Design Experts

Inside design: J. Alexander Donovan

Inside design: J. Alexander Donovan

Inside design: J. Alexander Donovan Author: Style At Home

Design Experts

Inside design: J. Alexander Donovan

In a design landscape where clean lines are prized and grey is considered a colour, it’s refreshing to meet a fellow lover of all hues of the rainbow, detailed embellishments, playful patterns and antique silhouettes. Enter the design director of Toronto’s 1212 Decor, J. Alexander Donovan, who graciously sat down with me to chat about his signature style and some of the iconic pieces he can’t live without.

Bold colours and graphic patterns

Alex uses every possible inch of his 900-square-foot apartment to leave his signature stamp. He doesn’t advocate that everyone use as much colour as he does unless they’re able to balance it through scale and pattern, for example. Here in the den, a large antique armoire tempers the boldness of the pink walls and the blue chaise longues he designed himself, while hits of graphic pattern add a dash of playful interest. donovan-style.jpg
In the master bedroom, Alex mixed luxe fabrics with graphic Legacy Home bedding and Dransfield & Ross throw pillows, as well as a touch of glitz in the form of a Schonbek chandelier. According to him, there’s no better way to wake up in the morning than by staring up at crystals!

SAH How would you describe your decorating style?

AD Extremely eclectic. I base most of my design on the things that I love first and foremost. When I’m shopping and I see something I like, I never think, “Where is this going?” I know that I can find room. The fact of the matter is that I love it, I have to have it and I will make it work.

SAH You mix periods and styles effortlessly. Do you find there’s a particular era or aesthetic that you always gravitate to?
AD French, French, French – any period. I’d say Louis XIV right through to present day. I think French design works incredibly well with other styles, such as chinoiserie. I love playing different backgrounds of design off one another. donovan-designheroes.jpg
The red upholstered bergère chair is another colourful piece in the master bedroom that complements the rest of the bright scheme.

SAH What is it about decorating with colour that you find so irresistible?
AD It makes me happy. Colour is something that should bring life to a room and inspire one to feel. It can be used in a very verbose manner, the way I have, or it can be that added element in a neutral room to give it a little bit of pop.

SAH Who are your design heroes?
AD Designers of the past, certainly, like Billy Baldwin and Sister Parish, even though she was more English at times. I’m a huge Dorothy Draper fan, too. In terms of today’s designers, I love Kelly Wearstler – she’s such a maverick when it comes to using colour and pattern and periods and just breaking all the rules. And Carleton Varney – the man is brilliant with colour. donovan-designfield.jpg
The range of pieces that lines Alex’s hallway is evidence of his passion for collecting art. He recommends building a collection over time and starting with up-and-coming artists.

Were you always involved in the design field?

I started off in fashion design and wanted to do couture but quickly realized that in order to afford couture one has to do ready-to-wear. I didn’t want to do ready-to-wear, so I ended up in the high-end retail industry, which gave me a lot of background on sales and how to run a company. But designing interiors is something that I’ve been doing for my friends for years. donovan-designinghisapartment.jpg
The office space shows off Alex’s keen eye for layering a space with pieces from various styles, as well as luxe with rustic. For instance, a 1970s black Panton chair sits below late 19th-century pagoda-style lanterns, while casual leather chairs from Lee Industries flank a portrait that Alex painted of his sister.

SAH Because your apartment is only 900 square feet, did you see that as a challenge when you were designing?

AD I never think of small spaces as being daunting in any way because whatever the space you have, it is what it is. And so you take the things you love and you may have to do some editing and store some things away. But that gives you a reason to actually rotate pieces of art and furniture. With a small space, you’re forced to be more calculated in your decision-making. donovan-space.jpg
A pair of John-Richard crystal obelisks take pride of place on the Louis XV-inspired desk that also serves as a dining room table.

SAH What impression do you hope to make on people when they’re visiting your place for the first time?

AD I would love for people to be inspired. I want them to be entertained. There’s nothing worse than leaving somebody in a room while you go get them a cocktail and they just have to sit there and entertain themselves. I want the room to be the entertainment for them, because if I’m not there, something else – the art, the books, the objets, the sculptures – has to do that for me. I want people to just be sitting there, taking it all in and hopefully enjoying it simply because it’s an extension of me.


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Design Experts

Inside design: J. Alexander Donovan