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Simple, achievable design and renovation strategies for a beautiful, comfortable home

kitchen design book

A Castle, turned into a palace serves as family home and embassy of olive oil

After our tasting and magnificent lunch that lasted 3 hours, Señor Vaño gave us a tour of the private rooms of the palace which has 16 bedrooms.

The castle of Castillo de Canena,  proudly surveys the rooftops of the town of  Canena and surrounding lush country side of olive groves as it has, according to company lore, since it was built as a fortress by the Arabs on the site of a Roman settlement before the 15th Century.  In 1538, it was acquired by Francisco de los Cobos, Secretary to Charles V. He transformed the Castle into an elegant Palace, where the Emperor himself stayed.  The Castle was declared a National Monument in 1931 and later restored and preserved by the Vaño clan as a family home.

The large rooms are surprisingly lacking in ostentation. They feel like you could comfortably sink down into one of the over-sized sofas with a good book in front of a roaring fire.  Filled with antiques, wall hangings, and art from the ages, the atmosphere is one of slightly waning, but genteel elegance.



But if that’s not an option, Tom Mueller, author of Extra Virginity — the Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil has a partial list of authentic oils on his blog.



Modernist homes don't sit easily in established neighborhoods

A modernist house

When you look at photos of homes designed in the modernist style, like the one above, does it give you a warm and fuzzy feeling, or does it leave you cold?

Right off the top, I’m going to apologize because this post is going to be a bit of a rant. Ok, not a bit.  A lot.

In Toronto, where I live,  neighborhoods are going through a big transformation, similar to urban neighborhoods across North America. An alarming number of older homes are being knocked down to be replaced either with cookie-cutter McMansions and phony chateaux with a mish-mash of styles all crammed onto the facade, designed to elicit awe and envy…

McMansions are springing up like mushrooms

Derivative design meant to inspire envy

or modernist cubes.  This is unhealthy for people and cities for a number of reasons.

There are various magazines and newspaper columns that devote all their space to the modernist aesthetic.  The writers who are fans of the style and the architects who design them,  extol the virtues of the purity of the design and line.  For them, the lack of references to Victorian style or other outdated architectural styles is seen as highly desireable.  The modernist movement is one of high ideals that strives well-proportioned structures and spaces with little ornamentation.

Haha! Did you think that 10 Things to Do With a Stud was going to be a post on dating advice?

Maybe thought you were gonna see something a wee bit racy?

Ok, I admit, I did misled you just a little with the photo of the workout dude…

What this post is really about, is using furniture studs, or nail heads.  They are everywhere these days, and I am a big fan. But then, everyone who knows me knows that I love my bling!

Full Disclosure: I was invited by Phantom Screens to travel to Mobile, Alabama as their guest to tour their restoration project of a historic home. I was not paid for this post and all opinions are my own.


My house, which we bought in 1998 in a mature neighborhood in Toronto,  was built in 1937.


A watercolor of my house


It had been renovated by the previous owners it in the 1970s  —  which was not an era known for its good taste.  In an attempt to modernize the house, they removed many of the home’s historical features, like cornice mouldings, door trim, the balustrade up the stairs and went crazy spraying much of the interior walls and ceilings with stucco.  YUCK!!

The kitchen, had ka-ka brown tiles, white laminate cabinets, countertops and backsplash. It was a bizarre aesthetic mix of gag-me-with-a-spoon dated, and clinical cadaver chic. But weirdly, in a couple of rooms, they left the original, traditional tray ceilings with original stippled plaster work, an original light fixture which I had re-wired and installed in the bathroom I designed in my 130 year old farm house….

130 farmhouse gets a new old bathroom

The re-purposed light fixture reflected in the mirror of the renovated farm bathroom

….and hand-carved plaster mouldings, which gave us a wonderful glimpse into an era when the house had a servant’s staircase, and a full-time maid to go with it.  The whole place was a mish-mash of a “little bit a dis, and a little bit a dat”.  So I set about to restore some of the architectural details while re-designing and updating bathrooms, kitchen and the fugly 1970s basement rec-room into a home theater.


a home theatre renovation

Updating a basement rec-room into a home theater – After Photo by Ted Yarwood


My 130 year old farmhouse has also seen lots of renovation and restoration work over the years, and my pride and joy is the fridge which I designed to look like an old ice box.

A fridge designed to look like an ice box

The fridge I designed for our 130 year old farm house

I have a fascination for and love of old houses. I think their character, quirks and foibles soften the landscape and tell stories which we’re in danger of forgetting in our superficial world.

And that’s why I was intrigued to be invited down to Mobile Alabama a couple of months ago,  to see a restoration  project taking place in a century home owned by Canadian super-entrepreneur, Esther de Wolde, CEO of Phantom Screens.

When I design the interiors of older homes, my clients’ dilemma is often:  How far do you go with a renovation, and how much should we adhere to the history of the structure by restoring it, without making it look like a museum artifact instead of a functioning family home for the 21st century?

My feeling as a homeowner and designer has always been to respect the history of the home without being a slave to it, and mix old and new so the result is an eclectic blend that looks welcoming, practical and pretty, but doesn’t obliterate the stories from the past that every older home has witnessed within its walls.

Phantom Screens

Since Esther is one of the co-founders of the British Columbia-based Phantom Screens, you would be correct if you figure that the screens will figure prominently in any renovation that Esther might do now or in the future.  But I can tell you from personal experience, it is the perfect product to incorporate into an older home if you want to preserve the architectural integrity, since they function so beautifully and are so unobtrusive, they almost disappear.  I never thought I’d get excited about a screen door, but I was wrong.

