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2013/07/31 / Shanan

NATURAL HABITAT: KRISTIN SOMBORAC

I am VERY excited today to bring you the first installment in a new series on The Symmetric, which I am calling ‘Natural Habitat.’  I mentioned last week that one of my goals for the site was to profile creative, interesting women.  It started with wanting to do my own brand of the ubiquitous house tour but it’s starting to come together as something a little more intimate, I think, than I was expecting.  I tend to get transfixed by the overall ‘vibe’ of a home and then, all the little details that make it so.  I never tire of looking at all the glossies but here I wanted to focus on something a bit more real, on spaces that are more or less unstyled and truly lived in.

I am also endlessly fascinated by routines and the quirks that emerge from a glimpse into where someone lives. This time, the conversation usually starts with the mundane, the small steps that take a person through the motions of the everyday and subtly mould and propel them towards the biggies –  their personal philosophies, their careers, their sense of self.  Whew.  Do you need some air?  Let’s pace ourselves here.

Kristin Somborac is my first subject, the guinea pig if you will.  She is an old friend of Chris’ and we connected when she was pregnant with her first baby; we were neighbours in Toronto at the time and I helped her paint a mural in the nursery.  I find Kristin disarming because she is exceedingly easy to talk to and has a subtle, sweet naiveté about her, while at the same time being a very direct person and actually quite tough.  She doesn’t take sh*t from anyone.  To wit, she may also be the only individual I’ve seen in real life who can pull off harem pants.

Kristin, her husband Rob and their two boys, Miša (4) and Paavo (1) live in downtown Toronto’s west end neighbourhood of Parkdale.  Their place is nestled inside an amazing little courtyard of historical townhouses, complete with antique gas lanterns and climbing ivy.  When I visited Kristin she was home for the morning with Paavo.

parkdale historic townhouse courtyard

“Rob is in film, he’s a focus puller. I was in film for about 15 years but I really changed things in order to have children and now I’m embarking on my latest venture, which is working as a creative director/fashion consultant and stylist.  I really wanted to have a job which would allow me more time with my family, instead of being on set 14 hours a day!  Being a stylist feels so natural in terms of a next step that I don’t really worry about the fact that I am starting a new career at this stage of life with two kids.

I knew that I needed to have a job which was driven by creativity but at the same time I love the organizational aspect in work.  I think it gives me a feeling of control.  Once you have children there is so much you can’t control and you have to let go.  And I have really been craving the feeling of accomplishment which comes from finishing a project, which has been a big part of motivating me to move forward.”

eames lounger mid century modern living room park dale

somborac-living3

“I don’t think my decor tastes have changed since having kids, but my needs have.  I try to incorporate the things we need for our children into the rest of the house while still keeping form as important as function.

The Eames lounger was a gift from my mother when our first child was born.  The mid-century teak wall-mounted furniture is Danish and used to be my Baba’s.  The hanging bulbs are from Design Within Reach but we found them on Craigslist.  Score!

One of our favourite outdoor activities is riding our bikes. I do struggle with where to store the stroller and bike trailer, though.” (these are usually in the living room but we moved them aside for photos)

matt james painting parkdale house tour

“The painting is by Matt James.  Rob got it for me for Christmas one year and I absolutely love it.  Star Wars humour.”

parkdale toronto dining room midcentury modern plants

somborac-dining-detail

“Miša’s and Paavo’s favourite toys are rocks, dirts, sticks, pinecones…  The photo is of Rob, me and Miša at just 10 days old from the old-fashioned photo booth they have at The Drake Hotel (one of our favourite spots).”

parkdale kitchen copper pots house tour

“The gas range in our kitchen is amazing!  Love it.  Another important feature in the culinary arsenal are my French copper pots.  And the bull horns?  I don’t know what to say about those… they once belonged to Rob’s grandpa.  Kind of a sarcastically macho thing for him to have.

Meals are not fun for Maman!  Most of the meals we eat are made from scratch and I eat standing up.

I do like to include Miša in the cooking as much as possible.  He makes his own pizzas, and scoops out avocado and tosses the salad.  We have a small plot in the parkette across the street which we share with some other families in the neighbourhood.  Miša and Paavo have their own little section and in it we grow herbs and tomatoes and hot peppers for the kitchen.”

take this waltz souvenir parkdale home tour

“The Take This Waltz knife was a crew gift from Sarah Polley’s second feature, which Rob worked on.  In the movie the Seth Rogen character was writing a cookbook about chicken, so the characters were always eating chicken chicken chicken!  Rob and I also worked together on Sarah’s first film, Away From Her.  It was right after that show that we started dating; I basically showed up at his place with my cat and just never left.”

somborac-kitchen-detail

“Lillet is one of my favourites but the red wine is Rob’s – I can’t drink red wine; it always give me a hangover.” What’s with the toothbrushes?  “Paavo loves to play with toothbrushes.  Once he drops them in the dirt or some other dubious city grime, I boil them so he can chew on them again.”

somborac-bedroom2

“The blue thing on the edge of the grown-up bed is one of the baby safety railings we use.  It helps maximize mattress space!

