixed with deep woods and black hardware and punches of brass to make it pop. Go bold and paint a powder room green. Pair with an antique chest turned-vanity and some brass pulls and brass faucet." - Interior Designer, Tara Fingold.
Photography: Stacey Brandford / Design: Jessica Claire Interiors
4 "My favourite design for 2017 is wallpaper that mimics a wall mural. There are some incredible designs on the market where wallcoverings depict designs like large scale florals or hand painted landscapes. The dramatic impact is pretty incredible, and I love how it adds a bit of a handmade influence to any room." - Designer, Lisa Canning.
Credit: Colette Grand Cafe
5 "One top design trend is to introduce unconventional design elements into our homes. Whether your inspiration is a sensational bar shelf suspended from the ceiling at Colette, the stunning floor to ceiling glass walls at The Chase Toronto, or the metal trim detail between floor tiles at most commercial spaces, 2017 is the year for innovative ideas so why not be inspired by our favourite restaurants or the beautifully designed stores as we shop for the holidays?" - Blogger and Decorator, Tim Lam.
6 "Loft-inspired design has been around for few decades but we're seeing a resurgence of this trend with the black steel factory door. The large black grid of these elegant beauties are not only attractive but they provide great sight lines to the outdoors, further forging the relationship between indoor and outdoor living. They can easily elevate any modern or traditional home whether as a patio door, room divider or shower door. With this much versatility, it's easy to see why the black steel factory door is expected to be a big winner in 2017!" - Designer, Andrea Haraldsen.
Photography: Michael Graydon / Design: Sam Sacks Design
7 "Give way to lighter woods! We’re seeing a move towards a blonder, natural looking wood from floor to ceiling. Wider plank hardwood with an oiled/ matte finish is a great choice in creating visual interest and providing a neutral backdrop for furniture and other interior elements. Natural, rift cut oak is a great option for cabinetry, pairing well with walnut and darker woods and even painted finishes. Light wood is extremely versatile and a great way to add warmth and texture throughout a home without it feeling overpowering or heavy." - Interior Designer, Nyla Free.