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Show Us Where You Live: Dyonne Fashina’s Light-Filled Apartment

With strategic renovations, DIY touches and heirloom furniture, the principal of interior design firm Denizens of Design has made her Little Italy rental into a longtime home

By Gregory Furgala
Photography by Dyonne Fashina

Dyonne Fashina doesn’t want to rush anything. Despite the aggressive schedules typical of interior design work, Fashina, principal of interior design firm Denizens of Design, prefers the slow-and-steady approach – or, as she says, deliberate and thoughtful. Whatever you call it, it’s paid off: the denizens of Denizens’ work on Clay Restaurant at the Gardiner Museum won them awards from both the Interior Designers of Canada and the Association of Registered Designers of Ontario (we also took note), and with upcoming projects including a cafe and event space at the McMichael Canadian Art Collection and a multi-hotel project in Playa Del Carmen, Mexico, taking it slow (well, relatively) might just start to catch on in the industry, too.

That might explain the laid back vibe of her airy home, which with clean white walls, heirloom pieces and old school detailing, is a clinic on how to maximize limited space without resorting to a full-on renovation. Despite Denizens’ ongoing projects, Fashina took time to shoot her sun-filled digs and show us around.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

The Tulip chair is by Eero Saarinen, whom Fashina shares a birthday with (you can get yours at Quasi Modo). The guitar and vintage Prince poster belong to Fashina’s partner, Fraser.

Designlines: Can you tell our readers some of your company’s greatest accomplishments?

Dyonne Fashina: One of Denizens’ greatest accomplishments is Clay Restaurant in the Gardiner Museum. Development began with us looking at the elemental properties of earthenware because that’s the DNA of the museum’s collection. It also had to establish the narrative of a functional event space and address the needs of the professionals and customers who use it. Every project is different, which is why we spend so much time consulting not just on aesthetics, but also the intentions and goals of the client.

The vintage Nordmende stereo cabinet – one of Fashina’s favourite pieces – was a gift from her grandmother. The porcelain lamp was found in one of Fraser’s old apartments.

Designlines: Where do you live, and who lives with you?

Dyonne Fashina: I live with my partner, Fraser, who’s a musician, on Palmerston Boulevard in Little Italy. It’s one of my favourite neighbourhoods in Toronto: upscale but not stuffy, urban but warm, charming but not boring. I’ve lived here for almost a decade, and in this home for about four years. Fraser moved in this year.

Our home is a space to rest and relax during downtime between running our businesses and keeping up with our busy social lives. But generally, I’m a homebody and love to stay in. And despite the small size, I like to host small gatherings. In the past, I’ve even had parties on the outdoor terrace with 10-plus adults and multiple kids.

The colourful Nigerian throw was recently discovered in a box sent by Fashina’s great aunt three decades ago.

Designlines: What style is your home? Have you done any work to it since moving in?

Dyonne Fashina: The house is a detached Edwardian that’s been split into rentals, and we live in a modest second-floor unit with a balcony that faces Palmerston. Access to natural light is huge for me, so this space is filled with it. I love watching how the light changes at different times of day.

I’ve been strategic with the work that I’ve done because it’s a rental. I worked with the landlord to do a basic reno of the bathroom. I removed a sliding glass door closet and replaced it with a freestanding white oak wardrobe unit that fit perfectly into the closet niche. Every surface – walls, ceilings, doors and trim – was painted matte white to create a consistent backdrop for artwork and textiles, which really tell the story of home. I also painted the fireplace tile a rich oxblood to highlight the original mantle.

The driftwood sculpture is by Fashina’s uncle, and the black and white photograph was taken by Fashina’s grandparents, just two of the many reminders of Fashina’s family scattered throughout her home.

Designlines: What are some of your favourite aspects of the home?

Dyonne Fashina: Nothing in the city beats the tree-lined beauty of Palmerston Boulevard – I love looking out the windows all day, everyday. Inside, I love the character of this old place, which simply can’t be recreated in a new build: the plush red carpeted hallway with original stained-glass windows; the original fireplace with cast iron firebox and surround; the textured arched ceiling, mouldings, and original wood flooring.

But most of all, I love that it’s a place where I can visually tell my story and that of my family. There are a number of custom-designed pieces and items built with my own two hands, along with heirloom furniture – my grandmother’s Nordmende stereo cabinet is a favourite. The pieces are personal, collected and mine. With Fraser moving in, we’ve begun the process of integrating items that bring meaning to him throughout the space, too.

The blackened steel open closet was built by one of Fashina’s fabricators and displays clothing and mementos gathered while travelling.

Designlines: How did your relationship with your home change during the pandemic?

Dyonne Fashina: Working in this small space would have been challenging, but we were fortunate enough to have neighbours who relocated to Nova Scotia early on in the lockdown and offered us their keys. We used their space as our office and as a spillover space for some privacy – crucial for any couple in lockdown!

Despite its modest size, Fashina has had gatherings in the past of more than 10 people – plus kids – on her deck. This year, she plans on getting a new BBQ, as well as a vintage umbrella from her parents.

Designlines: Moving forward, with home-time now more important than ever, are there further changes you would like to make to your space?

Dyonne Fashina: We’ve been making minor adjustments to our storage spaces to keep the clean and uncluttered design aesthetic that we like. I live by the mantra “a place for everything, and everything in its place.”

We’re fortunate to have some private exterior space and often use our outdoor terrace in the summer. We are making some adjustments this year to make it more functional and fun, like getting a new BBQ, adding storage features and putting up a vintage umbrella from my parents. At Denizens, we are currently working on the design for a few outdoor spaces, so I will likely engage the same trades to fabricate a custom coffee table for our terrace.

The sofa is from EQ3. The birch side table was built by Fashina while studying interior design at Ryerson.

Designlines: Creativity and business wise, what strides were you able to make during the enforced time off?

Dyonne Fashina: Design as an industry can be extremely fast paced and many suffer burnout, but I’m not wired like that. In my opinion, the project suffers when rushed. At Denizens, we have always worked at a deliberate and thoughtful pace, and still always complete projects in a timely manner. Because of that, we really didn’t have that much actual downtime.

However, we still found some time to relax and wait things out – often helping to calm friends and colleagues. Fraser and I love to cook so we have been making lots of things from scratch – I love doughnuts so that was top of the list. Music is also a huge source of creativity for me, so I’ve been collaborating with Fraser a bit, which I don’t always have time to do. We’ve been creating and performing, together and virtually with others.