In Alan and Naomi Kriss’s house, the dining room walls tell a story. The hand-painted mural by Sophie J. Williams, a family friend and recent graduate from Sheridan College, is rife with inside jokes and personal scenes of life in Toronto’s High Park-Roncesvalles Village. “She created a landscape of our favourite aspects of the neighbourhood,” says Naomi, including local markets and shops, Lake Ontario and nearby 400-acre High Park. “Remember when the peacock escaped High Park Zoo? It’s pictured on our roof,” she says.
The couple met Williams years ago, when they forgot to register their youngest son (they have three) for camp. Williams was suggested as a replacement. “So, he had Camp Sophie,” Naomi says. “And then Camp Sophie never left. She transitioned from babysitter to household helper to chef to errand runner.” And finally, to commissioned muralist. The scenes she created for the mural, in a style that was based on turn-of-the-century hand-painted wallpaper, reflect her intimate connection to the Kriss family. “Our oldest son leaves socks everywhere and she’s very used to our house. Sophie knew there had to be a hidden sock [in the mural],” Naomi says.
The quirky wall treatment serves as a finishing touch to the dining space, which complements the newly renovated and adjoining kitchen. “We wanted to use our dining room more than we had before and make it into a room that could be used all the time, every day, and for any kind of use,” Alan says. “So, we were looking for a way to lighten it up.” Naomi poses another objective: “How can we preserve the past and still bring it into the future?” They maintained the original dark wood window frames, wall panels and picture rail, dating from 1910, while introducing lighting and multipurpose furnishings that brought a contemporary and fun feeling.
The couple had help from friends Cindy Rendely, of Cindy Rendely Architexture, and architect Megan Cassidy when it came to material selection and lighting. “We’d always dreamed of a nice wood table, but there’d be too much wood in here,” Naomi says. So Rendely "suggested materials like fabric, laminate and leather.” The Bulthaup C2 table was an inspired choice and “absolutely the right solution for a busy family of five,” she says. The felt-covered Le Corbusier-designed two-seater is likewise durable and useful after big dinners. The leather chairs, by Mario Bellini and purchased at Ital Interiors, were a risk that paid off. “I always loved them but was a bit scared when I found them on sale in red,” Naomi says. “But the red adds levity, so it turns out they were the ideal colour.”
The 85 Lamps chandelier by Dutch design company Droog was also a find. “We had wanted it for a long time and finally found it in an antique store, all tangled and dusty,” Naomi says. They bought the iconic early 1990s fixture anyway and after an extensive process of detangling and hand-washing each of the 85 individual light bulbs, it worked, bringing even more frivolity and humour to the space. The addition of pot lights brought some much-needed supplemental illumination after “we had a dinner party and somebody mistook the salt for Parmesan cheese,” Naomi says. “We needed better lighting to make it an everyday room.”
Over all, they’re thrilled with the result, and especially with the mural by Williams, which is a culmination and celebration of their family life in all its whimsy. “It’s very loving and true. Sophie loves us, we love her and she loves the house. It’s her first [commissioned mural] and we couldn’t be happier,” Naomi says. “The room sings.”
Get the Look
85 Lamps chandelier by Droog, $4,448.52 at Interior Deluxe.
Bellini chair, $220 at Design Within Reach.
Cassina LC2 two-seater sofa, starting at $7,290 at Gabriel Ross.
Virginia Johnson Nasturtium square cushion, $39.99 at Hudson’s Bay.
Wool placemat by Hay Denmark, $14 at The Modern Shop.
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