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Michael Penney

I'm a big believer in reusing and recycling vintage furniture to give new designs soul and history. Even if your sofa, carpet, lamps and curtains are brand spanking new, you should always try to incorporate something vintage to really bring the composition to life.

Vintage chairs, sofas and ottomans are the perfect way to do this. They usually have unique shapes, beautiful scale and lines, and were made from sturdy materials to stand the test of time. If you find a solid vintage piece of furniture at a reasonable price, you can have it recovered in something fresh and interesting.

Windsor Smith's pieces may be new or old, I'm not sure, but they're certainly keeping with vintage designs and styles. Notice how they used a daring ikat print on one chair? It really makes this room.

Here are some vintage upholstered pieces I've found in my travels. Some of them still torture me with regret — why didn't I buy them?!?! They're so wonderful!

With a little imagination and some fantastic and fun fabric, you can get the look of the Windsor Smith ikat chair or these examples below from Peter Dunham and Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams. Give it a try!

See this DIY Chair Makeover to see how I transformed an occasional chair with a bit of paint and fabric.

Photo credits:
1. House Beautiful
2-7. Michael Penney
8. Gloria Chair, Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams
9. Cole Chair Ottoman, Hollywood at Home
10. Hemingway Chair Upholstered, Hollywood at Home
11. Zondra Chair, Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams
12. Cole Chair, Hollywood at Home

Decorating a large expanse of wall can be tricky. There are tried and true options such as a gilded mirror, a gallery wall of framed photos, a large screen, and so on. But if you're tired of these, why not consider a collection of ceramics on your wall? Something like this:

Here, we've got a whole bunch of blue and white ceramics — plates, decorative tiles, saucers, and even architectural tiles meant for the floor or a fireplace surround. There are chinoiserie, Moroccan and even Delft motifs here, but they are held together by the common blue and white theme. Also, they're placed in this symmetrical graphic pattern and this, too, holds the many designs together. I like the idea of painting the wall itself blue to pick up on the ceramics and make the grouping hang together as one cohesive look. It's totally unique and unexpected and really makes a statement above this fireplace, don't you think?

You can get a similar look with a bunch of decorative plates of various sizes like this collection from John Derian.

How gorgeous is this one?! If John Derian's shop in New York is too far to travel — I'd be in this group, by the way — you can hunt high and low at thrift shops, antique stores and flea markets to create your own blue and white ceramic collection to hang on your wall. Just get ready for the ooohs and ahhhs!

See some of my finds here, and how I've arranged them in my dining room.

Photo credits:
2. Faience Wall Hanging, John Derian
3. Faience Star Center, John Derian

Once in a while you stumble upon images so beautiful they take your breath away. The design landscape is cluttered with so many photos and projects and opinions and trends, that when you see work like Amy Merrick's flower arrangements, you just stop and appreciate. Amy's styling is all about the simple beauty in nature, carefully coaxed into splendor by the hands of an artist.

You may know her from her work on design*sponge, or her charming blog An Apple A Day, or her floral designs for former employer Saipua in Brooklyn, New York. Amy has just launched a new website,, and it is full of such lush beauty I just had to share it with you!

Influenced, I think, by the famous 20th century British florist, Constance Spry, Amy incorporates fruit, berries and natural elements with flowers, ferns and foliage to create romantic arrangements like these.

Images on Amy's blog feature her family's charming country cottage in New Hampshire.

Some images are light and springy...

... and some are dark and moody. All are absolutely beautiful and will give you a breath of fresh, inspirational air. You may never look at flowers, fruit — or even weeds for that matter — in the same light again.

Be sure to check out Amy's gorgeous site soon!

For more inspiration, see our Easy Flower Arrangements gallery.

Photo credits:

For years now I've been wailing and complaining that no affordable retailers have been offering sensibly priced 'global' decorating staples. You know, those block print cushions, suzanis and ikats we all love? The ones that can cost an arm and a leg?

Well, West Elm must have heard my griping because this season they've got a ton of global decorating items to choose from. Even just one will liven up your space with earthy, saturated pattern and style.

Here are my faves:

The new Tribal Jute Rug feels like it was just carried back from some far-off land and has a pleasing mix of warm colours and classic black. The jute material keeps it organic and textural.

West Elm always has great, large-scale baskets including the Ikat woven collection with black and white stripes. Perfect for firewood or laundry.

The Kantha quilted throw collection has tons of amazing colour and texture and would wake up a basic sofa instantly!

