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favourite room

A colourful Kensington Market loft with a Bohemian touch

Aesthetic in Sarah Keenlyside and Brandon Olsen's loft is 'Value Village-special meets weird art'

Sarah Keenleyside enjoys the living room of her loft apartment in Toronto’s Kensington Market.

The loft belonging to Sarah Keenlyside and her partner, Brandon Olsen, in Toronto's vibrant Kensington Market is chock full of quirks, thrift-store gems and works of art collected from a lifetime spent in the arts and culture scene.

"I'm kind of Value Village-special meets weird art," Keenlyside says, though she adds that local shops Bungalow and Good Egg, Habitat for Humanity ReStore and Hamilton's Locke Street Antiques are her go-tos. "It's meant to be a little bit Bohemian."

Sunset Alpaca Throw, $299 at CB2 (

The artist and filmmaker moved into the converted schoolhouse nearly five years ago. She traded in her Edwardian rowhouse for the airy and light-filled studio space, necessitating a change in furnishings and the creation of distinct zones. "Rather than walls, we have a lot of visual barriers that create spaces within the space," Keenlyside says.

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These include: the large wardrobe (featuring artwork by Attila Richard Lukacs, emerging stealthily from the blond wood backdrop), the Scandinavian rug, bursts of pinks and oranges that defines the seating area, and a couple of large-scale plants separating the living and sleeping spaces.

Scandinavian Mid-Century Modern Vintage Rya Rug from Finland, $1,945.21 at FinnishDesignStudio/Etsy (

The sofa, by Vancouver-based designer Niels Bendtsen, was an auspicious Craigslist find. Keenlyside, on the advice of a space-savvy neighbour, pulled it off the wall, making room behind.

"It really was what the space demanded – this layering. It's one of the things that helps us maximize the use of the space. Having an architect friend helps," she says. Colourful Chilean throws and pillows take the edge off. "Because [the sofa] is a very dark colour, it just breaks up the darkness and makes it feel more comfortable."

Keenlyside's collection of Lotte lamps, made by the family-run company founded by Gunnar and Lotte Bostlund, also serve to soften things up. The distinctive lamps, known for their oblong bases and spun-yarn fibreglass shades, provide points of consistency within the eclectic space.

Large Lotte Lamp with Jute Shade, $1,675.30 at 1stdibs (

"I make sure all the light bulbs are the same colour temperature," Keenlyside says.

"This room is so magical at night, it just glows. I look forward to evenings [when] it's time to turn on the lights."

Keenlyside eschews overhead lighting; a trick learned from the restaurant business. Her partner, Olsen, is the chef and owner of French-inspired resto and brasserie La Banane and, with Keenlyside, CXBO Chocolates.

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"At the restaurant, having that chiaroscuro moodier lighting is essential to the experience, and why wouldn't it be the same at home, too?" she says.

Banana Bud Vase Gold, US$68 at Jonathan Adler (

The restaurant and chocolate shop are handy repositories for Keenlyside's extensive art collection and Olsen's cookbooks, freeing up space to display newly acquired or beloved works at home. Several Douglas Couplands (a friend and colleague of Keenlyside's), an iron maquette of Chilean artist Francisco Gazitua's Concord CityPlace public art commission and a toucan lamp by Old Timer Ferrari are just some of the items that populate the space.

"It's juxtaposition," Keenlyside says. "What's the curatorial bent to it? By association. By my friendships and experiences. That intangible thing that defines your friendships is the same thing that defines this collection."

Gus Modern Belmont Credenza, $1,950 at Modern Karibou (

One of Keenlyside's latest projects, a contender in the favourite room category and another meaningful assemblage of objects in space, is Ferris's Room: a recreation of Ferris Bueller's bedroom, complete with stereo, synthesizers and the mannequin prop that got the titular character his famed day off.

The installation first appeared in Toronto as part of the Gladstone Hotel's annual design event Come Up To My Room, has since travelled to Chicago and Niagara Falls and, in its latest incarnation, has been translated into a virtual reality experience.

"It gathers meaning as it rolls along," says Keenlyside, who cites love and time as the key ingredients of any good collection. "Who knows what it's going to do?"

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