Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Fireplace Facelift - Thin Stone Veneer

Fireplace Facelift Sketch by Carol Reed Interior Design for

As soon as I can feel the slightest chill in the air, I can't help but want to cuddle up in front of my fireplace with a blanket and a good book (or shelter mag!).   Enjoying the warmth and ambience of a fireplace is one of the reasons I look forward to the winter months ahead.  Living in Canada, I've always felt that a house just isn't a home without a fireplace, aside from the fact its an obvious focal point in any room, I love the character, warmth and mood a fireplace brings to space.  But this character.....has to jive with the rest of the house.   So its no wonder that fireplace facelifts are one of the most common design challenges I work on.

One of my favorite products for recladding an old outdated fireplace is a thin stone veneer panel product distributed by Erthcoverings in Canada.  I prefer the 3D slate or ledgestone series and have specified them for a variety of different installations over the past several years.  These are natural stone panels made up of multiple thin linear pieces of stone ranging from 3/4”th to 1-1/2”th which are adhered together to form 6” x 24” panels.   These panels of stone (made up of slate, quartzite, limestone, basalt) are made from 100% recycled post industrial waste and are thinner and lighter than using solid stone and much more eco friendly and natural looking than man made synthetic faux stone.  

The panels can be installed over any substrate and are installed fairly simply in the same manner as stone tiles, they even offer pre-made 90 degree corner pieces to wrap around corners seamlessly.   Its a versatile product that can be used inside or out and is suitable for cladding the exterior of buildings or interior installations especially great in spaces where you want to bring the outdoors in.  It retails typically for $12s.f. and up so a 6‘wide by 8’ high fireplace would cost you less than $1,000 in material.

The sketch above, and concept board below is a sample of an e-design fireplace facelift I designed for a client back in July where i recommended using these thin stone panels. The homeowners painted their existing 80’s brick fireplace out when they moved into the house earlier this year and wanted me to help them with some ideas on how they can update it.  This fireplace and its seating area are off to the side of the main living spaces in between the living room and dining room.  Utilizing a pair of existing leather chairs, I suggested adding a hide carpet, an ottoman some small tree stump tables and funky metal reading lights to compliment the updated fireplace.

Digital Concept board by Carol Reed Interior Design Inc. for

Below are before and after photos of a fireplace facelift I designed about 3 years ago.   The existing fireplace and adjacent wall (which continues beyond what's visible in the photo) and colum were faced in brick, but we chose to add thin stone veneer only to the face of the fireplace and then paint-out the rest of the brick, including the hearth which was done in a tone that blended in with the new stone panels. 

Brick Fireplace Before

Brick Fireplace After - clad in thin stone veneer

The results you can see, were quite dramatic and the fact that we painted out some of the brick didn't detract from the impact of the stone cladding.   The small recessed nook to the right of the fireplace was customized with floating shelves and the brick wall of behind it was paintd out in a dark eggplant colour.

Below are photo examples of various types of installations using this product.  All of these images are from the Erthcoverings website.

The stone wall in this dining room continues thru to the exterior.

Again, in this family room the stone continues thru to the exterior.

Exterior cladding on a contemporary home.

Close-up detail of the stone's texture.

I'm drawn to this product because i think its an effective way to bring an organic and natural element into your space,,, in a modern way.  Because of its linear composition, to me the stone has a very west coast feel that evokes a bit of a retro style in its similarity to the angel stone of the 60’s 70’s.  

