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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

A staircase can be the focal point of a hallway, whether your style is traditional or contemporary. Stairs can also be the perfect place to add some colour and pattern — but sometimes, less is more. Here are some examples of simple stair runners and eye-catching staircases that dared to be different.

Here is a classic black and white staircase with a neutral runner. With monochromatic decor, this space could have used any colour runner for a big impact, but this understated one keeps the focus on the wallpaper.

This rural home features a barn-door-red runner for a splash of colour. Even though the hue is bright against the room's neutral palette, its simple stripe and classic country colour is a safe choice that will never look dated.

This all-white space offers an unexpected approach to colour with coloured balusters. Definitely different, though I wonder how those pristine white stairs will handle wear-and-tear...

For big impact in their gallery-white space, the owners of this Montreal home chose a multicoloured runner. It's playful and practical, but not for the timid decorator.

A heavy chevron print in contrasting colours is sure to draw attention. Although it can be a bold choice in a busy space like this one, I think this runner could go both ways — flashy or classy.

How do you prefer to dress up your staircase — with bold prints and unexpected colours or traditional runners that will stand the test of time?

Photo credits:
1. House & Home February 2010 issue
2. British Homes & Gardens
3. Little Miss Homes
4. House & Home June 2010 issue
5. Design New England

As a kid, I use to obsess over the Sears catalogue home section. I remember sitting at my Grandma's kitchen table flipping through pages of furniture and textiles, longing to redecorate my room yet again. When I was extra lucky, I was allowed to order something! I remember patiently waiting for a set of tab-top drapes in a soft sage green to arrive. When they finally did, I quickly learned that most drapery panels are sold separately! Instead of getting upset that I only had one, my Grandma and I whipped out the sewing machine and had the 86" panel chopped into two smaller café sized panels in no time!

Anyway, throughout my years of catalogue shopping, I remember being most obsessed with the "bed-in-a-bag." You know, when you buy the duvet, bed skirt, shams and accent pillow covers all in one, neatly vacuum-sealed bag. As my design knowledge developed — and "magic-of-the-mix" started to define my decorating style — I would refer to "bed-in-a-bag syndrome" as being the matchy-matchy look I tried to avoid.

Nonetheless, matchy-matchy sells! (And is often what people want.) Coordinated patterns and colours are easy on the eyes and bank account, and much more risk-free. Layering up mismatched items is a skill that is learned over time in my books, so for the less adventurous, I retract my previous comment and say, "match away!"

Here's a bed-in-a-bag at Sears that I really like! This classic cream quilt with scalloped edges is a stunner and a good choice if you prefer a matching set.

One company that has a whole new take on this style of decorating is the B.C.-based online store Nudge Home. They offer a great line of home accessories (mostly pillows and art) that have been carefully coordinated. All the hard work is done for you!

Nudge has created "designer bundles" that are sold for a package price. The bundles include four pillows in various patterns and coordinating colours, as well as a gorgeous piece of art. Just throw in a neutral sofa, a few side tables, a couple of lamps and an accent chair, and you've got yourself a living room! The bundles are a great starting point for someone who may not know how to achieve the layered look, or a jumping off colour scheme when decorating a room from scratch.

See our Fast Decorating Fixes gallery for more easy ideas.

Photo credits:
1. Sears
2. Nudge Home
3. Nudge Home

Last Thursday, several of my colleagues and I had the chance to preview Indigo Books & Music’s fall 2011 collection, and to get a feel for where the company is headed. Oh boy, is it exciting!

You may be wondering why I’m showing you a photo of a furnished room — well, all those accessories, including the lamps, cushions, trays, books and frames, are all part of where Indigo is headed. You’ll still find books you want to keep forever, but you’ll also discover chic products to create a cosy home, affordably.

It may be a bit hard to get excited over warm knit blankets in the middle of May, but who doesn’t love a warm and inviting chair to read in?

Bookcases were adorned with unique objets and oodles of hardcovers.

Bookends featuring owls and modern, geometric shapes were seen throughout.