It’s tricky being alone with both the kids because they are at ages where they have vastly different needs.  And bedtime can get particularly difficult because they keep each other up.  Some nights I swear we just go and go and go until they fall over.

I think our sleeping arrangements are rather unconventional by North American standards. Sometimes Rob works nights and needs to sleep during the day, so we have a queen bed in the basement, which doubles as a guest suite.

Usually I sleep in the big bed with the baby and Rob sleeps there with us until Miša wakes up and wants him to go into his room to sleep in the trundle bed.”

somborac-m-bedroom

“We put our children to bed each night by singing and reading to them; sometimes we listen to Meryl Streep reading The Velveteen Rabbit.  We always wanted sleep to be a gentle and peaceful place for them and we tried to respect that children’s sleep requirements are vastly different from adults.”

kids books bedtime reading

“When I was 12, my 2 ½ year old brother drowned.  I imagine him wondering, “where are those people who always come and make things better?”  and I never wanted my children to feel that way… I never wanted them to be scared and alone wondering why I wasn’t coming in to make things better.

I mean, different things work for different families but that’s a big part of why sleep training was not for us.  We have routines and I think the children find comfort in that, but we are also flexible… you just do what you can to make sure everybody gets a healthy sleep.”

somborac-nametags-pinwheel

somborac-plants2

“All the plants in the house are the result of Rob’s green thumb. He’s very nurturing.”

gold shoes

And now, some shoes.  

“I love these shoes! I call them my C3PO’s. I think they are type of shoes where your girlfriends are like, “cuuuute!” but men say “blechhh.”

Having children really put things into perspective for me and suddenly what I might look like to other people became less important – having a family really grounded me.  Before we had children there was a lot of stuff going through my head about how other people were perceiving me, whereas now I feel a lot more comfortable and pragmatic, especially about the career decisions I am making.  Producing films for me had a tendency to be a very emotional journey and I think that may have stood in the way of me making good choices.

In my new career, I work with private clients, helping them organize their wardrobes and shop in an effective and efficient manner.  I also style people for special events, press, photo shoots, and red carpet.

My approach to styling is that I like to think of the modern woman as being a ladylike tomboy – intelligent, capable and comfortable.  I like to think of the modern man as being a little old-fashioned – he is gentlemanly and gracious, a champion of sartorial simplicity.”

somborac-backyard

“I worked in a male-dominated environment when I was a film technician, and back in the ‘80’s when I started snowboarding we girls were waaaay outnumbered by the boys so I’m a bit sensitive to the idea that quite often people think women are not capable of being good at anything other than the stereotypical stuff… laundry, makeup, etc…  so I try to make a point of doing some un-ladylike things in order to set an example for my boys… stuff like use power tools, ride a motorcycle… light the BBQ and be better than Papa at snowboarding! Hopefully they’ll grow up thinking it ain’t no thang.”

somborac-front2

heritage house parkdale plaque bell ivy toronto

parkdale heritage townhouse gates

“These are the big iron gates at the end of the courtyard.  I’m not sure that the lions at the top of the gates have a significant reference to anything in particular, but in my mind they are from the House of Lannister.”

Thank you so much, Kristin, for your time and all your very honest thoughts and answers.  And for the fun smoked salmon breakfast (eaten standing up, of course).

Kristin’s personal stylist website and blog is being almost complete.  You can find information on her previous work in film here.

All photos by Shanan Kurtz / The Symmetric.

  • Stacy Seiler:

    Hi Shanan, I’m addicted to your blog. It’s like watching the Food Network and I know the chef personally. Whenever I feel stressed I love peaking into your world. Your photos and writing are like taking a mini vacation into a place I want to visit. You should write for Real Simple magazine!! Miss you! xoxo

    2013/07/31
  • Hilary:

    So lovely!! You’re right, this woman is strong, sensitive, and beautifully inspiring. Thanks for sharing. Love the series. Keep it up!

    2013/07/31
  • Trilby:

    Great start to the series. I hear ya on the unconventional sleeping arrangements..!

    2013/07/31

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