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Interiorssneak peeks

A Bay-and-Gable Home in Ontario’s Arts & Culture Hub

by Sabrina Smelko

The city of Hamilton, Ontario has a tough past, but it is a city that’s increasingly getting attention for its rich, grassroots arts and culture community (watch for an updated city guide coming soon!). Hamilton is slowly becoming the cousin of Toronto and neighbors me in Milton. I’ve actually spent the last few weekends there exploring its vastly different neighborhoods and casually browsing open houses. With countless beautiful streets lined with Victorian homes, hundreds of waterfalls and castles, and a strong arts scene, it’s no wonder why creatives Hollie Pocsai and Mike Jerome chose to call it home. Their early 1900s bay-and-gable style Victorian house is shared with their cats Tanooki and Meatbulb (yes!) and is close to the downtown core, which was on their “must-have” list when they were house hunting just over five years ago.

Hollie owns and runs White Elephant, two boutiques focusing on Canadian-made and handmade goods, and Mike is a graphic and motion designer, so being situated in the heart of the arts and small business community is priceless for them. Complete with all of the dreamy old home features such as pocket doors, super-wide trim, original plaster ceiling medallions and a lush, private backyard, they also discovered some not-so-welcome surprises when they moved in: Walls caked with over eight layers of wallpaper and original hardwood floors that were painted salmon pink! Their home continues to be a work in progress, but it’s a labor of love they wouldn’t trade for anything. “I think I’m closer to striking a balance between everything falling apart and everything coming together,” laughs Hollie. There’s just something about this perfect imperfection that I think makes a home more beautiful. –Sabrina

