The art of styling

Expat Kiwi artist Anna Church shares her interior philosophy and recent renovation in Toronto.

Expat Kiwi artist Anna Church has lived in Toronto with her husband Nick Dalton and their two children for eight years, and in this home for five. They recently completed a renovation that took it back to its 1834 bones and built it back up again, bigger and better.

TOP Anna pulls up a seat on an antique bench below her Ebb & Flow artworks I and II (available through and her gallery representatives in New Zealand). “I love large statement pieces on a single wall,” she says. “And clusters of leaning artworks. And I never tire of a good gallery wall.” ABOVE Having the ability to start from the studs, Anna wanted to prioritise a considered aesthetic that would continue throughout the house. The finishes from the kitchen to the bathrooms were kept minimal and in the same textures and tones. Key décor items in the kitchen include the bar stools by Atelier Arking, tapware by Brizo, pendant light by Morba, wall lights found on and Anna’s artwork Assemble No. 2.

Anna, do you think your interest in villas is informed by their strong association with New Zealand’s heritage architecture, especially in Auckland, where you used to live? Absolutely — although houses here tend to be multi-level, not single-storey. We were drawn to Toronto’s historic Riverside neighbourhood for its beautiful Victorian homes and tree-lined streets. When we found this house, she was tired and unpolished, but liveable. Best of all, her character features were pretty much still intact, unlike a lot of homes we looked at, in which they’d been stripped out through quick-flip renovations. We could see past her faults, like the small, dark rooms that divided up the main floor and the terrible ’70s kitchen, and had grand visions for the old girl. 

You’re a bit of a serial renovator — what do you like about it? I love creating efficient, visually pleasing, relaxed and multifunctional spaces where family and friends can come together. My main intention here was to have each room feel separate but connected, with a flow that linked the front to the back and the outside to the inside. Nothing’s too precious in this house, and every zone and surface serves a purpose.
We’ve spent so much time at home during the past few months that it’s made us so appreciative of inhabiting this beautiful place we created for ourselves and those who visit. It makes you realise how important interior design is. It’s not purely aesthetic. Design for me is about considering the use of a space as well as how it’ll look, and that starts from the ground up — not just by adding the icing and cherry on top.

ABOVE “If you look at the rooms in which people tend to gather in a home, it’s often the kitchen, so ours was the most integral part of our overall design,” says Anna. “Now we love occupying this space.” Floor-to-ceiling sliding doors run from wall to wall, achieving Anna’s goal to connect outside and in. “I think coming from New Zealand gave us an advantage in how we looked at the indoor-outdoor flow. We applied our antipodean experience to turn the living rooms into well-used areas that we derive a lot of pleasure from.”

How did you go about transforming this home? The house has fantastic bones, with 10ft ceilings on the first and second floors, 8ft ceilings on the third floor and four great-sized bedrooms. It also had plenty of room for improvement, but we didn’t have a budget to dive into a renovation as soon as we moved in, so we lived in it for three years and I got by styling it to suit our immediate needs. That ended up being a good thing, as it gave us a chance to really think about how we operated as a family within it. 

TOP Of her ultra-refined approach, Anna says, “I love living without clutter, so I’ve become a ‘one in, one out’ girl.“ The fine art portrait hanging in the stairwell is by her friend, Canadian fashion photographer Andrew Soule. ABOVE Complementing the kitchen island in Caesarstone’s Frozen Terra, the dining table was custom-made from white oak timber and teamed with Odger chairs by Ikea. The dish and candles are by Hawkins New York and the vintage rug was a happy find at the Christie Antique & Vintage Show.

The renovation was initially only going to involve the kitchen and main floor, with superficial tweaks to the rest of the house, but thanks to the good old knock-on effect, it ended up being easier to take everything back to the studs, rather than end up with a piecemeal blend of old and new. We also decided to create a separate two-bedroom apartment in the basement, digging down 3ft to make it more comfortable. This new space comes in handy when family come to stay from New Zealand, but at the moment we’re renting it out. 

