Jackie Di Cara has long lived by the design motto, “If it’s not beautiful or useful, it has no place in your home,” but walking the walk got substantially easier recently when she rebuilt her home around the concept. In 2016, when their son, Dane, was a fast-growing toddler, Jackie and her husband, Nino (he owns a publishing company focused on electric vehicles), finally gave up on their “cool and happening” St. Lawrence Market condo in Toronto and moved out to a more kid-friendly neighbourhood near the lake and local shops and cafés. But the charming wood and cedar-shingled two-storey home they bought — built in 1895 as a quaint holiday cottage just outside the city was dark, cramped and poorly laid out. So, they embarked on an eight-month reno that saw them gut the interior “Literally nothing remained; we stood in the basement and could see the sky” and add a third-f loor principal suite, taking the 1,500-square-foot living space up to 2,200. Jackie spoke to us about the pitfalls of being both homeowner and designer on the project, and about how she builds (and maintains!) her decorated minimalist look.
Clean-lined elements such as the new staircase and flat-front white oak built-ins are the architectural underpinnings of Jackie’s modern redesign.Cabinetmaker, Kattlus Cabinetry & Millwork; engineered hardwood flooring (throughout), Silverwood Flooring; pendants by Pablo Bola, GR Shop by Gabriel Ross; faucetby Waterstone, Roman Bath Centre; black bowl,Elte; lamp (on countertop), Kelly Wearstler.
Question: What inspired your aesthetic for the new spaces?
JACKIE DI CARA: In part, this design is the culmination of research I’ve done for clients — all those pent-up design ideas I never got to express. I’ve always been inclined toward relaxed, contemporary interiors, so the shell of the house — the built-ins, the staircase, the fireplace — is clean and simple but with some warmth. It’s a bit Scandinavian, and a bit Californian, too.
Q: What were your steps in developing the design?
JDC: It started with the materials. I knew everything was going to be light and fresh with hits of black. Light Scandinavian f looring, and light wood for the kitchen cabinets, built-ins, and even the window trim. Then, I designed the millwork. In a contemporary house, there’s not a lot of trim, so the millwork creates the architectural character. Especially the staircase you don’t get more minimalist than that. With a clean shell, I can rotate my personal items and have those be the stars. I think of the look as decorated minimalism
Q: You moved the staircase. Why?
JDC: It chopped the house in half it was in the middle, cutting from one side to the other. Now it runs up one side, which let us do an open-concept layout on the main f loor and create a light well.
Q: How does the light well work?
JDC: There’s a skylight on the third f loor and an open space running alongside the new stairs fromthere, down to the basement. It does a great job of brightening the space, even on overcast days. It’s my husband’s favourite part of the reno!
Q: What else was on your reno wish list?
JDC: Open-concept family living on the main floor, with the kitchen in the centre. A third-f loor master retreat. We both wanted a fireplace. I love the aesthetic of a three-sided glass fireplace, and Nino loves the practical side: if there’s a blackout, we can keep ourselves warm. Plus, little things like an instant-boil tap in the kitchen. My husband, being British, drinks a cup of tea every seven minutes!
Q: The millwork is so integral to the look. How did you plan it?
JDC: I find symmetry very calming, so I strove for that with the built-ins. In the kitchen, I did the cabinets with the fridge-freezer at one end and tall pantries at the other. I also added opportunities for display: the living room bookshelves, the wraparound f loating shelves on the island and the black steel boxes under the upper cabinets. And I had to incorporate storage because, in an open space, there are no doors to let you close away the clutter. Everything has to have a place. For example, four deep drawers in the fireplace unit hold all of Dane’s toys, and drawers in the banquette stash craft supplies.
Q:How was working on your own home different from working with clients?
JDC: I have a newfound sense of empathy for all the decisions my clients have to make! With clients, I go through three to five options per piece, whereas I needed to see more like 35 options per piece. I tortured myself a bit; it wasn’t pretty fromwhat my husband says. But I got some unique pieces and I’m content I made the right choices.