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Can we go outside yet? I know the trees and flowers have been blooming in Victoria for weeks, and Calgary's had some nice weather, but we're definitely still shivering away in Ontario, Quebec and the Maritimes. But that isn't keeping me from daydreaming of days spent in the backyard — bringing our garden back up to speed and the kids passing full Saturdays and Sundays out in the fresh air.

With the sun not quite as strong as in summer and humidity not yet an issue, spring can actually be nicer than summer for outdoor pursuits. To inspire your kids to get out there, consider adding something new — like one of these five toys — to spur on play and venture into the cooler weather.

1. Disc Swing

We have the simplest board-and-rope swing in our front yard, and it never fails to entice every single kid who comes to our house. Installing a disc swing is even simpler than a two-rope swing because you don't have to contend with levelling the two sides of the swing. Retailers like The Home Depot and Canadian Tire stock inexpensive versions, and there are handsomely crafted and stained version on Etsy. To make your own, check out the blog Dukes & Duchesses.

2. Skateboard Swing

I'd hazard a guess that skateboard swings use more of a child's muscles and help develop large-motor skills like balance. But to kids, all that matters is that they're just plain fun. Here's an easy how-to.

3. Hanging Hideout

The Victorians are said to have loved their fresh air. If your house doesn't have a wraparound veranda like they had, a hanging chair is a lovely outdoor retreat. It's like a hybrid of a swing and a fort. The Cacoon hanging tent (left) is good-looking and fun. And the egg-shaped rattan hanging chair (right) designed by Nanna and Jørgen Ditzel for Sika Design in 1957 is a classic that appears to be having another comeback this year.

4. Balance Beam

Don't have the space or budget for a palatial play structure? A balance beam is something quick and easy to add, but that will foster all sorts of play, not just balancing. I'm seriously contemplating one for our postage stamp-sized backyard. Cedarworks (above, top) has a sturdy outdoor version. And Ikea (above) has an indoor one that I'd use out in the yard when it's not too damp. Ikea's is higher, so I'd pair it with their Plufsig folding gym mat for extra cushioning when my kids fall.

5. Sandbox

There's no denying the appeal of a sandbox. My girls started playing in them as babies and my 9-year-old can still while away an hour or so in the sand. But if you're doing one, why not take it to another level? Here are two unique examples: a recycled wooden boat-turned-sandbox and a rolling version featured in Domino magazine years ago.

6. Theatre Or Puppet Show Curtain

My kids love to put on shows. They sing, dance, recite poems ... you name it. Last summer, when we were camping with seven other families, they strung up a rope between two trees, threw a few beach towels and sarongs over it and performed a concert lit by lanterns and headlamps. Wouldn't a stage curtain like this up their game? I spotted it on Etsy a couple of years ago. Sadly, it seems like it's not available through House That Lars Built anymore, but I flirt with the idea of stitching up a replica when I have the time. For kids who love puppet shows, this doorway puppet theatre curtain would be a hit.

Hopefully the temperatures will heat up soon and we can all venture outdoors!

See what else you can do with a small backyard in our photo gallery.

Photo credits:
1-3. VintageSwings, Etsy
4. Dukes & Duchesses blog
5a. Cedarworks
5b. Dig This Design blog
6a. Cacoon hanging tent
6b. Shoot Factory
7. Cedarworks
8. Ikea
9. Desire Empire blog
10. Domino via Nonchalant Mom blog, photography by Melanie Acevedo
11. HouseThatLarsBuilt, Etsy


Katie Hayden

I now live less than 10 minutes from an Ikea. This is highly convenient for work scouting after enjoying the famous $1 breakfast accompanied by at least two cups of Ikea coffee, which I adore. I hit up the store today and was wowed by so many new things. Here are some of my faves:

Who doesn't love a demilune table? The Arkelstorp ($129) comes with a green, white or black-painted base. I prefer the black. I'd probably paint the top black, too — doing so would make it slightly less country and more versatile. I'd get two to flank a fireplace or use one as an entry table.

This famous Frosta stool ($20) is back. Those bent ply legs are iconic. Perf as a bedside table in a kid's room or cottage, a drinks table, or even just, you know, as a stool! I have mixed feelings about the almost-neon coloured top. I sort of wish it was also natural birch. I might be inclined to paint the top white.

