Archive for the ‘Ask Your Friendly Neighbourhood Decorator’ Category

Meg has an adorable historic home and she writes,

Ok Michael, here’s one for you:

I know you love old houses with character… we’ve just bought a new (old) house in Wortley Village in London, Ontario. It’s really pretty but needs a lot of work on the exterior (and interior, but that’s another matter). I’m talking paint, gardens and plantings – the whole deal.

The home is red brick with cedar shingles and peeling white trim. Right now it has a greenish roof that needs to be replaced and grey pavers for the driveway and walkway (those will stay). It has leaded glass bay windows and a pretty porch. The front door is green and I’m not a fan of the colour, although the door is lovely.

Meg’s questions are:

What colour should we stain/paint the shingles?

What about the trim, soffits, decorative cornices, windows, etc?

I’m thinking charcoal for the roof…?

What colour should we paint the front door?

What kind of plantings would look good?

As far as my decorating style goes, I like classic, calm and neutral with just a hint of colour. I would love it if I could use greys or blue-greys on the exterior but I don’t know if that would go with the brick. I would really appreciate your suggestions.”

Well Meg, congratulations on making me jealous – this is a beautiful and charming home and I love, love the combination of red brick and shingles. The gambrel roof line (barn-like) is one of my all-time favourites so you’ve done very well!

I think you’re on the right track going for a charcoal gray shingle on the roof – it will be handsome without being too stark. Gray is somehow a little more natural than black and will marry nicely with the brick and shingles. Gray will be nice on the wood work/shingles too, but I think you should veer away from blue-gray as you mention. Look for grays that have some brown in them and are warm so they’ll blend with the warm tones in the red brick. Putty is almost what I’m thinking. Use this in a stain for the shingles and you’ll be well on your way.

Now for the wood trim – you could go for a lighter version of the putty/gray on the shingles and this will be a more mellow, monochromatic and slightly more contemporary look. But what I would suggest is sticking to a fresher, cleaner colour. I love how the details in all of the wood work – particularly where it outlines the roof – stand out because of the light paint. There’s something crisp and tidy about it and it really highlights the architecture and detail on your home. Stay away from stark white and go for a muddied up, historical white – like one of the many HC shades from Benjamin Moore or anything from Farrow & Ball. Remember, you can get any paint colour matched so that you can use your favourite paint brand and stay on budget.

When it comes to the door, I think this is where you should really express your personality. If you want your home to be a little playful, go for a little more colour. If you want sober and classic, maybe try glossy black. It sounds like you’re somewhere in the middle and that your drawn to cool colours like blue. If that’s the case look for a mid-tone historic blue that has a fair amount of gray in it. When light shines on exterior paint it makes it look a lot lighter so keep this in mind and maybe tape the paint swatch on your door at mid day to see how it changes. Green would also be a lovely choice (but I think you’re over the green) and a nice mossy, gray-green would be perfect with the red brick and putty shingles.

For plantings, I think you want simple swaths of greenery, slightly architectural so as not to compete with the geometry of the house. I like the hedges going on already but only you can know what shape they’re in. Looks like you’ve got some yew hedges at present and you could continue with these and replace whatever it is going on under the bay window just for continuity. Yews are a great alternative to the classic boxwood and much more fool-proof. I’d also recommend adding some curves to the flower beds in front of the hedge. Maybe add a nice sweeping bed that connects the house and hedges to the walkway and drive. Plant cheerful tulips for spring and load it up with old time annuals in one colour for summer (like white geraniums, or all yellow marigolds). Also I might add a dwarf flowering crab apple tree or flowering cherry at the far side of your house a few feet out from the foundation to create a screen from your neighbour and add a vertical element.

Finally add a fresh sisal or coir door mat, a new mailbox and some terracotta pots full of ferns to the porch and steps and you’re golden!

Thanks for your question Meg!

(You can send questions to Ask Your Friendly Neighbourhood Decorator at michaelpenney8@gmail.com)

The paint colours are Pavillion Gray, White Tie and Borrowed Light from Farrow & Ball.  You’ll have to try them out with real chips cause they’ll look different on the computer screen.  But trust me, they’re lovely colours.


