How’s Your Sense of Design?

Home DesignDesign is all around us. In our homes, everything from structural elements like roofs and room layout to hardware for doors and sinks is designed. Some argue that the best design is invisible. Bad design calls attention to itself and may frustrate or injure users. When you walk through your house, condominium, or cottage, can you tell the difference between good and bad design?

Unconsciously, you do make a distinction. Aren’t there aspects of your home that you love because they make you feel good, or because they make it easy for you to do things in your home? Well-designed room layout and accessibility on every level from light switches to storage allow users to concentrate on what they want to do instead of struggling to get things done. For many property owners, the unasked and unanswered question is: How much exists by design, and how much is just there for a number of random reasons?

A renovated home can be as well designed as a brand-new home—and it can be just as badly designed, too. Price does not always dictate design success, but it can. However, some very expensive homes and condominiums, with equally-expensive furniture and fixtures, are very poorly designed. What looks good does not automatically work well for the users, or last as long as it should. I often hear about great first-impression renovations that continually disappoint when put to daily user tests. Television, magazines, and the internet have turned design into entertainment. If there wasn’t so much poor or out-dated design, most programs, publications and blogs would not have much to talk about. Trashing the existing and starting again can be a solution, but a more practical approach may be isolating design weaknesses, and transforming them into design success.

Where do you start? Before you hire a designer or architect to translate your desired final uses and outcomes into reality, improve your powers of observation. Develop your depth of curiosity at why something is the way it is by immersing yourself in at least one area that appeals to you. Design principles are transferrable, so your newly-acquired understanding will help you appreciate other applications. It will also provide improve empathy with an interior designer or other professional who is determined to contribute to the successful transformation of your environment. You don’t have to become a designer, just understand how good design will help you enjoy your real estate, and how bad design may defeat you.

Resources abound! Visit libraries and magazine retailers to discover the full range of interior design and home style publications. Search online for parallel resources. Look beyond your region, and beyond Canada and North America for ideas. There is so much terrific content out there, you’ll find a lot of great inspiration fairly easily.

Attend home shows and trade shows to sample the range of new products and systems. Follow up online to expand into new areas of development. Toronto-based Interior Design Show [ Interior Design Show ] and the accompanying week-long Toronto International Design Festival are terrific resources. What’s happening in your area?

Think beyond conventional and tradition limitations on any element of your home. Must look like restrictions should be left behind. Visit design events like the Interior Design Show to see how the traditional is being reworked. Even outrageous ideas and seemingly small observations can trigger practical reactions for you. For example:

  • Objects with transparency or translucency, but of any shape or dimension can replace window glass or curtains. At Gregor Herman Glass, enlarged glass shapes hung from vertical taut wires form a stunning art piece that functions as a window covering which protects privacy while letting light in.
  • Felt has many functional uses as a cushion to soften the impact of one object on another, but have you thought of this durable organic as a high-style design element? The Ontario Craft Council displayed the works of the late master artist Lily Yung in a retrospective that celebrated ingenuity and started visitors thinking. A cushion covered with close-set flaps of abstract felt shapes sewn together á la shag rug style resulted in a comfortable, natural covering that became a continually moulded shape as it was sat on. What crafts that you or neighbours have perfected could become functional art?

Everything is art and can be improved on. For instance, faucets and taps are no longer merely hardware. Smooth curves and angular shapes have turned these important elements into design elements available at all price points. Delta, Brizo and Hansgrohe are a few of many that have transformed water delivery.

You know that colour is magic, but do you use its often-inexpensive transformational power to upgrade your spaces? A splash or refocus here and there, and last year’s drab couch or tired bedroom takes on new energy. Paint manufacturers offer fresh new colour pallets each year to inspire designers and consumers alike. For instance, Pittsburgh Paints’ provides many ideas on matching, mixing and exploiting colour with their help. Check out the bold, bright colours of optimism and invigoration that lead Colour Trends for 2011/2012.

Don’t wait to improve your living space by hiring stagers when it’s time to sell. Investigate your options for better living now, and convert negatives into exciting positives, by design.

Written by PJ Wade