Home Interior - Neutrals Beyond Beige

I recently saw a twitter post from an interior decorator friend in which she shared "this year's interior colour trends." Beyond the idea that purples and mossy greens seem to be coming back in style is that I fundamentally disagree with using anything beyond classic colours for walls, furniture or anything that isn't remotely easy to change. 

Remember the powder blue suit?  I'm not old enough to actually be around when this was in style but I do know the era in which it was "popular." Now the powder blue suit is just a gag outfit for retro parties. The opposites to this are the dark pinstripe suit and little black dress - classic pieces that will never go out of style.

This works for home interiors too. As soon as any trendy colour is used for a wall, tile or cabinets, it dates the home. The key is to use classic colours especially neutrals that never go out of style. That isn't to say that everything should be beige or grey. Choose neutrals that contrast in tonal value - dark floors with light walls or medium floors with dark cabinets and light counter tops. Where the splash of trendy colour can come in is through accessories - pillows, throws, vases, placemats, etc. These trendy colours almost always will go with the varying neutrals and are easy to change. You don't have to worry about the time, effort or money it will require for you to change that tile floor or have your rooms painted again and your home won't show it's age.

So what kind of place do you have? The powder blue suit or the little black dress?

Dark floors, light wall walls and medium toned furniture create contrast at our Westmount Haus, in Edmonton. The spash of colour comes from the pillows, artwork and accessories. Staging and photo by Rhonda Wilson.

The Growing City

There is a raging debate going on in Edmonton these days, not unlike many other Canadian prairie cities – how should we be planning and building to accommodate the ever increasing number of people moving here? Should we be focusing on suburban expansion at the edge or concentrate on redevelopment and densification of mature neighbourhoods?

In order to answer this question, it is appropriate that we first define “growth.” Expansion does not necessarily equal growth. We are caught in the idea that growth is purely physical but growth is also about improved quality.  This can be likened to someone becoming educated, gaining experience at their job or refining their ability to master a piano piece.

In the case of cities, growth is as much about the quality of experiences and offerings as it is about physical expansion. Regardless of what part of the city we’re talking about (e.g. downtown, inner ring mature neighbourhoods or new suburban fringe) this is created through diversity.

Diversity is then manifest through multiple uses, various building typologies & variable densities. In turn, growth is seen through the refinement of design, reinvestment in community development and the continual renewal that results.

However, no matter how suburban development positions itself in these terms it will always be missing a piece of this puzzle. That missing piece is the evidence of refinement and renewal.  This is seen through mix of old and new, large and small, expensive and affordable – in close proximity – even on the same street.

If an area is all new and different or all old and the same, it is, in essence, a sterilized theme park.

In Edmonton and other cities like it grappling with the same questions about how to grow and expand, a quality urban environment is not about densities or building heights – it’s about the relationships afforded by the built environment.

Your Home is About You

Even though, it has few “design” images or really anything about formal design detailing, Clare Marcus Cooper’s book House as Mirror of Self is one of my favorite design books.  In it, Cooper describes the process used to get clients to understand for themselves (and for the designer to get into the clients’ minds) what is truly important for them in their house. 

What creates these priorities for people is what is fascinating and extremely important in creating individualized spaces.  It harkens back to many of the key memories of experiences that someone has - happiness, excitement, relaxation, comfort, embarrassment, fear, wonderment, anxiety, nervousness, enjoyment. What is interesting is that these memories are most often emotional but the descriptions of the memories are often physical – dark, light, warm, cold. 

It is fundamental to understand the associations between both the physical and emotional in order to design a space truly for you.  Why would you want a house that looks the same as all of the other houses on your street, with very few if not purely superficial variances? Are you the same person as your neighbour? Do you share the same dreams, hopes, aspirations, fears or interests?  What does living on that street say about you? How does your home affect your experience of living in that home? What memories are you creating?

We should not expect that the same base house serves all of us equally.  Be open to exploring how you want your home to make you feel. You’ll be surprised how this manifests itself into fundamentally different physical nature of customized spaces for you and your family.

The Superficial House

Why is it that every design image of a new suburban cookie-cutter home is always the front of the house? Ever been in a new suburban subdivision and notice that the backs of the houses have none of the typical cultured stone corners or fake window shutters or other design articulations? Why do typical builder homes have none of these elements on the backs of the houses, even though you spend more time in your backyard than you do in the front yard?

Typical home builders spend all of their “design money” on the front to try to give it good street presence, and in the case of new suburban areas, try to fit the subdivisions’ “architectural controls” (which, by the way, have nothing architectural about them – I’ll write about that later).

Check out of the back of the house – it is the most honest thing about it.

It's In Here Somewhere!

North Americans have too much stuff.  I am one of those North Americans.  Even before I became a husband, home owner and father of two little girls, I had too much stuff.  The reason? Holding on to the idea that A) I may need it B) I can’t part with it and C) I don’t know what to do with it. 

Knowing whether or not you need something or whether or not you can part with it once you’ve got it are things I can’t help you with.  What I can help you with is what to do with it – in this case, where to keep it.

Many new homes or real estate listings of existing homes tout large amounts of storage space.  But like all elements in a house, there should be as much thought in the design of the storage as has been put into the kitchen, bathrooms or landscaping. 

Storage is about more than just how much of it you’ve got.  It is just as important to think about its accessibility.  What areas of the house need storage? How is that storage organized?  How does the placement of that storage provide convenient access to the things stored in it? How flexible is it to hold different types of items?  These are simple but very important questions that allow you to organize your home.

A great philosophy to live by is to create integrated accessible storage – where the elements holding your stuff are more than just closets or boxes.  They become design features that are both beautiful and functional and contribute to the design composition of your space.


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