Dream House: Jessica Helgerson Design

I mentioned Jessica Helgerson Design in my kitchen blog post. But I want to revisit this specific home in her portfolio. This place is everything to me right now.


I've been thinking a lot about my place. I've always embraced a bottom-up style of decorating, where a home is decorated over time. Objects come and go, get moved around. Occasionally, a large piece of furniture is added or replaced. Sometimes, there's a rare find that's pounced upon. Hopefully, it all comes together. But, more than that, it's all organic and personal, not perfect or frozen in some "after shot" that was achieved after a swift, all-encompassing makeover.


Obviously, I find this bottom-up approach to decorating philosophically appealing. It feels more real and also more fluid. It's without the razzle-dazzle of decor TV before-and-after reveals. It's not all perfectly staged and vetted to come together by design. Rather it (hopefully) comes together because it's authentic to the individual and tells a story of a living, breathing aesthetic personality.


Still, sometimes I feel like I've embraced this approach by necessity as much as choice. The fact is this is how I have to decorate. I can maybe afford to buy one or two large investment pieces in a year - the idea of having the budget to do or redo a room, let alone apartment, in one fell swoop is simply not mine.


And sometimes I feel this poignantly — that my place always feels at about 80% and that the leftover 20% is a glaring thing, not that there's such a thing as "done". I see moodboards of ambitious renovations and I'm envious of that kind of top-down planning. I wonder what it would be like to step back and make decisions that are orchestrated to go together. And to have that moment when a room feels entirely new (I especially fantasize about this for my kitchen and bathroom - those renovations in particular don't lend themselves to bit-by-bit progress).


I feel both ways when I look at this home. Because it feels both top-down and bottom-up. I don't think everything in it was planned and purchased at once. But I do feel like it was conceived of as coming together and edited with a lot of discipline, though not lacking a sense of colouring outside the lines. I also love this place because it's totally my style and a look I would strive for.

A bench for my bedroom

My bedroom  floorplan right now is laid out like this (okay, the napping dog is a wishful embellishment):


I'd really like to add a bench / ottoman of some sort in front on the dresser (shown above in pink). These are some I've been looking at. I think my favourites are No.2 from Blu Dot and No.4 from Black Rooster, with the Black Rooster one edging to the front because it's somewhat a glammed-up Mies (No.8 but I can neither afford nor fit), without being a pure rip-off -- which would be unconscionable for me to consider.


Products: 1. Sculptural: Oly | 2. Plush: Blu Dot | 3. Boudoir: MGBW | 4. Upscale modern: Black Rooster  | 5. Sleek: Ethan Allen | 6. Comfy (but in another hue): Decorium | 7. Standard: Jonathan Adler | 8. Classic: Knoll

P.S. If you're looking to build a floorplan like mine above, google "Icovia Floorplanner". I'm sure there are many other (possibly better) tools out there, but I've been using this for years. Many furniture shops etc. offer this tool on their site (they usually require registration, but that's what your old yahoo email is for, amirite?! I built mine on Decorium's site).

The Stowe

In my world, there's no such thing as enough purses. And while I like to buy purses that are built to last, I'm loath to too often crawl into designer purse price ranges. The Stowe is a Montreal-based company that I've recently been admiring and they're right in my sweet-spot; quality, minimal styling (inconspicuous branding) and prices that lure you into thinking ahead to a second purchase. My favourite styles are Rae, Eloise and Brady (who can resist the current bucket bag trend!?)


You can follow The Stowe on Instagram (that's how I found them!) and visit their online store here.

Tali Yalonetzki / Tush Tush

Remember the heady early days of Etsy? I used to favourite new shops and items daily (and sometimes, feel an urgent need to splurge almost daily too). I was smitten with all of it; the vintage wares, the small-run designers... but most of all, the affordable art. Some of the art I bought back then still hangs on my walls, but many of those $25 prints came and went - especially when I did away with my salon-style wall.


One of the artists who endured and holds a special place in my heart is Tali Yalonetzki. I bought the original of her "Young Lady" portrait (above) in 2012 and it has been prominently displayed in my home since (many people on Instagram have asked if it's a portrait of me. It's not, though I suppose it maybe bears a small resemblance to my old profile pic if you don't know me in person).


I don't browse Etsy daily any more. But I did wander over to Tush Tush store last week and found another original called Dancers At Rest (above) and treated myself. It isn't the dancing so much (I'm no bunhead), but the intimacy and separation between the women that spoke to me. I've been thinking a lot about female friends lately, especially my closest female friends. They're the most intimate relationships I have but, at the same time, I feel very unlike all my friends and that's often underscored when we get together, just as much as our closeness and deep affection for each other. And not that I think this painting is portraying all this, but it seemed to capture what's been on my mind.

