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When I first spotted this home, designed by Jessica Helgerson Interior Design, I felt it perfectly captured that easy summer vibe we all crave at this time of year. Cool white furnishings accented with oversized arrangements of foliage and classic summer textiles like linen and seagrass – it’s like a little sun-dappled picnic spot.


But look a little closer and it turns out this space is the perfect year-round home. Take away the fresh green accents and you have a completely neutral, yet highly imaginative, interior that can be styled differently for every season. I love the use of classic black and white throughout this home – in just the right doses.


White is used to blend in storage while black denotes key decorative pieces, feature surfaces, or this stunning kitchen island.


This space has a mid-century feel tempered with antiques, such as the French glass bottles, contemporary and eco-inspired furnishings, like the kirei board cabinets below.


It’s like a modern day treehouse! Perfect for a summer’s day – or a winter evening.


All photos via Jessica Helgerson Interior Design. Her portfolio is a joy so do check it out.


3rd Uncle Design is a small Toronto-based design firm that has been gathering considerable recognition in recent years. And for good reason. Founded by a trio of designers, the firm has a truly refreshing portfolio. I came across its work recently when looking for inspiration for our renovation, and was attracted to its calm spaces and clean, contemporary lines. But, on digging deeper, I realized that, while many of these homes fall into the dream residence category, some also show just what can be achieved in a smaller space.

neutral kitchen by 3rd Uncle design

This kitchen is my idea of perfection. If I lived in a more contemporary home, this would be my blueprint.

neutral modern living room

Now, while the space, light and gorgeous view definitely help this space, there’s something to be learned from the low shelving and quiet seating area.

blue patterned tile wood bath bathroom

This bathroom is a wonderful combination of contemporary styling and traditional materials. Who would have thought to mix Moroccan-style tiles with a rectangular wood tub?

modern living room

This diminutive TV area (albeit within a much larger open floorplan) uses furniture with exposed legs and a striped rug to create a more spacious feeling.

modern interior design by 3rd Uncle Design

Ok, space is definitely not an issue here. But check out the collection of Moooi Random lights – they look positively ethereal suspended above the living room.

shelves by 3rd Uncle design

This ingenious shelving system is like a work of art – it also reflects the size and shape of the window frame so that it all blends seamlessly.


Another bathroom combines traditional and modern fixtures. I like the way this portfolio contains such a range of styles – indicating the designers’ ability to reflect their clients’ own personalities – while maintaining the same sense of calm as a common thread throughout.

Enjoy more of 3rd UNCLE Design’s portfolio here.

I first became a fan of designer Kelly Hoppen’s inimitable style when I visited her store in South Kensington, London. I had just graduated and was living in a poky rental in Islington with vivid pink walls and unsalubrious neighbors. Her store seemed like a refuge of tasteful calm.

Kelly Hoppen is sometimes referred to as the queen of taupe. But her style is anything but drab, as her latest book, Kelly Hoppen Interiors, proves. It’s full of deeply glamorous spaces, rich with luxurious texture, seductive lighting and exquisite attention to detail. Best of all, it reveals some of the trademark secrets that define Kelly’s unique style. So, for those who aspire to a Hoppen-like home, here are my favorite tips.

Doors and floors
Kelly’s interiors are often characterized by spectacular decorative doors and door hardware. Large-scale, full-height doors are a regular feature, especially when they’re sliding or folding. She views door handles as being as important to a room as earrings to an outfit, and the range of crystal, metal and glass fixtures in her spaces proves why.

Floors are equally important. The book is full of interiors with beautiful dark wood floors and custom silk rugs with contrasting borders. Hoppen says she treats floors as art works, and it shows. She’s not afraid to mix different types of flooring in a single space, in order to define different areas.

Banners and buttons

A key signature detail that any homeowner could emulate, is Kelly’s banners. These are contrasting bands of color or material that run up a wall, over a floor, or even around a pillow. A run of dark wood across a white resin bathroom floor, for example, can link a window to a freestanding tub. Even a simple band of contrasting fabric around a pillow can make a bed seem custom-designed. Banners are a simple way to bring cohesion to a space.

