My friend Michelle just finished building a very cool custom house. One thing you need to know about Michelle is this gal is on the penny. So not only is her modern Edmonton home incredibly stunning, but she cut major costs every step of the way. Michelle also own interior design business, so I thought I’d tap her for budget design tips we can all replicate.
Tell us how you started
We built an infill in an established neighbourhood, so the smallish lot size dictated the floor plan. Before we even thought of building, I had a drawer in my desk filled with floor plans I’d come up with over the years. (Mostly wishful thinking on how I would change the layout of whatever house I was living in at the time.) So, when we decided to build, coming up with the layout was as simple as rearranging my old plans to fit into the lot we bought. It took all of three days.
What’s with those black window frames?
I’ve long been obsessed with black interior window frames but they’re hard to come by in Edmonton. Most vinyl window manufacturers don’t offer black interiors, metal commercial windows are expensive and sometimes less efficient. In the end, we installed wood clad aluminum windows from Plygem and had the interiors stained black. The process was labour intensive and the stain was smelly, but the dark frames are integral to the style of the house. We even took the look one step further by commissioning custom made steel french doors for my husband’s main floor office to match the windows. The black frames add a much needed contrast to the white walls and neutral furnishings. Without them, the space would look bland.
Your kids are young, but their rooms are so cool!
Designing kids’ rooms is tricky. What a child likes one day isn’t necessarily what they’ll like the next. The wisest course of action is to avoid investing a lot of money on age specific decor, Instead make a fun space you could imagine either a young child or a teenager in. In my daughter’s room, we kept everything neutral except the wild wallpaper behind her bed. She likes it now, and it can grow with her. If she ever decides she hates it, we can replace it with something different without having to swap out the furniture, bedding or even (hopefully) the drapes.
Tell us about some of your design hacks
We have shou sugi ban (charred cedar siding) on a portion of our exterior and throughout the interior. While we bought the exterior wood from a mill that specializes in this traditional Japanese technique, my lovely father was able to save us some money by burning the interior wood (fir this time) with a blow torch. Incidentally, he also burnt off a few leg hairs, but the result was worth it. I love how the dark wood has an organic feel and provides a sense of drama in the entrance and stairwell. We also use it to camouflage the TV in the living room — you hardly notice the big black box on the big black wall!
Another special feature are the laser cut screens that I recently had made to filter the view of the neighbours house. These gorgeous screens turned out even better then I’d hoped and the geometric, spiky pattern works beautifully with the urchin chandelier. (Editor’s note: See pic below. They were less than $300!)
Where did you find your chandelier?
The urchin chandelier is a variety of the ever popular sputnik that’s been popular for a number of years now. You can find them at a variety of price points, but Jean de Merry’s Lumiere is my favourite. At $8,700 US, however, it was way out of my budget. One of the least expensive versions I was able to get my hands on was from Pottery Barn. It was brass though, and I needed mine to be black. The solution? A little spray paint and we have urchin perfection!
The table and chairs are teak and a Kijiji find. When I picked them up they were in pretty bad shape, but I took them to a pro who refinished the top and reupholstered the chairs. Now they’re as good as new and look great with the mid century sideboard under the windows.
What’s a cost saving tip you encountered we could hack?
We saved a lot of money by modifying Ikea cabinets. Most of our kitchen cabinets are Ikea’s Ringhult. They are easy to clean, modern and simple. We jazzed them up with custom flat sawn walnut panels on the pantry and fridge and matching walnut floating shelves. Similarly, the bathroom vanities are from Ikea, but were purchased without the sink or countertop so we could add quartz counters and vessel sinks.
What are your top places for finding cool furniture on a budget?
Ikea and Structube fall into the lower price category. Moving up, some good options are West Elm for light fixtures, EQ3 and Article.com for furniture and accessories, HomeSense is great for random decor, and for custom upholstered furniture, check out Halstead Furniture and Mattresses in Calgary. Give me a little more money though, and I’m heading straight to Montauk and sinking into one of their squishy sofas.
Do you have tips on how couples can avoid divorce dust?
Decide who cares the most about the details and put them in charge. This doesn’t mean they get to make all of the decisions, but in exchange for taking on the project, their opinion is weighted more heavily. My husband wasn’t interested in debating the merits of hundreds of tiles for our ensuite shower feature wall, but it mattered a lot to me. I picked one, let him have a quick peek before buying to ensure sure he didn’t dislike them and we moved on. It gets tricky when both partners care and they have different styles. If you can’t seem to work it out, maybe it’s time to bring in an arbitrator, I mean designer.
Where do you think it’s a good idea to spend a little more?
- Waterfall countertops finish off an island nicely and instantly make the kitchen look modern and expensive
- A dishwasher panel may add a couple hundred dollars to your bill, but if your dishwasher is located in a high visibility area, it’s nice to have it blend in with the cabinets
- A fantastic light over the dining table is a must and really reflects (no pun intended) the style of your home.
- Special tiles in your ensuite shower are a great way to brighten your morning and make the space look custom.
What are some easy design tips mere mortals like me can manage?
- If you’re ever building or redecorating, put together a list of your likes and dislikes. Everyone has different preferences, and it’s important that they’re communicated well in advance to your designer or architect.
- It’s really important to decide on the look early on. This will make the whole decision making process infinitely easier, and you’ll end up with a more cohesive home. If you can’t seem to settle, start saving your favourite photos and see where they overlap.
- If you have room, add cabinets on the backside of your island (where you place your stools). While they may be awkward to access for day-to-day use, it’s an excellent spot to hide children’s craft supplies, games and seldom used serving dishes.
- Be brave and wallpaper your powder room. It’s a small space that has big impact.
- Try to leave room in your budget for quality finishing and decor.
- If you have white walls, paint your interior doors black or a dark charcoal for instant contrast and elegance. A simple coat of paint makes inexpensive slab doors look luxe.
A very special offer for readers
Need help on your project? Hiring a designer costs less than you think, and helps prevent making expensive mistakes. A good designer won’t impose their taste on you, but meets with you to determine what fits your needs and personality. Michelle’s home is neutral, minimal and modern, but if you prefer colour or a traditional look, that’s exactly what you should get. If you’re in the Edmonton area and want a little help, check out michellekohlinteriors.com.
Any Travels with Baggage reader in the Edmonton area can arrange a free Initial Consultation ($250 value) with Michelle. This includes meeting in person to discuss your project’s specific requirements including: scope, timing, budget and style. Thank you, Michelle!