artist in residence - clay stang

In my day to day life I get to meet some pretty interesting people. People who are following their dreams and pursuing their goals to be artisans, craftspeople, and artists. Many of these people are finding a way to make their true passion an integral part of their lives whether as a career or as a serious side business. I thought it might be interesting to dedicate a post once in while to these people who are following their heart and making it work. I thought I would call the series Artist in Residence. First up is one of my neighbours, Clay Stang a talented photographer and now budding woodworker and industrial designer.

Lounge Chair created with the upholstering help of Martin Kapustianyk.

Clay, I know you primarily as a photographer how did you get started with this new line of work?

My father was a finishing carpenter/cabinet maker so I’ve been around carpentry most of my life. When I lived out west I would design furniture and my father and I would build it together. We’ve built coffee tables and a sofa and numerous little projects along the way. When entering art college I tried doing a double major in photography and sculpture. In the end I had to choose a direction and photography won. With photography I’m constantly problem solving and trying to come up with new ideas and solutions. Wood working feels like an extension of that.

Customized industrial drafting lamp w/cloth wrapped cord.

How would you describe your aesthetic? Where do you get your influences from?

I think my wood working is actually similar to my photography. I’m committed to simplicity and modernism with accents that highlight vintage repurposed elements. When I’m needing inspiration – I like to hit art galleries. We recently were in San Francisco and visited SFMOMA. Seeing the modern California artists like Barry McGee and Margaret Kilgallen was really impressive. The inspiration is never a direct translation but its usually a spark. A use of colour or unusual design that triggers an idea in my work.

Also found objects are a big influence. My lovely wife Liz and I own a vintage store and I sometimes find myself staring at an object for a long time because I know somewhere in that object is a table, bench or light fixture.

Beam bench, mid century legs with canvas hammock.

Take us through a bit of your design process? Where does an object begin and where does it end up?

I like to incorporate a found object in my design. And I tend to be influenced by the object itself. I always begin sketching and from the sketch comes the solutions. Once the final sketch is finished, I start building & sourcing material. Repurposing an item from the trash and creating something functional & new is really rewarding.

Where can we find your work? Do you take custom orders?

You can find a selection of work at The Arthur and here. And yes I take custom orders.

Ipad docks

Where would you like to see this new line of work take you?

That's simple; a balance. I love photography and am incredibly lucky to have a career in it. Since the digital age I find myself spending a lot of time in front of a computer. Woodworking is physical. Both professions are creative but in some ways they work different parts of the brain. One also informs the other. My relationship with space is considered in both but it's the way in which I manipulate the space that gives me the Balance.

Finally, what are you hoping Santa brings you this holiday season?

There are days when I want so much more and there are days when I recognize what I have is more than enough. Today I’m full. However my son Otis wants a transformer costume, So Santa if you’re reading this...


If you think you might be a good fit for this new running series on my blog drop me a line, with the subject "artist in residence" and tell me a little about what you do.


All photographs by Clay Stang.




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.


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


Ok...hands up, how many of you have at one time dreamed of opening your own store? Lots of you, right? There is something so romantic about working for yourself and seeing a vision through from start to completion. Well, two of my dear friends have done just that. Liz and her husband Clay opened the online vintage store The Arthur just last year and now they have opened a bricks and mortar version at 550 College Street in Toronto.

I'm so inspired by these two. They have poured their heart and soul into this place and it shows. I sat down with Liz last week, on her first day of business and asked her a few questions.

TMHB - Most people probably know that you started your business online but you just recently opened a storefront. Will you keep the online store running?

Liz - Yes, definitely. The online biz has been fun and I think people buy differently online than what they can see/pickup and carry away from the shop. I think they’ll make a good balance.

TMHB - What attracted you to opening your own vintage store? Is this something you have always dreamed of doing?

Liz - This really has been a long dream coming. Ages ago I’d seen the shop Mojo in Montreal and it blew me away that a couple could open a shop of well curated, random products that they just loved.  I’d put the idea of owning a shop on the back burner and focused on photography which had been my career choice for the past 7 years. Having kids really made me put everything into a new perspective and I decided to throw caution to the wind and try something new.

TMHB - I'm sure many of my readers would be interested in knowing some of the process you went through in terms of finding a place, getting it ready, setting up shop, etc?

Liz - I barely feel able to give any advice – as I’m such a newbie to the retail world! I spent about 5 months looking for a place. I searched all over without a real estate agent (they're not so helpful if you’re only interested in leasing), cruising neighbourhoods for “For Lease” signs and looking online. I’m so happy that I waited for the right place.

I’ve been preparing/hoarding for a long time so getting ready included finding new product lines that are handmade or reflect qualities of the past. But setting up was a hectic affair. My incredibly talented (in ways very opposite to me) hubby - Clay Stang – designed and created the space with the great talents of carpenter Dawson Campbell . You’ll be seeing Clay’s handy work popping up in the shop soon!

What were the challenges? Anything you wish you had known in advance?

The challenging elements were trying to find resources to find out: Do I need a licence? How should I register my business? Do I need a bookkeeper? Where do I find a cash register? Do I need one? Etc. The learning curve was kind of insane within the last 6 weeks but I think I’m happiest when I’m in a crunch so it worked out okay. And the best thing has been the amazing community of women in retail that I’ve met in the past little while. Alison from Coriander Girl, Micah at Russet & Empire, Karyn at The Workroom and Hollie & Jane at White Elephant have been so supportive and great wealth’s of knowledge. And the Biz Ladies section of Design*Sponge was also super helpful.

Where do you find most of the items in your store?

I cruise estate sales, auctions, church sales, craigslist and flea markets all over Ontario. It’s the best part of the job. I love the hunt.

What are some of the things we can find in The Arthur? Best buys?

Well some of the new lines that I’m excited about are: Shelter -  handmade quality backpacks, clutches and wallets made with hand stained/tooled leather. And locally made Yahbags are so insanely good. These totes and purses are all made of repurposed original mail bags, grain sacks, army canvas and french ticking.  Things Together create prism shaped papier mache and driftwood mobiles that look beautiful in any room. As for vintage housewares – I’m partial to wool army blankets, old school pull down posters and old typewriters (I have about 10). The shop is perfectly small so you’ll see new items popping up every time you visit.

TMHB - I love all the new lines you've added in - you've got such a good eye. They mix in so well with the vintage finds. You often can't even tell them apart!

TMHB - Any other people who helped you along the way?

I just want to add a super HUGE thank you to Space Camp who did our graphics and branding! Graeme and Blair had the shortest turnaround yet were able to do such an extensive (& INCREDIBLE) branding execution. I’m pretty sure I couldn’t have received such care and attention from any other design team.

Thanks Liz and Clay. You've done what so many people only dream of doing. If you live in Toronto, drop by and say hello to Liz. The store is located at 550 College Street in Little Italy. And if you live too far away to make a personal visit don't forget they still have an online store.

If you have any of your own questions for Liz ask away. I'm sure she would be happy to answer them!

Image Credits: Clay Stang