28 September 2011

trend to try: mini vintage chandeliers

Ever thought about adding a bit of bling to your bathroom? You could add a shiny chrome towel rack and a fancy soap dish, but there is another way as well. What about switching out your ceiling light for a vintage mini-chandelier? It's a fabulous way to add some unexpected sparkle to a small room and instantly makes it feel more luxurious. Look for the real thing at thrift and antique stores, but if you can't find one, there are a few places that make new vintage-looking lights. 

via Decor Pad
Here are some options, ranging from a $50 IKEA option to real vintage found on Etsy.

Canada Lighting Experts


Do you like this look? 

23 September 2011

design lessons from Solar Decathlon 2011

For the next 10 days the National Mall in Washington, D.C. will showcase innovative, design-forward and energy efficient solar homes, along with the many bright young college students who built them.  Solar Decathlon 2011 is hosting 20 collegiate teams from around the world building solar houses to compete in 10 categories that will ultimately determine the winning design that:

  • is affordable, attractive, and easy to live in;
  • maintains comfortable and healthy indoor environmental conditions;
  • supplies energy to household appliances for cooking, cleaning, and entertainment;
  • provides adequate hot water;
  • produces as much or more energy than it consumes.

I have to give a shout out to Team Canada, made up of 50 students from the University of Calgary whose  solar design is inspired by the traditional native tipi, but with a rounded roof and south-facing windows to use the sun as a source of energy. Inside, the home is open-concept and marries tradition with technology. Materials and colour palettes reflect native customary art and the natural environment, yet innovative technologies such as an air-to-water heat pump and photovoltaic system illustrate how we need to think about energy in our homes today and into the future. The house is certainly one that values culture and promotes sustainability.

Team Canada TRTL House

The lesson on energy efficiency from the solar homes is obvious: we need to start using technologically advanced systems that allow us to use water and energy wisely.  But what design lesson can we take away from these unique homes? 

Adapt to our environment. 

The homes all seem to reflect the geographical area from which they came. In addition to Team Canada’s inspired-by-nature home, Team Florida’s home is very open in order to promote the healthy indoor-outdoor Florida lifestyle. Team New Zealand’s house uses natural, low-maintenance materials (recycled sheep’s wool as insulation) and is designed to work with the elements and changing climate.  Team China’s Y-shaped solar house is made from pre-fab shipping containers, so that the home can expand or contract depending on family needs at the time. And Team New York’s Solar Roofpod is intended to be used on top of existing urban midrise buildings, taking advantage of largely unused space.

Team New Zealand
Smart take-aways from our next generation of architects, engineers, designers and innovators. 

21 September 2011

repurposing: the answer to over-consumption?

I recently read a very interesting book by Annie Leonard called The Story of Stuff. In it she describes our consumer society as "a system in crisis" and gives some frightening facts about how our materialistic values are now threatening our very being.

In a nutshell, the system is flawed throughout various stages :

1. Extraction- we are running out of our precious resources like trees, water and food.
2. Production- we use too much energy, add toxic chemicals that are harming us and polluting our atmosphere.
3. Distribution- we promote shopping and consumption by measuring our value based on the amount of stuff we own.
4. Dumpsites- we are filling up our landfills and releasing toxins into the air through incineration.

Leonard says that "1% of the stuff we buy is still in use 6 months later." Wow, 99% of the stuff we think we need gets tossed? That's a wake-up call.  Another disturbing fact: manufacturers are either intentionally making products that don't last, or they are creating perceptions that the products are outdated and useless, so that we must buy new all over again. Ever noticed that refrigerators don't last as long as they did when we were kids? And think about how many times we've upgraded our phones, computers and TV's in the last few years? Did we really need to?

It is definitely something to take pause over. I have been increasingly conscious of not buying things for my home just because they are so inexpensive. Yes, that cool retro clock may be a steal for $10 but I really don't need another clock. Don't get me wrong, I'm not against capitalism and I'm certainly not against decorating our homes to make them comfortable and stylish. I believe we are fortunate that our circumstances grant us the luxury to make our homes and our lives into a true reflection of who we are. But we should be able to do it in a responsible way that will be sustainable for our planet.

What's the answer to all of this? 

Maybe its reusing and repurposing. 

Think about how our grandparents used to live and the fantastic furniture they had. Many of those pieces are hanging around today and they are the best pieces in our homes. Hang onto and cherish them. Look for them at thrift stores and estate sales, or in your parents' attic. Use your crafty skills to repaint an old ugly lamp or picture frame instead of buying new. Cover your existing throw pillows in new fabric when you want to change with the seasons, instead of purchasing a  whole new pillow. Look for stuff outdoors. A couple of birch branches and some interesting rocks make for great conversation starters in your living room.


The average house size in North America has doubled since the 1970's, and we still have more stuff than we can fit inside them. Let's take the time to sort out what we have. Let's try not to buy new when we don't have to. When we do, let's invest in quality pieces, hopefully locally made, that will last so that we can hand them down to our kids.

This is obviously a huge global problem that we cannot remedy individually. But the piece of this scary system that we can control is our own consumption. I'm going to try to be more mindful. Are you?