My tips for a ledgestone fireplace facelift:

  1. Go all the way - on fireplaces this product looks best from floor to ceiling to really maximize the effect of the horizontal lines of the stone and emphasize that west coast mid-century modern look.
  2. Return it - wrap the stone into the fireplace opening.  if its a gas fireplace unit, recess the fireplace box back from the face of the fireplace.
  3. Keep it clean - Use with clean face style gas fireplace units for a true masonry look or use with modern linear multiple flame burners for an super contemporary chic west coast style.
  4. Its not for every house - this stone looks best in rustic modern, modern eco-zen like spaces, modern country, contemporary spaces, and mid-century era style houses.  If your house is laden with lots of traditional mouldings, cornices, chair rails, panel moulding and formal antiques....this look is not for you.
  5. Light it up - highlight the texture and colours of the stone with lighting.
  6. Tone it down - avoid using lots of bold patterned fabrics in the same space, the texture and multi-toned colour of the stone is very dominant on its own.
  7. Don't clash  - avoid mixing this stone with other heavily veined or patterned flooring.
  8. Opposites Attract  - contrast the heavy textured rough stone with some shiny nickel and clear lucite or glass accent pieces to keep things from looking too rustic.
  9. Enhance it - you can apply (by brush, or sponge) a matte finish stone enhancer on to deepen the colours of the stone
  10. Take it outside....if there’s an opportunity to incorporate some of the stone on the exterior of the house it will reinforce the idea that the stone is part of the structure of the home and integrated into the architecture. If you can actually continue the stone from the fp right thru to the exterior it will really blur the line between inside and out.

For custom tailored design ideas on updating your fireplace for the coming winter season, check out the fireplace facelift e-design service at the design shop.

Disclaimer:  I have no affiliation or partnership with any mfg or product that I endorse on this blog nor do I ever receive any compensation for promoting any product or service on this blog, other than my own design services.  Anything that I write about here or specify for client projects are products I recommend based solely on my preference for their performance, quality, value, or style as well as my personal experience with them.

Photos:   1 thru 4 Carol Reed, 6 thru 8 Erthcoverings

Friday, September 25, 2009

Victorian House Tour - Powell & Bonnell

I had the pleasure of being invited to tour an open house this week of a beautiful victorian semi-detached house in Toronto.  I'm fortunate enough to work with one of the best real estate agent's in the city, Kara Reed, who also just happens to sister-in-law of the past 20 years.  (You may recognize her from HGTV's Sarah's House I, and Sarah's House II).  Kara had the pleasure of listing this 1890's victorian house on mls this week and is preparing for a public open house this weekend, more info here.  Knowing that I'm in house hunting mode myself and knowing my love and appreciation for great interiors of all styles, she insisted this was a must see for me -and I'm glad she did.

The house was designed by the award winning Toronto interior design firm, Powell & Bonnell during an extensive renovation of the house back in early 2000's.  What's  unique about this house is its one of the few (if not only) traditional, victorian style home this team have designed.  If you're familiar with Powell & Bonnell's work, you likely conjur up images of clean, dynamic contemporary spaces when you think of their projects, however, a quick browse thru their portfolio reveals a diverse range of projects from clean and contemporary to modern rustic.  I've always believed that the best designers have diverse portfolios and can apply their design philosophy to a range of styles and I can definitely see this diversity throughout their past projects.  You can check out their on-line portfolio here

Before the renovations began in early 2000's the house had been open plan and void of any original architectural detail and character.    All of the walls that had previously been taken down and all of the mouldings and details that had been stripped away were painstakingly re-created from top to bottom.  Today the house is a beautiful example of a traditional victorian home who's original character and architectural detailing has been well considered and thoughtfully brought back to life.

One of my favorite things about the house was the collection of artwork throughout and the manner in which it was displayed - it's masterfully done.  You'll see in the photos to follow that every room and hallway has beautifully arranged groupings of artwork and objects in all shapes and sizes.

Living Room Vignette

Living Room

Dining Room
The dining room measures only about  12'w x 9' deep but its grand and impressive.  The combination of the dark wall colour and the large mirror add depth and create a dramatic, inviting space.  It was simply stunning.

This is Kara in the hallway outside the dining room as she was pointing out the dining room's velvet parlour draperies that would have been an original detail in a house of this era. 

The master bedroom was striking and handsome with its dark walls, antique furniture and sisal carpet.  The variety of light sources and use of mirror again make this room both sparkle and glow, creating an ambience that's so inviting and intimate.

