August 5, 2014 by Speakers' Spotlight
Mulroneys Embrace a Laid-Back Lifestyle
Ben Mulroney interviews the biggest stars and reports live from red carpets around the world. As the friendly anchor of Canada’s number one entertainment show, CTV’s etalk, Ben always brings the best to what he does as a speaker, emcee, event moderator, and interviewer. Whether on stage or in front of a camera, Ben draws on his incredible expertise to create memorable and entertaining experiences for all his audiences. The Toronto Star recently caught up with Ben and his wife Jessica to talk about how they manage their busy lives as both professionals and as parents to three young children:
“Don’t take off your shoes,” insists Ben Mulroney as visitors enter his home in Toronto’s Deer Park neighbourhood.
“We are not sticklers about shoes,” stresses his fashion stylist/designer wife Jessica, who is the project manager for the recently opened Kleinfeld Bridal Boutique at Hudson’s Bay. “We know women hate taking off their shoes.”
She would know. She’s the former Jessica Brownstein, a scion of the Browns Shoes empire, currently rocking a pair of red patent Sergio Rossi stilettos.
Ben is wearing Joe Fresh sneakers. In his job as the anchor of TV’s etalk entertainment show, he wears shiny dress shoes and sharp suits on the red carpet.
The pair met in Montreal as teenagers, married in 2008 and are parents of fraternal twin boys Brian Gerald Alexander and John Benedict Dimitri, who turn four later this month. Daughter Isabel Veronica “Ivy” is just a year old.
Born in Montreal, Ben is one of four children of former prime minister Brian Mulroney. He has a Bachelor of Law degree from Laval University and Bachelor of Arts with history major from Duke University, N.C. He started his entertainment career as a Quebec City correspondent for talktv’s The Chatroom in 2000, was entertainment reporter for Canada AM, hosted Canadian Idol for six seasons and even briefly co-hosted Live! With Kelly.
He is national ambassador for UNICEF Canada and national spokesperson for WaterCan, focused on bringing clean drinking water to the world’s needy.
Jessica is a grad from McGill University with an entrepreneurial bent — she and her sister brought the high-end Italian lingerie line La Perla to Canada. She works on the Shoebox Project, a charity that stocks shoeboxes full of basic luxuries for women in shelters.
Despite her new job at Kleinfeld, home of hit TV show Say Yes to the Dress, she did not have the poufy wedding dress. “I didn’t care for the process,” she recalls. “I bought the first dress I tried on from a boutique in Montreal.”
The young Mulroneys, notwithstanding their pedigrees, are as unaffected and refreshing as their house — even with its imposing 14-foot ceilings. An open-concept design, it is somehow both grand and cosy.
“Before this, we lived on Queen West behind the Black Bull,” Ben recalls. “I could roll into work.” (etalk has a studio at Queen and John Sts.)
They feel at home in Deer Park, where they’ve lived for more than four years. “There are three other sets of twins on this street,” Jessica points out.
Ben’s mother Mila, a former architecture student, discovered the house during a drive-by. It wasn’t even listed — Mila just had a hunch. But Jessica was skeptical; she was pregnant with twins, didn’t know the city and thought Deer Park was the ’burbs.
There are three floors taking up about 3,500 square feet. That includes a below-grade basement acting as the kids’ play room/nanny suite and four bedrooms upstairs, including Jessica’s “retreat.”
“I can share it now with Ivy,” she says. “She is my animated cut-out doll. I put five things on her a day.”
Action-central is the kitchen/den with a huge flat-screen TV. In the kitchen nook: A padded, red pleather banquette against the wall. “I wanted to create a space where we could eat together,” Jessica explains.
She designed built-ins for additional storage and bought an old retro arborite diner table on eBay. The chairs were recovered in grey pleather to go with the marble island.
Ben is the chef. One of his specialties is slow-cooked ribs. Not surprisingly, the kitchen is his favourite room and one of his most beloved features is its LeMans corner shelf system, a modern lazy Susan housing pots, pans and paraphernalia.
There is a pull-out, built-in bar that can be closed when the kids’ have a play date. Over the banquette, a cabinet displays a collection of dramatic vases.
After the twins were born, they tackled the kitchen, removing the built-in desk to make a pantry for storage. “We lived alone (sans kids) and didn’t realize how much food we needed,” says Jessica.
