How Oliver Simon Design gave actor Callum Keith Rennie’s loft a makeover—without it looking like a makeover.
It took a few years for film and television actor Callum Keith Rennie (Battlestar Gallactica, The Firm) to finally give in to his friend, designer Jamie Hamilton. “I kept telling him, ‘You’re a movie star; you deserve a beautiful space,’” she laughs as she recalls looking around his vintage-’90s digs. Eventually, he gave in to her pleas for an update; off to Toronto for six months to shoot a new project, he handed over the keys to Hamilton and Greer Nelson (her partner at Oliver Simon Design), knowing his 900-square-foot loft would be gutted in his absence. “Just one thing,” he told them. “Don’t make it look designed.”
Translation: what Rennie was really asking for was a home that looked like it had naturally evolved. “A place a dude has designed,” explains Hamilton. “Something masculine and casual. Something that was him.”
In addition to his acting work, Rennie is a committed painter. So, after the original space was stripped to the bones, new walls were kept gallery white in order to highlight his extensive (and gritty) collection. (His own work mingles with paintings by Ronan Boyle and a fantastic Graeme Berglund dog sculpture that’s composed of scrap wood retrieved from alleys.) Rennie paints at home, so the floors could not be precious, either: the original painted floors were ground down and covered with a layer of polished concrete. As a bonus, the concrete pairs perfectly with the rich caramel tones of a generously proportioned leather sectional that anchors the living space.
This neutral 16-foot-high box was then girded with beams of reclaimed timber. A metal staircase that Nelson considered “really dated and crowding the space” was replaced by floating wooden steps that lead up to the bedroom loft. There, an original plywood floor was replaced with weathered, warehouse-recovered wood. Meanwhile, steel ceiling beams were cleverly encased in wood, too, giving this 20-year-old loft a century-old appearance. More millwork was needed to create a simple platform for the bed. And the bedroom was completed with a couple of nods to Rennie’s film career: a James Dean canvas and his two Leo Awards rest on the walnut dresser. (The cowhide rug and vintage men’s hat collection fulfill Hamilton’s “dude” promise.)
Like the bedroom, the bathroom (downstairs) called for a shift in time—but also more literal movement. “It was just too small,” explains Hamilton. “Terribly small.” So one wall was pushed two feet out, into the kitchen’s space. (The kitchen, consequently, stole two feet from the large living room, so nothing felt diminished in the end.) An antique steel sink-and-vanity unit, compact but big on storage, was sourced from a defunct factory in India. The plumber was able to modernize its one-tap industrial piping. Other imported heritage elements include hexagonal tilework on the floor and a gorgeous claw-foot tub, complete with brightly polished claws. Collections of antique trophies in the cabinet and antique scissors dangling by the tub give off more metallic hints to brighten and enliven the loft’s only windowless room.
When Rennie came home from that Toronto film shoot, he discovered that his “un-designed” space had plenty of thoughtful elements. It takes work to look so casual. The full-length mirror in the living room, for example? It’s set there to accommodate Rennie’s work on his golf swing (there are handy wire baskets full of golf balls, too). And the front door coated with blackboard paint? It’s Hamilton and Nelson’s way to manage another Rennie trait: he has a tendency to draw on his walls; this way, he doesn’t do damage.
When it’s time for bed, privacy isn’t a big concern for the bachelor—but daylight definitely is. All that travel for work means he’s often trying to get some shut-eye at odd hours. But this too has been subtly considered: the curtains are blackout drapes. One more way this “un-designed” space designs on the sly.