Designing His Girl Friday, Part 1: Vintage Office Desks


While His Girl Friday won’t open for another 4 months I’m already busy prepping things on the production side. The budgets are set, fundraising & marketing scheduled, so now I get a little time to spend on one of my favourite parts of putting together a show (and part of why I started Bygone in the first place); designing.

Anyone who’s seen a Bygone Theatre production knows that we always do things set in the 20th century, and while there are of course budgetary restraints that don’t make 100% accuracy possible, I do work hard to get an authentic period feel to our shows, both with props and costumes, and when possible, set.

His Girl Friday is set in 1940 and takes place primarily in a newspaper office, which means that I have to find a lot of period office supplies. The good thing is, since it’s an office (as opposed to, say, the house of a trendy socialite), I can play with the time period a bit; supplies from the 30s or even 20s could easily still be showing up, as long as they do have modern necessities like typewriters and phones. So let’s start with the most basic part of an office…


There’s a few key styles of desk you will come across if researching those from the first half of the twentieth century; secretary desks, rolltop desks, typewriter desks and tanker desk.

The secretary desk is the oldest style in this list, and despite its name, would not be very useful for most secretaries, as it forces the user to sit staring into a bookshelf, rather than outward towards visitors. The base is made with wide drawers which have above them a hinged desktop surface, allowing it to be opened when a writing surface is needed, or closed to save space and protect documents when it is not. The top half of the desk features a bookcase – sometimes with some drawers – often covered by glass. All-on-all the secretary is a tall, heavy piece of furniture with a shallow depth. Once again, not very practical for a modern office, certainly not a shared space.

The rolltop desk was a staple of the turn of the (20th) century office. First designed in the late 1800s, it became popular throughout the end of the Victorian era as it was quite easily mass produced. Its signature element is the roll down top, wooden slats on a tambour that allowed the user to cover the desktop and drawers. While practical for a small office with minimal correspondence, the desks grew out of favour as large elements such as the typewriter required more desk space, and the small drawers and compartments grew unusable due to an increased volume of paper (again, thanks to mass production).


One of the modern marvels becoming appearing in turn of the century offices was the typewriter (I’ll go into more details on those later), and with that came the necessity for a new type of desk. Just as you would today want to have a different desk for your computer than say, writing or sewing, workers then found they needed something not only lower (for ease of typing) but sturdier than the hinged tops commonly used before; typewriters were heavy and required hard pounding on the keys. In addition to that, early typewriters were finicky and expensive, so it was important to keep them covered and safe from dirt and dust. Many initially considered them an eyesore as well, so the cover had an aesthetic value too.

1946 saw the introduction of the Tanker Desk, a new form of the pedestal desk made of steel, with a sheet metal surface. These utilitarian style desks were popular in institutions such as schools and government offices, and have a distinctly retro feel. They remained popular until the 1970s, and are often sought after now for a “industrial” look. However, as I mentioned previously, this show is set in 1940, so these are a little too modern. Plus, they are expensive and heavy; not a great choice for a show.

So what to use? Before even doing any research I knew I preferred the look of wood desks to wooden, and I knew I would need some that could support a typewriter. This play also calls for a rolltop desk. Given that we have a budget to stick to, and keeping in mind how difficult these can be to move and store, my plan is to get a larger, slightly older desk for Walter Burns (the editor) to have in his private office, and to use a small typewriter desk for his secretary.

The reporters will likely share a large table with just their own phone and small work station, and the back of the office will have a few older desks set aside, including our necessary rolltop desk. I’ll post photos when we have them all purchased, but for now, here’s an idea of what I’m looking for;

All for now, more to come soon!

Toronto’s Heritage Apartments


Anyone who knows me well knows that, after theatre & vintage things, my third biggest obsession/passion is real estate. Particularly heritage buildings. Maybe it’s because I’ve lived in 11 (going on 12) different places in the past decade. Or maybe it’s the idea of living in a place that is an antique itself, something that surrounds me in the vintage style I love. Whatever the reason, I have spent far too much time not just wandering neighbourhoods here in Toronto & in New York, dreaming about the antique doorknobs and lighting fixtures I could collect to adorn these places, but I have now spent WAY too much time documenting some of the best heritage apartments in Toronto.

