In a recent chat with an architect friend, we found ourselves musing about future career moves. I mentioned an idea I'd tossed around with another designer friend -- a takeoff on the recent Nanny 911 craze. I'd call it "Design 911."
Imagine a design emergency. Say your new mother-in-law, who gives every indication of hating you, is coming to visit on short notice and you're determined to impress. In-laws who hate you like surprise visits, hoping they'll catch you with your pants down. In a panic, who do you call? Design 911!
Next, picture me and my trusty sidekick parachuting in to the rescue, blitzing the place in mere hours by tarting it up using whatever you already have. We'd rearrange furniture and rugs; rehang artwork; fiddle with drapes, lighting and plants; and repurpose stuff inventively.
For example, your resin birdbath might enjoy a career change holding guest soaps or rolled up fingertip towels in mom-in-law's bathroom. We might even bring along a handyperson to take on minor repairs. In the meantime, you'd go out for fresh flowers, bonbons, tubs of gin, or whatever might make her hate you less.
Or maybe the gin is for you. Whatever. The point and the challenge of the idea is economy -- to show people how to spiff up their homes using only, or mostly, their own stuff. I say "or mostly" their own stuff because the right finishing touches may be missing. For those cases, perhaps we'd have a van stocked with a generic variety of baskets, candles and vases, all of which we'd throw in for a pittance, having bought it wholesale, in bulk.
Alas, Design 911 exists only in idle musings so far, so even though I'm set up to buy wholesale in bulk, I don't. I often buy cheap instead. Regular readers will know I love to design and decorate economically. I'm a familiar fixture at the more expensive interiors stores, but I can't afford many of the things I find there, so I've become equally at home at outlets such as Michaels arts and crafts, HomeSense, Winners and, yes, dollar stores.
For example, my cat is fed and watered from lovely little oriental rice bowls from Dollarama. On special occasions, I decorate with dozens of ivory votives in simple, clear glass votive holders from Michaels. At its prices, I can buy them by the box. Michaels and HomeSense are also great for reasonably priced baskets of all shapes and sizes, and, a few days ago, I found a fabulous local source with truly exotic baskets, among many other things, in Port Hope's own Primitive Design, located north of the 401 on Highway 28.
I once used some mini-easels made of balsa wood from Dollarama to display the evening's menu for an informal dinner party. They've since appeared propping up my company brochure at a trade show. If you were to spray them with black lacquer paint, they'd take on an unexpectedly chic aura in no time flat. Three lacquered easels lined up on a mantle, each holding a simply framed black and white art photograph, say from a card store, would be a striking, quick and economical display.
A few years ago, I bought three inexpensive, large, clear glass vases at Michaels after having coveted much pricier versions elsewhere. So versatile, they keep appearing in new incarnations: filled with fresh lemons, limes and bay leaves; with clear glass marbles (also from a dollar store); with candles floating on water; or with white beach pebbles topped with seashells or starfish. They've even gone "boho" with bead necklaces wound around their middles.
I don't think they've ever held flowers, though they could. Something simple like a single bird of paradise or a huge philodendron leaf in each would be fabulous.
Mine are all the same shape and size, so I line them up either down the length of a table, on a mantle, or windowsill. For groupings such as a table centrepiece, try using vases in different shapes, sizes and heights in odd numbers (preferably threes) for maximum impact that doesn't go over the top.
Go to for more vase ideas and to see their huge variety of baskets, something you can never have enough of, which is why I buy them as cheaply as I can. I'm using my big, new bowl-shaped ones from Primitive Design to hold rolls of toilet paper in each bathroom. Even something as basic as TP gets a special cachet when piled attractively in the right basket!
I don't know if Design 911 will ever get beyond the musing stage, but if it did, these are the sorts of quick, cheap and cheerful solutions I'd promote. I think it could be fun, and I love the totally tongue-in-cheek allusion to design "superheroes" swooping in to the rescue -- kind of like the guys on The A-Team, the eighties TV show that made Mr. T famous. Only we'd be the "D-Team," and I'd nix the Mohawk. Black being de rigueur for design types, I'm thinking we'd parachute in wearing sporting, swirling black capes instead, and maybe matching tights. Or maybe not.
Elizabeth Rand-Watkinson is the principal of Terrier Group, which specializes in interior design. Reno Adventures appears weekly, covering all aspects of home reno-
vation. Send your feedback and suggestions to ERand-Watkinson-