Image: Stacey Brandford | Design: Sarah Birnie | Styling: Morgan Lindsay
A Toronto-based designer transforms a stuck-in-the-'80s loft into a bright art-filled abode befitting its stylish owners.
When designer Sarah Birnie was enlisted to refresh a dated Toronto loft, her initial reaction wasn’t about the design. Instead, her first thought was about the coolness of the owners. “They’re much more hip than me, so decorating their place was a fun challenge – I had my work cut out for me.”
Those homeowners – a couple working in creative and tech fields – love their buzzy Queen West neighbourhood. They also clocked the two-storey 1,000-square-foot former factory’s original features, which include huge windows, a wood-burning fireplace and an exposed brick wall. But ugly track lighting, cheap bathroom finishes and a closed-off kitchen with light-obscuring walls reflected its 1980s conversion date.
Sarah channelled the couple’s aesthetic to remedy these design flaws. “They have a taste for Mid-Century Modern style and own a lot of incredible art and textiles,” she says. “I envisioned a bright backdrop with a mix of industrial and vintage twists.”
Gutting and updating the bathroom and opening up the kitchen were no-brainers, but there was one element that wasn’t going anywhere: a big boxy structure in the middle of the bedroom that houses the building’s common staircase. “I wanted to come up with a creative solution to make it look like it was an intentional part of the room,” says Sarah. “I designed a loft bed for the top of it and included some drawers at the foot. It’s quirky, but it works!”
Sarah underscored the new open floor plan by painting all the ceilings and walls bright white – with one exception. “There was never any talk of covering the exposed brick wall in the living room,” she says. “I wanted to highlight the loft’s industrial roots wherever possible, and the bricks reinforce the history of the building.”
Sarah populated the space with pieces from the homeowners’ diverse art collection, which now pops thanks to the bright backdrop, and reintroduced their sensational mix of furnishings – sourced everywhere from auctions to antiques shops to big-box stores. “The homeowners are happy with their space,” she says. “But, more importantly, I hope they think it’s really cool.”
In the all-white kitchen, stainless steel appliances make an industrial statement, and a rug, part of the homeowners’ textile collection, layers in natural texture and colour.
The island replaced a wall that previously enclosed the kitchen and blocked a ton of natural light.
Wishbone chairs, which the owners purchased in an online auction, are set around a new table and lend the dining area a midcentury air. They sit on the former factory’s original wooden floor, which designer Sarah Birnie purposely left unadorned. The largescale artwork is by abstract artist Sohan Qadri.
The living room furnishings are a mash-up of eye-catching styles. Vintage-look chairs and a colourful woven rug share the space with a coffee table whose top is an antique door from India.
Sarah added a little step for climbing up into the custom raised bed – a clever disguise for an awkward protrusion. The artwork above is by South African photographer Jillian Edelstein.
The bathroom features a poured concrete wall, floor and tub surround. “We went with a minimalist industrial look, and added a walnut vanity to bring in warmth and tie the space to the rest of the home.”