Most kitchens are filled with “good idea” investments – those gadgets, tools and appliances that were a good idea in the store, but which collect dust most of the year because, let’s face it, who’s really going to scratch-make pasta, bread or Belgian waffles on a regular basis?
In the bathroom, the equivalent might just be the tub. Scheduling a moment to draw a bath, let alone soak in one, is a near inconceivable indulgence considering that most Canadians work such long hours (almost two-thirds of us put in more than 45 hours a week on the job, according to a 2012 study). And with our aging population, tubs are increasingly trip-and-slip hazards rather than relaxation devices.
Nicky Haslam at the Toronto home of Colette van den Thillart (Photo by Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail)
The client list of British interior design legend Nicky Haslam reads like an issue of Hello! magazine. It’s packed with the bold-faced names of royals (Princess Michael of Kent), rock stars (Mick Jagger, Ringo Starr) and oligarchs (a house he did for bank magnate Pyotr Aven features the largest private collection of Russian art in the world). His social calendar – parties with Jerry Hall and Bob Geldof, posing for pictures with Kate Moss – is much the same.
Haslam’s rooms are as diamond-encrusted as the celebrities he works for. Nothing is ever too excessive or ornate.
Camal Pirbhai at his downtown Toronto studio. Photo by J.P. Moczulski
Like all couturiers, Camal Pirbhai mainly works for a small group of elite, demanding clients. He’s often asked to sign agreements stating that his design is exclusive, original and top secret. He isn’t allowed to show pictures, sketches or fabric samples of many of his projects to anyone. Even talking about the designs is off limits to ensure that an heiress or scion doesn’t have the same look as their friends.
But unlike Gaultier and Galliano, Pirbhai doesn’t apply his deft touch to evening wear and ball gowns. He makes drapes – the regal kind that transform a mere living room into an aristocratic salon or parlour. Almost everything – perfectly spaced pleats, pillowy tufts, delicate rosettes – is hand-stitched. Even the hardware is handmade. He designs his own rods, brackets and finials and has them custom-fabricated by carpenters, metal workers and glass blowers.
Felt is old school. The cloth – usually made of matted, compressed wool or rayon fibres – is the stuff of granddads’ fedoras and grannies’ crafting kits. But its roots go deeper, back thousands of years, when Asiatic tribes developed the textile for clothing, blankets and to insulate their yurts.
Today, many of us use felt unknowingly – as the lining in a car bra, the scuff protector on chair legs. It’s a practical material, but its aesthetic qualities – fuzzy, earthy, a bit Muppet-like – can seem a little fusty.
Recently though, interior designers, architects and furniture makers have been using the age-old material in bold new ways, turning it into something rich, dramatic and luxurious.
Outside of funhouses and roller rinks, warped floors are usually considered a defect rather than a virtue. They make it impossible to place furniture (unless you like wobbly tables), are the bane of health and safety nuts (two words: trip hazard) and often warrant a call to a contractor (it’s possible the subfloor needs replacing).
But avant garde architects and interior deisgners have been embracing uneven surfaces for the past few years. It’s partially for the aesthetics — there’s something undeniably striking, even if disconcerting, about a rippling ground plane — and partially for the health benefits. An influential 2005 study by the Oregon Research Institute suggested that walking on uneven terrain lowers blood pressure and improves balance (which diminishes the inherent trip risks). The scholarship only confirmed what practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine have long believed — that walking on challenging topography is a good idea (which is why many elderly in China make a routine of strolling, dancing and standing on rugged, cobblestone walking paths).
Alan Hanlon and Andy Body rarely entertain at home. They prefer socializing at the Ritz-Carlton or La Société, and reserve invitations to their 1,800-square-foot Rosedale condo for the closest of friends—who are given an unforgettable lesson in gracious living. Now retired, Body spent his career as a choreographer and as a television director with the CBC. Hanlon worked for Rothmans, building its corporate art collection and organizing travelling exhibits for galleries like the AGO. The two of them have mixed and mingled with some of the most influential talents and talked-about people of the 20th century—Andy Warhol, Pierre Trudeau, Liza Minnelli—while travelling the world. Their home is an intensely personal reflection of their 51 years together. They can effortlessly recall the backstory of every painting, rug or chair. They’re both around 80, but the tales they tell make them seem like mischievous teenagers. Standing in front of a small etching, Body lowers his voice to a whisper. “I almost never show this to people. They think it’s just a sketch. They say, ‘Nice drawing.’ ” Turns out it’s a Rembrandt.
The Place: A 5-bedroom, $675,000 Victorian in Toronto’s west end. It has 2 kitchens, so it’s either a live-in/rent-out property or the home of a food-hoarding over eater. I wonder what kind of house it would be for me: a way to boost my income, or my waist size? Actually, why not both? I could use all the rent money to buy fancy snacks, like prosciutto…and chocolate-covered prosciutto. It’s win-win-win, because then I could use the rent money to get lipo when I’m too heavy to breath. Yay.