[Photography by Maria Killam]

Just a little background in terms of my style preferences.  I traveled extensively as a young adult with two singing groups.  One in particular, did a lot of performing in the southern United States and along the eastern sea coast.

I was captured by the beauty of the traditional homes that I had opportunity to stay in while on the road.  I was particularly drawn to the two storey Georgians with their classic finishes and elegant flourishes.  I fell in love with crown molding and panel molding and dreamed of the day I would be able to make that a reality in my own home.

I sometimes feel I am out of place here on the west coast - Vancouver leans more toward modern décor. I am a hopeless traditionalist and at Christmas time more than any other time of the year, you will see this in the choices I make.

* * *

I dress our classical living room mantle in a very symmetrical way. It is adorned with varying heights of brass candle sticks and a mix of fresh and faux greens. Using an artificial garland for my base, layering fresh assorted greens for texture and lushness, I complete the look with a beautiful malleable gold ribbon, weaving it throughout. The sprigs of glimmering gold and silver add another layer of elegance and sparkle and with the white lights running through it all, it literally glows.

* * *

The dining room linen, sourced a number of years ago from Williams-Sonoma, never disappoints with its quiet understated lustre enhancing the classic paisley design. It lends itself beautifully to the layering of tableware, flatware and stemware.

Again, a faux green garland is my base, augmented with varying seasonal greens, ribbon and sparkle. Three shapes of classic red and gold ornaments are placed throughout. The gold glass votives in varying sizes add another level of warmth, drawing friends and family to the table with their seductive glow.

* * *

Our family room tree tells the beautiful story of love that weaves throughout the years.  Some of the ornaments…many in fact, are homemade and have appeared on our trees throughout the 43 years of our marriage.

* * *

The violin that rests on the Duncan Fyfe table in the living room bay window is a reminder of a time in past years when we had more time than money.

The violin had been stored in the basement of our Toronto home. One day, a rather foul smell in the basement caught my attention. Upon further investigation, we realized that it emanated from the violin case. When the case was opened, the neck lifted to greet us. Jon’s violin literally lay there in pieces. The dampness and mold had softened the glue. That was 1986.

We had moved back to the Vancouver area in 1993. To say the move had enormous impact on us would be an understatement. Several years later, still recovering from the very difficult financial setback and looking ahead to Christmas, we decided as a family to draw names; each one focusing on one member of our four person family. The year was 2001.

Jonathan, our son had drawn his father’s name. He decided that he would find a way to repair the violin. He had worked alongside an older friend and luthier who tutored him in the making of a guitar so it made perfect sense to him that it could be done..

If you could have been present in the room when the gift was opened, you would have seen the tears of appreciation and wonder as Jon Sr. saw his violin newly repaired and restored. Truth be told, there wasn’t a dry eye in the room that Christmas Eve.

It is not an expensive instrument to be candid, but it is priceless in terms of what it represents, so it rests on the table as a reminder of past days when the resources were slim but the love was enormous.

* * *

As you gather with family and friends this Christmas season, may the priceless gift of Jesus given to us so very long ago, cause us all to respond with gratitude and JOY!

Merry Christmas to you all!


An Upscale-Downsizing Story



My initial contact with Mrs. D. was to help in the preparation and staging of her previous home.  Health needs were such that she could no longer navigate the stairs with ease.  

When her previous home sold quickly, finding a new place with a master bedroom and laundry on the main floor became an urgent priority. At this stage in one’s life journey, change  can be overwhelming. Struggling to visualize what a place can be is common and such was the case for Mrs. D. At the prompting of the realtor, she called again, asking me to have a look at this ‘potential purchase’.


THE VISION (and my Mantra)

Within minutes of walking into the space, I could visualize the possibilities.  The open and bright floorplan, the ample kitchen and eating area, the storage and the green space off the dining and living rooms held so much potential. 

As we began to entertain the possibilities, Mrs. D. grew more and more convinced that the home could not only meet her needs for comfort and ease but also give her a beautiful place to enjoy.

We wanted to accomplish a lot! The list of priorities was established as we worked within the proposed budget.  With Mrs. D’s input, we were able to agree on what would be addressed as the renovation and décor plan began.

My contractor on this job was the best there is…my husband, Jon.  Together we have a wonderful team of professionals who assisted in accomplishing the transformation of Mrs. D’s home in one month’s time.



First, the removal of old carpeting, window coverings, etc; then we set to work on minor renovation.

Replacing the curved arches at the entry was critical to adding the crown molding the client requested throughout the main floor.

