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When we first met this couple, their home did not work for them either functionally or esthetically. The main floor -- consisting of an enclosed kitchen and small dining room on one side of a cramped entry hall, with a generous living room and small family room on the other -- was definitely not suited to the large dinner gatherings they host almost weekly. A motley collection of traditional furnishings -- mainly inherited -- crowded the rooms and did not reflect the contemporary style they craved.

Immediately, we focused on combining and repurposing spaces: the kitchen and dining room melding into a large eat-in kitchen, the largely unused living room converted to a dining room and opening to the adjacent family room/sitting area. The emphasis on entertaining even led us to transform the laundry room (now shifted to the basement) into a serviceable cloakroom, allowing us to eliminate a front hall closet and enlarge the entry.

The kitchen design was a particular challenge. These adventurous clients were definitely not interested in "ordinary" or "usual", and they had a long list of requirements. The plan that finally met with their approval is built around an extra-long island, bridging the room's width. A counter-height centre section features an illuminated display facing the entry, while lower table-height "wings" are angled to each side. One wing was designed as a kneading surface for the wife's bread-making, complete with a retracting stand for a heavy-duty mixer, while at the opposite end is a small family dining table. Ranged around the baking centre is a meticulously planned working area, with appliance garage, prep sink, extra large double sink, and dual dishwashers. Instead of standard upper wall cabinets, we installed 2 floating cabinets to corral cooking essentials close at hand. Against the wall opposite the centre of the island is a tall storage cabinet that houses all the dishes and glassware that were once stored in multiple upper cabinets; rollout shelves make everything easily visible and accessible. It also serves to divide the cooking function of the kitchen from the living functions: working at the computer, eating, TV viewing, and lounging. Capping it all off is a wall of storage for foodstuffs galore.

With all items on the function checklist ticked off, we turned to creating our look. These clients love colour, clean lines, and quirky touches. We took our cues from renovations they had completed in the upper floor of their home and specified flat cabinet fronts in cherry veneer, pairing it with white lacquer as a break from all the wood elements. To complement its naturally orange tones, we envisioned liberal use of blues. Our design concept really came to life when we decided to evoke the natural elements of their native New Zealand: the watery effect of mottled blue mosaic tiles for the backsplash; a driftwood stain for the oiled oak plank floors; quartz countertops rendered in soft shell-white; pendant lights with a scallop-like edge. And the highlight of the kitchen: a huge photo of a beach in New Zealand, custom printed on plexiglass. The clients spent many hours searching for the perfect image, and this one brought back childhood memories as well as bringing in graphic punch.

To marry the kitchen to the rest of the main floor, we carried over the natural theme and its colours to varying degrees. For the entry, tiles with a sand-like pattern were selected to play off the hardwood flowing from the kitchen. In lieu of the hall closet, we designed a built-in storage bench and topped it with a leafy patterned cushion in oranges, blues, and purples. For an unexpected note, the powder room on the opposite side of the entry is coated in purplish-grey, pulling the tone from the stunning mother-of-pearl mosaic -- the client's find -- that covers the wall behind the vanity. Deeming the tiles too beautiful to cover up, we went for the unconventional and hung a glam mirror on the adjoining wall. Serendipitously, the contractor located a remnant of a purple stone slab for the counter, and we found a perfect pair of handles fashioned from chunks of amethyst to go with it. The finishing touch is a hand-hammered polished nickel sink. The client was more than happy with these outside-the-box details in this tiny room.

In the dining room, we reiterated the orange tones of the kitchen cabinetry in a custom 12' long table. Based on the husband's design, it was fashioned from 2 thick slabs of maple whose live edges meet in the centre to form a flowing stream-like opening. As a contemporary note, we specified bases in a shiny chrome finish, which is mirrored in the pair of LED chandeliers that meander above the table. To further meet the clients' desire for personalization, we modified the design of a production line buffet and then installed hardware of their choosing. The focal point of the room is the clients' collection of pieces by New Zealand artists, hung salon style against a marine blue wall.

In the adjoining sitting area, the quiet envelope of soft greys is carried over into the multi-faceted limestone that covers the fireplace -- a subtle textural accent. An area rug that is evocative of a shimmering pool is in strong contrast, defining the seating arrangement. Here furnishings in mid-century modern style reflect the look of the dining room chairs, with bold blues peppered throughout. But in a corner, one notes an exception to contemporary style: a traditional étagère/bar -- the lone hold-over from the homeowners' family hand-me-downs.

It was a long journey of 3 1/2 years from first meeting to final touches, but with transformation complete, this home is a very personalized expression of its owners' style.

We invite you to continue exploring our site for design inspiration, then contact us to find out how we can provide 'just the thing' for you!
Photography by: Ingrid Punwani

Also in this Portfolio:

VIEW | A Case of Scope Creep
VIEW | Jewel Box Condo
VIEW | A Very Personal Home
Entertaining Adults
VIEW | The Art of Compromise
VIEW | Pulling It Together
VIEW | Classic Modernism
Executive Townhouse
To the Next Level
VIEW | Calm, Cool, and Collected
VIEW | Home Sweet Home
VIEW | Going with the Flow
VIEW | Making it Work
Room with a View
Curated Downsize
VIEW | Downtown Pied-a-Terre
Designed to Sell
VIEW | Condo Kitchen

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JUST the THING specialises in makeovers of fine homes -- large and small -- throughout Toronto and the GTA.
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