Kitsilano Project

    September 6, 2011

    The interior photos are courtesy of Elizabeth FitzZaland from Green City Builders in Vancouver. Many thanks to Sam FitzZaland and Owen Crane from Green City Builders for the exceptional work on this project!

     Sam, Owen and Ines celebrating the 'Almost-there' stage...



    Client and Agenda


    The client, a watercolour artist of Dutch descent, saw photos of our contemporary Landsend Project in a magazine, and asked us to assist her in the renovation of the kitchen, dining area and powder room in her Kitsilano home.

    She was looking for a contemporary design, a calm and uplifting environment with casual seating for 2 people. Due to the radiant heat in the existing floor we tried to avoid more than necessary disruption of the concrete slab in regards to changes to plumbing or electrical work.


    Creating a space concept


    The existing footprint divided the space into a small U-shaped kitchen and a small nook with a bay window.

     Main floor footprint

    We created variations around the theme of an L-shaped perimeter, with an extension of lower cabinetry along the bay window wall, seating for 2, and an island. The shorter leg of the ‘L’ was the perfect location for the tall cabinetry, the window area along the long wall was perfect to be the clean up area, and the remainder of that outside wall was destined to be the right location for the stove and hoodfan, as this made venting the hood one easy task.


    Option 1                              Option 2


    Option 3                         Option 4

    Although this seemed to be a rather straightforward concept it took us a while to settle on the right solution for the informal seating and the island design.

    As is typical for our approach here at THE SKY IS THE LIMIT we played with a number of different approaches ( 6, to be precise), and ended up with a 7th final version.

     Final Footprint

    This final version sports a floating rectangular countertop that shoots out from the bay window, and a corresponding 4′x4′ island, which sits on metal furniture legs on a ‘sea’ of white pebbles submerged in resin.


     Selection of finishes


    Working with artists is always very rewarding. The way they express themselves in their artwork already gives a lot of clues about their preferences in terms of hues, texture and composition.

    Claudia’s atmosperic naturalistic watercolours exude a sense of energetic calm, and seeing them I knew we would be looking at a combination of tone on tone materials and a mix of soft textures.

    The energy of the space itself seemed to ask for light colours, but in the midst of my mix of materials that I brought on site in order to play with them together with the client, both of us felt the need for an energizing element. Playing upon the clients Dutch heritage we found this super-juicy high gloss mango foil, which we decided to integrate into the cabinet fronts amidst the quiet cream faux wood and textured white laminates we selected first.

     glossy foil in mango





    Close up on the Faux Wood laminate


    My approach to space organization and millwork design seems to lend itself for a deliberate mix of finishes and materials – in most of my projects it is always fairly easy to suggest a combination of finishes, which in my opinion helps to achieve a balance both in colour and texture. I admit I am influenced by the Chinese philosophy of Feng Shui when it comes to balancing ‘elements’, and although I am by no means an expert in this ancient art I refer to Feng Shui’s cycles of elements when combining finishes.

    Granted, one could just go for one finish alone ( and –honestly– THAT is easy…), and I will certainly recommend that route should the overall ‘look’ require a more uniform feel. Depending on the size of a space this could however create an overly stark looking environment. This look is often sought out for features in high end contemporary design and architecture publications, but it might not satisfy the need for the nurturing home environment many of us are looking for in reality.


    Where or how do you start with the selection of finishes?


    Well, that ALWAYS differs, so there is no one-size-fits-all answer to this.

    There will be a starting point somewhere – you might fall in love with a particular product, be that what it may – flooring, backsplash material, a certain type of wood, a funky laminate, an area rug, a piece of art… The list is endless.


    In this case we started with the cabinet fronts, and once we had those it became clear that we were looking at a Cape Cod/ Beach inspired palette with a blend of soft tones like dried grass and sand, white pebbles and clouds, light grey stones and some very soft shades of green.


    I happened to have a beautiful soft grey commercial vinyl in my stack of products, which had an elegant shimmer to it, while also being reminiscent of a well done concrete finish – it just turned out to be the perfect choice for the floor throughout the area, and I didn’t even have to look far. This product is very soft to stand on, which is important if you plan on doing more in your kitchen than making coffee and toast, and super easy to maintain.

    I also had a little darling sample ( I have those – little treasures that I just keep around in case I ever find the right home for them) of small white pebbles submerged in resin with me. It’s a product from an Italian company which ‘buries’ all kinds of stuff in resin – tiny shells and starfish for shower pans for example, or coffeebeans, which would make a beautiful choice for – yeah, how creative – a coffeeshop countertop!


    pebbles in resin tile

      Close up on the pebbles...

    The client loved it as much as I did, so we decided that we could put the island on legs for a more airy furniture feel, and accentuate that space under the island with that product. That idea again led to the decision to use the mango foil on the island, together with a product, which was the original reason for the client choosing me as her designer – a 1” thick textured glass counter from Thinkglass. The client had called me up after having seen a kitchen of mine in a magazine, that featured one of Thinkglass’ spectacular products prominently.

    This island is a truely poetic statement – it looks like it stands in a lake, with the stainless legs almost creating a wavelike effect due to their design.


