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My first brush with the architectural style known as Brutalism occurred at this building. I spent many many hours at John P. Robarts library at the University of Toronto, poring over original journals for my thesis "British Travellers in France During the Revolutionary Era". The building was commonly referred to as Fort Book, but comparisons were also made to a peacock or Viking ship. The latter seemed apt to me as I often felt like a prisoner trapped in the hull. Good times.

You'd be forgiven if you assumed the term 'Brutalism' was a derivative of the word brutal. After all, take another look at that building. It's a brute. In fact, Brutalism originates from the French béton brut, or "raw concrete", a term that describes the material used to clad these buildings. Brutalism was reviled by many. Haters gonna hate, including Prince Charles.

But you know how sometimes the coolest thing to do is embrace the thing most people think is ugly? Well, that and a good dose of nostalgia, are behind a new appreciation of Brutalism.

In the decorative arts, the style is realized in rough hammered bronze, oxidized brass with jagged edges and bulky wooden case goods decorated in geometric designs. A recent trip to New York to tour the 1st Dibs gallery at the New York Design Center confirmed that Brutalism is definitely happening. Here are some finds.

This 1970s wall sculpture by Silas Seandel called "Sunspots" was tagged at $20,000.

I didn't catch the price on this mirror, but I predict you will be seeing modern reproductions of this type of item more and more in the coming year or so.

Brutalist lighting takes statement lighting to another level. I love this 1966 chandelier by Tom Greene, $5,200. Do you love it or hate it?

Here's another Tom Greene design, $3,800. This one reminds me of a wasp nest.

The 1st Dibs bricks and mortar location doesn't lend itself to displays of larger furniture pieces, so I clicked over to the site and found this interesting piece. It's a cerused oak credenza made by The Lane Furniture Company in the 1960s. This block front design is a reference to the Cityscape line by Paul Evans. I must say it also makes me think, hmmm, I wonder if you could DIY a plain credenza by adding blocks of wood and then staining it all black?

And for reference sake, here is a pair of wall-mounted cabinets by Paul Evans featuring the geometric Cityscape design. I'm pretty much in love with these. Just need $13,500.

What do you think of Brutalism? Love? Hate?

Photo credits:
1. Flickr.com
2-5. Margot Austin
6. 1st Dibs
7. 1st Dibs

Author: 

Margot Austin

More than a month since my Part 1 post, and you’d think my tiny galley kitchen would be complete with a set of pretty after photos. Not so. The kitchen at our new place, which I have dubbed #Austinsuite on Twitter and Instagram, is at a plateau. Let me bring you up to speed on our progress.

Floors

Right after cabinet demo, this tile ugliness had to go. This mottled pinkish, greyish, bluish, texture tile covered the kitchen and entry floor. Ew. The result was a meeting of several disharmonious flooring materials as you entered our suite (right). Granted, the bathroom door (visible on the left in the photo on the right) would usually be closed (a pact I made with my husband, since when it’s open, the view is straight to the toilet — horror!). Alas, flooring disharmony is a personal design pet peeve of mine, especially in small spaces. The tile was ripped up and down went old school parquet in the kitchen and entry to match the rest of the suite. 

Then I painted it all white. Here’s the view from the bathroom, across the entry to the kitchen after one coat of floor primer. Better already. More on the painted floors in a future blog post.

Cabinets

Way back in mid June, Ikea installed our Applåd cabinets in a single day. They were in place and ready so that when we moved in, I could unpack right into them — no delays. Perfect. There was only one minor hiccup. Here’s what happened. 

You may recall that my plans called for a paneled fridge (as in the photo at left) and that I had some bulkheads to contend with (right). I wanted the fridge gable to be notched out around the bulkhead and continue right to the ceiling. When I met on site with the installer to discuss this, he talked me out of it. He was sure the bulkhead surface would be uneven, making the end-panel cut look sloppy. And he though that end of the kitchen would feel too crowded. He had a point so I took his advice.

 

This was the result. I knew right away it was wrong. Bummer. When stuff like this happens, you have to sit with it for a bit: Am I being too picky to want it changed? I decided to wait until the fridge was on site before my final decision. The fridge did not change my opinion. It still looked off-kilter and I knew it would drive me nuts. 

Et voila! Fixed and so much better, don’t you think? Honestly I can feel the difference physically — it’s like I breathe easier. Note also the large fluorescent ceiling fixture from the previous photo had also been banished in favour of a sleek mod Ikea Bave LED ceiling track and LED under-cabinet strip lights. Note also the makeshift cabinet pulls fashioned from painter’s tape. That’s how it looks to this day as I remain undecided on hardware and won’t settle for just anything. (Perhaps you feel my husband’s pain in dealing with my uncompromising nature?)

