Thursday, August 16, 2012

Gustav Hahn, Artist

Matthew's House
Fireplace in the Matthews House panelled ballroom designed by Gustav Hahn, 1899.
The historic houses in Toronto are a reminder of the business, industry, and banking leaders who influenced the shaping of Canada; and of the great architects and artists who added to its rich, distinctive culture.  One of Canada’s distinguished artists is Gustav Hahn (1866 – 1962), painter and sculptor. Trained in Germany and Italy, Gustav Hahn already had extensive experience in European art when he immigrated to Canada with his family in 1888.  He came here just as the Art Nouveau movement was beginning to become highly popular.  His talent was immediately recognized as he set to work painting panels, and designing furniture and other home furnishings for the houses of prominent Toronto citizens.  At this time he also designed theatre façades, curtains, and proscenia.  He soon became Canada’s most important artist working in the Art Nouveau style.

Legislative ceiling
Ceiling by Gustav Hahn, 1892.  Ontario Legislative Chamber, Ontario Legislative Building. 
In 1892, Gustav was commissioned to paint murals on the upper walls and ceiling of the Legislative Chamber of the brand new Ontario Legislative Building.  His completed murals of allegorical figures signifying Justice, Moderation, Power, and Wisdom, and the symbolic design on the ceiling were received with much pleasure.  For some unknown reason, in 1912, his murals and ceiling were covered with several coats of paint.  During the refurbishment of the Chamber in 1994, the artwork was discovered and a meticulous restoration of the murals and the ceiling began.  Gustav’s ceiling painting of gold and brown maple leaves on a green background has now been exposed.  The work on the murals is progressing, but is not yet complete because this can be done only while the House is in recess.

A portion of the frieze recognized as being Gustav Hahn's work, 1898.  Billiard room of Spadina House.
Though unsigned, the rhythmic, stunning Art Nouveau frieze of 1898 on the walls of the billiard room of Spadina House is recognized as being Gustav Hahn’s work.

Matthew's House 2
Panelled Ballroom designed by Gustav Hahn, 1899.
In 1899, Gustav decorated the one-story Art Nouveau panelled ballroom of the Matthews House at 89 St. George Street, now the Newman Centre at the University of Toronto.  The fireplace is pictured at the beginning of this post.

Ceiling by Gustav Hahn, 1902.  Flavelle House.
In 1902, Gustav painted the exquisite Art Nouveau ceiling in the elegant Georgian Great Hall of Flavelle House, now part of the University of Toronto Law School.

Without a doubt, Gustav’s greatest masterpiece was his magnificent ceiling of St. Paul’s Methodist Church on Avenue Road, painted in 1890.  He covered the entire ceiling with angels, lilies, and vines in his graceful Art Nouveau style.  Unfortunately, a fire occurred in 1995 destroying the entire church that resulted in an enormous loss to the art world.

His other work in private and public buildings came from private commissions, and those he received through the design firm Elliot and Son.  Gustav’s work includes a frieze for the Bank of Nova Scotia at Yonge and Bloor Streets, a mural for the Central Methodist Church, a spandrel for the Bank of Nova Scotia, the curtain and proscenium for Shea’s Theatre, decorations in the chancel of St. John the Evangelist in Montreal, the ceiling over the main altar of St. James Cathedral, Truth and Justice at the Toronto old City Hall, and a stained glass window over the altar of Calvin Presbyterian on Delisle Avenue.  It is heartbreaking to note that a great deal of his work in private and public buildings has been lost due to renovations and demolitions as the city expanded. 

Gustav worked prolifically throughout his long career.  His list of memberships was long:  the Society of Painter-Etchers and Engravers, the Canadian Society of Applied Art, the Toronto Arts and Crafts Society, the Arts and Letters Club, the Ontario Society of Artists, and the Royal Canadian AcademyGustav showed his creations at art exhibitions all over Canada.  Several of his paintings and drawings are now in the National Gallery of Canada permanent collection.  For many years until he was 80 years of age, he was a teacher at the Ontario College of Art where he taught some who would later become important artists.  Despite a hectic teaching schedule and working on commissions, he found time to teach additional classes at the Royal Ontario Museum, and at Toronto’s Central Technical School.  Through his work and his teaching, Gustav Hahn has left an outstanding legacy.