Legacy screen door by Phantom

If you don’t know about Phantom Screens, you owe it to yourself to read my post about my experience installing one in my own home last summer. The screens are retractable so they disappear when they’re open, and when they’re closed, there’s no nasty handle, trim or doo-dads to clutter your view.  Honestly, where I live, in the six months of the year that start with “M” (which stands for mosquitoes in Kamikaze gear), this screen is my best friend!

Mosquitoes dive bomb their prey at night

  But I digress….

After I wrote the post about installing one of the screens, Phantom came calling and asked if I’d be interested in joining 7 other bloggers in touring a restoration project in Mobile,  Alabama.

The Morgan Ford House in Mobile Alabama

The bloggers with Esther at her Southern Romance house

Among the bloggers, I was the amateur of the group. They were a dynamic group of women who blog full time, and blew my mind with their knowledge of the business of blogging and blogging accomplishments. (You can see that Esther was pretty blown away by them too and you can find out who we all are in her post about our trip there)  But I’m a full time veteran of the home design and renovation business who blogs when time permits (which hasn’t been a heck of a lot lately, since I’ve been swamped with design clients!)  So I was looking at the project with a different eye.  And what I saw was very interesting.

Mobile, Alabama


One of the homes in the Southern Romance home

A typical historic home in Mobile, Alabama

My first thought when invited on this trip was, “Mobile, Alabama?!? Why ON EARTH would a Canadian choose to buy a house that needed a major overhaul THERE??  I’d understand Charleston, South Carolina or Savannah, Georgia – both cities oozing with Southern charm, spilling over with a cast of quirky and wacky historical characters, mystery and intrigue that would make a great book, and which did just that in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt (a great read! I highly recommend it!). But I knew nothing of Mobile, so in my ignorance, assumed that it was going to be a bit nondescript and bland.  I could not have been more wrong, which seems to be a running pattern here.

Palms and tropical plants give Mobile and exotic feel

Peeking through the palm fronds at a gracious, historic home

What I saw, was a city that takes enormous pride in its historic homes and works very hard to preserve them with tight restrictions on what can and can’t be done to the facades  (In fact, Toronto could learn a thing or two about preserving its neighborhoods from Mobile rather than tearing them down to make way for McMansions). So much so, that their historic neighborhoods are a stunning snapshot of the gracious proportions, symmetry and craftmaship of days gone by, which is very hard to come by in our slap-‘em-up,  my-house-is-bigger-than-your-house, sea of urban mediocrity.

Every historic home is different.

A historic home bursting with personality

Each tranquil street shaded with a canopy of stately oak trees, featured homes each which was unique, though they had many elements in common, like grand front verandas, columns, prominent front entrances and tall, double-hung windows with shutters.

The Conde Inn

The Conde Inn where we stayed in Mobile.  Photo by Beth Bryan of UnskinnyBoppy

Southern Romance

1906 bungalow in Mobile Alabama

Esther’s Southern Romance house

Esther de Wolde always had a dream to restore a grand old Southern Home. An eccentric dream, perhaps, but because I share her love of old houses, and have a rescue habit of my own, it’s a dream that I admire.

Because Mobile is not as high profile as Savannah or Charleston, house prices are more reasonable, particularly if you want to acquire one that needs a generous helping of TLC. Esther was introduced to Mobile by TV host and Phantom Corporate Spokesman,  Danny Lipford, also the owner of Lipford construction, the company which is doing the renovation work on the house.

TV Host Danny Lipford with the Southern Romance Bloggers

The bloggers with Danny Lipford

I won’t go into a whole song and dance about the history of the house or the blow-by-blow description of the project, because Esther does a better job of describing it in her webisodes than I ever could.  The webisodes will introduce you to a whole cast of characters: from the former owners of the house who’d owned it from the 1920’s whose daddy’s motto was “Never trust an Englishman or a woman”, to Southern charmer Danny Lipford, who rolls his eyes every time Esther wants to make a change, rescue the original kitchen sink or install an asymmetrical set of antique doors that she found among the treasures of the astounding, local antique reclamation business, Charles Phillips Antiques and Architecturals.

Antique doors at Charles Phillips Antiques

Row upon row of treasures to be discovered

This project is very much a renovation, since the house had to be gutted inside revealing all the original lath and plaster, ancient heating system and coal burning fireplaces.  But it’s also a restoration, in that Esther is trying to preserve some of the original features like the fireplaces, aforementioned kitchen sink, stained glass transom, corbels…

Original architectural details from 1906

Original stained glass transom and corbels at the front door.

…unique front porch railing……


Original details seldom found in homes today

Front porch railing detail

….and some flooring, while replicating the elements that can’t be saved, and scouring Charles Philip antiques for salvaged architectural items that could plausibly have been found in a home of this vintage.

Salvaged items are repurposed

Vintage linens in an armoire made from salvaged panels at Charles Phillips Antiques


What will not be saved, much to my relief, is the old kitchen which probably would have been installed sometime in the 1920’s by the parents of the former owners.  The new kitchen, however, is being built to accommodate the original sink. (Insert Danny Lipford eyeroll here)

Salvaging the sink from the original kitchen

This kitchen will be getting a decent burial but the sink will be saved and re-used

The Four Most Expensive Words in a Renovation – “While We’re At It”

It was very interesting to listen to Esther talk about the project and how she’s approaching it, but it’s diametrically opposite to the way I work and how I advise my clients: she’s choosing things as she goes along and makes changes as she sees the house coming together.  It’s an extremely time-consuming way to work and can end up costing a great deal more money, since trades often have to make changes to work already completed, or come to a stand-still until decisions are made. Since no trade could possibly afford to only work on one project at a time, this way of working really challenges their previously scheduled projects.  But since it’s Esther’s house, it’s her prerogative to work how she wants.  And I got the impression, which I observed with the greatest affection, when Esther gets her mind set on something, probably not many people can say no!

