Thursday, December 15, 2016

A Personal Museum

A thoughtful way to live. The home of Marguerite Larmand in Simcoe, Ontario

December 15, 2016
A Generous Geometry
Kathy Renwald

  The first home Marguerite Larmand shaped for herself was in a hawthorn grove on the family farm. She was one of ten kids and needed to find a solitary space.  Decorated with the objects she loved, the clearing among the trees became a refuge. “It was a place where I found endless enjoyment.”
  From childhood to adulthood Larmand continued

her magical ways of making the space around her a personal museum. She turned an old hotel in Brantford into a home, made the Burford Armoury her private residence, and now is nesting in Simcoe in a hundred year old house she has named Six Directions Studio (

   “The walls are my paper,” Larmand says, pointing to a spot where she tested 12 shades of white paint, before selecting Benjamin Moore Mascarpone for her backdrop.
  For thirty-five years Larmand taught art in Hamilton schools, from elementary to high school, to McMaster University as an instructor in the sculpture studio. And always she created her own work, paintings, ceramics, installations in the landscape, textiles, sculpting with wood and willow.

   In November she had a show at the Carnegie Gallery Barber Atrium and now the soaring three-dimensional willow works have returned to her home in Simcoe, where she says, they have space to breathe.

  A generous sort of geometry defines each room and allows the display of art to seem effortless. In the 20 by 20 foot living room, which Larmand calls a “room within a room” three sofas square off in front of the fireplace, and beyond that border, works in wire and willow, busts, paintings, pottery and plants are arranged for contemplation.

  This idea of contemplation has become a bit of a magnificent obsession for Larmand, so much so that she wants to write a book about her house, art and the beauty of ordinary objects.
  Chapter one could start in her dining room where the “repository of images” are both striking and subtle. On a ten-foot long table made of hemlock and spruce a glass vase holds spiny, dried branches of Japanese knotweed. An invasive plant cursed by gardeners, it spreads in an arc and almost touches one of Larmand’s massive willow constructions. She calls them drawings, and painted black, lashed together, almost to prevent their escape they do seem like bold strokes of charcoal floated off a page. On the table a platter made by Larmand is marked with chevrons-like butterfly shadows, and holds an aspen branch collected on a walk. On the end wall a painting called Cherry Orchard repeats the linear beauty of the table.
  “You don’t stop being a teacher,” Larmand says as we sit and talk at the table. The lesson here is open your eyes and observe. The weathered branch, the despised weed, “They have their own spirit, they show nature evolving,” she says.
  The sunroom is a lesson in the power of the personal. On one wall shelves are lined with beautiful tea bowls, glasses  boxes, stones and seeds. Over the fireplace is Larmand’s sculpture called Wind Deflector, a piece that takes her back to the family farm and the many hours spent splitting wood for the stove. On the hearth, beautiful dried squash sit displaying their marbleized skin, a pattern Larmand tried to capture in her ceramic glazes. Paper whites are ready to bloom, and a pencil cactus preens in the light of east facing windows. The room is the antithesis of generic, hotel room style décor one sees everywhere.
  So Larmand is making an outline for a book. It would be about observation, about the bond we form with our homes.
  “The house is never static, its not just a showplace, it’s a place where you live, a place where I work, it’s my own personal museum. What I like is the beauty of the ordinary.”

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Living Large in a Small House

Unplugged and Loving

Colleen Gaffney is living the unplugged life in Hamilton and loving it.  No toaster, no TV, no worries. The 55- year old shed a lot of stuff and a lot of square feet when she moved from Barrie to Hamilton four years ago.

  "I didn't want to buy right away, so I looked at a lot of apartments, then I found this perfect house.”
  The house in the Strathcona Neighbourhood is 600 square-feet, the one she left behind was 2000. She was particularly pleased at the adequate but not lavish number of electrical outlets.  “I got rid of tons of things that plugged in. I got rid of things with one purpose, so I don't have a kettle anymore, a toaster, a hairdryer or a coffeemaker."
  When she told friends in Barrie she was taking a job at Hamilton Health Sciences they told her she would love Hamilton. She didn't know much it but it didn't take much time to fell welcome. 
“I love the art scene, the music, the food, and proximity to Niagara. Colleen found her tiny house, on a search on the hospital intranet. As soon as she walked in she could picture a life with paired down possessions. She liked the light, the wide open space, the door opening to patio and proximity to work. Though she has a car, it's rarely in use, she walks, takes transit or Sobies around town. Soon her office will move from a mountain location closer to home. She’ll be parking her pencils at an office at Jackson Square.
  "I work in integrated decision support."  
  What a title!  
 "Just say I do software training."

