There is a house in Toronto where an elephant, named Ella, lives in a turret. If you think this sounds like the start of a fanciful tale, you’re forgiven. But Ella, who was hand-carved by the homeowner, does sit in the Cumming family’s brilliant blue turret, in a century-old home in north Riverdale. She has a window view, facing south toward Lake Ontario.
“My husband, Tom, carved her for our kids when they were young and he put her on sliders so the kids and their friends could go for rides,” Jennifer Cumming says. “However, our daughter and son are now in their early teens and Ella needed a new purpose. Now she’s the mascot of the second floor as well as the proverbial elephant in the room.”
The couple, who own SevernWoods Fine Homes (Tom’s the builder, Jennifer does the books), bought their house in 2009 and have been renovating it – in stages – ever since. First, they tackled the third floor, redoing bedrooms for the kids. Four years later, they dug out the basement, making room for a large home office and recreation room. Finally, in late 2018, they gutted the first and second floors. Over the years, they’d had enough of living through renovation so the family moved out for eight months.
Last June they returned to a contemporary kitchen/family room on the main level, and a new master bedroom, ensuite, laundry and guest bedroom on the second. The turret is there, too, and packs the most punch of any room in the three-storey house.
“It’s wee but mighty,” says Jennifer, who says her husband initially balked at the bold blue because it would paint over beautiful millwork and high wainscotting – both of which he’d carefully researched to be true to the era of the home. “But Sacha [of Sacha Nizami Design] convinced us to go big. When the sun hits the front of the house, the blue intensifies. Frankly, it’s stunning. It’s the happiest part of our house.”
The turret – or library as the family calls it – is roughly 100 square feet so furniture had to be small but also functional. Nizami and Jennifer spun the colour wheel and came up with furniture in a kaleidoscope of colours, such as the violet table lamp from Gabriel Ross, the West Elm desk in oregano blue and the stark white Nelson Orbit Pendant lamp from Design Within Reach that hangs from the ceiling.
Bookshelves were built around an oil landscape by Canadian artist Chris Roberts, which Tom purchased before the couple married. “The blue was inspired by the painting,” Jennifer says. “Sacha and I worked hard on the colour. We bought a California Blue from Benjamin Moore, but we ended up mixing in more black. It really is a custom colour and I christened it Butternut Blue.”
Still, the vibrant colours and decor are only a backdrop for the room’s guest of honour, Ella, who took Tom more than 300 hours to make. “He’s made several animals like this for family and close friends,” Jennifer says.
“But Ella’s special. She’s made from basswood from our cottage. We had to take her off her gliders though. She’s 52 inches from trunk to tail [the turret is only 60 inches across] and we were afraid her tusks would go right through the window.”
Get the look
Kartell Cindy table lamp, in violet, $425 through grshop.com.
Eames moulded fiberglass wire-baise side hair, $495 at Design Within Reach www.dwr.com.
Interior Forest Pink, oil on canvas, by Chris Roberts; $4,800 at chrisrobertsstudio.com.