Podcast Episode 1: House & Home Senior Editor Sally Armstrong

I’m so excited to launch this new podcast series! I’ll be chatting with designers, bloggers, DIYers, architects and renovators to find out what’s happening in the world of home design and interiors from the people who are making it happen.

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My first guest is Sally Armstrong. Sally has been with House & Home magazine for over a decade and has overseen some the magazine’s most famous and well loved features. Sally’s own beautiful house remodel can be seen here and here.

I’m especially in awe (and really jealous) of her amazing mudroom.

Click the link or player to hear the entire interview with Sally and her simple styling tricks to get a photo-shoot worthy kitchen!

 

 

All the Moms

Mother’s Day is this week and if you’re like me, you want to give your mom (or that special mom-like person) something that shows you really care. I always struggle at Mother’s Day to find that perfect something that says “you’re the best, sorry about my teen years, thanks for helping me become a decent human and all you still do for me even though I’m a grown-up”. Somehow a bouquet of flowers or a gift card just doesn’t cut it. So I’ve rounded up a few goodies that I think will be loved by all the kinds of moms in your life.

needs-some-self-love mom:

Sarah’s Soap

Small batch, handcrafted soaps, body butters, balms and lotions from pure ingredients. I love this line of body products and have some serious feelings for this and this.

bag-lady mom: Grace Bohemian Bags

Hand sewn shoulder bags, clutches and pouches made from  Moroccan, Turkish & Peruvian carpets and cowhide leather.

mom and her mini-me: GIFTOLOGIE Cuffs

Matching aluminum bracelets. Available in custom designs.

loves-to-share-photos-of-her-kids mom: LePapierStudio Silhouette Jewelry

Custom silhouette art and jewelry.

keepsake-loving mom: Marguerites Main St Printable Art

Downloadable DIY Dandelion Fingerprint Art. Also perfect for the last minute shoppers. Just print this and have your child finger paint the pods.

great-sense-of-humor mom: Just for Keeks Glassware & Clothing

Customizable cute and cheeky quotes on everything from wine glasses to socks.

needs-to-be-caffeinated-to-function mom: Parachute Coffee

This subscription coffee service delivers fresh roasted (in Toronto) coffee right to your door. The idea of not having to get out of your pajamas to get amazingly fresh roasted coffee is a gift that gives back. Imagine how much more cheerful and on her game your caffeine loving mama will be with this gift.

home-body mom:

Mother’s Touch Candles

Soy candles infused with pure essential oils.

An finally for the has-it-all mom: a tattoo

What mother wouldn’t be proud of this!

Happy Mother’s Day!

 

 

 

 

 

Patio Season

Spring is definitely here and we’re so close to patio season! The last few years have seen retailers and patio furniture designers finally up their game when it comes to the style, variety and affordability of their offerings. You no longer have to blow your vacation fund to get a stylish looking patio at home. Here’s a round up of my picks for well priced patio furniture at stores and online retailers this season

Target

Along with more traditional feeling patio furniture, Target has some great outdoor pieces with a more modern vibe. Super affordable and stylish, it’s a win-win for those who find that wicker doesn’t speak their design language.

 

IKEA

Everyone’s favourite go-to for well priced and well designed home goods, IKEA has some beautiful outdoor options this year. What I love about this season’s collection is after the warm weather fades you can bring these pieces indoors and they’ll play nice with your existing furniture since they don’t scream patio.

I’m in love with this gem of a bench! This would also look great in an entry way (mine specifically) with a cozy throw or a cushion or two.

See how this guy looks great indoor and out? I told you!

Serena & Lily

For a little more money (okay, a LOT more money) you can shop the stunning Serena & Lily outdoor collection. Here’s a peek.

Patio Lanterns

I doubt Kim Mitchell had these beauties in mind when he was singing his iconic song. So while Kim goes and mixes up some more lemonade, take a look at these pretty lanterns to light up your patio this summer.

All lanterns from Canadian Tire

And speaking of lemonade, what would patio season be without patio drinks!

