Once you create your dream home, it’s hard to imagine anything better. That was the challenge for designer Sam Sacks, who after completing the picture-perfect apartment for one Toronto client was tasked with decorating her larger forever home only a few years later. “It was a deeply personal loft with heart poured into every square inch,” Sacks, who helms local design studio Sam Sacks Design, remembers of their first project together. “When she was ready for a house, she had a bit of angst about leaving such a special place, so we knew this one had to be just as amazing.”
The house, a three-story Victorian workers’ cottage with a deceptively petite exterior and a basement, had been renovated roughly a decade before Sacks’s client bought the property in 2018. Over the next two years, Sacks went over the house’s four levels with exacting attention to detail, paring everything back while maintaining clues to its past. Her client wanted a home that reflected who she was—a blend of boldness, nostalgia, and calm. Critically, per Sacks, “She doesn’t like anything that feels blingy!”
To strike just the right balance, Sacks incorporated bold strokes of color—notably, an electric Yves Klein–inspired blue—into crisp, largely white, rooms. It’s a strategy that’s most apparent on the first floor. Here, the parlor (the first and smaller of the home’s two living rooms) has white walls and trim but is enlivened by pops of blue in a pair of custom armchairs, a Liesel Plambeck rug, and an artwork above the fireplace.
The deep blue hue really takes over in the kitchen, which required an overhaul before Sacks’s client moved in. A white brick backsplash covers much of the walls, while an added crown molding looks as if it’s been there since the house’s inception. The custom kitchen cabinets, meanwhile, are doused entirely in Sacks’s favored shade, elevating them to sculptural monoliths rather than mere storage. Unexpected nostalgia comes by way of a charcoal drawing of a woman and a vintage Mixmaster lovingly placed on shelves above the kitchen sink—both heirlooms from the client’s grandmother.
The rest of the Victorian’s rooms follow a similar formula: each effectively a monochromatic cube, with spare, well-placed hits of color and texture. Natural fibers, along with Matisse-esque rugs, cover the floors, and natural wood makes up the lion’s share of furniture.
In the second-floor living room, the largest room in the house, white walls and a white sectional are a blank canvas for a constellation of Bocci ceiling lights. A pair of Frank Gehry wiggle chairs that Sacks painted (you guessed it!) blue on the sides squirm off to one side and—despite the bling-free mandate—a custom gold-leaf bookcase dominates the largest wall. “The first time she saw it she panicked,” Sacks says, “but it brings an enormous amount of warmth.”
The calm-and-cool character of Sacks’s client shines through in the primary bedroom suite, where a geometric four-poster timber bed anchors the all-white space. The home’s bathrooms, meanwhile, were an opportunity to incorporate a sense of humor. In the mosaic-covered ground-floor powder room, dancing skeletons dominate the walls of the tiny space. A level down, adjacent to a basement guest bedroom, another bathroom has a sink designed to look like a trash bin.
It’s all proof that understated and personality are not mutually exclusive terms—and are evidence of Sacks’s deft approach to design. “I think my skill is really getting to know my clients—who they are, how they like to live, and what they are truly passionate about,” Sacks says. “Reflecting that back to them in a space that feels loose and cool and livable is my primary priority.”