A white plaster monkey lamp, antique furniture, a collection of vintage luggage. Avril Noone liked the eclectic collection of things she’d amassed over the years as she moved from Ireland to England to Canada, she just didn’t know how to elegantly arrange it all in her new Toronto house. The place had nice light and a spacious terrace overlooking lush greenery – trade offs for an awkward, hard-to-organize layout.
At first, Noone, general manager for Louis Vuitton in Canada, was hesitant to hire a decorator to help. She was looking for curatorial guidance, but was keen to avoid the expense of a full interiors overhaul. “I didn’t want any pressure to go out and buy lots of new things, which can happen,” she says. “And I didn’t want someone to impose their style on me.”
She decided to enlist Elias Blunden-Stone, someone whom she had met through a friend of a friend. Blunden-Stone was in the process of transition from a career in magazine publishing to start a home styling business, the Room Editor. “I’m not sure I would call myself a decorator,” he says. “Really, I’m an editor. I want to help people work with what they’ve got, arranging and displaying it all in the nicest way possible.”
Blunden-Stone eschews Marie Kondo minimalism. “I’m more about celebrating stuff than clearing it out,” he says. He also thinks there’s more to style than a big budget. “I like nice things, but haven’t always had money,” he says. “I’ve never been afraid to get crafty, do things myself, salvage and restore.” Instead, he’s part of a growing group of design thinkers who embrace curation and organization as ways to beautify a space, saving homeowners cash and curtailing conspicuous consumption in the process.
“Some people would rather rip out a wall or buy a bigger house, when all it often takes is reimaging and reworking what you already have,” says Joanna Teplin, the Nashville co-founder of the Home Edit, one of the biggest proponents of the organization-as-design trend. “Being organized helps people gain back so much space. It can also look really good. Even cereal in a nice container can look good – the texture, the colour.”
The Home Edit’s simple, inclusive approach has garnered great success, including 1.5-million Instagram followers, a New York Times bestselling book, a soon-be-released Netflix series and – the ultimate 21st-century cultural validation – a Kardashian client (Khloe, who needed help organizing her snack-filled pantry).
“Part of it can be hard for homeowners and can involve getting rid of unnecessary stuff,” Clea Shearer, Teplins’ co-founder, says. “People often have to ask themselves, ‘Do I want space or the item in the space? Do I want the shirt I never wear, or more room for the other shirts I do?’ But I look at organization more as interior design than a chore – it’s an opportunity to make a house more beautiful and more functional at the same time, and that’s ultimately a big win for homeowners.”
In terms of process, a room editor such as Blunden-Stone starts by extensively interviewing his client, understanding what exactly they want from the project. “I try to be an empathetic listener,” he says. “It’s important that I know if a piece has sentimental value, because I try to highlight those things.” He also photographs every item in a room so that he can Photoshop a collage of what the rearranged space will look like. Anything that needs to be reframed, reupholstered or repainted is itemized in a dossier (with contact details for the suggested services).
For Noone, he picked up on her sense of whimsy and worked accordingly. “She had this vintage Louis Vuitton trunk just sitting on the floor of her upstairs,” he says. To highlight the piece, he suspended it from the wall, as though it were a decadent, semi-surrealist shelf, anchoring it with leather straps. It became the perfect perch for her monkey lamp. “It’s creative in a way I wouldn’t think of on my own,” Noone says. “But it also feels very much like me.”
No job is too small. For one project, a gallery wall in a rental apartment, Blunden-Stone estimates the total cost to his client, magazine editor Dominique Lamberton, was $56 in new picture frames. Not a Kardashian budget, for sure, but a valuable service for Lamberton. “I have this weird phobia of hanging pictures,” she says, a reticence partly derived from not wanting to lose a security deposit for punching too many holes in walls she doesn’t own. “Elias made something that felt very personal to my partner and me, arranging our photos and memorabilia, and hanging it all with stick-on, no-nail brackets. I love it.”
If you’re a parent of young kids reading this, rolling your eyes, thinking: there’s no way that a room or home editor came help me, not during a time of life perpetually overrun with toys strewn on the ground, you’re wrong. In fact, there’s a niche of organizer with that expertise.
Toronto’s Connie Huson spent 14 years as an elementary school teacher, mostly in kindergarten before becoming a self-described playroom consultant. “I’m pretty sure I made up the job title,” she says. “But my goal is to help families create play spaces, in both large or small homes, that are uncluttered and organized, and also support learning and creativity.”
One of her clients, publicist Tatiana Read, says that her kids’ play space “was always a mess. I would try to get it organized, but could never seem to get on top of it.” Read’s home is modest – a three-bedroom rental duplex for a blended family with four kids – yet, she didn’t think the issue was up-sizing. “I love my house,” she says. “I want to stay here a long time."
A big part of Huson’s approach is explaining the purpose and value of each toy. Does it help build motor skills? Develop artistic or creative expression? Challenge a young mind with problem solving? Trigger their young imagination? “Connie helped me realized that we didn’t need as many toys as we had, because a lot of them had the same purpose,” Read says.
Cutting down on the number of toys freed up valuable floor area for organization shelves within easy reaching distance for the kids, as well as more defined sections for the different types of play that Huson encourages. “Much like in a classroom, I like to have an arts and crafts area and a little music space, zones that encourage different types of learning,” she says. The zones help focus short attention spans and create a clear system for where things go post-play. “Having a structure reminds kids where to put things back when they are done,” Huson says. “Parents have to help them put things away at first, but over time they see it, they understand how to get themselves organized.”