I was surprised when I searched and could not find a site or blog dedicated to listing exclusively heritage buildings. I could find the odd apartment by using search terms like “art deco”, “Victorian” or “character”, but it was a painfully slow and inconsistent process. So here, for all you apartment-hunting, vintage-obsessed Torontonians, is a list of some of the best rentals the city has to offer.

*for this list, I stayed away from old buildings (eg. factories) converted into apartments as well as houses turned duplex/triplex and any that have become condos available for sale rather than lease. Here you will find low and mid-rise rentals that have always been residential apartments.

Fleetwood Apartments

Built: 1939
Neighbourhood: Deer Park
Address: 64 St. Clair Ave. W
While I’ve read stuff that suggests the Fleetwood is as wonderfully Deco on the inside as it is out, I haven’t been able to find pictures to support that. Still, given how many times its been featured in real estate articles I’m inclined to believe this one is a gem.

Benlamond Suites

Built: c.1909
Neighbourhood: Beaches
Address: 47 Benlamond Ave.
I couldn’t find the exact date for this building but another home just a few doors down was built in 1909, so I think it’s safe to say it’s from around the same time. The outside of this place really doesn’t do it justice; check out that wood paneling.

Epitome Apartments (originally Mid Maples)

Built: 1913
Neighbourhood: Between Kensington Market & Baldwin Village
Address: 160 Huron St.
My first bachelor apartment was in the cramped basement of this building, in something clearly not meant to be lived in; no vents, pipes along the walls, constant blasting heat. It certainly wasn’t glamourous but I did love the outside of the building and the location (just off-campus). After a year I moved upstairs with my then-boyfriend into the main floor apartment you can see from the front of the building, on the right. It wasn’t big enough for two people really, but I did still find it somewhat charming. That was back in 2009-2010. Now the building has been revamped and is much more modern inside, and I suspect considerably more expensive. Nonetheless, it’s an interesting heritage building, and one with a somewhat unique history.

The Maitlands

Year Built: 1900
Neighbourhood: The Village
Address: 32 Maitland Ave.
This classic luxury low-rise shows up on all of the city’s blogs about the best heritage rentals. While the suites maintain their original hardwood floors and leaded windows, the apartments have been well maintained and feature modern kitchens and bathrooms.

Broadview Mansions

Year Built: 1927
Neighbourhood: Riverdale
Address: 569 Broadview Ave.
Another building that has had quite a few upgrades the mansions have at least maintained their deco charm on the outside.

Kew Beach Mansions
Year Built: 1929
Neighbourhood: Beaches
Address: 2163 Queen St. E
I’m not sure what company manages this building now, I had trouble finding information on it and I’m not sure what it looks like on the inside. But that front door alone is enough to warrant it being on this list.

Claxton Manor

Year Built: unknown
Address: 1592 Bathurst
The inside is sadly not as lavish as some on this list; no beautiful oak trim or built-in bookshelves. However, I’m really digging the cute retro bathroom. I was unable to find the date for when this was built, but I’m going to guess it was mid-late 20s.

Mallory Gardens

Year Built: 1931
Neighbourhood: Deer Park
Address: 8 Mallory Gardens
The outside of this building might not be terribly impressive, but the suites have maintained their charm by keeping the original built-in shelves & deco tile in the kitchen& bathroom. I wish I could find better photos; I’ve been in one of these and the pics don’t do it justice.


Grenadier Mansions
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Year Built: unknown
Neighbourhood: High Park (Swansea)
Address: 1942-1956 Bloor Street West
The rental site looks almost as though it hasn’t been updated since these were built, with some very cluttered & dated photos that are used for every sized apartment. But look behind the mess and you do see some nice details like fireplaces and wood trim. Not sure when these were built, likely sometime between 1920-1950 when the area was being built up.

