Condo Design Tips from an Award Winning Designer!

Monday, October 25, 2010


Condos may be best for couples or singles just starting out or those older than 50 who have lived in a house for 20-plus years and want out of the daily maintenance that houses require. It's about upkeep for most people, the disadvantage to owning a house is upkeep and keeping up with upkeep.

Downsizing isn't just about getting older, retiring or having your kids leave home, but also about making life easier – less space means less stuff, less to clean, and less to worry about.
How about having just as much space as you need? Often large families live in a large house and once kids grow up and go to universities, parents find themselves starting to think again about their life and the quality of their life. Think about how much more you can enjoy life by simply spending quality time with your loved ones. You should all assess how much space you need the same way you assess how much money you need every month.

Today I am answering questions sent by one couple who has made the decision to not only move from a house to a condo but to donate their existing furniture so they can have a fresh start. Now that’s a great example of making the right decisions and helping others!!! They chose a 2b+d condo suite, one of the best condo size and layout for downsizing.

Q: I would like some advice on how to best place furniture in the small den in order for my daughter from time to time come home and sleep over and feel as though the den is her bedroom.

A: The best way is to furnish the Den as a guest room not as a bedroom. Think sofa beds or wall beds, storage, shelving, lamps, area rugs, artwork. The challenge here is to be able to comfortable fit a double bed when open, as the den is only 8’0” x 8’6”.
This example shows how a double wall bed can convert your space from a seating/reading/tv area (possibly) to a sleep area.

If a single bed is an option, I love how the bed is incorporated in this built in and gives you plenty of space around it!

This British company is just one of the many wall beds manufacturers with amazing ideas for virtually any space!

Q: The view walking through the front door is looking straight through to Lake Ontario so I would love your advice on colors throughout the condo in order to bring the outside waterview inside the condo. I don't like trendy colors as we prefer something that will stay in style for a long time.

A: Another great feature- waterfront condos are definitely one of the best ways to downsize, especially if you love water...There are many ways of designing the interior to reflect the exterior, the wall colors or wallpaper patterns and the use of mirrors are just two of them. While using the color blue is an option, it shouldn’t be the only option. Consider using neutrals that will make your space look current for years to come and use accessories that will represent the “water” element like aqua glass tile for kitchen’s backsplash, artwork with vivid blue tones, crystals (chandeliers, lamps etc) which will reflect the light and add a sparkle to the interior- think of all the elements that you will like to see incorporated in your design, find your inspiration first and bring all elements together.
The colors, textures and lighting can, in your case, be found in the "waterfront" theme.

When it comes to selecting paint colors- take a look at Benjamin Moore virtual fan deck- this example shows how aqua colors may be best showcased when combined with other neutrals, it’s all about the actual color tone you prefer (with more gray or more blue or more teal), the intensity of the colors and about all the furnishings- if they are light or dark color. First question to ask yourself is: do I want a tone on tone overall look or a contrasting look? This will open a new design conversation which will lead you in the right direction and help you choose your colors. For a tone on tone look choose your favourite color and select everything around that color. For a contrasting look, decide first if it will be dark or light (simply a preference, one is not better than the other) and choose the floor & wall finishes in opposite colors than your furniture- this is just one way of selecting the colors.

Q: We need advice on furniture placement in the living and dining area to make best use of the space and make it feel larger. Even where we place the sofa, chair and tv. As long as we can fit four people maximum seated comfortably in the living area.

A: this floor plan shows one of the furniture layouts options- Dining Area- think of enjoying large dinner parties where an extendable table is a must, also a round/oval table may work. Living area has a great potential for a TV wall unit due to the length of the wall. You can comfortably use a 7’ sofa and as you can see there is room for a larger one. Why I like 7’ sofas is because most of the time only 2 people will sit on it so I’d rather have more space around for chairs, tables, lamps etc.

Q: Lastly, I would like to know how to use the large terrace in the best possible way to use as outdoor living space from May to October. Any suggestions for furniture type, furniture placement, even where we should put the b-b-q line outside.

A: Before starting to look at furniture, there are few items to be addressed: the bbq line may be dictated by the builder- therefore I recommend looking into this first. This will show you where the outdoor dining area may be setup (I’m guessing the terrace close to the kitchen). Another item to address is the wind factor, if the terrace is covered, the privacy level for each terrace, you can read more about designing your condo balcony/terrace space here. Once these questions are answered, selecting the actual furniture and creating a layout will be much easier.
You are closer than you think to starting your new condo life style...congratulations on making the first steps! :)

Monday, October 18, 2010


Most open concept condo layouts have a floating kitchen island. There are so many ways to incorporate your kitchen island in the overall design so it doesn’t look like it is part of the kitchen only. Many of the design questions I receive from you are related to kitchen island having a cooktop- how to select a vent hood that doesn’t have the typical rectangular stainless steel shape and becomes part of the overall design of the living space.

