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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.