Flavelle 2
A portion of the ceiling by Gustav Hahn, 1902.  Flavelle House.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Flavelle House

Flavelle House (Holwood), built 1902
Few people take the time to appreciate the large house that sits with gracious dignity set back from Queeen’s Park Crescent, as they drive downtown every day.

The Living Room at Flavelle House

The University of Toroto Law school students who use Flavelle House every day have a better opportunity to take part in its beauty enjoying the interior and exterior aspects of its architecture and decoration.
The Georgian Great Hall Fireplace
Flavelle House is one of the University of Toronto Law School buildings.  It was originally built in 1902 by Sir Joseph Flavelle (1858-1939), a Canadian businessman and philanthropist, on land leased for 99 years from the University.  The arrangement was that the premises were to be used by Sir Joseph, Lady Flavelle and their dependents, but given back to the University at the end of the 99-year term.

Gustav Hahn Ceiling
Sir Joseph built the house, originally called Holwood, using the plans of the Toronto architects Pearson and Darling.  It is said he avoided anything pretentious and may have been unaware of the grand scale of the architectural drawings.  Holwood emerged as a splendid edifice in the Second Classical Revival style, somewhat grander than Sir Joseph had apparently anticipated.  The house was donated to the University in 1940, because none of Sir Joseph’s descendents chose to live there after his death.

Gustav Hahn Ceiling

The interior of Flavelle House is designed with superb architectural features including mosaic floors and beautiful woodwork.  The elegant Georgian Great Hall features the historically important Art Nouveau ceiling painted by Gustav Hahn (1866-1962).  The ceiling is beautifully decorated with four floating angels.  It is fitting for our future lawyers at the University of Toronto Law School to have the pleasure of being surrounded by beauty as they take some inspiration from the angels while reading the law.

Gustav Hahn Ceiling

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The Eglinton Hunt Club

My love for Toronto grows as I walk in its old neighbourhoods and take in the architecture of the past.  The stories the buildings tell add important details to the City’s cultural history. There is much of interest about Toronto’s noble history, the founding people, the settlers and immigrants.
Eglinton Hunt Club clubhouse, Jan. 26, 2012
The Eglinton Hunt Club clubhouse, now housing several luxury condominium apartments, is a distinguished landmark in North Toronto.  The building is described as English Period Revival with medieval and Classical features inspired by country-house architecture.

Eglinton Hunt Club clubhouse, 1932,  photo: City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 2394
When it was built in 1928, the clubhouse was surrounded by open fields, just right for its equestrian activities.  It was built by the eminent Toronto architects Vaux and Bryan Chadwick, many of whose properties are acknowledged on the City of Toronto Inventory of Heritage Properties.  One wing housed the dining room, kitchen and second-floor dancehall and apartment; and another wing contained locker rooms and a gymnasium.  A swimming pool and a bowling alley were in the basement.  An indoor riding school wing was attached to the rear end of the building.
Eglinton Hunt Club, ca. 1926, photo: City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 2283
The Eglinton Hunt Club officially received its name in 1922 when the Toronto Hunt Club was renamed.  The Toronto Hunt is the second oldest continuously run hunt in North America. It was first formed in 1843 by the military officers of the Garrison in the City.  The Club, after operating in various locations, found its first permanent home with its own clubhouse in 1893 near the Scarborough Bluffs.  As the suburbs grew closer, George Beardmore, Master of the Hunt from 1893 to 1931, purchased land north of Eglinton Avenue and moved the Club there in 1919. Stables were built at the new location to accommodate 150 horses. George also purchased a house nearby, called Willowbank, which served as the clubhouse until the new one was built in 1928.  In 1932 the Eglinton Hunt Club was renamed Toronto and North York Hunt Club.
Willowbank built 1880s, Feb. 5, 2012
Because of financial pressure of the 1930s and continuing residential growth, the Club sold the property to the Government of Canada in 1939, and moved outside of the city where it continues to flourish.
Eglinton Hunt Club women polo players ca. 1934, photo: City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 1320
Sometimes it is difficult to deal with the changes in a city and think of what might have been.  I know where one of the bridle paths is and can imagine seeing the riders on their beautiful horses.  A friend recently said that if you know what was there before, traces of the past remain as the city changes.  

