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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


If you’ve ever wondered where interior design magazines stage their photo shoots, you should check out some of the location agencies’ web sites. I’ve been browsing Light Locations recently. There are dozens of wonderful homes (mostly English, although some are overseas) to ogle. Granted, they’re a little depersonalized, as you’d expect. But this is the cream of the crop when it comes to light, space and architectural details. I even recognize a few from memorable features that have graced the pages of my favorite design mags.

There are country houses:

Blue bed in barn

Quirky houses (this is a knitting barn!):

Knitting barn

Elegant town houses:


Eclectic houses (remember this from this photo shoot?):

Living room

Drop-dead fabulous houses:

Living room

Eccentric houses (I remember this one from a Rug Company shoot):

Panelled room

Cool Britannia houses:

Panelled room

Victorian houses:

Open plan



Uber-stylish houses:

Living room

‘I-want-to-go-to-Marrakech-now!’ houses:

Marrakech house

Go on, I challenge you to find one that isn’t your style…

I’ve been tormented recently by this game over at From the Right Bank to the Left Coast. The goal is to come up with one picture that captures your interiors style completely. Frankly, I think it’s impossible unless you’re one of those people that is entirely sure of their choices and knows their own style inside out. Well, that isn’t me, I’m sorry to say. But, it has been a very fun challenge to attempt (not to mention a brilliant idea, Right Bank!). So, in an effort to achieve some sort of closure on this, here are my finalists and my winning choice.

Firstly I should say that I considered a veritable medley of styles: industrial lofts, spaces with bright colors and kooky details, Californian mid-century homes with fabulous views… But, in the end, I stayed true to my real roots: a bit vintage, a bit sparkly, a bit British and a lot of classic.

I have been a fan of Monique Lhuillier’s house in LA ever since it appeared in Elle Deco. I like the grays, the symmetry, the calmness, the artwork, the great chunks of crystal. Not that I’m saying I think I have her style, of course! (I wish!). But, in the end, this look is a bit too upscale for me.

Monique Lhuillier home

I have loved this house in LivingEtc for years. There’s something about the open floor plan and the colors – neutral with a splash of chartreuse – that appeals.

Living Etc

I love this pic in Homes and Gardens – similar colors (do you see a theme yet?!), very classic but a bit of sparkle. But, perhaps it’s just a bit too traditional for me.

Homes and Gardens

I love this living room by Lucyina Moodie. The colors are right, there’s a little bit of silver. It’s very calming and organized. I like the moldings. But it lacks a little character for me.

Lucyina Moodie

The Style Files just posted about this gorgeous house in Copenhagen and I’m tempted to use the living room as my ‘one picture’. It certainly has the sparkly elements. But maybe just a few too many of them…

Copenhagen house

So, here it is – my final choice. I’m sorry if you find it a bit underwhelming. I just wanted something I could truly see me creating and living in. The paneling is what did it: I love a house with this sort of historical architectural detail (of course, that’s the Brit in me). And, naturally, it’s mostly white, symmetrical, and also very livable.

Picture 317

So there you go: the real me. I feel quite exposed now! If you haven’t played the game yet, go here to try.

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