Years ago while I was working as a cub student reporter in Northern Ontario, my husband and I took a trip to Hancock Shaker village in Massachusetts. It inspired him to make several Shaker pieces of furniture (including the drawers behind me in my photo). We haven't gone back but I still am impressed by their progressive and practical approach to design (a round barn = pure genius).
Shakers sought perfection in everything that they made with their hands, no matter how humble. They invented hundreds of labour-saving devices, from the clothespin to the circular saw. They shared these innovations without patents, and didn't profit when the men who borrowed those designs became very wealthy.
Shakers (coined for their movements during religious fervor) fled to the New World in 1774 to escape persecution and attracted at least 20,000 converts in 20 settlements in the U.S. over the next century. Strict believers in celibacy, Shakers acquired members through the conversion and adoption of orphans. They were educators too: parents who couldn't afford to send children to school would leave them with a Shaker sect, returning years later to pick up them up. Once a child reached 21, they could remain Shakers, but typically only one in four adults did. As of 2010, there were three surviving members left in Maine.
This staircase in Pleasant Hill, Kentucky is meticulously constructed, yet simple. Ann Lee, a leading Shaker figure known as Mother, emphasized that assets should be functional and modest; grandiose objects made the heart fall prey to pride, vanity and lust. But they weren't cowed by progress: the New Hampshire Shakers owned one of the first cars in the state and had electricity while the state capital building was still burning gas.
Whether it was a broom, basket or bed, the Shakers made all their own furniture and furnishings. Their simple ladder-back chairs relied on lightweight woods like pine, so furniture could be easily picked up and moved around. Often a peg rail was hung at shoulder level for clothes and chairs (upside down, so any crumbs would fall), making sweeping easier. Ann Lee said: "good spirits will not live where there is dirt."
Any architect will tell you how difficult it is to build a round structure: but the real genius lies in the efficiency of the round barn at Hancock village, built in 1826. The four-ring structure inside spawned copycats across the Midwest for its "machine-like" efficiency.
The innermost ring was used for ventilation to keep the hay, stored in the second ring, from spontaneously combusting since the previous barn burnt to the ground. Ox wagons could enter, unload the hay and then exit the barn without ever having to back up. The third ring was where the Shakers would walk to distribute the hay and pick up milking buckets for the cows, standing in the fourth ring.
Shaker men and women lived separately — notice the two doors above, in some buildings there were also separate staircases — but were considered equal. Shakers pioneered the sale of seeds in paper packets: men would grow the crops and the women picked, sorted and packaged them, demonstrating the partnership between the genders.
The Shakers' forward-thinking beliefs in equality pre-date the emancipation of the slaves by 75 years and the vote for women by 150 years. Their numbers may have dwindled but their impact lives on: several Modernist furniture makers, including icons like craftsman George Nakashima and Danish designer Hans Wegner, were inspired by Shaker style.
See more timeless styles in our Iconic Furniture photo gallery.
Gallery walls can be tricky, especially when displaying art of varying sizes. Hanging multiple frames can be an art in itself (or a real pain, in most cases), so I was thrilled to stumble upon this room designed by Jeffrey Bilhuber, showcasing a stunning gallery wall that could not be easier to execute.
This solution is perfect for anyone who doesn't want to fuss over the layout: use the same frame, same mat, and stack all the artwork close together, avoiding any spacing between frames. It's a no-fail coordinated look with high-impact. I love it!
Infinity, zero- or negative-edge pools create a trompe l'oeil effect where water spills endlessly into the horizon. The overflow actually runs into a hidden trough where it's recycled back, but the effect is mesmerizing, and particularly spectacular when the pool is positioned in front of a large body of water. It can also look like you are about to swim into the trees, mountains or even the Singapore skyline. In some cases it feels freaky, but who is up for some fantasy? (Full disclosure: this isn't a particularly deep post, but if you're having a stressful day, it's just the thing to let your mind drift.)
It's no mystery why the aptly named Eagle's Nest pool overlooking the Bay of Islands is one of the most expensive rentals in New Zealand.
The origins of the infinity pool are contested, some say the inspiration was Bali's terraced rice paddies, or Turkey's Pammukale hot spring travertine pools (pictured above), while others point to the Stag fountain, built in the 17th century in the Garden of Versailles.
