A 3,500 square-foot brownstone in Yorkville offers moments of magic around every corner
by ALEXANDRA CAUFIN
photography by LARRY ARNAL
WHEN ORIGINAL PICASSO ceramics and an early-career Emily Carr oil painting find themselves in your personal art collection, you’d better believe they anchor the architecture around them.
Victoria Foley and Paul Fredricks lived in their Yorkville brownstone for more than a decade before taking on a tip-to-toe renovation—so when they did, they were ready. “It was time for the house to become an expression of what we really wanted,” Foley says. First up in that playbook: to breathe a strong contemporary spirit into the 1890s-built Victorian, one that simultaneously honoured the architectural heritage of the neighbourhood. Second, to create intentional spaces for the couple’s 100-plus artworks without sacrificing liveability and comfort.
From vibrant sculpture to digital art designed for the screen, the couple’s modern collection was sure to do anything but fade into the background. What was needed was a white cube infused with a healthy dose of passion and personality. Gallery-like, yes. Cold and institutional? No thanks.
Longtime friend Thomas Tampold—architect and owner of Yorkville Design Centre—was more than up to the task. Alongside heritage architecture firm ERA, Tampold created harmony with a radical reconfiguration of the ground floor, anchoring four levels—including a 1,000-square-foot addition in the attic—around a single bold gesture: a stunningly multi-faceted Brazilian delicatus granite that finds its way into nearly every room of the house.
But first things first. An ill-fitting arts-and-crafts porch added in the 1970s had to go, and while they were at it, traffic was redirected from the front façade to a sculptural entranceway on the side of the house. The street-facing exterior now pays homage to the neighbourhood’s nineteenth-century roots, featuring three narrow French doors that open as full-length windows.
The foyer on the east side of the building takes on a European feel, a subtle and quiet welcome point. Upon entering, visitors are greeted by a cheeky peek-through to the formal dining room. The small nook also houses Saying No Quietly, a bronze sculpture by American artist Gary Weisman. Across from it, another opening showcases Douglas Coupland’s infamous paint-splattered globe Pessimism and a glimpse into the energetic kitchen that awaits beyond.
The main floor is filled with these vignettes, providing each piece a thoughtful space to call home. Architecturally, they offer visual intrigue, fleeting sightlines and an airy movement of light and sound.
“If you were to draw a caricature of this space,” Tampold says, “you could think of it as a tree, growing up through the middle of the house. You enter through the trunk and the rooms are like branches that grow around it, peeking out from left to right.”
The designer also opted to functionally enhance the kitchen by relocating it to the rear of the home, it now seamlessly blends into the patio area outside. Much of this illusive indoor-outdoor experience is achieved by the granite flooring, which flows through the 20-foot doors and onto the exterior platform, connecting the two spaces.
As for the room’s bold colours and playful curves, Tampold was inspired by Sorel Etrog’s Kabuki, a 30-foot sculpture that lives in downtown Calgary; Paul and Victoria have the 24-inch home-sized version in their living room.
Of course, the kitchen’s standout is its defining delicatus palette, in which a thousand shades of porcelain and pewter wrap the island, countertop and cantilevered shelving, with Foley’s signature hue (Sienna orange) accenting the space. To balance this more is more spirit, nixed were upper cabinets, hanging light fixtures and handles of any kind. Minimalist full-length cupboards fade into the surrounding white walls.
The pared-back approach supports the furnishings as well, with slight silhouettes and compact proportions. A three-quarter-height divider in black oak provides additional storage and a bird’s eye nook perfectly suited for one of the couple’s beloved acquisitions: an iconic owl-shaped Picasso pitcher. Across from it, Lois Andison’s SALT, SUGAR, SWEET, SOUR flashes wordplay across a four-foot light box.
“I wanted a blended space,” Foley explains. “One that would feel more like an art salon than a kitchen.”
“It’s a great example of how modern art influences architecture,” Tampold echoes. “There are so many sculptural and artistic elements to this kitchen, it’s a work of art in itself.”
Dramatic floating stairs carry the delicatus granite up to the second and third floors where it takes on an accent role. Here, a typical three-bedroom space is transitioned to a solo master, bureau, and conversation room. In the latter, a petite fireplace of hand-rubbed burnished steel mimics its larger version in the living room below. Sketches by mid-century Canadian painter Jack Bush take pride of place on museum-grade ceramic wall panels which block heat and protect the artwork.
At the end of the hallway, an interior balcony overlooks the backyard and brings lofty vibes to the master bedroom. In the foreground of the A-frame window, a 9-foot plus Douglas Coupland A Meditation on Plastic No.3 sculpture completes the abstracted Canadiana silhouette. Bursts of orange spring from accessories and vibrant monochromatic paintings that mirror one another. “It’s a wise, clever colour,” says Foley of her signature hue. “Classic and contemporary at the same time.
Consistency among the spaces proves a guiding principle, winks of the Sienna orange and accents of granite can be found everywhere. But what truly unites this home is its many layers of experience: the endlessly shifting textures that beg a prolonged gaze.
The interested viewer will surely watch the paintings and sculptures evolve in the dawn, afternoon and evening light, offering new shades or surprise shadow play on the wall, such is the nature of dynamic artwork. But then, so does the granite. In one corner, it may be all eggplant and cream. In another, flecks of copper add a glimmer of metallurgy.
“This is my favourite,” Foley says, gesturing to a spot on the floor of the granite-clad master bathroom. “Like a little Picasso sketch.” Fredricks joins in, pointing out the faces which have appeared in the tile during a shave. The next day, he says, it could be gone. Such is the magic of natural stone.
And this home surely harnesses that magic, alongside its precious artworks, creating rooms of enchantment in which—to quote C.S. Lewis—things never happen the same way twice.