Category Archives: Jeff

In Defence of Personal Decorating Taste

One of the more common concerns clients sometimes face when hiring an interior decorator or designer for their homes is the perception that their own personal sense of style will be completely obliterated in the new design and that they will end up with a space that only reflects the tastes and preferences of the decorator. They often fear that their personal likes and dislikes will be branded as “bad taste” and ignored completely.

Fortunately, with a good designer this should never be the case. A truly qualified decorating professional will always consider their clients’ personal tastes, needs, budget, and situation, and use these as the fundamental base upon which their designs are based. Ultimately, a well-decorated room should be a tribute to the tastes, affinities, lifestyle, and history of the people who will live in it, not just to the designer.

Every decorating project we undertake, from a simple paint-color selection to a full-on room redesign, begins with our comprehensive StyleFinder Guide. Each question has been carefully crafted to determine everything we need to know about your space, your tastes, your needs, and your vision in order to create the perfect look for you.

Each design we come up with is completely customized just for you! We want you to love your new space as much as we do! In fact, we guarantee it!

Happy Decorating!

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Simple Decorating Advice: The Joy of Editing

As decorators we often get asked for free advice by friends, relatives, and people we meet in everyday life. While most of them aren’t looking for a full-on design consultation, many ask what the single most important tip is that we give to our clients. Because there are so many elements to a well-decorated room and so many different styles, sizes, and personalities of spaces and their occupants, it’s incredibly difficult to to think of just one thing that we advise for every single client. But the first one that invariably comes to mind, and one which I employ myself on an almost weekly basis, is one that doesn’t cost a thing: editing.

More than simple de-cluttering, editing involves staging a room so the desired focal points pop out and get the attention they deserve, rather than being lost amid all the other furniture and accessories. Many people fear that editing their space and removing superfluous objects will make their room look barren and sterile, but done correctly editing can actually help to accentuate the lush feel of a space by providing proper context for all the visual elements. If you look in any fine interior design magazine, the beautiful rooms have all been edited to within an inch of their lives, without appearing sterile or empty at all.

Start by walking into the room and immediately naming the first 10 things you see (write them down if it helps). Then, of those 10, choose 3 or 4 items that you deem most important to the look of the space. From the remaining items on the list consider which items help and hinder the overall visual impression you are trying to create. Next, make sure each of your primary pieces is prominently displayed in the room to their greatest advantage, and move any secondary pieces to less noticeable spots. Finally, remove any items that hinder the look of the space to other rooms or closets where they won’t infringe on your design.

It might seem daunting, but it’s what professional decorators spend their careers doing. For help on determining exactly what to edit in your space check out our $199 styleIT decorating package!

Happy Decorating!

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“Modern” vs “modern”

During a recent perusal of the local online real estate listings I became increasingly perplexed and disheartened by the offerings out there. It wasn’t so much the houses themselves that disappointed, but the various updates and renovations that had been done by the owners (likely at considerable time and expense) that left me confounded.

Let me start off by saying that I have always been a huge fan of “Modern” architecture and interior design. This is not to be confused with “modern” (notice the lower case “m”) or “contemporary” design that has been all the rage for the past few years, but truly Modern design from the 50’s, 60’s, and early 70’s. Picture open-beam ceilings, spike-legged furniture, walls of glass, open-riser staircases, terrazzo floors… you get the picture. It was the architecture of the affluent postwar cocktail-set made accessible to the masses. In many older communities you can still find great untouched examples of “big-M” Modern houses… or so I thought.

Specifically, I had been on the hunt for a “Brady Bunch Modern” style house. Split-level, with open beam ceilings, shale-rock fireplaces, windows that went right up to the ceiling. Thousands of these houses, most of them circa 1958-62 were built all over suburban North America. Much to my delight there appeared to be several on the market right now. My excited coos of “OMG, that is fabulous!” however, were soon replaced with “Ohhh, ewww, what is that???”. For every perfectly intact 1961 Modern exterior, there seemed to be an equally intact 1983 rustic oak country kitchen inside. Every 1961 sheer glass transom window served to highlight a 1990 shiny brass light fixture. Faux Victorian stained glass window inserts, 6-panel doors, ornate neo-traditional crown mouldings… why did these homeowners feel such hatred toward their houses that they went out of their way to permanently scar them?

