Why the art-filled condo of Lawrence Blairs, owner of Atomic Design, is more than just a place to live
When Lawrence Blairs started looking for a property in 2016, he sought both a private gallery and a place to live. He settled on a ground-floor condominium a block from his mid-century art and design store, Atomic Design on Queen West. At 65 square metres, the unit was hardly big, but what mattered most to Blairs was the 3.35-metre-high ceilings, which left ample wall space.
He likens his apartment to a Swiss Army knife. The entrance opens to the living room, where north-facing windows bring in consistent light. Behind, there’s a bedroom, partitioned from the main space with sliding doors. Alongside it, a corridor connects the main area to the bathroom and back entrance.
It takes Blairs under 30 minutes to transform this tiny flat into an exhibition space suitable for opening-night soirees and meetings with art buyers. First, he places the living room furniture – a portable, lightweight collection including Eero Saarinen’s classic pedestal table and a bean-shaped couch by the Bouroullec brothers – either overtop or beside the bed. Then, he pulls down vinyl screens in front of both the bedroom and the living room kitchenette, thereby concealing private areas behind what appear to be white walls. Finally, he switches on an LED system mounted above the art.
He curates three exhibitions per year, with a focus on postwar art and design – a theme that complements his retail business. Appropriately, the space adheres to classic modernist principles, like minimalism and rationality. The art, for instance, hangs on transparent nylon cords suspended from thin tracks on the ceiling. Blairs can display 40 pieces in the hallway alone.
Last summer, 80 guests dropped by for the opening of “Consumed,” a pop-art exhibition. They mingled and got closer than ever before to works by Jim Dine, Roy Lichtenstein and John Lennon. “Generally, at galleries, people stay in their groups,” says Blairs. “But in this small flat, they’re forced to interact.” His events have the intimacy of a house party and the sophistication of a downtown vernissage. Both feel like a night out on the town – except Blairs doesn’t even have to leave his home.
Originally published in our Small Spaces, Smart Solutions 2019 issue as Home is Where the Art is.