Buttons are another regular feature on upholstery and pillows, especially these over-sized horn buttons, which are a simple way to ensure a pulled-together, luxurious look.

Organic shapes

Kelly uses organic shapes throughout her interiors, including furniture, lighting and architectural elements. While a coffee table made from carved tree roots might not be in everyone’s reach, the principle can be applied to every budget. Wood blocks as stools, ornamental sculptural stone balls and round mirrors are all cost-effective ways to get the look.


Where do I start with this? The book is packed full of rooms with every imaginable luxurious texture: from glossy lacquered surfaces, to quilted velvet, to silver chain fringing. I also love the more homely materials, such as the wood cladding used in this chalet bedroom below. Although the oversized bedspread would drive me crazy, you have to admit that the combination of exposed wood with sumptuous fabrics and glamorous lighting is pretty special.

Decorative displays

Kelly is the master of the display. She uses repetition, grouping and color to create an effortless effect. Some memorable tips? Reflective glossy surfaces are great for displaying silver and glass.  Rows of goldfish bowls can be filled with moss, shells or candles for a cost-effective display. And, never display a pair of items at jaunty angles. (This last was a revelation to me – after years of arranging everything at angles, I’ve now gone round and straightened it all out and it looks miles better – much to the amusement of my family…)

Overall, Kelly Hoppen Interiors fits the bill as both coffee-table book and text book, with plenty of images for inspiration, but tips to create the look at home too.

Credits: all photographs by Mel Yates.

Today, I’m speaking with Jennifer from Niche Interiors, an up and coming interior design firm in San Francisco. What I like about Jennifer and her team’s work is the fact it’s so accessible, and yet inventive and unique. It’s great inspiration for anyone wanting to give their home a more polished, pulled-together look: Jennifer combines pattern and color effortlessly, mixes custom upholstery with off-the-shelf pieces, and brings a refreshingly youthful vibe to the San Francisco design scene.

Four Walls and a Roof: What do you consider your big break in interior design so far?
Niche Interiors: I’m grateful for all of the “little breaks” I’ve had along the way, but I would have to say my big break was the first clients that hired me when I went out on my own. They trusted me with their beautiful new home in West Portal, despite the fact that I had a very small portfolio at that time. Luckily, they were the most down-to-earth and fun clients to work with! The project reflected this and our collaboration resulted in a stunning dining room that is still one of my favorite images in our portfolio.

FWR: How do you keep every project fresh and unique to the client, but without losing your own aesthetic? Is it important to have your own ‘stamp’ on a design?
NI: Our philosophy at Niche Interiors is that each home should be as unique as its inhabitant. We focus on creating spaces that reflect our clients’ lifestyles, tastes, and hobbies — not our own. The one thing that we do bring to all our projects is a clean aesthetic. Whether it’s a traditional or contemporary space we always try to keep the design concept very focused.

FWR: It seems that appointing an interior designer is no longer something only celebrities and millionaires do! Who is your typical client?
NI: Very true. Interior design has become much more accessible. Our typical client is a 30-something couple (or family), living in San Francisco, who needs help creating a stylish and comfortable home. Niche Interiors is usually hired with a life change such as moving or expanding the family, and the budgets that we work with vary widely.

FWR: Tell us a bit about your design process. How do you get from vague concept to a concrete design?
NI: We create customized image books for each project. Client feedback on visual images is an invaluable tool that helps us create the design concept. We actually make lists of specific things that clients do or don’t like in the image books. For example, dislikes might be: Stripes, velvet, tufting. ‘Loves’ might be: Contrast, organic shapes, uneven textures. This helps in the creation of a specific design concept.

FWR: You’re obviously not afraid of pattern. What are your tips for using pattern in a home?
NI: Be bold and go for it! Mix patterns in similar tones and in contrasting scales. Small repeat prints mix well with medium or large repeats.

FWR: Do you have any tips for homeowners on a budget? How do they create a great look without spending a fortune?
NI: Start with a clear design concept and specific color scheme and don’t stray! Invest your money in good quality upholstery, rugs, and quality contractors. You can go low-end on things like side tables, lamps, pillows and occasional furniture.

