The Upcycle Collaboration Project

Ideas can be born out of anywhere. Where a few simple exchanges thrashing out ideas via text or over coffee with fellow creatives turn in to the “Why don’t we make this happen?”

Local Abstract Artist Rachel Williams is the force behind Art in My Garden, an annual, collaborative, one-day art exhibition in the gardens of historic Oakville, Ontario. Founded in 2021 this will be the 3rd year that a growing number of Oakville artists will come together to share their work. This year I will be taking part and showing my own work but Rachel and I also felt it would be fun to create something together, something a little different and out of the ordinary.

Rachel’s work is very abstract and full of texture so let’s combine that with my sense of order and love of pattern. Despite my usual pull to geometrics and graphical designs I could see the potential in developing some of her art into something fabulous and 3-dimensional. Rachel has the knack of collecting interesting furniture from the side of the road, things well loved but that have maybe seen better days. Chatting about one of her recent finds the seed was sown and we had ourselves an upcycle project.

Putting a plan into action

So, how did we do it? Firstly we needed a high resolution image of Secret Garden, a diptych. Elle Bruce’s professional photography skills captured a perfect high resolution image we knew would work well. I then set about digitally manipulating it, blending the 2 canvases seamlessly and creating a workable repeating design that could be transferred onto fabric. We didn’t want to take away the essence of the art and the brush strokes. Art Fabrics based out of Quebec, Canada offer eco-friendly on demand printing, perfect for this type of project. We just had to upload the file then order the exact yardage we needed. The velveteen fabric we chose was printed and on the doorstep within a matter of days and it looked amazing! All the texture of the paint and even the canvas perfectly executed onto fabric.

We picked a coordinating plain green velvet for the back of the chair and the project was then passed into the hands of my highly skilled upholsterer to work his magic. A few short days later what had been a tired, water stained antique pink chair had been transformed into a stunning eye catching statement piece. Now we need to find a room worthy of it!

Top – Original Art
Bottom – Digital Seamless Repeat

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From Photos to Fun Stripes

I would be embarrassed to tell you how many photos I actually have on my phone, but I also use it like a visual scrapbook. Little snippets capturing a moment in time where something has peaked my interest. It could be colours in nature, some amazing colourful graffiti or just an obscure thing I find visually stimulating.

So what do we do with all these photos? People rarely print them now as we live in such a digital paperless world. I’ve made a conscious effort though to change this for myself and plan on making some photos books capturing family time and vacations in the coming weeks. Many of my photos I use as colour inspiration for interior schemes or surface pattern design but one of the simplest forms is to create these fun stripes. Below you’ll see just a small selection of the photos I have taken and the lovely stripes they can generate. For some cosy Autumn vibes check out my previous post Interior Colours for Fall.

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Architectural Elements & Design Motifs

Do you ever think to look up as you walk around towns or cities? Often the architecture found above street level is far more interesting than the modern day facades on our level. So many decorative architectural elements and details are a source of inspiration and also act as a record of the passing of time. The different styles and types of stone or brick tell so much of a story.

There is a beautiful gothic style church on the main street in my town dating from 1888. My eye has often been drawn to the shapes and structure of the stained glass windows. Although I have never been inside it, I imagine the windows take on a whole new look with the light shining through. All the windows are made up of simple repeating geometric shapes, the perfect starting point for a collection of fabric designs.

With a fresh colour palette to hand I began by drawing various elements and motifs to then develop into new designs. This colour palette is part of a collaboration with another group of designers. Throughout the year we design several collections all using the same colour palette and then offer them for sale on Spoonflower. Customers can then order from a collection of over 500 mix and match designs all using the same range of colours.

Spring Garden Collection

This group of designs has a retro feel to it but the crisp colours give it a more updated feel. By varying scales and colour combinations the designs can be used together and applied to a wide range of end products. The full design collection can be found on my Spoonflower Store or you can contact me directly for ordering and customizing locally here in Canada.

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Miami Beach Club Inspired Designs

In the Spring of 2023 I discovered a wonderful design community founded by the creative minds at Make It In Design. Headed by Rachel Taylor and Beth Kempster they are a multi-disciplinary team of creative experts with a diverse range of backgrounds. They share their expertise and knowledge to inspire other designers and creatives and to foster a supportive community.

Each month there are industry experts who come together to create a design brief working closely with trend forecasters. It’s a place for designers to brainstorm and share their ideas, help each other and cheer for each other.

