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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.

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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.

I am a huge fan of neutral interiors. Huge. Those people who say beige is boring can’t have seen it done right. To me, nothing is more soothing and elegant than a beautifully balanced scheme with whites, grays, taupes, chocolates and charcoals. So this post is both a defense and a celebration of neutral interiors. Here (in no particular order) are my top ten all-time favorite neutral interiors.

1. Contemporary cool

Neutral modern living roomModern living room with tan leather sofas

My number one room is actually two adjoining rooms, designed by Charlie & Co Design in Minneapolis (via Houzz). Each has a slightly different feel but the overall effect is very cohesive. I love the concrete fireplace, tan leather sofas and mixed material cabinetry.

2. Eclectic organic

Hallway with neutral Moroccan tiles

Entry halls are difficult to make interesting because there’s limited space for furniture and accessories. So making the most of the surfaces is important. This hallway uses an eclectic mix of Moroccan-inspired tiled floors, period molding and organic materials and shapes such as the branch mirror (and the woodblock table and Jonathan Adler lamp in the adjoining room)  to make a stunning neutral space. Apply the same lessons to other spaces and use pattern and texture to liven up a neutral interior. Via The Marion House Book.

3. Modern lodge

Contemporary ski lodge

I’ve featured this room before but had to include it here because it’s such a great example of neutrals done right. The only splash of ‘color’ is in two tiny pillows, but this space is anything but drab. That’s because the color actually comes from the use of lots of honey-hued wood. Interesting shapes and lots of tactile materials such as linen, rope (or cane?) chairs and felt. House designed by John Maniscalco Architecture via Houzz.

4. Fashionable classic

Collette Dinnogan living room

Here’s a neutral space with a completely different vibe. This is the former living room of fashion designer Collette Dinnigan, featured in Elle Decor (via LiveBreatheDecor). There’s virtually no color here at all (unless, is that a pale lilac throw…?) and yet the space is both interesting and beautiful. The pale furniture lets the period fireplace take center stage, while the modern floor lamp keeps it all from looking too saccharine sweet. If you have a strong feature like this mantelpiece, an uncluttered neutral scheme – with plenty of negative space to let it breathe – is a good way to make the most of it.

5. Upscale artistic

white living room

This space is a work of art – and not just because of the huge canvases. I love the herringbone wood floors, gently curving staircase, uneven turned wood floor lamp and the balance of black, white and beige. This is a great example of how unique shapes can enliven a very straightforward color scheme. The bentwood ball, on the other hand, just makes me think of tumbleweed… Via Canadian House and Home

6. Urban luxury

Klly Hoppen loft

No neutral round-up would be complete without a room from the Queen of Taupe herself, Kelly Hoppen. This designer is renowned for her stunningly luxurious interiors, characterized by acres of taupe linen, black wood and polished crystal. I personally like her own London loft (above) best as it’s more accessible and yet still inspirational. This is one room to study if you want to know how to make beige sumptuous.

7. Nature-inspired

white living room with plants

One way to bring a neutral interior to life is with lots of plants. The greenery adds color without it actually ‘counting’ as color. I love the way this contemporary space uses frothy ferns, a hide rug and sequined pillows to make a more industrial loft friendly and inviting. Via Apartment Therapy

8. Understated glamor

Neutral living room

The thing about neutral spaces is that you can go completely OTT on glamor, but it will never look kitschy. Take this stunning apartment, featured in Lonny Magazine. Opulent chandelier? Check. Herringbone hide rug? Check. Faux antlers? Check. Both Bertoia AND Calvin chairs? Of course. This is the epitome of glamor and yet it’s tasteful (and gorgeous) because the palette is so subtle.

9. Relaxed Californian

White and wood living room

Well, if you know me, you know I love this room and come back to it time and time again. OF course, it’s the living room of Julie from Remodelista. What do I not love about this space? White cathedral ceilings, wood shelves, an Eames rocker. But the reason I think it’s a great example of a neutral room is that it shows how the right layout and the emphasis on a few key features (in this case the shelving) can make all the difference.

10. Hamptons classic

Thomas O'Brien Hamptons living room

Where else to search for the ultimate neutral interior than a designer’s Hamptons retreat? This is the home of Thomas O’Brien, via Habitually Chic, and is a great example of how different warm whites, layered expertly, with a little dark brown or black to anchor it, can create a casually-styled look. O’Brien is a collector at heart and his rooms always have an inspiring mix of pieces – from stacked books to unusual lamps. If you want to make a neutral space warm and personal, start here.

So, what have I missed? Any other stunning neutral spaces that should make it into the top ten list?

Wow. It’s been weeks, months even, since I posted last.  Real life took over and I ended up with barely a moment to myself, let alone the time needed to blog. But it hasn’t all been hard work, travel, and family! I’ve actually been pretty busy with a few design projects. So I thought I’d end my blogging hiatus with a brief round-up.

Thank you’s and mentions

I’ve been honored to be featured on several fabulous blogs and web sites in the past few week. Natalie Myers of SoSmartalec, featured our house on Houzz.

BabyLifestyle.com did a cute piece on our youngest son’s nursery.

And Alice in Designland featured a photo tour of our house. Thank you all for your kind mentions.

