Far from listing it, TV’s Hilary Farr is enamoured of her own Deer Park home
BY SUSAN KELLY
PHOTOGRAPHY: KELLY HORKOFF
STYLING: DVIRA OVADIA
Interior design has been called an art form that creates works people enjoy every day. Designer Hilary Farr, co-host of the hit television show Love It or List It (HGTV and W Network), certainly has an artful way about her, and in more ways than one.
Always impeccably dressed, on-air she creates beautiful and functional homes for frustrated homeowners to get them to stay, while her rival, real estate agent David Visentin, tries to find them a new home. Not only are her designs artful, but so is the way she handles homeowners who sometimes have meltdowns because of the stresses of filming.
But Hilary’s Deer Park-area cottage is all about her. We caught up with her during a hiatus from the show, which now takes her across the border to points south. She shares her home with Mimi, a 13-year-old Pomeranian-Chihuahua mix, and a mismatched set of three cats who “wandered in at different times and just stayed.” Her son, now a young adult, has moved out.
Art plays a big role in the decor of her three-bedroom home, too. Selections from her collection—much is in storage—of paintings, sculpture and objets d’art are strategically placed throughout the two floors. “Art is a big part of my life, both for my work and as a passion,” she says. “Even when I was a student in England and so broke, I bought an L.S. Lowry, who is now a very famous artist.” And because her parents were avid collectors, she knew enough to have him sign the print, then priced at £9, which increases the value.
Among the many works on display, a large work by Toronto street artist Menno Krant hangs over the dining table. And one wall of the main floor living room is dominated by a massive work by Polish artist TadeuszBiernot. It seems to have been designed to fit the room’s colour scheme, as does the iconic coffee table by famed sculptor Isamu Noguchi. But the white walls along with sofas, and rug and accent pieces in shades of gray were intended to create an oasis of calm, Hilary says. It’s a spot she likes to retreat to often.
“It’s a very odd thing: I am a fan of colour for homes I design for other people. But I cannot tolerate it on the walls of my own home; it unnerves me,” she says. Hilary reckons it’s because in imagining spaces filled with colours, textures and materials all day, it becomes a sensory overload. So when she is home—filming, personal appearances and running her own design firm take her on the road for roughly half the year—she needs visual quiet. To further ensure tranquility during precious downtime, Hilary has relegated the home’s only television to a basement room that doubles as extra guest accommodation.
Ironically, 15 years ago it was not a case of “love it” when she first set eyes on the two-storey cottage, which she bought intending to flip. But then the beautiful back garden, which has a centenarian apple tree that still bears apples, seduced her. And a vision of opening up the tiny rooms emerged. It included an addition that houses a second bathroom and palatial master suite on the second floor along with two other bedrooms.
On the main floor, a design masterstroke: Hilary inset sets of French doors that lead directly into the garden with an identical set on the opposite wall. In the summer, she can open them to allow a balmy cross-breeze, thus requiring little air conditioning. They also let in enough natural light to flood the now-open-concept main floor.
The family room off the kitchen gets the most use by both residents and visitors. Long glass shelves hold a great number of objects, yet the whole arrangement appears remarkably uncluttered. And none is chosen for aesthetics alone. Most hold memories of important people and experiences in her early life.
Born in Toronto, she grew up in England and has lived in Australia, New York and Los Angeles. She studied classical ballet and was an actress for a time. Among the treasures on display are some small Nigerian sculptures inherited from her father. “Even with the art work, I make an effort to spend time with the artist, so there’s a personal connection there as well,” she says.
The only thing about the home Hilary would change is the kitchen. The wood cabinetry, ordered as book-matched but delivered as not up to her exacting standards, still bothers her. “I love the kitchen,” says David Visentin, her co-host on the show for its entire eight-year run. “It may be my favourite room in the house.” But then, fans of the show will know they are often on opposite sides of an issue, bickering like an “old married couple” before having a final celebratory martini at the end of every episode. They are close friends in real life.
David says Hilary’s home is “beautifully appointed, as you’d expect.” He’s been to the house when Hilary has thrown parties for the show’s cast and crew, and their families. She’s a very gracious hostess, David says, remarkably unperturbed when kids start running around chasing the pets. Such relaxed moments are rare when they are on the road filming the show. “She’s always the designer,” he says. “Anywhere we go, a restaurant or airport or wherever, she can point out things that should be changed. It’s just who she is.”
Despite her dissatisfaction with the kitchen—and David’s standing offer to handle the transaction should she wish to sell—Hilary has no plans to “list it.”
“This is absolutely the perfect house for me now,” she says.