Developing Ideas

My first assignment was to create a kidswear & accessories collection reflecting the Miami Beach Club trend! With a love of art deco architecture and bright colours this was a great project to kick off with. The first task was to put together a mood board. I collected images that conveyed to me the vibe and feeling of a Miami Beach Club. What was the eptiome of endless summer days and beach fun? Being a child of the 70s and 80s there are many trends from my youth I see repeating again but with an updated current feel.

Next comes the digital sketching. I work mostly on my iPad experimenting with shapes and colours, manipulating often very simple shapes that transform and lead into other ideas. My iPad has become a digital sketch book and is such an easy portable way to develop concepts. I take my ideas and refine them further on my computer, putting elements into technical seamless repeats that can be printed on a wide range of products. Mixing different patterns and scale is the key to creating a cohesive collection of designs. With interiors being my main focus of design the challenge of coming up with designs that would work on smaller scales and children’s clothing is fun to do.

Showcasing a Collection

There are many digital mockups available which help to visualise how fabrics can look in use. With a bit of computer wizardry a whole range of cute kids clothes can be displayed and variations on colour and scale can quickly be developed by switching things around.

Would a heavy dose of vibrant maximalism be too much for you though in your home? We often wear pattern and colour yet we shy away from having it in our interior environment. Kids generally do love colour so interjecting some fun bedding or cushions would be great in a tween bedroom for them to express themsleves and add their own stamp of personailty.

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Interior Colours for Fall

With so many colours around us in nature I have a camera reel full of interesting colour combinations that I have collected over the years. Extracting the colours from an image is a great starting point for pulling together an interior scheme. One really simple yet effective technique I use within Photoshop enables selecting just one fine line segment out of an image and then using it to generate a lovely blend of stripes.

These ornamental cabbages with their rich autumn shades of oranges, purples and pinks have a wonderful comforting warmth to them. Imagine these printed on a luxurious velvet or as beautifully textured linen curtains combined with a deep terracotta wall colour. The perfect environment to curl up with a good book and a soothing mug of hot chocolate.

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Elevating the design of a wheelchair accessible kitchen

Outwardly this looks just like a regular spacious dream kitchen but there are many features that make this far much more. Making the space universally accessible for all five members of the family was of paramount importance. They have been back in their newly renovated and functional home for almost a year now and the space is working well for them all.

When this family were suddenly faced with the need for an accessible home there were an overwhelming number of changes that needed to be made to take their home into a place where they could all live independently, somewhere where there were no barriers and everyday life could resume in a new normal. I worked very closely with the family as a whole to ensure everyone’s needs were met, not just those to accommodate a wheelchair user. The key focus all along has been to design a house that feels like their home and for it not to appear outwardly institutional in any sense.

When people typically think of ADA and CSA approved fixtures and fittings they generally think of ugly and cumbersome designs, large levers and grab bars. None of those are going to be evident here and a considerable amount of time has been invested in sourcing things that are both functional and beautiful. Sinks and faucets that are sleek and modern. Appliances that offer accessible and space saving features, the overall design of the kitchen and all the elements that come together.  Additionally there were financial constraints due to the majority of the work being covered by insurance, this meant all these fixtures and fittings needed to also stick strictly to a very tight budget.

Note the dual height counter at the island allowing for meal prep both from a standard position and seated on the left. A wheel-under area at the end means family and friends can easily be sat around the island together. Working with the structural constraints of the 12′ addition, we have integrated the pillar into the overall design by painting it out the colours of the upper and lower cabinets and adding the same crown used on the cabinets.  Shallow depth cabinets added at the rear of the island (facing us in the image) maximize accessible storage space. To keep the visual feeling of space and openness I designed the bulkheads across the back of the house to conceal essential HVAC duct work that also carries down behind the full height pantry.

Shallow sink bowls provide essential wheel-under access. With one large single bowl rather than the typical double bowl configuration it leaves room for washing large roasting pans easily despite the shallow 6″ bowl depth. This sleek Blanco Quatrus sink hit all the marks with it’s shallow 5 1/2″ depth, rear drain hole and sharp zero radius corners. While the counter height is lower here, the shallow sink depth still enables a comfortable height also for standing while washing up.  The Fisher & Paykel pull out drawer style dishwasher makes for more accessible loading.  Floor space is optimized with the drawers rather than a pull down front. The clean profile pairs beautifully with the clean lines of the cabinetry and the angular styling of the sink. Whilst in this particular case the ADA requirement for faucets isn’t essential, these Moen Nori ADA approved plumbing fixtures still look stylish with single lever control and a pull down goose neck sprayer. The spot resist stainless finished is another added bonus. To keep counter space clear we also added a coordinated soap dispenser so soap is easily to hand. In so many public accessible spaces the undersink plumbing is visible and unsightly. I really wanted to keep the clean clutter free look so we added a removable painted panel set back under the sink to conceal the plumbing creating a neat finish while still allowing plenty of knee space.