City of Toronto records

Monday, January 30, 2012

Toronto Interior Design Show, IDS12

On Friday, I went to the IDS12, the Toronto Design Show to see what's new in style, colour and design.  I always lean toward quality in products and designs that have a timeless appeal.  The exhibitors were anxious to give me detailed information of the products as I made my way along the many booths.

The products featured here particularly appealed to me.

Town and Country Fireplaces
This Town and Country fireplace is the world's largest factory-built vent gas fireplace.  It is grand at 54" X 44".  The tall flames behind a non-reflective ceramic glass look like an open fire.  There are other fireplace-surround choices available for this fireplace to suit your taste.  John Slaven at Marsh's Stoves and Fireplaces in Toronto can give you all the specifications.

Modallion rug
This exquisite rug is one of the Modallion collection of rugs designed by Robyn Waffle.   It is of a tribal motif with circle of life imagery in subtle colouring.  Modallion has its rugs hand-woven in Nepal.  This one is of wool and silk.  There are many more designs, colours, and sizes in the collection.

Modallion is a division of Reznick Carpets owned by Jordan Reznick.  Through Modallion, Jordan brings new designs to the traditional art form of rug making.
Hansgrohe Axor bathtub
For a luxurious soak in the bathtub, this freestanding bathtub is the ultimate in design.  It is deep enough to fully immerse and high enough at one end to rest your head.  The continental shower stand beside the tub adds to the luxury of bath time.

Giovanni de Maio tile floor   Photo: Giovanni de Maio
These tiles were produced on the Amalfi coast of Italy by Giovanni de Maio which draws on a two hundred year art pottery tradition.  Each tile is handmade and hand-decorated.  The wall and floor tiles come in many different traditional and modern patterns.  Seeing them filled me with a sense of warmth and beauty.

When I left that afternoon, I had the confidence that quality, value, good design, and craftsmanship are the continuing characteristics of this important show.  

Friday, January 13, 2012

Michael Ryan, Interior Designer

Ever since I first met my friend Michael Ryan, an interior designer in Chicago, I marveled at his creativity.  He sees beauty in many things, so often in a nostalgic way.  I admire him for his aesthetic sense and excellent taste.  His attention to every detail for quality in his interiors seems to come from his passion for fabric design. I find that he has a wonderful sense of humour, loves people, and is fun to be with.  Michael is accomplished in many ways.  

Michael brings his love for the outdoors and a sense of history to his designs and drawings.  He creates a feeling of luxury, elegance, and comfort to his interiors, and incorporates the textures and layers of colours in nature with his inherent sense of order.  The results are always inviting and fresh.  His designs range from contemporary to traditional with the underlying theme of timelessness.  He feels equally at home designing the interiors of an elegant house in the city, or the rooms of a country estate.


Michael began by studying fine arts and design at top art institutions before launching into his creative career.  He gained experience as an award winning product developer, trend forecaster, and manager of large corporate design teams.

There are a number of interior designers in Chicago.  Why do your clients choose you?
I really believe it’s a personal connection or a bond between my clients and our team. We become family and discuss much more than design.  I also can find products that fit the client’s lifestyle that they may not be aware of:  making their home or business a reflection of who they are.  It’s a wonderful balancing act, working with needs, budget, time frames and introducing new possibilities.

