Worldly possessions // Going in House

A Toronto lawyer’s Cabbagetown home is inspired by international travel, South African heritage and a commercial pilot’s licence

By Lia Grainger

On Wednesday June 9th, 2010

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photo by Nancy TongEnter Alix Herber’s Cabbagetown home and it’s impossible not to sense the history and culture that permeates the house. Born in South Africa, this Faskens partner moved to Canada with her family when she was 17. Alix shares the semi-detached house with her husband Josh and one-and-a-half-year-old son, Delaney, and though the boys have certainly left their mark, it is the art and sculpture from the many places Alix has lived and travelled to that breathe a sense of history into the 104-year-old home.

photo by Nancy TongFamiliar faces: A row of slender South African masks lines the upstairs hallway, mementos of a trip to her birthplace. “I feel very lucky to have been able to travel,” says Alix, who counts Costa Rica, Australia and Tanzania among her recent destinations. “We go away at least once or twice a year, and that’s one of the reasons I have all this art.”

photo by Nancy TongDad’s got your back: A gently curved metal sculpture glistens in the sunlight that pours through the front windows of the house. “My dad got this for me when I started working at Faskens. It’s called Wings and he said it was to remind me that I was ready to spread my wings and could do whatever I wanted.”

photo by Nancy TongA mother’s passion: Alix feels a strong connection to her mother, who passed away when Alix was 15, and treasures a book she wrote. “It’s about South African artists who used art as a form of political expression,” says Alix, who admired her mother’s creativity and boldness in confronting such a topic. “It was a very political period and these artists used their work to talk about apartheid.”

photo by Nancy TongCanadian influence: On the dining room mantelpiece sits an Inuit whalebone sculpture from Northern Ontario. The piece was a gift from her uncle, Robert Herber, who moved to Canada from South Africa in the early 1970s to become a successful retailer. “The Bay sent him up North and he fell in love with the people and the art,” says Alix. “He was amazing and eventually ended up running Holt Renfrew.”

photo by Nancy TongKeep it in the nursery: Delaney’s second floor nursery has an aerial theme, something Alix hopes to keep contained. Josh loves airplanes (and even has his commerical pilot’s licence), but Alix doesn’t want model planes and pictures all over the house. “I thought, it’s perfect, we’ve had a boy, I know exactly where I’ll put them.”

photo by Nancy TongManly touch: When it comes to decorating, Josh says Alix makes the decisions, but there is one item he’s proud to call his own: “I picked the chandelier! Make sure you write that down.”

That’s entertainment: “We often have people over, especially since we had Delaney, because we can’t go out as much.” Their dining room, with its vintage hardwood floors and simple, sophisticated furnishings, is perfect for entertaining. “South Africans tend to be very modern in their decoration,” says Alix, “so this room has a nice contrast between modern and vintage.”

photo by Nancy TongAll in the family: For Alix, art appreciation was something she learned at an early age. A piece by renowned South African sculptor Edoardo Villa stands in the kitchen. “My mom used to keep it in the bathroom and put soap in the top of it,” says Alix. “She passed away when I was young and my dad gave it to me when I moved into my first apartment.” What makes the sculpture even more meaningful? Villa is her godfather. “When I was growing up my father filled the house with sculptures, many of them Edoardo’s, and some were six feet tall — it was like my playground.”

photo by Nancy TongAlix Herber

  • Firm: Fasken Martineau Dumoulin LLP
  • Areas of Practice: Labour, employment and human rights
  • Year of Call: 2001
  • Home Location: Cabbagetown, Toronto
  • Building Profile: Four bedroom, 3000 sq. ft. semidetached home with basement and third floor guest suite

Photography by Nancy Tong