This is a story about sisters and family, told through history, architecture, design, art and science. It is a very Toronto story, suitably set in a Grade A, 1899 heritage-designated house in South Rosedale, built by the estimable firm of Langley & Langley.
Sarah and Andrea Dinnick are the sisters in question. They are great-granddaughters of Wilfrid S. Dinnick, who was the visionary who developed Lawrence Park, Canada’s first ‘garden city’ suburb. Dinnick based his vision on London’s lush Hampstead neighbourhood.
This is the how the Harvey Kalles blog describes Wilfrid Dinnick’s contribution to our city, and the ambitious project begun in 1907: ‘In pursuit of a modern picture of physical health and social well-being, Dinnick wanted his well-heeled residents to retire each day from the sounds and smells of the city to the pure air and the idyllic purity of family life found in the countryside.’
Cut to present day, and a thoroughly modern beauty and wellness project that has brought together the talents of said sisters. The Rosedale home—an idyll of the sort envisaged by her forbearer—belongs to Sarah Dinnick, and it is the base for her family.
It is also where Sarah and Andrea hold exclusive pop-up shops for DESAVERY, the direct-to-consumer organic skincare line that Andrea launched out of her kitchen, back in Parson’s Green, London, where she lives with her husband and children. And Sarah, a former partner in the award-winning graphic design firm Dinnick & Howells and photographer, designed DESAVERY’s identity and packaging.
Those pop-up clients and influencers get a glimpse into Sarah’s stunning historic home, which she calls, “a very conscious mix of old and new.”
And now here, we get a peek inside as well.
The renovation was carried out eight years ago, in concert with the architectural firm AKB (Atelier Kastelic Buffey). Sarah did the décor herself.
The interior was gutted to provide the staggered-level open flow around the dramatic central stair. But all of the original architecture details—wainscotting, cornices—were salvaged and restored. A sunroom at the back of the house was turned into a glamorous window-wall kitchen, without changing the footprint.
And that stunning staircase has a landing so deep and wide and bathed in natural light that Sarah can put a big table up there for auxiliary seating at parties. It is the kind of staircase scented by a hundred years of good wood polish.
Standout features include the charming Victorian-era anteroom, which contains a fireplace and no furniture (it is where the bar is set up for entertaining). And the magical hidden library, off the kitchen, a room tucked away to provide a comforting retreat. A moving partition can seal off the space.
“As a graphic designer,” says Sarah, “I have a feel for the relationships between people and spaces. That is what I am interested in.”
Similarly, upstairs, off the master, through the walk-in closet and down a few steps is another retreat. Sarah’s office nestled in the evergreen treetops. Here is where she juggles her various roles, including chairing the Scotiabank CONTACT photograph festival, held every year in May.
Another part of the Dinnick legacy is giving back.
The sisters’ mother, Brenda Dinnick, was the founding co-chair of Human Rights Watch Canada Committee, and Sarah, also a former chair, is on the committee today. She has travelled to Burma, Turkey and Colombia with the group, and much of her own work, primarily street photography, was taken on these missions.
And if giving together runs in the family, so does working together. Andrea, a former broadcaster and executive at Walt Disney Company out of London, launched a new career at age 50. Intrigued by the space where wellness meets beauty, she discovered evidence-based studies on plant oils: from serotonin to cortisol levels and GABA, certain plant oils have a specific health benefit.
Trick is, you have to inhale them—that is the magic part—as the olfactory system delivers benefits directly to your brain. So she created roller ball remedies designed to elicit different moods; for example SWEET, to turn around a not-so-sweet mood.
She then paired these essential oils to organic skincare formulations, creating a simple regime with an oil-based cleanser and a hyaluronic acid and moisturizer.
One star ingredient is the prickly pear: a sustainable, low-resource plant, grown by collectives in southern Morocco, communities which benefit from the trade of this luxe, potent oil. Its qualities are many—very high in vitamin E and moisturizing fatty acids, it also fights free radicals and works to lighten dark spots.
The online brand has caught the attention of some ultimate influencers, including Manhattan facialist Joanna Czech, who helps luminaries such as Anna Wintour and Christy Turlington get their glow on.
“People are responding to the idea of starting a brand-new business at age 50,” and the project has been a chance for Andrea to connect back with her Toronto base to spread the word.
Sarah’s job was to create the visual component of DESAVERY, to show that this was “not just another face cream,” and to fight back against all the pseudo-science in the beauty business. Her design showcases a fresh green (Pantone 382, for design junkies), and an elegant grey.
Much like Sarah’s own elegant home, the brand is crisp and edited. As she says, it’s “seductive, streamlined and everything looks as if it belongs together.”
Because that’s the thing about families, their history and how it all intertwines with a city: a sense of belonging together.