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Have you discovered the 1st Dibs Photo Archive yet? What an amazing resource. It’s a gallery of photos from some of the most accomplished interiors photographers in the world (including the likes of Tim Street-Porter and Paul Costello). But the best part is that you can click on any photo and ‘shop the look’ with a wide selection of pieces from 1st Dibs that are similar to those in the photo.

For example, remember this room in Domino (RIP) magazine?

Turquoise+bedroom+wallpaper+Domino

And here’s the accompanying 1st Dibs shopping list:

Because the photographers featured are world-class, you’ll recognize many of the photos from your favorite upscale shelter magazines. If, like me, you couldn’t get enough of Ellen Pompeo’s house in Elle Decor, for example, you’ll love this:

Here’s Pompeo’s living room, shot by Tim Street-Porter:

Ellen+pompeo+livingroom+elle+decor

And now the 1st Dibs version:

Ellen+pompeo+inspired+living+room

Of course, the catch is that all this 1st Dibs wondrousness obviously comes with a 1st Dibs price tag to match. So, even if you find everything you need to create your own celebrity living room, you still need to figure out how to pay for it! But, one step at a time, eh?

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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.

Why didn’t I know about this beautiful blog until this weekend? Of course, I’ve seen these photos of blogger Nicole’s stunning apartment all over the blogosphere, especially since it was featured in Rue Magazine. But the blog is a great source of inspiration too. Especially right now – while Nicole is off bonding with her newborn, guest bloggers are posting the cutest, most unique nursery designs.

Anyway, I just had to share some of the photos of the apartment in question since the black, white and metallic scheme is providing all sorts of inspiration for our impending kitchen makeover (which is rapidly becoming a dining room, playroom and bathroom makeover too – more of that later).

I spy a Carrera marble kitchen island…

Plattner coffee table…

Black and white ikat pillow…

And brass anglepoise lamps over the bed. Elegant and eclectic!

Photos by Emily Anderson for Rue Magazine via Sketch42.

Although I’m a fan of black walls, I always felt that black was for cozy, moody rooms. To take a bright, airy room with lots of windows and paint it black would surely be a waste of all that natural light, right? How wrong could I be? Take a look at this striking bedroom from Ab Chao.

And here’s what it looked like before.

Incredible, right? Of course, it’s not just the paint color: the bright pillows, undressed windows, re-arranged furniture all make a difference too. But what amazes me is how bright it still feels, even with black walls. The black walls actually frame the windows, drawing attention to the view and making the space seem even lighter. Just goes to show that black decor can be energizing as well as enigmatic…

If I’m going to continue the theme of red-accented spaces, this unique house is the perfect place to stop next. It’s the home of portrait photographer, Emily McCall.

Why do I love this house? Because it intrigues me and is truly one-of-a-kind. For a start, you’d think a palette of black, white and red would be brash and in-your-face, but instead it’s quiet, almost monastic, but with a twist.

Great mix of textiles from Suzani to sackcloth to leather.

Any place that can combine a white bust with a Panton chair and look great is ok by me!

The bedrooms are like negatives of each other (how appropriate for a photographer!) Here’s the light and airy white bedroom, with a few graphic punches in the form of the pillow, lamp and quirky clock.

And here’s the black bedroom – a perfect foil for a vintage bus route sign….

…and a red velvet wingback chair! Genius. Makes me want to break out the black paint.

Thanks, Emily, for allowing me to post photos of your lovely home. Hope everyone else enjoys them as much as I did!

Check out Emily’s blog here.

For fun, and on the suggestion of a friend, I entered my four-year-old’s room into Ohdeedoh’s ‘Small Kids, Big Color’ contest. What a kick to see it actually featured on the home page of that blog!  Apparently they only select a few and there are some amazing entries there, so I’m thrilled to be in such good company. If you liked the room when I first posted it here, feel free to vote for it here 😉 And check out some of the other entries – truly inspiring.

My son is beyond excited to have his room appear on the site – even if he doesn’t quite get how it ended up there!

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?

This is the picture that started it all. A minor obsession with symmetry, that is. There’s something about the symmetry of the exposed rafters, the shutters, matching consoles and round mirrors that speaks to me. It’s cool, calm and collected – an effect that’s further enhanced by the all-white palette. Complete order and I love it.

Symmetry has been used in design for millennia, and it’s still one of the easiest ways to pull a room together. But, as a technique, it’s suffered a bit of bad rap because it can look so formulaic and characterless. So, I decided to look into what makes a successful symmetrical arrangement. How do you apply symmetry without killing the personality and warmth of a space?

This room pretty much sums it up: There’s symmetry in the architecture (paired windows) and in the way the chairs and pillows are arranged. But there are also elements that hint at symmetry but are somehow ‘off’ – like the three irregularly-grouped but similar urn-shaped vases on the mantelpiece. Then the striking rug, blue walls and mock antlers lift the space out of the sphere of the ordinary.

This living room, from Ellen Pompeo’s house as featured in Elle Decor, is much more understated. But the symmetrical arrangement is given a focal point in the form of an oversize moorish-style mirror. A single statement piece at the center of your symmetrical set-up can change the look from predictable to powerful.

Another technique is to use offbeat pieces to create your symmetry. Just one of these cane sofas would be eye-catching enough, but using two against a relatively simple backdrop is truly dramatic.

Here the symmetry of the room’s architecture is subtley drawn out with the use of two unusual red chairs in an otherwise neutral scheme. There’s actually no other symmetry in this room – the chairs are enough to create a sense of order.

Twin beds naturally invite a symmetrical arrangement. Unusual shapes and a strong monochromatic palette keep things interesting.

Sometimes symmetry can be found in the smallest details. These symmetrical shelves are a sweet way to ensure a sense of order in the kitchen without creating a wall of uniform cabinets.

So what do you think of symmetry? Design by numbers or a perfect balance?

Credits:

1 – Delight by Design; 2 – House Beautiful;  3 – Elle Decor; 4 – Canadian House and Home; 5 – House Beautiful; 6 – Canadian House and Home; 7 – Canadian House and Home

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

I’m always drawn to modern white spaces with the simple, uncluttered look. But, at the same time, I know if I lived in one I’d long for a splash of color and a more casual vibe. This house is, to me, the perfect compromise. The combination of white gloss, horizontal lines and low-slung furniture with characterful accessories in fresh pink and green is just stunning. It would feel like summer year-round in this house, wouldn’t it? (From Micasa Revista via Achados de Decoracao).

The key to this space is the styling. The essentials are all neutral but it’s the pillows, blanket and flowers that inject color. The boxy sofas are tastefully restrained but the tropical print cushion and the chartreuse floor pillows just say ‘relax’.

A glimpse of the kitchen shows it’s just as minimal, with glossy white cabinets and a stainless steel hood. The use of drawers instead of traditional cabinets creates more horizontal lines to echo the living area’s low-key, loungy feel.

I love these blue-gray light shades in the kitchen. I bet those bar stools actually live on the other side of the island though and are just placed there for the photo…

This bedroom actually has many of the things I tend to steer clear of: very low beds, multiple pillows, teeny tiny rugs… But the effect here, in the context of the rest of the space, is great. And that color palette again!


Now this is a bathroom to hang out in! Huge limestone tiles and sleek white drawers create yet more of those horizontal lines. And, yet again, it’s balanced with a little bit of handcrafted character in the form of the crochet basket and perfume bottles.

Although it looks effortless and laid back, this space is actually a triumph in attention to detail. The fact that there’s so much continuity from room to room no doubt adds to the relaxed feel. And the fresh colors and abundant light make this place almost as good as being outdoors on a summer’s day. Almost!

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