Much of the country is stuck at home this month and there’s nothing like being cooped up to make you examine your surroundings.
What makes a domestic space beautiful and comfortable? The designer Andrew Jones has been thinking about these questions for years. When I visited his 1880s Toronto row house before the pandemic hit, I was struck by how well Mr. Jones had found a balance between beauty and comfort.
So, I called recently to ask him what makes a good home. His answer: both architecture and the stuff within it. “I’m trained as an architect, but I’ve always been interested in the full range of scale, from the urban scale to architecture to furniture,” he said, speaking from home. “I think they all contribute to making a space feel resolved and beautiful.”
In his home, you could easily get stuck on the furniture. A Hans Wegner Shell Chair, which he bought vintage 20 years ago, sits next to an Alvar Aalto stool; both modern classics, and very comfortable. “They are very human, very welcoming,” he says. “They ask you to take a seat and stay a while.”
Mr. Jones is best known as a furniture designer; he studied architecture at University of Toronto and then furniture at University College London. He designed the pink umbrellas at Toronto’s Sugar Beach – which are not actually umbrellas at all, but highly engineered steel-and-fiberglass fixtures – and won a global design competition for chairs for Battery Park in New York. His most recent line of furniture is the Layout outdoor collection from manufacturer Barlow Tyrie.
So, he has chosen his objects carefully. But not just for how they look. “You need to live with furniture for a while to really understand it,” he said. “The things that don’t work, that aren’t comfortable, tend to leave.”
His dining table is a George Nelson table for Herman Miller (“extraordinarily versatile”). But when people come over – which they do a lot, usually – he lays down a piece of fir plywood on top to make more space for guests. This balance between fine and found also applies to the things around him. On a set of display shelves are objects he’s picked up at flea markets and thrift shops. There is a cake tin, from somewhere in Eastern Europe, “that looks like a piece of Futurist architecture,” he says. There is a pair of paddles, each painted half red and half white, once used for signalling airplanes. These things all have “some kind of mysterious sculptural quality,” he says. And they’re all well made out of ordinary stuff.”
The house itself, similarly, is ordinary – almost. It’s an archetypal Toronto Victorian, a type known as the bay-and-gable. But it has an unusual floor plan; the main floor rooms open into each other, rather than (as is more typical) onto a narrow corridor. It apparently has always been this way, and when Mr. Jones first went to see the house, he was struck by the quality of the space: “It had a sense of rightness about it,” he recalls. “For one thing, it allows a lot of light to penetrate right to the centre of what is usually a dark and narrow space.” So he left it more or less alone, restoring the original mouldings and exposing a pine sub-floor.
Mr. Jones did rebuild the back of the main floor, redesigning the kitchen to be more open. Yet, he chose not to connect the house to its backyard with conventional large windows. Instead he installed two narrow sets of double doors. This is a device borrowed from English Georgian architecture, which (as he admits) this house is not. And the ceiling is covered with glossy white wooden slats and the floor with terracotta tile. It’s all vaguely English, slightly idiosyncratic and personal; these details are foreign to the history of this Toronto house, but you wouldn’t know it. “My goal as a designer was to be as quiet as possible,” he said.
There is a lesson in this. Mr. Jones is a professional with extremely fine taste and his house is carefully considered. But this is a good house not because it’s perfect; it’s a good house because it is straightforward and personal. And, he told me, the biggest thing wrong with the house is that it’s not full of friends, as it usually is. “Design is a human endeavour,” he says. “It has to be about people, never more so than right now.”
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