Interior design: English eccentricity

Interior design: English eccentricity

Interior design: English eccentricity Author: Style At Home


Interior design: English eccentricity

This 1870s house in Toronto's Cabbagetown neighbourhood needed work, but for owners Sean Ward and Stephen Fillmore, the focus was more on restoration than renovation. Even though a lot of the original detail from the second and third floors was gone, they loved the way the house was designed, including the fact that rooms were separated by walls.

Creating welcoming rooms was important to the couple, who enjoy entertaining. "Comfort is big – not just for us, but for our guests," says Sean, an interior consultant and former creative associate for the decor and consignment shop Elliott & Ward. In fact, there isn't a space – from the kitchen and living room to the bath – that doesn't offer a down-filled chair to sink into.

Rooms are decorated with items collected over a lifetime. There's the kilim rug Sean bought in Egypt in the entry hall, the 300-year-old tray table in the living room, and the painting by the Group of Seven's J.E.H. MacDonald that Sean inherited in the dining room. "We love classic design, but we also try to inject a little humour," Sean says, pointing out whimsical pieces like a leopard-print carpet and artwork from his grade school days. The result is a look with an English sensibility – that slightly eccentric style of mixing periods of furniture and art, and patterns and textures.

"The British knew how to create a place to live in, not just a space to march through with a martini." The pair have been so successful at creating a cosy, livable home that at times guests don’t want to leave. "They say, 'I just want to grab a book and sit here in the corner,'" says Sean. "It's the best compliment we could get."


Living room: "Mixing styles and textures makes decorating fun," says homeowner Sean Ward. He furnished the space with down-filled seating, small tables, a rush rug and table lamps for a cosy hangout. 


Hallway: What could have been a sedate space is instead a lively one, thanks to a combo of modern art and antique prints, a colourful rug and Louis-style chair, and a fun leopard-print carpet. The slate-and-marble checkerboard floor in the entrance is elegant yet durable for these dog owners. english3.jpg

China cabinet: The dining room armoire is home to family heirlooms and antique-store finds. "Using a complete set of the same pattern is lovely, but it's more exciting to mix things up," says Sean. "It creates an interesting table, plus you get to use more of your favourite things at the same time." english4.jpg

Dining room: "The modern art paired with traditional furniture and in particular the carpet creates an energy, whether we're dining or just passing through," says Sean. english5.jpg

Kitchen: Sean and partner Stephen Fillmore chose Shaker-style cabinetry and beadboard panelling for an old-world flavour. "Often we'll have the first course at the dining table, then serve the rest as a buffet here. It makes people feel at home." english6.jpg

Breakfast room: With a down-filled sofa, roomy table and hidden TV, the bright breakfast room off the kitchen is a cosy spot for dinner. An Italian tole chandelier and pint-size lamp lend touches of charm. english7.jpg

Master bedroom: Anchored by neutrals and tall windows, this room says airy and soothing. "I injected some oomph with orange saris," says Sean. "He spruced up the junk shop chandelier with spray paint and new shades. english8.jpg

Master bathroom: This look sprang from a love of old hotel bathrooms. Furnishings create a homey living room feel.

english10.jpgGet inspired with ideas from owners Sean Ward and Stephen Fillmore.

Your home's personality
"Warm and comfortable, like the type of person who immediately puts you at ease the first time you meet."

Decorating inspiration
"Travel, life and experience. They're key to finding your style, which evolves."

Favourite designers
"John Fowler, David Milnaric, Nancy Lancaster, Michael Kime, Michael Smith, Sister Parish, Miles Reed, Albert Hadley."

Best flea market find
"I don't drive, so I don't really go to flea markets," says Sean. "For me, the Net is great for deals. The best ones on eBay are for tableware; when you compare eBay prices for silver and porcelain to retail prices, it's astounding."

Biggest decorating mistake and lessons learned
"In one of my first apartments, I painted each room a different colour," says Sean. "I didn't get that rooms have to relate to or at least flow into one another. Lesson learned: look at the whole picture and have an overall plan."

Mood setters

"Lighting, flowers, music, a fire, comfortable seating, great china and silver – the whole package."

Word of advice

"Have a classic background you can add to over time, no matter what your style. If the quality is there, it will all work."



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Interior design: English eccentricity