FWR: I’m a big believer in the power of design to change the dynamics of life in a home – do you ever get feedback on whether your designs have impacted the lives of your clients?
NI: Yes, I do — and the feedback I get from clients is the most rewarding part of my job. Not only do we get comments about how beautiful the spaces look, but how much more comfortable and functional the spaces are for our clients. One of my favorite comments was: “We now sit in our living room every night because we love it so much — it’s very us but way better.”

FWR: What’s the biggest design challenge you’ve ever faced and how did you overcome it?
NI: That’s a tough one! I would have to say the TINY bathroom remodel we tackled in Bernal Heights last year. It was just under 6′ x 6′ and the only full bathroom in the house.  We needed to keep the tub since the couple was expecting a baby. The 14″ deep wall-mounted sink saved the day. The glass tiles made the room feel a little bigger, and the skylight brought in much-needed natural light.

FWR: For those of us in San Francisco, what are your favorite design stores in the city?
NI: Monument and Past Perfect remain go-to sources for vintage finds. Kneedler-Fauchere in the design center has a beautiful array of furnishings and lighting. A quirky shop that I like to stop in once in a while is The Apartment on 18th Street — you never know what you will find there.

FWR: What do you think are the big interiors trends for 2011?
NI: Lighter woods, brass, traditional shapes, and tufting are all on their way back. I also think there is a shift away from the eclectic “anything goes” look towards more polished, put-together spaces.

FWR: Couldn’t agree more! So, what looks are you dying to try in an upcoming design?
NI: I’m dying to create a huge octagonal ottoman in a bold print. I also would love to switch gears and work on a really masculine tailored space with menswear details such as pinstripes, herringbone etc.

FWR: Sounds intriguing. I hope you get the chance. So, one more question on a topic close to my heart: You’re a great example of how interior designers can use social media to build their business. What does social media mean for you and how do you find time to stay engaged with it?
NI: Social media allows us to connect with potential and current clients and other trade professionals in a more informal setting. We love being able to instantly share the progress of a custom piece of furniture or before and after photos of projects. It’s fun, collaborative and gets people engaged. I will admit that it can be a challenge to keep up with everything — but our goals aren’t too lofty. We try to write one blog post per week — my junior designer Kerry and I take turns writing to keep the content fresh.

Thanks so much, Jennifer!

Credits: Photos 4 and 6 credited to Hale Photography. Other photos via Niche Interiors.

Welcome to the sumptuous, colorful, sophisticated world of photographer William Waldron’s portfolio. Of course, you wouldn’t expect anything less from a megastar of the photography world: Waldron has photographed the homes of many a celebrity and has graced the pages of the likes of Elle Decor numerous times. But, if only because we can all do with a glimpse at how the rich and famous live, I thought it worth another peek at his work!

You’ll recognize many of the shots in this post, I’m sure. But even if they’re new to you, hopefully you’ll enjoy the way he seems to make every space look so glamorous and other-wordly. This dining area’s glossy green walls and dappled light give an underwater feel.

Pink never looked so grown-up.

And the all-white rooms in his portfolio are positively shimmering with metallic and reflective surfaces.

All of which is, of course, helped by sky-high ceilings and over-size windows.

Waldron is definitely a photographer to check out if you feel like a glimpsing dose of the good life!

I was pretty amazed yesterday to see that Google’s home page design was in celebration of Josef Frank’s 125th birthday. It’s not exactly a public holiday or day of global celebration. In fact, I imagine most Americans would be asking ‘who on earth is Josef Frank?’ But the ‘doodle’ created to mark the occasion will still be familiar to anyone interested in design.

Josef Frank, of course, was the Austrian-Swedish architect and designer who created the fantastical designs still seen in textiles today. What’s incredible is that, even though he was born 125 years ago and passed away in 1967, his designs still look so incredibly fresh and modern. To my mind, that’s the mark of true innovation. Feast your eyes on some of these examples of his work.

All from Svenskt Tenn.

And, just to show how wonderful Frank’s designs can look in a contemporary space, check out this image from Apartment Therapy.

Ah, a ray of sunshine for the start of the weekend, don’t you think?

