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In her delightful new book, Design Mom blogger Gabrielle Stanley Blair emphasizes making rooms in a family home as multipurpose as possible. This dining room, featured in the book, has been completely transformed into an inviting playroom for the kids – but one that can still pinch-hit as a dining room when needed. Excerpted from Design Mom: How to Live with Kids: A Room-by-Room Guide by Gabrielle Stanley Blair (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2015. 

Full disclosure: I’m a busy working parent, and when I get home, I often have little energy for big projects around the house. Putting my kids to bed at night and getting them to their one or two lessons each weekend is about all I can manage. In addition, I’ve worked in the world of interior design for the better part of 20 years, and I see my share of great rooms and savvy ideas on a daily basis. So when I reviewed Design Mom recently for H&H’s “Home Library” column, I was really surprised by how much I enjoyed it and by how fresh and inspiring Gabrielle Stanley Blair’s ideas are.

Early on in this smart, stylish guide on living with kids, Blair puts her finger on the crux of the problem: “Kids come with all sorts of gear — and it multiplies.” The down-to-earth solution, says the popular blogger and founder of the Alt Summit, riffs on William Morris’s adage “have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” Blair says: “Think of the beautiful teapot you use every single day. This should be your goal when choosing any object in your home — high function + high beauty.”

But should we change our decorating for life with kids? Blair thinks so, saying “design affects us and can alter relationships in a very real way.” She plans her own homes (and her family has had a number over the years) to encourage togetherness, even if everyone in the room isn’t focusing on exactly the same thing. Her book, she says, aims to teach us, “How to live with kids, and not just how to live, but how to live well.… One of the biggest things I’ve learned is that design doesn’t have to disappear when kids appear.” 

Blair is my hero when it comes to copyrighted cartoon characters. “It’s 100 percent possible to make a room your child will love without involving Olaf the Snowman,” she insists. I wholeheartedly agree. She created this enchanting bedroom for a youngster in love with Finding Nemo – and it’s surprisingly chic and parent-friendly. Excerpted from Design Mom: How to Live with Kids: A Room-by-Room Guide by Gabrielle Stanley Blair (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2015. 

The interior designer and mom of 6 (!) features reams of vibrant, approachable, livable rooms that lean slightly toward the contemporary but also incorporate a good dose of the quirky, the creative and the colourful. She sagely tackles the various zones and hotspots of the family home, offering unique and seasoned tips for the entryway, living room, kitchen, kids’ bedrooms, family room, laundry room, bathroom and family office, weaving together the wisdom she has gained wearing the two hats: mother and designer.

Her ideas are thoroughly practical and flexible. Idealism be damned – she's not afraid to advise, “Be willing to adjust to the current situation.” Likewise, as a relatively harried working parent, I appreciate her idea on timelines. “There’s no deadline. You’ve got a whole lifetime to work on it.”

Her warm ideas for family living have helped reinvigorate my goal to be a fun, involved parent and given me some fresh ideas for achieving that. I'm inspired by her recommendations to hold monthly interviews with each child; to do some goal-setting as a family; to crank good tunes during dinner cleanup and get the whole crew in on the action; to start a collection together as a family (even if it’s as simple and budget-friendly as collecting a couple lovely rocks on very trip we take); to create a stage-type space in my house for our pint-sized performer; keep a couple of thin, roll-up mattresses on hand for sleepover guests (which would keep us from having to drag a standard mattress through our narrow hallway from room to room when the girls have overnight guests…); and, perhaps most helpful for me, the family packrat, how to sort and purge kids artwork.

On the design side of things, she expounds on plans like establishing a functional command centre at the front door; rotating toys and clothes seasonally to make the odds and sods you’re living with on a daily basis more manageable; storing things where right you’ll use them; the best ways to make rooms multifunctional. She discusses the best family-friendly options for small-space seating, rugs, countertop materials, coffee tables, dishware, clothing and shoe storage and more. And she also includes several easy DIYs for making things like inexpensive but stylish cement planters, a “meaningful words” poster, a fabric-covered bulletin board, a customized laundry bag and a Sticky-Note calendar. 

Blair suggests using eye-catching dressup clothes as room decoration, which has the added benefit of making the outfits readily available for the kids to use. Excerpted from Design Mom: How to Live with Kids: A Room-by-Room Guide by Gabrielle Stanley Blair (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2015. 

