Contemporary and rustic create a perfect balance in this ‘modern barn’ retreat

Our clients approached us with a vision of a serene retreat from the city in the heart of Muskoka. They wanted a space to reflect their contemporary aesthetic and suit its natural surroundings at the same time to provide a warm and inviting space for family and friends.

Interior Designer: Azen Bongard, ARIDO

Design Firm: Studio 8 Design Inc.

Photographer: Kevin Bongard

Predominantly white kitchen with grey lower cabinets and upper white cabinets, and a wooden island in the centre. There are industrial elements like the black metal windows, ceiling pipes and pendants above the island.

Our design inspiration for this property came from the raw, barn-like architecture of the space, and the beautiful natural setting that surrounds the cottage. We came up with a concept of a “modern barn”, a space that balances rustic and contemporary elements, and feels connected to the natural world.

Main living open concept area encased in large windows showing views of the woods on all sides. The seating is concentrated around the huge grey brick fireplace

The site being on a ridge required the cottage to be wide and not deep, which became a design feature that allowed for every room in the house to have stunning views of the water. Since the main design objective was to create a space that felt comfortable for clients’ family and friends, something unique yet not impersonal, the family room was designed to feel expansive, with privacy from the front entry with custom barn closet doors separating the foyer from the family room. Maximizing the stunning views in the family room, while also being able to gather around the TV together without sacrificing the serenity of the room was important to our clients. This was achieved by designing a custom cabinet with a TV lift to allow the TV to disappear.

Large serene neutral bedroom with accents of wood, and a contemporary four post bed in the centre, with natural materials throughout
Beautifully serene guest room showing custom barn door cabinetry to hide TVs and provide storage and natural materials throughout
Large bathroom with natural finishes throughout, wood ceilings, granite floors and stunning feature wall. Standalone tub is by a large floor to ceiling window.

It was important for the clients to have two master retreats, and to be able to accommodate overnight guests comfortably, so our design team created three guest rooms complete with ensuites and ample storage space for all of their guest’s belongings,  decked with custom barn door closets. To make this a true retreat, a climate controlled custom glass walled sauna and shower providing views to the outside was built in the space, making it usable year round.

custom glass walled sauna and shower that allow views to the outside

A mix of contemporary, rustic, and natural elements creates a most serene and inviting retreat that feels one with nature. The black industrial windows with discreet blinds maximize views, while black metal hardware and lighting add a modern flair. Twig chandeliers, natural finishes such as granite feature walls and floors, wood architectural details, and furniture in linen and wool, create a truly original and unique interior that mixes natural beauty with modern details.

What to ask before hiring an Interior Designer

At my firm, Sanura Design, we love educated clients- and curious clients. An integral part of our process is ensuring our clients have all the information they need- and that includes knowing the design process, permit process, construction process, and everything in between.

So… what do you need to know before you hire me or another design professional?

1: Personality isn’t everything- but fit is really important

Interior design is an incredibly personal job- especially when designing your home. As your interior designer I know things like: what’s in your bedtime table, how you arrange your undies, what you have for breakfast, and your morning bathroom habits. Most of which I bet your friends don’t know. That means when you search for an interior designer you’re searching for someone you can be open with, and work with in their professional capacity. How do you know your interior designer is right for you (after checking qualifications, experience, etc)?  How do you know you’ll be friendly with someone?

2: Are they qualified?

Have a good look at what you’d like to accomplish for your project and what your goals are. Are you simply freshening a space by changing furniture, paint colours, lighting fixtures? That’s something you can hire an interior designer OR decorator for. Are you moving walls, changing your HVAC, electrical, etc, adding an addition, or generally altering your actual home in some way? That’s where you need a qualified professional- a registered interior designer is a regulated profession in Ontario where you know exactly what we need to know to earn our title of “interior designer” and we answer to our organization when we aren’t standing up to our code of ethics. Other design professionals do have extensive experience in renovations and may have a comprehensive skill set, if you hire someone like this the next step will be a very important one.

3: Check their references

Whether you’re hiring us, another registered interior designer, or another design professional, a very important step is asking for and checking a few references. You’re looking for past clients that have undergone similar work to your project, and a bonus can sometimes be hearing from other professionals, like contractors or consultants. You want to have a personal conversation with them and get a good idea for what their experience is like, exactly what the person you may be hiring did for them and what challenges came up. You need to check multiple references as this gives you a much fuller picture of who you’ll be working with.

