Tag Archives: Samantha Sannella

Restoring a Heritage Home

Restoring a heritage home – old, yes, but not forgotten

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Restoring a heritage home – old, yes, but not forgotten

Transforming a heritage home into a real estate jewel through a renovation or restoration is a labour of love – it requires a commitment to architectural character and a willingness to meet the challenge of unexpected surprises along the way. If your client has hired you to preserve the look, but update certain areas, the following are five broad categories that you’ll want to investigate.


Age, general architectural style and condition

Learn as much as you can about the history of the building. The historical society can be a good resource. Also, check archives for any old permits, drawings, photos, or newspaper articles about former owners. Learning about the lives of the people who built and lived in the house can help with restoration decisions. Many styles of architecture have played a role in our history, from Queen Anne, Victorian to Colonial Revival. Occasionally, you might also find a true Arts and Crafts style home too. It’s worth documenting the details of the home and checking books at your local library (or on the Internet) to determine its exact style. By learning the age of the home, who its former occupants were and its architectural style, you’ll be able to more easily piece together the “historic” puzzle for your client.


Structure, electrical, plumbing, heating-cooling and drainage

As far as condition goes, it’s worth investing in the services of a home inspector who is knowledgeable about historic architecture. He or she will be able to create a report that identifies potential problem areas and suggest viable, cost-effective solutions.

Problems with infrastructure can range from knob and tube wiring to clay pipes in plumbing. Foundations can be problematic as well, as old concrete can settle and crack, causing the building to shift; a pencil or a marble placed on the floor may well provide you with a heads-up. Any horizontal cracks in the concrete indicate severe settling and could mean costly repairs. If you suspect any underlying issues with the structure, it’s best to have it inspected by a structural engineer.

Envelope, roof, insulation, walls, windows and doors

Before changing any of the elements that make up the envelope of the building, ensure that replacements or repairs will maintain the architectural character.

Windows and doors on old homes can be problematic due to rotten wood and energy inefficiency. Luckily, most historical boards recognize this and let owners replace them with more modern choices as long as the general character is the same. However, if you are fortunate enough to have windows with stained or art glass, consider hiring an expert to restore them.

Many older homes were originally insulated with horsehair or newspaper. Newer homes, but older than 1990 may also have vermiculite insulation which likely contains asbestos. In most cases, an investment is needed to remove the old insulation and properly insulate the walls, the attic and the roof. Energy rebates may be available for this.

Interior furniture, fixtures, materials and decorative trim

The interior design of a heritage property can be very detailed, and it’s important to decide which characteristics contribute to the value of the home. Ceiling details and interior trim — such as door stiles and rails, wainscoting and any decorative motifs — can be extremely valuable and worth preserving or restoring to its original state. Wallpaper patterns can be replicated and heritage paint colours are available.

Door and window hardware is often bronze, copper or crystal. Sometimes missing fixtures or ornate lighting can be found in architectural salvage stores.

The fireplace was the focus of many older homes. Oftentimes, mantel and hearth details were spectacular and included carved wood or marble. Make sure the home inspector is a bit of a detective as well and removes bits of paint in inconspicuous areas to see if you own a hidden treasure.

Landscaping, hardscape, plantings and style

The landscaping of a historic property can’t be overlooked. Many of our forebears brought their gardening skills with them from England, Italy and France, where gardens were outdoor living spaces. While it may be difficult to determine from an initial observation of what a garden may have once looked like, old photos can provide valuable clues.

Scent gardens, formal seating areas tucked into the shrubbery, and decorative ironwork gateways that framed views of other landscape elements. Gardens can give a heritage property context and take a historic home from stunning to truly spectacular.

SAMANTHA SANNELLA, BFA ID, M ARCH, is a designer, educator and principal at Urban Retreat Homes.

She is an expert in the field of design and construction and is a columnist for several HOMES Publishing Group publications.


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THE DESIGN CONSULTANT: Just because you can, doesn't mean you should

Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should

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Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should

Take the time to evaluate your workplace, align it to the overall business plan and empower it to maximize your most critical asset: the employee.

We have seen a significant change in the nature of work. This has been highly influenced by advances in technology and increased need for mobility, generational and population shifts, diversity and inclusiveness. Cities and buildings are changing in parallel to work and work patterns. Land is becoming scarce and buildings more valuable. To stay competitive, organizations must leverage every opportunity – which includes people, place and technology.

As someone who has been practicing in the design field for over 25 years, one of my favourite pieces of advice is, “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.” While it applies to a multitude of experiences, such as the use of sound effects in PowerPoint, it also applies to trendy workplace decisions, such as the removal of all walls, un-assigning workstations and the provision of beer kegs in work lounges.

Many organizations are scrambling to create workplaces to attract and retain new generations. The workplace is a significant contributor to employee attraction and retention, productivity and loyalty. These are crucial to an organization’s success.

