Inside Charlene Theodore’s newly renovated condo in the St. Lawrence Market

It’s the perfect home for her collection of modern art
It’s the perfect home for her collection of modern art

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.”

Charlene Theodore

Kitchen confidence: The kitchen is the most important part of Theodore’s home: she calls it “the jewel in the crown.” In law school, cooking became her go-to de-stressor. At Thanksgiving, she’d make turkey dinner for her friends. And during exam season, she’d bring homemade cornbread to the library. Today, she hosts friends and family as often as she can.


Going in-house dining room

Greenhouse effect: Her dining-room table is flanked by two bookshelves. Her collection includes monographs by her favourite chefs: fusion master Marcus Samuelsson and the late, great Anthony Bourdain. Her most prized possession, though, is the picture book Boy of Dahomey, which her father gave her when she was six. “I was a huge bookworm,” she says, “and I remember being fascinated by this day-in-the-life story of an African boy in his village.”


Going in-house living room

Rightsizing: During her 2016 renovation, Theodore donated her bulky sectional, along with many other items, to the Furniture Bank, a charity that helps families in need. In its place, she ordered a couch from Younger Furniture — a company based in North Carolina that crafts pieces by hand — which is better suited to her 150-square-foot living room.


Going in-house book

Life of Wiley: This is a monograph by her favourite artist, Kehinde Wiley, known for his heroic depictions of black subjects and his official portrait of Barack Obama.


Going in-house bedroom

Only Dior will do: To create a relaxing ambience, Theodore opted for minimal bedroom furnishings: wooden side tables from West Elm and brass floor lamps from CB2. She was unfussy but specific in her tastes. When her headboard arrived upholstered in the wrong colour, she had it redone in her preferred hue: Dior Grey.
















Going in-house foyer

At home in the world: Theodore’s flat has a front foyer, a feature one rarely sees in Toronto condominiums. She decorated this space with photographs she has taken over her many travels: London, Geneva, Machu Picchu and Curaçao, the Caribbean island nation where her grandfather — also a photographer — lived.



















































Going in-house painting

First purchase: In 2016, Theodore attended “A Room Full of Black Boys,” an exhibition of paintings by Toronto portraitist Oluseye, at the Blank Canvas Gallery. She was so taken with the show that she purchased one piece on sight. “It was the first work of original art I ever bought,” she says.

Going in-house bathroom

A whole new loo: The bathroom is the one part of the condo that Theodore completely rebuilt. She raised the counters above standard height — “I don’t like doubling over in the morning to wash my face,” she says — and retiled the floors in a herringbone pattern.
















This story is from our Winter 2018 Issue.

Photography by Jason Gordon