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Writer Aya McMillan's revamped basement is a multifunctional hub

Aya McMillan is photographed with her dog Bunny in her favourite room, the basement recreation room in her Toronto home.

When Aya McMillan moved into her North Toronto home, the basement was a far cry from the glamorous lounge space she had dreamed up. "Let's call it a dungeon," she says. "There were parts where you couldn't even stand up straight." With a refined eye for design, the writer and digital strategist set out to design it herself, drawing from her years spent as a fashion editor. But before anything could be done, the basement had to be underpinned and rebuilt to add extra headroom. "We hired Tall Basements, and they got it to just over nine inches, which really opened up the space," McMillan says. The stretch gave her a clean slate for design, a multifunctional space comprised of a lounge area, office, storage, laundry and bathroom. The ambitious undertaking lasted a gruelling a year and a half, but the result was more than worth it.

Andes three-piece chaise sectional, price on request at West Elm (

"I poured my heart and soul into this," says McMillan. She enlisted a team of designers and contractors to help her bring her vision to fruition. The design was instigated by her need for ample storage: "I had eight million magazines I wasn't willing to part with, as I often use them as a reference for projects." The built-in cabinetry, which runs the entire length of the space, became the focal point of the room. For its design, McMillan worked with Odette De Lucia of Interiors by Odette, who also helped with all material sourcing. The finishing touches, such as the wall trim and wainscoting, were laid out by Jennifer Ferreira of Ferreira Design. And Ryan Wickel of Davenue Home Improvements worked on all the finishings. "I loved working with him. You hear so many nightmare stories about contractors, and he was a dream," McMillan says. Wickel installed the hardwood floors, a herringbone pattern chosen for its fashion association. "I'm obsessed with herringbone; it's so pretty," she says.

Zebra-printed cowhide rug, $1,057 at Amara (

Another fashion-inspired print is the zebra, which makes an appearance throughout her home. "I designed the ottoman based on something I had seen on Instagram that was way out of my budget and knew I could put together myself," McMillan explains. She sourced the inexpensive cowhide from Quebecuir and enlisted Aaron Taylor of Taylor Custom Fab to fabricate the ottoman frame. She found him on Etsy: "I love Etsy – seriously so underrated." The Greek key pillows were also an Etsy find. "Everything is super high/low," McMillan says. She did splurge on a few details such as the brass flower-shaped door handles from The Door Store. "I waited months for them as they were sold out and I stalked them every few weeks waiting on them."

Brass metal finishes tie the look of the space together; they also appear in the form of library lights and on the legs of the custom-made tufted sectional sofa by Gresham House.

Hyde Park picture light by House of Troy, $186 at Sescolite (

That, too, was a budget endeavour. De Lucia sourced the luxe velvet from Kobe Fabric for a fraction of the price as it was an end-of-the-roll remnant. The plush sofa provides plenty of room for McMillan and her cat and two dogs, as well as fosters from the Toronto Humane Society. "I'm a volunteer foster parent, so the house is a constant zoo and the basement, in particular, had to be very animal friendly," she says. Bunny (who crashed the photo shoot) goes straight for the animal-forbidden Hermès blanket. Out of his reach is the framed Hermès scarf, a vintage piece past its wearable prime. The artwork, as well as the rest of the space, demonstrates McMillan's penchant for glamour and high drama. "I've always been drawn to black, white and gold," the fashion expert says. "It's really a reflection of my sensibilities."