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Trays are the perfect desk, hutch or side table accessory; they add a touch of colour and keep surfaces clutter-free (see Seema's blog about organizing with trays). Although I love the clean, white, lacquered look, the brighter versions are the ones that catch my eye. I'd love to be able to change trays with the seasons, but my budget doesn't always allow, so, I've found a crafty way to recreate these designer trays at a fraction of the price! See some of my store-bought favourites (and their hefty price tag), followed by my do-it-yourself version.

Jonathan Adler has a great collection of patterned trays. This yellow one screams summer! But at $60, I'd have to be willing to commit to this citrus hue.

This beautifully vibrant Marimekko print from Crate & Barrel is $62. It's made of laminated fabric-covered plywood. Perfect for the patio, right?

I'm loving this kitschy Josef Frank fabric-covered tray from Swedish store Svenskt Tenn. In Canadian dollars, it would be just over $90, pre-international shipping! At that price, I'd rather hang it on a wall than get water rings on it.

This retro shape and apple print is so pretty. Wouldn't it look great leaning against your kitchen's backsplash? This melamine tray is available through German online store design3000 for about $30, plus shipping — not a splurge, but I can show you how to achieve this look for even cheaper!

Here's how you can get a custom look to match your decor with a bit of fabric and a baking tray. Here's my graphic black and white version:

The tools and materials were minimal and inexpensive:

  • Dollar store baking sheet
  • Fabric
  • Fabric scissors
  • Spray glue
  • Hot Glue

To see me make this tray in a flash (as well as other fabric-covered desk accessories), watch the online video.

Photo credits:
1. Carnaby Hollywood Tray, Jonathan Adler
2. Marimekko Pieni Unikko Red Tray, Crate & Barrel
3. Rectangular Aralia Tray, Svenskt Tenn
4. Margareta Tray, design3000
5. Jason Stickley

In the July issue of House & Home, we spotlight the dramatic look of triptych artwork as this month's Gotta Have It. The power of three is well documented: in Chinese culture it's considered lucky because it sounds like the word for "alive", there are three notes in a basic music chord, there are holy trinities in religions both east and west, it was the number on the back of Babe Ruth's New York Yankees jersey, and apparently the third time's a charm. In decorating, a trio of items is often most beautiful, and triptych artwork is a prime example. We spotlight the blue and white octopus print by Natural Curiosities, as it's perfect for summer's beachy vibe, but there are lots of great choices out there in a wide range of styles.

Go for equestrian chic with a handsome horsey print. Play up the theme by pairing it with Hermes orange. The effect is both fashionable and timeless.

The sets for AMC's Mad Men have raised the bar for small screen style. The show is also praised for being historically accurate. This retro giraffe triptych in Pete and Trudy's home prove the look (and warm orange palette) transcends trends.

The Hamptons home of Hollywood sweetheart and cookbook author Gwyneth Paltrow proves her good taste extends well beyond the kitchen. A trio of striking photographs over her living room fireplace eliminates the need to add anything more to the mantel.

Similarly, in NHL star Gary Roberts' living room, an abstract triptych by Marian Wihak turns a 20-foot-long wall into a dramatic focal point.

Vancouver artist and photographer Heather Ross also owns the South Granville shop Heather Ross In House, where this serene triptych (painted by Heather) was snapped. It would look great standing in for a headboard in a bedroom.

Here's a similar look.

Even in a busy setting, a trio of art commands attention.

For more display ideas, check out our DIY Art section.

Photo credits:
1. House & Home July 2011 issue, photography by Tracy Shumate
2. House & Home September 2008 issue, photography by Donna Griffith
3. La Dolce Vita blog
4. Artfully Yours blog
5. Habitually Chic
6. House & Home March 2009 issue, photography by Michael Graydon
7. House & Home January 2010 issue, photography by Heather Ross
8. Apartment Therapy
9. Lonny Feb/March 2010, photography by Patrick Cline

Everywhere you go, restaurants and hosts are serving meals on white plates. While there's nothing wrong with that, I'd like to remind everyone that colour is okay, too. I know, I know, food pops against white plates, and it's much easier to replace broken dishes if they're white, but why not mix some patterned dinnerware into your table settings this summer? You don't need to change the entire setting for a new look, just a couple of vibrant plates mixed between your current set will liven things up a bit.