    The ‘Pebblo’ texture of the glass intensifies the imagery of water, and the reflection of the potlights above give this glass top a glowing, almost ethereal quality.

    Close-up of the Thinkglass countertop 


    We installed LED lights underneath to accentuate the pebble floor, and one can get almost transfixed staring at the optional colourful lightshow.

    And don’t forget to check out the reflection of the glass on the ceiling!



    The illuminated island at night


    Interstyle’s Icestix glass tile blend, which we used as the backsplash, with it’s glossy, matte and iridescent mix plays up on this effect just beautifully – although it is a mosaic made up of simple rectangular tile sticks it creates an effect like waves, with the iridescence introducing and reinforcing a variety of soft colours.

    Interstyle Icestix iridescent tile blend 

    As for the remainder of the cabinetry – once we decided on using the faux wood laminate for the long wall, and a textured white laminate for the tall units, I knew I wanted to ‘hinge’ those 2 areas together with the mango foil – that way the island was not a total stand-alone, but had a companion which tied it in.



    Another sumptious element which contributes nicely to the mix is the Zebrawood veneer ( the real one, not the manmade substitute) on the floating tabletop. I had used this veneer on a previous project, and we happened to have several strips of the product left over, so it was a perfect coincidence thatwe could use the remainder for this project. I learned to love the subtle yet very determined grainlines in this beautiful natural product – it doesn’t look anywhere close as busy as its manmade substitute…



    There is a challenge combining natural and fake wood products, but I for one am very satisfied with this particular outcome!

     Informal seating with clean up in the background

    Another intriguing choice was the product for the interior door. First I questioned the need for a door, but the client felt that when she was practising one of her many instruments that there would be a need to close the door for privacy.

    We decided to enlarge the door substantially heightwise to correspond with existing structural lines in the house, which also made that door more of an architectural statement instead of just a trhough-way.

    Another one of my little treasures is a translucent panel product, that has Magnolia leaves laminated between 2 layers of resin. That product put into a frame of 2” wide stainless steel made for a sensual yet modern alternative to frosted or clear glass. Clear glass might have been a bit of a safety concern, and frosted glass is always more cool in effect, so I appreciated it very much to have such a narrative product available to me. It was such a subtle, welcome addition to the whole product scheme.




    Magnolia leaves in resin 


     Peek-a-Boo into the kitchen - Magnolia leaves in resin translucent door panel

    A more tricky question was the selection of handles – as soon as you introduce several finishes on cabinetry one has to consider that they will need different hardware as well. The problem with that is that those different handles need to work together stylistically- details like the same type of metal finish or the shapes of corners and edges need to be looked at closely.

    Due to it’s contemporary flavor and the stainless steel accents throughout I wanted to find a collection in stainless steel, and believe it or not – there is not all that much out there right now.

    In addition to that I needed to find a recessed handle for the island ( I didn;t have a countertop overhang on the glass…), that was easy to grab – a lot of those recessed handles have either too small an opening, or are too harsh on the edges and therefore not nice to the touch. Or – if you have long fingernails – you end up scraping either the doors, or breaking your nails or damaging the lacquer all the time…


    Anyway – we did find a line from a European manufacturer, that not only gave me the selection I needed, but also featured a handle just along our theme – one with a wave design! We used that one for the long perimeter wall cabinetry, and I managed to find a long handlebar for the tall appliances including the fridge, as well as a useful recessed pull for the island – yeay! Happy me…

      Conteporary curved handle


    For the powder room we obviously had the vinyl floor as a guidance, and then – along the way – both the client and I really liked a companion of the mango foil – in a light seagreen, which was thematically corresponding, and perfect for its water-themed location. We combined it with a light birch laminate for the tall cabinetry hiding washer and dryer, topped it with a delightful white cement based product with green glass in it ( the product line is called Icestone), and added mother-of-pearl finished glass tile mosaic for the backsplash. 

    sage icestone


    Close up of Icestone counter and Mother of Pearl glass backsplash

    You see – we were totally consistent with our beach theme! But it’s subtle and elegant, quite urbane if you wish.

     Green foil vanity with wavy 2-piece knobs



    The client was very delighted and commented on the fact that she has never experienced a contemporary environment that was at the same time so calm, tactile and visually rewarding.


    overall view



    Colour Me Happy

    August 16, 2011





    But how…


    One top priority topic for most clients is the choice of room colours – our clients, most of whom are involved in a larger scale project like building or renovating, often raise this issue way ahead of time. Most of the time it is the female member of a client-couple who is popping the

    C-question, which could either mean that amidst the flurry of technical considerations and the often overwhelming task of decision-making about the nuts and bolts of their reno they simply want to start dreaming about the feel and look of their new home environment, or it could also be that females are more emotionally affected by the effects of colour ( or at least they are more conscientious about those effects on their psyche).

