The hand of time guides this Hamilton, Ont., home in more ways than one. From the different periods present in the decor to the prolonged approach to pulling the whole look together, this house is a testament to the fact that time isn’t always of the essence.
The architecture is Victorian, the art is mostly modern and the furnishings span four centuries: In this late-19th-century Hamilton, Ont., home, it all adds up to timeless style, a trademark of designer and stylist Susan Burns, whose common sense approach to decorating her home resulted in an interior that’s far from common.
Susan’s sage design philosophy — work with the space and go at your own pace — makes decorating sound doable. «You don’t have to do everything at once,» she says. «Live with it for a while, because then you really know what you want.»
When she moved here in 2010, Susan did just that. In the bathroom, for instance, the previous owners had installed upholstered wall panels — the fabric wouldn’t have been her first choice, but it was pretty, and the panels kept out drafts, so Susan kept them.
As for working with the space, that was initially challenging. «I’m always lecturing my clients about editing, yet I was fighting it,» says Susan, who was frustrated with trying to fit all her prized possessions, including big French Country antiques, into the narrow, vertical rooms of the 1,600-square-foot Victorian.
In the end, she had to let some pieces go but was able to fit the rest, thanks to her skilful layering of styles and textures. Susan mixed in fine antiques like the gilt mirror above the fireplace and the library’s gleaming 19th-century French console with rustic touches like the baker’s rack in the dining room, as well as clean-lined 21st-century furnishings and even Mid-Century Modern pieces (the blue chairs in the living room). «I gravitate to certain things and I try to make them work,» she says.
The mix keeps the rooms current, as does Susan’s art collection. «Artwork is an opportunity to put a contemporary thing into a room that would otherwise be very traditional and make the space look modern,» she says.
The home’s restrained neutral backdrop is ideal for the antique oils, evocative nudes, modern canvases and sculptures — the latter is what Susan is collecting now. «I really love the sculptural element,» she says. «It adds the triple impact of height, shape and texture.»
Her passion for texture is what prompted this designer to expose a brick wall in the dining room — one of the few cosmetic changes she made to the home. After living with plain white walls for about a year, she sought something with more interest. «I didn’t change things that I could live with,» says Susan, ever true to her let’s-see-if-we-can-make-it-work philosophy.
But it’s Susan’s intuitive talent for mixing disparate collections and furnishings together in bold, brave ways that makes her home unique — a design that evolved one vignette and one room at a time over three years until the whole became, as they say, more than the sum of its parts.