A Work of Art
The design of this couple’s home allows them to visually appreciate their art collection on a daily basis.
Photography by Ashley Champagne
When Wendy Turner was 20 years old, she bought her first original pieces of art. Wandering in an Edmonton gallery in the late ’70s, she fell in love with two drawings by Victoria, B.C.’s Myfanwy Pavelic. The nude drawings, studies of Bill Brandt photos, are in black ink against a pale blue and cream backdrop. From afar, the bodies could be landscape form. “I saw them and I thought: ‘I want them,'” says Wendy, co-owner of The Artworks.
At the time, Wendy knew nothing about Pavelic, a portrait artist who was mentored by Emily Carr, has work hanging in the National Portrait Gallery in London and who painted the official portrait of Pierre Trudeau. The pieces struck a chord so deep that Wendy, barely an adult, borrowed $2,000 (calculating inflation, that’s more than $6,400 in 2014 dollars) to take them home. It was the beginning of a passion that she would turn into a career and, eventually, share with her partner in life and business.
“The first paintings we bought together aren’t around anymore. The more you collect, the more you learn,” says Peter Turner, seated on a tan modernist sofa. The wood fire in the full masonry fireplace snaps louder than the blues-folk tune on the sound system. “When you collect art, you refine what you like. Eventually, you don’t have to throw as much out.”
Their 1,600 square-foot home, built in 1991 on five acres of Parkland County brush, is full of the couple’s collections: Paintings, sculpture and rare antique toys. For a while, they collected Prohibition-era toy monkeys whose heads pop off to reveal perfume bottles or flasks. Later, they moved on to collect taxidermies of small animals, which peek out from baskets and small corners of the house.
“The ‘weird shit’ phase is still going on. Like that guy,” says Peter, pointing to a life-sized anatomical model used in medical schools who greets those who enter the front door. They bought it at Los Angeles’s Blackman Cruz, renowned for its rare antiques. The model reveals what people understood about the body in 1890s France. Inside the right side of the brain, is the scrawling graffiti of bored French medical students.
The style is eclectic. “French Country with a twist,” is how Peter puts it. There is virtually no landscape art, unless you count the views through the floor-to-ceiling windows in most rooms. Except for one large image of a horse, almost all of the paintings, photos and sculptures are of people – usually women. No piece is benign. Each one, from the small sculpture of a tree sprite to a massive, modernist painting of Shirley Temple, pulses with intensity.
While this home was, in part, built to house their collections, it shares nothing else in common with echoing museum halls or voluminous gallery space. There’s a warmth that cannot fully be credited to the burning embers in the fireplace. There is the sense that life is lived well here.
This is, in large part, due to the design and layout of the home. The couple wanted a small home in the woods. They wanted a home where they could get away from work, where they could keep their lifestyle minimal and close to nature. They also wanted a house where they’d see all of their art, all of the time.
“In our old place, we’d walk into the kitchen, then up to bed, never looking into the living room where there was a lot of art – sometimes for months. Here, you see it all even if you don’t stop,” says Wendy.
Besides the storefront, the Turners also run a small design firm for residential and commercial clients. Despite having the skills to do it, when they sat down to sketch the home’s blueprint, they realized they needed help. A man they’d met at Zenari’s came to mind. George Ilagan was originally from the Philippines, trained as an architect in the United States and, at that time, worked as a planner for the provincial government.
“We work so intuitively,” says Peter. “We hadn’t seen anything he’d done but felt he was the right guy.” Together, they visited their newly purchased, empty lot. The next day, Peter got a call. It was Ilagan, and he’d woken up in the middle of the night with a vision.
“He had sketched the home’s layout by hand and you could tell it had just flowed,” says Peter. They didn’t change anything about that original layout except to add a small addition to the kitchen for a dining table and doors to the patio. Like a cathedral, the home is built in the shape of a cross. Unlike a cathedral, it’s 1,600 square feet has been prioritized so that each space is used fully, in the vein of Japanese architecture. There are few hallways and everything has a place.
