Junk in her trunk
Frilling up a room with repurposed items isn’t necessarily a home fashion faux pas. For some, like interior designer Michelle Mawby, the dividing line separating a rarity from ordinary rubbish can be blurry.
“But it has to work for the space and the homeowner’s tastes,” insists the principal designer and founder of Lucid Interior Design in Toronto. “I like to make sure the personality of my client comes out in their home-and have a bit of fun with it, too. I don’t believe in stuffy homes that aren’t livable.”
That zeal for livability looms large in Lucid’s home makeovers from Rosedale to Forest Hill, from Ledbury Park to Yorkville. Now the term “free-cycling” (passing on, for free, an unwanted item to someone who needs that item) has also entered her lexicon.
When asked to join a team of garbage scroungers, builders and design professionals in the task of morphing an old 1,600-squarefoot industrial building with 17foot ceilings into a ritzy and functional loft, using materials sourced only from the trash, for Discovery Channel’s Junk Raiders, Ms. Mawby agreed without hesitation. It’s the very challenge she thrives on.
“I consider myself the original junk raider,” she smiles, easing gracefully on to her favourite plush chenille sofa in her living room. “In the world of designing, it’s common to rip out and discard perfectly good interiors to make way for new interiors. The idea of creating an amazing living space out of good stuff that’s been junked intrigued me.”
Though the green experiment was limited to a budget of $5,000 (quoted at $300,000 if done conventionally), the prospect of shaping such a special space ignited Ms. Mawby’s ingenuity. She turned reclaimed materials into furniture, converted church pews into a dining room table, a baby grand piano cover into a coffee table and a car grill into a kitchen island.
By finding hidden gems, trans- forming furniture and architectural salvage, Ms. Mawby’s work delivers a touch of glam with unique pieces that cannot be replicated, giving her high-end clients the exclusivity they desire.
This flair for freecycling and penchant for pushing the design envelope also trademarks her own home, located in an upscale midtown neighbourhood.
The three-storey, 3,400-sq. ft. century house where she lives with her husband, Scott Wambolt, a telecommunications executive, and Holly, their 14-year-old tabby, is also the headquarters for Lucid Interior Design.
Chosen for its central location, nine-foot ceilings and potential, Ms. Mawby says that a major reno was a must from the moment the deed was signed. On the outside, the exterior looked stark, with red brick and plain white trim, and as it was taller and further forward than the surrounding structures, the house appeared to “bulge” toward the street. To soften that jut, a rounded veranda was added and asymmetric flagstones for front pad car parking. New cedar shakes were applied to the roof, and the windows’ wood frames were painted dark grey for a sense of rustic elegance.
On the main floor inside, boxy Victorian rooms required demolition. “We tore down walls for an open kitchen connected to the family/living room and formal dining room,” Ms. Mawby says.
Some exquisite 100-year-old leaded windows had to be taken out, but one of them now hangs above the desk in the kitchen. Nearby, an archaic iron book press, resembling a metallic sculpture, occupies a nook. Ms. Mawby delights in improvising artwork from whimsical bric-a-brac and architectural details.
A mess of doors leading from the front hall were purged and an obtrusive staircase relocated away from the foyer to free up the entranceway for a more welcoming feel. A mahogany armoire for hats and coats -from Holland where Ms. Mawby lived for a year - stands tall in the vestibule. At its sides, are decorative teak chairs sculpted by a Shanghai designer.
Midway down the landing to the basement, Ms. Mawby has designed a winsome powder room fit for a celebrity, complete with leather wallpaper, an 8x4-foot mirror set in a gold-leaf frame, chocolate-andcream marble floors and a chandelier trimmed with strands of red crystals. “I love the way they reflect in the mirror,” Ms. Mawby says.
Her favourite room? The living/family room hangout, she answers, because of its oak floors stained to a burnished ebony, and its intriguing mix of textures and furniture: leather, chenille, silk, cashmere; there’s a contemporary plush sofa loaded with pillows, mid-century modern chairs and glass tables and one-off finds. “It’s grand and comfortable with fullwall French doors looking out to the garden,” she says. “They let a beautiful quality of light in.”
Her home design is inspired, she explains, primarily by an enchanting historic flat with towering French doors, high ceilings and big rooms in London, England, where she lived for two years. The con- cept of mixing old and new in an open-concept floor plan sprang from her Amsterdam dwelling - a refurbished 1635 warehouse.
Born and raised in Richmond, Ms. Mawby attended Fresno Pacific University in California, majoring in English and theatre arts. It was here that she became hooked on set design. She later came to Toronto, attending the International Academy of Design and eventually winning an ARIDO student award in 1999.
When she approaches a renovation or remodelling project now, Ms. Mawby adheres to two triedand-true principles: the definitive “form follows function” design doctrine; and the idea that “one man’s junk is another man’s treasure.”
But condition is important when selecting reused pieces, she advises. Aesthetics, colour, size and materials also matter. “When scouring junk you can do wonders from stuff found in dumpsters and at transfer stations,” she says. “Figuring out how to incorporate found items produces a satisfying ‘Eureka!’ experience.”