My favourite work from Tali's shop has a recurring feeling of an old family album. These prints and paintings remind me of pictures I've seen of my parent's childhood, even images I've seen in family albums of people I could no longer name. There's a universality of feeling associated with such images, and yet I don't seem them only as romantic nostalgia. There's also a feeling of regret and loss, perhaps even of damage behind such images for me. But these feelings only make these images so much more beautiful and poignant.

Sunday best: Height of summer

It's the very height of summer. My neighbourhood empties out every weekend and, for all I know, my addiction to kale chips is the only thing keeping the over-priced grocery in business. I have a bunch of leftover vacation days to use before the end of August and, suddenly, not being there on Fridays suddenly doesn't seem to matter that much.

Languor like this feels like the ultimate luxury and I love the looks it conjures - worn and soft but accented with gorgeous finery. Right now, I'm listening to a distant thunderstorm. They scare me but we need it to roll in and clear out the humidity. When it's gone, the air will be bright and clear and I'll stroll down the hill for an evening coffee. What more could one ask for?


Products: Mimi Holliday by Damaris bra from Net-a-Porter | Leaf bracelet from Anita Ko | Slim Broken-in Boyfriend Cone Denim Jean from J.Crew | The Uptown Girl Luxury Palette from Charlotte Tilbury | Étoile Isabel Marant Axel top from Net-a-Porter | Bamboo Daily Leather Top Handle Bag from Gucci | The Lip Slip from Sara Happ | Aquazzura Belgravia Suede Espadrilles from Shopbop

Lake Louise

One of the little splurges on our trip was a night at the Chateau Lake Louise. There isn't much to Lake Louise -- it's not a town like Banff or Jasper. There's a strip mall with a bakery I always make a point to stop at, but the main attraction is the lake itself and the various hikes to Lake Agnes and Moraine Lake.

I've been to Lake Louise in the depths of winter and the height of summer and it's a fairytale in all seasons really. I'm sad to say that I've never paddled the lake - something I had hoped to do this time... But in a way, it's nice to leave something for another visit.

It's interesting to think back to when I first visited here. I was matching up the reality with images I'd seen in postcards and Lonely Planet guidebooks. It was hard to even tell whether it met up with expectations - the mind is so unprepared for such sights. Did I expect the lake to be more turquoise? The mountains to have more grandeur? No - it's just like a first reading of a book that you're unequipped to process: You have to go back when the mind is better equipped.

Now I go and there's no shock of the new. But there's still a stunned sense of the beauty, which is breathtaking, no matter how many times you see it.

P.S. To read more about this part of the trip, check out my story on Driving.ca


Sunday best: Poolside dreams

It's that time of year: The time of year when I stand at traffic lights, eyes closed, picturing myself diving into deep, dark saltwater. The time of year when I lie, hot and listless waiting for sleep, only to wake twenty minutes later with kicked sheets knotted around my legs.


I do a lot better in the heat than I used to. This year, I've truly embraced it: I've given up trying to stay freckle-free. I've even taking to tanning a little. I'm not reckless, but it is freeing to stop fighting the sun and just give in to season's offering.

Still, I crave a body of water. It doesn't matter what; artificial or natural. I'm as envious of my pool-owning neighbours as I am of lakeside cottagers, as I am of Instagrammers by the sea... All invitations are welcome ;)

Products: Eugenia Kim fedora from Net-a-Porter | Mexico swimsuit from Marysia | City Block Sheer SPF 25 from Clinique | Twin Pearl Studs Earrings from Satomi Kawakita | Patio Dress from Lemlem | Adonia Sandals from Ancient Greek Sandals | Porter Magazine

Emotional intelligence

I sometimes confuse being emotionally literate with being emotionally intelligent. I think that being able to categorize and articulate the nuances of my feelings means that I’m intelligent about them. But I read this (thanks Ginny for sharing on Facebook) and realized that emotional intelligence goes a step further. It’s not just about the power of awareness and description but also about the ability to exert agency over emotional states; to assess, utilize, and sometimes discard, the visceral emotional reactions we all have. To make sure that emotions aren’t undoing larger goals and endeavours.

I’m an insecure person and I’ve long been aware of that. I’m also sensitive. I didn’t feel a lot of support around me when I was younger and it made me bolshie about what I wanted to do, but also stopped me ever reaching a state of easy confidence or feeling a sense of accomplishment.

