hello! neighbor - anna & felipe

In the summer, I had the privilege of meeting Anna and Felipe. They live in a beautiful, sprawling Victorian house in South Parkdale. We shot the house for Hello! Neighbor when a local magazine, Toronto Life contacted me about doing another house tour for them. (You might remember I did a previous one for them here.) I showed them the photos of this house and they decided it would be a good fit for the magazine. The story ran in the December issue of the magazine (an online version is available here). Below are the original photos we took along with the interview. Anna and Felipe met in Barcelona, Spain and I think the warmth and colourful nature of that culture can be seen in their home.

Enjoy the tour!


Anna and Felipe




Lawyer/writer and Spanish teacher/writer


Kids, pets?

No, but we do dog sit.


Year Home was Built



How long have you lived in your home?

1 year


What’s your favorite room and why?

Anna: The dining room because I love its spaciousness and the light in the afternoon.  It has the advantage of two views: our backyard, which feels almost like the country, and the street, which is distinctly more urban.


Felipe: I can't pick a single room.  We've put so much work into the house and I've spent so much time in every corner that every room has its value for me.


How did you find your home?

We had been looking for a place in the West end for 8 months.  By the time we found this house, we had lost 2 bidding wars, and had walked away from a third property because of an unscrupulous real estate agent (not ours).


Where do you get your inspiration from?

Anna: I think Felipe and I often inspire and play off of each other.  If I had to describe our dynamic, I'd say he's the artist and I'm the curator/editor.  What I love about that is that we're both intensely interested in our space and how we can make it beautiful, useful and reflective of us. Sometimes our process involves heated arguments over seemingly ridiculous things like whether a tile should be beveled or flat, but we always get to a place we both love.


Felipe: It's really random.  Sometimes I'm just walking or experimenting with something and an idea comes to me.


How did you end up living in Parkdale?

Anna:  When Felipe and I came back to Canada from Spain two years ago, we decided to settle in the West end, which we were both drawn to whenever we visited Toronto.  We found a great apartment in Parkdale and fell in love with the community and how dynamic the neighbourhood was, so we focused our home search here when we started looking.


What did your home look like when you first saw it? What work have you done on it to make it your own?

Anna:  Many parts of the home were well taken care of, but dated.  In addition to painting every part of it and plastering over some unattractive wall finish, we gutted both bathrooms, put in a second floor laundry and updated the kitchen.  I think it's brought the house to life.  We're now concentrating on remaking the amazing backyard, which had been overrun by weeds when we moved in, and which we've now partly converted into a very productive vegetable garden.


Felipe:  The house felt like being inside a giant carrot cupcake when we first moved in.  The walls were a browny yellow with a really rough texture.  That was the first thing we changed.


What would your dream house look like?

Anna:  I don't have a single set of criteria for a dream house.  Every home we've had has offered us the opportunity to create a space that is special to us and unique to the house itself. This is my dream house, and I hope that, if there's a next house, it will be my dream house too.  In terms of what dreams we have for this particular house, we've come to the end of our initial renovation phase and now have to finish furnishing it.  Once that's done, we may turn to phase two renos, which include a larger kitchen that opens directly to the backyard, perhaps with floor to ceiling glass along the back wall, but that's a very distant and optimistically prosperous future.


Felipe:  This house is one of my dream houses.  I'm sure that every house we have will be a dream house for us.


What was the last thing you purchased for your home?

A piece of art - Nice Eis by Julie Jenkinson (at InAbstracto).

Thanks for inviting is into your lovely home Anna and Felipe!


Living Room - pink and yellow chairs upholstered by Tina Morgan

Bathroom Vanity - built by Jeremy Kehoe - The Carroll Street Woodworkers


All photos by Kristin Sjaarda for The Marion House Book.





A few weeks ago, during a spring downpour, I had the opportunity to meet Veronique, Mathew and their son Declan. It was a dark and stormy day yet the moment I stepped through their doorway the greyness faded away. Their newly renovated home is bright and airy with soaring ten foot ceilings. The home is decorated throughout with interesting collections and eclectic array of artwork; everything from Mathew's own photographs to works by their daughter Saskia. It's obviously a home filled with love. Enjoy the tour!

Names: Véronique Claassen and Mathew Merrett

Occupations: Stay-at-home-Mom & Part-Time Operations Manager at The Little Paper and Telecommunications Sales Director and Fine Art Photographer.