Mel’s Hard Lemonade

Strawberry Peach Wine Slushies

Living in the heart of the fruit belt and Niagara wine country I think it would be downright unpatriotic if I didn’t make these!

Strawberry Limeade Gin & Tonic

Definitely a new favourite for Gin & Tonic Tuesdays! (or Thirsty Thursdays, Firewater Fridays,  Sippy Saturdays . . .)

So cheers to a great patio season!  With stylish furniture that doesn’t break the bank and spending time with good friends even if you don’t have the biggest patio or all the summer shade. 

Happy Hunting!

 

 

 

 

 

Backyard Makeover – The Before

Welcome to our 1970’s suburban backyard. When we bought the house almost two years ago the interior needed an complete overhaul. It was so bad inside that when my mom went through it she begged us not to buy it. The main floor bathroom had a shower that was being used a litter box. I don’t mean the litter box was placed in the shower, the shower was the litter box – that no one ever cleaned! From mismatched flooring, to moldy walls to electrical that looked like it had been done by a drunk orangutan, the house was a total gut job. Which is exactly what we did. We have completed most of the house and now just small things like kitchen backsplash and some decorating are left to tackle. The backyard, on the other hand, wasn’t so gross, so last summer we really didn’t do too much to it except repair and rebuild a fence. But now that spring is here and we’re excited about spending time outside again, it’s time to focus on getting the backyard in shape. While it isn’t terrible, and definitely doesn’t need the same amount of work as the inside,  it’s time  to make this  space a little more pretty.

Here’s the plan:

The shed that houses the pool pump is old. But we store the pool chemicals here so we need to have something ready to replace it before we tear it down. So this year it will just get a new coat of paint. The air conditioning unit is in the least convenient spot- it’s big and noisy and on prime patio real estate. But it was just installed before we moved it, so it has to stay. I’m thinking of a DIY project – maybe something like this

or this

When we moved in to the house this garden was full of lush ornamental grasses. The problem was the garden was a bit too lush; the grasses weren’t maintained so it was an overgrown mess, and the fence was falling down on top of it. I want to plant a bush that will be low maintenance, drought tolerant, can thrive close to the pool and not have flowers or berries that may drop into the water. I’ve been in love with American Beautyberry Bush for years and I think it will look perfect in the long, narrow garden. The purple berries stay on the plant long after the leaves have fallen off and look spectacular with a light sprinkling of snow.

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The shed is sturdy and stores all the pool toys and giant pizza and donut  floaties (an obvious necessity if you have a pool!). But I just can’t handle the brown trim any more! I can’t wait to paint away the boring brown with this nautical navy. I’m so excited! (It doesn’t take much).

Can we also talk about the light on the shed? The weird off-centre flood light is pointed directly at the diving board, for what I can only imagine were the high stakes, nighttime diving competitions that the previous owners held all summer long. The light will be replaced with a pair of these:

Customer Image Zoomed

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The lumpy brown jumble in the middle of the picture is new patio furniture that we have yet to properly set up. Also hoping to add a few strings of these.

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 At some point, one of the previous owners thought the lawn needed a in-ground sprinkler system. Not sure who they hired to install it but I sure hope they got a discount because I don’t think this is what it should look like if it’s done right. I love the scraggly grass they planted in front to try to hide the pipes and wires! This garden also takes up precious patio space. All of this is definitely going!

Neighbourhood lore is that once upon a time the gardens in our front and backyard would win prizes in our city’s annual summer gardening contest. By the time we bought the house the gardens had been long forgotten and all that’s left was overgrown weeds and the occasional perennial plant that fought to stay alive. In the fall we had to cut down a struggling pine tree. We left the debris in the garden. Believe me this wasn’t my choice. The reasoning was the other pine tree also has to come down and it made more sense to take all the brush to the dump at once. But all I can think of are the rats that have certainly been building little rat houses and inviting all their rat relatives to live with them in their magnificent rat city. I will not be helping to clean this up.

Here’s some shade loving plants that will hopefully (if I don’t kill them) thrive in this garden – once the rats are gone.