Don’t get me wrong, as a designer I can fully appreciate the desire, the yearning, the need, for change. My entire livelihood is dependant on beautifying and updating spaces. Each of my own apartments has been in a constant state of flux from the moment I move in until the moment I move on. I have also run the full gamut of personal-favourite styles, from French Provenciale, to English Colonial, to the aforementioned Modern. I love working with clients with whom I can run in an entirely new style direction. There aren’t many things that truly irk me (in a design sense), but fighting with the existing architecture is the one that gets my back up every time.

As lifestyles and family dynamics change, the functions of a home and its different rooms evolve. Today’s new houses are quite a change from those built 30, 20, even 10 years ago. Bathrooms are larger and more plentiful, kitchens more open, closets more spacious, and formal dining rooms increasingly obsolete. Built-in workstations, media rooms, and spa-style retreats are the new must-haves. Not surprisingly, when it comes to renovations, these are the spaces that take top priority. If you live in an established neighbourhood, are close to all the amenities, get along with your neighbours, and have put down roots in a community, it often makes more sense to stay and renovate than to buy new and take the chance of missing out on all that. Just make sure to incorporate the renovation as seamlessly as possible.

I’m not saying that you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, so to speak. I’ve seen many fantastic renovations that completely changed the entire look, feel, and function of a house. There’s no reason that you can’t go from Cape Cod Colonial to Westcoast Contemporary, from Georgian Revival to Japanese Minimal, even from Mid-century Modern to Southwestern Traditional (my own personal feelings notwithstanding). With the proliferation of new materials and styles on the market now, along with a more savvy consumer, there is a newfound appreciation for the different options out there. The secret is to make sure that the bigger-picture is in keeping with each of the smaller elements. This is where the advice of a professional designer can make a world of difference in the finished product.

Often it’s hard for people to be completely objective about their own homes. We all tend to see what we want to see and put blinders on to details that we’d rather forget. This tunnel-vision can prevent us from seeing what others see, whether they are our guests or potential buyers when it comes to resale. A professional designer is trained to look at the bigger picture, and to offer advice to help you avoid some of the pitfalls of renos gone awry. A designer can often point out details that the homeowner and contractor may overlook, helping you to achieve a finished product that you can be proud of.

That said, I recently signed away the next several years of my life to a 1975 condominium that was lovingly updated in 1989 in shades of pink, peach, and shiny brass. Look forward to many, many updates on the pitfalls of do-it-yourself renovations, the drawbacks of using friends as free-labour, the dangers of power tools, and the ins and outs of condo-board bribery!

Happy Decorating!

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Home Pride

While sitting on my balcony enjoying the late-spring sunshine and warm weather this past weekend I had the rare opportunity to glance around at the exterior appearance of many of my neighbours’ homes. It was rare because, being a busy working professional, I am seldom home for much longer than it takes to eat, sleep, and shower. Spending time actually sitting on the balcony is a luxury that only occurs a couple of times a summer. What I noticed, however, during my brief period of observation, was how little thought, effort, and pride many people put into the exterior appearance of their homes. I realize that, like myself, many people are drawn to the concept of condo and apartment living because of the low-maintenance factor, but it seems like far too many homeowners, both in condos and single-family houses, have confused “low-maintenance” with “no-effort”.

Many of the balconies and patios I could see featured absolutely nothing on them. No flowers, no plants, no furniture… nothing. Even the ones that seem to have made some effort mostly featured nothing more than a few white plastic pre-packaged flower pots from the local mega-store that are designed to be thrown away at the end of the summer. Now even though I am hardly ever at my place it would never, ever, have occurred to me not to plant a full flower garden on my balcony. To me it would be the equivalent of not wearing shoes to the supermarket. The shame factor would be too much to bear. Despite its compact size (55 sq ft) there is ample room for 5 potted cedars, 6 begonias, a random assortment of herbs, two petunias, one dracaena, a geranium, an acacia bistro table, and a vintage 1960s basket chair. I would love to add more, but for the nagging fear that any more weight will cause the balcony to break off and plummet 4 storeys to the ground.