Appliances

And speaking of my uncompromising nature, may I present the hole where our range will one day be, God and Bosch willing. You see, being a member of the press, I was privy to a sneak peek of a brand new slide-in induction range made by Bosch (makers of the existing laundry appliances I already loved in the space). When you go to a press event, the people hosting hope you will write about their products. They don’t expect you to say “I love it. I want to buy one. How soon can I get it?” Their answer was “great” and "end of June." The current projected range delivery date is set for this month. I love induction cooking. I already had to compromise on my original plan for a wall oven with induction cooktop above due to the electrical wiring limitations of our suite. An induction slide-in range is the next best plan and they are very rare birds in Canada. 

I am convinced this Bosch beauty will be worth the wait. But just so you feel the full effect of my decision, no range means the counter can’t be templated: no kitchen sink and faucet, no dishwasher. Also, since my laundry is in this area and the water is turned off, no laundry. It’s summer. No laundry is killing me. My husband and I have a hot date at a local laundromat tonight. Perhaps you feel his pain even more now?

In other appliance news, here’s my cute fridge. It’s by Blomberg. I got it at Caplan’s in Toronto and it’s a slim 22in wide. It sits here totally naked waiting for a skilled carpenter to make it some custom panels since my cabinet installers reneged on their original agreement to make this part of the cabinet install. I have placed a call to another guy who was recommended by a colleague. No call back. Here’s where I insert my plug for hiring a designer to handle your kitchen reno. 

You see, finding skilled pros and managing them is a full-time job. I have a full-time job already; it’s hard to get this stuff sorted when you are busy at work. In other disappointing fridge news, it’s not working particularly well. I have reset the temps. No luck. Blurgh. Call is in to Caplan’s. My fridge is like a lazy supermodel — it’s tall, skinny and naked and doesn’t work much.

My Bosch custom panel dishwasher is sitting in my dining room minding its own business waiting for the range/counter/water to be turned on/elusive custom panel maker. Bless my Bosch dishwasher. 

So, like I was saying, it’s a plateau….

Photo credits:
All photos by Margot Austin except:

4. F. Berreteaga via The Style Files 
9. Bosch

Author: 

Margot Austin

 

These are the befores of the kitchen in our new condominium suite in Toronto. At first glance it's not too offensive: white cabinets, tile floors, gleaming stainless steel appliances and in-suite laundry right there too. And yet I found offense. In fact, I liked exactly two things about this space: the fact that it is a galley (the most efficient kitchen layout) and the existing Bosch laundry machines. Everything else had to go.

This is what the space looks like today. A blank (but not so clean) slate. My vision is a sleek white-on-white high-efficiency space. I actually designed and priced out the whole thing before we even submitted our offer so that we had a ballpark idea of how much we'd need to mentally add to the offer price to get it to what we wanted (er, what I wanted). Here's the scoop on some of my plans.

Inspiration

 

My first source of inspiration for the new design was my own current kitchen in our mid-century bungalow. I love the Ikea Applåd cabinets and knew immediately I would choose the same style again. The flat panel door style is modern and easy to keep clean. I have found in the past that grease and nastiness can gather on raised panel doors so I've sworn off them. I also love the low-sheen finish of the Applåd as opposed to the high-gloss surfaces of many flat-panel doors. I'm so much more a matte girl than a high-gloss girl.

Because our new space has bulkheads, I'm taking inspiration from the kitchen in Suzanne Dimma's basement and opting for horizontal uppers in a neat row. I seriously toyed with the idea of not having uppers at all, but then decided that was pure madness in a kitchen this tiny. It really only works when there's room for a tall pantry cupboard. Suzanne's kitchen also happens to be IKEA Applåd, which she chose after asking me about my kitchen and then the two of us waxing on together about gloss vs matte. Just another day at the H&H office!

When I was researching tiny white kitchens I also fell for this one in Spain. So simple, so sleek and with a dishwasher (left of sink) and fridge (foreground) that disappear behind custom panels. These became musts for me.

And here's my design. This is the umpteenth kitchen I have designed and every time I do it the same old-school way — graph paper and pencil. I do use the Ikea kitchen planning tool on the website — but mostly because I love that it automatically generates a shopping list I can take into the store. Total time-saver! Someday I vow to learn how to do perspective renderings, but for now these flat elevations work just fine.

And here it is, my kitchen (and the dishwasher is in there too) ready to be assembled and installed tomorrow and Friday. My excitement level is off the charts. Partly, of course, because I'm entrusting the job to Ikea installation services. Now, don't get me wrong, you know I love some DIY and I know how to work an Allen key, but the guys who do this stuff everyday — man, they are good! So fast and so good with the finessing of the details. I say this as someone who has actually done kitchen install the DIY way (our first kitchen) and who has entrusted the job to a contractor who was not an Ikea specialist. I've lived, I've learned and I'm not doing either of those things again.

