I find design inspiration walking around the city of Toronto all the time. While we’re not necessarilky known for being a ‘beautiful’ city, there is a lot of pretty out there to be found. From the glass palace and spectacular flowers of Allan Gardens to the rainbow painted crosswalks of the Church street village, when you’re looking for design inspiration in Toronto, it’s never far away. We recommend lacing up your walking shoes and exploring these three neighbourhoods the next time you need some.
Cottaging is Canada’s summer obsession, and for good reason, but not everyone can escape the city every weekend. Fear not. Ward’s Island on the Toronto Islands is an incredible weekend escape that has no shortage of inspiration, though you may leave with more ideas for your cottage than your home. The storybook quaintness of every home will make you think you’re walking through a film set. There are no cookie cutter homes here, and a disproportionate number of them are simply magical. Screen doors and ornate shutters frame windows and doors on homes painted in every colour under the sun, lining narrow walking-only streets shaded by one-hundred-year-old trees. The front decks and porches are littered with fun patio furniture and hammocks that spill onto front gardens that overflow onto the walking paths. The neighbourhood feels like a giant garden, and although the homes are small and tightly packed in, what they lack in size, they make up for in character. Expect to depart the island with ideas for your garden and porch and the next colour scheme for your home or cottage’s exterior. The walk could take you anywhere from twenty minutes to an hour depending on how extensively you explore the narrow streets once you leave the ferry, and if you grow thirsty on your journey, unwind on arguably the most inspirational patio in the city out front of The Rectory Café.
Nestled between Parliament Street and the Don Valley, Cabbagetown is another neighbourhood that is lovely for an afternoon walk with a side of endless inspiration. The neighbourhood has gentrified and is now home to a great mix of restored Victorians, cottages, coach houses, and a scatter of remodelled homes done in a contemporary cubic style. The houses are unique, and you can’t go more than a block without running into a ‘Little Free Library’, Cabbagetown reads indeed! The front porches are all perfectly decorated and the only thing more impressive than the perfectly manicured lawns, are the gardens. Walking from Parliament Street East towards the Don Valley you’ll arrive at Riverdale Farm, a lovely park and petting zoo with a peaceful cemetery tucked in behind it. You’ll leave Cabbagetown with ideas about how to make your addition tie seamlessly into your heritage home and how to update your older home. Give yourself a little over an hour to explore several shady streets, and when you get thirsty be sure to stop into the House on Parliament, a local institution voted Toronto’s Best Gastro Pub several years running.
Forest Hill might be an unconventional choice for this list, but hear me out. I’ve always found extremely affluent neighbourhoods inspirational. Whether it’s the hills of West Vancouver, Rockcliffe in Ottawa, or Westmount in Montreal, affluent communities are not only great for viewing jaw-dropping homes, but for learning a few things about how to improve yours as well. If you’ve ever been stumped about what makes a planter for your front step spectacular, a walk through Forest Hill will give you plenty of ideas. You’ll also leave with ideas on how to take your hedges and the perimeter of your property to the next level and how to make the most of that new landscaping you’ve wanted for years. The homes are grand like you’d expect, but so too is the inspiration you’ll leave with. The masterful stonework stairs leading to garage, the intricate interlocking stone driveways, or the countless fountains and water features will give you plenty of projects to ponder, albeit after you’ve saved for a little longer perhaps. It’s the same thing as seeing an outfit at Gucci and recreating it at Zara. Get inspired, and then get creative. The design that works best for you is the one that works with your budget. When you get thirsty from all of the drooling you’ll be doing, hit up the Rusholme on St Clair for a lovely wine selection and a breezy patio, and if you’re looking to do a little more walking, check out Mount Pleasant Cemetery for some spectacular scenery in a serene setting.
With so many great neighbourhoods in Toronto, you can’t go wrong when you head off and wander. The next time you need some design inspiration, ditch Pinterest in favour of exploring a new neighbourhood.
Kiel has been a member of the BREL team for three years and a designer for UPstaging since its founding in 2019. As a McMaster alumnus in Communication and Design at George Brown, he soon made his life-long dream of spending other people’s money…err.. we mean decorating… into reality with the BREL team! When he’s not staging homes, he can be found searching the Junction for vintage furniture and unique accessories.