For a husband and wife who are parents of a two-year-old and spend almost every moment of the day together – save the occasional tennis game (for him) or Pilates session (for her) – home has to be a sanctuary. That’s certainly the case for Ela and Martin Aldorsson, creators of the luxury Ela Handbags label, whose apartment in Toronto’s historic Yorkville neighbourhood offers a much-needed haven.
The love story between these transatlantic entrepreneurs (she was raised in Canada, he’s from Sweden) began in 2008 when they met “in passing,” as Ela recalls it, at a Notting Hill restaurant. After co-founding Ela in 2010, they moved to the rural Ontario town of Paris to focus on growing the business – with Ela as the creative force and Martin handling sales and marketing. Today, Ela purses, clutches and totes are sought-after items among well-heeled customers. Coming soon is an affordable new line of bags called TIO, plus a lifestyle website with tips on topics ranging from food to fashion.
“I love fashion – I mean, I’m slightly obsessed!” Ela admits. “So I might share [online] what I feel works for me as a mom and still have an evening out and look great. We want to show what we’re doing but in a humble, authentic way.”
Seemingly perfect in every way, Ela, 36, and Martin, 37, are also the perfect hosts as they welcome Hello! Canada into their stunning home on a sunny fall morning.
Here, they chat about their décor philosophy (“less is more”), what Martin always borrows from his wife’s closet and how it feels to have a devoted fan in Sophie Grégoire Trudeau.
Ela, why is this home so special to you both?
When we first saw the space, it reminded us of a Parisian apartment. It had high ceilings and it was really wide, and the natural light was incredible. The bones were so amazing and we’re very minimal in the way we decorate our space. We tend to always focus on a couple of key pieces and it’s meant to be clutter-free and easy on the eyes, because we’re always bombarded with so much visual – whether it be with social media or out and about. You want to come home and feel really Zen and comfortable and easy. You want to be in the space and not want to leave.
Martin: It’s more important to us to invest in key pieces, especially in a space like this that’s so strong on its own. It’s a cliché, but I think less is more.
Ela: It’s like our brand philosophy – it’s all about humble luxury. Humble because we don’t have too many things but luxurious in the details of a couple of beautiful pieces.
Do you have favourite rooms in your home?
We spend a lot of time on the main floor (which houses the kitchen, living and dining areas) because we’re big foodies.
Martin: We have a two-year-old so this space is nice for him to run around without hurting himself.
Ela: But the heart of the home would be the terrace because we’re there all the time!
Martin: It’s nice because you can be outside a lot, and even for Tate – we put a little splash pad there in the summer when it becomes like an additional room of the house ... It’s like our own little oasis.
You moved here from small-town Ontario. Do you miss anything about the rural lifestyle?
Ela: We love to be immersed in the culture and the diversity of a big city.
Martin: But Ela’s parents live out west toward Cambridge. So, they have kind of that similar setup to what we had in Paris.
Ela: We’re there on the weekends.
Martin: Ela’s mom is an organic baker and gardener. So, we can also tap into that.
Ela: We don’t want Tate to grow up in a bubble – we want him to know how fruits and vegetables are grown. He’s got his own little garden at my parents’ place, and he already knows you get milk from a cow ...
Martin: And that you don’t just get it from the grocery store!
As partners in life and business, and now in raising a family, how do you balance it all?
Ela: It’s great because you share the victories together. You grow together. But the other side is “Oh my God, we’re in it all the time,” right? So, since our son has been born, we try to find those moments where we go, “OK, it’s 7 p.m. No more talking about strategy, no more talking about bags.” It’s hard because the business is another baby in a sense, it’s our livelihood and it always has to continue to develop, too.
Martin: And it’s seven days a week. The big thing is to try to set aside the weekends for the three of us – and it can be easy things, like going to the ROM [Royal Ontario Museum]. We’ll take Tate for an hour and a half to look at the dinosaurs. It’s a process that takes time to figure out, especially when you add a kid to the mix, but I also think that we both love this way of life.
What are some of the ways you support each other?
Ela: It’s the little things ... like going to the gym or playing tennis. I’ll take Tate and Martin can have those two hours to himself, or vice versa; I’ll go to the gym and do Pilates or yoga. You become a better parent also because you can just clear your mind. When you come home you just want to be positive.
Martin: Cooking has also become a little bit of a de-stresser.
Ela: Yeah, we love cooking and you know what? Just get out a nice bottle of wine and it solves a lot of things. [Laughs]
What do you love most about each other?
Ela: Martin is one of the kindest and most generous people I know. He is also an amazing father!
Martin: Ela is one of those people that is good at everything – she just figures it out – not to mention incredibly optimistic and patient.
You must be so proud of what you’ve accomplished together.
Ela: Sometimes we’ll sit and go, “OK, what’s next?” We always want to be better and grow and take things to the next level. But then we’ll say, “Wait a minute, we’ve done some pretty cool stuff.” Like having Sophie Trudeau as a big fan. She buys our bags all the time and she’s an incredible ambassador ... We’ve gotten some beautiful hand-written letters from her, too.
Martin: Or when you walk into Club Monaco or Saks Fifth Avenue and see your bags. To me, those are big victories because the hard work pays off.
Finally, is there something you always steal from each other’s fashionable closets?
Ela: Have you seen how tall he is? I don’t think he’s going to fit into anything of mine. [Laughs] But you know what’s funny? Sometimes we’ll come downstairs and realize we’re both wearing the same thing. We’ll have on like a navy top and black jeans and we’re like, “Oh God.” We turn into those people sometimes.
Martin: The things I do take from Ela, though, are cardholders, passport holders and slim wallets. She has a few really nice ones!
Ela: I used to work at Hermès in public relations and probably one whole entire pay cheque went to shopping there. I saved a few key pieces that I loved, then they’ll be missing and I’ll be like, “Where did they go?” And, of course, it’s Martin. So, he’ll steal my accessories. And he also likes to steal my toothpaste.
Martin: Yeah, but that’s …