June 19, 2012
Julia and her son Adam, now 14, have become community celebrities: she with her studio exhibitions each November and Adam with a budding film career.
Julia Gilmore’s eclectic decor reflects her artistic passions
Home is important to us all. To an artist, for whom every glance is an opportunity to find beauty, home is more than a place to raise family and feel secure, it is also an inspiration. For Inglewood painter Julia Gilmore, home needed to be a practical place that provided her son Adam with a nearby school, friends and activities, but also provided her with quiet, beauty and space.
After obtaining a degree in fine arts, Julia spent several years in Montreal and Toronto playing in a band and pursuing a successful recording career. It was after Adam was born that she turned again to painting, developing a distinctive style she called “nap paintings,” small, brilliantly hued paintings on dark backgrounds, executed quickly with a palette knife in the two or three hours her son was asleep. At the same time, she felt a longing to bring him up in the same small-town atmosphere she had experienced as a child.
Her first move in the mid-1990s was to rent a farm in Caledon East that she and her partner could use as a base while they looked for something permanent. Inglewood enchanted her almost immediately. “It reminded me of Mayberry. The Christmas lights were up. The fire hall bell was ringing. I loved it.”
A stucco house for sale on the main street especially caught her eye. With its original early 20th-century mouldings, light fixtures and woodwork, it was perfect – except for the price. So the couple carried on, looking at scores of houses, but finding nothing to equal their first love. Eventually they came back to it, put in an offer they could afford, and hoped. Their hopes were rewarded.
Julia is the presiding spirit of the place. A woman of great enthusiasm and a vivid presence in any room, she has created a space that exactly reflects her character. Echoing her strong attachment to nature, Julia has painted every room a bright spring-leaf green – a colour that brightens and softens as the light moves and changes through the days and the seasons. “Green is the colour of life,” she says.
As she set to work on the place, Julia discovered windows that had been boarded over. She opened them up, so light now flows into two sides of every main floor room. Enhancing the natural light are sparkling chandeliers in the dining and kitchen areas. A long rope of small lights encircles an interior window that opens to her studio in the glassed-in sun porch. It was added off the kitchen in the 1920s and provides an ideal environment for painting, with a little separation from other household activities.
Julia’s giddy and gorgeous paintings of flowers grace many of the walls. On others hang her quirky interpretations of heritage objects (gas pumps, coffee cans, Chinese take-out boxes), each conceived with such charm that the whole effect is both gracious and whimsical – the kind of images that make you want to smile, even laugh, with delight.
Out of her deep fondness and respect for the past, Julia preserved as many of the home’s original details as she could, including baseboards, door knobs and round light switches. The light fixtures in the upper and lower halls are original etched glass; the duct covers are filigreed iron. The studio has a dark wood ceiling and original floral linoleum. In the upstairs bedrooms, large pieces of linoleum also remain. So too do the bevelled windows in the front door and the ruby glass above it, and the generous bay window in the living room. The century-old flawed glass in the windows scatters the light to Julia’s delight, although she admits the old storms are “a pain in the ass” to remove in the summer.
The only significant change she made was in the kitchen. After rediscovering the sealed windows, Julia took a hard look at the newly bright room and decided an old-fashioned farm sink was needed.
Anyone who has renovated can relate to how one small change can lead to a wholesale rethink. Working with her neighbour Angela Keehan, who has a design background and good eye, Julia ultimately worked through a complete redesign of the kitchen. Local contractor and carpenter Brian Gregory did the work – in just ten days.
Inspired by the new light and the new look, Julia and Brian punched two new windows along the stairs. Now looking like they have been there forever, the windows bring welcome, all-day light to a previously dark space.
The old-fashioned stucco, called pargeting, that clads the exterior of the house is scored to look like high-quality cinder block or cut stone. A popular surface in the early part of the 20th century, it was cheaper than stone but almost as durable. Traditionally associated with Cotswold cottages, which this house somewhat resembles, the pargeting seems more sophisticated than other modest claddings of its day.
Julia and her son Adam, now 14, have become community celebrities: she with her studio exhibitions each November and Adam with a budding film career. They have added youth, light and energy to a lovely old house and a lovely small community.