While competition for talent is driving CEOs and real estate leaders to redesign, relocate and reinvent, it should be a collective goal to view the workplace as an extension of compensation – and just as practical. Rather than focusing on trendy solutions that may be short-lived, take the time to evaluate the workplace, align it to the overall business plan and empower it to maximize your most critical asset: the employee.

This can be accomplished in several ways. First, by leveraging the workplace to drive employee engagement, spaces help define the culture. There are clear benefits to having a strong unified culture and the workplace is an example of visually persistent culture. Ultimately, the workplace is a constant reminder of our values, brand and identity.

While there are many influences on corporate culture, two main drivers at present are the millennial generation and technology.

Millennials are driving the workplace changes. They have high expectations and desire a strong corporate image. Tech companies made the entrepreneurial, incubating culture of their workplaces desirable and have spread trends such as “scrum style” work areas, meditation rooms, ping pong areas and lounges like wildfire throughout offices worldwide.

This demand for cool workplaces has increased greatly in the last decade — but what constitutes cool is not so easily defined. It is decidedly dependent on the vision of the company and requires careful analysis of the brand.

Collaborative work environments are at the core of the modern office. Organizations that are collaborative are also more innovative. Brainstorming brings forward the best ideas and strengthens interpersonal relationships between employees, which makes organizations stronger and more robust. Collaboration between departments provides for more transparency and often results in a more efficient use of resources. While digital collaboration is critical, nothing beats face-to-face collaboration fostered by a wide variety of work settings.

Beyond meeting rooms, employees benefit from lounges, coffee bars, decompression areas and places that foster physical activity. Essentially, learning and sharing occurs best when it can be nurtured in different ways: visual, aural, verbal, physical, logical, social and solitary. Good workspace design accommodates all seven.

A great workplace provides a combination of spaces that foster productivity and accommodates both focused work and collaborative work. Modern work environments should not default to monotonous seas of hoteling, benching or touchdown workstations to maximize capacity and save real estate dollars. Careful thought and planning should go into developing future goals and aspirations.

Aligning the business objectives to the workplace plan to drive innovation, productivity and employee health and happiness should be the first exercise in any workplace redesign. By balancing a variety of space types and projecting the appropriate image with visual cues, workplace design becomes an active part in making an organization successful. When designing for productivity, we must evaluate activity-based work settings, public/private zoning, territoriality, mobility and the continuum of work habits.

Cushman & Wakefield’s Experience per Square Foot (XSF) survey measures employees’ current work experience in their office space and identifies the biggest levers for optimizing the employee experience. XSF analysis consistently has found that ensuring minimal distractions in the workplace is the top driver of employees’ ability to focus on their work. Other common drivers include availability and access to data and information, privacy, and having the types of space needed for various tasks.

Three of these four top levers point to the need to approach densification efforts with a focus on employees’ day-to-day effectiveness and not just on cost savings. This requires a variety of space types throughout the office to support individual and group work.

It is important to note that people are territorial by nature. Objects, spaces, relationships and behavioural roles are areas in which people claim ownership. Territory can help to create social belonging and establish a sense of psychological and physical comfort. How does this affect life at the office and the creation of workspaces? The key to a successful and respectful workplace is balance.

While specific success KPIs may vary, facilities managers, designers, architects and real estate professionals are keenly aware of how environments affect occupants. There is increased scrutiny to determine and measure how the workplace can affect productivity, health, sociability, efficiency and responsiveness to change. At Cushman and Wakefield, we have entitled this balanced approach the The Holistic Workplace.

Each of these categories offers a distinct way of setting goals and measuring successes. It is an established process that allows us to ask the right questions and predict the outcomes.

For example, when designing for productivity, we must evaluate activity-based work settings, public/private zoning, territoriality, mobility and the continuum of work habits. In establishing a healthy workplace, a thorough analysis of individual and group needs must be performed while integrating sustainable, ergonomic, biophilic and wellness-focused initiatives. A social workplace must promote learning and collaboration while making spaces inspirational and aspirational. Efficient workspaces are streamlined and optimized to align to business objectives, occupancy scenarios and utilization strategies. Responsive workspace design recognizes that organizations are living and constantly changing so the work environment should be able to adapt to suit new needs. By future proofing — a.k.a. designing with an eye on the future — as much as possible, we can provide flexibility, save valuable dollars and provide a great workplace that serves as a catalyst for organizational and business success.

Samantha Sannella is managing director, strategic consulting for Cushman and Wakefield.


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Architecture Expert : The Sum Of Its Parts

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Architecture Expert : The Sum Of Its Parts

How the many details add style and functionality to your kitchen.

By Samantha Sannella

Renovating your kitchen is a big undertaking. If you want to make sure you get the most out of your investment, consider hiring a designer to plan and supervise the execution. Most kitchen redesigns require new flooring, electrical and plumbing—as well as a focus on making the space more functional and beautiful— so hiring a designer is definitely step one in the process before you begin discussions with a contractor.


