Interiorssneak peeks

sneak peek: carolyn gavin

by Amy Azzarito

Carolyn Gavin and her husband, Derek, were almost instantly charmed by this 1892 Victorian home’s 10-foot-high ceilings and narrow footprint — it’s only 13 feet wide. In the 14 years that the couple has lived in this Toronto, Canada, home, they have completely gutted, renovated and transformed it from the basement to the third floor. Throughout the process they’ve worked to maintain the home’s uniqueness and charm — slightly crooked floors and walls included. Derek has a great eye, and he actually designed the third floor space himself with three skylights and French doors to create an airy, light-filled oasis. Carolyn is the designer for ecojot, a stationery business she created with her family five years ago that is all designed and produced in Toronto. So it goes without saying that art and design are certainly important to the couple. They actually bought the paintings for their home before they could afford furniture. The paintings then influenced all the other choices in the house. The result is an easy, relaxed and certainly colorful style. Thank you, Carolyn! And a big thank you to Virginia Macdonald for the lovely photographs. — Amy Azzarito

Image above: The mood in the dining room is dictated by the fabulous Jeffrey Harrison painting, “Very China.” It’s 6 x 8 feet in size. My husband, Derek, chose it for my 40th birthday. It was supposed to be a surprise, and thinking I would be out of the house for a while, he and a friend went along to get the painting from the PARTS gallery near our house. They gingerly carried it all the way up our street and began measuring and figuring out where to hang it. To their surprise, I arrived home early to find them in the middle of placing it on the wall it! It was still a beautiful surprise but not the way intentionally planned! The chairs are imported from South Africa and can be purchased at Snob. I can’t resist throwing some unique African pieces into the mix, from my homeland. The chair fabric is the brightly colored fabric typically worn by the Shangaan tribal women of South Africa. I love the exotic colors and patterning!

Image above: This chair is a taller version of the dining room chairs. We have them around the kitchen island where we gather for family meals. I adore them, as they remind me of a set of Waterbuck or Kudu horns. The baskets are from South Africa, too. The chairs are called Nguni Bar Stools and are made from solid Kiaat wood with woven cord seating. The chair is actually named after the horns of the Nguni Cow.

See more of Carolyn’s Toronto home after the jump . . .

Image above: The pink sofa we picked up from an old print shop. It was originally orange and in horrible shape. We recovered it in my favourite color: HOT PINK. Ziggy, our English Bulldog, finds it most comfortable! The crocheted blanket was made by my mother. There is a hint of another Jeffrey Harrison on the wall. That one is called “Tiny Soda.” My daughter, Lily, often plays the ukulele in this spot.

Image above: This is our 3rd floor and summer living space. That’s a Malawian chair that I brought back from Africa. If you don’t know how to sit in it, it topples over, as it’s constructed from two pieces of unattached wood and is very wobbly! This Jeffrey Harrison is called “Trinity,” and the tiny umbrella was given to me by my grandmother when I was a child, from her trip to Japan.

Image above: I love the built-ins in my office. It is a very functional, light and inspiring place to create. The bay window overlooks our garden and a tiny park, which is a secret to most people in this city. I can watch the world go by from the window, or sometimes I draw in my sketchbook or just take a moment to reflect.

Image above: The nudes are by a long-time artist friend of my mum’s, Merle Buratovitch; she lives in Cape Town. The “blue flower still life” is mine, and the “Girl with Yellow Hair” is a collaboration between my daughter, Lily, and I. Ecojot sketchbooks are an everyday part of our lives here in this house. We never get enough of them — lucky we have an endless supply! The Protea flower reminds me of Africa, as it’s the national flower.

Image above: This is our 3rd floor space. It’s a space for curling up and reading or playing or sleeping. The whole area was custom built. The sofa is from Design within Reach.

Image above: This is Ziggy, our adorable English Bulldog. He follows us all over the house and loves to be close. He especially loves the kitchen! Our ground floor is ironwood, which is a hardwood and is extremely tough and durable. The kitchen has some nice exposed brick, which was the original chimney.

Image above: The island has a fun chalkboard covering, great for creating while cooking! I love having two sinks, and the one on the island is especially handy when prepping meals.

Image above: Lily’s room is the only room in the house with colored walls. Gypsy Pink is the name. The lamp is a birdhouse design that I licensed to Oopsy Daisy. Lots of wall art and, of course, our beloved Ziggy, waiting for her to come home. 

Image above: We tiled the front and back entrances with slate tile — so practical for wet shoes and muddy boots. The front door is not original to the house. I found it at the Door Store and had it restored. It was covered in about three layers of colored paint, had a broken window and no hardware. The door now has a very loud wind-up bell that drives Ziggy absolutely crazy when it’s rung. We also had to have the door frame custom built to house the door.