Do you have a signature style?  If so what is it?
I do!  As many of my friends in social media put it….It’s a bit nostalgic.  It’s comfortable with a bit of an edge.  I truly believe that clients should be able to use their space and furnishings to the fullest extent.  What would a home be without a wet dog, a friendly gathering in the kitchen or playing horse shoes in the yard after a day at the beach?  My job is to make these spaces stress free and enjoyable.

I know you grew up in Colorado and later moved to Chicago where you continue to live.  Would you say your style has been influenced by these regions?
Quite a few of my clients come over to my place here in the city just to check things out I suppose.  What they find is always a surprise.  I am always painting something in the house and there is always a project going on.  My foyer has an extensive collection of antique oars hanging on a pale blue wall.  My bedroom has sleds, skis, and a toboggan that is mounted as a headboard.  The dining room table is full of glass urns and oversized glass vases filled with seasonal greens and beach glass that we have collected.  The mud room is filled with whatever sporting equipment we were using that day, not to mention a lot of sand!  Back home in Colorado we grew up like this and I’ve never out grown it.

Do feel your services appeal to a certain segment of the marketplace? 
I am lucky enough to have a clientele that is mostly Downtown and North Shore.  They all have a busy life style.  Today it seems everyone is working at least a 60-hour work week, our services make things easier and fun for the client.

What is your dream project?
I really enjoy large projects working with a corporate team.  For instance, we recently worked on an advertizing office here in the city.  There were a dozen or so members assigned to work with us.  It was a joy introducing not only a functional space, but the products, colors, and flow that reflected the client’s brand.  The team had their own voice in the design and took ownership of the way they wanted things laid out.  Thus making a more productive space that they enjoyed working in.


Do you limit yourself to big budget projects, or do you also work on smaller ones?
Ah, good question!  As we know the larger projects just aren’t there due to the economy.  I have taken on several smaller ones just to keep the ball rolling so to speak.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with helping Mrs. Smith find the perfect lampshade, or suggesting a new color of paint for her dining room.  She could be the one person down the road that will give a personal recommendation for a larger project when things turn around.  Again, it’s about a personal connection between client and designer.

What is your favourite architectural style?
I love the Arts and Crafts movement.  I grew up with that style of architecture in Colorado.  Studied it in school quite a bit along with surface design and enjoy visiting this style here in the city.  There’s something about the craftsmanship that intrigues me and I love to seek it out.  Mind you, I do also enjoy some of the more modern structures and marvel in their ingenuity as well.

Where would you most like to live?
We all have these visions of where things could be better, weather wise that is.  I would love to sun on the coast in Greece, garden in the countryside of France, surf on the coast of California, retire in Vermont and live in a busy city like New York.  For now the college town of Evanston suits me perfectly.  I have the beach life, the snow, and able to take in all of its historical offerings.


Who is your favourite person in history?
This is a hard one!  There are so many talents out there.  The first person that comes to mind is William Morris.  He was able to introduce a new way of looking at things that encompassed true craftsmanship.  

What do you value most in your friends?
Knowing that they will always be there even when I’m wrong, which of course never happens.  I love that they will help me see the way and give me a good kick to get things going when I’m down.  They will also be here to help celebrate when things are good.  Isn’t that what friendship is all about?

What trait do you most dislike in others?
Simple, not treating others as you wish to be treated.

What do you like to do when you're relaxing?
I’m at the beach with Summer my Portuguese Waterdog and Miss H.  In the kitchen inventing the next best dish, organizing or painting trim in the house.  Never an idle moment.

What do you like most in yourself?
I’m pretty easy going and enjoy learning new things.


Do you have any regrets?
Of Course!  Who doesn’t?  Mine would be not listening to my heart and taking more risks instead of playing it safe.  Luckily this is lifetime learning experience.

What is your greatest achievement?
Raising a wonderful daughter in a loving house, passing along what I have learned.

When your friends and clients say Michael Ryan, what thought would you like to come to mind?
A vision of style mixed with an appreciation of craftsmanship and quality.  A gracious host, always having time to listen and help.

You can reach Michael through his website Michael Ryan Design  You can also see Michael on tumblr