    Guys usually get more of a kick out of the before mentioned technical considerations, and gladly leave the decorative stuff to the girls – a fact that comes in handy when having to mediate between partners…


    It never seizes to amaze me that there are actually designers out there who feel comfortable to select room colours for a client without being IN the space. Yes, of course it is super easy for someone who is experienced with colours to make a nice paint selection at their desk on a sheet of white paper. No big deal for a professional, really, and easily earned money…

    But I bet a lot of clients go home and find that they don’t like those choices once they are on the walls.


    How could that be??

    Guess what – rooms themselves have personalities, and just like you yourself are not comfortable wearing colours which don’t suit your personality, so does your room.

    I am not being mystical about this, I am simply speaking from years of observing this phenomenon – it’s fascinating, but for a professional also humbling. When clients go through my selection method with me they might be at first a bit flustered by the length of time I take to figure out the right choice, but while being there with me they develop an eye and a sensibility for the process themselves, and subsequently feel empowered to make their own choice, as it takes the mystery out of picking colours.


    It doesn’t matter if a client is looking for a rather monochromatic look or really enjoys a colourful look – my approach to selecting the right colour, shade and hue will always be the same.


    Lets look at the make-up of a colour first:

     colours 1

    It all starts with the pigment, or HUE – yellow, blue and red. Those are the so-called primary colours, out of which all other colours can be mixed. I am sure you have heard of the colour wheel (as conceived by Sir Isaac Newton), that shows how they are arranged, with the colours that result from mixing one with each other in between – yellow – orange – red- red/blue (purple) – blue – green. The more sophisticated the colour wheel, the more shades you have in between.


    Opposing colours on this colour wheel create a so-called complementary contrast – the most well-known one might be red/green, blue/orange is another one for example.


    At university we were shown an experiment: if you use 2 dia slides, each one being tinted in each others complementary contrasting colour, and you would overlay them on a white wall, they would result in white again, and if you mixed those colours together as paint they would (ideally) result in black – however, in real life experiments that never happens – a murky, muddy, rather dead looking brown is all you will get, but you do get the point… (for gardeners – the same thing happens when all those colourful flowers go back to rich, dark brown compost)

     a fruity colour mix for a kids bath

    A simple homespun test to find the complementary colour is to concentrate your gaze on one particular colour for a few minutes, then look away onto a white surface – your eyes will show its complementary colour to help the nerves in your eye achieve balance again.


    Those opposing colours can bring the best and also the worst out in each other, so it’s important to know about this phenomenon and make good use of it.

    More about this a bit later…


    SATURATION is the next defining factor – how much of that pigment is actually being used to achieve the colour – think pastel shades versus jewel tones…


    And then there is the actual shade or LIGHTNESS – how much white or black pigment has been used to lighten or darken the pigment?


    In university we did a whole lot of interesting hands-on colour experiments, based on colour theories by Bauhaus members like Johannes Itten and Josef Albers, who again developed Johann Wolfgang von Goethes colours theories from 1810 further. It was fascinating training, and helps to develop colour sensitivity, but you don’t have to worry – you really don’t have to go that far to find YOUR very own colours!



    Josef Albers - Hommage to the SquareIt is indeed much easier than you might think…


    I would suggest the following: with all those wonderful paint stores out there, be it at your local building supply center, or at one of the independent paint dealers, you have a huge selection of colour swatches (those sample cards with several colours printed on them) available to you.

    Without putting yourself under pressure, take some time, poke around, and simply grab all the different swatches that appeal to you. Have fun with this, take a friend if you like! Don’t limit yourself from the start by fretting about the question if that colour works with your ……(fill in whatever comes to mind).

    You might have one particular colour in mind – in that case I would recommend that you grab a whole variety of that colour in a variety of shades and saturations.

    If you don’t have one particular hue in mind I would very much suggest that you go with the before mentioned approach and take home whatever seems to make your soul sing. Even better – sign out the fan deck and take it home. As mentioned before – rooms have their own sense of colour, and they will help you make a choice if you opt to listen.

    No laughing matter – I have a lot of clients who can vouch for this.


    When I am working on a colour selection in a clients house I bring my own colour fan decks from different manufacturers with thousands of options with me. We spread them out in the room, and start what I call ‘editing’.

    Of course it depends very much what else is going to be in that room – flooring, tiles, cabinetry, countertops, furniture. Those items will sure have their own say in the colour selection, which could make the whole process either easier of more difficult…

     Overview of the millwork with the custom blend mosaic backsplashClose up o the blend, which combines all the different shades of blue and green which we used throughout the home. The bronze and pewter etal finishes paraphrase the metal finishes we used, as well as the warm and cool grey colours we used to keep all that vibrant colour in check.

    But for the novice paint-selector it will be a great experience to see how easy it is to do that first step of colour editing – a lot of the colours on the fan deck will just do nothing for you and the space, and you will be able to put them aside very quickly.

    The reason why I am able to say that the room will decide for itself has to do with the intrinsic quality of natural light in a space. Coming from a medieval small town in Germany, where the local building code only allows for slightly dull, powdery pastels on the exterior of the old houses I can relate to how much culture influences your aesthetic choices – but also how freeing it is to break out of that mold, and be influenced by different cultures and colour ways


    It is so inspiring to recognize how much the quality of light influences colour choices – just think of the typical bright white and intense Lapislazuli blue of Greece, or the soft ochres, blues and yellows of the Provence. Think of the jewel tones of India, and the brisk fresh colours of Scandinavia. If you try to transport those exact colours into your particular environment it will most likely go horribly wrong – you have to adjust that colour to work with the particular light quality, and make visual corrections depending on the landscape. Evergreens, rocks and water in the landscape will have huge impact on what is going on inside.