At the centre, a stairway built of reclaimed oak and iron, designed by Catherine Burgess, rises into an open vaulted space. It is lit by peaked clerestories that focus sunshine on a chandelier, bought 20 years ago at a closing-out sale. “The store had it for 30 years before that!” says Peter of the massive crystal fixture. At the right moment, standing atop the stairs, unsuspecting visitors can find themselves suddenly – magically – surrounded by rainbows.
“We go up and down these stairs every day. We may not come into the living room, but it’s part of our daily visual experience,” says Wendy. “We see art and we see nature.”
Outside, there is no lawn. The bush comes right to the house that has been turned slightly to the west on the property to maximize the sunshine. Inside, the walls have been painted the same colour as poplar bark. There is marmoleum on the kitchen floors, slate in the hall and wood on the counters.
The living room floor is covered with reclaimed hardwood. Peter bought the old-growth oak from a contact in Connecticut. “I almost cried when it arrived on the truck,” says Peter. It had been in a fire and looked nothing like flooring, just stacks of carbon. However, as Peter hand-planed each board, a rich, golden hardwood winked back. It is in this way that, through design, the Turners have created as much art as they have collected.
Before building this home 23 years ago, the Turners were “restless homeowners.” Always planning their next house project, they were never fully satisfied with their living space. In this house, the years have passed measured by the thickness of the poplars and the nicks in the counters. Incredibly, for a couple of passionate designers, they have changed almost nothing in the design and structure of this house. Over the course of the next 23 years, the only problem with the house might be a lack of wall space.
Antique sleigh bed and dresser from Ye Olde Figurine Shop. Bellocq photograph from Fraenkel Gallery. (fraenkelgallery.com) Antique horse-drawn hearse carved wood curtains from eBay. Blossfeldt photograph purchased in the United States. Antique bears and monkeys by both Steiff and Schuco, purchased during travels abroad. Milagro cross from The Artworks. Disfarmer photograph from Steven Kasher Gallery. (stevenkasher.com) Nan Goldin photograph, purchased in Toronto. Philippine Virgin Mary mannequin from Tucker Robbins. (tuckerrobbins.com)
Arte Cuoio leather basket, floor mats, ottoman. Antique cast iron dog doorstop, antique Phillippine carvings, and African Senufo stool, all from The Artworks. (101B Edmonton Centre, 780-420-6311, theartworks.ca)
Antique cast iron Chinese herb crusher. Artifort globe chair, Eames stool and Sofai flexform sofa, all from Inform Interiors. (informinteriors.com) Vintage Barcelona chair, vintage glassblown lamp, bought in Venice, California. Vintage bark butter container, purchased in the Philippines.
Antique Victorian shoo fly fan. Eames molded plywood chairs from Inform Interiors. Mahogany table, and ceramic figure by Kathryn Youngs, both purchased in Vancouver. Buddha, purchased in Thailand. Painting by Jane Ash Poitras from the Vic Gallery. Porcelain rabbit by Heather Goodchild from Katharine Mulherin Contemporary Art Projects. Klein Reid ceramic vessel and platter from The Artworks. Antique Philippine burial urns from Tucker Robbins. (tuckerrobbins.com)
Painting by Travis McEwen. Vintage kilim rug, Taos, New Mexico.
Black jade bowl from The Artworks. Dana Holst print. Baker photograph purchased in Honolulu, Hawaii. Corbusier lounge chair from Le Belle Arti. (16844 111 Ave., 780-454-0677, lebellearti.com)
Shirley Temple painting by James Packer from Vic Gallery. Mike sofa from Empire Home Furnishings.
Knotted wool carpet purchased in Morocco. Coffee table from Bddw. (bddw.com) Buildings of Disaster series by Constantin Boym from Moss, New York. Antique weaning collar from Blackman Cruz, Los Angeles. Nautilus shells purchased from flea market in London, England. Console from Bddw. Antique artist mannequin from Paula Rubenstein Ltd.
Vintage folk art trunk and taxidermied fox, both from an antique show.
French medical anatomical figure from Blackman Cruz, Los Angeles.