By Alex Van Tol

Creating a stylish living space isn’t about recreating the flawless neutrality of a model show home. Today’s home style is more about originality than artifice, and favours personality over perfection.

So when it comes to developing a home space that’s reflective of the true you, someone else’s framework isn’t going to fit. Kristiane Baskerville, owner of Surroundings on Cook Street, recommends staying away from your Instagram and Pinterest accounts when you’re thinking of freshening up your space. While it’s good to see what’s out there, the majority of what you see online is a reflection of trends rather than a style that’s true for you. And never mind what other people tell you to do.


Described by Baskerville as “more of a British-style, unfitted kitchen,” the open space is filled with found and refurbished objects, including the 1951 Moffat stove. To better suit how she worked at the custom-made island, Baskerville had the pendant lights placed off-centre. Photo: Jeffrey Bosdet

“I just had a client in who painted her bathroom grey because her girlfriend told her to,” says Baskerville. “Excuse me,” she continues with a laugh. “Does your girlfriend live in your house? But people do stuff like that! Honour what you like.”

It’s exactly the message spelled out in every chapter of U.K.-based interior stylist Emily Henson’s newest book, Life Unstyled. In the introductory pages, Henson writes about a couple who, upon removing the wallpaper in their apartment, discovered a unique raw plaster finish that they immediately fell in love with. The pair sealed the speckled wall and called it a day, stacking a funky tower of old travel cases against the rustic backdrop.

“It may not be for everyone,” writes Henson, “but Life Unstyled is about creating a home you love, regardless of what others think.”

Those words should be your guiding beacon as you go about creating a home that resonates with your esthetic, your practical needs and your innermost soul.

Trust your eye. You’re naturally attracted to certain colours and textures. Often the home décor colours that will work best are the ones already in your wardrobe.

“I think a lot of times we get so hooked on trends that we won’t honour what we are actually attracted to naturally,” says Baskerville, who, as a redhead, both wears and surrounds herself with earth tones punctuated by blasts of red. It’s what she feels comfortable with — and “most people have an eye for things they are comfortable with,” she says.

Indeed, in recent years design has shifted away from picture-perfect perfection toward a more individualistic bent. “This idea of authenticity is really evident in all the magazines and websites and design influencers I follow,” says Nicole Scott, owner of Nicole Scott Designs. “This is how people are decorating right now … Clients are becoming more accepting of doing things this way rather than following rules or deferring decisions to someone else.”

After years of styling clients’ products in a don’t-breathe-or-you’ll-knock-it-over manner, Henson was of the same mind. She decided to start a blog about real homes: the ones you and I and our best friends live in. Inspiring and stylish, yes, but also lived-in and organic, constantly shifting, like our worlds.

This is also the style ethic of Ines Hanl, principal of Victoria’s The Sky is the Limit Interior Design Concepts. “Reality for everybody is cat and dog hair everywhere, scratches on furniture, children’s toys strewn around, yesterday’s dishes on the table, crumbs of snacks in the creases of the pillows and moisture rings from wineglasses on the table,” she says. Sounds like home.


Among the interesting objects in the entryway to Rennick Cottage — the home of Kristiane Baskerville — is a conductor seat from an old Victoria trolley car. Baskerville hung an old dresser mirror above the salvaged-wood shelf but is still searching for the perfect mirror for the space. The custom-made wooden door hides the laundry room. Photo: Jeffrey Bosdet

Your home should serve as a refuge and a safe haven, not as yet another high expectation you’re never quite able to fulfil. Your living space should allow you to express yourself in a three-dimensional environment, advises Hanl, who adopts a rather bohemian vibe at home, combining Mexican and Moroccan style influences with art deco and kitsch in her Fernwood house.

“Are you, as a person, perfect?” she asks. Right. So why would you expect your environment to represent something that isn’t honest to who you really are? All-white sofas and chairs might represent your fantasy home, but if you garden, paint, cook, raise children, stroke cats or occasionally eat things made with yellow dye #6, then maybe this look isn’t for you. Adapt your environment to allow you to enjoy yourself and your family members without being upset at people for having their summer-dirty heels up on the ottoman.

“Embrace yourself,” says Hanl, who aims for joy rather than precision. “Keeping up appearances with the Joneses won’t do anything positive for your psyche — and in the end the Joneses will still bitch about you, if that is what they are all about.”

Our advice? Dump the Joneses. And paint your side of the fence sunshine yellow.


1. Pare down
Most of us have way too much stuff. Spend some time meaningfully curating your belongings, and find new homes for the things that don’t serve you or reflect your personal tastes. Ines Hanl suggests picking up a book on organization for a few pointers on how to prune the pile.

2. Punch up a classic
Take your timeless pieces and make them fresh. For example, swap a couple of sofa cushions out for a bright pattern or colour. You can change them back when the fever has run its course. “A look that people do very well is they often will buy an old harvest table from me and then put very modern dining chairs with it,” says Kristiane Baskerville. “And it looks fabulous.”

3. Heavy rotation
Chockablock with tchotchkes? Don’t display everything at once. Group little items instead of spreading them around. “When you put small items throughout your house it becomes clutter,” says Baskerville, “but if you group them all together like in a display on a coffee table [or mantel] they become a little art installation. They become more interesting.” Rotate your collections every so often, storing them in bins when not in use.

066-067-RPS_Touhami_1837-026 (cr. Debi Treloar)

A mantel display in a Paris apartment from the book Life Unstyled.

4. Mix old and new
Once you have a style direction in mind for a given space, hand-pick a few things that will work well. Keep or add a few vintage pieces to build an eclectic feeling, suggests Nicole Scott. Extra points for items that double as decorative and functional, like teacups that collect the itty-bitty fallout from daily life, like rubber bands, batteries, finishing nails and paper clips. The custom ottoman in Baskerville’s living room (pictured below) doubles as seating and a coffee table, and is made from an interesting mix of reclaimed material, including barnboard and leather from the Rolls-Royce company.


Photo: Jeffrey Bosdet

5. Mirror, mirror: off my wall
Mirrors aren’t always the fantastic design element we’ve been led to believe, says Baskerville, especially where clutter is concerned. “People often think it opens up their space, but if it’s reflecting clutter, it’s not opening up your space. It’s having the opposite effect.”

6. Walk it out
There’s a big difference between looking at little images on your phone and actually seeing items in real life. Browsing in a store lets you touch and sit and look from different angles. Paying attention to design displays is also great for teaching you how to better use the space you have. 

7. Art knows no limits
If you don’t want to paint a whole wall to make a statement, why not create an in-home gallery? Art is a terrific way to throw a splash of colour into your surroundings, and you can get away with super-diverse arrangements if you make a centrepiece of it. In her country cottage, Baskerville filled a 15-foot-long wall with a disparate collection of art pieces that she found striking, yet that weren’t substantial enough to fully hold the wall on their own.


A wall in Kristiane Baskerville’s Rennick Cottage shows artwork hung salon style. For balance, other walls in the room feature lone paintings. Photo: Jeffrey Bosdet

8. Call in the experts
If you’re still not sure where to start, hire a designer. “People often just need a little bit of encouragement to trust themselves,” says Ines Hanl, who finds that clients always come with their own china, art and pillows that give her a clear indication of the look they want to achieve. Nicole Scott agrees, noting that she likes to build on what people already have — and that sometimes all they need is a nod that, yes, this is indeed going to work just fine.