You can find dozens of design lessons in every home we feature here in the pages of Western Living—but today we’re doing a straight-up crash course. We’ve polled 20+ designers from across Western Canada for words of wisdom and pro tips to help us all level up our own interiors. 

Designer Andrea Rodman’s Oak Bay Patio. Photo by Ema Peter

Design Guide: Patios

1. A spot to rest your mojito.

“Pick comfortable lounge seating with generous arm width for drink perches,” says Mitchell Freedland, principal of Mitchell Freedland Design.

2. Cushions galore.

“The more comfortable it feels outside, the more time I want to be outside entertaining,” says Denise Ashmore, principal of Project 22 Design. Rochelle Cote, principal of Rochelle Cote Interior Design, advocates for keeping coloured, textured throws at the ready for both warmth and style.

3. A connecting thread to your living space.

“I tend to follow my interior colour scheme outside to create a seamless relationship between the two,” says Kelly Deck, principal of Kelly Deck Design.

Designer Rochelle Cote

4. Furniture made to handle the great outdoors.

“Outdoor patio spaces are exposed to the elements, so it’s important to choose materials that can withstand the weather,” says Jamie Deck, principal of Shift Interiors. “Materials such as metal, concrete and stone are great options for patio floors and walls, while outdoor-rated fabrics and furniture made from weather-resistant materials like wicker or teak are ideal for seating and decor.”

Shift Interiors. Photo by Tina Kulic

5. A little sun, a little shade.

“Plan for the elements based on how much sun exposure you get at different times of day,” advises Amanda Lwanga, creative director of Linger Design Studio. “It’s important to also visualize what time of day you’ll use your outdoor space and build in heat sources and shading accordingly.”

6. An outdoor rug… and maybe even some lighting.

“Add area carpets, levels of lighting and lots of heat sources for ambiance and to extend the seasons,” insist Curtis Elmy and Trevor Ciona, principals of Atmosphere Interior Design. (Want to take that living-room feel to the next level? Tanja Hinder, principal of Marrimor, suggests adding an outdoor TV or ambient sound.)

Designer Andrea Rodman’s Oak Bay Patio. Photo by Ema Peter

7. Protection from the elements.

Andrea Rodman, principal of Andrea Rodman Interiors, recommends 15 feet of covered deck space to keep furniture dry so you can enjoy your perfect patio year-round.

Appliances blend right in thanks to chic modern front panels in this Aly Velji-designed Calgary kitchen. Design by Aly Velji and Alloy Homes. Photo by Joel Klassen

2. Elevate Your Kitchen with Fridge Paneling 

“Integrated and panel-ready appliances are always my go-to. They provide a streamlined look and allow them to blend in with the kitchen. Although they are a little more expensive, it is a great investment to ensure that your kitchen will look custom.”Alykhan Velji, principal of Alykhan Velji Designs

Credit: iStock/Floortje

3. Use Big Paint Swatches

“Paint large samples. I mean, half a wall or four-by-four-foot swatches. And paint them in different rooms to see the light—the same grey will look different on the main floor and in the upstairs bathroom.” Nancy Surby, Nako Design

Credit: iStock/Tartezy

4. Large Rugs

“One of the most common design mistakes we see is rugs that are too small for the room.” Jamie Hamilton and Greer Nelson, Oliver Simon Design

Credit: iStock/mediaphotos

5. Flowers Are Always a Great Finishing Touch

“It seems cliché, but fresh flowers really upgrade a space! Consider clipping blooms or branches from your yard or from around your neighbourhood to add an elegant touch to any room.” Angela Robinson, co-founder of SPEC Interior Design

Alykhan Velji Designs. Photo by Joel Klassen

6. Design Guide: Decorative Lighting

1. Consider your many moods.

“A few well-placed light fixtures can transform how a space feels once the sun goes down, creating anything from cozy to ethereal to dramatic with the right mix of light and shadow.” —Chad Falkenberg, principal of Falken Reynolds Interiors

2. Add one more accent.

“Decorative lighting and layers of lighting are key to making a space feel warm and inviting. I often find that these items are not considered when designing homes and it is a complete missed opportunity to add some personality to a space.” —Alykhan Velji

3. Add mirrors and reflective surfaces.

“Elevating a space can be done by amplifying natural light so that it’s coming from at least two directions. This adds balance to a space and makes it feel bigger. You can achieve this by adding mirrors to walls in darker pockets and reflective surfaces and accessories—it doesn’t require removing walls or adding windows.”—Amanda Lwanga

Shift Interiors. Photo by Tina Kulic

7. Design Guide: Home Office

Designer Jamie Deck (principal at Shift Interiors) shares some words of workspace wisdom.

1. Personalize your workspace.

Decor, plants or artwork can make your space feel more inviting and inspiring.

