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Interior Design Blog

It is a happy weekly event for me that my local newspaper now includes a supplement from The New York Times.  I enjoy this opportunity to sample the writing of these excellent journalists and their thought provoking  pieces every week-end.

A bonus is that there is occasionally an article that inspires me to write, and as anyone who has to write knows, inspiration can be hard to come by.  This is article number two, thanks to a NY Times column.  Article number one was my June post, Self-Conscious Design.

The inspiration column from Saturday, July 21, 2012 was titled, “How We Spend to Buy Happiness.”  It opens with the question, ” Would you spend $1,800 on a Prada dress or a weekend in Italy?”  The premise is that the weekend in Italy is more satisfying because it will create a memory, while the dress is simply an object and forgettable.   It has to be said, though, that for some of us, buying a $1,800 dress would be memorable!

A study at San Francisco State University found that more people who spend their money on experiences such as trips had greater life satisfaction than those who purchased material items.  You can’t buy happiness but you can buy a happy experience.

Sure, we want great experiences, but we also want our stuff.  Interior decorating is more popular than ever.  How our home and work space looks and reflects our personal style is important to our well being.  To quote Anita Patil, writer of the article, “it’s no longer enough for our furniture to be functional and beautiful; it must be emotionally satisfying, too.”

Your office chair can be designed by a luxury car maker, your sofa a famous interior designer.  It feels like an event to make these large and special purchases, and acquiring them becomes a story to be told over and over, especially if the savvy retailer makes the buying experience special (the latte or espresso doesn’t hurt).  A purchase won’t necessarily be memorable because it’s expensive, but it will be if there is an experience associated with it.

So, how do we create an emotionally satisfying home, one filled with memories of experiences?  One that isn’t just crammed with stuff, but is arranged and furnished to satisfy our desire for personal comfort and beauty?   Well, one way is to make sure that it does reflect your personal style, that it suits you and your family well, that is doesn’t look like a department store.   Martha Stewart, Brian Gluckstein and Vern Yipp have wonderful taste and design lovely furniture, but your home should include some of their offerings, not look like pages from their websites.

Hunt down a storied antique, buy art from local artists or on your travels, arrange a grouping of small family heirlooms on a shelf.  They will evoke memories, collecting them will be events to remember, and your home will tell a story, your story.

And now a shameless plug for interior design services.  Hire a designer, and if she’s good, she will help to make the process of decorating or design an enjoyable event.  You are going to make an investment in some stuff, why not have a good experience, as well as a successful outcome?


Self-Conscious Design

June 4, 2012

The article titled “Home Design Fever is Reaching an Epidemic,” by Steven Kurutz of  The New York Times explores the phenomenon of homes that are styled for up-to-the-minute panache, but lack a sense of the owners’ personalities.

He uses current trends of stag heads on walls and terrariums (precious little plants under glass) as examples of decorating objects that are used for their popularity, instead of saying anything about what the residents actually do.

Kurutz is making a judgement about an overabundance of style, which is a false display of someone else’s interesting life.  So, you can be a couch potato, but if you display beautiful coffee table books about exotic travel and tasteful objects you can appear to have a fabulous life and aesthetic.

My friend Lois recently announced quite dramatically that she had the BEST idea for my next blog, and it happens to be this very subject, but with a slightly different slant.  She bemoans the lack of warmth and real life clutter in people’s homes today, at least that is the impression if you believe decorating magazines and newspaper features.

She feels that amateurs, and possibly some professional designers, are slaves to an ideal.  Perfectionism, open space, clean lines, minimalism, downsizing, organization and editing mean fewer framed travel photos, fewer family pictures and no children’s art hung on fridge doors.

It also means we don’t haul home vases and sombreros from distant lands to display proudly in our homes anymore, for fear of being judged by our décor savvy friends and family.  In the case of the sombrero—not a bad thing.

We are too self-concious about our own decorating choices and we don’t have enough confidence to show who we really are in our homes.

This also means that there is a lack of individuality in our homes, and decorating magazines seem to feature the exact same kitchen and living room over and over and over in every issue.