I've been on a real watercolour kick lately — I recently bought myself a paint set to prove to my seventh-grade art teacher that I do, perhaps, have some artistic talent. Artist Shelley Hesse currently has a few of her designs (much better than my own) at Anthropologie right now. Watercolor Petals Dinnerware, $14-$24, Anthropologie.

Keeping with the watercolour theme, these Mediterranean-inspired dishes by designer David Stark would be perfect for a nautical look. David Stark Brushstroke Dinnerware, $32-$40 USD for a set of four, West Elm.

For a punchier look, try these blue and white dishes with a Polish print. (You can see more graphic blue plates in the Style Files section of our July issue.) Hand-Painted Polish Dinnerware, $7-$8 each, HomeSense.

Concerned about breaking dishes? Pretty melamine plates are available in abundance. Yellow hues will add some cheer on the patio. Sunshine Melamine Plates, $24 USD for a set of four, West Elm.

Kilim prints are everywhere these days, including dinnerware. These green and orange plates feature platinum bands for a contemporary take on fine dining. And people, please get that fine china out of the cabinets and onto the table for use! Jasper Conran at Wedgwood Kilim plate, $30, Waterford Wedgwood.

Other ways to give your table a new look for the season? Switch up chargers, tablecloths or napkins. For more table setting inspiration, visit our Dining Design section.

Photo credits:
1. Anthropologie
2, 4. West Elm
3. HomeSense
5, 6. Waterford Wedgwood

On Tuesday May 31st, Habitat for Humanity Canada announced the launch of their new 360 Built Smart Partnership program. By focusing on five specific areas, the charity hopes to increase the number of homes built and individuals reached with this initiative, and to create sustainable communities across the country. One of the pillars focuses on building eco-friendly homes, and another on providing education and support to families.

At the event, Lynda Reeves spoke about the importance of the foundation's work and getting involved — more than four million Canadians are living without adequate housing, according to Habitat for Humanity. In addition, the charity's President and CEO, Stewart Hardacre, stressed the need for land, products and financial donations to create affordable housing.

Tianna Gerrior, who has been helped by Habitat for Humanity's efforts, shared her story of what it was like raising her daughter in an inadequate apartment. There were a few tears as she described warming her daughter with a hair dryer so she could fall asleep on cold nights (they didn't have working heat). Tianna also shared her gratitude and excitement over her new home, built by her and many volunteers. She thanked Habitat for Humanity for accepting her application for a new home and never judging her. (To hear Tianna, watch this video.)

As a prospective homeowner like Tianna, you must be willing to commit to 500 "sweat equity hours," among other things, which means helping to build your future home. Tianna said it gave her a real appreciation for the house (not to mention some handy skills), and was thankful for the education sessions on home ownership, which ensured she was ready to own and maintain a house.

When Lynda spoke after her, she noted how nice it was to hear about Tianna's experience. "One thing all homeowners share is a sense of pride in their homes."

To cap off the event, representatives from corporate sponsors, along with Lynda, Stewart, ToolGirl Mag Ruffman, Tianna and her daughter, pressed their hands into concrete and signed a piece of drywall to symbolize their support for the partnership. Both items will soon be used in a new home.

For more information on Habitat for Humanity's 360 Built Smart Partnership and getting involved, check out their website.

Photo credits:
Seema Persaud

This past March, I visited the gorgeous city of San Miguel de Allende, Mexico for the second time, and fell in love all over again. (If you missed my post from last spring, click here.) This time, we rented a Spanish Colonial home nestled in the mountains. It's actually a new-build, but has the aged patina and timeworn charm of an old Mexican home. We're actually eager to rent this home yearly as a winter getaway. Here are some of my favourite photos from the courtyard, interiors, rooftop and gardens:

This was the first area I saw when I walked into the building. A lush plant-filled courtyard complete with a koi pond. It was a heavenly welcome. All of the columns were brand new but felt like stone antiques and had soft hand-painted patterns in the arches.

This is the staircase to the second floor at the far end of the courtyard. The crisscross pebble detail added pattern and the honed stone was amazing to walk on. The recessed wall lighting illuminated the treads and looked simply beautiful as the sun started to set.

This space was like an indoor-outdoor area where the staircase met the second floor to the left. I remember when those tin star lamps were totally popular in Canada back in the '80s and here they were again — but you know, I totally loved it here. It made sense as they are made locally in Mexico. At night, this one illuminated the ceiling with twinkling stars. Heaven again!