Heath Park

Year Built: unknown
Neighbourhood: Cedervale
Address: 22 Tichester Rd.
Another Trivest building means more poorly photographed interiors, but there does seem to be some original trim and tile. I’m always suspicious of buildings that give incentives like “free tv!” to lure in renters, especially when it’s one as central and affordable as this, but I am easily swayed by vintage charm.

North Gate

Year Built: Unknown
Neighbourhood: Forest Hill
Address: 1532 Bathurst
Trivest again! Very similar to the last few, I suspect all of these were built in the 1920s or 30s.


Year Built: 1927
Neighbourhood: Forest Hill
Address: 2 Clarendon Ave.
Whereas most updated heritage apartments have included modern elements, especially in the kitchens and bathrooms, this luxury residence has preserved the classic styles of the era in which is was built. The lobby is drool worthy and I can’t tell you how much I love that 20s style sink.

Claridge Apartments

Year Built: 1929
Neighbourhood: Forest Hill
Address: 1 Clarendon Ave.
Another stunning Forest Hill heritage building the Claridge is very similar to the Clarendon listed above.

Mount Pleasant Suites

Year Built: 1927
Neighbourhood: Mount Pleasant
Address: 649-667 Mount Pleasant Rd
This one is unique on the list as the apartments are all above stores. Not many photos to be found, but apparently some still have their original clawfoot bathtubs!

Du Maurier Apartments1325799431_070918DuMaurier005

Year Built: 1930s
Address: 5 Du Maurier Boulevard
This building boasts about it’s 30s styled lobby, high ceilings and tall baseboards. While the apartments are updated, there are still hints of vintage charm in those elements.


Mayfair Mansions

Year Built: 1931
Neighbourhood: Forest Hill
Address: 398 Avenue Rd.
The exterior and common areas of the building have far more of a vintage look than the individual suites, still, the leaded windows are a cute touch.

Am I missing some? Leave links in the comments.

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Hollywood’s Original Blonde Bombshell, Jean Harlow


As anyone who knows me is well aware, I am a big fan of genealogy and have taken it upon myself to be my family’s family historian. While tracing some branches this evening I came across a fun little tidbit; I am very distantly related to Harlean Harlow Carpenter, more commonly known by her stage name, Jean Harlow.

Harlean and I are both descendants of Michael Korns Sr. (1793-1877), my Great x6 Grandfather; this makes her my 4th cousin, 3 times removed – pretty close, right? Anyway, while this counts for basically nothing, I still got to looking into this tragic figure’s brief life story and thought I’d do a mini tribute to a very distant cousin who died far too soon.

Jean Harlow

Jean Harlow

Harlean Harlow Carpenter was born in Kansas City, Missouri on March 3, 1911 to the successful dentist, Mont Clair Carpenter (1877-1974) and his wife, Jean Poe Harlow. “Mother Jean” was extremely overbearing and protective, and instilled in “Baby” the idea that she owed her mother everything; “she was always all mine”, the woman is quoted as saying.

Mother Jean & Baby, 1934

Mother Jean & Baby, 1934

In typical “stage mom” fashion, Mother Jean moved to Hollywood with Baby in 1923, hoping to start a film career. When she realized that, at 34, she was too old, she began to push her daughter to pursue the spotlight instead. Baby attended the Hollywood School for Girls and met a host of wealthy friends including Douglas Fairbanks Jr., and the man who was to become her first husband, Chuck McGrew.

In 1927, at age 16, Jean Harlow married Chuck McGrew, an heir to a large fortune that he received when he turned 21, just 2 months after they wed. The young couple had plenty of money and plenty of time as neither of them worked. Rumours spread that they both drank heavily, and in 1929 they divorced. This would be the first of many heartaches in the young starlet’s life.

After getting a series of small film roles, Harlow was spotted by actor James Hall, who was working on a Howard Hughes feature, Hell’s Angels. The film needed an actress to replace Greta Nissen, whose Norwegian accent was undesirable. Hall recommended Harlow for a test and she got the part.

