Front Entrance Dilemma

I have a dilemma. Or I HAD a dilemma. A front entrance dilemma. You've seen many of my before and afters in our 1930's cottage. We've been here a little over a year now and are working our way through room by room. Still have the basement bathroom (you will LOVE the befores - the craziest mix of a 1970's light fixture, faux terra cotta tiles finished up with non-slip DUCK stickers in the tub with a touch of a 1980's cottage style mirror (remember crackle?) - the only things missing are some pot pourri and a bit of sponge painting. That project is coming along. Soon, I tell you!

But what I NEEDED to address right.away was the front entrance. The cottage was tiny in its original form - miniature rooms - and the previous owners had opened up the main floor bedroom and old living room to be one larger open space. I can't say "big" because it's still pretty compact. But it WAS the right move.

Problem - the front door opens up right into the living room. Problem - no storage at the door for shoes. Problem - nowhere to sit to put on shoes. Problem - no landing strip for keys or mail. Problem - did I tell you that it RAINS here most of the year? Think rain boots and umbrellas and dripping raincoats. 

But I can ALWAYS find a solution. Might not be the PERFECT solution but it'll be the perfect one for the situation at hand. Ready? Here we go.

First I better give you a look so you can see what I was working with.

And now for my solutions - you can SO use these in any small space.


On the left I have a galvanized boot tray from Crate & Barrel. I have THREE of these - one at each door. Can you see the rubber insert? Genius. And on the right is the Lustifik shoe rack from IKEA. We're all about the high/low over here. I don't care how much or how little it costs, I want it to work!

I needed a VERY thin floor mat as the previous owners made a renovating boo boo - they DIDN'T go down to the subfloor when installing the new hardwood so the front door barely clears the floor when it opens. Tut tut tut - doesn't pay to cut corners! The only one thin enough was a Chilewich


I DID splurge on a bench from Style Garage. It's sitting on two jute rugs from Pottery Barn. And it's not in the photo but I have a basket underneath the bench where the girl stashes her many, many, MANY different flip flops. (6 year olds and flip flops - a match made in heaven). This DOES solve the opening-right-into-the-front-room problem by creating a separation between this area and the couch. It gives the illusion of an entrance.


I needed somewhere to drop the keys and the mail when I walked in but it had to be a particular width and quite shallow. Again I went to Style Garage and had them make a custom size of this table. It has two legs in front and attaches to the wall.


Since I'm back on the west coast with it's HUGE Asian influences, I'd be remiss if I ignored feng shui.

The narrow stairs to the second floor are directly in line with the front door on the other side of the living room. Not good - any good luck in the house runs down the stairs and out the front door.

I don't REALLY believe it but just in case, I found a solution. Hung a crystal above the door. Any good luck running down the stairs will be reflected BACK into the house.



What didn't I do? I still need to find a tiny mirror to put above the landing strip and to the right of the alarm panel. I can't fit anything larger than maybe 12" square. I also thought about an umbrella stand but instead I leave them outside the front door. There just wasn't any room.

And that's it. I think I've solved my front entrance dilemma. How about you? Do you have any entrance dilemmas in your small spaces? How did you solve them?

Before and After - the Front Yard

I have done a lot of before and afters now - the dining room, living room, reading nook, kitchen and the girl's bedroom. Now the front yard.

Do you garden? Is it something that you like to do? I don't. Not really. It's not the work of it - I can get my hands dirty and I don't mind raking leaves. But looking through catalogues and picking out plants? Not interested. It's nothing personal, I just have a lot of other interests to be fulfilled before I jump on the gardening bandwagon.

But I do love the look of a landscaped yard and I enjoy sitting outside in the summer - bbqing (grilling for you American readers), reading, dinners with friends - I look forward to all of it.

Our front yard had been landscaped by the previous owners. Nothing too fancy. The challenging and expensive work had been done - interlocking brick sidewalks and rock retaining walls. However, the grass was mossy and with the shade from the neighbour's tree, we were never going to be able to improve it. 

Here's the before:

Another shot from the realtor. Shrubs were too close to the house and the roots were already growing into the drainage pipes (we had to sort that out before any landscaping could be done). Access to the sewer was covered by a square of wood. And that mossy grass.

You can see that the steps and the walkways and the retaining wall were fine - luckily we didn't need to make any changes there.

I'd like to tell you that I did all sorts of research into which plants to buy and where to place them in the yard but that would be lying. So through word of mouth I found a landscaper who took our desires of an easy to maintain yard with mostly native plants and made a plan.

Here are the plants:

The bottom left isn't black and white - it's a dark green grass on white and grey stone right under the living room window.