Now showing the wheel-under island from a different angle. We installed an electrical outlet in one of the end support pillars so that small appliances such as food mixers can be used making baking an easier family activity. You can also see the small infill of quartz at the left of the sink to transition across the height difference and prevent water seepage to the wooden cabinet. A thicker waterfall edge here would have made the transition much heavier.

An integrated convection microwave and pull out waste disposal centre are also housed within the island. Sink, dishwasher and waste disposal are all kept within easy reach of each other. 

All lower level cabinets are fitted with pull out pantry drawers. No one has to fight to reach things stuck at the back of the cupboards.

The ADA & CSA approved convection wall oven from Bosch has a side opening door rather than the traditional drop down style. The height was determined for accessible reach and also knee clearance. In this instance, for the function and layout of the kitchen we opted for the hinge to be on the left side. We worked hard sourcing appliances to ensure we had the best available to meet the needs irrespective of whether the same brand was used throughout. Keeping to the same stainless steel and black details but combining manufacturers still works in the design by making sure handles and display panels all have a complementary appearance.

Two deep drawers under the oven provide ample space for storage of baking trays and roasting pans.

The standard requirement for turning space of a wheelchair is 60″, therefore we have allowed a minimum of 60″ between the island and the wall counter. There is a wide unobstructed wheel-under section incorporating a drawer for utensils, the gas stove with controls at the front and a prep sink. It proved challenging finding a smaller prep sink that was less than 6″ in depth, but this was key for both design and function. The depth of the sink needed to be concealed within the depth of front fascia while also keeping clearance for knee space to a maximum. Having the sink and faucet next to the stove enables pans to be filled with water for cooking without having to manoeuvre from the main sink. Without this a wheelchair user would have to carry a filled pot on their lap whilst trying to manoeuvre themselves from a sink to the stove. Saucepans of hot water can easily be drained minimizing risk of scalding and accidents. The extractor fan over the stove also has controls at the front for operation within comfortable reach. By incorporating these subtle design features a wheelchair user can move around the kitchen and prepare a meal independantly without assistance, things a typically abled person takes for granted.

Instead of ugly support panels and brackets, this whole lower length of counter is supported by a custom horizontal metal beam allowing for a continuous run of unobstructed knee space while also supporting the quartz counter. As with the island, the plumbing and the gas line are concealed from view with a removable painted panel giving a seamless flow to the colour of the base cabinets and continuity to the design. The panel sits approximately 6″ from the back wall to allow sufficient depth for knee space.

I really should also mention the lovely purple tiles just because they’re so pretty! Pops of colour are evident throughout this home reflecting the home owners personalities combined with some more subtly neutrals.

A few other things to note, a counter depth French door refrigerator helps to leave passage ways clear. Integrated water and ice dispensers in the door also gives one handed operation, there is no need to open the door and hold a glass leaving one hand free for manoeuvring a wheelchair.

Due to the reduced number of lower cabinets, all upper cabinets are 15″ deep an upgrade to the standard 12″ to maximize storage for less needed items or items more specific to the rest of the family.

An automated door onto the deck by way of remote control means independent hands free access to the garden although possibly also a rather elaborate dog door, no one needs to get up to let him out.

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Creating an accessible and inclusive home exterior

From the outset this has been a project about making a home accessible but not institutional. It’s an objective that might require greater research than others but it is possible. This home doesn’t just need to be considered accessible it needs to provide universal design and be liveable for the whole family.

There are so many factors in daily life that are challenging to anyone who is physically at a disadvantage. We need to incorporate as much as possible into the design to make the space work easily and giving everyone the freedom to be independent.

This project has really picked up momentum over the last few weeks following a long delay while some legal issues were resolved. The 12 week delay has been frustrating but the trades are all working at an amazing pace now and it is exciting to see so much happening, and an end in sight. The pretty things are all starting to fall into place and ideas that were planned well over a year ago are all coming together into reality at last.

At the very beginning of this process a specialist company were called in to assess the functionality of the current house and advise what needed to be done under the scope of the insurance to modify the house.  Anything above and beyond that scope is down to the family to fund themselves. With careful selections and the assistance and generosity of local suppliers we can take this house from not just functional and bland but to a home that reflects the personalities of the family, giving them a space to live in for many years to come as their lives evolve.

I’ll cover some of the considerations relating to designing the interior elements such as kitchen and bathrooms later but let’s start off with some of the basics and structural work relating to the exterior of the property.

