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.”
Two styles combine to create this gorgeous farmhouse retreat.
Designer Viki Mansell blends contemporary and rustic styles with tons of texture and original artwork to create a fabulous farmhouse retreat.
Viki Mansell has an indisputable take on artwork in the home: “You can have beautiful design, but if you have a ghastly piece of art, that’s all anyone will look at.” It’s a conviction reflected in her two Toronto home furnishing stores, Absolutely and Absolutely North, which, in addition to offering furniture and decorative accessories, feature a range of artwork, from photographs and paintings to lithographs and drawings. “Most people are confident when picking out paint colours and furniture,” says Viki, “but few train their eyes for buying art – especially when it’s for a farmhouse.” The farmhouse referred to here belongs to one of Viki’s clients, an avid art collector, who enlisted the designer to transform a turn-of-the-century rural property into a picture-perfect retreat.
Situated north of Toronto, the 3,600-square-foot brick house was definitely in need of some serious loving care, but fortunately, its original floor plan required little finessing. So while the space was gutted to remedy old electrical, insufficient insulation and dated finishes, the staircase remained in its original position, and wherever possible, other features – such as the hardwood flooring upstairs, all the interior doors and the tongue-and-groove ceilings in the kitchen and dining room – were kept intact. Viki replaced the downstairs flooring, which couldn’t be saved, with butternut planks sourced and prepared by an arborist. The only structural changes were the addition of a fireplace flanked by French doors in the living room and the repositioning of an upstairs wall. “We siphoned off square footage from one of the three bedrooms to increase the size of the second-floor bathroom,” says Viki.
Once renovated, the house was ready to receive its artistic flourishes. “My vision was to maintain the farmhouse’s structural integrity while infusing it with a modern rustic overlay,” says Viki. This vision was inspired by the home’s setting. “The palette was drawn from the surrounding countryside, so we highlighted the neutral walls with furnishings in caramel, burnt orange and maple red.”
Viki’s choice of furniture amplifies the contemporary mood. “Comfort was a priority, but the furniture is tailored – there’s no overstuffing or rolled arms, just the simplicity of the lines,” she says. It’s a simplicity that extends to the windows on the main level, which were purposely left unadorned. “The homeowner didn’t want window coverings to distract from the beautiful views outside and the artwork on the walls.” It’s apparent that art is an essential design element, as it’s displayed everywhere from the dining and living rooms to less expected spots like above the bathtub and in the mud room. “While the artwork would look great anywhere, it truly complements this space,” says Viki. “It belongs here.” There’s no debating that.
“In the living room, I wanted to create a convivial sitting area focused on the fireplace,” says designer Viki Mansell.
The bucolic surroundings inspired Viki’s approach to the farmhouse’s palette and design.
Custom made from butternut, the living room sideboard features a black powder-coated steel base that ties in with the TV and the interior door, which Viki had painted black.
A 19th-century carpenter’s bench is used as a console and styled with modern pieces like a Tizio task lamp and Rothko poster in the mud room.
The kitchen, featuring rift-cut oak veneer-fronted cabinets, limestone countertops and a hand-applied plaster backsplash, has a simple charm belying its luxury.
In the dining room, a wooden trestle table combined with Italian leather chairs and a graphic light fixture capture the contemporary farmhouse aesthetic.
The living room’s slate-fronted fireplace encapsulates Viki’s take on turn of the century meets contemporary. “The mantel has a pared-back design, yet it’s crafted from 19th-century pilasters,” she says. The lithograph above the fireplace is by Spanish artist Antoni Tàpies.
A bathtub surround and vanity made of 150-year-old pine warm up the all-white second-floor bathroom.
The antique rug was the jumping-off point for the master bedroom. “I wanted the room to be cozy, so I chose a warm red fabric for the headboard and bedskirt,” says Viki.
A mix of textures lends interest to the upstairs hallway; the art by Ian Gray adds colour.
