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.”
Cozy home office nook.
Creativity abounds in this cozy home office nook, which we've designed on both an entry-level and a CEO budget. Can you tell the difference?
1 Quartet cork wall tiles, 12" x 12". Staples, $13 (set of 4). 2 Powder-coated steel Bondis wall clock. IKEA, $30. 3 Umbra aluminum Lettro wall organizers. Urban Barn, $48. 4 Powder-coated steel swing-arm sconce in black. CB2, $90. 5 iMac 3.3GHz Quad-Core Intel Core i5 desktop computer with Retina 5k display, 27". Apple, $2,399. 6 KSP acrylic Ghost-style chair. Kitchen Stuff Plus, $125. 7 Painted particleboard Alex desk (top only) in white, $169. Painted fibreboard Linnmon tabletop in white, 2' x 4', $20. Lacquered bamboo Hilver desk legs, $20 each. All IKEA. 8 Kate Spade New York acrylic Strike Gold stapler. Indigo, $28. 9 White waste basket. Dollar Tree, $1. 10 Faux leather office bag in brown. Zara, $70. 11 Contemporary handspun wool Sync rug in Spring Rain, 6' x 8'. Weavers Art, $3,570.
1 Cork Tackboard harmony wall tiles with self-adhesive backing, 12" x 24". Jelinek Cork Group, $110 (set of 5). 2 Large stainless steel wall clock in black. Urban Mode, $113. 3 Powder-coated iron Revere wall organizers in silver. CB2, $30 each. 4 Powder-coated steel swing-arm sconce with brass details. Pavillion, $399. 5 Mac Pro 3.7GHz Quad-Core Intel Xeon ES desktop computer with Dual DPU ($3,499) with Thunderbolt display, 27" ($1,199). All Apple. 6 Polycarbonate Belle Epoque chair in Crystal Clear. UpCountry, $295. 7 Painted fibreboard Emerson desk in white with ash legs. Structube, $529. 8 Stainless steel Akto stapler. Urban Mode, $87. 9 Design Ideas spoxy-coated steel spoke waste basket in white. Neat, $30. 10 Royal Republiq leather Telegraph bag in cognac. Te Koop, $240. 11 Signature handspun wool-blend Terrazzo rug in Stone & Tan, 6' x 8'. Weavers Art, $5,370.
At times, tidying an office space can feel like a near-impossible feat (we've all been there). But before that pile of paper is mistaken for a mini mountain, rest assured: help is on the way. From wall-hung storage bins to fancy glassware, these three organizing solutions will have you conquering clutter once and for all. 1 Welcome wall storage: Free up precious desk space by storing stray items in sightly wall-mountaed storage bins. Ideal for tight quarters, they come in a range of sleek style sand can easily house everything from keys and office supplies to mail and magazines. 2 Get creative with glass: The glass message board has quickly become the new whiteboard. Simply hang a float picture frame (available at craft supply stores) on your wall and write notes on the glass using an erasable marker. Insert a favourite photograph or, if you're feeling crafty, line the inside with patterned paper. 3 Repurpose pretty dishware: Corral oft-used items like pencils and push-pins in gorgeous glassware or petite ceramic bowls set on a modern serving tray. Think of it as styling a glamorous bar cart, minus the booze!
Step 1: Assemble the Alex desktop as per the manufacturer's instructions (you won't need the frame that's included). Set the desktop aside. Step 2: To make the desk 30" high (the standard height), use a handsaw to cut off 3" from the bottom of each Hilver leg. Screw the legs into the pre-drilled holes of the Linnmon tabletop. Step 3: Apply a latex-based adhesive to the top of the Linnmon tabletop and carefully set the Alex destop on top, ensuring it's centred. Clamp the surfaces together while the adhesive dries overnight.