     The glass/stone mosaic tile on this fireplace reflects the natural hues of the cliff upon the house is built

    Colour is energy, and stimulates the senses, and you want to use this tool well to make you feel good!


    Going back to Operation Fan Deck.

    Once you wiggled it down to the shades that seem – for whatever reason- ‘work’ in your room, you make personal choices – which of those remaining swatches do the most for YOU? Away with the rest…


    And when you are done with that process – which of the remaining colours work well with your furniture, your area rug, the other finishes?

    Is there a particular piece of art that is going to live in this room? Which hue works really well with the painting? Just hold the swatches up behind the frame, and you will see for yourself…


    A deep eggplant creates an elegant and striking backdrop for a vibrant piece of art. Notice the effect of the dark red wall in the media room in the back, and how your eye travels from the painting to that room and back

    Make sure to do this process with another person, as you will/might need a set of hands to hold swatches up in order for you to be able to step back and get a good look.


    By that time you might be down to 2 or 3 different colours – now it’s the time to put some double sided tape on the back of those cards and put them up on a wall. On a swatch card with a graduation of shades it will allow you to determine the intensity of the hue.

    As always, make sure to look at the colours from a distance.


    After that it would be the time for some hands-on home work: you could go and get small sample pots of the final 2 or 3 colours. Grab sheets of poster board and paint them up nicely. Put those larger samples on ALL the walls in your space, and look at how they change depending on their exposure to light. Give yourself 1 or 2 days at least to go through this process. You would want to experience not only the difference between day and night, but also between a sunny and an overcast day.


    Be advised that the window wall is always the darkest of the walls, and the colour will also be influenced by the rather blue reflection on this wall. I had an extreme case where we wanted to paint the space a powdery rose colour – beautiful calm hue, but what a surprise when it turned bright pink on the window wall. We had to put a lot of tan pigment in it to achieve the desired calm effect…

     theneutral wallcolour and the typical wood floor could be a boring combination, would not the glossy light green glass tiles on the 1950's inspired bar add an uebercool contrast

    If you find that your choices seem to be too loud, or in your face – then it’s time to utilize what you learned before about saturation of a colour, and select something that is dulled down a bit, or simply softer in shade.


    And one tidbit of advice – colours are best looked at on a neutral white background. If you have already a colour on the wall that’s to be painted, then this underlying colour will have an impact on the appearance of your new choice! So make sure to keep this in mind, and if you think it’s necessary put a larger sheet of something white underneath!


    See – that wasn’t too hard, was it? Just takes time, and deliberation – and it would take time for a designer to do that, too. There is no real magic in this process – not yet, that is, and not for a single room.

     A beautiful yellow adds some mediterranean warmth to this elegant kitchen

    The magic will be necessary when you are dealing with homes that are supposed to get a lot of colour – 16-20 is actually quite often the case with my clients and I love those kinds of challenges!

    By no means is the house supposed to look like a child’s crayon box – and that is where the artistic part of colour coordination comes into play.

    More of that later – lets just finish your room!


    So – what other surfaces will need colour in your space – of course the ceiling, then most likely trim (the wooden pieces around windows and doors), there could be potentially decorative paneling or wainscoting, crown molding, and of course the doors.


    Martha Stewart colours

    I had some of swatches of the new Martha Stewart Living colour collection in my hands yesterday – very interesting concept. I found that the line would not be working all that well here in my local digs, however, we selected quite a few of those colours for a job about 500 km from here in the middle of the Rocky Mountains. On the back of the paint chips they cleverly show you strips of complementing colours – one for the ceiling, one for the woodwork. Although the colour selection is beautifully executed, as are all of Martha Stewart’s professional endeavours, not all of them were sitting right with me. Some of the ceiling options would have been way to dark in an 8′ high room. However, I do invite you to consider using something else but white on the ceiling.

    But that could be a bit tricky – as mentioned, you need to keep the room height in mind, and how the shade of a colour can affect proportion.



    Crisp white millwork and the soft green and blue shades of the ceiling were inspired by traditional Scandinavian colour schemes

    Oftentimes a ceiling should be like a sky on a day that is not particularly sunny, but also not overcast – just neutral, not asking for any attention at all.

    You can get ceiling colours straight from the can, which is an option if you really don’t want to bother to much with the selection of off-whites.

    Or you look for well-loved off-whites, which are part of any paint manufacturers collection. The staff at your paint store will be able to advise you on this.

    One of the most favourite off-whites ever must be Benjamin Moore’s Cloud White – it is softer than a regular white, and blends beautifully with many colours…

     Off white and cream coloured millwork form the neutral base for a cheerful wall and ceiling treatment

    If I am selecting colours for a whole house I select ALL my wall colours first before selecting a suitable white – reason being that I would prefer to work with the same white throughout the house to keep things a bit more simple.


