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Valentine's Day is just around the corner, and I wanted to compile a list of the things (some decor related, some not!) that make me happiest.

1) Water

I am a water person and am happiest when I am near water and able to swim — whether it's in a pool or a natural body of water. If you haven't seen Kelly Klein's book, Pools, pick it up for some of the most inspiring pools in the world. This winter I was lucky enough to stay in the house with this San Miguel de Allende pool in Mexico, shot by Bruce Weber in 1990.

My family and I did some travelling in Europe two springs ago and we had the good luck to find two unbelievable waterside cafes. The first was perched high on a cliff in Dubrovnik and the other beachside in Taromina, Sicily. My sister, Arriz and I watched the waves for hours over lunch (and several glasses of wine!) from both spots.

2) Animals

To me, a home is not a home without some animal life. If a home can't take the wear and tear from paws and fur than it's probably a bit too perfect.

Here are a few shots of my own pet family getting cosy at home. All the cats (Z, Tomba, Acorn, Po) lined up in the window to check out the view when we first moved into our house. My cat Z loves to nap in the soft jute baskets I picked up at the White Company in the UK. Po has a thing for hanging off of the tables and is particularly fond of the teal Mexican blanket I use on the table by my back door.

3) Cocooning

Some people respond to wide-open spaces but I'm more of a cosy person. I love things that make you feel safe and protected like small spaces, canopy beds and window seats.

A fabric valance and floor to ceiling curtains can turn a basic bed into a room within a room: it makes this large bedroom, designed by Mark D. Sikes, feel more intimate and a small bedroom more architectural.

I spotted this dining nook washed in pink in a hotel in Mexico last year, what a perfect spot to have a morning coffee (keep an eye out for more on this place in an upcoming blog).

Muriel Brandolini's home has always been an inspiration. This small guest room is inviting because it's filled to the brim with colour, pattern, texture and layers and the daybed takes up most of the space. I could easily live in this room.

4) Fireplaces

Just like a house without pets, a house without a fireplace doesn't work for me. I light a fire almost every single night in the wintertime. Needless to say, my fire has been going full tilt this winter.

This exotic tile motif puts all the attention on the fireplace wall. I love how the mirror is offset for a fresh spin.

This roaring fire in my own cottage isn't just the main source of heat, the flames are mesmerizing to watch.

5) Variety

It's far more exciting when the individual rooms in a house are approached with their own unique decorating personality. Of course you need flow, but not every room requires the exact same materials and palette. 

Muriel Brandolini is a master of the mix, and her designs for this home, shown above and below, are always eclectic and expertly layered. 

My personal pet peeve is when every bathroom in the house is a carbon copy of one another. In the end, when the entire house looks the same, it inevitably feels like a creative disappointment.

6) Foliage

I love trees for privacy, softening the lines of a building and utlimately marrying it with the landscape. Well-considered foliage will also help with your heating and cooling.

Framing a view to the trees like this is always artful.

This curved stair wall also in Taromina, Sicily features built in planters for geraniums and dedicated spots for pots — so clever.

I scouted this gorgeous house designed by Nicholas Spencer Lewin in Chester, Nova Scotia last summer (keep an eye out for it in H&H soon!).

Not only was it beautiful architecturally, it was also surrounded in stunning landscaping including colourful vegetable gardens that felt simply magical.

7) Low Level Lighting

Every night I ask my hubby to turn off the overhead lighting in the house. I am far more a fan of table lamps and wall sconces for ambiance. And I can't say it enough, everyone looks better with the overhead lights on dimmers!

Here is an especially gorgeous antique wall sconce in the bedroom of stylist Sasha Seymour's chic Toronto home. The exposed cord adds to the impact.

8) Eat-in Kitchens

Who doesn't love eating in the kitchen where the food has been prepared? It's convenient, it's communal and it's comfortable.

I would far rather eat casually near the cook and watch or partake in the process than have it served formally in a dedicated dining room. It's much more fun for the cook too!

9) Secret Passages

There is something so magical about secret passages and doorways. This doorway built into a wall of panelled cupboards reminds me of a secret portal to another world, just like the one in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

In the home of architects Christine Ho Ping Kong and Peter Tan of Studio Junction the principal bedroom (and kids' jumping ground) connects to the children's bedroom through a sliding Japanese-style shoji screen. So much fun for kids.

10) Finds from Nature

Stumbling on surprise jewels in nature or urban settings always makes me smile.

Like this transparent dragon fly wing, tucked into the pine needles on the forest floor.

Or a conch shell worked into the plaster of a church wall in Mexico.

A leaf peeks through a tear in a sheet of birch bark.

And a charming homescape made of carefully placed rocks on the beach in Costa Rica seems to say "there's no place like home."

Photo sources:

1. Pools by Kelly Klein, via Mark D. Sikes blog, photography by Bruce Weber
2-4. Suzanne Dimma
5. Room design by Mark D. Sikes, House Beautiful Dec/Jan 2011 issue
6. Suzanne Dimma
7. Design by Muriel BrandoliniHouse Beautiful October 1997 issue
8. Photography by Catherine Gratwicke
9. Interior design by Suzanne Dimma, architecture by Arriz & Co.; House & Home October 2011 issue, photography by Michael Graydon
10-12. Design by Muriel Brandolini; Elle Decor; photography by Eric Boman
13. Design by Anthony Todd
14-15. Suzanne Dimma, design by Nicholas Spencer Lewin Design
16. House & Home September 2011 issue, photography by Michael Graydon
17. Apartment Therapy via Emma's Design Blogg
18. No credit available
19. House & Home September 2011, photography by Michael Graydon
20-23. Suzanne Dimma

Author: 

Suzanne Dimma

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