By Lisa van de Geyn
Photography by Donna Griffith
When designer Vanessa Ferro of Vanessa Ferro Design meets with a prospective client, she interviews them while they’re interviewing her. “I have to make sure they’re a good fit for me and that I am a good fit for them. I’m a self-proclaimed maximalist, in terms of my design style. We may be working together for six months, a year or two years – it’s important that we’re all on the same page.” One way Ferro accomplishes this is by asking a few specific questions. “For example, I may ask, ‘How do you feel about a green velvet sofa with a fringe?” she says with a laugh. The homeowners of this featured project said they’d “love a green velvet sofa, but didn’t think they were ‘cool enough for fringe,” she says. “They are such lovely people. I knew we were a match made in heaven.”
This thoughtfully designed home is situated in the rolling hills of King Township, just north of Toronto. Nestled in a lush, wooded acreage, the expansive home was built specifically for the owners. They were happy with the build but there were parts of the home that were still incomplete rooms they hadn’t yet tackled that required the finishing touches only a professional could provide. “They were looking for wall coverings, draperies, custom furniture and decor. They had this absolutely lovely place, their ‘forever home,’ but it felt unfinished to them,” says Ferro. “They had run out of steam and didn’t quite know how to complete some of the rooms, so they got in touch with me. The home is over 5,000 square feet and has a wonderfully traditional feel. Not a lot of ‘open concept’ going on, which I love, because it allows me to create unique design schemes and colour palettes for each individual room.” Ferro says the homeowners enjoy a mix of traditional and contemporary, so this project was right up her alley. “Also, they saw colour and pattern in my portfolio which appealed to them. There is a lot of grey and beige out there; that was not what they were looking for, luckily for me.”
The first space Ferro tackled was the dinning room. A large rectangular space, it was empty but for a dining table that they weren’t crazy about and antique dining chairs that they liked but the fabric wasn’t right. To start, Ferro decided on a rich dark blue, just shy of navy, for the ceiling, crown moldings and trim, which would help create a dramatic and inviting space. Next, she wrapped the room in a tranquil English wall covering featured a palette of blues and greys, punctuated with hints of fuchsia. She selected a large dining table with traditional bones and reupholstered the French chairs in two different gem-toned velvets, one of which matches the custom draperies. “The pair of brass light fixtures over the table are super contemporary and sculptural. They add some glitter to the space, along with the oversized gilded mirror leaning at one end of the room. It’s a real balance of traditional and contemporary, old and new.”
Another room she transformed was the cavernous space she affectionately calls the “library.” Located near the front entrance of the house, it has a soaring, double-high ceiling. “The first thing I noticed was that the ceiling needed some extra detail. The eye is really drawn up, and I knew that if i didn’t address the ceiling, the room would seem unfinished.” So, in came the scaffolding, and the ceiling was clad in walnut-coloured wood, to match the handsome wall panelling. The finishing touch was a wall covering from Spain applied to the recessed panels in the ceiling, which gives the effect of aged leather. “This unique detail serves as the perfect backdrop when you gaze up at the tiered brass chandelier,” she says. “it’s really an exquisite room with those enormous windows. We did some lovely custom draperies pillows. And, of course, two divine velvet sofas,” she says happily. Ferro also selected two stunning leather wing chairs to place in front of the fireplace, angled toward the over-sized carved mantel. “I added some artwork, tables and lamps, as well, along with a pair of vintage cheetah chairs. We found a home for my clients’ antique cabinet from Italy – it’s an amazing family heirloom and I knew I had to incorporate it. And we made sure we left just amount of space for the grand piano.” A visitor noted that the room reels a bit like a posh hotel lobby. “That’s not a bad thing,” Ferro muses. Ferro also spruced up the adjacent foyer by installing some marbleized metallic wallpaper from England. In addition, she decided to dress up the grand staircase with a geometric wool stair runner, creating a stunning focal point upon entry.
The homeowners were an absolute pleasure to work with, Ferro says. “They trusted my design direction completely and allowed me to execute exactly what I envisioned. I don’t think they would mind me saying that they were using words like ‘magical’ to describe the end result. I just love what I do,” she adds. Nothing makes Ferro happier than creating beautiful and unique spaces for her clients.
She does admit that she relishes throwing in a few whimsical touches here and there, in keeping with her “English country house” maximalist aesthetic. “let’s not take ourselves too seriously. Let’s fill our homes with things that put a smile on our face, whether it be a souvenir from our travels, a treasured family heirloom or an oil painting of your dog dressed as Napoleon.” Ferro insists that “function always comes first, but people shouldn’t be afraid to do something a little out there. Go bold with colour. Embrace wild wallpaper. It’s your space. Why design it for anybody else?”