Crowd-Sourced Countertop

A little while back I crowd-sourced my countertop choice on Instagram. I have HanStone quartz now and love it, so I thought I'd get that same colour, which is called Aurora Snow (seen at bottom left in this photo). But then I grabbed a few more samples and got thinking the choice wasn't quite so easy. I posted this pic knowing the top one was my fave and my husband's fave. It was the winner of the social media survey and even earned a vote from Sarah Richardson. It's not everyday you get free design advice from a world-famous designer, but when you get it, take it!

Backsplash Shortlist
The other day I also posted the three tiles that made the short list for our backsplash. On the left is an Applåd drawer front, and the small square is the winning counter sample, HanStone in Royale Blanc. On the right from top:
3" ceramic hex tiles in a random mix of matte and glossy finishes from CeraGres; 3" Calacatta marble hex in polished finish from Saltillo; 2" x 4" Calacatta marble brick tile in honed finish from Saltillo.

We're going with the Calacatta hex to add a fun, slightly retro shape to the space. Also, the bathroom shower has hex tile so now the two rooms will relate.

I hope you come back to the blog and follow me on Instagram and Twitter to see more progress on the project. I have so much more to tell you about.

Photo sources:
1-4, 8-12: Margot Austin
5. Virginia Macdonald
6. Angus Fergusson
7. Francisco Berreteaga via Fresh Home

Author: 

Margot Austin

 

It's on. The hunt for the perfect coffee table for our new condominium has commenced. I'm also searching for one for a friend, and just yesterday I had two conversations about coffee tables with H&H colleagues who are also in the market. What is it with coffee tables? There are so many available, and yet when you search for one you can never seem to find exactly the right one. I'm happy to report that this time I'm finding lots to love. In case you are hunting for one too, here are my current faves.

1. Florence Knoll Coffee Table

First up is this classic from 1961, designed by Florence Knoll (shown here and also in the room above). This embodies my idea of great design – it's just enough and not too much. The real McCoy comes in many different sizes and with options for glass, marble, wood or granite top. The base is satin chrome. It starts at about $1,000, which to me seems a fair price for design genius. That said, there are interpretations of this at many different price points. I'm thinking up a custom version with an antiqued brass base and a top in a marble with warm veining like Calacatta. Starting at $1,000, Florence Knoll.

2. Bel-Air

This lovely thing has some obvious mid-century leanings and is of a genre I call the surfboard coffee table, for obvious reasons. I visited this recently in store and really fell for the beautifully grained shesham wood top. And it may be hard to tell from this photo, but the base is actually antiqued brass. Quite fantastic. I love an oval for the ease of traffic flow around it. $899, Crate & Barrel.

3. Burnt Brass

And speaking of brass, this monolith has a touch more glint than the base of the Bel-Air but still has a wonderful aged look. This table is so sexy — I think you need a DVF wrap dress or a Halston dress and strappy sandals to go with. $1,622, Black Rooster Décor.

4. Faux Shagreen Waterfall

This piece calls to mind the designs of the great Jean-Michel Frank, who is known for simple table shapes wrapped in luxurious materials like goatskin, parchment and shagreen. This version features faux shagreen mixed with honey oak trim. To be honest, I'm not nuts about the honey oak, but I wouldn't hesitate for a second to tape off the shagreen parts and cover the oak with a high gloss paint in a colour to match the shagreen or even gold or silver leaf. Boom! $965, Black Rooster Décor. 

5. Lack

I'm a big fan of this table. I think it's perfectly excellent and simple and super affordable just the way it is. However, if you are so inclined, it is also the perfect blank canvas for your creative energies. Just Google "Ikea Lack coffee table hack" and you'll find links to a million methods of reinvention. On my to do list is to cover one in faux shagreen wallpaper. From $25, Ikea.

Photo sources:
1. via Gotham

2. via Purse Blog
3. Crate & Barrel
4. Black Rooster Décor
5 (a and b). Black Rooster Décor
6. Ikea 

Author: 

Margot Austin

I got a start on spring cleaning and de-cluttering over the weekend and it feels so great! I’m starting to love my place again now that every corner isn’t full of dust bunnies and the resulting clutter that accumulates from two busy lives.

In the living room (above), I re-arranged the mantel display, removed several accessories from the bookshelves, and culled about a dozen dated hardcovers from our collection. We sold the pair of chairs in this photo. I miss their pretty colour, but I am enjoying the more open feel that resulted when we replaced them with a single chair moved up from the basement family room. One thing I’ve always loved about my living room is the abundant natural light. ‘Tis the season when we can all use as much light in our lives as possible, so I thought I’d take this opportunity to share my six secrets to creating a light, bright, airy interior.