4: Are they insured?

That’s their problem right? Professionals who do good work don’t need liability insurance- they never get sued.
Incorrect! Liability insurance isn’t just to cover a professional from unhappy clients, it’s also to cover the project from unforeseen circumstances- like a defective product, an incorrectly installed finish, or the incorrect product being installed (among many many other things). Mistakes happen, even with the best professionals, and true professionals carry this protection for themselves, their employees, and their projects.

5: Do they have a contract?

Contracts are incredibly important to your renovation. Both your contractor AND your interior designer should have detailed contracts for you to sign. For an interior designer they should include things like: fees/payment schedule, scope of work, details for breaking the contract, and clarify each sides responsibilities- to name a few. These contracts protect YOU the most- and I can’t emphasize that enough. If something goes wrong during the project and you didn’t sign a contract- you have no options and no protection. The longer and more detailed your professional’s contract is, the more confident you should feel in hiring them. This means they’re openly laying out exactly how they work and ensuring you understand the full process before you sign up for a project with them. A good professional is also always willing to go through their contract with you in detail to help you feel more comfortable.


Whew! That was a technical one. I’m sure I missed something (we don’t want an essay on the subject!), but it will serve as a great rule of thumb to ensure you get the right professional for your project.

Do you have any questions on what the qualifications of a registered interior designer ARE or would like to find one in your area? Check out the ARIDO website.

If you want to chat with us about your project and see if we’re a good fit for you? Get in touch with us.

This post first appeared on Sanura Design | Full Service Interior Design.

Bringing the outside in made this home feel liveable yet contemporary

The clients purchased this home mid-construction and were excited that it was an eco-friendly build using insulated concrete form construction and radiant floor coils as the sole heat source. They loved the views of the water on each of the three levels, and the adjacent tree-lined neighbourhood.

Interior Designer: Azen Bongard, ARIDO

Design Firm: Studio 8 Design Inc.

Photographer: Azen Bongard

With a floorplan considerably smaller than their previous home, their main concern was feeling cramped as a family of four. They also needed the home to accommodate their family business, which added to the space constraints.

The client’s other concern was that the design of the home not be too cold and modern. They had seen many new homes that felt sterile and impersonal to them, and they envisioned a space that was contemporary, yet livable and warm.

Photographer: Azen Bongard

In order to visually enlarge the space, the design team maximized the indoor/outdoor connection with large windows, backyard access from the ground floor, and lush plants around the space.

Minimal blinds let in an abundance of natural light, while guard glass with little hardware lets the light flow throughout the space, and the elegance of the double high space over the kitchen is emphasized by a custom sculptural light fixture which also draws the eye upwards. A barn door and wooden bar-stools soften the modern angles of the home, while the natural oak of wide planks underfoot enhances the connection to nature.

Photographer: Azen Bongard

The aesthetic even spread to the storage solutions, where extensive built-ins in each of the rooms were created to stow clothing and clutter away.  

The design team mainly used natural materials such as wood, concrete, brick, rope, undyed wool and felt in order to create a warm, contemporary aesthetic. Each are eco-friendly options, which also emphasize the natural colour palette, while the team chose throws, pillows and carpets with lots of texture, to emphasize the handmade, human connection.

An Interior Designer’s Mini Guide To Bar Design

A bar by any other name is still a bar.  It can be an espresso bar, a wine bar, or maybe a sports bar.  Stand-alone or as part of a kitchen. It can be dry or wet.  Which one would you prefer?

Dry Bar – No Plumbing Involved

A dry bar is simple to set up, especially where space is an issue. It can be a bar cart or a dedicated nook with a cabinet and counter (below right). Bar accessories are a definite must.

Wet Bar – H2O Required

You can modify an open-plan kitchen where the island becomes the bar (below left).  Or, you can construct one in the basement as part of your very own entertainment complex, or a spa bathroom, or bring it outside to create your own mini-resort, where you can mix a batch of frozen margaritas while you’re flipping steaks.

Anatomy Of A Bar – The Basics 

Put all your ideas on paper and just like the pros, let’s use ergonomic standards and proper measurements for optimum bar design.