I guess my sense of home pride ultimately stems from my parents. Even though their house is neither huge nor overly fancy, the yard and entire exterior are always maintained to a Martha-like level of perfection. The flower beds are always full and bursting with color from the first day of the season until the first snowfall. The lawn is so meticulously manicured and groomed it puts most wall-to-wall broadloom to shame. As for weeds… well, in 30 years I have never seen a single one in their garden. And they have managed to achieve this year-after-year, despite being busy with work, family, and other day-to-day crises. Not because of any desire to show off; just simply because “it’s what you have to do”. This sense of home pride was instilled in me as more than just a rule or something to aspire to, it was simply a given, like breathing air.

So take pride in your home! It’s more than just a place to live; it’s one of the biggest reflections of your character, values, and personality!

Happy Decorating!

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Color Theory 101

I recently got into an interesting debate with a friend in regard to the psychology of color. The debate started when we drove past a stunning early 1960s mid-century-modern-style apartment building that I have admired for years. The building, which features grey sides and trim and dramatic red panels on the fronts of the balconies, had recently been repainted after years of neglect. The problem, for me at least, was that the intensity of red they had chosen for the balcony fronts clashed with the muddier-colored grey trim. The debate then ensued when my friend, whose background is in graphic design, argued that no concrete rules existed for mixing colors, and that “clashing” was a purely subjective occurrence, only in the eyes of the beholder. My argument to the contrary harkened back to one of my first classes in interior design school, Color Theory 101. On the first day of the class the professor explained that every variation of “pure” color or hue, falls into one of the following categories:

Tint: Any color mixed with white.

Tone: Any color mixed with grey.

Shade: Any color mixed with black.

One of the main rules stemming from these classifications is that tints almost never mix successfully with tones or shades. Now, before you run around the room in a panic trying to see if your colors violate this rule keep in mind that almost every color in nature is a tone or shade; even your favorite pale colors likely have a tiny bit of grey in them that gives them body and context. However, whenever you walk into a room and the colors just seem “off”, but you can’t pinpoint exactly why, it is almost invariably the case that someone has mistakenly mixed tints with tones or shades. To the novice (and sometimes even professional) decorator it can often be difficult to tell the subtle intricacies of each color, but a successful room is absolutely dependant on it. So, to make sure you’re not left wondering why your new room color scheme just doesn’t quite “work”, employ the services of a qualified decorating professional, and make sure they can explain exactly why they’ve chosen each color. And never be afraid to ask questions. Your complete satisfaction should be any decorator’s ultimate goal.

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Color Co-ordination Gone Awry

This week’s theme of The Power of Paint reminded me of an interesting experience I had with a client a few years ago while working as an in-home decorating consultant:

The consultation was for a client who was building a brand new home and wanted assistance choosing all of the interior finishes and materials, from paint and flooring to cabinets and fixtures.

When I arrived for the consultation she had already laid out samples of the specifications she liked for each room, for my opinion and approval. Indeed, she had done an impeccable job of matching the color of every single element in the room (paint, trim, carpet, lighting, drapes, furniture, millwork, and accessories). Therein lay the problem. Gold was her favorite color and she wanted to incorporate it into the room, so she chose everything in gold. Exactly the same shade of gold. For everything.

Now, I love a monochromatic look as much as the next decorator, but with everything exactly the same shade of exactly the same color, it becomes not only a design nightmare, but a safety issue as well. How, for instance, could anyone afflicted with myopia find the door in the case of an emergency? Or those with inner-ear problems tell the ceiling from the floor?

Finally, after much explanation about the need for layering and context I grabbed a stack of interior design magazines she had on her bookshelf. We sat down together and I had her look through each magazine and tell me what her favorite rooms were. As I suspected, the rooms she was attracted to all featured gold tones, however, as I pointed out to her, the gold appeared in dozens of varying shades in each room, and was accented by an abundance of neutrals (white, cream, brown, and black). This was what finally convinced her to agree to my suggestions.

Instead we used gold as our base color, and accented it with an abundance of neutrals to really make the gold pop out. Ultimately what started out as a potential decorating nightmare turned into one of the spaces I was most proud of (and even more importantly, the client adored the finished product too!).

The moral of the fable is that even the most perfect color needs context in order to be appreciated… oh, and trust your decorator… they really do know best!

