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Toronto-based designer Gabriella Nassief Borg woke up one morning with the thought of painting dancing circles. Her detached garage (the focal point of her and her partner’s West End backyard) was the perfect blank canvas. “I grabbed my brush and started on it with my morning coffee in hand,” she recalls. With no real plan, she began covering the paneled surface and the adjacent wood fence in big white dots—completely freehand. “I was finished by noon,” she says. 

Unlike some of her neighbors, Borg hasn’t gotten around to renovating the small structure (it’s currently not even big enough for a car). A full-on facelift is on the designer’s future to-do list, but for now a low-lift mural was an upgrade she could afford. “I wanted something easy, organic in shape, and playful-looking,” she says, noting that a solid color would have made the garage and its already-miniature window look even smaller. Here’s how she took the space from eyesore to artwork. 

The Buildup

Because Borg planned to do all the painting freehand, wiping down the surface with a damp rag and sanding away any rough bumps to start off was extra-critical. A smooth surface allowed her to focus on keeping a steady line. Total prep time? Ten minutes. 

The Forms

While it was a pretty “go with the flow process,” says Borg, she did have a strategy for creating the circles. Once she figured out the general placement and size of the dots, she painted a loose outline of the shapes, not worrying if they were perfect or not. Then she worked her way in, using a bigger brush to fill up the blank space. “There’s a lot of remembering to stand back and reform,” she says. Finally, she used a smaller brush that’s better for detailed work to touch up the outlines.

Going over the door required a bit more attention to detail, but it was important to the overall scheme. “I wanted it to feel organic,” she explains. “Nature does not stop for a door.” She carried the figures over onto the fence to expand their presence and create the illusion of a bigger space. Once the plain white wall paint had dried, she went over everything with a clear sealant that’s made for outdoor wood. 

The Aftermath 

Borg likens her backyard to a sanctuary these days. When she’s not working in the vegetable garden, she’s unwinding in a hammock with a good book or dining alfresco, surrounded by those dancing circles. “They’re not perfect,” she says. “But I think that’s on theme for our garden anyway.”

Introducing Domino’s new podcast, Design Time, where we explore spaces with meaning. Each week, join editor-in-chief Jessica Romm Perez along with talented creatives and designers from our community to explore how to create a home that tells your story. Listen now and subscribe for new episodes every Thursday.