“Ninety-five per cent of our waking time is spent on the floor,” Ben says. “The floor is worn and torn from three kids.” Not to mention the punishing stiletto heels. Plus, they entertain a lot.
“We had a party for my sister’s 40th and Ivy’s first birthday,” Ben recalls. “Ivy is the first Mulroney granddaughter.”
The kids are incredibly well-behaved. A pair of nannies stands by watchfully.
The boys are besties. “Ben was at the MMVAs and John did something really sweet,” Jessica recalls. “He hugged Brian from behind and said, ‘Brian, you make me great.’ ”
“Can I fix John’s hair?” Ben asks prior to the photo shoot. “I dress the kids, he grooms,” Jessica says. “I buy them Zara, Joe Fresh, Old Navy, H&M.”
The boys are dressed today in Joe Fresh. They’re little preppies, just like Dad.
They look alike except that John has a shiner. “It’s from the mean streets of Deer Park,” Ben jokes.
The padded window seat in the living room is the twins’ favourite spot. It also has built-in storage.
“People on the street walk by and watch the boys grow up,” Jessica says. “People wave.”
They describe their décor as “eclectic, colourful.” A considerable number of the furnishings are hand-me-downs from the senior Mulroneys: The dining room table is from Harrington Lake, the official summer residence of Canada’s prime minister. The dining-room chandelier is from the prime minister’s Ottawa residence, 24 Sussex Drive.
“I got the chairs at auction,” Ben says. “The leather matched the table and Jess had a dark metal top made for the table. They are super comfy — you can sit in them all night long.”
“The one main thing is that this house is unpretentious,” Jessica adds. “People have to feel comfortable. People sit back and relax — shoes on or off.
“The couch in the kitchen is from Ben’s father’s den at Sussex; we had it recovered.”
“It is the Boris Yeltsin couch,” adds Ben. “Boris Yeltsin loved it so much he refused to get up and move to go to a working dinner. Dad said, ‘If you get up and have dinner, I’ll have one made and sent to you.’
“One night, Dad was woken up by Yeltsin, calling and demanding, ‘Where is it?’ Dad had a French-Canadian manufacturer make one for him.”
Two well-worn leather wing chairs in the living room have faux fur throws on them. A distressed side table by the couch is from Hardware Interiors in Leslieville. The table lamps are candlestick holders that were drilled out and repurposed into lighting fixtures.
An artwork called Everglades, painted by Mila, hangs over the couch.
“Everything feels warm,” Ben allows. In the dining room, an armoire with industrial closures looks like a French antique but is from Hardware. At the foot of the black-and-white staircase is a side table decorated with stenciled numbers from Elte and crammed with family photos.
“Who wants to get their p.j.’s on and watch TV on Dad’s bed?” Ben asks. The boys scramble upstairs to change in their room, appropriately furnished with twin beds. John’s jammies are Superman; Brian’s are Batman.
A giant Asian tapestry hangs over the staircase on the second floor. The master bedroom has a (fake) leopard rug. The wallpaper is grass cloth; a faux fur chair sits at the black-and-white Art Deco desk, purchased from Elte.
Ivy’s room is a “princess” room, with white flocked wallpaper. She is a budding fashion plate just like her super-chic mom, judging by her colour-coordinated closet.
Jessica’s enviable “retreat”/dressing room has a zebra rug, a mother-in-law etched mirror from Mila and floor-to-ceiling shelves of colour-coded shoes. Behind the door are hanging shelves with flats and boots.
“Shoes are my accessories,” Jessica says. “I wear a uniform of white jeans, a simple shirt and stilettos.”
Ben has an Elvis Presley clock in his adjoining closet, which also has floor-to-ceiling shoe racks for his sneakers.
A row of tiny hangers houses his impressive collection of pocket squares. “His obsession,” Jessica notes.
In the basement, tucked away from the kids’ playroom, is ingenious shelving built under the stairs to store suitcases — and seats from the old Montreal Forum arena; Jessica bought them for Ben. She also gifted him with a collection of abstract Superheroes paintings of Wolverine, Superman, Hulk and Batman.
Ben’s superhero posters are conceivably rolled up somewhere.
Meanwhile, the boys are upstairs in their parent’s bed, happily ensconced watching cartoons in their superhero p.j’s. One wonders if Ben also has a pair.