Kurutz quoted Elaine Miller, who writes the design blog Decorno, “People are insanely self-conscious.  People act like they’re always being watched.  Even their house is a performance.”

Lois wants us to be genuine, loosen up and proudly display our own personalities, not someone else’s.

I may be accused of being a designer without a specific look, but that’s OK with me.  I prefer to combine a client’s personal style with my own vision, a curated selection of what’s available in the marketplace, including only trends that make sense for them.  My goal is to creatively blend their cherished possessions with great new finds.

I also like the challenge of solving dilemmas with creative solutions, not just selling cookie -cutter, sure thing trendy looks.  Here is an example.  My client’s ten year old daughter wanted to have no less than seven distinct and bright colours on the walls of her bedroom.  “It will be so ugly!” protested her mother.  My solution was to install picture frames on the palest of spring green walls, each painted in one of the seven jewel toned colours.  These would be installed above a waiscotting of chalkboard paint under a chair-rail.  Within the frames they would install corkboards or magnetic boards (sheet metal with magnets).  These framed areas would allow her to express herself by posting pictures, cards, magazine clippings and mementos.  She would also draw and write messages to her heart’s content on the blackboard wainscotting.  This child will have more opportunity to express herself artistically than she could ever imagine.  She will have all of her favourite colours on display and her parents won’t get a headache every time they look into her room.

As my story illustrates, it is possible to display an individual’s personality tastefully, and create a very custom décor, it just takes a little creativity.  As a designer I can objectively evaluate a client’s desires (even a ten year old’s) and use my experience and knowledge of the marketplace to bring a fresh point of view to a perceived problem.  The seven colours seemed impossible when the clients thought their only choice was to use them as wall paint.

Stay tuned for a future story about a one-of-a kind office that I am designing for a creative fast-growing tech firm in Waterloo.  They want a design that does not conform to current trends, one that inspires them and allows their guests to be both impressed and comfortable.  It will be a refreshing departure from typical office design, no office systems furniture or trendy industrial chic for them.

I am enjoying the opportunity to work with these non-conformist clients.  Maybe the ten year old with the colourful aesthetic will become a creative entrepreneur in the future with a very confident personal style.

Let’s start a dialogue about personal design.   Do you feel that you have it mastered in your home or office, or are you or someone you know too self-conscious to be original?  Do you believe a designer can help you create your personal style, or do you fear that this is impossible?   Do you love to decorate using the latest trends and think that those who don’t just don’t get it?  Please share a comment below and bookmark this site.  Thanks!  Adele

Molly’s Back Porch and Millionaire’s Daughter are two of many antique and consignment shops on Ottawa Street in the East end of Hamilton.  They are among  an eclectic mix of shopping destinations on the street that include art galleries, fabric shops, and other speciality stores.  I enjoyed a few hours there recently and snapped a few pictures of items that I would be happy to include in the homes and gardens of my clients. Maybe they will inspire you.

This is a fantastic armoire with matched veneers in great condition.  Wonderful storage piece for a bedroom or office, from Millionaire’s Daughter.

An old door becomes a show-piece; great for a narrow hall or as a garden feature.  Acid green crackled original paint.

At Molly’s Back Porch shutters, corbels and old furniture get a second life after a coat of paint.   The owner has a knack for re-inventing old materials and turning them into pieces with purpose and personality that will add depth and patina to a space.

A round box has been converted into a wonderful planter, or magazine stand, or roll up towels and place beside the tub.

 Old wicker has old world appeal but these black square tables have a rare modern feel; these are a find!

Please leave a comment below.  What great piece have you found on Ottawa Street, or in your town’s antique stores?  Want to share your favourite store with my readers?

If you have a perennial garden, or fruit tree, you have an opportunity to bring a breath of spring into your home.  Cut a few stems or branches and bring them inside.

These beautiful peachy orange blossoms are from my front garden.  The bush is around 24 inches high and wide, and I prune it regularly to keep it from growing too tall in the space it occupies close to the house.  I try to keep a natural shape, with soft arching branches.  The leaves are a nice bright shiny green, so even when there are fewer flowers in late summer, it is still a wonderful plant.