The hand-blocked Jaipur collection of bedding comes in this tomato-red colour or a soft grey. It's priced really really well for such beautiful handmade work.

The Organic Carved Circles Duvet Cover in this luscious mustard colour can feel both global and modern at the same time. I love it paired with these taupey walls and traditional details.

The Kantha collection of hand-quilted cushions are made from repurposed saris. How lovely are these?! Each one has a unique history and will add a soulful layer in your home.

Actually, West Elm has lots of block printed cushion covers in many shades. There's everything from blue to green and yellow to neutral! Take your pick and save tons of cash!

These Hammam Soap Dishes would add Turkish bath style to any boring bathroom for only $6!!!

And the Bubbles Ceramic Stool would make a perfect perch in the bathroom or a side table in a living room. Organic and exotic, this stool is right on trend and so affordable.

The Naturalist bowl collection is great for setting the table or even better for a vignette on a coffee or side table. Viewing these gorgeous global patterns from above shows off their best side.

Or for a cleaner, easier to swallow hit of the global trend, these Modernist bowls and mugs will add some cheery colour to your kitchen.

Thank goodness we can all get in on the lush global look without breaking the bank at the boutique — or travel agency!

To see global style at its best, tour through designer Karen Cole's home.

Photo credits:
1-11. West Elm

Most times I tell you about my antique hunting out in the country, at flea markets and old barns. Well, sometimes the best antiquing is done closer to home. Cynthia Findlay Antiques in Toronto is an amazing resource for all sorts of antiques, specializing in fine and costume jewelry from the past as well as every sort of china, glassware and silver. We use their beautiful wares at House & Home over and over again because there really is no other place that can compare!

This week I went scouting for new (old) finds and wanted to share some of Cynthia's treasures with you.

This sober and sophisticated Wedgwood Queensware caught my eye immediately. It's subtle and a true classic — you'd have this forever and could add and add to your collection.

Another long-time fave of mine is this collection of lusterware. It has a pink metallic glaze and exotic motifs that make it so interesting and romantic.

Planning a summer trip? Do it in style with some vintage LV luggage from Cynthia Findlay! Or use these pieces as fashion-forward accessories in your home.

Back to Wedgwood. How about this case full of unusually coloured Jasperware? They've got lots of traditional blue, but these green, pink and clay coloured items are amazing!

In homage to Prince William and Catherine's royal visit to Canada, Cynthia's even pulled out this collection of vintage maple leaf pins — just like the ones the Queen and Kate have worn while visiting!! Any monarchist worth their salt has got to pick up one of these rhinestone babies!

And everyone knows I'm a sucker for blue and white porcelain! This wall of platters is but a small sampling of what Cynthia stocks. In fact, it was from this collection that I found my very own Blue Willow platter, now hanging on my dining room wall.

If china's not your thing, how about a vintage car? A toy, yes, but an amazing accessory for the home? Why not?!

Cynthia Findlay has lots of white and cream ceramics to use at home on your mantel, shelf or that certain spot that just needs something...

They also have gorgeous old maps and architectural renderings to frame up. So beautiful!

Or perhaps you're in the market for someone else's ancestral painting?

For kitschy fun, Cynthia stocks cheerful Fiestaware...

And jadeite...

And West German pottery!

But my favourite find of the day had to be this old framed photograph. This type of sporting image is all the rage, very J.Crew, but I love it for its bold geometry, subtle shades of grey and sepia and those crazy oars! Plus the vintage frame is perfect as is!

When checking out Cynthia Findlay Antiques in Toronto, be sure to take your time, ask lots of questions — Alex is my go-to guy — and have fun sifting through the decorative ages.

To see how I've incorporated some of my favourite vintage finds, browse through the photo gallery of my new house.

Plus, find retail listings for Cynthia Findlay and more in our Online Shopping Guide!

Photo credits:
1-16. Michael Penney

What to do if you've got great style and no money? How do you create the living space of your dreams when you've got to be frugal and realistic with your pocketbook? If you're just starting out and need to fill, for example, your first living room, might I suggest these affordable finds?

Let's say this is your "before" shot. A sweet apartment living room in Toronto's beaches neighbourhood, with lots of detail and character. You're off to a good start!

The search begins with the biggest investment piece — a sofa. I found this one for under $750 at Guff! Its classic shape and neutral, fresh colour allows us to go in any direction we want with the other colours and pieces.

