Thursday, April 29, 2010

Buying a Sofa!

What you Should Know Before you Leave the House
Given that your sofa is likely to be one of the most expensive items in the room, why are so many people buying the wrong one?  The bottom line is that buying anything can be overwhelming but something that will be with you for 10+ years tends to strike panic in even the calmest of demeanour.   Not understanding your own preference in style is the biggest reason for scrapping sofa #1 before its time has come.  A sofa that is at odds with your sense of style can be a major stumbling point in redesigning a room.  If you hate it and it's not your style it can be hard to recreate the space into something fresh and new.  Here are some tips to consider before you set out on your next shopping trip.

Photo courtesy of Decorpad

Plan Ahead - Okay, I sound like a broken record.  Do you see a theme in creating a great space?  Plan, plan, plan.  It is not important whether you can identify furniture styles and periods but having a photo of a sofa you love can save you a lot of time on your shopping spree.  Flip through magazines or browse the internet and when you see an image you love, cut it out or print it out.  Create a little book with these images glued inside if you have a few.  Once you start your shopping, having something to refer to will keep you on track and likely help you to avoid buying another mistake.  Know that you likely won't find the exact same sofa as your photo but look for similarities...similar lines in the arms, back and feet (see more below on this but no skipping ahead!).

Determine your Budget and your Needs - Sofas can range in price from under $500 to tens of thousands of dollars so know what you can afford before you head out.  This is important  because there is no point in shopping on Rodeo Drive if you can only afford WalMart.  If you're on a tight budget look for great sales at great stores (January is a really good time of year to buy furniture as it's almost always on sale.  Late summer is another.)  Think about how the sofa will be used to help you determine your budget.  If you are the type that likes to buy something one time then purchase a high quality, well built sofa with a fabric that will endure through the years.  If the sofa is going into your children's playroom, keep the budget small but make sure to have kid friendly fabric (microfibre or denim are the best for greasy, dirty fingers.  Not that any of you have greasy or dirty children!!

Understand the Structure - There is no way to determine the quality of a sofa without understanding its components and how it is built.

Frames - High quality sofas are made from kiln dried hardwoods such as oak and don't have any knots in the wood (this can cause weakness in the wood).  Legs are attached as part of the frame or dowelled and glued but not screwed.  Lesser expensive sofas will be made of soft woods such as pine and will often be screwed, stapled or just glued.

Spring Systems - There are 3 ways of creating a spring system and this will account for much of the comfort of the sofa.  The first is the most expensive -
The 8-way system is a series of metal coils that are hand tied to each other on 8 sides.  This continuous coil is then attached to the frame with metal ties.
Next is the Sinuous Spring Connection, also called the "no sag" is a continuous metal wire shaped as a a series of S shapes.  It is attached to the frame in rows from front of the seat to the back and provides a firm seat.  The smaller the S shape, the less give the sofa will have.  It's often used in modern, low slung sofas.
Lastly, there is the Drop Spring System which is a pre-assembled, machine-made coil system designed to simulate the hand-tied version. It drops into the frame and is typically fastened at the corners.  Unlike the coils in a hand-tied base, drop-in coils are all the same gauge and haven't been configured to give added support. Also, they're built with more metal-to-metal contact and tend to squeak after a while.
Buy what you can afford but at least know what you're buying.
Photo courtesy of Decorpad

Know what you Like - Without getting into details surrounding period furniture it is wise for you to have an understanding of what style you are attracted to.  Three things stand out as the basis for forming your decision.  Arm style is a big part of deciding what you like.  Contemporary sofas will have a straight parson arm, traditional will have a rolled arm.  Feet are another factor.  Traditional sofas can have a bun, round or turned foot and will almost always be made of wood while the contemporary sofa will have a square or a tapered square foot.  Lastly, do you like your pillows to be removeable or attached.  I learned soon after having kids that there could only be attached in our house until the kids leave home.  I spent more time picking up pillows and rearranging the sofa than it was worth.  

Lastly, be prepared when you enter a showroom.  It can be intimidating to shop when you feel that you are at a disadvantage.  Do a bit of work, learn a few catch phrases and you'll be just fine.  

