“We call it a rotating art gallery,” says Christine Elson of her kitchen wall, dedicated to the display of her five-year-old daughter’s scribbles, paintings and prints. There are several works resembling cats, but others delight and confound in their abstraction. “Some of her stuff is kind of beautiful to look at,” says Elson, both proud parent and seasoned professional; she’s an exhibition designer, recently home from installing a temporary show and the new Japan Gallery at the Detroit Institute of Arts. “I like to put it up according to a grid,” she continues. “My exhibition designer eye is always a little bit in play.”
When Elson, who hails from Toronto, and her husband, Rob McMahon, were priced out of her hometown’s hot real-estate market, the couple decided to venture about an hour’s drive west, to Hamilton, Ont., where McMahon grew up, and where his parents still live. “I know there’s a move toward vertical city living and families living in condos, but we didn’t want to do that,” she says. “And to be honest, we kind of couldn’t even afford it.” Elson works from home and McMahon commutes into Toronto daily for work. “The community that we’ve moved into is amazing, really friendly. Schools are super close by and the houses are lovely,” Elson says.
She and McMahon designed the kitchen in collaboration, flipping it with the dining room space and replacing the back door with a sliding door. “We get a lot of light in and it opens out onto the back deck as an extension of the kitchen and dining room,” she says. In renovating, the couple had, according to Elson, “incredibly specific” ideas of what they wanted. Foremost was making the kitchen what she calls “the knuckle of the ground floor,” or a central hub, inspired by an open-concept condo the couple had lived in previously. “I can never go back from that because I spend so much time cooking – that’s our division of labour – so I can’t be isolated,” she says.
The kitchen is from IKEA, but the couple installed custom birch plywood boxes below the upper cabinets for additional, visible storage. The countertop is Vivid White Caesarstone – “That was Rob, he wanted the whitest white we could find,” says Elson – with an extra thin profile and the diamond-shaped wall tile is Spanish in origin and sourced from Ciot in Toronto. The island – a waterfall on one side, with easy-to-reach book and art supply shelves on the other – and dining table, are likewise custom designed and built of birch plywood, with table legs ordered online.
Elson and McMahon deliberately kept the space white and minimal – not unlike a contemporary gallery – so they could have fun with accessories and artworks, many sourced locally. Vintage Pyrex bowls in bright colours were found in local antique shops on Ottawa Street. “In our efforts to explore Hamilton, we started going for fun and every time I found a vintage Pyrex bowl, I’d buy it,” Elson says. The prices ranged from $8 to $60. A concrete gem-shaped artwork is from Hamilton Artists Inc., and a textured plant pot is from H&M. Marimekko and polka-dotted Yayoi Kusama mugs from The Art Gallery of Ontario enliven the open shelving. “That’s one thing I collect,” she says of the mugs. “I have them organized so they’re visually pleasing,” otherwise, those shelves are “just a place we put chaos in,” she says.
Oftentimes the family hangs out here, sitting side by side at the island. “We each have our own spots,” says Elson, with the littlest family member drawing or, as today, playing with Disney’s Frozen Princess Elsa’s Ice Palace Lego set (kept tidy in a CB2 tray). Her daughter’s an uber-Elsa and Anna fan and Elson can sympathize. “I remember, as a kid, always wondering how I should be. It lays two paths out really clearly,” she says. “It’s a phenomenon. I wouldn’t be surprised if someone ended up writing a big intellectual paper about it.”
Get the Look
Marimekko Unikko mug, $29 at EQ3 (eq3.com).
Rhombus wall tile, $10.95 per square foot at Ciot (ciot.com).
Pyrex Watercolor Collection mixing bowl, $11.99-$13.99 at Bed Bath & Beyond (bedbathandbeyond.ca).
Clear Shroud by David Trautrimas, $75 at Hamilton Artists Inc. (theinc.ca).
Hi-gloss extra-large square white tray, $69.95 at CB2 (CB2.com).