When planning a kitchen, it is important to answer practical questions to direct the design. For example, are you a serious chef? Do you have kids at home? Is cooking a family activity? Do you require low-maintenance finishes? What is the overall budget? How storage-intensive are you? Have you begun to look at appliances? Is there an esthetic goal you have in mind? A good designer will ask 100 questions to understand how you will use the space.


For kitchens, while the overall look and feel is important, the details can really make the difference. Storage accessories increase the functionality. Countertops add colour and visual texture. Hardware is the ‘jewelry’ of the kitchen and can add a significant amount of pizzazz.


Incorporating trends like, ‘no upper cabinets’ should be considered carefully. While it might look cool, functionality may overrule if your space is small. Magic corners, pullout drawers and trolleys up the ante on convenience and make every inch more accessible. Accessories can increase the budget by thousands of dollars, so it’s worth your time to prioritize where you really need them. Plate holders and cutlery dividers are great to have for drawers, while busy chefs love the magnetic knife holders mounted on the backsplash.


If you have children, or are a busy chef with little time for maintenance, consider a quartz countertop first. Virtually maintenance-free, these can withstand red wine, hot pots and sharp knives. Colours, patterns and textures are plenty and the marketplace has significantly increased the offering over the last few years. Not to be confused with quartzite, which is a natural stone, quartz is a composite material that is man-made. Also, granite should be considered. The colours and patterns vary greatly amongst granite types, and the beauty of a natural granite countertop is timeless. However, not all granites are appropriate for the kitchen. Stay away from granites that you typically see on building facades, cemetery headstones and institutional floors.


One idea to weigh carefully is hardware-free, touch-latch cabinets vs. handles and knobs. While modern kitchens look great without visible hardware, busy chefs who lean or bump against cabinets can trigger the touch latches frequently, and this can be easily annoying. On the other hand, certain types of hardware can cause a few pokes and bruises, and depending upon choice, can really increase your budget. The trends that are here to stay include: matte black, gold and brass hardware. Don’t underestimate the beauty of glass and crystal knobs on cabinets where you might want to feature your grandmother’s dish collection.

Samantha Sannella

Photography: Kitchen Photos: By Larry Arnal, Hardware: Designed and Photographed By Shayne Fox


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Colour Trends for 2018

Colour Trends for 2018

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Colour Trends for 2018

by Samantha Sannella

Colour is light, travelling to us in waves. When light strikes any object, the object will absorb only the wavelengths that exactly match its own atomic structure and reflect the rest — which is what we see. As such, colour is inescapable.

Science has always recognized the link between colour and human behaviour and there are numerous studies that detail the subject, but many are inconclusive. It is important to understand that there is a great difference between colour psychology and colour symbolism. As well, cultural differences can effect how people determine their reactions to colour.

There are positive and negative associations with all colours. The slightest changes in tone and hue can greatly determine how colour is perceived. For example, gray can be neutral and calming, but also depressing. White can represent purity and cleanliness, but also sterility and coldness. Red can be seen as aggressive, but warm.

For 2018, colour trends from premier paint companies are inspired by nature, modernism and metallic sheens.

Beauti-Tone "Green Peace"
Beauti-Tone “Green Peace”

Beauti-Tone has chosen Green Peace as their colour of the year. A colour strongly rooted in nature, Green Peace is an interesting blend of an earthy camouflage green and a soft botanical green.

“As humans, we crave nature. It is there that we slow down, feel connection — become stronger,” said Bev Bell, creative director, Beauti-Tone Paint and Home Products Division, Home Hardware Stores Limited. “Since we can’t always get outside, the solution is to bring aspects of nature into our home to improve our well-being, productivity and creativity.”

PPG Voice of Colour "Black Flame"
PPG Voice of Colour “Black Flame”

PPG unveiled Black Flame as their 2018 choice.

“It acts like a black curtain, allowing your other decor elements to take centre stage,” said Dee Schlotter, PPG senior colour marketing manager. “It’s a fantastic blend of black and indigo, two classic hues. Black creates the silence we crave in an information-heavy world, while the indigo offers possibility and a deep hopefulness. The blend of two colours makes it incredibly versatile — use it on a statement wall, with a matte finish on a ceiling, with high gloss on a naturally-lit staircase, on cabinets, interior and exterior doors and in many more places. The versatile hue can also provide strength and a modern luxe vibe to spaces with a lot of whites, blush pinks and soft pastels.”


According to the colour experts at Pantone, intense colours are back and there are eight palettes that will inspire 2018.

  • VERDURE: Vegetal colours like celery are combined with berry-infused purples and eggshell blue, symbolic of health, in this palette.
  • PLAYFUL: Think Minions. Bright yellow, lime popsicle and all other things fun come together for this colour scheme. “People need to stop and smile,” said Pantone Colour Institute executive director Leatrice Eiseman.
  • DISCRETION: Playful’s alter ego. Subtle hues such as elderberry and hawthorne rose offer a new sense of strength. “Pink has developed more power than ever before,” Eiseman said.
  • FAR-FETCHED: With warm, earthy hues such as corn silk yellow blending with rosy tones, this palette embraces many different cultures.
  • INTRICACY: A palette of neutral metallics (the new neutrals) with accents of dramatic holly berry red and yellow sulfur.
  • INTENSITY: This is an eclectic mix of colours that evokes a sense of strength, power and sophistication, all balanced with black and gold.
  • TECH-NIQUE: Bright turquoise, pink and purple colours anchored with brilliant white and frosted almond are a nod to technology.