I'd love to hear your thoughts on over-consumption and what we might be able to do to help curb it. Please leave a comment! 

20 September 2011

built-ins on a budget

I am working with two different clients right now who would like to have built-in shelving on the media walls in their living rooms. There is no better way to create a focal point in a room than by creating a spectacular wall of shelving around a fireplace and/or TV. In addition to the fantastic storage it provides, it allows our big modern TV sets to blend better into the room and it draws the eye to the whole wall and not just the big black box. 


Custom built-ins, however, are expensive. But with a little creativity and a weekend of getting your hands dirty, you can do it yourself and create a custom look using inexpensive materials.


First, figure out your storage needs, and whether you need room for junk that you want behind closed doors, or if all-open shelving will be ok.

 Second, try reusing what you already have. Can you incorporate existing freestanding bookcases, dressers, or sideboards into the design? One of my clients is using an antique dresser/hutch as the centerpiece that the TV sits on, and will build shelving around it. 

Third, measure your wall and sketch out what your shelving would look like. Then measure each section and use in-stock cabinetry and shelving units from the hardware store. Often these can work perfectly size-wise. 

Finally, use trim to tie all of the pieces together to create a seamless and custom look.  

Or, who says they need to be joined together? Freestanding bookshelves on either side can also look amazing. 


For detailed instructions, check out this page at HGTV.com or this one from ehow.com.

Shelving around your media wall or fireplace adds warmth and functionality to the room. It takes some work, but I think it is worth it. Do you?

19 September 2011

10 tips for designing an organized kitchen

When it comes to living an easy and convenient life, having an organized kitchen stacks high on the must-haves. Here are some ways you can design, or redesign, the room that we race into and out of every morning, spend family time in every night and enjoy lazy brunches and cooking adventures in every some weekends:

1. Use open shelving. Not only is it easy to access frequently used items, it also forces you to keep things neat when out in the open. It's also great for small kitchens because it opens up the space.

2. Customize your cabinets. You can do this when you order cabinetry or you can do it yourself with existing cabinets thanks to all kinds of great organizational gadgets now available. Pull-out shelves, dividers for cookie sheets, custom recycling and garbage units, spice jar inserts and towel bars all keep things in their place and easily accessible.

Better Homes and Gardens
3. Drawer organizers are a must. Every single utensil and kitchen do-dad has its place, and it is in a drawer organizer. Get one. Or many.

organized kitchen
Martha Stewart
4. Use hooks. Hooks for towels, utensils, pots and just about anything else are so useful and help you avoid throwing things on the counters.

kitchen island organization
5. Use counter space wisely. Keep counters open except for frequently used items. Store cooking utensils in pretty jars near the stove, and snacks in glass containers so you can clearly see what's there. 

Martha Stewart
6. Look up. Utilize the space between your cabinets and ceiling, and on top of your refrigerator by throwing lesser-used items in baskets or pretty bins. Or if starting fresh, customize your cabinets and take them all the way to the ceiling.

Style at Home
7. Utilize awkward corners. Open shelving that goes all the way to the wall in a corner is a more efficient use of space than a corner cabinet (and adds interest).

making a small kitchen work
Style at Home
8. Make better use of lower cabinet space. Open shelving below the counter is convenient for everyday items.

sleek kitchen organization
Style at Home

9. Gather appliances. Carve out a spot for all your small appliances to keep them together, ideally one that is handy to an outlet and behind a closed door. An appliance garage (yes, they have been updated) is fantastic for this. 

Style at Home

10. Give cookbooks their own space. Keep recipes and cookbooks together and handy on a dedicated shelf.

17 September 2011

green idea: painting old kitchen cabinets

One of the most economical and environmentally friendly ways of remodeling a kitchen is to paint your existing cabinets. And yes, you can achieve professional looking results yourself if you take the time to do it right.

1. Clean the cabinets. Preparation is the most important step in the process of painting your cabinets, and it is very important to make sure that all of the surfaces you are going to paint are completely free of all grease, grime, food residue and whatever else may be stuck to them.When doing this remove the doors and hardware and lay them out flat. Use an all purpose cleaner and a rag and then allow them to dry thoroughly.

2. Sand the cabinets. Once dry, use a piece of fine grit sandpaper - 150 or finer - and make a few passes over all the flat surfaces of the doors. Don't forget to do the thin facing pieces on the cabinet boxes themselves. The slightly sanded surface will allow the primer to better hold onto the surface and greatly increase longevity of the paint job. 

3. Apply primer. After sanding, it's time to prime the cabinets. Primer forms a better bond with the surface than paint alone would.  If your cabinets are already painted and you are re-painting them the same color, it is OK to skip this step and go ahead and apply the paint. If, however, your cabinets are stained and you are trying to cover up the natural wood grain with paint, you must prime them first. The paint will not stick to the varnished surface and the color of the stain will most likely bleed right through your paint.

There are several types of primer that you can use, and which one you choose is largely based on what kind of paint you want to use over the top. If you are using an oil-based paint, an interior oil based primer is recommended. These products tend to have a very strong odor and they are best used when you can properly ventilate the room. 

