House Beautiful: An artistic transformation in Cordova Bay

The first time Catherine Moffat stepped into this 1950s house on a quiet road in the Claremont area, she felt completely comfortable. Which wasn’t too surprising, since she had already fallen in love with its owner, Miles Taylor.

Being a creative woman and an artist, however, it didn’t take her long to begin making a few suggestions — starting with colour.

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The home, which has the textured walls and curved ceiling corners of its era, had been painted in pale colours that are not her favourites when it comes to interior design.

“So little by little, I transformed it into something I felt even more comfortable with.

“Miles had gone with a southwest theme before we met, using a pale butter yellow for the walls in the living room and kitchen. It was the paleness of it I couldn’t abide. I like a cave,” she explained, adding she prefers to feel enclosed by a room rather than be in an expansive, bright space.

So gradually, a new minimal palette evolved throughout much of the house.

Most of the walls are now a darker, greyed, golden ochre tone. (Only an artist could describe her walls this way.)

“The colour of wet cement is my favourite colour,” she said with a chuckle. “It leaves you free to pick accent colours, like charcoal or grey, and then add a nice pop of red or green.”

It’s a perfect background for the artworks that hang everywhere — some her own and some by local artists such as David Goatley — as well as her collectibles from around the world.

Taylor bought the property seven years before they met and in the 10 years they’ve been together, they have created a whole new look for their home and garden, too, which now includes a tea house where they were married.

The garden used to be one large rectangle of grass, which Taylor rarely, if ever, enjoyed or sat in.

“He used to go outside to barbecue a steak and then go straight back inside.”

Not anymore. Now they enjoy the garden through all its seasons.

Taylor has added his own artistic marks here and there, most noticeably in the garden, where he lined a path with smooth rocks brought back from his annual trips to northern Canada, as logistics officer aboard the Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker Sir Wilfrid Laurier.

The ship usually carries out scientific work along with doing search and rescue and ice breaking, maintaining aids to navigation and patrolling the Arctic, but it made headlines last year when, together with Parks Canada archaeologists, it located the wreck of HMS Erebus. The Erebus was one of two ships lost in Sir John Franklin’s 1845 quest for the Northwest Passage. The other ship has yet to be found.

Perhaps because of his passion for the sea, Taylor loves to cook fish — everything from halibut and salmon to Arctic char — and is famous for his sauces.

“I’m his sous chef,” said Moffat, who did this interview while he was away on one of his voyages.

A few years ago, they redid part of the kitchen. “The white cabinets were fine, so we just added new pulls, but the oven had been held closed with duct tape for some time, so when the cooktop stopped working, we finally decided to replace the appliances and put in new countertops.”

The new ones are dark charcoal and the backsplash tiles are grey, with an occasional silver one thrown in for sparkle. Everything contrasts beautifully with green.

It’s not a high-end kitchen because Moffat stresses she’s very practical.

“I didn’t think our budget or our style of kitchen would suit granite or marble. This is laminate and I think it looks fine. I haven’t had the kind of life where I could choose the most expensive option, and I don’t feel the need for it anyway,” said the Victoria-born Moffat, who is mostly self taught.

Long ago, she went to art school for about six months because she wanted to learn the discipline, but she left because the classes seemed too abstract, athough she has come to appreciate abstract art now.

Her parents split up when she was in Grade 12 and there was no chance of going to university — “My mother said I should learn to type” — so she became a secretary and after 14 years, she worked as a picture framer, then became a full-time artist.

“All the time I was a secretary at the legislature, I spent every evening and weekend drawing, working in pastels, in watercolours, and every lunch hour looking at paintings. It didn’t matter whether they were in Eaton’s furniture department or a gallery, I would stand in front of a painting long enough to learn something from it.”

Her art sense has helped immeasurably in decorating her house.

“Miles used to have a southwest patterned sofa, which was lovely, but I didn’t think it suited our climate. So I went to what was then Norwalk [now Luxe furniture] and found this wonderful fabric. It’s very much a Gustav Klimt print and I think it ties in with the square charcoal rug.”

She discovered a large ceramic Chinese horse at the Designer Warehouse on Hillside Avenue for the living room, too.

“I’ve learned that from art. You need one big guy in a painting or still life, and it’s the same in home design. It’s about scale.”

She has also sprinkled her home with many fascinating and amusing pieces from the Fan Tan Gallery, as well as lamps from Asia and a painted bamboo rain stick that makes the sound of falling water when turned end over end. (Such sticks are filled with rice or beans that make a soft clicking sound when the stick is turned over.)

Her husband always loved art and she always loved boats, so after she painted two dinghies lying side by side on a wharf, she used the image for their wedding invitation.

Outside, she has created another kind of dock in the form of a wooden boardwalk.

“So this is our dock at home,” she joked.

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