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Design Inspiration at ICFF

My head is spinning with design inspiration from the International Contemporary Furniture Fair in NYC. I love this show as it really gives me a glimpse into the direction of interior design. If I had to pick one word to describe the overlying theme, it would be artisanal as so many pieces had a handmade feel or look to them.


This desk by Stilvoll is a work of art. Comprised of 400 pieces, it converts from a standing work table, with a built in easel, to a standard height desk by adjusting the number of blocks in the legs. A wonderful example of form and function.IMG_3798resizeWorkstead produces gorgeous lighting and furniture. I salivated over the entire vignette of  leather chair, ottoman, table and brass lamp.IMG_3807resize

Just look at the detail and workmanship in the doors of the credenza by Ethan Abramson. Live edge is still very current on wood pieces of furniture.



This handblown glass from Toronto glass artist Jeff Goodman was gorgeous. It had a matte finish and beautiful colours. I especially liked the special process they use to produce the white glass with the textured appearance. This process also makes the glass very durable.IMG_3791resize More handblown glass, this time by Buoyant. The cluster of seeded clear glass creates a stunning chandelier. I would love one of the table lamps for soft ambient lighting.IMG_3775resize

Shakúlt creates glass that looks like it was spun out of honey. The texture of the globes throw beautiful shadows when lit. Super dramatic when the globes are clustered.IMG_3829resize


Bathrooms were not exempt from the artisan trend. Concrete is a terrific material to create organic forms. Lowinfo did just that with this series of concrete hand washed basins.IMG_3773resize This line of bathroom fixtures by Cielo has a beautiful matte finish and unique colours making them look like they were made in the pottery studio.IMG_3774resize Victoria + Albert designed this freestanding vanity and sink with a blend of matte and glossy finishes. Note the biscuit colour making a comeback.IMG_3794resizeThese plumbing fixtures by Rubinet have also been designed to have a handmade feel. Some look like they were put together from copper piping!IMG_3828resize


This was just a fraction of what I saw at ICFF. Many new ideas will percolate out of what I absorbed and will be reflected in my future designs. I hope you enjoyed my tour!


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My “A” Team

As I was finishing up some last minute details on a clients bathroom renovation, I thought about how lucky I am to have an “A” team of people that I can count on to get my job done properly. My team will do favours, rush orders, provide extra services, give better prices, and be there to answer questions and help solve problems when they arise.


Now this hasn’t happened by accident. As I regularly use the same trades and suppliers, they have gotten to know me and appreciate my business. They know that their great service will pay back in my continued business and in recommendations to clients and friends.

This is not to say that you can’t walk in off the street and get good service somewhere. I am talking about the above and beyonds that come from developing a relationship with someone. This alone is a great reason to work with a designer who has such connections. All the details, all the headaches, and all the communications will be taken care of for you.

"A"team building-plan-354233_1280

Here’s a perfect example. A client of mine was having a kitchen redone. The granite was selected and we were waiting for the cabinetry to be installed for the final countertop measure. The cabinetry ended up being delayed and this left a very small window of three days to have the granite cut and installed before the fabricator closed down for holidays. Normally, this takes 10-14 working days. Now, this was a family with 3 young children, and my “A” team granite guy did not want her to be without a kitchen for 3 weeks. So, as a favour to me, he managed to measure, cut and install the countertops in that narrow timeframe. How is that for service?

This is something important to think about next time you are undertaking some renovations at home. Hiring an interior decorator will save you time, money and headaches so you don’t make those expensive mistakes! Otta Decorate would love to help you.


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Design Resolutions

This is the time of year that resolutions abound. Rather than focus on the popular diet and lifestyle kind,  I thought it would be appropriate to share some design resolutions near and dear to my heart. I have been guilty of all these over the years, but now I am much older and wiser and should know better!


  • Don’t buy something just because it is on sale or cheap. You may be able to find some perfect deals that will make your heart sing, but more often you will be ultimately disappointed with your purchase and it will cost you more in the long run when you need to replace it.
  • Don’t buy anything you don’t truly love. Otherwise you are just settling and it won’t have long term staying power.  Plus, you are guaranteed that it will work with all the other pieces you have collected that you also love. Your home will be a happy place because you are surrounded by things you love.
  • Don’t follow trends. This especially goes for big ticket items like large pieces of furniture, bathrooms and kitchens. They have 5-10 year cycles if you go trendy. Instead, keep the main bones neutral and classic. Then add in smaller touches that  reflect trends you love and that are easy to switch out when you tire of them.
  • Don’t be afraid of paint. Like they say, it’s only paint and it won’t cost you a fortune to change!  A new colour can completely update your room and a fresh coat of the same colour will feel fresh!
  • Don’t try to completely finish a room in one go. A well designed room should look like it has evolved over time, not purchased intact from a furniture store showroom. If you follow the above points, then this will happen naturally. Be patient. It takes time to find pieces you truly love and to collect meaningful treasures on your journey through life.


