Monthly Archives: May 2011

bathroom makeover


Let’s say you’re about to renovate your bathroom. Which look would you choose?

Awhile back I received an email from one of my readers looking for some advice on how to update her average bathroom. The bathroom was renovated about five years ago by the previous owners and while everything is up to date it isn’t functioning for the family.

They need a bit more storage – she said one drawer would be fine and they would like to get rid of the vessel sink so that their three year old can wash her own hands. The bathtub is also being replaced by something a bit deeper and as a result the tiles surrounding the tub will be removed. The one thing that will remain is the tile floor. They’re also hoping to inject the space with a bit more personality so that it feels less like a bathroom that was purchased at a big box store. Like many people they are on a fairly tight budget as they are doing renovations elsewhere in the house.

Originally, my reader had asked me to help her choose a new vanity but I think when you’re starting a bathroom renovation such as this you need to think about the overall look and feel before you get down to the specifics. I think what this bathroom needs are a few strong design elements that are going to enliven the room and take our eyes up from the floor.

I have two different suggestions for them. Both of these bathrooms were designed by people I know using readily available, off the shelf products that can be purchased in Canada.

Option #1 – Modern organic bathroom

This bathroom has a clean, modern aesthetic but still manages to feel warm due in part to the oak vanity and wood stool (both from Ikea and very affordable). I think this is a look my reader could achieve with a few easy changes to her current bathroom.

I noticed that the grout on the floor in my reader’s bathroom is a dark charcoal colour and I think it would be good idea to bring this colour out. I would start by painting the walls a mid to dark grey. I would then create a chair rail using a standard, glossy white subway tile with a dark grey grout. The vanity could be replaced with the same unit we see above which would provide them with storage and easy hand washing access. If money allows, I would tile the entire bathroom surround in a carrara marble. A simple frameless mirror and a basic white shower curtain would finish the room off. The beautiful thing about this bathroom is that the vanity is under $500 and the mirror is only $50 so money could be spent elsewhere. (Like on that marble tile!)


Option #2 – Feminine Vintage Bathroom

The other option is to play with some more feminine and decorative touches like the bathroom below.

This bathroom orbits around the beautiful utility-type sink, the vivid green wallpaper and the ruffled shower curtain.  I’d follow the lead of this bathroom and create a high chair rail with inexpensive white subway tile that goes 3/4 of the way up the wall and then wallpaper the remainder. I’ve chosen some wallpapers from Ferm Living that pick up the neutral beige colour of the floor tiles. I also love how the trim on this bathroom is painted a soft grey. It creates a nice break between the floor and wall tile. I might go a little bolder here and use one of the greys I suggested above. I’d install the same Brockway sink by Kohler and top it with the same wood framed mirror from Ikea.  One of the things my reader had requested was a slightly larger vanity but she didn’t know what to do about the heating vent in the floor. By choosing a sink like this that floats off the wall she doesn’t have to worry about the placement of the vanity. Storage could be provided in a floor unit like this one by Kartell. The final touch would be an feminine, embroidered shower curtain. While this bathroom would probably cost a bit more money than the previous it could be completed in phases with accents like the wallpaper going in at a later date.

What do you think? Given the choice which option would you choose? I’m sure my reader would love to hear your suggestions.

For more on the renovation of bathroom number one, check out this link and this one.

For more on the renovation of bathroom number two, check out this link and this one.

Image credits:
1-2 blog – Michelle Carangi’s bathroom
3-4 – Kristin Sjaarda – Jenn Hannotte’s bathroom




Filed under beautiful objects, you make it

the best – salty caramel brownies


I’m taking a little break from The Friday Files today to give you a recipe you have to make this weekend. Honestly, pick up the ingredients on your way home from work tonight and try these out. This is by far the best brownie you will ever make and I don’t say that lightly.

Back in the early days of this blog I posted a story called Battle of the Brownie. If you know me than you know that I make a killer brownie. I don’t mean to toot my horn but people seriously covet my brownies. For a long time “my” recipe was a secret but truth be told it was Nigella Lawson’s with a few, very minor tweaks. Nigella’s recipe is still hands down one of the best brownie recipes out there but if you are looking for the utmost in decadent sinfulness than you have to try this sweet and salty brownie.

This recipe is quite well known and comes from the talented twosome, Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafto, behind the Brooklyn based bakery Baked. These guys know their desserts and are a favorite around here. (Check out their Chocolate Root Beer Bundt Cake I made awhile back.) The secret to this devilish brownie is the layer of salty caramel sandwiched between two bands of brownie batter. The recipe does take a little while longer to make than your basic recipe but the results are worth it.

A few hints:

- Keep a close eye on the caramel. Once it begins to change colour swirl the pan a few times and remove from the heat the moment you have a nice amber colour.

- Do not over stir the brownie batter. We don’t want the gluten developing in the flour.

