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Home & Design Favourite Room: How to tell a story with a medley of decor styles

Robert Lemon reads a book in the sunlit 'morning room' in his Vancouver condo on March 29, 2019.

Jackie Dives/The Globe and Mail

Vancouver in the springtime tends grey and overcast, but when the sun rises, it shines brightly in Robert Lemon’s “morning room.”

Lemon, an architect and heritage planner, bought the place two years ago and spent about 10 months rearranging, renovating and modernizing his condo. Built in 2000, it bore little in the way of historical value worthy of preservation, Lemon says. “It had very dated finishes,” he says, although it had plenty of other attributes: a large terrace, unusual for a Vancouver condo, and a location minutes from Granville Island and opposite a park, with unencumbered views. “It’s a bit of a happenstance that from my bedroom window I see trees and the North Shore Mountains,” he says. “I don’t see a single high-rise. It’s completely private.”

As for the room in question, “I call it the morning room because it faces east and it’s quite a pleasant place to be in the morning, and throughout the day,” Lemon says. The oak floors, light-coloured walls and gauzy linen curtains, shades chosen by colleague Sandrine Lejeune, and a yolk-yellow sofa by Danish designer Borge Mogensen add even more brightness. All were new additions – the sofa bought “sight unseen online,” Lemon says, from Scandinavian Modern in Winnipeg – while other furnishings were layered in from previous residences.

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Lemon and his late partner, noted interior designer Robert Ledingham, had an Art Moderne-style, 1936-built, heritage home in Vancouver, and a farmhouse in Washington. Many of the former’s furnishings were custom-made to the period and style of the home, and sold along with it, apart from a few pieces that found their way here. Other items came from the farmhouse and elsewhere. “It’s a layering of things that have been acquired, rather than bought new,” Lemon says. “It’s much more nuanced.”

Sometimes items are quite literally layered atop one another – such as Italian surveyor Giambattista Nolli’s 1748 map of Rome, framed in sections, with another Mogensen piece, an oak cabinet, in front. “I’ve had the map for 30 years. When I worked at City Hall as a senior heritage planner, it was on the wall there,” Lemon says. Placing the cabinet in front was a temporary solution, but one that Lemon liked and that stuck. The map becomes “kind of a discovery,” he says. The cabinet, meanwhile, is stacked with his favourite cookbooks. “There’s a story behind each one.”

The octagonal collapsible table with inlaid mother-of-pearl is from India and, more recently, from the farmhouse. The geometrically patterned carpet dates from a charity auction, decades past. “No one would bid on it and I got it for next to nothing,” Lemon says. “I enjoy the muted colours and the arch reference to Mondrian.” Two matching porcelain vases are from Middle Kingdom’s kiln, in China, and purchased from Bacci’s in Vancouver. Their primitive, Memphis-style squiggles are a good match for the Fauve Ontario landscape painting nearby, with its masterfully reduced forms.

The painting is by Clark McDougall, Lemon’s distant relation and also from St. Thomas, Ont. Despite painting mostly Southern Ontario landscapes (and some grittier urban scenes), McDougall was inspired by French Impressionist and Fauve painters. “It’s kind of an interesting chapter in art history,” Lemon says. “I like surrounding myself with things that have a familiarity and a story,” he says. He also likes that the sofa, which came later, “goes with the painting, not the other way around.”

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