One of the toughest jobs I have as a designer is not developing a great design for my clients or managing the myriad of trades and deliveries on a project.   Believe it or not, it's getting clients to let go of existing furniture (unless it's from Ikea!).

But this cost a lot of money!

The usual excuses are:

  1. It cost a lot of money when we bought it.

  2. It's still in good condition.

  3. It came from a reputable supplier.

These are all valid points and worth taking into consideration but, if the piece isn't working for you anymore and/or you really don't like it, than it's time to consider other options.  I don't say this flippantly.  I'm not one to toss something out just to have the latest and greatest.  I have a few sofas at home - one I've had for 25 years and two for about 16 - that have moved both houses and rooms over time.  On top of that, much of our furniture is vintage, repurposed or handed down.  In fact, I have 3 Bentwood chairs that my Mom picked up off the side of the road when I was teenager.  They have followed me around for 30 years and everywhere I've lived they have found the perfect home.  I have no doubt I'll have them for another 30!

So, how do you know when to stay and when to split?

There are a few things you need to try before saying good bye.  These include:

  1. See if the piece works in another room in your home.   Often times, furniture can take on a new role in a different room and fit absolutely perfectly.  A hall table can become a sofa table or a sideboard.  An end table can become a bedside table or office storage/printer stand.  The options are endless - it just takes a bit of playing around (and someone to help you move it all!).

  2.  Consider recovering, refinishing or repainting - particularly if the piece has sentimental value.  If it's looking tired or you've outgrown the look, consider giving it a facelift.  It does wonders for the spirit!  And just because it was grandma's doesn't mean it has to look the same way it did when she had it.  It will still have the same soul with new fabric!

And when is it best to just part ways?

  1. The piece is just too big for your home - it overwhelms every room it could go in.  This is a sure fire sign it's time to move on.

  2. It's uncomfortable or awkward.  Sometimes this can be fixed e.g. new cushion inserts but more often than not it's an inherent design issue and it's better to start fresh.

  3. It may have been expensive but it's not high quality and has become wonky and hard to repair.

Holding on to these pieces is a drag.  They don't work, you know they don't work and every time you look at them you'll feel disappointed that you settled.   It's better to let them go early and start fresh.  This way they won't inform the rest of your decorating or lead you to sub-optimal design decisions.

So, lighten up and let go!  Donate, auction, eBay - whatever works for you.   Or, roll up your sleeves and repurpose - Easter is the right time to tackle that renewal project!   

PS - There are some iconic Ikea pieces you should hold onto!

A few before and afters:



I have a gorgeous client that I've been working with over the past year.  Originally I was engaged to design the layout of the unit, including the kitchen and bathroom, as well as select materials, finishes and fixtures and oversee the renovation or her 1-bedroom unit.  The key was to create the illusion of more space by opening up the unit and incorporating lots of storage.  At the time of completion, she decided to rent the unit out for a short period of time before moving in herself.  Well, the tenants have gone (after inflicting a surprising amount of damage in a short period of time!) and we have recently started working together again, this time to furnish and decorate the unit for her to move into.

When we first started this phase of the project, she wasn't sure that she had a particular style and couldn't see how to pull together a look that she would love - hence asking for my help.  While she had a comfortable budget for the project, it didn't stretch to all new furniture and accessories so we have needed to incorporate new furnishings with items that she already has, much of which has been in storage and sight unseen for quite a while.

After a quick run through of inspirational sites like Houzz and Pinterest, the client shared with me a number of images that had at least some elements that she liked.  This allowed us to loosely define the look she was after as "classic lines with a relaxed feel and a feminine touch".  Still a pretty broad definition but certainly enough to begin creating her new home.   Off we went shopping to pick a few of the big pieces, like the sofa and sideboard, as well as some key accessories.  We ended up with what seemed to her to be a very disparate selection of items including a camelback sofa in teal blue velvet, a tasselled-bolster cushion in springbok hide and an art deco sideboard in walnut.  These seemingly unconnected pieces are now beautifully morphing into the relaxed classic environment she wants.  And, a few of the initial ideas she originally threw out, such as accents in chartreuse, are coming back into the design as the perfect solution.

Even better, as she unpacks boxes of belongings that she hasn't seen in a few years she's finding accessories that work just perfectly with her new home like her beloved Jasper Conran chinoiserie china set with an accent of blue relating to the sofa fabric, a brass ornament that picks up the brass detailing on the sideboard and a mix of artwork with colours that just work.  And, voila, just like that her style is clear, recognisable and distinctly hers - not a copy of anyone else.

This is all to say that everyone has a style - it just may not be immediately evident.  It's the whole forest for the trees thing - it is sometimes hard to see, amongst everything you own and everything you could own, what your look really is!  So, how do you begin to uncover it?  One way of course is to work with a designer to help define and created the style with you.  Alternatively, with a bit of research and building an inspiration or mood board, gaining an outside perspective from a good friend and some editing of your existing items you can really begin to see the style that is lurking there.  A great place to source inspiration is your wardrobe - it will contain the colours, shapes and textures that you love.  

And, once you identify your style, you can begin to build the environment around you and that's when your house really becomes your home, your castle - the one place you love to be over any other and that makes you smile as soon as you walk in the door. 