Kids, pets: Saskia, 7 years old, Declan, 6 months, Lenny the dog, 9 years old, Lola the cat, 3 years old

Year Home was Built: Around 1890

How long have you lived in your home? About 2.5 years

What’s your favorite room and why?

Veronique: It’s really hard to choose just one room as my favourite because I like all of the rooms in my house for different reasons. I like the kitchen with the minimal white cupboards, beautiful countertop and big graphic art on the white wall. I like the dining room because it has so many of my favourite things in it; my huge table that can fit 10 kids around it at a birthday party; my Klint pendant lamp from Denmark; the Soviet propaganda posters that Mathew brought back for me from the Ukraine; my owl lamp from Scooter Girl; photos of my beautiful children. I like the living room with the built-in bookshelves that look like part of the wall. I like the chandelier and brown wall tiles in the bathroom. I like the baby’s room because it has so many cute toys and stuffies. And most of all I love Saskia’s room because it is covered in her art and little collections of things and is a personification of all that is wonderful about her.

Mathew: Kitchen. This is where all of the action happens. We designed the island to be multi-functional. This is where our gas cook top resides, pots & pans and flatwear on one side; breakfast bar and activity cupboard for Saskia on the other side. And there's a good chance that you will find Declan on the counter in his Bumbo watching all of the action. Most of our comings and goings are out the patio door so the kitchen is the main expressway.

How did you find your home?

Veronique: We had been looking for a few months but there just weren’t very many houses on the market in the very specific area that we wanted to live. Therefore the few houses that were up for sale had a lot of interest resulting in bidding wars and bully offers with most properties selling for $120K+ over asking. We actually bid on 4 other houses but obviously lost. In the end we decided that we needed to find a house that no one else wanted and renovate it- the old adage of buying the worst house on the best street.

Mathew: I always had a Victorian row house in mind before we started our search and I loved the idea of having a 3rd floor loft and a place with some history. I am involved in a long term photography project with Heritage Toronto, so I have a passion for historical architecture. It was beyond our expectation to end up with a 120 year old detached Victorian, as there are so few of them in this area.

Where do you get your inspiration from?

Veronique: I really love mid-century modern and Scandinavian design, which I confess is heavily influenced by my ex-husband’s parents. When we moved in together in our very early 20’s, they allowed my ex-husband and I to mine the basement of their East Annex mansion. It was filled with vintage teak treasures and art. I still have several of these pieces, including a lovely Danish vanity table and a box of vintage Marimekko fabric that my ex-mother-in-law collected when she and her husband lived in Finland for a year while he did post-graduate studies in architecture. I also love to poke around yard sales, antique stores and charity shops and have several collections of Kitsch. I’ve even infected Mathew with my collecting bug. At the height of my toadstool obsession, he spotted a set of great 70s cookie jars with a toadstool relief design at a yard sale down the street and couldn’t leave them behind. They now live happily on my kitchen counter in all of their kitsch-glory.

Mathew: I am inspired by modern design. I love minimalist, crisp/clean spaces.


How did you end up living in Parkdale?

Veronique: I bought my first house in Parkdale at the end of 1998 with my ex-husband. A few friends of ours had been living in Roncesvalles Village for a number of years and we were no strangers to Aris, Butler’s Pantry and the Revue. (In the early to mid-90’s we even attended many booze-cans in what is now the Sorauren Park Field House on Wabash. No joke!) We bought a semi on Wright Avenue just west of Sorauren for only $185K and slowly, over several years, renovated it with my ex-father-in-law’s help (he’s an architect). When our marriage ended, my ex-husband stayed in the house on Wright and I luckily found an apartment on Garden Avenue, since I didn’t want to move very far away for the sake of my daughter. Mathew swept me off my feet soon after (we’ve known each other since the third grade and dated in high school – it’s a long story!) and when we decided to buy a house together I was adamant that I wanted to continue to live in my little pocket of Parkdale. I truly can’t imagine living anywhere else.

Mathew: I ended up renting an apartment in the area after opening a small gallery in Parkdale and immediately realized that this was a very unique area. We have Queen Streest West with so much character and Roncesvalles which just keeps getting better with the new sidewalks and great new shops and restaurants opening every month, while still retaining some great old Polish delis and bakeries.

What did your home look like when you first saw it? What work have you done on it to make it your own?

