My Tips for Choosing Fabrics

Mixing and matching fabrics is one of my favourite interior design challenges. Using a variety of fabrics that compliment each other is a great way to add character and interest to a room. With so many beautiful colours, patterns and textures on the market, choosing just the right combination is no easy feat!

Here are a few of my tips and some examples I’ve pulled together of potential clients to get you started:

1. How will the space be used?

Textiles are an investment, so it’s important to be sure that the fabric is meant to withstand the amount of wear that it will be exposed to.

Do kids use the space? Does the dog love to sleep on that chair? Is this a high-traffic area, or an occasionally used space? These are all things to consider.


Upholstery fabric is manufactured in different strengths. For sofas or harder wearing furniture pieces 30,000 double rubs and up is ideal.  A teflon coating will offer extra wear, and is a good idea for spaces where pets and kids like to hang out. For lighter use furnishings or toss cushions and curtains anything in the 9000 and above range will work well.

2. Choose a dominant pattern first as your jumping off point.

Before looking at samples it really helps to take a good look at the space and think about what the end vision is. What element do you want to stand out, which would be better left quiet. Have a rough idea of what you like, what you don’t like and what colours or style you’re after. A lot of my clients come to me with images they’ve collected from magazines or on Pinterest which is a great place to start!


It’s also important to consider any fixed elements in the room. I always keep in mind any furniture or artwork that my clients want to keep in the space, the wall colour, rugs etc. Taking the time to get a sense of what you’re after will really help narrow down the endless options.

3.  Play with Scale and Pattern!

This is where things get tricky, and where a professional designer can really help. At this stage, it’s all about pulling fabrics, and playing around with scale, texture, pattern, and colour.  For me, this is the fun part!


Oftentimes I’ll start with one fabric that works as a jumping off point for the whole palette. I look for something bold, or bright or large scale – something that stands out. Once I have this, I can start choosing the coordinating fabrics. I like to choose complimentary rather than matching. This can mean pairing a floral with a geometric, a large scale print with a smaller print and so on.

If you need help selecting fabric, contact me, I’m happy help with any project, from upholstery to accent pillows, window coverings and more! All fabrics above were selected from Bellissimo’s vast library.

My Top Instagram Feeds

Instagram has become a great tool for me. I love being able to access such a vast array of visual information all in one place. It’s a convenient way to stay connected with what’s going on in interior design, fashion, and local business. I also enjoy getting to glimpse places I’d love to travel to and find inspiration in all the amazing things people are doing in my community and beyond.

Here are some of my current favourites:

Interior Design


@amberinteriors never fails to amaze me! This LA based designer has a clean style, peppered with funky fabrics, finishes and textures that give her aesthetic a very free boho vibe – so perfect for the California lifestyle. I love her use of vintage textiles.  She has a fabulous shop, and I am certain that I would go broke if I lived near it!


@dominomag was one of my favourite magazines. After they stopped distributing, I was so glad to see them release a beautiful coffee table book, and build an online presence. Their look is the epitome of  the perfect unmatched undecorated look, very bohemian and eclectic.  Their Instagram feed is filled with beautiful and inspiring photos.


@studiomcgee fresh, classic, clean, transitional, pretty… go follow this feed! Now!


@namdangmitchell is a designer working in my hometown of Toronto. I drool over every photo she posts. She has an incredible skill for using neutrals, often working with a palette of creams, greys, browns with bits of green and black. Her work is executed to perfection using the best materials. I also can’t get enough of her style and travel pics!



@hollywoodathome is where you will find photos of the most wonderful textiles by acclaimed designer Peter Dunham. I have travelled to India and have always loved the incredible hand block printed vegetable dye fabrics that are made there. Peter Dunham’s fabrics are made in this same tradition but through his own unique vision. I get inspired by all of the different applications, and enjoy seeing what’s new.


@kayakilims sells the most beautiful vintage kilim rugs. The photos on their feed often show their rugs displayed against their lovely Turkish homeland. It takes me back to my visit to there in 1998 when I traveled with my husband after we first met. At that time I could not afford a carpet nor did we have a permanent home, luckily Kaya kilims also has a great online store! Its a great place to purchase carpets for my clients or for myself.

Fashion & Lifestyle


@wildrosebudsblog is a Halifax area blogger and mom with an incredible fashion sense. I can always use some inspiration and guidance on what to wear, and  I love how she puts her outfits together.  She offers tips on where to find great clothing and accessories, often promoting local businesses. She has a lovely family and a great eye.