Next, we need some chairs. I found these perfectly scaled bergere chairs at a hotel liquidator in Oakville for only $55 each! They're small enough that they won't take up too much room and can easily be moved around to suit different seating arrangements. Plus, with open legs and arms, your eye sees right through them, keeping the space feeling open and large.

But that upholstery has to go! I'd go for a few yards of this punchy grassy-green and watermelon coloured ikat from Designer Fabrics in Toronto. Since you wouldn't likely need more than six yards for two chairs, and it only costs $17 per yard, you'd have your fabric for about $100. Upholstering two chairs might cost $700, so add it all up and you're looking at about $900 or around $450 per chair, which is still pretty reasonable.

To hold the TV, stereo, books, DVDs and everything else you have to hide in a small space, I'd opt for a handsome armoire like this one from the same hotel liquidator. I'd try to buff up the wood with sandpaper and keep it natural along with the tarnished brass hardware for a substantial, traditional note in the room. At $105, it's the deal of the century!

For occasional tables, I'd opt for a mix of old and new. These marble topped end tables are a steal at $113 each from Funk & Gruven A-Z in Belleville, Ontario. I would keep the marble as is and paint out the base of the tables, probably in a chalky poppy seed grey colour, highlighting the texture in the carved Greek key design.

For the new component, I'd head over to Ikea for this $90 modern waterfall-style coffee table. Clean, simple and lets the more ornate side tables do the talking.

We'd want to marry the whole grouping of furniture together and add an organic note with a jute rug like the Vejen from Ikea — again, under $200.

When it comes to lighting, I think throwing off expectations and going for something slightly industrial would be interesting. These black metal lamps from Bowring are under $50 each and would look fantastic on either end of the sofa.

With the green and watermelon ikat fabric on the chairs, it's time to pick a wall colour. White would work of course, but I'd go for something daring and handsome. Maybe even faux lacquer the walls (using high-gloss paint) in a yolky-yellow hue like Babouche (223) from Farrow & Ball.

Then I'd repeat the fabric's pink with some simple solid cushions from Crate & Barrel on the neutral sofa.

Over the sofa I'd hang this round detailed mirror from Captain's Treasures Antiques and paint the frame white.

Then I'd add some of these plaster-looking plaques from West Elm (on sale now!) in a loose, free-form drift over the sofa. So, maybe one big mirror and three plaques; two on one side, one on the other.

Here's a snapshot of the whole scheme together. Fun right? It's classic but cheeky, tailored, yet fresh.

Here's the budget breakdown:

Sofa: $745
Chairs (all in with fabric and reupholstery costs): $910
Armoire: $105
Carrera side tables: $225
Coffee table: $90
Rug: $180
Pair of lamps: $80
3 gallons of paint: $120
3 cushions: $75
Mirror: $95
3 plaques: $80

Grand Total: $2,705

Not dirt cheap, but certainly a really great price for a sophisticated and fully furnished space like this. Now all you have to add are some fresh flowers and call it a day!

See another Colourful Apartment Makeover I did for some friends of mine with a tight budget.

Photo credits:
2. Guff
3, 5. Moveline Liquidations
4. Peyton Ikat, Designer Fabrics
6. Funk & Gruven A-Z
7. Expedit coffee table, Ikea
8. Vejen rug, Ikea
9. Union Metal Task Lamp, Bowring
10. Babouche (223), Farrow & Ball
11. Nolan Magenta 20" pillow, Crate & Barrel
12. Captain's Treasures Antiques
13. Stray Dog Sea Life Plaques, West Elm

I think that everybody has a little creativity inside them. I've met people who say they're not creative at all, but once you dig a little, there's a mini artiste waiting to get out. Even if you don't have a creative job like me, I think it's great to get a daily dose of inspiration. That's partly why blogs are so great!

For me, inspiration is all around and I like to collect little bits of this and that and pin them to the two large bulletin boards in my office at H&H. The grouping is always changing and shifting. The items may or may not have anything to do with a story I'm working on. There are no rules; it's just a place to gather inspiration and a dose of fresh creativity each time I glance over during the day.

Here's what my inspiration board looks like at the moment. I have so many inspiration photos and swatches that they've even spilled over onto the walls around the corkboards! Last week I threw a piece of leftover gingham fabric over an old table and tacked on some fringe with pushpins — classy! I think it's fun for now. I even have a hat, lots of thank-you cards and random bits of ribbon and trim pinned to my board. All fun. All inspiring to me.