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Allium

Blue Hydrangea 

Japanese Snowball

It looks like we’ll be pretty busy for the next few weeks. So if you need me I’ll be in the backyard. And who knows, maybe I can train the rats to help with the gardening.

From Basic to Brilliant

I love the look of a white kitchen. It’s classic, clean (clean looking anyways, how often you actually clean is your business) and a great starting point for decorating.  But while white is wonderful, sometimes it can be challenging to know what to add to take your kitchen from basic to brilliant. So whether you have a white kitchen that could use some style or are thinking of redecorating, here are some ideas to infuse personality into an all white kitchen.

Moody Monochromatic

White Globe Pendant • Palm Leaf Print (similar) • Canisters • Tiles • Shelf Brackets

Contemporary Farmhouse

Black Pendant Light • Sign • Shelf • Frames (similar) • Vase (similar)

Polished Modern

Wallpaper • Light • Deer Head • Utensil Holder • Salt & Pepper Dispensers  Serving Tray

Rustic Country

Shelves • Light • Bowls (similar)Frame (similar) • Mortar & Pestle

Another great thing about white kitchens is that you can change the lighting, accessories and decor to give it a completely new look. In a few years and as trends come and go, it’s easy to give your kitchen an updated look by only making a few changes and without the hassle of a complete redo.

Inspired by Nature

I’m ready. Ready to throw open all the windows, ready to leave the patio doors open and soak in the earth-scented air of spring. I may be ready for spring but the weather is still not convinced. While we’ve had a few nice days of warm temps, the forecast here is calling for snow later this week. Inspired by my longing to be outside, here’s some easy ways to bring the outdoors in, without actually getting your hands dirty. While the houseplant trend continues to grow (see what I did there) some of us (me) have trouble actually keeping houseplants alive. The solution? Botanical prints. Bring these botanical beauties to your space with these free printables.

 

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Want more greenery goodness? Try these for maximum impact.

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Entomological illustrations add timeless charm and scholarly style.

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For more printable insects, click here and here for images like these:

Still need more? How about a real, fake plant? While usually pricier than their living counterparts, artificial plants will freshen up a room and most importantly, never die.

 IKEA’s FEJKA artificial potted bamboo plant is convincingly authentic.

These cute faux succulents from Etsy look sweet grouped together, and life-like enough that no one will question your green thumb.

This Fiddle Leaf tree from Home Depot looks so real, until you get to the planter. The fake dirt sponge totally ruins it. It’s like getting dressed in a beautiful gown and then slipping on a pair of Crocs. So please make sure you pair your artificial plants with a fabulous planter, like say, one of these:

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While I’ve never been a fan of artificial flowers, a recent trip to Michaels has me reconsidering. Take a look.

I’m loving all the fresh spring colours and I have to admit these look real! Maybe I’ve been worn down by the long winter, or maybe artificial flowers have improved since I’ve last looked, but walking through the floral department had me wistfully arranging bouquets in my mind.

Here’s some faux flower inspiration (yes all of these are fakes!)

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If these florals are just too cheerful for you but you’re still looking to infuse your home with a bit of the season, here are some somber horticultural options.

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So now there’s no reason not to welcome spring into your home, even if the real thing decides to stay away for a little while longer.

Decorating When You’re Broke

I can’t remember a time in my adult life when money wasn’t carefully considered and budgeted. (Unlike my childhood when I would walk to the Mini-Market and buy whatever I wanted, because in the 1980’s five dollars could get you more candy than you could handle!) While I’ve always loved to pour over magazine spreads that feature money-is-no-object spaces, in reality, most rooms in our home are the money-is-no-object-because-there-is-none kind. But since I want our house to resemble a grown-up’s house and not a frat house with milk carton end tables, I’ve had to learn to hone my bargain hunting skills. This goes way beyond the clearance sections at Target. I’m talking about deep, deep discounted merchandise. The photo above is a corner of our house that is entirely thrifted (or gifted in the case of the carved statues). Here are my favourite places to score super cheap and sometimes free stuff for our home.