Saving the original pocket doors

Esther revealing original pocket doors

But after 20+ years designing and supervising the remodel of hundreds of homes, my recommendation to clients, and what I included in my book, Renovation Bootcamp®: Kitchen – Design and Remodel Your Kitchen Without Losing Your Wallet, Your Mind or Your Spouse,  which you can find here, and my regular column in the upcoming August/September issue of RENO and Décor Magazine, is that if the plan is completely detailed and ALL the products are specified, ordered and on site or in storage prior to the contractor ever setting foot on the job site, the renovation will go faster, be more likely to stay on schedule, suffer fewer glitches and cost less. But what it means is that you have to think very far ahead, which is tough for many people without the guidance of a designer who’s done it a few hundred times before.

The Jewel in the Crown

While touring the house, it was hard to make any judgment about how the interior would turn out, since we saw it in the early stages when it was just studs with no drywall.

Floor to ceiling double hung windows

Never seen in a Canadian home, the double hung widow at the front porch goes right to the floor.

But the exapansive, original front veranda, and the newly constructed back porch were the features that really captured my attention.

The tour of the back porch

The shell of the back porch already tells the story

Although I’m sure the whole house will be great when it’s done, in my view, the new back porch will be the jewel in the crown. The demand for outdoor living spaces all over North America has literally exploded, and the back porch is poised to capitalize on this market demand.

Covered porch with rough in for fireplace

The fireplace getting roughed in on the back porch

The plan is to make it a full living space with outdoor kitchen, fireplace, eating and lounging area protected from Mobile’s bionic mosquitoes with vertical retractable screens controlled by a remote,  which will be built into channels which you can see in the porch structure, so will completely disappear when retracted.

But what really excited me, was that Esther is testing a prototype product on her own house that will allow homeowners to significantly extend the porch season.  Although Mobile doesn’t have the severe winters that we get in the North East (Toronto’s winter is comparable to Chicago), this new product will extend the porch season for 3 full seasons for us Northerners,  as long as the temperature is around the freezing mark. I can’t say more than that right now, but readers should keep their eyes open for more information during the launch which will be in early 2016.  It’s not yet available to the public, so shhhhhhh! Keep it just between us, but when January comes, you’ll see me first in line to get this new product for my own house even before I specify it for clients!

Retractable screens on an outdoor living space

Phantom Screens are virtually invisible when in place and disappear completely when retracted, making outdoor living free of flying pests


And that’s the best of combining restoration with renovation to create a home that demonstrates love of the past while incorporating practical elements that will take a family comfortably into the future. If I had my way, that’s how every renovation would go.

Southern Romance logo

I’ll be following the progress on Esther’s Southern Romance with interest, and I hope you will too. There are lots of lessons to be learned from this project, and you can learn them without a speck of drywall dust or a second mortgage!

Many thanks to Esther and her terrific team for hosting an interesting couple of days in Mobile. If you ever get a chance to go there, you’ll never forget it.


If you’d like a free kitchen renovation planner, you can find it here.


If you need help with design planning for your home renovation or decor project, you can reach me through Robin@RenovationBootcamp.com. And if you liked this article and know anyone who could benefit from it, please make nice like your mom taught you and share!


Protected by Copyscape Plagiarism CheckPlagiarism is a nasty practice that runs rampant on the web, perpetrated by people who don’t have the creativity or imagination to dream up their own content but have to steal that of others. I have been offered “cheap tools” to spin other content to use on my blog, which is just a way of stealing content and disguising that fact so Google doesn’t catch on.  Needless to say, all my content is original and comes from 21 years of experience and a lifetime of learning.

If you are thinking of stealing content, the least you can do is link back to the original post and give the author credit. It’s what your mother would like you to do and you will sleep with a clear conscience.

Lecture over. :-)


If you hear the word Sunbrella and think of beige, hunter green or striped canvas awnings, outdoor table umbrellas and outdoor furniture cushions, you’re in for a surprise!  As I recently learned, their fabric is that, but also so much more!

Sunbrella fabric is for more than awnings

Photo by Sunbrella

It turns out Sunbrella is the Superman of fabric for inside the home as well as outside and the biggest surprise to me, was that it doesn’t have to look or feel different than any other fabric.

Upholstered furniture in Sunbrella

Photo from Sunbrella

Who knew Sunbrella could look this good inside a home, not just on the patio?!

If you’re a designer like me, or a homeowner, also like me,  with over-indulged pets who think they’re people,  who lounge on all the furniture with complete abandon, and even snack there, the look of the upholstery is one thing, but performance is key to ensure your home is liveable but doesn’t look like a slobbery mess!

Sunbrella fabric stands up to abuse

A Dog who knows the furniture is for him, too!


Lots of vendors in different industries use the lunch hour as an opportunity to educate potential customers about their products.  Recently, I attended such an event at the Toronto showroom of fabric manufacturer, Robert Allen, where they were introducing a line of Sunbrella fabric exclusively available through them.

Although I had heard that Sunbrella fabric was no longer just for outdoor furniture, I was skeptical.  I just couldn’t imagine a super-high performance fabric that wouldn’t look like it belonged on a hammock or in a nursing home.  So I decided to go to the presentation to see if it actually had potential.


Sunbrella fabrics for indoor use

What I saw was mouth-watering colors, in surprising patterns and soft, touchable textures. Warm reds combined with pink, corals and ochres had me publicly ooo-ing and ahhh-ing in a most un-reserved fashion!