No matter where they began, infinity pools translate around the world. With the Aegean in the background, Villa Drakothea on the Greek island of Mykonos blends modern aquatic technology with centuries old traditional Cycladic design.
The architectural precision and seamless blue hue makes a modern pool even more alluring.
This perimeter overflow pool in Phuket, Thailand has a 360-degree vanishing edge. When viewed from above, the pool resembles a flat surface, until it's rippled by the breeze.
Lounge chairs sit like ships on this Rangali Island pool in the Maldives.
The infinity pool of the Moshe Safdie-designed Marina Bay Sands Hotel in Singapore is set a staggering 55-storeys up for an incredible view of the city, however...
This scares me. A lot. The pool is three times the length of an Olympic pool, making it the largest outdoor pool in the world at this height.
Now this is more like it. Inevitably, when an infinity pool is positioned by the ocean I think: why not just jump in the ocean? When these pools are stuck in places far from the beach (like Tuscany), it makes them more incongruous and wonderful — a true oasis.
The perfect Rocky Mountain high.
And finally, a body of water floating above the clouds that looks like a slice of sky, from one of the birthplaces of the infinity pool, Bali.
See our Perfect Pools photo gallery for more refreshing inspiration.
There's more than a touch of voyeurism involved in peeking into a celebrity's closet. But for those hardcore organizers, it's more about the systems they use, or eschew in some cases. Let's go in...
In Olivia Wilde's closet, an über-rococo glass vanity, black chandelier and flokati rug are contrasted by rustic cabin-style wood walls and industrial pipe fixtures.
Creative director of J.Crew and the high priestess of personal, livable style, Jenna Lyons can't be expected to have a run-of-the-mill closet. In her previous home, Lyons converted a bedroom in her Brooklyn townhouse into a fashion shrine, proving her ability to think outside the box.
Aerin Lauder rarely puts a foot wrong stylistically. Touches of gold, like the glam circa-1970 desk by Gabriella Crespi, are trademarks in her tastefully curated Manhattan boudoir. The silk curtains, hand-painted wallpaper and blue chandelier (a trademark Estée Lauder hue) are a persuasive case for creating lavish private spaces to recharge.
Known for her all-American looks, model Maggie Rizer adds a fresh touch with an open window (it helps to air out clothes) and a simple bouquet in her closet.
Open shoe storage and strips of hanging hats make it easy for Jessica Alba to morph into a fashion chameleon. Notice how she places the heels facing opposite directions — it takes up less space and makes them easier to identify.
Eclectic and a touch zany, the Manhattan closet of fashion designer Anna Sui is a perfect expression of her look. She's a fan of putting Polaroids on her shoeboxes to identify the contents.
Ok, let's talk accessories. When you're a fashionista like Rachel Zoe, every beyond major bauble has its place on multiple slide-out trays.
No surprise that Jimmy Choo co-founder Tamara Mellon has one of the most enviable shoe closets known to man, or woman, and on those heels she's tall enough to reach the top shelf.
We couldn't forget the guys. Here is Nate Berkus' NYC closet, with grey Directoire-inspired millwork that's so handsome and functional, even he calls it "a fantasy."
See more Chic Closets & Dressing Rooms in our photo gallery.
1. InStyle.com, photography by William Waldron
2. When She Walks blog
3. Harpersbazaar.com, photography by Anders Overgaard
4. Celebbest.com, photography by Molly DeCoudreaux
5. Design Time & Scene blog
6. Elle Decor, photography by Eric Boman
7. Bead Up blog
8. Dressed to Kill Austin blog
9. Decor Pad
I love living in the heart of a big city. Great restaurants, galleries and concert venues are minutes away, and we don't even bother with a car anymore because we rarely leave Toronto. Yes, since moving here, my boyfriend and I have become one of those couples. (Mostly, I think, because we're not from Ontario so we don't have anyone to visit in the burbs.) But like most big urban centres, space comes at a premium here, so although we love the area we're living in, we're stuck with no backyard and a small balcony.
We just moved into our apartment last summer, so decorating the patio wasn't at the top of our to-do list, but I'm not going to miss out on coffee and toast al fresco this year. While doing some online furniture shopping I stumbled across some ideas that have made me rethink the traditional two-chairs-and-a-table option.
If you're planning to redecorate your balcony this season, have a look at these tips for maximizing a small space. Please also disregard the overabundance of pink — think ideas, not colour.