Our kitchen renovation

Believe it or not, we still haven’t broken ground on our renovation. But it’s close, I promise! Most of the design choices have been made. I’ve changed my ideas somewhat since this post. But, the core elements remain the same. I will provide more detail in later posts, but, for now, here’s the image that has been the cornerstone of inspiration (via this site).

Yes, I know, it’s not a kitchen. But here’s what I like: it combines period architecture with mid-century and modern furniture and elegant neutral colors. It’ll be great, honestly…. As a sneak preview, here’s the color palette.

There’s silver travertine (for the backsplash tiles), white quartz, walnut shelves, matte white cabinets, and flint tile flooring. The palette has moved on since my last post on this topic, the reason being that I decided to stay more in keeping with the period architecture of the house, while still creating a contemporary look.

I’ve also been working on some designs for friends, family and readers. Oh, and our company is planning a new office so that’s at the back of my mind too.

So it’s been busy round here. But at least there will be lots to update on in the next few weeks. Watch this space…

I’ve been busy sourcing fixtures and fittings for the kitchen renovation. As a reminder, we’re looking for a kitchen that combines matte white cabinets, white quartz countertops, and warm-wood flooring and shelving.

This Bulthaup kitchen has been my inspiration for cabinets:

And these two stunning kitchens from Houzz show the type of wood finish I’m looking for, except here it’s used in much greater quantities:

(By Schwartz and Architecture)

(By John Maniscalco Architecture)

I’ve found that Alno, a German manufacturer of kitchens has some great options. Here’s one in wood-effect glass. It’s not the one I’ll choose (you’ll have to wait for that!) but it gives you a good idea of the style.

So, in trying to put it all together, here’s what I’ve come up with so far.

Of course, we’re still getting all the contractor bids together so haven’t even broken ground yet. But at least I know what kind of cereal bowls we’ll have….!

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.

The plans for our kitchen are starting to come together – although we still have a long way to go before we can start picking out fixtures and fittings. That hasn’t stopped my mind from wandering onto topics such as which backsplash to choose…

I didn’t really want to go with tiles as they can look rather traditional. But a backsplash of glass or steel seemed too plain, given that the cabinets and countertop will likely be white. The ideal option would be a Carrera marble countertop that extends up the wall to form a backsplash, but that’s out of the question for both practicality (it stains) and cost reasons.

Then I discovered the new range of tiles from Heath ceramics, with patterns designed by Dwell.

I think I may have found my solution – the Half Hex Mix. These are neutral and modern but have a little interest. The finish is matte, which is exactly what I wanted. There are several other equally enticing designs.

This is the Half Hex Stack.

And this is the Wide Hex Twist. There are many colors to choose from, although I like this selection here.

Fortunately, the Heath Ceramics showroom is right here in San Francisco (well, Sausalito) so I dropped by this weekend and wasn’t disappointed. Brought home 11 samples so surely there will be something there for us… Watch this space for the final decision.

We are in the market for a new kitchen this year. It’s going to be a huge relief to finally get rid of the ancient cabinets, cracked floor tiles and crazy layout. I’ll try to record the process here and will get the first few ‘before’ shots up soon. Meantime, I’m at the inspiration-collecting stage. I know I want a streamlined white kitchen but I don’t want it to look too clinical. So I plan to introduce some warm wood tones, probably in the flooring since that will also provide continuity with the adjoining rooms. And, you know me, a little bit of sparkle wouldn’t go amiss either… Anyway, here are some of the images currently fueling the creative process…

This one doesn’t have the wood floors, only a wood countertop. But the open shelves are great. Via Eloisa & Abelard.

This is one spectacular kitchen, via Design Manifest. Probably not exactly what I’m looking for as it has no wood at all and uses Shaker-style cabinets. But I do like the steel (or is it zinc?) doors.

This is a very streamlined kitchen but still manages to incorporate warmth with the taupe walls and pendant lights. I’m not looking for glossy cabinets, but they do reflect the light beautifully here. Via Living Etc.

This one has a much more organic feel with open shelves and wood-framed doors. Stepping out onto a deck with a pool wouldn’t be bad either…! Via Coco and Kelley.

Another lovely light kitchen, which shows how well the white cabinets look against the flooring. Via Desire to Inspire.

This wall of cabinets is cute, but it’s the wide drawers that really appeal here. Photo by Per Magnus Persson.

What a great mix of old (herringbone flooring and cornicing) and new (lots of horizontal lines, wide drawers and the Moooi Random light fixture). Via this photostream.

Now I’m probably not going to end up with a Bulthaup kitchen, but if I did, I’d like it to be this one.

This kitchen mixes materials very effectively. The Carrera marble makes a stunning backdrop to those open shelves. I’m also a big fan of the ‘waterfall’ countertops down the side of the island. From Canadian House and Home.

Not a fan of the flooring or the countertops here, but the chandelier light fixture adds just the right amount of sparkle. Also from Canadian House and Home.

Ok, this isn’t exactly a kitchen, but I do love the combination of white chairs and vintage wood table. By Vicente Wolf.

The last two are via Houzz. Lots to love about this kitchen: the unique hood, the little floating block shelves on the backsplash, the high stools, the mini pendants over the island.

More beautiful Carrera marble, dark wood floors and some striking glass pendants.

No doubt there will be many more twists and turns in this particular design journey, so watch this space…

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?

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