1. White paint. To quote the great decorator Elsie de Wolfe, one cannot go wrong with “plenty of optimism and white paint.” My entire main floor is painted Benjamin Moore’s classic Cloud White (CC-40), but I’ve lately even been thinking it could use an update with even whiter Oxford White (CC-30). Designer Lynn Morgan’s living room (above) and all the spaces shown here are also swathed in white paint. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Lynn has soaring 12-foot ceilings and windows almost as tall! Other go-to whites are: All White (2005) by Farrow & Ball, Snowfall (SR29) by Para Paints and Popped Corn (W-B-200) by Behr.

2. Add a mirror. A mirror placed on a wall adjacent to a window amplifies the natural light and reflects it into the room. Hang a mirror between windows to create the illusion of another window.

3. Dress windows minimally. My favourite options are shutters that cover only the bottom half of a window; a wall of white linen sheers; a roman blind that draws all the way open; white linen café curtains; or sometimes even no covering at all! Don’t forget: clean your windows!

4. Keep the floor quiet. Persian carpets and bold patterned flat-weaves may be all the rage these days, but they’re definitely busy and usually bossy — not what you want for a serene, lightened-up interior. Instead opt for no-pattern barefoot-friendly natural fibres like jute, seagrass, hemp or cotton. Or, better yet, embrace bare floors, if even just for the warmer months.

5. Choose a low-contrast palette. Try a modern take on quiet pastels; add a touch of pale sky blue to a neutral room; introduce fresh spring green or embrace blond wood or white-painted furniture to keep a sense of overall colour harmony. Use pattern in measured doses.

6. Bring nature home. Get your hands on a copy of Bringing Nature Home by Ngoc Minh Ngo and heed the advice of its title. If you need convincing check out this photo from the book above! Treat yourself and your rooms to something with magnificent blooms or leaves or both. Hint: if you have to spend more than five minutes arranging flowers you are doing it wrong. Keep it simple.

For more seasonal inspiration, see Margot's DIY spring flower ideas.

Photo sources:
1. Virginia Macdonald, September 2012 House & Home
2. Photograph by Christopher Baker via House Beautiful. Room design by Lynn Morgan
3. Philip House, NYC. Room design by Victoria Hagan
5. Max Kim-Bee from Veranda April 2011. Design by Frank Babb Randolph via Splendid Sass blog
6. Muuto via Nalles House blog
7. Ngoc Minh Ngo

Author: 

Margot Austin

I attended a lovely luncheon some weeks ago with the people from Benjamin Moore. The occasion was the unveiling of the company's top colours for 2014. Well, it may be that the pale aqua Breath of Fresh Air is their colour of the year, but the one that won my heart is Fruit Shake, seen in the image above. There are no two ways about it. That is pink. It's not blush or buff, it's real deal pink; and I like it. This is new for me. Well, newish.

I first started thinking about pink a few years ago, right around the same time that UK architect, shopkeeper and blogger Ben Pentreath painted his former London flat in Farrow & Ball Pink Ground. How fantastic. There is so much going on in this space, and yet the wall colour, while seeming neutral, is definitely an active ingredient in the whole.

This living room by Stephen Sills shows another great way to use pink — linen slipcovers. The room looks relaxed, cottagey and welcoming — but not a bit precious.

Another of my favourites used pink for this wonderful bedroom. Peter Dunham, the ex-pat Brit in LA did this room for the House of Windsor Veranda show house in 2011. It has so much I love: a poster bed, all the various textiles and, yes, those pink walls. I think I'd wake up feeling beautiful if I lived in this room. Interestingly, the lady of this house is now Gwenyth Paltrow, who purchased the home once its life as a showhome was complete. No idea if the show house goods were part of the sale but who knows, maybe she's waking up feeling beautiful here.

Conversely, I also like the idea of using pink in a very understated room. In this case the colour makes the space. I have my husband on board with the decision to paint the guest room in our Tweed, Ont. house pink. It's not unlike this room — I'd like to do seagrass wall-to-wall carpet like this as well. We have mahogany antiques in the space, which I think will look great with the pink. I'll tone it all down with lots of white and natural linen textiles.

I could definitely love winter more if this sort of vista was part of my daily comings and goings. Alas, not so. This apparently is Warsaw, Poland. What a scene. I love the play between the falling snow, the curlicues of the lanterns and that magnificent rose-coloured building.

Since an overseas excursion isn't in the cards, I'd be happy to settle for this pair of Ray Ban specs, available through J.Crew. With these and some vitamin D I'd surely be in the pink!

Find more ways to decorate with pink inspiration in this gallery.

Photo sources:
1. Benjamin Moore
2. Ben Pentreath
3. Stephen Sills Associates
4. Max Kim-Bee via Veranda
5. Light Locations
6. Get on the Carousel
7. J.Crew

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