Exterior Finishes


General accessibility upgrades, the not so pretty but essential things.

The biggest change is a full height 12’ addition added to the rear of house, that in itself has generated the need for various improvements. The roof line has changed, we have additional windows, new doors and a new side access to the garage, the removal of the existing deck and so on. We’ve taken that opportunity to change things up a little visually at the same time, updating the roof from a chocolate brown to a charcoal grey, black framed windows, coordinating new downspouts and eaves troughs. The rear of the house is south-facing and the original dark brick has always absorbed the heat of the sun. As it was proving difficult to find brick to match with the new addition, we have chosen to use a stucco finish in a lighter shade which will help confront the heat transfer.

Lower threshold doorways within minimal height differences at both the rear and front of the property for easier transition with a wheelchair.

A paved ramp to the front door of the property allowing direct easy access without having to always go via the garage and platform lift.

Door bell with intercom system operated by smart home technology.

The two existing individual garage doors are to be replaced with one wider door which enables the family’s main accessible vehicle easier access to the garage and more space to get in and out of the car. The garage door will be operable by both the regular remote and with smart home technology from any device.

Garage Transformation

The addition of a platform lift from the ground floor level of the garage to the interior access door to the house. With our harsh Canadian winters the ability to go from car to house undercover without having to negotiate snow and ice in a wheelchair is an added bonus.

Two automatic door openers are being installed, one on the interior door from the garage to the house and one from the rear of the house onto the deck. This enables easier access when carrying things and the ability to be more independent.

A new deck with ramp will provide access from the house to the garden level. The garden is being graded to meet code for accessibility, previously it was on quite a substantial slope.

Hard landscaping has been installed around the property to improve access to the rear yard. To coincide with the landscaping work the family has also decided to add an in-ground swimming pool in the yard. Whilst this obviously provides physical therapeutic value to a paraplegic in the privacy of her own home it also gives the children a space they can safely play together with their friends without barriers.

The development of the rear addition, deck and hard landscaping

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Hello 2019!

The internet and social media seem full of ideas for renewing and refreshing everything as we head into January. Everything from food, self care and mindset through to home interiors and decluttering. The New Year is a time to re-evaluate so many things but it could easily become  an endless list that is overwhelming. How far do we actually get with any of these plans as the year goes on?

As I head into 2019 there are many things to look forward to, moving onto the interior of my accessibility project,  a few finishing touches on a ground floor renovation project along with various other projects I am collaborating on and new things in the pipeline. 

At the beginning of every year I start by telling myself I should do more creative drawing and painting and get back in tune with those abilities and practical artwork. Occasionally I pick up a paint brush but as always I should try and find time to do more,  focusing some time on the meditative properties of being practically artistic, rather than just when my daughter has elaborate ideas for Halloween costumes or Birthday parties.

I have been brightening up my home office workspace recently and need to finish that off, switching out a couple of darker feature walls I had with a new crisp white back drop to allow for new mood boards where I can pin fabric swatches, paint colours and finishes. My office is in our basement and whilst I do have some natural light I’ve also changed the majority of the bulbs to daylight LEDs and it makes such a difference to the space, especially in the dullness of January. 

Here on the blog I’ll be sharing my take on some of the emerging trends in interiors and styling as well as keeping you updated on some of my ongoing projects and how they are progressing.


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About Deborah

Having grown up in a household devoted to the manufacture of high end bespoke soft furnishings, Deborah has always had a love of fabrics and colour. Graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Textile Design & Design Management from the University of Manchester Deborah then spent the next 10 years working in Visual Merchandising & Design for John Lewis & Partners, a retail giant in the UK. Her eye for design, attention to detail and planning expertise was used to full effect creating engaging window displays and managing a team of Visual Merchandisers.

After moving to Canada in 2004 Deborah began working as part of the team at Robinson Interior Design in Oakville, collaborating on many high-end residential design projects in and around the Toronto area.

Deborah’s talent for visual merchandising in the retail world has easily transferred into residential and commercial design. Achieving a great interior is all about capturing the personalities and tastes of the clients and reflecting that in their home or business. It isn’t about imposing Deborah’s personal taste in design but rather finding the essence of the client and drawing on that to turn a potentially great space into a beautiful home. On some recent projects Deborah has had the opportunity to expand her expertise with accessible design. Creating an accessible home allows the blending of function and aesthetics that can be life changing for the home owner and their families.

As an independent designer Deborah offers a full range of services ranging from large scale renovations to smaller projects. With a strong command of colour and textiles Deborah can give you the confidence to inject some colour into you home by way of paint, furnishings and now more recently also her own ranges of wallpapers and fabrics.

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