Decor & Renovation

How to infuse a new-build house in the suburbs with urban sophistication

By: Sarah Gunn

Angus Fergusson Author: Sarah Gunn

Decor & Renovation

How to infuse a new-build house in the suburbs with urban sophistication

By: Sarah Gunn

Designer Vanessa Francis's personal touch sets the stage for a refined yet comfortable family home.

You'd think that interior designer Vanessa Francis would have jumped at the chance to put her personal stamp on her plain new-build house in Milton, Ont. But, busy with her then-three-year-old daughter, Maya, as well as a growing business, the interior decorator waited six years before tackling the 2,800-square-foot home. And, even then, rather than take on the expense and stress of a complete renovation, Francis made changes gradually, first tackling the entryway and the living room—the two spaces most seen by guests. Next up was the outdated kitchen and, finally, the master bedroom. Here's how she refreshed her home, one room at a time.


A unified front
Wrapping the entryway in a large-scale soft-blue floral wallpaper gave it the character that many modern homes lack. Francis elevated the look by painting the basic white door black. "It goes with everything and makes the space feel special," she says.

Living room

Calm and collected

Bathed in soft grey, Francis's living room is a serene space. She slipcovered a still-solid 10-year-old sofa in a neutral cotton and added a pretty punch of colour with a generously sized pink velvet ottoman. Taking advantage of the 12-foot ceiling, Francis created a gallery wall that looks cohesive but not too perfect.


Tall order

Francis wanted the kitchen to feel like a French café. First, she extended the upper cabinets to the ceiling, replaced the hardware and hid the unsightly stainless-steel range hood. Next, she swapped out the dated, dark tumbled-marble backsplash for glossy white subway tiles. "I can't even blame the builder," admits Francis. "I chose the previous tile when we built the house." To add drama, she draped the walls above the backsplash with black-and-white wallpaper. "Wallpaper in a kitchen is unusual," says Francis. "If I had used anything other than black and white, it would have been too busy and I would have tired of it, but this reads as neutral." For a final touch of glam, Francis mounted antique mirror on the front of the cabinets flanking the range. The one major splurge? A soft-grey quartz countertop in a matte finish.

The small desk area provides a spot for homework and menu planning.


Best dressed

Styling large flat surfaces can be tricky. It's about finding the right balance and height, varying the types of objects and making it feel useful (with trays to corral jewellery and perfume) and personalized (with family photographs and art).

Elegantly equipped

Inspired by a Parisian hotel room, Francis added decorative moulding to the walls of her master bedroom. The panels were carefully planned to frame the oversize round mirror above the dresser and to meet the headboard on the curves. The king-size bed, now dressed in crisp white linens, has just one long decorative pillow. "I love this fabric," says Francis. "If it was broken up into three pillows, as is usually the case, you wouldn't get the effect of the floral watercolour pattern." The largest investment Francis made in her master? A custom built-in closet. "It's my favourite thing," she says. "The drawers along the back add much-needed storage, and the wallpaper left over from the kitchen gives it personality."

Wallpapering behind the shelves in the closet is elegant and unexpected.

Are you looking to renovate? Check out how you can pay for a home renovation.

This story was originally part of "Suburban Sophistication" in the June 2016 issue. Subscribe to Canadian Living today and never miss an issue!
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Decor & Renovation

How to infuse a new-build house in the suburbs with urban sophistication