  • Bar Height: 42 inches to 45 inches high. Great for sitting or standing.
  • Sitting At The Bar: 8in. deep for your knees. The more the better.
  • A special touch? Include a small hook for hanging a jacket or a purse.
  • Body Width: 24 inches per seat. 30 inches is better and feels less crowded. Stand-up or sit down, a bar stool is a great prop. Bonus points for stools that go up and down.
  • Foot Rail: 7 inches to 9 inches off the floor. A classy touch and appreciated by people with back problems.
  • Bar Top: 16 inches to 20 inches wide. Materials should be sturdy and waterproof. Add panache through colour and pattern.
  • Behind The Bar: Install a 36 inch high counter to mix cocktails, slice lemons, set bottles or install a sink. Under this counter make sure you have a waste receptacle, a microwave oven and mini fridge for snacks and ice.
  • Back Of The Bar: The highest reachable shelf should be 69 inches to 72 inches high. Above that is storage.
Bar counter with blue lit backsplash.

Other important items:

  • Back Bar Shelves: Needs to fit the tallest and widest bottles you stock.
  • Flooring: A wet bar gets messy, so a resilient floor is necessary.
  • Electrical, Light Switches And A Sound System: Party central needs power, ambience and great music.
  • Building Codes: Check them. Safety comes first.

The Extras – The Ultimate Pro Details 

  • Beer Taps: Keep in mind that flushing the system is mandatory. Too much work? Stick to bottled beer.
  • Wine Fridge: For chilling any bottled liquid beverage.
  • Ice Maker: Never run out of ice!
  • Espresso Machine: Caffeine is always required.

The Wow Factor

Here are a few tips and trends to impress:

  • Vary Your Lighting: Add style through statement sconces or titillate with LED backlighting to shelving (see below), a foot rest and bar front lip. Provide recessed general lighting overhead and add pendants to enhance your theme. Don’t forget dimmer switches for a signature mood.
  • Mix-up Your Finishes: Here’s where you can use fanciful woods, metallics and statement tiles. Think textures, patterns and colour.
  • Use Glassware and Bottles As Decor: A wine wall with fancy labels can show off your sophistication. Lots of glasses of different shapes and sizes can sparkle with strategic lighting placement.
  • Floating Shelves: Display your favourite spirits or memorabilia.
  • Television: Root for your home team in style.

And, remember no matter what age, shape, size, or planet – sitting or standing – let’s make sure your bar can accommodate everyone who wants to join in the festivities.

So use this Interior Designer’s Guide wisely and let’s make very merry fun.

All project images from Dolores Pian.  

How a Team Mentality Benefits Your Project

This is where it might start to sound very Utopian, but if you stick with me, you’ll see why a team environment gives you a better project and a better process (which is the biggest asset of all). Any beautiful end product can be tarnished by a bad experience getting it accomplished.

Here at Sanura Design and around the company we keep in the design community, Team is the word. The best projects have everyone involved from the beginning.

“But, Melissa” I hear you ask “I watch a lot of HGTV and love Pinterest and everyone I know just hires a contractor for their project, who gives a price and gets the work done.” That is certainly one way to approach things. That sort of process is first of all unfair to the contractor- what on earth are they pricing anyway? You have no design in place, they have no idea what the finishes are, and if you have a more extensive renovation happening, they don’t even know what all the work will entail.

Well, when I put it that way, it’s seems a bit silly to ask them to price it out without a design. But the alternative is a bit silly as well.

Let’s say you really want an accessible spa bathroom. We come up with a bright, warm material palette that’s classic and we pull together some fancy renderings to present the design. The presentation above is beautiful and everyone is incredibly excited to move forward. But wait, no one involved the contractor in the process, so we find out that we just doubled our original budget with the complex tile layouts and the sheer amount of tiling in the bathroom. But you just fell in love with that design- that is where heartbreak happens in the process and you would be justified in losing trust in your designer.

Aforementioned accessible spa bathroom.

That is why its important that our contractor or builder is involved in our process from the beginning. We run ideas by them first to see how it will impact the budget- and make sure our ideas are practical. You see that beautiful arch above the tub? Maybe that’s going to costs us thousands of dollars due to the complexity of the construction/difficulty tiling the surface and a regular arched top would save us those thousands and still be in keeping with the design- a great relationship with our contractor means we find these things out before we present the design to you.

They are also our partners in coming up with solutions. We work with professionals that first ask “how do we solve this?” and work with us to come up with solutions.

This is an invaluable attitude during the design phase- and it makes for a much better construction process. Because I’ve included the contractor throughout the process they’re already familiar with the design- and are able to make suggestions to ease the construction process. On our part, designing the project before construction begins means the contractor already has a full set of instructions and drawings (including all those materials and fixtures) so that a smooth construction timeline can be planned- and the budget can be finalized before any work starts.

