Inside a Vancouver Designer’s Eclectic Gastown Apartment

For Fox Design Studio's Ben Leavitt, a life well travelled calls for an apartment to match.

January 20, 2017

By Julia Dilworth / Photo: Janis Nicolay

African masks, a vintage City of Chilliwack fire hydrant, a life-sized terracotta warrior, taxidermy—“If I like it, I’ll make it work,” explains interior designer Ben Leavitt.

The Fox Design Studio founder moved into his Gastown rental three years ago and quickly populated it with all of his favourite finds from thrifting, Craigslisting and more than a decade of heavy travelling. “In my 20s I decided that I was going to go to 30 countries before I was 30”—which he finished with time to spare—“and I wanted every square inch of my apartment to remind me of somewhere I’d been.” Leavitt still travels constantly for business and pleasure, so every 1970s Communist art print, every Buddha bust is either vintage or something he’s collected along the way—be it from a back alley in India or a Fraser Valley front yard.

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His curated wall of 14 cartoon-like masks (from all-over places like Borneo, Tibet, Namibia and Peru) is only a fraction of what’s hidden in cupboards and storage lockers. That goes for much of his rotating collection of furniture and curios: what you see today may not be there next month, let alone next year. “I’m not the type of person to decorate it once and leave it forever. I fall in love with a new sofa, so I ditch the last sofa.” (This grey velvet number is his third in six months.)

Custom silk pillows, palm leaf-print drapes and a polka-dot Bambi aren’t quiet players in the vibrant 800-square-foot space, but somehow nothing seems to clash. White paint and accents create a common thread throughout a neutral base, but above all Leavitt’s space works because it’s entirely personal. He didn’t think twice about painting walls, installing grasscloth wallpaper or drilling holes into the heritage brick to mount his art collection or into the ceiling to hang a five-tiered chandelier. “I just think people need to let loose and have way more fun in their houses.”


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Leavitt’s second terracotta warrior from China (the first smashed in transit) stands guard next to cheery-coloured 1970s Communist prints he bought in Ho Chi Minh City. The framed “poutine” towel by Douglas Coupland also shares a wall with a paint-bynumbers-style collage of Chairman Mao: one portrait for every year he was in power.

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“If you don’t have to move a pillow to sit on your sofa, then you don’t have enough pillows on your sofa,” explains Leavitt.

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The designer painted a Craigslist picnic table white using boat paint; it’s a pain to put on, but “lasts forever.”

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The engine order telegraph is an antique gift from his mother, a native Nova Scotian.

What do you think of this cool Gastown apartment?
Let us know in the comments below!

 

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