    But I would encourage you to consider different hues for a ceiling as well. I made really good experiences with very soft blues and blue-greens, which creates a Swedish freshness in a space.

    I have also done very bold tones for confined areas in the entrance, and in dining rooms – small spaces can take strong colour, as can rooms that are mainly used at night.

    A mysterious powder room with shimmering mushroom coloured walls and ceiling


    A few of my powder rooms end up without natural light – in this case I make a point out of their mysterious ambiance, and a white ceiling would absolutely not work with this. I used a dark charcoal in one instance – it was a 42”x80” room, but with 9′ ceiling, and I needed to bring the ceiling visually down, and in another case I simply used the wall colour on the ceiling as well.



    A powder room without a natural light source has been painted out in a dark teal tone. All walls as well as the ceiling were treated to this dark shade, to make the 'fake' window glow mysteriously

    For another job with stunning all white glass tiles on the wall I considered painting the ceiling a hot orange or lime green – the verdict on that one is still open…


    As for the colour for baseboards and casing – the easiest and most used approach must be an off-white. The advantage is that you don’t run into issues of transitioning from one room to the next.

    Sometimes those pieces are wood anyways, so you just have to make sure that the wall colour complements the wood.

    If you are asking if or if not to paint the wood – that’s a tricky question. Some houses seem to do better with wood than others.

     An intense red display cabinet holds its own against the dark stained alder cabinetry and the wood floors


    But it’s not always about easy and most used…

    A current job found me recommending black for the interior trim colour – picking my clues from the finishes on the floor tile, the cabinetry, countertops and the wall tile in the kitchen. This colour scheme, albeit very neutral, was so strong that we had to continue it into other areas of the house.


    If you are looking to paint paneled walls then of course your options are wide open – you don’t have to stick with off white, or wood. Essentially you have to treat it the same way you select a wall colour, just in this case there is a second wall colour that needs to work with it.

    2 nuances darker or lighter than the chosen wall colour might be an easy option. A complementary contrast colour could also be considered. A neutral other than white – lets say in the warm or cold grey spectrum – could also make a great colour partner.

    This is where snippets from magazines, or the brochures from paint manufacturers come in handy.


    OR – something that I would warmly recommend – you could go on your own quest to create something unique, and look someplace totally different for inspiration.

    How about looking at a photo book on tropical sea life, or butterflies. Shells and flowers, fruit, bark, rocks and pebbles all make for great examples of perfect colour coordination. Nature provides you with great ideas both intense and subdued, but never ever boring.

    Butterfly/Flutterby...seashellsTropical Fish



    Man-made products like graphics, fabric and fiber art, and area rugs are another good source. You might want to check out the works of Master painters and mosaic artists, too.


    My personal colour journey took me from the rather grey pastels from my childhood town and the proverbial yet politically incorrect statement that ‘green and blue is only the shoemakers wife’ (Gruen und Blau ist dem Schuster sein’ Frau – which, I assume now, meant, she got beaten up by her husband on a regular basis – poor woman…anyhow, the essence of this proverb was that one just did NOT combine green and blue), to the paint colours of the Blaue Reiter movement, Kandinsky, Miro, Chagall, through wild brights and stark black and white patterns of a 1980′s design movement called Memphis, the then-outrageous colour combination of red and purple by fashion Grand Seigneur Yves Saint Laurent, to psychedelic candy colours and lots of black.


    Although this is only a set for teddybaers ( which, by the way, Klaus and I created ourselves for a store), it reflects very clearly the muted colours of my medieval hometown, Rothenburg ob der Tauber


    Throughout university I learned to appreciate the calming effects of natural hues, greens and blues, the subtle elegance of neutral and wood tones mixed with bold use of colours so noticeable in Japanese design, the colour blends of India, Russia, Sweden, Bali, and then of course the intricate colour schemes of the architectural beauties of the Victorian era in North America – the Painted Ladies…


    Intense crisp white and royal blue are the epitomy of Greece - at least to me...


    Growing up in the 60′s, in a then-fashionable, but rather depressing beige household, the effects of colour on my psyche still amaze me. Upon coming to Canada, learning that wood can actually be painted – a sacrilege where I am from, as wood is to be left, or stained, brown -was a very liberating experience!

     Sitting against a dark blue background makes everything in the childrens book store pop

    I would always encourage you to explore the effects of colour on your own life and psyche.

    the exuberant colour of India


    I firmly believe that a lot of mental illnesses could be remedied by simply un-cluttering the living environment and selecting healing colours! Even in the work environment, and for sure in hospitals and other health-related environments the mindful use of colour should be mandatory.

    Design for a kids' playroom - who wouldn't want to chill out in this space, no matter what the age is? 

    Choosing multiple colours for a home

    When you apply the above mentioned process room by room you will end up with a whole range of those colour swatches. Lay them out on a flat surface, again on white substrate, and look at them together. They should come together like the colours of a painting, which will result in a visual flow when you travel from room to room. I am positive that you will notice if there is an odd colour out, or if there is something jarring. Having one colour standing out might be the little bit of spice that is not only acceptable, but even required to result in a, uplifting environment. Just make sure that that particular shade is used in a small amount, for example in a powder room, or on a colour-blocked accent wall, not on all the walls of the largest room in the house.