  In her little house much of the action takes place in one room. That's where the kitchen, living room, dining room and sort-of-spare bedroom reside. " I've had dinner parties for eight and five people sleeping over.
  The kitchen with a big el shaped counter faces the living room. Though it has less storage space than she was used to, careful planning keeps it running smoothly for an avid cook.
  In one corner is the flexible dining area. A wooden table, belonging to her late husbands family, seats eight when expanded. Colleen painted the antique chairs red and reupholstered in a bold botanic print. Over the table a rug from Mexico carries on the red theme.
 On the opposite wall a day bed from Ikea adds more seating and serves as the guest room. "It's a nice place to sleep, sometimes you can see the moon cross the skylight.” A selection of hats hang nearby-Gaffney has a fondness for the, but they might be streamlined out soon since they are getting the squeeze from her art collection
  A wooden cabinet stores books, dishes and glasses and anchors an art assemblage including pottery, textiles, sculpture and interesting metal piece that evokes a book cover, or according to Gaffney’s dad something that looks like it was run over by a car.

  In the living room, red turns up in carpets from Iran, a wooden chest belonging to her dad, and a chair and ottoman Gaffney bargained for and had reupholstered in Hamilton. A wee rocking chair from her childhood holds throws and scarves.  She was the first girl born in a family of six, so got her name painted on her chair.
  It took just two days to put her house in order after she moved in. She measured all her furniture in Barrie, had the measurements of her tiny house, so she made a floor plan of what would fit. “I just kept the things I loved,” she says.

  In warm weather the door is always open to the back patio, where the cocooning space has a place to stretch out and read a book. “It’s a perfect place to have a rest after walking home from work.”
  Since moving to Hamilton, Gaffney has been ticking off some bucket list items. She joined Steel City Stories and told her first story in front of an audience.  It was unscripted and about her house. “I loved it, it’s a young passionate group and it was a buzz, to make people laugh.”
  So the streamlined life in Strathcona is a success for a woman who believes less is more.
  “I’ve always been fascinated with small house architecture. I want to live lighter on the planet.”
  It’s possession deficit disorder in the best possible way.



Thursday, September 29, 2016

Beach Life Vintage

Cottage Chic on the Beach

Kathy Renwald

  When people walk into The Rustic Rose they can’t get enough of the barn lanterns, weathered wood mallets, and peculiar tools.  “Stuff that comes out of the barn or shop, that’s what’s trendy now,” says Eileen Breukelman owner of the cottage nostalgia and décor store on the Hamilton Beach Strip.
  Eileen and her husband Jeff opened The Rustic Rose five years ago, just as the Beach was entering a new residential growth spurt with high priced homes and condos. They bought the building at 538 Beach Boulevard because “the price was right” but were convinced they could never lose on a place so close to the water.
  Nautical nostalgia was the first focus at the store with old wooden buoys and vintage life preservers snapped up by customers living on the Beach. As the collection grew, the couple kept their focus tight and the store curated with a specific vision. Beautiful old tools, vintage Le Creuset cookware, wooden butter and cheese boxes, fishing reels and cheerful picnic ware speak of a simpler time.  What’s striking about so many of the pieces is the colour, the oranges, blues, and sunflower yellow found on bicycles, tool handles, and old toys. “If people buy wood pieces I tell them not to refinish or paint, leave the original colour,” Jeff says.
    Some customers come in once a month to see what’s new, and more are coming from Toronto, “Many of our pieces are perfect for a condo, the patina of the wood, the colour, it warms up modern, industrial style spaces,” Eileen says. She points to a tin rocking horse sitting high on a shelf, “If you had the room, that would be perfect in an entrance way.”
  When the Breukelman’s go looking for new finds for their store, they consider it a holiday. Heading out in their truck, maybe with one of their seven children along for the trip, they search all over Ontario and in to the States for treasures. At auctions, antique malls, and outdoor markets Jeff says they “can see past the dirt for a potential nostalgic "wow" piece.”
  Old wood construction ladders are hot right now according to Eileen. People use them as a place to hang quilts or display other accessories. Multi-pane antique windows are in demand too she says, “We have customers who use them as frames for family photos.”  If pieces need repair, Jeff does the work, fitting it in around his full time business Jef-Re Construction Services specializing in foundation repair and industrial flooring.
  You won’t find fussy china, or fine furniture at The Rustic Rose but you will find crates of old license plates. Vintage car owners like to find ones that match the year of their vehicle. Beautiful metal chocolate molds become a work of art on the wall, and duck decoys never go out of style.  Eileen likes to see what her customers do with the pieces when they get them home.  “People post great ideas to our Facebook page.”
  The Rustic Rose ( is open four days a week. The rest of the time Eileen is looking for new vintage pieces, raising kids or making handcrafted roses from apples. “That’s how it started, I was looking for studio space to make the roses, and then we started displaying vintage pieces when we ran out of room in our house.”
  So the shop is full of the cottage chic stuff they love, and there’s only one piece they are tempted to keep for home says Jeff. “The metal horse, if it doesn’t sell, it’s going in our house.”