This sexy injection-moulded polypropylene number, called Janinge, could easily be mistaken for a Italian version that would cost 10 times more than its $69 price tag. It's stackable, comfy and (praise be!) requires NO assembly! I want three for my office at work. (It doesn't seem to be on the website, so run to your local Ikea to check stock in case it's been discontinued!)

Most of the hoopla at Ikea these days is about the new Sektion kitchen system. All the kitchens at the stores are newly installed and feature the new system plus a huge array of new countertops. I picked up all the planning booklets and will be studying them over the weekend. Partly because I'm a nerd like that, but partly because I'm in the midst of planning storage solutions for my new laundry room and mudroom at our country house in Tweed, Ont., and for our bedroom at our city condo. Above are my three favourite door styles. I can't say that I've ever felt drawn to dark wood cabinets before, but the warm chocolatey tone and thin raised edge detail of Ekestad won me over. The one in the centre is called Björket and is a perfect crisp Shaker profile. You could paint them out, but I do like this blond wood tone — very Vincent Van Duysen! And lastly, the perfection of this last white door, called the Råsdal, is hard to capture via an iPhone shot. The finish is like a whitewash over white ash so you see the wood grain through the paint. It's so lovely. There are so many more door styles — seems like more than ever before.

The new kitchen system includes tons of organizers and bells and whistles to customize your storage. These two handy items are standouts. On the left is the LED under-cabinet lighting system called the Utrusta. It's so sleek and narrow that you don't even really need a valance piece to conceal it. I'm actually thinking of switching to this system. On the right is the Ansluta remote ($15), which allows you to dim your kitchen lighting. I definitely want this because under-cabinet lighting needs to be bright when you're working away, but it's nice to dim it in the evenings when you're entertaining or just popping in and out for a snack.

This oversized cabinet hardware made me smile and I'd love to use them somewhere! The knobs on the left are called Norrbyn ($3.49) and are almost 3" in diameter. Fun colours! The 7-1/2"-long demilune pulls on the right are called Tosterup, and also come in white and red. They would look great on two-door cabinets because they'd look like a giant polkadot when then doors are closed.

Okay, this is unglamorous but very useful for those of you with wall-mounted TVs who either can't or haven't hidden your cords behind the wall. Nestle them in the $5 Uppleva channel and then paint the thing the same colour as your wall. Not as good as behind the wall but a gajillion times better than unsightly cords.

The Backvial bedspread is coming home with me for sure. And I need two more for a cottage I'm decorating. It's pure cotton and comes in two sizes. The largest is only $40. I just know this will get better after softening up in the laundry, too.

These pieces are both called Bittergurka. They are from the garden section, but I'd use the planter ($15) in my kitchen to stash oil and vinegar cruets, salt and pepper grinders and a head of garlic right by the cooktop. The jug ($16) is a watering can. It's so great-looking that I would leave it out and then maybe my fiddle leaf fig might get water and have a fighting chance.

The Enigt side plate ($3.50) would add a little dose of spring to my plain white dinnerware and is just waiting for a pretty salad to top it off.

See more great ideas from Ikea in the H&H-designed kitchen at this year's Interior Design Show.

Photo credits:
1-10. Margot Austin


Margot Austin

Just in time for Spring, Hudson's Bay has released a Home Look Book featuring 56 pages of the latest finds for your home. Inside you'll find inspiring room shots, along with furniture, accessories, tabletop items, small appliances, bed and bath, lighting and more. (This blog post is brought to you by Hudson's Bay.)

Here's the bright, super-fun cover. So much eye-candy inside, too! (Click here to flip through the book online.) To celebrate the launch, Hudson's Bay is giving away one $3,500 design consultation with Brian Gluckstein. Enter for your chance to win here.

One of the key pictures you'll be seeing this Spring: The Room of the Season. Want to steal the look? Watch this video with Arren Williams, Creative Director of Home at Hudson's Bay, and learn more about the room.