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One of Hollie's favorite rooms in the house is their master bedroom—or their cat's room, depending on who you ask. Hollie had originally planned on sewing the sheepskin rug onto her winter coat as a collar, but it quickly became a permanent fixture on the floor, to the approval of the felines! "These floors were among the ones that were painted salmon pink," says Hollie, "and Mike did such a great job restoring them!"
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The tree painting was bought at an estate sale of the previous owners of the original White Elephant shop, which used to be a diner. "Her name was Suzie... She came to Canada from Japan... and lived above [the diner] in a two-floor apartment... During the last years of her life she couldn't make it up the stairs to her apartment so she lived in the closed diner, sleeping in the booths in the back." Hollie found Suzie fascinating and would enjoy watching her water her plants in the front window. She couldn't resist buying the painting along with some other pieces to commemorate her. The 1960s bedroom set was also purchased at a private estate sale.
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The "Wild Heart" banner is made by Caitlin Holcomb and was one of the first pieces Hollie hung in the bedroom. "It glitters and is about as girly as Mike will allow in the space," she laughs.
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The vanity is another piece from Suzie's home. "I had been searching for a vanity for a couple of years, but couldn't find anything that wasn't too art deco. This one was absolutely perfect, with slightly more feminine features." The woven bench from Target juxtaposes nicely against the dainty details of the vanity. The light fixture was found at a flea market which Hollie and Mike were told came from an old Mason's lodge.
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One of the first renovation projects Hollie and Mike took on was joining the bedroom with the room beside it, extending the master suite. "We decided to keep the beam exposed instead of covering it up. I like seeing where things come from!" says Hollie. The wool blanket from MacAuslands Woollen Mills in Prince Edward Island was a Christmas gift to Hollie from Mike a couple of years ago. "They are the only mill in Atlantic Canada still producing traditional woolen blankets... [It's] so warm in the dead of winter in our drafty old home."
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This porcelain Lladro bride and groom piece was inherited from Hollie's maternal grandmother who also collected Royal Doulton. Hollie always admired her china cabinet when she visited, and believes her grandmother chose to gift her with this piece because she was the only married grandchild at the time. Hollie hangs her necklaces on the wall behind them as functional decoration.
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One of Hollie's largest collections is of Queen Elizabeth II Coronation memorabilia from 1953, which you can find all over their home. The framed print of the crown is actually a placemat that Hollie received at a gas station, of all places. History continues to be showcased with the tin bucket that their umbrella tree sits in, which bears the logo for the Canadian National Railway and the original pocket doors which separate the living room (on the left) and dining room.
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Hollie found the large printed list at a flea market years ago, which was originally from The Rotary Club, dated 1946. The smaller print is a photo of the Dionne Quintuplets and the hidden bookshelf (which holds Hollie's collection of Junior Deluxe Edition children's books) was bought from the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO). The liquor cabinet was a wedding gift from Hollie's friend and business partner, Jane, which Hollie and Mike keep fully stocked with interesting spirits. It's adorned with various skulls, as well as more Queen Elizabeth II Coronation paraphernalia.
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The cardboard teepee from Loyal Luxe is the perfect home for all of Meatbulb and Tanooki's cat toys. "There is nothing cuter than seeing one of their heads peek out from inside!" says Hollie. The lathe in the wall was intentionally kept exposed to nod to the home's history. Hamilton, being an industrial city, is home to many factories, such as the knitting mill where Hollie found the bench. "I once heard that there was an old saying 'if it was made in Canada, it was made in Hamilton'" says Hollie, "We toured the knitting mill with a friend and went home with the bench. I am happy to have a piece of our city's industrial past, especially being that it is textile-based."
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The dogwood cake stand was a wedding gift, made by Whitney Smith. The vintage black and white photographs are of Hollie's various family members in Hungary and the white sage and yerba santa leaves were brought back from a recent trip Hollie took to Joshua Tree.
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The embroidered cocktail napkin is from Coral and Tusk. The metal "H" was a gift from Hollie's friend Dave. It took them a while, but they eventually found a matching "M" for Hollie and Mike!
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Hollie was recently on the hunt for a lunar globe to add to her globe collection, so she was pleased when her friend Laura surprised her with the trio of moon, constellation, and earth globes. "I would love to find a pre-Apollo 10 lunar globe that illustrates nothing on the dark side," she adds.
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Hollie and Mike snagged the rug for free at a large outdoor flea market. "It was comically lying on top of a small garbage can, and Mike and I were in disbelief that someone would discard it so haphazardly," says Hollie, "[The vendor] had used it for many years in her outdoor (yet covered) booth and thought it was beyond saving. After lots of vigorous beatings and vacuuming, it was good as new." The chairs are from Restoration Hardware, the light fixture is from Urban Outfitters and the harvest dining room table was found online.
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The original, plaster ceiling medallions were one of the first features that sold Mike and Hollie on the home, followed by the light that rushes into the house from the frosted glass window on the front door. The gas light pendant is original to the home.
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Hollie rescued the chair and little table from the curb (and an inevitable dumpster death!). It's now home to a little collection of natural curiosities including skulls, teeth, nests, and minerals. "I can't help but bring home pieces of the outdoor world," says Hollie, "especially if I am traveling." The painting was found at a flea market.