Veronique: The house looked really weird when we first saw it. The sellers had put tufted black leather over the inside of the front door – it looked like a 70’s dominatrix dungeon! On the second floor, they had been irritated by the “creaky old floor” and had put thousands of screws into it and then covered it in wood laminate. When we pulled it up you could see that, aside from the screws, the wood floors would have been in really good condition but there was no way of saving it. Many bad things had also been done in the 70s and 80s, such as raising the living room floor and covering it in parquet and lowering the ceilings and covering them in stucco. There was also a DIY faux white brick fireplace with a black and gold woodstove insert. It was a pleasure to watch Mathew take a sledgehammer to it, it was so hideous.

We basically gutted the entire main floor down to the brick, took down the walls and the lowered ceilings and ripped up the parquet, then rebuilt it, to create a big, open, loft-like space. Mathew joked at the time that he could hear the house sighing in relief. In keeping with that light, airy feeling, we decided to keep the walls white, which have the added benefit of showing off our quirky collections and art pieces nicely. On the second floor, we took down stucco covered ceilings and gutted the bathroom which was a pink floral tile travesty. We pushed out the bathroom wall a couple of feet into the back room to make a larger space. I wanted a free-standing deep tub and Mathew wanted a stand-alone shower, so we needed the extra room to accommodate that. We didn’t touch the third floor other than paint. When we saw it we knew it would be perfect for Saskia. She is the envy of all her friends having her very own floor that includes a bedroom, playroom and powder room.

Mathew: Our house had been subject to several bad renovations in the past. The living room ceiling had been lowered 16" and the floor raised 3", possibly to reduce the volume for more efficient heating. The main bathroom was also in a sad 70's state, with the toilet behind the door and barely a trickle of water from the shower. We saw the potential in the space and created our own simple design plan to create exactly what we wanted from the space. Our vision was a very "lofty" feel with the ceilings back up to their 10' glory and the walls removed for a fully open concept.

What would your dream house look like?

Veronique: I fantasize about a very minimal, uncluttered, modern space with everything built-in and seamless; a white wall with a single piece of art; closets that are perfectly organized, like the Pax displays at Ikea; huge windows that let in lots of light. It’s almost entirely unachievable though because I could never hang just one piece of art on a wall and my closets would be quickly over-run by single socks that I can’t bring myself to throw out because I might just find the other one someday.

Mathew: I think it would look a lot like what we have now, but with more light coming in and perhaps a bigger yard. We have plans to replace the stairs with something more modern. Probably floating stairs with a floor to ceiling glass wall and a skylight above.

What was the last thing your purchased for your home?

Veronique: An adorable ceramic toadstool night light for the baby’s room (but really for me).

Mathew: I went out for a Queen West stroll on my birthday and came home with a large white letter M that was reclaimed from an old sign. It now has a home above my record collection.

Thanks Veronique and Mathew for inviting us into your home.

Photographs by Kristin Sjaarda for The Marion House Book.


hello! neighbor - shannon & wil

Hello! Neighbor is back after a little hiatus last month and this first home of 2012 has something special going for it - it's on the market. That's right as of this weekend (or soon thereafter) this home could be yours! We can't say that very often. This home is the loving result of the owners, Wil and Shannon. If you live in the neighbourhood you might know Shannon from her charming market store, The Mercantile. Wil  is a talented home remodeller and spends his time lovingly restoring old homes that have seen better days. Since Wil knows renovations first hand, I took the time to ask him a few questions about what he thinks makes a home renovation successful. I think it is very telling that his favorite tools in any home remodelling project are rubber gloves, abrasive pads and paint stripper. Enjoy the tour!


Wil Crothers and Shannon Doyle


Home remodeller and owner of The Mercantile gourmet food shop.

Shannon in her store The Mercantile on Roncesvalles Avenue.

How long have you lived in your home?

We have lived here for 6 months.

When was your home built?

It was built in approximately 1910.

Which room do you spend the most time in? Why?

Shannon: Our favourite room would be the kitchen.  We both love to cook and entertain.

What do you think are the easiest or most cost effective ways to update a home?

Wil: In my opinion the least expensive way to update a home is to embrace some of the elements that you believe make it outdated and juxtapose them with clean modern accents. To use a simple analogy, if the doors in your home are tired and abused, take off the hardware, give them a quick sand and a fresh coat of cloud white paint. If the hardware is more than 50 years old strip off all of the generations of paint and replace them bare. If not buy some ultra modern brushed nickel or chrome hardware. Suddenly the beaten up old door becomes the back drop for the fixture. On a grander scale, the same can be said for every aspect of the home. If the tile in your bathroom is lime green or purple from 1962 find a modern complementary colour or a very cold neutral colour and paint your bathroom to match. Throw in a sleek mirror, high style bath fixtures and an piece of art. Pow! Those nasty old tiles and vanity are ultra cool retro. My best friends in any renovation are rubber gloves, S.O.S. pads, and paint stripper. A home, in my opinion, is sort of like a classic suit.  Don't throw out the suit change the shirt and tie.