So … what has Blair inspired me to change at my house? First up, I’m going to gussy up my laundry room.  I log several hours a week in there – why not kit it out ... even if it’s just for me! Then, I’m going to rotate out a bunch of my kids’ toys. I do it with their clothes each season – why not the toys, too? Don’t tell them, but some things may get rotated out permanently. Next, I’m going to invest in one of those clear plastic sets of drawers at a big box store and completely reorganize my art-supply cupboard. I’m never going to have enough space in my small city semi to have a separate craft or wrap room, and I’m the mom who hosts crafts parties for the kids in our gang, so why not indulge myself? Finally, I’m going to rethink my (extremely tight!) front hall and decide whether there are any ways I can make it better. After all, Blair insists, “setting up a functional entry is key to gracefully managing a home with kids,” and as her latest disciple, I’m going to see about making my busy life a bit more graceful. 

Photo credits:

1. The Land of Nod
2. Kristen Loken
3. Lesley Colvin


Katie Hayden 

Bring the outdoors in all summer long! Phantom Screens offers custom-made retractable screens for your windows, doors and large openings so you can keep bugs out of your home while letting fresh air in. Discover smart ways to bring indoor-outdoor style to your living room, kitchen and more in this blog post sponsored by Phantom Screens.

Here's a great example of how you can screen in a porch or patio to easily extend your home's living space. The large motorized screens are custom-built for your home so you can get an exact fit. The screens have sun and wind sensors, too, so you can program them to lower or retract when needed. You don't need to worry about installation either — Phantom Screens offers installation across North America. These screens get as large as 25' wide and 16' tall.

The screens are also ideal for single, sliding or French doors connected to your backyard, deck, patio or balcony. There are three mesh options available for the screens that each offer varying degrees of insect and UV protection, and light, temperature and privacy control. If you're worried about fading furniture, rugs or art, you can choose the solar mesh, which reduces heat and glare by up to 75%, or the privacy mesh, which blocks up to 90% of UV rays.

On French doors the screens are mounted on each side of the door frame and are pulled to the centre of the opening when needed, keeping bugs out, and retract out of site when needed – a great solution as the usual static screens don't work with double French doors. Because all Phantom Screens products are custom-made, unusual door sizes or openings won't be a problem either.

These retractable screens also fit a variety of windows, from casement and awning to sliding and tilt-and-turn.

The screens are ideal for kitchen windows as they help to let cooking smells out and cooler air in. With a range of mesh colour options you can find the perfect one to suit your interior and exterior, and if you prefer a wood grain finish on the screen frames, you can choose from 15 options including light pine, dark acacia and dark walnut.

Visit today to see more inspiring photos and to find a location near you.

Known for its environmental leadership, Costa Rica is a popular eco-destination. The nation’s determination to preserve natural resources greatly influences their lifestyle – including design and decor – and it’s not unusual to come accross some intriguing sustainable innovations such as treehouses or biogas-powered lodges

Discerning visitors are attracted to the rich cultural heritage of this lavishly green country hailed the "Switzerland of Central America". So if you travel through the capital city of San Jose, do visit the National Museum of Costa Rica and explore the fascinating past of this former Spanish colony; then stop at the Pre-Columbian Gold Museum, one of most important of its kind in Latin America.

The Galeria Namu deserves some special attention, since it focuses on fair trade for products made by local artisans. The art gallery also facilitates Eco-Ethno Tours, giving you a chance to meet with, and experience the culture of, indigenous communities. 

The art gallery specializes in tribal art along three defining styles: traditional objects used for everyday-life purposes or ceremonies; contemporary artwork; and reproductions of Pre-Columbian artefacts. Handmade pottery produced by indigenous artists often reflect their ancestral ways of living harmoniously with nature. The original polychromefinish vase, shown above, showcases the elegance of the jaguar, an animal much revered in Mesoamerican culture.

Art history aficionados will enjoy the reproductions of museum treasures available at  Galeria Namu. This shamanic ensign made in gold plating over bronze represents the transformation of the medicine man into a crocodile, reminiscent of the special mystical powers associated with religious leaders since ancient times.

In addition to celebrating Central American folk arts & crafts, Namu offers unique adventure trips to native villages, ideal for those who want to experience off-the-beaten-path Costa Rica while learning more about the country’s first nations. A sure way to get into Pura Vida mode – the national motto suggesting to enjoy life and stay optimist, whatever your circumstances.

