PHOTO ESSAY: Five Ottawa photographers document everyday beauty

BY DOROTHY STERN, a professor of interior design at Algonquin College 

The following photo essay was originally published in the Interiors 2015 issue of Ottawa Magazine

This time, it’s personal. We asked five photographers to choose and photograph the dwelling of someone whose home – and the arrangement of the belongings within – truly captures the spirit of the owner.

This five-part series documents everyday beauty – through their lens.

In the home of Dodie Lewis and Neville Smith, a table made by Smith highlights collectibles – and the couple’s artistic natures. Photo by Whitney Lewis-Smith
Function over form creates beauty in the garage of Isaiah Aspeck. Photo by Remi Theriault

At first glance, it might seem unexpected to include a story about everyday beauty in a magazine devoted to the best and most innovative interiors in the Ottawa region. Then again, maybe it is not so strange. Perhaps many of the spaces that we consider ordinary are not at all what they seem. In fact, upon a closer look, I believe that many unassuming spaces represent just the opposite — interiors that are filled with profound meaning. As author James Agee so movingly wrote in Let Us Now Praise Famous Men — a book about American sharecroppers in the 1930s — “Even the simplest room has the profound grace of human life and everyday aspiration.”





Dave Draves in Little Bullhorn Studio. Photo by Jamie Kronick

So if my impression is correct, how and why are seemingly ordinary spaces significant? What is so special about interior spaces that are filled with the habits and routines of daily life? Why are we so attached to the carefully placed tchotchkes, chairs, tables, and family photographs to which we lovingly show daily indifference? As scholar Ben Highmore noted in Ordinary Lives: Studies in the Everyday: “The everyday is the accumulation of ‘small things’ that constitute a more expansive but hard to register ‘big thing’. Everything can become everyday, everything can become ordinary: it is our greatest blessing, our most human accomplishment, our greatest handicap, our most despicable complacency.” Similarly, contemplating the “daily grind” as an “aesthetic-free zone” when it needn’t be, Globe and Mail journalist John Allemang has noted that “household objects and everyday experiences are capable of offering a heightened pleasure normally associated with the more grandiose claims of great beauty and art.”

Photo by Maggie Knaus
For An Chi Wong, beauty is in the joining of two worlds. Photo by Maggie Knaus

Everyday design reveals something about who we are. It is outside the boundaries and scrutiny of official beauty and design. Perhaps it is precisely because of this off–the-record status that it is so powerful. It is authentic, visceral, humble, symbolic, self-expressive, unconscious design that, in its banal and routine nature, profoundly shapes the places we all call home.

Do we need anything more?

Up first, the home of Dodie Lewis and Neville Smith, photographed by Whitney Lewis-Smith. Click to the next page to experience the beauty of this family home.

Dodie Lewis in her handmade lean-to. Photo by Whitney Lewis-Smith