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In a renovation, never, and I mean NEVER cut corners on who you hire for labor!



ur Family Room inbox is inundated with resourceful and creative questions submitted by our readers. Oh, we love to put our heads together and respond to the queries, big and small, specific or generic. For our twelfth issue, we have compiled some of our most frequently asked questions, and turned to Family Room contributor, Leia Karoly, to share her wisdom. Keep the questions coming!


  1. Does a dark backsplash make an area look smaller?

Smaller? No. Less cohesive? Yes. Unless you are going for a bold and dramatic look with dark counter tops, I would stick with a backsplash tile that has the same ground color as your counter tops. This will help to create a serene site line, without visually chopping up the design.

  1. What can I do to make my new house with low ceilings feel bigger?
    This is all about tricking the eye. The tips I’m about to give you may seem counter intuitive, but I always keep them in my back pocket when mapping out a smaller space.
  • Fill it up. Empty rooms always feel smaller than filled ones. Don’t assume that just because you have a small space that you need less. Properly laying out and furnishing a space with designated furniture zones will instantly give purpose and flow (ie. expanse) to your room.
  • Mount your drapery as close to the ceiling as possible, even on the ceiling if you can. Drapery naturally draws the eye up, so if you have short windows or ceilings, mounting your drapery way beyond your casing will give the illusion of more height than you actually have.
  • Dark paint. Darker paint colors give the feeling of grandeur and depth. It also helps to blur the vertical and horizontal planes of your drywall, thereby making a small space, seem not so small.
  • A couple of great colors for this are Farrow and Ball #30 Hague Blue, and Portola Paints ‘In the Navy’ which is a stunning Roman Clay Plaster finish.
  1. How do I choose a countertop material that’s durable and can be kashered at the same time?

This is one of the biggest dilemmas my clients tend to struggle with. I think people have this stigma associated with stone that is a lot more dramatic and complicated than it needs to be. Here’s the long and short of it in my view.

  • Budget allowing, there is nothing, and I mean nothing, like natural stone. Does marble need to be taken care of? Yes. Is it as delicate as fine china? Absolutely not. Wipe your counters when your done cooking, have them sealed once a year and you’ll be good to go. Marble is also very porous and therefor the most ideal for kashering. Win. Win.
  • Porcelain is quite literally indestructible. It’s made by taking a man-made surface and laser printing a stone-like veining onto the slab. Because it is completely nonporous, I have been told it should be covered for use on Pesach. I’m not a huge fan of the ones that try to imitate natural marble with too much veining, so stick to a solid color, and subtle amounts of movement
  • Want the best of both words? Try a silicon coating treatment – I like TuffSkin for this. It’s a virtually invisible film that is professionally installed on top of your stone to make it completely stain, spill, and scratch proof. It can be replaced whenever you would like, say- Pesach time, otherwise it has a lifespan of about ten years.
  1. Do you have any general tips when picking and layering throw pillows on a couch? 

never do pillows in pairs. it’s too obvious. Try throwing a collection of random pillows within the same color family for a lived in, casual look. Always choose down filled pillows so you can get that nice designer chop, and don’t go too large – you want to be able to see the shape of the sofa behind them. Lastly, I love a good sphere shaped pillows, like these boucle ones from Etsy – especially since they double as footballs for an epic pillow fight.

If you want the short list of pillow sizing, ill break it down for you real quick.

    • Sectionals: 22”x22” with 24” inserts for extra fluff
    • Smaller sofas and love seats: 20”x20”, 22” insets- same story with the fluff
    • Curved sofas: small and sphere shaped, 12” diameter s cute.


  1. How do you pair some of your atypical, not matching, accent chairs?

Same idea as the pillows. Instead of going for a “pair of accent chairs” try using two different chairs that compliment each other, with a pretty accent table in between. The key to nailing this look is to use one chair that is more comfy, and plush, likely fully upholstered, and one chair that is lighter and less bottom heavy – something with a metal or wooden frame. I love this combo from Allmodern & Urban Outfitters.

  1. What do you think about mirrored furniture? 

I don’t have many rules when it comes to design, but this is one of them. I never like mirrored anything. Except mirrors, I guess.

