The Mill's Janine Wilson aces the art of juxtaposing old and new design
Alert your inner interior designer: according to Janine Wilson, you can love the mid-century-modern madness of a certain TV show too much.
“That’s the thing,” said Wilson, herself an interior designer and co-owner of the Mill, the five-month-old, airy North Vancouver décor emporium that breezily mashes the rustic with the modern-minimalist. “I think that people go too overboard and then their house looks like a Mad Men set. You don’t want that.”
A loft, condo, or heritage house that looks like a hipster salvage yard probably isn’t so hot either. Nor, possibly, should every last objet, chair, and bookshelf in our living space look contemporary and be brand-spanking new. Wall-to-wall IKEA? Ahem.
“Contrast,” Wilson said. “Contrast is fun. We’ve done all that severe contrast stuff and that’s when it turns out the best.”
It was a recent Monday morning on East 1st Street, just up from Lonsdale Quay, and Wilson, a blond from Montana, and her “right hand” and fellow designer Amanda Zibin, a brunette from the Kootenays, had laid down their pencils—or rather, closed their laptops—in the big-windowed back studio and were walking the Mill’s expansive pale-wood floor. “I always thought that I was West Coast modern, that I liked things more minimal,” Wilson was musing, “and I do love that aesthetic. But I’ve grown to realize the importance of vintage in my life. It has so much character and memory and playfulness. If you’re too modern, everything is really controlled.”
If the Mill was your home, you’d be living in a stylish yet warm, playful, perfect world where Mad Men, industrial-salvage, West Coast modern, rustic, and pretty fabulous all meet. In addition to the Mill’s companionable canine occupant, Ella, you’d even have a bed—an antique, metal-framed, nostalgia-stuffed, A Farewell to Arms sort of bed (frame only, $525). “We had two of these,” Wilson said, “and I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh, I wish I had a cabin that I could put these beds in with a table in between.’ ”
But cabins or condos, where to begin mixing it up? “I would start with a base piece like the dining table and, if it’s vintage, flip that for the chairs,” she said. “Or if it’s modern, use some really cool vintage chairs with it.” At the Mill, mid-century-modern teak chairs (about $355) flank Vancouver Reclaimed’s repurposed-wood, hairpin-legged dining tables (around $1,144). Over one hangs an ocean-green “ship light” ($995). “I would consider that to be ‘marine industrial,’ ” Wilson said. Everybody, she said, has a thing for that lamp.
In the Mill’s “living rooms”, mid-century chairs ($465) and footstools ($350), and Vancouver Reclaimed nesting tables ($658 for a threesome) reside with modern sofas in retro-look fabrics. There’s even a sexy (hello, Don Draper) is-it-old-or-isn’t-it metal bar cart ($949, and it isn’t). Nearby, local designer Henderson Dry Goods’ natural-wood mirrors ($275 to $375) hang harmoniously alongside antique ones (around $125), as if to say, “See? This is easy.”
The Mill, thoughtfully, reupholsters its older furniture (“We love playing with more than one fabric and using two-tone”). But Wilson suggests buying sofas new (“the cushions will be good”), adding vintage mismatched chairs to get “that eclectic look”. At home, she has three contrasting living-room chairs, “one in avocado leather”.
After growing up in a tiny Montana town, population: 700 (“Most of my classmates are married to each other”), Wilson moved to Seattle, then north to marry a Canadian, Mill co-owner Matt Wilson. Designing show homes and staged spaces for developers for over 10 years (something she and Zibin still do prodigiously), she decided something was missing. “I never felt like I had a store that I could go to—being from Seattle and that Portland aesthetic—that has vintage stuff but not just vintage.”
After many driving trips to Portland with Zibin to get inspired, she decided to bring that inspiration to Lower Lonsdale. With new restaurants, condos, and young, hip couples with babies everywhere, the neighbourhood seemed like North Van’s future. “I felt like ‘Why not here?’ People want it. They just don’t know where to get it.”
Wilson and Zibin still drive south. “If we see a thrift shop, antique store, or Salvation Army, we’ll pull up.” In the Mill, the spoils abound: smoky ’60s cocktail glasses, milk glass, old flash cameras, stacks of vintage suitcases, ancient tobacco tins, hobnail votives—juxtaposed, always, with the new, such as faux-enamelware porcelain “camping” dishes ($8.80 to $35) and Canadian wool blankets ($134).
Wilson has some secret weapons. Her mom can build “anything”. She helped Wilson construct the reclaimed-wood reception desk. Mom also reupholsters vintage dining chairs, stitching elegant-rustic trees on the seat backs. She made the lovely children’s canvas chalkboards ($60) and wood-framed tents ($175) with wool camp-fire-shaped pillows ($57) and marshmallow sticks ($16) to match. And? “My dad’s even worse.”
Dad makes stunning geometric sculptures ($300 to $800). They rest on floors, hang over dining tables, or become light fixtures. In powder-coated steel, the sculptures are minimalist. They are anti-rustic—and they go beautifully with it.
“It makes it fun for us,” Wilson said of her artsy family. “That’s one inside thing that no one else can have. They can’t have my parents.” Nor, apparently, her sister and brother-in-law, who, living in Washington state like her parents, score the Mill’s “craziest” vintage. They also craft wall sculptures ($50): driftwood with car side mirrors as shelves, to hold candles or, perhaps, milk glass.
Still, she’s certain there’s hope for everyone, at least home-decoratively speaking. Recently, she created art out of a circle of vintage tennis rackets on a Mill wall. Her colourful string installation hangs behind the antique bed. “We’re trying to do fun installations to remind people they can do that.” She added: “It doesn’t have to be perfect. People really get caught up on ‘If I hang this piece of art here, it’s here forever.’ And it’s not.”
Mostly, it's about passion. “I'm passionate about unusual, cool things that might have a story behind them”. A glowing arbutus branch (from which modern pendant lights now hang) she and Zibin scored on Gabriola Island has just such a funny story behind it. And, no, interior-designer’s honour, it doesn’t involve illegal logging.