In Vancouver’s upscale residential neighbourhood of Shaughnessy, there is an elegant white house with an unmistakable presence.
Built in 1912 in the mission revival architectural style influenced by Spanish colonization of the U.S. West Coast, it is grand and somewhat imperious. And Mamie Angus knew the instant she saw it, before she even stepped inside, that she’d finally found the place to put down new roots.
“I’d been looking for two years and nothing seemed right,” says Angus, an antique dealer and interior designer for more than four decades. “Then I saw this house, with its wonderful gardens and massive front porch and fell in love.
"More important, I knew it was perfect for all my stuff,” she says with a laugh. “Everywhere I go I find something beautiful and bring it home. It doesn’t have to be big, it can be branches in a jar, but it has to be beautiful to me.”
Indeed, looking around her sizable apartment – the 1912 mansion is now divided into three separate units – it’s clear this woman is a collector of many, many things, including contemporary art and furniture, antiques of all stripes and sizes (really, anything from France), and wonderful, whimsical objects she has picked up from travelling to all corners of the world.
“I haven’t a clue how to describe my style,” says Angus, who moved in nine years ago. “It’s simply a lifetime of collecting. I buy Canadian artists because I like to support them, chandeliers because I love them, and really anything I see that strikes me as special.” For the record, she has seven chandeliers in her home.
There are points of interest – what she likes to call “vignettes” – everywhere. Italian gilded candlesticks; an olive jar filled with wooden lotus leaves; two French fauteuils chairs upholstered in a contemporary fabric that reminds her of graffiti; a crimson feather headdress from Africa; a pair of rusted tin crocodiles (the teeth are nails); and a modern table lamp with an orange silk cord that was made by her son, artist and film set designer Kinnersley Craig.
“I really like contemporary furniture to contrast my massive armoires and 10-foot-long walnut tables from France,” says Angus, whose specialty is French antiques. “I love my beautiful things but I also like function … and my living room is highly functional. I have a TV in it, as well as my computer. My grandchildren’s toys are normally scattered about, and nothing is off limits.”
She adds: “The interesting thing is my grandkids never touch anything. The only thing they’ve ever shown much interest in are the crocs – I think it must be their scary teeth.”
She freely mixes old with new, precious with low-cost, and injects humour into every nook and cranny she can. Take, for instance, the three tiny bullheads, glazed plaster pieces from the Camargue region in the south of France, that sit over the fireplace.
“I put them there to kind of make fun of the fireplace, which is baronial and looks as if it should have a big stuffed head above it. I couldn’t resist bringing things down a notch or two, so I put my French bulls there.”
Angus says age has made her much more confident in her decorating style. “I used to move things around all the time. Now things I love stay put. My decorating credo is pretty simple. I buy what I love, and I keep what I love, because everything I own and display has meaning and grace to me.”