Kijiji

This online classified ads site is similar to Craiglist but only in Canada. This is my go-to site for just about everything from sofas to coffee tables to patio furniture and even renovating materials. I love buying second hand for it’s low environmental impact and the low impact on my bank account. It’s a great place to find one-of-a-kind, vintage and antique items too. And for when you’re really, really broke, Kijiji also offers a swap/trade section and a free section.  I’ve seen some of the most amazing things being offered for free over the years. It’s okay to offer a better price or as ask the seller for a discount, whenever I list anything on Kijiji I set the price knowing I’ll likely take less for it.

Here are some actual items for sale right now on Kijiji

 

This black fabric bar stool just needs a new coat paint, or a bit of stripping and sanding on its legs (it looks like it had a spray tan incident!) and it would look right at home pulled up to a marble-topped island. No one would ever guess you only paid $35 for it.

 

 

 

 

This lovely chair is being offered for a mere $50.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A hand carved, wooden framed mirror for $40? Yes please!

 

 

 

 

 

I don’t have a place in my house for this Italian glass beauty, but for only $175 I really wish I did!

 

 

 

This set of benches (could easily be used as a coffee table) is $100. You could probably take them home for $75 if you ask nice.

 

Thrift Stores

Here’s what I love about thrift stores: they have never ending, always changing stock, the prices are clearly marked, you normally won’t find broken or damaged items, and the staff never ask if they can help you find something or start a fitting room for you. There is zero pressure to buy and lots of freedom to browse. Since the stock is constantly being overturned you need to go often enough to see if they have what you’re looking for. If you have your heart set on finding an antique buffet to repaint or a quirky vintage chair, going often to multiple stores is key to getting what you want. You can always ask the store manager to contact you if the particular thing you want ever gets donated. Be ready to sift through lots of bad stuff to get to the good.

Garage Sales

I love the thrill of garage-saling! The trick to finding good stuff is to go early and then again late. Show up right when the sale is starting to snag the best goods and then again near the end to see what’s leftover. Most people are happy to discount or give away stuff at the end of their garage sale. In my experience, sales in wealthier neighbourhoods are usually (but not always) a let down. The items are often priced way too high and there isn’t the same volume of stuff to make it a really good sale. I want to rummage through boxes of china, and stacks of books and venture down to a musty basement to see someone’s grandmother’s dresser. Here’s another place to ask for a better price. I’ll sometimes just offer an amount for something instead of asking the price. The worst that can happen is that you’ll be told no. The best is that you’ll walk away with a beautiful antique sideboard for $5.

Side of the Road Rescue

Doesn’t “rescued” sound way better than saying “garbage-picked”? Growing up, our community had a yearly large item pick up when people could put out old appliances and furniture. As kids this was the best night of the year (other than Christmas Eve and Halloween of course). I remember driving around with my dad looking for treasures. We scored bicycles, toys and furniture this way. If your community offers this and you’ve never trolled the streets then you’re missing out on serious bargains (free!!!) for your home. It’s not like dumpster diving or pawing through people’s actual bags of garbage. In most cases these are items that have been just placed at the curb. If your community doesn’t offer this then try to keep a look out on garbage day. If you live near a university or college take a drive around the student housing areas near the end of school year. You’ll find desks, chairs, dishes and more piled with lots of gross garbage (like moldy pizza boxes and beer bottles filled with ants and cigarette butts) so this one may not be for the garbage-picking rookie. Most of the furniture in my youngest daughter’s bedroom has been rescued, with the exception of the bed. But her room was not quite photo ready (ahem) when I was writing this!

Here are some real life examples of rescued items:

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The gorgeous brass shelves in the background -picked from the garbage!

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A quick coat of paint and new pulls and this curb side dresser is just the sweetest little changing table.

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Click on the link under the image to see the amazing before & after of this side of the road find.