    Again, look at flowers, for example – often they sport the tiniest amount of a very bright colour accent in their center – that’s the effect you try to achieve.


    Cultural influences

    The other day I had a colour consultation with a client, who just returned to North America from living in Indonesia for almost 2 decades.

    Of course I had to attune to the fact that her colour sensitivity was strongly influenced by her long stay in this very different environment.

    Because my clients usually like to take charge of their choices we decided for her family to go out to the paint stores and to bring back colour swatches that appealed to them.

    We then took the 5 different shades of green they had picked for the dining room, and pasted them on the wall, so that the same values were all on the same level.

    It was very obvious, that one particular value was the right approach for the room.

    From then on we took at the hue – the bluest one was edited out, as it made the room temperature too cool.

    The second one was too intense, thus removed from the options.


    Next step was to bring a large painting into the room, that is going to live on one of the main walls. We tucked the 3 remaining swatches behind the frame, and edited out the third one.


    The difference between the 2 remaining colours was the intensity. Obviously the client opted automatically for the brighter of the two – a very understandable reaction given their previous exposure to a different culture.

    We discussed what would happen would she use this shade for her room – first of all her guests would more or less audible gasp upon entering the room, as their colour sensitivity would be more toned down. Secondly I would expect, that the family, after living in our city for a few month, will also adjust more to the local quality of light and colour, and therefore might also experience this colour as being too intense.

    We agreed that the second option would be the right one – it was still a bright colour, brighter than I might have selected for a client without her personal history, but the colour will be in tune with the Asian influenced artwork and furniture, as much as with the Arts and Crafts style of the home.


    As an exciting alternative we ended up choosing a blue colour for the ceiling! We started out looking at the typical off-whites, going to tan and wheat colours, even different shades of green, but nothing seemed to work with the wall colour, or just ‘do it’ for us.

    I always look for colour combinations that ‘sing’ – try that out for yourself! Once you find them, you will know what I mean…

    This happened with the blue – I was simply holding up a swatch against the green, and we instantly knew that was it.

    Coincidence that the very same colour combination was evident in the ladies’ dresses on the painting? Nooo…


    Because we were in the groove and I had some time left we looked at colours for the living room as well as the entrance. We ended up with a stunning chartreuse tone for the entrance (a slightly fine-tuned version of the rather loud yellow-green swatch they had in their wish-list pile of selected paint), and a dark red-blue (not quite purple) for the living room.

    After piling all of our choices up on the floor we looked over to the painting – guess what: all those shades were right in there. The colours combined beautifully, and are indeed asking for the introduction of some more shades in the red/orange spectrum – but we left it at that for that day, and the family has now the homework of looking at possible choices for the kitchen and the small office…

    Can you imagine how great an effect it will be when the huge double doors between living room and dining room are open, and your eye wanders from the painting over to the living room, and detects the same purple shades in there?


    The reason why these rather intense colours will work is the neutralizing effect of dark wood and strong textures of all the Asian artifacts.


    Colour Blocking


    On another project, where we ended up with a total of 16 colours throughout the house, the reason for success lies in the balancing effect of the addition of a lot of off-white and grey-brown surfaces to the mix, which makes for a modern, vibrant living space, just right for a family with 3 school aged children.


    While I selected very soft off white laminates for the built-in cabinetry, accented with a greyish-brown wood veneer and quartz counter, the client made it very clear that she loved colours, and she wanted to see some on her walls.

    It started actually when she rather jokingly mentioned that she ‘had threatened’ her husband she wanted to have an orange wall in the dining room.

    Oh – I can do that!


    great room colours

    Thing is – ‘orange’ can be a lot – rust-brown, intense orange like the fruit, or a soft mango-sherbet hue. For her personality it was more a kind of fruit punch that I wanted to achieve. While the main colour for the open plan living-dining-kitchen-home office are is an off-white that matches the cabinetry, the architecture allowed to pull out small defined wall areas, that were great for colour blocking.

    The mango colour will adorn an area of about 10′x5′ above a built-in buffet, and there will be 2 wall sconces mounted on it, plus a painting, so the actual amount of visible colour will be rather small.

    Same goes for the lipstick pink we selected after the client – again jokingly – mentioning, that her husband will be happy that we didn’t select a hot pink for the headboard wall in the master bedroom ( we chose a relaxing ocean-blue hue, and its lighter sibling for the en suite).

    Ha – I had a blast with that one… “Well” I said, “ we COULD do pink at the end wall of the hallway!” I hadn’t thought of it before – that’s why I love clients input!- but this was a perfect space for a strong accent colour. It is only 3.5′x8′, so relatively small, and it will have a piece of art on it, which in itself will tone down the impact of the colour…

    To round things off we added a beautiful lime green for the wall going down towards the garage and basement, and a, greenish blueberry shade for the built-out fireplace wall.

    Doesn’t that just sound yummy – and it actually looks like you would want to eat it up as well!