It’s much easier to massage the budget before anything has been dug or demolitioned or materials/fixtures have been special ordered (and can’t be returned). Also- it makes it much easier for the contractor to stick to the budget.

This also goes for other consultants. Remember that accessible spa bathroom? Maybe you have complex health issues or are planning ahead? That is when we bring in a consultant like an Occupational Therapist, who works with us to ensure the solutions and overall design enables you to move forward with a full life and incorporates any limitations and goals you have. Having a consultant on the team from the beginning and throughout the process means even after they do a customized assessment and we all get a detailed report, we can still count on them to assist in designing custom solutions. This is how we ensure things are designed specifically for you and your needs throughout your project.

So, Go Team!

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How does an Interior Designer save you time?

If you’ve been following my video journey, you’ll recall the video called Fabric Sourcing and You outlining why it’s not as easy as you think to pick out the right fabric for your sofa. That was a LOT of fabric and wallpaper, plus there was a lot more I didn’t show you on the other side of the showroom, AND the tables you see behind me have fabric and wallpaper under them. Does sorting through that fill you with dread? Well me too!

That is if I didn’t have the training, intuition, and experience that tells me what I’m looking for. AND a professional who is a partner in my project- who knows where everything is and can point me in the right direction(s).

This means what may take you an entire day of exhausting searching, takes me an hour or so to get the main choices sorted, then another small amount of time once I get the samples delivered to pick out the best one(s).

What about kitchens? Melissa, you say, I can just visit a kitchen place and pick that out myself? Hmm, well, have you or someone else ever spent a few weekends going to a few kitchen places because they didn’t quite see what they liked, and by the end probably didn’t even KNOW what they liked?

Or maybe that friend was you on a previous project. I have the knowledge and experience (and the deep understanding of you and your family) to curate the finishes in a much short amount of time, and then present you with a couple of choices you’ll like.

Let’s talk tiles. I have a favourite place to source tiles. SS Tile and Stone in Etobicoke. That’s because it has SUCH a huge selection. Have you ever walked into a tile store and been immediately overwhelmed? What about visited multiple tile stores and been even more confused? You aren’t alone!

This is a huge reason to hire me to help you when you technically could handle choosing the finishes yourself- who wants to give up their nights and weekends to do that? You’ve worked hard to save the money to do the renovation you’re doing, why should you spend so much of your precious time sifting through mountains of choices when I can make it a fun, pleasurable experience?

All of these decisions for a kitchen could be presented to you in 30 minutes and we would have the finishes chosen. 30. Minutes. Versus nights and weekends spent selecting them yourselves- and dealing with five or more different opinions on how you should do your kitchen. Moreover, almost none of those professionals have had the proper time to get to know you, what you LOVE, and how the space would best serve you.

So, why not keep your evenings and weekends for YOU? And leave the design process to me. You’ll just get a space you love, a relaxing fun process, a project on time and on budget, and your precious time back.

This post previously appeared on Sanura Design, “How Valuable is Your Time?

Cooling Off In The Hot Days Of Summer

You’re hot, you’re cranky, you’re sweaty. What are you going to do for relief? Other than the obvious answers – hang out by the pool, at the mall with igloo temperatures or at an outdoor cafe with an iced drink – sooner or later you do have to go home. Here are my go-to suggestions for cooling off in the summer – indoors.

Dress To Refresh

Composite image of three bedrooms with cool cotton sheets.

Create a summer look by dressing your sofas and chairs with linen slipcovers. Linen has natural wicking abilities that pulls moisture away form the skin. Used for centuries in hot climate countries. It also has natural anti-bacterial qualities.

Image of three sofas with cool white slipcovers

Cool Off With Fans

Living through a hot summer without air-conditioning seems impossible, but you’ll still feel the humidity at some point. Many people don’t like the recirculated air from air conditioners, or the high energy bills that come with cranking up the air conditioner 24/7. For immediate relief have the fan directed toward your body or your feet! I find that a fan at my feet seems to cool off the rest of me. Ceiling fans such Casa Blanca, are romantic looking, create air movement that cools you off by evaporating the sweat from your body. More evaporation means a cooler human.