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Decorate on a Budget

5 Ways to Get a High End Look on a Budget

I often feel that the true test of a designer or decorator is what they produce when they are faced with a client on a very tight budget.  It's easy to design a home when there is free reign on the coffers.  It takes a more creative approach to get a high end look with limited funds.

1.  COLOUR YOUR WORLD - Without a doubt, the most inexpensive way to get  high impact change is with paint.  The right colour can dramatically change a space.  But do your homework first.  Don't rush off to the paint store without planning.  If you know that you are colour challenged then do yourself a favour and hire a Colour Consultant.  A professional can analyze your space immediately and help save you time and money by avoiding mistakes and the cost of a consultation is minimal.
If you're capable of picking a colour on your own, make sure you view your colour chips at all times of day.  Colour changes with light so although you may like it in the morning, you may cringe in the evening.  Take your time and do it right the first time.
The Design Pages

2. CREATE AN ART WALL - This little trick is cheap but it will require some time on your part.  Scour discount stores and thrift stores for frames that you like.  Don't worry about the picture in the frame, you won't be using those.  Once you have acquired an amount that works with your space (depending upon size of frames and size of wall, the number will vary) chose a colour that works with your space and spray paint all the frames the same colour (show some restraint in choosing the colour!).  Continuity is created in the colour so the theme of the art does not need to be similar.  Chose family photos, kids artwork, search the web for copyright free images, shop on ebay and etsy and amass a collection of pieces you love.  Once they're hung, you will give the illusion of a high end collection for a fraction of the price.
Domino (thanks Shelter)                                                              Willow Decor via From the Right Bank

3.  SMOKE AND MIRRORS - Every room needs a hit of sparkle.  This is a look particularly associated with a high end home.  Again, check thrift stores for antique mirrors, silver and crystal items.  They may look frumpy and old fashioned in the thrift store but once you've got them mixed in with all your pieces, the frumpy finds turn into sparkling jewels in the room.  I have, more than once, found grungy and filthy chandeliers that I have taken home. Once they've been washed and spray painted (maybe rewired depending on their condition), they look like a million bucks.  Don't pass up a great deal because it's in need of tlc.

4.  JUDGE A BOOK BY ITS COVER - Books are an incredibly useful tool for styling.  The secret is to be thoughtful in how you display them.  In a bookcase, stack them by colour and break up the books with small vases, picture frames, candles, etc.  On hall tables, shelves or dining room buffets use books to create height.  Rather than keeping everything on the flat surface at the same height, books can create visual interest by keeping the eye moving up and down.  If your books have spines that are ugly or tattered, cover the books with paper of the same colour.  This look is for modern homes and creates a really clean and light look.

5. CURTAIN CALL - Perhaps the only consistent element that you will find in every high end home are window coverings.  They don't need to be puffy, ruffled or embellished but they will make your room look rich.  A simple panel with a grommet head can soften a window and add texture to the room.  Check IKEA for inexpensive options.  Add grosgrain ribbon for a custom look.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Home Trend = Zigzag Pattern

One of the side effects of reading so many blogs and magazines is that you can't help but absorb the latest trends.  This one caught my eye several times over the last month.  The zigzag pattern aka chevron.  It took me a while to groove on it but I think I'm sold now.  What about you...watcha think?

We all know the chevron pattern from the days of crafted floors.

But here's a new and fresh take on the old classic.

Let me know what trends are piquing your interest and we'll explore them on The Design Pages.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Marble Countertops - Heavenly Delight or Holy Terror?

As I was perusing one of my favourite blogs, Emily A. Clark I came across this most stunning kitchen designed by Jeneration Design and it got me thinking.  While I love the kitchen in its entirety, I cringe when I look at the island with the white marble counter.  

When I studied design I took a course in Kitchen Design.  Once we had completed the layout and design curriculum we moved on to materials.  When we got to marble our instructor said, "marble cannot be used in a kitchen".  Not "if" or "when" but "cannot".  This theory was challenged by many students throughout the duration of the course and time and again, the answer was the same.  NO marble in a kitchen.  For stone, granite was viewed as the optimum in terms of maintenance, durability and reliability.  

