Guy Laporte had been living in his Cabbagetown home for more than a decade when the love of his life, Craig Ashton, moved in. With its brightly coloured walls and ’80s gay chic, the house had so much character it might as well have been the third person in their relationship.
“There was the sunshine yellow kitchen and the red living room… the colour was Fire Island Red. Does it get any gayer than that?” Laporte remembers, laughing.
After almost five years of living with the madness Ashton decided they needed professional help. When the couple spotted Colin McAllister and Justin Ryan — better known to house porn addicts simply as Colin and Justin — on television one morning promoting what was then their forthcoming show Colin and Justin’s Home Heist on HGTV, Ashton knew what he had to do.
“They said, ‘We’re coming to Canada so if you have a particularly horrendous house that you think we should redecorate then send us pictures,’” says Laporte. “I laughed and Craig laughed and I went off to work.”
“No, you went up to have a shower and I started taking pictures,” says Ashton.
“You took the pictures while I was still here? You snipe!” says Laporte.
Just hours later Laporte received an excited call from Ashton. “Last time he said, ‘Honey, I’ve done something around the house’ he’d ripped out the closet in the master bedroom… so I was thinking now what? Have we lost another wall or something like that?” But this time the news was that the Home Heist team had taken pity on poor Ashton.
“I knew it was all about the storyline,” says Ashton, who is a professional opera singer with the Canadian Opera Company. “My storyline was that Guy had lived here for 12 or 13 years and that I’d moved in and didn’t feel like I could change anything and Guy was stuck in the ’80s and I think I have a good sense of design but because Guy is….”
“A design curmudgeon,” fills in Laporte.
“He’s stuck with analysis paralysis,” continues Ashton. “He’s always stuck analyzing and analyzing and nothing actually gets done.”
“They agreed with Craig’s appraisal that it was a particularly horrendous house,” says Laporte.
“‘Hideous’ was the word,” corrects Ashton. “Colin and Justin said I’d been perpetuating his bad design. I kept adding to it ’cause I didn’t feel like I could change it.”
The Scottish design duo descended on the Cabbagetown home in June 2007 to tackle the living room, kitchen, dining room and master bedroom.
“It was classic gay bad taste,” recalls McAllister. “The living room was the colour of some old lady that had been lying out in the sun too long. It looked like Donna Summer on a bad day meets the Village People.”
“Whatever we say we say with love,” adds Ryan.
Despite the myth that homos are paragons of style, Ryan calls bad taste “the most terrifying leveller of everything. It transcends gender, sexuality, everything…. But as much as we make fun it wasn’t that Guy and Craig had bad taste as much as they just didn’t have time to put into practice good taste.”
“We joke that our job is kind of like when bad homes happen to good people,” says McAllister. “We’re all living our lives, getting from A to B, and you don’t always have time to say, ‘What are we doing at home?’ But you can only live like that for so long and then you should draw a line and say, ‘Okay, what do we like, what do we not like’ and then you move forward.”
When it comes to Home Heist that movement comes at lighting speed. After four days of mad renovating Laporte and Ashton’s home was transformed into a space the couple could share, including a dream kitchen, improved sightlines and a sophisticated, clean design.
“They called it ‘gentlemen’s club meets Coco Chanel,’” says Laporte, “and now there’s no fighting. We have our design style now so it’s easy to look at something in a store and say, ‘Yes, that would fit in our house’ or it doesn’t.”
The design adventure didn’t end with Colin and Justin’s departure — Ashton and Laporte have since renovated the bathroom with the help of the Home Heist’s fellow designer Cheryl Torrenueva and repurposed the second bedroom as a home office.
“They’ve moved forward together which is really important,” says McAllister. “I’m proud of them. Gold stars for them from the Colin and Justin design school.”
Now they’re sharing their home with the world as part of the After the Heist Home Tour in support of the Canadian Cancer Society.
“A key part of my community development role… is building new relationships and leveraging existing relationships to help the Society fulfill its mission to eradicate cancer,” says Laporte, who works for the Canadian Cancer Society. “In Toronto we had always done home tours — a Holiday Home Tour and Reno Tours in Kingsway area are two examples. We were looking for a way to kick that up a notch and my personal relationship with Colin and Justin afforded the springboard.”
“These are the guys opening their doors on the day, and we’ll help along the way,” says Ryan. “It’s a group of great Canadians doing something great for other Canadians.”
Each home included in the tour will have enlarged images of the before and after shots on site so that attendees can see how the designs have stood the test of their homeowners daily lives. “You’ll be able to decide,” says McAllister. “It’s like taking interactive television to the next level.”
“Every single stitch of furniture is new,” says Laporte of the living room.
“They said our furniture was the style of a couple of old maid aunts,” says Ashton.
“And they weren’t far off,” allows Laporte.
Gone is the hideous red paint in favour of a grey palette, accented by photos that the designers snapped of Laporte and Ashton during the filming of their Home Heist episode.
“Whenever Craig says, ‘Is it time to take those down?’ I say, ‘Wait a minute,’” says Laporte. “It feeds my narcissism to walk past those every day.”
“It could’ve been worse we could’ve put photos of us up,” teases McAllister.
THAT LITTLE BIT EXTRA.
Although elsewhere in the house the old furniture was shipped out to make way for the new the bedroom furniture was salvaged with a fresh coat of paint. “It was all knotty pine… it looked a little like your gran’s bathroom,” says McAllister.
“Like any design project there’s always a measure of economy,” says Ryan. “We spent a fortune in this house, particularly in the kitchen, so when it came to the bedroom we had to be careful… rather than buy a new set we completely reversioned what they had, and that’s clever. It’s good design.”
“The built-in wardrobes were an absolute triumph,” adds McAllister. “We added our own decorative details… and suddenly it looks like a French armoire. If you’re going to do any project at home it’s worth just adding that little extra. Anyone can pick up a paintbrush but don’t stop there.”
“I’m proudest of the cohesion,” says Ryan, when asked to pick a favourite room from the makeover. “Everything relates to everything from the really comfy dining room to the chef’s kitchen, which bleeds beautifully out to the living area.
“We love all our children, but this is our decorative style if you come to our place this is what it looks like. We’re very low-key, restrained. We believe less is more.”
One of the first things McAllister and Ryan did was to move the walls in the kitchen to give a straight view from the living room all the way out to the English garden. “We didn’t have these beautiful sightlines before,” says Laporte.
COOKING WITH FIRE.
“Not to trumpet our own horns but it really doesn’t get any better than this,” says Ryan of the kitchen.
“You’ve got the quality pieces like the great tile floor, solid counters,” adds McAllister. “You want to see where you’re spending the money.”
Laporte, who loves to cook, had been planning out his dream kitchen for years before McAllister and Justin came along. How does he feel about how it turned out?
“Everything in here is top drawer,” he says with a blissful look around the room. “They didn’t skimp on any of this stuff. It’ll be here for many, many years.”
“I was uber excited when I realized they were doing the kitchen because I really thought that they would take care and really make it extra special,” says Ashton. “Just from seeing their other shows I had big hopes for it. When it turned out the way it did I was very happy for Guy. I doubt we would’ve been able to do this on our own for a long long time.”