The independent curator’s home isn’t just a space to live and work, but a personal art gallery
There’s a good chance you’ve already seen Ashley McKenzie-Barnes’ handiwork. Earlier this year, the independent curator and creative director guest curated Kuumba25, Canada’s longest-running Black History Festival, at the Harbourfront Centre. Before that, she took on the Scarborough leg of last year’s Nuit Blanche and transformed the neighbourhood she grew up in into a theatrical version of itself. McKenzie-Barnes was also on the TedxToronto team, and has taken on projects for Indigo, Lululemon and Samsung. She’s also doing creative consulting for the Nia Centre for the Arts.
Although her events and exhibits are seen all over town, most of the work leading up to them is accomplished from the comfort of her own home. McKenzie-Barnes is a confessed homebody, living and working from her West Queen West Artscape loft that she transformed from a concrete box into a warm, inviting space that – as one would expect – is chock full of art. Below, McKenzie-Barnes takes us through her home and office.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Designlines: Tell us about some of your clients and collaborators.
Ashley McKenzie-Barnes: There have been so many favourites that I’ve worked with in the last year, it’s hard to choose. For Nuit Blanche, I brought Scarborough to life with artists like Kent Monkman, Durothethird, Jordan Bennett and Ebony G. Patterson. Ebony’s installation was on its final stop and shortly after was acquired by the AGO as part of their permanent collection.
Equally as meaningful was the work I did for #Kuumba25 at the Harbourfront Centre. We profiled artists like Yung Yemi, William Ukoh, sneaker guru D’Wayne Edwards, movement artists Jon Boogz and Lil Buck and athlete/activist Colin Kaeperknick.
Designlines: Who lives with you?
Ashley McKenzie-Barnes: It’s just me and my partner, Seven (a.k.a. the cat).
Designlines: What part of town is your home located and how long have you lived there?
Ashley McKenzie-Barnes: I live on West Queen West and have been here for more than 10 years. It’s definitely been a live-work space for me. I create in my studio/workspace, surround myself with inspiration and work from artists I appreciate. I work out, entertain, relax and unplug here. It’s a good balance.
Designlines: Have you done any work on your home since moving in?
Ashley McKenzie-Barnes: I moved in when it was first built with Artscape, an enterprise that provides live-work, open-concept loft/studio spaces for artists and art professionals.
My space looked nothing like this when I moved in. It had no rooms, closets or doors other than the bathroom. It was just a cement box with the basics. I’ve since renovated it to offer more functionality and versatility. Having an area specifically for work separate from entertaining or rest was important to me.
As I got older, my taste also changed, so my home aesthetic did, too. This past year, I changed the decor by painting, collecting new art and renovating the entire bathroom and kitchen, including changing the appliances and customizing pieces like the countertops and bar. I’ve also added in more rustic elements like brick walls and steampunk rods and coat and hat hangers.
Designlines: What are some of your favourite aspects of the home?
Ashley McKenzie-Barnes: My favourite is the bathroom. In the past year I focused on elevating and modernizing the design of it. All the original furnishings have been removed or enhanced. I installed pot lights, a deeper tub, custom wall and floor tiles, and also added a new toilet and floating vanity.
Also, I love the artwork I’ve acquired over the years, which are all very special to my home. It’s important to me to support and display mostly BIPOC artists. My home collection includes artworks, items and books from multiple artists, including Hatecopy, Shani Crowe, Yung Yemi, Kent Monkman, Dahae Song, David Krovblit, Che Kothari, Tessar Lo, Paa Joe, Tahsin the Good, and Mickalene Thomas.
Designlines: How did your relationship with your home change during the pandemic?
Ashley McKenzie-Barnes: To be honest, I’ve always loved staying home. But I added weights and bands to a small area in my room, and used my treadmill daily, since I had no access to my gym. I also spent a lot more time eating in my kitchen.
Designlines: Moving forward, with home-time now more important than ever, are there further changes you would like to make to your living environment?
Ashley McKenzie-Barnes: Now that I am working from home almost full-time, I will be tackling my workspace next to help with inspiration and creative brainstorming. This will probably be focused on the layout, furniture and adding more creative elements.
Designlines: Creatively and business wise, what strides were you able to make during the enforced time off?
Ashley McKenzie-Barnes: I focused more on health and body care. It was a much-needed break and I was grateful to practice more solitude and re-focus my career goals, personal priorities and personal relationships.