There was concern about ‘sure footing’ so we opted for wall to wall carpeting on the main level, rather than custom area rugs.  Existing tile in the entry, kitchen and ensuite bath was replaced with a beautiful walnut colored vinyl planking. 

All windows received new coverings; the living room and dining room outfitted with wonderful poly/linen drapery and the balance with 2” white, faux-wood blinds. 


We addressed the needs for ambient lighting, accent lighting as well as task lighting in order to create lifestyle and comfort. The addition of pot lights in the bedroom transformed what was a dark, somewhat oppressive room into one brimming with light. 

Concealed strip lighting in the closets insures everything is easily seen and accessed.


New strip-lighting under the kitchen upper cabinets illuminated the countertops. LED ceiling-mounted lights made the kitchen bright and beautiful.

New pot lights, flanking the fireplace, highlight the glass shelving and cabinets we installed, adding another level of sheen and glimmer.A lovely drum-fixture over the dining room table, a classic pendant in the stairwell, as well as a new ceiling mount fixture at the entry all served to add beauty and light. 


. . . and COLOUR!

The bright aqua walls were painted a lovely soft warm neutral, with the exception of the Master Bedroom and Ensuite Bath, where we applied a very soft and serene blue/green.  It worked beautifully with Mrs. D’s. existing duvet and shams, and maintained the feel of “sand and sea” throughout the entire floor plan. I also opted to paint the feature wall in the Living Room a beautiful, rich blue/green.



Perhaps the greatest transformation took place in the kitchen.  Funds did not permit totally new installation, so we opted to have the existing oak cabinets professionally sprayed.  Old exposed hinges were replaced with concealed European ones. New cabinet pulls completed the transformation.

The subway tile backsplash is fresh and bright; always a very cost effective choice.  Grout selection tones softly with the new quartz countertops. A new stainless refrigerator, new sink and faucet compliment and complete the overall effect. Wow!



To create cohesion and flow, bathroom cabinets were treated in the same way as the kitchen cabinets.  New laminate countertops that mirrored the look of the quartz completed the  visual harmony; a more cost-effective option than quartz, maximizing impact yet staying on budget.


A sliding glass enclosure  added to the shower, made it more secure and safe.  New mirror was extended to the crown, adding a sense of space and grandeur.  New lighting and glimmer in the accents make it a lovely bathroom, which not only serves as the ensuite but also as a guest bathroom.



Key to helping a downsizing client is making critical decisions around the scale of furnishings with new floor plans. Such was the case with Mrs. D.  Her existing sofa and loveseat were too large - neither realistic or functional in her new home.

A lovely new ivory textured loveseat was placed opposite the fireplace, with a very handsome sofa table behind it to create a feeling of strength. A floor plug installed strategically to accommodate the table lamp safely, adds functional serenity.

Under the sofa table sits a tufted ottoman, which can be brought out for family gatherings and placed in front of the fireplace to provide additional seating.

Flanking either side of the fireplace are two of Mrs. D’s favorite chairs, reupholstered in a gorgeous deep blue/green velvet.  Not only is the scale of the chairs ideal, but they are pieces that have been enjoyed for many years. With Upscale upholstery , they continue to be enjoyed and appreciated.

* * * * *

Mrs. D. needed a small desk/office center in the kitchen/eating area.  We were able to find something that not only fits the space perfectly but also serves her needs. The finished product is lovely. With the addition of some blue/green accessories and re-framed artwork, it is a place that surrounds her with some familiar and fresh accents.




Stepping through the living room sliding glass doors, one is on a small covered patio deck which we outfitted with comfortable furnishings.  It has created an outdoor space which she can enjoy as well as use for entertaining family and friends.



To say that this was a satisfying and rewarding project would be an understatement.  Mrs. D. was an absolute delight to work with. She made our job a true JOY.  Her words convey what we aspired to do:

"Thank you for your attention to detail, making this home liveable, functional and safe . . . as well as beautiful." - Mrs. D.


Closets. We are in them every day.

Dressing is a daily ritual that can either be stress-producing and frustrating or satisfying and creative. We choose.

GET READY, . . .

Tackling your main closet will take time so set aside a chunk to do this. If you are a young mom with little children, be prepared to ask a friend to watch your children for the afternoon and offer the exchange-of-time in return. You want to approach this with a clear-focus and get it done.

Stay with me here. Some of you are going to have an anxiety attack when I tell you how we need to start. There is no other way.

First step is to isolate and remove everything that is not currently being worn this season. In other words, move out all your spring and summer clothes, if you are doing this exercise in the winter. You want ONLY the clothes in your closet that you can wear right now. The exercise I outline for you is something you will need and WANT to do with all of your clothing but for now, let’s focus on this season’s things.