The tone on tone stripe effect on the bedroom walls was actually so subtle that I didn't even notice it until looking at the photos afterwards.

The main bath had some clever built-in storage around the radiator.  There's nothing over the top in this room but there's a great sense of balance.  You can see that the surface applied panel moulding, its repitition and the symmetrical display on top of the cabinet give this room a classical look.  The gorgeous soft blue colour combined with all the white and polished chrome just takes your breath away when you walk in the room but yet the bathroom's tile and fittings are just very simple and timeless.

The Den

The second floor den was again, dark, inviting and intimate with a wonderful eclectic collection of pieces displayed on the walls and cabinets.  Despite that most of the rooms in this house would be considered small spaces, the use of large scale furniture and dark colours make it feel luxurious and grand.  The key to this,,,,,, is the great use of lighting.

Second floor hallway

Main floor bathroom, again the use of simple white, pale blue/grey and silver metal gives you that refreshing sense of a nostalgic old world spa.

The kitchen was simple and classic with its beadboard backsplash and butcher block topped centre island.

Again a wonderful integration of storage with the rad cover.  The use of metal apothocary style cabinetry and carts were used again here which I also saw in both bathrooms, this cabinet appeared to be vintage but the two small wall-hung ones in the bathrooms were newer. 

Basement bedroom.  
This was an irregularly shaped small room but I love the fact that despite that, they went for maximum comfort by using a full size bed - its cozy and luxurious looking even though its placed in this tiny nook.  The attention to the way the bed is dressed and accessorized would make any guest feel important and special.

I could notice from the reaction of those who were touring the house while I was there that the traditional style and detailing of this home was really resonating with all of them as they were were drawn into one room after another,,,,,,,,and not wanting to leave!   I have no doubt this house is going to attract a lot of attention this weekend......

All photos:   Carol Reed

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Goodbye Summer....

My Living Room, August 2009

As of 5:18pm today, summer was officially over and tomorrow will be our first full day of fall.

This means in the coming days I’ll be making some small changes around the house to make it feel more cozy and seasonal, in fact I started last weekend.  Just subtle changes,,,like putting away some of the summery feeling accessories.  Below are some shots of the way the living room looked mostly towards the end of summer - I’m always changing up things even throughout a season.  Simple things like changing the covers on the toss pillows to a watery blue/grey,,,switching out the coffee table books to more summery ones in both colour and subject,,,,adding summer flowers, light weight throws, sea shells and hurricane lanterns.  Even though we live in the city, we also live by the lake so the house lends itself to a casual lakeside feel, our furniture isn’t so much that look,,,,but I think just a few touches were enough to create that mood.

This is a rental house that we moved into during the summer of 07 immediately after selling our condo.  Like most rentals, the house was not in the best of shape, it was pretty nasty in fact,,,(the exterior still is!) but a good cleaning and a fresh coat of white paint throughout the interior did wonders.     Even though we had all of these things when we moved in,,,,,the placement of the artwork and smaller accessories took some time to fall into place.  But overall, I love how our existing furniture from the condo seem to just fit right and at the same time,,take on an entirely new look in this space.   I didn't care that we were only going to be living here for a year or two,,,I was determined to make the place looked like we had always lived there and to make it comfortable and welcoming, and without buying anything new for it.  It was a great excercise in 'making the most of what you've got'.

The house had two features that i fell in love with immediately (aside from its location),,,,a wood burning stone fireplace in the living room, and a large 2nd floor loft space with cathedral ceilings, loads of natural daylight and a walkout to a second floor deck - the perfect home studio.   I knew instantly that i would fill one complete wall of the loft with Ikea expedite shelving.  I had some of these in our condo (which we built-in) and couldn’t imagine living without them, and coincidentally the height of the units fit perfectly in this loft space on the low side of the sloped ceiling, like it was meant to be.