Sunbrella fabrics in blues and greens

The fabrics in blues and greens felt like a fresh promise of spring.

Nubbly, soft texture of chenille in Sunbrella fabric

Although in the last decade I’ve seen more than enough neutral colors to last me a lifetime, Sunbrella’s surprisingly soft, chenille textured neutrals had me dreaming of a soft sofa on which I could grab a nap!

Sunbrella patterns and colors on display cushions

A pile of display cushions with combinations of fabrics made me want to run right home and re-decorate my whole house before I did one more project for a client!

Sunbrella drapery fabric

As surprised as I was by the look and feel of the upholstery fabric, what really had me….


….was the drapery fabric!

Great for a sun porch or an interior window with strong sunlight that needs a fabric that won’t fade or disintegrate, that hangs well and isn’t stiff.

Liquid Color

So once I was all excited about the colors and textures, I needed some convincing about the wearabilty and cleanability.

(both words which don’t actually exist in the English language except in the interior design bible).

What I learned was, that because the fabric is synthetic, and the pigment is added to the liquid brew before it’s even spun into yarn, it can be washed with water, dish washing liquid (Dawn was the brand most recommended) and even BLEACH, without fading the color or harming the fabric.

 The sales rep was quick to point out that the fabric is not bullet proof.  In other words, it may GET dirty when my dogs get their grubby little paws on it, but it’s easily cleaned.

Now, this seemed just too good to be true, and quite frankly I didn’t believe it, so I decided to do a little test of my own.

I brought home a sample of one of my favorite patterns that has large areas of pale cream background, that could look nasty in a house packed full of kids, pets and beer-swilling, chili-scarfing, sports-watching husbands.  I decided to put it to…..

…..The BBQ Sauce Test

Cream fabric will get the spill test

Onto this beautifully patterned fabric with large areas of terrifyingly pale cream background, I decided to slather the reddest, tomato-y-est, goopiest BBQ sauce I could find.  Fortunately, since I no longer eat bottled sauces due to the additives and sugar content, I happened to have a bottle left over from the last millenium that I was happy to sacrifice to the scientific…

Goop Stain Test.

Sunbrella fabric stain test

I poured on a nice big glob and let it sit on the fabric for 15 minutes, while I shed a quiet tear, convinced that I was committing fabric murder.  Then I took a  dinner knife and scraped off the bulk of it while smearing the rest deep into the fibers.

Smeared goop on Sunbrella fabric

After scraping off as much of the sauce as I could, I was left with a splotchy, rusty stain.  “That’s it”,  I thought.  There’s nothing left but to give this poor wee thing a decent burial.

Stained Sunbrella fabric

BUT…. of course, even though I had no faith that the stain would come out, I felt I owed it to science to at least give…

Fabric Cardio Pulmonary Resuscitation

…my best shot.

Rinsing the stained fabric in warm water

I ran warm water over the stain to start.  Nada. Stain still there.  Unhunhhhhhh. I thought so.  Too good to be true.  But in the name of science, I had to press on, even though the fabric was on life support.  Out came the big guns: Dawn dish washing liquid, which I rubbed in then rinsed out.

GAHHHH!  Could it be true??

The stain looked gone, but it was kind of hard to tell while the fabric was still wet, so I blotted with a clean paper towel and laid it out on the counter to dry.

After washing came blotting

After half an hour, I went back to check on the patient, and EUREKA!


The stain was completely gone! I couldn’t even tell where it had been.  Not even a whisper of a trace!

Stain is gone

For this cynical, jaded, been-there-done-that design pro, I was truly surprised and excited with my home experiment.  I subsequently talked to another designer who has had her sofas slip-covered with white Sunbrella fabric for the last 10 years and takes the slip covers off every week and throws them in the washing machine, and the fabric still looks great!

And the fabric can be re-cycled.

I can envision using this fabric everywhere in the home: living room, dining chairs, kitchen chairs, family room and, of course in the garden or patio.

The moral of this bedtime story is, while this fabric may not be bullet proof, the proof is in the pudding….er….BBQ sauce.  And I can’t wait to use it on my next project and for the big reveal, pull out a squirt bottle of mustard just for fun!


I was not compensated in any way for this post, except for a few little white bread, crustless sandwiches for lunch in Robert Allen’s Showroom.  Consumers can find Robert Allen fabrics through design professionals and various retailers.

To see some truly inspiring photos of Sunbrella fabrics in some beautiful interior shots, go to the Sunbrella web site.


If you need help with design planning for your home renovation or decor project, you can reach me through Robin@RenovationBootcamp.com. And if you liked this article and know anyone who could benefit from it, please make nice like your mom taught you and share!


Or whatever you may celebrate,

From moi & Sieguzi Kitchen & Home

To you and yours!

@sieguzi Christmas tree

Well, nothing like coming right down to the wire before sending out Christmas wishes! But according to Canada Post, I am far from being alone in sending wishes online in lieu of a card, so that gives me some level of comfort!

It’s been an extraordinarily busy year, and I’m so grateful for all the business, performing and writing activities that have come my way!