@casa_colibri is where I find inspiration for my yoga practise. I practice yoga most days of the week as it helps me destress, focus, feel more accepting of myself and others, and keeps me feeling strong and healthy. Every day I am in awe of  Steph Gongora’s flows and postures. She is super strong and bendy and inspires me to get on my mat to push myself a little further.



@thecanteenns the pictures say it all! Be warned that if you follow this feed you will want to drop everything and get to Dartmouth’s The Canteen! The food tastes even better than it looks, so what are you waiting for? Get your butt to Dartmouth NOW!

Makes Me Laugh

@tommysmythe is a Toronto designer with an eye for symmetry, tradition and great architecture. I feel a bit of a personal connection, as I went to high school with his sister Christie Smythe (creator of the fashion brand Smythe Les Vests) and met Tommy at a party or two back in the day! His Instagram feed is filled with photos of old buildings in Toronto and beyond, and his wild abuse of hashtags often has me laughing out loud!

Do you use Instagram too?  Tell me about who you’re following over on our Facebook page! You can also follow henhouse at @sapphohenouse!

Design Projects Big and Small

At henhouse, our services span from small projects (like an interior design consultation), to large and more complicated projects (like kitchen renovations). We have several projects in various stages on the go right now, and each one is different in scale and complexity. Sometimes a project starts small and then grows, other times a client might just need some pointers or a new perspective. It all depends on the customer, their needs and budget, and we are always happy to help.

We’ve talked before about the benefits of hiring a professional designer. Let’s talk about some of the possibilities by taking a sneak peek at a few recent and ongoing projects .

Halifax North:

Halifax Nroth Home-001

This project started as built-ins in one room and is gradually expanding into other areas of the home. After completing the built-ins for the TV room, the homeowners asked us back a year later to help with their bedroom, fireplace room, TV room, and downstairs rec room.

Halifax Nroth Home1

We started with the fireplace room, and came up with the design plan above. The henhouse team was hired to take care of the electrical work, install new windows and additional built-ins, painting, and to create custom window dressings and toss cushions. The homeowners took on some of the work themselves, including purchasing the furnishings that were suggested in the design plan.

Halifax Nroth Home2

Realizing a plan over time, whether it’s a single room or several areas of a home, is less invasive and easier to manage financially. As you can see from the photos above, the room is coming together – we’re just awaiting new furniture pieces! Next, we’ll tackle the bedroom and window coverings for the kitchen/ dining area, and TV room.

Hemlock Ravine Cottage:

Hemlock Ravine Cottage

This home needed an injection of colour and a new furniture layout in the living and dining spaces. The owner loves antiques and vintage furniture, and has a wonderful collection of quality older pieces that we wanted to make use of. The main challenges were the awkward shape of the rooms, and paring down her furniture by choosing the pieces that best suit both spaces. We created a floor plan for each room and recommended which pieces to keep.

FullSizeRender (1)

She also had a very bland colour palette that had felt safe to her but now she was ready for some colour! We chose paint colours, fabric and carpets to inject the much needed colour she was craving. Now that she has some direction, she chose to execute the plan on her own and in her own time.

susan fogarty dining room visualJPG

Halifax South:

Back in 2015, henhouse was hired to complete a master bedroom makeover in this home. The homeowner had us complete the project while she was on holiday and returned to the big reveal!


Now we are getting ready to renovate her outdated 80’s kitchen. Planning began last fall and the renovations will begin next month. The henhouse team will create and install custom cabinetry throughout, install flooring, finishes, paint, lighting, and furnishings. You can see the visual plan for the project above.

Halifax South End

Since we had some time, I ordered all of the fixtures well in advance of the renovation phase. Being able to take the time on these details will save time and money later, or solve any other issues that come up before the renovation starts. Our goal is to make the renovation process as seamless as possible, because we know the kitchen is the hub of the home and a big investment.

Cole Harbour:

Just before Christmas we were hired to come up with a new kitchen and dining room plan and concept. The home is a lovely cape cod style, located in a beautiful older, and somewhat rural, subdivision. It has a cottage feel, with lots of warmth and character. We presented them with a plan that includes new windows, flooring, opening up walls, lighting, new cabinetry and layout, and an estimated budget. The clients are pleased with the concept, and we’ll see how they decide to proceed!
Cole Harbour
Some projects are small and simple, while others are larger and more complex. At henhouse our design services range from offering ideas and opinions with an in-home consult, to creating a detailed plan, through to executing the plan. It always depends on the needs of the customer. If you’d like to learn more about our design services, or have a project in mind please contact us!

