When Cheryl Hodder first saw her downtown Halifax condo the sophistication of a Victorian England gentlemen’s club immediately came to mind. Located in a downtown Halifax building dating to the 1880s, the one-bedroom suite is the smallest of the building’s 14 units. But even at 860 square feet, it’s big on Old-World style with high ceilings, exposed brick walls, hardwood floors, and an imposing and ornately carved fireplace mantle.
“This is my retreat,” says Hodder, on the sofa with her feet curled up under her. “Every time, I walk in, I take a big sigh. I’m home.”
She could picture what she wanted; she just wasn’t sure how to get it. Besides, there was the added challenge of downsizing from a much larger home to a one-bedroom condo. So Hodder, a partner with the Halifax law firm McInnes Cooper with a demanding schedule, turned to interior decorator Shay Ingram of Shay Interiors for assistance.
“Gentlemen’s clubs were initially created as private places where men could go to relax and escape the busy world while entertaining close friends,” says Ingram. “That’s what Cheryl was after. As a professional woman who travels the world, she was looking for the perfect retreat to come home to.”
Ingram was able to achieve a sense of intimacy and simplicity in the main space, which does double duty as both a living and dining room. On one side, upholstered dining chairs encircle an antique pedestal table over which hangs an unusual brass retractable light fixture. On the other side of the room, in front of the fireplace, two club chairs and a low profile sofa are arranged around a long, custom-made ottoman.
There are rich textures throughout, from the soft velvet upholstery and the thick wool pile of a hand-knotted Bokhara rug to the smooth, reflective surfaces of glass side tables and a large mirror in a heavy gilt frame. Every piece of furniture, every burnished accent, is tasteful and carefully considered.
“The essence of this style is timeless not trendy. It’s comfortable and conducive to conversation,” adds Ingram. “The original brickwork provided a masculine edge that got us rolling. That, combined with the style of the wooden mantle, provided the textures and deep rich colours that are the foundations for this look.”
As refined as it is, the space is not stuffy at all and ideal for entertaining. Hodder says it works well for a small dinner party that moves easily from the dining table to the sitting area for continued conversation. It’s also perfect to enjoy solo with “the French press and The Globe and Mail on lazy Saturday mornings.”
Ingram has balanced the pretty and light with the handsome and dark. Like the lush floral painting set against the brick wall and linen drapes printed with real gold leaf for a touch of sparkle.
“Updating the style to work for the modern woman, we used furniture pieces with classic shapes but veered from the expected with the coverings,” says Ingram. “The burgundy dining chairs have a reptilian texture and the club-style chairs and sofa are fabric instead of leather, softer to the touch. The living room furniture is lighter in shade, which is more feminine. The chandelier was an opportunity to inject a more current shape while incorporating a vintage brass finish.”
Art takes the starring role in Hodder’s home, reflecting a deeply personal passion for collecting, ignited by the purchase of her first piece: a Warholesque painting of a soup can. She fell in love with the painting, but couldn’t afford it as a young lawyer in her first year of practice. She says she was overjoyed when local artist Paul Hannon let her pay him with postdated cheques.
She strolled home from the art show at the Economy Shoe Shop that night with the small canvas tucked under her arm. Appreciative of Hannon’s generosity and talent, she promised herself that from that moment on she would only buy original art.
Now her collection contains work primarily by Nova Scotian artists including Holly Carr and Alan Bateman from Canning, Ivan Murphy from Halifax, Kath Kornelsen Rutherford from Musquodoboit Harbour, and other favourites picked up while travelling. “I choose art that I have an emotional reaction to,” she says. “I’ve met some amazing people and their work gives me such pleasure and joy.”
The main living space’s sense of comfort and femininity, not to mention the emphasis on original art, carry over to the bedroom. There’s little furniture, a bed, simple wooden side tables and a crystal chandelier floor lamp, but the effect is luxurious and sumptuous. The pièce de résistance? “This is the Taj Ma Closet,” Hodder laughs, pulling drawers and opening the doors of a built-in unit that provides floor-to-ceiling storage for her wardrobe.
She’s grateful she decided to seek out a professional when it came to transforming her new place into a home. “Shay has such creativity, wonderful ideas, and the ability to source the materials. For me, it was really worth it.”
She doesn’t pine for the expansiveness of her former home. The things she treasures are all around her, in their place. Plus condo living has so many perks: no lawn to mow or snow to shovel. A downtown location means restaurants and the grocery store are a short walk away and the commute to work is a pleasant, 25-minute stroll along the Halifax waterfront.
“I mean, how much space do you actually need?” she says. “When your home is organized and it has the things you love, well, this place is all I need. It’s my haven.”