Christmas is as much a state of mind as it is a date on the calendar. For Leigh Gravenor, a management consultant, that means piling in the car, “hell-bent on finding the tallest tree on the lot.” The mission is undertaken along with her husband, Patrick Dickinson, senior vice-president of marketing at Hudson’s Bay, their daughter, Emma, 17, and sons Harris, 15, and Miles, 13.
Their house is a 4,500-square-foot, century-old, five-bedroom, three-storey home that looks like an English country house but is actually nestled in a quiet downtown Toronto enclave. With the help of Toronto architect Ginger Sorbara and contractor Collaborative Ventures, the result is a simple, unadorned aesthetic, a hybrid of Japanese and Danish modern styles that Leigh loves. “The addition of natural elements like oiled oak floors, honed marble countertops and plaster walls — nothing shiny or glossy — creates a sense of calm and comfort,” she says.
Scroll down to tour this festive family home!
Leigh (center), daughter, Emma, son Harris and the family’s French bulldog, Hugo, warm up by the backyard firepit that’s surrounded by twinkling lights. “The lights look pretty year-round but especially when it’s snowing,” says Leigh.
Leigh had the wall panels and trim in the living and dining rooms painted white in a chalky matte finish. “The color and finish create a less traditional space in sync with the open, modern back area of the house,” says Leigh. New, wide-plank white oak flooring further updates the space.
Every year, the family finds a tree large enough to display Patrick’s (still growing!) collection of ornaments. “The tree looks different every year because we have to choose which ornaments will be hung — all of them won’t fit!” says Leigh.
The living room fireplace features a limestone surround for a sleek look. Deep-seated linen sofas, soft throws and a roaring fire create a cozy oasis during the holidays. Leigh’s homemade cedar garland frames the mantelpiece. Keeping the Christmas decorating simple contributes to the room’s relaxed ambience and allows the tree to really shine.
Pulls and doors were removed to open up what was originally a closed-in kitchen at the back of the house, creating a new, light-filled space adjacent to the living and dining room. Come holiday time, conversations between the cook and dinner guests are free-flowing. A hard-wearing limestone floor defines the kitchen area and blends seamlessly into the white oak of the nearby breakfast room.
Instead of traditional hardware, Leigh requested that the kitchen’s oiled white oak cabinetry have built-in pulls “because handles are always getting dirty or becoming loose and falling off.” A garden view adds to the kitchen’s expansive feel.
The breakfast room faces French doors that lead to a flagstone terrace. “It feels like an extension of the backyard with a clear view into the trees,” says Leigh. Surrounded by vintage leather Thonet chairs is a sturdy table the family has had for 18 years. “We’ve even dragged the table outside for dinners under the stars,” says Leigh.
Lined with custom-made oak shelving, a sitting area off the breakfast room is where the family gathers to watch TV and where Leigh likes to flip through her collection of cookbooks. Throws, a timeworn area rug and a sheepskin slung over a lounge chair add to the warm, laid-back vibe.
“In the dead of winter, this is my favorite room in the house,” says Leigh of the intimate den where Emma plays the piano while the family lounges on the sofa. The simplicity of the room is complemented by a holiday wreath fashioned out of eucalyptus.
Originally a bedroom, Leigh’s second-floor home office overlooks the home’s leafy front yard. Simple, custom-made book shelves and a compact filing cabinet make smart use of every square inch of the workspace.
Leigh had the second-floor bathroom completely overhauled, adding a walk-in shower (not shown) to create a more family-friendly space. Subway tiles extend floor-to-ceiling for a clean, spa-like look. During the holidays, an old ladder brought home from Leigh’s travels in Australia doubles as a towel rack and a spot to display Christmas wreaths.
In Emma’s bedroom, faux fur accents and bare branches casually decked out with homespun ornaments create a Christmas-in-the-country mood. French doors leading to a balcony overlooking the treetops are flung open during the summer.
Leigh designed Harris’s bedroom as a comfortable retreat he could grow into. The archway and fireplace are original to the house, and the space is a favorite spot for Hugo to hang out in.
Author: Barbara Sgroi
House & Home November 2018
Architecture by Ginger Sorbara