For interior designer Gillian Gillies, at the heart of any favourite room, there's a favourite object or item that acts as a crucible, encapsulating the overall aesthetic and inspiring the rest of the design. "It could be the smallest thing in the room, but that's where your eye will go, because it's the thing that you love. I find that if you have that in a space, then everything else can just play off that," she says.
In Gillies's renovated kitchen, in the North Toronto home she shares with husband, Dean Einarson, that beloved item is her Kohler Cape Dory enameled cast iron sink. "The colour is called thunder grey and I just adored it. I thought, okay, that's the basis for the whole room," she says. If that seems a practical starting point, Gillies, who hails from Edinburgh, Scotland, admits she's the sensible type – with one exception.
"My husband is Canadian. I escaped a grey February in Edinburgh one year as he was escaping a grey Canadian winter. We literally bumped into one another, one morning at the top of a hill in St. Lucia."
By the time they'd descended, Gillies was convinced Einarson was her match. She crated her belongings and moved to Toronto six months later. That was in 2003. "For a girl who keeps her feet firmly on the ground, I think my father is still in therapy over this," she jokes.
The house was another dream come true, though it needed a lot of tender loving care, Gillies says. The floor-by-floor renovation allowed the interior designer, who'd practised in Edinburgh, but was new to the Canadian scene, to try out different trades.
"My house became a bit of a laboratory to try different people and different things," she says.
The kitchen was one of the last spaces to turn over, due in part to a pesky deck, which had been installed by the previous owners. "[Renovating] would mean doing a small addition and ripping off the deck, which seemed incredibly wasteful," Gillies says. She didn't want to destroy something that was perfectly usable, she says, "until I put my foot through one of the steps on the deck."
Once past that hurdle, and after a 50-square-foot addition allowed for the creation of a small eating area that Gillies and Einarson call their "bistro," the real fun began. "I use the word 'cocoon' a lot in my designs," Gillies says.
"I like a space that feels very inviting. I wanted to make sure this room was layered with really nice, soft elements." Full-length, curtains, a long runner, koi-patterned wallpaper from Osborne & Little and various lighting sources, including a chandelier from Lamp Cage in Toronto, egg-shaped ceiling-mounted fixtures from Circa Lighting and sconces the couple picked up on their honeymoon in Rome, create a softly neutral and textured space.
"A lot of times, it's the styling pieces that really make a space," she says. "I think my kitchen's a good example of that, where it's the use of fabric, the wallpaper and the toss pillows that bring it all together."
Gillies injects colour through accents – floral arrangements, a fish-emblazoned banquette pillow and a bursting landscape painting by artist Deborah Gibson (not the 1980s singer, Gillies assures) – that can be easily refreshed at a whim, allowing the homeowner and decorator to fall in love again and again. "Nothing stays in a fixed place when you live with a designer. All my furniture has felt pads on it, so it can easily be moved by one girl," she says with a laugh.
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