This renovation project.
It pulled me out of my comfort zone in SO many ways. I am going to be honest here — when a client says they have a lot of artwork and sentimental pieces that they’ve collected over the years and would like to incorporate as many of them as possible into their new renovation, my designer-anxiety level goes up just a little. Designer-anxiety is a thing. For real.
Mixing a couple of design aesthetics into a space isn’t uncommon. In fact, some of my favourite spaces give nod to multiple styles at the same time. The need to stay true to the “rules” of one particular style doesn’t sit well with me. Maybe that’s why I don’t “do” matchy-matchy very well.
Yes, matchy-matchy is a real design term.
Little did I know that trying to meld different design styles into one cohesive look wouldn’t be the only design challenge that we’d be presented with.
I love a good challenge. Those close to me may say that I’m a tiny bit competitive. Give me a challenge related to a design job and I am all. over. it.
We’ll get into the details of all of the finish selections in the next post, but this one is going to take a look at the challenges we faced and how we worked around them. A lot of them are fairly common challenges we see across the board when it comes to renovation jobs so hopefully, if you’re out there searching for some answers, you can find some good ideas here!
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Let’s take a look at what we walked into at our first meeting. Otherwise known as “The Before” shots:
Our footprint was a typical three-bedroom raised bungalow. The homeowners…..not-so-typical. Our first meeting, and every subsequent meeting / phone call / email was filled with witty banter, laughter, with a few “just trust me” lines thrown in. If you’re in any business that is client-driven you know the feeling when you find the perfect clients. The ones that just click. We found them with this job, and it’s a big part of the reason we were able to really dig in and create a truly transformed space that reflected their styles AND their personalities.
When we were contracted into this job, the floor plan changes were already laid out via a family-friend connection. Changes included removal of all existing walls in the kitchen / dining / living room areas and popping out a cantilever for some extra floor space. Re-working the back entrance to be more functional was also part of the new plans.
At the other end of the hall, a complete master bedroom re-do saw a new ensuite layout, an enlarged master bedroom, and the third bedroom of the house converted into the master walk-in closet. Also included in this renovation was a complete exterior overhaul – but that’s a post for another day. Here’s a look at the plan:
As you can see, the kitchen footprint grew with the cantilever and the overall layout of the kitchen was completely changed. Without any walls to separate the kitchen from the living room and the dining room, we were presented with challenge #1:
We want an open-concept space, but we still want definition. Is that possible?
This is probably one of the most common design dilemmas that clients bring to us. They want an open concept space because they like the idea that it will seem larger, they can see their kids while they work in the kitchen, they can see the TV while doing dishes, or various other personal reasons. What they don’t want is one big mega-room that has no definition. The kitchen is still the kitchen. The eating area is still the eating area. Here’s a couple of tricks to use to help bring definition to the space.
As is so typical in these floor plans, the front door opens right into the living room space and offers little to no options for separation. The answer? Furniture placement. An easy solution, really. By placing the sectional sofa with it’s back as a space-defining element we were able to section off the entrance space nicely. We placed a long bench on the opposite wall and hung a large oil painting above it.
Since the ceilings in this space were 8′ high, we opted out of using a pendant or chandelier-type light and instead used a semi-flush fixture here. A statement light fixture (and I’m not talking boob-lights, either) is a pretty simple way to say “Hey! I’m my own space!”
This is one of my favourite design tricks for defining a space after removing the defining walls — look up! We had an extra bit of challenge in this one with the fact that we had to direct traffic around the dining space to the stairs & back entry. It had the potential to be a bit awkward. After a couple of sketches and a call to the cabinet maker to flesh out what was floating in my head we had our solution: a beautiful wood-panel accent over the dining table that extended overtop of the stairs and down the stair wall. By doing this, we provide a contrast with the dark wood against the white ceiling creating invisible walls to guide the eye (and traffic). I love how this turned out. We took the opportunity to introduce a burnt orange accent wall here (one of the clients favourite colors).
Next up on the menu of challenges…
We HATE the look of the TV on the fireplace, but it needs to go there!
The TV on the fireplace debate is one that just doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, at least anytime soon. In this particular case, we didn’t have any walls to put the TV on, so above the fireplace was the only option. Here’s what we did to turn this typical design eye-sore into a beautiful component of the main living space:
TV selection: The lowest profile possible
Thanks to the ever-changing and adapting technology world, our cries for more streamlined and less-bulky TVs are being answered. Going with a TV that has a minimal frame width and depth allows us to get away from the TV being the dominant element of the design.
Camouflage, camouflage, camouflage
We pulled in a textured, commercial grade wallpaper for the main surface on the upper portion of the fireplace. By opting for a black paper we were able to further blend in the TV with the surroundings. A little texture on the paper added another visual piece of interest. Thankfully, the design of these new Regency City Series gas fireplaces allowed us to use a wallpaper finish instead of a stone or brick.
