Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Feeling fall

 I am slowly letting go of my summer house and  all its leisurely pursuits including art.  This piece found a new  home in Montreal.  I was sad to see it go.  It reminds me of a bird in flight in fall.

Margaret Ryall 2016 Composition in Time #22

 I had a holiday in New York that left me wanting more of those leisurely pursuits on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean, and when I came home fall was suddenly in the air. Before I could even make a list  of all the things that needed doing in my St. John's house, Thanksgiving was looming and I had to add a little fall colour.

Thankfully nature helped outside.  I had a lovely display of colour in my planter and could even visually "claim" the maple tree across the street.

 My one proactive  fall decor effort before my trip was a flop. My pot of fall flowers had to be laid to rest when I got back.  A frantic trip to the storage room yielded a  generous supply  of fake fall foliage and an old wreath that has been called to work many times.  Other years when I am less rushed I use natural materials in my outdoor arrangements.  

My art collection never lets me down and fall colours abound for some reason.  Like this lovely mixed media piece by Newfoundland artist Anita Singh who is represented by The Leyton Gallery.  Can you find the hiding moth and the bronze cones?

 And this piece by Newfoundland artist Mike Gough that definitely evokes thoughts of the landscape in fall.

From day to day I move objects around just to keep things interesting.

And then there's my antler that gets called upon for many jobs.  Sometimes on the table ...

sometimes on the floor.... 

And a plant never goes astray in a house. My little crystal bird always seems to be right for the season.

As you can see, I don't put much effort in to my seasonal decor.  How about you?

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

From glam to calm and points in between

Are you someone  who loves pretty, sparkly, elegant, or glamorous in home decor?

 Do you love to continually redecorate, change with the seasons etc. Are you someone who loves accessories?  Many people have this "refined" up to date, concept of beauty and want their living spaces to reflect that.

Believe it or not, there are also people who are equally determined not to have spaces that are perfect and new. They like more pared down, earthy, calm environments that have "real" objects in them.  Some refer to this look as zen.

As in all things there is usually a middle road that people like to take.  I am certainly not, nor never have been, attracted to glamorous spaces, with silk, sparkle and too much excess.  Comfortable, calm and clean lined is more my vibe.

I have always found the Japanese world view/aesthetic of wabi sabi that acknowledges three simple realities: nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect, very freeing. Such beliefs allow you to accept the dents, scratches, wrinkles, splits, cracks and scuffs as part of the history of a piece that makes it unique and authentic.  If you want to know more about wabi sabi check out this post.

Natural materials predominate in wabi sabi homes: paper, aged wood, linens, cottons, etc. Look for anything that celebrates the  marks of time, weather, and  the effects of loving use. In other words look for objects with history on their surfaces.

 I am definitely attracted to the tenets  of wabi sabi, and if you went around my home you would see subtle evidence of my interest in the marks of time, wood, and natural materials like cotton and linen.
But you would also see pristine, light, glass  and leather.  For me combining new and old  is also a statement that  probably brings more attention to the less than perfect objects and what they mean.

I find spaces that have obviously combined the up to date with the old and authentic very interesting, and I think about them as approaching wabi sabi rather than fully embracing it.

An old door made new with yellow

A less than perfect stool in a white bathroom

Pristine white sofas paired with antique, simple tables and a wooden bowl.

An updated but old space with remnants of the world outside displayed.  

Modern art paired with a rustic bench and less than perfect but evocative pottery. 

Isn't  great interest created when you set up comparisons in your space?  

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The art of a welcoming entry

  Choosing the right piece of art for you entry can set a welcoming scene for your home.

  When I have the option, I always choose art first and then build a room around it  rather than buy art to match a space. It's the artist in me, you need a focal point in a room that doesn't have an architectural one, and art is your most versatile choice.

 I designed this small space several years ago, but it is still on trend today. Here are some elements to think about before making an art purchase for any space, but in particular small spaces where you many only have one piece of art.


This  contained front entry is a narrow space with a high ceiling. The bench is low and dark and was to the right of the door.  The table  also dark was to the left of the door.

Always choose work that mimics the shape of the space you are filling.

 In a smaller space I often use one piece of art rather than an array of smaller pieces, but that's personal preference.   The vertical orientation  of this painting helps bridge the space between the low bench back and the high ceiling.  The vertical lines of the trees also helps move the eye up.

The width of the painting is roughly 2/3 of the bench width.  This is always a good proportion.


The walls are a cool blue grey and were part of the original colour scheme of the house.  Cool colours in an entry with little light can lead  to a depressing space.  One of the best ways to move a visually cool space to  an inviting one  is to choose work that has very warm colours.  There's also nothing like nature's colours to warm a space. 


