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Redefining Luxury and Personal Space
by Henry Liska


Henry Liska Describes How He Achieved an Elegant and Simple Design for a Client’s Private Spa ...

Michelangelo's David  

Michelangelo’s David is considered a masterpiece by just about everyone. When asked how he was able to chip away this wonder from the surrounding block of marble, Michelangelo remarked that the statue was always there; he just freed it from the stone and allowed it to become visible.

"In every block of marble I see a statue as plain as though it stood before me, shaped and perfect in attitude and action. I have only to hew away the rough walls that imprison the lovely apparition to reveal it to the other eyes as mine see it."—Michelangelo

Antoine de Saint-Exupery follows a similar line when he says, “Perfection is attained not when there is anything to add, but when there is no longer anything left to take away.” Knowing what to keep and what to discard is the essence of simplicity… when only that which is important remains to be transferred. What we see becomes clear, as if by magic, for the first time.

For all designers, achieving this simplicity is the highest accomplishment and constant goal.

I like to think that an Interior Design Toronto and Custom Furniture Project I completed earlier this year falls into this category. The project is a luxurious, absolutely pared down residential spa. The original builder of my client’s house, one of the largest in the neighbourhood, graced the structure with high ceilings and refined, hand wrought details. Renovations carried out in the Nineteen-Eighties added comforts and amenities but often in a less than elegant way. My job was to parse the building and weed-out all that was unnecessary.

First to go were the old, outdated, sanitary fixtures and fittings. Then, all of the closets and cupboards, so that it was possible to strip the walls back to the original brick and rebuild from scratch. Seeing the “bare bones” exposed, I quickly realized that the most elegant plan for the spa was the simplest. Everything that was necessary would, of course, be included in the new design, but nothing more. Several meetings with my client were needed to define what this would be; then it was up to me to prepare the new layout.

My client wanted me create a bold, but simple, easy to use spa that combined a large, open tub and shower room with a more enclosed, private vanity room, using only neutral colours and a minimum of materials. The Starfire enclosed shower had to have only a single screen directly in front of the water jets, with no doors to hinder access. I already knew from having designed her kitchen five years earlier that my client preferred soft, brown-toned marble over all others. (See Style at Home, June, 2008, How To Get The Kitchen You Want.) I wasn’t surprised that Crystal Tile and Marble had exactly the right shade of Brown Pulpis slabs with a soft, honed finish. I picked the best and had my contractor cut them so that nine equal rectangles fit perfectly across the back wall of the shower. The same Pulpis slabs were cut down even further to create elegant, horizontal floor tiles. To punctuate the veined marble and “make it pop”, I chose polished chrome fittings – something I seldom do, as far more often I favour satin nickel. But I knew polished chrome was the right way to go. There were so many individual valves, nozzles and diverters mounted on the rear wall of the shower that the combination formed a kind of “abstract design” that I found alluring. To add to the chromium sheen of the fittings, I made sure the linear floor drains were made from polished stainless steel, a metal known for its strength and resistance to corrosion while also being beautiful enough to craft a Rolex from.

Residential Spa

Photograph: Elaine Kilburn

A little less jarring than the more commonly seen combination of black and white, my selection of white walls, dark espresso brown hardwood and mid-brown marble made it easy to define and delineate the shower and bath areas of the spa while still creating sharp edges of distinction. I made sure to keep all of the sanitary fixtures, such as the deep soaking tub positioned directly in the centre of the large bathing room and the oval, lavatory basin the vanity room, stark, porcelain white. The fixtures, set as they are, on espresso stained oak, are instantly recognizable. Their purpose is understood. All guesswork is taken out of what the user is to do. I could even go so far as to say that what I have achieved is didactic theatre.

The plan I came up with for the spa makes sense. With the free standing tub positioned directly front and centre of the 10 foot by 7 foot shower, it beckons the user to enter the bathing room gracefully and suggests that what can only be seen as a glimpse through the door will soon be fully revealed. Altogether, the gentle contrast of colours parleys an air of formality and personal respect that is especially suitable to the occasion of private bathing, but never quite as formal as the more severe contrast of black and white would offer. The ovular, enveloping shape of the tub further stimulates the bathroom drama, echoed again by the over scale lavatory basin and dramatic, wall mounted toilet. Altogether, these uncommonly well designed fixtures raise the more common understanding we ordinarily give to a bathroom’s everyday function, while adding elegance, luxury and the pursuit of “living fancy free” to the equation.

By using contrast and geometry, I have heightened my client’s awareness. No longer just an occupant, she has become a partner – at one with the tension that my design creates. In effect, my client has now become one with an environment that knows what is and what it wants her to be, she has become part of an aesthetic level of chicness that is appropriate and elegant.

Since my client’s circa 1885 Victorian home was built with far higher ceilings than are commonly available today, the spa is a bright, light, airy space, which easily becomes a stage set to be filled with the unfolding of one’s own drama.. The process of becoming clean and feeling more beautiful, inside and out, is just the beginning of what can happen in this luxurious yet absolutely simple personal space.   


Also by Henry Liska - A New Definition of Luxury | Redefining Luxury in Design

You can see a portfolio of Henry's work at (ed.)


The Author

Henry Liska


Internationally accomplished designer Henry Liska has been at the forefront of the interior design industry for more than thirty years. Born in Vienna to parents of Canada’s fashion elite, Henry was exposed to style, fabrics and colour from an early age.

Henry’s career stretches beyond Toronto to New York, London, Paris, Shanghai, Singapore, the Caribbean and Bermuda – where he resided for nine years while leading projects that include private homes, corporate offices, banks, restaurants and small hotels. Throughout his career, Henry’s talent has been sought after by the families of American presidents, Canadian prime ministers and Middle Eastern royalty among others.

From cutting edge contemporary to the elegant re-interpretation of style classics, Henry’s interiors are chic and appropriate. His work has been featured in the New York Times, Boston Globe, Globe and Mail, Toronto Life, Canada’s Style at Home, House and Home, Bermuda Homes and Gardens and The Bermudian among other publications.

Henry is a graduate in Fine Art from the University of Toronto where he also completed three years of study at the John H. Daniels School of Architecture before setting out to work in New York, Europe and the Middle East.

Contact Henry at Meritor Design Inc - or email: .

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Copyright 2011 by Henry Liska. All rights reserved.

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