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Living Pretty

Photography by Stacey Brandford

Posted on Jan 13, 2011

The best rooms, I’ve always thought, are simply a sum of their parts. And I think of each part (or element) of a room as being similar to a building block. Stack up the blocks and you’ve created a room.
Living Pretty

Today marks the first of 13 weekly columns that will track the episodes for my fourth design-inspired TV series on HGTV, called Sarah 101. As you can guess from the title, my goal is to make great design solutions accessible and achievable for you at home. I hope the helpful tips and advice from yours truly (and my indispensible sidekick, Tommy Smythe) will give you all the know-how you need to transform your home like a pro!

I’m known for my approach to trading off high- and low-cost elements in every room to pull off great results and get to the finish line without breaking the bank, so in each article of this series I’ll be outlining three key elements: The Save, The Splurge, and the Signature Sarah (since this is a show about learning, it seems to make sense to share my tried and true secrets of success). I’ll follow those three main elements with some more general tips and techniques.

The Save

Dining tables come in all shapes and sizes, and at all price points. If you want to score a steal, you need to be flexible on style, so it’s best to shop for key pieces early in game before you’ve nailed a firm design direction. I nabbed a solid, vintage French-styled table complete with extension leaves for a paltry $150. For an additional $500 in refinishing costs, I was able to give my new find the Cinderella treatment and tie the wood tones of the room together.

The Splurge

Every room needs a good foundation. Spending money on the fundamental elements of your home isn’t always fun, but it will pay off in the long run. It makes sense to address a squeaky, creaky, splintering floor and replace it. When you’re shopping around for the right solution, consider all the factors and try to evaluate the cost of both the product and the install cost. I found that it made the most sense to select a wide plank at a moderate price point from a reputable supplier to ensure that the boards would go in quickly and easily without too much wasted time or material.

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The Signature Sarah

I’m a big fan of the daybed, always have been! In my mind’s eye, I must envision myself as a lounger, with hours to spend reclining, reading, and relaxing – and we all know that’s not my reality as a working mother of two youngsters! Instead of pushing a daybed up against the wall, I suggest you try using it in place of a sofa as a room divider. Since a daybed is backless, you can perch on it from either side (or get cozy and horizontal and lounge in style), plus it keeps your sightlines open from one room to the next. Since you’ll save at least six inches of depth by eliminating a sofa back, a daybed can be a valuable space-saver in a small room.

Get A Bold Start

If you want a fun, vibrant mood, get off on the right foot by using an over-scaled, contemporary floral pattern to set the tone. This printed cotton floral was under $20 a yard, is printed on a linen textured background, and feels anything but fussy. Instead of using your chosen floral in the traditional way on a sofa or drapes, try it on an armchair (or two). A giant print on a smallish chair creates an interesting balance of proportion and accentuates any curvaceous lines the chair might have. In a small space, try to focus on pieces that have height, yet are compact.

Make A Little Window Bigger

Renovation isn’t the only way to make a petite window appear larger. Why not try to trick the eye? Instead of extending your drapes beyond the window frame by the standard five or six inches, add a little extra. By taking the drapes 14 inches beyond the window, you can make the window read larger than it is. Adding a band of a darker accent colour to the outside edge of the drapes also helps to draw the eye outward and anchors the sides.

Living Pretty

Be A Savvy Fabric Shopper

You may have always thought that silk drapes were out of your price range, but the key to fabric success is knowing where to shop. You can always find dupioni silk under $15 a yard at garment fabric stores, and it comes in hundreds of colours. Adding an accent band in a patterned taffeta at a higher price point is an accessible indulgence since you won’t need much to add a six-inch-wide band down the sides.

Get Artsy With Accents

There’s no rule about what can be “art.” It should be whatever speaks to you and makes you feel happy. Since I was borrowing some references from English style (the William Birch-style sofa, the floral motif, the bold use of colour on the sofa), I decided to go the distance and create a wall of decorative floral plates. Forget precious and pricey and poke around thrift stores and consignment shops to get good deals on individual plates in varied sizes and you’ll be able to create an instant, impactful, and inexpensive great wall of china!

Living Pretty

Think Twice About The Front Door

Painting the outside of your front door an exciting colour isn’t a novel idea – it’s common practice! But if your entry door leads right into the main living space, why not consider tying the colour to the room scheme that surrounds it? There’s no rule that says both sides of the door need to be the same hue, so spread out the fan deck and pick a fun shade to add some life to your entry – and exit!


Hardwood floors – The Floor Studio, www.madeirafloors.com | David Hicks green pillow fabric – Kravet, www.kravetcanada.com | Area rugs – Ikea, www.ikea.com | Sofa, daybed, photographs – Sarah Richardson Design, www.sarahrichardsondesign.com | Fabric on sofa, daybed, chairs & drapes – Designer Fabrics, www.designerfabrics.ca | Vintage chairs – Chair Table Lamp, www.chairtablelamp.blogspot.com | Drapery hardware, floor-length mirror – Urban Barn, www.urbanbarn.com | Embroidered tapestry on bench top – Anthropologies, www.anthropologie.com | Dining table, antique dinner plates, gold candle sticks – Greens Antiques, www.greensantiques.com | Dining table refinishing – Eurocraft Restoration, www.eurocraftrestoration.com | Dining chairs – West Elm, www.westelm.com | Front entrance console, black floral consoles, ceramic horse, gold stool – Jalan, www.jalantoronto.com | Mirror over console – Chatelet, www.chatelethome.com | Crystal lamps – Queen West Antique Centre, 416-588-2212 | Chandeliers, crystal footed bowls, peacock plate – Abraham’s Antiques, 416-504-6210 | Pair of column tables, striped art, wine goblets, pink ashtray – Around the Block, www.aroundtheblock.com | Art framing – Elgin Picture & Frame, www.elginpictureandframe.com | Herman Miller coat rack – Quasi Modo, www.quasimodomodern.com | Paint – Para Paint, www.para.com. Walls: Desert Sand P5224-14D; ceiling: Fresh Savoury P5115-24; front door: Mountain Dew P5113-73. From the Sarah Richardson Designer Palette for Para Paints (www.sarahpaint.com): Accent wall: Dew SR64; trim: Snowfall SR29.

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