Renowned fashion designer Paul Hardy takes on his first interior design project, with predictably dramatic results—think gold ceilings and chandeliers galore.
The boundless mind and energy of Paul Hardy—the renowned Winnipeg-born fashion designer whose fan base includes Kate Hudson, Daniel Lanois and the late Carrie Fisher—can be grasped, if only fractionally, via a chandelier that hangs in the dining room of a home in Elbow Valley, just west of Calgary. Three feet in length and half as wide, the piece comprises two Home Depot fixtures mashed together and strung with a dozen peculiar items—a fly swatter, a vintage doll’s head and other antique toys—all spray-painted solid, glossy black. Certainly, it’s a conversation starter (one-half of the homeowner couple hated it until his dinner guests went nuts for it), but it’s not the most unusual piece in a house whose inhabitants can lay claim to being first to hire Hardy as an interior decorator.
A couple of years ago, amid several other enviable achievements, including designing costumes for Sarah McLachlan’s ballet and launching a hit shearling collection, Hardy curated an exhibit at Calgary’s Glenbow Museum. Kaleidoscopic Animalia examined the human relationship with animals via fashion and fabric, historical artifacts and artwork culled largely from Glenbow’s archives. Interestingly, the theme of the exhibit was influenced by thinking Hardy had done in conceiving the soul of this idiosyncratic Elbow Valley house a year earlier.
Hardy met one of the homeowners several years ago when she started buying his ready-to-wear collection. They forged a friendship and, when she told him she was confounded by her new family home (chosen in part due to its proximity to family), Hardy came out to take a look, with the intention of guiding her toward the most suitable of his interior-design friends. “She was overwhelmed at the idea of decorating it—it’s enormous and was brand new and billed as ‘French country’ by the builder,” says Hardy. He reassured his friend that the flow of the house was well designed and the physical spaces mindfully considered, and he left with the promise of a recommendation. His friend, meanwhile, couldn’t shake the feeling that the best designer to interpret her vision of a “dark and brooding” home layered with exquisite learning opportunities for her kids was Hardy.
“I guess she could see that I understood what she loved, the way I mixed materials and old and new in my boutique,” says Hardy. “She and her husband knew that, because of my business, I’d only be able to slowly chip away at their house. They were okay with that.” It took nearly four years, but today they’re delighted with a home that suits their busy lives with young kids and embodies the robust range of their passions and personalities.
In almost comical contrast to the deeply personal and wildly eclectic furniture, artwork and objects in this house was the couple’s starkly modernist former home. As Hardy puts it, “That was a nice house, but nobody would guess who lived there. It had no reflection of who they were or their personality or interests.” As if fleeing from a fire, the couple left their old digs with literally nothing but artwork and one end table; everything in their new house was custom-designed and -built (including several light fixtures and bookshelves by local industrial artist Cory Barkman) or hand-picked by Hardy. “I’m very much a storyteller in my clothing collections, and I do everything with a lot of intention,” he says. “I approached this project in the same manner.”
Here, virtually everything the eye or foot lands on illuminates, educates or otherwise gives curious pause. “My friend wanted everything in the house to be a point of learning for her kids about their family, about history, art, design, colour theory and the couple’s interests,” he explains. Of endless fascination to both the home’s school-aged residents and adult visitors alike are a rooster skeleton in the living room, a vintage working pay phone in the ensuite, an antique dental lamp in the master bedroom, a tiny Victorian-era princess-and-the-pea bed in the kitchen, a Great Lakes-printed rug in the office and—of particular interest to the over-18 crowd—a dazzlingly stocked wine cellar built entirely out of materials reclaimed from an old mercantile in France, with the racks, pallets, and flooring all reclaimed from French vineyards. Books abound on puzzling shelves all over the house, and every chair evokes a question or conversation (some answers include, “yes, that’s ostrich hide, yes, those are movie theatre seats and, yes, indeed, that’s lingerie elastic”).
As a fashion designer, Hardy has long proven his storytelling savvy: every collection, no matter how eclectic, is bound by a subtle but compelling narrative arc. And that holds true with his first interior, whose animalia narrative was born out of the homeowners’ collection of artwork. “I noticed that almost all of it featured animals: bears, buffalo, birds, beavers, et cetera,” says Hardy. “Oddly, when I asked my friend about it, she admitted that she hadn’t even realized the animal focus—they’d just been drawn to each piece individually.”
With characteristic intention, Hardy drew the theme out in ways both overt (a cheerful polar bear in the dining room) and subtle (hunting-dog wallpaper on a pantry wall) . It works because, moving through this functional, captivating museum of a house, you don’t so much see the theme as feel it: wild, unpredictable, organic, earthy. A natural habitat for a family seeking a wilder life.