Great question I must say! most of the time the kitchen island becomes the focal point of the open space simply because of its shape, size and location.

One of Italy's top kitchen brand for more than twenty years Scavolini Kitchens has many contemporary kitchens where the vent hood looks more like a light fixture and catches your eye for it’s interesting shape and how it is integrated in the actual design of the kitchen.

The ultra modern Boffi kitchens are known for their sleek look and the way they integrate their islands in the overall design. In the Zone kitchen the vent hood disappears behind the design of the bulkhead which accommodates the actual vent and the ductwork required. I love how the different planes intersect and connect the island with the storage unit/seating beside it while making the assembly still look like floating in the open space.

 Elica, a british company specialized in vent hoods from traditional to modern to cutting edge has come up with a myriad of solutions from stainless steel to glass to crystals!

Adagio (the left image), in the closed position is flush with the work surface and looks like it's part of the cook top. The advantage of using it is that it can be entirely incorporated in the design of the island and totally dissapear when not in use.

Legend- the left image (I love how the light is incorporated at the bottom of the stainless steel ring) and Bubble (the right image) stand out on their own with their not so typical shapes.

White stream and Pure Wave are dressed to impress... they certainly look like light fixtures and can effortless warm up the space with, White stream with its wonderful glow given by the white shade and Pure Wave by its pink interior color accent. 

One of their latest designs, Star is definetely going to brighten up any interior. They mixed the trend of crystal chandeliers with their hood system and lighting and voila!

When trying to step away from the rectangular shapes especially in a small condo space, the vent hood over the kitchen island could be the first element to address and why not design around it? When the furniture and furnishings are well paired with the kitchen finishes, the kitchen island will look like a piece of furniture.

Did you find any cool vent hoods?
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Tuesday, October 12, 2010


Whether you live in an old condo (more than 10 years old) or you just decided it’s time to upgrade your condo suite, there are few areas to focus on. Many of the questions I receive from the readers are related to updating and upgrading bathrooms. In addition to the “Condo Bathroom- to upgrade or not to” blog posted back in July I want to guide you on how to approach a condo bathroom renovation.

First and foremost decide if you are only going to replace the existing plumbing fixtures, cabinetry and finishes... because if you decide on changing the location of your sink for e.g. you might have to obtain an approval from your Condo Board. Read the condo docs before proceeding with hiring contractors and before you purchase materials.

Let’s talk about the “Why” first. Some condo owners approached me at the Fall Home Show with questions about renovating their bathrooms and while they weren’t sure if their bathroom looks up to date they definitely wanted to change the look.

When your bathroom has a look similar to this pink bathroom you May want to consider an updated look.

Some condo owners are wondering why their 10 years old condo is not valued similar to a 2 yrs old condo when it has the same square footage. If you actually compare the finishes installed as standard finishes 10 years ago with the current ones and if you compare the amenities spaces you will find that the new condos are of higher value. What was an “upgrade” 10 years ago may be a standard finish today, but also keep in mind that the market evolves constantly and every year there are new products available (including plumbing fixtures, tiles etc) that have not only an up to date look but a superior quality.

If you have a good idea of which plumbing fixtures and vanity cabinet to select, now it's time to select the tiles. For any size bathroom the tiles design is the most important element, as it creates "the look" of your entire bathroom.

Here are my 5 tips for choosing tiles:

1. decide if natural stone is good for you or you would prefer ceramic or porcelain tiles. Natural stone has indeed a unique look and when the tiles are installed by an experienced tile contractor the entire floor will look exquisite. However keep in mind that you need to maintain a natural stone, it has to be properly sealed and refinished every few years (depending on how well is maintained).

2. the term ceramic is still used for both floor and walls (I see it especially on some real estate listings) and that’s because back 10 years ago or more ceramic was the only option. However, new condos have mostly porcelain tile floors and in some cases they are used for walls too and porcelain tiles are from any point of view superior to ceramic- I'll go into details in another blog post. Large format porcelain tiles are extremely useful when going for an updated look because they tend to look more like natural stone PLUS the less grout the better. If you have to have small floor tiles (12”x12” for eg) choose an 1/8” grout and make sure you match the grout color to the tile color for an almost seamless installation.

3.  Some porcelain tiles come rectified. A rectified tile is defined as a tile that has had all edges mechanically finished to achieve a more precise facial dimension. Most popular are the larger size formats often used in conjunction with smaller mosaic tiles to create unique designs. The advantage of rectified tiles is also its ability to allow tighter grout joint spacing, close to 1/16”. Almost every condo owner I help designing their condo goes for this small grout option, it is a  “look” that will stay in for quite some time. Anything that makes it easy to maintain is a benefit you should consider. The size and the pattern of the tile work hand in hand- for example this amazing gray tile has not just an amazing intricate geometric look but it allows you to install the wall tile with no grout and can create a feature wall in virtually any room. The white and black version look just stunning! Click here to see all colors available.