2. Don’t forget technology.

Make sure you have the necessary technology to perform your job. A reliable internet connection, printer and scanner are essential for most home offices.

3. Use proper lighting.

Good lighting is essential for productivity. Natural lighting is ideal, but if that’s not possible, choose overhead lighting or task lighting that is bright but not too harsh.

4. Choose the right location.

Use a space in your home that is quiet and has good lighting. Ideally, your workspace should be away from distractions and household traffic.

5. Declutter.

A cluttered workspace can lead to a cluttered mind. Keep your workspace organized and free of unnecessary items. Use storage solutions such as shelving, filing cabinets and desk organizers.

6. Choose the right desk.

Your desk should be the right size for your space and have enough surface area to accommodate your work.
Consider a desk with storage options, such as drawers or shelves.

7. Consider the colour scheme.

Choose colours that promote productivity and creativity. Blue and green are calming and promote concentration, while orange and yellow are energizing and promote creativity.

8. Invest in a good chair.

You’ll be sitting for extended periods of time, so invest in a comfortable, ergonomic chair that supports your posture and reduces strain on your back.

More hot tips from WL’s design panel:

Tidy up your wires… even if just with a zap strap. Use homey furniture so it doesn’t feel like a soulless office. Create separation from the rest of the home, whether with a door, a folding screen or tall plants. Invest in compact tools (like Mitchell Freedland’s “cling-wrap size” printer), and in custom millwork that will ensure a place for every folder and cable. Consider how your video-call backdrop will look. Art, plants and accessories are essential. But the most important piece of advice, courtesy of Robert Bailey, principal of Robert Bailey Interiors? “Don’t make it like the office. Make it a home.”

8. Get Some Cool Throw Pillows

“Pillows are an easy way to change the character of the room. Think of toss pillows as sofa art.”Paul Lavoie, principal of Paul Lavoie Interior Design

Rochelle Cote. Photo by Adrian Shellard

9. Design Guide: Bathroom

The designer ensuite wish list.

“Heated floors are key to making a bathroom feel luxe.” —Alykhan Velji


“A heated shower bench.” Mitchell Freedland. Photo by Ema Peter
“A ledge for your shower supplies instead of a niche.”Tanja Hinder. Credit: Alykhan Velji Designs


“Towel warmers.” Rochelle Cote

“Buy a deep, deep tub.”Paul Lavoie

“Gentle diffused lighting for a relaxing spa experience, as well as ‘getting ready’ lighting for the day (or night) at face level.” Chad Falkenberg

“A steam shower… and furniture, if you have the space!”
Robert Bailey

“An in-drawer outlet for your hair dryer.”Madeleine Sloback, principal of Madeleine Design Group

Marrimor. Photo by Ema Peter

10. Your Rooms Should Be Cohesive, but Not Matchy-Matchy

“We use the phrase that all spaces and finishes should be related—think sisters or aunts, not identical twins.”
Jamie Banfield, principal designer at Jamie Banfield Design

Credit: iStock/Liliia Lytvyn

11. Design Guide: Finding a Sofa

1. Don’t fear colour.

“It’s okay to be bolder, since high-quality sofas can be reupholstered with new fabric down the line. Many European brands have removable covers so the fabric can be laundered as well—ours is 100 percent linen, so we can put it in the washing machine.”
Chad Falkenberg

2. Measure.

Enough said.

3. Look for a solid structure.

“Not only will a quality frame be more comfortable, it also gives you a piece you can reinvent over time,” says designer Karen Atwell, creative director of Form Interiors. “Look for a kiln-dried hardwood frame and hand-tied coils in the structure of the piece. Quality does cost, but only once.”

4. Measure again.

“Scale is the most important consideration when you’re choosing a sofa. So often people go to showrooms, test a sofa and then bring home something that is totally disproportionate to the room it will reside in,” says Kelly Deck.

5. Take a 360-degree view.

“If you have a room where the sofa is going to be seen from all sides, it’s critical that it has beautiful details on every side,” Kelly Deck says.

6. Triple-check that measurement.


7. Put your butt in the seat.

“It comes down to personal preference of firm, medium or soft. Truly the Goldilocks test,” says Mitchell Freedland.

8. Take your time.

“Don’t rush this kind of purchase—be willing to wait a while for the right piece,” say Jamie Hamilton and Greer Nelson.

9. Consider your lifestyle.

“Choose the right ‘sit’ for the purpose—soft and comfy for lounging and TV watching, firmer and higher for visiting with other people,” advises Chad Falkenberg.


