Images: Stacey Brandford
Style at Home design editor Jessica Waks pulls out all the stops and transforms a diamond in the rough into her forever family home.
As a decorator searching for a fixer-upper to put my own stamp on, house hunting was a true exercise in imagination. Not everyone is able to visualize the hidden potential in a space that hasn't been touched in more than 60 years, but I was convinced I had found my forever family home after stepping through the front door of this 1,900-square-foot red-brick charmer in midtown Toronto. One-and-a-half years and a major renovation later, my husband, David Goodman, and I moved in just in time to prepare for the arrival of our twin boys, Jack and Charlie.
The house had beautiful bones typical of the 1930s, but it needed a serious facelift and a complete overhaul of the plumbing, electrical and HVAC systems. I reconfigured the floor plan for optimal entertaining and family living, including a 1,000-square-foot two-storey addition to house an open-concept kitchen and family room on the main floor, and a master suite on the second. I also lengthened the dining room to accommodate a bigger crowd, added a main floor powder room, and opened up and extended the foyer for better flow. I put in closets wherever possible, too; coming from a family of five women, I know you can never have enough storage!
The living room's focal point is a hand-carved marble fireplace flanked by vintage crystal sconces and contemporary black and white prints. The herringbone pattern on the inside of the firebox is repeated in the flooring as well as in the custom cowhide rug.
"The living room contains some of my favourite decorating elements, such as black and white stripes, exotic cat prints, chinoiserie accents and tufted upholstery," says Jessica. "I return to them time and time again."
The doorway connecting the living and dining rooms was opened up, and conceals French-style pocket doors. A Mid-Century Modern Aldo Tura bar cart is tucked into the corner so guests can help themselves to a pre-dinner cocktail.
Colourful accents, such as the lavender mohair chair, enliven the eclectic assortment of black and white furniture in the living room, including the antique settee Jessica had refurbished for her first apartment.
Visual tension creates interest and can be achieved by combining modern moments with pieces from the past. In this living room vignette, contemporary artwork hangs above an ormolu-encrusted furniture chest filled with treasured porcelain that belonged to Jessica's grandparents.
The dining room feels like a jewel box thanks to the gold-leafed ceiling and ethereal hand-painted Chinese wallpaper. Pairing painted antiqued cream dining chairs with the rich wood of a Duncan Phyfe-style dining table and antique hutch helps keep the room from feeling too heavy. "Aubergine is one of my favourite colours, and I love how the deep, glossy sheen of the leatherette pops against the warm white finish of the chair frames," says Jessica.
The powder room is known as a space where decorators can
go a little wild, and this adventurous mix of black and cream leopard, malachite and brass is no exception. The pattern in the neutral wallpaper is small enough to let the mirror's malachite frame shine, while the brass washstand, plumbing and vintage sconces enhance the luxe effect.
Jessica loves white master bedrooms but wanted a jolt of colour to keep it interesting. So she worked with Toronto luxury home store Elte on a custom wool ikat rug in daring blue and purple hues, and left the big items neutral for a calming and restful retreat. The drapery and bedding are trimmed in navy to tie everything together. The brass Chiavari vanity chair, a vintage find from Miami, turned out to be the perfect shade of purple so Jessica didn't have to change a thing.
Jessica found this chair on a Style at Home trip to the Brimfield Antique Show in Massachusetts. "I love its elaborate carvings and patina. It's like a sculpture that can hold its own in any room in the house."
The upstairs den is a little refuge off the master bedroom for Jessica and her husband to curl up with a book or watch TV. The pastel palette isn't too saccharine thanks to a heavy dose of grounding black and white. "I snapped up the lavender area rug at a sample sale without knowing where it would go," says Jessica. "It looks like it was tailor-made for this room, a testament to the fact that when you buy things you love, you can always make them work."