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Room for remixing

Maya Gohill in her Calgary home on Oct. 18, 2017.

Artist Maya Gohill applies her fine-arts background to her living room's interior design, combining vintage and modern for an original effect

Maya Gohill, an artist who was born and raised in Calgary, composes her Kelvin Grove home as she does her canvases, with a great deal of sensitivity and whimsy, favouring pieces that tell stories over a strict form-follows-function approach.

Gohill studied painting at the University of Calgary and illustration at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. Now, she teaches at the Alberta College of Art and Design in addition to producing her own pieces. Her training is evident in her portraits, but so is the personal style she honed over 20 years of practise. "One of my clients put it really well; they're non-self-congratulatory portraits," Gohill says of her narrative and caricature-driven works, which expose both the visage and the personality of the sitter.

Top: Upholstered mohair club chairs, $6,500 (U.S.) per chair at Kelly Behun Studio ( kellybehun.com). Bottom: Sheepskin stool, $499 at CB2 (cb2.com).

Recently, the artist has risen to new heights – literally. Gohill's fanciful mural for the Calgary location of department store Simons, which opened earlier this year, is three storeys tall, covers 1,000 square feet and was six months in the making. Gohill is also a partner at Calcutta Cricket Club, a modern Indian restaurant, where she designed the interiors. The decor, according to Gohill, is "1960s gentlemen's club meets The Golden Girls," replete with palm tree motifs, bamboo bar chairs and a vintage carousel leopard, which hangs above the bar.

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"If I could go back in time or do this over again, I would probably go in for interior design or maybe even architecture," Gohill says. Even so, the artist muses that her fine-art studies have prepared her for working in both two dimensions and three. "The same things apply, like scale and balance, colour and texture," she says. "These skills are so transferable. I really had no idea until I applied them in a different medium."

Perspective wall mirror, $199 at CB2 ( cb2.com).

The design and decoration of Gohill's living room, though, is an unfinished work, which she continues to mix and remix. "I do a lot of [furniture] hunting," says Gohill, who prefers one-of-a-kind vintage finds over big-box, contemporary furnishings. Likewise, she avoids the mid-century modern style that's become ubiquitous lately. "After you see it everywhere, it becomes a bit tiring." Take her coffee table: "It's definitely eighties and almost tacky, but also amazing," Gohill says. She found the monumental piece at a vintage shop, Nihil Novi, in Miami, had it shipped to Montana and made the trek south to retrieve it.


Top: Colca wool rug, $1,215 at West Elm (westelm.ca). Bottom: Brick candle holder by Jenny Nordberg, 4,350 Swedish kronor at Swedish Ninja (swedishninja.com).

"I gravitate, automatically, toward strong shapes," she says. "If something has a very bold, not-too-complicated shape, I will usually love it." That's clear when you see her brawny but plush couch from Rove Concepts and the black leather lounger from a favourite local vintage shop, Louche Milieu. There's also a graphic rug from West Elm and a tough metal mirror discovered auspiciously at a garage sale. The spindle chairs with reupholstered fur seats, purchased at an antique show years ago, are a delicate counterpoint, but the overall palette of neutral blacks, greys and browns helps keep things cohesive. "The combination of vintage and modern can be really interesting – and from different periods," Gohill says. "Sure, I feel like I'm forcing things together, but in a way, that works."

Gohill's technique of mixing pieces, such as the marriage of her painting and illustrative skills, took time to perfect. "I think I maybe floundered initially because I would choose things that were too disparate," she says. But that broad eclecticism – within bounds – is representative of the artist herself. "We're so multifaceted," Gohill says. "It kind of makes sense in way, because our rooms are really just a reflection of our own personalities."

For Gohill, her favourite room is not dissimilar from the rest of her creative pursuits. "It's a labour of love. I've spent the most time, effort and dollars trying to make [this space] into something. It's an evolving work of art for me," she says.

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