[In this guest post, our West coast correspondent, Cat, talks about the design decisions involved in her recent condo renovation. A first-time home-owner, she started with a blank slate, and ended up with a living space that truly reflects her style.]

Starting from scratch when re-designing one’s entire home can be daunting. But unless you’re willing to live in a bygone era indefinitely (or can afford a brand-new, gazillion-dollar apartment in Vancouver), a significant overhaul is often in order. To start with, I found it handy to have a “look book” to keep me on course, in terms of both design and budget; I chose rooms that I liked in magazines, then settled on designs that I felt I could replicate with the bigger furniture pieces that I already had and planned to keep. After that, if something I liked didn’t fit into that vision, I couldn’t have it.

Once you get down to the dirty work, the importance of prioritizing cannot be overstated. Pick the “unchangeables” – like floors, faucets, countertops, etc. – first, then worry about things like specific paint colours and decor.  Colour was a big part of the process, as I find it very powerful. I wanted to feel happy and peaceful in each room, and I wanted the rooms to be timeless (and durable) yet cozy. But I also wanted something bold for my very first home, since I’m still young and single – I figure that I have the rest of my life for neutrals. This meant that, while my paint colours are all sort-of in the same family of pastel-y mid-tones, there was really no “colour flow” from room to room. Instead, I tied the rooms together by using common decor themes and motifs – abstract florals, exotic pieces and pictures from my travels, and antique-y looking fixtures. I tried to abstain from trends as much as possible, although I’ll have to see how my wallpapered feature wall will stand the test of time. [The wallpaper pattern echoes the fabric pattern on my couch almost perfectly, so hopefully it will last a while!]

And also, perhaps most importantly, I used Stacey and Clinton’s advice, and bought the best furniture and decor pieces I could afford, to give the place longevity and (ideally) save money down the road.

On to the good stuff – the photos! Here are some “before” shots of my place. Pretty basic stuff.

The kitchen:

The bedroom:

The dining area:

And the rest of the living room:

And here are the “afters”. First up, my new – purple! – living room. I got some flack from friends for going with such a standout colour, but I think I managed to prove them wrong; your walls don’t have to be boring to be elegant, and jewel tones can give a room more personality than neutrals ever could. 

 The colour I picked for the living room is “Garden Flower” by Behr, but I had it matched at Benjamin Moore at 50% intensity. It’s always worthwhile to play around with the basic colours, to achieve your ideal shade. I also went with matte paint instead of eggshell, the traditional choice, for a couple of reasons. First, it doesn’t show flaws as much. [Ed: a key consideration for any do-it-yourself-ers.] Second, I noticed that when I used eggshell for the sample pots, the light reflected off the gloss and made all colours look grey. The matte version had the opposite effect, by absorbing the light and producing a more intense colour.  

Overall, I tried in excess of 20 samples while working on the condo to get all the colours right (and still ended up having to re-paint an entire room that came out looking awful). I decided that rather than layering on colour over colour, the best way to get an accurate representation of what each paint would end up looking like on the wall was to buy sheets of white poster board, paint them with 2 or 3 coats, and then tape them to different walls to see how each shade would look in every part of the room. I couldn’t believe how much a single colour could change! The green I chose looked soft and warm in the spare bedroom, and day-glo bright in the hallway. If it hadn’t all come from the same paint can, I would have thought that the store had mixed the wrong shade. [Ed: I can attest to this. The Tiffany-esque blue my husband and I chose for our basement looked almost “mint chocolate ice cream” green in the stairwell, and light blue elsewhere in the basement. It also changed tonality and intensity with changes in lighting (natural versus artificial). Cat’s approach is probably the best way to avoid any surprises once you’re ready to paint.]

And here is the bedroom after the renovations.

And, last but not least, the kitchen:

A friend has said that the overall effect of all the work is very “Home and Garden”, and I tend to agree – I think I need some more personal photos on the walls to make it a little less sterile. I think the living room wall above the sofa would benefit from a photo collage of my travels or something similar, although I’m terrible at putting that kind of thing together (and my dad will have a stroke when he sees all the holes pounded in the walls). I guess that’s why they say that home improvement is a process that never ends – there is always something more to be done. 

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