Monday, August 8, 2016

7 Day Make-Over Bedroom Surprise!

I have a very dear friend whom I care very much about.  She is sweet and kind and one of the most selfless and devoted mothers I have ever seen.  Her son has autism.  His needs are high.  Since his diagnosis, much (if not all) of her life has revolved around trying to understand and meet his needs. It's a complex, confusing, exhausting process, and just when she seems to get a handle on things, things change.

We had a conversation a few months back, where she told me that she would really like to have a nice space in her home - but with the needs of her son consuming the majority of her time and energy, her home had just dropped off of her list of priorities.  Ever since then, I have wished that I could use my talents to do something special just for her - but the opportunity wasn't presenting itself, until 2 weeks ago . . .

I was able to do some work for her mother, and we got talking.  I found out that her Mom also wished to create a special space for her dearly loved daughter, but she didn't know how to go about it.  Previous attempts had just added more stress and work to my friend's already heavy load and ended in disaster.

The stars aligned and we conspired to create a surprise makeover for her birthday in the spring; however, we found out that she and her family were going away the following week creating a perfect opportunity!

We flew into action!  We only had 7 days to pull everything together.  Such a tight time-line was a challenge for me because I had to rely heavily on items that could be acquired locally (and selection was slim) - or that could be sent to us fast.  It was also a challenge because I couldn't speak to my friend or her husband at all in order to keep the surprise, so I had to rely solely on input from her family.

Her mom snuck me into the house one evening while my friend and her family were out of town so I could take some measurements and come up with a plan.  The bedroom was purely functional.  One of the biggest problems was that there was just too much furniture in the room.  This left it feeling crowded. I have come up against this problem before several times in master bedrooms (including my own).  The dilemma to be solved entails how to get rid of some of the furniture in the room in order to create more space, but still retain enough storage options for all the stuff . . .

Part of the solution is down-sizing, and gratefully my friend has a sister who is great at it!  Because we were doing this without her knowledge, I made her sister promise not to throw anything out.  Rather, she kept the items she knew her sister used most, boxed up what she thought could go, and put them into storage where she could later go through them and decide what she wanted to keep and what she was ready to let go of.

With everything that was left we decided to maximize under-used space in the closet with a new organizational system and under-bed storage hidden behind a bed-skirt.  This allowed us to loose 1 dresser.  I really wanted to loose both of them, but found that we needed just a little more storage space.  I found that a conventional dresser just ate up too much room, which would force me to off-center the bed in the room (which I can't stand), so I started looking at more unconventional options.

The solution ended up being a sideboard.  Designed more to be a piece of dining-room furniture than bedroom furniture, it is much more narrow than a conventional dresser, which gave us the space we needed but still offered options for a little more closed storage.

Originally, I designed the room with very glamorous mirrored pieces - but while her mom and sister loved them, they felt that trying to keep them clean with her son would leave my friend feeling stressed out, so we opted for much less glamorous, but much more practical furniture from the Hemnes collection at Ikea.

Colour was a hard thing to decide on without having the chance to talk to my friend or her husband!  I took my cues from the navy found in the room and confirmed with her family that navy was a colour she had always been partial too.  The only trick with navy is that it can make things feel very dark, especially in a smaller space, so I chose to balance it out with lots of white and a very warm grey on the walls ("Edgecomb Gray" by Benjamin Moore) to soften the harsh contrast.

With Mom and sisters' approval of the final plan, we went straight to work and miraculously everything came together with only a few little blips!

It was a total surprise!  My friend had absolutely no idea what we were up to while she was away! Surprise renos always make me a little nervous because I never know exactly how it's going to go over, but to my great relief she loved it (though she wants to ask her sister about where some of her things went!).

Monday, March 28, 2016

DIY Pipe & Plank Shelving

We began renovating our basement last year and it has proved to be a challenge!  The space itself is not challenging (it's basically just a big rectangle), but we're a family of 6 in a 2000 sqft house, and much is demanded of our basement. We need it to be a media space, play space, guest space, office space and a music space (yes, that's a lot of spaces to fit into one big rectangle) - oh, and we're on a tight budget.  I was turning out to be my own most difficult client!

