Shirley Meisels, principal designer of Toronto’s MHouse Inc., spent 13 years as a stylist for television shows and magazines, scouring the marketplace for the perfect item to give a shoot that finishing touch. She now brings that keen eye to her clients’ homes. The Globe asked Meisels to reveal her favourite colours, paint and materials, and the secrets behind her style.
Most important element of a room: The furniture layout and the scale of these pieces. Often people buy furnishings that are too large or too small for a room, or the pieces don’t complement each other in size. This leaves a room feeling off-balance. Layout can have a similar effect: Where the furnishings are situated in the room can have a huge impact, even if they are the right scale. For example, I had a client in a Victorian that was quite narrow. She had her seating situated along the two outer walls with double French doors leading out to the back. The space felt empty, almost like a bowling alley. I simply rotated the sofa to sit in front of the doors (while still allowing for access). This filled the room and suddenly it felt far less empty and cold.
Favourite paint colour: I love using white and soft greys. My favourite white for a modern, crisp look is Chantilly Lace OC-65 by Benjamin Moore. Classic grey OC-23, also from Benjamin Moore, also lends itself well to a very modern space.
Favourite front-door colour: I often find myself relying on Iron Mountain 2134-30, also from Benjamin Moore. It’s a charcoal grey that works well with so many brick colours and looks great with both a more traditional and a modern façade.
Favourite tile: Like so many people…. I love it all! Not to knock natural stone. But after years of experience, I have found that porcelains work best in wet areas like bathrooms. There are so many fantastic ones out there on the market today – even great natural stone looks that you’d never know aren’t the real thing. I’m also loving the super-sized versions that are available, like 24 by 48 inches or 12 by 36 inches.
Best way to make a room feel more spacious: Paint it white. Whatever paint colour you choose, paint out the baseboards and crown mouldings the same colour to give it the illusion of height.
Your design rule: If it feels too “matchy-matchy” or contrived, walk away. I try to avoid that showroom feeling by buying disparate pieces from different sources and eras. I like a room to feel as if it had been curated over time.
Design pet peeve: I find it disturbing when people hang their art too low, hang the wrong size for the wall, or put art on every single little wall. Art has a huge impact and knowing how and where to hang it can make a significant difference. My best advice would be not to be afraid to leave some walls blank.
Favourite lighting trick: Lighting is like jewellery – the finishing touch. I like to make ceiling fixtures a focal point and often go oversized for drama. Custom lampshades in funky fabrics are a great way to add a bit of punch to a room.
Best DIY project: I love taking vintage brooches and pinning them to upholstered headboards for little girls’ rooms. The colourful sparkle and flower-like shapes are really fun.
Best use of $500: It’s amazing how a room can change with a fresh coat of paint. Don’t be afraid to experiment with the paint colour on interior doors either. Black on a door suddenly turns a builder’s stock item into something with a custom flair.
Signature room: This living room is a great example of how I like to mix looks. Modern yet warm, colour and pattern, vintage with new, high pricing with low. Ultimately I want my rooms to feel like they have a casual elegance, as if they came together by accident. This home is an Edwardian in midtown Toronto. They already had the two mid-century teak chairs that I had reupholstered and combined with modern purchases. The fireplace was cherry and the clients wanted to renovate it. Instead I painted it black and now it feels modern with an edge.