Once I  chose the art for the focal point in this space,  I moved the colour around in the pillow and flowers on the opposite wall.  Also note the repetition of the diamonds from the bench back to the orange pillow  and the cut crystal vase.  The vertical lines in the tree trunks  are also reinforced in the tall, sparse floral arrangement and the lamp.  Even the verticals in the door frame are doing their part in repetition.


This is where your space will sink or swim.  Every room needs contrast or will be boring.  Contrast creates layers/depth and helps mover your eye around a space.  The dark woods in this space stand out against the light walls. The white flower, dish, lamp shade and trim work stand out against the walls and the darker wood. 

Subject matter

Choose images you connect with and forget about what everyone else thinks.  If a work doesn't speak to you why bother to have it? 

Finding just the right piece of art is always a challenge, but in my mind the right piece can make a whole space sing.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Choosing what's important

Summer is officially over.

Did any readers notice  I took an extended holiday away from Designing Home blog?

This is where I spent my summer.

The little speck of a house in the background is my favourite place in the world. The views are spectacular and the ocean in all its moods speaks daily.  Duntara is as close to heaven as you will get.

I had a marvellous summer full of creativity, conversation, relaxation, long walks roaming the beaches, whale watching and iceberg viewing directly in front of the house and on and on it goes.  I'm coming to fall with a renewed focus on my art practice.  It feels very satisfying. 

My new work continues to focus on  what gets left behind, but I have moved from two dimensional works to three dimensional using found wood and objects to explore Compositions in Time.  

wood assemblage, wood collage, found materials,
Composition in Time #22,  2016, Margaret Ryall , wood assemblage, 16 x 16 in. 

wood assemblage, white wood, remnants,
Composition in Time #27, 2016, Margaret Ryall, Wood assemblage, 16x16in.

white and blue wood assemblage, reclaimed wood
Composition in Time #29, 2016, Margaret Ryall,  wood assemblage, 16 x16in. 

For more work check out my website   

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Designing your IKEA kitchen

We are out the other end of our IKEA kitchen design & install and hindsight, as you know,  is a wonderful thing. Our family joke is now we are ready to tackle an IKEA kitchen. This is the first of a series of posts around the design and installation of our new kitchen.

 Design is key

Without good design any reno is throwing good money after bad.  If you haven't really thought out how you want to work in your kitchen,  and how you want it to look overall, no matter how well you install it, you won't be happy

 I hope some of my musings, and what I learned as I worked through the design process, will be helpful to you if you are planning an IKEA kitchen as a renovation project. 

Get what you want by designing well 

Know what's hidden

Know the bones of your kitchen  so there'll be no surprises. We wanted 90 inch pantry units and had a bulkhead with pot lights in it.  I kept nagging my husband to have a look, and I was so glad because to our surprise we found vent work.  Just enough to cause me to move to 80 inch pantries.  Not a happy camper letting go of my floor to ceiling pantries, and needing more filler pieces to accommodate what was available in that height pantry.

We were also planning to keep our current footprint and we knew that the flooring did not extend under our cabinets. 

That meant we had to get all our cabinet measurements correct and use fillers to make it come out even.  If you have an island or peninsula and are keeping your existing flooring,  it is even more important to do careful measurement in terms of depth. We found out we could not have a toe kick on the back of the peninsula so the cover panel had to extend to the floor.  

Analyze your current kitchen 

Make a list of what works and what annoys you in your current kitchen layout.  For everything that annoys you, you should try to come up with a solution if possible. It is easier and more cost effective  to keep appliances where they are, but sometimes their placement is part of the inefficiency. Our cooktop and oven were in a major traffic area, and it was downright dangerous when we entertained.   You could also see the stove top from the dining room; I am not a tidy cook. We chose to flip the refrigerator to the cooking area, and make that area into a wall of pantries with the refrigerator centred.  The perfect solution to storage in a walkway.

80s kitchen, European cabinets, updating European cabinets
80s cooking area 
Standard sizes for pantries 

Fridge and pantries

European cabinets, 80's kitchen, updating european cabinets
80s layout of kitchen across from cooking area 

Moving appliances meant hiring an electrician, but it was worth it. 

 Everyone expected me to move my sink under the window, but that would have meant a very squat prep area if the stove moved to where the fridge was.  When I stand at my sink now I have a view of two prominent St. John's landmarks - Signal Hill and Cape Spear.  Why would I want to exchange that for a view of my neighbour's house? Now I have a huge prep area and I can make all the mess I want when I entertain.  Perfect planning!