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Hollie found this deceased monarch butterfly during a road trip she took to Ottawa many years ago. She was careful to transport it back home and now it has a permanent place, protected under a bell jar.
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The hanging illustration is a piece by Hollie's friend and textile artist, Jenna Rose, depicting the trees of the Carolinian forest. It hangs next to a bundle of seeded eucalyptus. The cat print was a 30th birthday present to Hollie, which is by local artist Sean Gadoury, who's part of Hamilton's "Group of 7 Billion." The light fixture was made by Mike using a piece of live edge wood and the tiny frame on the far wall is an antique print of the "Three Sisters" mountains in Alberta. "I am one of three sisters, and this print reminds me of mine," says Hollie.
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"My studio is where I sew, weave, work on my computer, or do other crafty things," says Hollie. It's the last room in the home where the floors are yet to be refinished, but that's Hollie's floor loom's fault! "The IKEA rug was added because I scuffed the floors pretty badly while revisiting my old hobby of tap dancing!" The light fixture, table, and chairs were all flea market finds. Hollie wove the seat cover of the chair herself. I love the framed certificate of recognition hanging that she received in kindergarten that praises her "positive and cheerful attitude." The piece hanging next to it illustrates a thread bird and is by textile artist Amanda McAvour. It was the first real piece of art Hollie ever purchased and has a special place in her heart.
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Hollie's floor loom reminds her of her grandmother, who had a similar one when Hollie was a child. "I bought this one a couple of years ago, but have yet to finish a major project on it," says Hollie. Next to Hollie's loom sits a framed screen print of the Beehive Craft Collective logo, a craft and homesteading collective which she's a part of.
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Hollie admittedly hoards pretty fabric, saying, "Having friends who own an amazing fabric shop, Needlework, makes it so much easier to do so!" These shelves are home to her collection of fabrics, unfinished quilts, woven work, natural dye supplies, photography work and negatives, as well as plenty of books.
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Hollie and Mike's kitchen is pretty much in the same condition it was when they first moved in, with the addition of some newer appliances. While the checkered linoleum has a nice retro feel, Hollie's itching to tear it up in hopes there's original hardwood underneath. Though the kitchen's a work in progress, having a bright space with lots of room to work was important to Hollie, who makes many of their meals from scratch. With many friends who are textile artists, Hollie is never short of beautiful tea towels, such as the two on the stove made by Elizabeth Simpson (using Nano Iro fabric) and Jenna Rose's screen-printed rain cloud design.
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The hanging tea towel was a gift to Hollie which happily hangs on display above their dining nook. The table is from West Elm, and the folding chairs are from Crate and Barrel.
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The ceramic mortar and pestle was given to Hollie as a birthday gift from Mike. The kitchen timer, that yes, still works, was found at a flea market. Next to it are some of Hollie's favorite cookbooks.
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Hollie and Mike's living room proudly displays their beloved blue couch in the bay window which was purchased from a friend "who was crazy enough to sell it," says Hollie. The curtains were found at yet another private estate sale. Despite them having yellowed with age, Hollie couldn't resist the cut work and embroidery details.
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The pillow on the right is an antique hand-embroidered and hand-dyed piece that was made to celebrate Queen Elizabeth II's Coronation. "It was given to me as a gift, and is probably too fragile to use every day on the couch, yet I can't resist hiding it away!" Hollie explains. The other pillow is another piece from Jenna Rose which illustrates a typical row of houses in Hamilton.
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Hollie and Mike's living room displays a trio of science posters from the 1930s. The antique schoolhouse light was found online and Hollie was pleasantly surprised to find that the chain was brass once she picked it up. The coffee table is from West Elm, and hosts some of their favorite art books.
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"We inherited the chairs from a friend, and we lived with them for many years in a tired dusty rose velvet," says Hollie. As a wedding gift, Hollie's mother got them reupholstered in Joel Dewberry fabric. "It is something that we probably never would have done, but she saw the inherent value in giving them a new life!"
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Hollie and Mike own many books which, without the space for a wall of proper bookshelves, pile up all over the house in pockets and corners. It's become a kind of design statement they've come to enjoy. The bucket bin is another piece by Jenna Rose and is home to Hollie's embroidery and knitting supplies.
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Mike's aesthetic is much more minimal than Hollie's. As someone who makes an hour-long commute to and from Toronto for work and does a lot of local freelance work on the side, it was important for him to have a good, clean studio at home. Most of the furniture pieces in his room are from IKEA. The globe pendant is from West Elm and the light is an old tripod that Mike clamped some work lights onto.
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This clock by No Fun Press hangs above Mike's computer. It was a gift from a friend who knows how much of a workaholic Mike is.
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A nook of Mike's studio, which doubles as a guest room for overnight friends and family. Mike inherited the binoculars from his late grandfather, which were made in Paris in the Civil War era. The red cross quilt was a piece Hollie made, inspired by quilts made by Canadian women during the war effort. It was pieced using feedsack material from the 1930s.
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The shelves in Mike's office are filled with design books, graphic novels and props from when Mike used to make movies with friends. The hanging print is an original page from the graphic novel "Essex County" by Jeff Lemire, which Hollie gifted Mike for his 30th birthday. The hanging sculpture by local artist Gosia reminded Hollie and Mike of another graphic novel by Jeff Lemire, "Sweet Tooth." Hollie found the chair at a local thrift shop.

