A Home for Eclectic Art and Artifacts

This is a home for people with curious minds and catholic tastes. What appears from the outside to be a romantic’s ideal of a country house in a bucolic setting…

March 31, 2013 | | At Home in the Hills

A group of santo figures contrasts strikingly with a bold abstract by Bill Perehudoff. Photo by Pam Purves.

A group of santo figures contrasts strikingly with a bold abstract by Bill Perehudoff. Photo by Pam Purves.

This is a home for people with curious minds and catholic tastes. What appears from the outside to be a romantic’s ideal of a country house in a bucolic setting cleverly conceals a curiosity shop’s worth of art and artifacts. Visitors go from Jane Austen to Charles Dickens just by stepping through the door.

The owners are a creative couple with a successful advertising agency in Toronto and an abiding and generous interest in the craft of others. They don’t think of themselves as collectors in the formal sense. They are, instead, aesthetically oriented people who are excited by beauty wherever they find it.

This is also a home for people who love country life. The landscape is well groomed – the green rolling paddocks, large ponds, mature woods and immediate access to walking trails suggest the long reach of Capability Brown. The home is close to city life and culture, but set in splendid isolation, providing accommodation for horses, dogs and sometimes cats. And it is a natural home to coyotes, foxes, herons, frogs, fish and birds. It is the perfect setting for a sophisticated art collection, riding to the hunt and bird watching.

The interior of the house is surprising and delightful. Though the home retains a country feel, the country isn’t always Canada. It might be England, France, Italy, Mexico, Ecuador or New York. An abundance of smaller pieces of folk art, antique clay and carved wooden artifacts are often rural in origin and may have historic, religious or spiritual significance. But their greatest significance may be their simplicity. Massed in small groups, they become counterpoints to very large-scale abstract paintings or an African totem. Other pieces reflect the sporting life of the 19th century, and some, the war-related travels of another generation.

Drawings and paintings by internationally recognized artists such as Milton Avery, Picasso and Canadian abstract painter William Perehudoff are displayed right next to humble pieces of no particular pedigree but of great charm. From a collection of santo figures, religious carvings of saints often used in Catholic processions in the Spanish-speaking world, and densely painted or appliquéd Mexican crosses covered with healing charms called milagros to tall African totems and masks, there is a subtle sense of history and human striving. Model ships and hunting prints seem right at home alongside more primitive objects.

Utilitarian items are also treated as objects worthy of notice. Well-designed boots, hats and fly rods, for example, are not so much stored as displayed.

The home’s colour scheme is from nature. The walls are large blocks of browns, greys or taupes and serve as ideal backdrops to the art. Fabrics are natural and sometimes have animal motifs. It is a warm environment.

A small, well-lit space serves as library and office. The deer antler light fixture is made of shed antlers. No animals were harmed in its making. Photo by Pam Purves.

A small, well-lit space serves as library and office. The deer antler light fixture is made of shed antlers. No animals were harmed in its making. Photo by Pam Purves.

Although large, the collection never looks like clutter. Nor is it showy. Perhaps the simple colour palette knits it all together, or maybe it’s the way the objects are so carefully and artfully arranged. The effect seems private. Not everything is immediately visible, but once a visitor’s eye is drawn to one object, it is very hard to stop looking at others. All reveal something about the character of the owners.

This is also a home for people who love food and cook well. The kitchen, a bright, efficient and antique-punctuated space, is almost square, with preparation and cooking areas never more than a couple of steps apart. A major renovation has created a totally up-to-date space for preparing meals out of The Joy of Cooking, The Silver Palate Cookbook and websites like Epicurious.com. The window in a small kitchen/dining area is dominated by an antique rocking horse.

The other windows overlook the back garden and pond, a view that played a significant role in the decision to buy the house. “The day after we moved in, I spent the whole day looking out the window and thinking this is the place I want to spend the rest of my life,” says one owner.

The house was not always like this. Although first seen on a snowy winter’s day and looking every bit the romantic country home, it needed work. A lot of work. But it had everything the buyers wanted: fields, water and a place for horses. The stuccoed interior was reminiscent of a childhood home in Wales. Over time the tired older building yielded to its new owners’ tastes and needs. A new roof, studio, interior courtyard, kitchen and bathrooms transformed it year by year into a beloved gem.

The move from downtown Toronto to rural Caledon required an adjustment that was not always easy. At first, the owners’ would gaze out the windows and say, “Oh my gosh, there’s nobody out there.” But this has changed. Now, they see a car and ask, “Who the heck is that?”

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A small, well-lit space serves as library and office. The deer antler light fixture is made of shed antlers. No animals were harmed in its making. Photo by Pam Purves.

 

About the Author More by Pam Purves

Freelance photographer and writer Pam Purves lives in Caledon.

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