coriander girl - christmas house

Around a year ago, I was scrolling through my instagram feed when I saw a shot of Alison Westlake's house. It pictured a stone fireplace, a roaring fire and a little white bunny named Harry. Alison as many of you probably know runs Coriander Girl, the floral design studio in Parkdale. I was so captivated by her charming house (which is actually a converted church) that I emailed her right away and asked if we could set up a Hello! Neighbour post. (I actually thought I was probably too late and that another magazine or online publication would have snapped her up.) Much to my delight the house hadn't been cornered by anyone else and she was delighted to be asked. However like most people she asked me to give her a few months to get it ship -shape ready. Months passed and life happened and suddenly I was working at Chatelaine magazine. As we were planning our winter lineups I kept Alison's stone hearth in the back of my mind. I just knew it would make a perfect Christmas home. In the heat of August we hatched a plan to shoot her converted church for our December issue. We took so many wonderful shots I just have to share some of the beautiful photographs with you today.

122013_ALISONWESTLAKE_XMAS0782Names: Alison, Tyler and Harry Hogan (the bunny).

Year home was Built: 1887

122013_ALISONWESTLAKE_XMAS0884How did you find your home?

We bought our first property in Belleville because the Toronto market was impossible for us. It was an adorable 100 year old walk up on East Hill, we were treating it like a cottage, coming down from Toronto every weekend. Once we were in the real estate game, I became a bit of an MLS junkie and found the church. We walked in, and I think I gasped, “well, we’re getting it!” You’re supposed to keep your cool in front of agents, so much for that!

It was love at first sight. The expansive ceilings, the hard wood floors, giant gothic windows, I couldn’t understand why there wasn’t a bidding war but our agent explained this is considered really unconventional living.

122013_ALISONWESTLAKE_XMAS0812Why did you choose to live in the country?

Tyler is from Prince Edward County, I’m Toronto born and when my parents divorced my mom remarried and we moved to this area (Quinte West), in fact I grew up 2 roads over from the church. I’ve done the Toronto, Quinte commute since I was 4.

When I was 18, I moved to the city full time. I pursued an acting career and worked in the service industry. In my late 20’s I started to question what I really wanted from a career, it felt like I was supposed to be doing something more. I also finally learned what I needed in a relationship. I met Tyler at a café in Parkdale, he made me my morning lattes and very quickly we became inseparable. Tyler believes that he was drawn to the city to find his love and bring her home. It’s no coincidence that this love inspired my career change, taking a leap of faith and opening Coriander Girl felt a lot less scary with a man championing my every move.

122013_ALISONWESTLAKE_XMAS0523What have you done to the church to make it your own?

The church had a few cheap modernizations that we promptly tore out. We loved the kitchen and didn’t have to do much but upgrade the counters, tile the backsplash and change out the cabinet hardware. There was already an addition on the back for bedrooms and that just needed a good paint job. We had to upgrade the windows, we still have the old ones and dream of restoring them one day but for now we just need to keep warm in here as we heat with wood only. The entire church was painted from floor to ceiling. (imagine Penny(Tyler’s mom) dangling 25 feet up cutting in!) New baseboards and door trim throughout and a chairrail was added for extra charm. The lights were swapped out for the classic schoolhouse style. The biggest job was probably changing the front doors on the church. It used to snow inside, we’d wake up to snow drifts in the foyer. My dad being a general contractor/craftsman was the only person for this job. The church was begging for old doors and we searched for months to find the right ones. These European ones with their arch top and original flower etching could not have been more perfect.



What is your favourite moment/room?

We talked about this and our favorite moment at the church remains the night we found Dance Mix 97, we had a great bottle of red wine on the go and literally danced all over the place. I imagine our neighbors got a good show if they happened to walk by!

122013_ALISONWESTLAKE_XMAS0692 How do you make the commute work?

We long for a time when we’ll get to be here together full time. I’m in the city 3 days a week and Tyler works in Prince Edward County so it’s not ideal but we always have 3 days off together every week and that’s pretty unique.  We’re absolutely in love with our home and so the next move would probably be out of necessity like expanding the family and needing more space although we could build a loft here and add another bedroom.

