Monday, June 20, 2011


On Saturday afternoon I received the most beautiful bouquet of flowers and hand written note I've ever received.  I was completely surprised and touched to learn that they were from a design student who I had mentored this past school year.  When I say mentor I use the term loosely, she was well on her way with her final project before we even met for the first time.  Seeing what she had already accomplished and the direction she was taking was impressive,,,the complexity of the project she had taken on was ambitious and would be a challenge for an experienced professional let alone a student....but she didn't seem intimidated in the least.

Midway thru this semester Lisiane was hitting a road block trying to define and grasp 'concepts' and how to successfully develop one for this design project.   Co-oincidently I remember it being the one thing I had the hardest time understanding when I was in school too so I really related to where she was coming from.  Of course now its something I fully understand on a level that's very intuitive - I believe a design concept stems from your clients lifestyle values (or business/product brand philosophy) and is developed and implemented thru your point of view as a designer.  As a student you really haven't developed a strong point of view yet and your client is often completely hypothetical so hence the road block.  I tried my best, at length, to explain this very abstract creative thing we call 'concepts' to her by relating it to real life examples that I knew she could relate to, both good ones and bad ones.   (possibly a future blog post?)

Anyways, I was thrilled to hear Lisiane pulled her project together with excellent feedback.  As she wrote to me "your ability to explain things so clearly when my instructors couldn't is what helped me pull the project together".  There are many abstract aspects of the design process that are difficult to grasp in classroom situations, so mentoring or interning with an experienced professional is a really important part of the learning process.

So now here she is thanking me for helping her and here I was feeling like I hadn't really been much of a mentor to her at all.  I realize now though that by just simply being available to listen and provide some practical advice and guidance can make a world of difference to their otherwise purely academic approach.  I learned from this experience that as professional it doesn't take much time to share some advice and encouragement with students so if you are ever in a position to be able to mentor one I hope you embrace the opportunity to share your knowledge and point of view and enjoy how rewarding it can be.   It feels great to receive notes like this..."Your warm and approachable personality has put to rest any misconceptions I've had about Designers".   

Congratulations to you Lisiane, I'm so happy to have been a teeny tiny part of what I know will become a very successful career for you as an Interior Designer.  Thank you for taking the time to make such a thoughtful gesture, you're note was heartwarming and the flowers are simply beautiful!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Through The Garden Gate

Every June the Toronto Botanical Gardens organizes a public tour of private residential gardens, the tour is called Through The Garden Gate.  Each year a different neighborhood is selected and tickets holders have the opportunity to wander thru dozens of beautifully designed outdoor spaces.  Some are professionally designed, but not all, some are just the glorious results of enthusiastic gardeners and proud homeowners.  In the past the tour has always taken place on Father's Day weekend, except for this year,,,,,this year they moved the tour up one week and, because of this switcheroo, I totally missed it this year. : (

I know alot of you might roll your eyes and think oh *boring*,  garden tour,,,,that sounds about as exciting as bird watching - but honestly, its fantastic I promise you!  You know what its like to drive down a street that you love and gaze at all the beautiful houses, you always have a favorite or two,,,,and how thrilling it is to actually get a glimpse of the inside thru a window.  Its like that but waaay better - they invite you in!!   And I can tell you,,,you could never imagine the spectacular settings privately hidden away behind their garden gates.  This is a rare opportunity to wander thru the private backyard properties of homes in some of the city's most covetted neighborhoods - its an incredible way to spend an afternoon and you'll walk away with loads of inspiration for your own outdoor space no matter how big or small it may be.  Some homeowners even welcome you to take a peek indoors too.  The participants take so much pride in their home, (it shows!) they are thoroughly excited and eager to show it off.

The first time I went on the garden tour it was in the trendy neighborhood of Riverdale in Toronto's east end.  Characterized by its charming century homes and lush street lined streets....the tour left such an impression on me I still dream about the beautiful outdoor spaces I saw that day.  I was stunned at the lush settings that secretly existed behind these gates.  Here's a look at some of my favorite details.

I wish I could find my notes from the tour, this century home has been featured in publications but I don't have the deets.  Its pretty easy to fall in love with this house just from the curb, but the backyard is to die for!!!

My favorite backyard of all was this one, it was almost impossible to believe you were in the middle of the city it was so dense with greenery, it really was like an oasis.  There was no grass, just stone pathways and gorgeous plant beds amongs humongous old trees.  The bbq and dining area seen above were on one side of the back yard and on the other...

was this lagoon like pool - it was so natural looking with the rock waterfall and stone perimeter.  There was an upper lounge area, a hot tub at the top of a rock waterfall and a pool house/cabana.  I literally did not want to leave this backyard and could barely, barely contain myself from jumping in.

Look closely, this is a brilliant detail.   Both little decks are cantilievered off the house, this means the windows aren't buried beneath a closed in deck. 

Decks don't always have to made from wood......(but you should always have a guardrail!)