And this is the view back to the hills of San Miguel on one part of the rooftop garden.

There was a stunning jacaranda tree up there on the roof.

The bougainvillea trees like this one clashed so beautifully with the terracotta walls.

And look how pretty the blooms look in a simple glass vase on a tray in the hallway.

I loved this grouping of Italian-style cypress trees that provided privacy and framed the structure of the patio.

This was the staircase to the rooftop patio on the next level. Notice how the bougainvillea from the courtyard below spills over the railing — gorgeous! The tilework on the steps is quintessential Mexican design and the whimsical stone mermaid up at the top seemed to keep watch over the house from above.

Locally-made patterned iron gates provided security between the indoor and outdoor areas but still let the air and light flow in.

This was the view through the main living room which featured a wood beamed ceiling at a soaring 15 feet high, a large archway to mark the dining area, plenty of large scale wood furniture and, of course, iron chandeliers. Every room in the house had french doors leading to an outdoor area of some sort.

The highlight of the kitchen was the massive hood over the stove and all of the gorgeous terracotta or hand-painted tiles and dark wood cabinetry.

Special touches included an antique leather saddle displayed as a piece of art in the front courtyard's arcade, highlighted by a gorgeous iron sconce. An oxidized tiered lantern set against a brick arched ceiling created ambiance in the backyard's arcade.

This was my bedroom looking toward the french doors that opened to the garden. The panels over the screened bottom section of the doors was a practical detail — they could be opened at night for amazing air flow without the bugs.

I loved the intricate metal work on the headboard.

And the elegant lines on the stone fireplace across from the bed — plus even more french doors!

The bathrooms each featured bath tubs like this one with gorgeous blue and green tilework and gracious steps.

The sinks were hand-painted with floral motifs. I wouldn't even consider putting a sink like this in my house here, but it was gorgeous there.

I nearly fainted when I saw the size of the walk-in closet.

For me, though, the highlight of the property was all of the water features like this tiered pond that was tucked in at the side of the house with orange trees that we used to make fresh orange juice.

And of course the backyard's stunning dark-bottom pool with a stone clad hot tub at one end.

This photo was taken from a patio behind the hot tub. The tall grasses added privacy.

Here you can a second patio arcade with loads of seating built around the pool.

That's me sitting in the shade by the pool.

For bird watchers, the backyard was paradise. Local birds would visit daily, like this sweet yellow bird perched on a frond over the waterfall from the hot tub.

Most remarkable was that this Spanish Colonial gem was neatly hidden behind a wall much like this one so that no one would ever know it was there.

For more Mexican inspiration, see my blog post on San Miguel Style, Andrea Mills' post on Modern Mexican Style, and Joel Bray's post on Puerto Vallarta's Sunny Style.

Photo credits:
Suzanne Dimma

One of my favourite things to do is hunt for vintage items in the most unusual places. I think of it as a treasure hunt, and there's nothing I love hunting more than old junk! One of my favourite eastern Ontario stores is Belleville's Funk & Gruven A-Z, and owner Mike also has a barn full of old bits and bobs in Prince Edward County, too, that I was so excited to visit.

Here's what I found down in the county:

First, this beautiful old trunk with its timeworn patina. It's dark green painted metal with some red striping and brass hardware. I also found this small metal table base to use in combination with the trunk. I may paint the base a dark colour and use this as an unusual side table somewhere.

You have to be prepared to climb through some pretty interesting spaces to find the real treasure, but how great is this old rustic hutch? It was worth it!

Check out my haul! Two wonderful industrial factory lights that I can see being rewired and hung over an island, a robin's egg blue lamp for that perfect pop of colour, a painted wicker stool to pile high with towels in a bathroom, and more!

There were even some super rustic elements hiding in the long grass in the surrounding fields!

My treasures were looking pretty fine packed up in the back of the car! You'll also see a cool old picture with black and white portraits, some homespun berry baskets (look for them in a photo shoot soon!) and some wonderfully weathered clay flowerpots. I have an orchid waiting for one right now!

There's really nothing like hunting for vintage finds in an old barn!

For info, contact Mike at Funk & Gruven A-Z in Belleville Ontario: (613) 968-5612.

For tips on how to incorporate antiques into your home, see our Vintage Chic photo gallery.

Photo credits:
1-5. Michael Penney

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