122013_ALISONWESTLAKE_XMAS0653 What's your holiday decorating style?

As you can see our holiday style is really subtle, almost Scandanavian with minimal less traditional color. Much like at Coriander Girl, we decorate so it feels festive but easy on the eyes.

I’m all about keeping it simple or I won’t do it because the shop is all consuming over the holidays. We lay fresh bows everywhere. I make simple fresh door swags, small and large and you can put them everywhere for an instant holiday look.  My joke is, “put a swag on it!” If you watch Portlandia you might get that reference.

122013_ALISONWESTLAKE_XMAS0752 What is your favourite holiday greenery?

My favorite has to be cedar, the smell is unmatched.

DSC_1363Do you have any holiday traditions?

Our marriage is still so young, I think we’re still finding our traditions. But family is key, seeing as much of each other’s families as we can. And what’s so cool is that are families actually adore each other so we can all get together for one incredible shin dig.

DSC_1428Many thanks to Alison and Tyler for sharing their home with us this holiday season. Check out the December issue of Chatelaine to see more photos.

All photos by Sian Richards.

styling - three holiday mantels

A couple of weeks ago, The Globe and Mail, Canada's leading newspaper, asked me to work on a story about holiday mantels. The idea was to decorate three separate fireplaces each with its own look. In addition to styling the mantels I was also set the task of finding the locations. Luckily for me, I have visited my share of homes in the city of Toronto!  First up was a contemporary take on the Christmas mantel which I infused with a Scandinavian feel. The Pia Wallen slippers and stocking, Kubus candle holder and the crumpled white bowl filled with osange oranges set the scene. (All picked up at Mjolk in Toronto - thank you Juli & John!) The felt garlands, storage box and wreath are from West Elm and completed the look. For a bit of a twist, I added in a collection of wooden dolls by Alexander Girard.

The second mantel of the day was a beautifully detailed Victorian number with elaborate mouldings and original tiles. The homeowner already had some deep blue and white elements going on (both the elephant lamp and large blue and white plate belong to her) so I continued in that vein. I added in some small potted cypress and cedar trees in porcelain bowls and vases, blue ornaments and two tones of blue grosgrain ribbon.

We also did a cover shot with this mantel rearranging the pieces ever so slightly. My favorite piece would definitely have to be the navy blue and white Santa ornament that my assistant Annie McDonald brought along. He is just perfect! Most of the blue and white plates in this shot came from one of my favorite vintage stores, Hawk Eyes.

The last mantel of the day was a wood panelled Tudor-style room with an elegant jade green tiled fireplace. Wax dipped pine cones, antler heads, birch candles and a vintage wood sleigh gives this mantel a slightly rustic feel while still saying true to traditional roots.

For a look at the story and complete listing of all the products please check out The Globe and Mail.

Do you have a favorite?


Photos: Kristin Sjaarda
Styling assistance: Annie McDonald



deck the halls

It's starting to feel a lot like Christmas! Finally, this weekend I got around to a little Christmas decorating and baking. We put up our tree, put some lights on the outside of the house, made some gingerbread cookies and decorated the house.

We also went up to the country and visited some friends of ours that had recently moved there from the city. Their new hometown is a vintage hunter's dream. In one short block, we went into three incredible antique stores! Not only was the selection great but the prices were so much lower than in the city. I picked up these two wooden spools which I love.

I also decorated this branch which moves around our house quite frequently. I wish I could say that I made all the ornaments that hang on it but the truth is, I bought them. The one exception is the gingerbread stars which I did make! I'll have the recipe for you later this week.

How's your Christmas decorating and baking coming along? Can you believe it all happens this weekend? I better start working on my grocery list for Christmas dinner and buying my stocking stuffers!

(Oh and I just wanted to say a special thank you to my husband who bought me a new camera for my birthday a few weeks ago. This is the first time I have really been able to play with it. It allows me to do so many more things than my last one. Thanks, Myles!)