Benjamin Moore "Caliente"
Benjamin Moore “Caliente”

Benjamin Moore declared its Colour of the Year 2018 as Caliente, a vibrant, charismatic shade of red.

“Strong, radiant and full of energy, Caliente is total confidence. It is pleasing, passionate and makes people feel special, like ‘red carpet treatment,’ said Ellen O’Neill, Benjamin Moore director of strategic design intelligence. “Whether used as one note or on four walls, the spirited personality of red turns heads, signalling surprise and adventure. The eye can’t help but follow its bold strokes.”

Sherwin Williams "Oceanside"
Sherwin Williams “Oceanside”

Sherwin Williams has focused on a relaxing shade of teal for their colour of the year. Oceanside is inspired by travel and the blue-green hue will add an air of mystery and elegance to any space.

“People today have a growing sense of adventure, and it is making its way into even the coziest corners of our homes. We are craving things that remind us of bright folklore, like mermaids and expeditions across continents,” said Sue Wadden, director of colour marketing. “Oceanside is the colour of wanderlust right in our own homes.”

For the past few years, whites and neutrals have ruled the world of paint colour. Behr isn’t one to follow the lead, which is why they named In the Moment as its first-ever Colour of the Year. In it, spruce blue, soft gray and lush green coalesce to evoke a sense of sanctuary and relaxation.

In The Moment speaks to our society’s desire to disconnect and be present,” said Erika Woelfel, vice president of colour and creative services at Behr. “It crosses multiple design styles — global, coastal, modern — and pairs well with other subdued colours to create harmony for interiors or exteriors.”

SAMANTHA SANNELLA, BFA ID, M ARCH, is a designer, educator and principal at Urban Retreat Homes.

She is an expert in the field of design and construction and is a columnist for RENO & DECOR and editor of the Ontario Design Trade Sourcebook.



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Flooring: It's a Hard Choice

Flooring: It’s a Hard Choice

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Flooring: It’s a Hard Choice

by Samantha Sannella


Wood floors can be extremely durable and offer an unparalleled natural beauty. Wood floors must be chosen carefully whether solid or engineered. There are many things that should be considered: hardness, finish, pattern and maintenance. The National Wood Floor Association (NWFA) sets standards for flooring and produces guidelines that manufacturers must meet to be certified. You can also refer to the Canadian National Floor Covering Association for guidelines when sourcing flooring.

The hardness of a wood is rated on an industry-wide standard known as the Janka test. It measures the force required to embed a .444-inch steel ball into the wood by half its diameter. This test is one of the best measures of the ability of a wood species to withstand denting and wear. It is also a good indicator of how hard wood is to saw, mill and nail.

Log's End reclaimed floor "pine"
Log’s End reclaimed floor “pine”

For example, Brazilian cherry, mahogany and pecan are at the top of the scale, while maple, ash and oak are in the middle. Soft woods include southern pine and Douglas fir. The NWFA also sets forth acceptable moisture content, board lengths, edge dimensions and thickness for both finished and unfinished hardwood. There are installation guidelines along with sanding and finishing.

One of the most important things to consider when choosing hardwood floors is the extent to which is will be used throughout the home. Due to its structural stability, engineered flooring is recommended for the basement. Many times, owners desire heated floors so recommending engineered flooring throughout the home can be a practical solution. Engineered flooring offers more stability during moisture shifts and typical problems seen in hardwood floors can be avoided when using a good quality engineered flooring.

Log's End reclaimed floor "birch"
Log’s End reclaimed floor “birch”

Not all flooring is created equal. There are many foreign sourced floors on the market that don’t meet strict North American quality guidelines. These product choices can be risky. Also, be aware that some product packaging can be misleading and make buyers believe that the products are Canadian, but they are not. Sticking with reputable products that provide good customer service is highly recommended when sourcing flooring.


One of the biggest trends on the market today is large-scale floor and wall tile. Some of these tiles are full-scale slab size 48-inch by 98-inch or larger. While the aesthetic of large tiles can be a bold choice, they sometimes also bring a large installation price. Ultrathin porcelain tiles can require special backings before installation to strengthen them, which can greatly increase the installation price. Tiles that are $12 per square foot can easily be $30 per square foot or more to install.

Max Fine porcelain tile floor
Max Fine porcelain tile floor

Tile patterns can be a unique way to add interest to floors. Many of the newer patterns — such as hexagons, herringbones and chevrons — can make beautiful entries, kitchens, laundry rooms and bathrooms. One of the biggest benefits to porcelain floors is durability and ease of maintenance. Through-body porcelains also offer aesthetic protection in case of deep scratches or chips. Many of the newer choices also mimic natural stone and can be almost identical at a fraction of the cost.

