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Colour Me Confused


4 Easy Ways to Choose a Colour Scheme For Any Room or Your Whole House

Design wise logoBuilding a new house in Costa Rica is an exciting venture for many of us. Sometimes it is our first custom home—our dream home.

There are always so many details to think about and many decisions to be made it can be confusing. One of the first decisions will be the floor colour. What size and what colour tile do I use? This is hard if you have not selected your whole house colours yet. Selecting items piece by piece does not make for a cohesive flow through a home.

Choosing an interior designer is an obvious choice. They can work with you on just your colour scheme and you do the rest, but they can also help you to coordinate all your furnishings, art and décor to work together beautifully. This is especially helpful if you are not here all the time.

If you prefer to take the reins and try doing it yourself here are some helpful ideas.

There are different options for the way this can be done:

  1. Traditionally, the colour palette would be selected by using the designer’s “Colour Wheel”.
  2. You can look at artwork and fabric you like to find pleasing combinations.
  3. You can look to nature – there you will find beautiful colours and no end of inspiration.
  4. You can also look at other rooms online or in a friend’s home to get ideas, or you can just choose your favourite colours and go from there.

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When Bigger is Better

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Chair on large tilef loorWith stately presence and fewer grout lines, this versatile material brings elegance and style to walls and floors.

Large-format tiles were originally limited to commercial venues like hotels and restaurants but they have crossed over and are now being widely used in residential settings. Thanks to their large size and minimal grout lines, they create a smooth look and a feeling of spaciousness, bringing unexpected drama to your home. Side perk: less grout to clean!

What Are Large-Format Tiles, Exactly?

Kitchen and dining roomLarge-format tiles offer a clean, sleek, modern aesthetic, but they can also work well with traditional decor. They are available in a variety of materials, including natural stone, glass and porcelain. Thanks to advances in digital printing, porcelain tiles can be made to look like natural stone, concrete, metal, wood and even fabric.

Large-format tiles can be installed on both walls and floors. When used on a wall, they can be a durable alternative to paint or wallpaper. There’s no repainting or worrying about staining the wallpaper in your future. Since it is tile, you can just wipe it clean.

Tiles are considered large format when one edge is greater than 15 inches. In the past, 12-by-24-inch rectangular tiles were the most popular large-format size. Today, 18 by 36 inches is common, though, thanks to new technology, tiles can be manufactured as large as 5 by 10 feet.  The most popular size here according to Porceramica in San Jose is the 60 x 120 cm (24 x 48 inch), but they offer sizes up to 120 x 240 cm and have a wide variety of designs.

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How to Save Your Sanity During the Home Building Process

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Model houseBuilding your new home is a unique experience filled with stories you will never forget. Especially when it is in a different country with a different climate, culture and language! It will be a challenge and it will be an adventure, and almost everyone who has built their home here in Costa Rica feels they could write a book about it, some even do.

Always keep in mind that you may one day want to sell your house, so Resale should always be considered when making decisions along the way. Stay away from current fads or trendy finishes; keep those for the furniture and décor, and remember to leave money in the budget for the pool, outdoor kitchen and other landscaping needs.

Hopefully these tips will help you keep your sanity and actually enjoy the creation of your new home in paradise!

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10 Tips to Help to Get Your Furniture Arrangement Right

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Design wise LogoHere are 10 basic layout rules to help you create a polished, pulled-together look in any room

Living room with family and dogLike a blank page or canvas, an empty room can be either an opportunity or a challenge. With so many ways to fill it, how do you know where to start?

Here are some of the basic rules of furniture arrangement that have been distilled into 10 simple tips. They’ll help you or your interior designer to determine where to put things, where not to put things and how to prioritize the choices you make.

Step 1. Think About How the Room Will Function

Consider how the room is used and how many people will use it during the day. Many of us have homes with a great room that includes not only the entry and living area but the kitchen and dining areas too, so there are many activities take place here.