Reference Library in my loft studio

Ikea's Expedit shelving, wall to wall

I'm not fond of corner windows but I grew to really like this one, its placement gave us great views of the lake and it has a big deep sill that makes a perfect spot for the cat to perch and he spend a lot of time there.  The landlords horizontal blinds are pretty unattractive but I keep them up most of the time so they really weren't an issue and besides there are just way too many windows in this house for me to start changing the window coverings! 

This was our last summer in the house as we’re currently searching for a permanent home that we hope to find sometime in the next few months.  But in the meantime its still home for now and I’ll continue to feather my nest here until its time to pack.  I can’t say i’m going to miss summer, because I LOVE fall,,,,and the changes that will come with it, but I’m really going to miss this fireplace, my wonderful lightfilled and spacious loft studio and the sound of the waves lapping against the shore......

All Photos:  Carol Reed

Thursday, September 17, 2009

the design shop

My e-design website -

As a designer I receive a lot of inquiries from homeowners regarding my services, all are very enthusiastic about their home improvement plans and have gathered loads of designer inspiration rooms, eagerly hoping that with the help of an interior designer they can bring their vision to reality.   Unfortunately, the reality for many of those who inquire is that the cost of hiring a designer on a full-service basis is just not feasible for them.  Generally I find most people have misconceptions or just no real concept at all regarding design fees, and that’s totally understandable - and its also a topic for another post entirely because I have a lot to say about that!

I’m a passionate advocate for good design,,,in all aspects of life.  I don’t believe it should only be accessible for the wealthy because I don’t believe that good design is about expensive things, how much something costs or has anything to do with how pretty something is.  In fact, I believe that when it comes to investing money in our homes or our business, we can’t afford not to utilize the advice of design experts, especially with small precious budgets.

For those homeowners who can’t manage to hire a designer on a full-service scale I’ve always offered them the opportunity to work with me on a virtual consultation basis for a few hours of time, enough to provide them with some critical and valuable design direction and ensure they’re not going to make any costly mistakes.  Thru the convenience of internet and digital photography all this information can be shared by email and is what’s key to making these consultation services affordable.   The hours and hours of meeting time, travel time, and project management time is eliminated and I can focus entirely on the planning and design issues,,,,leaving the leg work for the homeowners to take on - with lots of guidelines and direction of course!

Do I need to see a home in person or meet an individual in person to visualize their space or understand their needs, or style, or to give them design advice?  No!  In fact for many years I’ve designed spaces entirely from paper information because the building didn’t even exist yet, or the building was located in a different city or province or country.  As long as I have all the relevant information, dimensions, site photos etc., that’s all i need to start planning - architects and designers work this way all the time.  Personal information regarding needs and style preferences can all be obtained by asking the proper questions, thru detailed surveys and questionnaires,,,,whether in person or online, the answers are the same.  

I launched my first Interior Design website in 2004 and also created a complete concept for an on-line design website, but didn’t proceed with it at that time.  I posted a  notice on my website saying that ‘On-Line Design” was coming soon and I had even secured a separate domain name for it.  Despite the fact I was already working with clients this way, I never did get around to launching that site,,,,,,,,,until this year.   This past winter I thought the timing was better than ever to offer value based services and my new e-design website the design shop was created and then launched in June.

I’m proud to say that I think this is by far the most professional, comprehensive web-site devoted to e-design services I’ve come across on the web and I think the value is simply incomparable. There’s a complete menu of ‘prix fix’ services and if you don’t see a service that suits your needs just drop us a line and we’ll put one together for you - its literally a one stop shop for design advice.  

Imagine your personal designer, a click away!   I hope you check it out and let the possibilities inspire you...

Friday, September 11, 2009

Construction Speak

1920's French Drafting Table by Restoration Hardware
Currently on my wish list for my next studio space.  As proficient as I am with CAD I love to draft and sketch and render by hand whenever I can.  I gave up my old drafting table several years ago during a move but I miss having one so much that I plan to make room for one in my next space.