I spent hours puzzling over how I could fit everything in, in a logical, functional way - still give things some measure of aesthetic appeal, and make it all fit in our budget.  During this time I had the opportunity to design a basement for a family who also needed many things from their basement.  It turns out that sometimes you need to look at someone else's space in order to derive solutions for your own!

I had seen pipe and plank shelving before and thought it to be a brilliant solution for low budget, custom shelving needs.  I used it to create a home office space for this particular client of mine, and in the process, realized that it could also solve some of my own problems with my basement.

Pipe and plank shelving is great for a number of reasons:

1) It's affordable
2) It's customizable
3) It's pretty easy to do
4) It looks cool

I did the regular Google research and found a tutorial on DIY Show Off which gave me the general gist of things.  I thought this was a good tutorial, and don't see the need to re-invent the wheel - so I would refer people there, but I did make a few tweaks of my own:


- Measuring tape and pencil
- 1/2" steel pipe fittings of appropriate lengths, 1/2" flanges, T-joints, and 90* elbows
- Spray paint (if you want to change the colour of the pipes)
- 16" wide wood planks (mine were listed as 16"wide, but were really more like 15")
- Wood stain and lacquer (opt)
- Drill
- 1" hole saw
- screws & screw driver
- Stud finder / hollow wall anchors


STEP 1: Plan out shelf and collect pipe fittings

After briefly reviewing the tutorial on DIY Show Off, I thought building this shelf was going to be a piece of cake.  I set to work designing the shelf I wanted and then ran out to the hardware store to get the necessary pieces.

The first problem arose at the first hardware store I visited.  I knew what I was looking for, but didn't really know what to call it.  After wandering around the hardware store for awhile, I finally found my way to the "Pipe Fittings" section of the Plumbing department.  There were plenty of copper pipes and plastic pipes - neither was what I wanted.

I finally found the pipes I was looking for (they're called 1/2" steel "nipples" by the way) - but was sorely disappointed by the selection!  Apparently steel pipes aren't in high demand, and a lot of hardware stores don't stock a ton.  They come in standard sizes (6", 1', 18", 2', 3'), but I had a really hard time finding the 1'-2' sizes (locally I had the best luck at Lowes, but they still didn't have everything I needed).   I was also hoping to avoid spray painting the pipes if I could, so I was hoping to find all the pieces I needed in the colour I was hoping for (they come in galvanized pipe, black iron, and black steel).  I couldn't find all the pieces I wanted (my original design required 36, 1' pieces), let alone pieces of the same colour - so the hunt began!

I visited 5 different hardware stores and gained an assortment of various parts of various colours (I was going to have to spray paint - boo. . .).  I basically had to scrap my original design and look at what I had and what I could do with it and then make a design based on that.  This is what I ended up with:


STEP 2: Put the pipes together and make sure it's going to fit your space

Another problem I encountered was accurately calculating the height of the pipes when put together (this is because the joints add height, and I wasn't sure how far I could screw the pipes into the joints).

I had to just do this the old-fashioned way and put a section of pipe together and physically make sure it would fit in my space.

In doing this, I also discovered another problem.  The 12" lengths with 90* elbows were designed for the shelf to sit on top of (they needed to stop short of the wall) - but I would need the top 12" length with a flange to extend past the 12" length with elbow in order to go right back to the wall.

So I went back to the hardware store and picked up a "1/2" close" and "1/2" 2-way connector" for each of the top 12" lengths.  This solved my problem!

 STEP 3: Measure and drill holes in planks

Once I had the details of my design worked out, I picked up 3, 16"x 8' unfinished pine planks from The Home Depot .  

In the DIY Show Off tutorial, the author made a cardboard template to cut the holes for the pipes in their wood planks.  I started with 1 board, and just measured and marked 3/4" in from the side and front of each front corner:

From there, I measured where I wanted my other two pipe supports to go, and marked them in 3/4" from the front edge of the board.  Once the placement of all my holes was measured and marked, I drilled the holes in the center of my marks with my 1" hole saw (attached to a drill):

Because all of my boards were going to be the same, after I finished cutting the holes in my first board, I just clamped it onto my other board ensuring that the edges were flush, and used it as a template to cut the same holes in my other boards.

After all my holes were cut, I proceeded to sand, stain, and lacquer my shelves.

