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An Ever-Changing Apartment Home To Two Artist-Designers

The fluid styling of a Victorian apartment and the couple who call it home

By Evan Davies
Photography by Naomi Finlay

When industrial and interior designer Mahmood Popal created starkly beautiful hoarding for a totally bogus Chanel shop on the Danforth in May, he cemented his subversive reputation in the city. Irreverence also informs the live/work space he shares with his partner, artist-designer Danielle Hession. Together they are Craft Studio, the multidisciplinary firm responsible for such mixed-media interiors as Sauvage, Sid Lee’s office and the Danforth Music Hall.

Glass sculptures by Robin Clason crown the kitchen. Hession covered the refrigerator with sticky marbled drawer liners.

The couple’s apartment – in a Victorian red brick near Kensington Market – synthesizes and expresses two backgrounds and artistic sensibilities. Afghanistan-born Popal is particular and soft-spoken, favouring well-made objects with clean lines. The unbridled exuberance of Hession, who grew up riding horses in Colorado, complements his exactitude. Her solo projects – mixed-media art pieces incorporating vintage family photos and heirlooms – shine with whimsy and romance. “My aesthetic is a little more minimal,” Popal explains. “Danielle brings feminine, eclectic touches – floral shapes and objects that I wouldn’t have thought to collect.”

Meticulous displays, colour blocking and a neutral palette rein in the multitude of vivid art and objects.

Collaboratively, their styles find a balance in the apartment: refined spatial movement and form, in tandem with a layering of reclaimed objects, create offbeat visual narratives. When they first moved in, the place was painted what Hession describes as an ‘unfortunate’ blue and orange. It also had too many doors, resulting in mini-compartments and a stifled flow. The doors came off and all of the surfaces, save for the bedroom walls, were painted white for cohesion. The bedroom was treated with warm grey to play up the crown moulding and to create a subtle separation from the rest of the home.

Neon artwork by Popal presides over the kitchen. Storage lockers were a Craigslist find; the table was salvaged from an auto shop; the light fixture is from Restoration Hardware.

Two years on, shelving units made of mismatched, bottom-less drawers are stacked grid-like on desks, forming focal points in the front room. Each square frames peculiar compositions of miniature busts, painted toy horses, ceramic figures shot with arrows or tiny collectibles under bell jars. Parked near the fireplace, packed tight with art and design books, is a teepee sewn by Hession for their dog, Mr. Bojangles. A massive neon light in the kitchen, which Popal made and paired with toy dispensers filled with fake gold grills for an AGO party, elegantly spells out a riff on a Wu Tang lyric. Also vying for attention here are blue vintage storage lockers topped with prismatic sculptures and a wooden table (rescued from an abandoned auto shop) ringed with mismatched chairs.

Some items, such as the large painter’s canvas hiding bedroom storage, are repurposed; others, such as horse paraphernalia and a low, South Asian-style sectional sofa, nod to individual backgrounds. “The decor is in a constant state of flux,” says Popal. “When you’re doing art and interiors for a living,” adds Hession, “your own space is the last thing you worry about. We have kept things relatively simple and practical.”

The garage out back is used for production and storage. Labelled plastic bins house various collections.

The two incorporate leftovers from their projects, and experiment when they have time to do something fun. “We have all these things in the garage that we collect,” says Hession, “like brass objects we’ve saved to make light fixtures.” Chances are it won’t be long before these pieces make their way into the space, and the couple’s co-aesthetic continues its natural evolution.

Originally published in our Fall 2014 issue as A Space in Flux.


Categories: Spaces

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