So, which other designers do you think should feature in the Google homepage doodle?

I’ve just finished reading American Modern by designer, Thomas O’Brien. Unlike many hardback design books which are overly reliant on photos and provide very little real information about the design process, O’Brien’s book is characteristically detailed (although the photos by Laura Resen are spectacular too). One of the things I admire most about O’Brien is the way his rooms look so organic, as if they have evolved over years. Although he’s a decorator, designer, and definitely an innovator, O’Brien is also a collector and curator and he uses items that reflect both his personal interests and those of his clients in his work.

There are many useful lessons to be learned from his particular approach to interior design, so I thought I’d extract a few of the ones I found most enlightening.

1. Pay attention to the background

A collection of objects is only as beautiful as its background. Even though furniture and furnishings are often the stars of the show, O’Brien pays extraordinary attention to detail with the architectural structure, fixtures and finishings that act as backdrop. Whether it’s altering the height of doors and alcoves to ensure they are all aligned,  designing kitchen cabinets to reflect the shape and size of a window, replacing every door handle in a house with vintage sterling silver ones, or lining a bookshelf in a rich eggplant paint to convey formality, he’s guaranteed to have thought every inch of a space through.

The room below, for example, features a series of doors in metal-framed wire glass, inspired by an elevator in a nearby hotel, which provides architectural interest and a vintage look, while letting light into the space.

These kitchen cabinets were designed to line up with the windows and there’s unique detail in the countertops which are marble set inside a concrete edge.

2. Neutral is a color

O’Brien’s spaces are often characterized by apparently simple, calming neutral palettes. But his selection of a neutral palette is as carefully thought-through as any color scheme. He chooses between mid-toned creamy grays:

Warm honey blondes:

And cool milky whites (I know, I know, I’ve posted this picture a million times but I can’t resist – it’s such an amazing room):

He adds interest with metallic, reflective and gilded surfaces, as well as with subtle pattern and lots of texture. And, of course his signature is a lot of contrast between dark and light. But the lesson here is to think about the color of a particular wood, stone, metal or any other apparently neutral material and make deliberate choices in order to bring cohesiveness to any collection of objects.

3. Get out the history books

Although O’Brien’s designs are always fresh and modern, they also pay homage to the past through historical reference. It’s a highly cerebral approach to design and helps to ensure even the most eclectic collection of objects works together. Time and time again you see elements that have been inspired by vintage pieces he’s collected over the years. No item is too small to influence a scheme: take the duvet cover below, based on a 1940s napkin, as an extreme but not unusual example!

His Long Island house, The Academy, which was originally a schoolhouse, is another great example. Part of the house was built in the 1920s and there are many elements either from that period or inspired by it, such as the tall backsplash, bracketed shelving and enameled pendant lights in the kitchen to the 1920s vanity in the bathroom. It’s inspired me to look at historical references when it comes time to renovate the kitchen in our own house, which was built in 1922.

4. Expect the unexpected

While O’Brien respects and refers to history in his designs, he’s not afraid to break with tradition either. He’s known for his Manhattan apartment which throws convention out of the window and combines a bedroom and living room into one.

On a smaller scale, he introduces unexpected elements such as a table lamp on the kitchen countertop, men’s shirt fabric as bedlinen and a vast library table in the middle of the living room as a way to create that ‘collected’ feel.

5. Repetition, repetition, repetition

Throughout O’Brien’s spaces, you see repetition of colors, textures and shapes. This helps to create a layered effect which ensures both consistency and interest. The palette of the marble fireplace, for example, may be repeated in an ottoman, side table, and a print. A mantelpiece may be given a more unified look with repeated use of spherical objects. It’s all extremely deliberate and yet looks so uncontrived.

Sometimes O’Brien’s spaces are more sparse, sometimes almost cluttered. But they always look welcoming, cohesive and truly personal. It’s a look I’ve yet to master (I have a long way to go) but will certainly be drawing on O’Brien as inspiration in the future.

Photo credits:

1 – via La Dolce Vita

2,3,5,7,10 – Laura Resen

4 and 9 –  William Waldron, from a feature in Elle Decor

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