. . . SET . . . 

Next, remove EVERYTHING from your closet…absolutely everything. (I’ll wait. Do it.)

Lay your clothes on your bed. Pile shoes and handbags on the floor. Put scarves and other accessories that occupy space in your closet, somewhere close but out of the closet.

Get your vacuum cleaner and clean it. Wipe down the shelves. Clean the mirrors. Do whatever it takes to have the space ready.

Make sure you have great hangers. Treat yourself to some sturdy plastic ones or the kind that have a soft felt-like coating so things don’t slip. Have some pant and skirt hangers at the ready. Get RID of the wire hangers! Most dry-cleaning operations will welcome them back.

Invest in organizing systems: for shoes, scarves belts and hand-bags.

And while I’m on the subject, what is the lighting like in your closet? Can you really SEE things? It made a world of difference when we installed a large oval LED light in our closet. It was amazing! Half the joy of selecting clothing is being able to see it well.

Now you are ready to continue.

. . . GO!

Both Joshua Becker and Marie Kondo, (author of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up), recommend you pick up, look at each and every piece and create three distinct piles:

1.       One for things that need alteration or cleaning 

2.       One for things that you will consign or sell

3.       One for things you will donate or give away


As you pick up each piece, ask yourself these questions:

·         Does it fit properly?

·         When was the last time I wore this?

·         Do I feel good in it?

·         Do I enjoy wearing this color?

·         Does it go with other things in my closet?


Assign each item to one of your three piles or it will go back in your closet. If you haven’t worn something in a while and you need to try it on, do so. The goal is to have only those things in your closet that you enjoy wearing and that work well and hard.

This step takes the most time but it is also the most rewarding. Work through EVERYTHING: clothes, shoes, belts, scarves, etc.

Here is some input. Keep good, classic leather belts and square or oblong silk scarves. They last! Unless the style or colors no longer suit, chances are you can keep using them.


Once you have picked up or tried on everything and you have your three piles, place the ‘piles’ in appropriately labeled opaque garbage bags. Opaque vs clear bags so you do not revisit a decision needlessly: the label on the bag insures you do not giveaway things that just need cleaning or alteration!  Take them out to your car so they are dealt with as soon as possible.

On a side note, a good alternations-person is PURE GOLD! They can breathe new life into things simply by hemming, removing excess fullness, or making things FIT. I still wear a fabulous black and white houndstooth shirt that I figure is at LEAST 13 years old!  I had the body of the shirt more-fitted with long darts through the back, and extra fullness removed from the sleeves. It is one of the hardest working pieces in my wardrobe.

Now, you have the essence of your closet hanging in the space. There is more.


I personally like to sort things by what they are. For example, I hang all my jeans together, my dress-pants and dressy-skirts together, my shirts and sweaters together, my formal things and my dresses.

I also organize according to COLOR. I start with my white T shirts, hanging them from sleeveless to long sleeve. Next come my grey things, then the black. After that, the colors that I wear.

Your colors may be completely different, but endeavor to sort them first in categories, and then by color. This will create an organized and esthetically pleasing closet.

This process will also highlight where you might have needs in your wardrobe, what purchases you might need to make or you may see how MUCH you actually still have. You may need to do another level of purging so that you have only that which you absolutely LOVE hanging in your closet.


One more rule that I endeavor to implement: this helps keep on top of a bulging closet. "One new item in: one old item out."



It wasn’t always this way!

I will never forget the day I stood in my closet and got in touch with this feeling of discontent around my clothes. It troubled me, because just weeks before I had purchased some wonderful pieces, and had paid dearly for them.

I remember thinking “There is something very wrong with this!”

What happened next was a personal choice.  In no way would I impose this on anyone else but for me, it was an important decision. It boiled down to obedience to the prompting in my heart.

I decided to go on a FAST; not the kind where you don’t eat food but a spending-fast. I decided that for one year, I would not purchase anything for my home or for my closet. Absolute necessities would be addressed of course but I resolved that I would use and enjoy discovering new ways to use, what I already had.

I thought it was going to be a lot harder than it was. I simply stayed out of the stores. Or, when I did ‘go shopping’, I steeled myself and walked away. I discovered a power-over-purchasing that created this euphoric JOY in me. It felt SO GOOD to say “No” to myself. It was absolutely exhilarating and empowering.

At the end of that year, there were some things I needed, so I addressed those needs; however, I was different and will never be the same again.