  • Through the wonders of technology, I’ve designed several kitchens online (including one in Florida)
  • I’m thrilled to be working with past clients who have come back to have me design other rooms in their homes like bathrooms, master suites, kids’ rooms, living rooms, and library built-ins
  • I’m delighted to welcome some new clients who found me through, social media, my blog and even an improv class at Second City!
  • I’m so very grateful for the clients who have come to me through referrals. I don’t take that trust lightly, and take every project very personally and to heart.  It is my greatest pleasure when clients are amazed and happy at the end and it confirms that the 21 years’ experience is put to good use on a daily basis!
  • I’ve been asked to speak at trade shows and client-appreciation nights by my vendors
  • I’m currently in the process of shooting a series of product videos for Fisher & Paykel appliances and will be adding new companies in 2015
  • I’m singing in a Rock/Pop choir called NewChoir and preparing for a concert at St. Michael’s School Centre for the Performing Arts at the end of January, an a capella concert at Carnegie Hall in New York at the end of March, and our final concert at Koerner Hall in May.
  • My book, Renovation Bootcamp®: Kitchen – Design and Remodel Your Kitchen Without Losing Your Wallet, Your Mind or Your Spouse continues to sell well through Amazon USA & Canada and other online sellers as well as in digital format on my web site which you can find here.



Robin Siegerman's column in Reno & Decor magazine

  • I’m mostly keeping up with my weekly blog posts (except in the last month when my schedule went haywire), and am enjoying sharing design advice, renovation news and projects, tales from my travels and lifestyle impressions and trends.  You can see my post on Kitchen Trends for 2014 written at the beginning of the year, and see that I was BANG ON with my trend predictions!

Giving gifts


The Renovation Bootcamp great Christmas give-away! @sieguzi

 Covenant house helps street kids

Donate here

As in the past few years, in lieu of company Christmas gifts to my clients, I have made a donation to Covenant House, an organization that supports and cares for kids who have nowhere to go and no family who cares for them. At this time of year particularly, that must leave a huge hole in their lives, and I’m thankful that my business allows me to do even a small part to let them know that they are not forgotten.

There are so many worthy causes all vying for our donation dollars, but if you have any more room in your donation pool, I would encourage you to consider supporting Covenant House. You can find their donation link here.  http://www.covenanthousetoronto.ca/homeless-youth/donate   (Neither I, nor anyone in my family works for this organization, I just truly admire and believe in what they do).

@sieguzi rescue doggies

Scooby & Willis

Unlike in previous years, I’m adding to that donation by also supporting animal charities.  Anyone who knows me knows I’m just one step away from being a “crazy dog lady”! I’ve had 10 dogs in my life and most of them have been rescues.  I truly believe that loving these creatures (and, in fact all animals), is a measure of my humanity. I have been given such devotion, and complete joyous love by them, that I can only hope I can go on rescuing as many as I can for years to come, and that my donation dollars will, in some very small way, ease the fear and trauma of a pet who has been abandoned or abused.

The organizations I’ve chosen to support this year are:

  • OSPCA – with a gift that will provide blankets, treats and food for animals in shelters
  • Tiny Paws Dog Rescue Canada which is the organization from which I’ve adopted two of my beloved fur kids, including 8 year-old Willis above, the poodle daschund cross!
  • Sochi Dog Rescue – which is devoted to fighting the horrifying dog meat trade in Thailand
  • Paws from the Hart – a rescue organization in the USA that saved Angel,  a dog who captured my heart on social media, who was found nearly starved to death when her owners moved away and left her behind.

So with all that, it’s time for me to go digitally dark for a while and put my domestic goddess hat on!

I wish you the Merriest of Christmases, and a New Year that is happy, healthy and filled with beauty and compassion.  I look forward to staying connected through 2015 and beyond.

Thank you for reading, commenting, sharing! I’m grateful to have this opportunity to reach so many like-minded people!

So, HO! Ho! Ho! and CHEERS!!

The kitchen is one of the most expensive rooms to renovate, next to bathrooms, so if your kitchen is feeling bland, and boring, an easy way to give it some PIZZAZZ, is with a pendant light or 3!  And, if you have an island in your kitchen, or a peninsula (where one end of the counter is attached to other cabinetry or a wall, leaving 3 sides accessible), you have a perfect opportunity to add some punch to the kitchen by using some drop-dead-gorgeous pendent lights.

Pendant lights hang down from the ceiling either in a group, like the one below, or individually.   Similar to the earrings on a ball gown, a pendant light can be a focal point and really add to the style of the room, so make the most of the real estate and go for something surprising, or colorful or whimsical!  After all, who wants to see a pair of boring earrings with a ballgown?!

There’s nothing WRONG with this pendent fixture, but it’s a bit ho-hum.

Island pendent light fixtures that won't offend anyone

Inoffensive, but in other words…a bit of a yawwwwn. But if you love them, you can find them here.

These and a hundred variations on this theme are favored by the minimalist set…kitchens designed by those who use little or no color, and very little texture, slab cabinet doors, no surprises….zzzzzzzzzz. Although I could design something like that too, I don’t want to! Life is too short to be conventional!

After 21 years practicing interior design and supervising the decor and renovation of hundreds of homes, I know that when I find a few products that pack a visual wallop, they add excitement to the interior and make the occupants feel good about their surroundings.  Lighting is one of those things that not only serves a vital function, but adds an important decorative element to a room and one of my favorites to work with.  Buyer beware: unique, good quality lighting is not cheap, but it will make all the difference to the room.

 Here are a few of my picks for punchy pendents….

Hand-forged steel light fixture with fabric shade

The Moreau, contemporary, 4-light fixture

Beautiful lighting always makes my heart beat faster, and if there’s a great company story to go along with it, so much the better! Hubbardton Forge, the manufacturer of the fixture above,  was founded in a small Vermont barn in 1974, when two young men revived the nearly forgotten craft of hand-forging raw steel. Their lighting is still proudly handcrafted in Vermont, at one of the largest contemporary commercial forges in the U.S.A. Off-shore products have carved an indelible place in our homes, but seldom are electrical or plumbing fixtures made with quality that will last, so it’s wonderful to see a domestically-made product that started in such an organic way.


