Tommy Smythe’s Master Vignettes

updated Dec 19, 2019
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Name: Tommy Smythe
Location: Rosedale — Toronto, Canada
Size: 700 square feet
Years lived in: 3 — rented

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If you live in Canada and have the slightest interest in design, you know Tommy Smythe. Tommy is the sidekick to Sarah Richardson, one of the most high profile designers and television personalities up north. Besides working together at her eponymous firm, they star together on two of HGTV’s most successful programs: Sarah’s House and Sarah’s Cottage. Tommy regularly appears in print, online and on television offering decorating and style advice. It’s a cliche to say that one’s space is a reflection of their essence. In Tommy’s case, a description of his interior is an apt description of him: engaging, intelligent and urbane.

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)
(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

Tommy collects an array of interesting objects, ephemera and antiques that are artfully presented in his apartment. Banal objects such as matchbooks or pencils (collected from his international travels) are united in vessels that are accessible and practical as well as sculptural and decorative.

Almost all of the furniture in Tommy’s apartment is antique and comes from Toronto markets, antiques stores or consignment shops (in addition to many family heirlooms) — further evidence that a truly unique space prioritizes vintage and antique pieces before mass-market contemporary goods. Tommy is an eBay loyalist and has recently started touring Canada as an “ambassador” on behalf of the online auction behemoth. The small black jars in Tommy’s collection are made of ebony for the French cosmetic trade during the late 19th and early 20th century.

Inspiration: Aesthetically, I wanted to go in the opposite direction of my previous (very small) apartment that was characterized by dark furniture, accents and walls. I had never had an all white living room and I had been trying unsuccessfully trying to convince clients to follow this idea. When I moved into this apartment (with 11 amazing 6′ high windows) it just seemed like the obvious place to finally realize this idea.

Favorite Element: Although I collect an array of things and love antiquing, I am very sentimental about family heirlooms. The tall gilded French mirror belonged to my grandmother, herself a decorator (and collector). Over the course of her lifetime she had several grand residences, each an example of re-invention and always decorated under her direction. When she began to list how she wanted her most precious objects to be distributed amongst her family she said to me “Clearly the tall French mirror will go to Tommy”. Clearly!

Biggest Challenge: The spacial arrangement of the apartment was a challenge as the bedroom was very small and the living room was large and awkwardly shaped. I have a strong preference for symmetry and the apartment’s unusual layout resisted anything being centered. Also, because this was a rental there were elements that I had to disguise or downplay (instead of ripping them out and replacing) — notably the parquet floor. I used a major boldly graphic striped rug and the eye focuses on that immediately.

What Friends Say: Please let me know when you are moving out! I literally had a waiting list for this apartment as everyone was in love with the giant windows.

Biggest Embarrassment: The landlady’s kitchen is directly above the bedroom. In an attempt to lessen the sound, she applied a perforated styrofoam ceiling in the bedroom.

Proudest DIY: Normally when working on an interior with a significant amount of art we will hire a team of professional art installers. I followed my gut and did the salon-style hanging above the couch by myself — totally old-school: no PhotoShop or computer designed mock-up. I leaned the works on the sofa and literally started hammering away. I think because I’ve lived with many of these pieces for years — whether they be blue-chip contemporary art, framed ephemera or cherished ancestors photos — my intuition was accurate when arranging them.

Biggest Indulgence: In 2003, I went to New York City with $10,000 — a significant amount of my savings at the time — for the Bill Blass estate auction at Sotheby’s. He was a major inspiration to me and I was determined to acquire something that he had collected and cherished. The auction’s tally quickly spiraled out of control and items that were estimated at $750 were hammering down at $7,500. At the end of the first session a Sotheby’s employee recognized my dismay, tapped me on the shoulder and said “Don’t worry, we’re going to get you something.” “Yeah, the catalog!” I answered. Fortunately, during the sale’s second session, when more of the smaller items came up for sale, I won a brass magnifying glass and six letter openers. Of course provenance is important, but similar letter openers could probably be found at Portabello market for £50. Regardless, I gave the letter openers to my mentors as gifts and the whole experience was definitely indulgent —it has a meaning that resonates still today.

Best Advice: John Manuel was one of my mentors. He told me that every time you get a paycheck, to always buy one book. Today, I have a serious art and design library of over 1,000 titles that I enjoy and cherish in his memory.

(NOTE: John Manuel was a noted Canadian interior designer. In the 1950’s he worked for Brunschwig et Fils and created the fabric “Les Touches”. Tommy used it on the pair of wingback chairs in his living room. “Les Touches” is still being made today and remains one of the company’s best selling prints.)

Dream Sources: Mallet (New York City and London) and Hobbs (London)

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

Resources of Note:


(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)


    • Yellow table: The Elegant Garage Sale painted in Babouche (223) from Farrow & Ball
    • Striped Rug by Madeline Weinrib, from Y&Co.
    • Artwork: Michael Adamson, represented by Moore Gallery
    • Stools, horns, firewood container, side table and coffee table from ChairTableLamp
    • Fabric on wingback chairs: “Les Touches” from Brunschwig & Fils
    • “Nicholas” sofa and “Thomas” low square stools: Sarah Richardson Design
    • Wall color: Farrow & Ball, Pointing (2003)
    • Trim color: Farrow & Ball, Old White (4)

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)


(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)


    • Mirror, yellow stool from ChairTableLamp
    • Bed & throw pillow: L’Atelier
    • Pillow fabric: Schumacher
    • Wall color: Farrow & Ball, Pigeon (25) • Trim color: Farrow & Ball, Pointing (2003)

Thanks, Tommy!

Images: courtesy of Michael Graydon

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