Whenever I meet clients for the first time regarding a renovation project,,,at some point before the meeting is over, inevitably I always get asked this same question, “is your husband a contractor?”   I smile and politely say no, wondering to myself why everyone asks me that.   They always seem surprised that my answer is no.   I do admit, it would be a match made in DIY heaven,,,,,,but sadly, no I am not married to a contractor, nor was my father a contractor (usually the next question).

Just recently, when a client asked me that question yet again,,,,I laughed and commented that I didn’t know why everyone always asked me that, and she looked at me and said bluntly, “well you speak construction speak - I assumed you must be married to a contractor ”.   Huh, all these years and I had never thought that was the reason. So after 16 years as a professional interior designer,,,,spending most of my time on construction sites designing and overseeing new builds and renovations, wearing steel toes more than stillettoes,,,,, its interesting that people would assume I must come by my knowledge of construction thru my ‘husband’ ?  Strange thing is,,,, I can’t imagine how any interior designer could work in the industry without knowing ‘construction speak’.  After all, we design how interiors are going to be built, and are responsible for preparing detailed construction drawings that are code compliant, and ensuring they are complied with, wouldn’t it be strange if we didn’t know how things were constructed! 

Typically my days are spent on job sites that look like this (below), reviewing installations and meeting with the trades and or contractors.

A client's gutted kitchen gets all new windows and new window seat.

Often when I’m talking with clients or presenting design drawings to them, they’re not familiar with some of the terms that are noted.  Learning the terms that the trades use has just been part of my job and using basic industry standard terms when it comes to drafting notes on drawings is key to communicating the design intent to the team of people working on the project.  

Here are some of the most basic terms, in no particular order, that I get asked about most frequently, sometimes because they’re noted on the design drawings, other times in its spoken context. These are just off the top of my head and aren't by any means 'industry standard definitions', just my own understanding of them. 

AFF = Above Finished Floor: 

This is a critical note on plans and elevations, typically during a renovation when all the rough-in work is being done the floor consists of the subfloor material only or a floor that will be replaced with new.  But at the rough-in stage, I have to instruct the electrician, the plumber, or the window installer etc.,,,exactly where I want that light fixture mounted or those wall faucets placed.  If I give them a dimension, it has to clarify whether this is based on the subfloor,,,,,or the finished floor, which could be 1/2” to 1-1/2” higher.  The notation A.F.F. after a dimension indicates this intent and the fact that the additional thickness of the proposed new flooring needs to be factored in.

GFI = Ground Fault Interruptor:

(or as I usually refer to it,,,,‘Good F*n Idea”!)  

This is a type of electrical outlet that’s mandatory for electrical outlets that are within 3’ of a water source.

O/A = overall:  

This refers to a dimension, meaning end to end, top to bottom, or front to back, this dimension means its all inclusive, regardless of jogs, bumpouts, posts etc.

O.C. = On Centre:

This refers to a dimension and that the measurement is referring to the centre of something, ie; a drain, an electrical outlet etc.

CL = Centre Line:

Refers to location or placement of something with regards to where it should be installed or aligned in relation to the room or cabinet etc., whatever objects it intersects.

MDF = Medium Density Fibre Board

SPF = Spruce Pine or Fir

U/S = Underside


Black rigid plastic pressure pipes used for plumbing.  If you really want to know, it stands for Acrylonitrile-Butadiene-Styrene but most people can't pronounce it or spell it so its never called anything other than ABS.

P-Lam = Plastic Laminate

CH = Ceiling Height

L.F. = linear foot

CFM = cubic feet per minute

OSB = oriented strand board:

Not to be mistaken for particle board.  BTW, this make for an inferior subfloor, use plywood.

VOC = volatile organic compounds 

Knock down:

Remove rough spots on a surface by sanding or scraping

2 Gang, 3 Gang, 4 Gang:

Multiple switches or receptacles in one box.

J-box = junction box

Robertson = A Square Headed screw

Uniquely Canadian and ......universaly frustrating if you happen not to have  a square tip screwdriver handy.  Its good to know your Robertsons from your Phillips when your handyman or installer asks you to hand him one!

