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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.


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.

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.

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 read some advice from interior designer Vicente Wolf in a magazine interview the other day. He said that a space should have ‘flow’. “Like water flowing down a river. There might be a little rock here or a little bit of rapids there, but the river never stops flowing”. I take this to mean that the eye should move effortlessly from one end of a room to another – and between rooms – without visual obstacles or interruptions. His words struck a chord. The fact is, when you’re exposed to hundreds of photos of gorgeous interiors every day, it’s easy to confuse interior design with the creation of a still life. Recently, I have found myself thinking about how a room would look in a photo, rather than how it would feel to be living in it. I’ve been thinking about the placement of furniture and the layering of textiles and finishes as a two-dimensional composition. It’s an easy trap to fall into when the world of design is influenced by heavily-styled and meticulously arranged images. But it doesn’t make for a truly successful interior scheme.

So I decided to take a closer look at what Wolf means by ‘flow’ and try to learn some lessons from this. First, he uses a lot of white to create continuity through an entire space. He does the same with color by picking up the same tones in fabrics here and there throughout a home.

So far, so obvious (although I’ll admit it requires considerable discipline to stick with the same palette throughout a home – most of us need to express another side of our design personality by experimenting with different looks in different rooms). Wolf also eschews pattern, preferring instead to keep his spaces clean. Oops, having just decorated three rooms with ‘feature walls’ using wallpaper or contrasting paint, I can see the appeal of a ‘clean’ background, as Wolf puts it, allowing the shapes of the furniture to speak for themselves.

Studying his work, it’s clear there’s more to this idea of ‘flow’ than color and pattern though. The way Wolf uses interior space is unusual in that he isn’t at all constrained by structure. He says he likes to avoid putting up boundaries in a scheme, but I think he goes beyond that to create living areas that seem to float within a room while the walls and ceilings seem to melt away, using reflective and transparent materials. Sometimes he achieves this just by the way he places the furniture, refusing to hug the walls or follow conventional layouts.

Wolf mixes up styles and eras fearlessly, which helps create a more organic, relaxed vibe. Thinking again about that idea of flow, if you look at the way these contrasting pieces of furniture are arranged, you’ll see that they’re meant to be appreciated by someone sitting at the table or on the sofa – not just by an outsider looking at the room through a lens.

That’s not to say you won’t find great styling in his spaces though. Throughout Wolf’s interiors you see antiques and artifacts from his store, VW Home, arranged in pairs or multiples. These must be the ‘rapids’ he talks about: they certainly inject energy into a space.

It’s tempting to conceive a room scheme in the same way you’d frame a beautiful photograph, but it helps to remember that an interior must look and feel cohesive from every angle.

Credits: All images except the first one are from Vicente Wolf Associates‘ web site. The first image is from House Beautiful.

The days are getting longer and warmer and I’m finding myself looking for fresh, bright interiors to usher in the spring. Anita Kaushal is a UK-based interior designer and writer whose aesthetic fits the bill perfectly. These airy spaces, from Anita’s own home, have all the airy appeal of a spring morning. Take a look and get inspired to swap your brights for white, fling open the windows and bring in some fresh flowers…

I love how these spaces are both casual and somehow also pulled-together. This looks like a great place for kids as well as a chilled grown-up hang-out. You can see more at Anita’s web site.

A few weeks back, I kicked off the Style and the City series with a look at the unlikely duo of Paris and Seattle, courtesy of Alek at From the Right Bank to the Left Coast. Now we’re continuing our travels north and into Canada. I’m absolutely delighted that Jane from Ill Seen, Ill Said has agreed to share with us some of the secrets of her home town, Toronto.

If you recall, Style and the City is all about the different design styles and influences of cities around the world. While interiors magazines focus on New York and Los Angeles, I think it’s up to the blogosphere to throw the spotlight on some of the other stylish cities out there. Maybe we’ll find out that style knows no geographic boundaries. Or maybe we’ll discover that each city still has its unique interiors aesthetic. Who knows, but it will sure be fun to figure it out.

Turns out Jane is the perfect guide for our visit to Toronto. If you can’t already tell from her smart, eclectic, inspiring and always entertaining blog, she knows more than a thing or too about design. (She also has one of the best examples of a rainbow of books that I’ve seen…) Here she’s generously given us an insight into the hottest resources and coolest designers Toronto has to offer – and a peek at her own style influences at the same time. I even learned a new word: Torontonian!

And when you’re done here, please do check out the rest of Ill Seen, Ill Said (if you’re not already a reader that is) for more great ideas and images. You won’t be disappointed.