To be certain of the quality of porcelain products, consider doing your homework at the Tile Council of North America. Porcelain products are moisture tested to ensure that they meet the strict standards set forth for non-absorption. Certified porcelain products can be used outside and are considered frost proof. Certified products carry the Porcelain Tile Certification Association label.


While natural stone carries a lifetime of beauty, careful thought must be given to using natural stone, a non-renewable resource, in appropriate situations. Building interiors that have long life spans, such as commercial lobby spaces, are the perfect choice natural stone. Homes that are designed to be timeless, rather than trendy, are also a good choice for natural stone products.

Visiting showrooms to view natural stone products can be like visiting a candy store. Marble, granite, onyx, limestone, quartzite and slate (among others) are some of the most beautiful finishes our earth offers.

Stone requires special maintenance, so reviewing this with the client before specifying it is necessary. While clients may like the idea of natural stone, many won’t like the idea of the special maintenance it requires.

There are numerous associations that regulate standards and make recommendations for installation. The Natural Stone Council is a good resource for designers to learn about natural stone characteristics.

One of the most interesting things about designing with stone is the ability to create your own patterns through water-jet cutting. It can be as simple as providing a vector file to a supplier and specifying sizes, repeats and dimensions. Cutting in metal or glass inlays can also offer something unique. While this can be costly, creating your own patterns or inlays can offer clients original ideas and solutions for their spaces.

SAMANTHA SANNELLA, BFA ID, M ARCH, is a designer, educator and principal at Urban Retreat Homes.

She is an expert in the field of design and construction and is a columnist for RENO & DECOR and editor of the Ontario Design Trade Sourcebook.



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The Basics of Lighting Design

The Basics of Lighting Design

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The Basics of Lighting Design

by Samantha Sannella

Ensuring that your space looks and functions requires the perfect lighting. Light is the key ingredient in the space and influences our safety, health and mood. Layering three types of lighting is critical for good lighting design. Providing flexibility in how lights are activated is important as well. Whether old-fashioned switches or a digital smart system, the guiding rule about how lighting is used should be common sense.

Ambient Lighting

This is the general lighting that must be provided to ensure that a space is well lit. It provides illumination for general tasks and it is always better to provide more, rather than less, ambient lighting. It’s easy these lights on dimmers or to zone it on switches if you believe that you might over-light a space. The psychological aspect of lighting is an important element throughout the design. Ensuring that spaces are devoid of shadows and dark corners helps us to circumvent our mental triggers of looming danger, according to Kristina Zarembo, a lighting consultant at Nemetz.

Task Lighting

Task lighting is critical in workspaces such as offices, kitchens and bathrooms. Under-counter lighting, bathroom vanity lights and desk lighting should be carefully calculated. Foot-candles measure the amount of light on a surface while lumens measure the amount of light emitted from a source. It is important to know the meaning of both of these terms since there can be significant loss of light as it travels to a surface due to distance, direction and other factors, such as the colour of the surface.

Accent Lighting

Accent lighting brings added visual interest to a room by creating different focal points and is another important element of lighting design. Accent lighting highlights specific objects like art, sculptures and bookcases. It can also be used to highlight a textured wall, or other architectural features. Classic track lighting and picture lights are often used to provide accent lighting.

Calculating Lighting Requirements

Lighting calculations can get technical. Fortunately, many suppliers offer these services at no additional cost. However, it is still essential that designers understand the terminology and can ensure that the space is lit appropriately.

Lumen: A lumen (lm) is a measure of the total amount of visible light emitted by a source in any particular direction.

Lux: Lux (lx) is the metric measure of illuminance. This is a measure of how much light there is over a given surface area. One lux is equal to one lumen per square metre.

Foot-candle: A foot-candle (fc) is the imperial measure of illuminance for those who prefer to work in imperial feet. One foot-candle is equal to one lumen per square foot.

There are charts recommended by the Illumination Engineering Society (IES) that recommend the number of foot-candles or lux required for a space.

Lighting fixtures and their lamps indicate how many lumens they emit. After calculating how much area you are lighting, and how many lumens are needed, then you must search for fixtures and lamps that meet your requirements. It is recommended that you over-light and use dimmers. As people age, they need more light.

Photography: Loft BBY SDJ Design
Photography: Loft BBY SDJ Design


Indirect hidden light is a trend on the market today made possible by advances in lighting such as LEDs, OLEDs and fiber optic lighting. It is possible to hide the light sources and illuminate walls and ceilings without ever seeing a single fixture. Lights have become more powerful and laser technology has influenced lighting development.

Also important to note are the advances in lighting control systems. In short, everything can be controlled through WI-FI and a smart phone or iPad, even when you are not home. While some of these applications are great, when the Wi-Fi is down frustration can increase. While many designers dream of never seeing a light switch mounted on a beautiful wall again, reliability over form is highly recommended and at this time redundancy is needed.

