On a street of stately Victorians in the comfortable Annex neighborhood of Toronto, one house stands out from all the rest. Maybe it’s because of the cotton blossoms and taro leaves thriving in the wild yet deliberate jungle of a front yard. Maybe it’s because of the broomcorn growing sky-high along the sidewalk. Or perhaps it’s due to the effusive welcome extended to guests by studio painter and aesthete Vivian Reiss.
Best known for vibrant portraits of fellow artists, celebrities, philanthropists and musicians, Reiss’s work radiates a joyous intimacy between subject and artist. And her house—quirky, colorful and highly individualistic—is no different.
Reiss explains that she’s always been involved in the arts. Growing up in New York City, she applied herself to creative pursuits running the gamut from playing classical guitar and sculpting to acting and dancing. But it was picking up a paintbrush and applying it to a large-scale canvas that led her to her true calling, one that would take her to the School of the Museum of Fine Arts and the Art Institute of Boston under the apprenticeship of painters Marilyn Powers and Jason Berger. After obtaining her degree, she continued to work under their guidance at The Direct Vision atelier in Brookline, Mass.
“My artistic endeavors are about expression, emotion and intellect, not just about getting the lines right,” she says. “I don’t believe that for something to be good—really good—it has to be arcane or painful. That’s just an outdated myth. Joy is a vastly understated expression.”
Her outrageously upbeat aesthetic is palpable in every aspect of the house she’s lived in for more than 25 years. The sprawling 5,000-square-foot structure was built in the 1870s for the widow of a Canadian politician and naval officer. But with Reiss’s creative touch, it is anything but your typical Victorian mansion.
“When I first found it, the house had fallen into disrepair,” she remembers, “and it was pretty rundown.” Employing both her artistic eye and locally salvaged materials, she oversaw all the major renovations and designed everything—from the handcrafted inlay patterns in the wood and marble floors to the enormous dining room table that resembles a roasted chicken.
Every room is jammed with treasures. Antique toys and miniatures cover countertops and are displayed alongside finds from near and far, including a Japanese samurai suit, rugs from Turkistan, Confucian idols from China, Kewpie dolls, Roman glass perfume jars, feathers from Africa and vintage U.S. campaign buttons.
To read more about the Reiss home, pick up your copy of the Spring 2012 issue of AmericanStyle magazine.
Enjoy this Web-exclusive peek into Reiss’ home.