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High Design in Toronto

While in Toronto covering IDS11, Dwell’s team of reporters had the opportunity to interview one of Toronto’s—and indeed North America’s—premier interior designers. We were blessed by an exclusive inside look at the home of designer Alexis Leino, and we'd like to share what we saw.

Dwell had the chance to interview one of Toronto's top designers, Alexis Leino.

Located in one of Toronto’s most fashionable neighborhoods, Alexis Leino’s private apartment faces north, overlooking tiny Lower Rosedale. The 1964 white-brick, glass, and aluminum structure houses hundreds of Toronto’s top-drawer luminaries, from grocery-store cashiers to mid-level managers of fast food franchises.

Entering the lobby, Leino explains how building management decided to forego the usual pomp of a 24 hour doorman, instead choosing a passkey system to allow access to the building, as well as a telephone intercom to allow entrance to delivery persons and support staff. According to building management, the absence of a concierge allows residents the privacy that their celebrity clients—in particular—expect, noting that not every suite has its own private elevator. The spacious and vaulted foyer features luxury materials, including engineered granite, simulated Tahitian marble, textured stainless steel, genuine Canadian ceramic tiles and other alkaline-based finishes. The foyer's designer says, “Our material source team look to use as many locally produced components as possible.The closer they are, they cheaper they are, usually.”

The walls feature exotic materials.
Moving upstairs to his near-penthouse-level suite, Leino invites us down the long corridor to his abode. The 15th floor hallway features many of the same quality materials as the lobby, but also incorporates softer and more homey materials, like commercial nylon broadloom. While the broadloom is not always shampooed on a yearly basis, it features thought-provoking geometric design cues in its pattern. 

Inside the corridor of Leino's apartment building.
The moment finally arrives when we enter Leino’s chambers. As he only recently relocated from his New York apartment, designer Leino apologizes for the “work-in-progress” nature of the unit. Our initial feeling of expectation does not abate. While there may still be a mass of cables running hither and tither around the audio/visual unit, the rest seems perfectly in place.

Starting with the bathroom, Leino describes the inspiration for his choices of finishes and fixtures. “I found my design choices here in the bathroom influenced largely by public restrooms and the subway stations of Toronto," he explained, gesturing towards the tiles, which were installed with what he describes as “rustic looking” grout-work. Some walls see floor-to-ceiling tiling, including the backsplash behind the vanity. “It’s important to me to feel that my bathroom time is as spa-like as possible, which is why I have the soaker tub and plenty of space to spread out products, do my morning stretches after a bath, and view Good Morning America."

Leino's bathroom where he can "do his morning stretches after a bath, and view Good Morning America."
Moving next to the kitchen, Alexis explains, “I was bowled over when I saw the lobby downstairs, and demanded the designers tell me where they sourced their Canadian ceramic tiles. I then let that choice carry the whole design scheme of the kitchen.”  Alexis shows off the spacious area, which features high-end appliances, including a Inglis refrigerator/freezer unit, a stainless-steel-looking microwave, and a four-burner electric stove and oven combination. Asked why he didn’t have separate wall units for the oven, Alexis just shook his head and said, “I just didn’t want to over-build for the neighborhood."  The tour continued, and we were graciously invited to feel the Marble-ette countertop, with a finish so silky-smooth that one would think, eyes closed, it was in fact 20-year-old Formica. The cupboards surprise and delight once again, and when asked, Alexis replies that, no, they were not custom-made from Brazilian teak, but rather are actually constructed of durable Canadian chipboard, purchased locally and assembled in-unit. Amazing. Once again, the public washroom-inspired tiling of the bathroom carries over in the kitchen, and takes center stage while unifying the design from floor to chest-height.

The kitchen.
Next on our tour was the combined living room/dining room/office/parlor/TV room/great room/guest room. Alexis explains that in today’s fast evolving world, his clients are increasingly demanding multi-functional living spaces.

Alexis, a self-proclaimed control freak, first shows what we initially thought were custom-made and professionally installed built-ins. “I had a vision for this piece, and had to ensure it was carried forward to my satisfaction. The only way to guarantee that was to design and install it myself,” he says. The result is a beautifully integrated gesture that merges seamlessly with the rest of the décor, while at the same time serving the dual purpose of being a piece of art in itself, and a bookshelf.

One of Leino's prized possessions is his bookshelf.
The furniture sports an eclectic shabby-chic look, and many pieces appear to be used or antiques. “Not all the furniture is custom,” asserts Leino. “In fact, this futon is, believe it or not, made in Indonesia of wood and polyester and cotton.”  Jaw-dropping. Other featured pieces include Persian-esque rugs and brass lamps.

The livingroom, which features a myriad of influences.
We were then invited to the spacious outdoor terrace. While the landscaping is, as Leino bashfully admits, “nowhere near completion at this point," one can see the beginnings of the Asian-themed conceptualization—case in point are a television antenna from China, and window air conditioner from South Korea, resting this winter in a recycled polyethylene bag. The mop, he said, is a whimsical addition, added for no real aesthetic reason other than he liked the red handle.

Leino's balcony.
Saving the best for last, Alexis invites Dwell into his private quarters to demonstrate his vision of his “Zen-themed bedroom." It is so serene that one imagines a softly babbling brook and the whisper of bamboo leaves in a light breeze, not to mention an artfully displayed Buddha nook. The bed rests comfortably on a box spring, and a wool rug stretches out on the floor. Clothes are hidden out of the way in the spacious, walk-in-ish closet in addition to a prominently featured bamboo laundry basket. Other furnishings include a custom made marble bedside table topped by a glass lamp, and what Alexis refers to as “a comfortable assortment of home-grown items, including coins, ear plugs, business cards, keys and a few pictures." He explains that no space should be so perfect as to make its occupants feel uncomfortable. We totally agree, of course.

Leino's bedroom. He explains that "no space should be so perfect as to make its occupants feel uncomfortable."
Wrapping up the interview, one of our reporters queried as to why Alexis is no longer a professional model. “It was just time to move on. While my phone still rings off the hook with people begging me to model their new line of swimsuits and formal wear, I knew the world needed my unique design vision more than my beautful face and body." Alexis then explains that now that he’s just a week away from his 24th birthday, “it’s time to move beyond modeling and acting.” As we say our goodbyes, Alexis’ 130-pound-frame guides us to the door where he gives us this one final design hint. “The light fixtures are from a secret source,” he says with a coy smile, “But I’ll give you this hint: It starts with ‘Home’ and ends with ‘Depot’".

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