TOP The family’s sophisticated sofa is from Black Rooster Decor. The little brass vessel is from CB2. ABOVE Anna’s Blurred Lines artworks I and II beautify the stairwell that leads to the new basement apartment. Her ceramic dried flower by Hawkins New York on the bench is in good company with the big potted bird of paradise plant. Anna uses plants as a wellbeing and styling tool. “They’re the best accessory and elevate any room.”

How would you describe your interior aesthetic? I love to use furniture, objects and textures that harmonise with each other to create considered moments. I’m drawn to muted, natural colour palettes and textures, and like to speckle surprising elements of interest into the mix, mostly through vintage objects and furniture. I’m allergic to mainstream, cookie-cutter, fast-fashion looks. 

Did many pieces come with you from your previous home or has a new look developed here? A new look did emerge through this process, as I had the opportunity to create each space from scratch, which meant furniture could play a role in the cohesiveness of the aesthetic. We’ve invested in a few key pieces to pull the house together. The kitchen stools,  dining table, daybed and shelves were all custom-made by a wonderful craftsman, Moon from Atelier Arking, whose work I discovered via Instagram. It was a wonderful collaborative experience to design these items and work with him to bring them to fruition. He originally trained as an architect in South Korea, but took up crafting furniture when he moved to Canada. It’s definitely his calling.

ABOVE Perspective Assembly I from Anna’s latest series decorates the mantelpiece beside a vase by Rachel Saunders Ceramics and Vincent Budgerigar by Leila Jeffrey. There’s a strong connection between interior styling and Anna’s practice as a self-described ‘sculptographer’ and she continues to push into new modes of capturing the essence of objects in her art. Also seen here are some fantastic vintage finds: a coffee table from Bettencourt Manor, side table from Atomic Design, chair from Machine Age Modern and plinth from Guff.

Does sustainability come into play when you’re decorating? I like to think of myself as an ‘interior environmentalist’. I’m very conscious of sourcing sustainably and considerately where I can, and like to mix secondhand and vintage furniture with new future-heirloom pieces that will be valued for years to come. Sourcing our lovely engineered hardwood flooring, made from sustainable Canadian timber, was a definite highlight of this project.

ABOVE Among a selection of treasures, the floating shelf by EQ3 above the couple’s bed displays Anna’s artwork Papercuts, Forenoon. The woven bench seat at the foot of the bed is another of Moon’s creations for Atelier Arking.

My design ethos coincides with wellness and wellbeing, and it’s about a much bigger system. It’s thinking about the environment and the makers, and focusing on where things come from, who they sustain, how they’re crafted and how they can change the way we live. The overall design of our renovation has definitely enhanced our family rituals.

As both an artist and a stylist, do you have any tips for starting an art collection? Buy what you love! All sorts of people will give all sorts of advice about what to buy and when and where to buy it, but the bottom line is you have to live with the painting or sculpture or installation, so you should like what it looks like and how it feels to have it in your home. Unless you’re viewing art  as a purely financial investment, trust your aesthetic response.
I also love building relationships with artists. As an artist I value this and love having a connection to my collectors, as they do to me. It’s beautifully symbiotic! 

ABOVE “I love perusing antique and curiosity shops — there’s such a wealth of interesting things to be found,” says Anna. In Thomas’s room, pre-loved pieces including the letter ‘t’ from the Christie Antique & Vintage Show and lamp from Guff cohabit with new ones, such as the stool by Atelier Arking and bedding by Magic Linen. The repurposed peg board was rescued from a discarded retail display.

When are you most struck by the beauty of your completed home? It was my mission  to champion our senses here and the light that now floods in plays a big part in that. Especially in Canada, with its long, harsh winters, prioritising this was a must, in order to change the way we live for the better.

ABOVE Sofas from West Elm, a vintage daybed and stool, and a hanging chair from make this courtyard a real oasis for family downtime and entertaining. “The festoon lights are good for late-night hangouts,” says Anna.

What does home mean to you? Our home is a sanctuary, a place to be at peace with loved ones, and an anchor to pivot from and come back to be restored within.   

Interview Alice Lines
Photography Anna Church & Rebecca Wood

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