Once I started my career and began to work with clients on bigger jobs such as kitchen renos the question of marble in a kitchen arose again.  My instinct was to say "no marble" but I felt like I should do some further research.  I visited many of the stone suppliers that we see when we watch HGTV (Canadian version, I was living in Toronto at the time).  When asked the question they emphatically replied, "no marble in the kitchen".  In fact, more than a couple of them will outright refuse to put marble in the kitchen.  Money in pocket should be enough movitivation, right?  So let's get to the bottom of this question and try to see why, if marble is so bad, so many designers and homeowners want to use it.

First we look at the origin of marble.  Marble is a metamorphic rock which was originally limestone and is composed primarily of the mineral calcite.  This sedimentary form of calcium, which is found naturally in the earth, undergoes intense heat and pressure within the earth to be formed into what we know as marble.  This rock can also be exposed to heat and grinding to become a filler ingredient for medications, writing paper, plaster of
Paris, lime (white wash), and cement hardener. This means that marble, although beautiful and durable, is porous and very easily destroyed by any type of acid, heat, or water.  Even with a sealer applied, marble will not be forgiving of spills from anything containing acid (limes, lemons), oils or red wine.  This is a deal breaker for me as I have spilled more than one glass of red wine in my time.

One of the main reasons that clients want marble is because it is light and although granite is available in white, there are very few that do not have darker markings or speckles.

Kashmir White Granite is one of the more popular choices for those looking for a compromise between marble's light appearance and granite's durability.  But it's a far cry from the pure white of a Blanco Carrara.  Although it may seem that I am a marble basher, nothing could be further from the truth.  I love marble!  I have a beautiful white Carrara table that is scratched but I still love it.  I have had marble countertops in my bathroom (yes, they did get stained from a shampoo bottle) and someday when I have my dream kitchen it will include a small marble slab for baking.  But you will never catch me hanging out with friends on a Saturday night with a glass of red wine sitting around the marble counter in the kithen.

Are there any alternatives that would satisfy the marble lover?  Maybe not but it's worth exploring.  As mentioned, if you're dead set on stone then you should consider finding a granite that you love as much as marble.  Granted you won't find the white but there are a plethora of colours and patterns available.

Quartz is a fabulous alternative to marble.  It's a natural mineral found in abundance in the earth.  Quartz is scratch resistant and and according to Moh's Scale (rating of a mineral's hardness) it ranks 7th for mineral hardness.  It comes in solid colours such as this....

or with larger crystal speckles such as this...

Both photos by Ceasarstone

Now to uncover the mystery of why so many consumers are requesting marble in the kitchen.  The answer to that is and magazines.  A few designers have made their trademark style based on their simple and elegant interiors and that includes marble.  Design tv is abundant and has turned the average homeowner into a much more knowledgeable consumer than they would have been 10 years ago.  With that knowledge sometimes comes misunderstanding or the perception of reliability so be careful.  If you must have marble, do your homework.  Know that there will be scratches and stains.  My good friend Chantal leaves a note for her babysitters in the kitchen to remind them not to use the marble counter.  And when you're drinking red wine with friends, hang on to your glass for dear life!!

Monday, April 19, 2010

How to Get the Most out of Your Design Dollars

With home improvements still on the rise, it is imperative for you to know how to maximize your design dollars and get the best bang for your buck.

Before making the decision to renovate you should ask yourself what lies behind your motivation to spend your hard earned dollars on that reno.  If the changes are necessary, such as plumbing or electrical work, the decision is easily reached.  These are expenses that should be spent in order to maintain the integrity of the home.  Perhaps you're tired of your 80's formica counter or maybe it's as simple as the need to keep up with the Jones'.  Thinking about the motivation and understanding your needs are the first steps in keeping a renovation from bankrupting you.

The larger the reno, the more attention you should be paying to the ability to recoup your investment.  According to Remodeling, a popular online authority on the renovation industry, an average kitchen renovation will cost you $57,215 while an upscale version is a whopping $111,794.  The same Cost vs. Value Report suggests that the modest kitchen reno will recoup 72.1% of the overall cost and a 63.2% recoup for the upscale version.  This valuable information reveals that bigger is not always better, at least not in terms of return on investment.

