Friday, October 30, 2009

Yabu Pushelberg: The Book

I've been waiting anxiously for the arrival of Yabu Pushelberg's book which was scheduled to hit stores this week - so you can bet I'll be out this weekend trying to get my hands on one. The hardcover book is a portfolio of their projects which feature some of the world's most exclusive hotels, restaurants, retail shops and private residences. The Toronto based firm of Yabu Pushelberg have been creating timeless and artistic interiors worldwide for 30 years, with an office of 60 in Toronto and 23 in New York. Their client list includes; Four Season, W-Hotels, Carolina Herrera, Tiffany's, Louis Vuitton, Kate Spade, and Bergdoff Goodman to name a few.

I often find today that there's a lot of media hype and attention placed on very uninspired design work that's hyped as 'great design' by 'top designers' when most often its simply mediochre decorating at best. Definitely not the case here, the firm of YB epitomizes what excellence in Interior Design is all about and I think its unfortunate that this firm's work is more recognized by the public outside of Canada than it is here at home - these guys should be a household name. As one of our most talented exports, they have garnered international awards and recognition and are sought after around the world by exclusive hoteliers and restauranteurs and retailers who want nothing but the best when it comes to interior design. This firm's success is largely responsible for the reputation Canada has achieved for producing superior design talent.

Yabu Pushelberg have reached the pinnacle of success in their field and enjoy the luxury of being able to turn down jobs that other firms can only dream of one day being considered for.  It appears like they also live a jet-setting, glamourous lifestyle much like the clientele they design for and own homes in Toronto, NYC, Miami and the Hamptons, living amongst neighbours like Calvin Klein and Nicole Kidman. You'll see in the photos below; their projects have exquisite detailing using lots of exotic woods and stone, the lighting in their spaces is sheer perfection, the furniture is stunning and unique, the light fixtures always make a statement and what I love most is their passion for sourcing out local artists and craftsmen to bring one of a kind artistry to each project. I'm especially drawn to their use of artwork in their interiors and the way they often will frame a view like a piece of art.

As a designer I've admired their work since I was a student - here's a look at some of my favorite images from their website portfolio and I look forward to seeing more pages of inspiration in their new book.

St.Regis Hotel, San Francisco

St.Regis Hotel, San Francisco

Blue Fin Restaurant, NYC

Caroline Herrera boutique, NYC

W-Hotel, NYC

Tiffany's, Wall Street, NYC

Las Alcobas Hotel, Mexico City

Las Alcobas Hotel, Mexico City

Las Alcobas Hotel, Mexico City

I'm particularly drawn to the residential projects in their portfolio which feature homes in New York City, Miami and Toronto.....the photos below are of a Toronto residence which I've seen published before and if I remember correctly its also the home of Yabu and Pushelberg.

The next series of photos are of a Miami residence which I believe is Yabu and Pushelberg's personal residence in South Beach, Miami.

This last set of photos is a residence in NYC.

George Yabu and Glenn Pushelberg in their NYC condo
Photo by Thomas Loof, for Toronto Life Magazine

All photos except the last one from the website of Yabu Pushelberg

Monday, October 26, 2009

Victorian Row House: A Designer Reno on a DIY Budget - Part 1

207 Logan Ave. The front exterior After.  

*Edit February 2015*
I've recently learned this former house of mine is currently for sale on MLS and also has been popping up on some other Toronto websites with links back to my blog posts here, citing that this is still my house and that i still live there.  Just to clarify - I no longer own or live in this house, I sold this house in December 2008.  I want to also mention that because of my blog posts here about my house renovation, that two years after selling it the new owners, (he was fresh out of law school) filed a claim against myself and the Home Inspector for mis-representing the property (after an earlier failed attempt at trying to get money from each of the Broker firms ).   After moving in to their very first home the young new lawyer and his  new wife were not happy with the lack of sound privacy the row house offerred and claimed the real estate listing failed to disclose what the sound levels were. (??).     To make  a two year long small claims court story short,,,,,in a settlement hearing a Judge basically said they didn't have a chance, not a chance of winning any type of settlement in court over this,  it wasn't a new build, it was a 100yr old+  row house and their expectations about what they were entitled to were completely unrealistic.  Caveat emptor.  It took two years of lawyers time to settle that.
*end of edit*

