When a former Torontonian traded city life – and city real estate prices – for small-town living in charming Cobourg, Ontario, she never expected to find her dream home. See how marketing and brand strategist Leisse Wilcox transformed a 1930s cottage into an Instagram-ready boho paradise for herself and her three daughters… all in the span of a few months.
“I love the feeling of an art-directed life,” says Leisse Wilcox, an influencer marketing pro and mother of three young girls. Peek inside her downtown Cobourg home, an 1,800-square-foot, four-bedroom cottage Leisse purchased in June – and immediately transformed into a cool, cozy, ultra-feminine space that’s Instagrammable from every angle – and you’ll see exactly what she means.
Meant To Be
Leisse had already owned two previous homes, but some major life changes and a move to Cobourg led her to renting a cozy cottage two blocks south of her current home. “You can literally see our old house from our new one,” says Leisse. She and her best friend, Ashlea, were chatting about real estate one day when Ashlea happened to mention a house for sale. “It was the very house that I’d had my eye on for the past two years, but I didn’t think I’d ever be able to buy a house on my own. As soon as I heard it was still for sale after two weeks on the market – which was unprecedented in our market – I was like, ‘Call the realtor.’ I think we had the papers signed two weeks later.”
“I wanted a very boho, overtly feminine place to call home,” says Leisse, whose decor style is an expert mix of high/low, new/old and polished/raw. “Any element I found that really spoke to me, I would get and cross my fingers that it would work,” she says. “There’s enough of a 70s and mid-century modern vibe underpinning the whole thing, I think, but what is so special about our house is that it looks like how I feel on the inside: bright, bold, warm, welcoming, with a few things left unfinished – and the confidence to leave them that way.”
Some living rooms are formal quarters reserved for guests and special occasions, but at Leisse’s house, it’s a comfortable family space 24/7. “It’s beautiful and put-together, but so well lived-in,” says Leisse of the room in which she and her daughters watch movies, read, play games and chill out. “It’s like, you can have your popcorn and eat it, too! Even while on the couch,” she says. Leisse scored the leather sofa at V de V in Toronto; the cushions are from Ikea and Homesense.
The living room’s piece de resistance has to be what Leisse dubs “the library wall,” which she created by combining three Ikea Billy bookcases with a paint-spattered ladder rescued from a local farm. “The old paint is still there, and it’s pink! Can you believe that?” says Leisse. “The ladder makes it clear that this is a space available to everyone, and that reading and exploring are core values of our family,” she adds.
The living room came together ”piece by piece,” says Leisse. “I’d had the couch from my previous place, inspired by a boutique hotel I’d stayed at in Mexico with a very Hemingway vibe. I found the pink carpet via a stay at the June Motel. My aunt and uncle have a couple of papasan chairs in their place and we all love the very nest-like feeling of being curled up in them,” she says. (Leisse found her own papasan at Pier 1 Imports.) “Overall, I wanted a place where we all feel comfortable and where I can entertain kids and adults separately or together, and have everyone feel like they belong.”
All of the living room art was sourced locally, including Leisse’s favourite, a mixed-media piece called “The Team” by Port Hope artist Oli Goldsmith. “The artwork seems like it was made for the space,” says Leisse.
Leisse proudly owns up to decorating her home with social media in mind. “I designed the space to be Instagrammable from every angle,” she says. “Because of the creative nature of my work and my freelance projects – and of my life in general – it was important to be savvy about the design and lines from room to room, and essentially to give myself an endless catalog of stock photos waiting to happen,” says Leisse. “That strategy makes everything flow so well together, no matter which way you’re facing.”
Woodworks For Me
The stunning coffee table is a custom piece by local furniture designer Nathan Broomfield of Zoya Woodworks.
Believe it or not, the gold honeycomb vessel nestled beside the library wall is a lucky Walmart find that Leisse uses to corral activity mats for each of her daughters. “They do puzzles, games, colouring, sewing, etc. on a mat to delineate their space and keep it all organized in one place, without anyone else stepping on it or disturbing it,” says Leisse. “I have a background in Montessori education, and it’s a throwback to those days.”
We’re Not Crying, You’re Crying!
While the floral wallpaper in Leisse’s dining room is sure to make anyone swoon, the story behind it is somehow even more lovely. “My best friend was instrumental in the decision to buy and renovate this house,” she says. “Owning a house was something I had written out of my future, and because she knows me so well, she very gently steered me along the path to ownership again. When I got freaked out and nervous about any next steps, she was right there with me, holding my hand so it never felt like I was alone.” Leisse regularly hosts Friday night Pizza and Prosecco dinners with friends and wanted her dining room to be a constant reminder that “love is all around us all the time. I chose the yellow rose paper as an emblem of that; yellow roses are symbolic of friendship. It’s an homage to the gratitude I have for my family, and the friends who have become family,” she says.
“Mmmm! One of my favourite elements!” says Leisse when asked about the bar cart. “Whenever I entertain, I make a signature cocktail to open the evening, like a Paloma or a French 75,” she says. “If you look closely you can see the vintage Ice-O-Matic ice crusher for special drinks, as well as a fleet of craft bitters from the County and a bunch of rose gold bar accessories. On the bottom is vintage glassware I’ve collected; it feels so beautifully slow to have a Collins glass for certain cocktails, low balls for another and Champagne coupes for when we’re feeling French.”
“All of the rads in the house are gold, save the two in the living room because the natural patina is so beautiful already,” says Leisse. “When I bought the joint, the rads were that old organ-y brown colour, you know, bad 70s. I bough a whole fleet of Rust-Oleum spray paint, and my bestie set up a spray station with cardboard and plastic,” she says. “Ashlea just walked around spraying anything she could get her hands on. Her husband and I were installing light fixtures and when we came back, everything was gold.”
Leisse’s kitchen was the main focus of her home reno when she bought the place last summer. “My guys knocked down the upper cabinets, put in new Ikea butcher-block counters and installed the gold hardware, also from Ikea,” she says. And about those eye-catching floor tiles… “The flooring is actually sheet vinyl!” says Leisse. “I’d wanted a Moroccan tile pattern but didn’t think I could squeeze it into my budget. As it turns out, I found a place in town that sold it as sheeting. It was a happy accident that makes my kitchen highly Instagrammable,” she says.
“Zoya Woodworks came and installed the open shelving they made from very old walnut and painted the L-brackets gold for me,” says Leisse. “Open shelving gives a minimalist vibe, and I only keep the things that I truly love, and that fill me with delight when I see them. I love the juxtaposition of boxes of Cheerios and panko and tinned tomatoes. It feels like a very glam cottage, which is perfect for us,” she says.
The kitchen’s cozy feel is what Leisse loves most about it. “In Dutch we call it gezellig: you know that feeling of warmth and coziness and belonging when it all just feels right? That’s my kitchen,” she says. “My favourite time is when the girls are all working away at math or an art project at the harvest table and I’m cooking or prepping in the kitchen. We’ve got the record player on, we’re hanging out and chatting. It’s a place that makes me want to freeze time and just savour that moment at all costs.”