My next favorite backyard, this classic city yard that's long and narrow, but with this pool and cabana it was pure luxury.  I loved, loved, loved it.  And if you think the pool took up all the backyard space.....

it didn't....there were two upper level decks and... a patio area to the left of this image.  This has me wanting a long narrow backyard.

Not one of the tour participants but I loved this steel front door, light fixture, mailbox, door bell.  Beautifully done.

I loved the modern simplicity of this light fixture and house number combo.

These houses weren't participating in the tour but I would have awarded them top prize for curb appeal.  This is simply perfect.  The fact that this is a semi-detached is house is incredible.  Imagine two homeowners in total agreement and unity on the front entrance design of their attached houses. An impossibly rare venture.  Everything about this is perfection to me, the colour, the symmetry, the house numbers, the door matts, discreet screen doors, the antique brass hardware, the potted globes. The entire composition is a wonderful modern approach to a century home. Impressive.

Stepping into this yard was like being instantly transported to Muskoka.

Pea gravel driveway : )

Black mulch.  I love how green foilage and flowers look with black.  A very sophisticated look perfect for chic urban gardens.

Alternative to fence boards, Asian inspired fencing and garden.

Layering texture and colour.

As far as decking and fencing goes,,,,,nothing beat this place!  The fencing and shade structure details were simply stunning.  (Also see top photo of rolling door)

Beautifully designed joinery details.

Screen detail along one side of the deck.

Built-in bbq and counters.

Lovely : )

View from the bbq area, the structure design is amazing.  I particularly loved the colour of all the fencing and decking, it was semi-opaque grey stain.  Some areas darker than others.

Fence detail...

close up detail of the fence and stain.  Even the fasteners are specifically placed.

Beautiful stone and pea pea gravel walkway

Moving on to another garden,,,,interesting glass screens.

Unfortunately the garden gates are already CLOSED for this year but I hope you enjoyed my photo tour from the past.   I'm sorry I missed the event last weekend and that I didn't anticipate getting this post up a couple of weeks ago so you could have had the chance to go too if you hadn't heard of it already.  Its an annual event so anyone in the Toronto area should mark your calendars for next year to be sure you don't miss it.  We're really planning our exterior spaces much like our interior rooms so it really is a treat to peek in on these outdoor living environments, its so much more than just gardening.  Outside of Toronto, if you ever have the opportunity to attend any local garden tour I highly recommend it, it will overwhelm you with inspiration.  

All Photos:  Carol Reed

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty

One of the highlights of my trip to NYC last week was my first visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art, and their feature exhibition Alexander McQueen, Savage Beauty

Curated by Andrew Bolton, I was so impressed - it was one of the most beautifully displayed exhibits I've ever seen.  There was so much to see the exhibit was spread out thru several rooms, even moving constantly thru the space, just taking time to read the brief text, it took more than an hour to see it all.  My two favorite collections were the Romantic Mind and Romantic Nationalism rooms.

The Romantic Mind, photo from
I loved these pieces because unlike many of the more theatrical, highly conceptual pieces these were everyday wearable pieces (stunning pieces mind you), most were donated from the closets of McQueen's private clients.  These pieces were accompanied by a memorable quote and I can't recall the exact wording but it was something like his goal was to design clothes that would make a woman look and feel powerful and make others fear them - an interesting statement when you consider this is the design house who designed the royal wedding dress we saw last month.

Romantic Nationalism, photo from
I thought these pieces were both regal and fairy tale like, steeped in historicism but cut with very modern silhouettes.......they transcend time.

As an exhibit the collections are a wonderful example of how expressive fashion can be as an art form, and I don't think most people view fashion as art.  The designer had more than just aesthetic concepts to his work,,,,his designs made statements, conveying messages which were often deep, dark, complex ideas.  

Alexander McQueen's precision tailoring skills were brilliantly paired with his creative use of unstructured drapery and dressmaking techniques.  As a designer, I especially loved this and think that his work is a great testament to how artists/designers can only achieve their highest level of creativity (success) when they've mastered the technical aspects of their craft.  I've always been a firm believer in that philosophy,,,,,yes its possible you may be 'born' with creative genes/energy but learning how to apply that creativity to a chosen craft and be able to master it confidently (or revolutionize it) can only come from training, apprenticing, and experience.  

To see the depth of his talent thru this exhibit you can't help but leave feeling sadness over such a tragic loss of life, and perplexed at how someone so talented and successful could have possibly been so tormented.

If you're in NYC between now and August 7th, I highly recommend the show, but be warned there can be a 45 min or longer wait.  If you can't make it in person,,the link I've provided above and below has fantastic images and narrative.

There's a book available as well which looks incredible, I had a chance to flip thru it in the Museum shop, its a large book with fantastic photos.  I didn't purchase it while it was there because it was simply too heavy for me to carry around for the rest of the day - I'm going to order one online.

Top Photo:  Carol Reed
All other Photos:
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