In March of '08 I was nearing the end of a major client reno (and living in our rental house), when my brother told me about a property for sale that he had just seen - it was in a hot up and coming Toronto neighborhood but was in dire need of a complete interior reno.  Since he was going to have some time on his hands for the next 5 to 6 months he suggested the idea of purchasing the property and reno'ing the house together as a joint project - he’s an excellent rough carpenter and very experienced handyman.  For him it was short-term work, for me it would offer me the opportunity to be my own client, design a renovation for myself......and have the option of moving into the house if I chose or sell it depending on how things went.

We bought the house pretty much on the spot, and in a bidding war with 3 other buyers.   The seller was an elderly gentleman who was quite sick and would be moving from this house into a hospice.  As much as I hated paying  over asking price for the house, it was gratifying to know that the funds from the sale were much needed and would be well used to provide for his care giving.

The house was a 1913 row house with a 1980's addition on the back, the house was surprisingly much larger than it appeared from the outside. It was a 3 bedroom, 3 washroom house with the added bonus of a family room off the kitchen, a finished basement with 8' ceilings, a fenced private yard with a large deck and a private 1-1/2 car garage.  Here’s a look of some of the before shots,,,,,,,and all I can say is that it looked better than it smelled.   This house was NASTY, with a capital P.....Ewwww. 

The front exterior before.  I instantly fell for the original 1913 brick facade and the huge old tree.  There were wonderful corbels across the top of the facade that aren't visible in this pic.  The bright yellow door was an indication of what we'd find on the inside....

There wasn't a trace of victorian character inside  the house however, it had undergone a builders reno in the early 80's.  Someone must have found a deal on orange and yellow paint - it was everywhere!

There was evidence of water damage everywhere, notice the kitchen ceiling.  A new roof had eventually been installed 2 years earlier but none of the prior water damage had been repaired.  The cabinets were barely hanging on the wall, they were rotted right thru the back.

The upstairs hallway.  The smell was utterly foul, those are urine stains on the carpet and there was animal feces everywhere.  We were told the place had been used as a rooming house for many years.  I did like the skylight and all the natural daylight it brought to the stairwell and hallway.

A tiny ensuite bathroom off the back bedroom on the second floor.  The only working toilet of 3 in the house.  The vanity cabinet was about 15" wide with the worlds smallest sink.  The stencils had been spray painted on the walls throughout the bedroom too.

The main bathroom on the second floor.  Niether the toilet or tub were functional.  The black hole in the ceiling above the shower was rotted thru to the roof from the previous leaks.  I loved the amount of daylight from the skylight and surprisingly it was actually in good shape with no signs of leakage.

The basment had a 2 pc washroom, but the ceiling height was only 5'-11".  And when you flushed the toilet it just drained onto the floor (good thing there was a floor drain!) and you can see the black water line on the sink cabinet from a perpetually leaky sink.  

The laundry room beside the washroom was narrow and also only had six foot ceiling height.

Despite the extremely poor condition of the house I realized it had a lot of desirable features, tons of space and loads of potential.  Because this house would be a short term investment for me, the decision to buy was all about the house’s resale potential, and when it comes to affordable single family homes in the city, this house checked all the boxes:
  • location (10 min to downtown)
  • public transit on corner
  • 3 bedrooms
  • 3 bathrooms (2 on the second floor - rare!)
  • famiily room off kitchen
  • PARKING with Garage
  • victorian facade
  • thriving neighborhood ammennities, 1/2 block to starbucks, organic butcher, organic bakery, juice bar, cheese boutique, schools, and a slew of some of toronto’s best and hottest new restaurants and cafes.
  • 2 big beautiful mature old trees, one in the front, one in the back
  • with a finished basement, it offerred 1800 sf of living space

Here's a look at the floor plans for each level of the house with the existing 'Before' plan on the left and the proposed 'After' plan on the right.