This little grouping is for an imaginary country house: The taupe linen is for a sofa, the crazy geranium print is for a stand-out chair, the sage/linen stripe is for some slipcovers and the block print is for some squishy feather pillows. The gingham ribbon? Maybe I'd use that to tie up some loose canvas roman blinds? And there are lots of paint colour options in the leaves of the geranium print.

As you probably know, I have a thing for blue and white and all things beachy and nautical. This striped seersucker fabric mixed with the global batik is a great combo, and I love them next to the monogrammed polka-dot stationery. The straw hat doesn't hurt either! Pour me some lemonade, would you?

I'm also a big garden enthusiast, so these old botanical prints never go out of style for me. (Did you see the TV segment where I decoupaged them on a dresser?) I love them paired with the arsenic-green painted chest and maybe some awning stripe like on that card up there. The paint swatches are old ones from the original Martha Stewart paint collection and the pairings are still current and fresh.

So why not head out and pick up your own corkboard and let that artiste get to work? I promise it'll make you smile.

For more, see Suzanne Dimma's blog post on Inspiration Boards As Art, or Joel Bray's bulletin board tips on Online TV.

Photo credits:
1-4. Michael Penney

Today's blog is a special one because I get to play journalist and catch up with world-famous blogger Chelsea Fuss, author of {frolic!}.

Recommended by Domino magazine, {frolic!} was one of the first blogs I started following. I have always been in love with Chelsea's clean, pure style and romantic influences. {frolic!} has been noted in many, many publications including The Wall Street Journal Magazine, The London Times, Elle Decor and more for being the go-to destination for all things pretty and perfect. Here is a peek into Chelsea Fuss' many inspirations and creative ideas.

MP: How did you become so dang stylish? What were your influences growing up?

CF: Ha ha! I don't think of myself as very stylish. I think I am more of a behind-the-scenes girl and a collector of pretty things. I love to work hard at making photos, flower arrangements and events, but I usually look pretty ragamuffin.

I was always very shy growing up. I read a lot of books and magazines (the original Victoria was my Bible!) and I was a big observer. I liked to study what people wore and how they decorated their houses. I also had a big imagination and yearned to live in a sort of dream world. I wore dresses, had tea parties, read poetry and planted a garden. Poetry readings were much more exciting to me than Friday night football games.

My mom was a big influence. She's very creative and she created this very beautiful life for us with homemade food, beautiful handmade clothing, rooms decorated with homemade curtains and pretty wallpaper, and always a garden. I had a very idyllic childhood, especially during the time that we lived in the countryside of New Hampshire. My grandmother is originally from England and is a big gardener and artist. I think all of this has really shaped my outlook on life.

MP: Clearly, you believe in the link between fashion and design. How do you see them influencing one another?

CF: All design seems to be influenced by what's going on in the world and there's usually a thread connecting every genre. When looking at art history and humanities, we see certain trends and movements in art, music, fashion, and literature. It's no different today. Even if, like me, you say you are not influenced by trends. You are influenced by your own economic climate and life events, and those are what tie everything together.

I like to see how a particular style can be interpreted through various genres whether it's fashion, interiors, music, artwork or food. I get bored only looking at one of those!

MP: Your style seems to be rooted in the beauty of reality. How or why do you stay away from overly considered spaces?

CF: It's exciting to make the everyday beautiful. The world is lovely as is. Old houses are pretty, flowers are breathtaking. They really don't need much help. Just a little editing and placing things in an interesting context. Plus, I just really don't respond to anyone or anything that appears to be trying too hard or anything very pretentious. I love effortless spaces, fashion and people who don't take themselves too seriously. I am always aspiring to effortlessness. It's so hard to achieve though! It's harder to create designs that don't look designed at all but rather like they just happened.

I also like design to feel accessible. When I look at a photo of a room, I'd love to be able to imagine myself there, even if it's in my little dream world!

MP: What was your favourite colour growing up? What is it/are they now?

CF: I've always loved a very pale pink and still do!

MP: You create the most beautiful, effortless-looking flower arrangements. Describe your process. What goes into these creations and which flowers tug at your heartstrings?

CF: Thank you. That's very nice of you to say. I think flowers are pretty and they don't really need much help! My process is always a little different. I try to keep my mind open and once I am in the flower market or wandering through a cutting garden, I pick up whatever looks pretty to me and try to put together colour combinations there. I don't have a lot of self-control when it comes to flowers, so I often buy or cut much more than I need. Once home, I soak the flowers for a few hours after re-cutting their stems. Then, I'll pick out a container and start playing. Sometimes I get frustrated and start over. Other times, I love it right off the bat.

