When Liane Eng, owner of WISEMAN + CROMWELL, first laid eyes on her latest project, she was admittedly forced into a moment of pause, contemplating the inevitable challenges ahead. Not only did the 240-square-foot kitchen include a powder room, the result of a converted closet, it epitomized multifunctional, also serving as a mud room and entertaining space.
Centretown residents Emma Brown and Patrick Liotti were no strangers to the experience of a home design refresh — they had spent the last couple of years renovating their second and third floors, undertaking the work without the professional expertise of a designer. They wouldn’t make that same mistake a second time when tackling the last room on their list in need of a redesign, explains Liane. “They didn’t want to go through this process again without one because it was like a full-time job and very stressful.” As purveyors for Liane’s previous storefront, where she sold vintage and antique pieces, a passion for thrifting began, transitioning to client and designer. “When they came to me, I had a pretty optimistic view on what I could get them for their budget. They also valued the searching, antique side of the design that I bring, which made the pairing a natural fit,” describes Liane of the budding working relationship.
Emma and Patrick remained adamant about maintaining much of the original character. “They were the only couple I’ve spoken to in the last three years who didn’t want an open concept kitchen,” laughs Liane. In addition to an aesthetic refresh, some significant functional challenges existed, including the sheer amount of space taken up by the multipurpose nature of the area, which boasted a bulky built-in dinette. Fortunately, Liane was up for the challenge of reinventing the tiny territory they had been afforded in a much more efficient way.
One of the couple’s top requests was repositioning their kitchen sink to face the backyard. Liane worked her way out from there to create symmetry in the compact kitchen, a characteristic that the self-taught designer deeply values. The desire to incorporate curvature into the design coupled with the inclusion of a vintage piece that led to Liane’s most favoured design element. “[Although we considered] carving off the ends of an existing cabinet, it was out of their budget,” explains Liane. However, while perusing Facebook Marketplace for the ideal vintage addition, Liane located a buffet boasting curved glass on the ends, and it just happened to be the correct height. “I don’t know why but I just thought right away that I could cut the cabinet in half, stack the two curves, and it would be the right height from the island to the ceiling. I didn’t ask the clients — I just let them know I had an idea, and it was $250. I spent the weekend tearing it apart, cutting off the ends, stacking it, and it looked insanely beautiful. I stored it for around six months, and all we needed to do was ask our cabinet installer to shave a mere inch off the base so it would fit perfectly. It was so simple.” After that, explains Liane, everything else came together seamlessly, including a complete revamp of the backspace into a hidden closet and a new location for the couple's plethora of possessions. “When you’re in the kitchen, it just looks like a pantry, but really it’s a place for all their jackets and shoes and everything to get thrown in and hidden away. I think we made it work.”
And just like that, a transformation from stuffy space to tranquil territory exuding traditional-modern style and a touch of Art Deco, was complete. Liane pulled it off for just under $100,000, which she was able to do by retaining as much as she could, like reusing several appliances. Most importantly, the resourceful tenacity of the homeowners themselves enabled the trio to accrue savings throughout much of the process.
Discovering a passion that has evolved from sourcing vintage furniture to full-blown design service, Liane maintains integral values born from humble beginnings. “There’s a quality to vintage items that you just can’t get new — the not-so-perfect finish as a result of wear adds texture to a space and makes a space feel like it’s been lived in. I want prospective clients to understand that it’s the same process that anyone would [undertake] when designing new. It’s very thought out and purposeful, and that’s what I want people to see.”