To decorate with an eye for display is an art. What’s it like to have the gift of looking at a room and instantly knowing what’s wrong and what’s right? Just ask Nicola Marc: she’s one of the most in-demand stylists in Canada and works for major international clients. You may have seen her work in H&H regularly over the years.
She studied French and history in university, but Nicola credits her early magazine experience in the U.K. with teaching her about layering fabrics and textures in a relaxed way. “I didn’t really know what I wanted to do at first,” she says. “I landed a job at the U.K.’s
Country Living magazine for three years and learned so much from the editors, going to photo shoots, assisting and observing what they did.”
Nicola’s mother, who made their Georgian home near Windsor Castle a showpiece, was another major influence. “My mother is very into design and always made our houses very beautiful and distinctive. I think you can learn so much from observation.”
Nicola’s own 1910 home is in Montreal’s Notre-Dame-de- Grâce neighborhood and, over a year-long renovation, she gave it a cool, Brooklyn brownstone vibe. “I’m constantly learning — reading design books, browsing Instagram and going to museums and galleries for inspiration.”
Want to know how to decorate like a pro? Scroll down for Nicola’s best decorating tips!
Stylist Nicola Marc in her Montreal home.
1. Repaint Old Furniture
Adding a coat of fresh paint allows Nicola to keep favorite pieces for years and never tire of them, like the bookcase in the living room. It was white in her old condo, and the blue coffee table has been both red and white. “I keep a lot of my furniture because much of it is inherited and special,” she says. “I paint pieces a different color or reupholster them in a new fabric.”
2. Skip The Mirror
Not every entry needs a mirror, according to Nicola. “I was totally in love with the wallpaper and didn’t want to break up the visual impact,” she says. “If you have a mirror, you’re always checking yourself out. Admire my wallpaper instead!”
3. Mix Budget With Custom
When it comes to kitchen splurges and saves, Nicola chose budget Ikea lower cabinets offset by custom pieces including the island — which hides all the cookware — and the shelving and cupboards stacked around the slim fridge. And she doesn’t skimp on appliances, favoring Italian brand Smeg for its compact dimensions and sleek looks. “We go to farmers’ markets often, so we don’t need a huge fridge,” she says.
4. Downplay Screens
To help take the focus further off the TV screen (Nicola tucked it away in a corner of the sitting room), she filled the space above it with her beloved Victorian jelly mold collection. “The jelly molds have a nice presence that doesn’t totally distract from the TV,” she says. “They’re a counterpoint that fits nicely within the display shelves.”
5. Consider Sight Lines
Because she often places large-scale arrangements on the island, she didn’t want to block the view of the open shelving with pendants. Nicola hung them in front of the windows instead of over the island where her son, Luka, 7, helps out with the cooking.
6. Balance Classic With Modern
Nicola grew up with — and still enjoys — an English cottage look, but to keep her home from becoming cliché, she introduces contemporary counterpoints in the kitchen, including the Smeg stainless steel vent hood and cooktop. “Modern touches like the graphic tile backsplash pull it back the other way,” she adds. “The tile is on the pricey side, so I used it sparingly.”
7. Curate Collections For An Art Wall
Although there’s lots of open shelving in the kitchen, Nicola uses a dead space to show off her treasured lustreware dishes. She skips templates, placing one object in the centre and building out. “I like things to feel casual and random,” she says. “3M Command Strips are the way to go; they’re easy to take off and you can keep adding to your display.”
8. Think In Multiples
Repetition is key when art needs to balance a large piece like this roomy sectional, where 14-year-old Clara stretches out to read. Nicola framed maps of London with personal annotations from her grandfather in inexpensive Ikea frames. “I added a ribbon trim so they stayed in place with no gap between the mat,” she says. The pendant is similarly large in scale: “The lantern is quite big for that space, but I like that, and the metal frame gives it an airiness.”
9. Accent With Paint
This 300-year-old farm table has a storied past with many carved initials, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be freshened up. Nicola’s husband gave it new life by topping the surface with a coat of white milk paint. The fixture above was chosen because it reminds Nicola of her jelly mold collection. She painted the metal shade interiors gold to give them more depth.
10. Think Outside The Box
“There are all kinds of things you can frame; it doesn’t have to be a typical print,” says Nicola. The framed items in Luka’s room are actually alphabet cards sold through Paris children’s department store, Bonpoint, mounted in sunny yellow frames that match the moulded chair.
11. Refurbish To Refresh
In daughter Clara’s room, the bed was a curbside find Nicola repainted, swapping out the ripped caning for floral upholstery. Nicola let Clara weigh in on the Christopher Farr Cloth wallpaper for the accent wall, then echoed the cheery hue with a banded pendant for a fun splash of color.
12. Customize Bathroom Mirrors
“It’s not that expensive to have a mirror custom-cut,” says Nicola, who drew the silhouette for the Taj Mahal–top mirror. It makes good use of the narrow space above the vanity and draws the eye up. “I needed something very high and skinny for the space, and it feels whimsical, too.”
13. Bring Style To A Dressing Room
The built-in wardrobes in the walk-in closet off Nicola’s bedroom are by Ikea, but she added custom shelves above to house her collection of books. After living for years with clothes on a rolling rack, she was happy to have closed storage — except for her treasured shoes. “There’s no way I’m covering those up; they weren’t going away in a cupboard!” she says with a smile.
14. Hack Store-Bought Finds
The principal bedroom has an English feel with chalky grey walls and white painted floors. “I spray-painted the Ikea table lamp black,” says Nicola. She also reupholstered the chair from her Scottish grandmother in a silk fabric and often switches up hardware to make pieces feel fresh.
Author: Wendy Jacob
House & Home October 2021