As part of the launch, H&H editors Margot Austin, Sarah Hartill, Joel Bray and Meg Crossley have each selected their top 5 picks at Hudson's Bay Home this season. My personal pick: the charming Kate Spade Charlotte Street canisters and pitchers. It's blue-and-white dishes done in a fun, fresh way. In addition to seeing the editors' top finds online, Toronto fans will also be able to check them out next week in-store! See below for details.

Lynda Reeves and the H&H design editors, designer Brian Gluckstein and Arren Williams invite you to Celebrate Spring! Come out to the Queen St. flagship on Thursday, March 12, from 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. You'll have the chance to win prizes, see design demos and explore the new sixth floor. Click here to invite your friends on Facebook.

We look forward to seeing you there! Be sure to flip through the Spring Home Book, browse our editors' picks and Pin your favourite finds.

Photo credits:
Hudson's Bay


Seema Persaud

I just moved into a new condo with my spouse, and although the layout is perfect, it's a bit plain, a tad boring, and a whole lot of basic; the perfect blank canvas! We were on a tight budget but still wanted to add some personality to the space. A kitchen or bathroom renovation would have been out of our budget, and the condo isn't old enough to need an overhaul in those spaces, so we started with a bedroom makeover. (Watch the transformation come to life on Online TV!)

The walls were "primer white", the carpet was wall-to-wall "dirty ivory", the ceiling had a popcorn finish, and the window covering, well, it was downright offensive: a faux marble pattern on vertical blinds — enough said! Here's the before photo:

We managed to change all of the above on our tight budget, with plenty of DIY projects. Here's how:

After emptying out the room, the first thing to go was the carpeting. The apartment was a rental before we purchased it, so it was quite dirty, plus we have a cat, so I didn't want wall-to-wall carpet. If you live in a condo, be sure to check with your condo board regarding the rules — some condos require you to have flooring on top of the concrete. I wanted to leave the concrete floor exposed, so the carpet tacking along the sides of the room had to be removed once the carpet was up. I used a crow bar to remove the strips and nails in the floor. Then I cleaned and scrubbed the gunk and spray paint off the concrete — leftover from the condo's original construction — with a wire brush, trowel, soap and water. You can use a chemical concrete cleaner like this one from The Home Depot, but I found I didn't really need it. I did, however, need a lot of elbow grease! This is what the floor looked like before I scrubbed it clean:

Once cleaned, I filled the holes leftover from the tack strip nails with concrete filler — wear goggles if you're going to attempt this! I forgot to put my goggles back on after taking a small break and some of the filler splashed into my eye, resulting in a wonderful half hour spent with my face under the tap flushing my stinging eye out with water — not fun! Safety first!

When this process is finished you can leave the floor as-is and put a rug down or you can take it a step further and seal the floor with a concrete sealer, to protect the porous surface from staining. I layered an affordable jute rug from Ikea and a cowhide right on top of the concrete and I'm really happy with the industrial feel that it gave the room.

I've heard so many horror stories about scraping popcorn ceilings that I was really dreading the task. Luckily, the ceiling had never been painted and the popcorn came off with very little effort. I simply picked up a spray bottle, filled it with water, and sprayed a 2-foot by 2-foot area at a time, waited about 30 seconds for the water to absorb and then scraped off the popcorn texture with a large trowel. The trick is to not oversaturate the ceiling or you might damage the drywall underneath (I'm guilty of a few gouges in our ceiling). Be sure to use safety goggles and a dust mask. Also keep in mind that this task is extremely messy, and appropriate prep is a good idea. If your flooring is not being replaced, cover it with a plastic drop cloth and use painters tape to tape the edges of the drop cloth to the walls so that there are no gaps. If you don't plan on cleaning and painting the walls, use plastic to cover your walls, too. If your home is older, you'll want to test for asbestos in the ceiling texture and/or call in a professional to get rid of it. Once you've finished scraping, wipe the ceiling down with a damp sponge — I used a handy drywall sponge from The Home Depot. It has a textured side that will scrape any remaining rough parts off the ceiling easily and quickly. Then patch any gouges, sand and prime the ceiling before painting or covering in wallpaper. Treating the freshly smooth ceiling with a fun paint colour or patterned wallpaper is a good way to celebrate the removal of the popcorn! We splurged on a bird print and finished the look with crown moulding. It's an inexpensive material with minimal installation costs, and really made the wallpaper pop.