If you are planning to use a latex paint for your top coat, then a shellac based primer is recommended. This product tends to dry fairly quickly, so make sure that you are ready to go before you begin applying it. The shellac based primers, just like the oil based, carry a very strong odor and caution should be used.

4. Paint the cabinets. There are a couple of ways to apply the paint. A pneumatic sprayer is the best way to get a smooth and glossy finish. If you don't have access to one, however, you can still get a great finish by using a high quality paint brush - 2 1/2" to 3" would be ideal.

The key to achieving a professional finish with a brush is to use very thin coats. It may be tempting to try to coat the paint on as thick as possible just so you can be finished, but DON'T. The best and most durable paint jobs are built up by consecutive thin layers of paint.

5. Sand and add additional coats. In between coats, take some 320 grit sandpaper and very lightly sand the flat surfaces again so that you have the smoothest possible surface for your next coat. Use a tack cloth to wipe away all the dust, and go on to your next coat. You will likely need 2-4 coats. 

Let dry 24 hours and then hang the doors and install the hardware. Viola- new kitchen without consuming new materials.

16 September 2011

friday favourites: ultra cool green products

My picks of the week are these creative and funky eco-friendly designs for home and office. 

reclaimed courtside desk
cardboard drink package light
recycled bowling lane table
repurposed pipe coat rack

Have you seen any other sustainable or green home design products to share?

15 September 2011

are books as a design element a thing of the past?

Last week The Economist broke the story that IKEA will be revamping its classic Billy Bookshelf by making the shelves deeper. Perfect, the article states, for "ornaments, tchotchkes and the odd coffee-table tome—anything, that is, except books that are actually read." The article goes on to explain that e-books have overtaken hardcover sales and that the Swedish furniture company is adapting to a future with fewer physical books in our homes. 

Say it isn't so! OK, I can (maybe) understand why people are indeed opting for the convenience of an e-book while standing on a commuter train or crammed into a tiny airplane seat (though I still love the feel and smell of a real page), but I can not and will not accept that books will no longer serve as a prominent design element in our homes. Yes, I may be more of a bookshelf enthusiast than some, but you have to admit that books, whether stacked on the bedside table, organized masterfully in a bookcase, or piled precariously high on the floor beside a chair add a warm and interesting feel to a space. Displaying books is the easiest decoration trick in the book, and it personalizes a home. The colours and sizes and textures profuse a room with a cozy and comfy and welcoming feel. 

So I was incredibly relieved to read Reluctant Habits' interview with IKEA PR gal Marty Marston, who said, "I hate to dispel those who think the bookcase is dead. We do not see it that way. We really see books as decorative. Books will still continue to be something used to adorn. They’re rich and they’re textured.”

Whew. Books in design are not a fading trend. OK, I guess I can fish my IKEA catalogue out of the recycle bin. Or I could just bookmark the online version.

Images via here and here. 

14 September 2011

repurposing at its best

I recently came across these inspiring adaptive re-uses of commercial space which prove that existing buildings and infrastructure can most definitely be used to accommodate new and growing needs.  Just like with homes, transforming a space into what you need for today is a sustainable option that also creates great character.

 This shop occupies a vault beneath an old railway viaduct in Zurich.

 This fantastic gallery was transformed from a Swiss service station.


13 September 2011

west coast homes: a study in sustainability, simplicity and harmony with nature

I was wowed recently on a trip to Vancouver, B.C. with how lush and green the city and surrounding area is, and how residents seem to value this natural phenomenon and incorporate it into their lifestyles. Parks are abundant, rooftop gardens are on countless skyscrapers and downtown buildings, and vines and plants are allowed to grow up and around city infrastructure. The thing that impressed me most, though, are the homes and how they are in harmony with their stunning natural surroundings. 

Hotchkiss House by Scott Edwards

West coast architecture is organic and distinctive to the Pacific northwestern coasts of Canada and the U.S.  It is significantly influenced by revered architect Frank Lloyd Wright, who was quoted as saying, "Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature. It will never fail you." 

home in Horseshoe Bay, B.C.

One of Wright's most well-known mentees was Arthur Erickson, a Vancouver-born architect who left his stamp on Vancouver homes and city developments. Erickson said "Architecture, as I see it, is the art of composing spaces in response to existing environmental and urbanistic conditions to answer a client's needs. In this way the building becomes the resolution between its inner being and the outer conditions imposed upon it. It is never solitary but is part of its setting and thus must blend in a timeless way with its surroundings yet show its own fresh presence."

Smith House by Erickson

Erickson was obviously plugged in to the current slow home idea of building homes that will last and be relevant for many generations.  His homes use wood, exposed beams, and indoor-outdoor spaces with sweeping views of the coastal surroundings. Erickson's homes, like true west coast homes, were built not on top of the land, but as a part of it, designed to fit in as a piece of a whole.

Graham house by Arthur Erickson

As you can see from this home of Erickson's, the oldest left standing in Vancouver, the simplicity of clean lines and earth-inspired design are integrated seamlessly. 

 The trend today toward minimalist design fits perfectly with west coast architectural style, and proves that simple and live-able design that harmonizes with our natural surroundings will always remain relevant and modern.

West Coast home