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A few weeks back, I kicked off the Style and the City series with a look at the unlikely duo of Paris and Seattle, courtesy of Alek at From the Right Bank to the Left Coast. Now we’re continuing our travels north and into Canada. I’m absolutely delighted that Jane from Ill Seen, Ill Said has agreed to share with us some of the secrets of her home town, Toronto.

If you recall, Style and the City is all about the different design styles and influences of cities around the world. While interiors magazines focus on New York and Los Angeles, I think it’s up to the blogosphere to throw the spotlight on some of the other stylish cities out there. Maybe we’ll find out that style knows no geographic boundaries. Or maybe we’ll discover that each city still has its unique interiors aesthetic. Who knows, but it will sure be fun to figure it out.

Turns out Jane is the perfect guide for our visit to Toronto. If you can’t already tell from her smart, eclectic, inspiring and always entertaining blog, she knows more than a thing or too about design. (She also has one of the best examples of a rainbow of books that I’ve seen…) Here she’s generously given us an insight into the hottest resources and coolest designers Toronto has to offer – and a peek at her own style influences at the same time. I even learned a new word: Torontonian!

And when you’re done here, please do check out the rest of Ill Seen, Ill Said (if you’re not already a reader that is) for more great ideas and images. You won’t be disappointed.

Four Walls and a Roof: What does Toronto style mean to you?

Ill Seen, Ill Said: Toronto is an extremely multi-cultural city so it’s difficult to pin down just one style that embodies the city. I suppose that’s why I like it here so much. I moved here from Ireland six years ago. If there’s a country with a very distinct style and personality, it’s Ireland. Toronto, by comparison, is completely open-concept and it makes it easy to carve out your own style without feeling weighed down by history or convention.

My interpretation of Toronto style is similarly open-concept, but mostly I’m influenced by my friends here, the 1930’s art deco building I live in and my lifestyle. I always leaned towards modern style, but it didn’t seem to fit quite so readily with the cozy little homes we have in Ireland. Toronto has allowed my appreciation for mid-century classics to blossom.

I especially like to combine those modern pieces with more rustic pieces. This is the Great White North after all, so it’s difficult for me to think about design without relating it to the Canadian wilderness. Even though Toronto is a large and sprawling city, many residents have cottages and there’s definitely an exchange of inspiration between the city and country. I think Toronto style comes into its own when it embraces this relationship, rather than trying to be too polished or cosmopolitan.

FWR: Great images! So, Canadian wilderness aside, what do you think are the influences on Toronto style?

ISIS: There’s a huge influx of immigrants into Toronto every year and it gives the city a real sense of motion. But, at the same time, there’s a certain design conservatism to Toronto. Classics play a real role in design – I would say Canadians buy to last. However, I think Torontonians are definitely becoming more playful. Canadian House and Home magazine has definitely reflected and influenced that change. Especially now, under the leadership of Suzanne Dimma, the direction is a lot more adventurous, whimsical and – for want of a better word – Domino-esque.

I believe Sarah Richardson‘s classic and neutral style also represents the design ideal of many Toronto homeowners. Though I love Sarah, it’s her right-hand man Tommy Smythe who captures my imagination the most. Tommy’s style is a little more dramatic and expressive of a highly individual lifestyle. Between the two of them, they create the loveliest spaces. You can see Tommy’s home in the December issue of Canadian House & Home.

I think Toronto style errs on the manly side. Sure, there are some very frou-frou stores (and homes) here, but they’re definitely in the minority. Stylegarage / Gus*Modern and Commute Home epitomize this more masculine streak. Their pieces are sleek and industrial. But again, they throw some nice rustic, organic and historical elements into their collections to warm them up. Maybe it’s because I’m a sucker for an uncomplicated manly man, but I feel very cozy and at home with this style of decor.

Sometimes, I’m still surprised by just how much design talent we have in Canada in general, and Toronto in particular. Bev Hisey, Coe & Waito (sadly exists no longer), Bookhou and Virginia Johnson …to name but a few. That said, Torontonians are excessively modest so you won’t find the city beating its chest over this talent. Again, that’s something I love. Toronto is a bit of a sleeper hit and you won’t immediately feel its talent pressing on you from every angle. You definitely have to do some digging.

FWR: Hmm, I’m tempted to take a trip! Any great local resources you can tell us about?

ISIS: Shopping mid-century is a treat here. I love Zig Zag and Queen West Antiques. I like to toss in some affordable antiques to shake the stuffing out of my place.

For accessorizing, I absolutely adore L’Atelier. Their displays epitomize the diversity of Toronto style, incorporating pieces from North Africa, Art Deco antiques, industrial pieces and rustic Canadiana. I know, it sounds a little incoherent, but it’s impeccably curated. And if you want to learn the fine art of putting a vignette together, this store is the best field trip you can take.

