This home tour was originally published in the July 2015 issue of House & Home.
Imagine a moment taking on not one, but two major renovations in a span of just 18 months. Now imagine you’re preparing for the birth of your first child, too. That’s exactly the position John Baker and Juli Daoust-Baker, who own Toronto design store
Mjölk, found themselves in during the summer of 2011. In fact, it was the news they would soon be parents that gave the couple the push they needed to start updating their west-end Toronto apartment and, later, their Georgian Bay guest cottage. “We didn’t set out to have back-to-back renovations,” says John. “But after we had kids, we realized we needed a second space here for our extended family and friends to stay.”
Scroll down to explore their Scandi-style city and country spaces.
The Bakers painted the exterior of their Victorian building white to bring out its intricate detail. “It’s the last tin-façade building in Toronto, so it’s historically listed,” says John.
Opening up the second and third storeys meant relocating and redesigning the staircase. The new stairs add architectural interest to the transitional space, thanks to wider treads on the bottom five steps, which alleviates a potential tunnel effect. Here, on the second-floor landing, oversized rectangular granite floor tiles in a staggered pattern are grounding, while skylights flood the space with light — and keep the plants happy.
John and Juli with their children, Elodie (left) and Howell, in their Toronto home above Mjölk.
While traffic whizzes by downstairs on Toronto’s Dundas Street West, the third-storey living room opens onto a peaceful interior courtyard. “It feels like a refuge from the city,” says Juli. In the foreground, an oak Brasilia coffee table by Claesson Koivisto Rune boasts soft corners, a boon for pint-sized climbers, and John claims it’s the world’s best footrest for adults.
On the third level of the Toronto home, old laminate floors were replaced with Douglas fir planks, which now reflect as much light as the white walls and ceiling. “We just couldn’t handle the reddish-brown laminate,” says Juli. “It didn’t work with our aesthetic and it clashed with everything.” Now, a floating Shoji cabinet provides storage, while a Joshua Jensen-Nagle print provides an eye-catching anchor.
Prior to the 2011 reno, the third floor had a “college dorm” kitchen and no windows. John wanted to create a space that felt like “a woodworker’s studio, where all the tools are on display.” The end result is a clean-lined and open-concept white oak kitchen and dining area that are designed to feel more like furniture than built-ins. The mostly white space is punctuated with warm-metal accents, including pretty brass hooks — typical of Scandinavian cottages — where the Bakers hang what they need. “When you store things away, it’s like they don’t exist,” says John. “These items were made by artists we feel a great connection to.”
The Bakers used the principal bedroom’s bay window to create a cozy nook that feels influenced by Japanese design and is enhanced by square seat cushions and a shoji screen-style window treatment. A smaller nook on the adjacent wall echoes the effect and provides space for display. On the bed, nubby linen sheets feel casual, while a grey throw features Swiss crosses, a graphic addition to the otherwise serene space.
A custom-made tub clad in hinoki cypress lends a Japanese onsen-like feel to the principal bathroom and picks up on the warm tones of the wood walls and ceiling. Rough black granite tiles run halfway up the walls, a practical choice that has a dramatic, almost geometric, effect.
The exterior of their cottage’s guest cabin is just as charming as you would expect. Ample windows and a sliding door offer streams of natural sunlight to illuminate the space, while a quaint sitting area on the walkway encourages visitors to linger outdoors.
An Alvar Aalto bench is one of the Bakers’ design staples. In the entry, it’s a spot to put on shoes, but elsewhere it functions as a nightstand or coffee table.
Many nearby cottages still have original wartime woodwork, like the oak french doors in the living room, which the Bakers love for their warm tones. The safari chair was an orange-painted Craigslist find that John sanded down to reveal the far more Scandi beechwood frame.
“Plastering and painting the fireplace was pretty controversial,” admits John, “but there was a lot of damage to the stone.” They left the original brass front, which adds warmth to the white space.
Each of the Bakers’ cottages has its own mod tea trolley. This one displays a birchbark ice bucket and sake pitcher from a craftsman they met in Hokkaido, Japan. It sits in front of an antique Japanese textile the couple picked up on a trip to Kyoto.
The Bakers took design inspiration for the guest cottage from the home of Finnish architect Alvar Aalto. In the open-concept living-dining room, oversized Swedish botanical prints add a splash of color, as does a blue sofa, an Aalto-inspired design much like the one the architect had in his own home. Throughout the space, the original pine-plank floors were treated with lye and soap.
In the kitchen, Ikea roll blinds softly filter natural light. The existing cabinetry was spruced up with new knobs and a plywood counter.
The sunroom has no glass in the windows, just screens and the original flip-up wooden storm shutters, which lends a classic boathouse feel. “We like that the room is out of the sun, but still gets the lake breezes,” says Juli. The Alvar Aalto daybeds are everyone’s favorite places to read or nod off. Their blue and white checkered cushions come off, and the upright seats fold down, letting them turn into horizontal beds.
In a second bedroom, twin duvets and cozy blankets feel dynamic thanks to the interplay of the stripes’ scale.
In one of the three bedrooms, crisp white walls and a blue-striped Marimekko duvet lend a subtle nautical feel.
Author: Alison Garwood-Jones
House & Home July 2015
John Baker and Juli Daoust-Baker