‘The uniqueness of our home comes from Elise’s creations; these precious little things that are scattered around. Although she’d never admit it,’ jokes Stephen Quinn. Delicate and modest – both in scale and construction – the miniature art installations that his partner Elise Ovanessoff conjures from wire, ceramics and fabric offer moments of discovery and delight. There’s the mobile, adorned with letters printed on tiny tiles, that dangles above the dining table, or the many lampshades of various sizes, all made of plaster gently draped in muslin. Always evolving, these pieces are much like the story of the house itself.
When the couple moved into this Georgian townhouse in 2000 – leaving the one-bedroom flat that they and their architecture firm, Works, had outgrown – they set about converting it into three apartments, retaining two floors for themselves. Gradually, as time has passed, they have claimed back all of its four storeys, making room for their three children and a flourishing business. It was important to both of them that through all of these changes none of the house’s traditional features were compromised. Sash windows and decorative plasterwork remain. The only thing missing is the original fireplaces. ‘Our neighbour saw the previous owners throwing them into a skip,’ says Elise. ‘It’s heartbreaking.’
Sitting comfortably with these period features, a Japanese aesthetic is evident in the inky hues that paint the downstairs. The main inspiration for this home’s colour palette, however, is more old-school Hollywood. ‘I’ve loved grey ever since I first saw The Prince and the Showgirl,’ says Elise of the black-and-white classic. ‘In the film, every colour is displayed as a form of grey – there are so many different shades.’ Here, those vary from chalky almost-white to deepest charcoal. ‘It’s only when you add black that the whole thing sings, though,’ adds Stephen.
The pair’s decorative touches are similarly monotone, but never short on personality. The mural beside the dining table is made up of a swarm of small Polaroids, including shots of family and friends. ‘We try to include everyone,’ says Elise. ‘When people visit, they end up staring at it for hours.’ Indeed, everywhere you look in this home, there are stories to linger over. What looks like a tapestry above the fireplace in the music room is in fact an atmospheric storyboard for 54 Hours, a short film created by an animator friend from Vancouver. It’s a melancholy tale, depicting seal hunters from New Finland embarking on a perilous expedition, but its lyrical, poetic feel perfectly fits the spirit of this home – a place where the beauty is in the small details. worksarchitecture.com
For the full house tour see ELLE Decoration May 2020
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