    To balance this colour scheme off we picked a sand tone for the guest bedroom (you don’t want to aggravate your guests, I would hope), and the overall finishing scheme for the guest bath is on the manly side – olive, charcoal, blue and taupe. It’s a family, after all, and although guys often pretend they don’t care about colour – believe me, it is not true. There needs to be balance, and throwing in some masculine elements will be good for all family members involved…

    bedroom and ensuite colours 001 

    The kids were encouraged to pick their own favourites. Young humans tend to choose brighter, more saturated colours than adults, and although I take the kids’ selection seriously, I will pick a slightly softer hue of their choice. Usually they don’t find out about this – don’t forget, colours applied on a large scale will look different than on a small swatch. If a colour is too intense I would be concerned that they will get to agitated in their room. As it is often the same space in which they play, learn and sleep, the energy level in the room should accommodate all those activities, and not overpower their young brains.

     the kids' colours

    I have been known to use 8 different colours in one children’s room alone – think soft easter egg colours, nothing loud. Indeed, the inspiration for that colour scheme was a decorative easter egg, that happened to be lying around in the kids’ room.

    This colour approach works great, as long as you tone down the hues to be proportionate with the size of the space. In a case like this no single colour stands out alone – they are all the same value, thus blending together as one.


    Other ideas for colour blocking are not so much walls, but small items like accent pieces of furniture, or the insides of cabinets and closets.


    Intense aqua colour gives energy to this office-in-a-closet

    Imagine the jolt of energy you would get when you open your coat closet, or spice cabinet, and a brilliant red or orange or blue smiles at you!


    A bloodred art niche creates a stunning focal point for a sculpture in this contemporary environment

    Display cabinets also benefit from a colour treatment – look at the items you want to display, and chose a colour that brings out the best in your favourite pieces. White china for example will show way better when displayed in front of something other than white – and if you prefer it to be monochromatic, then at least consider an off-white to play off the crispness of the porcelain.

     The soft green back on the open display niches assist cherished knick knacks to show off their best side...

    White on white, and other neutral insights…


    You might not believe it, but the most difficult colour choice in my career was picking a single white colour for a penthouse overlooking Victoria’s Inner Harbour.

    The client had a large contemporary art collection, and was looking for an art gallery type of environment, with the colourful paintings hanging on white walls.

    It took me a full day to select 2 shades of white – one for the public areas like Great room, kitchen and offices, and the second shade for the private suites. The space had huge windows facing in all directions, and the reflection of the ocean as well as the red brick pavers on the exterior deck changed the whites to all sorts of other hues like pink, yellow and blue, which means I had to find a hue that neutralized all those influences.

    On top of that I had to consider the cream and golden tones of the future furniture, which had been picked by a decorator down in Texas, the client’s main home.

    When I sent my swatches to Texas for approval, the client was so unhappy with my choices that she flew the decorator in to make the right choice

    The two of us spent the day at the condo together with a painter who rolled strips of paint on the walls for us in a variety of shades of white.

    Guess what happened…We came back to the exact shade of white I had picked in the first place!


    Never have I felt so ashamed and insecure about my ‘obvious’ inability to pick a white to a client’s satisfaction – the vindication sure felt very very sweet afterwards!


    What you should take from that story you might ask?

    As I said at the very beginning – never ever pick a colour with out being in the actual space. The light in Texas couldn’t be more different from our lush green and blue Wet Coast landscape, the brilliant sun, yet the often grey sky in the winter.

     grey blue carrara marble and white porcelain walltiles, which took on a very light pinkish hue made selecting a wallcolour a very difficult task

    Let’s continue with the white on white look.

    If you know that white on white works with your life, then by all means pursue it. If done well you can create a beautiful calm space which will be very restorative to both spirit and eye. But you want to avoid a stark hospital look under all circumstances.

    Be aware that off-whites are created by adding a tiny amount of coloured pigment into white. When your eye gets finely atuned to off-whites, it will be able to read those shades, and you have to make sure that the different hues work together just like any other colour intensity.

    The strongest difference in my opinion are between pinkish and yellowish whites – they just don’t look right in each others presence. Staying within one spectrum will be the better option.


    Another difficult colour choice I had to make on a project was for a bathroom that sported a combination of Carrara marble for the floor and the counter top and a white glazed subway tile. Carrara marble is a greyish white stone, with a blue undertone, and the porcelain tile turned pink when installed on a larger scale. This was not visible from the sample tile we had picked, so the soft colour nuance came as a surprise when the tiles were being installed.

    The client had requested a white-on-white bathroom, so figuring out the wall colour ended up taking me 5 hours…Did I mention that selecting white is the most difficult task of all??

    What happened was, that whatever off-white worked well with the porcelain tile made the marble look very dirty or overly blue, and when we picked a white that brought out the best in the marble the wall tile turned awfully pink.

    There is nothing else to do than to take the time and look at fan decks from different paint manufacturers until you find the right shade. With all those hundreds of choices out there, there will be eventually the right one in there for your particular scenario. In our case it was a white with a minute amount of grey-green in it.