Four Walls and a Roof: What does Toronto style mean to you?

Ill Seen, Ill Said: Toronto is an extremely multi-cultural city so it’s difficult to pin down just one style that embodies the city. I suppose that’s why I like it here so much. I moved here from Ireland six years ago. If there’s a country with a very distinct style and personality, it’s Ireland. Toronto, by comparison, is completely open-concept and it makes it easy to carve out your own style without feeling weighed down by history or convention.

My interpretation of Toronto style is similarly open-concept, but mostly I’m influenced by my friends here, the 1930’s art deco building I live in and my lifestyle. I always leaned towards modern style, but it didn’t seem to fit quite so readily with the cozy little homes we have in Ireland. Toronto has allowed my appreciation for mid-century classics to blossom.

I especially like to combine those modern pieces with more rustic pieces. This is the Great White North after all, so it’s difficult for me to think about design without relating it to the Canadian wilderness. Even though Toronto is a large and sprawling city, many residents have cottages and there’s definitely an exchange of inspiration between the city and country. I think Toronto style comes into its own when it embraces this relationship, rather than trying to be too polished or cosmopolitan.

FWR: Great images! So, Canadian wilderness aside, what do you think are the influences on Toronto style?

ISIS: There’s a huge influx of immigrants into Toronto every year and it gives the city a real sense of motion. But, at the same time, there’s a certain design conservatism to Toronto. Classics play a real role in design – I would say Canadians buy to last. However, I think Torontonians are definitely becoming more playful. Canadian House and Home magazine has definitely reflected and influenced that change. Especially now, under the leadership of Suzanne Dimma, the direction is a lot more adventurous, whimsical and – for want of a better word – Domino-esque.

I believe Sarah Richardson‘s classic and neutral style also represents the design ideal of many Toronto homeowners. Though I love Sarah, it’s her right-hand man Tommy Smythe who captures my imagination the most. Tommy’s style is a little more dramatic and expressive of a highly individual lifestyle. Between the two of them, they create the loveliest spaces. You can see Tommy’s home in the December issue of Canadian House & Home.

I think Toronto style errs on the manly side. Sure, there are some very frou-frou stores (and homes) here, but they’re definitely in the minority. Stylegarage / Gus*Modern and Commute Home epitomize this more masculine streak. Their pieces are sleek and industrial. But again, they throw some nice rustic, organic and historical elements into their collections to warm them up. Maybe it’s because I’m a sucker for an uncomplicated manly man, but I feel very cozy and at home with this style of decor.

Sometimes, I’m still surprised by just how much design talent we have in Canada in general, and Toronto in particular. Bev Hisey, Coe & Waito (sadly exists no longer), Bookhou and Virginia Johnson …to name but a few. That said, Torontonians are excessively modest so you won’t find the city beating its chest over this talent. Again, that’s something I love. Toronto is a bit of a sleeper hit and you won’t immediately feel its talent pressing on you from every angle. You definitely have to do some digging.

FWR: Hmm, I’m tempted to take a trip! Any great local resources you can tell us about?

ISIS: Shopping mid-century is a treat here. I love Zig Zag and Queen West Antiques. I like to toss in some affordable antiques to shake the stuffing out of my place.

For accessorizing, I absolutely adore L’Atelier. Their displays epitomize the diversity of Toronto style, incorporating pieces from North Africa, Art Deco antiques, industrial pieces and rustic Canadiana. I know, it sounds a little incoherent, but it’s impeccably curated. And if you want to learn the fine art of putting a vignette together, this store is the best field trip you can take.

Hollace Cluny is my absolute haven. As well as stocking design giants like Knoll and Carl Hansen, the store sells pieces by Westcoast designer Martha Sturdy and textiles by Bev Hisey. Made is another great store that hosts a phenomenal range of Canadian talent, from Ceramik B., Jennifer Graham and Heyday Designs. And you can always turn to Distill and the other stores in the Distillery District to put a new Canadian designer on your radar.

D&E Lake is a bookstore and printshop that’s like a treasure trove for me. I seldom go because it costs me dearly every time I set foot in there. The charismatic owner, Don, has an encyclopaedic knowledge of art history and Canadian art. Unfortunately – or perhaps fortunately –  his inventory is organized with a less systematic approach. So, poring over his bookshelves and sifting through drawers of prints is always an adventure in uncovering the unexpected. I never walk out with what I was looking for. But I always walk out with something. Other galleries I frequent include the Mira Godard Gallery, the Ingram Gallery and Bau-Xi.

FWR: Do you incorporate any local influences in your home?

