PHOTOGRAPHY: LARRY ARNAL
STYLING: YVONNE WHELAN
Can a designer be her own best client? Yvonne Whelan is, in the sense that she takes her own advice: use neutrals as the basis for major elements and then punch them up with accent colours and accessories.
Yvonne, owner of the eponymously named Yvonne Whelan Design, admits that practising her own profession in her own home is fun, “but it’s not so fun for my husband,” she says. “Because of what I do, I’m seeing new things all the time and then constantly changing everything in the house, constantly renovating.”
Yvonne, her husband and their two adolescent daughters have lived in this 3,300-square-foot house in the West Rouge district of greater Toronto for about 13 years. “Through the years, the colour scheme has probably changed about eight times,” she says. “My latest obsession is more black and cream, but that will likely change, I’m sure, in a few years.”
One constant has been the travertine floors on the ground level. “Being used to hardwood floors, I wasn’t sure I would like having stone floors when we moved in, but I have come to love them over the years,” Yvonne says. “They’re so resilient, easy to clean and scratch-proof.”
Being so open, the ground floor is perfect for entertaining, but the mostly windowed family room could easily have swallowed up small furniture. Heeding her own advice, Yvonne chose to fill the room with large pieces. She had a U-shaped sectional sofa custom-made, each end featuring a double-width chaise. The other furniture is substantial, too. “The rug is bold and striking and it definitely makes a statement,” she says. “I chose things that will have longevity. For large pieces, you don’t want to overdo it in terms of patterns or colours because you will tire of them. But it’s easy to change up some throw pillows, a rug and some artwork.”
The kitchen is the hub of the house, where the children complete homework, meals are prepared, and everyone hangs out while entertaining. Although the space is original to the build, it is surprisingly current and chic after 13 years. The lighting and furniture, however, have been tweaked. “People gather in the kitchen, and we put food out on the island,” Yvonne says. “I love it that I can see everyone when preparing a meal.”
The entertainment often spills outdoors in the summer. Yvonne and her husband designed the backyard together. “I believe the outside is an extension of the inside of your home,” Yvonne says. “For me, it’s important to have zoned areas: eating, tanning, lounging, a cabana in which to change and store pool toys.” Careful planning prevents having to move outdoor furniture around: more time for fun, less time for fuss.
Entertaining family and guests also spreads downstairs to the finished basement, which was for years just a simple, bland but functional space. “It was not sophisticated in the least, not somewhere any grownup would want to hang out,” she says. “The basement was recently done, about a year and a half ago.” Here, too, substantial furniture and a mostly neutral palette, with walnut cabinetry adding warmth, keep the large space from feeling cavernous.
On the second floor, the two girls’ bedrooms are in line with the over-all black-and-white colour scheme. This not only leaves room aesthetically for whatever colourful accessories the girls want to add; it’s also a grownup scheme that will continue to suit the young women they’re becoming.
In both rooms, Yvonne and the girls started by choosing the wallpaper and then developed the decor around that. The beds and bedding are new, but the designer kept several old pieces of furniture, updating them with paint and more sophisticated hardware. “I like to mix old with new to keep things interesting,” she says. “Those pieces are so detailed and made impeccably well, that it made sense to keep them.”
The home has been freshly decorated, but how soon will Yvonne get the itch to start all over again? She admits, “I’m always tweaking little things. I believe in buying quality, waiting for that perfect piece that really means something.”
That makes it sound as though there will be no more big changes, but Yvonne knows herself too well. “A change usually lasts for a good year and a half for me,” she says, keeping her options open. •
Yvonne Whelan Design