The Basement

BEFORE:  The basement was finished but as you can see from the pictures above it was in rough shape. There were 3 distinct areas, you can see on the plan all the way up to the powder room there was a clear ceiling height of 8', which was amazing, but the washroom and laundry room only had 6' high ceilings. Beyond that was crawl space only.  There was also an oddly large closet at the bottom of the stairs complete with a light and baseboard heater. 

AFTER: I moved the washroom to where the large closet was (which I felt had been intended for a washroom originally).  Now we had a full size powder room with 8' ceiling.  The bottom of the stairs would become a mud-room area with a bench and coat hooks (as there was no coat closet on the main level) and the powder room would service guests on the main level when entertaining.  I relocated existing leaded  glass french doors from the old kitchen and installed them between the landing and the main area of the basement.  It added lots of character and made the space seem larger, grander.  This could serve as an office, a guest room or tv room with the ability to close-off the room if needed for privacy or noise control.  The laundry area was now spacious and I felt that a 6' ceiling height was still workable as many laundry rooms had low ceilings and were in unfinished dingy space - this would be a clean bright fully finished space with a long counter.

The Main Floor

BEFORE:  A half wall in the entry way, a delapitated kitchen with a set of doors between the kitchen and family room.  The kitchen was interesting because it was elevated, however, the traffice flow also went directly down the middle of the kitchen and there was a wall of baseboard heater on one side.  There was a beautiful view through to the backyard where there was another huge old tree.  

AFTER:  We decided not to get into any structural changes and left the walls between the existing kitchen and family room.  The new kitchen layout was designed to gain maximum storage by installing an entire wall of pantry units with toe kick heater underneath.  Also part of the plan for the kitchen was a freestanding island, not shown in these plans.  New single pane french doors were added that enhanced the view to the backyard.  A full height wall with a niche was added in the entry way, giving more privacy and weather shield when the doors were open - I considered enclosing it by building a vestibule with a second door but it would have required relocating and adding a light, a switch and a baseboard heater.  I opted not to do this at the time but built the wall to a dimension that could accommodate a second interior entry door in the future (it was actually a bit longer than shown on the plan above).

The Second Floor

BEFORE:  The layout was interesting as there were two levels and 2 washrooms which is rare in a house of this size in the city and the bedrooms were all good size.  Ensuite washrooms are always highly desirable and considered a premium feature.  Two skylights brought in lots of natural light but the tiny size of the ensuite bathroom and tiny closets were the weak points.

AFTER:  I reconfigured the ensuite bathroom in the back bedroom by essentially just mirroring the layout of the main bathroom but with a walk-in shower instead of a tub/shower, and relocating the closet (also larger) to the inside of the bedroom.  I made sure this back bedroom still accommodated a queen size bed, two night tables and a dresser which it did very comfortably.  I decided to double the size of the front bedroom closet by eliminating the tiny closet in the middle bedroom.  I envisioned the middle bedroom being used as a nursery or home office and concluded that a wardrobe unit or armoire and chest of drawers would provide adequate storage in lieu of the old closet.  Now the front bedroom had a closet more suited to the generous room proportions. 

Stay tuned for Part 2 on this Victorian Row House Reno,  I’ll take you thru the reno budget,,the strategy, and post lots more after pictures with an overview of each room, the design process and some of the cost saving details and products that were used.  Below is a sneak peek of the finished house....

Second Photo by TREB.
All other Photos by Carol Reed 

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Why I Love IKEA Kitchens

Customized Kitchen with Ikea base cabinets - by Carol Reed Interior Design

Customized Ikea Kitchen - by Carol Reed Interior Design 
Photographed by Michael Graydon for Canadian House & Home