About then, through Joshua Becker’s blog, Becoming Minimalist, I was introduced to Project 333. Whoa! I read what it was all about and wondered to myself, “Could I do it? Thirty three pieces of clothing for 3 months?”

I have a background in Image-Consulting and Color. I am a trained color analyst. I have taught classes on creating a coordinated wardrobe; how to dress your unique shape to advantage and what things you need to be cautious with. I enjoy fashion! The Project 333 journey sounded a bit strident for me.

But, I did decide to try an experiment of my own.  I allowed myself only 33 pieces of clothing to hang in my closet. This number did NOT include outerwear, exercise gear, or evening attire. It was my day to day pieces. It did not include scarves, belts or shoes. Thirty three pieces of items like pants, shirts, sweaters, jackets, etc.

I had to work hard to get the number down to 33. I had to evaluate each piece that I was leaving in my closet, and consider whether it was going to do the hard work of mixing and matching to the MAX!

I live in a climate that requires unique things for each season. We have distinct winter months, spring and warm summer days. I embarked on the experiment and decided which pieces would make it through the coming 3 months and give me what I needed.


Here is what I found. Fewer choices meant less stress. Fewer things meant less to maintain. Fewer things meant space for the things I did have in my closet to breath. Fewer things meant that I was wearing the things I REALLY LOVED!! 

I don’t think I will ever be the same again. (I currently have 36 items hanging in my closet.)

As a result of this Uncluttered Closet challenge, I went through my closet again, and let a few more pieces go. I have turned all my hangers around, so I will know at the end of a month’s time which pieces I don’t tend to reach for.

I am buying the quality of clothing I love. I still enjoy bargains and am elated when I score Ralph Lauren shirts at WINNERS, or a fabulous Chanel-looking jacket at a consignment shop for $11.99! You bet I do.

I have discovered that I am happiest having fewer choices but really loving those things. I delight in great accessories and love my new grey suede-boots! (Thanks, Jon.)


Joshua is right. Less really can be More!


So, you’ve identified your WHY.  You have made the decision that you CAN and WILL do something about the state of the clutter in your home, and you are ready to roll up your sleeves and get busy.

One thing I personally appreciate about Joshua, is his methodical and thorough approach to dealing with clutter.  Anything worth doing is worth doing well; this takes time. More than that, one has to embrace the frame of mind necessary to begin to make changes that will LAST. Weeks three and four of the Uncluttered Course had us doing just that. 


‘Starting small’ for me was heading out to my red Ford Escape and doing a simple clean out.  There are things like umbrellas and reusable shopping bags that I keep in my car.

We have a lidded storage compartment between the front seats in which I keep Kleenex, breath mints, a spare pair of readers for when I absentmindedly forget to wear my glasses and a few other things.  A simple zip-lock bag organized these sundry items.


Week four we were to address our living space.  Focus was given first to our bedroom.

Bedrooms are intended to be spaces for intimacy and rest, but for so many they are anything but restorative in a visual sense.

One of our biggest issues around clutter in our bedroom has to do with books.  We both love books; we both enjoy reading.  Reading in bed is luxurious; books tend to pile up on the bedside tables or on the bench at the end of our bed.  It is something I need to accept.  It will always need regular attention. 

My dear husband has a habit of emptying his pockets at the end of his work day and stashing “stuff” on the top of his dresser. I figure it’s to be expected, so have simply placed an attractive basket on top of his dresser, so things have a place to land.  When things are corralled (and contained), they are not so visually disturbing.

The upholstered bench at the end of our bed is another landing pad for various and sundry things.  If I am in a hurry or tired it’s my ‘default’ place. It requires daily attention to free it of the clutter that can land there.



Standing in the middle of my bedroom, and slowly and methodically looking…really looking at my space, helped me to ascertain whether there were things that did not either aid in making the space restful and serene or lend themselves to my comfort and the intimacy I wish to foster.


Joshua recommends creating 3 piles with things you gather:

  1.  Things that are out of place in the space
  2.  Things to relocate within the home
  3.  Things to remove

Then you deal with them – returning the first items to their proper designated space in the current room and the second pile to their rightful place in your home.

In dealing with the second pile, be mindful to observe patterns or habits that contribute to these getting out of place.

Lastly, sort the “things to remove” pile into 4 subcategories: donate, sell, recycle and throw away.


Joshua’s next exhortation surprised me, and yet it shouldn’t have.  He instructs, “Immediately deal with each of these piles in the appropriate way.  Don’t let them sit any longer than necessary, because if you do, they’ll get scattered and turn back into the clutter you’re trying to escape.”

