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Work With What You've Got

February 7, 2012 by admin

I’m fascinated by people who know how to work with what they’ve got and come up with creative solutions despite less than desirable materials.  If you’ve got a dated kitchen or bathroom, you might feel like the retro tiles or boring cabinetry are just too bossy to work with.  You might think it impossible to decorate in a stylish way given your lacklustre bones.  But sometimes the best spaces come from creative solutions – like these two spaces found via my friend (and the newest House & Home Magazine editor), Margot Austin.

This bathroom tile is anything but cutting edge and it looks like that cantilevered sink may have been a pain, but look what a grid of photography, punchy towels, and a sink skirt can do?  Now doesn’t this remind you of every mid-town apartment you’ve ever seen?  But the results are so crisp and tailored!  Love the cameo design on the towels Margot!

This kitchen illustrates the No. 1 trick in decorating – paint it till you make it!  Top cabinets – white (simple right?).  Bottom cabinets – black (maybe more daring but of so chic).  New hardware?  Check!  Pretty sure you can get that style at every hardware store now.  Tired floors?  No problem – these look like peel and stick 12″ tiles (try Pollack’s in Toronto) and Margot has thrown off the classic checkerboard pattern for a staggered design.  Nice!  You can never go wrong with crisp white blinds with a wide slat in a kitchen and the retro chrome canisters may have been a thrift find.  Just goes to show that you can do a lot with a little if you work with what you’ve got!


  1. Alanna says:

    Hi Michael,
    Great post. I too love the idea of working within one’s means. The black + white kitchen is great and Margot Austin rocks. :-)

  2. Paula Nolan says:

    Being a lifetime apartment dweller, I have long sense adopted that philosophy.
    Want to share photo of my galley kitchen with you, but not savvy with the way of links. So I have posted a pic over of my twitter account @wimseybynature.
    Thanks, love your blog!

    • Paula Nolan says:

      Yikes, of course I meant to write ‘since’ not ‘sense’. #embarrassed

    • Especially in apartments – it’s so key! Keeping an open mind and playing up the vintage of your place is a great place to start. Thanks Paula!


      • Paula Nolan says:

        Love Margot’s tile placement. I wonder how long it would’ve taken me to notice, if you hadn’t pointed it out. But it’s that detail that sends that space above and beyond. Subtle yet powerful detail.

  3. Isabella says:

    I love this Michael…please tell Margot…I dont know her but it looks like it would have been great to work with her…write me Michael!
    x isabella

  4. Love those retro canisters. I’m sure all of our mothers or grandmothers had those. We do tend to focus too much on what we don’t have rather than working with what we got.

  5. margot says:

    Hey Michael, I stopped by your blog and what a treat to see my old space! Oh how I loved that apartment! If I had that bathroom today I’d def paint the upper walls matte black. And I think I would do a different fabric on the sink skirt — something with more colour, then I’d do a roman blind with a band of the skirt fabric. How fun it is to look back and re-do in my head. I still can’t resist the affordable chic of peel-and-stick black and white tiles, but I think today if I had the space I would DIY some matte hexagonal floor tiles in the kitchen. cheers,M

    • It’s totally fun to look back and re-do in your head – I do it all the time! Those ideas sound great too! It’s an occupational hazard isn’t it? Always falling in love with something new? Well it looked great then and I’m sure you’d make it beautiful today! Thanks for stopping by!!


  6. Nancy gaylord says:

    The rooms look great. I have been doing this for years but maybe not a chic as these rooms. wonderful ideas. Nancy

  7. Love this concept. Being from the prairie’s, I’m a thrifty girl through and through. I get more pleasure from giving something a new lease on life than buying new!
    Not only do this bathroom and kitchen reno look smart and simply adorable, it’s also respectful of the environment. To me, this is eco-decorating at it’s best!

  8. Danielle says:

    Wow, that all looks great! It can be so overwhelming to stare and wonder about a room’s potential. But it’s so worth it in the end! Both spaces look wonderful!

  9. Colleen says:

    I just updated my bathroom…avocado green tile…newly painted walls works wonders! I barely noticed the tile anymore!

  10. Hi Michael, I just came across your (old?) kitchen in House and Homes photo gallery. It is a perfect example of what you are talking about here, I think. I recently got permission to paint the cabinets in rental kitchen, and even though the floors are still pretty awful, it feels like a whole new kitchen!

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