Lawrence Park is one of Toronto’s first planned garden suburbs. It’s got lovely winding streets and ample green space yet is still quite close to downtown–making it a desirable neighborhood for working professionals and families alike. Here, the architecture of homes here leans toward traditional British styles (Georgian, Tudor and Colonial Revival), so we were quite pleased to see a home by designer Sarah Birnie that perfectly captured English charm inside as well. “As a rule, I make sure to consider the architectural style of the home when planning the interior and we absolutely referenced elements of English design throughout this project,” Sarah shares. In a recent interview, she told us more about avoiding trends and relying on timeless pieces to create a space her clients would love.
First, what can you tell us about your clients. Who lives here?
This is a fun couple who both have busy careers in addition to having 4 very young kids! They also happen to also be good friends of mine. Knowing them well and having worked on other properties with them I understood their desire for a comfortable, colourful and livable space. They aren’t minimalists and they were not interested in a neutral home. They share a love of travel, cooking, wine, film, music and design and want their home to reflect their vibrant life. In normal times, they love to host dinner parties, cocktail parties and curate playlists and menus for both. They wanted to make sure we incorporated pieces that have a story–whether that meant recovering a grandparent’s favorite armchair or seeking out treasures from local vintage dealers. Many of the pieces in the home are re-imagined heirlooms or special pieces collected by the couple.
Tell us about the style of the space. What inspired you?
This project wasn’t about following trends but rather bringing together timeless pieces to create a fresh take on classic style. English design was a big inspiration for the space. Pattern, colour, texture and last but definitely not least- a bit of quirk! I love the layered aesthetic of the Soho House properties and boutique hotels like The Marlton in New York so referred back to the interiors of these for inspiration as well.
Before you got to work, what condition was the property in?
The house was structurally fine and functionally it worked for the family- but it was severely lacking in personality. It felt flat, dated and was uninspiring. Though we didn’t move any walls, no wall was left untouched! We painted and wallpapered, updated hardware and lighting throughout. We reconfigured furniture layouts to serve the family better. For example, in the living room we created a great conversation area around the fireplace.
The kitchen, specifically, was quite dated and boring, so this update was particularly satisfying. It functioned well and has great light, but it was in desperate need of some personality.
You really played up the architectural charm here. How did you celebrate the original details of the space?
Because we weren’t doing any renovations, I decided instead to really highlight the original period details of the home (leaded windows, thick moldings and arched doorways) by giving the walls and trim fresh paint or wallpaper and adding a generous dose of both texture and pattern. The home has a fair amount of natural light so I was able to go a little darker in many of the rooms to create a rich palette which I felt would lend itself well to the warm, lived-in aesthetic we were intent on creating.
With no renovations, how long did the project take? And more importantly, what did the client say when they saw the finished space?
The space took about 6 months to complete. The clients were pleased with the new energy of the home and were eager to entertain again! They managed to squeak in one very fun and very memorable cocktail party here right before Covid hit! They were proud of the energy and character that we injected into the space.