SAMANTHA SANNELLA, BFA ID, M ARCH, is a designer, educator and principal at Urban Retreat Homes.

She is an expert in the field of design and construction and is a columnist for RENO & DECOR and editor of the Ontario Design Trade Sourcebook.



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Communicating with Contractors and Suppliers

Communicating with Contractors and Suppliers

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Communicating with Contractors and Suppliers

by Samantha Sannella

The first step in any good partnership is to select at least three contractors/suppliers who can meet your requirements based on several criteria, including:

  • They should have relevant experience and expertise in what you are trying to accomplish so look for a portfolio of projects. Good vendors can provide photos and reference letters. Also check to see if they are licensed and insured and if they use certified products and installation methodologies.
  • They should have a process in place that you can understand and follow. If you are unfamiliar with their technical terms, ask them to explain or use the power of the internet to educate yourself.
  • They should be able to provide references for successful projects that are similar to your own. Keep in mind that it is nice to hear good things about the contractor, but always ask where mistakes were made and how they rectified them. How your vendor resolves issues is an important part of the relationship. Customer service is key.
  • The lowest price isn’t necessarily the one that you should choose. Consider a cost benefit analysis to weigh the cost of the project against the potential quality outcome. My motto is, “The bitter taste of poor quality remains much longer than the sweet taste of a low price.”

Define the Commitments

You should receive a project plan that defines the scope, estimate and schedule for their work. You also need to come to a mutual agreement as to what each side will deliver to the other. You will increase your project’s chance of success by defining your commitments and the contractor’s commitments.

Ask for a written estimate of all materials and labour up front before any agreement is in place. This should be delineated by phase. For example, I have seen many estimates where the contractor or vendor quotes a lump sum for the bottom line without providing the details. If a contractor cannot provide details in a written format, you are increasing your risk that something will go awry.

Maintain Consistent Communication

Do not get caught waiting for a “magical result” several weeks or months in the future. Instead, actively communicate and work with your contractor through reports and inspections of the work completed.

To manage the contractor, you need to maintain contact with them. Demand regular status reports or meetings that describe their accomplishments to date, what work is still in progress, and what has not been started. These should be measured in work hours, days or weeks, something that you can convert into a dollar amount. Do not accept percentages as units of measurement. A project can be 90 per cent done for months or even years. I know many people who have jobs that stopped at 90 percent.

Final Inspection

Final inspection is an important part of the job. When negotiating the contract, always hold back 10 or 15 per cent of the total cost until the job is 100 per cent complete. This will provide incentive for the vendor to finish all the work in a manner satisfactory to the owner.

Professional architects and interior designers inspect the contractor’s work in a formal process called a deficiency list or punch list and are responsible for approving invoices to the clients as work progresses. It’s a tedious but useful process as you make a list of all deficiencies — it requires a keen visual inspection to note even the smallest details, such as a crooked light switch plate on a northwest wall, or the lack of caulking at the corner of a sink.

Your goal should be to obtain the best possible quality construction for the most reasonable price. At the completion of a satisfactory job, you should offer the vendor the ability to photograph the work as well as offer them a letter of reference for their file.

SAMANTHA SANNELLA, BFA ID, M ARCH, is a designer, educator and principal at Urban Retreat Homes.

She is an expert in the field of design and construction and is a columnist for RENO & DECOR and editor of the Ontario Design Trade Sourcebook.



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Architecture Expert : Two for One

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Architecture Expert : Two for One

Photography: LARRY ARNAL

The possibilities and potential pitfalls of a Jack-and-Jill bathroom

Washrooms that can be shared by two bedrooms are commonly known as the Jack-and-Jill bathroom. For smaller houses, and for those with a modest budget, these spaces can offer the luxury of an ensuite bathroom at a fraction of the cost. Bathrooms on the lean side of the budget cost around $500 per square foot. In my experience, they are closer to an average of $1,000 per square foot. Deciding to utilize a Jack-and-Jill concept can represent a significant savings to a homeowner or builder.

Design by Urban Retreat Homes


This type of bathroom typically includes a toilet, tub/shower and two vanities. If space is an issue, a pedestal sink, toilet and a tub is the most basic. In this bathroom-sharing format, privacy is the biggest concern, but there are ways to ensure that no one has an embarrassing moment. Firstly, lockable doors are a must, but also ensure that they can be opened from the outside in case someone forgets to unlock them upon exiting. Secondly, consider doors with a translucent panel, such as frosted glass. A more technical solution is to add an indicator light that is connected to the internal bathroom light switch. This light is visible at the bedroom entrance and is powered on when the bathroom light switch is used. However, for those of us with kids who forget to turn the lights off on a regular basis, this might not be so useful.


Jack-and-Jill bathrooms can also offer a door from the hallway, but careful thought to the design is a must, as the door swings must not interfere. For smaller houses without a powder room, this is a necessity.


