A Good Home, Architecture, European furniture, Furniture, Globe and Mail, Homes, Inspiration, Interior Design, Photographs, Restoration

The Canning Factory: Cliff Smith’s Vision

You’re looking for a place in the country.

You come across a derelict old building – infested by wild animals and, sometimes late at night, wild teenagers.

Blog - Country Road and Canning FactoryPhoto by Andrés Hannach

You have a choice: get the heck out of there, or look at the place – a massive former canning factory – and visualize what it could become.  Cliff Smith chose the latter.

8 years later, the building, surrounded by nearly 4 acres of land in the village of Grafton, Ontario, is a wonder to behold.

Blog - Canning Factory main floorPhoto by Peter Sellar

It’s home on the weekends for Cliff and his wife, Yasmin.  During the week, it’s a showroom for the Vincent Sheppard line of modern furniture Cliff distributes across Canada through his company Augustus Jones Inc.

Blog - canning Factory yellow bench and fireplacePhoto by Peter Sellar; Vincent Sheppard chairs with Daybed by B&B italia

My husband and I were  invited to visit with Cliff and Yasmin after a reading from my book A Good Home  in nearby Cobourg. We were grateful to rest and dine with them before heading back home.

“Go try out the various sofas and chairs till you find one you’re comfortable in,” Yasmin, an osteopath, encouraged me soon after we arrived. “Rest up a little.”

The problem was that they were all comfortable. But then I found the perfect seat: a beautiful red chair. Oh, wow! I sank into it, feet up on the matching ottoman, and didn’t want to move.

Blog - The Red comfy chairPhoto by Peter Sellar: TOGO Red chair and ottoman by Ligne Rosset

Cliff Smith and I attended the same school in Mandeville, Jamaica:  Manchester High School. We’d been educated by great teachers and an outstanding headmaster named Gerry German.

A world away from those days, as we sat with our spouses and another schoolmate, Paul, in Cliff’s astonishingly beautiful space,  we reminisced. “Gerry”, our principal, knew the name of not just every student, but our parents as well. Gerry believed that every child had great potential, and a duty to live up to it. If we didn’t,  there was a good chance he’d pay our parents a visit.

Cliff became a top-notch art director and book designer in Canada’s publishing industry. But as the industry faltered, he decided to do something different.

Blog - Cliff answering clients questionsPhoto by Gerry Taylor.  Cliff talks with potential clients about the Vincent Sheppard furniture.

The old canning factory in Grafton excited him. He saw what it could be: a weekend home for his family, a large space for cultural events such as book launches, art shows and other things, and a huge, airy showroom for modern indoor and outdoor furniture.

Cliff is a visionary willing to work hard to realize his big dreams. As his former schoolmate, I am intrigued, guessing at what he’ll do next, and enormously proud of his achievements.

Blog - Upstairs at Canning FactoryThis photo and the next by Peter Sellar

Cliff and Yasmin’s city home was featured in the Globe and Mail newspaper in late summer and the canning factory was featured in Azure Magazine.

What a remarkable space. What  an exciting selection of modern furniture. And what a distinctive home.

Bravo, Cliff Smith. Gerry would have been proud.

Blog - Canning Factory exterior

A Good Home, Book Festivals, Book lovers

When Books and Music Go Together

Blog Cynthia reading at Word Northumberland

The charming downtown of Cobourg, east of Toronto, played host to two festivals last weekend: the Coal Train Music and Blues Festival and Word Northumberland, the region’s brand-new book festival.

Blog Felicity and Jessica reading

I got to experience both.

Standing in front of the Historic Firehall Theatre on Second Street, you could hear the voices of authors inside, reading from their books. And hear some pretty good live music outside.

There was no conflict between the two.

It was as if one was a soundtrack for the other.

Hamlin Grange, whose photo adorns the front cover of A Good Home, was invited to exhibit his photograph and I was asked to read from the book.  What a thrill it was for us both to share our work with an audience of book lovers – readers,  publishers, illustrators and authors taking part in Word Northumberland!

Blog - Erika pointing to Hamlin's photo

A steady stream of people dropped in to the book festival, where they heard a remarkable variety of readings and got to meet the authors.

In the afternoon, I sat outside with fellow writers Erika Rummel, Felicity Sidnell Reid, and Susan Statham (Word Northumberland’s lead organizer). Residents and tourists alike stopped to chat with us and buy our books.

Cobourg, Port Hope, Warkworth, Rice Lake, Grafton, Cramahe and the many other towns and villages that make up Northumberland County are teeming with cultural activities. Artists of all kinds live and work in this region that’s bordered by lake Ontario at one end, and stunning hills, valleys and farmlands on the other. More and more nature and culture lovers from the bigger cities are moving to the area, which many call “the best-kept secret in Canada”.

Blog - cynthia talking to guest

I met people who’d moved to Northumberland from Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa and elsewhere. A former journalist with the Toronto Star. A dentist. Several writers and painters. A librarian. An office worker. A photographer. A corporate executive. And more. All professed their love for the region and its cultural offerings.

Congrats to Susan Statham and The Spirit of the Hills writers for their groundbreaking festival. And spirits were indeed high – despite rain in the morning. Visitors and organizers alike, thrilled with this inaugural success, are already expecting a bigger event next year.