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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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

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

My son has a book called ‘A Squash and a Squeeze’. It’s about an old lady who complains that her house is too small, so a wise man tells her to move all her farm animals inside. She complains even more so he tells her to move them out. And, lo and behold, she realizes her house isn’t so small after all.

Well, that’s how we feel now that our renovation is finally finished and we have our house back. It never felt so spacious! Yes, the last coat of paint has dried, the boxes are unpacked, and I have promised to buy no more accessories (for a while at least). And I can at last share some photos of the finished result.

First of all, want to see what it looked like before?

Yup, featureless and old-fashioned. I can hardly believe we lived with it for 5 years. Pretty soon, it looked like this:

Horrific, right? This is known as the ‘what-have-we-done-is-it-too-late-to-change-our-minds?’ moment. To get through it, I had to keep a mental picture of what it would look like when finished, which was something like this:

But finally, after eating every last microwave dinner in our local store and working our way through stacks of paper plates, the work was done. And here’s the finished result.

Modern white kitchen travertine tile

We blocked up the doorway leading from the kitchen to the bathroom, which gave us more countertop space and somewhere to put open shelves. Then we took out the doors that separated the kitchen from the dining room and family room to create more flow through all the spaces. We really wanted to have an eat-in kitchen but weren’t willing to do major structural work. Instead, by tweaking the layout and using a cohesive scheme throughout, we really do now feel like it’s all one space.

Modern white kitchen herringbone floor tile

The goal was to have a predominantly white kitchen but to enliven it with subtle pattern in the tiles. The backsplash is silver travertine. It was quite an adventure selecting these and we nearly abandoned the idea when the first batch of tiles arrived looking too dark. But, after much agonizing – and an overnight shipment of new tiles from LA – we decided these were the ones. I’m so glad as they really make the kitchen.

Modern white kitchen

The floor tiles were cut to size and laid in a herringbone design. I had originally wanted wood flooring to ensure continuity between all the rooms, but finding a match was impossible so we went for tiles in a complementary color to the flooring. The herringbone was intended to emulate period wood floors – and also to repeat the zigzag pattern in the family room rug.

Kitchen walnut open shelves

I have wanted waterfall countertops for as long as I can remember. Unfortunately, we don’t have an island to wrap them around, but they work well at the end of these runs of cabinets. The edge profile is a reverse bevel, sometimes called a sharknose edge. It gives the appearance of a razor thin edge, which is the latest trend in countertops, but doesn’t require a special cabinet. Basically, it’s a great way to cheat!

Modern Dining-room

The kitchen used to lead onto a small sunroom, which we used as a playroom. But we took advantage of the remodel to switch the layout around and we made this little room into our dining room. It’s small but the table easily fits six, which is perfect for our needs. And the best part is now we can see the table from the kitchen so it feels like we have an eat-in kitchen. The table is from Room and Board and is a licensed reproduction of the Eero Saarinen table. The light fixture is the Link suspension pendant by LZF and I’ll admit I was nervous about how it would look right up until it was installed. It’s made of wood veneer, coaxed into the most incredible shape.

Family room zigzag rug saucer pendant

Moving the dining room freed up our former dining space to be a large family room. We needed more room for the kids to play, so we kept this space deliberately open. No coffee table – we wanted as much floor space free as possible for train tracks, Hotwheels jumps and the like. The toys are all stashed in the sideboard at the end of the day. The Cherner chair was chosen because it doesn’t create too much of a visual block between the rooms – but it’s also surprisingly comfortable.

Family-room-round-mirror-shelves

We also renovated the small powder room that used to be next to the kitchen. Filling in the doorway from the kitchen meant we finally had somewhere to put a basin. Can you believe this bathroom didn’t even have a sink before?

Powder-room-inlay-mirror-charcol-wall

I have a thing for mother of pearl inlay, so was this mirror was a big factor in the design of this space. Everything else needed to be simple and modern, so the mirror would stand out. And the dark walls (Benjamin Moore Iron Mountain) were another gamble that we feel paid off.

Bathroom-rajapur-wallpaper

This is a split powder room, so the toilet is actually in a miniscule room of its own. The good news is this created an opportunity to give the walls a different finish. I’d been longing for somewhere to use this Cole & Son Rajapur wallpaper and this tiny space was perfect for it. It really lightens everything up. Good job too as before it was a bit like being in a vertical coffin! (Despite my other half’s valiant wallpapering efforts two years ago).

Of course, I’m still tinkering with the rooms and re-styling them daily. But it’s so great to be moved back in. I’m grateful that we had a great architect (David Seidel) and general contractor (Brad Doran) to get us through the project on time and on budget. They made sure we thought through every detail in advance and that the work was impeccable.

So, next stop, the master bathroom. But, if you don’t mind, I’ll take a few months’ breather first…

Photography by Chris Gaede Photography.

