710 Humberwood Blvd., Unit 2406A, Toronto
Asking price: $659,000
Taxes: $1,880.84 (2023)
Monthly fees: $524.09
Agent: Ingrid Furtado, broker, Real Estate Homeward
She was a rising star in the interior design world living in a downtown Toronto loft in the thick of everything, but then Nike Onile felt a tug: a desire to take something old and rebuild it into a vision of her present and future.
“Her belief was spaces could be healing,” said friend, colleague and fellow designer Danielle Bryk, describing the process that went into the 2020-2021 remodel of Ms. Onile’s 12-year-old, 800-square-foot Etobicoke condo into a space for wellness, for health and creativity. “She’d been sick for a bit, and I think that instinct to go back home – I don’t know if she knew it was coming or if it became so paramount to her, this idea of wellness and needing a space to feel good in – I think that’s why she did it. Whether she was conscious of it or not.”
“It” was a breast cancer diagnosis, found as she was finishing the condo in 2021. And though treatment appeared initially to go well, Ms. Bryk said the cancer came back, and spread. Then, in July, 2023, Ms. Onile died while visiting Ado Ekiti in her native Nigeria with her mother.
It was a painful coda to Ms. Onile’s hope for her new space, according to her own words in a 2022 essay in The Globe: “In the middle of my treatment, I realized that this new home I had been urgently completing was meant for this exact moment. It was the place where I was meant to heal, the space that was going to pour life, joy and comfort back into me as I undertook the next stage of my life.”
This weekend past, Ms. Onile’s friends and family showcased a booth dedicated to her life and work as founder of Studio Ode at the Interior Design Show. It was also in service to a foundation they have set up in her name – called NOAD (Nike Onile Art and Design Foundation) – that aims to raise money and provide seed funding to entrepreneurs in creative fields.
Ms. Bryk is one of those supporting the foundation – along with other TV personality/designers Tommy Smythe and Samantha Pynn – and she is helping Ms. Onile’s family stage the condo for sale, and offered to speak about Ms. Onile’s influences and inspirations.
A healing space
The condo starts with a small foyer that’s made dramatic by an alcove backed with a wallpaper design of thick-lined sketches Ms. Onile wanted to evoke the veins in marble. On the back of the door and surrounding it is a panel of vertical pale wooden slats that provide both texture and the illusion of greater height, complimented by storage doors that run all the way to the condo ceiling.
In two steps you’re in the main living space that is – according to Ms. Bryk – the essence of Ms. Onile’s style.
“I think central to Nike’s spaces is a very serene backdrop,” she said. “The backdrop is often very restrained, neutral light tones bordering on minimalist, but always with some element of drama and joy: a huge light fixture or a massive tree, or some graphic,” she said.
This condo is a corner unit with southwest exposure so the light walls and pale wood floors suck in and reflect light onto the room. On the left as you enter is the kitchen, which as Ms. Onile described it in some of the videos she recorded about her home “is all about duality.”
The kitchen is all done in dark black and slate slabs with dark appliances and dark counters on one half, and then flips to all white and light on the peninsula separating it from the rest of the living space.
“When we first met we were both into moody spaces and dark spaces, it was a core element of her design,” said Ms. Bryk. “But she also appreciated the feel of a light open space, I love she created both in her apartment.”
The two-tone surfaces also had a very practical purpose: Ms. Onile was a talented social media creator and loved to photograph and video food and food prep. There are some occasions when you need a dark background for the best framing of a food photo, and other times when you need a light backdrop.
Ms. Bryk slid into Ms. Onile’s DMs after seeing a segment she did on CityTV’s Cityline daytime talk show with host Tracy Moore, a show she also frequented as a guest designer.
“We never did a segment together, we were orbiting around the same planet,” Ms. Bryk said. “Her aesthetic spoke to me so strongly and we became fast friends. She came to an art opening I curated and within five minutes we decided we were going to do some projects together.”
That was around 2017, and the two worked on residential and commercial projects including the vegan Community Restaurant in Oakville, Ont. Even then she was beginning to connect wellness with design, according to Ms. Bryk.
“We’d get together once a month and talk about designing our life,” said Ms. Bryk. “She was not one for small talk: ‘What is the meaning of life? What is the purpose of all this?’ We were in this process of designing our lives, of wanting to create a life that was healthy and holistic.”
Opposite the feature wall of cabinets – with a black cut-out in the middle for an ethanol fireplace – is the dining nook next to the glass balcony door and a black shelving niche – that serves as a bar for cocktail hour – mounted under a window. Actually, “window” is misleading, the shelves in the niche are mounted on a semisecret door that swings out to reveal a hidden office space/studio (the condo’s second bedroom). One wall is all shelving and storage and a window that wraps around the corner of the room grabs more light.
On the opposite side of the condo is the primary bedroom, which Ms. Onile broke the usual rules of how to orient a bed in order to give herself lots of room to walk around (and sleep in any direction she chose on a given night). The queen bed runs lengthwise along the wall between an arched niche/dressing table and a tall open shelving unit. A huge black and white graphic of a willow tree serves as a backboard and on the opposite wall the top of another tree rises from the floor in another graphic that conjures the illusion that the bed is perhaps on a hilltop above the woods below.
A Moroccan bath in Etobicoke
The primary bathroom is all Ms. Onile, according to Ms. Bryk. It’s entirely done in oversized slabs of porcelain in a light grey colour that evoke concrete. Condo bathrooms usually come with no natural light and can be tough to style, but Ms. Onile was a veteran traveller and had been inspired by the baths in Morocco. More famous are the elaborate tilework of the hammams, but there are simpler baths that are just smooth vaults of concrete with slab benches that are indirectly lit, and that’s what Ms. Onile’s bath evokes. To add warmth to the soft grey space she used gold acrylic sheet for the mirror, a subtle touch that is sure to bring a glow of health to any face that uses it.
For Ms. Bryk, it’s a space that’s in perfect keeping with the spirit of the whole condo.
“It strikes you as soon as you walk in: it feels so healing,” she said. “I can’t explain it, there’s a sense of calm. The light colours, natural materials, the woods, all of that helped.”