Image courtesy of Domaine Home

For many homeowners, selecting paint colours for the interior or exterior of their home can be a confusing and exasperating experience.  Painting is either time consuming, expensive or both and making a mistake by selecting the wrong colour can be costly (see last post!).  Even with careful consideration, mistakes can happen.  

So, when test pots arrived on the market a few years ago there was a collective shout of hallelujah heard from homeowners everywhere.  Finally, a simple and foolproof way to make sure you'll love the colour you select. Or is it?  Confession time - how many of you have dozens of tiny little pots of paint hidden away in a garage, shed or basement and how many have gone on to paint one of those test colours only to find out it didn't look the way you wanted?  We test and test and then test some more to get the colour right and for some reason it goes wrong.

So are test pots really a life saver or are they just another money spinner for paint companies?  

How Not To Use Paint Test Pots

Like most things in life, it depends.  Below are a few images that show how not to use sample pots.


What I do recommend about the approach used on both of these houses is that the "swatches" are quite large. The larger the swatch the better you are able to really see the true colour.  The problem is that the colours are painted next to each other and on top of the existing colour.   Colour is a promiscuous thing and it tends to "infect" it's neighbour with it's style meaning it changes the way we see the other colours(s) that it's adjacent to. As an example in the photo to the left, rather than seeing "IC5" as a colour in it's own right we see "IC5" compared to all the other test colours and to the original paint colour.  

Is There a Better Way?

Glad you asked.  There definitely is.  The easiest way to see the true colour is to paint each sample onto it's own separate board.  You can use ply, heavy card stock or really anything that will hold up to a few coats of paint. You'll want to paint an undercoat first because the real trick is in leaving a generous border around the sample colour.  The border should be white, black or neutral grey as this will give you the truest read of the colour you are testing and it will create a "no go" zone between your test colour and any other colour.  The bonus with this approach is that you can easily move the sample board around to see how your colour looks on the other side of the house or room.  Now, for a real trick of the trade.   If you use a white border the paint colour will appear darker than it actually is, if you use black it will look lighter and the neutral grey will present it largely true to it's real colour.  This is a great little tip if you're trying to convince other interested parties of your colour choice and you get told that "it's too dark" or "it's too light".   Try changing the border colour before buying another test pot!

So, absolutely get those test pots and try out your chosen colour(s) before committing to a long term relationship with them but minimise the risk of test pot overload by using sample boards. 

I'm not sure I'm ready to admit this publically but here goes:  My name is Donna and I had a major colour crisis.   Thankfully, the crisis was on my own home and not a client's but still - it wasn't pretty.

I blame the recent changes to pool fencing regulations that mean we are now required to fully fence our pool.  Without arguing the merits of the regulation, suffice it to say that I wasn't happy about the prospect of fencing our pool.  Having the middle of our back yard fenced in is one issue – I’m never keen on swimming in a cage - but the bigger concern was the unexpected and significant expense involved.  It obviously all muddled my brain.  Anyhoo...back to the colour crisis.

Hubbin’ and I worked out pretty quickly that a gorgeous clear glass fence was not going to be in our budget so an aluminium fence it had to be.  But, by saving money on the fence material we were able to extend the fence up and into the garden giving us plenty of room to move around the pool and making it feel less like a cage – small win. 

Picking a powdercoat colour for this section of the fence then was easy.  I opted for Woodland Grey - a classic Colorbond colour - that simply fades into the greenery of the garden.  Tick – this section does look good.  Well, at least as good as an aluminium fence is ever going to look.

But then, my plan began to fall apart. I thought I would be very clever and alter the colour of the fence surrounding the pool itself to a lighter colour.  In my head, I was considering that both the paving surrounding the pool and the pool itself are much lighter in colour than the greenery of the garden so I should mirror this in the fencing allowing it to subtly blend in. 

I duly went outside with my powdercoat samples (to get the true colour in daylight) and chose the best colour to work with both the paving and pool.  So far so good, right? 

Wrong!  What I failed to take into consideration is the fact that we're on a fairly steep, sloping block and when we’re in the house we look up at the pool and garden.  That means we're looking up at the fence and the background to fence from this perspective is not the paving and pool itself but the gorgeous greenery of the garden.  The result?  The lighter colour fence not only stood out against the garden it positively screamed “look at me, look at me”!  So not the result I was looking for.

How embarrassing!  Not only did it look totally and utterly wrong, more importantly I should have known better!  I mean, people actually pay me to do this for a living.  I’m meant to know what I'm doing - how could I get it so wrong? 

I thought that if I left it for a few days it would grow on me, that I could live with it.  But after a weekend of trying to live with it it was abundantly clear that it wasn’t going to happen.  The fence was like a big neon sign glaring "Go Back. Wrong Way.”

What's a girl to do?  The only thing I could do...send it back to be re-powdercoated.  Yes, it cost a bit more but it was absolutely the right thing to do.  Call it the cost of experience or, in my case, professional development but it was the right decision.  The whole fence is now Colorbond Woodland Grey and it has settled nicely into its landscape.

So, I've learned the expensive way that you need to consider your colour decision from every angle and that just when I think I have it nailed colour proves yet again to be a trickster. 

Well that and that life is definitely too short to live with mistakes.   We all make them from time to time but that doesn't mean you have to live with them forever.  If you can remedy it, do so….immediately.           


Happy colouring!  

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