Several friends brought up the idea of "updating" to an island.    I like my kitchen to myself when I cook, even when I entertain.  No island for me, and it could have happened in the space without too much effort.  Personal choices are important in design.  I made an entertaining hang out area by removing the half wall in pic below and opening it up to the family room. 

Another big problem for us was  a bottleneck area  at the end of the peninsula because of a contractor error in the initial construction. The wall by the oven was  built 10 inches too long and changing it was complicated and expensive because it contained pipes, heating and air exchanger vent work, plus light switches.   When we redesigned we took three inches off the length of the peninsula to open up the walkway.   That was possible because we had floor tile left over.  

Visit an IKEA store 

By chance we ended up grounded for 24 hours in Toronto when returning from a trip.  We took advantage of that time ( a year before our reno) to check out everything kitchen related.  I took over a 100  pics of things that interested me, and  I kept referring to them as I designed.  If you can't do that, find someone who has designed and installed an IKEA kitchen and go for a chat.  I managed to find two people who were obliging, and it was helpful even after the store visit. 

Start a reno board on Pinterest 

Look at various IKEA kitchen layouts and cabinet styles online.  Think about  improving storage options especially if you have a smallish kitchen.  Pinterest is a great resource and you can pin everything you see on one board.  Consider a secret board so you can make comments and track ideas or a shared secret board if you have a design partner.  Check out my Kitchen reno board here and a previous post about Finding your decor style.

Find inspiration pictures

Your kitchen should meet your needs in style and function.  Make it yours.  Here are two pics that helped me refine the look I wanted. They are not everyone's cup of tea!

Create a vision 

Many people just go headlong into a reno and don't stop to think about their design aesthetic.  What kind of feel do you want in the space?  What style of cabinets and layout suits that feel? What is the rest of your home like?  Are there interior aspects of the cabinets that will add to how you want to feel in your space? 

After all the cabinets and gray horizontal lines in my old kitchen I wanted something  visually quieter this time around. 

 The two photos above illustrate "the feel" I wanted : uncluttered, quiet, airy, bright, calm and minimal,  but with elements of warmth and nature. These are the words I kept in my head throughout the design process.  I wrote them  down and checked my decisions against them constantly.  You will probably have other words entirely, but have  descriptive words as benchmarks for decisions.

I really wanted a kitchen that flowed from the rest of our house  and reflected our arty, organic and calm decor style. 

  • Uncluttered ...lots of thought to interior storage options and eliminating "stuff" you don't need 
  • Airy ... an absence of upper cabinets so your eye moved around the space 
  • Calm and bright...  from colour and style choices and layout
  • Warm and quiet ...   no laminate, granite, or other hard surface counters 
  • Organic...  from natural products like wood, cork, plants etc.

 Stick to your vision 

A reno is a headache in many ways, and you will reach a point where you are fed up and want to take the easy way out.  Don't.  Take a break from it and look at the problem with fresh eyes.  Make all decisions based on your initial concepts for the space.  

Work out a rough sketch on paper

Perhaps it's my age and my visual art training, but I begin everything with paper and pencil.  I found the kitchen booklet  we picked up at IKEA a great help when doing this because all cabinet sizes were listed and you could plainly see what was inside  each one.  There is an online version.  I didn't spend a lot of time at this stage,  just enough to decide on the flow and placement of drawers or doors. 

Refine your sketch in the kitchen planner

I work  with design apps all the time, but I found the IKEA kitchen planner very frustrating.  It had lots of little glitches, and if you have an island or  peninsula as I did, the cabinets kept wanting to line up by a wall.  I was also working on a MAC.  In the end I refined the plan enough to send to IKEA and get the order made, but it never looked pretty.

 Imagine working in your new kitchen 

Once you have a preliminary design in mind, consider it the next time you bring home groceries.  Is there a place for everything.  If you are entertaining, is there a place for all those things you only use every now and then?  Prepare an imaginary meal and clean up. Are your movements efficient? Have you solved all the design issues in your previous kitchen?

Explain your design to someone outside your family 

Walk through your design with someone outside the family and explain your layout decisions. This really helped me confirm that I wanted things the way I thought.  You also have an opportunity to question the IKEA staff when you order your kitchen. They were super helpful when I called.

Record your questions before IKEA ordering 

I had at least ten questions recorded for clarification when I called to place my order.  Many of them were of a confirmation type, making sure I had interpreted the cabinets properly and that I could do what I wanted to do. 

And yes, you will have more than one design.

 I'm happy to answer any questions or hear your comments about your IKEA kitchen design suggestions. 