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Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore

From their website, “ReStore accepts donations of overstocked, used, discontinued items and salvageable building materials donated from manufacturers, other stores, local contractors and the public. Items that are donated include new and gently used furniture, building materials, appliances, cabinetry, sinks, countertops, household and décor items, lighting and much more. The ReStore then sells those donated items to the public at a reduced cost, typically 30-70% percent less than the original retail value.” The proceeds from the store go to help fund Habitat for Humanity building projects and other community initiatives. Instead of heading to the big box hardware stores for your next reno, make this your first stop. Here’s peek of what ReStore offers:

Furniture Liquidators

You’ve probably driven by these stores and have no idea the deals that are waiting inside. They often look like cheap used car dealerships with gaudy signs promising rock bottom prices. Well, one day we actually went into one of these places. We had only $300 left after renovating the basement in our previous house. We needed a sofa to make the family room functional and I was determined to find something halfway attractive and in our budget. Weeks of Kijiji searching turned up nothing so we decided to check out a furniture liquidator. A lot of the furniture being sold was what I expected; poor quality junk made from fake wood and questionable, shiny fabric. But then we spotted a blue (my favourite colour) couch in the back of the store. Compared to the rest of furniture the sofa looked really well made. The price was listed at $300. When I lifted the cushions to inspect the sofa I found the Decor-Rest label. A quality, made-in-Canada sofa for only $300. I was over the moon happy! My husband was actually able to get them to knock off an extra $50 just by asking (he’s awesome like that) and we took it home in our mini-van.  Here’s the sofa in our current living room.

Almost everything in this photo is thrifted, found, or liquidated. 

Eventually we’ll replace it with something a little more current but it suits us just fine for now and I’m not super worried if it gets spilled or jumped on. There are gems to be found at liquidators if you’re willing to look. Source Liquidator is a Canadian liquidator I just recently came across online and is just one of many around the country. They have furniture from recently renovated hotels like The Royal York in Toronto. Take a peek:

 

Armchairs for $20 each

Headboards $10

These could easily be painted for a custom look.

 

Mirrors for $20

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you’re willing to paint or refinish there’s lots of other good, solid pieces including dressers, tables and desks just waiting to look amazing in your home.

As-Is

 

IKEA probably has the the most famous and well stocked As-Is section. Lots to choose from but buyer beware as many of the products are chipped, broken or ripped. We found the As-Is most useful when we were installing our IKEA kitchens. If we forgot a side panel we would check here first and find something that we could cut to fit for a fraction of the price of buying a new one. The great thing about IKEA kitchens is that many of the kitchen styles use the same base cabinets regardless of the finish. We snagged a few already assembled cabinets here as well.

None of these money saving options are as easy as walking into a store and picking out exactly what you want or ordering something and having it delivered right to your door. Decorating on a budget does take time and effort but it’s so worth it! Your house will look put together over time with unique, collected pieces that reflect you and you’ll still have money leftover to enjoy life in your house.

Happy Hunting!

Collect Them All!

I love collecting. I love the thrill of the hunt and that feeling of finding that one special piece, or even better, the perfect item you didn’t even know you needed!

I’ve found over the years the best way to live with my collections is to use them. I starting collecting white milk glass when I first got married and the collections has grown to include ironstone and McCoy.  While it’s not overwhelmingly large, it would take up way to much real estate in my kitchen or dining room if I was to display it altogether. So I use pieces all throughout the house. There’s some on display in the dining room. A few hobnail vases corral my kids art supplies, there’s one in the bathroom holding makeup brushes and several as planters.

(the cabinet is from the Canvas Collection at Canadian Tire)

(the paper place cards in the bowl were made by my 6 year old for a holiday dinner)

I also collect spoons. I know how hokey and cliche that sounds but I promise they aren’t hung on the wall in one of those wooden spoon holders. I keep them in a bowl near our coffee maker and each morning when I stir cream into my coffee I’m reminded of all the places we’ve traveled or the special person who gave it to us.

(more pottery put to work holding coffee pods in the background)

I’ve written here before about my love for serving trays –  I’m a serious tray junkie. I have a hard time not bringing one (or two) home every time I’m at a thrift store or a yard sale. They are so useful around the house.

