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Inside Sonja Bata's home: Is this the most beautiful condo in Canada?

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Sonja Bata helped her husband Thomas run his footware empire for over 50 years. Now, she lives atop a Bloor Street condo a block away from her office at the Bata Shoe Museum. A large tapestry greets visitors at the entry to her home and also serves to delineate spaces while preserving an open feel to the space.

Shai Gil

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Sonja Bata (right) with architect Heather Dubbeldam. Ms. Bata was interested in a very functional live-work space, recalls Ms. Dubbeldam. During her career, Ms. Bata had developed a particular interest in fitting human design together with the natural world so it was important that the architects use only natural materials and sustainable products.

Virginia MacDonald

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Ms. Dubbeldam raised the height of the ceiling and came up with an open plan that uses mediating elements in place of walls so that the natural light and views can filter between rooms. Between the living and dining areas, a custom-made walnut cabinet provides a place to store china and crystal and display precious objets. In the study, the wall unit was designed around the art. Another custom-built unit runs nearly the length of the suite along one wall and serves to knit the rooms together. 'It’s animated with my favourite paintings and books. It’s a living wall,' Ms. Bata says.

Virginia MacDonald

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The bathroom is simple, white and clad in warm marble. The spare design keeps the focus on the view, says Ms. Dubbeldam.

Virginia MacDonald

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For the kitchen, architect and client chose Bulthaup for its architectural lines and technical precision. ‘She wanted it really crisp,' Ms. Dubbeldam says.

Shai Gil

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Shai Gil

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Throughout the space, Ms. Bata points to particular treasures, as she pauses in front of a Renoir or waves towards a Chagall. She is equally enthusiastic about a sculpture by Marino Marini, a Babylonian carved figure and a rock presented to her by members of the Canadian Armed Forces serving in Afghanistan. Tibetan thangkas painted on silk and smuggled out at the time of occupation hang in the dining area. In the guest bedroom, much of one wall is taken up by an Inuit collection commissioned by Ms. Bata for World Wildlife Fund Canada.

Photos by Shai Gil

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With her four children grown and with families of their own, Ms. Bata gave away much of her collection – including the pieces of fine English antique furniture that suited the traditional decor of her former Bridle Path home but wouldn’t suit the condo. Ms. Dubbeldam was glad to see that Ms. Bata kept her mid-20th-century furniture by Saarinen, Eames and Ponti. ‘If you design excellent things, they don’t seem to age – they go on and on and on,' says Ms. Bata, inviting a visitor to take a seat in the iconic Womb Chair designed by Eero Saarinen. 'If something is really well-designed, it has a life of its own.'

Shai Gil

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The white walls and whitened oak floors throughout unify and brighten the space, Ms. Dubbeldam says, while also focusing attention on the art. The walnut adds warmth and character. Soft furnishings are mainly in a neutral palette of white, sand and stone. “The idea was to have no colour – that the artifacts would stand on their own,” Ms. Bata says.

Shai Gil

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