The big reveal is coming up in the next post and yes, it was worth all the thought, frustration and mess.... 

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Finding your decor style

Have you ever looked for similarities in rooms you are attracted to in magazines or online?
That's one of the best ways to determine what you like for your own decor.  If you don't know where to start here are several suggestions to set you on your way to finding your personal decor look.

Develop a vocabulary for your style 

Initially you may not have the words to describe  why you are attracted to a space or why you find it interesting, but you will over time if you do enough looking and comparing.

  1. Start with some rooms you  don't like at all. 

When you have about 10 or so look at them and decide what you don't want in a space.  This is just as important as what you do want.

Here's a room that doesn't  particularly ring my chimes because it has too much glitz and materialism.  It reminds me of  a woman who has on too much makeup and bling,  but there are lots of people who love a glam look.  I'm not judging, just saying it's not for me.

glamorous living room

 2. Have a category for rooms that you like aspects of

     It might be the furniture or the fabrics or layout.  It could be how it is accessorized. It could have one thing you like or a number of things.  Identify what you like and don't like.

interesting vignette, creative vignette, Caleb Anderson
Caleb Anderson 

You can be attracted to a space and not like all the components of it. I appreciate that this space is dramatic and artfully conceived.  Dark wall colours are not part of my aesthetic nor is traditional decor, but I find myself drawn to this space. Why?

  • mix of  some traditional and modern (furniture and art)
  • accessories in vignette combine colour, texture, form and  different styles
  • the perfect intersection of chair back with art  making the chair an integral part of the vignette
  • there is nothing cookie cutter about this space; it's totally individual /unique
  • the variety in the vignette arrangement takes my eye back again and again
  • it is the opposite of what I like usually (light interiors, clean lines and more minimal look) 

3. And most importantly find rooms you love


 Here are some spaces I love from recent pins on Pinterest.

Room #1

geometric white and black tile, modern kitchen, flat panel kitchen doors

 This room couldn't be more different than the one above!  It is a space that I think is timeless even with the bold tile choice.

Here's what I like about it:
  • simple geometric patterning in neutrals 
  • simple lines in flat panel doors
  • mix of open shelves with doors to provide some visual relief
  • mix of wood,  white and geometric to add interest 
  • this would be in style for years

Room #2 

black and white patterned pillows, Scandinavian living room,

There are similarities to the kitchen above if you really look. Here's why I find this appealing:

  • mix of warm wood and neutrals
  • a room has to have at 3-5 different patterns for me to find it interesting
  •  a touch of the outside is important to me (plants and wood) 
  • lots of textures
  • pared down but inviting because of the rug and the pillows

Room #3

black and white bathroom, black mosaic tile, wood in bathroom,
Such a great space:

  • white, black and wood
  • it looks like a well composed abstract painting
  • very geometric in layout, especially the vertical window and cube lights
  • the mirror connected everything visually 
  • like how the sink is like a piece of furniture, not hidden
  • this is a unique space

 Establish a my style and not my style boards on Pinterest 

I find it useful to have one board on Pinterest that focuses on my style. I am selective in what I put in there and often go back and delete things until I am left with what I find pleasing. If you don't want to have it open for all to see, set up a secret board and record negatives and positives without insulting anyone!

Find your look/style by doing quizzes online 

This is a short quiz and was spot on for my style when I completed it.  You have to provide your email address to get your answer. 

There's a range here from Houzz to Lonny and  Better Homes and Gardens. 

I hope these simple suggestions will help you define your decorating style.  We are all unique and that's what you should aim for in your home.   Go for it!

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

What's hot on my Pinterest?

  Analytics are always interesting when you keep a blog and they can provide insight into your readers likes and dislikes.  I keep a close eye on my blog analytics and also Pinterest. While I look for patterns of pins on Pinterest there often aren't any, but last month was a little different.

 Do  these images  indicate what is popular on Pinterest or do they reflect what I like personally or both?

Here's a selection of  my most liked/repinned pins in order of popularity from last month:




 What we can say ...

  • clean lines are evident in all designs
  • versions of gray are very popular paired with lighter walls
  • texture is a dominant feature especially from wood and brick
  • lighter woods are used to add texture and warmth
  • contrast is an evident characteristic 
  • nature is present in fruits, plants, woods
That's what Pinterest told me last month. Of course I know what is popular on my feed is influenced by my own aesthetic.  If I pinned all glamorous space some of these would be at the top of the list.  But that won't be happening any time soon.  I am not a glamorous type of gal. 

 Are you influenced by what you see on Pinterest?  Do you what you see changes  how you design your home? 
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