I like how this homeowner has fitted an L-shape bench snuggly into the corner of this patio, accommodating more people than a table and chairs would — and it just looks so cosy! They've placed a rug in front with a couple of small side tables to hold drinks.
Save space by opting for a couple of comfy lounge chairs, forgo a traditional table, and use a small side table instead.
Keep the little floor space that you have clear by creating a rack for plants that runs along the balcony ledge. A small bench with cushions serves as casual seating.
This homeowner pushed two crate boxes together to make a bench, covered them with pillows and a blanket, and layered colourful rugs in front for a homey feel.
If you do choose traditional patio furniture, make sure it's light and delicate. Nothing is worse than trying to jam a full-size patio set onto a small balcony.
If your patio is really itsy bitsy, you can always throw down a small woven rug, layer a sheepskin over a single chair and pull up a tiny side table to hold your breakfast.
Want a few more ideas? Have a look at our photo gallery of small patios, porches and balconies.
My fascination with the "leaning and layering" technique came about when I went from having too much space to not enough space. Now I have to crawl over my bed to get to the other side of the room. Of course getting rid of stuff wasn't an option.
The slanted ceilings in my new room made for very little hanging space and so, quite accidentally, I started leaning my art, prints and photos against the wall. My mother would call it laziness, but I ended up leaving them like that on purpose. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.
Some may think this uncoiffed look is a little messy, but there's a difference between clutter and styled layering. We often don't even notice layers because they are everywhere. Here are some of my favourite layered rooms.
The mirror, art and desk in this space layer nicely against graphic wallpaper. It's much more interesting than walls painted a solid colour.
I love layered art. Leaning your pieces against each other lends a studio-like feel.
On a mantel, begin with a mirror and work your way out with art and family tokens for a stunning effect.
Propping various types of wood cutting boards in a kitchen adds texture to a plain backsplash.
Piles of blankets in a cosy sitting area are so inviting.
A sofa placed in front of a door isn't practical — but it looks great!
I'm moving out next month and definitely taking my new-found love for leaning and layering with me.
Browse our photo gallery of Artful Homes for more inspiration on displaying art.
Right now, I'm thinking pink. Maybe it's because spring is in the air and it feels fresh and lively after the crazy winter weather. I'm noticing shades of pink in nature, taking inspiration from food and loving it in small hits as an accent colour for summer decorating (goodbye blue and white, hello pink).
In actress Lea Michele's home, the hits of pink feel feminine yet modern. Graphic pink and black cushions pop on a white slipcovered sofa, and nothing beats pink peonies or hydrangeas.
I love everything John Robshaw, but I'm particularly fond of these pink and white block prints from his fabric collection. So fun for drapes, cushions or table linens.
Pink and blue works for me but the shades need to be deep enough. Baby pastels are passé.
Nature's pinks are the best, and fruit tree blossoms like cherry and crab apple trees are so inspiring.
I love the dark pink colour of this mousse paired with the black of the berries — pink and black is a great colour combo. Think dark pink walls with a glossy black door.
See our Decorating With Pink photo gallery for more inspiration.
1-2. Domaine Home, photography by Justin Coit
3a. Shali Lotus linen, John Robshaw
3b. Gent's Stripe Lotus linen, John Robshaw
4. Linen Biarritz Pillow Cover, Flemish Linen
5. Latin Excursions, courtesy of Zapa Nature Photography
6. Bayaderka blog
On the weekend my husband, Kevin, got this new item in at Vintage Fine Objects, his antiques shop in Toronto. It's an old workbench with a painted base.
I read the blog post about it on his site while we road-tripped out of the city and we started imagining a million different ways to reinvent it.
Repurposing an old workbench as a kitchen island is a classic trick. It adds soul and history and is so much more interesting than a big block of cabinetry in the centre of the room. This stunning example is pure French farmhouse dreaminess.
Closer to home, this is Toronto designer and retailer Viki Mansell's farmhouse kitchen. This is one of my top five favourite House & Home kitchens of all time. The play between the aged workbench island and the modernist pendants and stools is inspired. That workbench has so much character. And those budding magnolia branches are quite spectacular too!
What a great idea for a sink console. Not sure if this one was originally a workbench or just a rustic table. But you could totally get this look with a workbench. This is the home of Aussie decorator and blogger Anna Spiro, which ran in the May 2010 issue of House & Home. Amazing what a coat of white paint will do!
