Image: Donna Griffith / Styling: Ann Marie Favot
A black and white palette, square-tiled backsplash, shaker-style cabinetry and iconic furnishings blend perfectly in this modern and traditional space.
Armed with a wishlist a mile long, Toronto homeowners Meghan Mann and Mike Shannon took the renovation plunge last year. With the help of designers Vanessa Kwan and Ingrid Oomen of Qummunicate, they transformed their dysfunctional, dowdy kitchen into a stylish dream and fit everything they wanted into its compact 198-square-foot space. The open-concept design now features a work station, an eat-in nook and a peninsula that overlooks the dining area. Its classic-chic look with a contemporary edge not only complements the young couple’s style but also suits the 1910 house’s traditional architecture and its up-and-coming west Toronto neighbourhood’s trendy vibe.
Opening up the 11-by-18-foot kitchen to the rest of the main floor and replacing the back wall with a glass-panelled door and sidelights were the first steps in creating a more airy and light-filled space. The kitchen has a timeless aesthetic, with Shaker-style cabinetry, classic architectural details and a neutral palette, while a few of-the-moment touches, such as the brass hardware and pendant lights, keep it hip. “It’s a brick house with traditional details like beams and mouldings at the front, and we wanted to carry that essence into the kitchen,” says designer Vanessa Kwan.
A banquette serves as part of the casual eat-in area for the couple and their children, Sadie, 6, and Spencer, 2. It features storage in the form of legal-sized filing cabinets, with flush brass pulls that don’t get in the way of dangling feet. Finding a table that fit the space proved challenging, so homeowner Mike Shannon built the base himself and had a piece of glass cut for the top. The Eames chairs are a classic pick, and the chandelier provides sparkle and blends in with all the brass.
The kitchen was designed with family-friendly functionality top of mind: The white quartzite countertops are aesthetically similar to marble but are more durable and require less maintenance; the six-inch-square ceramic tiled backsplash, with its grey grout, is easy to keep clean; and the cork floors are great for kids because they’re soft underfoot and don’t scratch easily. For homeowner Meghan Mann, who works in software sales from home, the desk area (with a lower counter and two pencil drawers) was a must.
The black faucets and window frame above the sink create contrast yet establish continuity with the black-painted door at the back of the room. The dark elements, offering the kitchen a slightly industrial edge, are also a nod to the neighbourhood’s commercial architecture. “The area has a lot of old factory buildings, some converted into lofts or artists’ spaces,” says Meghan. “And they have those steel windows, so we wanted to echo that look in the kitchen.”
Curvy iconic shapes and trendy accents make this kitchen down-right covetable.
Round wood and marble serving board, Indigo, $38.
Michael Thonet beech era stool in Black, Design Within Reach, $365.
Cotton Soiree toss cushion in Natural with feather-down insert, CB2, $63.
Jason Wu for brizo mixed metal solna faucet in Matte Black, Masco Canada, $611.
Brass and glass Luna pendant light with shade in Clear, 12", Schoolhouse Electric, $269 US.
Cowhide Koldby rug in Brown, IKEA, $299.
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?
Don't let the dark depths or the sloped ceiling heights stop you from turning this precious square footage into your dream space.
Basements and attics are precious square footage that can be transformed into whatever your heart desires. Don't let the dark depths or the sloped ceiling heights stop you from designing your next family room, home office or guest room!
Photography by Ashley Capp
1 Problem: I want to finish the basement, but don’t want the rustic lounge room treatment that most basements have.
You can make your basement area just as grand as your high-style spaces above ground, high ceilings or not. Hang oversized artwork, arrange sleek modern furniture and light it up with ornate fixtures.
Photography by Ashley Capp
2 Problem: I have small windows in the basement and have no idea how to cover them.
You can still make a lounge in the basement appear spacious despite low ceilings and grade level windows. Hang full-length drapes to make it appear as though there’s a large bay window hidden behind.
Photography by Virginia Macdonald
3 Problem: There’s no natural light in our basement and it just feels dark and dull.
The quickest and easiest fix for a dark basement is a fresh coat of paint. Whilst walls painted in a pale grey will lighten the space, a ceiling brushed in a fresh coat of vibrant coral will give it that extra boost.
Photography by Stacey Brandford
4 Problem: Our basement has 70s paneling – yuck!
Natural-hued wood paneling can look pretty dated, especially in a basement. If stripping it off is too big of a project, simply paint it white or a pale grey for that bright beach house look.
Photography by Janis Nicolay
5 Problem: Our furniture in the basement lounge creates an awkward corner.
When dealing with an awkward corner, draw the eyes away from it by reflecting the rest of the room. Place a floor mirror on an angle in the corner so it mirrors the space around it rather than draw attention to itself.
Photography by Magdalena Bjornsdotter
6 Problem: The space under our stairs isn’t being put to use.
The empty space under your basement stairs is a hidden gem rather than an awkward nook. Use this space for seasonal storage (like Christmas decorations) or convert into a wine closet. You can also use it as a functional space, creating a cool hangout for the kids or building a laptop station.
Photography by Kim Christie
7 Problem: We have a finished basement, but it’s too cold down there to enjoy in the winter.
Because they’re underground, basements have the tendency to feel chillier than the rest of your home. Turn your basement into a cozy hideaway by installing an electrical fireplace and laying down plush rugs underfoot.
Photography by Mark Burstyn
8 Problem: My basement ceilings are too low to have fun with lighting.
Not true! You can still introduce unique light fixtures in your basement even if you don’t have those grand 9-foot ceilings. Put up vintage wall sconces, and if you do want pendant lighting, hang in low traffic areas like corners or above the coffee table.
