New Yorkers usually have weekend homes in the Hamptons or Connecticut. Why did you choose Montreal? I grew up here, and I went to school here, so I consider it home. My sister also recently had a baby and asked me to be the godfather. I actually was looking at places in the Hamptons originally, and for what I spent here, I could have bought a one-room condo in Southampton. As a decorator, you want more space and more room to decorate. Paint me a picture of the neighborhood. At the turn of the 20th century, 90 percent of Canada’s wealth was concentrated in this square mile, which is called the Golden Square Mile, and there are these magnificent mansions at the foot of Mount Royal. A lot of them have unfortunately been abandoned or turned into apartment houses over the years. But they’re all still here, and the character of the neighborhood is charming, with old-growth trees and museums. When I studied architecture at McGill University, I lived up the street in a very small apartment, and I walked by this courtyard, Chelsea Place, every day for two years. I would look at the townhouses and say, “One day, I want to live here.” So it’s a dream come true? Yes, 22 years later. The houses are arranged in a big U shape around a beautiful courtyard. It was designed by Ernest Isbell Barott, an architect who modeled them after the London terrace houses in Belgravia, so they have a very English character.
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Mine is one of the inside corners, and it’s an interesting floor plan, not generic at all, which really appealed to me. Compared to your New York apartment, it has a deeper, darker color scheme. My apartment has some pretty bold colors too, but I consider this my winter house, because Montreal is so cold. And when you’re in a house in the winter, it’s nice to be enveloped by warmer, deeper tones. How do you keep it from being overwhelming? One of the most successful strategies is to paint a strong color on everything, from the baseboard and crown molding to the walls. In the living room, which is a rich, taupey beige, like the color of a brown paper bag, it works well because it’s not contrasted against a different trim color. It’s almost like a wood-paneled room, where all the elements are the same hue. So you can treat them as neutrals? Oh, absolutely. What is a neutral? It’s just something that’s not jarring. I want the colors to be dramatic but not overwhelming.
Everyone always wants white walls, but I think white makes it much harder to design a successful room, because the palette is so stark. For me, white is jarring. Did you have a lot of the furniture already, or did you shop specifically for this house? All the new upholstery was custom made, and I shopped for the rest of it in New York and at the Paris f lea markets. The one thing I already had was the coffee table in the living room by Philip and Kelvin LaVerne, which is a terrific piece I found at an estate sale in New Jersey months before I even bought the house. Did you buy anything in Montreal? It was very hard, because Montreal doesn’t have the kinds of antiques shops you would expect. Everything is a little more traditional. But I did find the extraordinary chandelier over the dining table here. I was walking up Boulevard Saint-Laurent after Christmas two years ago and saw this fabulous wooden lantern in the window of a shop called Phil’z. I had to have it. You placed a very sleek chrome-and-glass dining table below that lantern. That really gives the room some edge. One of my assistants criticized me for putting a chrome piece in a warm-toned, deeply colored room. You’d maybe expect a brass table base. But I told her that’s exactly the reason to do it. In all of my rooms, I like to have something I call the foreign element – a piece no one else would think of using. I also pushed the dining table to one side, because I wanted to keep the view to the fireplace clear from the foyer. It’s a little unusual, but that makes it interesting. You could say the same about the animal carpet on the stairs. It’s an antelope-patterned carpet from Stark, and it’s my all-time favorite, but I have a hard time selling it to clients. It’s an homage to a hunting lodge. I mean, here I am in Canada!
In the living room, walls and moldings are painted in a warm beige, Benjamin Moore’s Rattan, to create a lustrous, cocooning environment.