Joanna & Kevin’s Constantly Changing, Yesteryear-Inspired Apartment

published Dec 10, 2015
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(Image credit: Lauren Kolyn)

Name: Joanna and Kevin Miller
Location: Toronto, Ontario
Size: 800 square feet
Years lived in: 7 months; Rented

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Joanna and Kevin met through their passion for swing dancing. Kevin is a musician (you will see his instruments displayed throughout the apartment) and Joanna is a designer and decorator. When she’s not dreaming up new ideas for her own space, Joanna works at Home Smith, a local interior design boutique in Toronto’s Roncesvalles neighborhood. The couple constantly exercises creativity in their space and often change things around, whether it’s what’s hanging on the walls or the layout of a room. Joanna and Kevin like to keep things fresh and new.

(Image credit: Lauren Kolyn)

After seeing the facade of the building, one would never expect to walk into the space that Joanna and Kevin have created. Their personal styles and interests have clearly been reflected in the decor and atmosphere of their apartment. Contrary to the popular movement of modern design, sleek lines, and minimalism, the couple have boldly designed their home based on the eras of yesteryear. Their love and fascination with history (and Downton Abbey!) have been influential in this process.

Working within a modest budget, Joanna and Kevin turned to IKEA for many of their larger items. However, with a little imagination and paint, they have managed to transform these popular items to blend into their personal aesthetic. Complementing the new furniture are vintage finds from local thrift shops and items passed down from family. Though Joanna and Kevin only moved into this space less than a year ago, they have managed to successfully set up a space that transcends time and feels like home.

(Image credit: Lauren Kolyn)

Apartment Therapy Survey:

Our Style: Our style is an eclectic mix of vintage, clean Scandinavian design, English country, and the Danish concept of hygge (pronounced “hooga”), which evokes enjoyment in coziness and good company. We like things that are made of natural materials and textiles, like wood, wool, cotton, wicker, etc. We’ve also made great use of IKEA—most of our big ticket items are from there, as I [Joanna] find it’s very easy to combine my love for clean Scandinavian design with more rustic and antiquated-looking finds from thrift stores.

Inspiration: Kevin and I are both very artistic. He is a musician, and I am a designer and decorator with many hobbies such as sewing and painting, so our apartment has lots of instruments and art materials that we’ve showcased. My mum is also an artist, so we’ve got some of her pieces in the living room. Swing dancing is another major influence of ours, as that’s how we met. We both love history of all eras and are involved in lots of vintage­-era events and dances around Toronto. We draw upon and combine elements prominent from many different eras to create a uniquely curated space that evokes coziness and warmth.

Favorite Element: The size, the natural light, and the functional layout. I also love the cabinet height in the kitchen—they go all the way to the ceiling, which is rather rare nowadays. Our bedroom is fairly large and closets are also huge, which is convenient, as we have lots of instruments and art materials.

Biggest Challenge: Hands down the living room. Because of the way that the living room is laid out, it was challenging to find a way to set up our sectional and armchair without blocking off traffic areas and closing off the living area from the dining area. We moved it around several times until we found an orientation that opened the space up a lot while still being very cozy.

What Friends Say: “You moved things around again!” Our space is always evolving. We like to decorate according to the season; in the spring and summer we go for a more light and airy atmosphere, while in the fall and winter, we go for warm and cozy with lots of candles and tartan blankets. We also are always on the hunt for new finds at thrift stores and antique shops, so we find that it’s important to cull things that we aren’t in love with anymore to make way for those that are either more functional or more beautiful.

Biggest Embarrassment: The kitchen countertop. It’s a major eyesore that always looks dirty because of the so called “design” on it. We’d like to change it eventually, and we probably will if we decide to stay here long. We’re also going to end up repainting the living room white. The building management paints all of the apartments a muted salmon color, but since we’re constantly moving pictures around, we’ve ended up with lots of holes in the walls that we can’t patch up because we don’t have the proper paint swatch to match the current color.

