After raising her family in several rambling houses in her native Toronto, Barbara Atkin found herself hankering for a small-scale home once she became an empty-nester. That was a decade ago, and she found what she was looking for in a 1,700-square-foot apartment located above a store in a building owned by her husband, Harold Pizel, in Bloor West Village. Dating back to the 1940s, the unit required a six-month renovation to whip it into shape.
But being no stranger to the world of makeovers as the recently retired president of fashion at Holt Renfrew, Atkin oversaw the project herself. She ordered walls torn down to open up the space, which caused the ceiling to collapse. But no matter.
Beneath the crumbling plaster were original wooden joists, beautifully preserved and positioned 15 feet high, that have since been integrated into the open-concept living room's eclectic decor.
"It's a tight space, the smallest I've ever lived in, but every inch of it has been utilized," Atkin says. "It was made for a couple, but also for my paintings and collectibles. I feel like I'm in the middle of an art gallery."
"Everything I've done in my life has had to do with colour and texture, and the art I collect is an expression of that. These paintings are no different. They radiate happy energy. The one above the couch is by Robert Goodnough, an American artist I started to collect back in the 1980s. It depicts a flock of birds migrating south; it's got a raw feel to it. As for the other two on the wall, the one with the hearts is by Peter Banks, and I got it on Valentine's Day – a portrait of love in the back of a car, a mixture of pain and bliss. The other one was given to me when I owned a PR company called Visibility, prior to working for Holt Renfrew. It's by local artist Frances Pocock James and shows a man and a woman fashionably dressed. It's called Navajo."
"These came from one of my homes back in the late 1980s. It was the seating arrangement I had in front of a fireplace. Here they combine to create a conversation area. Everything in this room comes from my past life, and Harold was good to let me bring in all my pieces into his space. I reupholstered them in white about five years ago. I collect colour so I need a white canvas."
"This is one of my favourite whimsical pieces. It's by the late Eugene Jordan, whom I met at a party in L.A. in the 1980s. His gallery was in a tree house, and after I climbed in I saw this unbelievable sculpture that wasn't finished yet. He told me it was to be a prop for a new movie called Beverly Hills Cop. I fell in love with it and asked for it, and he said that after the movie was done he'd give it me, which he did. I have since called it Eugene, who told me he made it in his likeness. You can see him in the movie: He's one of the starring pieces in the crazy gay gallery scene. This Eugene and I now watch the film together and I am always so proud of him for being in it."
The glass table
"This was a headboard from India that I found in a little antique store on Queen St. W. I was with my friend Alex Chapman, now a renowned interior designer, and I asked him what to do with it, and he said to turn it into a coffee table. I use it for entertaining and for displaying all my collectibles including fossils, seashells and books. I like mixing the precious with the raw. It's the way I live my life."
"This is an old Chinese piece. It's made of red porcelain and we found it at Eleanor Dover in Toronto. She used to go to China in the 1970s and bring pieces back to Toronto. I met her at a party and she took me to see her pieces in a warehouse. This is a Chinese urn and I had it made it into a lamp, adding an old lampshade, which I had gold leafed. I love taking found objects and turning them into something different."
The blown glass
"This is from a glass-blower named Caleb Siemon, whom I first met in Southern California. Some mutual friends had introduced us and then he went to his studio in Laguna Beach where his glass blowing was like an event. He was an emerging artist then but he is now very big. He blows glass for the Christmas gifts given by the Obamas, and he also does collections for Tiffany. They are now collectors' items. Caleb is a deep-sea spear diver and this one is from his tropical fish series."