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Please send your decorating questions with images to michaelpenney8@gmail.com and I’ll do my best!  For rates and  consultations, drop me a line at michaelpenney8@gmail.com.

Nickola and her family have lived in their home for a year and a half and have the basics of their living room and dining room figured out. But Nickola calls the room, “BORING, BORING, BORING”. With young kids, they’re not ready to invest in a commitment sofa, so they’d like to freshen things up using what they have for now. Take a look at their space.

Well first I’m going to suggest something scary – striped wallpaper. You could certainly paint, but if you want to add richness, depth, and sophistication, wallpaper is a great option. It makes a room feel finished, detailed, and unique in a way paint alone just can’t do.

This wallpaper is from Thibaut. It’s a fresh celery green with hints of melon and raspberry and combines preppy crispness and boldness all in one. Imagine all of the walls wrapped in this substantial pattern and the crisp white trim and fireplace mantle against it. The cream drapes will look great with this paper and Nickola is already thinking about hemming and trimming them with brown ribbon. This will be a perfect start.

Next, I’d layer up the sofa with a combination of textured neutrals like this cushion Crate & Barrel and…

…this raspberry ikat cushion from Madeline Weinrib . Keep your eyes peeled for affordable ikat patterns for more budget-conscious options.

Nickola says she hates the pendant in the dining area, so I’d suggest a traditional chandelier. You can find something one of a kind and vintage, or go for something new like this example from Circa Lighting.

It would be great to mix things up with a side table that has some personality. A great inspiration is this inlaid table from 1stdibs.

Then keep it simple and classic with a fresh white coffee table like this from Pier 1. It would look great loaded up with interesting books, objects and a woven tray.

Nickola is wondering about what to do in the left over space under the living room window and I would suggest a pair of smaller scaled chairs. They’ll add extra seating for larger gatherings and parties, and will fill that area nicely. It really doesn’t matter that they’re not pulled up close to the main sofa cluster – they act as a secondary seating group and keep the room flexible. For affordable seating, head over to Ikea where many chairs come with slip covers to help out with kids and their mess.

And for some really interesting display, why not collect vintage jars and bottles and line the mantle with terrariums like these gorgeous examples from Pottery Barn? They’ll take down the formality and geometry of the wallpaper a notch and add some organic looseness.

Thanks for your questions Nickola and hope that helps!

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Please send your decorating questions with images to michaelpenney8@gmail.com and I’ll do my best!  For rates and  consultations, drop me a line at michaelpenney8@gmail.com.

Here’s Sarah’s place:

Sarah lives in a long, narrow Toronto house that has been opened up and modernized. There’s lots of light, but you see everything at once. Sarah would like colour, fabric and furniture ideas to help pull the space together.

I’d warm the space up with a creamy paint colour, on all walls and possibly add some trim, like crown moulding and chair rail, but all painted out with creamy tones, like this room below.

I also think you should look to add natural, rough hewn items like the ones in the room above. Adding a bit of a bohemian flair could also work really well with your dark, rich leather couch and the creamy walls. For this, I’d recommend making full length and full drapes for all of the windows in this fabric from Designer Fabrics in Toronto. This is a very affordable, but expensive looking fabric.

You can also mix in some bold modern prints in cushions and accents. The next two fabrics are also from Designer Fabrics and are also very affordable. The linen with embroidered detailing will repeat that natural, boho motif. The lighter fabric will brighten up your rich sofa.

Since your space could use some warming up, I’d recommend layering bamboo roman blinds in with your drapery panels like this. This image also gives you a good idea of how full your drapes should be.

For seating beneath the window (Sarah plans to get rid of the puffy chair), I have two suggestions. The first is this unbelievable deal from Sears.ca – the Luxurious-feel Chair that costs under $100 per chair! This must be a mistake! A pair of these chairs won’t take up too much room because they’re armless and great for guests at a party.

Or you could go for a modern take on a wingback chair, like this one from West Elm. It’s not as cheap as the Sears option above, but still very affordable for an upholstered chair and it’s curves would help soften your space and work really well with the drapery fabric layered behind on the windows. Picture a pair of these chairs with cushions made from the blue/white geometric print fabric!