And here is what it looks like just after it was completed this week:

No more grass - just plants that are sparse but will grow in a year from now. A little more street appeal. Next up is the back yard. Actually, the back deck. The backyard is fine, postage stamp size that it is. But the deck is a blank slate. Time to measure and order some furniture. I am thinking Moroccan lounging with the ability for outdoor movies shown against the house this summer.

What is your outdoor space like? How do you use it?

Before and After - the Dining Room

I've done before and afters for the kitchen, the girl's bedroom, the living room and created a reading nook. On to the dining room!

The before photo is from the realtor website. Staged for sale, as usual, and as a result, stripped of anything unique or personal. That's no surprise.

I changed the paint colour (to my fave Benjamin Moore Cloud White).

The pendant had to go. If you can believe it, we actually brought the three light fixtures that we installed all the way from Toronto to Vancouver when we moved! Yes, that's a few thousand miles with three light fixtures carefully packed - the sputnik for the kitchen, the dining room pendant that you will see below and the master bedroom chandelier that you will see in a future post. 

And the dining chairs (belonging to the former owners of course - the cottage was empty when we took possession) are a bit heavy looking.

I would still LOVE to have lighter floors - bleached oak with wider planks but again - earrings on a monkey. The existing floors are in great condition and it would be too much of an investment to redo them.

Now for some "after" photos. All of the dining room furniture came with us. We did have to sell some things before moving - specifically a 10' dining table that I had custom made for what was going to be our new home in Toronto. Only five days before we started renovating a Victorian semi-detached home in the Annex neighbourhood that had been a year in the planning, we learned of the man's transfer. Our current cottage could not accommodate such a table. 

We consigned the table, a large sectional couch, a coffee table, another egg chair, and a king size bed. All sold within a couple of months.

dining room decor design after

The ubiquitous Series 7 chairs. What can I say - I know they are probably a cliche now but I like them. I like the lines, I like the white against the wood, and I like the modern against the more traditional table. The dining table is another piece of furniture that I had made in Cape Town like this chair.

dining room decor design after series 7 chair

dining room decor design after series 7 chair

The sideboard was a lucky find at a store called Zig Zag in Toronto. I was THIS close to buying a brand new one when I went to pick up the sputnik pendant that is in the kitchen. In the same shop near the back was this sideboard. It's in mint condition and has lots of storage - perfect for a small space.

dining room after decor design series 7 chair

We have a few large pieces of art but only a few walls on which to hang them. One of them is this triptych of a photograph that the man took on a trip to Japan just when we first started dating. 

dining room after design decor series 7 chair

dining room after series 7 chair decor design

As you move to the right of the tryptich, on the wall directly across from the sideboard is the largest blank wall in the cottage on the main floor. On this wall we hung a carved cedar disk. It's four feet in diameter and you can only imagine the crate that we had built for it so that we could move it safely. The photo doesn't do it justice - you really must see it in person. It's a killer whale jumping out of the water.dining after decor design series 7 chair

What's that crazy light fixture? It's a Flos Skygarden. It's not an original - I would like to have an original but I do mix it up with some knock-offs that are more affordable. It's large. It's large for the space. But you know, I love it, the man loves it and as soon as we saw it we had to have it. That's what you do sometimes - you go with a piece of furniture or lighting fixture that shouldn't work but it does for us.dining room after flos skygarden

The interior of the fixture is meant to reference the plaster ceiling in the home of the designer, Marcel Wanders.

It's not the largest dining room but we can easily seat 8 and squeeze 10 around the table. This is where we have our Friday night dinners and all sorts of celebrations. Day to day, we eat in the kitchen at the island since the round table is chock full of the girl's art supplies and books. 

Where do you eat? What's your dining room like?


Before and After - the living room

When I lived in Toronto I lived in a Victorian semi-detached house in an eclectic 'hood near the university called the Annex. Think 10' ceilings and huge windows and red brick. Lots of character. Now I live in a tiny 1930's era cottage - much, much smaller. Especially the living room.

The challenge was twofold (actually threefold - that's where I need your help!). First, being a small space, I needed to get rid of some of our existing furniture and order a new couch more in proportion to the space. And second, I needed to update the look to be a little less cute and little more "us". Having a small home, we use every square inch so it also needed to be comfortable. Many a rainy day and night have been spent reading in front of the fire.

It's still a work in process - aren't we always fiddling with our spaces?

Here's the before photo from the realtor website. The walls in the living room/dining room area were painted a warm yellow - cottagey but not the mood that I wanted to set.

And here is what I did. You see that I am missing a coffee table - that's where I'll need your help...