Hughes signed Harlow to a five-year, $100-per-week contract on October 24, 1929, and when Hell’s Angels premiered in 1930 it made Harlow an international star. While critics were unimpressed with her talent, Variety Magazine summed it up best when they wrote, “It doesn’t matter what degree of talent she possesses … nobody ever starved possessing what she’s got.” Around this time, Harlow met the man who would become her second husband, MGM Executive Paul Bern.

Jean Harlow and husband Paul Berns

Jean Harlow and husband Paul Bern

The young star was rising fast, gaining larger and larger roles and becoming an increasingly popular icon. Hughes’ publicists capitalized on her hair colour, coining the term “platinum blonde”, and young women across the country scrambled to mimic the starlet’s signature look. By this point Harlow and Bern were romantically involved, and the MGM exec managed to convince his studio to buy her contract from Hughes. In 1932, just after Harlow’s 21st birthday, she was signed to MGM studios; she and Bern were married soon after.

With MGM Jean Harlow got superior roles and was given the chance to show off her humour, rather than just her good looks. Sadly, in 1932, while shooting the feature Red Dust, her husband of only 2 months was found shot to death in their home. Rumours swirled that Bern had been murdered, possibly by Harlow herself, but the death was eventually ruled a suicide. In recent years stories have emerged that suggest Bern was in fact murdered, but by a former lover.

Following the untimely death of her husband, Harlow began an indiscreet affair with boxer Max Baer, who, while separated from his wife Dorothy Dunbar, was still married. Wanting to avoid further scandal, studio execs arranged a marriage between Harlow and her friend, cinematographer Harold Rosson. The pair quietly divorced 8 months later.

It was in 1934 that Harlow met the “love of her life”, fellow actor William Powell. The pair were reportedly engaged for nearly 2 years, but never had the chance to wed.

William Powell and Jean Harlow

William Powell and Jean Harlow

Over the course of several months in 1937, Harlow’s health was in obvious decline. The scarlet fever she contracted at age 15 may have played a part in her eventual death from kidney failure. As they had during her life, rumours plagued Harlow’s death, with stories claiming that she had died from anything from alcoholism to a botched abortion, and that her mother, a Christian Scientist, had refused to allow her daughter the proper medical care. Harlow was buried in a private room of a mausoleum in Glendale, made of multi-coloured marble and purchased by William Powell for $25 000. She was buried in the gown she wore in Libeled Lady with a white gardenia in her hand and a note from William Powell which read, “Goodnight, my dearest darling”.

Harlow in Libeled Lady

Harlow in Libeled Lady

While I’ve been reading about Harlow tonight, I can’t help but fixate on the fact that I am now the same age she was when she died. In her 26 years on earth, Jean Harlow earned more than 40 film credits (appearing in 6 films with Clark Gable), was the first actress to grace the cover of Life magazine, became the original “blonde bombshell” (inspiration for Marilyn Monroe), was married 3 times, endured the violent and untimely death of her husband and finally slipped away in a slow and painful death. Harlean lived more of a life in her 26 years than I think most people do in 80.

While I found an amusingly similar photo of me from 2012, I unfortunately do not share any of Harlow's sex appeal or stellar looks.

While I found an amusingly similar photo of me from 2012, I unfortunately do not share any of Harlow’s sex appeal or stellar looks.

Was she happy? Who knows. She had fortune and fame, and as far as the world knows she had finally found love with William Powell, though who’s to say whether that would’ve lasted had she not died so young. Harlow is a tragic example of what has now essentially become a modern day archetype; the young star who lives fast, plays hard and dies young. We tend to glamourize this idea with the concept of “die young and leave a beautiful corpse”, which is really sick when you think of it. How many people had done half what she did at 26? If I died tomorrow, my obit wouldn’t be anywhere near as entertaining. So who knows what she could have done if she’d lived twice that long? Three times that? The world of entertainment can be brutal and exhausting and you can easily find yourself living your life only for others. The problem with that is, in the end, it’s your life, not theirs, and if you die with things left unsaid or undone, there’s no one who can change that for you.