After much deliberation regarding lighting, I chose to hang an oversized drum shade fixture from Ikea. I really loved the look of their new Nymö shade with copper on the inside, but the perforated detail felt a bit busy against the wallpaper. With a few modifications, I was able to achieve the look that I wanted using their original large white Nymö shade spray-painted with a copper finish. To prevent the blotchiness of the paint from showing through the shade when the light is turned on, I gave the outside of the shade a quick coat of white paint. Something dramatic like black would also be a great choice. To hang the shade, I used a cord set found at a local hardware store. I love an oversized pendant in a small space because it draws the eye upwards and can actually make the space feel larger. I made mine for a fraction of the price that higher-end versions sell for.

My existing nightstands lacked character and were too small and boxy. I found an old nightstand at a hotel liquidator with a traditional shape, which I sanded, primed and painted matte black. I paired it with a modern, marble top tulip table for an eclectic look.

The art above the nightstand is a photo I took of a contemporary art installation at Centre Pompidou in Paris while we were on vacation. I made some colour modifications to the original in Photoshop, printed and framed it in an awesome square brass frame from CB2. A unique piece of art for around $50!

The larger artwork next to the bed was made using a section of an old drop cloth that had been used over and over again for various painting projects. It had some really interesting and abstract markings on it. I was originally going to paint something abstract myself onto a canvas, but I felt the pressure of a blank canvas staring back at me. I toyed with the idea of different abstract painting techniques, but when I saw this drop cloth at the office, I knew it was meant to be. I cut off the best section and stapled it around a blank canvas with a wooden frame. It gave the space the right amount of gritty edge.

My least favourite part of the space was the marbled vertical blinds. I wanted a window covering that would allow for two different light levels in the room while providing privacy. Ikea had the perfect drapes at the right length, for the right price. I installed the Ritva drapes, which let plenty of light through, onto the existing track that was used for the vertical blinds. I manually made a pinch fold in the drape every few inches and wedged the fabric into the grips that previously held the plastic vertical panels. For the second layer, I chose the Sanela dark grey velvet drape for its rich texture and light-blocking thickness, and hung this layer from a curtain rod. Now I can use the first layer to let soft light in during the day, or I can shut the second layer to darken the room when I want to sleep in.

Last but not least, I should mention the wall colour, which is the change that made the most impact for the lowest price. I've been inspired by shades of oxblood in fashion shows for a while now, and I knew I wanted a deep and dark wall colour, so Benjamin Moore's Bewitched (CSP-450) in a matte finish was the perfect choice to add the drama that I wanted.

All in all the transformation didn't break the bank and I achieved the rich layers and character I was after. Now I'm contemplating which room to tackle next!

Watch the transformation come to life on Online TV, where you'll find a complete list of products, as well.

Photo credits:
1-8. Jennifer Koper


Jennifer Koper

We never really set out to renovate our bathroom.

And yet here we are with a new space that feels as breezy and fresh as a whitewashed summer cottage. A crisp white vanity is a definite upgrade on the old one (see 'before' photos below), and its style is echoed by the sweet shelf/towel bar — which also lets me have a display spot in this relatively utilitarian space. The big 12" x 24" slate floor tiles from Creekside Tile are chic and outdoorsy. The palest sky blue — Borrowed Light (235) by Farrow & Ball — on the walls is a bit more playful and vintage-y than white, and it's contrasted by the warm plum tone of the drapes in the hall outside. H&H senior design editor Sarah Hartill, who coordinated this charming makeover, finished the look off with some pretty flowers.

So how'd we get here?

Our bathroom was a small addition to our house, completed just 10 or 15 years ago by the previous owners, so it functioned fairly well — and it wasn't as dated as the adjoining kitchen. (It has a large, walled-in shower stall at one end, which we left as is.)

But in renovating the kitchen (featured in our March 2015 issue), we decided to run the new slate kitchen floor right into the bathroom — a natural choice because the two spaces were connected without a threshold, and it would have almost been harder to maintain the old bathroom floor than jackhammer it out when we were ripping out the kitchen floor.

In the process, our old vanity got banged up, and my husband, Scott, and I decided we'd replace our toilet with a low-flow version while it was removed from the room for the installation of the new slate floor.