Aesthetically pleasing and practical for small spaces, the mighty sconce prevails in the world of office lighting. On the hunt for a style that suits your budget? We promise you'll take a shine to one of these swing-arm designs. From the top: 1 Brushed stainless steel vintage. gusmodern.com, $600. 2 Powder-coated steel with brass details. pavilionmodern.com, $399. 3 Powder-coated steel Tribeca Warren 1 in brass. wayfair.com, $350 US. 4 Powder-coated steel in black. cb2.com, $90.
Forgo securing a bulletin board to your workspace wall and opt for this textured and versatile cork alternative. The secret to any well-decorated space is finding a balance between style and function. In the case of cork, don't restrict yourself to a pre-made bulletin board. Perfect for adorning a wall, cork tiles (sold in an array of sizes and textures) will lend you a warm, tactile element to your home office. Jazz up the look some more by reusing bejewelled brooches as push-pins.
Image: Nicole Cohen
After a series of nips and tucks, a derelict brownstone in Brooklyn, N.Y., reaches its full potential – and then some.
Four years ago, Nicole and Jordan Stein made the trip from the maelstrom of midtown Manhattan to a quiet, leafy street in Brooklyn that, compared with the city, felt downright pastoral. They had come to tour a brownstone as part of an estate sale, and immediately saw its potential despite certain drawbacks.
“I definitely had some trepidation because the house was in extremely rough shape,” says Nicole, who designs fine jewellery she sells through her online Etsy shop, ByNicoleAlexis. Conversely, Jordan, a Montreal-born business consultant and entrepreneur, was confident it could be brought back to life – after all, he had watched his parents successfully transform a beat-up Vermont ranch when he was younger.
“Our goal was to marry classic architecture with a modern aesthetic,” says Nicole, who wanted the interior envelope to look original to the house. Though the idea of gutting the space and blasting out the walls was brought up, it didn’t get far. “We bought a brownstone, not a condo,” says Nicole cheekily. “Sure, we have a narrow hallway and a tiny powder room, and yes, it’s a little quirky, but it’s true to the original home.” So the small rooms remained intact and were slowly brought back to code over the course of a year under their contractor’s exacting eye.
Next up? Christine Dovey, a designer based in Oakville, Ont., who has remotely kitted out homes (via email) from America to Norway, stepped in to apply her signature style: ravishing rooms with traditional architectural details in a modern palette of black and white with bursts of pink; spaces in which provocative contemporary artwork often sits alongside antique furnishings.
To deliver an authentic period look, Christine suggested the homeowners invest in crown mouldings. “Nicole wanted something that looked like it was there originally, so we went with big plaster mouldings as a splurge on the living room ceiling but regular crown throughout,” says Christine. Making sure the interior looked more downtown than Downton, the designer balanced the historic architectural elements with what she calls “a mixed bag of edgy yet elegant furnishings.”
In need of some hand holding a little closer to home, Nicole also worked with local designer Natalie Kraiem, who helped achieve the look by choosing key pieces including the rugs and living room artwork.
The sculptural replace in the eat-in area of this Brooklyn, N.Y., brownstone was in such rough shape, it had to be removed and rebuilt. Above it, the enormous antique filigree mirror that belonged to the previous owners lends romance to the space. “We loved it so much we negotiated it as part of the sale of the house,” says homeowner Nicole Stein.
Dripping with crystal beads, the antique brass basket chandelier was a splurge, but Nicole insists it’s a forever piece. “I’m crazy about it too,” says designer Christine Dovey. “I love how it contrasts the rough-hewn wooden table.” The bespoke kitchen peninsula, with its marble waterfall edge, was also pricey, but Nicole had the fabricator use the scraps to make luxurious window ledges. “Everyone comments on them,” she says.
A blend of vintage- and modern-look furnishings gives the formal living room an eclectic, collected feel. Sculptural retro Alky chairs are a fun contrast to the stiff-backed caned settee. Heavyweight-cotton curtains draw the eye up to the 11-foot- high ceiling. They were originally placeholders, but looked so fabulous that Nicole decided to keep them – proving that you don’t always need to spend a mint on custom drapery.