By keeping the width of the TV similar to the glass component of the fireplace created a natural, unifying line. Any smaller of a TV on this wall-space and it would look out of place. Any bigger, and it would be too over-powering.
Ok, problem solved. Onto design-dilemma #3:
We don’t like stainless steel hood fans, and we don’t think we can do a “cabinet-style” hood because our kitchen isn’t traditional. What is left for options?
When we came into this job, the appliances had already been selected and purchased, so going with a down-draft style cooktop was out of the question. And, the homeowner was 100% correct in their observation that going with a millwork or cabinet style hood wouldn’t really mesh well with the overall style of the kitchen. Everything about this design was linear. No curvy-crown mouldings, no profiled doors. Straight lines, and a lot of them. So we rolled with that:
Play with what’s already there!
You can see in the picture – we have lines. Lots of them. So rather than fight it, I sketched out a few options that worked right along with them. We had a simple stepped-crown detail at the ceiling line, and wider-than-typical panels on each side of the fridge and wall-ovens. The remaining space in the middle is what we were working with. We had already planned to run the Dekton countertop up as the backsplash, so I didn’t want to take away from that too much.
I mimicked the stepped-crown detail and came across with a bulkhead in matching wood. From there, we dropped down a hood enclosure that was sprayed in the same color that we used on the back of the island. Keeping within code clearances for gas ranges we were able to create a functional hood fan that looks great (but doesn’t steal the show!)
Last, but not least. The biggest design challenge of this entire job (which could be a post all on it’s own, but I’ll try to keep it on the straight and narrow here for you!) was taking all of these amazing design ideas, wishes, artwork, travel mementos, and rolling them into one cohesive design that knocked it out of the park for our clients….
How do we incorporate all of our favourite travel keepsakes, curated artwork, unique finish choices, and furniture to look amazing (and not look like we’re hosting a yard sale out of our home)?!
I find myself repeating this a lot to clients lately – we don’t want every element in the space to match. We’re out of that whole time when the cabinet handles needed to match the faucet finish, the door hardware, the lights, and every other piece of metal in the house. The flooring doesn’t need to match the cabinets AND the wood of the dining set.
Twinning is out.
Complementing and enhancing is in.
It’s a fine line to not end up looking like a hot mess.
Keep the big elements neutral
Neutral does not equal boring and beige. Let’s get that straight. The big elements in this open-concept space were the floors, walls, and cabinets. By keeping them as clean-lined and neutral as possible meant that they wouldn’t be competing with the design features we wanted to pull in, nor would they be a distraction from the art pieces that would make their way into the space during styling.
The clients were partial to a darker stain for their cabinets. To balance this out, we opted for a warm white on the walls and a medium toned wood floor. Keeping these three elements clean and neat allowed for the countertops, hand-painted tile accents, and artwork to steal the show.
We also kept the big furniture pieces as neutral as possible — a leather section in a solid color (navy), a large ottoman also in a solid colored leather. The styling of the dining set follows the same linear, clean look at the kitchen. Again, complimenting over trying to match.
Group, group, group
Small trinkets can get lost when spread throughout the space. The same goes for other art pieces that don’t share a common theme. The answer? Groupings! By localizing art collections and pieces to specific, planned spaces we were able to achieve a space that showcased the pieces collected on the clients’ travels without overwhelming the viewer.
In the cabinetry, we created a few display niches above cabinets. The end of the island facing the living room also lent itself to a great spot to install some custom display shelving. The fireplace was the third and most-prominent design feature for showcasing and grouping items together. Scroll back up to the picture just above to see all three of these display areas in action!
Prioritize the stars of the show
Not every element needs to be the design star. Choose early what pieces are most important to you. The rest of the selections are then chosen to support or enhance those main elements. The lighting, for example, was an important piece to the clients. The light over the dining room table was enhanced by the wood ceiling detail. We were careful in our island pendant selection to choose sometime sleek and understated. Given it’s close proximity to the dining area we didn’t want to create visual competition here.
The fireplace was the other design element that was really important to the homeowners. This became not only a fireplace, but a home for the TV, an art collection display, and a really great place to sneak in some more of that hand-painted tile in a fun accent colour. We were able to introduce this bright blue because we kept all the main components neutral. Are you following along and sensing a theme here?
When we started this job, the biggest risk was that it would end up looking disjointed, haphazardly thrown together, and not in line with what the clients were envisioning. By breaking it down and figuring out what the most important elements were at the start it helped to ensure that not everything was vying to be the key design piece in the room.
We had some amazing trade partners for this job, and continue to be blown away by the creative talent right in our own backyard. We will be highlighting them in the next post since we’ve had a TON of inquiries for a list of finishes and suppliers on this job! For now, you can head over to our Houzz profile and see all of the finished pics!