STEP 4: Assemble and install 

You're probably going to want a partner to help with this next step!

Instead of building my shelf from the ground up, we chose to just put it all together on the floor and then stand it up in place.

Once we had it up in place, 1 person held it steady while the other marked the holes in the top flanges.  Because I had specific objects in mind that I wanted to place at the bottom of my shelf, I positioned the pipes around those objects, and did not place the pipes where there were studs in the wall.  Where there wasn't studs, I used heavy-duty hollow walls anchors and screwed the top flange into them.  I did however, get lucky with 2 pipes and hit studs!

We did find that there was some flex and wobble in the shelf while we were putting it up. Consequently, we started by securing the one end pipe to the wall, and then measured from pipe to pipe to make sure that it was the same distance on the wall that it was on the shelf before securing the next flange to the wall.  

After all the top flanges were secured to the wall, because I put this shelf into my basement and didn't want to anchor the bottom flanges into my concrete floor (through my new carpet!), I used 4, 1" corner braces on the bottom side of the bottom shelf to anchor the unit into the studs of the wall:

The end result was very sturdy, and fit just the way I wanted it to!  Huzzah!

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

If You Are Buying, Building, or Renovating a Home in 2016 - Please, PLEASE - AVOID the Following:

Most often posts on my blog are about what-to-do, but today this post is about what-NOT-to-do in order to love your home more.  I have the great privilege of being able to go into many different people's homes and help them out with their spaces.  It seemed like in 2015 I was often called into homes to help address some of the same problems over and over again - which is why I feel the need to speak out now - before it's too late for other homes.  These are problems that are not easy to work around - because the problems lay in the way the space has been constructed - which can not be easily changed.  So please, PLEASE, for the love of all that is good and holy - if you are buying, building or seriously renovating a home in 2016 please AVOID the following 5 things:


The biggest culprit I saw in 2015 was the corner fireplace.  I don't know why, but it seems like a bunch of home-builders decided this was a good idea - it's NOT, and I'll tell you why:  

When designing a space, the first thing you want to determine is a primary point of focus.  That primary focal point is where the attention and direction of the room is focused and everything else falls into place around it.  Focal points should be clearly defined and organized in a hierarchy (primary, secondary, tertiary. . .), and should not compete with each other for dominance.

Primary focal points are almost always the most commanding architectural feature of a space (like a fireplace, or big window, etc).  Thus - when you have a fireplace in a room, it should be the primary point of focus - not a side thought.  If you are going to put a fireplace in a space, it should be centrally located where it will be easy to arrange everything else around it. My favourite is smack-dab in the center of the main wall of the space - not stuffed into a corner.

Being side by side, the TV /fireplace and piano are competing for attention, but because of the corner fireplace there's nowhere else for this piano to go . . . 
I know corner fireplaces can be made to look nice in show-homes - but it's easy to make show homes look nice because they don't have real people living in them with real stuff!  Don't be deceived!  Corner fireplaces limit furniture arrangement possibilities (most often you are limited to a L-shaped arrangement), and eat up wall space (because it impacts the two walls they are attached to instead of 1).  They become really difficult when another element that commands attention needs to be included in the space (like a TV, or a piano - or both in the case of one of my clients!), because the two features when placed side-by-side (which you often have to do because you have no other choice) will compete with each other disrupting the hierarchy and creating confusion!

There are very few ways to pull off a corner fireplace well.  The best is in a very large, open space without much else in it.  This maximizes your options for furniture arrangements.

If you're reading this too late, and you're already stuck with one of these suckers, the best thing to do is to give it more prominence by pulling it up all the way to the ceiling.

If you can't do "best" try for "better."  We couldn't change the position of the fireplace in this home and the piano had to stay in this room - so we cleaned up the decorative arrangement above the piano centralizing attention by using a round mirror and some lamps.  Then we drew the fireplace all the way up to the ceiling, kept the TV above the fireplace and balanced it out with tall drapes on the window.  It's not the best, but it's better.

If you also have a TV in the space, place it above the fireplace, NOT beside it.  This way you are combining these two attention grabbers into a single focal point instead of dividing them into 2 competing ones.

TV & fireplace combined in a single focal Point

Corner fireplace & TV placed side by side in 2 competing focal points.  I don't know where to place my attention - the TV?  Or the fireplace?  