Cool To The Touch

Enjoying a cool, sustainable home might be right on the counter or under your feet. Stones such as granite or marble located on tables, counters and under your feet are cool to the touch. Why? They have a dense structure that absorbs heat from warmer objects. This heat dissipates through the stone quickly and it feels cold. Stone is virtually indestructible, which makes it ideal for high-traffic areas in your home. Requiring little or no refinishing or replacement or maintenance.

Make It Dark

Shutting your blinds and curtains all the day will help block the sun’s rays. Close all windows the night before and through the hottest part of the day. Closing blinds is especially necessarily if you have south-facing window walls. No matter how much air conditioning you have you’ll feel the heat and be blinded by the glare of the hot sun. Turn off the lights. Light bulbs, even environmentally-friendly CFLs and LEDs give off heat if not directly than their electrical housing and transformers do. Take advantage of natural light as much as possible, and keep rooms cool after dark by using lights minimally or not at all. A great reason to have dinner by romantic candlelight.

Sleep In The Lower Level (aka The Basement)

Basements make for a great summer residence. Since warm air rises and cool air sinks, this lower level makes for comfortable sleeping. Finishing off the basement is a worthwhile investment. The lower level is usually 10 to15 degrees cooler than the upstairs part of the house.

Composite image of three interior designs for a basement.

Psychologically Speaking

Cool colours – blues, greens and white – can promote your brain’s capacity to visually cool off. Blues in particular remind us of the sky and the cool wet seas. And green, the colour of nature, always brings up thoughts of spring. Embrace the summer and enjoy your home whether it’s located in the sky, on the ground, or by the water.

And ask yourself: How are you going to create a cool summer mood for your home?

You Want an Interior Designer Who Tells You “No”

Hello! This is a “choose your own adventure” of an article. You can watch the video below, or if you prefer reading it you can also scroll below that to read the article. Enjoy!


…And why the best designers know that your happiness is more important than our portfolio.
Opinion alert! That last part of the statement is purely my opinion (and the opinion of interior designers, decorators and stylists I know and admire), but it’s an important distinction.

Let’s start with that title up there. What do you mean I want my interior designer to tell me, “No”? I thought I wanted a designer I get along with?

Yes, but that’s a subject for a future blog post! This is right along those lines though. Isn’t your real best friend the one that tells you that you have something in your teeth, or your shirt has ridden up on the back, or quietly tucks your tag into your shirt? A really great relationship with your designer also means they care enough to tell you when your choices are the best for your design or your home.

Why? Here at Sanura Design, our reason stems from a deep reason- I want you to love your space so much it makes you happy every time you see it. I’m not doing my job if you just get the picture you pointed out in the magazine.

A prime example can be seen above in our material palettes. These are all for our beloved Project Christiani in South Mississauga. Our client had visions of neutrals throughout, and immediately said she didn’t like wallpaper (and had visions of that awful 70s wallpaper that made us all hate wallpaper). We pushed her boundaries and put unexpected things in front of her- she ended up falling in love with two wallpapers, one for the powder room, and another a blue textured beauty that was installed in her office. We also found out a deep regret (after getting to know her), was a simple orange leather chair she passed up at a store years ago. She STILL thought about it.

You guessed it, we paired that orange leather chair with that blue wallpaper (well the image above is spoilers!), and she loves that space (paired with great wood textures). We never would have gotten to that design had I just taken her word for it and not pushed her a bit to show her a few things.

Here’s a little peek at the office:

So, we care about our clients, but what does that have to do with saying no? Well, this subject came up unexpectedly after we made a visit to our favourite showroom to choose cushions for our client’s sofa.

We had gone through the cushions to see what the client liked, and when she paired a few together that really didn’t go with the design vision, I told her so. I didn’t just say “no”, I told her why it didn’t go and suggested something that would go better. We ended up with a couple of great cushions for the sofa.

Our next visit, we discussed that exchange and my response was- isn’t that what she’s paying me for? It’s my job to tell her if what she’s picking out doesn’t go with the overall design. We’re never rude, but wouldn’t you rather I tell you the cushions don’t look that great, then me be too shy to say anything and your friends and family tell you they don’t look that great?

All that said, here’s where this article’s title comes in. In the end, if we explain why it’s not right for the space (providing there isn’t any safety concerns- those are different!), and you still just love it. Ok, let’s use it. Even if this makes for “bad portfolio photos”, your happiness as my client is much more important than my photos. We’ll then look at integrating that into the design, and as long as you love the space- it doesn’t matter what I think.