Since then, I've learned to understand the origin and contours of these feelings. I recognize patterns in my own behavior and I recognize too the hyperbolic, compensating protestations of my own ego, which often make me feel I'm unkind or hard on others. I understood that the real me is somewhere between these two voices and I try to allow myself to register both sets of feelings and ultimately learn to walk away with the temperate in-between conclusions.

What I didn’t think about was changing those emotions; eliminating the self-doubt and the compensating ego and just moving forward without so much knottiness. I pride myself on my mental acuity, my ability to reason through complex concepts and ideas, to learn, adapt and change my mind, to evolve from one complex system to another. But when it came to emotions, I thought intelligence was more passive; it was about observation and empathy but not agency. I focused on learning to accept myself for getting angry or being sensitive or insecure.

Moreover, I thought it was wrong to make value judgements about emotions or to "should" oneself about how you ought to feel. It's not that I've completely changed my mind about that. And I don't think sadness or anger or other so-called negative emotions are "bad" or should be negated. But I also think there are emotions that don't have much utility and, especially when those emotions are a go-to reaction, they can halt progress and even run contrary to what we're hoping to accomplish.

There was an article in the New York Times recently about empathy being a choice. I wouldn’t want to deny the viscerality of some emotions, perhaps all of them, or think whole dispositions can be rewired through a simple act of volition. But I find it interesting to think about emotional intelligence as deciding what feelings to indulge; learning to concentrate on those feelings that support larger goals, learning to fortify oneself against an emotional existence that's toxic or halting.

It’s interesting too to realize that I’m drawn to people who seemingly have this ability. I think it's often because I admire how much more effective they are at just blazing ahead and getting done the things they want to get done. I think about all the times my own lack of emotional intelligence (and perhaps my tendency to dwell on articulation) has been the undoing of things I’m intellectually and physically capable of. Around my birthday I started thinking it’s time to just go. It’s time to stop waiting for approval or perfect timing. Maybe I’m already becoming more emotionally intelligent.

In the past few years I’ve become better at shaping my own feelings. I was so absorbant of other's feelings and judgements before, even when I questioned their reasoning. Now I'm much more discerning. I’ve also realized, in a very basic way, that no two people can really, fully understand and empathize with each other. Waiting around for ringing endorsements is futile. And this isn’t about adopting a “could give zero fucks” attitude, though it may outwardly look like that. It’s more about realizing that you can only give so many fucks before you move on.

Rocky Mountaineer: Quesnel to Jasper

Canadians are known to be a reserved bunch, but not when you're on a train. Perhaps it's because the mythology of the rail in Canada is big enough to break any reserve. When you're on the Rocky Mountaineer, people wave. They wave at rail crossings and from their cars when the roads parallel the tracks. Small towns put on fanfare too, with marching bands and Legion members coming out to greet you. Even the rail workers smile when the Rocky Mountaineer passes and you imagine they spend a moment thinking about what it's like to see the rail from the other side, with no notions of the toil it takes to maintain all this track in all this wilderness.

Day two of my trip on the Rocky Mountaineer saw us in very different terrain. The arid landscape of the Fraser Canyon gave way to lush folds of land, climbing ever upwards. We hit weather and saw skies that boiled and churned as clouds were driven higher and higher. After the soft palette of the previous day, everything seemed super-saturated, high-contrast, dialled up. Out on the observation platform, the swath of the railway was overgrown with wildflowers, and I found myself drunk on the heady concoction of thinning air and sweet fragrance.

We were bound for Jasper. The undulating landscape made a break upwards into white-peaked shards. The muddy Fraser turned glacial blue. We crossed into Alberta and I was back in the familiar terrain of the Rockies. I adore the quality of the mountains up here. They're less showy and more menacing than the mountains around Banff and Lake Louise. The rock feels more ancient and unalterable somehow. Still, there was sadness too as arriving in Jasper marked the end of our train journey and I was strangely emotional when it came time to disembark.

P.S. To read about the next part of our trip, check out my story on Driving.ca


Rocky Mountaineer: Whistler to Quesnel

After I spent a few days in Vancouver, I took the Rocky Mountaineer from Whistler to Jasper. My favourite part of the trip was the first leg, which took us from the coastal rainforests into the desert, up through the Fraser Canyon to the town of Quesnel.

It was the arid landscape of the Fraser Canyon that stole my heart. I adored this subdued palette of sage and sand, the muddy river and the valley, wide and meandering, followed by the curve of the rail. The arid wind too, so different from the cloying heat of Toronto, was a warm embrace against my skin.

