BY RINA CALABRESE
The wedding gloves from her parents’ wedding. A spool of thread from her grandmother’s sewing kit. Her great uncle’s shaving kit. Her dad’s ties from the 1950s. All of these items have a place of prominence in the Mile End home of Ruth Hovsepian. The hallway is decked with shadow boxes and picture frames that showcase a collection of heirlooms and photos tracing the heritage of Hovsepian’s Armenian roots back to her great grandparents.
“To me, they are reminders of who we were and what our stories are,” Hovsepian said.
Both her maternal and paternal grandparents fled Armenia before the massacres in the early 20th century and later settled in Greece.
“They were always running, and when you’re running you don’t keep very much. So, to me, these little things have more significance. The few pictures and items that I have really tell a story about my family, and displaying them is an opportunity for me to share that story.”
Tapping into the things you love instantly personalizes a space, said Joanne Padvaiskas, a Pointe Claire interior decorator and owner of Wow Great Place.
Whether it’s a family collection like Hovsepian’s, a hobby, or any other interest, “when it’s well done, it has an incredible storytelling experience for your guests, because everything in the room has a story behind it,” said Padvaiskas, who helped Hovsepian transform her collection into a stunning showcase of memories.
As Padvaiskas pointed out, the key thing is it has to be done well. One of the biggest mistakes people make is to scatter a collection around the house, diffusing its “wow” factor.
When it comes to collections, Padvaiskas advises grouping items together. “There’s strength in numbers when it comes to displaying a collection. It really makes a bigger impact,” she said.
According to the designer, collections can be a great conversation starter, no matter what the collection – well, almost. She once gently dissuaded one client from displaying what she called a “creepy” collection of porcelain dolls. Otherwise, Padvaiskas is open to displaying almost anything.
“I’ve done African masks or rugs that (clients have) collected in their travels.
“It really doesn’t matter whether it’s considered ugly or attractive; if it’s meaningful to you, that should take precedence,” she said, adding that the importance is the story behind it.
“When you listen to the history of the pieces in the space, that itself is a really cool way of experiencing a room.”
But collections aren’t the only way to personalize a space. Any facet of your life can literally be an inspiration – even your career. John Gidding, a designer on HGTV’s Curb Appeal: The Block, recently created a custom-designed wine wall made of stacked wood for a client studying to become a master sommelier.
“It’s great to have a physical embodiment of your own lifestyle in the house, even if it’s a sommelier whose livelihood is physically manifested on the wall,” Gidding said.
He believes the uniqueness of a custom-made piece of furniture, installation or wall brings an element of pride to every project.
“One of the main reasons for design is to create something that hasn’t existed before and that’s personal to you,” he added.
That’s precisely what Palma Di Sano was after in her home. A former Montrealer now living in Chicago, in 2005 Di Sano attended a course in making stained glass with the express purpose of designing her own stained glass for the family room.
“When we moved in, we had this lovely window that looked onto this beautiful pond. “I wanted it partially covered but I didn’t want to obstruct the view, so I thought stained glass would be nice,” Di Sano explained.
The only problem : she couldn’t find any that quite fit her design aesthetic.
“Everything in the stores had a very old-fashioned, church-like look to it,” she said.
Di Sano wanted something with more of a modern twist, so she decided to make it herself and was thrilled with the result.
“When it’s a nice sunny day, the light shines in through the stained glass and produces these terrific reflections of colour on the wall,” she said, adding: “It gives me a warm feeling of satisfaction to say that I contributed something to the way the room looks.”
SOME TIPS FROM DESIGNER JOANNE PADVAISKAS:
- – If your hobby is collecting art, make the space as conducive as possible for your collection. That doesn’t necessarily mean making the furniture all neutral, but it does mean having lots of wall space where you can hang things really creatively.
- – When it comes to collections, group items together to create a bigger impact.
- – Keep in mind that there’s a fine line between eclectic and kooky. It’s nice to have touches of whimsy in a room, but when it’s overpowering then you have to pull back a little. If you have too many items in your collection – like, say, 100 chicken figurines – rotate them out seasonally.
- – It’s preferable to hang photos in similar frames. The frames don’t have to be identical, but make sure they are similar – for example, all in wood or all brass. Group them together on a wall to create that rogues’ gallery type of effect.
- – Add objects that reflect your personality and your style because a room is more than just furniture. Until you add those pieces that mean something to you, it’s a very generic space.
- – There are no rules regarding what can and can’t be displayed. It’s a completely personal choice. rina calabrese