Keeping up with a design studio, gallery and young family amid a pandemic can be stressful, but smart design and soothing art can make for a relaxing at-home retreat
Alison Milne’s aesthetic has met the moment. Principal of her eponymous design firm and art gallery, the homes that she redesigns from start to finish – literally from bare studs up to hanging the artwork – are impeccably tailored to their owners and in total sync (case in point, the three homes that we featured). Mostly, though, they’re comfortable – perfect for spending some extra time in.
In 2017, Milne took on a new client: her family. Having just purchased a century-old Edwardian in Toronto’s West End, she needed to create a space that would accommodate her young family, their love of entertaining and the self-care rituals that enable her to recharge after draining days. Now that she’s spending more time at home, her modern, cozy, art-filled style is particularly apt. Below, we take a look at the space Milne built for her and her family.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Designlines: Who lives with you?
Alison Milne: I live with my husband Zack, our two tiny humans, Tate and Oona, and our cat Indie.
Designlines: What part of town is the house located in, and how did you make it a home?
Alison Milne: Our home is in Roncesvalles. We fell in love with the neighbourhood and the community feel, but the house, a 1910 Edwardian, hadn’t been touched since the ‘40s. We wanted a home for our young family to grow in and for entertaining and hosting family and friends. While the home felt strong and special, it needed so much love and attention that we decided not to move in at all and quickly pulled the construction team together to get the work going.
We saved two gorgeous fireplace mantles, the fire log grates, the stairway newel posts, a few light fixtures and the front door, and donated the kitchen and anything else that we could. The rest of the home was taken down to the studs. It took a full year to renovate.
I had been dreaming of this moment for years, but the client, a.k.a. my husband Zack, was harder than I thought. He pushed me to think outside of my comfort zone and challenged most decisions, which was not easy on the process or the relationship. That said, I realize now that he did this for me and not himself, which made the home even more special.
Designlines: What are some of your favourite aspects of the home?
Alison Milne: Three spaces stand out. Our front sitting room (or the Scotch room, as my husband calls it) has the original layout and wood-burning fireplace, and while they’re new and super efficient, the front windows reflect the original leaded glass design.
Oona’s nursery is another. This space is directly above the sitting room and has the same bay window. We hung heavy linen curtains around her crib in the window, curated playful artworks for her and filled it with delicate, well-made toys and items. It suits her personality, and when she dances around the room in the evening sunlight, there is nothing better.
I love our master bathroom as well. There’s a huge natural light source, a deep soaking tub and a space to meditate. We also built a small garden off of the attached deck to grow lavender, eucalyptus, camomile and other herbs for bath time clippings. It’s the room where I feel the safest and most comforted.
Throughout the home, we carefully placed artworks that evoke emotions fit for the space. We surround ourselves with art as it is the emotion of the home and can really set the tone for the entire room. Not to mention it feels amazing to support artists, live amongst their work and help share and spread their message.
Designlines: How did your relationship with your home change during the pandemic?
Alison Milne: The pandemic taught me a lot about my home and lifestyle. Before my 40th birthday in early March, I never really stopped. I was extremely social and was afraid of missing out on anything, so I rushed from place to place and wasn’t really taking anything in. Then one day I woke up, turned 40 and the pandemic hit. No one was doing anything, so I wasn’t missing out. I had to sit still. It forced me to reset and take in my surroundings in a whole new way and actually appreciate what we had worked to build. I realized how lucky I was.
Designlines: Home-time is now more important than ever, how has your living environment supported you?
Alison Milne: My home has more love and warmth than it ever has. I read with the kids in their rooms, I take my time and bake in the kitchen, I do yoga in the basement, I bathe and meditate in our master suite – it’s a means of self care and support for me and my family during this time.
I still have very tough days, though. My kids are frustrated. My business has changed. I worry about loved ones and feel uncertainty and anxiety. But I created a space that comforts and shelters me through it all, and that really has and will continue to help.
Designlines: Creativity and business wise, what strides have you made, and what are your goals moving forward?
Alison Milne: I want to share my outlook with my clients and help them create homes built with an understanding of both their current lifestyle, and their desired lifestyle. I want to show them how to live simply, holistically and thoughtfully, how to support emerging makers and artists, and how to construct spaces with purpose and longevity.
Creating a home that aids in a mentally and physically healthy lifestyle can be as simple as creating the right settings to support better living, like a niche where your mobile device goes away during dinner, installing transparent drapery on the windows to help you wake up with the sun in the morning, or placing a piece of calming artwork in a spot that reminds you to breathe and smile. It doesn’t have to be drastic. In small ways, your space can help you.