- Be careful how much caramel you use. You don’t want it to touch the sides of the pan or it will burn. Save any extra caramel for drizzling on top or dipping nuts into. (This is what I found myself doing!)

- Do not overbake. The greatest sin you can make with any brownie is to overbake it. A good sign that a brownie is nearly done is when cracks appear along the top of it. Also unlike cake batter you want a few moist crumbs to be attached to the toothpick or skewer when you remove it. Remember gooey is good!

The Best – Sweet and Salty Brownies – adapted from Baked Explorations

Makes 12-24 brownies depending on the size.

For the Caramel Filling
1 cup sugar
2 tbsp light corn syrup
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tsp fleur de sel
1/4 cup sour cream

For the Brownie
1 1/4 cup All Purpose flour
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp dark unsweetened cocoa powder
11 oz quality dark chocolate (60-72%), coarsely chopped (I used Lindt)
1 cup unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
5 large eggs, room temperature
2 tsp vanilla extract

1. In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar and corn syrup with 1/4 cup water, stirring them together carefully so you don’t splash the sides of the pan.  Cook over high heat until an instant-read thermometer reads 350 degrees F, or until the mixture is dark amber in color, 6-8 minutes.  Remove from the heat and slowly add the cream (be careful, it will bubble up!) and then the fleur de sel.  Whisk in the sour cream.  Set aside to cool.

2. Preheat oven to 350F.

3. Butter the sides and bottom of a glass or light-colored metal 9×13 inch pan.  Line the bottom with a sheet of parchment paper and butter the parchment paper.

4. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, salt and cocoa powder.

5. Place the chocolate and butter in a metal bowl.  Set over a pan of simmering water or a double boiler and stir occasionally until the chocolate and butter are completely melted and combined.  Turn off the heat, but keep the bowl over the water of the double boiler and add both sugars.  Whisk until completely combined and remove the bowl from the pan.  Let sit until it’s room temperature.

6. Add three eggs to the chocolate mixture and whisk until just combined.  Add the remaining eggs and whisk until just combined.  Add the vanilla and stir until combined.  DO NOT OVERBEAT, as this will make the brownies cakey.

7. Sprinkle the flour mixture over the chocolate.  Using a spatula, fold the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until there is only a trace amount of flour visible.

8. Pour half of the brownie mixture into the pan and smooth the top with a spatula.  Drizzle about 3/4 cup of the caramel (don’t be foolish here and use it all, you will have extra!) over the brownie layer in a zigzag pattern, taking care to make sure the caramel does not come in contact with the edges of the pan or it will burn.  Use your offset spatula to spread the caramel evenly across the brownie layer.  In heaping spoonfuls, scoop the rest of the brownie batter over the caramel layer.  Smooth the brownie batter gently to cover the caramel layer.

9. Bake the brownies for 30 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through the baking time, and check to make sure the brownies are completely done by sticking a toothpick in the center of the pan.  The brownies are done when the toothpick comes out with a few moist crumbs.

10. Remove the brownies from the oven.  Sprinkle with fleur de sel and coarse sugar. Cool completely before cutting and serving.

I’d love to hear if you give this recipe a try and of course I’m also all ears if you think you have an even better recipe!
Filed under in the night kitchen, the best

52 objects – no.21


The art of the deal of should it be steal?

I can’t resist a good bargain, I admit it. If I find something that is on sale especially one of those humdinger, super marked down, once in a lifetime deals I’ll more than likely to buy it even if I don’t really need the object. I can think of a few things in our house that we got for a steal; our coffee table for one. We bought that at a local store called Commute Home about 6 years ago. It actually belonged to someone else first but they didn’t like it and returned it to the store. Since Commute mainly deals in custom made and one of a kind objects they resold it to us for a song.

Oftentimes, I find “the deal” so compelling that you can’t think or talk about the object without recounting the tale of how you acquired it. The object becomes a symbol of not only your good taste but also your superior shopping skills! Do you have any great deals or fantastic finds in your house? Do you find yourself recounting the story of how you got your hands on it?

Below is object number 20 in my quest to document my life in 52 Objects. It’s one of my best steals!

Filed under fifty-two objects

i heart tuesdays


Over the weekend, I spent a blissful time roaming the internet filling up my virtual shopping basket with things I love at the moment. Have you ever done this – just give yourself absolute freedom to choose 15-20 items of anything your heart desires? It’s kind of fun, totally therapeutic and easy on the wallet!

The results of my list can be seen over on Mrs. French’s blog, Bliss. It was a guest post I did for her yesterday but since many people were on holiday you might not have seen it. Here’s a little taste of what I’m hearting right now.

These malachite printed blinds from the home of Anne-Marie Midy and Jorge Almada of the furniture line Casamidy.

To see what else I’m hearting head over to Bliss now!

Photo credit:
Simon Upton for Elle Decor


Filed under beautiful objects, guest blogs