Photos by Tracey Ayton
As the old adage goes, “Never mix business with pleasure.” And carefully maintaining that distinction is exactly what Ben Leavitt, designer and co-founder of Vancouver’s PlaidFox Studio, did for most of his career. But when friends Michael Walsh and Chris Pavlou, in deference to this principle, approached him for a referral to another designer, Leavitt said, “Why don’t you show me pictures?” After seeing said photos of his friends’ new space—a heritage loft building in Gastown with great bones and turn-of-the-century floors—Leavitt decided it was time to bend his own rule.
Walsh and Pavlou were living in a cookie-cutter condo in Yaletown and had been hunting for something more unique. When a place in a 1910-era building came up, the two jumped. No stranger to blueprints and layouts (Walsh works in real estate and development), the pair came to the design table with clear criteria. They wanted “something masculine, sophisticated and luxurious,” and they wanted the heritage elements of the condo to be balanced with a thorough contemporary vibe. Outside of that, they were happy to see new ideas.
POPPING OFF “We wanted dark and moody with pops of colour throughout, but we were happy to be challenged,” says homeowner Michael Walsh. The chandelier, marble counters and dark cabinets create a luxe feel, but when paired with a blue sofa and sassy artwork throughout, the space shows that it doesn’t take itself too seriously.
“Often I have to push clients to embrace colour,” says Leavitt. “But Michael and Chris were down with bright colours, art deco, jewel tones.” In fact, the couple came to their designer friend with a picture of a velvet-tufted sofa in bright blue. “These owners really wanted to challenge themselves,” says Leavitt. “It was a reflection of a couple who travels all the time—Michael is originally from Australia and Chris is from South Africa—and the more you see, the more adventurous you are in design.” The trio conceived of a vision: their home would reflect their story, where they came from, while still pushing their limits with hue and texture.
Before the decor palette could be addressed, though, the loft’s architectural shell would first need to be refinished. Leavitt wanted the home to feel “old world” with its high ceilings, exposed beams and original maple flooring, but the latter was in bad shape. “Most clients would have ripped the floors out, but Michael and Chris were determined to make sure the home maintained a sense of history,” he says. “A lot of time was spent sanding, filling and repairing them to keep their natural patina.”
IN THE MIX Mixed materials in the kitchen—exposed wood beams, brick, marble and pops of gold—create a sophisticated speak-easy vibe.
The condo’s two bathrooms were gutted while the dining room and kitchen traded places. Where once a galley kitchen stood, you’ll now find a dining room—with an 18-foot velvet banquette cleverly hiding the unsightly gas pipes while also serving as extra seating. The dark-grey-hued kitchen feels simultaneously like an intimate heart of the home and a practical jewel box.
DESIGNING DISCOVERY “Trusting your intuition is so important when you’re doing an eclectic home,” says designer Ben Leavitt of PlaidFox Studio. “It’s important to not have too much of a preconceived notion of what the final product will look like. You have to be totally open and adjust along the way.”
In open loft living, every space interconnects, which can present interior design challenges when layering shade upon shade. “Here, you really need to rely on your gut,” says Leavitt. “Designing a home with a lot of different colours is like a Rubik’s Cube—there’s twisting and playing, twisting and playing, and eventually it clicks.”
The trick is knowing when to pull back and when to push. Take, for example, the dining room, where textural differences abound: a black terrazzo table, brushed brass chairs wrapped in quilted antique leather and that elegant velvet banquette all work in concert against a brick wall adorned with a splashy high-gloss painting. “It’s not super crazy, yet nothing is boring,” says Leavitt. “It all has vibrancy and texture and it all has a story.”
But for the furniture chapter of that story, the page was initially blank. Walsh and Pavlou felt it was time for a reset, and so hadn’t brought any furniture with them, save for a piano (Pavlou plays) and two pieces of art. Despite this, Leavitt wanted to ensure the new home reminded them of all of their travels and that every fresh piece had a story attached to it.
So, in the kitchen hangs a Gray Malin picture of a kangaroo at the Parker Hotel, and a 20-foot wall of artwork features portraits of camels and cockatoos, reminding the pair of their global jaunts. A handmade brass box from India came from a tiny antique store in Brooklyn, while a seven-foot custom art deco chandelier was inspired by one in the lobby of the Georgia Hotel. “If we had used more crystal, it would have felt more French and elegant,” explains Leavitt. “But we were not going for elegant; we were going for interesting.”
In every single meeting, the two sides came to the table to play with myriad ideas—all different, but always seeming to mesh. “We never paid attention to the theme of the apartment,” says Leavitt.
“It was always just what felt like a good combination.” As such, you can’t tell what’s new and what’s old, but there’s definitely boldness throughout. After all, as Leavitt puts it, “Bold should always win over boring.”