The landscape designer that I hired recently didn’t know what it was (!), but he is young…

No matter, I found it on Google.  It is called Cameo Flowering Quince, it’s popular name.

So, I am very happy to have the opportunity to bring spring inside, and I have enjoyed filling vases and bowls of different shapes with these lovely flowers.

It’s also nice to have a version of this years hottest accent colour, Tangerine Tango, in such a pretty and fragrant form in my home.

Orange Gerbera Daisies that I just planted in my back deck planters look cheerful with papery white Wave Petunias and lime green Creeping Jenny.  They will continue the citrus theme throughout the summer, growing lush and spilling over my planter boxes with juicy abandon.

What can make you feel more privileged than designing a new bathroom?  Not much, perhaps designing a new kitchen?  Luxury, spa, relax, retreat, comfort are all words that we use today to describe what we want in a new bathroom.  Gone are the days when replacing chipped fixtures, or a defective faucet, and painting the vanity were considered an update.  If the bathroom today doesn’t have the look and feel of a spa or luxury hotel ensuite, it misses the mark.

Excessive consumerism, or just reward?  I think for most clients, working long hours, and meeting the demands of children, a retreat-like bathroom is not only well deserved, but neccessary.  A beautiful and efficient bathroom may help you to achieve a happier home—well worth the investment.  Not to mention that it will increase your home’s value.

I have the privilege of designing new bathrooms often, since this is one of the most popular renovations that my clients undertake.  I am currently working on the re-design of no less than seven bathrooms for 3 different clients, so I thought it would be a good time to write about the process, and show you what’s interesting in tiles, a large part of the selection process.

Marble, marble, and more marble; we can’t seem to get enough of it for our water closet updates.  Marble is both luxurious and classic, and adds soft texture and pattern to a space, giving it a timeless quality.  Limestone, Travertine, Carrara, Calacatta, and Saturnia Ivory are some of the more popular marbles for floor and wall tiles.  They are all light neutrals, in shades of sand, beige, grey, cream and white, with veining in grey, beige and brown.  Because they are neutral there is lots of opportunity to add pops of colour in art and accessories, a wise way to decorate, because you can easily change the accessories when the mood strikes.  Remember the days when we committed to pink tiles for ten to twenty years—not any more–thank goodness!

It can be challenging to coordinate shower surround tiles, counter top and floor.  Here is an easy formula:  start with a large tile on the floor, such as 12” x 24”, or 18” x 18” in the marble of your choice.  Then use the same marble for the counter top and shower surround, only in different formats.  The counter top will be a solid slab.  The wall tiles can be a combination of smaller tiles:  12” x 12” tiles can be used for the background, or field, and then a panel of ½” x ½” mosaics can be framed using a border, or marble moulding tile, creating a picture frame effect for a feature area.  There are many other shapes for the feature area, from hexagons to basket weaves.  See below.

There are many great alternatives to marble as well, including combinations of marble with glass and metallic tiles, crackle finish ceramic, and the classic and economical subway tiles.

Stand alone tubs are taking centre stage in larger bathrooms, and walk-in showers with heavy glass are now standard.  Faucets are the jewellery of the bathroom and very important to the design.  Polished nickel has taken over from brushed, but watch for satin and brushed brass to come on strong as an alternative, while oil rubbed bronze has all but disappeared.

 Light fixtures need to be selected thoughtfully; they add another layer of decoration and warmth while doing the important work of illumination.   Pot lights alone don’t cut it.

Cabinets look like furniture, and details are important, such as louvered doors, pictured above.  Shaker style, flat panel doors are still very current, but extra levels of mouldings are being used, such as a second step, or bevelled moulding. Beautiful hardware is a must.  Squared off handles seem to be overtaking knobs, but glass knobs in faceted or round shapes add nice sparkle.

Look up.  Coffered ceiling treatments, elaborate squared sections of beams and mouldings, or lovely deep crown moulding and sky blue paint will insure that you have something beautiful to focus on when you luxuriate in a long warm bath in your new soaking tub.

Don’t forget to include a terry cloth upholstered chair , and small table to hold a candle, a glass of wine, and a book. Ahhhhh….

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