The new vanity is outfitted with smart see-through Godmorgon inserts and organizers from Ikea, which helps keep this hard-working family bathroom operating smoothly.

A tailored linen blind (Sarah had it made by Tonic Living) replaced a fussy (and really hard to clean) plastic slat blind.

Because it was an unplanned expenditure, Sarah and I tried to keep the budget low and the look simple and timeless. We chose clean-lined white pieces, and just a few accents to add character.

Here's a list of what we used in the transformation:

Construction, installation, contracting, Ikea Installation Services; Hemnes/Rättviken sink cabinet with two drawers, Ensen faucet, Musik wall lamp, Ronglan mirror, Kolja mirror, Hjälmaren towel hanger/shelf, Savern steel lidded trash basket, drawer inserts, towels, flowerpot, garbage can, soap dish, towel hook (background), Ikea; trim and ceiling colour, Wimborne White (239), Farrow & Ball; drape fabric (background), blind fabric, drape and blind sewing, Tonic Living; painting, Vintage Fine Objects; toilet, Kohler.

Pick up our March 2015 issue for before and after photos of my kitchen, plus watch a tour of the kitchen on Online TV.

Photo credits:
1, 3, 5. Ashley Capp
2, 4. Katie Hayden


Katie Hayden

The Bloomsbury group was an informal group of intellectuals, writers and artists that lived and worked in the Bloomsbury neighbourhood of London around 1910. The group had a number "members" but the most famous perhaps is the writer Virginia Woolf.

Over the past 105 years, the Bloomsbury group and their work have inspired film, fashion, literature and decor. Charleston House, the Sussex home of painters Vanessa Bell (Virginia Woolf's sister) and Duncan Grant is now a museum open to the public. It's often used as a location for photo shoots and film.

I've personally been very inspired by this country house. So I was happy to use my own Toronto home as the backdrop for a Bloomsbury story that my colleague Stacey Smithers and I produced for the March 2015 issue. (You can also watch an Online TV tour of my Bloomsbury-inspired home.)

Here are three tips for bringing a bit of Bloomsbury style to your own home:

1. Be creative with paint. The most striking thing about Charleston House is perhaps the paintings, and I'm not talking about the art framed and hung throughout the house. While those are certainly present, it's the murals on the walls, the painted furniture and various painted objects that stand out to me.

To achieve a similar feel, I suggest picking up a paintbrush and some paint. Now, Kai, you say, Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant were talented artists. What if I lack any artistic ability? I say, who cares? It doesn't matter. I can barely make a recognizable stick man. And while I happen to be married to a very talented painter, I have a hard enough time pinning him down to help with small jobs like changing light bulbs, never mind painting me a mural. Being creative does not require a skilled hand, thankfully.

To give my narrow stairway some interest, I painted brushstrokes of Farrow & Ball colours from sample pots and then wrote the names of the paint colour beside each with a Sharpie. Farrow & Ball seemed like an obvious choice for this particular story since it's a historical paint company (and actually one of the sponsors of Charleston House). And they have a curated selection of incredible paint colours with some terrific names: Arsenic, Elephant's Breath, and my son's favourite, Babouche, to name a few.

2. Embrace colour and pattern. You don't have to go overboard here or go too bold. Many of the paint colours at Charleston House have a dusty quality — this likely has more to do with age than anything else — but there's something in the quality of these paint colours that make Charleston House seem much more livable than, say, a bright blue and red Mexican hacienda. Pattern can be as simple as a lovely paisley throw over a plain slipcovered piece of furniture.

3. Live with the things you love. Curate and display treasured belongings. Artwork (whether it be professional or a child's finger painting), photos and keepsakes (your grandmother's clock or a memento from a special time) should be put out somewhere where they can be admired. Again, you don't have to go overboard here. Things can start looking like an episode of Hoarders. (I'll admit, I have to edit my home continually as things sometimes start to veer in this direction.)

The Bloomsbury look may not be for everyone, but it's withstood the test of time with its warm mix of classic and creative. Try it out!

Pick up our March 2015 issue for more on this style.

Photo credits:
1-7. Charleston House


Kai Ethier

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