My favourite idea for the piece at Vintage Fine Objects is to style it as a bar at a cottage. This workbench bar at Thom Filicia's former Copake Lake House in New York State provides great inspiration. That is one party-ready bar!
See more Tables As Kitchen Islands in our photo gallery.
1. Vintage Fine Objects
2. From Maisons Cote Ouest via Aesthetically Thinking, photography by Patrice Gavand
3. House & Home December 2006 issue, photography by Mark Olson
4. House & Home May 2010 issue, photography by Simon Kenny
5. Thom Filicia, photography by Jonny Valiant
Yesterday I attended the 26th annual Through the Garden Gate Tour, hosted by the Toronto Botanical Garden. This year, the 19 privately owned gardens are scattered within Toronto's Forest Hill and South Hill neighbourhoods. As media, we had the opportunity to see five of the gardens ahead of the scheduled tour, which runs from June 8th to 9th. Visit the Toronto Botanical Garden website for advanced tickets.
The gardens were all stunning in their own way. I was particularly impressed with the mix of species within each garden. The peonies were absolutely gorgeous — some in full bloom and others ready to bloom any day. Irises were in full bloom too, and the Japanese maples added stunning spectrums of reds. The colours were endless!
I love the mix of tropical plants (Monstera) with more traditional plants, just like in this planter. The height of the Monstera plant and the jagged outline of the Coleus leaves gives the planter a edgy feel.
I also loved the walkway of Alliums in the same garden, mixed with grasses and Chinodoxa.
The garden with the greenhouse was exceptional. I didn't get a chance to speak to the owner, but I did overhear that it's not just for show — the owner is an avid gardener and starts all his plants with seeds. The greenhouse complemented the Arts & Crafts-styled house perfectly. It was obvious the owner took great pride in his garden — every aspect of the yard was attended to with care. I love that.
It must be my English roots, but I'm always drawn to Wisteria and Clematis. In the last garden we viewed, this Clematis was growing along the stone wall. It was beautifully pruned to trail along the wall just so. The soft pink was so delicate! Side note: If you're in Toronto, make a point of driving by the Korean Consulate at St. Clair and Avenue Road — the Wisteria along the iron fence is absolutely stunning.
If you don't already have plans for June 8th or 9th, call up a friend and spend a day touring these beautiful backyards. You will not be disappointed!
Browse our gallery of Gorgeous Gardens for more inspiration.
1-7. Sarah Hartill
Simultaneously spare but warm, the Belgian farmhouse look has been basking in the decor spotlight for quite some time. While interviewing a homeowner for an upcoming issue, she professed her love for the style, observing that her own swoon-worthy kitchen has no uppers, an authentic Belgian country kitchen detail. I wondered if Belgian designers themselves were tempted to buck tradition in an effort to contain all our modern kitchen conveniences.
Bluestone tile floor? Check. Raw wood and rough-hewn beams? Done. Serious black stove? Got it. The kitchen in this Belgian bed and breakfast is textbook.
Walda Pairon, a leading Belgian designer, skips uppers in favour of open storage in her own kitchen, which is designed for her husband, a chef. A black farmer's sink and French Lacanche stove are simpatico accents for a dark stone counter, and the rope drawer pulls are thrifty alternatives to hardware.
Another kitchen designed by Pairon, who incorporated shelving to show off the tiled walls. An impressive stove, copper pot collection and deep window wells add to the timeless feel: it doesn't get any more Euro than this.
In this kitchen designed by Brussels-based firm Baden Baden, putty cabinets (a warmer alternative to grey) and a wide-plank wood floor add a cosy feel. The low ceiling would make uppers look crammed in and obscure the exposed rafter detail, so better to do away with them anyway.
Uppers galore, but who is complaining? Glass-fronted cabinets are so airy, they almost seem invisible. A big island has multiple drawers and the corn crib-like detail above it adds to the essential rustic character of this kitchen.
Leave it to the granddaddy of the Belgian farmhouse look, Axel Vervoordt, to figure out a storage solution that still looks authentic. The kitchen of his 50-room castle near Anvers contains a soaring built-in unit with a teal blue interior that embodies the grandeur of an antique armoire.
See more French farmhouse style in this video tour of a Montreal home.