Decorating & Design
September 20, 2021
Emma Reddington’s Love Letter To Her Victorian Home In Toronto
Emma Reddington shares how her Victorian shaped the last decade of her life, and why she’s making the move back to B.C.
Seventeen years ago, in a condo overlooking Vancouver’s Granville Street Bridge, I sat at my dining room table and taught myself to draw. The portfolio I needed for the Interior Design program at Ryerson University in Toronto required 10 to 15 sketches, and I had none. In the mornings, before I went to work as a chef at Provence Marinaside in Yaletown, I made my way through Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards and learned to see the world differently. My boyfriend, now husband, Myles McCutcheon, sat patiently while I attempted his portrait over and over again. It was a slog — I’ve never been good at art — but now I look back on that act as the first bead on a string of challenges that has me sitting here today, writing a story about a house that changed my life.
Within these walls, I have experienced four periods of enforced (but highly productive) time at home. The first two happened when my children were born and I was made housebound by their needs, the third came when I was writing my book, Nomad: Designing a Home for Escape and Adventure, and the last was during the past year when the pandemic kept us all home. At each turn, my house has provided me with not only comfort but also the impetus to make big changes in my life.
When my son, Henry, arrived in 2008, a year after I graduated from the School of Interior Design, I started a blog, The Marion House Book, to document the renovation of our Victorian home. With its soaring ceilings (almost 10 feet high on the main floor), solid wood–panelled doors with original skeleton key locks, a footed cast-iron tub and two handsome fireplaces, it had all the bones needed to make beautiful photos.
My eclectic decorating style — part West Coast and part global, with a good dash of vintage — was perfectly suited to this house, which felt like a blank canvas on which to try out creative ideas. During that time, I learned how to shoot rooms with a photographer, prop style vignettes and write copy.
Once my maternity leave was up, I returned to my position as an exhibition designer at the Art Gallery of Ontario (I had started to work there in my last year of design school). Here, I learned how to tell an artist’s story through the placement of objects in an exhibition and the effect that colour can have on the mood of a space — skills I didn’t think much of at the time, but that inevitably influenced my own decorating. I don’t think I would have painted my dining room a stormy, dusky gray if I hadn’t experienced how enveloping and cozy darker colors could be.
When my daughter, Orla, arrived in 2012 and I found myself at home again, my blog was starting to be noticed by people in the publishing industry and I was styling shoots for various media outlets, often using my place as a backdrop. I continued to experiment, and seeing my house through the eyes of photographers and creative directors was inspiring. Furniture moved around, art went up and came down and we decorated for more fake Christmases than I can count. Sometimes, a piece of furniture would get purchased for the shoot and left behind, or a rug would be brought in that I would decide to keep, which all adds up to the layered look that I have today. This isn’t a house that was planned and decorated all at once but rather a slow accumulation of pieces over time. Eventually, all my side hustles led to my first job at a magazine — my dream job — and then my role as editor-in-chief at House & Home.
At the beginning of 2019, with a book deadline looming, I had no choice but to lock myself in my bedroom and write every day for three months. Ever the planner, I mapped out exactly how many chapters I had to write a day and got down to work. Sitting in the bay window at a small wooden desk, I watched the sun make its way from the east every morning to the west, opening and closing the linen drapery as it cut its path across my computer screen. This time, my house was a silent partner, happy to fade into the background while I wrote about people who live more unconventionally in their VW vans, Airstreams, sailboats and school buses.
In the past year, our house has become the fifth member of our family. We are never far from its side. This 24-7 living has demonstrated to us not only the benefits of living in a circa- 1905 city house (big yard, three levels) but also its limitations (one bathroom, modest footprint). With the kids getting older and taking up more space, Myles and I knew it was time for a change. We could stay and renovate, find a new house in Toronto or move up our eventual goal of settling back in B.C. As we drew up a list of pros and cons for each scenario, there was a clear winner: the West Coast was the only way to go. It’s hard to compete with a list that has family, close friends, world-class skiing, endless hiking trails and the Pacific Ocean on its side.
It’s somehow fitting that one of the last things I’ll do in this house is photograph and write about it. It’s been so much more than just a place to rest my head and raise a family. At each step, it’s been my inspiration. Houses like this are rare to come by in a city as new as Vancouver, where most dwellings were built in the last 50 years. I’ll be trading in plaster walls, cast-iron radiators, stained glass windows and neighbors on all sides for cedar-lined ceilings, baseboard heaters, drywall and towering Douglas firs. It’s not bad; it’s just different.
In fact, there’s a part of me that’s looking forward to pulling out some sketch pads again, trying a new decorating style and imagining a new life for our family. But a little piece of my heart will always be here, in the Toronto house that (quietly and gradually) changed my life.
Scroll down to tour Emma’s charming Victorian home!