Ask Our Designer: Refinishing Outdated Furniture

For this blog post we reached out to our Facebook followers and asked them to write to us about their design dilemmas. We always enjoy the chance to chat with you, and of course we love solving a good design conundrum!

This week we heard from Deidre who has a pine armoire and table that she’d like to repaint.


These are great pieces for a refinishing project, they look like they are in good shape, and are solid wood. A bit of elbow grease, time, and some basic materials are all you need. Here are my tips for tackling a refinishing project:

Start with a vision

Deidre, you’re on the right track! Knowing ahead of time what you want the final result to be is key. It’s always a good idea to look for inspiration in magazines or online, and to think about what paint colours you like, and what will work with your decor.

Deirdre Mood Board 1

For Deirdre’s armoire, a soft paint colour in a gloss finish will really dress this piece up. I like White Dove or Revere Pewter by Benjamin Moore. It would also be fun and an unexpected twist to line the interior in a fun wallpaper. Take a look for unique options.

For the table, I think black is a great choice to create weight and a bit of elegance- great for a focal piece. Onyx by Benjamin Moore is a nice warmer black with brown undertones.

Prepare the surface

The above mentioned elbow grease starts here! Start with rough quick sand, either with a palm sander or by hand. I use a 100-150 grit sandpaper. Be sure to get in all the little corners. The goal is to rough up the surface so that what you put on next won’t peel off.Deirdre Mood Board 2

Do a scratch test- gently dab a bit of the paint that you’ll be using onto the surface of the piece. Let it air dry completely, then scratch it with your fingernail. If it stays on, great news, you can start priming! If it comes off you are going to have to do more sanding until you remove all of the old varnish before priming.

Use Zinnser BIN Primer to seal any knots. If you skip this step you will have unsightly pine pitch seeping through your paint in a few months. Apply 2-3 coats of primer with a cheap brush, allowing each coat to dry.

Before you start painting, lightly sand over the knots making sure they are smooth, and wipe the piece down so that it’s free of dust.

For Deidre’s armoire, before priming I would take off the curvy baseboard moulding and add a new simple straight base board.

Time to paint!

I have used Benjamin Moore Advance interior paint for furniture and cabinets with great results. It is a very easy paint to use, goes on smoothly with a roller or brush and is self leveling, much like an oil used to be. It is very durable and will cure to a good hard finish in about 4 weeks. You can use your piece before 4 weeks, but be gentler on it until it fully cures. For a nice sheen I tend to use choose the satin finish.

Depending on the look you’re going for, you can roller the paint on to larger areas and use a brush to get into corners or use a brush over the entire piece. If you like the brushed look, invest in a brush with a good sharp edge that will reach into corners and cracks. Apply 2-3 coats of paint giving it a very light sand in between each coat.


Chalk paint has been gaining a lot of momentum lately and there are several places in town and online that offer tips and workshops. My favourites are Rusty Hinge, Front Porch Mercantile, Miss Mustard Seed and Ferpie and Fray.

Add character

If you want a more rustic look, you can lightly sand your piece after you’re done painting. By hand, using a 200 grit sandpaper, gently sand allover then apply extra pressure along edges and around areas where the piece would naturally wear (usually edges and corners, top surfaces). The console below is by henhouse, and you can see where we sanded to give this piece a worn in look.


This part is fun, and takes a bit of an artistic eye. When I’m antiquing a painted piece I always step back and take a look at the overall effect every now and then. I make sure it looks balanced. Don’t worry about messing it up- if you take to much off it’s easy to fix with a bit of paint! Keep working at it until you’re happy with the result.

With this technique, the final step is to apply a wax. I use Annie Sloan’s clear and dark wax. I sometimes mix them together as well. A dark wax will give you a richer patina and a clear wax doesn’t affect the colour, both work well as a sealant.

Add New Hardware

Changing up the hardware is easy and makes a big difference! For a refinishing project, it’s easiest just to use the existing holes and replace the hardware with something new. There are a lot of fun options on the market, and you can add a lot of interest with the right hardware.

For Deidre’s armoire I suggest replacing all of the hinges with a barrel type hinge so that they are mostly concealed. The knobs are easy to remove and replace, there’s lots of great options at Lee Valley.

Thanks again for writing to us Deidre, we hope we helped! If you’re interested in learning more about refinishing stay tuned! I’m about to start work on a piece that will be part of a fundraiser for Habitat for Humanity. I’ll be sure to post some before and after pictures soon!

© 2009–2017 Henhouse

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