The Moreau 4 Light Pendant is an understated, but sculptural, contemporary style product. Contemporary style bridges the gap between traditional and modern. This piece feature simple and clean lines with smooth surfaces without any carving or adornment. This fixture comes in several different finishes including bronze, burnished and natural steel, and the fabric shade is available in various neutral shades of micro-suede.  You can find it here.  It’s not cheap, but good quality seldom is.  This would be equally at home over a kitchen island or a dining room table in an understated interior, and could definitely work in a traditional interior that has an under tone of Arts and Crafts style.


If you read my kitchen style predictions for 2014, you’ll see I was forecasting a big return to gold-toned finishes in kitchens and the whole home. If you missed The Top 10 Kitchen Trends for 2014, you can see it here. This is a trend that is haute-haute-haute (that’s French for hot! 😉 ) and likely to be so for the next 10 years or so, whether in contemporary, transitional or traditional styles.  So this next light fixture is right on trend and is one of the most stylish fixtures that could grace your kitchen.  It’s the kind of fixture that is so unexpected over an island that it will FOR SURE elicit a “WOW!” from everyone who walks into the room.

The shape, color and style are right on trend for this pendent light

Zanado chandelier by Arteriors


This fixture is also contemporary, but for an unexpected touch of whimsy, I would also use it in a traditional room.  It has an adjustable stem so can be used with ceilings of 8′-0″ or higher, but at 29″ wide, your island/peninsula would have to be at least 7′-0″ wide to use two of them side-by-side.  To use three side-by-side, your island should be at least 12 feet long.  If you don’t have an island/peninsula, one of these over a kitchen table would be fab!  You can find it here.


Transitional style is one of my personal favorites, whether in furniture, fabrics or light fixtures.  Transitional style is marked by clean lines, clear finishes and colors that are neither too trendy or too staid,  but has elements of both contemporary or traditional so can often be successfully used in either of those types of interiors.



Transitional, drum pendent light fixture

Drum fixture with white shade and brushed nickel finish. Find it here.

Although brushed nickel finishes have been around for a while, they have a light, clean look so will endure for quite some time to come.  This drum fixture, combines a traditional shape with a contemporary, geometric metal overlay, giving it its transitional style.  It accommodates 3, 100 watt bulbs, so a single fixture could be used over a table and give lots of light.  But at only 18″ wide, you could use 3 in a row above an island/peninsula and if you use 60 watt bulbs, you’ll have more than enough light output for any task on the work surface.  This fixture has companion wall sconces, which you could use in an alcove or on either side of a mirror in an adjoining powder room.


Because this fixture has a closed bottom so you can’t see the bulbs, to save on energy costs and have an extraordinarily long bulb life, buy medium base LED bulbs in an 11 watt, which is equivalent to a 60 watt incandescent, and its light quality is indistinguishable  from incandescent bulbs and are dimmable like this one from Philips, which uses only 11 watts of energy. At just under $15.00 per bulb on Amazon, over the life of the bulb they will cost you less than $1.00 per year.

LED light bulbs save a huge amount of energy

With a 25,000 hour life span, LED bulbs far outlive incandescents of 2,000 hours, on average


Kitchen cabinet manufacturer, Clive Christian, is known for their over-the-top traditional detailing and may have been one of the first kitchen companies to feature crystal chandeliers over their kitchen islands.  Without a doubt, they bring a certain je-ne-sait-quoit glamor and sparkle to the kitchen, but to my eye, their kitchens are a little like indulging in a calorie-rich meal with many course, and copious amounts of alcohol: seemed like a good idea at the time, but gives you heart burn if you indulge on a daily basis!


Traditional detailing can go a bit too far

Rich traditional detailing and crystal chandeliers are hallmarks of a Clive Christian kitchen

Now, people who know me, know I LOOOOOVE me some bling, and wear big rhinestones at the least provocation.  But the difference between wearing bling and decorating with it, is that you take off your clothes at the end of the day and wear something different the next one, whereas your kitchen will wear the same outfit for at least 15 years…So my design advice is, by all means add some bling if you love it, just don’t go overboard, so you won’t get tired of it.

Here’s the mini Belini, single light pendant fixture by well-known manufacturer Feiss that I’d use as a trio over an island that gives some lovely sparkle without beating you over the head with the point!

Mini pendant with crystal and oxidized bronze

Oxidized bronze and crystal gives this mini fixture some zing


If you don’t have a kitchen  island, or you do but you also have an architectural feature you want to highlight, there’s no better way to do that than with interesting light fixtures.

In this window-well that is two-and-a-half stories high, it cried out for some interesting lighting that would not only highlight it, but provide light to the eating area of the kitchen.  So I found an interesting, Mexican punched tin lantern that was surprisingly affordable, ordered 3 of them and had a special canopy made so they could be mounted to one junction box and had the chains adjusted in length so they are at staggered heights.  This fixture invites the visitor to look up into the window well, which becomes a much more noteworthy architectural feature than if I had just left it plain.

Custom-mounted Mexican lanterns

Using inexpensive fixtures creatively can provide visual impact


Here are another variety of Mexican lantern available through Renovation Bootcamp for a pre-Christmas price of $309.77 each. Custom canopy, applicable taxes and shipping extra.  Contact me at Robin@RenovationBootcamp.com for more info.


Mexican lanterns provide light and visual interest

Mexican lanterns are interesting pieces over an island or to highlight an alcove.


Armed with these ideas and the thousands of interesting choices available, you have no excuse for boring lighting!


My choice to include Mexican lanterns was no accident, since I was fortunate to recently spend 10 days in Mexico.  It was a wonderful trip, and in a future post, I’ll share some of the joyful and colorful Mexican folk art and art on canvas that I saw and some of the fascinating history of the Mayan culture.