Ikea Kitchen - by Carol Reed Interior Design

This won’t be the first time you hear me declare my love for Ikea kitchen cabinets.  I designed and installed my first Ikea kitchen about 7 years ago and I’ve been a loyal fan ever since.  The three photos above are of some of my favorites that I've designed, one I've posted about previously (see cover of Canadian House & Home link in the sidebar) and the other two will be featured in future posts.   For anyone who has doubts about the quality of Ikea kitchens or for those who think its just not good enough for them, I have a little secret to let you in on.......Designers and Architects LOVE Ikea kitchens and use them all the time, have been for years.   We were quick to recognize the hardware they use is the same we were specifying for our custom millwork jobs,,,,and that we could shave 2 months off our construction schedules because this stuff was off the shelf!   When your budget and timeline are tight, you just can't beat it.  But it hasn’t been until more recently that the option of using ikea cabinetry has become more mainstream and appreciated for its great price and quality.  Here's another little secret, I have clients in quite affluent neighborhoods opting for Ikea over custom - some actually request plain, unmarked delivery trucks so their neighbours won't know!!!!  True story ; ) 

To really appreciate the quality, design and selection offered by Ikea you first have to have an understanding of kitchen cabinetry in general and what is available on the market.   Anyone who turns their nose up at Ikea cabinets is either completely in the dark or their kitchen budget is in a different stratosphere than the average homeowner.  Basically unless you’re going for a custom wood kitchen (meaning the base cabinets are made of wood, sized to fit, and start at at least $35k) then every other option you’ll look at will consist of base cabinets made from melamine, this goes for in-stock cabinetry and semi-custom cabinetry at Home Depot, Rona et al, and even semi-custom kitchen companies like AYA and Canac and Cameo - are all melamine base cabinetry.  And I can tell you, no other stock cabinetry has drawer boxes nearly as good as Ikea nor do they use high quality Blum hinges like Ikea does, never mind they don’t have nearly the selection of cabinets or interior organizers to chose from.   As for the kitchen companies, I have seen one of these companies that uses the exact same drawer boxes as Ikea and the same hinges, but none of them have as many cabinet sizes to chose from nor the interior accessories - and they’re at least 2 to 3 times the price, even factoring in installation.  I just have a hard time justifying to anyone why you should pay $20k or more for melamine cabinets that you can get for $6k or $7k.  These serious costs savings mean you can splurge on counters and appliances - which in my opinion is much better value for your money than expensive melamine cabs.

As far as new home construction goes, with few exceptions, they have some of the  poorest quality kitchens i’ve ever seen despite their luxury price tags.  Last year I toured a development in Yorkville which was selling multi-million dollar luxury condominiums ($2M and up),,,,of course the first thing I checked out was the kitchen cabinetry and sure enough behind the lovely wood cabinet doors was your basic melamine cabinet with cheap hinges and really lousy, poor quality drawer boxes.  

With all melamine base cabinets being equal (although not all drawer boxes are!) what it comes down to is you’re ultimately buying a door style.  Aesthetically, this is what your kitchen is all about because obviously its the visible part of your kitchen.  To me, this is the biggest differential between Ikea and any other kitchen options because Ikea certainly doesn’t offer the range of doors and glass that the kitchen companies do.  So you have to weigh the benefits of paying a premium for a company that offers more door styles or, compromising on your door style so you can take those savings and put that money into counters and appliances.   Alternately, if Ikea doesn’t offer a door style that you like then you can customize one of their doors (spraying) or simply order your doors elsewhere from a company like Cabinet Mart, an on-line supplier of made to measure doors.

Below are some photos of other Ikea installations published in various magazines, mostly from the UK magazine Living Etc.  I really think the Europeans do Ikea best, probably because they take a more utilitarian approach to kitchens, the cabinets are never the ‘feature’ of the room, always simple and understated.

Customized Ikea Kitchen - Living Etc. November 06

Sleek & White -  Living Etc.

A monochrome look in stainless - Living Etc., January 06

Mixed with antique buther block - Living Etc. March 08.

Ikea Stainless  - Living Etc. July 09

Rustic Loft Kitchen - Living Etc. December 08

White Kitchen - Living Etc. April 08

White & Wood kitchen in a Swedish flat -  Kitchen via Desire to Inspire

My favorite door style of Ikea's is the Applad white or any of their simple plain slab doors, they're understated and timeless.  For a more traditional look I like the Tidaholm shaker style but I'm not a fan of the natural oak colour so I prefer it with a custom sprayed finish.  The photos below are not Ikea kitchen installations (I'm pretty sure the 3rd one down is but I just wasn't able to confirm), however you can get this same look with Ikea.