4. when changing from a bath tub to a shower, have fun with the design! Go back to the inspiration images you selected before you started the renovation. Do you like glass tiles? than think of using them in conjunction with the main wall tiles you selected. Most likely the floor has to be a small format tile to achieve the slope to the drain, so why not continue the mosaic and create a wall pattern? And if you really want to have a one of a kind design- there is a huge selection of mosaics out there, each of them can create a different look - whether it is a spa look and feel or perhaps a retro colourful accent tiles is what you are going for. Andy Warhol Marilyn Monroe image  is part of the design behind this amazing mosaic tile collection.

Think of shower walls accents or even a kitchen backsplash! With white cabinetry this mosaic is sure to stand out.

5. When living in a small condo space, the number of different finishes should be kept to a minimum, visual continuity is best achieved when there is one dominant material (could be the floor or walls color). Tiles are no longer used just in bathrooms like engineered wood floors are not only used in living areas, now they are used in open kitchens for a seamless look.

Always consider your lifestyle when choosing a specific material and don’t limit your design options because of "rules". South of Italy, Dubai, Florida and all warm places- this is where most people consider tiles for their floors throughout, however now that floor heating is so popular tiles are used everywhere - even in bedrooms where there is a choice for visual continuity between the ensuite and master bedroom. Also think of noise transmission from one room to another- you may find that certain condo walls are not acoustically separating 2 spaces so you will have to use creativity in addressing these small design details.

My best advice when selecting tiles is to find retail stores where you have a variety of tiles to choose from as well as a design advisor who will save you a lot of trouble and money by sharing with you all tricks of the trade.

And...always renovate for your immediate use first and for potentially selling your condo second while keeping in mind that a balance between your renovation investment and the appraised value is always desirable.

All tile images courtesy of
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Tuesday, October 5, 2010


Fall Home Show in Toronto proved to be one of the most interesting experiences for me personally. While designing condos is something I do every single day (sometimes even on the weekends), I always thought of a way to share with condo owners the most important elements of designing a condo. And this past weekend I had a great opportunity to meet so many of you. Thank you for coming and sharing with me your love for design!

And yes, it’s easier if you have an eye for colors, but the biggest surprise is that color is probably the last item on your “to do condo design” list.

Here’s why: I advocate that designing your space is similar to any other type of design (fashion for example) and while color could be the reason behind any small reno, it shouldn’t be the first element to consider, but it could be your main source of inspiration! Here are few other more important elements to consider before choosing the colors:

1. If this is your condo space- it should reflect your personality and your lifestyle which has a direct impact on the function of every room and the selection of finishes- think of how having pets could influence the selection of floor coverings! But the most important question you should address first is “What do I want my space to say about Me?”

2. Think of Your condo space in 3D- how to look at the floor plan, the height of the space and any interior architectural features present in your condo (any dropped ceilings, drywall bulkheads, heating units, structural walls, existing light fixtures location etc.)- how to hide them or emphasize them so they become features easy to design around?

3. Views- orientation. Facing south vs facing north can have a great impact on the color of your finishes and furnishings. Not all condos have the best view in the city, so why not focus on the interior only instead? This can impact how you place furniture and..very importantly- what is the best window covering for each room.

4. Flooring color and texture- with a wide array of wood flooring it is hard to decide which color and what type of wood will give you the desired outcome- and yet, there are ways to select the flooring IF you have a design theme in mind right from the start.

5. your style- how to discover Your personal design style- we discussed an easy way to figure out what style will connect with your true self!

6. Colors- so many options, very hard to choose! but what the color experts are saying is true! dark neutrals make a big come back (I actually think they never left). So easy to design around a strong neutral color that you would just love to see when you open the door! here are few options from Farrow & Ball paints.

7. 5 tips for small condo spaces: focal elements, multifunctional furniture, think your design theme throughout before you start designing, play with colors, Be Inspired!

8. how to have 5 different looks for one den space! and much more....

If you missed the presentation, send me an email at  and I will send you the “Master your condo space- step by step guidelines”. More importantly, join our condo design lovers community (follow the bee :) and enter your name and email on the right side of the page )and be in the loop with everything condo design related.

I was really touched to see many of my readers being interested in everything "design" oriented. One reader Bella and her website in particular caught my eye as she shares my passion for fashion especially as I think fashion and interior design are deeply interconnected. And if you are still looking for your design style, why not think of your fashion style- yes it could change over the years, so does design!

So far I haven't met a person who’s fashion is at the opposite pole from their personal decor style.

It brings me much joy to be able to share my ideas with you and hope to be able to help you as you go along with your condo design...