Who: Courtney Wotherspoon, a successful illustrator and aspiring interior designer with an eye for quirky collectibles.
What: A semi-detached Victorian house circa 1875 which Courtney has renovated and divided into basement, first-floor and second-floor apartments. The entire house is approximately 3,000 square feet. Her second-floor apartment, where she lives with her boyfriend, is about 1,000 square feet.
Where: Downtown west, Toronto, ON.
Why: Entering Courtney’s home is like walking into one of her illustrations: elegant and contemporary with totally unexpected accents (like a skull or light-up plastic goose) that are so well integrated you don’t even question them.
HGTV: When did you move in?
Courtney: I got possession mid-January this year and moved in a month later, after some of the reno dust had settled.
HGTV: Were you looking for an income property from the start?
Courtney: Yes. I’ve always had a very clear idea of the type of house I wanted to own. Making it an income property, even for just a few years, makes it possible for me to live in the neighbourhood I want, in the type of house that I’ve always loved. One day I won’t share, but for now it’s an ideal scenario.
HGTV: What was the house like before you moved in?
Courtney: In one word: filthy. The house had been beautifully renovated years ago, but the tenants who lived here had no respect for it. It was pretty horrifying, but my design goggles allowed me to see beyond the underwear hanging from light fixtures and the dog goop on the walls.
HGTV: What kind of renovations did you do?
Courtney: When I bought the house it was a single family home with a separate unfinished basement apartment. In order to maximize rental income, I divided the main part of the house into two units and finished the basement. This meant adding in walls on the first floor to divide the two units, adding a shower to a previous first-floor powder room, creating closets and turning one of the upstairs bedrooms into a kitchen.
HGTV: How would you describe your style?
Courtney: Restrained opulence? Fancy funhouse? Disturbed traditionalism? It’s hard to pinpoint a style, as I hope that it’s always evolving. Homes are so unique to the individuals living in them. I will say this though: whereas two years ago, I might have described my style as everything-and-the-kitchen-sink (with a side of fries), for once I actually appreciate the beauty of an empty white wall.
HGTV: What’s with all the critters?
Courtney: It’s so odd, they seem to multiply by the day! I guess growing up in the city, I’ve always wanted to give myself a sense of being in the country. They’re comforting and I think they give my home a lot of personality.
HGTV: What inspires you?
Courtney: I have a lot of stuff that I love and a lot of people in my life who inspire me. A chair, a scribbled note, artist peers, family (specifically my mother and mentor, an amazing interior designer); they all inspire me and have contributed to my aesthetic.
My boyfriend moved in at the end of the renos and I thought, “Oh no, boy stuff!”. Thankfully he has good taste, a great sneaker collection and a lot of patience. Because it’s about the stuff of life, the look always tends to err on the side of funny, odd and haphazardly pretty. Perfect is boring anyway.
HGTV: What’s your favourite part of the house?
Courtney: That’s like picking a favourite child! The mouldings in the front entryway are what dreams are made of. I also enjoy the mini wet-bar in the hall, but I’m a bit of a phoney as I don’t even know how to mix myself a drink. I need to hire a personal bartender for my extra-dirty martini fix…
HGTV: What’s the story behind the “Deer” poster/sign?
Courtney: I don’t know how long it will last, but I did it in response to the over-saturation of ironic taxidermy found just about everywhere these days. I’ll admit, I’m a sucker for the uber-trend but just can’t stand to look into the glassy eyes of a real one on the wall.
HGTV: Are there any key pieces that you decorated around?
Courtney: In the front entrance, it was all about the original archway. Upstairs, the spiral staircase leading from the living room to our loft bedroom is the star. It encouraged me to bring a lot more black into the decor, a colour I normally would have steered away from.
HGTV: Where did the stairs come from and how were they installed?
Courtney: Steptoe & Wife. Installing the stairs was a comedy of errors, to say the least. The staircase comes in pieces, each step weighing in at almost 100lbs and every ballister has enough weight and force to double as a street weapon.
Essentially, you put the center pole in position, then build the staircase from the bottom up. You start at the top of the pole and slide each stair down to its position. The scary part is that the one-ton structure isn’t actually secured to anything until you reach the top step and bolt the landing into the wall. Three of us were at the bottom trying to keep it solid as every piece went on, so the whole thing wouldn’t tip over.
HGTV: Do you have a trick for artfully arranging your collections/knick knacks?
Courtney: The trick may be a having a slight case of OCD; I often get teased for moving pieces an nth degree until they’re just ‘so’. For the normal-headed, however, I think as long as you keep your collections together, you can’t go wrong. Ducks like to chill with ducks, and robots enjoy the company of other robots.
HGTV: How did you decide to create your own cardboard headboard?
Courtney: I had designed an acrylic version, only to discover that it would cost about $1,000 to have produced. I took the box that my new bed frame came in and did it myself. For zero dollars! I guess I’m happy my pockets aren’t as deep as the acrylic version would require, as I think the cardboard version (yes, with neon orange duct tape) really sums up my aesthetic — a balance of pretty and gritty — and my own way of going about getting things done. Being crafty can really pay off.