So a bit of a positive end for once, some words of encouragement. Go out there and do what you want to do. Tell people you love them. Take a risk, try something new. Live the life you want because you may not have any choice over how long you’re here, but you do get to choose what you do with the time you’ve got.


A Review of the Summerworks Production of “Seams”


Yesterday I had the pleasure of seeing writer Polly Phokeev’s Seams at Summerworks Toronto. Directed by Mikaela Davies, the play starred Krystina Bojanowski (Ira), Clare Coutler (Old Frosya), Sochi Fried (Radya), Jesse La Vercombe (Anton), Caitlin Robson (Froysa), Elizabeth Stuart-Morris (Shura) and Ewa Wolniczek (Marina). Set in Moscow, 1939, the story revolves around a group of seamstresses (and one seamster) working for a theatre company in the time leading up to the war. While the show does explore the tensions of Communist Russia, and the fears of the approaching war, the play is essentially a personal memory piece, told through the older Frosya (Coulter) who is now living in Canada and spending her days reminiscing about the past. Their website states this nicely, so I’ll just quote that;

“Seams is a response to the inherited guilt and the chaos of identity that comes with being a Russian immigrant to Canada. It asks us to confront the cultural guilt we all inherit, regardless of where we come from, and whether we can find ways to overcome it.”

Caitlin Robson. Photo by Dahlia Katz.

Caitlin Robson. Photo by Dahlia Katz.

I was impressed with several aspects of the production. The first thing of note was the staging and design; as a period piece lover, I am often frustrated by the inaccuracies in sets and costumes of lower-budget productions. Seams however, was beautifully dressed, and with the exception of a couple pairs of rather modern shoes, everything looked beautiful and historically accurate. Bravo to designer Shannon Lea Doyle, her assistant Kelly Anderson, and installation designer Jackie McClelland (whom I have worked with before and am always impressed by).

The lighting design by Steve Vargo was also very effective. Simple, but powerful, it beautifully complemented the design and staging. Director Mikaela Davies accomplished something that I rarely see in this level of theatre; her staging was unique and memorable, but never completed with the work of her actors, and enhanced the piece rather than attempted to be the main focus. A couple moments were a little drawn out (I think of the random and a little cliched frantic wandering around the stage), but for the most part she succeeded in creating authentic moments and beautifully stylized tableau’s, in particular with the slow-motion movements of the young actors while Old Frosya spoke to the audience, and the (**SPOILER ALERT) flood of reporting papers that filled the stage in the final moment of the play. I have not heard of or seen Davies work before, but I will be sure to keep any eye out for her future productions.

Clare Coulter. Photo by Dahlia Katz.

Clare Coulter. Photo by Dahlia Katz.

There were no weak links in this cast. Some of the characters were better written than others, but each actor gave a committed and completely believable performance, with very natural pacing and authentic emotion. I think the script still requires some work, as the distribution of lines and scene time is a little off; some of the stories I wanted to learn more about were glazed over, while in a predictable fashion, the onstage love story was given more stage time than necessary. Still, every actor was given a chance to be featured in the spotlight, and the variety of characters was impressive. As Frosya, Caitlin Robson (who I had the pleasure of working with in Bygone Theatre’s, Rope) embodied the motherly, protective role of a character who I would have expected to be played by someone considerably older than herself. Through the knowing glances and ever-watchful eye of Robson’s character, it is clear there is more to her than she allows others to see, making the end, while still surprising, very believable. Other performances of note include Elizabeth Stuart-Morris as Shura, who’s larger-than-life character adds the majority of fun and laughs to the show, and Sochi Fried as Radya who certainly had the most realistic and tragic portrayal in the cast.

Sochi Fried. Photo by Dahlia Katz.

Sochi Fried. Photo by Dahlia Katz.

Again, the script could use some final tweaks, and I suspect the final product will be as much as 20 minutes shorter, but overall this was a strong production and one I look forward to seeing future incarnations of.

For tickets and more show information, check out the Seams Collective website.