Artist Eve Gordon will never forget the grandiose European designs she saw during her summer in France in the 1970s. Her parents had sent her to do a French course in Montpellier; while on a biking tour around the countryside, she was amazed by the hand-painted walls and carved wooden mouldings in local churches, homes and gardens. “I felt like I belonged there,” she says.
During university, Gordon began painting flowers. In 1976, she moved to Paris and displayed her whimsical oil paintings in several shows. On a visit back home in 1983, she went on a blind date and met her husband, the late investment dealer Crawford Gordon. Though she hated to leave Paris, she agreed to move to Toronto to be with him. They were married within six months.
In 1984, they found a red-brick Victorian in Rosedale, which a developer had divided into a triplex. For roughly $300,000, the Gordons bought a three-storey section on the home’s easternmost side, with bay windows and dramatic 25-foot ceilings. The primary bedroom takes up the second floor, and the Gordons’ three kids had their bedrooms on the level above. (Her daughters, Chloe Gordon and Parris Morris, are the designers behind the fashion label Beaufille, and her son, Crawford, works in the investment industry.)
Over the years, Gordon—who’d continued to work as an artist—tried to redesign some rooms, but realized scattered cans of paint weren’t compatible with toddlers. In the late 1990s, once her children were older, she added geometric patterns on the wood flooring, using golds, browns and whites. In her bedroom, roughly a decade later, she painted a Chinoiserie-style group of women in a garden on one wall, and a pagoda under a palm tree with floating butterflies on the other.
A month before COVID kicked off, she decided to finish the job, ordering scaffolding and paint to renovate her living room into a maximalist showcase. “I wanted to transform it into something magical, like the villas and châteaux I saw in Europe,” she says. The scale of the project didn’t intimidate her: she had once been commissioned to paint intricate designs on the walls and ceiling of a 20-foot-high room. In her own home, she spent each day chipping away at the renovation. “I didn’t care that I couldn’t see anyone—I was on that scaffolding all day and in heaven,” she says.
On the walls, Gordon painted elaborate Venetian archways, flying doves, flowers floating out of Versailles-inspired urns and trompe l’œil Ionic columns flanking the doorways and floor-to-ceiling windows. At the top of the stairs, she added two men in 17th-century garb standing on a balcony—one has a dog, and the other is reading a book.
The whole process took about six months. She hand-mixed every shade and repainted the man with a book five times because she couldn’t get his posture right. She still has more projects in mind, like changing the colour of the dining-room ceiling and staircase walls, but the house is mostly finished. “Everything is so modern and contemporary these days, but I’ve gone the opposite way,” she says. The rooms are decorated like a 17th- and 18th-century paradise, with sparkly chandeliers and ornate mirrors. She even sourced original Louis XV chairs. Instead of traditional sofas, she opted for English daybeds upholstered in gold and grey hand-printed Venetian Fortuny fabrics.
Gordon has been eager to show off her home’s transformation to friends, taking days to cook them elaborate meals from her collection of European cookbooks—any recipe from French chef Roger Vergé is a favourite. “It’s really fun to watch people react to the house, because they’re usually speechless at the beginning as they take everything in,” she says. “The two men on the wall are a crowd favourite.” During the day, if she isn’t working on the third floor of her home, which she’s turned into a studio, she goes downstairs to put on classical music or Nat King Cole. “I finally feel like I’m living in my own villa or palazzo, instead of Toronto,” she says. “It’s a complete fantasy.”