What were the major changes you  made to the house?

Shannon: When we first looked at 77 Campbell Ave. we knew the home had great potential. Unfortunately, it had suffered many decades of neglect. Split into apartments it was essentially in rooming house condition. The house has been completely gutted, re-wired, remolded and put back together.

How did you end up living in the Junction?

Shannon: When we purchased out first home in the Junction Triangle in 2007 it was the one of the few neighbourhoods we could afford. We have since fallen in the love with the community. The area is wildly diverse, our neighbours range from the original Polish and Portuguese blue collar to members of a vibrant film and arts scene.

Are there certain elements of a home you always try to keep in tact when renovating?

Wil: People love older homes for many reasons but for me it is the craftsmanship. The trims, window casings, banisters, doors and accent pieces are so beyond anything that is available today. Add to that the bumps and bruises of time and it is impossible to reproduce. Generally when renovating I try to remove all of the existing wood work as carefully as possible. Once all of the new drywall, flooring and cabinetry has been installed the contrast of the old ornate mouldings and their patina really pops.

Could you tell me a little bit about the chandelier in your dining room? I understand you made it.

Wil: The craft projects in every renovation are always my favourite part and I try to build unique pieces into each project. Lighting in my opinion is one of the most integral components when setting a mood within a space. Our homes are always open concept so the dining room fixture, in relation to the space, is always the focal point of the main floor. Generally the light fixtures in my dining rooms cost between $50 and $150 to build but their unusualness creates all of the drama. I had seen many variations of bottles, jars and glass containers used in chandeliers and love both the whimsical look and the prismatic light they cast. For this light fixture I used 34 clear wine bottles hung from small gauge aircraft cable. I wanted to use a great many bottles strung closely together to give the feeling of a bouquet and soften the look. I then cut the bottom off each bottle in a somewhat haphazard fashion so that the chipped and cracked ends would both increase the prism effect and break up the monotony of 34 same objects. I then enclosed three cylindrical light bulbs within the most central wine bottles so that the light would have to travel through all of the surrounding bottles to escape. Finally I wrapped the supporting chain in white cotton rope in the fashion of a hangman's noose.

What would your dream house look like?

Shannon: We have always dreamed of creating our own dream home rather than looking for a property that fit our criteria. Our dream home is an industrial cinder block box with a decent amount of property in the vicinity of the Junction Triangle.

What was the last thing you purchased for your home?

Shannon:  Our latest purchase was two grey wool easy chairs from Julien Armand on Sterling Ave.

Thanks Shannon and Wil for inviting us into your home and good luck with the sale!

All photos by Kristin Sjaarda for The Marion House Book.

top of the heap - living rooms

Summer, glorious summer. Aren't you happy it's here? This is the time of year to be outside with friends and family which is why throughout the next couple of months I'm going to dig into my own archives to find the best of the best, the cream of the crop, the top of the heap.

I thought I would start with a look back at some of the best living rooms from my Hello! Neighbor posts. Sometimes, it's nice to compare apples to apples. You see things you might not have noticed the first time around.

Enjoy! (and then get outside!)

The home of Per and Elana with its white painted floors and gallery wall is one of my all time favorites.

Jenny Francis' home attracted a lot of attention with its exposed wood beam ceiling which creates a loft-like feeling in this Victorian house.

Hands down, Jenn's living room is the one I would want to settle down in with a good book it's effortlessly relaxed and stylish.

Rachel and Paul's city home (now sold) was a riot of colour and pattern. I wonder if the pink ceiling still exists? I know the new owners...maybe time for a visit.

Here's Rachel and Paul's new home in the country this time with a blue ceiling. Readers absolutely loved this rural escape.

Abi and John's home complete with clawfoot tub in the kitchen and stunning floor to ceiling windows was another one of my absolute favorites.

Finn and Marilyn's airy loft (now sold) became too small for them with the arrival of Maeve. Perhaps, we'll have to drop in on their new place!

Finally, Lorne and Yasmin's living room was the very first Hello! Neighbor tour I ever did. I love that large mirror on the back wall and the view it provides of the rest of the room.

Image Credits:
Images 1-3 and 5-7 - Kristin Sjaarda
Image 4 - Myles McCutcheon
Image 8 - Lorne Bridgman