A Day at the Darling Mansion

The day Novella visited the Darling Mansion felt like a modern-day, Torontonian version of “Alice in Wonderland.” Tag along for the ride here

“It’s hard for me to put this place into words,” says Tanya Grossi, opening her arms and gesturing round at her surrealistically decorated den.

No shit, I think, taking in my surroundings with wide eyes. We’re in the Darling Mansion, Grossi’s newly opened “B&B that’s not actually a B&B” (more on that later), which doubles as an event venue and, uh, triples as her home. Oh, and she also rents the top floor to her fellow artists.

Like Grossi, the Mansion is sort of a Jack-of-All-Trades — a fun and colourful fate that the historic space deserves after years of near neglect. I’ll be honest, I live right around the corner from this glorious old estate, and I’ve always itched to know what goes on inside. And now I do: formerly the property of a cranky old millionaire, 224 Dovercourt is now Grossi’s quirky abode and business. (The door to her office even has her unofficial-official title, “Madame” of the Darling. Love.)

The den / Photo by Jesse Milns
The den / Photo by Jesse Milns

You probably know Grossi, or at least her name, from her Parkdale bar Salvador Darling in Parkdale — which, with its artsy, vintage circus-y type feel, is an architectured interpretation of Grossi herself. Now, she says, her soul can also be found residing in the walls of the Darling Mansion, a space she’s designed with the same spirit and beauty as Salvador Darling. Every piece of décor, every wild print of colour, every wacky vibe — it was all handpicked by her in the name of making a personal collage out of each room.

The dining room / Photo by Jesse Milns
The dining room / Photo by Jesse Milns

The first floor — dubbed the “Parlour Floor” — is Grossi’s apartment, office and the common hang-out area for anyone who happens to be staying in the Mansion. (It’s also rentable, in case you’re in the market for a wicked location for your company Halloween party or music video shoot or whatever.) A large, luxe den overlooks Dovercourt road. The room is reminiscent of a ‘40s-era brothel, but in the coolest way possible: intricately patterned wallpaper encases the space in crimson elegance; plush, antique-style furniture is complemented by statement art pieces. A chandelier sparkles in the centre of it all. Also on the main floor is a bizarre-o dining area (complete with taxidermy pheasants and other accents worthy of the abode of either a Disney villain or the Addams family) and Grossi’s personal bedroom (I’m swooning over the circular bed). Hanging by the front door are a rainbow of kimonos — Grossi’s personal collection which she slips into from time to time in the company of some of her resident artists before heading to the den for some drinks and some real talk. Because kimono chats > regular chats.

Tanya Grossi's room / Photo by Jesse Milns
Tanya Grossi’s room / Photo by Jesse Milns

The second floor houses the four rooms of the B&B — and my personal favourite is “the Opium Den.” Anyone who lives in Toronto knows how hard it is to find a place that truly lets the sun in, and this room is like a sunshine magnet: large, French-style doors gape open onto a comfy little patio, complete with one of those squishy moon chairs and a view of the sunny Dovercourt ‘hood framed by ivy-covered walls. A bathroom also juts out of the room, facing south and letting guests bathe in both water and sunlight. Sigh.

The Opium Room, my personal favourite / Photo by Jesse Milns
The Opium Room, my personal favourite / Photo by Jesse Milns

Then there’s the Magic Carpet Ride room, which features a custom-made bed suspended from the ceiling. The Wes Anderson room is wonderfully weird with its pink walls, black and white photography and stuffed deer head, while the Boudoir Room boasts an en suite lounge and playful yellow and purple walls.

Novella's social community manager Kathleen's favourite room, the "Magic Carpet Ride" / photo by Jesse Milns
Novella’s social community manager Kathleen’s favourite room, the “Magic Carpet Ride” / photo by Jesse Milns

The kitchen is on the second floor (as is a bathroom that would reduce Prince Charles himself to tears of joy), but when it comes to food, Grossi says if guests are seeking a real breakfast, they should hit up one of the many nearby restaurants — since the B&B focuses more on the “bed” and less on the “breakfast.”

Novella's Business Development Manager Aliya was obsessed with the Boudoir Room / Photo by Jesse Milns
Novella’s Business Development Manager Aliya was obsessed with the Boudoir Room / Photo by Jesse Milns

I never got to visit the third floor, since it’s technically the private sanctuary for a small group of artists (one of the current tenants is from Australia, by the way). It’s cool, though — I doubt my eyes could have absorbed much more drool-worthy boho-chic design before spontaneously combusting.

The Wes Anderson Room / Photo by Jesse Milns
The Wes Anderson Room / Photo by Jesse Milns

So, it’s official: the Darling Mansion is one of my favourite places to be, and Tanya Grossi is one of my favourite people to chat for hours with (while wearing a kimono, of course). It really is tough to put the Darling Mansion into words — or at least to sum it up in a proper sentence. Stepping inside and wandering its enchanted floors, even listening to Grossi as she tells its story, my mind burst into thousands of descriptive words: quirky, charming, elaborate, eccentric, handpicked, curated, artistic, bizarre. It’s a bizarre bazaar. A house-sized collage of all that is Tanya Grossi. And it’s added something really special to Toronto’s culture that we didn’t even know we needed.