The couch is from Inform Interiors - it's a Neo by Benson. I wanted a low back because of the layout of the living room - not only is it a small space, you enter it immediately from the outside in the centre of the room. The couch is also in the middle of the living room to allow for traffic flow to and from the front door. Having a higher backed one would have chopped up the space quite a bit.

The table lamp is from Morba in Toronto - they have so many vintage items! And the striped carpet is from IKEA - in my old place it was in the dining room. The egg chair is a knock off but I had it recovered in Knoll fabric at The Big Stuff. Don't skimp on recovering an egg chair or a Barcelona chair - you need to find someone experienced - they each have their own tricks and challenges.

Reflected in the round mirror is a 4' diameter carved cedar disk of a whale. A tip of the hat to the west coast. More on that when I get to the dining room in another future post.

Still fiddling with the vignette on the mantel. I have some photographic art that is being framed and I think it will end up here when it arrives. I don't like the tile surround at.all. The same tile is on the gas fireplace in the basement (more on that too in a future post!). I'd like to replace it but you know how it is - "earrings on a monkey" - is it worth doing? I'd love some tile that would be more funky and edgy. 

The two grey chairs are from Style Garage. They were originally at our old cottage.

So I mentioned that I need your help. I do. I need input on a coffee table. Which one should I get? I have narrowed it down to a few. Thinking round, thinking not a lot of wood. 

Reprouve coffee table from CB2.


P7 coffee table from CB2.

Rivet coffee table from Crate and Barrel.

Let me know what you think. Or do you have other suggestions?


Before and After - the Girl's Bedroom

In our previous house, the girl's bedroom was her vision at age 4 and 5 - all pink and princesses. LOTS of princesses. Pretty much EVERY princess. 

When we knew we were moving across the country, I asked her what she wanted her new bedroom to look like. She told me trees and clouds. I wanted to find a style that would suit her now at age 6 and also grow with her for a few years. You know how it is, it's fun to decorate but it's also nice to have something that lasts for a bit. None of this is cheap in either time or money!

And this is what we came up with.

First the before - this is the staged shot from the realtor listing. Like the other rooms in the cottage, it isn't a particularly large room - about 9'x10'. Luckily the closet (to the left and out of the picture) has built in storage so no need for a dresser.

A LOT of pink, especially for a girl who didn't want another pink bedroom. I painted the walls Cloud White like the rest of the cottage (Benjamin Moore OC-130) and you can well imagine how many coats it took to cover that pink.

Here is the after with wrinkled sheets and all. You know, that lived in look...

cole and sons woods wallpaper girl's bedroom

The wall behind the headboard was papered in Cole and Son Woods Wallpaper. It's from the UK and not inexpensive but with only one wall, not too bad. The lamp on the nighttable is from Home Depot. The bedding is a mix of West Elm, Dwell and an independent shop, most on sale. 

cole and sons woods wallpaper girl's bedroom

The draperies are from Pottery Barn Kids.

cole and sons woods wallpaper girl's bedroom

You can see out to the reading nook just across the hall from her bedroom. The dressing table is from IKEA.

The wall mirror is from IKEA. We kept the pendant and painted the ceiling a lovely pale blue called Sweet Bluette (Benjamin Moore 813). I found cloud wall decals for the ceiling online.

I think it turned out well. So what are the takeaways?

  1. You don't need to buy the ENTIRE set of bedding. I am a big fan of contrasting colours and patterns and textures in textiles. Save yourself and us all by avoiding the matchy-matchy...
  2. High/low is ALWAYS possible. And I think preferable. The wallpaper was a splurge but the bed came with us as did the nighttables. The only new furniture purchases were the IKEA dressing table and wall mirror. It's a kid's bedroom and it will be lived in - I never want anything in there that is so precious that I worry about it getting banged up.
  3. A young girl's bedroom doesn't have to be cutesy or an obvious theme. It is what she asked for and it will grow with her.

Most importantly, my "client", the girl, was very happy when it was completed. Payment accepted in lots of hugs and kisses...




Before and After - the kitchen

When we moved into the cottage, any major renovation work had already been completed by the previous owners. Lucky for us! I've done full on, back-to-the-studs renos and although I survived and loved the result, I was VERY happy to not have to do it again. After moving across the country I just wanted to settle in and nest.

But of course I cannot help but want to do some tweaking, make some improvements. And the cottage was a bit too "cute" for my taste now. Nothing wrong with that but I like a bit more edge in my decor - some mid-century modern, some tension, some quirk, some grit - something that says "us" rather than "anyone could be living here".

Here's the before.

Even though the changes were primarily cosmetic, they were made for functional reasons too. 

  • brown laminate/butcherblock counters --> grey Caesarstone

I like the durability of Caesarstone and wanted the counter surfaces to be consistent.

