House Tours

Peek inside an eclectic and contemporary 1,900-sq.-ft. house

A cross-country move from Toronto to Vancouver made one family re-evaluate how they live. See what made the cut, what didn’t and how it all came together.
By Kathleen Dore
Peek inside an eclectic and contemporary 1,900-sq.-ft. house

Photo, Janis Nicolay.

A moving story p. 63 October 2014

A moving story

You can’t have a Vancouver life in Toronto, and you can’t have a Toronto life in Vancouver, but they’re both great,” says Sandra Harris. She should know. The food and lifestyle photographer and her husband, Mike, moved from Vancouver to Toronto in 2001; then a decade later, with daughter Ruby (now eight), they moved back to Vancouver to be near family.

Theirs is a tale of two cities. It’s also a tale of two houses. “The Vancouver house was built in the 1930s as a tiny workman’s bungalow, maybe 1,000 square feet,” says Sandra. A prior renovation added a third bedroom and 900 square feet. Even so, the house is less than half the size of the Victorian semi they had in Toronto’s Annex neighbourhood. And a completely different style too. “Picture almost 5,000 square feet, 10-foot ceilings, original mouldings,” says Sandra.

Tip: Inject personality with art and colour
The living room’s prized Carl Stromquist cedar carving and Fred Herzog photograph highlight the creative couple’s passion for art. The teal Egg chair lifts the mood and sets a modern tone.

Egg chair, Morba. Cocktail table, pouf, The Cross Design. Rug, Ikea. Photograph, Equinox Gallery. Cedar carving, Eagle Spirit Gallery. Floor lamp, Elte

Living room fireplace Fred Herzog photograph teal egg chair Carl Stromquist cedar carvingPhoto, Janis Nicolay.

Packed with personality

Smaller and less grand though their Vancouver home may be, it’s packed with personality thanks to Sandra’s curatorial approach to decorating. “You have to think differently in terms of size and scale,” she says, admitting downsizing meant saying goodbye to some pieces and hello to more suitable ones. “But you don’t have to compromise on style. Mine’s always been eclectic. That hasn’t changed.”

Tip: Forgo curtains to let the light in
For a clean, contemporary look, try wood-slatted shutters in place of traditional curtains. Installing them on only the bottom half of double-hung windows maximizes the natural light coming into the house while retaining privacy. A white paint palette also increases the sunny factor and allows for colourful contrasts in furniture and accessories.

Chairs, Style Garage. Sofa, Kiosk.

Living room wood-slatted shutters striped rug white sofa black benchPhoto, Janis Nicolay.

Eclectic furnishings

Sandra’s confident, creative flair shows in her mix of furnishings — mid-century modern, Scandinavian, contemporary, industrial, even traditional. “The main rule is, if I love it, I’ll make it work,” she says. “They’re going to hang together.”

That’s her approach to artwork too. She and Mike buy what they love and find a spot for it. “We have less wall space for art here, so we hang paintings and photography everywhere — even in the kitchen and bathrooms,” she says.

Tip: Play with scale for maximum impact
Sandra says the much-loved pendant is too big for thedining room, but she loves the effect. It looks right with the eclectic mix of furnishings, including the traditional wenge-wood table, Jacobsen-style chairs and mid-century-modern credenza. Mike’s magnificent photo of a waterfall in Japan was made into a triptych.

Credenza, Mod Furnishings. Table lamp, Crate&Barrel. Pendant light, Design Within Reach. Rug, The Cross Design.

Dining room eclectic decor zebra rug oversized pendant Jacobsen chairs mid-century credenza wenge wood tablePhoto, Janis Nicolay.

Play with texture

Art was one reason Sandra opted for gallery-like white walls, but another was to brighten things up during Vancouver’s overcast winters. The main purpose, though, was to create flow and visually expand the small space. “It feels more unified,” she says. “I wanted to instead play with texture and colour in furniture and accessories.”

Tip: Turn extra space into a reading nook
Sandra fashioned an oversized landing upstairs into a gathering spot for the whole family.“We’re big book hounds,” she says. New built-ins, artwork, a gorgeous watery-blue area rug and two Barcelona-style chairs placed side by side for cuddly reading make the space a destination.

Rug, Elte. Basket, The Cross Design. Art, Jude Griebel.

Reading nook bookshelf blue area rug Barcelona-style chairsPhoto, Janis Nicolay.

Modern wallpaper

Play she did. Pops of blue (her favourite hue) — a vase in the kitchen, the reading nook’s rug, a striking teal chair by the fireplace — reinforce the visual link between rooms. She used texture in a similar way. In Ruby’s room, modern woodsy wallpaper does the trick; in the master bedroom, there’s a highly textural abstract painting and stunning chandelier.

Tip: Include children in  design choices
Ruby told her mom she wanted something “foresty,” which led to the wallpaper selection in her room. Sandra says Ruby’s picks in both decor and fashion are bolder than her own — and that’s saying something! “But that might come from being eight, as well,” jokes Sandra.

Wallpaper, Cole&Son. Bed linens, art, The Cross Design.

Kids bedroom trees forestry wallpaper Cole and Son The Cross Design bed linenPhoto, Janis Nicolay.

Statement lighting

That chandelier is one of many standout light fixtures, each chosen to add style, not just fulfill a function. The dining room pendant is from their old place. “We know it’s technically too big for that space, but we really like it,” says Sandra. Similarly, the kitchen’s brass Sputnik pendant (also a Toronto transplant) contrasts with the room’s predominant stainless steel; but mixing metals, a former decorating don’t, was a no-brainer for Sandra. “If it appeals to you, do it,” she says. “Why follow arbitrary rules?”

Peek inside an eclectic and contemporary 1,900-sq.-ft. housePhoto, Janis Nicolay.

Mini reno

If she has any rule, it’s that good design is about shaping a space to suit the people who use it. “I like an eclectic look, and I think you can make it work in any space,” says Sandra. “You are the commonality between all the different things in your home. Trust your taste.”

Tip: Switch out your backsplash and counters
Sandra replaced the original sunflower-patterned tiles on the backsplash with sleek grey elongated subway tiles, and she upgraded from laminate counters to Caesarstone. These two easy updates completely changed the look of the kitchen without requiring a full-blown renovation.

Tile, Stone Tile. Countertops, Caesarstone.

Kitchen grey subway tiles Caesarstone countertop islandPhoto, Janis Nicolay.

Make rooms do double duty

Sandra added a bank of kitchen cabinets in thebreakfast nook to store her styling props and Ruby’s craft materials. Now the kitchen table is “almost always covered with craft supplies, and the room’s a real hangout space,” she says.

Table, Elte. Chairs, Crate&Barrel. cabinetry, Citation Kitchens.

White kitchen round wood table metal chairsPhoto, Janis Nicolay.


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