Storage in a Jack and Jill can be problematic due to space constraints, but a storage tower between the two sinks is an easy way to remedy this. There are many off-the-shelf solutions as well from companies like: Porcelanosa, GODI and Wet Style. Towers can also help visually divide the space so each occupant feels like they have their own personal space. Dividing the toilet and shower with a wall and door is not necessary, but it helps avoid fights in a larger family. This allows the space to be more efficient and multiple occupants to use the space at the same time.

Vanity from the Miller Collection


Dual vanity lights and mirrors and/or makeup mirrors are a must for two sinks. LED medicine cabinets offer extra storage and good lighting. Recessing them into the wall gives a few extra inches of space as well. LumiDesign, a mirror manufacturer in Toronto, has some great solutions, as does Kohler and Sidler. Sidler offers a full-height medicine cabinet/mirror that is fantastic for small spaces. Sidler can be ordered by Roman Bath Centre in Toronto.


One of the best additions to the bathroom in recent years is the combination toilet/bidet. While it is possible to add the bidet portion to some toilets, commonly referred to as a “washlet,” many newer toilets come with an integrated bidet system. Look for options from Kohler, TOTO and Ove. Prices vary greatly, as can quality, so doing your homework is essential. As well, all require an electrical GFCI outlet nearby, so make sure you decide upon this option before construction is underway.


One of the most important things required in a Jack-and-Jill bathroom is the attention to quality. As these bathrooms are typically used by multiple children and take a lot of use and abuse, spending extra money on quality fixtures and finishes is a must. I highly recommend countertops that are resistant to staining and scratching, such as a good quartz surface, rather than a natural stone. As well, while wall-hung vanities look fantastic, it is best to avoid them if younger children will be using the bathroom. Most kids are just itching to climb up and sit on the counter. Pitfalls to avoid include tubs with fixed glass panels that don’t allow for moms and dads to help with bathing children. One great option for all occupants is to put controls at the more accessible end of the shower/tub and away from the faucets and showerheads.

Another great addition to a shared bathroom is a shower system that is programmable to the specific user. The “U” by Moen is one such solution. Not only can the temperature and time be geared toward your preferences, but also it is fully operable from an app on your phone that can notify you when your shower has reached an optimum temperature. If only the Brady Bunch would have had these options!



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Architecture Expert: Inspired To Work

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Architecture Expert: Inspired To Work

Create a home office that works for you.

More and more people are working from home. Whether full time or part time, this requires a space where you can amp-up your productivity. Before embarking on creating your home office, there are several questions you need to ask yourself:

  • What type of work will you be doing in the space?
  • Will external clients be visiting?
  • Will colleagues visit for collaborative work?
  • What equipment must be accommodated? Computers, printers, etc.
  • Will you need complete privacy?
  • Will you be using the speakerphone or video conferencing?
  • What type of phone and Internet connectivity is required?
  • How much space do you have to work with?
  • What type of lighting does the space offer and can it be improved?
  • What type of storage is required?
  • What type and how much work surface is required?
  • What type of ergonomics should be considered for your chair, keyboard and work surface?
  • Have you experienced repetitive strain injuries in the past?
  • What is the maximum amount of money you want to spend?


Once you gather this information, you can begin to make decisions about the type of home office that will suit your needs, and the requirements that you must accommodate. When dreaming of an overall design concept, think about what inspires you. Perhaps consider a favourite colour or phrase that you can incorporate into the design. How will your space reflect the type of work that you do? If you perform intense head-down work, how can you create a space that offers a respite throughout the day? Should your office offer a serene and restful environment or would you benefit from a space that energizes you?


Planning an office takes time to evaluate your work patterns before you make purchases or big decisions. Once you determine what is required and how you might design your space, there are many options for furniture and storage. From budget-conscious IKEA to big-box furniture depots to higher-end office furniture from companies like Knoll and Herman Miller, you should invest in the best furniture that you can afford. Offices tend to take a lot of use and abuse, so you want to make sure that storage cabinets are high quality and shelves are mounted securely. Your office chair is one of the most important pieces of furniture you can own. Spending five to eight hours in a chair every day has a lasting impact on your body. It is important that you choose a chair that is highly adjustable for your height, back and arms. A new trend on the market today is height adjustable work surfaces. As a response to newer studies that show sitting in an office chair for extended periods of time takes years off your life, suppliers have created electric motorized work surfaces that can be adjusted throughout the day. Marketed as ‘sit/stand’ desks, most of the major office furniture suppliers now offer these.


Also important for the health of your body, is the type of lighting provided in the space. Simply converting a bedroom into an office without evaluating the lighting is a mistake. You must make sure that your work surface is illuminated properly, whether by ceiling lights or lamps that you add. Ensuring that your computer screen is glare-free also helps reduce eye strain.


Most importantly, your office space should be something that you look forward to spending time in—rather than dreading. It should be a space that accommodates your personality and style while offering an encouraging place to work. While some people thrive in a space that is somewhat chaotic, some people want a place for everything and everything in its place.