Photography by Robin Stubbert
9 Problem: Our bedroom is in the attic and gets incredibly hot in the summer, even with the air conditioning.
With the summer sun beating down on the roof all day and air conditioning working overtime to reach the top level of the house, the attic can get pretty toasty. Keep the door to the attic closed during the day to trap the cool air in and install a ceiling fan overhead to move the air around at night.
Photography by Barry Calhoun
10 Problem: We have a finished attic but the sloped ceilings make it difficult to use it for anything.
An attic is the perfect space to build a quiet getaway for the end of a long workday or a lazy Sunday. Cover the space with floor poufs and create a family movie room by projecting films onto the sloped ceilings. Or, if you’re a yogi, transform the room into a home studio for stretching and meditation.
Photography: Tracey Ayton
With a plan in hand and some professional guidance, these homeowners take the reins of the modern design of their spacious new home.
Wing Lau and Kevin Teo bought their first Vancouver condo because of its easy access to work and the downtown amenities – charming restaurants, chic boutiques, art galleries and more. The problem? The one-bedroom-plus-den was a tight fit for the young couple and their two dogs. “We were barely ever home because it was so cramped,” remembers Wing. Add the fact that they were recently married and planning to expand the family, and 600-square-feet wasn’t going to cut it. For these IT professionals, though, a house wasn’t the answer. “That’s too much maintenance,” says Wing.
The solution was moving to a larger condo – a new build with panoramic views and breathing room thanks to a second bedroom and bathroom, as well as a den. Being a blank slate, however, it lacked character. “We found someone to inject some flair into the place,” says Wing, referring to designer Jamie Deck of Shift Interiors.
After researching Jamie’s work online, Wing realized the company was a great fit – and not just because she liked her style. Wing is hands-on when it comes to her home. A decor enthusiast and avid DIYer, she needed a design partner, not a leader, and Jamie’s firm allows homeowners to buy blocks of time to customize the level of service, from light guidance to full execution. So Wing requested Jamie’s advice on layouts and furniture selection, and then chose her favourites. She did much of the shopping and implementation herself.
Central to the 24th-floor condo are the living-dining area’s floor-to-ceiling windows, which showcase mountain views. They’re what sold the couple on the home and naturally became a central focus for the open-concept main living area. The room’s muted colour scheme provides the perfect frame for the vista – and also reflects Wing’s personal palette. “I only ever wear black, white or grey,” she says. “So it was an easy choice.”
With its seamless modern scheme, the kitchen was another selling point for Wing and Kevin, and required no design updates. “We got lucky that this kitchen already had a look we both love,” says Wing. The cabinet fronts and island base boast a unique striated grain in warm grey and cool taupe that lends the space artistic interest and texture all on its own – no extra design flourishes required.
Though Wing had originally wanted a concrete-look accent wall in the dining area, they were concerned it would compete with the kitchen. So they settled on a dining room gallery wall – which Kevin took total ownership of – and created the feature wall in the master bedroom instead. Complementing the concrete-look surface, a custom fabric-covered headboard that stretches the entire length of one wall visually widens the space and offers a structured, unfussy vibe.
In their new space, the couple feels proud and happy. There's something gratifying about executing a flawless design as an amateur, even when it's with significant help from a professional. Though the idea of a forever home isn't something they can commit to right now, this will be their domain for at least five years. "Until we outgrow it," says Wing, "or my design bug bites again." Maybe next time she'll brave it on her own.
Homeowners Wing Lau and Kevin Teo didn’t need designer Jamie Deck’s help in designing their gallery wall. Wing has been pinning favourite pieces for years and opted for a combination of personal photos and low-cost prints. Kevin was in charge of installation. “We had painters’ tape all over the floor and outlining the gallery wall to make sure the configuration was right,” says Wing of organizing the graphic black and white pieces in the dining room.
Wing swapped the condo’s living and dining areas to create a larger and more functional living room. After all, it has to handle the couple’s two dogs and, at some point, kids. The carpet was chosen in part for its low, easy-to-clean pile (so the battle against dog hair isn’t too taxing).
For Wing, it was important to mix high and low pieces. The Parsons dining table, for example, was a total splurge. The couple saw the piece in Seattle, fell in love with it and returned to the city two months later to haul it home in the family van. It’s something Wing plans to hang on to for a long time: “My future kids will probably spill on the table,” says Wing with a laugh. “But we’re okay with that.”
Prior to purchasing any furniture, the couple brought home fabric swatches to ensure everything matched with the kitchen cabinetry. “With its interesting grain, it almost plays the role of a feature wall,” says Wing. So it dictated what she and Kevin did with the rest of the space. “We couldn’t choose anything that competed with that.”
The kitchen is the literal and figurative centre of the apartment: It overlooks the living and dining room, benefits from the stunning view out the floor-to-ceiling windows and is a place Wing and Kevin spend a lot of time, doing everything from cooking breakfast to entertaining company.
Jamie suggested multiple furniture configurations for the master bedroom, but they settled on a set-up that takes advantage of the mountain views. The space is a lesson in how to create a successful high-low mix: The head-board was custom-made by Shift Interiors, but Kevin painted the concrete-look feature wall himself. The bedding and toss cushions are big-box-store finds.
With its simple mirror, metal console and wooden stool, the entryway announces the muted palette present throughout the space. Floating circular hooks offer a functional yet chic place to hang coats.
The bathroom echoes the kitchen with the same seamless cabinetry, but the countertop adds another layer of pattern that the kitchen lacks, proving it’s easy to be more daring with design in closed-off spaces. His and hers sinks allow for stress-free mornings.