Kitchen Design by Timothy Mather photographed for Canadian House & Home.

Sleek Glossy White - Living Etc. July 07

Living Etc.

Here’s a brief summary of my thoughts on Ikea:


  • excellent value,,,top quality hardware
  • love their drawer boxes
  • huge selection of cabinet styles
  • their butcher block counters are fantastic value
  • amazing selection of interior organizers
  • limitless design possibilities using their standard cabinets
  • 12”depths avail. including drawers
  • automatic self-closing drawers are standard
  • RETURN or exchange any unused pieces or pick up more pieces easily (in most cases) if there is a change in plans
  • SAVE thousands by installing yourself (if you’re really ambitious)
  • low cost of cabinets means you can splurge on counters and appliances
  • order online or by phone for delivery anywhere
  • 25 yr warranty


  • limited selection of door styles
  • they don’t do the greatest wood (basic birch, oak)
  • drawer widths limited to 30” (not a big issue)
  • the Ikea logo on their appliances (a huge turnoff, who wants a retailers logo on anything?)
  • the price does not include assembly/installation (add in another $1200 to $1700 for the average kitchen)
  • As of this summer, kitchens purchased in store now require most parts/pieces be picked up by the customers in the self-serve warehouse!!!  Insanity!  This is a MAJOR bummer, up until recently you only had to take a written order to the cash desk and be on your way - piece of cake.  The new process now requires loading up two or three carts and lots of help to wheel your flat packed kitchen to the cashier and then the delivery desk.  And once at the cashier, the cashier has to go thru every single item (there are hundreds of pieces).  Trust me,,,,this is not fun.  I hope Ikea comes to their senses and changes this system - this makes the experience completely frustrating, physically challenging, prone to errors, and hugely time consuming for their customers and staff.  It's enough to turn many people off using this product again.


  • AVOID the catalogue look ......use only their cabinetry.  Purchase sinks, faucets, lighting, handles/knobs, appliances and kitchen furniture elsewhere or your kitchen will look like an ikea showroom display
  • don’t buy their appliances with the Ikea logo on it!
  • stick to classic door styles .....avoid their cabinet door styles that are uniquely ikea, stick with cabinets that are more generic and available at most kitchen supplier (ie; white flush doors, shaker style, doors with plain glass, )
  • think of the base components like lego’s or building blocks to create unique layouts, the possibilities are limitless
  • take advantage of their full height end panels and various size cover panels which can be cut-down and used as filler pieces, trim pieces, valances etc.
  • you don’t have to order a ‘cabinet assembly’, you can order the components individually ie; just the base cabinet, or just the drawers,
  • mix two or three different colours, ie; wood end panels with white doors,,,or white or wood end panels with stainless steel doors
  • don't use 12" deep gables and cabinets around your fridge, enclose it fully for a truly built-in look (those black sides of your stainless steel fridge aren't meant to be seen!)
  • visit the showroom as not all their cabinets or parts are shown on line or in the catalogue
  • mix Ikea cabinets with freestanding furniture and shelving for an unfitted look
  • if you want a cabinet colour other than what ikea offers, have your doors, end panels and cover panels custom sprayed (tips on this coming up in a future post). 
  • use an experienced installer who's worked with Ikea cabinets before.

All of this being said, I’ve seen some really unappealing and poorly designed Ikea installations so like any home improvement project, the end result is only going to be as good as your design and the installation.  For the best results, hire a designer to plan your Ikea kitchen for you, no matter how much you spend on your new kitchen, it will fall short on function, style and quality without a great design plan and proper installation.  Check out my e-design website for more samples and info on affordable kitchen redesigns like Lori's kitchen shown below, seen at

Ikea Kitchen installation in progress - Kitchen design by Carol Reed via

Photos: 1st, 3rd, and last photos by Carol Reed.

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