Hollace Cluny is my absolute haven. As well as stocking design giants like Knoll and Carl Hansen, the store sells pieces by Westcoast designer Martha Sturdy and textiles by Bev Hisey. Made is another great store that hosts a phenomenal range of Canadian talent, from Ceramik B., Jennifer Graham and Heyday Designs. And you can always turn to Distill and the other stores in the Distillery District to put a new Canadian designer on your radar.

D&E Lake is a bookstore and printshop that’s like a treasure trove for me. I seldom go because it costs me dearly every time I set foot in there. The charismatic owner, Don, has an encyclopaedic knowledge of art history and Canadian art. Unfortunately – or perhaps fortunately –  his inventory is organized with a less systematic approach. So, poring over his bookshelves and sifting through drawers of prints is always an adventure in uncovering the unexpected. I never walk out with what I was looking for. But I always walk out with something. Other galleries I frequent include the Mira Godard Gallery, the Ingram Gallery and Bau-Xi.

FWR: Do you incorporate any local influences in your home?

ISIS: I definitely incorporate design influences from all around the world (and the blogosphere) when I shop. I’m not dogmatically “Canadian” in the decisions I make when it comes to decorating. But, because I live in Toronto and am very much of this city, I am under the spell of it when I make decisions. And, even when I consume international content, it’s from the perspective of where and how I live in this city that I judge it.

Looking around my apartment, there are pieces from Atlantic Treefox, Herriott Grace and Coe & Waito. All embody that distinct Canadian love of wilderness and a simple, unconvoluted grace. I think it’s the overall simplicity of Canada that I love the most. It’s unfussy and pragmatic. And I find that, increasingly, I’m all about paring back and embracing a more spartan design aesthetic and choosing select pieces that tell a story.

FWR: You grew up in Ireland – does that influence your style at all?

ISIS: Absolutely. Ireland’s history weighs me down when I’m there too long. But, the distance I get when I’m in Toronto lets me channel Ireland’s influence more positively. My love of literature is definitely a very Irish part of my personality and books are probably the most dominant object in my whole apartment. I can’t abide a room without books.

Joyce referred to Dublin as “lugly” (both lovely and ugly) and I do love of the grittier side of things too. I don’t like all polish and perfection. Patina is really important to me and I like that sense of layered history you feel when you walk around Dublin. It doesn’t bother me that my desk has ink splotches on it. Or that an armchair looks a little worse for wear.  I need to see little flaws and imperfections to feel at home with something. To me, perfectly appointed homes are like faces with too much botox; expressionless and boring.

FWR: Ha, ha! Too true! I couldn’t agree more! Thanks so much for the fabulous tour, Jane.

Image credits for rooms:
1. Image from Marie Claire Maison
2. Image by Rachel Smith (via Desire to Inspire)
3. Image by Light Locations (via Luphia Loves)

Product credits:
First product image:
a. Furniture from Commute
b. Mason jars by Heyday Designs
c. Retort lamp Stylegarage / Gus*Modern
d. Ceramics by Jennifer Graham
e. Timber table by Stylegarage / Gus*Modern
f. Ceramic pine cones by Coe and Waito

Second product image:
a. Ceramics by Paige Russell at Made
b. Cushions by Bev Hisey
c. Bark-edged side tables by Deanne Lehtinen at Made
d. Rug by Bev Hisey
e. Streetcar serigraph by Charles Pachter
f. Tote by Virginia Johnson

Third product image:
a. Pendant by Propellor Design at Made
b. Ontario Embroidery by Atlantic Treefox
c. Pedestal plate by Herriott Grace
d. Canadian animal softies by Bookhou
e. Furniture from Commute
f. Felt stool by Bookhou


One of the things I like most about blogging is seeing how different bloggers around the world are inspired by their local surroundings. When you read the design blogs, you get a flavor of the interiors of the South, the Mid West, Canada, and maybe even the English countryside, the Australian coast or the Italian hills. While I love catching up on the latest interior styles from New York or LA in the design magazines, it’s the blogs that bring you the variety and character of homes from around the world.

So I started thinking, how about if I asked some of my favorite bloggers to tell us about their city? And Style and the City was born. In this series, I’ll be interviewing bloggers about the cities that have inspired them and asking them to share a few pictures that characterize the style of that city.

And where better to start the series than with Alek of From the Right Bank to the Left Coast (and also of the What’s your Style in One Pic challenge).

