Home Decor

How a 100-year-old home became a modern masterpiece

Take a peek into Helene Clarkson and Andrew Livingston’s transformed Toronto home, a design so practical that clutter is out of the question.


Practical and stylish home improvements. (Photo, Sian Richards.)

Helene Clarkson and Andrew Livingston’s home is a perfect projection of their professional lives. Helene designs an eponymous label of chic, no-fuss fashion, and Andrew is the founder of Neat, a housewares company specializing in small-space solutions. “There’s a definite connection between what we do and our home,” says Helene. “We both offer practical yet stylish elements that make life easier, and our home reflects that — it’s easy to live in and to accessorize.”

This wasn’t always the case. While the three-storey 1913 brick-built home is fully detached  and offers plenty of space for their three children (ages 11, 14 and 16) and golden retriever Lulu, its original first-floor layout was a warren of small rooms and low ceilings. “On top of that, the walls were painted grey, which made the house feel especially dark,” Helene says.

Kyra-Clarkson-and-Helene Clarkson

Architect Kyra Clarkson (left) with homeowner Helene Clarkson, wearing her own designs. (Photo, Sian Richards.)

To remedy this, the couple enlisted architect Kyra Clarkson, who also happens to be Helene’s cousin. “I jumped at the chance to work on this project,” says Kyra. The couple’s wish list was long: Open up the small rooms, infuse the interior with natural light, connect the house to the garden, create space to display books and art, and help manage the clutter of everyday life. Kyra’s plan for the home — which involved gutting the main floor, replacing its rear brick wall with glass and adding a 375-square-foot extension to the back — brought all of these elements to life. “We successfully transformed a 100-year-old house to suit a contemporary family,” she says.

Main floor house plan

Vibrant and welcoming, the gleaming new space is a perfectly calibrated mix of style and practicality. There is a modern esthetic at play here, but it isn’t a minimalism that eschews functionality. “One of the best design elements is the built-in cabinetry throughout the main floor,” says Kyra. “For example, the front hall closets discreetly integrate storage while acting as a subtle divider between the hall and living room. It’s my winning formula in open-plan spaces: Use storage as walls.” It’s also reflective of Helene and Andrew’s form-meets-function approach to life. “Nothing is gratuitous here,” says Helene. “We love this house and use every square inch of it.”

Warm up a modern space with family heirlooms


Chair remodelling and upholstery, Regency Upholstery. Wall paint, cloud white, Benjamin Moore. Pillow, West Elm. (Photo, Sian Richards.)

The living room features an armchair that belonged to a great-aunt in London, England. “It was in terrible shape, so I had it re-stuffed and reupholstered.”

Liven up a space with a mobile 


Kartell chairs, Neat Space. Candles, Sweet Pea’s. (Photo, Sian Richards.)

Rather than the customary chandelier, the space over the dining room table is reserved for this stunning sculpture. “Andrew gave me this mobile by local artist Screamin’ Sam the first Christmas we were together,” says Helene. “I knew then he was a keeper! It has been over the dining table in every house we’ve owned.”

Colour-code closets

Colour-Coated Closets

From left to right: Short broom, dustpan, Mjolk. Tall broom, West Elm. Stepstool, Neat Space. Raincoat, Comrags. Backpack, raincoat, blue shoes, boots, Planet Kid. Basket, Neat Space. (Photo, Sian Richards.)

Each family member has a dedicated front-hall closet, or “locker,” that’s identified by its colour-coded interior (there’s also one for guests). “This was Andrew’s ingenious idea,” says Kyra. “The back of each closet is fitted with a commercial slat wall. These are often used in retail because of all the smart accessories that go with them and their seemingly endless combinations, like simple height adjustments, which are great for kids.”

Give the front hall gallery appeal


Custom closet design, Kyra Clarkson. Custom closet construction, Catfish Design. Green stool, Neat Space. Rug, Oliver Yaphe. (Photo, Sian Richards.)

Helene and Andrew’s clutter-free entryway offers a tableau of stunning art, including a sculpture of a man and a woman that a friend of the family made. “I was lucky enough to inherit some wonderful pieces and I’m a stickler about placement,” she says. “Once a piece is in place, it stays there.”

Frame a focal point with storage


Drapes, Eko Couture. Area Rug, Neat Space. Pillows, vase, tray, Hollace Cluny. Windows, Ridley Windows. (Photo, Sian Richards.)

“The empty space above the built-in gas fireplace afforded spots for Helene and Andrew’s much-needed book storage,” says Kyra. “There are shelves on either side of the flue.” The nail sculpture over the fireplace introduces fluid shapes to the room’s angular lines and holds a special place in Helene’s heart. “It’s by David Partridge. He was a fabulous Canadian artist and a great family friend.”

Customize cabinetry for smart storage


Shallow shelves mean easy access to glasses. (Photo, Sian Richards.)

White-oak cabinets in the garden room are both unobtrusive and hard-working. “The shelves were purposely designed to be shallow so everything is on display in a single line and easy to access,” says Kyra. “There are no bulky cupboards and no deep spaces where things can get pushed to the back and forgotten.”

Add built-ins to maximize counter space


Magnetic Containers, Neat Space. Quartz countertops, Cambria Canada. (Photo, Sian Richards.)

“Since this is a relatively small kitchen, counter space is at a premium,” says Helene. “Kyra designed the knife holder to fit at the back of the counter, and it just so happened that the spice board also fit perfectly.” Everyday cookbooks are kept within easy reach and add a splash of colour to the mostly white space.

Forgo upper kitchen cupboards


Custom cabinetry design, Kyra Clarkson. Custom Cabinet construction, Catfish Design​. Chairs, runner, Neat Space. Breadboards, Likely General. (Photo, Sian Richards.)

“All of the lower cabinets were custom-designed to suit Helene’s cooking and storage needs, and the overall effect is light and airy,” says Kyra. The millwork that separates the kitchen from the family room is a testament to Kyra’s motto of “Use walls as storage.” It multi-tasks as storage space, a discreet room divider and a buffet surface at parties. The pendant light is from Australia and made of recycled milk cartons.