Photos by Conrad Brown.
It all started with the bedroom carpet.
Jeff Liu and partner Val Giang had been living happily in their 778-square-foot Fairview condo since 2013, but when it was time to change the dusty, ancient carpet in the bedroom, they decided, as an exercise, to make a quick list of anything else they didn’t like about the space. That list, it turned out, went much further than a carpet replacement. There was the dark, cramped 1980s kitchen, for starters, an awkwardly laid-out bathroom… and all the other less-than-perfect features that come with a 1980s unit. “We thought, well, we may as well deal with it all now,” says Liu.
Luckily, Liu knew better than most what a renovation would take. As a designer for Falken Reynolds Interiors, his job involves overseeing and orchestrating home makeovers all over the city. (Liu also co-owns Notae Studio, a product design consultancy.) So he was well positioned to make his own project a veritable “best of” of those past projects (with the help of contractor Leftcoast Homes), applying past design lessons, adopting the smartest solutions, and reclaiming favourite materials and furniture pieces for his own home sweet home.
Liu comes from a product design background (he formerly worked at Fluevog and as a freelance furniture designer), and so brings a design eye to both the big picture and little details —the kind of guy who gets excited about a well mitered bedside table. Val—an addictions doctor—was happy to be along for the ride. “I love design. I know nothing about it, but I love being surrounded by these beautiful things and having everything be really functional.” That’s not to say she didn’t have her own contributions here and there, like suggesting they install open shelving to showcase their favourite pieces: “The passion for me is looking at and slowly curating the little things that we love.”
It’s not just the shelves that display the homeowners’ great taste: each piece of furniture and art was carefully selected, with local artists and designers front and centre. A Bensen Radii table and Tokyo chairs (as well as some not-so-local Fritz Hansen chairs) gather below a Bocci 84.11 pendant light. A Scott Sueme painting (Joy Rinse) hangs by the dining table; across the room is a work from Gillian Richards (Melting). It’s all showcased on a simple, muted backdrop of white oak and white millwork by Out of Line Designs.
In the living room, a television set is conspicuously absent. “Growing up, my dad had a good sound system, and I loved to watch him clean and spin his records. I really wanted to recreate that,” says Liu. The room is centred around the homeowners’ own hi-fi unit. Vintage Italian speakers flank a cabinet packed with records and a USM Haller system. “It’s a space dedicated to reading books and listening to music,” says Liu. Linen drapery from Cloth Studio brings warmth and a softness to the living space.
The area is bathed in natural light, which pools on the quirky Jan Kath rug and woven Gentry Moroso sofa. A Pilot lounge chair from Knoll is paired with a Cassina Mex Cube ottoman and Cappellini Cannot table. A wild and wonderful Akari Horn lamp designed by Noguchi watches over the space, a piece Liu discovered while doing research for a Falken Reynolds client. One of his favourite perks of the job, he says, is the exposure to brands and talking to people with different tastes. “I saw the lamp while going through options for clients and it stood out for being so sculptural,” says Liu. “It’s got a big presence.”
The once-cramped kitchen is now Val’s favourite space in the house. “Even before the pandemic we would spend a lot of time here cooking together,” says Val. “Jeff’s opened up the space so we didn’t feel trapped.” The Caesarstone countertops are roomy, and the appliances are all integrated, giving the space a clean, open feeling.
A home workspace is setup with a Herman Miller Everywhere table and Bensen Torii chair, with shelving from Vitsoe (a Falken Reynolds go-to) for books. For the bathroom, the vibe is muted and spa-like, with walls covered in textural Mutina Pico Up tile. The regular tub was swapped for a deep soaker, and cove lighting (a Falken Reynolds signature) was added.
There weren’t a lot of bright spots in this quarantine — but the fact that the renovation finished up just before lockdown (and the fact they had a spacious 500-square-foot patio space right outside their door) is something the couple is grateful for. Says Val, “It’s so nice to come home to an oasis.”