For a coffee table, I’d like to suggest something a little off-beat. How about this woven metal coffee table from Crate & Barrel? It’s sort of tough and also sort of organic. I like how it ‘s weighty but not visually too heavy and would look fantastic with the creamy walls and patterned fabrics.

I’d also add warm brass accents like a whole collection of vintage candlesticks.

For the dining room, it would be great to have a new/old mix. Sarah wants to keep the round wood table because she loves to entertain. I’d pair the traditional nature of this table with a slick modern (and cheap!) pendant like this one from Ikea.

Then up the ante with a set of traditional, but clean-lined dining chairs like these (from Ethan Allen). The mixture of the slick pendant and classic chairs will create a dynamic mix and add edge your home.

Finally jazz up your table top with these fun and colourful place settings from Mikasa, which is available across the country.

So start with your fresh and creamy envelop and then fill in with a balance of traditional and modern furnishings. Layer up with boho and graphic fabrics and warm brass accessories and pops of colour on the tabletop and you’ll be ready for your next party Sarah!

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Please send your decorating questions with images to michaelpenney8@gmail.com and I’ll do my best!  For rates and  consultations, drop me a line at michaelpenney8@gmail.com.


In this third installment of Ask Your Friendly Neighbourhood Decorator, I’m helping out a fellow-Martha enthusiast. Looks to me like her room is off to a great start! Her question is:

Hi! Love the blog and love the fact that you love Martha so much. I’m a huge fan of hers. I would love to hear what you would suggest for my living room. I redid it about 2 years ago and don’t like it. My vision of the picture wall did not work out and it feels old and boring to me. I love whites, greys and blues. I love pops of bright colors, maybe yellow or pink. The bookshelf and lamp in the corner are leaving. I just put them there while redecorating my kids rooms(which turned out great). The fireplace is electric and can definitely go if need be. Thanks!
Sabrina P.S. I have 3 little kids.”

First let’s get some inspiration going. I like the way this Martha Stewart living room uses colour in rich and subtle ways. Nothing is too brash and all of the blues and whites layer in nicely. Your space feels very new and could use some of these imperfect, collected elements. You could also try painting your walls a similar shade of greyed-down blue, which would be nice and fresh with your white upholstery.


If you go with blue walls, I’d probably recommend a sisal or jute carpet but if you want to keep your walls light, you could do a pale oyster shade on the walls and do a blue carpet, like this one from Dash & Albert. It’s great cause it’s indoor outdoor, yet not scratchy and easy to clean. Apparently you can even bleach them, which would be great with those three kids!

On either side of your fire place, I’d look for some pieces of furniture with character and age. The texture will help cozy up your space, but they can still be light and bright like these examples below. Plus they’ll add weight to the lower half of the room. That way if you have a collection of frames on the wall (or plates, see below) it won’t feel like they’re floating away.

A collection of plates or delft tiles like this would look so fantastic in your space, and blue and white ceramics never go out of style.


Above your fire place I’d hang a mirror that’s got a dark frame for punctuation. This one’s from the Martha Stewart collection from Bernhard and is available through DeBoer’s.

Also, next to the fireplace, I’d love to see a big, chunky basket like this filled with firewood. Even though the fireplace is faux, this will suggest the warmth and ambiance of a crackling fire. This one’s from Crate & Barrel.

For more texture and to throw off the blue and white scheme a little bit, why not check out the Marissa ceramic collection at Pottery Barn? I love the way these soft greens would work with the blue and your fresh white sofas. Plus you don’t want a space to have only two colours – adding something like green to the mix keeps things interesting and less predictable. These would look great in odd number groupings on the chest of drawers or on the mantle.

For lighting, I think you could use a warm, wooden floor lamp pulled up next to the sofa or chairs. You don’t have to have a side table on both sides of your sofa; a floor lamp mixes things up. This one is from Elte and I love it so much I just used it in a photo shoot! It’s in a spool style and refers to antique spool style beds and furniture, so you may find a vintage version somewhere…

For a table lamp, throw in a warm brass apothecary style lamp for a touch of modernity and masculinity. This one’s from Circa Lighting, but I see one’s like it a Home Sense all the time.

