Monday, November 3, 2014

At Home: Finishing touches for a contemporary home

Accepting a visitor/decorator into your home to deconstruct it in words and pictures is not for the faint of heart.  There's  an element of trust in this endeavour, trust that I will represent the home in a truthful and pleasing way. Knowing this, I am always so pleased when homeowners accept my proposal to highlight their home and discuss elements of their decor that I am interested in writing about.  Once again I have willing participants in my At Home series.  

Come along to see what the Erls have been up to for the last six months since they moved into their new home in the east end of St. John's, NL.


The entrance to this home provides a pleasing welcome with it's bold colour scheme and inviting landscaping.  As you move inside you soon realize that the exterior is an extension of the overall feel and colour schemes utilized inside. 

A neutral background

It is very obvious that Gail and Gary are  detail oriented people because  great attention is given to  both the  permanent fixtures  in their home as well as the smaller details. This is a warm home even though the majority of rooms are painted  Benjamin Moore CC40 cloud white, a tried and true warmish white.   Thankfully I don't have to try to put a positive spin on a cool white (e.g.,  Benjamin Moore decorator's white) which I am not in the least attracted to.  Thanks for making my job easier!

High contrast

high contrast black doors, black stairs, dark wood finishes

One of the most striking aspects of this home is the high contrast between the  darker wood finishes
( hardwood, doors, stairways), and the light tile, walls and windows.  The stained glass transoms created by Don Ryall were designed to parallel the one in the entry.  Two additional transoms over the entries to the kitchen carry this patterning and contrast into the centre of the house.

Vibrant accent colours

Gail has broken up the neutral framework with her love of vibrant colours liberally employed in her accents.  With each room having a different accent colour ranging from blues to orange and red you are kept interested as you move from room to room.  There is definitely an up beat feel to the space.   Knowing that Gail is a gardener, I would describe her accent colours as a garden palette.

Function and form

When you choose basic colours you can move things around to see where they look best. Gail's accessories for the most part are functional objects: pillows, clocks, baskets, vases, candles, trays, throws etc., which are easily interchanged.  While I was photographing, I had the urge to do just that to show the versatility in her collection of objects, but that might be another post. 

Use what you have

One of the struggles many people have in a move to a different style and size of home is carry over.  Often what looked great in one space, just doesn't work in another even when you keep much of the same furniture.  When I questioned Gail about this she estimated she reused about 80% of her things.  She believes  her interest in certain colours remains constant, and much of what she purchases can be used in a variety of settings.   Pillows are quickly updated with new covers, while vases, a particular favourite, alway work in a space for flowers/greenery, or to add a sculptural element to the simplest arrangement of objects.    Re-using accessories is a responsible approach to decorating, and it also provides the much needed time to find the final finishing touches.

Wood tones as a backdrop

Since the vibrancy of her accent colours are reminiscent of a riot of colourful flowers,  a range of wood tones in furniture and accessories  provide  a great foil this the bold intrusion of colour. Mixing wood tones throughout a space creates warmth and carries hints of nature throughout  a home.  While some people get carried away with efforts to perfectly match wood tones,  a more eclectic approach provides greater interest.  Choose one to dominate and be flexible with the rest.  For more on  how to integrate wood tones like a pro check out this post.


When asked about sources of inspiration, Gail admitted she has a  weakness for decorating magazines, and also watches  certain decorating shows.  But there is no doubt in my mind that she takes much of her inspiration from nature because it is referenced repeatedly in her home.

A good example of this is the art work over the bed in the master bedroom.  Not only does it bring us into a relaxing day by the sea it also relates to the lake that is visible through the windows.  As you can see, window treatments are minimal and frame the great views.  

European travels  have obviously had an impact on how The Erls' choose to organize and furnish their home from the single European duvets to the  clean lined aesthetic evident in every room.

The soft cream accents from the bedroom are darkened to a soft gold in the ensuite. Again, you can see nature references in the grain of the storage boxes and the content of artwork.

Seasonal decorating

If you choose the right accessories there isn't much you need to do when special events roll around. Gail and I  have the same decorating philosophy about seasonal decor!  The answer to all her seasonal decorating is colour specific to the season supported by what else - flowers and greenery.  Pop in a few orange flowers in the tray you saw in an earlier pic  and you're ready to go. That's where her vase collection comes in. She  also liberally uses fruit and vegetables in her arrangements.


Chuckle, chuckle... decorating speak for arranged objects.  It's the perfect word in my book, but I've gotten some strange looks from clients when I use it.   There is definitely an art to arranging objects in a pleasing way.  In essence, you are creating a 3 dimensional composition.  Check out this post for lots of tips on the various lines of design you can use when composing  arrangements.  In addition, the top three things to remember are: 1) odd numbers of objects; 2) varying heights; and 3) variety in colour and texture. Then there's: repetition, balance (symmetrical and asymmetrical) and overlapping. I see all of these elements/ principles used in Gail's arrangements.

For many people decor decisions are usually made at the  instinctual level.  Each of us is attracted to various colours, shapes/forms, textures, etc., and how  they can be organized.  Often we may not be aware of our biases.  I told Gail I would seek hers out for the post.  As you can see in the collage of kitchen shots above, she has a definite attraction to vibrant colours, repetition of form and threes.

Notice the repetition of rectangles above in the art, tray and the counter, as well as a strong vertical orientation in the vase and flowers. The curves in the apples, vase and flowers help to  counteract the straight lines.

Of course, you have to completely ignore the electrical collage behind the interesting one! Wouldn't we love a house where all the functional elements could disappear into the walls?

A fresh apple green is repeated throughout her powder room.  Here there are threes again and a strong vertical orientation in the daisy art work.  I've made my own vignette/collage and added the bottle and branches from her stairs. It really does work better on the stairs, but you get the idea about moving objects from room to room when you have accent colours that work well together.  See the hint of orange in the tissue box and the the centre of the flower.... ah, the possibilities with this green and that dark wood.


Sightlines are often forgotten elements in home decor.  Looking through into another room or down a hallway and having an anchoring element/focal point to tease your eye is a way of providing interest.

When you enter the foyer in the Erls' home and open the door to the living area you are greeted by this eye catching photograph of  their daughter, Karen taken by J. Reid Studios.  Not only does it provide a focal point from the entry, it continues to have a strong visual pull in the living room and dining room. 

Arranging things below such a striking piece  takes restraint because the portrait  has to shine.  You can see that the majority of  objects are darker, simple forms of varying heights.  Adding colourful things to this vignette would not have worked  half as well. The plant provides softness and connects well with the other plants/flowers in the room.   Also notice how the objects form a zig zag effect as they are arranged across the long expanse of table top - one of the best strategies for console tables. Balance is created without symmetry.

red Ikea media cabinet, Asian influences, kimono, vignette

When you walk out of the guest bedroom or up the main stairway this vignette greets you.

european duvets, striped bedding, red accent bedroom, accessories

The red is carried forward into the guest room and ....

...the orange from the kimono is used as an accent in the main bath.

There's so much more I didn't write about, but I've generously sampled the finishing touches in this home.  Thanks so much to the Erls for graciously agreeing to have us tour their home.

 Perhaps you have a favourite element or room or you  would like to share your ideas in the comments.

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