You never know where your next great idea might come from. That's why I always have my phone charged and ready to capture a moment of inspiration. When I travel, my design spidey senses are on even higher alert. Here are a few of the details that got me snapping pictures and thinking during my recent visit to Los Angeles and San Francisco with the #BlogTourCali group. (Read more about my trip in my previous blog post.)
I spotted this circular colour study painting by Don Suggs at the West Edge Design Fair in Santa Monica. I found it utterly mesmerizing. I'm interested in how masters of a particular craft can take something simple and make it sensational. This seems simple — circles painted in many different colours — and yet it has so much energy and movement. And the colour combination is very unusual. It inspires me to try something new — an art technique, a colour combo, something!
L.A. furniture retailer Graye had a minimalist booth at the West Edge Design Fair. But this prop vignette begged me to snap a pic. I love the mix of materials, shapes and patina. A display like this is a great idea for an off-duty dining table or a centre hall table. Time to pull some old things out of the china cabinet and experiment. My favourite takeaway is the idea of placing an object on a stack of books to give it more presence — classic styling trick.
After L.A. the BlogTour group hit the road up the coast from L.A. to San Francisco. The views are breathtaking. The ocean gets me every time. Awe in the true sense of the word. And how about those colours?
Have you ever tried the Sherwin-Williams online colour tool called Let's Chip It? It's so much fun. Go to letschipit.com, upload a photo, and you get a palette of five Sherwin-Williams colours pulled from your photo.
Click the Edit Photos button on the bottom right and five more colours pop up for you to play with. You can drag and drop the chips back and forth to customize a palette that matches your photo. It's a no-fail way to devise a decorating palette because nature always gets colour right.
And speaking of great colours, I snapped this shot of tomatoes at the green market where we stopped for lunch in Monterey. Like I said, nature gets colour right.
We hit up a few design shops in San Francisco. I spied this credenza at the extraordinary Thos. Moser showroom. The furniture is all beautifully handmade. This little idea for cabinet pulls caught my attention. You can barely see these leather pulls when the drawers are closed. They are just deep enough for your fingers to grasp. And when you open the drawer you get a little treat — three perfect brass screws hold the pull into a carefully chiselled space so that the pull is flush with the top of the drawer. I'd love to try to replicate this concept on a furniture makeover project.
The Serena & Lily design shop is just a few doors down Sacramento Street. I loved the store's super simple take on plantings out front — grass en masse. The mane-like texture is a fun alternative to the more expected choices of boxwood or other evergreen. The grasses sway in the wind beautifully and have a beachy vibe. Nice.
I took off on my own for a bit one afternoon to ogle the pretty houses. It's one of my favourite things to do when I travel — wander a neighbourhood to check out the architecture and paint colours and gardens. Many of San Francisco's Victorians are tarted up in several paint colours to highlight the intricate trims and adornments. I liked this place for its refusal to follow suit. What a beauty.
These homeowners also opted for a one-colour scheme, but with a very different effect. Walking by the house was such a strange experience for me. I've had it on my Pinterest board on Exterior Style for months. I knew it was in San Fran but I had no idea what street it was on and I certainly wasn't even looking for it. I was walking and I just looked up and there it was! Amazing coincidence. Love the black.
1-10. Margot Austin
This is the view from The Huntley Hotel in Santa Monica that I woke to on Day 1 of Blog Tour California (aka #BlogTourCali on social media). Recently I was lucky enough to join a group of designers and design bloggers on the inspiration-packed trip organized by Modenus, a web hub that connects designers and suppliers. The sight of palm trees, mountains and the Pacific was a suitable visual kickstart to five days of great food, wine, stunning scenery and tons of design news.
Here’s the whole group at our first stop, a scrumptious lunch at the Miele showroom in Beverley Hills.
The dishes prepared in Miele’s high tech Combination Steam-Convection Ovens were as pleasing to the eye as to the palate. Steam cooking is fast, allowing foods to retain their colour and nutrients.
Next it was off to the West Edge Design Fair, held at the Barker Hangar in Santa Monica. Without a doubt Tracey Hiner’s Black Crow Studios booth was an eye-popping highlight. These wallflowers sure are anything but shrinking violets!
The folks behind the web site Design Milk pulled together a stunning booth comprised of artisanal goods by makers based along the West Coast, dubbed SuperPAC (Pac for Pacific). There was so much goodness in this booth it could be its own blog post, and in fact it is. Check out the Design Milk post for more info and links.
Here’s a closer look as the luscious fibre creations of Tanya Anguiniga on the back wall of the SuperPAC booth. Definitely not your Momma’s macramé!
West Edge wasn’t my first glimpse of American Standard’s latest brand extension called DXV, but it solidified this sweetie as my favourite in the line. I like the historical design references of the Landfair faucet and it comes in the most stunning platinum nickel finish. I’ll choose a shiny nickel over a warm metal every time.
Here’s a lesson in simple but effective booth design. Doris Leslie Blau. Wow.
A glamorous modern chandelier, the Helios by Zia Priven. Lovely people, beautiful designs.
Love the mix of materials and texture in the Burlap collection from Sun Valley Bronze.
And finally, why not a $70,000 glass pool table? The folks at Calma e Gesso once again prove that the Italians know luxury.
I have so much more to share about Blog Tour California. Hope you’ll come back for the next installment.
1, 3-6, 8-12. Photo by Margot Austin
2, 7. Photo by Chasen West
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?
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.
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.
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?)
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….
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.