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Comments

  • Oh yay! I’m moving to Hamilton (from across the country!) in February… So nice to be able to take a peek into one of the many beautiful houses that drew me to the city. I’ll be sure to swing by White Elephant!

  • Beautiful! I like how they melded the original charm of the house with furniture and accessories from several different decades. I wish we could have had an exterior shot. I’m originally from Hamilton, and I love all the gorgeous Victorians that can be found “down the mountain”.

  • This house is truly lovely (especially love the stairwell lighting!) and I’m sure Hamilton is not as bleak as it seems when running the dastardly-North America’s oldest road race!- Around the Bay, but I can never EVER head southwest along Lake Ontario without blurting out, “One does not simply take the Skyway into Mordor”. Because I am both a jerk and a nerd and also, Hamilton harbour.

  • i’ve been crossing my fingers for a while that real estate prices in hamilton would be about the same by the time i’m ready to buy. sshhhh, hollie, you’re giving away the secret! gorgeous home, and i love the connection to the history and community.

    i also love the print of the carolinian forest, but it doesn’t seem like jenna rose has prints for sale on etsy. does she ever sell them to the public or is that a friends-only perk? i live in a carolinian forest now and would love to support her if prints were available!

  • Lovely! White Elephang is a fantastic shop, it’s not at all surprising that the owner has such a great aesthetic.

    But I must protest the notion that Hamilton is “slowly becoming the cousin” of any city, much less Toronto. Hamilton is Hamilton, ever was and ever more. A city with it’s own distinctive character, geography, demography and culture that bears little family resemblance to Toronto. If we are kin to anything, it would be Pittsburgh or Buffalo or Detroit, glorious rustbelt cities in various stages of Renaissance thanks to artists, chefs andentrepreneurs like Hollie Pocsai.

  • The house looks lovely. However, the reporter seemed to focus more on the added details and Hollie’s taste than the structure’s features. I didn’t get a sense of the scale of the rooms.

  • Thanks everyone! Suze – the couch is vintage, but was recovered a couple of years ago by its previous owners!

  • C – The Jenna Rose fabric print is maybe 3-4 years old now. She unfortunately doesn’t make these anymore (she likes to keep things interesting and present new products each season if she can) but maybe one day she will make them again, so keep checking back!

    Sasha – The chair fabrics are from a discontinued collection in Joel Dewberry’s upholstery weight called Ginseng. The palette was Mulberry.

    Amy – I mentioned that those specific figurines were Lladro in the interview, I believe, but that my grandmother on a larger scale collected Royal Doulton. Thanks for making that correction here!

  • Kara, you’re right, all cities all have their own individual characteristics and no city is the same as another, which is why I like to think of them as cousins; different beings with some similarities on paper. Dozens of articles compare them and call Hamilton “the new Toronto”, which I myself always thought was interesting/odd — I prefer to think of them as complimentary, book-ending Halton/Peel region nicely. And it’s a proven trend that many Torontonians are making the switch the Hamilton, which I think is because of it’s differing qualities from Toronto.

  • We are just about to move to Hamilton, and I’ve been creeping on those schoolhouse pendant lights hard the last few weeks!

    Did she say where she ended up getting them? They look great and wanted to see if they were Home Depot, Schoolhouse Electric, vintage, etc. Thanks!

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