Here I go again – raving about the wonders of all-neutral interiors. But, seriously, this house (by Neuhaus Architecture and JP Warren Interiors) would persuade even the most vocal of the anti-beige crowd that pale is, indeed, interesting. The house, which was apparently decorated by the owner – the Jessica in JP Warren – was covered by Desire to Inspire back in June but it’s so beautiful I had to revisit it again here.

The architectural details of this house are extraordinary. All that molding, the fireplace, the pilasters. In my opinion, a brighter color scheme would be overwhelming. Instead, the muted palette just emphasizes all this lovely detail.

The floor is particularly attention-grabbing. I’ve no idea if this is original marquetry or whether it was installed, but it emphasizes and defines the shape of the space beautifully.

This is evidence that neutral interiors work best when there are unusual natural textures and materials. The combination of the vintage metal sinks with the stone wall is spectacular.

Then there’s this much more feminine bathroom. I can’t really say enough good things about this bathroom. I usually like my bathrooms to be more, well, bathroom-y. But, with its custom wallpaper and elegant furniture, this room might persuade me to change my opinion.

This is a less formal library space. The shelves cleverly fill an alcove and the diagonal furniture arrangement is a good way to fill such an enormous room without over-cluttering.

More natural stone at work here. Waterfall countertops really elevate the design of a kitchen and this is no exception. It is an usual space for a kitchen. With the bay window, it looks more like a living room. The designer has addressed this by keeping the cabinetry very simple and more like furniture.

This is my favorite view of the whole house. A simple cube-shaped set of shelves (but obviously completely custom) with an artfully arranged collection of white ceramics. Very pleasing to the eye.

What I like most about this home overall, is that each room has its unique personality, and yet the whole scheme is cohesive. Do you have a favorite room?

Photo credit: Peter Margonelli

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.

bathroom

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.

As part of our kitchen renovation, we are redoing a powder room. It’s a tiny space, so I’m keeping it neutral and simple, with a little Indian-inspired detailing. Here’s a sneak preview…

White+gray+bathroom+decorating

My starting point was the Rajapur wallpaper from Cole and Son. I’ve been dying to use this somewhere and decided this was just the space. Tiny rooms always seem larger with wallpaper, and this is subtle enough that we won’t tire of it.

The perfect mirror with this wallpaper is a white pearl inlay design. This particular one is from Serena and Lily, but it may be a little large for the space so I am still on the hunt for something similar. With all this pattern, I wanted simple white glass tiles, white paint and modern fixtures.

Here’s hoping we get started on the work soon so I don’t change my mind again…

1. Wisp White paint, Benjamin Moore; 2. Orbit lamp; 3. Mirror by Serena and Lily; 4. Dish (for soap) by John Robshaw; 5. Vessel sink by Porcelanosa; 6. Cabinet door pull in nickel; 7. Floating walnut vanity; 8. Kohler wall-mounted faucet; 9. White glass tile backsplash; 10. Flint floor tile; 11. Rajapur wallpaper by Cole and Son.

This has to be one of the most beautiful tile collections I’ve ever seen.

It’s from Maybury Home, a British company that specializes in mother-of-pearl tiles. I ordered some samples and can assure you they’re just as stunning in real life as in the pictures. I’m particularly enamored with the gray herringbone…

…and the gold mosaic (but beware, the mosaic pieces are really tiny so, although they are mounted on a single 2×2 inch tile for easy installation, the effect is very intricate):

I am definitely keeping these in mind for the bathroom renovation…

Our renovation is moving ahead slowly. We still haven’t appointed the contractor, but plans are completed and we have the permit. That means we’re also at the stage of choosing fixtures and fittings – at last. In addition to the kitchen, we’re also hoping to put in a new master bath and renovate the family bathroom. For the master, I have in mind something white, light and bright, with a little warm-toned wood. So, very similar to the kitchen then… The good thing about this whole exercise is that it’s forcing me to focus on one specific style, rather than succombing to the latest fad. It’s been quite enlightening.

To give you a glimpse of the style I’m zeroing in on, here are some of the images I’m using as inspiration for the bathroom.

This is close to the effect we want, via Houzz. A honey-toned wood (in this case bamboo) floating vanity, wide mirror, square basins and lots of white. We won’t be using Carrera marble, but the faucets are pretty cool.

This, also via Houzz, has a similar color scheme, with more open shelving instead of a traditional vanity and ceramic or glass tiles instead of marble. I don’t like the glass sinks, but the mirrors are great.

More Carrera marble and the wood here is much darker than we want. However, the square sinks and frameless shower screen are spot on. Also via Houzz.

Gorgeous. Just gorgeous. Unfortunately, I don’t think wood floors are for us, but we can get a similar effect by using this type of wood in the cabinetry. Via The Marion House Book.

And, well, this one is just getting ridiculous (in a good way). Again, we won’t be duplicating this exact look (I wish), but the combination of materials is relevant. By Emily Summers.

Taking a slightly different direction now, I’ve also decided the bathroom has to have a little sparkle. I plan to add lustrous white glass tiles, like these (via Remodelista), in a banner along the vanity and around the room.

