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.
A crisp and calm all-white bedroom is a dream in itself
These stylish master suites will have you inspired to redecorate your own space.
With a textured blush pink wall and storage ottoman this dreamy suite is anything but dull. The elegance continues through glass bedside tables and beautiful bedding, making anyone sleeping here feel calm and relaxed. See other white interiors here.
Give your bedroom a rustic feel with stylish wooden accessories. The wooden bench and wall art add texture to this space, keeping it warm and inviting. Get the look here.
A dreamy all-white room is guaranteed to look calm and crisp especially with light-grey accents, like throw pillows. We love the way the natural light in this room helps transform it into a bright, peaceful sanctuary. See the rest of the house here.
Offsetting patterns can take a while to perfect, but this bright, colourful room makes it look simple. Matching a patterned quilt on the bed with a printed navy rug pulls all the colours of the room together to create a natural palette that will leave you with sweet dreams. See the rest of the house here.
Textured walls are the key to this earth-toned room. Create your own spa-like master suite by mixing calming neutrals, like bedding and accessories. See the rest of the house here.
With such a lush view it's only natural that this bedroom be decorated with simple and chic accessories. This helps keep your eyes focused on the beautiful scenery without busy distractions. See the rest of the house here.
Decorating a large master suite doesn't need to feel intimidating. Pick a few key pieces to focus on and this will instantly become an effortless task. A large area rug easily breaks up the space while chandeliers keep the otherwise low-key room bright and inviting. See the rest of the house here.
Patterned throw pillows (which also accent the bed skirt) are the perfect way to brighten up a grey room. Light accents in this room keep the bed as the main focal point. See the rest of the house here.
Adding colour to a master suite doesn't have to be a daunting task. Hang a bold piece of artwork or above the bed, not only will it act as the perfect faux headboard, it can be replaced each time you want to add a new hue to your space. Get the look here.
An all-white bedroom can look clean and fresh but adding accents of grey or black will add some instant sophistication. In this room, the dark curtains, sofa and deep throw pillows are what truly creates a sleek look. See the rest of the house here.
Hints of colour are a great addition to any room, but this dreamy suite takes colour to the next level. Dark blue engulfs the room, creating the feeling of a royal suite. This room might have you considering what colour to try in your master bedroom. See the rest of the house here.
It's the perfect combination of a neutral palette and creative decor accessories that make this loft's master suit so dreamy. See the rest of the house here.
If there are large windows in your master suite, why not incorporate them into your decor. This bedroom's arched windows, delicately framed by neutral drapes, act as pieces of wall art. See the rest of the house here.
Draw attention to a glamorous bed with a dark wall colour that doubles as a large faux headboard. See the rest of the house here.
There is nothing dark and gloomy about this room. Instead, it has a polished and chic elegance that will leave you quickly craving a darker space of your own. See other dark bedrooms here.
Jillian Harris's well-designed home in Kelowna, B.C.
Canadian television personality Jillian Harris shares her experience of renovating her dream home in Kelowna, B.C., and falling in love with it all over again.
Jillian Harris, co-host of W Network’s Love It or List It Vancouver, is no stranger to people falling out of love with their houses. While house hunting in the picturesque town of Kelowna, B.C., just over two years ago, Jillian fell in love with the expansive yard, Okanagan Lake view and charming French vibe of this 25-year-old 2,500-square-foot house, which she now shares with her partner, Justin Pasutto, and their one-year-old boxer, Nacho. To her, the place was perfect. It made her heart race. “
But a week after she moved in, her dream home turned into a nightmare when the in-floor heating system broke. Then Jillian found out that before she could install a new forced-air system, she needed to replace the roof. “It was literally issue after issue within the first month,” she says.
The time came for the big decision. “I knew that with all these problems, I wouldn’t be able to sell the house,” says Jillian. “And if I repaired them, I would never get my money back.” Frustrated and fed up, she decided to go all out with a completely home renovation in order to fall in love with her home again, which meant addressing both the functional flaws as well as the cosmetic concerns that had developed after the honeymoon phase.