  • sunflower backsplash --> grey Italian subway tile

Just not my taste and not really a great match to the style of cabinets.

  • full height wine fridge --> more storage and a microwave

I like my wine as much as the next person but really really needed more storage rather than a full height wine fridge! We sold it on Craigslist to help pay for the upgrades. And luckily the company that had done the kitchen for the previous owners were available to match the new cupboards. You'd never guess, right?

  • electric stove --> gas range

What can I say - it was a splurge but I love to cook. We gave the old stove and fridge away to a couple who needed a new one.

  • old fridge --> built in larger fridge

Same with the fridge - another splurge! Seriously, though, produce DOES last longer.

  • shallow cupboards --> more wall space for bulletin board and artwork

Too shallow to store anything in and I needed room for "mission control". I organize and keep track of our lives from the white board calendar in the kitchen. They also made it too narrow a squeeze to walk around the island.

Here's the after. 

We still have a bit more to do - new drawer pulls and also the chimney cover for the stove ventilation. You know how it is, you run out of a bit of steam. I have the drawer pulls - just need to actually install them!

Here's the eating area before - it's the other end of the kitchen.

And here is the after. Thought I'd show it all fancy AND what it REALLY looks like every day. We eat at the island because no matter how hard I try, I cannot EVER keep up with the papers from school and the craft supplies and games and books and toys. I really don't mind - it's a house that is well loved and well lived in.

And here are some of my favourite details. I changed out many of the light fixtures throughout the cottage as I wanted something a little more edgy and a little more playful. I found sputnik in a used furniture store in Toronto. The tap, well you use it EVERY day so I wanted a tap that felt good. And I like the rough, uneven edges of the grey subway tile plus the darker grout.


The cookbooks - my friends the cookbooks! Having them out and accessible is both practical and also a bit of nostalgia too. I dragged the New Basics with me to Africa when I lived there for two years.

And the art. Our lives on the bulletin board. A print from etsy. An Italian print of the green pear. A menu from Chez Panisse (yes I did go there once - thank you Alice Waters!). 

So that's the kitchen. I am pretty happy with the result. Although it's a reasonable size, the layout makes for a bit of a cramped workspace at times but it wasn't worth ripping it all out and starting again. It's "us".

What do you love/hate about your kitchen? How did you make it your own?

Before and After - the Reading Nook

I posted a while back about our reading nook here. I thought that I should show you the before as well and talk a bit more about the changes that I made to the space.

Here is the before when we bought the house. This is how the previous owners used the space. And I see the ever popular Alex from IKEA on the right hand side. I have never had the room for this piece but it certainly is useful! 

And here it is now.

Much of the cottage was painted in a pale yellow. It's a nice colour and I have used it before but I had the entire cottage repainted in Benjamin Moore Cloud White. I find that I prefer more of a warm blank palette for the walls and then use colour and texture in the decor and furnishings. Especially in a small space like our home.

I didn't want to use this nook as an office. It's at the top of the stairs, next to the linen closet and directly opposite my daughter's bedroom. I knew that I would NEVER be able to stop the piles from growing - I always have a lot of projects on the go and putting them away each day is impossible. And I needed some privacy, the ability to close the door at the end of the day.

We have a lot of books and a large bookshelf in the living room houses most of them. Here in the reading nook I have my books on decor, creativity and crafting plus all of my daughter's books. I find that although I am fairly frugal when it comes to toys, I can't ever deny her books!

I'd love to say that the chairs are originals but they are knock-offs. I had them recovered in a grey suit-like material. The reupholsterer was a little horrified that I went to fabric from leather but I thought it was worth it to play with the iconic style a bit. If you are thinking of having some Eames chairs recovered, make sure that your reupholsterer is experienced - there are a lot of tucks and tufts to deal with!

I love turquoise and aqua blue right now. The floors are a little too warm reddish for my taste (and I am not investing in replacing them - they are in perfect condition) so the blue cuts the red a bit and is a nice contrast. I would prefer a matte white oak (think more Scandinavian).

The shelves are built in and the low shelf is topped with some leftover caesarstone from the kitchen countertops. They are painted as well in Cloud White and I had them faced with wider strips to give them a bit more heft.

The wall art is from an Italian designer and comes in hundreds of small branches. You can put them together in any way your want - either for a wall or even for a floor to ceiling screen in a space.

The two paintings are of Toronto and were purchased at an outdoor art show a few years ago. The artwork on the shelves is my daughter's - she loves to create!

So there you go - it wasn't an instant transformation but it didn't take that long. Besides the built-in shelves, everything else I already owned.

Until we redid the space, no one used it - now that it has been redone, we use it every day.