Photos by Ema Peter

Most people would wait until after a renovation to decorate, but these homeowners did the opposite. Recently married and planning to start a family, the young couple purchased a house—a 2,000-square-foot bungalow on Vancouver’s North Shore built in 1939—with the intent to knock it down and rebuild in a few years’ time. Until then, all they wanted was a comfortable space they could enjoy both as newlyweds and as first-time parents.

After taking a stab at DIY decorating, they realized they needed a second opinion. So they turned to Gillian Segal, principal and founder of Gillian Segal Design, who not only made over the home but also taught the couple to love its heritage elements. “Some people want to update things just for the sake of it, but there’s a lot of character in those old, storied details,” says Segal. “We really embraced them.”

Embracing that heritage meant keeping the arched doorways, flooring, moulding and original fireplace intact. “I actually found it all very charming,” she says. Instead of spending time and resources on the more permanent, structural components, Segal encouraged the homeowners to invest in things they could continue to enjoy after rebuilding.

In the living room, the designer drew inspiration from the tile hearth—which would have been costly to replace—and quickly got to work transforming the space with furniture and decor in complementary shades of blush, maroon and grey. “We wanted to make their budget go as far as we could by mixing custom pieces with some big-box finds,” says Segal.

The curved velvet sofa is one of those deeper investments. Unlike sectionals, which can be limiting because of their size and orientation, this custom-designed piece can be easily reconfigured to fit with other spaces down the road. The same goes for the Bensen U-Turn and Gubi occasional chairs, which can someday become welcome additions to a guest bedroom or master suite. “It’s pretty easy to place a single chair somewhere,” notes the designer.

With the sofa in place, the living room really started to take shape. Segal chose a handful of pieces that echoed its rounded form: the circular coffee and side tables, the spherical throw pillows, the vessels on the mantel and elsewhere. The artwork, too, is a celebration of smooth, curvilinear figures.

But where the living room offers a lesson on shape, the adjacent home office is a study in texture. Segal opted for a simple palette of nudes and creams, then layered in different materials for impact. The marble-patterned wallpaper, the linen drapes, the tambour credenza: each brings a sense of movement to the space.

Here, original heritage elements—the recessed ceiling, the moulding and the art deco-style border that runs along the edges of the floor—are also prominent. “The colour of the floors isn’t what I would consider trending in 2020,” laughs Segal. “But I loved that it was so different. It was fun to play it up using warmer nudes for the walls and window treatments.”

Of course, that doesn’t mean round shapes were completely left behind. Segal brought in a circular area rug from West Elm; the art piece that hangs on the wall was custom-made by the designer and her team by stretching canvas over a round frame and painting the edge in a darker tone for contrast and depth.

Segal describes the home as being “a typical little bungalow,” and opposite of open concept—something she sees as an advantage. “With an open-concept home, you walk through the front entrance and have a view of the entire main floor, which sometimes limits design and decorating,” she says. “When you have separate rooms, on the other hand, you don’t have to worry as much about how everything connects and flows.” This allowed for some liberties in how the kitchen, dining room, den and other rooms in the home were styled. The guest bedroom, for example, has a blue and turquoise scheme.

The second floor also has its own distinct look. Aside from the master bedroom and a bathroom, Segal had just a “teeny, tiny” landing at the top of the stairs to work with—which she transformed into a nursery after learning part way through the project that the couple was pregnant with their first child. 

“We kind of ignored the fact that it was little and open,” says the designer, who decorated the space in soothing neutrals and soft textiles. Segal, who herself just had her second child, loves that she can have a small part in a room where special moments between family occur. “The nursery is a place where parents spend a lot of hours,” she laughs. “We wanted it to be nice for the baby, and nice for mom and dad.”

At the end of the day, that’s what this project was all about: creating a comfortable home for the entire family, and “showing what good decorating can do,” says Segal—at least until the homeowners decide to launch that renovation.