When Catherine Kirkland walked into the Edwardian-style house in Toronto’s Junction neighbourhood the first thing she thought of was her childhood home in the Ottawa Valley.
“It had two staircases. It had windows that weren’t properly centred. It had cornices and crevices that didn’t make sense,” says Kirkland, who bought the 120-year-old house in 2003 with her husband, Christopher Newton. “It had not been stripped of its original integrity and I loved that. But it was pretty beat up and it needed a lot of work.”
Thankfully, the couple were in no rush and over the years, they tackled rooms as their budget allowed.
First, they redid the floors. “They were falling apart,” Kirkland, a school principal, says. The backyard was properly landscaped in 2006 so their two kids had a place to play. In 2015, the dark and dingy basement was converted into a rec room/playroom. And finally, in 2018, they tackled the main floor, which consists of a small foyer, kitchen, living and dining rooms.
By that time, the plaster was falling down from the ceiling in the dining room. “I said to my husband, ‘Oh my god, we can’t do this by ourselves. We need some massive help,’” Kirkland says. They hired Emilia Wisniewski, of Studio 1Nine1, who, luckily, lived around the corner.
The dining room – the room in the worst state by far – was stripped back to the studs. Insulation was added (there wasn’t any before) and the walls and ceiling were drywalled. The original picture rail was reinstalled “because it gives the room character. I didn’t want it to look like a boring white box,” she says.
Furnace grates were painted and reinstalled, and two wood-burning fireplaces – one in the dining room and the other in the living room – were swapped. Both were retiled, repainted and a brass horse head to hold a fireplace poker was cleaned up and reinstalled. “We switched them because of size,” Kirkland says. “The dining room is not big and the original fireplace had a large mirror above it, which made the room seem every smaller. Now it’s right-sized.”
She also kept the wall dividing the tiny kitchen and dining room, where the family of four eats every night. “Lots of people said to me, ‘Why don’t you open it up?’ But I like the separation,” she says, “and again, it feels right for the space.”
Then came the fun part, adding brightness (and thistles) to the room. Kirkland already had the distressed wood table and benches, which were recovered in a washable wheat-coloured fabric by Drapes by Fae. The two inexpensive armchairs, ordered online from Wayfair, became statement pieces and were upholstered in a deep purple velvet from NewWall, who custom-printed a thistle from its Timorous Beasties line to the back of each chair.
“We hardly bought anything for this room,” says Kirkland, who estimates the total reno was $25,000. “We just reused what we already owned and spruced up what was tired.”
The room’s crowning glory, of course, is the ceiling with the swirl of ivory and black thistles (again from NewWall). “It was Emilia’s suggestion and I loved it. It draws the eye up and makes the room seem larger,” Kirkland says. “I know thistles are thorny things, but I adore them. I can’t even tell you why.”
Get the look
Aged brass Sawyer pendant light; $835 at Elta.
Timorous Beasties Thistle Superwide wallpaper (SWP-THL-IVY-01); $85 per yard through newwall.com.
High candle holder; $61 through departo.co.