Skip to main content

The Toronto home of designer Andrew Jones.

Toni Hafkenscheid/PHOTOGRAPHER/CREATOR Toni Hafkenscheid

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.

The house is an archetypal Toronto Victorian.

Toni Hafkenscheid/PHOTOGRAPHER/CREATOR Toni Hafkenscheid

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.”

Story continues below advertisement

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's furniture collection includes a Hans Wegner Shell Chair and an Alvar Aalto stool.

Toni Hafkenscheid/PHOTOGRAPHER/CREATOR Toni Hafkenscheid

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.”

The dining room table is by designer George Nelson for furniture manufacturer Herman Miller.

Toni Hafkenscheid/PHOTOGRAPHER/CREATOR Toni Hafkenscheid

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.”

Shelves display an array of items Jones has acquired at flea markets and second-hand shops.

Toni Hafkenscheid/PHOTOGRAPHER/CREATOR Toni Hafkenscheid

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 exposed the home's pine sub-floor.

Toni Hafkenscheid/PHOTOGRAPHER/CREATOR Toni Hafkenscheid

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.

The home opens to the backyard through a pair of narrow double doors.

Toni Hafkenscheid/PHOTOGRAPHER/CREATOR Toni Hafkenscheid

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.”

Story continues below advertisement

Your house is your most valuable asset. We have a weekly Real Estate newsletter to help you stay on top of news on the housing market, mortgages, the latest closings and more. Sign up today.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow the author of this article:

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies