Laura Hay: Designing Homes And Hideaways

How Laura Hay transformed an existing Ontario family cottage home into a modern retreat.

Growing up, Laura Hay was surrounded by creativity and business. Her passion was found in design and decor, with a seamstress grandmother, decor and gift-shop-owner mother and yarn-manufacturer father, operating his business with 500 employees. It’s safe to say that both business and the arts run in her blood.

Although Hay’s ultimate source of inspiration comes from travelling, she can draw inspiration from everywhere, including her clients, colleagues, friends, artists, galleries and architecture and wilderness, “To see and experience new things helps one appreciate what is important, what can improve, what can change and what should stay the same. Sometimes the influence is subtle, and sometimes it is huge,” says Hay.

With most of her time spent between Toronto, Blue Mountain and Georgian Bay, her projects fall within the 416, 905 and 705 area codes, “My weekend travel is double duty, and I love that about my job — it’s not 9-5.” Undeniably, Hay is a born creative hustler, and one of her recent projects displays her incredible ability to elevate the character of the homeowners’ and that of the home itself.

Hay’s definition of a well-designed home? “Interiors that combine great beauty with liveability. A well-designed home should reflect the individuals who live in the space and should enhance how they truly live every day.” We take a look at one of her latest projects, which captures just that.

Q: What can you tell us about the project in this feature?

A: Our client was a family that truly valued time spent together, fine wine, good company. As the designer, I was tasked with transforming an existing Ontario family cottage home. While location and landscape served as strong inspiration for the home’s cozy aesthetic, the homeowners themselves motivated a few unexpected amusements throughout.

I was focused on staying true to the chalet-chic aesthetic and to make it uniquely theirs. The main living area was a focal point for this family, and I was looking to infuse some life with my design, which materialized in the form of a casual decorating style with pops of vibrant colour and an open layout that invites family gatherings.

The original stained pine walls, floors and pickled pine ceilings and warm-wood cabinets were charming (and my clients loved them), but those didn’t quite enhance our vision for a more-modern retreat. We toned down the clashing mix of wood finishes and opted for a more streamlined look.

The home had to first reflect its owners, so we decided to keep the pine ceilings and took a toned-down approach to the rest. We removed the old vertical pine boards and swapped them out with beloved shiplap boards painted a fresh, winter-white hue.

At the heart of this home is a central fireplace. Here, the fireplace needed no introduction. We updated the existing traditional wood-burning stove with a contemporary, four-sided gas unit, enjoyed from every point in the main living and dining areas.

Adding to the modern touches, we painted the east and west gable ends in a warm grey hue that ties in with the dark fireplace and floors, in contrast to the white shiplap and pickled pine ceiling. This same dark hue is echoed on all interior doors to match the tone of the smoky, stained hardwood.

The home boasts a playful vibe that was largely guided by the homeowners’ modern tastes. We used small but mighty hits of colour and geometric patterns and low-maintenance furniture that puts comfort first, with style coming in at a close second.

Physical comforts are matched by a warm and inviting palette of colour, texture and materials: warm greys and vibrant jewel-toned textiles, like the dining room area rug and accent fabrics.

This warm, welcoming home is a haven for family, friends and fun, inspired by the people who live there and the environment around them. Our clients loved our design of the space and connected with it on a deeper level, which was our ultimate goal for this design project – and every project.

Q: What are some things that sets your design style apart from other designers?

A: My design style is eclectic; I’m rooted in traditional, but I’m inspired by modern forms. I am passionate about vernacular architecture, and I take inspiration from local materials, historic elements, climate and lifestyle. My finished spaces feel at home within their environment.

“I stay motivated by being with the clients and including them in the process”

Q: What motivates you to create and design?

A: I’m excited by new projects… both new and existing clients trusting us with the task of solving their most intimate lifestyle challenges. My favourite part of this job is bringing joy to my clients… and that starts with problem-solving and finishes with something more beautiful than they had imagined. Between the initial consultation and the installation, there are endless hours of project management. I stay motivated by being with the clients and including them in the process. The best projects involve a unified team approach.

My design motivation comes from within… I’ve always revelled in the satisfaction of improving something. Perhaps that is simply human… or maybe it’s obsessive!

Q: Where did you study, and when did you know you wanted to focus on interior design as a career choice?

A: I studied Interior Design & Planning at The Art Institute in Toronto. It was my second career after five years of operating a hospitality business. My mother told me to study Interior Design when I was in high school, but it didn’t seem “serious enough”, and so I didn’t listen to her. My first degree was in business, and I still think a BComm [Business Communications degree] is a great undergrad to have.

Q: Name three items that can turn any room into something you would see in a magazine?

1) Perfect Symmetry
2) Statement windows
3) Dramatic Focal Point: a perfectly placed piece of art, a statement fireplace, a chandelier

Q: What design trends can we look for this year?

A: The biggest trend is earth-inspired colour palettes and the growing use of natural inspired materials – honed marble, warm-toned and textured metal and casual luxury fabrics, such as linen. Organic forms inspire furniture pieces: mushroom and bean shapes, for example.

Custom millwork takes centre stage with a variety of interesting elements — curvilinear details, enhanced decorative mouldings, interesting faux finishes and non-wood-panel details that replicate stone, leather or other materials. Trims and casings and windows get a facelift with the use of contrast colours with earthy greens, moody blues and brown are gaining in popularity.

Q: What is your definition of joy?

A: Joy is feeling accomplished and deserving of life’s many pleasures: a glass of wine, a long cuddle, a good novel, a festive feast…

Q: What is your favourite saying?

A: The devil is in the details.

Q: Where do you like to dine in Toronto?

A: I stick to Ossington Avenue because it’s the most condensed and diverse dining scene in Toronto, and it’s literally a five-minute walk from my home. My favourites are Mamakas Tavern, Foxley and The Halifax Room.

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Estelle Zentil

Estelle Zentil