Next to walls, nothing divides space more effectively than flooring.  Chopping up flooring makes space feel smaller and limits options for function and aesthetics (determines what the space can be used for and restricts how furniture can be arranged).  When it comes to flooring - particularly in open and connected spaces - less is always better.  Ultimately if you can be consistent with just 1 flooring type in the space that is ideal, but two can work if they are different mediums and you are using them to specifically and purposely divide spaces with different functional purposes (ie: a tile/carpet or /wood/carpet or tile/wood).  3 different flooring mediums in an open and connected space is pushing it.  It can be skillfully done, but is best avoided, and I would never do more than 3.  DO NOT put different selections of the same medium next to each other (carpet next to a different kind of carpet, tile next to a different type of tile, etc) and don't put fake wood (like laminate or tile wood planks) next to real wood - ever.


Sometimes people will build these in simply to avoid having too many blank walls.  DON'T!  There's nothing wrong with blank walls!  Blank walls give you multiple options - small alcoves limit your options.

Decorative alcoves often draw a lot of attention to whatever is put in them.  They are great for displaying famous pieces of art in European cathedrals - but they most often seem out of place in average homes and the main challenge to residents is: "what the heck am I going to put in there?" Decorative alcoves tend to create a "shrine" effect.  They draw attention and give importance to whatever they display - and most often, average home owners don't really have something of great importance to put in them.  Most often they become cluttered with trinkets or become collecting points for junk.

Large alcoves can be great, and can enhance the function and character of a space - but that is because they are big enough to support different options.  Small alcoves are limiting, and you're better off to just avoid them.


When I see this, I often think to myself that it would have been better just to carry the walls around the closet up to the ceiling.  Maybe the dead space could be turned into clever hidden storage accessible from the other side that would actually be useful.

These seem to be have been a real trend for home-builders at one time and I see them frequently in homes that have been built in the last 20 years.  Again, they can be made to look OK in a show home where there's no real people with real stuff living in them, but often they're a pain in the butt for real home-owners.  Much like the alcove, the question is always what to put on them.  They limit options in the space, and inevitably just get cluttered up with junk that collects dust.   It kills me - because most often something like this is unnecessary, it takes up floor space for no real purpose, takes extra time and money to do, and a lot of time and money to undo.  Save your money and your sanity - just don't do it.

If you want something to decorate with - use shelves.  Shelves can be nice and they give you options. If you don't like them in 5 years you can easily take them down and do something different.  Built in ledges leave you stuck with only 1 option or a major renovation.


Again, a popular trend among home builders that is often a thorn in my side.  These can add more softness and flow to a space, and are often more resistant to chipping than conventional 90* corners - however they are a pain because they again they limit options.  How so you ask?

Well, let's say I want to use more than 1 colour on the walls in a space.  Rounded exterior corners are great for flow, but not so great for separation.  If I want one colour on just one side of the wall It's really hard to know how and where to divide one colour from the other on a rounded corner, whereas it is clearly defined with a 90* corner.

Unless you are a master finisher - they also make the application of trim and moldings difficult because there's no easy-to-cut right angle.  This can limit you from being able to apply any kind of paneling effect that you may want to add to a space.

This just hurts me . . .
There are probably a couple of other things that I could add to this list of do-nots, but these are the main 5.  The trait that they all have in common is that they limit the options of what can be done with your space.  When creating a space, I like to have as many options available to me as possible, which is why the restrictions imposed by these things bother me so much!

For most people, the purchase of their homes will be the biggest investment they will ever make, and I hate to see people spend money on things that will only be headaches for them later.  I want you to love your home - to love being there.  Avoiding these things will help!

Thursday, November 26, 2015


Over the course of the year, I manage to generate a fair amount of scrap fabric left-over from the projects I have completed.  Last year I decided to whip up some quick pillow shams from this fabric and offer them to my customers as a Black Friday Sale!

It was so successful I have decided to do it again!  We have $5 17x17" cotton print pillow shams again, and have added $10 cotton print Euro shams (26x26" with 2" flange)!  Quantities are limited - when they're gone they're gone!  Sale starts tomorrow, Friday November 27th at 9am (MST) and ends Monday, November 30th at 12am (MST).