While I was away, I got the wonderful news that this blog, Tales from the Trenches on RenovationBootcamp.com was nominated for a 2014 Canadian Weblog Award!  I’m so thrilled to have been nominated! It’s not only an honour, but gratifying to know that there are more people than my just my husband and son who like what I’m writing!  Thank you to the folks at Shmutzie’s Canadian Weblog Awards! It’s a juried competition, with no voting, so also, thanks to the 38 volunteer jurors.  They have hundreds of blogs to review and they put in a lot of time.  The top 5 blogs will be announced on December 5th, so follow along!

2014 Canadian Weblog Awards



Protected by Copyscape Online Plagiarism Detector Plagiarism is a nasty practice that runs rampant on the web, perpetrated by people who don’t have the creativity or imagination to dream up their own content but have to steal that of others. I have been offered “cheap tools” to spin other content to use on my blog, which is just a way of stealing content and disguising that fact so Google doesn’t catch on.  Needless to say, all my content is original and comes from 21 years of experience and a lifetime of learning.

If you are thinking of stealing content, the least you can do is link back to the original post and give the author credit. It’s what your mother would like you to do and you will sleep with a clear conscience.

Lecture over. 🙂


Covenant House helps kids on the street

Some of the links in this post are affiliate links, which means when you make a purchase, I receive a very small commission.  However you never pay more and everything that I feature are items I would use for myself or clients and are on sites that I regularly patronize for my business.

Covenant house helps street kids

But as always, when you make a purchase from an affiliate link, 20% of my commission is donated to Covenant House, an organization devoted to helping kids on the street with no place to go.  And at this time of year, that is a heart-wrenching thought. So I appreciate your help in helping the kids.

Also, in time for Christmas, my book

Renovation Bootcamp®: Kitchen 

Design and Remodel Your Kitchen Without Losing Your Wallet, Your Mind or Your Spouse

will be included in that offer.  Buy it from Amazon in Canada or the USA and send me proof of purchase, and I will make a donation on your behalf to Covenant House.

Renovation Bootcamp book cover


Under cabinet lights keep the counters from being dark @sieguzi

No lighting under the cabinets makes the work surface gloomy

Did you know that poor lighting in a kitchen can cause you to have headaches, neck and shoulder problems and eye strain?

Did you also know that poorly designed lighting in a kitchen can ruin the whole effect of your costly remodel?

Lighting your kitchen well can make the difference between a room that feels warm and inviting, where friends and family love to gather and linger vs one that feels gloomy and drab or clinical and sterile and makes meal preparation a chore and a depressing experience.

Here are 7 Rules for undercabinet lighting  for your kitchen!

Undercabinet lighting illuminates the work surface @sieguzi

After the renovation, even undercabinet lighting


My pet peeve is when people refer to this as “undercounter” lighting.  It’s not mounted under the counter, it’s mounted under the wall cabinets to LIGHT UP your COUNTER, therefore it’s UNDER—–>>> CABINET lighting.

Because the tasks you perform often use sharp implements and blades that can lop off a digit or two, lighting up your work area is critical, but there are a few rules of thumb to keep in mind so you can keep your thumb on your hand where it belongs:

1.   The lights should be mounted to the under side of the wall cabinet at the front NOT the back.  The idea is to light your work surface, not the back wall.  Since your wall cabinets are half the depth of your base cabinets, mounting your lights at the front of the cabinet will give you good lighting on the whole counter top, not just at the back.


2.   If you have chosen a highly reflective counter top material like polished black granite, it will look like a mirror when lit from above, bouncing terrible glare off the counter top back into your eyes.  So for this kind of situation, use an under cabinet fixture with a lense that’s frosted which will diffuse the lights so you don’t blind yourself and cut off a digit!


3.   Using individual puck lights for under-cabinet lighting is not the best solution unless you space them very close together so you don’t get “hot” spots under the light and dark spots between the fixtures.  This causes your pupils to constantly be dilating and focusing and can cause eyestrain and headaches.


4.   LED strip lighting will not be as bright as other types like halogen, xenon or fluorescent, so you might want to use two strips side-by-side. This will double your cost, but their life is so long, you’ll virtually never have to replace them, unless you leave them on 24/7. Even then, they should last for a good 15 years or more.


5.   Try to install the light switch that controls your under cabinet lighting in the same place as your general room lighting.  You’ll get aggravated very quickly if you have to run around your kitchen to hit the switches to control various light sources.


6.   Colour temperature of your under cabinet lighting is going to affect how the colours of your backsplash tile and counter top look. If the light is very cool (like a fluorescent with a lot of blue in the spectrum), warm colors like reds and oranges are going to look dead.  On the other hand, a cool light can make green or blue more vivid. Talk to someone who knows lighting before throwing in any old under cabinet lighting if you’ve got a backsplash or counter top you want to highlight.


7.   Unless your cabinets have a face-frame that creates a recessed cavity under your wall cabinets, be sure your kitchen designer specifies a light valance. This is a strip of cabinet-match material of about 2″ high that will hide the under cabinet lights from view so you won’t be hit in the eyes with glare when you sit at a kitchen table.



December January issue of RENO & Decor magazine featuring @sieguzi

Check out the latest issue of RENO & Decor magazine which features my new column: “Reno Smart”. You can see the digital magazine here.

If you’re not already a subscriber, you can get a free subscription to this yummy magazine’s paper version by e-mailing the director of distribution, Nancy Frankel at



The Renovation Bootcamp great Christmas give-away! @sieguzi



As my special holiday gift to YOU, just in time for Christmas giving, I’ll be giving away one ONLINE DESIGN ROOM FACELIFT OR DOWNSIZING PLAN that you can use for yourself or pass on to a friend!  To be eligible to win, click *LIKE* and leave me a comment on The Christmas giveaway post on my Facebook page here and tell me what your decor dillema is and how it will help you to get it fixed!