I’ve admired this bathroom, from Living Etc, for years! This is the image that got me yearning for sparkly tiles!

What do you think? Is it possible to combine all these ideas successfully?

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.

As you can probably tell from my lack of posts recently, life around here is a bit hectic. Birthday parties, babies, schools, travel and lots and lots of work – frankly I’m amazed we’re keeping it together. It’s at times like this that I crave a home that is an oasis of calm. Of course, that’s not easy when you’re slowing disappearing under a sea of toys and laundry. We manage it for a few hours each week, after a major clean-up and when everything is sparkling and tidy. But, for the rest of the time, I have to resort to my favorite books and blogs to find the kind of simple, streamlined, relaxing interiors that make the perfect antidote to a stressful day.

Here are a few of my recent favorites.

This kitchen, featured in Skona Hem, via Emma’s Design Blogg, sums up my idea of restful design. Although it’s predominantly white, it’s not spartan (which I try to avoid as it just makes me feel uneasy). It has honey-colored wood, sloping ceilings, organic shapes, and some symmetry (those beautiful yellow and white glass pendants), all of which contribute to the sense of simplicity and calm.

A calming living room is the perfect balance of formal and casual, organized and relaxed. I’ve found the ideal combination in this room, from Greige, found via Fondly Seen. The art is what really sets the tone. But the comfortable chairs with a touch of formality, the slightly distressed wood paneling, the tall multi-paned windows – they all combine effortlessly to create an ideal of lived-in luxe.

A calm space doesn’t have to be entirely clutter-free. This living room (via Lilac and Gray) manages that relaxed feel, despite having open shelves. The neutral color palette helps but it’s the choice of materials that really creates the mood here: linen, cotton, wood and seagrass and the use of unpretentious and unchallenging ticking stripes, give the place a soothing, shoes-off vibe.

Can you have such a thing as a relaxing dining room? After all, isn’t a dining room’s design supposed to invite conversation, hilarity and stimulate appetite? Well, not in my book, not today at least! I like this dining room, from Elle Decor, via Arianna Belle, because it combines furniture styles and materials so effortlessly, is pretty and yet simple, and it combines striking full-height windows with softer drapes and chandeliers.

It sounds counter-intuitive, but for a relaxing bedroom, I like a lot of light. It doesn’t make any difference to me if the sun’s rays burst in at dawn because, with two young kids, chances are I’ll be up by then anyway! But I do like the sense of space and calm a light room provides. I don’t think I’ll ever have a canopy like this over my own bed, but the effect here is pretty dreamy. With the soft blanket, acres of white bedlinen and simple furniture, this is pretty much the perfect place to retire after a busy day. Via BeautyComma.

Now, for bathrooms, I’m going to have to go with this one (also from Emma’s Design Blogg). It has the cool neutrals, plenty of greenery, symmetry, organization and storage, but a relaxed organic feel, especially with the slate floors.

So what makes a calming room? Answer: whatever relaxes you. For some people that might be features like open fires or soft rugs, for others certain colors relax, for others it’s all about organization. For me, it’s neutral colors, plenty of negative space and light, a touch of greenery, organic shapes and textures and an effortless mix of styles that looks like it has evolved over time.

What about you?

I love stumbling across beautifully-designed ‘real’ homes on Flickr. So I’m crazy about this refreshingly eclectic place. It’s owned, and impeccably styled by Yvonne, who also blogs about her travels, family, crafts and home on her blog, Moline. Yvonne has lived in Germany, Istanbul and Mexico and her style is clearly influenced by all three locations. Yvonne was kind enough to let me post some images from her past and present homes.

For starters, isn’t this a glorious blue for a kitchen? The color was inspired by Yvonne’s time living in Mexico. I’m into the open shelves, mini pendant lights, tiles and extra-long cabinet hardware.

If you’re going to have open shelves in a kitchen, you’ve got to buy groceries that look like this.

Moroccan tea tray tables always look great, but this one, which happens to be Turkish, looks spectacular under this chandelier. What a great juxtaposition of styles.

Here a vintage champagne bottle holder has been converted into magazine storage/installation art. So cool!

More inspired styling – spring in letter and in spirit!

A great art wall looks even better over a geometric dresser.

Cozy sheepskin rugs on wicker chairs? That’s one way to ensure your home works as well in the winter as the summer.

We’ve all seen oversize maps used in kids’ rooms, but this looks particularly cute against the blue wall and with the patchwork bedding.

So much to love about this bathroom: the smooth modern tub and basin, sloping roof, low windows… It all spells peace and quiet.

I like the way this photo wall meanders up the stairs, with plenty of space for future pics.

These are hand-painted porcelain eggs, suspended to look like a chandelier. So beautiful…

If you like Yvonne’s style (and who wouldn’t?) she also has an Etsy store – check out the stunning bird and butterfly collages. I’m sorely tempted to buy one of the bird ones for our little boy’s nursery…

The design discoveries and dilemmas of a Brit in San Francisco as she turns a house into a home.
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