Given that Kate Thornley-Hall, celebrated Toronto-based interior designer, is currently promoting her new décor textile line, ‘The Cayman Islands Collection’, it’s not surprising that she greets me for our interview in crisp, white jeans and a flowy, cobalt blouse. As we sit down to tea on the restaurant’s rooftop terrace, a passing comment immediately bonds us over our mutual habit of impromptu list-making. “I’ll wake up at 5:00am for no reason,” she explains, “and then make a list of 7 000 things I need to do.” Perhaps it’s a ‘designer thing’. Or a ‘woman thing’. Or maybe it’s just a ‘busy person thing’. Whatever it is – if I have it in common with Kate Thornley-Hall, I’ll take it.
At its core, the Kate Thornley-Hall style is bright, bold and colourful; certainly a change of pace for many neutral-loving Canadians. She has stayed true to her style and clients flock to Thornley-Hall in search of her signature look. Where some prefer to live in neutral spaces that encourage serenity and calmness, Kate and her clientele prefer colourful and vibrant spaces that evoke energy and generate excitement.
Thornley-Hall credits her love of colour to her early childhood. She recalls spending time at the home of her closest friend whose mother, Susan Young, was an interior designer. Young had decorated each room in bold colours. “There were fire-engine red walls and a giant Warhol painting of Mao,” she describes with obvious enthusiasm, “… it was a really exciting house.” This early exposure to interior design would prove to have a significant impact on her professional life.
Fast forward: Thornley-Hall has graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in English and History. On a whim she responds to a want ad in a London newspaper: ‘American design firm, seeking design assistant’. Little did she know this would lead to a four year stint with Ann Boyd, the creative director of Ralph Lauren, where she worked with the RL team on the expansion of the iconic brand in Europe. Talk about learning from the best in the biz.
Fast forward, again: Once out on her own, Thornley-Hall finds that, in addition to her love of design, she has developed a deep appreciation of textiles. Even during our chat, she couldn’t resist the urge to identify the pillow fabric on a nearby banquette. “It’s art,” she muses. “It’s beyond art. It’s amazing to have a durable thing that decorates and has so many purposes.” It was only a matter of time, then, before she would make her own indelible mark on the world of textiles.
While the Cayman Islands collection of textiles and wallcoverings is not her first, she admits that it is her favourite. Which piece does she like best? “Oh, it’s so hard – you can’t have a favourite child!” After protesting in jest, she decides upon the toile. “I’ve always loved toile. To me, it’s one of the most beautiful fabrics… Toile has always told a story and this [toile] is a bit of the [Cayman] story.” It is a pictorial translation of the unique history and breathtaking scenery that captured Kate’s imagination on a recent visit to the Cayman Islands. Still, not wanting to leave out any of her ‘children’, she continues, “Although, I do love the palm… and the trellis…” Perhaps, in hindsight, not a totally fair question to ask.
As if there weren’t enough reasons to admire her new collection, Thornley-Hall explains that the product, with the exception of the handmade Nepalese carpets, is designed, printed and manufactured within a 100-mile radius of Toronto.
Wrapping up the interview, which was feeling more like a relaxed conversation with a new friend, I asked a few last questions, rapid-fire style:
SG: “Favourite flower?”
KTH: “Right now? Peonies… I like flowers that are quick and seasonal and disappear, like peonies, lilacs and lily of the valley. Heavily-scented flowers that come and go like that.”
SG: “Favourite book?”
KTH: “Of all time? …I studied literature, you can’t ask that! …I just read a Kate Atkinson one called ‘Life After Life’. Not my favourite of all time, but loved it.”
SG: “Favourite restaurant?”
KTH: “Trattoria Giancarlo in Toronto! Was there again last night on the fab terrace, being meticulously looked after by numerous different delightful staff, eating delicious things, and realized, that it is now and has been for a (really, really) long time, my favourite restaurant. After a glass (or two) of incredible Italian red wine, you are not even sure what country you are in. In a good way!”
SG: “Favourite vacation spot?”
KTH: “ Bayfield, Ontario, where my cottage is… we get to the cottage and go, ‘Wow, this is the best place in the world.’ “
Reflecting upon the long-time desire to produce an island collection, Kate Thornley-Hall confides, “It was something that I was just ready to do.” Now that she has ‘given birth to her Cayman baby’, she is enjoying the success of the new collection and looks forward to the adventures that it will afford.