As well as reading and relaxing, you may use it for entertaining small or large scale gatherings, for the kids’ homework or crafts and as a home office. These uses will help determine the type of furnishings you’ll need and the amount of seating required.

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How to Choose Your Perfect Bar Stool

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It’s hard to imagine any kitchen these days without some sort of bar stool. Bar stools have become the norm, and for good reason. They allow family and friends to get together around the kitchen for casual dining, pot lucks, or just to chat over a drink and keep the chef company while they cook.

The bar stool as we think of it now, has been a part of society since the early 20th century, and was initially designed to seat more people at a commercial bar in the most economical way. It was an evolution from the traditional stool, which can trace its origins back as far as the Byzantium Varangian guard, and beyond.

wooden bar stoolsFinding the right stools for your kitchen can be challenging because there are so many factors to consider including style, comfort and of course height.

If you are lucky, your home will have a standard height bar or kitchen counter so finding a stool should be more straightforward, but always check before you buy. However, you may find that your home was custom built to the owners preferences rather than to any international building standards.

There are many different styles of bar stools available today, but there are only really three basic designs—a seat as the base with a low back and short arms, a seat as the base with a low back, and the most simple of all being the seat only.

But first, let’s cover a bar stool basic: height. In my years of helping people furnish their homes, I learned there is lots of confusion about this subject, so let’s try to clear that up.
“Bar stool” is a general term that refers to stools that come in two primary heights: counter and bar.

Counter stools, are designed to be paired with a standard-height kitchen counter, which is 36 inches tall. So counter stool seats range in height from 24 to 26” from the floor.

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Bathrooms – Fabulous and Functional

contemporary bathroom with tubMaking Your Dream Bathroom a Reality, and How it All Began.

Design Wise logoHaven’t we all imagined soaking in a bubble-filled tub, champagne glass in hand and looking out to a glorious view or to birds flying overhead?

Every home has a bathroom, usually two or more in reality. Since the inception of indoor plumbing, bathrooms in homes have transitioned from a luxury, to a necessity and back to luxury in the custom homes we see everywhere.

Starting in ancient cultures, bathing rituals were mainly for the wealthy and influential, and for those seeking purification. Public bath-houses came along and these were very social places. In the 1800’s personal bathtubs of cast iron started showing up in homes, and portable ones made from wood or tin at last became accessible for the masses – the great unwashed! The attitude was that people could now have a bath once a week – whether they needed one or not!

person drawing plansToday we consider the bathroom as our personal sanctuary, and of course we want it to reflect that. It is so much more than a place to get clean – it has become the place where you can really make a decorating statement. There are simple Japanese style bathrooms, elegant traditional bathrooms, rustic bathrooms, and almost any style you can imagine.

If you are designing your own bathroom, plan first for the layout as you will need to consider what you want to include in there. Smaller bathrooms are always more of a challenge, but with planning and some careful thought, you can usually include everything you want.

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Great Ideas for Lighting your Bathroom and Kitchen

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“Light is the first element of design; without it there is no color, form, or texture.”
Thomas E. Farin—educator, lighting consultant, entrepreneur

Design Wise logoBathroom Lighting

When it comes to lighting, an often ignored area of our homes is the bathroom. We’ll choose great tiles and faucets, but lighting usually plays a supporting role. Whether we opt for that minimalist Spa look, luxurious opulence, or just a serene place of refuge, lighting can make or break the effect.

bathroomLet’s face it, the strip light above the mirror is the cheap and easy fix. A well thought-out lighting plan takes time and money, but makes the world of difference in any room. Basically you should have the three main types of lighting present—Task Lighting, Ambient Lighting, and Accent Lighting.

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How to Create a Cohesive Colour Flow Throughout Your Home

Colour preferences vary as much as personalities, some folks are loving the bright and the bold, while others feel most secure surrounded by neutrals. The good news is that when it comes to colour, there really is no “correct” palette.

