In her 30s, Charlene Theodore caught the travel bug. After graduating from law school at Dalhousie University, she landed a job with the International Bar Association in London, England, a job that took her all over Europe. And then she landed at the African-Canadian Legal Clinic in Toronto, which saw her travel across Canada and to the United Nations in Geneva and New York.
But the constant jet-setting was burning her out. “I wanted to create a life in which I was satisfied professionally,” she says, “but I also wanted some kind of home base.” In 2012, she became an in-house counsel with the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association, a Toronto-headquartered job that doesn’t require any globetrotting. For Theodore, this posed a challenge. Was there a way to live a vibrant life — full of adventure — while staying in one place?
Her home, a 900-square-foot condominium in Toronto’s King East neighbourhood, suited that goal perfectly. The historic old city and the sprawling St. Lawrence Market were steps from her lobby. And she would be minutes away from both the highway and Union Station, making it super easy to visit her parents in Brampton.
Four years later, in 2016, she considered upgrading to a house. But that would have meant leaving the neighbourhood. So, instead, she renovated her flat. “I saved a ton of money,” she says, “by using great contractors who understood my budget and wanted to work within it.”
Theodore’s goal was to personalize the space without overhauling it completely. She added moulded panels to her bedroom walls, outfitted the kitchen cabinets with custom doors and installed a dropped ceiling, thereby hiding the original popcorn pattern. Her kitchen redesign was equally economical. Instead of rebuilding the millwork, she simply enhanced it: the counter now has a quartz surface, which can sustain heavy usage, and the cabinets have elegant brass handles that Theodore sourced online. Despite the dapper touches, the palette — white and grey walls, original wood floors — is deliberately restrained. The sense of liveliness comes less from the built-ins than from the interior-design pieces: vintage chairs, a custom couch and vibrant art that celebrates black cultures in Canada and around the world.
Her new space is perfect for hosting. For a recent family dinner, Theodore cooked an Italian-style pork shoulder with crackling. Then, to mix up the flavours, she incorporated jerk seasoning instead of traditional herbs. It was her kind of meal: creative and eclectic. At last, she was using her space to its fullest potential. “The colour in my home comes from the art,” she says, “but also from the people in it.”
This story is from our Winter 2018 Issue.
Photography by Jason Gordon