From the right bank

If you don’t already read Alek’s blog avidly, then you should! It’s witty, smart and choc-full of inspiring images. We seem to have eerily similar taste – although I probably don’t manage to incorporate it into my home as well as Alek does, judging by her pics! If you are already a reader, then you’ll know she’s fantastically well-travelled and has lived all over the place. But her heart is really in Paris so, when I asked Alek to share her favorite city’s style, Paris was the obvious choice. Now, as the title of her blog suggests, Alek’s home is the Pacific NorthWest and she has some fabulous ideas for combining these two very distinctive styles.


Four Walls: What does Paris style mean to you?

Right Bank: I think I associate Paris style with the people I knew there and how they lived. I was lucky to know people from all walks of life so accordingly, Paris style means several things to me.

First, it’s a very grand and opulent style and one that probably comes to mind first for most of us when we think of Paris. Historical buildings, antiques, and luxurious materials may all add up to a romanticized view of France in some ways but some people really do live in apartments like these(!)


Via Architectural Digest.

Then, at the other end of the spectrum, there’s what I would call a more Bohemian look a la Amelie (who didn’t fall in love with her red bedroom?) This style is more about brocante (flea market) finds, lots of color and fun. I love the creativity that goes into this style. It’s also usually budget-conscious, but no less fabulous in my opinion.


From Flea Market Style by Emily Chalmers.

And finally, for me there is a third style that is also quintessentially Parisian. It mixes contemporary and antique pieces, usually in muted tones and has a slightly industrial edge but still remains very French. This is my personal favorite and one that is closest to my own.


Via desire to inspire.

How do you incorporate Paris style into your home? Any tips?

I was so fortunate to collect a number of really great pieces while living in Paris. I was even luckier to have the chance to bring back whatever I wanted since we had a giant shipping container at our disposal! (For a design-obsessed Francophile, that part of my life still seems like a dream!) Everything we brought back is scattered throughout our current home. But because our house is contemporary, it’s been a bit of a challenge making it all work. While I’m a huge proponent of mixing styles and eras, it needs to be harmonious. What I have learned is that you can’t go too horribly wrong if you work within the same palette. Also, having just one or two statement pieces makes the mix work much better. If you try to incorporate too much, it can become overwhelming.

Now you’re living in Seattle, what are your sources of inspiration locally?

Seattle is a different world from Paris on so many levels! Whereas in Paris my biggest source of inspiration was the history, here in Seattle it’s really all about nature. Therefore, much of the contemporary architecture here really focuses on blending outdoor and indoor spaces and I just can’t get enough of that. I also find a lot of inspiration in the landscape. I have a bit of an obsession with everything Scandinavian so I was really happy to discover that much of the Pacific Northwest landscape closely resembles Scandinavia.



Via Oska Architects.

Ok, you’re looking for a weekend house. Tell us what the dream Pacific NorthWest weekend house looks like… Will there be just a little bit of Paris in it?

I think this house typifies the dream Pacific Northwest vacation house:


Via Miller Hull.

Now, I certainly wouldn’t turn down something like this if it fell into my lap. But because this is the same style as my primary house, my dream vacation house is a very modest and rustic little place. In other words, the complete opposite. I often say I have design schizophrenia. So truth be told, one of my primary motivations for getting a weekend house is t indulge another side of my design personality (But don’t tell the hubs. He just thinks I need a place to get away!) I also hope that it can be on some body of water.


Via Solblomma.


By photographer Ngoc Minh Ngo.

As for the interior, I actually have the boho Paris look I described earlier in mind for it. After all, you can take the girl out of Paris but you can’t the Paris out of the the girl! Again, I want to go in a different direction from my house which is decorated mostly in white and neutrals. I would love a new canvas where I can play with lots of colors and patterns.


Via Marie Claire Maison.

Thanks, Alek!

I told you she had some great ideas. I completely agree with the design schizophrenia point. I’d love a house for every design style but then I’d be broke! But that dream house with all the wood and glass is truly inspiring. One day…. Jump over to From the Right Bank to the Left Coast for more great images and ideas.

Hope you enjoyed the first of Style and the City. Huge thanks to Alek for putting together such beautiful and insightful images and sharing her dream home ideas with us. If you have a city you’d love to see featured, let me know (or if you want to share some style images from your city, just drop me a line via the contact form on the ‘About’ page). I can’t wait to hear from you.

Look out for the start of a new series tomorrow: ‘Style and the City’. I’m going to be interviewing bloggers on the styles that characterize their favorite cities. I won’t give away too much about my first interviewee, except to say that she’s been to lots of cities and has impeccable taste so you won’t want to miss what she has to say!

To whet your appetite, I’ll leave you with a little slice of style from my own hometown (and still one of my favorite cities), London.


Via LivingEtc.

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