You will receive:

  • a room plan to show you up to two possible options for furniture arrangements

  • color recommendations, digital fabric swatches, drapery styles, photos of furniture, lighting and accessory suggestions and shopping links

  • a written report to give you a detailed road map to follow

  • a half- hour phone consultation to discuss your plan



Here’s the fine print: If you are a current client or a past client, you can pass this on to a friend, but you are not eligible for yourself.  The actual plan will be done in February 2015.



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Photo of a remembrance day poppy

This year is the 100th anniversary of the start of WWI,  and today, Remembrance Day,  is set aside for remembering heroes.  Supposedly, WWI was”The War to End All Wars”.

As we know, the shattering truth was, it was not the last brutal slaughter of young people the world would see, and truly, I can’t say I believe there will ever be a time when people will cease fighting.

Today, November 11th, Remembrance Day in Canada, and Veteran’s Day in the USA, we all must take a moment to remember and give thanks to all those who have fought on our behalf for the freedom that we too often take for granted.

Canadian war memorial at Juno Beach @sieguzi

Canadian memorial to casualties of the D-day landing at Juno Beach, France

At the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, the major hostilities of WWI came to an end.

Restored trenches bring WWI close to home

Restored trenches at the front at Vimy Ridge, France

My husband Steve and I were blessed to have one child, Julian, who is 23. Before I gave birth, I never imagined I could ever love another human being as completely and as purely as this young man, and I can’t begin to imagine how I could ever let him go off to war.

Honouring the parents and families of those who fought and those who were lost

So today, I also honour the parents and families of the dead young men and women, who were loved and cherished by their families, just as we treasure our child.  The families endured an unimaginable sacrifice and emotional agony by sending their children, the vast number of whom were barely past childhood, to be slaughtered to fight what are essentially human traits of greed and megalomania.

Last year, Steve, Julian and I went to France to Normandy to visit the sites of the D-Day landings of WWII: the Canadian landing site of Juno Beach, the British landing sites of Gold and Sword Beaches, where Steve’s father landed on D-day+3, and the American site of Omaha Beach….

The remains of an enemy bunker at Juno Beach, France @sieguzi

Inside an enemy bunker at Juno Beach, Normandy, France

….and to Vimy Ridge, near the Belgian border, which was the site of a strategic victory for Canada in WWI.

A Canadian tunnel at the front at Vimy Ridge, France

Canadian tunnel at the front at Vimy Ridge, France

I think you’d be hard pressed to find a Canadian or American family (or almost any nationality for that matter), who doesn’t have one relative who served in either WWI or WWII or any of the wars that followed, switching sides among families and battles.  It’s a horrific legacy that humanity has handed its children.

War in every family history

In researching personal history, I found these photos:

Tom Siegerman, Jewish-Canadian Legionnaire, Palestine, 1919

Thomas E. Siegerman, (far right) Jewish-Canadian Legionnaire in Palestine, 1919

My grandfather inscribed the back:

Rishon Le Zion, Palestine, Feb 5, 1919. Four “Canadian” Legionnaires dressed in waterproofs ready for a rain or sand storm.  These are also used as ground sheets to sleep on in the tent.  Also can be made into small bivouac tents used while on a long march by fastening two together with 2 sticks and 6 pegs.  This makes a temporary covering for 2 men. These sheets are also used as a bath tub by digging a hole in the ground cover and lining it with the rubber sheet and filling up with water.”

A German officer in the family in 1917

Valerie & Mario Uzielli, who was a German officer in WWI, on their wedding day, April 12, 1917

Steve’s grandfather, Mario Uzielli, was a German army officer in WWI when he married Valerie Lust, a German Jew.  An antiquarian by profession, Mario sold his business to his partner and left Germany with Valerie and their two children, Gabriella and Claude (Steve’s father),  in 1936 and settled in Switzerland.

During the war, Mario and Valerie sent their 15-year-old son Claude to England to live with an uncle, Julian (after whom our son is named),  who mentored and guided him so that he ultimately joined the British army and fought against the Germans. He remained in England until the 1950’s when he and his wife (Steve’s mother) Mary and 2 daughters Clare and Veronica, emigrated to Canada.  Steve was born in Canada.

Claude Uzielli was in the D-day invasions with the British army

Claude Uzielli, British army officer in WWII

Steve and I are so lucky to have had our grandfathers and father survive the atrocities that occured in both World Wars, but so many were not so lucky. So today, I’d like to honour their memories, with the famous poem, In Flanders Fields, written during the First World War by Canadian physician Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae. He was inspired to write it on May 3, 1915, after presiding over the funeral of friend and fellow soldier Alexis Helmer, who died in the Second Battle of Ypres.

Photo of the Canadian cemetary at Vimy Ridge

The Canadian cemetary at Vimy Ridge, France

Listen to it here:

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
      Between the crosses, row on row,
   That mark our place; and in the sky
   The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
   Loved and were loved, and now we lie
         In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
   The torch; be yours to hold it high.
   If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
         In Flanders fields.

Last year I posted about our trip to Normandy and Vimy in remembrance, with a video of a descent into a tunnel at what was then the front at Vimy.  I invite you to read that post which you can find here and take a few moments to truly imagine the fear, loneliness and longing for home those young people experienced, to remember and thank them so they will not have died in vain.

To see more about Normandy, you can find that post here.

Hug your loved ones tight tonight.