ISIS: I definitely incorporate design influences from all around the world (and the blogosphere) when I shop. I’m not dogmatically “Canadian” in the decisions I make when it comes to decorating. But, because I live in Toronto and am very much of this city, I am under the spell of it when I make decisions. And, even when I consume international content, it’s from the perspective of where and how I live in this city that I judge it.

Looking around my apartment, there are pieces from Atlantic Treefox, Herriott Grace and Coe & Waito. All embody that distinct Canadian love of wilderness and a simple, unconvoluted grace. I think it’s the overall simplicity of Canada that I love the most. It’s unfussy and pragmatic. And I find that, increasingly, I’m all about paring back and embracing a more spartan design aesthetic and choosing select pieces that tell a story.

FWR: You grew up in Ireland – does that influence your style at all?

ISIS: Absolutely. Ireland’s history weighs me down when I’m there too long. But, the distance I get when I’m in Toronto lets me channel Ireland’s influence more positively. My love of literature is definitely a very Irish part of my personality and books are probably the most dominant object in my whole apartment. I can’t abide a room without books.

Joyce referred to Dublin as “lugly” (both lovely and ugly) and I do love of the grittier side of things too. I don’t like all polish and perfection. Patina is really important to me and I like that sense of layered history you feel when you walk around Dublin. It doesn’t bother me that my desk has ink splotches on it. Or that an armchair looks a little worse for wear.  I need to see little flaws and imperfections to feel at home with something. To me, perfectly appointed homes are like faces with too much botox; expressionless and boring.

FWR: Ha, ha! Too true! I couldn’t agree more! Thanks so much for the fabulous tour, Jane.

Image credits for rooms:
1. Image from Marie Claire Maison
2. Image by Rachel Smith (via Desire to Inspire)
3. Image by Light Locations (via Luphia Loves)

Product credits:
First product image:
a. Furniture from Commute
b. Mason jars by Heyday Designs
c. Retort lamp Stylegarage / Gus*Modern
d. Ceramics by Jennifer Graham
e. Timber table by Stylegarage / Gus*Modern
f. Ceramic pine cones by Coe and Waito

Second product image:
a. Ceramics by Paige Russell at Made
b. Cushions by Bev Hisey
c. Bark-edged side tables by Deanne Lehtinen at Made
d. Rug by Bev Hisey
e. Streetcar serigraph by Charles Pachter
f. Tote by Virginia Johnson

Third product image:
a. Pendant by Propellor Design at Made
b. Ontario Embroidery by Atlantic Treefox
c. Pedestal plate by Herriott Grace
d. Canadian animal softies by Bookhou
e. Furniture from Commute
f. Felt stool by Bookhou

It seems that, lately, I keep running into designer Frank Roop. Not physically, of course. Just virtually: Every time I spot an image of an interior I love, turns out it’s by Frank Roop. It must be a sign that I need to post something about his work. So here goes…

The four images below are all via Studio Annetta (a very cool blog by an Australian designer living in Hong Kong).

Frank Roop

His style is very classic and restful, but with some twists, like the bookshelves in the room below. Plus, he’s partial to a little sparkle. Check out the wall sculpture above the fireplace.

Frank Roop

Roop aims to create ‘couture’ interiors – I think that’s a good word to describe his work, but these rooms are also extremely livable.

Frank Roop

The image below is a perfect study in textures: linen, silk, sisal, glass and mother of pearl (or is that bony inlay?). Even the wallpaper suggests smooth tiles. Or maybe those are tiles? He uses a lot of velvet too.

Frank Roop

The next images are all from Roop’s own site. Love this desk by the window.

Frank Roop

There’s that tile effect on the wall again. It somehow makes the space seem more stately.

Frank Roop

It’s a brave designer who creates such an eye-catching seating area under a grim AC vent. But it works.

Frank Roop

More natural textures. This desk is stunning.

Frank Roop

So simple…. I noticed something with the styling of this photo though – the chairs are all pulled away from the table. Maybe that’s what makes the space seem so airy. Nice trick.

Frank Roop

Now this is one heck of a studio apartment!

Frank Roop

There, see why I keep being drawn back to this designer?

While researching a recent post, I came across the work of Turkish design duo, Seyhan Ozdemir and Sefer Caglar – known as Autoban. Their work is industrial and edgy, but still manages to look comfortable and inviting. Check out this living room.



They also do commercial interiors. I would love to visit this Istanbul hotel they designed: Hotel Wittistanbul. Is that wallpaper with a metallic pattern or is it backlit screens with cutouts? Who knows but I like it!




If you want to replicate the look at home, they do a line of furniture and lamps too.

Photos by Richard Powers.

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