I’m usually not a fan of wooden frames in this colour, but I really like how they work with the linen mats and deep grey wall.

These frame stands, meanwhile, help add height to a console table vignette.

Cute little task lamps, $60 a pop.

Now, how about this swing-arm lamp? Loooove. It's $125! But, more importantly, check out that robot guy!

This large Karlsson clock features classic alarm bells and a cool white-on-white look.

For a bit more of a punch, though, you could go for a red-faced clock.

There was no shortage of nifty office accessories and storage items. This golden objet is $15.

Indigo teamed up with Moleskin to give their classic notebooks a new look.

The lacquer-top boxes come in different sizes and colours. Notice those cameras on the far left? Those are Fujifilm Instax cameras which print photos instantly — like good ol’ Polaroids. The white ones should be at Indigo stores in time for Father’s Day, and the black one, which prints wider photos, by autumn.

A section of the preview was dedicated to little ones, and featured educational toys and books. The book display was neat — I personally like to display my book covers, but covering them turned these simple bookcases (Billy ones, perhaps?) into something sophisticated, especially with the white frames hung on top. Maybe covering books and labelling the spines will teach kids not to judge a book by its cover? :)

They even have great gift items for babies, including clothes, frames and treasured stuffed animals. Goodbye, dear piggybank — looks like some other animals stole the show.

CEO Heather Reisman was there to talk about it all, including their new kitchen and dining products, which Indigo designed, too. That's the same Heather who decides which items get her sticker of approval. And yes, that is Chef Michael Smith in the corner. He was there to talk about his new cookbook out in the fall, Chef Michael Smith’s Kitchen, which features easy-to-follow recipes that guide you through the cooking process.

There are those bowls that Heather was holding earlier.

These decanters come with a neat wooden ball which sits comfortably on top. Tasty snacks will also be available for purchase, including fudge and peanut brittle.

The most mysterious part of the preview was this packaged box — Heather wouldn’t say what was inside of it, but now we know. On Monday, Kobo announced its release of a new eReader with touch capabilities, Wi Fi and more, available for preorder now at $139. Exciting news for literature fans.

While I have recently become interested in getting an eReader (so much easier to travel with!), I don’t think I’ll ever stop wanting a home library featuring my favourite and most inspiring books. Check out this photo gallery of amazing libraries if you feel the same way!

Photo credits:
Seema Persaud

1. Decor Pillows - Stems (Green, Tumeric), Felt Linen, $40 each.
2. Task Lamp, $100. Small Karlsson Pointer Clock, $14. Hemingway Throw, $70. Moss Sitch Throw, $55.
3. Hurricane Vase, $24-$39. Pillar Candles, from $10.
4. Triangular Sculptural Bookend, $25; Oval Object Bookends,  $40.
5. Wood and Linen Frames, $25-$60.
6. Easel Bookstand, $60. Silver Frames, $25-$55.
7. Clear Glass with Decal Lamp, $60.
8. Wood Task Lamp, $125. Cubebot, $25.
9. White Karlsson Clock, $80.
10. Wood Mantle Clock, $40.
11. Horn Pen Cup, $15, Tray, $18. Black Marble "&" Paperweights set, $22. Antique Brass Polygon Object, $15. Glass Shadow Box, $35.
12. Moleskin Exclusive Collection Notebooks, from $14.
13. Fujifilm Instax Mini 7S, MSRP $90, Instax Mini 50S, MSRP $130. Lacquer Box Small, $15, Large, $30. Kraft Notebooks, from $4.50. Black and White Pen Cup, $12.
15. Owl, Turtle or Elephant Bank, $20; Owl Frame, $25; Musical Owl, $19; Owl Plush, $23; Owl or Leaf Onesie, $20; Owl Playmat, $45; Falling Leaves Bib, $10.
17. Ribbed Porcelain Bowls, $6-$40. Serving Board, large, $25. Slate Candle Rest, $20. Lantern Candles, $24.
18. Glass Carafe with Wooden Ball, $23.

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