This resonated but also pressed.  I don’t seem to have difficulty sorting and making the piles. Dealing with the removal right away so they are done away with, is MY growing edge. I've got to get them past the garage! OUCH! That is another story!

Interestingly enough, this is an approach that can be applied to each and every area of our home.

The Master Bedroom is looking pretty good right now.  I have gone through the drawers of my bedside table, and the dresser, and purged.


For me, a relentless frustration are the receipts that accumulate in my top dresser drawer! 

It is imperative for me to keep good records of purchases for my business; however, I keep ALL my receipts. It means that systematically I must go through all of them, assign the business receipts with the appropriate VISA statement, etc.  Once all the business costs are captured, most personal receipts are unimportant.  I only keep personal receipts for clothing and shoes…things that I might need to return. This is the stuff of another story.



Why would a happy, well adjusted woman who was terrified of deep water, feel compelled to learn to water ski at 40 years old? Why risk life and limb for that? To prove what?

I've pondered those questions and the answer is simply, "I'm not sure."

We talk of men and mid-life crisis. Was I having my own mid-life crisis? Was I tired of watching from the sidelines while others had a blast in the water? Did I really aspire to stare fear, in the face . . . and WIN?


My fear of deep water goes 'way back'. My mother never donned a bathing suit in her life, so it was my father who tried to introduce me to the water. There was no shallow end at 'the swimming hole' - no luxury of easing in slowly. It was not an ideal place for an extremely cautious and timid little girl to even want to learn, so I resisted.

Some years later I had an experience that left an indelible impression on my life.

On a summer visit with cousins at their Minnesota lake home, we were playing in the water one afternoon. The water was waist deep. Suddenly, my feet did not touch bottom. Under I went. I recall an older man was nearby.  In panic, I grabbed: I got the waistband of his swimming shorts. The rest is a blur but the memory of the moment and the feeling of panic flooding over me then, is as clear as a bell, even to this day.


Flash forward to the summer of 94. It was a glorious summer day on Otter Lake. Everyone, and I mean everyone at the cottage, was in the water. The family we were with were all skiing enthusiasts; we're talking slalom, barefoot and water acrobatics.


It was that day I made the decision. I would learn to water-ski! There was no indecision. I could and I would do this.

You would have laughed had you heard me that day, head down muttering to myself, "I can, I will, I will not be denied."

I prepared. Every possible inch of my body was covered; full wet suit, gloves and flotation device!

Heading to the dock, I was saying out loud with growing intensity and determination, "I can, I will. I will not be denied."

Then it was time to get into the water, let go of the side of the boat and get into position.


I recall those moments as being the most intense! I was facing my fear of being in water over my head and trusting the weight of my body to the flotation device.


I knew I was capable of skiing: I was coordinated, flexible and strong. There was no physical excuse, I reasoned. "Relax," I told myself as I kept pressing on.

With my husband Jon directing from the back of the boat, I endeavored to position my body – knees bent – arms straight – ski’s parallel.

I would love to report that it was a piece of cake, this skiing thing, but truth be told – it took 5 tries!

I recall my son Jon – 14 at the time, was also in the back of the boat. I HAD to do this. "I will not give up. I cannot fail,” I told myself. “I MUST do this!"

"I Can! I Will! I will NOT be denied," I kept on!


I’m not sure what it was, but on the fifth try it all came together!  It was magical!

I found myself gliding over the surface of the water, the wind blowing through my hair.  I even managed to navigate the wake as I hung on for dear life.  It was a totally exhilarating experience.

 Had you been within ear shot that afternoon, you would have heard the exuberant echo of accomplishment as I shouted over and over, and over again, “I did it!  I did it!   I DID it!”


* * * * *

B E L I E F !

Everything we do in life begins with belief.  If we believe we can, chances are we will.  And if we believe we can’t, chances are we won’t.  Sounds pretty simplistic, but it is true.  Success in any area of our lives, whether it is learning a new skill like water-skiing, stepping out on a new business venture, losing weight, or getting a handle on the excess in our lives and choosing an uncluttered life all begin with believing we can do it.

Joshua Becker, the blogger behind Becoming Minimalist, has a pretty good handle on human nature I would say.  In his on line course ‘Uncluttered’ he has encouraged us all to identify our “WHY”, and then focus on believing that we CAN change. 

Downsizing requires the same commitment.  It begins with a reason, and then the belief that we can let go of the things we no longer need, and embrace a rich and beautiful life…with less.

Others have done it and survived.  So can you.  I know you can!