In the kitchen:

living room:

and dining room:

(another new collectible – Blue Mountain Pottery!)

I had a few extra trays laying around and wanted to update our little bar serving area. So I sprayed three cheap thrifted silver-plated trays with a matte black paint and hung them over the table with simple plate hangers. A fast and easy update using my favourite collectible!

I’ll leave my collection of vintage etiquette books, world globes and antique cookie cutters for another day. I may just be a hoarder . . .

For an overdose of collection inspiration I leave you with this look at Jesse Lauzon’s beautiful IG account @jesselauzon. Gorgeously curated collections, perfectly photographed. Sigh!

 

 

 

 

Must Reads

If you’re thinking of refreshing your space this spring, flipping through the pages of beautifully decorated and photographed homes is a good place to start. There is a sea of decorating books out there.To help you wade through the waters here are some of my favourite go-to authors and books for instant design inspiration:

The Perfectly Imperfect Home: How to Decorate & Live Well by Deborah Needleman

More than just a how-to-decorate, this book reveals the key elements to make any space your own. It has timeless advice and beautiful illustrations. Unlike other design books it doesn’t take itself too seriously with chapters titled “A Bit Quirk” and “Cozifications”.

It’s the Little Things: Creating Big Moments in Your Home Through The Stylish Small Stuff by Susanna Salk

This book encourages readers to put their personality on display.  Learn how to use favourite collectibles and mementos to elevate any room’s style and to make your space more personal. Susanna shows you how little details can create big drama.

another favourite by Susanna Salk

Decorate Fearlessly: Using Whimsy, Confidence, and a Dash of Surprise to Create Deeply Personal Spaces

I talked about this book here but it’s definitely worth repeating. One thing I love about this book and Susanna Salk’s designs is her ability to take things that have no business being together (according to the rules of design) and make them look fantastic. Read this book for oodles of inspiration and confidence.

Martha Stewart

How to Decorate: The Best of Martha Stewart LivingDecorating Details: Projects and Ideas for a More Comfortable, More Beautiful Home 

Although these books are older, they are a treasure trove of design insight. If you ever come across these at a tag sale be sure to grab them as they’re no longer in print. These books should be in every design enthusiast’s library.

Habitat: The Field Guide to Decorating by Lauren Liess

Presented in a field guide format,  reading this book feels like taking a design course from a friend who happens to be an amazingly creative interior designer. Lauren’s style is warm,  classic (but not fussy) and so knowledgeable. An instant classic!

This one covers all the bases from finding your style, to setting a budget to pulling it all together. Think of this as a interior design textbook, complete with diagrams and glossaries. I highly recommend this one as a place to start.

 

The Nesting Place: It Doesn’t Have to Be Perfect to Be Beautiful by Myquillyn Smith

If there’s a theme in all the books I’ve recommended, it’s that your house isn’t a showpiece, it’s a home for your loved ones. This book is all about just that. The author’s blog, Nesting Place is a great source of inspiration for would-be decorators and even offers a design course called Cozy Minimalist. Beyond just showing you how to make decorate on a budget, Myquillyn shares her personal story of finding her style and creating a home.

I know these books have helped inspire and motive me – whether it’s a new paint colour or just a way to display my favourite things. I hope they’ll inspire you too!

Favourite Designers

Whenever I need some decorating inspiration I head to my favourite designers’ portfolio pages. The beautiful, perfectly styled rooms make me feel like anything is possible – okay, well maybe that’s a stretch. But they do give me some good decor vibes, smart furniture layouts and pretty pictures to stare at. Here are my best-loved designers for everyday inspiration:

Lauren Liess

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Erin Gates

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Tommy Smythe

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Erin Feasby & Cindy Bleeks

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Cameron O’Neil

Seems like every time I tear out a favourite room from a magazine it’s one of Cameron’s designs. Pretty sure he’s my design spirit animal.

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Hope these rooms fill you to the brim with decor inspiration and fresh ideas. Visit these designers’ portfolio pages for more amazing spaces.

 Happy hunting!