Image above: The painting is one of my own. Quite a typical scene where I grew up in South Africa, with ladies so precariously balancing the heaviest packages on their heads! The French doors lead into the back garden. The chaise lounge is a find from Urban Outfitters. The wooden hippo has now found a use as a doorstop. He hails from Zimbabwe. (After white water rafting on the Zambezi, we came across a market and that’s where I found him.)

Image above: This is our 3rd floor were we totally live in summer. The French doors and three huge skylights give this room its beautiful light. Outdoors is our little oasis, including an outdoor shower, hammocks and a hot tub and eight Blue Spruce trees in huge farm troughs. This time, Virginia’s sweet dog, Milie, was insistent on being captured in the frame. Ziggy could not steal all the limelight!

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  • I’m absolutely in love with this house! It’s so fresh and colorful and sweet!!

  • great to see Carolyn’s home (long been a fan of ecojot, and love to see all the South African touches!)

  • “The Protea flower reminds me of Africa, as it’s the national flower.”
    Oh dear. Either someone’s messed this up or the house-owner has no clue about Africa, even though she grew up there.
    “Africa” has 50+ individual states. htf can the whole continent have one national flower?

    • Wilhemena

      I believe she meant south Africa. I think it’s safe to assume someone from South Africa is aware that Africa is not a single country. Slips of the tongue happen.


  • I love the darling crochet blanket on the pink sofa. And the custom-fitted door is brilliant – I see many old doors in salvage shops…they need a home. Especially a Victorian one.

  • Great space………….cozy, vintage yet modern. That’s what makes it a HOME !!!

  • I love this gorgeous, colorful home, but especially Ziggy!! He is so cute. I loved spotting him in a bunch of the pictures!

  • I love how the majority of the items in this home are imbued with character and a story (and colour!).

    I am in the process of putting together a new home with all my pieces I have collected and hopes it is as cheerful and interesting as this.

  • Dying to know what print that poppy bedspread is in the kid’s room?!!!!!!! It looks so familiar and like something I really must have

  • l0ve this house!!! so fantastic!!!! I have pulled some photos from your house for inspiration!!!!!

  • the poppy print bedspread is merimekko and was sold at crate and barrel several years ago. i love this home too – so welcoming and with real personality. thanks for sharing your home.

  • a plethora of fabulous!! great eye, great sense of color and clearly happy personalities, i love it!

  • This has to be one of the coolest kitchen set ups i’ve ever seen!! Love all the paintings and wall art they picked throughout the space!! It’s like the cherry on top!!

  • What I love about your home….
    The colors….the art…..the abundance of L O V E and everything in it.
    Thanks for the PEEK!

  • when she talked about their outdoor space, i expected to see a picture beneath. :( i want to see the outdoor shower and hammocks! (really, though, i just don’t want this house tour to end! it’s lovely!)

  • My daughter loves the pink bedroom!!!! Where did you get all the adorable wall stickers?Ziggy is a chubber! And I am obsessed with the hippo “doorstop”!!!

  • Carolyn is lovely, and so is her home! The colour and warmth makes me so happy – thanks for sharing, Carolyn!!

  • Oooh, this is BEAUTIFUL! The home has so much character. Anyone knows of a good source of similar colorful pillows/cushions? How fun!

  • Just have to give credit to Samantha Pynn from Pure Design, a show that appeared on HGTV, 3 or 4 years ago. She put together the interior of the space, including the jute flooring, linen curtains, Hunter Douglas UV shades and built in’s. We’ve subsequently changed all the furniture and added our own spin to things, but she was instrumental in getting the room from renovated to decorated for us!

  • I remember when your attic makeover was featured on Pure Design with Samantha Pynn. I loved your frenchy chairs (the one you got rid of and the one Samantha put in the space)! Your colorful home just speaks to me even though your style is much more modern than mine. It is just such a happy space…it makes me smile!

  • Beautiful house, feels so light and bright and everywhere is inviting. Great inspiration for me at that early stage of transforming a home. thanks

  • LOVE LOVE it! I’m in the process of painting my entire house and want to do the same w/ the white walls and various pops of color. What color are your walls and ceiling?

  • Hi Sheila,
    All the furniture and paintings used in the Pure Design show were brought in, including the French chairs. They were beautiful but above our budget at the time.

  • I am in LOVE with the Jeffrey Harrison painting in the first picture! I want my house to look like this one day… all white with lots of colored accents. Definitely makes it easy to change things up when you fall in love with a new color or need a change of pace!

  • Hi Carolyn,

    I absolutely love your home and have always been a fan of Jeffrey Harrison’s work. I was wondering where you got the print “What I love about my home…” I would love to get a copy since it’s exactly how I feel about my home.

  • Hi Carolyn, this looks beautiful! Where do I find those lamps from over the kitchen island?

  • this is a beautiful home with such style and colors … great inspiration..for I am moving this month to to new house..!!

  • Wow. I have a Victorian row house built in 1892 in Toronto too {west end}. Are you my neighbour?! Love this home – lots of great inspiration.

  • all colurs are so pretty .. while i am looking, I want to turn back of to this rooms again and again