Christy Bussey and Christopher Murphy started dating in university. Both Newfoundlanders and medical students, they were very much on the same page. They moved to Halifax in 2007 to start their careers and a family.
“We looked for three years and didn’t find anything that felt like our house,” says Christy. Many of their friends were buying new homes on the city’s outskirts, but Christopher says that wasn’t for them.
Then Christy found a home near the Hydrostone district on Kijiji. The Halifax Explosion largely levelled the area in 1917. Today it’s a stylish neighbourhood featuring a strip of boutiques and restaurants.
Built in the late 1950s, the slender two-storey home is typical of Halifax houses from the period: rooms are small and awkwardly shaped with little in the way of storage. “It was all about making the most of our chance encounters,” says Christopher. “Even before we moved here, we had all of these connections to the neighbourhood.” One of his co-workers lived next door, and the daycare their daughter attended was down the street.
Christy, Christopher, and their two children (then seven-year-old Finn and two-year-old Stella) moved into their new home in 2010. For the first few years, they lived among the furniture the couple collected throughout their early 20s.
The living room housed two oversized blue couches Murphy bought with his brother during medical school. “We couldn’t figure out how to organize the couches,” says Christy. “In that room, there’s a big fireplace on one wall and a big window on the other wall, and then a doorway on each of the other sides.”
In addition to the couch conundrum, the couple’s tastes clashed as they moved into their 30s and started buying new furniture to fill out their home.
Enter Sappho Griffin, owner of Henhouse, a Halifax interior-design firm. “They both have very different personalities, and they each love different things,” says Griffin. “He tends toward the pop-art retro look. She tends toward the softer more romantic look. But they both love each other’s style, so it was fun smashing those two styles together to please them both.”
Griffin’s first project at the home was tiny: the TV room closet. The room is long, but narrow. Christy purchased a sectional sofa that fit the whole family for movie night, but it didn’t work with the closet’s odd positioning in one corner of the room. Griffin installed wooden shelves, and today the former closet displays books, DVDs, and family photos.
Griffin suggested restyling the room to highlight the new sofa. She added a splash of colour and comfort to the neutral sofa with custom pillows. On the day of the big reveal, she staged the room with lamps and local art.
Choosing art is no easy feat. Griffin says that many of her clients are surprised to learn that galleries like Halifax’s Teichert Gallery rent pieces. “You have to live with a piece and see it in different lights to know if you want to keep it,” she says. “You can also just rent and change your art every few months.” If you do decide to buy a rented piece, the monthly fees come off the purchase price.
“We actually bought a lot of what she brought that day,” says Christy of the art and other décor pieces now adorning the room. “Stella always says, ‘why can’t you say no to Sappho?” Stella chimes in that her parents have said no to Griffin exactly twice. “She’s right,” Christopher laughs. “Sappho took a lot of time to really get to know us, and what we wanted.”
On her next project, Griffin convinced Christopher to part with the blue couches. They went to a friend’s cottage (Christopher says he can get them back if Finn wants them for university). The living room gained a stylish brown leather sofa that fits the shape of the room and Christy and Christopher’s now grown-up tastes.
Like most of Griffin’s clients, the couple started out with a consultation and a room plan. “It’s really about figuring out the bones of the space,” Griffin says. The plan included a layout for the room, furniture and décor suggestions, and a mood board with colour and pattern ideas.
Over the last two years, Christy and Christopher have worked with Griffin on several rooms. “Now it’s hard to stop,” Christy says. “We will stop for a few months and look at our budget and then get going again when we’re ready.”
Griffin doesn’t mind the delays, and says it’s the best way to approach a whole-home décor transformation. “There’s a benefit to letting things settle in between stages and letting things evolve as you work on your home décor,” she says. “It’s great to have a plan, but it doesn’t have to be rigid. As you add a piece of furniture, or put a paint colour on the wall, things will evolve.”
Another benefit of building that relationship, says Christopher, is that Griffin knows the family and understands their needs. One of those was reusing some pieces already in the home. Griffin reupholstered the vintage kitchen chairs that came with a table Christy bought secondhand shortly after moving into the house. “A lot of furniture built in the ’30s, ’40s, and ’50s last for a long time and works with modern styles too,” says Griffin. “If you can breathe new life into something, then I love that.”
The home is stylish, but homey. One wall in the kitchen features a collection of china plates that Murphy inherited from his aunt when he was in medical school. When Christy showed them to Griffin as an example of the kinds of colours the pair both liked, the designer suggested hanging the plates on the wall.
Like the plates, a lot of the home’s décor has special meaning. The couple purchased some of their art while on vacation. Christopher has a mask collection, including some pieces he picked up while teaching English in South Korea. He wants to hang them in the basement when Griffin makes it down there. “These are all memories,” he says. “As we move though the house we remember them.”
The basement is next on the to-do list. Griffin started on it last year when she designed built-in shelving to contain the family’s hundreds of board games. In the middle of the room sits a large, empty, salt-water fish tank. It was in the basement when they bought the house. “It’s our goal,” says Christy. “This is not going to be set-up until everything is dealt with in the basement.”
Looking around the partially finished room, she points to spots that still need work, including Christopher’s office area and the space under the stairs. “We love this house,” she says. “We’ll be here indefinitely, which is why we keep doing things. We’re in no rush to finish it. It just keeps going.” Christopher laughs, adding, “Yeah, eventually we’ll run out of things and have to start all over again.”