Designer J Gibson’s Modern Georgian Proves Traditional Can Be On-Trend
Sure, he went to Harvard and Columbia for architecture and Parsons for interior design — but if you ask Toronto designer J Gibson, he’s always had an innate sense of style. “It’s in my blood,” says J, recalling his late mother, Sandra, a developer who was constantly moving the family into new homes and redoing their interiors. It’s little surprise to learn, then, that over the past 15 years, J’s eponymous design business has expanded into a 10-person team with A-list clients from around the globe. And as for J, he’s made himself at home in at least six different residences. His most recent address is a Toronto home within a classic, 19th-century Georgian manor that he reimagined with a respectful yet modern makeover. Take a look inside below.
The 2,700-square-foot home’s stately entrance features a rigorous symmetry. “Georgian homes are so well proportioned,” says J. “The best thing about living in this house is being able to step through this fabulous entrance every single day.” The concrete owls were J’s mother’s and have stood watch in front of all of her houses in Toronto.
Original to the house, the window frames, arches and trimwork were painted a warm white to provide a gallery feel, while the floors were stained ebony to highlight them in the space
J in the main hall of his London-style Georgian home. “I see the hallway as the spine of a house,” he says. The touch of black on the handrail adds rhythm and grounds the space. The 19th-century French chairs add another note of contrast with black velvet upholstery and gilt trim.
In the living room, large mirrors installed between wall panels open up the narrow space and reflect the view to the garden. “I inherited a lot of great pieces from my mother,” says homeowner and designer J Gibson, “including this Chinese lacquer chair, which was always significant in every home we ever lived in.”
“The living room’s extra-deep custom sofa is a dream in silk velvet,” says J. The seating arrangement surrounds a classic Mies van der Rohe chrome and glass coffee table, with simple sisal rugs layering in texture. “Plus,” he adds, “they provide traction underfoot and are inexpensive to replace.”
J designed the dining table and had it made from black corduroy granite in a matte finish. “Round tables are the best for dinner parties,” he says.
J wanted the kitchen to look like it was original, so he chose classic Smallbone-style cabinetry and took it to the ceiling for added storage. “People always say, ‘I love your bar,’ because the kitchen is so small and it’s dressed up in black and cream, but I enjoy the townhouse feel of a small butler’s kitchen.”
Though J isn’t usually much of a color person, he stretched outside his comfort zone and painted the bookcases on opposite ends of the library a deep red, creating a striking backdrop for books, photos and other objets. The designer is also drawn to warmer shades of grey, showcased in the muddy taupe of the library’s sofa.
In a happy coincidence, the rug (one he had coveted for years) works perfectly with the oxblood bookcases. A vintage wooden screen adds a rustic touch.
Though J has loved artist John Brown’s work for years, most of it is too large in scale for typical houses. This piece, which fits perfectly, is so bold it almost creates space, says J.
In the principal bedroom, J covered the bed with a Pendleton blanket — he’s been collecting them for years — as a reprieve from the familiar all-white bedscape. Hanging a photo of an old mattress above the well-dressed bed brings an unexpected touch of whimsy.
The original principal suite was configured as a long bedroom with a tiny bathroom. J’s offbeat solution was to enlarge the bathroom, stretching it across the front of the house. The result is a luxurious space with a run of beautiful windows and abundant natural light.
J embraced the home’s London townhouse feeling by hanging a vintage chandelier, installing a glass-walled water closet (not shown) and opting for brass fixtures, lighting and accessories. “Once it was all done, it looked a little too posh so I found this fun wallpaper that resembles hand-drawn doodles,” he says.