The length of time you plan to live in your home after your renovation is complete is also an important factor in determining how much you should spend and how to spend it.  If your dream kitchen is coming in at six figures and you plan to enjoy it for another 15 years, you may be headed for a major financial loss.  Design trends change quickly and it is a guarantee that what is stylish and hip today will be dated and ready for a revamp in 15 years.  That reno should be scaled down to allow the homeowners to enjoy the benefits of the reno while having no expectation of a return in 15 years.

So what are the best ways to utilize those dollars.  Here are a few guidelines that will get you headed down the right path.

Planning and Research
As the old adage goes, "failing to plan is planning to fail".  This couldn't be more true than in the case of a renovation.  Too often a homeowner rushes into the reno without all the information they require and are suddenly overwhelmed with the additional time and costs that are required.  Renos can be cut short and dreams shattered when the money dries up and the trades move on to a new project.  Make sure you know exactly what is involved including timelines and costs.  Do your research before you call in the architect, designer or contractor.  

Go Green
Energy efficient upgrades top the list of renovations that add value to the resale value of a home according to Appraisal Institute of Canada.  The upgrades have been seeing a 61% recovery rate as of late.  The recovery rate is the likely increase in a home's value as a result of the improvement or reno.  Topping the list of green renos are Energy Efficient windows and doors as well as HVAC (heating, venting & air conditioning) systems.  Besides the savings you'll experience while living in the home, the perceived value is high with home purchasers as well.

Sweat Equity
Whether you're handy or not there are lots of things you can do to pitch in and save money.  Standing in long lines waiting for approval on government permits is just one way a homeowner can get involved.  Don't have your contractor or your designer driving to the opposite side of town to pick up tiles, sinks or light fixtures.  Do what you can to keep the professionals on task and doing what they're good at as well as what they're being well paid for.  

Avoid the "Why Not" Syndrome
Once again I have to stress the importance of planning and budgeting.  Make sure you know what your budget for knobs and pulls is before you hit the store and go crazy.  A $10 cupboard knob might seem reasonable until factoring in the entire kitchen.  Budgets often go astray when it comes to the small details.  Don't go crazy, stick to the plan.  The little details can be upgraded next year when you have had time to recover from the financial shock of the reno.  

Above all,  it should be noted that even the most cost effective home improvement will only bring you a return on your investment if your home is priced well within your current neighbourhood.  If you are sitting below market value your renovation could earn you a hefty return when you sell.  Conversely, an already high priced home may not bear the cost of renovation and you may not see a penny in the end.  

Friday, April 16, 2010

Don't Put that There!!!

I am a minimalist at heart.  I like clean lines, simplicity and NO clutter.  Sounds good, right?  The problem is that my desire for simplicity and tidiness are completely misaligned with those of my family members.  My husband, 2 kids and dog don't seem to share my heart stopping desire for the simple life.  

From the time you enter our house you see "stuff".  It starts with a pile of shoes on the floor and a mound of shopping bags that need to be returned to the car.  Directly in front of you is the glass table that was meant to be a decorative piece to showcase some beautiful things.  It has now become a repository for Blackberry, iphone, ipods, keys, movies and books that need to be returned, mail to be mailed and several pairs of sunglasses.  Yes, I have a bowl for keys and a tray for sunglasses but those can in no way compensate for the other things that need to find a home of their own. Let me remind you that I have 2 kids and with them come other kids in all shapes and sizes.  They see our messy front hall and pitch their stuff on top or even worse, spread the clutter an extra foot on all sides.  

If you can navigate your way past the shoes and the backpacks you will enter our living room.  We are a family of readers...some by choice and some by brute force.  As a result, we have books and magazines strewn all around.  I have baskets for books but nobody but myself seems to want to utilize them.  Our mid century teak and rosewood coffee table is twice as long as a normal coffee table and is endlessly being  propped and styled, depending upon my mood or the season.  The minute I turn my back, the stack of books so precisely placed are removed and a cash register appears.  My very favourite hand blown glass bowls are shoved aside to make room for the items to be donned in this week's store.  I want to give up.  I want to throw my hands in the air and declare, "you win, we'll never be organized. What's the point in trying".  But that's not going to happen!

I am now on a quest for beautiful and functional storage pieces.  The kind of piece that can look good enough to make you forget that it has a purpose aside from being a thing of beauty.  In the meantime, I will drool over the success of others in their bid to be free of clutter.