My favourite flowers are violets, lily of the valley, David Austen roses, snowdrops, lilacs, hyacinths, apple blossoms and peonies.

For more of our favourite design blogs, see our Blog Galleries and Design Sites We Like page.

Photo credits:
1-2, 4-6. {frolic!}
3. Anna Allen clothing line, photography by John Allen

You know I always love a good thrift hunt! People always ask me how I find such good things at thrift shops (because they seem to get stumped themselves). I tell them that you’ve got to keep an open mind and you’ve got to go a lot! I see more junk than treasure, so in order to find those diamonds in the rough, I make a quick pass through my local thrift shops whenever I’m near one. And I don’t go in looking for something specific (that’s the fastest way to get frustrated). Instead, I keep an open mind and that way I’m delighted by the treasures I find.

Here are some I’ve found recently at my local Value Village

A couple of vintage jadeite dinner plates — perfect for some chocolate chip cookies or even just as decorative objects in a plate holder.

Massed as a collection, jadeite can look so so beautiful!

I also found a whole bunch of vintage mason jars with old zinc lids. These are great for lots of uses, not the least of which is as lovely, humble vases for fresh flowers.

Lilacs and wild flowers look especially nice in mason jars.

This wonderfully shaped mirror was a score.

Painted out in a fresh colour like this yellow one, I think it will definitely hold its own with modern or traditional furniture! The gold’s not bad, but a colour could be fun!

And back to flowers. I’ve been wishing for a vintage glass compote like this one for a long time. It’s the perfect vessel for garden flowers and just gives them that extra lift, you know? I can’t wait to fill this one with flowers I grow this summer!

Photo credits:
1,3,5,7. Michael Penney
2. Martha Stewart, as seen on Everyday House Blend
4. Etsy by MidWestFinds
6. Martha Stewart
8. Martha Stewart

Recently, my friends Anne-Louise and Jon asked for some help with their new house. It's their very first house and, while very nice, it needed a little personality and some pulling together.

They'd tried to update the space by painting all of the walls grey, but had chosen a grey with a purple cast and they decided it made the place feel dull. I suggested they go with a warm, creamy white and add some wallpaper, which Anne-Louise was craving.

For wallpaper, we settled on Thibaut's Sassafras paper from the Chelsea collection. The paper is available in Canada through Crown Wallpaper & Fabrics and was very nice to work with. I'm no expert wallpaper hanger, but the Sassafras paper went up really easily and didn't cause too many headaches. We kept the project to one wall, so that helped too!

It starts with drawing a line with a level on the wall so that your first and subsequent pieces go on straight. Next you cut your first piece leaving a few extra inches on the top and bottom. Use a large table to work on and spread wallpaper paste on the back of the piece you've cut using a small foam roller and tray. Then you 'book' the paper which means folding the glued sides together to keep the glue wet. Place the folded paper in a plastic garbage bag for three minutes to let the wet paper relax. Then you stick 'er up on the wall and use some smoothening tools to work out the air bubbles.

Each piece goes up in the same way and you just keep matching up the pattern. Remember that larger patterns tend to have more wasted paper so get a little extra. This wall actually took two rolls. After the paper is up, you trim off the edges using a utility knife and straight edge. If any edges are unglued you can always glue them back down with a small foam brush and more glue. Excess glue comes off with a damp rag.

Once the wallpaper was up we moved Anne-Louise and Jon's furniture back in, including this painted retro credenza and vintage country chair.

Here's a close-up so you can see how nice this Thibaut wallpaper pattern is! It has sort of a faintly metallic Moroccan tile motif with these light, airy leafy bits. It's perfect for Anne-Louise and Jon because they are the two biggest tree-hugging people I know! They even use organic toothpaste!

We also decorated the wall over their slipcovered sofa with three Ikea Ribba frames and some DIY art. Using a pear, apple, grapefruit and some leaves from the yard, we created prints by stamping the fruit and leaves into some leftover house paint on bristol board. I think they look great!

The stamped fruit creates some really interesting textures and patterns and the look is light, fresh and simple.

So with some cans of paint, a couple of rolls of wallpaper and some Ikea frames, Anne-Louise and Jon's place was totally refreshed and perked up for summer. And we had so much fun doing it, too!

See more of my DIY projects on Online TV.

Photo credits:
1. Michael Penney
2. Chelsea Collection, Sassafras, T3237, Thibaut
3-8. Michael Penney

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