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by Shelagh Duncan

Open plan colour flowThat being said, we’ve all been inside homes where an explosion of colour created a chopped-up feel between rooms so you don’t know where to look first. Living in the tropics and seeing all the bright and beautiful colours around us can make us feel we need to bring it all indoors. However our indoor living spaces generally need a calmer feel—too much disjointed colour can create a restless atmosphere.

Here are some well chosen tips to help keep that Calm, but enjoy the Colour! So choose the ones that work best for you.

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How to Maximize Your Great Room

It’s ‘Great’ because this is the place where everyone ends up! So, move over kitchen, the Great Room has become a favorite gathering place in the house.

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2-story great roomby Shelagh Duncan

Whatever you call it, it’s a multi-functional room that provides space to lounge on a comfy sofa in front of the TV, find solace with a good book, watch the kids play, and enjoy good conversation.

The Great Room was a big fad beginning in the 1980s with all the new home builders back home, and was usually in addition to the basement rec-room or rumpus room. It grew as an extension to the kitchen, where Mom could keep an eye on the kids (and the soaps perhaps), while preparing family meals.

For us here, with our more casual lifestyle, it has almost completely replaced the more formal living room. Now it can encompass all of the above, plus casual dining and work and study areas.

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6 Incredibly Easy Ways to Maximize your Kitchen Island

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Uncluttered counterby Shelagh Duncan

The hardworking kitchen island can be a very functional and beautiful centerpiece of a kitchen design. It is one of the most popular features in a modern kitchen. However, in some spaces a built-in island can feel more cumbersome than useful, or becomes cluttered with ‘stuff’ so we lose the benefit of all that extra working space. If you are feeling that you need to rethink your island, to make it more functional and maybe add a feature two – read on. Let’s think about some other options that can be smart space-savers and at the same time, cool design solutions.

Reduce clutter on top of your island

It is oh-so-convenient to use the island surface as a catch-all space, but try to move things off the top and keep it clear of everything that is not beautiful. Says William Morris “Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful”. A simple bowl of fruit or floral arrangement on your island may be all that is needed to make your kitchen look like something out of a magazine. Make sure you have adequate lighting: use a striking pendant light that is low enough and bright enough to illuminate this principal work area. Remove non-essential items and as the island is usually the focal point of the kitchen – play it up!
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Stage It to Sell It

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Getting your home to say “Buy Me!” to prospective buyers.

by Shelagh Duncan

So, you have decided that you are going to sell your home. It could be that you have seen a fabulous property elsewhere, or for any number of other reasons. The bottom line is that you want it to sell, and to sell quickly!

Front of house and gardenThere are some very important things that you will need to think about before getting the realtor in.

You will want the prospective buyers to feel at home there. You want them to be able to imagine themselves living and enjoying what you have. But remember, they are not you. They will have their own tastes and lifestyle so you have to be ruthless at removing as much personal memorabilia as possible. De-personalize the house—it is just a house now, not your home, and your job is to get that house ready to hand over to the next owners.

Firstly you will need to emotionally detach yourself: not easy I know. Now, think of yourself as a stranger visiting your home for the first time—the scratched cabinets and chipped tile that you no longer notice will be seen! If it is easier, ask a trusted friend to be that critical eye and point out the areas that need attention.

There are some tried and true rules for getting a house ready to sell.

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New Year, New Look

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10 Ways To Update Your Interior Without Breaking The Bank

by Shelagh Duncan

You might be quite happy with your current interior decor, but like any solid, long-term relationship, it can get a bit stale. With the New Year upon us why not try a few simple ideas to reinvigorate your space and make it look fresh and new – so you can fall in love with your home all over again!

Monstera leaves in a vaseYou don’t need to buy a bunch of new stuff to give your home a fresh look. Just take what you’ve already got, and mix it up! That’s what interior designers do. First we look through what clients already own, because treasures may be hidden in a cupboard or closet or sitting on a shelf that no one ever notices. Have a look around your own home, open the drawers, clear some shelves and counter tops and start fresh. Swap out mirrors, table lamps, throw blankets and pillows. Rotate artwork into different positions, rearrange the books and try out new objects on the coffee and dining table. Here are some ideas to get you going.