Wednesday, September 7, 2016

A Personal Touch in a Public Park

A Personal Touch in a Public Park
by Kathy Renwald

Published in the Hamilton Spectator 
September 1, 2016

  During this steamy, sweaty summer we all look for a place where we won’t get fried. It could be a pool, the lake or a park. The lucky people in the Kirkendall Neighborhood have the HAAA Grounds. The sporting history is deep at the Hamilton Amateur Athletic Association Grounds, home of the old Hamilton Tigers, the site of seven Grey Cup Games, and base for the Hamilton Hurricanes football team for over 30 years.
  Beyond the hurtling bodies, the HAAA grounds is a park, and many would say one of the best maintained in the city. It’s a public park with a personal touch.
  Drive or walk along Charlton Avenue West and beautiful flowerbeds weave underneath groves of Austrian pines. Begonias, daylilies, ferns and hostas nestle in soil as dark as coffee grounds. You can tell this garden is loved. Even driving by at the posted speed limit it’s obvious these beds are edged by a master. The line is sharp, the soil slants at what seems like an impossible angle, and weeds are forbidden.
  For several years I’ve made feeble attempts to find the gardener at the HAAA Grounds, but I searched too late in the day. The gardener, I was told, starts work at 6 a.m. So one sultry morning at 8 a.m. I knock on the door of
the pretty, brick HAAA building and meet Frank Liberatore. I barely have time to introduce myself and say how much I admire the gardens before he grabs a spade. “Let me show you how to edge,” he says
 Liberatore has been in charge at HAA for 11 years, and with the City of Hamilton for 36, “I rolled out the sod at Pier 4 Park by hand, he says, remembering the start of the West Harbour development. The HAAA Grounds has a running track, kids play area, and the field for soccer and football, with the intense activity it’s impressive that the gardens are so pristine.
  “It was never like this before Frank came here,” Arlene Laframboise says as she strolls through the park with her Basset Hound. Liberatore has popped inside to get treats for her dog. “He so nice to the dogs, and the park is immaculate. If you see litter or broken glass at night, by 7 a.m. it’s gone, we’re so lucky to have him.”
  Each spring Liberatore starts the season by putting 10 inches of new loam on top of the flowerbeds. It’s a necessity since the trees suck up so much of the soil and moisture. He cleans up the left over perennials, cultivates and waits for the annuals to arrive from the city greenhouse, before planting about May 24th. Through the summer the watering, weeding, cultivating, sports field maintenance and general cleanup continues. “I can cultivate and weed all the beds in about two-and-a-half hours,” he says. Though he has help from summer students, I could speculate that at age 66 he is working faster than most. “I still play soccer, but it’s in an old guy’s league.”
  Sitting on a bench in the shade of a locust tree is the best way to appreciate the HAAA Grounds. Kids laughter bubbles up from the playground, pleasant thunks drift over from the Hamilton Tennis Club, and dogs scuffle by hoping to see Liberatore with an outstretched hand.
  “I love my job,” he says looking out over the begonias in their fluffy beds and the Trillium Award he won last year.
In late fall he’ll leave HAAA for winter work, clearing snow at city hall, and shoveling it off the mountain access stairs, doing the physical work he enjoys. Then in February he’ll return with his meticulous ways to the park he loves where his two and four-legged fans wait for signs of spring.