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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.

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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.

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?

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

My first Ideabook for Houzz appeared recently on the site’s home page. It’s a round-up of accessories to create a curated look for your home. I think the current trend for curated spaces is one that will be around for a while. It’s a more personal, easy-going way of decorating. Curated rooms are filled with well-made, meaningful treasures, which have been carefully edited. This takes time and so these spaces have more long-lasting appeal. In fact, this trend is so entrenched that entire business models have been built around it: online retailers are all launching sub-brands that sell ‘one-of-a-kind’ pieces and jumping on the daily deal bandwagon but with collections curated by tastemakers.

I’m a big fan of the curated look. But even though it looks effortless, achieving the effect is quite an art. Here are five beautifully curated houses that I believe have got it right.

Curated mantelpiece

The first two are from Emma Reddington’s picks on House and Home. This first, although just a glimpse of the mantelpiece, indicates an artfully composed space that still retains a homey, informal feel. The key here is contrasting styles: a simple modern fireplace, gilt mirror, Moroccan rug and carefully-selected prints all balance each other out making the space accessible. The symmetrical lamps help pull the whole look together.

Curated living room

This upscale living room is at the opposite end of the spectrum. It’s far from homey, in large part because of the size, grand architectural details and multiple seating areas. But the decor is a major contributor to this space’s high-end curated feel. Every piece seems so unexpected.

Eclectic global living room

This room, via Elle Decor, is somewhere in between. I just love this space. It actually has very few pieces in it, but each is so well chosen that I still class it as curated. The armoire with baskets on top is a big factor in defining this room’s character, as is the live edge coffee table. The trick here seems to be to use fewer, large-scale pieces and then used relaxed fabrics to prevent the space from feeling sparse.

Eclectic living room

The rich red in this room is mouthwatering! Also via Elle Decor, this room is much more feminine and traditional. But the coffee tables add some edginess. This is an example of a room that has a curated feel using only furniture, rather than accessories and art. There are two notable accessories – the coral and quartz pieces – but the impact comes from the rug, chairs, sofa and coffee tables, all of which look like they have been collected carefully over the years.

Modern wood living room

Yet another different curated space – this time using organic textures to unify a room that is packed with treasures. This one has such a cozy, eclectic vibe – and of course killer views. It just proves that curated interiors don’t have to feel like art galleries. Via Living Etc.

So what defines a curated space for you?

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.

If truth be told, I’m a little scared of house plants. I think it’s the commitment required. Plants often come with a sizable price tag, they need caring for, and there’s always the possibility that they’ll become too big or just start dropping leaves. It can also be hard to choose a plant that fits your style and that you won’t tire of. But, if you can handle all that, they’re worth it. Not only do plants bring a beautiful sculptural element into your space, but it is said they remove toxins, reduce noise and alleviate stress too. What’s not to love?

So, for other plant-phobes out there, here are three easy ways to introduce stylish greenery into your home.

1. The plant of designers: the fiddle-leaf fig

interior-decorating-house-plants

interior-decorating-house-plants

Dark gray living room walls with plants

I haven’t done the research, but I bet that if you leafed (sorry) through the past five years of Elle Decor, the most frequently-sighted plant would be a fiddle-leaf fig. It’s a clear favorite with interior designers because of its sculptural qualities. With large glossy leaves, it works in modern and classic schemes, as well as those with an artistic or global vibe. It always makes a statement.. (Photos 1 and 2 above by William Waldron via Elle Decor; photo 3 via RDuJour)

2. Splendid succulents

succulents+interior+design

Via Haus Design. Anyone can grow a succulent. Well, anyone that doesn’t live in Alaska that is. I was converted into a fan of succulents after planting a few in terracotta pots in our garden – and watching them develop into interesting shapes and colors throughout the year (with barely any effort from me). Indoors, they make striking table centers, windowsill arrangements or even wall decor. They’re fun for kids to look after too.

succulent+table+decorating

The table setting above is actually from a wedding. If you are still unconvinced about the beauty of succulents, take a look at the photos of this stunning event, via photographer Stephanie Williams’ site. You won’t be disappointed. As a taster, look: succulents even make gorgeous bouquets and hair adornments!

succulent+wedding+bouquet

3. If in doubt, arrange some leafy branches

branch+leaves+vase+table

Via Bromeliad. I’m sure my third tip will be met with derision as it’s not technically about plants. But, if you crave some greenery and are strictly low-commitment, an arrangement of leaves and branches is a great option. Much more modern and effortless than a floral display, these bursts of greenery can really inject life into a scheme.

Country+dining+room+branches

Via Canadian House and Home. Whether in a contemporary or traditional setting, a simple glass vase with a branch of bright green leaves is an easy way to add energy, height and interest.

Any other tips for those of us without green thumbs?

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?

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.

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