Welton Design Group. Photo by Tracey Ayton

12. Design Guide: The Perfect Countertop

How do you pick the right countertop for your lifestyle? Get a sample, bring it home and “treat it like you or your kids would,” says Rebecca Foster, design director for Welton Design Group. “Get oily, sticky toddler fingers on it, cut on it, spill wine or lemon on it, leave it an hour, and come back and clean it up.”

More countertop wisdom from WL’s design panel:

Choose an unusual edge detail. Pick a colour that contrasts your cabinetry. High-traffic areas need high-function material. Pick quartz for durability, or marble if you don’t mind a little maintenance. Most importantly, be honest with yourself about how often you’re really going to wipe that surface down every day… and if fingerprints and smudges will drive you bananas.

Marrimor. Photo by Ema Peter

13. Design Guide: Curtains

Nine out of 10 designers agree: hang your curtains from the ceiling to create height and drama.

Welton Design Group. Photo by Tracey Ayton

The measure of a stylish window.
“For standard windows, I like to go 10 to 12 inches past the side of the window trim, and close to the ceiling to make the window feel wider and taller. If you have a very large space between the top of the window and the ceiling, I like to go about two-thirds up and I always aim for just kissing or at about a quarter-inch off the floor.”—Rebecca Foster

Marrimor. Photo by Ema Peter

An essential finishing touch.
“Window treatments complete the home. Same as art. Your home doesn’t feel 100 percent if either of the two are missing.”—Tanja Hinder


Marrimor. Photo by Ema Peter

14. Designer Guide: Wallpaper

From accent walls to statement powder rooms, wallpaper is a shortcut to instant drama.

“Before you start your search, have a game plan. Do you want the wallpaper to be bold and stand out, or be more muted and clean in the space? Do you like the idea of texture, or would you prefer smooth? What colour palette are you going for? If you start your search with a narrowed-down goal, you’ll be less overwhelmed.”—Angela Robinson

Marrimor. Photo by Ema Peter

“Even a solid texture can add great impact.”—Anna Dhillon, principal of Anna Dhillon Design

“Order lots of samples. Many wallpapers look great online but then you get them in real life and they can look cheap. Wallpaper is a visual but also a textural thing.”—Tanja Hinder

Marrimor. Photo by Ema Peter

“Have fun with large-scale patterns in small spaces like a powder room.”—Mitchell Freedland

“Try adding wallpaper to a ceiling, the back of cabinets or open cupboards.”—Jamie Banfield

“Do it for yourself. Don’t choose wallpaper because it might be better for resale.”—Paul Lavoie

Form Interiors. Photo by Kristy-Anne Swart

15. Design Guide: Art

Designer dos and don’ts for making your artwork, well, work.

1. Don’t worry about your colour scheme.

“Obviously you don’t want it to completely clash and feel out of place, but art is supposed to bring you joy,” says Annaliesse Kelly, principal of AK Design. “You don’t have to match your colour scheme: instead, just shop for pieces that make you happy.”

2. Don’t hang too many solo pieces.
“Avoid hanging too many single items throughout the home,” advise Curtis Elmy and Trevor Ciona. “Try to introduce interesting groupings of multiples in varying sizes.”

3. Don’t measure from the bottom.
“A good rule of thumb is between 54 and 56 inches to the centre of the piece from the floor,” says Karen Attwell.

4. Do shine a light on your art.
“Hang pieces in places with proper lighting,” says Madeleine Sloback.

Studio Roslyn. Photo by Conrad Brown

5. Do your research.
“Visit galleries. Attend shows. Talk to artists about the work they create. Building a collection should be an enjoyable pursuit,” says Karen Attwell.

6. Do test out your placement before you grab the hammer and nails.
“The best way to decide is to cut paper into the size of your art and replicate the size on the wall with painter’s tape, then stand back. Most of the time we look at our art, it’s from a distance, so consider that when deciding on the height. Also, make sure to use quality hanging hardware, especially for heavier pieces,” says Angela Robinson.

Jamie Banfield Design. Photo by Janis Nicolay

7. Do consider the viewing height.
“Hang the piece for how it will be seen,” says Jamie Banfield, principal designer at Jamie Banfield Design. “For a space where someone will stand, hang the pieces higher; for a sitting area, hang a little lower.” For paintings hanging above a sofa, for example, Rebecca Foster recommends hanging them about three to five inches above the back of the furniture.

8. Do mix it up.
“The art in your home should be a collection showcasing different styles, personalities, travels and periods throughout your life,” write Sam Smiddy and Lisa Stegman, principals of Smiddy Stegman.

Kelly Deck agrees: “When a home has artworks that are all in the same colourway and genre it feels like a show home. It is static and lacks authenticity. Personally, I love a blend of impactful abstract pieces next to etchings, photographs and paintings. The key is good curation, proper placement and the intent that something is interesting rather than perfect.”

Originally published July/August 2023 Western Living Magazine.