Corinne’s travel tips : Visiting Costa Rica from December to April is more pleasant than during the sticky rainy season… if you can handle crowded hotels and beaches. For a more peaceful stay, fly in during the buffer months – why not attend the next edition of the international design festival or the fashion week in August? Visit the Costa Rican Tourism Board web site to plan an inspiring vacation in a country truly committed to green living.

Photo credits:

1, 7. Nature Air
2. National Museum of Costa Rica
3, 4, 5, 6. Galeria Namu 


Corinne Cécilia 

Have a deck in need of a makeover or hoping to create the perfect outdoor living room? Check out this collection of PVC decking from AZEK. The new Vintage Collection features three shades that give the look of stained wood — without the need to apply stain. Each board has a slightly different colour variation, which also helps to give it that natural look. The three colours were chosen based on the latest trends in hardscaping. (This blog post is sponsored by Azek.)

Here’s Dark Hickory – a deep, rich gray with lighter streaks.

Here’s Cypress, which has a light reddish hue.

And here’s Mahogany. This mid-brown finish has hits of red and dark streaking.

Like other Azek collections, the Vintage line is super-durable and stain- and scratch-resistant. (Meaning patio furniture, pets and BBQ spills won’t leave behind marks!) To learn more about Azek deck materials and to see more photos, visit

Are you a fan of staycations? The new Friday Harbour development on Lake Simcoe — an all-season resort-residence – will give Ontarians a place to unwind year-round without having to leave the country. At only a one-hour drive from the Greater Toronto Area, or a 90-minute GO Train ride, it's convenient for quick getaways. (This blog post is sponsored by Friday Harbour.)

The development has been in the works for 13 years now, and promises to be the ultimate place in Ontario for vacation living. The village boardwalk will include 12 buildings that will house over 550 residential units, from studio condos to six-bedroom townhouses. The first phase is scheduled to be ready for summer 2016, and phase two for summer 2017.

The boardwalk will also have over 50,000 sq. ft. of specialized shops and great restaurants. This rendering looks incredible.

Calling all boat-lovers: Just south of the village is the 40-acre inland marina, which will hold up to 1,000 boats and includes two private islands with approximately 300 townhomes, each with its own dock. The resort-residence also includes a golf course and hiking trails, along with shuttles and golf carts to easily get everyone around the resort.

For those who want to host a party, wedding or event, there's a double-deck riverboat available, and The Lake Club, a 35,000-sq.-ft. recreational centre right on the harbour, will include everything from swimming pools, badminton, games rooms, meeting rooms, movies and more. When winter hits, the cottage country zone will turn into chalet-style living, with ice fishing, ice hocking, skating, snowmobiling and cross-country skiing.

Wondering about the cost? There's a range of options available depending on your needs: boardwalk condos range from $239,000 to $1-million; harbour flats range from $269,000 to $899,000; two-story three-bedroom marina townhouses are $849,000 to $1-million; and the private island townhouses range from three- to six-bedrooms and go from $1.1-million to just under $2-million. Units in phase one of Friday Harbour are already sold out, and half of phase two is already sold!

Visit today to browse floorplans, see the finishes and features, and more.


Seema Persaud

We're so excited to announce that the House & Home Television app is live on Samsung Smart TVs in Canada and the United States! Now you can watch the very best of H&H TV in HD quality.

Inside the Samsung Smart Hub, you can get the H&H TV app if your TV is connected to the internet. You'll find us in the Lifestyle category, or by searching for "House and Home".

Once inside the app, you'll see our latest videos on-screen first. New videos are added to the app regularly. You can also browse by video type — Home Tours, DIY Projects, Makeovers, Decorating, Food, Seasonal, Artisans and Personalities — or, use "Search" to find exactly what you're looking for.

Within House Tours you'll find these sub-categories: Kitchens & Bathrooms, Family Homes, Small Spaces, Condos & Lofts, City Homes, Basements, Country & Cottage and Gardening & Outdoor Spaces.

Can't wait to binge-watch all my favourites in my living room!

Have a Samsung Smart TV? Try the app today and comment below with your thoughts! Or, tweet us @houseandhome with #HHStreamingTV.


Seema Persaud


Sheri Graham

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