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Office Design vs. Residential Design

I have just put the finishing touches on my latest office design project and thought it appropriate to reflect on the differences in designing an office space compared to a clients home. This project was for Montreal’s Root Data Center; a hip, youthful startup with a very limited budget. Creativity was going to play an extra big role in this one!


The initial consultation works the same for both types of projects. I need to get a feel for where the client is coming from; their likes, dislikes and wishes. We talk about the overall feel they would like to achieve in the space and how it will be used.  We talk budget; how much they think they need to spend and then, realistically, what they will need to spend to get the look they desire. Then, off I go to create a design concept to be presented at our next meeting.


Now for the differences. In office design there are more users to please; employees who need a stimulating work environment to keep them happy and productive. There are clients who visit the office and need to be met with a design that appropriately projects the company’s image. Existing space needs to be divided into a reception area, offices, board/meeting room, washrooms, staff/client kitchen, workout area, employee “playroom”, and the whole secure area of the data centre’s core business. There are also many more building code rules to adhere to in office design.


Finishes need to be more durable than in a residence due to increased wear and tear. It is not easy to find office furniture that looks great at a good price. This is where the creativity comes in! In this case, I modified the reception desk with corrugated metal to better fit into the overall design. As a wall treatment for the feature wall behind the reception desk, I used panels of inexpensive cement board, fastened with large bolts, and spaced so the orange paint behind shows through.  A custom neon sign mounted on orange corrugated metal punctuates this wall. The seating area was furnished with blocks of multi coloured upholstered cubes. They are office quality. But the backrest was customized by covering it with the cement board rather than the laminate from the manufacturer. The seating arrangement is grounded by the large “art installation” mounted on the wall above. Because the seats are low and backless, something substantial was needed behind them. I took a pallet from the construction waste pile and wound orange and yellow extension cords around the boards and finished it off with a construction work light. This was low budget and has big impact. It also ties in the raw wood from the “packing crate” coat closet that divides the large reception area into two spaces, yet can be wheeled out of the way when one large open space is desired.


My client wasn’t happy with the look of the boardroom tables available in his price range. We decided to look at other options and found a local furniture maker who customized one of his table designs to make it seat up to 10. The large thick planks of wood and steel beam legs give it just the industrial look we were after. The price was comparable to the low price range office furniture we looked at, but this table is much nicer to the touch and will last longer. Thinking outside the box works in commercial design as well as in residential!


Artwork, due to the budget, was mostly sourced at Homesense and provides pops of colour and texture throughout the space, just like at home. There was no need for area rugs on the polished concrete floors so that differs from residential design. In summary, despite the differences in how a space is used, good design is the common thread in both office design and residential design. It is still critical to understand and listen to your client every step of the way in order to pull everything together to give them a look they will love!


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Quartz, Quartzite, Granite or Marble as Countertop Options

There are a lot of choices, and a lot of confusion, about quartz, quartzite, granite and marble as countertop options. Today I had the opportunity to attend a session hosted by Cambria, Urban Quarry and Interstone discussing the pros and cons of different solid surface choices for countertops, walls, and even floors. Here are a few new things I learnt.

  1. Quartz, which is 93% natural stone and 7% resin, has come a long way from its original very small, uniform patterns. There are some choices that now come close to mimicking real stone, but, in my opinion do still not have the same depth and character of the real thing. However, there are advantages that you need to consider as countertop options that may make up for the look, such as being less porous, having less maintenance and often being harder than natural stone. IMG_2607resize
  2. Technology has made production so much more accurate and efficient. Computer programs can now show a client how exactly the pieces will be laid out on the slab before it is cut. This ensures the client is happy with how the pattern lines up and what pieces of the stone they wish to highlight. Laser saws with water jets and diamond tipped blades can cut out holes for sinks and faucets in a fraction of the time. Computers can even program machinery to accurately cut the slab.IMG_2608resize
  3. Quartzite is a beautiful natural product and comes in an array of colours. Some, like Calacutta Quartzite can give the look of marble, but are much more durable and less porous as countertop options.IMG_2613resize
  4. Honed and textured finishes are becoming much more popular. Removing the polished surface defines honed, while giving the surface both a dull finish and some texture is known as antiquing or leathering. The same slab of stone can look quite different with a change in finish. Cambria, a leading maker of quartz, is now working on offering different finishes to their product line.IMG_2616resize

There are many countertop options to consider and it can be confusing. One thing though is for certain. I always insist my clients view the exact slab(s) that they are buying so there are no surprises after installation. Choosing from a 4″sample does not portray the movement and colours in an actual slab, and slabs themselves can also vary greatly. This is an investment and I want you to love your selection!


