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Tucked on a tree-lined street in downtown Vancouver, Barbara-jo McIntosh’s pied-à-terre evokes thoughts of a cozy French country home.
Inside the Barbara-jo’s Books to Cooks owner’s 640-square-foot open-concept condominium are culled collections from her yearly trips to France, her beloved grandfather’s antiques, and her selected works of art. But it is the books that take centre stage – books lovingly bought over three decades, received as gifts, and those handed down to her by her grandfather.
The first thing you notice upon entering the sun-drenched condo are the books. Nearly the whole entryway wall is dedicated to a custom-made bookcase filled with volumes, most notably cherished cookbooks from all over the world and some favourite nonfiction tomes.
“I probably own about 800 books… some of them are hundreds of years old,” she says as she gingerly flips the pages of one that is well over a hundred years old.
Above the bookcase is a large floral panel, titled Bad Heart, by internationally renowned painter Graham Gillmore. “It originally hung in my restaurant (Vancouver’s Barbara-Jo's Elegant Home Cooking),” says McIntosh.
Her thirst for cookbooks should not come as a surprise. Besides selling them, McIntosh is the author of the bestselling Tin Fish Gourmet, and she served on the prestigious James Beard Awards cookbook selection committee for six years. In 2003, Vancouver Magazine honoured her with a lifetime achievement award for her many contributions to the local culinary scene.
In decorating her condo, she was inspired by both her family’s past and rural France. She wanted to create an urban refuge but was drawn to old woods, thick textures and warm colours. In each vignette, streams of light land on those carefully curated mementos, whether it’s that antique green vase on the kitchen counter top or the vintage lamp on the kitchen table.
Her lifelong love affair with antiques started as a child. Her prized possessions include a rocking chair handcrafted by her grandfather Andrew Clunas 90 years ago, as well as a 200-year-old grandfather clock that hails from Scotland. She opened the vintage timepiece to reveal a faded inscription. “It probably came to Canada with an immigrant back in the early 1900s,” she adds.
Drawn to furnishings with a story to tell, she does admit the richly toned area rugs are new.
Making Every Space Work
Since square footage is at a premium, nearly everything performs double duty. Take for instance the wooden bench, inherited from her grandfather, that showcases a selection of beloved cookbooks.
“When I’m having a large party, it seats three comfortably,” she says. Her condo consists of only two rooms – a front room with kitchen, dining and entertaining space, and the back room, which features her reading nook, bathroom (which has pocket doors that open from the entryway) and bedroom.
White and beige walls and warm spruce hardwood floors allow the art work to stand out. Predominantly a supporter of Canadian artists, her walls are adorned with stunning works of art. Her immersion in the arts happened in 1980 when she bought her first piece, David Walker’s September Aspen.
“I love the sense you feel that autumn is coming along,” McIntosh says of the large canvas displaying a forest of tall trees. It hangs prominently in the hallway leading to one of her favourite spots – her reading nook, complete with a red lounger and side table overflowing with books.
Meanwhile, what you won’t see in her home is a television.
“My lifestyle isn’t conducive to lounging around watching television,” says the self-professed workaholic. “If I do want to watch a documentary, I do so on my computer.”
Any spare time is spent reading, tending to her herb garden, or entertaining friends.
The Presale Advantage
McIntosh credits her mother for pushing her to purchase her condominium in October 2003.
“My mother actually found this place while it was in the pre-construction phase,” McIntosh says.
The advantage of buying pre-construction was that she was able to make changes to the original layouts and truly make it her own. The seasoned bookstore ownercalled upon an architect friend who helped take her vision and make it a reality.
The kitchen especially didn’t work for the avid chef. Her friend made the small kitchen much more functional. With the kitchen reconfigured, the passionate cook has more counter space and cabinetry than originally planned for her condo.
Outside, her small patio has been converted into a herb garden. Her eighth-floor south-east-facing deck houses McIntosh’s large selection of favourite herbs in pots of all sizes and shapes – chives, tarragon, oregano, thyme, rosemary and mint to name a few – with many already in full bloom.
Creative touches transformed this modern oasis into a haven for the busy entrepreneur.
Whether it’s her deep red chaise lounge, the red velvet drapes or a China tea set from the turn-of-the-century, these visual souvenirs energize her.
“Every time I open the door to my home I feel really comfortable,” McIntosh says as we bid adieu. “I guess you could say my interior design style evolved out of a desire to create a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.”