Proudest DIY: Not exactly a DIY, but taking the doors off of the kitchen cabinets has really opened up the space. I find that it prevents you from throwing things in your cabinets that you either don’t use or don’t want to deal with in the moment, so the space is always clean and tidy. It also allows you to play around with displaying your dishes in a visually interesting way. Not to mention it makes putting dishes away very easy and convenient.

Biggest Indulgence: The wingback chair from IKEA that our cat has since claimed as her bed, throne, and scratch post.

Best Advice: Every space has some sort of unique charm—it’s just a matter of finding out what it is and accentuating it, while drawing attention away from the flaws and the little things that you just can’t change. ­Don’t be afraid to repaint or alter things to make them suit your space. I usually paint most things that we buy white to reflect the natural light that we get.

Dream Sources: We mostly just want to raid the set of Downton Abbey, or have access to a time machine so we can shop in yesteryear.


(Image credit: Lauren Kolyn)


  • All walls: beige pink color selected by our building management—we will eventually be painting them pure white.
(Image credit: Lauren Kolyn)


  • Wall hangers: IKEA Svartsjon
  • Chalkboard with gold frame: DIY
  • Shelf for keys: reclaimed
(Image credit: Lauren Kolyn)


  • Armchair: IKEA Strandmon
  • Sectional sofa: IKEA Friheten
  • Coffee table: IKEA Kragsta ­found in the As-­Is section
  • Portable record player: Crosley
  • Sectional shelves from IKEA Ivar­ painted white
  • Stained glass mosaic: inherited from our old dance studio
  • Standing lamp: Home Depot via our old dance studio
  • Wall decor, ­ mirrors, paintings, prints, and textile art: thrift stores, made by Joanna, made by Joanna’s mum
(Image credit: Lauren Kolyn)


  • Table and chairs set: IKEA Jokkmokk repainted by Joanna
(Image credit: Lauren Kolyn)


  • Kitchen island cart: IKEA Förhöja
  • Garbage, recycling, and pet food bins: IKEA Filur
  • Customizable shelving unit: IKEA Hejne
  • KitchenAid Stand Mixer­ Artisan Model in Pistachio: my absolute favorite small appliance—our friends got it for us as a wedding gift.
  • Utensil holders: IKEA Socker vases—they go really nicely with our mixer.
  • Milkshake mixer: vintage Hamilton Beach
  • Wire dish washing and drying paraphernalia: IKEA Bygel
  • Hanging wine glass racks: Kitchen Stuff Plus
  • Knife magnet: Kitchen Stuff Plus—we absolutely love this product; it makes food prep super convenient while keeping knives sharp and rust-free. We highly recommend them!
  • Dishes, glasses, and mugs: IKEA, Value Village (or VV Boutique, as we like to call it)
(Image credit: Lauren Kolyn)


  • Bed frame: IKEA Tarva painted white
  • Mattress: IKEA Sultan Hanestad—best mattress ever!
  • Vanity: DIY from an old suitcase and L-­brackets
  • 6-drawer dressers: IKEA Hemnes
  • Side tables: IKEA Askvol­ found in the As-­Is section
  • Trunk for storage: vintage
(Image credit: Lauren Kolyn)


  • Baskets and storage: Value Village
  • Shower curtain: Walmart
  • Bath mat: Target
  • Various shelves: IKEA
(Image credit: Lauren Kolyn)


  • Shelving unit: IKEA Ivar ­painted white
  • Bookshelves: DIY from raw lumber and L­-brackets from Home Depot
  • Drawer chests: IKEA Rast­ painted white
  • Trunk for sewing materials and fabric: vintage
  • Old dining table used as desk:­ Kijiji
  • Mid-century chair: Goodwill
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Entryway with the living and dining rooms on the left and kitchen to the right (Image credit: Lauren Kolyn)

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Thanks, Joanna & Kevin!