In a four-month home renovation (which Jillian pre-planned and Justin project-managed while she was in Vancouver filming the TV show), walls were taken down, rooms were reconfigured and tiny windows were replaced with bifold doors to open the house up to the lake views. The resulting airy spaces were enhanced with a light and crisp neutral colour scheme of white and pale grey.
The living room design, which leads to the outdoor dining area through French doors, exemplifies homeowner Jillian Harris's eclectic sensibility. The clean-lined sofa, slipcovered slipper chairs, rustic coffee table, Louis XV-style bench and Moroccan pouffe combine to create "a room that looks like it has evolved over time," says Jillian.
Jillian opened up the kitchen by taking out a wall between it and the dining room. "Now I can see the lake when I'm standing here in the kitchen," she says. To create the clean all-white space she wanted, Jillian had the orange and black granite countertops replaced with white quartz, which offers the look of marble without the maintenance. She also had the existing cream cabinetry painted white and changed the wrought-iron hardware for polished nickel. The new Moroccan-style backsplash adds pattern and shine.
Instead of placing a table in the kitchen's eat-in area, Jillian created a cozy sitting nook. "We're not big sit-down-at-a-table people. So we kept the formal dining space at the front of the house and then decided to go with a little seating area back here, and it's used quite often."
In the kitchen's sitting nook, a wood-framed floor mirror with a gold-coloured finish adds interest. "I love the Art Deco look of it," says Jillian. "It has such a different feel than anything else in the house."
The gold accents throughout the kitchen can even be found on the table.
A pink, grey and cream colour scheme gives the guest bedroom a pretty, feminine look. "We call it the pink palace," says Jillian. "I actually love pink. I would have the entire house in grey and pink if I could. But when you're living with a male, sometimes that's not always possible. So I decided to make this room pink."
The soft pink and gold table lamp in the guest bedroom boasts a sophisticated, timeless quality.
An antique dresser handed down from Jillian's parents - her mother got it in her early 20s - lends character to the guest bedroom. The portrait, drawen by an Alberta artist, depicts Jillian as a young girl.
The guest bed is adorned with pink and textured toss cushions to really tie the room's colour scheme together.
Jillian gave the outdoor dining room area an inviting look by layering in soft elements like toss cushions and throws.
Illuminating the outdoor space with candles and string lights adds warmth and romance.
A variety of cutting boards offers an interesting alternative to platters when Jillian serves a delicious spread of cheeses, fruits (the green grapes come from her own vines), breads, charcuterie and jams during summer backyard get-togethers.
"We spend 99 percent of our time in the backyard during the summer. When entertaining outdoors, I love to use glass cloches. They keep the bugs out and give a nice high-end look to your tablescape."
1 Layer the lighting: "Lighting is as important outside as it is inside. I created a layered effect by hanging filament bulb string lights, wrapping a couple of trees with twinkle lights, adding lanterns and putting candles on the table and fireplace. 2 Incorporate textiles: "I put a runner on the table and throws and toss cushions on the chairs, and even brought out an upholstered ottoman from inside. It warms things up a little bit and adds softness." 3 Add greenery to complement your surroundings: "I hung a simple boxwood garland on the fireplace mantel and placed clippings from around my yard in vases and Mason jars." 4 Create an outdoor bar: "It allows people to make their own cocktails and also gives a real swanky look to your party. I just used a basic bar cart, a nice tray and some classic liquers." 5 Hang artwork: "I've always loved putting mirrors outside. It really brings the inside out and gives th eimpression that your backyard is an extension of your living space. I look for cool inexpensive vintage art or metal mirrors that I can hang on the side of the house or fence."
Image: Stacey Brandford / Styling: Morgan Lindsay
Designer Maggie Burns revises the layout and lightens the palette of her rowhouse to make it feel remarkably roomier.
People love to complain about stairs. "My knees are shot – let's move to a bungalow," they grouse. But not Maggie Burns. I longed for stairs and a lawn," says the energetic 28-year-old designer and Toronto native. The sentiment is completely understandable when you consider she was living in one of those New York City apartments that are so cramped, you practically need a folding toothbrush.