    The other secret to successful white on white it the layering of textures and patterns. This, and a combination of shiny and matte surfaces, will give your eye and mind food for thought, and your senses the comforting tactile experiences we humans seem to crave to feel balanced.

    A layering of textures and a mix of glossy and matte surfaces brings tactile sensuality to an otherwise stark design approach 

    If you want to use white simply as a canvas for other colour effects, you might have to choose which way you want to go.

    A black and white colour scheme can work very successfully, and it allows you to add a few strong punches of accent colour, which will result in a contemporary, perhaps even stark look. This won’t be everybody’s cup of tea, but the effect will be stunning!

     A graphic black and white backsplash pattern pulls the black stained island and the white perimeter cabinetry together

    By combining natural textures and shapes with white you create a calm, Zen-like environment. This is a good approach for a quietly uplifting space, and will appeal to many different personalities.


    Successful layering of textures and patterns actually will be a topic in itself at a later point, so make sure to check back in!



    Working with Neutrals


    Aside from the typical while safe ‘Builder’s beige’ there is in fact a whole range of fantastic neutral colours out there, which will make a statement without overpowering a space. There is nothing worse than being un-deliberate. If you want to go neutral, do it well.

    Going through spec homes often makes me wonder if those houses wouldn’t sell much faster if someone would show some guts and paint them an uplifting colour inside out…

    If you are looking for an off white, choose one with a suitable pigment in it, that will make the colour appear in slightly different hues depending on where you are in the house.

    Or try out the shade that is 2 tones darker than what you initially thought.


    The more masculine effect of the slate texture and the strong neutral colour add a very personal edge to the traditional style cabinetry

     An 11' long island in a soft cool grey with a black countertop compliments the warm grey walls

    Have a look outside the window and understand, that a window in itself can take the place of a painting, which means you want to give your view an adequate grounding by choosing a wall colour that frames your vista well. Warm greys ( essentially browns that have a lot of black pigment added to it to dull it down), and mossy and grey greens (yes, I count the soft greens as neutrals, at least around here) for example work wonders here on the West Coast, as they pick up on the colours of the landscape, which consists of rocks, evergreens and Arbutus trees.

     A well proportioned window frames a serene rockscape embellished with lichens and mosses

    Dark chocolates are a sensual feast for the eye and will make you feel wrapped up in a really yummy brownie. Again, keep proportion and room energy in mind – it might be more adequate for a space that is used more in the evening, like a dining room, where you can add some sparkle with chandeliers and metal accents, or for a manly bathroom, or a media room.

     While the subway tile wainscoting and the marble mosaic floor speak a traditional language, the medium chocolate wall introduces a contemporary element

    I would like to vent about something that bothered me in university – the professor who was teaching colour theory had his own ideas about colours, and one peculiar aspect was his strong aversion to the combination of brown with pink. I remember some really derogatory comments of his about this colour combination. Poor fool. Can you think of something more sumptuous and pleasing to the eye than a Black Forest Cake, with its layers of juicy cherries between dark rich chocolate, topped by whipped cream? How can that colour combination be wrong???

    But then again, he was not a sensual personality at the best times, so I guess Black Forest Trifle just didn’t do it for him…


    Dark chocolate wall colour, framed in whip-cream like off white, grounds the colourful ceiling treatment

    Or think about cherry blossoms on an old tree – that brown bark sure looks awful with those blooms, doesn’t it??? Hope you can feel my sarcasm here! Nature is the single most important teacher about colour, nothing could be more artistic than her.


    If you made it to here – thank you!

    I hope I was able to get my point across – there is nothing to fear about colour. After all, it’s just paint, and you can always paint over it again. And choosing colour as a way of self expression is cheaper than paying a therapist.




    A new Category…

    September 12, 2010

    I know – we should have started this way earlier…
    Anyway – I just received a lovely e-mail yesterday, and thought I share it with the readers of my blog.
    This first featured feedback is from a ‘simple’ colour consultation. Now, when we are asked to help with colours, the request comes often from people who are very fond of colours, and who don’t necessarily want to play it ‘builder-beige’ safe.
    So this one is a great example….
    If I remember correctly, I ended up with about 16 colours, as the clients were looking for strong, often jewel toned colours, and they also wanted to paint the ceilings in an accent colour. As is noticible on the pictures, the rooms, although separate spaces in an older home, flow into each other, so all the colours had to work with each other.

    Please note that the pictures are mere snapshots, so they are not quite magazine quality!






    And here is what the clients had to say:
    It’s been about a year since we met you.  It’s been about 10 months with our walls painted.  But, finally, here are pictures of our house.  We have had innumerable unsolicited compliments about our colors.  We told people that a professional like you makes the difference, even with something as mundane as picking colors.

    James and Phyllis, Victoria
    September 2010


    THE SKY IS THE LIMIT DESIGN is a national and international award winning, full service architectural and interior design firm. We service Vancouver, Kelowna and the BC Mainland, Victoria and Vancouver Island, Seattle and the small islands as well as international clients. Principal Ines Hanl and her team specialize in the creation of artful, bespoke interiors in any style for their discerning clientele.

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