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.”
Prepare your home for spring
Image: Stacey Brandford / Styling: Ann Marie Favot
Industrial chic meets California cool in a Toronto interior that puts comfort above all else.
"I love being in the house barefoot,” says Lynne McEachern of her west-end Toronto home. “The rugs are plush to walk on, the sofas are comfy to cuddle up on and our bed is hard to get out of in the morning.” Lynne and her husband, Hamid Arabzadeh, purchased their 3,400- square-foot turn-of-the-century house 11 years ago after transplanting from Boston. The Canadian couple – she grew up in Halifax, he’s from Montreal – work in the tech industry and their careers have taken them all over the world, including London, where they met. When it came time to settle back in Canada, they decided to try out Toronto. “We liked the layout of the city, which reminded us of London, with all the great neighbourhoods,” she says.
When the couple found this house, they loved its trendy location as well as its open plan and move-in-ready status – the space had been given a distinctive loft-style look, featuring cherrywood, slate and concrete by its previous owner. “In Boston, we had just completed a painful two-year reno and really didn’t want to go through the process again,” says Lynne.
But after living in this home for 10 years, the couple – who now share the house with their twin eight-year-old sons, Aidan and Camden – craved a change, wanting to give the dark, masculine interior a fresh pick-me-up. “We had made a few updates over the years,” says Lynne. “We tweaked the kitchen, updated part of the basement, added a room upstairs and built a new garage. But then, the house needed more light and a look that better reflected our California coastal style.”
To achieve an airy, beachy feel that still honoured the home’s loft-like urban character, the couple hired designer Jacquelyn Clark. As former editor of Style Me Pretty Living (the design arm of the popular wedding website Style Me Pretty) and the writer of her own lifestyle blog called Lark & Linen, Jacquelyn has gained a solid reputation for her savvy design sense. “I trusted her eye,” says Lynne. “I was familiar with her blog, and I like how she’s curated her look.”
Jacquelyn brightened the space by refinishing certain architectural details, such as bleaching the floors and painting the dark wood ceilings white, while leaving other features – the big beams, exposed brick and wrought-iron railing – striking a beautiful balance between coastal and industrial. “I wanted to showcase the existing structure,” she explains. “The hardwood and exposed brick add a bit of warmth.”
Jacquelyn employed a neutral palette throughout the house, with a few hits of watery blue to achieve that coastal look, while clean-lined furnishings offer calming consistency and deliver comfort. “The more modern furniture plays off all the rustic architectural details,” says Jacquelyn. “They’re a young, busy family, and I really just wanted to create a space that felt simple, elegant and timeless.” The barefoot-friendly comfort is an added bonus.
A cozy sectional defines this Toronto home’s family room and offers ample space for the family who lives here to cuddle up and watch TV. A Berber-style rug and patterned indigo toss cushions offer exotic flavour. “I love that well-travelled look,” says homeowner Lynne McEachern.
“Originally, a four-by-eight-foot mirror hung from the ceiling and separated the entryway from the living room,” says designer Jacquelyn Clark. “But we removed it to open up the space.” Encaustic-look porcelain tiles, which supplanted dark green slate that had seen better days, are low-maintenance and durable in this high-traffic area.
White-painted walls throughout the main floor brighten the space and strike a gallery-like setting. “I wanted a blank slate so we could collect and showcase art,” says Lynne. The original too-yellow oak floors were bleached for a lighter look.
The couple had already upgraded the kitchen by spray-painting the cherrywood cabinetry white. This update — called refacing — can save up to half of the cost of replacing them, and it's fairly easy to do: You keep the original cabinet boxes and change the drawer fronts, doors and hardware. “If it’s a custom kitchen to begin with, you have to go to a custom cabinetmaker or kitchen company,” says Jacquelyn. “They will gather all the measurements and build doors to fit the existing boxes.” If the kitchen has standard-sized cabinet boxes, replacement doors may be found at big-box stores.
Note: Refacing is only recommended is the cabinets are in good condition. “If they’re solid wood and in good shape, refacing not only cuts down on cost but also saves on the inconvenience and waste. If you’re not sure about the quality, ask your contractor, ” says Jacquelyn. But, if you're changing the layout of your kitchen, it may be easier (and possibly more cost-effective) to opt for new cabinets. “Using the same boxes...is called retro fitting a kitchen, and I’m always hesitant to do that,” says Jacquelyn. “It’s often not worth the cost of a contractor’s time to figure it all out. And when something inevitably breaks, you’ll have to replace certain pieces anyway.”
In the case of this industrial loft, Jacquelyn swapped the existing cabinetry doors (which had seen better days) for a Shaker profile similar to the original and incorporated chrome pulls. Furthermore, the slate countertops were replaced with black soapstone and a grey back-painted glass backsplash was installed.
Lynne wanted dining chairs that were comfortable and offered a light, airy feel. “But I didn’t want to spend a ridiculous amount of money, because dining chairs often end up getting ruined,” she says. These ones were scored online from a New York store called France & Søn and required a road trip. “The store didn’t ship to Canada,” says Jacquelyn. “So we had the chairs shipped to Buffalo, rented a van and picked them up from there. It was still more cost-effective than buying something similar here!”
The master bathroom’s vanity takes advantage of the space’s relatively small footprint: The sink is placed to one side to increase counter space, and opting for drawers instead of cupboards maximizes storage. “The tall mirror covering half the wall emphasizes the ceiling height and makes an unexpected statement,” adds Jacquelyn.
With its contemporary plush wingback chairs, the master bedroom’s sitting area is a perfect place for the couple to unwind in the evenings. The area is petite, so furniture serves double duty, like the dresser that also holds the TV.
The double-height master bedroom was brightened by painting the dark wood ceiling and beams a sophisticated greyish white. Watery blue elements and simple, clean-lined furnishings give the space a serene, subdued look that enhances its grandeur.
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.