That was 2015, and Maggie had just completed a one-year degree at the esteemed Parsons School of Design and was moving back to Toronto – all while simultaneously launching her own design firm, Maggie Richmond Design. One of the newly minted graduate’s earliest clients? Herself.
She had just purchased a charming century rowhouse in the hip Trinity-Bellwoods neighbourhood near Nadège, a French bakery and a favourite haunt (this girl has her priorities straight). “When I first saw the house, I fell in love with its location and its potential,” says Maggie. “But there was a lot of work to do! The home’s layout didn’t lend itself well to its narrowness.”
At only 10 feet wide and just shy of 1,200 square feet, the two-storey house was palatial by New York standards, but small if Maggie wanted to stretch out and entertain friends. Just the same, it had good bones – and, best of all, the stairs she so desired. The only problem was their location. “They were encased in drywall, so they looked heavy, and they were in the middle of the main floor, taking up almost a third of the space,” she recalls.
Plus, the stairs divided the dining and living rooms into two tiny boxes. So Maggie embarked on a six-month renovation to create a breezy open-concept space. She brightened the home and made it feel spacious with crisp white walls (in place of busy textured wallpaper) and light grey engineered wood floors (replacing dark cork).
In an ambitious effort that ended up costing nearly half her budget, Maggie tore down the staircase and replaced it with a stylishly streamlined version installed at the side of the living room. “The dramatic floating stairs became the focal point,” she says. The new steps also connect to the finished basement – previously a rental apartment that could only be accessed from an outside door.
To accommodate the change, Maggie also reconfigured the second floor, removing a third bedroom and inadvertently exposing a skylight over the stairs. "I've been told it's not a good idea in terms of resale to remove a bedroom, but I had to make way for the stairs," she says. Today, the skylight floods the main floor with light and, together with pale new floors, lends the illusion of more space, making this home an even further cry from her old cramped NYC quarters.
Though small and located at the front door, the living room feels open and airy because of the ultra-edited furniture selection. A low-slung armless sofa, portable wooden side chairs and a small angular side table keep things uncluttered and ease traffic flow.
The galley kitchen was in great shape when Maggie bought the house, so she left it intact. It came with high-end appliances and pretty crystal knobs on the doors. “I kept the original subway tile that runs along the walls, and added pendants [not shown] and pot lights for additional lighting,” she says.
Though it cost 40 percent of Maggie’s overall budget, relocating the staircase made a 100 percent improvement to her home’s layout.
Maggie nearly replaced the dark-hued front door, but decided to keep it after seeing how charming it looked in the space. Her dad created a stained glass window for the transom. “Its copper trim matches elements throughout the main floor,” she says.
A graphic punch of black in the quartet of retro Tulip chairs is emphasized by the splashy artwork. The mirror bounces light around the space and picks up the sheen in the soft grey floors.
A combined washer-dryer in the galley kitchen makes doing a quick load of laundry super convenient.
Relaxation reigns in the subdued bedroom, where a quilt and watery-hued toss cushions suggest a catnap. A glass lamp and monochromatic artwork keep the visual clutter at bay.
Maggie pulled together a light-filled office nook just outside her bedroom. The glossy streamlined desk, slatted rubber chair and casually leaning artwork create an understated vignette. The desk also serves as an extra drop-off spot for her laptop in the evenings – a smart reminder to maintain serene sleeping quarters and keep work separate.
A floating vanity and clean-lined mirror show off the Carrara marble floor and shower wall in the master bath. “Because I don’t have a lot of space – roughly 41 square feet – I had to be careful about the scale of each component,” says Maggie. The pared-back elements lend a serene quality. “It’s my favourite spot in the house,” she adds.
Despite all her hard work, Maggie recently sold her belove rowhouse to move in with her fiancé. And just in case you're curious, the resale value wasn't affected by the removal of a bedroom. To bring even more appeal to the home for the sale (which happened to coincide with our photo shoot), Maggie hired design firm Modern Staging Spaces to help her accessorize . Her house sold in a flash. With style like this, how could it not?