On your sofa I’d add some luxurious velvet cushions like these ones from Crate & Barrel. Again, they mix up the colour scheme and are subtle, not predictable. If you go with a busy art wall or the delft tiles and plates, solid velvet might be nice instead of another pattern.

I really like your white coffee table, but I feel like it could do with some stuff. A collection housed in a woven tray would be great. This tray is from Crate & Barrel too!

And assemble a collection of dark, matte pottery (like this Wedgwood Basalt) and translucent glassware (like this vase from Thomas O’Brien for Reed & Barton) on the coffee table surface..

So basically, I’m saying go with your gut (Martha-esque and blues and whites) but take it to the next level. Invest in some furniture with character, try different levels of lighting, add contrast with dark elements, and layer in some collections with personality. Oh and add warmth and definition with a carpet under the seating arrangement.

Hope those ideas help you and give you a game plan for the years to come!

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Please send your decorating questions with images to michaelpenney8@gmail.com and I’ll do my best!  For rates and  consultations, drop me a line at michaelpenney8@gmail.com.

Back by popular demand – it’s Ask Your Friendly Neighbourhood Decorator!

Oh my gosh guys, I’ve gotten so many submissions (you’ll have to be patient with me)! I’m so excited about this section of the blog and hope I can help a few people out as we go along.

Next up, a proper ‘flat’ in jolly-old-England! Maretta writes from London with questions about her living/dining room combo.

First off, I LOVE the architecture of the space, especially the fireplace mantle and the curved arches. Maretta already has a fantastic Madeline Weinrib flatweave carpet and that will be the perfect ‘jumping off point’ for this space.

Maretta says she wonders about replacing the green sofa (seen in the bay window above) with a pair of chairs. That is exactly what I would do, and you can definitely find shapely, stylish and comfortable chairs – especially in London! The examples I’ve included here are from Restoration Hardware, since I don’t know too many UK sources, but they’ll give you the idea. They’ve got a neo-romantic vibe that will suit your flat, but are totally modern.

I like how you have a mix and match approach to your style and I think that suits that sort of Brit come-what-may nonchalance. I’d run with this and add some quirky lighting like this decoupage lamp from John Derian. It is an absolute fortune, but again you get what I mean style-wise. Maybe it’s time to do some crafting yourself? Hmmmm?

I find the mirror you’ve got above the fireplace distracting. I think if you like the whimsical curves you’ve got going on, just loose the black iron frame and do something like this one (example from Pottery Barn). I see vintage examples of these at yard sales all the time. I especially like if they have those mirror ‘liver spots’ of age.

The white walls are certainly working and the white painted trim is fresh and clean. But if you want to tie a whole bunch of different pieces of furniture together, paint is a great way to do that. I’d recommend either a soothing, dreamy grey-blue with a touch of green, OR a classic putty neutral. The blue doesn’t have to match your other pieces, it will continue that eclectic, boho style a little further and wrap all of the disparate elements up in to one whole.

Maretta also wondered about her dining table, which needs to seat a few people for dinner parties. She dreams of a Saarinen tulip table, but it’s not in the budget. I actually think your rectangular table functions quite well and helps divide the space. A round table might take up too much real estate. One of my favourite clean modern tables comes from Ikea and costs under $70! I’ve used it on photo shoots with very expensive chairs to great effect – you’d never know it was a bargain.

For dining chairs, I think you should mix it up. You could either paint your existing chairs in some glossy paint OR you could add a nice natural note with woven grass chairs like these from Ikea.

Finally for the coffee table requirement, Maretta, I would avoid something too big and bulky. I’d consider a pair of stools with flat tops so you can still place down a good cuppa. These mirrored stools are from West Elm and they would add a nice sparkle and contemporary element to your flat. They’d contrast nicely with the vintage looking chairs and they wouldn’t cover up your beautiful rug too much.

