The art of tailoring
Charged with designing a chic downtown home for a fashionable professional man, interior designer Mazen El-Abdallah resisted the temptation to go with over-the-top opulence. Instead, he set about creating a discreet, masculine environment that feels as purposefully crafted as a finely tailored suit. "We used the idea of a man's wardrobe as a jumping-off point," he says, noting that the shell of the building, renovated by the previous owners, offered a clean, contemporary, light-filled slate. In one corner of the bedroom, a Dinamarquesa chair, designed by Jorge Zalszupin in 1959, is upholstered in a glen-check plaid, marrying a pattern familiar from men's jackets with a highly sculptural imbuia wood frame. Meanwhile, a thoughtfully assembled collection of furniture and art, including a vintage Florence Knoll credenza from Toronto's Queen West Antique Centre and photograph by local artist Alex Kisilevich, expresses the owner's passion for art and design.
Mapping out a scheme
Most feature walls rely on vivid blasts of colour to grab attention, but the choice of wallcovering in this bedroom is decidedly fresher. The vintage-looking black-and-white map of London – installed by previous owners Evan and Cameron Saskin, who designed and built the home – is both a sophisticated twist on the decorating concept and an ode to the city that gave the world Savile Row tailors and gentlemen explorers. The low-slung leather Siena bed, designed by Naoto Fukasawa for B&B Italia, continues the home's focus on sedate yet luxurious materials. "The pillowcases have classic black-and-white ticking," says El-Abdallah, while the charcoal Ivano Redaelli blanket has the appeal "of a really chunky sweater." Together, they keep the bed looking crisp rather than pillowy but provide enough comfort for a quick nap on a hot afternoon or snuggly slumber on a cool night.
Focus on materials
The homeowner was smitten with the wool rug in the living room, which puts textural appeal ahead of visual pattern. "He described the carpet as a Jil Sander sweater," says El-Abdallah. "It's very nubby." The rest of the furniture and accessories – a white oak dining table and chairs by Hans Wegner, a branching brass chandelier with hand-blown glass bubbles by Lindsey Adelman, a pair of leather armchairs designed by Preben Fabricius and Jørgen Kastholm in the 1960s – add to the appealing mix of materials. "The chairs are covered with a thick, warm-coloured leather because we wanted something that would age really nicely," says El-Abdallah. "A good interior should age gracefully in the same way that a quality men's leather bag looks better after 10 years than on the day you first buy it."
A taste for texture
The dining table is set with minimalist tableware in a reserved palette of white and dark grey. But even with such a spartan arrangement, there are still plenty of tactile and visual pleasures to delight diners. Japanese IHADA flatware, designed by Oji Masanori for Futagami, delivers a textural surprise – grainy sand-cast brass handles that give way to smooth silver-plated tips. Revol Basalt porcelain chargers have rough edges that give them the look of natural stone. Vintage smoked glassware from Bungalow in Toronto hints at just a touch of the dark side. The anchor of the table, though, is a centrepiece that's deliberately simple – a bold cluster of deep-purple calla lilies displayed in a no-fuss cylindrical glass vase. By using so many stems but sticking with a single type of flower, the effect is luxurious without appearing the least bit frilly.
A study in contrasts
The house doesn't have many patterned surfaces, but one notable exception is the geometric David Hicks carpet in the upstairs office – a feature intended to give the room a slightly English flavour. A brilliant chrome desk with black glass top from MDF Italia provides an elegant workstation, while leather Pinetti desk accessories make even the most mundane of homeoffice tasks special. But who wants to spend the whole day working? When it's time to kick back, a leggy rosewood credenza (purchased at Zig Zag in Toronto) serves as an improvised bar, while the vintage Børge Mogensen sofa and Florence Knoll marble coffee table (from www.scandinavianmod.com and Queen West Antique Centre respectively) create a relaxing crash area. "It has already been pleasingly worn in," says El-Abdallah. Propped against the wall, a photo by Toronto artist Robyn Cumming offers both a thought-provoking statement and a shot of colour.
In the living room, carefully considered objects on the coffee table provide hints about the homeowner's taste. "It's good for a man to put part of his personality on display," says El-Abdallah. "Your books should say something about you." In this case, tomes about personalities such as Rineke Dijkstra and Ronan & Erwan Bouroullec communicate the owner's interest in art and design. At the same time, a weighty glass Sinope bowl by Belgian designer Anna Torfs and porcelain skull from the famed German manufacturer Nymphenburg serve as agreeably unusual decorative accessories that double as surefire conversation starters (the skull may even bring out a guest's inner Shakespeare). Tropical leaves in a vase add a fresh, natural note without appearing overworked. "You never want it very fussy, like a multicoloured bouquet of flowers," El-Abdallah says. "This creates a different vibe because it's more architectural."