Inspired by the iconoclastic Mexican painter, Frida is a punchy print that presides over this area of the living room, where a brass Sputnik lamp, oversized mirror and sculptural fireplace surround offer exciting diversions.
Wild! This spotted antelope-print runner gives an unexpected punch, introducing a graphic pattern into the front hall. “It’s classic but edgy,” says Christine.
Show-stopping architectural details on the ceiling of the living room’s media area are period appropriate but were non-existent when the couple bought the brownstone. Nicole tracked down a plaster restoration specialist in Long Island, N.Y., and sent Christine samples to narrow down the options. The installation took a week and was definitely a splurge. “It’s a real art. There is literally someone there with a cotton swab and a fine blade forming everything by hand,” says Nicole.
Whitewashed living room features a charming mix of furniture styles.
A DIY-inclined couple turns an 800-square-foot two-bedroom bungalow into the perfect home for their young family.
Homeowner Amanda Robinson transformed the secondhand piano by covering it in grey paint, casually accessorizing it like the rest of the living room and softening its bench with a faux-sheepskin throw.
The whitewashed living room features a charming mix of furniture styles. “I brought softness into the space with the upholstered pieces, while keeping a farmhouse vibe with the antique rocking chairs,” says Amanda.
Homeowners Jason and Amanda Robinson hang out in the bright living room with their sons, Ethan (left) and Aidan.
While blue hues rock this farmhouse, Amanda also popped in some pink tones as contrast.
A fun DIY project or easily picked up at a gardening centre, terrariums are a great way to keep your home green in small ways.
Durable slate tiles define the entryway in this open-concept space. Practical items in natural tones like the bench, mirror and coat rack are artfully arranged so everything looks pulled together.
The kitchen epitomizes Amanda’s love of pale backdrops punctuated with colour and natural tones. “I made the shelves out of wooden boards from our barn and left them unpainted to contrast all the white and to complement the butcher block counters,” she says. Mismatched hardware picks up on the hits of blue throughout the home.
With their young sons and pets (Weimaraner Tessie and cat Nimble) in mind, Amanda chose tongue-and-groove pine planks for the floors, ceilings and walls. “I didn’t want new drywall with two little boys and pets running around,” she says. “It was the best design decision I ever made.”
Amanda knew she wanted a light and bright space and conceived the decor with colour in mind. “This is still a really small house, so I stuck to a neutral palette for the base: white and cream with natural wood tones throughout,” she says.
Amanda and Jason knocked down walls to create an eat-in area that features a free-standing stove surrounded by stone-veneered walls and a thrift-store dining table and chairs proudly bearing a mismatched paint job. “I painted everything grey and then decided to paint all the chairs blue but got sidetracked after one,” says Amanda. “It’s fun and quirky as is, and the boys take turns sitting in the blue chair at dinnertime.”
“The walls in Aidan’s bedroom were in good shape, so we painted them and added pine planks to the ceiling,” says Amanda. “I like the masculine look of the unpainted wood.” The new blue dressers share the space with a thrift-store wicker chair, a yellow-painted hand-me-down stool and rope-hung shelves Amanda crafted from barnboard.
“Ethan wanted everything in his room swimming pool turquoise.” They settled on a seafoam blue that’s more soothing for a bedroom and then incorporated coordinating accents in every room – even on the front door. “If you keep the big things neutral and then add accents in a single shade, it makes everything seem effortlessly connected,” says Amanda.
A bright screen door frame hints at the pops of blue to be found inside the house. Amanda refinished a hand-me-down pine table in grey paint and repurposed it as an easy-to-access storage unit for firewood. Antique Canadian Pacific Railway lanterns found in the barn and on Kijiji layer in more colour and reference the surrounding rustic landscape.
After a fresh coat of paint and some carefully placed furniture, the Robinsons are set to make this newly decorated farmhouse their home.
Homeowner Amanda Robinson used blue paint throughout her home to liven up the soothing neutral palette and provide a link from room to room. Here are her three favourite shades.