At home with Sherag Stewart
“What moved me to buy this house in 2001,” says artist Shelagh Stewart,a professor at Ryerson University and inveterate collector,”was that it was filled with space and movement—and light. Light has always been a psychological need for me as a painter, and it’s unusual to have so much natural light pouring into an Ontario cottage. I have 29 windows!”
The house is on the main street of Cobourg, just east of Toronto,on the shore of Lake Ontario. “I’m 10 houses from the water,” she explains. It dates back to 1839, but its previous owners had resided there since 1920. They had taken such loving care of the place that Shelagh did not have to touch the narrow-plank oak floors, replace the windows or repaint two of the four bedrooms. Shelagh collects old textiles, vintage photos, Wedgwood china and Cornish ware, an everyday kitchen object remembered fondly from her English-Scottish childhood. She also collects Fiestaware and has haunted local auctions, thrift shops and garage sales to buy the furnishings and objects that have made her house unique.
“I was brought up in 200-year-old homes in England, where it was quite normal to have walls that leaned in,” she recalls, so she was unfazed by the 4-inch tilt of this house. She loved it, she says, “because of its grand spaces on the first floor, its structural soundness and because it sits on almost a half acre of garden with an untouched look from the 1920s,when it was originally laid out.”
Because she has such a fondness for Wedgwood, she says she “intended to do each room in different tones of blue and white,but with different accessories.”The fabric shades on sconces in her bedroom and the chandelier in the dining room were silk-screened by her company, Trudie Wright Designs, named after Shelagh’s maternal grandmother.For privacy, Shelagh hooked translucent Roman shades over each bedroom window.
Decorating her study, which is in a dark corner of the house’s first floor, she made a radical departure.”I couldn’t cope with any more blue and white, so one weekend I decided to paint it red—that must have been a cold day! It’s only paint, after all—that’s how I feel about color on walls.” And the house has other color surprises. “My front door is a wonderful apple-green,” she explains. “My neighbors either like it—or they don’t!”