The train has an open observation area at the back. I spent hours down there, watching it all slip by, amazed as always by the scale of this country, that this too is Canada, and that it will never stop surprising me.


Three of a kind


3. Cabinet, via Instagram from Hardware Interiors

Lynn Canyon Park

I turned 21 in Vancouver many years ago. It was my first visit to Canada. In a way, Vancouver is the footnote to my Canadian citizenship. It was because of that summer that I wanted to do my postgrad here. And it was because I studied here, and fell even deeper in love with Canada, that I immigrated. That I moved and returned to different parts of Canada each time only left Vancouver shrouded in those original romantic ideas. So turning 39 there felt like a significant return.


In some ways, I was nervous that I would have strong feelings that I somehow belong in Vancouver. I didn't. It's a beautiful city and I could happily live there. But the eyes of a 21 year old Irish girl are very different from the eyes of a 39 year old Canadian and I recognized that much of what I loved about Vancouver is common to my life in Toronto, different as the cities are. And much of what's different is just that, different but not better or worse.


Place has been really important to me all my life. I've always had strong ideas about home - both the physical abode and the surrounding geography. But on this trip I let some of that go and realized that what I love about Toronto isn't so much about Toronto, but about the idiosyncratic life I've carved out here. Obsessed as I've been with place, it's really a more spiritual concept of home that matters most to me. I've found that here, but I also realize that I could find it elsewhere. It's both a deeper and more malleable a concept than I ever thought.


I thought about all of this as I walked 30km around Lynn Canyon Park. The forest is heady and magical, with the scent of pine and cedar, lichen and draping moss. I was so happy there and that joy stayed with me for days afterwards. When I was 21 I would have attributed this to the specific place, the specific day, even the company. But there's something more aleatoric to it than that. There's some of it in me as much as there is in the angle of light or the shade of green. And that feeling will come and go in many places, some banal and some spectacular, some of them close to home and some of them not.

Sunday best: Minty cool

I'm back in Toronto after a couple of weeks off. Last night when I got home, I was disoriented seeing all my belongings in this apartment but feeling like it wasn't quite mine. I guess sleeping in different places every night for a fortnight left me temporarily unhinged. But it only lasted a moment -- then I unpacked and turned on the radio and that peculiar feeling evaporated.


I always have the same expectation when I get back from a vacation; hope it will catapult me in a new direction. But I know that this not really the nature of change. It's more of a rolling thing and it takes actual volition, not just a temporary change of scenery and a minor attitude adjustment.

Today's Sunday best isn't about any of that, though. These minty accessories seem so breezy and cool. Like a palate cleanser, they just appeal to me right now as the days warm up to the height of summer.

Products: M.I.L.C.K. clutch by ELA | Wrap back Tank by James Perse | Three Step Point Earrings by WWAKE | Current/Elliott jeans from Net-a-Porter | Sel Marin by James Heeley | The Birdy from Shinola | Alfie Espadrille Sneaker from Loeffler Randall

Kitchen inspiration

I mentioned last week that I'm noodling a mini kitchen reno. It's fun to daydream and scheme at the very least and I haven't gone far beyond that. On closer inspection of finances, I'll likely lay some of this aside.


Very long-time readers may remember the last time I did a mini kitchen reno. It was the most elbow grease I've ever put into a place. Those temporary tiles have long gone, replaced with paint. But I think the glaring things that stand out in all images are the countertops and floors. I detest both.


The good thing is my kitchen is very small, so we're talking about very little counter and floor space too. I'm hoping that makes it all delightfully accessible (relish the naiveté for now!) I won't change the kitchen cupboards (the ones below are shown just for context) - probably just a fresh coat of paint. The hardware, I hope, will elevate everything.


Obviously, cement tiles are so on trend right now. But I sincerely love them and love the colour of these ones (plus, it's a shade of blue that pops up throughout my place). I love the look of the butcher block countertops, but I need to research how practical they are. I tend to spill and drop so I might have to look for something more hard-wearing.


Anyway, like I said: idle dreams right now but that's always the first step. I have to say, when it comes to kitchen and bathroom inspiration, Jessica Helgerson's portfolio is all I need to get me going. She just has this magical touch and although they images here are not direct inspiration, I'm sure you can see her influence on me too.

Inspiration: Backsplash tile | Restoration Hardware light | Schoolhouse Electric hardware | Butcher block countertop | cabinet | Cement Tile Shop Paris floor tile
All other images by Jessica Helgerson Interior Design