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.
Celeb home tour: Kirsten Dunst's SoHo penthouse
Step inside Kirsten Dunst's two-bedroom penthouse apartment atop an iconic New York loft building in SoHo.
Dream of living in a trendy New York loft among some of Lady Fame's hottest celebrities, but just not sure you can make the commitment? Lucky for you, Kirsten Dunst's penthouse loft is up for rent. For $12,500 a month, you can stay in this two-bedoom, one-and-a-half bathroom apartment and bask in Dunst's modern-meets-antique decor.
- Comes fully or partially furnished
- 2 bedrooms
- 1.5 bathrooms
- Renovated master ensuite
- Library/sitting room
- Large open-concept layout
Want to know more? Check out the listing here.
Being the penthouse, Dunst's apartment offers a fabulous view of the Hudson River. And how wonderfully quirky is the tall ship hanging from the ceiling?
Extremely large windows around the entire living room enhance this top floor view.
A sliding wall separates the living space from a light-filled nook. Its floor-to-ceiling bookshelves make it the perfect spot to curl up with your favourite read.
The bookshelves are filled with an assortment of books and framed art.
The loft offers a generously sized kitchen, considering it's New York. The modern additions of the marble countertops and Wolf and Subzero appliances are warmed up with darker cabinetry and brass pendant lights (love!).
Have sweet dreams in this spacious boudoir, in a luxuriously sized king bed with plenty of room to spare.
Enjoy an escape from the city in this brand new ensuite, with room enough to fit a freestanding vintage tub and separate shower.
Situated on Canal Street, this loft has been home to noteable actors and rockstars alike, including Casey Affleck, Michael Stipe and Gus Van Sant.
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."
An unused front yard is brought to life.
A compelling contrast of textures brings this verdant Vancouver front yard to life.
When the opportunity to enliven an outdoor space arises, few homeowners focus on the front yard, but for one Vancouver couple, who grew tired of walking down chipped concrete steps and passing worn-wood retaining walls to enter their home, it was the area they were most eager to renovate. In 2013, the pair enlisted landscape designer Sarah Carver of Haven Garden Design to devise a functional front garden that would make a glowing first impression (in addition to updating their backyard). “We wanted to create a strong sense of arrival when you enter the property,” says Sarah.
In order to achieve this, the designer used the house’s contemporary cube-shaped facade as the jumping-off point, opting for concrete slabs set in a geometric design to juxtapose the lush and textured plant combinations. The homeowners also wanted to establish a visual connection with the indoors, so Sarah strategically positioned the outdoor sitting area adjacent to the living room and had lights embedded in the concrete and interspersed among the plants throughout the yard. Now, the couple can appreciate the garden’s beauty from inside or out – whether they’re sipping coffee in the courtyard in the early morning or admiring the view from the sofa come sunset.
“They’ll often open up the living room window coverings when they entertain to animate the indoors at night,” says Sarah. The designer’s careful eye for detail makes the outdoor space more than just an arresting entrance. Float down the front steps and you’ll be taken by a tangle of large trees grounded by a rich palette of plants like chartreuse hostas and deep burgundy heucheras, which work with the hardscaping for a result that’s truly distinct. “It’s not about getting from A to B quickly,” says Sarah. “It’s about the experience.”
Garden stats: A front garden featuring geometric concrete hardscaping juxtaposed with a jumble of lively and lush plant varieties.
Size: 25' x 33'
Focus: Low-maintenance part-shade perennials.
For the walkway, landscape designer Sarah Carver opted for shorter stairs with deeper treads (14 inches instead of the standard 12-inch size), along with a large landing “to make the experience more comfortable and leisurely,” she says. Every aspect of the design follows a grid pattern, even the score lines in the concrete, which prevent cracking and lend symmetry and interest. In the evening, lights set within the concrete illuminate the stairs.
To maximize every inch of space, Sarah had the concrete borders surrounding the courtyard raised to seat height and ensured they would be wide enough to accommodate outdoor cushions. “We knew creating a typical furniture layout would be difficult, so this is like built-in furniture that doubles as retaining walls,” she says. In the garden, a Japanese maple nestled in a nook beside the staircase offers privacy from the street, while purple plants, such as hebes and ageratum peppered along the edges, add colourful contrast.
Clockwise from top left: A vibrant green magnolia tree livens up the sitting area, even before exposing its brilliant white blooms (“I try to have something catch the eye, no matter the season,” says Sarah); deep purple heucheras conform to the garden’s quiet colour palette and deliver plenty of texture; to reduce maintenance, the designer sought out shade-loving companion plants like hostas and Japanese forest grass, which flourish under the same conditions; Sarah chose silvery purple Japanese painted ferns to lend the garden a contemporary feel and pick up on the grey tone of the concrete (“there’s a thread of consistency throughout,” she says).
5 easy care perennials: Give your garden long-term interest with these showy low-maintenance plants.