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The team at Paul Lavoie Interior Design takes inspiration from "Alice in Wonderland" for this dazzlingly colourful family home.
“Extreme creativity.” That succinct directive was the essence of a project that became the Wonderland House—a singular inner-city home for a Calgary couple whose desire for vibrancy inspired new heights of inventiveness in the team at Paul Lavoie Interior Design.
For Julie Lanctot, managing director at the design firm, working on the 8,700- square-foot home—which was custom-constructed by Maillot Homes—was a purely joyful experience. “Every designer has a ‘tickle trunk’ of favourite fabrics and wallpaper awaiting just the right client, but most of us never get to open the box,” she says, “With this house? We got to explode the box.” Adding to the fun over the three-year project was the inspiration for the design: the dreamy, adventurous world of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (with a dose of Harry Potter magic).
Inspired by the design firm’s impactful use of colour, the clients—a growing family—approached Lavoie and Lanctot with their idea of creating a whimsical, one-of-a-kind home that reflected the famous 1865 children’s novel. Their vision, says Lanctot, “made us rise to the challenge of who they are. They are unafraid, and they pushed us to create this uncompromisingly distinctive home.”
The kitchen features floor-to-ceiling banquettes and high-gloss cabinets in teal—a strikingly bold commitment to a colour usually dished out in throw-pillow-sized bites. Dividing kitchen from living room is the hardest-working piece of furniture in the house: the long console (black on top, purple underneath) is HQ for the kids to eat breakfast, do homework and watch TV while perched on its candy-coloured faux leather stools.
The U-shaped custom sofa that sits in front of the console is a subtle example of how Lanctot both tempers and highlights the saturated gemstone colours that are abundant throughout the home. “I knew we were doing colourful pillows and stools so I chose a more neutral fabric as a base for the largest piece in the room,” she says. These restrained choices, paced throughout the house—the dining room chairs, as well as a couple of rugs, are similarly tweedy-flecked—let the flamboyant, mad-tea-party vibes sing. The overall result is both extravagant and cozy.
The powder room is, as Alice might say, a “curiouser and curiouser” trip into imagination and colour. A slab of sliced geodes forms the vanity and mirror frame. The piece was originally backlit with white light, but Lanctot saw the opportunity to play up the glamour and mystery by swapping the original lighting out for a colour-changing version.
One of the children’s bedrooms recalls Alice’s topsy-turvy world with pops of colour on the ceiling and in the shelves and accessories. On the third floor, a maze incorporated into the tiled floor is a delight both for the homeowners’ daughter and for visiting adults. A nod to the labyrinth hedge maze in Carroll’s novel, the puzzle presented Lanctot (and the tilers) with an unusual challenge. “That was one of the most difficult and gratifying aspects of the home for me,” she says. “The clients wanted a game in the floor, and it had to be solvable as well as sophisticated.”
A particularly extraordinary feature of the home is its two-storey library, in this case inspired by Dumbledore’s office in the Harry Potter book series. Thrilled by the homeowners’ challenge to reflect the beloved fictitious space, Lanctot came up with a concept for the room that included floor-to-ceiling oak panelling and bookcases, along with a custom phoenix chandelier. To ensure that the library was harmonious with the rest of the home, she added a Wonderland twist by lining the shelves with a colour-coordinated rainbow of books: “The clients have thousands of their own books, and this section serves as an art installation in the room.”
In less competent hands, the Wonderland vision could have manifested as a cacophony of visual noise. (As designer Paul Lavoie notes, “Colour is not an easy thing.”) But in this home, the Alice story is provided with restful balance via a strong neutral throughline of white porcelain flooring on the main floor and white hardwood on the second, along with white door casings and baseboards—and, most impactfully, a white, three-storey sculptural staircase.
For Lanctot, part of the home’s magic was the alchemy of the owners’ level of trust combined with their desire to be delighted. Remarkably, the couple left builder and design team to interpret their dream, forgoing any walkthroughs during the last three months of completion. “They wanted the rush of going through their finished home, experiencing the surprises just as visitors to the house will,” says Lavoie. The couple met the designers and their builder at the door and they toured the home together. “As a designer, it was a dream come true,” recalls Lanctot.
In the kids’ lounge, the wallpaper pattern features photo illustrations of faces looking matter-of-factly into the room. They’re nobody famous—just invented strangers—but, as Lavoie says, “they get to live here, too.” Lucky them.
Originally published in the October 2023 issue of Western Living Magazine.
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