Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

Got a design dilemma? Four expert solutions to common problems

It won’t just be design-savvy trendspotters flocking to the Interior Design Show West, which kicks off Thursday. Many people struggling with problems, whether it’s how to renovate their kitchen or how to redo a tired room, will head to the Vancouver Convention Centre West looking for help. And they’ll get a chance to pick a pro’s brain free of charge for 10 minutes through a program called What’s Your Design Dilemma? Four of the interior designers who will be doling out advice at the show talked to The Globe about common problems that people struggle with and how to solve them.

1 of 4

THE PROBLEM: LIGHTING Many people who sat down with Robert Bailey last year at IDS West were seeking enlightenment – literally. “How to light a space is a very common problem,” says Bailey, founder of Robert Bailey Interiors, his Vancouver-based company. “Often, people don’t think about lighting as fully as they should.” Simply putting a lamp in a room and calling it a day is not sufficient, Bailey says. THE PRO’S GUIDANCE “Lighting needs to happen at a so many levels in a room and in different ways,” Bailey says. “It needs to be reflective, it needs to be direct, it needs to spotlight things.” Proper lighting begins with the tasks that will be performed in a room, he says. But the best place to start? “Dim everything,” Bailey advises. “Everything has to have a dimmer on it. You have to be able to control lighting, because that’s how you create mood and ambience.”

Trish McAlaster/The Globe and Mail

2 of 4

THE PROBLEM: RENOVATING Often, people who are keen to redo a space are dreaming big, which makes them just a little too eager to pick up a sledgehammer and start smashing away. “People want to remove walls and stuff and they don’t understand that you just can’t do that,” says Geralynne Mitschke, founder of her eponymous design firm in Vancouver. THE PRO’S GUIDANCE “If you are going to change something like that, you need to get the correct professionals in to make sure you’re doing it properly,” Mitschke says. Indeed, any time you’re considering taking a wall down, you want to talk to an architect first. But redoing a space starts with a much broader conversation, Mitschke says. “You have to sit down and find out what it is they are trying to do,” she says. “What are your needs and desires?”

Trish McAlaster/The Globe and Mail

3 of 4

THE PROBLEM: COLOUR Adding a pop of colour to a room sounds easy – just throw a bright yellow pillow on the couch and you’re done, right? Except getting accent colours right is a little more complicated than that, and it confounds people, says Sharon Bortolotto, founder of Vancouver-based BBA Design Consultants Inc. THE PRO’S GUIDANCE “If you want to be really trendy and you don’t mind repainting after a year or two, go ahead and paint out that wall,” she says. But if you’re thinking of creating spaces that are more timeless, be strategic about where accent colours are put, Bortolotto says. “Accent colours [on the wall] behind a living-room sofa or on a dining-room wall or a powder room – that’s a great place to throw in a wild colour if you wanted to do it,” she says. Why those spots? Because the eye is naturally drawn to them when you enter a room, Bortolotto says.

Trish McAlaster/The Globe and Mail

4 of 4

THE PROBLEM: SPACE “People do have a misconception about what will fit in a space,” says Stephanie Brown, founder of Stephanie Brown Inc., also in Vancouver. More often than not, clients assume that a space is larger than it actually is. Which means sorry, but maybe there isn’t room for an island in the kitchen or that massive dining-room table. THE PRO’S GUIDANCE Start with a floor plan, Brown suggests. “As designers, we always want to leave proper clearances for traffic flow,” she says. This is why knowing the dimension of a room and the size of the furniture you want to put in it is key. As a rule of thumb, any “traffic flow” area should have about one metre of clear walking space between pieces, Brown says. That same distance goes for the space between a dining table and the wall. “You have to factor in that there’s a chair there, and when people eat they’re sitting back from the table.” You don’t want dinner guests to revel in how great a host you are, not hitting the wall and feeling cramped.

Trish McAlaster/The Globe and Mail

Story continues below advertisement

Report an error
Combined Shape Created with Sketch.

Combined Shape Created with Sketch.

Thank you!

You are now subscribed to the newsletter at

You can unsubscribe from this newsletter or Globe promotions at any time by clicking the link at the bottom of the newsletter, or by emailing us at