Change the wall art to a mirror – or vice-versa, change up the lamp or the table. Painting a wall in the entrance will give completely new first impression of your home. Just making a small change can make a big difference.

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by Shelagh Duncan

Design Wise logoSectional sofaBuilding or purchasing a house can be one the most exciting times in your life, especially if it is located in a beautiful coastal area in Costa Rica! Once you have your design, the building begins and then you need to find furniture. Choosing new furniture can be a surprisingly daunting task, so where do you begin…?

Many of us are often unsure about what to look for when it’s time to buy a new sofa. It may have been over a decade ago that we purchased the last one and typically our new home will look quite different from the ones we lived in back home. After all, this is the tropics!

There are many things to consider before you buy; what style do you want to incorporate into your new home, what colours, and how will you to arrange the furniture. One of the most important considerations is space. What is going to fit in your space while still giving you the maximum amount of seating, and the look and feel you want?

Another more specific consideration is the climate here. Everything seems to wear out and degrade much faster than back home, so durability is a big factor, and with any sofa ‘Comfort is King’.
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What a Crazy World We Sleep In!

Design Wise logoby Shelagh Duncan

If you ever wondered why the king sheets you brought down with you when you moved to Costa Rica never seemed to fit properly, then join the club! Most of us never think about things being too different in other countries. Weather, food, language for sure – but beds?

Most countries may call their beds King, Queen, Full or Twin, and some have a bunch of other in-between sizes like XL-Twin or California King. However – the big reveal is that each of these beds have different dimensions in almost every country in the world!

U.S and Costa Rica bed sizesThe reason is that the Western names have been given to the popular sizes in that country to follow Western culture. The sizes however, are usually specified by the Institute of Standards in each of these countries. The first of these organizations came into being around the time of the Industrial Revolution and set out guidelines to ensure that standards for all kinds of things as well as furniture are understood and followed. A “Standard” is just a protocol which is widely accepted, and these guidelines also incorporate such issues as strength, durability and safety for manufacturers to reference. There are many internationally recognized standards that we take for granted, such as musical notes, chemical and math symbols, and the clock, the calendar and mapping to name just a few. But it is not that simple for beds and mattresses.

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Furnishing Your Vacation Rental Property

Design Wise logoThere are vacation rental properties, and there are great vacation rental properties. Make yours stand out from the crowd.

By Shelagh Duncan

Owning a great rental property can make you stand out from the competition and will ensure that your property is rented as often as you’d like it to be. This will also ensure that you not only get top dollar, but good reviews and repeat customers. There are two types of rental properties—those that are used by the owners, and those that are not. Often those used by the owners are favored as they tend to be kept cleaner, better equipped and more up to date. Regardless of whether you choose to use your rental or not, let’s help you to create a great rental property.

Blue sectionalFURNITURE

Choosing your furniture carefully will give you better returns on your investment in the long run. Do your homework—and set a realistic budget! The rule of thumb when buying furniture is to buy the best quality you can afford, even for a rental property. If you use a local company to supply a ‘package’ of furniture for your rental and you chose one within your budget, you will benefit from their expertise in coordinating all the pieces, and they usually will deliver and set it up for you too. It may not be as personalized as selecting each piece yourself, but you can save yourself a lot of stress, time, and probably money in the end.

If you like decorating and prefer to do it yourself then the most important items to concentrate on are the sofas and the mattresses. If your renters are not comfortable sitting or sleeping they will not be happy, and unhappy renters give bad reviews! At the store, I have had many conversations with renters who have had bad experiences like this because there is nowhere for them to relax in comfort—and it’s their vacation! Cheap sofas can become uncomfortable quickly and start to look shabby. Better quality sofas will have superior construction and use durable fabrics that are easy to clean.

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