Ambrose Price

Adventures in Decorating

[originally printed in fab issue 424 – May 11, 2011]

Most design gurus are quick to lecture the masses from on high about how to redesign their living spaces, but Ambrose Price surprises and disarms by admitting that he’s still figuring it out himself. Now in its second season on HGTV Canada, The Decorating Adventures of Ambrose Price follows the 27-year-old designer on his mission to add to his portfolio and build a studio, one risky renovation at a time.

“I pride myself on really listening,” says the Gemini Award–winning host, who says his show “has more appeal to the average person who wants to decorate their home.” In taking on each new client, he says, “I look at their personality, what they’re wearing, their home, trying to get a handle on what they would like. For all of the makeovers I did on Season 2 of the show, not one person came back with a complaint.” In essence, he says, “I don’t go against what they want; I add to it.”

Price almost became a math teacher, but when his mother got sick with cancer, he left St. John’s University and returned to his small hometown of Fortune, Newfoundland, to take care of her. Feeling lost after her death, he says, “I decided to go work part-time at a design firm and quickly realized I had a passion for it. I always had but never thought I could have a career, especially in Newfoundland.”

​Price soon became one of the designers at the firm, but his career truly took off after a night of flipping channels. He saw an ad on HGTV Canada asking, “Could you be Canada’s next design superstar?” and says that at that moment, “I knew this was my ticket.” He applied and was flown to Toronto in 2006 to compete on Designer Superstar Challenge. “I was only 22 at the time,” he says, “but I got fifth place with little to no experience in design. People were eliminated before me who’d gone to design schools in New York.” In January 2007, HGTV Canada told him they were putting his very own show into development. “It happens all the time in shows like American Idol,” he laughs. “You don’t necessarily have to be the winner.”

As he turns people’s homes from drab to fab, Price describes his own style as “eclectic,” mixing furniture and accessories from different styles and time periods. “I have all of that going on in my apartment,” he says. “I have a traditional dining room, but my bedroom is more modern. You can have a different look in each room.” While that approach can be stunning in a large home, a great many gay men are living in the cramped quarters of downtown condos. But Price insists even a tiny home can be beautiful.

“When it comes to small spaces, scale is very important,” he says. “You walk into a condo and you see a big chunky sofa, and it just doesn’t fit with the setting.” The problem, he says, comes when a room is stuffed with well-loved but incongruous pieces. “I think a lot of gay men end up with so much stuff because they see the beauty in everything. Even though people don’t have the space for, say, a beautiful vase they find, they’ll buy it anyway,” he explains, noting the resulting visual chaos. “The eye goes everywhere; the room isn’t cohesive.”

The solution, Price says, is two-fold and begins with balance. “If you have a traditional table, balance it out with a traditional lamp on your modern side table,” says Price. It’s not just about furniture, either. “It’s all about hard and soft as well. You have all your hard surfaces, but then you can really do a lot with drapery treatments, rugs, sofa cushions and textiles, textiles, textiles. They really add that extra element to a room that gives it a cozy, welcoming feel, and you can cater it to whatever style you like.”

​In his own home, Price says, “I like things to be neutral, but I play with colour. My apartment itself is condo-white with some accent walls in charcoal grey. But I have a blue couch that really pops, and I coordinate that blue again in the bedroom with some cushions. And I’ve added in some reds and some blacks. I like to accessorize with colour because it’s so easy to change it out. If I get sick of the red, I replace it with whatever colour tickles my fancy.”

That’s the second solution to visual clutter, says Price: “If you have storage, you can continuously change up the look. The leftover pieces can go into storage and you can rotate them out every so often.”

Many gay men avoid this issue altogether by sticking with a very modern, streamlined look. “I think it’s all relevant,” Price says, but it must be done with equal care. “A lot of people resort to IKEA because it’s cheap, and when you go to their store, you see these little vignettes and it’s basically done for you. I’m not coming down on them; I think it’s great what they do,” but a mix of styles, he says, “adds so much more interest to a room than just all modern.”

One can have splendour on a budget, Price insists. “One of my favourite stores that I recently discovered is Frontier, on the Danforth at Victoria Park. They buy up estates and bring them into their showroom and sell it all off at a really good price.” He then really surprises by saying, “HomeSense, I absolutely love. I shop there a lot for my TV show. It’s the perfect spot for accessories and filling in the gaps. You can get great stuff, even antiques sometimes, for a low price.”

Hunting for beautiful bargains is both Price’s job and pleasure. “I love walking along Queen East, the Carlaw area, with this big stretch of antique stores.” Even with something old and beaten up, he says, “you can always refinish it and essentially turn it into a new piece. Reduce, reuse, recycle!”

Many of us stick with a look we’re not excited about because a major renovation seems daunting and costly, but “you don’t need to go crazy and change the entire place,” Price says. “Take it one step at a time. Paint or wallpaper an accent wall. Buy a new rug. Gradually work in new elements. Even throw cushions and little things like that can really change the look of the space without you having to go and rip up the floor or tear out the kitchen.”

Price’s growing success is based on developing his clients’ design skills as much as his own. ​​​“I always tell people to do their own research. Watch TV shows, read magazines and go online to find out what it is they like and then try to create their dream room. Some people can easily visualize it in their head, but most people can’t, so ​doing the research is important.”


About Scott Dagostino

An arts & culture journalist who's the bastard love child of Van Morrison and Jessica Mitford
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