Phillips = Cross Headed Screw 

F*n Slotted = A slotted head screw

A slotted head screw.  Yes it may take two hands to centre the screw and the screwdriver might slip out of the slot,,,,but hey, in a pinch you can also use the tip of a knife, a dime, a nail file......

Hard Wire: 

A wire to wire connection, meaning the device has no plug.


to provide the plumbing pipes and electrical wiring that service a fixture and installed so its ready for hook-up of fixture,  but is not the fixture or device itself.


To apply a smooth finish coat of mud or plaster

Pink (n):

Refers to the insulation.

Pink it (v):

A nail hole filler compound that goes on pink, dries white.  I find it really cracks a lot over time though.


To cut lengths of panel product, mouldings or lumb etc. down in size


Slang for drywall,,,ie’ gypsum board, blue board.

Blue Board:

Moisture and mildew resistant gypsum board faced in blue paper.


A construction or millwork detail that refers to a recessed gap, intentional and predetermined, its a design detail.

Factory Edge:

The pre-finished edge on a material as made by the mfg.

Dry lay:

To mock-up or temporarily lay out floor tiles.


To feed new wire or cable thru existing structure to its new location.

Swiss Cheese:

This is usually what your ceiling and walls look like after your electrician or home automation technician are finished their ‘fishing’ expedition. Typically they use a 4” diameter hole saw to remove the drywall where needed and save these ‘discs’ of drywall so they can be screwed back in the hole and patched. (ok so not a technical term per say but I use it all the time!)

Hole Saw:

Big round circular drill bit.  


Electrical conduit box, this is where the wires are pulled to, then the actual outlet or switch device is hardwired within this box.  Boxes are sold for either new work (new construction) or old work (existing walls/ceilings) applications.

Flush: (not the toilet!)

To install flat to something or level with something, ie; flush mount.  Also refers to a flat surface, ie; flush doors.


A sheet size of a solid material such as stone or marble but also refers to poured concrete.


Or dead wood.  Wood reinforcement on or behind the wall board to provide extra support for wall mounted items.


to strap something is to install a nailing strip, (to accept nails or screws) for fastening board material.


Literally string, installed from the source panel to the device location in lieu of cable.  This allows for easier telephone, speaker, network or tv cable to be installed after the walls and ceiling have been closed up (meaning you'll have no swiss cheese!) The installer simply attaches his cable to the end of the string and pulls it thru,,,,,hoping the string doesn't break.

Camera it:

To camera your sewer or plumbing lines means to drop a video scope into a pipe to inspect it and survey its location.

Core Drill:

To drill a hole thru or partially thru a concrete slab, to remove a section of it.  This is typically not allowed in condo renovations as it compromises the structural integrity of the slab, being the subfloor and structure that supports the unit above.    Usually if core drilling is allowed it must first be reviewed and approved by a structural engineer and the property managers.

Trench:  to dig up your concrete slab in your basement thru to the ground beneath.


Referring to a dimension on a plan, this means its acceptable for this dimension to be an inch or 2 more or less than the number stated.


To site measure for a custom fabrication ie; marble counters or glass shower enclosure.  Work must be completed to a certain point before its ready for templating.

As Built:

Refers to the current existing built conditions of a space, which are not necessarily the same as the builders plans or the design drawings on hand.  Once a project is underway, the actual as-built dimensions always need to be verified against the dimensions on the proposed design plans.  Never build or design anything from a plan without verifying the as-built.

This is just a very general overview of some basic terms,,,,,,and each particular aspect of construction has its own specific set of jargon, ie; framing, drywall, stairs, tile setting, mouldings, doors and windows etc.. and in future posts I’ll elaborate on some of those terms.  In any case, my advice to anyone who's contemplating hiring an interior designer to oversee or advise them on the renovation of their entire house or even just one room,,,,you really should hope they speak 'construction speak' no matter who they are or aren't married to!