So there you have it! Hope that helps you Maretta, and in case you’re wondering how I know about a cuppa, it’s because Sara and I (and our friends Samantha, James, Kristin, Ryan, Anne Louise and Jon all) watch Coronation Street! We’re like a million years behind and Gail is just going to prison! Bah!

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Please send your decorating questions with images to michaelpenney8@gmail.com and I’ll do my best!  For rates and  consultations, drop me a line at michaelpenney8@gmail.com.

Here we go with the first edition of Ask Your Friendly Neighbourhood Decorator! This question comes from Lindsay, who writes:

“My living room is at a standstill. We have just added the book cases flanking the doors, but I’d love your opinion on a rug, and what to do with the huge wall of white that you see right when you walk in. Love to know your thoughts!” – Lindsay

Well first off I have to tell you Lindsay – GREAT JOB! You room is looking fantastic and definitely has a classic, sophisticated air. You’ve made some really solid choices as the building blocks of your room and that means that you can really add any kind of accent and have it work. I especially love the book shelves (Bonus points for running all the way up to the ceiling) because they really add an authentic, lived-in layer to the space.

The wall opposite the opening of the room (which I assume is right off the front hall) is the first thing you and any guests see when entering your space. So you’re right to want to dress this wall and not leave it too blank. I would suggest a narrow console along this wall – one that won’t eat into the square footage of the room, but will add some depth by breaking up the span of wall. Then I’d tuck two upholstered benches (maybe with an x-base?) under the console. These will give you extra seating for parties and will dress the wall nicely without adding a big bulky credenza that could seem to heavy. You may have to sacrifice the larger side table on the side of the sofa nearest the console, but you can do a floor lamp on that side of the sofa instead of matching table lamps and the console will still give you a surface for drinks. Style-wise I’d break up the traditional furniture with something clean and lacquered like the Parson’s console from West Elm (also well-priced) in black or white.

West Elm Console

For the rug I could see three options. Option A) A traditional Persian carpet or Kilim with lots of warm jewel tones. This would continue the classic, traditional vibe going on in your space and won’t feel too heavy because you’ve got a fresh white canvas. Elte in Toronto has great examples, but you can also find affordable versions (new and antique) at smaller stores, online and at auctions and antique shops.

Persian Rug

Option B) Keep it simple with the tried and true sisal, seagrass or jute. This will NEVER go out of style, goes with every piece of furniture you can think of and adds a nice earthy layer to balance off traditional chairs and bookcases. It ups the casual factor and is always fresh. I use them all the time. Try Pottery Barn, West Elm, Crate & Barrel or Ikea for options.

Pottery Barn Jute Rug

Option C) The modern statement rug. You’ll see these everywhere, and again because you have a clean slate you can afford to go wild. Graphic stripes are a favourite of mine as are the block printed ones that have a global or African feel. West Elm has some good examples as does Elte. For stripes you can try Dash & Albert online which are also sold through individual stores like Angus & Co in Toronto and Elte again.

Dash & Albert Striped Rug

West Elm Global Print Rug

Other notes: Above your console you’ll want either one large (almost as wide as the console) piece or art (maybe something modern?) or a pair of prints maybe with a narrow gilded frame. You could also do a grid of something but either way make sure they are substantial enough in scale to balance off the weight of the console and stools.

Try to find some fantastic cushions in a fabric you love for the two cained chairs. It will add softness and make their backs less transparent. And if you add a coffee table, I’d suggest something with a narrow metal frame (black or gilded maybe) but most importantly with a glass or mirrored top so it doesn’t visually compete with the console and benches.

Madeline Weinrib Suzani Cushion

Hope that helps Lindsay! You’re definitely on your way!!

Michael – Your Friendly Neighbourhood Decorator

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Step into my office!

Created by Stephen Earle et al; Photo by Ann E. Berman; MSL June 2001

I’d like you to send me your questions!  Take a few snap shots of your space, your furniture, and any other decorating elements you’re working with and send them to me.  Use the contact tab at the top of this blog (michaelpenney8@gmail.com) and I’ll see what I can do!

My pencil is sharpened, my paint swatches are at the ready and my head is full of ideas.  Go on, ask Your Friendly Neighbourhood Decorator now!

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