Personally, I dream of an office with fully enclosed cabinets and clean surfaces, but I can honestly say that I am more inspired by a space that contains some of my favourite gifts from clients, collectables and kids’ notes. The most important element of my personal workspace is a window that looks onto a tree because nature makes me happy. As well, opening the window to hear the birds sing makes me happy every day. These are small considerations, but important to my overall productivity. What makes you happy? Whatever you decide, make each day your masterpiece.

Samantha Sannella



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Architecture Expert: Size Doesn’t Matter

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Architecture Expert: Size Doesn’t Matter

The seven-step strategy to creating an enchanting urban garden.

Creating a garden in an urban space can be a challenge. However, because most are typically small, it can be a great opportunity to invest a few really lovely details that inspire the space. Also, because gardening can be a time-consuming activity, a small garden gives you more opportunity to rest and relax in your summer oasis.

When planning your garden, you should have a strategy that encompasses the following elements:

  1. Perimeter and Plan
  2. Sun and Shade
  3. Seating/Entertaining/Relaxation
  4. Vistas and Views
  5. Hardscape vs. Softscape
  6. Greenery and Colour
  7. Lighting

PERIMETER AND PLAN The first activity on your garden-planning list should be to assess the perimeter and the plan. This should include an assessment of the fence, neighbouring properties, built structures, underground utilities, drains, etc. I would suggest measuring this and drawing a plan to scale. This will help you make decisions and allow you to take the plan to the nursery when purchasing plants.

SUN AND SHADE Next, you need to study the sun over the course of the day. What is in the shade? What areas get sun for at least six hours per day? If possible, lay tracing paper over your plan and mark the areas. I suggest using yellow highlighter for sun, and blue highlighter for shade. If an area gets about three hours of sun mixed with mostly shade, mark it in a different colour.

SEATING/ENTERTAINING/RELAXATION One thing to determine is the type of garden that you want. What will be the purpose? Might it be for flowers, vegetables or herbs or relaxing? Or entertaining? How much use will it get? How many people would you like to seat? Will it simply be for viewing? Will you attract bees or butterflies? Or, perhaps a rabbit or two?


VISTAS AND VIEWS After assessing the type of garden you want, determine what possible views you would like to make interesting. Many people decide to study the garden from the window and from the front or backyard. I suggest taking photos, printing them at 8.5 by 11 and using tracing paper to create some ideas for visual interest. Imagine a fence as a backdrop for planters or tall grasses. What would a burst of red flowers look like against a bench? How might you disguise a drain or water main with planting? What if you added a small gazebo or pergola? SoliCanada from Quebec offers some lovely structures with motorized louvers and shades. What about a water feature? This is where your creativity should shine! Use a stack of tracing paper and come up with some crazy ideas, and then whittle them down based upon feasibility, cost and sun patterns.

HARDSCAPE VS. SOFTSCAPE Next decide how much of the garden will be hardscape and how much will be softscape. Hardscape includes: fences, pavers, concrete, walkways, stepping stones, sun structures, retaining walls, etc. Softscape includes all planting areas. Make a wish list and prepare a budget. Hardscape costs can add up quickly, especially if it requires experts to execute. There are many, many choices for paving stones, both natural and manmade. Part of the secret of installing them is providing a good base that doesn’t heave in harsh Canadian winters. Many homeowners opt for poured concrete under pavers, especially if they have large areas. One thing to consider is investing in a landscape company for the hardscape. A good landscaping company will understand what needs to be provided to minimize movement of pavers and also for proper drainage away from the house. While I am a big fan of natural limestone and slate, I also like the look of concrete pavers. Some brands to consider are Permacon, Bestway and Banas Stone.


GREENERY AND COLOUR When choosing plants, make sure you understand longevity, perennials vs. annuals, blooming times and planting instructions. Determine what type of heights you would like to see first. Are you going to plant a few trees? Will they be a focal point? What will be potted vs. planted? Are you aiming for some winter greenery for the holiday lights? Speak to the nursery about evergreens that do well in our climate and are easy to maintain. A selection of evergreen shrubs can create a lovely backdrop to flowers. When choosing colours, analyze perennials vs. annuals. I recommend saving annuals for one or two accent pots and planning perennials that are a better investment over time. While some owners like vibrant mixed gardens, sometimes it’s better to group colours for a higher visual impact. For example, use a flowering white ground cover and then accent a certain area with tall purple Alliums.

LIGHTING Consider extending the use of your garden to early morning and night with landscape lighting. DVI and Eurofase, both Canadian lighting companies, have some great choices for outdoor lighting. Consider wall sconces, fence lights, pendants (under canopies, gazebos and pergolas) and in-ground lighting to spot trees, shrubs or statuary. If you are completely lost when deciding on landscape lights, consider making an appointment with a lighting supplier such as Dark Tools for help with your plan. For any electrical needs, hire a professional as well unless you decide on solar power lights.

Most of all, whatever you decide, the garden is a great way to showcase your creativity. Happy Planting!



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