Arts & Entertainment
3 min

Life in space

The evolution of designer Timothy Mather

Credit: Donna Griffith photography

Last year interior designer Timothy Mather and his partner of 29 years dramatically downsized their living space, moving from an 1,800-square-foot abode to an 876-square-foot corner unit in the Spire condo on Church St. After several years of living large, first in Rosedale and then in a downtown penthouse, the 48-year-old interior designer realized his surrounds were somewhat intimidating, more conducive to black-tie banquets than veging in front of the TV.

The move has brought a personal philosophy — quality before quantity — in line with his work ethic. It’s a message he espoused at the 2008 Interior Design Show, one of his first public-speaking engagements, and one he believes will resonate with the segment of his high-end client base looking to simplify their lives.

“It’ll be interesting for my clients because it’ll be the first time many of them have seen this look for me. It’s like fashion, you’ve got to evolve and change,” he says. “It’s an interesting process to go through. You kind of acquire stuff, and not just furniture. I remember opening up this drawer and going, ‘Okay, how many Cartier watches can you wear?’ So my mum got a couple. It’s a whole purging process you go through. You go through your closet and… if you haven’t worn it, you don’t need it.”

Much like one of his main influences, the seminal 1960s interior designer David Hicks, Mather enjoys connecting contemporary patterns and details with classical influences. Visitors to his condo are greeted by a blue-and-orange hexagonal Hicks wallpaper pattern and an antique 18th-century mirror. Looking down the hallway, an Empire candelabrum sits atop a Plexiglas stand and, in the TV room, a Chevelle mirror one might come across in a “grand gentleman’s dressing room” overlooks a pair of Eames easy chairs.

Mather was born in Cheshire, England to a family of British colonialists who spent a generation living in India and Africa. While growing up in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) he took correspondence courses through the Royal Academy of Art in London, and then moved to Toronto in the late 1970s. On his 19th birthday he began working at Sportables, a now-defunct Ralph Lauren-style lifestyle store on Bloor St as a merchandiser, buyer and menswear designer.

After 10 years at the store he felt he’d hit a ceiling and enrolled as a mature student at the International Academy of Design. He graduated with honours and fielded job offers from the city’s top interior design firms, eventually taking a position with renowned interior designer and Yorkville heritage crusader Budd Sugarman, feeling they shared similar instincts.

“It was a familiar background for me,” Mather says. “We dealt mainly in antiques so we had English and French, continental and Asian antiques. Budd just had a real sophisticated sense and I understood that English nostalgic look. We used to drive around in a two-toned Rolls Royce and it was great. But after eight or nine years it was like working for your grandfather but you were not going to inherit the business.”

In 1998 he left the “rarified atmosphere” at Sugarman’s — where time and money was nary an issue — to join Brian Gluckstein’s firm, where he’d work on up to 10 residential projects in the million dollar-plus range at a time at a given time.

“Brian was great because he made me think a little younger, a little cleaner,” he says. “I think what I’ve become known for is being a very transitional designer. But I deliberately tried not to have a branded look. I’d worked for Budd and I’d worked for Brian, and they kind of had a formula.”

So, after two years with Gluckstein, he made the move again and set up his own firm, TM Design Ltd. He points to a recent million-dollar Rosedale reno included in the latest edition of the annual Andrew Martin International Interior Design Awards publication (billed as the “Oscars of interior design”) to illustrate what he means by “transitional” design.

The jumping-off point for the interior was a classic geometric Hicks’ take on Victorian-era wall-paper print, recoloured in shocking pink and orange. Mather balanced out the brightness with a milk chocolate brown and white-checked floor and oversized-stripe prints on the sofa. Bronze statues and family heirlooms line white walls, gallery-style on transparent Plexiglas stands. The overall effect is Gothic revivalists go to swinging ’60s London.

This younger, cooler look is less evident in a large-scale residential project favoured by Andrew Martin’s judging panel: an 18,000-square-foot cut-stone English mansion. The owner was very specific, insisting on a blue and red colour palette and the inclusion of most of their existing furniture, as well as specific art works and antiques. Though the job was more traditional Mather says he sees every project as a chance to refocus his clients on creating livable spaces rather than stagnant showrooms.

“It’s funny how many people don’t know how to live in their houses,” says Mather. “We’re working with people right now and the wife said to me, ‘My husband actually comes home and he sits in our living room — he’s never done that in our whole married life.’

“You know that you’ve done something right if you can affect the way people live in their house.”