Industrial-style rental loft in Montreal's Quartier International
This gorgeous rental flat serves as the perfect backdrop for an online art gallery owner’s expansive collection of work.
Between the bedroom and bathroom sits a chic home office area. The industrial look of the vintage chair and Eames desk is softened with a beautiful piece of underwater photographic art and an antique Chapman ram’s horn lamp.
Though tenant Alessandra works as an art dealer, she was enchanted by the gallery wall already installed in the living area by the flat’s owners, Nathalie Bouchard and Annie Horth. “Annie works as an artistic director and fashion stylist, and some of these photos are her collaborations,” says Alessandra. “I love the editorial feel of them.”
Alessandra leaned two dramatic works of art by photographer (and floral designer) Ashley Woodson Bailey on either side of the TV in the living area to create a pleasing sense of balance.
Instead of loading up on small decor throughout the home, Alessandra chooses to use a few select bright accessories along with artwork to pull the display together.
Alessandra often uses the dining table as a workspace; she finds it inspiring to look through the windows across the room at historic Montreal. The custom doors are an architectural highlight.
“This is definitely not a cookie-cutter rental kitchen,” says Alessandra of the modern bistro-style space, which is open to the rest of the loft.
Renters are often hesitant to hang artwork because it puts too many holes in the walls, but this wasn’t a problem for Alessandra, who prefers to lean her pieces to create a more relaxed vibe.
In the bedroom area, a floor-to-ceiling black velvet curtain acts as both a backdrop and space divider.
A windowsill affords an opportunity for art: Alessandra chose this work by Spanish photographer Rebeca Cygnus because she loves its moody blue-black palette.
A vintage wall-mounted unit provides much-needed storage in the front hall. Alessandra uses the lower surface for display purposes.
Image: Ashley Capp / Styling: Christine Dovey
Five ways to fashion a space that will easily suit your daughter as she grows into her 20s
Your girl's bedroom is her oasis — it's where she escapes, unwinds, tackles challenges, and grows. So, this should be a room that grows with her, instead of a room that has to be made over every few years to suit her changing tastes. Below, five tips on designing a space for your girl that she'll love now and then.
Pink isn’t only for youngsters and bubble gum. Designer Matthew Meisner made the “it’s a girl” hue more grown-up in his step-daughter Milena Bettencourt’s room by combining it with black and gold. He also ensured the pink items were easy to swap should the 16-year-old ever tire of them.
Custom pieces don’t have to be pricey. Matthew upgraded a big-box-store desk with funky geometric-print vinyl wallpaper for added charm.
"Persuade your kids to try looks that will mature with them," says Matthew, noting that the Rorschach-inspired wallpaper that resembles a haute French damask wasn’t an easy sell. “I don’t think Milena would have chosen this wallpaper on her own, but she loves it now.”
Establish an eclectic aesthetic that looks collected over time by grouping items that have personal significance. Take, for example, the pink-undertoned artwork on Milena’s desk: Many of the pieces reference her dad, Rick Bettencourt, from the photo of a Missoni fashion show he attended to a print of Jimmy Choo shoes that nods to his work as the vice-president of shoe empire Nine West Canada.
To help you create the perfect room, we've rounded up some cool accents that will make your daughter's space equal parts cute and chic.
#OOTD: Fashion Flat Lay colouring book by Laura Hickman, Indigo, $21.
Cotton velvet Bianca toss cushion with down alternative insert, 20", Tonic Living, $70.
Heirloom & Knot Regency wallpaper in Neapolitan, Spoonflower, from $5 US per sq. ft.
Heirloom & Knot Rorschach wallpaper in Noir, Spoonflower, from $5 US per sq. ft.
Kate Spade New York crystal Hampton Street rose bowl, Hudson’s Bay, $90.
Ceramic antique-look medium Staordshire dog figurine, Jayson Home, $95 US.
Polypropylene Sillerup rug, 7' x 10', IKEA, $159.