Secrets of Successful Home Decor

I fell in love with my mid-town Toronto condo five years ago – the sweeping city views and spiral staircase leading up to the private rooftop terrace took my breath away. I looked past the bland dated decor and bought it that night. A couple of years (and major savings campaign) later, I asked my friend Tommy Smythe for help.  Here are 8 decor tips that I learned from him:

I’m with Tommy at home.

Tommy Smythe is a well-known designer in Canada. You’ve seen him on TV (with Sarah Richardson, and Marilyn Denis), in the pages of House & Home Magazine, and The Globe and Mail, and at design shows. He’s brilliant (funny and practical too) and knew exactly what I was looking for. He was innovative yet pragmatic, visionary yet warm, and expert at mixing high and low priced items.

Harley and I before the renovation

Here’s a shot of the empty space the day before the renovation began. I moved out for a couple of months so Harley and I wouldn’t get underfoot.

From House & Home. Photo by Angus Fergusson

Lesson 1: Make the most of wasted space. My much-loved books were stored under my bed. Tommy added shelves in the awkward space behind the staircase – they are my absolute most favourite feature of the condo. Note how the spiral staircase is painted from dark to light as it rises up to the ceiling. This keeps it looking light (rather than a black twisted mass) in the corner of the room.

My inspiration – a Chanel Bearbrick

Lesson 2: Pick a theme. My overall colour scheme and mood – black and white with a touch of red in a Paris salon setting – came from a gift from Chanel, a limited edition Bearbrick, a tall plastic figure that I had seen when touring Chanel’s Paris studio. Her inspiration is everywhere from my colourful framed photographs to the striped curtains.


Lesson 3: Mix textures for an eclectic appeal. This area by my dining table was more wasted space so Tommy extended the IKEA cabinetry and backsplash tile from the kitchen. I wasn’t expecting the tile but it helped unify the small space. The knockout mirror (from All Things Past) adds a Parisian flair. The rich gold frame is a warm contrast to the tile and glass accents throughout the room.


Lesson 5: Different patterns work when they’re in the same colour scheme. Tommy mixed wide black and white stripes in the curtains with a spotted black and white cotton to freshen up old chairs from Vintage Objects in Toronto. It’s too dark to see but my television is tucked under the black kitchen countertop to the left. Another good use of wasted space!

I love how twinkly and magical my place looks at night.


Lesson 6: Express your personality with meaningful artwork. The series of photography prints on the living room wall are by Canadian fashion photographers (Chris Nicholls and Max Abadian) from my days as Editor-in-Chief of Flare. The large black and white photograph of Lady Gaga is from a cover shoot by Max Abadian. My Bearbrick is sitting on the kitchen counter. The wool Oriental carpet adds colour that prevents the black and white scheme from looking sterile.


Lesson 7: Size your furniture to suit your space. My old couch was house-sized and dominated the room, leaving little space for anything else. A trim IKEA couch and pair of antique chairs with a glass topped coffee table and side tables better suit the intimate space.


Lesson 8: Glass keeps sight lines clear. I didn’t want anything to get in the way of the stunning view. My old dark wood table blocked the sightline. Tommy found this vintage round glass table paired with black IKEA chairs, and a delicate chandelier above that let the light stream in.

The photos below show the main room of my condo when I bought it five years ago.

View to the dining space
The opposite direction
View from the kitchen

The renovation also included a kitchen from IKEA. My condo was featured in House&Home in April 2015. I will be forever grateful to Tommy Smythe and the House & Home team (Editor-in-Chief Suzanne Dimma and Senior Editor Sarah Hartill) for making my dream home come to life!