Parkdale, in Toronto’s West End, was a village in 1882. I don’t mean “village” in the way the term’s used by our local Business Improvement Group: I mean a genuine hamlet, separate from the big, mean City of Toronto (in fact: separated by fields). My street — all assertive orange brick and brash stained glass in extraordinary hues of emerald and purple — was probably resented as a subdivision for the nouveau riche (in much the same way a new crop of mega-homes in today’s suburbs might be).
But that’s where the parallels end. Those Victorians loved inbuilt decoration, and they loved quality. The mantra must have been, “Why underbuild when we can overbuild?” The timbers, plaster, glass and infrastructure of these late 19th-century homes are far heftier than the materials of today.
I’m not slavish about pleasing the ghosts in my house but I do get a kick out of the fact that those Victorians — my Victorians — would have had an upright piano in the parlour (as do we), and slept in the second floor Master (as do we), and probably really loved decorating their mantel (as do I). Here it is:
Ironically, the lovely mantel and fireplace pictured above was not original to my house. We had quite a bit of intact deliciousness but the fireplace was one of the gems rudely yanked out, probably in the modern-mad mid-20th century.
We spotted this beauty at a salvage pleasure-palace, Addison’s Inc., and we were insufferably thrilled. It’s likely prettier than the original because of that gorgeous periwinkle blue tile in the middle.
When talented HGTV.ca columnist Emma Reddington offered to style my mantel for a mid-November feature on hearth decoration in The Globe and Mail’s “Style” section, I was intrigued to see what she’d make of it. (One would not be a genius to guess that, of three re-stylings in Emma’s article, mine was to be the “Victorian” one.)
Here’s Emma’s “intervention,” as shot by interiors photographer par excellence, Kristin Sjaarda:
I really like Emma’s retake. She didn’t go all tartan bows and crystal candelabras, as came to my mind when I thought of the juxtaposition of “Victorian” and “Christmas.” And she didn’t box up every last item of my stuff and replace it with props, either. Instead, she used glossy satin ribbons to riff off of the pale, modern colour palette I’d cooked up with the base grey and the blue of the wall. She also punched things up, juicy emerald style, with those fresh little potted evergreens. Retaining the sapphire blue I already had going with the big Moroccan plate (owner’s own, friends, owner’s own), Emma built a blue-and-white theme by adding more Wedgwoody flavour in various shapes and sizes.
I was happy that she decided to retain the children’s bookish (OK: slightly insane) West Elm elephant table lamp I’d just treated myself to. Mr. Elephant was eyecatching on the floor and amplified the blue-and-white theme, while a gorgeous vase of wintry red berries added height — and festive joy — where the lamp had been. A white ceramic deer candelabra made things very Christmassy by referencing, without slavishly replicating, the themes and of both the season and the era.
I learned a lot about styling the perfect mantelpiece through looking at Emma’s work. Not only do I now keep a few pretty logs in the fireplace, but I also stayed with her blue-and-white feel by adding a few crafts painted by my daughter. I love the “after-after” as much as the “after” version: