Counter-top Surfaces - What to Know

It has been a busy start to this summer 2017 cottage season here in Muskoka, ON. We have been working with clients and finalizing some great new plans and design boards many of which include new vanities and kitchen designs. With many of our clients wanting to update surface working spaces in bathrooms, powder rooms, kitchens and laundry rooms, I have been asked frequently about my personal opinions and selection choices for counter-top materials. 

If you are thinking about updating your space I always recommend to my clients to base your choices on the material first and what is best suited to you and your family, no two families or households are the same.  So how fitting to blog a guide to help with choices - if you need help with your next project contact me at amanda@rbfurnitureshop.com to set up your design consultation. 

MARBLE $$$ (85-175 sq ft) - Best used Low Traffic

Pros - Heat resistant, classy and timeless 

Cons - Porous surface - meaning it will stain, needs to be resealed every 1-2 years, expensive 


QUARTZ $$$ (85-175 sq ft) - Best used Low / High Traffic

(Brands: Caesarstone/Cambria) 

Pros - Man-made surface, stain/scratch/heat/acid and impact resistant, non-porous surface (doesn't need to be resealed), low maintenance 

Cons - It will never be the real thing


QUARTZITE $$$ (85-175 sq ft) - Best used Low / High Traffic

Pros - All natural stone, available in a variety of colours and tones, sister surface to quartz

Cons - Needs to be resealed once a year, more expensive than quartz


SOAPSTONE $$$ (100-175 sq ft) - Best used Low Traffic

Pros - Dense and non-porous, easy to disguise small surface scratches with mineral oil

Cons - Susceptible to scratches and nicks, typically found only in gray tones with varying veining patterns


BUTCHER BLOCK $$ (40-65 sq ft) - Best used Low Traffic

Pros - Sanitary when properly sealed, provides great work space for chopping and baking

Cons - Requires maintenance, scratches and dents


CONCRETE $$ (90-130 sq ft) - Best used Low Traffic/High Traffic

Pros - Stain/heat and water resistant when sealed, customizable thickness/edges/colour and texture, not your typical countertop surface


GRANITE $$$ (85-185 sq ft) - Best used Low Traffic/High Traffic

Pros - Comes in a wide range or colours and variations, polished or matte, spills wipe up quickly, non-porous materials after it is sealed, cost effective 


LIMESTONE $$$ (100-175 sq ft) - Best used Low Traffic

Pros - Variety of beautiful natural looking options, heat resistance, natural stone

Cons - High maintenance, potential to burn, spills need to be cleaned up quickly, etching is fairly common 





Design Trends 2017 - Watch

#1 Watercolours 

The presence of watercolors has made a comeback and can be duly incorporated on art pieces for a romantic and feminine appearance.

#2 Classic Meets New 

Old will meet new as we will see the traditional furniture structures reimagined with a modern edge. New materials, colours, and textures will revamp the oldest of styles and give a playful touch to design this season.

#3 Rugs As Artwork 

With the phenomenal size and attractive appearance, the rugs with the mix of size, colour, style, and texture render a creative touch to space. Extending from floors to walls, rugs are going to be seen more as artwork that just a layering piece for the floor.

#4 Separate Kitchen

Homes with separate kitchen is a great integration for people who love to cook. Making your culinary space less messy and more private will make your dinner parties more organized and fun. Given that the kitchen is one of the most used rooms in the home, it is important to keep it spacious and airy.

#5 Layered Designs 

Layered designs accentuated with tassels and trims are finally making a comeback. Complemented with historic motifs, florals, and organic patterns, the layered design is going to reflect a mix of cultures.

#6 Quirky Lighting 

We all know that lighting acts as a perfect accessory for the home and it is undoubtedly one of the easy ways to show off your unique design sensibility. A quirky lighting fixture looks great in a dining room or beside a bed in the bedroom.

#7 Geometry Inspired Design 

If you are looking for an easy addition to make your home feel well designed and curated, geometry is one pattern and style to opt for this year. Geometric patterns blend well with any style of decor and simultaneously look sleek and contemporary.

#8 Raw White 

Raw white which reflects a chalky or bone white quality lends a very earthy and handmade vibe to the home. With an organic or imperfect look, raw white accessories or accent pieces can also help to balance the look of a vibrant space.

#9 Mixed Patterns 

If you are one to love the eclectic look that is supported with a mix of colours and patterns, then the mixed patterned look which doesn’t just solely focus on the statement pieces is one to try for your home this season. Play around with the colours and give your home a trendy upgrade.

#10 Butterflies 

Butterflies have increasingly started to become the happy motif that reflects both grace and optimism. The motif is no more just reserved for the children’s room, it can be used in a variety of spaces with sophisticated accents like turquoise or pale yellow.

#11 Terracotta 

Terracotta is finally coming back in and it is certainly going to change the look of your home. Whether in the form of garden pots or tiles, there are several ways you can include the material to enhance the aesthetic value of your home. As suspected copper is fading out, so, might be you can go matte black, timber and terracotta mix for changing the look of your home.

#12 Dark Wood

If you are thinking of keeping your dark toned furniture out for a garage sale, we would sincerely advise you to give it a halt, as dark furniture is on the rise again. 2017 is going to witness a resurgence of rich and darker tones in home and kitchen furnishings.

#13 Green 

Green is one colour that is going to enjoy its wide presence in the coming year. Rich in its visual presence, the colour even matches well with dark timber as mentioned above. The colour can also be beautifully complemented with vintage and timeless furniture as well as metallic accent pieces.

#14 Desert 

The desert trend matches well with green and dark timber; therefore, it makes right sense that the trend would be equally hot the coming year. Whether it is prints, cacti and Moroccan patterns, the desert trend includes all.

#15 Fabric Head Beds 

The fabric bed heads are back and the coming year we will see it substitute the sophisticated timber. A uniformly coloured bedhead in a fine fabric will certainly be a winner in 2017.

#16 Recycling 

Sustainability is not just a feature that is enjoyed by our environment but also in the interiors of our home. Reusing, repurposing and up-cycling will remain a key element in the coming year. And, as the world will continue to be immersed in technology and disposable items, therefore, it is best to bring an eco-friendly balance with recycling.

#17 Artistic 

More handmade and artistic patterns made by embroidery, felt, knitting, crochet is going to gain popularity in the coming year. Not entirely crafty, but it is the artistic quality which will positively be appreciated by all.

#18 Cork

Cork is finally making a stylish comeback. The material doesn’t just add warmth and texture to spaces but is also useful in absorbing noise in the large open plan homes. The material can be used efficiently in coffee table bases in combination with stone tops and as cork stool or side table.

#19 Upholstered Headboard

Along with single fabric bedhead, upholstered is another trend that is going to replace the timber bedframes. Upholstered is also a great pick to bring a luxurious turnaround to the look of your bedroom. Whether you go for the classic neutral model with buttons or for a vibrant velvet one, the bedhead is a sure shot way to glamorize look of your bedroom.

#20 Jewelled Tones 

Although, pink and blue are currently being enjoyed by everyone but they will soon be fazed out by jewel tones inspired by metals, space, stars, clouds, and the cosmos. Metallic, metals, raw-cut quartz, Lucite, and opal carry the ease to bring the missing sparkle and interest to your home. This trend also holds the romantic element to bring that soft rhythm to your home.


Design Matters - Kitchen Aid

The foundation of any good design is careful planning. Nowhere in the house is it more important than in the kitchen. Kitchens are my absolute favourite room to design, not only because they are the heart and soul of a home, but also because designing them well is like putting together an intricate puzzle.

Here are some tips for creating a well-designed kitchen.

Be Needy

Once you've established a budget and style preferences, the next thing to consider are your needs for the kitchen. Functionality is paramount when designing a kitchen. Here are seven questions you should ask yourself to understand your needs.

1. Who cooks in the family? How much and how often do they cook? Do they have a preference for gas or electric ?

2. Are there bakers in the family? How much and how often do they bake? Do they need a convection oven, steam oven or any other special baking equipment?

3. How much storage do they need for food and beverages, both refrigerated and pantry? Do they need a separate fridge for beverages ? Do they have a secondary fridge/freezer elsewhere in the house? Do they need to store wine or other non-refrigerated beverages?

4. What are their non-food storage needs? This question is critical and often not given sufficient thought. Give yourself a walkthrough and make a list. Typical items include pots and pans, cooking utensils, knives and kitchen gadgets, dinnerware, glassware, serving dishes, cutlery, food storage containers, small appliances, baking sheets/cutting boards, dish towels, cleaning products, foils/wraps/storage bags and cookbooks.

5. How much space do you need for garbage and recycling, and compostable reuse? 

6. Do you like to entertain in the kitchen? Do you like to eat in the kitchen? If so how many people do you need to seat?

7. Are there any age height; or special needs to consider?


Here are the top 10 guidelines that I've developed over time that I try to incorporate in every kitchen design, big or small.  

1. The holy trinity in a kitchen is the sink, stove and fridge These three focal points are sometimes referred to as the "work triangle.: However, you don't need to literally create a triangle in planning where these go. The most important factor is the proximity of the stove to the sink: they should be either be adjacent with approximately 24" between them (to allow for landing space), or directly across from each other but no more than 48" apart. Think about carrying a pot of boiling water from the stove to the sink - you don't want to be too far. 

TIP: Avoid placing a sink across from a stove if the area is a major traffic throughway.

The fridge should also be within easy reach of the sink and stove. There are no specific guidelines for how close, but close enough that it's not cumbersome to carry items from one "work centre" to the other. Use your judgement.

TIP: There should be at least 15" of countertop (landing space) adjacent to the fridge. Also, ensure that the door handle of the fridge will not bump into the walls or cabinets

2. There must be at least 24" of countertop frontage on one side of the sink and 18" on the other, to safely handle dishes and food. For secondary sinks, there must be at least 3" of landing space on one side of the sink and 18" on the other.

3. There must be at least 36" of continuous countertop frontage for the primary preperation station (ie: work area) and it should be immediately adjacent to a water source (primary or secondary sink). 

4. The dishwasher should ideally be located immediately adjacent to the sink. There must be at least 21" of standing room between the edge of the dishwasher and any counter, appliances and/or cabinets that are placed at a right angle, to allow for access. Storage cabinets/drawers for dinnerware, glassware and cutlery should be within close proximity to the dishwasher, ideally no more than 48" away, to allow for quick unloading. 

5. No two work "centres" (sinks, stove, refrigerator) or preparation area can be separated from one another by full-height, full depth tower such as an oven cabinet, pantry or refrigerator. 

6. There must be a minimum of 15" landing space ideally immediately adjacent to the oven. If the space is not immediately adjacent, it must be less than 48" away and must not open into a major traffic area.

7. Work aisles - that is, the clearance between counter and appliances or sinks - should be at least 42" for a one-cook kitchen and at least 48" for a two-or-more cooks kitchen.

8. An appliance door, when opened must not bump into another appliance or cabinet door.

9. There must be a minimum of 18" of clearance between the countertop and bottom of upper wall cabinets. There must be at least 24" between a cooking surface and a protected area above, and at least 30" of clearance if the area above is unprotected. 

10. For a kitchen with a seating area, a minimum surface of 24" wide x 12" deep must be planned for each seated diner. 


Neutral Colour Palettes: How to Master

Neutral Colour Schemes And Neutral Paint Colours

Neutral colour patterns are versatile, chic and simple. But to understand neutral colour combinations and create neutral colour schemes that work - you may need to tweak the way you look at your home. 

Purely neutral colour palettes are made up of nothing but white, grey and black. If you relax this rule a little, neutral colour schemes can also include browns, as well as mixtures of all of the above, including cream and beige. You won't find neutral wall colour on the colour wheel, but most neutral paint colours are not entirely 'neutral' either - then carry a hint of colour. They go beautifully with more saturated "real" colours in an accented neutral colour scheme. 

We approach rooms like this:

1. Look at your room as if it were a black-and-white photograph.

2. Make sure the dark and light values are well balanced. 

3. Most neutrals carry a hint of colour, so check all neutral paint colours and fabrics under different light sources to make sure they really form harmonious neutral colour combinations. 

4. Make your neutral colour palettes, interesting by varying textures, patterns, materials and finishes. Think of textures as light-and-shade patterns. 

5. Beware of the effects of too much white and too much black.

6. Use neutral colours as a 'base' for your decorating, and add subtle colour for variety, warmth, and interest.

The Big Picture: See your Room as a Photograph

A black-and-white photograph is a neutral colour palette: and with no colour to distract you, you can focus entirely on the play of light and shadow in the room. So try pretending that your room is a photo, by squeezing your eyes have shut. That blurs your vision and helps you see the darker and lighter areas as blocks of dark and light. This way, you don' notice the clutter so much (if indeed you have any) you just see the big picture in more of less neutral colour. Alternatively, just get a camera out and actually take black-and-white photos of the room during the decorating process. 

Then ask yourself:

What parts of the room is the eye drawn to? And is this where I want the attention to go?

The usual suspects are. Areas thats are busy with light and shade (or pattern) and areas of stark contrast 'chunks' of very dark and very light colour values are not always easy on the eye. You may find that a part of the room us just too dark, or that there is an area with too much going on. If you want to brighten areas up, or bridge the gap between very dark and very light areas in neutral colour palettes, textiles and paints are your best friends.

You can always

  • Paint a wall or two in neutral paint colours.
  • Slipcover a sofa.
  • Add a carpet or large area rug in a lighter / darker shade (small area rugs can add to visual clutter.
  • Change throws, cushions or curtains.

Now lets take a closer look at the colours

Neutral Colour Palettes Are Not All Neutral 

A neutral colour wheel doesn't exist, but on closer inspection you will find a lot going on between neutrals and the colour wheel. Of course, if you mix pure titanium white with pure black you will get various shades of seriously neutral grey. But these shades are hard to find in the 'real world'.

Most white fabrics in the shops have a slight tint - of blue, pink, yellow or cream. This is easy to see when you hold all the whites next to each other.

And the greys - don't get me started. Grey is a wonderful colour, and extremely versatile, but there are more bluish, greenish and yellowish hues of greys than you can shake a paint brush at.

This is true for black as well. It comes in green, blue and brown hues. Particularly when you buy decorating fabric it's important to look at it in different lights (natural and artificial), and see it together with the other colours you want to use un a neutral colour palette. 

Brown has people wondering about its membership in the neutral colour clan. Is brown a neutral colour at all? No and yes. It's usually included in neutral colour palettes, sometimes as a 'near-neutral' colour, but you can get browns that are quite biased - deeply red or orange or greenish/grey.

Brown can play an important role in neutral colour palettes because it comes in so many subtle and complex hues. It can pull the whole scheme together and give it depth. The patina of worn leather, the vividness of beautifully textured wood can add as much life to neutral colour palettes as patterned fabrics do.

And speaking of patterns - they don't have to be printed or woven patterns. Shadows create patterns as well. So you could use textured materials to add interest to simple neutral colour palettes.

Texture Adds Sensory Richness 

Most surfaces are good candidates for adding texture:

  • Textured sisal or wood carpets and rugs can 'warm-up' the floor.
  • Accessories made of woven natural fibres or pleated leather add soft lines and tactile element.
  • Slightly three-dimensional finishes on walls or ceilings, for example textured wallpapers and/or paints, can provide further interest.

Apart from these options, textured fabrics are a fairly inexpensive and interesting way to add sensory richness to a combination of neutral colours. For an elegant look and feel, mix:

  • Silk, velvet 
  • Raw and doupion silks 
  • Devore 
  • Wovens with raised patterns 
  • Exquisite embroidery

If you prefer a relax living space, create neutral colour palettes with:

  • Fine and coarse linens 
  • Chunky knits
  • Leather 
  • Suede
  • Corduroy
  • Velvets 

Putting A Neutral Colour Scheme Together 

Some people claim that any neutral colours work together. I don't think that's true. Here are a few points to be aware of when you crete neutral colour scheme in your home.

  • A neutral colour combination can look boring if there is not enough contrast. You might want to use some really crisp, bright accent colour to keep the look fresh, for example white gloss paint on window frames and baseboard, milk-white walls, or curtains and cushions in a light neutral colour, or a crisp light pattern on a darker ground.
  • Too much beige, particularly if it's a yellow-hued beige, can make a room look tired and a bit depressing. To liven it up, add lighter and/or darker neutrals.
  • Hard, shinny surfaces and dark colours sometimes create an austere look and feel. Neutral colour palettes that consist mostly of black and white can have the same effect. Adding some natural wood (and maybe even subtle touches of colour), will warm a room up and make neutral colour combinations more welcoming.
  • If the room does not have good natural light, a neutral colour combination might look a bit 'bloodless' - unless you use warm brown and beige hues with a lot of red and orange in them. Even then, lighting is a real issue here. you need the shadows that bring textured surfaces to life, so you want good light sources (at an angle, not just from above).
  • When mixing cool and warm neutrals, use white with care: Beware of the blue tints of chemically bleached fabrics - they will throw neutral colour palettes off and give them a 'fake' look.
  • Summer sunshine on large amounts of brilliant white can create quite a glare. So in a very bright room, unless you want to keep your sunglasses ready at all times, you could opt for an interior design scheme of off-whites combined with a few darker neutrals. 

Almost-Neutral Colour Palettes 

Even if you're one of the purist crowd, it can be quite difficult to keep colour out of the black-and-white picture that is your home. Some blue sky outside your window is practically enough to ruin your efforts!

Adding 'real' colour to neutral colour palettes is a bit like adding spice to a meal. You don' need much, but want you do add gives your composition a distinct flavour. So how about an "accented" neutral colour scheme?

Here are some points to consider when you inject colour into a combination of neutrals:

  • Neutrals go with most colours, but success is easier if you stick to one colour family. Also make sure the colours you add don't look 'synthetic' or flat. If they are related to the neutrals, so as if they contained a bit of white, beige grey or, brown.
  • 'All-white' schemes often look great with just a hint of colour, for example a mix of pale grey/blue/green. Colours look their most vibrant against a background of white. Even a little colour will have a great impact. 
  • A neutral colour palette makes a great unifying element in a home. Every room can have its own selection of added colour, but the neutrals anchor the overall look. 
  • If you move houses a lot, it's good to have some key pieces of furniture in co-ordinated neutral colours. They're easy to regroup in a new home, and you can quickly create a 'look' that fits the new environment. 
  • Neutral colour palettes can easily be 'updated' on a budget. Add a new textiles, art and wall paint - and you have a new room.


How To Keep Your Mattress Fresh

From Style at Home October 2016 Issue 

Everything you need to know to maintain a functional clean bed long term. 

You're diligent about washing your sheets, but do you clean whats underneath them? In addition to the expected bodily fluids and dust, your mattress comes in contact with all types of microscopic filth, chief among them dust mite droppings. Dust mites live in upholstery and feed on skin cells (something you're constantly unwittingly shedding), and beyond being plain gross, their droppings can cause allergic reactions. So its high time you add mattress cleaning , a seasonal chore, to your to-do list. Having removed the sheets, vacuum the surface using the upholstery and crevice attachments. Spot clean any stains using an enzyme-based upholstery or carpet spray such as a pet-odour remover. Then liberally cover the mattress with baking soda; let sit for a full day. Finally, vacuum up all the powder and enjoy a truly freshly made bed.

Seasonally On Rotation

Much like the groove that develops in your go-to spots on the sofa, over the years, different areas of your mattress get uneven wear. To help it last longer, make a habit of rotating the mattress once a season. Alternate between flipping it from head to toe one season and upside down the next. (If your mattress has a pillow top, then only flip it head to toe.)

Very Airy

Air circulation is key to determining bacterial growth, so give your mattress some breathing room: If possible, place it outdoors in the sun (the UV rays will add an antimicrobial kick) every few months. When you go out of town, leave it bare of sheets.

Best Before

The average lifespan of a mattress is about a decade. If yours is howing surface wear, sagging or becoming at all uncomfortable, it may be time to trade up.

Buyers Guide 

In the market for a new mattress? Check out our shopping tips.

COST: Seat a realistic budget (don't cheap out on a good night's sleep) and stick to it. This is a big-ticket item, so the store may be willing to bargin.

QUALITY: Pay attention to details (stitching, seams, etc.), which will reveal how durable and well made the mattress is.

COMFORT: Always lie down to get a feel. If you're debating between two models , opt for the firmer one - it will soften over time, and you can buy a plush mattress pad if need be.

POLICIES: Familiarize yourself with the return policy and warranty before purchasing. 


Wallpaper And All Its Glory

From Real Simple Article 


Wallpaper samples are small (about 8-10 inches), so they don't give you a sense of what a finished room will look like. Most vendors offer helpful wall size views of their wall paper designs online. But nothing compares with the real thing, so if you're almost certain about a wallpaper pick, you might want to invest in just one roll and try it out: Using blue painters tape on the back, hang from the very top of the wall to the floor. If you can place the paper opposite a mirror, you'll have two views, which will offer an even better feel for the final effect.


Wallpaper is pricey, and hanging requires skill. Unless you know what your doing, its best to hire a pro. Find one in your area or even better through a referral.


Installation prices vary depending on where you live and the specifications of the space, but for a 10 by 10 foot room with eight foot ceilings, expect to pay between $500 - $1200 for labour (and expect the job to take one to two days). Most wallpaper is priced and sold in double rolls that are about 9 - 11 yards long. Your installer will tell you how many to purchase. For the room size above, you would need six to eight double rolls . Depending on the match and how the particular pattern lines up strip to strip you may need more paper than you think. Your installer will take his best guess and might err on the side of more. This is because its nearly impossible to know exactly how many rolls are needed until installation is in progress, and could take weeks or months for an extra roll to arrive. Also paper ordered from a new dye lot wont necessarily match the rolls you have.


If you have more than one room to paper, you can save a bit by doing those rooms at the same time, (rather than say, one now and one in six months). A chunk of the labour cost is related to setting up, so twice the space probably wont mean twice the price. 


This is a great way to enjoy the thrill of wallpaper without spending a lot. For the most impact, choose a wall with no windows and no doors, and paint the rest of the room the same colour as the background of the paper. This makes the space feel cohesive and keeps the feature wall from seeming out of place.


Your installer will probably use an oil based primer to prep the walls. If you have chosen an especially delicate paper, he may apply liner paper, which absorbs excess moisture and helps everything dry faster. Trimming the paper involves slicing off the selvages (the edges that have no pattern on them) with a single-edge razor. Some papers come pre-trimmed. Based on the paper, your installer will decide what type of adhesive to use. The two most common are a clay paste and a cellulose paste called "clear hang". To eliminate bubbles as the paper goes up, the installer will use a plastic smoother, or a paintbrush. For the paper to sure properly, the room will need to be about 65 degrees Fahrenheit, extreme temperatures can have an adverse effect on drying. After 24 hours you're free to rehang pictures and fully enjoy the space. 


Metallic wallpaper can scratch just like metal. Watch out if you have pets or kids. The same holds true for papers with a super-matte finish: Too much hands-on contact can mark them up. Flocked papers can get dusty. Use the soft brush attachment on the vacuum. 

Grass cloth adds depth and texture without any pattern. Decorators love it for bedrooms.

Steam and water are hard on wallpaper. In a kitchen, don't hang wallpaper near the sink or the stove. A bathroom that has a shower or tub will age paper faster than a dry room will. You might want to paper a powder room instead.

Crooked old houses with walls that are less than straight look best with busy patterns, which hide imperfect corners. Linear designs (like stripes only emphasize the trouble).




(House and Home - April 2016)


For a head to toe makeover the first step is creating a palette.


If you truly love something you'll want to put it on display.


Create strong verticals and avoid the horizontal.


Window trim is often overlooked opportunity to make a statement.



Don't postpone a makeover because of naturally messy kids. Put your money into a comfortable well-made sofa that you'll have forever.


Neutral decor can be interesting, just include a variety of materials.


For the perfect colour family mix one batch of paint 50% lighter than the base and another 150% darker. A fail safe method for striping the wall. 


Small spaces don't have to feel cramped.


A temporary space can look beautiful, even with a small budget.


For classic side panels, you really have to go all the way to the floor. If you're looking at ready made drapes, make sure that they touch the floor.


Paint the ceiling a slightly paler version of the walls, so the room seems brighter even with just a few windows.


Matching can be so overrated and expensive. Look on-line (and in thrift shops) for beautiful sets of antique china. 


Metallic finishes already add plenty of sparkle but the sheen will make a bigger impact in a variety of colours.