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Going the Long Haul

This past Sunday I ran my first marathon. After years of talking about it, months of training for it, weeks of complaining about it, and days of being in sheer terror of its impending arrival, I finally did it. Like anything in life that’s really worth doing it was not a perfectly smooth, seamless, or attractive process. In training there were setbacks, injuries, and days when I just didn’t care anymore. During the actual race there was pain, fatigue, and several times when the finish line seemed unimaginably far away. But still I kept going. I knew I wouldn’t set any world records, or score a lucrative Nike endorsement deal, or even look fresh and composed as I shuffled toward the end (like some people manage to). But the funny thing is that the second I crossed the finish line none of it mattered. It was done and I was happy!

In a roundabout way the same can be said for any large-scale decorating project (or any home-improvement project for that matter). Things will go wrong. Tile samples may be off-color. Your spouse or significant other might oppose you on every decision. Painting will take exactly 9 times longer than you planned (it always does). You might second-guess yourself every other moment. But one thing is certain. If you stick to your initial vision, and follow it through to the end, none of the other things will matter. The first time you sit down in your newly-decorated room and admire just how perfect your surroundings are, you will instantly forget all the hardships. I guarantee it!

Happy Decorating!

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The Man-Cave

One of the newest concepts being tossed around the interior design and decorating worlds of late is that of the “man-cave”. The principle behind it is creating a space within the home (or devoting the entire home) to reflect the styles and interests of the man (or men) who live there.

Decorating has traditionally been considered a woman’s domain, with men’s space usually relegated to the garage or basement, and with little thought, planning, or budget devoted to the “man’s” space (apart from the large-screen television and electronics package). It wasn’t so much that men didn’t want an attractive or appealing space to call their own, but that it was considered less of a priority and even less-than-masuculine to devote much time and effort to decorating it.

Thankfully that has changed dramatically in the past few years. Due to the influx of style references on television, in magazines, and on the internet, men are becoming much more aesthetically savvy than they’ve been able to be in the past, without losing their sense of masculinity. And with more men spending more of their adult years single, creating a personal sense of home has become even more important. Some of the most stylish interiors I’ve seen have been created by straight single men with either their own flair for design, or at least the good sense to know when to call in the pros.

So, for all our male readers out there, don’t be afraid to let your personality shine through in your space, and if you need assistance articulating your own style we’re always here to help!

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Lighting Really Can Make or Break a Room

In our post earlier in the week on lighting (How to do IT: Lighting a Room – May 13th) we discussed the importance of proper lighting to bring out the best in any room. This reminded me of a story told to me by one of my professors in design school: while working as a designer herself she had done all the interior color selections for a high-end restaurant in shades of pink and pale green (it was the early 1990s!) and had used halogen light fixtures throughout (halogen lights having the best color-rendering capabilities). When visiting the restaurant a few months later she was surprised to see that the owners had changed all of the colors to muddy shades of beige, taupe, and grey, and that even the food looked dull and lifeless. When she asked the owners why she was told that they hadn’t in fact changed the color scheme at all. Instead, in an effort to save money they had replaced all of the halogen lighting with cheaper incandescent and fluorescent fixtures. The next time she went past the restaurant had gone out of business. This story helps to underscore how bad lighting really can ruin a room and why lighting is such an important part of any decorating plan. Happy Decorating!

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Staying True to Your Home’s Architecture

As a designer I am used to being asked to perform decorating miracles:  to transform lacklustre spaces into something spectacular. And while I’m always up for the challenge and I love working in every possible style, from staunchly traditional to starkly modern, one thing I always advise my clients is that they must work with, not against, the architecture of their space. Just like horizontal stripes and floral patterns look better on some people than on others, different interior styles are more suited to certain houses than others.

We’ve all been in homes where, despite the fact that the owner has spent several thousand dollars on renovations and decorating, the space just feels “off”. Often this is because the architecture and the decorating “fight” with each other. For instance, if a house has modern architectural lines, like a flat roof and large plate-glass windows, adding ornate crown mouldings, frilly chandeliers, and colonial 6-panel doors will never look right.  Likewise, in a traditionally-themed home, high-contrast feature walls, minimalist furniture, and track-lighting will look equally out of place (for an extreme example of this check out the hilarious re-decorating scenes in the movie Beetlejuice).

Ultimately it is the job of a good designer not only to realize their client’s dreams, but also to ensure they end up with a look they will enjoy for many years to come. Happy Decorating!

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