This room is clever and sneaky.  Tons of organization with the boxes help to keep things hidden (although I'm not sure there are labels on those boxes??).  Someone has tastefully filled up this desk leaving little room for the clutter of others.  I like that!

This could be a start in my hallway.  It would at least clean up the coats and sweaters.  Somehow I think our pile of shoes might diminish the loveliness of the look though.

Drawers are a winner in a hallway.  That's where a lot of junk can hide.  

I love this hallway.  It's got storage for all the gear that the family needs and as an added bonus there is finally enough cork to hang all of our budding artist's work.

This house has it all in my opinion.  Above the stairs the homeowners book collection is neat and tidy while below the stairs, the liquor cabinet houses all the necessary implements for entertaining.  

This homeowner is brilliant.  Drawers for all the junk and stylishly propped up above so there's no room left for the mail.  Sorry mail, you'll have to find a new home.

Happy Friday to everyone!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Table for Two

My dishes are square and white and simple but that's how I like it.  I like to cook and I like the plates to be the backdrop to the food BUT every spring I go a little off the white plates and start searching for some funky colours and shapes.  Well have a looky look at what I found on my most recent search...

Here's a sampling of  the wares for the spring line from Denmark's wonderfully creative Rice  spring line.  I don't know about you but my dishwasher has never looked this good!

I don't even drink tea but I want one of these sets.  Check out Rice's entire catalogue.

Not bright and springy but bold and graphic so it still feels like fun.

The only thing missing here is the big glass of Sangria...ahhh, summer

Maybe too beautiful to actually eat off of but I'd love to have them adorn my counters and table.  Thank you yet again for bringing us such an array of wonderful things Kate Spade 

Saturday, April 10, 2010

A Little Pillow Talk

Like many of you, I am constantly on the hunt for a great pillow.  I work on a variety of interior design projects but regardless of how big or small the project, there is always this question, "Do you know where to get some great pillows?"  Pillows, like so many of our other fantastic accessories, truly can finish off the room.  We're nothing without them.  That fantastic sofa that cost us a full month's salary sits bare and hopeless without the pillow.  

So what's the problem in finding a pillow?  Colour, pattern, size, embellishment and comfort are all things to be considered when the search begins.  I often encourage clients to purchase fabric and have the pillows made to their specification in order to put an end to the unrelenting pounding of the pavement that is required in order to find the "perfect" pillow.  Pillow shopping is not for the faint of heart.  Shops are overrun with ordinary pillows but where do we find that gem?  Come on a little tour with me and we'll see some of the most unusual pillows that design has to offer.

Created by Mexican desiner Ximana Orozco from old wool jackets these pillows are unique and stylish  

Merino wool. mohair, cotton, llama are a few of the materials used in the laurensaunders Deisgn Series collection

Danish retailer Ferm Living has an outstanding collection of unique pillows

Designed by Scottish textile artist Sarah Campbell, pillows are just part of her lovely collection.  Check her out at

Silkscreened images on cotton by American designer at

Have you found a pillow you couldn't live without?  Let me know about it.

Friday, April 9, 2010

How to Be Sassy this Spring

oday I spent a magnificent day skiing with Offspring #1 at Whistler.  It was very likely (but not definitely) the last ski day of the season.  That thought made me very sad as we said our sad goodbyes to the mountain, the gondola, the restaurants and our favourite places to stay.

I was able to move on when I realized that the end of ski season means that I can now embrace spring in  all its glory.  Our drive back to Vancouver is always breathtaking because of the beauty of the mountains and the ocean that surround us.  It's a wonder anyone can navigate their way home with all the sights that there are to gawk at.  Something else caught my eye today...colour.  Green is a year round colour in the west but the pinks and yellows and even the browns caught my eye in the blazing sunshine today.  Ahhh, spring.  My favourite time of year.

Here is my inspiration room that I have put together as a tribute to spring.  I'll also think of it as my love letter to winter.  I love you winter but only spring can be this sassy.

Clockwise:  Striped Pillow - $30, Chandelier - $475, Filigran Black Vase -, Coffee Table - $605, White Frame Planter, Star Jewelry Box - $365, Candle Tubes - €129,  Eileen Gray table - $199, Seven Chair - $2,765, Florence Knoll sofa - $9,042, Clock - unknown source
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