By Lisa van de Geyn
Photography by Gillian Jackson
“The true test of the design process is taking inspiration from your client with an understanding of their needs, as well as their overarching style and then putting it all together,” designer Robin Nadel, one of two principals along with Harvey Wise at Wise Nadel Design, says confidently. “My biggest takeaway from a project is when a client sees their home come together and the work has exceeded their expectations.”
That was the ultimate result with this extraordinary estate in northern Toronto’s esteemed Armour Heights neighbourhood. It was just before the pandemic when Nadel started working with the homeowners, who wanted a new home built on their existing property — a space that would cater to their family of five. “My client is fun and spirited and came to me with strong ideas about what she was looking for. She talked about using contrast, her love of entertaining and wanted something that was youthful with an edge. She also said she wanted to be part of the process,” Nadel says. “What I tried to do was give her all of that while maintaining a classic, timeless feel with the adherence to bold architectural elements and materials. The evolution of the design fell into place quite effortlessly.”
The five-bedroom, 7,500-square-foot home was designed by renowned architect Richard Wengle. “We love working and collaborating with Richard because he gives us incredibly thoughtful floor plans to work with. Some of the interior architectural elements I used in the house are inspired by and connect with what he did for the exterior.”
For example, Wengle included three arches on the façade of the house, so Nadel carried the idea of the arch throughout the main floor of the home. “I’m driven by the architecture of the building envelope first and I come at design as an architect of the interiors. I like our spaces to feel intentional, and for architectural elements to anchor the rooms. Decorating is adding beautiful pieces to accent the interior architecture, which always come first,” she explains. So, Nadel opted for large archways that draw the eye through and around the house. Other bold architectural elements, such as the fireplaces, statement doors and the staircase, are set amidst white walls, in a gallery-like setting.
Peruse Wise Nadel’s portfolio and you’ll see the duo have also mastered the use of designing in black and white, and the materials they select and cabinetry they design are always statement-making. “This home is punctuated with hits of black, and there’s always a focal point using a specific material choice,” she says. This is seen in the foyer, where the striking mosaic floor — done in escarpment stone, dolomite and Nero Marquina — brings in the boldness of the black and white graphic. At the same time, the natural quartzite fireplace and black trim on the walls frame the entryway. “These features stand out and really grab your attention while seamlessly flowing with the rest of the house. They are like pieces of art.”
The kitchen also brings in several of these architectural attributes. The island and back wall, both done in the same lightly veined porcelain, are punctuated with a hit of black. “We wanted to make the island unique, so we used a black stripe down the middle to draw the eye across the room. It’s a creative new way of addressing a stone island,” says Nadel. The bold stripe connects with the banding on the hood, as well as the black trim in the servery. “The arches we so admired in the foyer are present here, too, as we sought to employ strong architectural elements to connect with each other and link each space together.”
When you step down into the family room, you immediately notice the stunning architectural light fixture in the centre of the 12-foot-high ceiling. “We wanted something large and transparent looking. This fixture hovers above the space and doesn’t inhibit the view from the kitchen.” Anchoring this space is the stone fireplace, which is a showstopper with its book-matched veining. Nadel goes on to describe that it’s the layout that makes a statement. “It was important to seat as many people as possible while maintaining a commitment to symmetry in the room. There’s a mirrored effect with the double coffee tables, double sofas with chaises and a pair of emerald upholstered swivel chairs, which offer a pop of colour. It’s a different take on the traditional family room,” she says. Additionally, great attention is paid to the walls, which are accented with a thin black inlay to offer a twist on traditional panelling. “We inset this tiny racing stripe in black that grabs the eye and ties back to the foyer, where we also framed the panelled walls in black. These details all speak to how black and white can interact with each other in both striking and playful ways.”
Entertaining is very important to Nadel’s client, so the dining room has a strong presence on the main floor. Flanked by a bar and glass wine cellar as you walk in, the formal dining room is a site to behold. To create warmth and ambiance, Nadel uses bronze hues. The walls are wrapped in a luxe bronze grass cloth, and the ceiling coffer is also accented with bronze for architectural significance. The oversized black quartzite table is ideal for large family gatherings and is artfully lit by a pair of pendant lights in black with glamorous gold tips.
When Nadel’s work was complete, the homeowners were presented with their new space. “From the beginning, our client wanted to work with a designer who would allow her to be a part of the process and help inform the design decisions. She was very involved every step of the way and closely monitored our progress, but to see how comfortable and excited she is about her home now, and how it perfectly reflects her family, is my biggest takeaway from this project,” Nadel says. “The final product exceeded both of our expectations, and that’s always my goal.”