  1. How do I layout a long & narrow bowling alley type living space? 

For this type of room, I would accentuate what you have, rather than trying to contort it. I love laying out multiple seating areas in one long space, if you have the room to do so. way to properly execute this look is by having one large area rug that all furniture can live on. Place your larger seating items back-to-back, with a sofa table in between to maximize function.

  1. Where to recommend splurging and saving?

In a renovation, never, and I mean NEVER cut corners on who you hire for labor. The contractor whose quote comes back at a 1/3 of the price of everyone else’s is not the guy you want ripping out your kitchen. I know it’s tempting, but TRUST ME ON THIS ONE. You will end up paying more down the road in mistakes, revisions, and hidden fees. If it seems too good to be true, it’s because it is.

When it comes to furniture, I would say if you are going custom, save on the fabric, and splurge on the shape or size. Don’t go with a smaller sectional in order to save cost, because if your piece doesn’t fit appropriately in your space, you will never be happy with it.

There are some amazing performance fabrics whose price point is a lot less than those with a “designer” name and function just as well. Crypton Home and Alta are both offered on a huge amount of fabric lines such as Kravet, JF Fabrics, and Ethan Allen.

  1. Are there any general guidelines when choosing/ordering wallpaper?
  • Always order a couple of spare rolls to store. After all, you never know when your toddler will decide it is the perfect time to use their creative license to mark up a panel or two with their crayons. For us it was month one of quarantine. 2020, am I right?
  • Scale is crucial. Choose a pattern with a repeat that makes sense in relation to the areas the paper is covering. Smaller spaces call for a smaller pattern repeat, and larger spaces can accommodate a large-scale pattern, or even a dramatic mural design.
  • Understand the material content.
  • Non-wovens, and vinyls are usually wipeable and best for humid and high traffic areas. Wovens like grass cloth, sisal, linen, or hand painted finishes are DELICATE. Proceed with caution…like a ceiling mounted application that no children’s hands can reach.

10: I have an assortment of red bricks for fire place- should I leave them as is, replace them, or paint them?

I would slurry over it! This basically means using a colored mortar instead of a paint color. This will allow the range of color in the brick to peak through ever so slightly, while giving everything a wash of the same tone to make it less busy on the eye.

  1. I don’t think I can narrow down what I love into one specific style category, can I mix and match a few in the same space?

Absolutely! I’m a strong believer that homes don’t need themes. Mixing and matching styles is exactly what you need to create a home that is tailored to YOU. If you have any spaces that are connected/open concept, stick to the same color palette so things make sense together, and don’t appear too busy.  Also, try pairing styles that complement each other, rather than compete, like a traditional vintage Persian rug with an industrial concrete coffee table.The balance achieved through carefully coordinating varying aesthetics will give your home a chic and curated look.

12 . What are some low budget kitchen updates?

There are the obvious easy upgrades I could recommend, like repainting your cabinets, or swapping out the hardware – but you already knew that. I have a few other not-so-obvious low budget upgrades that will make an unexpected world of a difference.

  • Replace the crown molding running across the ceiling perimeter of your upper cabinetry with a flat panel fascia of the same height. This can be easily purchased at Home Depot and sprayed to your existing paint color. This detail can instantly elevate and update your kitchen.
  • If your mid-reno, have your electrician move your outlets into the valance box of your upper cabinetry. Having a backsplash without outlets sticking out is an inexpensive upgrade to give your kitchen a showroom look.
  • Please don’t hate me for saying this, but swapping out those dangling decorative island pendants with simple pot lights, or tube shaped, cylindrical flush mounts, like these gunmetal & brass ones from Buster & Punch will make your kitchen feel approximately 1 million times more current, with minimal cost or effort required.

For every question, there are so many perspectives and solution as to how to resolve the scenario. Within each rule or response, just remember: rules were made to be broken and following you gut will always yield the result you are happiest with.

Leia is the Principal Designer at Gowans Whitman Design Inc. in Toronto and can be contacted at leia@gowanswhitman.com

(Originally featured in Family Room, Issue 012)

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