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Downsizing…Done My Way!

I have been reflecting on how two years have passed since my husband, dog, and I were downsizing from our suburban five bedroom home to a two bedroom loft style condo in the heart of downtown Ottawa. It seems like yesterday that we were readying the house for sale, packing up and getting rid of possessions, planning what to buy for our new home and making the actual move.


While divesting ourselves of a house full of possessions, there was not a lot of room to be sentimental. Things I had saved because they were still good, or that the kids may want them (which they didn’t) were donated to charity. I limited myself to one large bin of special mementos of the kids childhoods and that was it. I’ve read that if you are torn about parting with something for purely sentimental reasons, take a photo and that will suffice to jog your memory. The majority of our furniture was not suitable in style, size and scale for an open space so it went to the cottage, the kids or charity. Do I miss anything? Not a bit, in fact, it has been liberating to have downsized and to be free of all that stuff!


As an interior decorator, it was exciting starting over and decorating a new home from scratch. Downsizing does have it’s advantages! Our tastes (and budget) have evolved over time from when we were furnishing our first two homes. I told my husband that we didn’t need a lot, but what we bought we had to love! I was careful to choose pieces that would all work together when seen from any room because of the openness. A custom made sectional, dining table, banquette and bedroom set were all calculated to the inch so as to not waste any precious space and also to incorporate storage. A few antique and mid-century modern pieces from my parents quite happily fit into the new design. Some great IKEA pieces like the EXPEDITE bookcases and my magenta leather dining chairs look like a million bucks.


Since we have wall to wall, floor to ceiling windows at two ends of our condo, there is not a lot of wall space for art. I decided to use the fifth wall (the floor) as a canvas and purchased a stunning Henzel rug that looks like graffiti. This was actually the starting point of most of the design and colour choices and it ties everything together. A huge iron grid floor mirror from Restoration Hardware is another big impact item as it gives an industrial edge, brings light into the centre of the space and makes the room seem larger. Personality was added with a dark textured tile wall behind the TV and graffiti tiles in one of the bathrooms.


I was able to design a custom kitchen pre-construction so that it blends into the aesthetics of the space and functions as well as a kitchen twice its size. European sized integrated appliances, walnut and glossy white lacquer cabinetry and open shelving all add up to a clean, midcentury look. More work space was created by changing the layout to an L rather than the straight run of original cabinets. The kitchen has more of a furniture feel than a typical workspace so it looks nice at in an open concept space.


Looking back, downsizing has been an exciting lifestyle change for us. With our three children grown with places of their own, we had no need, or desire, for a big house and all that entails. Living in 980 sq. feet has not been difficult, but you do have to be strict about what comes in or you will be living in clutter. I must admit we are fortunate to have a year round cottage on a lake to retreat to most weekends, so we really have the best of both worlds. Living downtown has opened our eyes to what a beautiful city Ottawa really is. When you can walk everywhere you really appreciate the little details, the architecture and not getting stuck in rush hour traffic! A friend asked me if I feel isolated living in a multi-person dwelling downtown. I can honestly say I feel more a part of the community than ever before,  as there are always people around to interact with, if you make the effort. Living small by downsizing has truly given us the freedom to enjoy more of the pleasures of life in the world around us.


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Marimekko Up Close


A few years ago I had the opportunity to visit the Marimekko flagship store in Helsinki, Finland. I thought, since this is the 50th anniversary of Maremekkos’ iconic flower pattern Unikko, that it would be a great time to share some thoughts on this fabulous designer.


Founded in 1949, by Armi Ratia, Marimekko was defined as “a cultural phenomenon guiding the quality of living”. However, the company really got off the ground in 1951 with its first fashion show. It created such a sensation that clothing was literally sold off the models backs. In 1960, Jackie Kennedy cemented Marimekko’s place in history with the purchase of seven dresses that she wore throughout the presidential campaign. In the 1990′s, the TV show Sex and the City caused a resurgence in popularity when Carrie wore a bikini in a Marimekko print and later one of their print dresses. Marimekko is characterized by simple, bold, colourful prints. Although Armi disliked florals and forbid them in her fabrics, one of the designers ignored her and created the iconic print Unikko, shown below on fabric and tea accessories.


With the popularity of bright colours this year, in both fashion and decor, Marimekko is still right on trend. They were mixing reds and pinks, blues and greens long before we ever thought it was ok! A little bit of Marimekko print goes a long way. Cushions, napkins, tablecloths, shower curtains and tableware are some of their most popular items. Below are some prints from the new Fall 2014 line.

marimekko fall

I really like the idea of stretching a piece of their bold printed fabric over a wooden frame for instant artwork and a pop of colour. Both EQ3 and Crate and Barrel stock Marimekko products, while Vancouver has the only Marimekko store in Canada.


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