Great Spaces: inside the home of Victoria Jackman and Bruce Kuwabara
What happens when a preservation-minded art lover marries a professional minimalist
By 2008, Victoria Jackman and Bruce Kuwabara, Toronto’s artsiest power couple, decided their family of four had outgrown their Admiral Road Victorian. Neither Jackman, executive director of the Hal Jackman Foundation, nor Kuwabara, the architect and co-founder of KPMB, wanted to leave the Annex, but Kuwabara wasn’t wild about renovating another Victorian—the predominant architectural style in the neighbourhood.
Then they saw this Lowther Avenue house built in 1893 by Edmund Burke, the same architect who designed the Bloor Viaduct and The Bay on Queen (back when it was Simpson’s). The 5,500-square-foot house had been converted into a warren of lawyer’s offices, but once Kuwabara got his hands on the 100-year-old blueprints, he was impressed by the building’s great bones. It wasn’t far from the Av and Dav flower stores Jackman loves, and Kuwabara, who refuses to get a driver’s licence, likes that they can still walk to their favourite restaurants (Sotto Sotto and Joso’s) and to such cultural institutions as the ROM and the Gardiner. They decided to buy the place and gut it.
The couple wanted an open, bright and calming space.
They chose a white-on-white palette and a minimalist aesthetic, including a kitchen by Bulthaup, the German design company known for sleek cabinet configurations. To say Kuwabara was obsessive about the details is a vast understatement: he shudders at the mess of wires and brackets that comes along with installing a wall-mounted flat-screen television, for example, so he had custom credenzas built as bases for the TVs in the family room and in the upstairs study. They threw out numerous sketches before Kuwabara felt the proportions were right.
While Kuwabara would have cleared out the home’s ornate historical details without a second thought, Jackman was adamant about preserving them. She insisted they keep the original leaded doors and stained glass windows, as well as restore the crumbling plaster mouldings and baseboards. As the 18-month reno progressed, Kuwabara came around. “I began to find great beauty in things that I never thought I would appreciate,” he says. “Like mouldings.”
Hardwood ladders like this one were used by the Dogon tribe in Mali to access cliff dwellings. Jackman and Kuwabara admire that the design is both sculpturally beautiful and, at one time, functional. They bought it at Hollace Cluny.
The Charles sofa by Antonio Citterio is Jackman’s favourite place to sit and read. She saw it in Elle Décor, knew it would work well in the living room, and sourced the design from Kiosk.
The white oak Xilos coffee table is also by Antonio Citterio, at Kiosk.
The floor lamp is by Julie Prisca, available at Hollace Cluny.
As art collectors, Jackman and Kuwabara are interested in text-based conceptual pieces. In this photo series by John Massey, naked Adam and Eve figures are tattooed with words.
The gold-leaf matching vases are also from Kiosk. They were designed by Nicole Aebischer, with multi-faceted surfaces that catch the light.
Kuwabara and Jackman converted the original coal fireplace to a wood-burning one. They kept the carved wood mantle and added a new limestone hearth.
Photographer Scott McFarland’s piece “The Granite Bowl in the Berlin Lustgarten” is from the Clark and Faria gallery. McFarland, who is a friend and neighbour of the couple, superimposes several shots taken from different angles. Kuwabara has also visited this site in Berlin and took his own photograph of it, which he likes to show to visitors.
The dining room is an addition to the original house, with sliding glass doors that open onto the patio and garden.
The couple was sitting in the Bulthaup showroom on King East planning their kitchen when they fell in love with this 12-foot white oak dining table. Bulthaup wasn’t producing any more of them but agreed to sell them the floor model. Their kids—Thomas is seven, and Vita is six—like to sit at opposite ends of the table when they’re mad at each other.
The Hans Wegner Wishbone chairs, a classic Danish design, are a favourite of Jackman’s. She bought them at Kiosk.
Another Scott McFarland photograph, this one titled “Orchard View, Late Spring: Vitis vinifera, Wisteria, 2004.”
The electric Playmobil train set in Thomas’s room was a present from Santa.
The bed is Pottery Barn Kids.
The airplane mobile over the bed is a gift from the artist and architect An Te Liu, who calls it the “stealth mobile.”
The photograph “Reconstruction (1), 2008” was another gift from An Te Liu.
Kuwabara designed this fibreboard and white oak credenza in the upstairs study to look like it’s floating above the floor. “Even if we remove the TV as technology changes, this piece will still look great,” he says.
“Architects hate bookshelves,” says Jackman. “If Bruce had his way, all our books would be in the basement.” They compromised and built these two bookcases. One displays architecture books; the other is devoted to art books.
This is a mounted wallpaper design by An Te Liu titled “Pattern Language: Levittown White.” It’s an aerial view of the late 1940s American suburb, which, from a distance, looks like a snakeskin or diamond pattern.
The sofa and chairs are the LC3 and LC2, respectively, designed by Le Corbusier, Charlotte Perriand and Pierre Jenneret, and purchased from Italinteriors. Jackman’s father, Hal, who is six-foot-four, can hardly fit into the chair. “It’s a classic mid‑century modern design—maybe people were smaller then,” Jackman says.
The glass and bronze coffee table, designed by Carlo Scarpa, is also from Italinteriors.
They use this Marcel Wanders ceramic stool from Kiosk as a side table. They like how the striated gold finish warms up the room.
The Musa side chairs are by Antonio Citterio, also from Kiosk.
A stained glass window portrait of Carrie Holman, the wife of the original owner, presides over the stair landing. She willed the property to a Baptist organization she founded, and the house became a residence for visiting female missionaries.
One thing Jackman and Kuwabara immediately agreed on was the paint: the entire interior is Benjamin Moore Cloud White.
The floors are white oak from Austrian forests harvested by Benedictine monks.
This four-photo set is Idris Khan’s “Every Page of Susan Sontag’s ‘On Photography.’ ” They bought the series from the Victoria Miro Gallery during Miami Art Basel.