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Unless you’ve made a habit out of building homes from scratch, you’ve likely encountered an eyesore or two in your own space. You know that unsightly radiator lurking in the corner or that bulky stone fireplace in the living room—details that simply can’t be changed for contractual reasons or shouldn’t be changed because hey, they’re original? For a young family of three living in an older condo building in Toronto, said “eyesore” came in the form of a floor-to-ceiling mirror that spanned the width of the dining room.

“The mirror was original to the unit,” shares Toronto-based designer Ashley Montgomery, admitting that she and her clients debated removing the mirror altogether. “But I truly did love how it reflected the surrounding buildings and waterfront,” she continues.

Faced with an age-old renovation question—to demolish or not to demolish?—they met their mirror problem halfway. “The client had seen an image of a small mirror with a little bit of writing on it and she loved the feeling she got from it,” explains Montgomery. “So we decided, ‘Ok, let’s do this, but let’s do it big.’”

That’s when artist Murray Duncan entered the picture, camouflaging the wall in treasured words and phrases. The ingenious addition (both a noteworthy hack and a stand-alone work of art) would, in turn, act as a storied reflection of not just the room, but the entire home.

“It’s not perfect. It’s not polished. It’s unexpected and raw, which is what I love the most about it.”

Built in the 1970s and unlike most shiny new residential buildings, this waterfront condo came with its fair share of pros and cons. “The pros were that the space was quite large and has actual rooms compared to most tiny condos where you’re constantly looking for space-saving furniture,” says Montgomery.

Before letting their imaginations run wild on the walls, they replaced the floors, which were damaged in an unfortunate flood. They chose a rich dark color that complemented the look of the building and added molding and trim work throughout. The kitchen, which had been renovated by the clients a few years back, only required a fresh coat of paint.

The only major challenges we had were the constraints of the building,” says Montgomery—not referring to getting permits passed. In the end, architecture would determine the biggest design decisions and limitations.

“We wanted to put wall sconces above the sofa, but the walls were concrete,” she says. “The hallway heights in the building are actually quite low, so we had to be very conscious of the heights of items we brought into the space.”

The one thing that was a true given? The water views. Montgomery opted for sheer curtains that would provide necessary privacy without hindering the scenery.

Part of leaving your stamp on a home is making changes that are permanent and personal. Both being journalists, the couple enlisted Duncan to swath the mirror that lined the dining area with meaningful words and phrases like “omissions then admissions,” “mischievous OG,” and “he wondered about her vest.”

“I’m all about bringing personality into a home, and this definitely achieved that. All the sayings, dates, or names were chosen by the clients, and then we let Murray have fun with it,” shares Montgomery. “It’s not perfect. It’s not polished. It’s unexpected and raw, which is what I love the most about it.”

The artful addition set a decidedly Parisian tone for the rest of the apartment. Brass lighting, black-and-white photographs, cane chairs, and smooth silhouettes instantly transport the Toronto apartment to the 7th arrondissement.

“I am a big believer of using what you already have and giving it a new life.”

“The clients’ style overall is a bit eclectic,” she says. “They weren’t afraid to mix a little old with new and add in playful color and texture.”

The mirror-turned-masterpiece isn’t the only hack in this awe-inspiring home. “I am a big believer of using what you already have and giving it a new life,” says Montgomery. The muted green sofa that completes the dining room seating arrangement? That used to be the client’s old living room sofa.

“There was nothing wrong with it except that it was a little too formal for the newly envisioned living space,” explains the designer. Putting their trust into Montgomery’s careful eye for color, they reupholstered the piece. “I couldn’t be happier. The green velvet adds richness to the space and a pop of color against the city background.”  

Redecorating lesson learned? The smallest transformations—like scribblings on a mirror—can make the biggest impact.

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