Living in Playa del Carmen

I had this vision of what it would be like to live here in Mexico. Our day would start with us rolling out of bed and walking the ten minutes or so down to the beach, still half-asleep. We would bring our mugs of coffee with us, and finish them sitting on the sand while watching the sun come up over the water. Today, it was just like that. We stumbled outside at 5:45 and realized that it was actually really cloudy (the photo above is from a couple weeks ago), but decided to go anyway. The walk took us much longer than usual because I’m not very good at drinking coffee while walking at the best of times, and the state of the sidewalks here require much more attention. We made it to the beach just as the sun was coming up. There was a thin strip of cloudless sky on the horizon so the sun slowly rose and then slipped behind the clouds again. We sat there for a long time with our feet in the sand, watching the waves.

I keep thinking I should be keeping a journal of our time here. We have been here since the end of September, and the time is slipping by so quickly. The first few weeks felt like an eternity because everything was so jarringly new. Jarring in a good way. Now that we have settled into a bit more of a routine, time is starting to speed up again. There are many things that I would like to keep track of, from our favorite places here, to some other completely unrelated things that have been occupying my mind. Things that I have been processing and feel it would be helpful to jot my conclusions down. So while the subject matter here may vary over the next while, it is safe to say there won’t be much in the way of interior design or projects. That would be because our lease in our current apartment ends in January, at which point we will be packing all of our things into our carry-on luggage and going to Australia for a few weeks. Hardly seems worth it to fix up our totally adequate, furnished apartment, only to start from scratch when we get back in March. Yes, I realize that these restrictions are self-imposed, but some restrictions are really freeing.

Delayed Results, and Master Bedroom

Do you like how I just abandoned my blog rather than share the results of the contest? Yup, I lost (but I prefer the phrase “didn’t win”). However, I learned lots from the experience – the most valuable lesson being that I don’t want to ever do that again.
I still wanted to share the above photo from the master bedroom, though. It was my favorite room in the suite, but the tightness of the space and dark walls made it really hard to get a good shot, so this is all I have.
The bedroom is painted “Down Pipe” (by Farrow & Ball), inspired by Abigail Ahern and AB Chao. Farrow & Ball paints are expensive (I paid $75 for one gallon), but I thought this was the perfect opportunity to try one out because the money wasn’t coming out of my pocket. Farrow & Ball uses naturally occurring pigments and ingredients like Chalk, Lime Putty, Linseed Oil and China Clay, and no chemical fillers. This means the paints are eco-friendly, low odor and the colors are deep and pure. Each can is mixed at the factory, instead of at individual stores which means that the colors are always 100% accurate. Is it worth it? Yes, and no. I really loved using it, because it covered very well (one gallon painted the whole bedroom and walk-through closet, with two coats) and didn’t smell toxic at all. For those reasons alone, I think I would try to make room in the budget for this paint in the future. However, I heard rave reviews about the depth and beauty of the colors, but AB Chao color-matched it with Benjamin Moore paint, and the results were just as stunning. There are subtle variations in “Down Pipe” at different times of day, but we had a couple walls painted in Benjamin Moore’s “Deep Space”, and that color has just as much depth. Just my (wordy) opinion based on using it this once, but I would still definitely use it again in the future.
Now that I’ve put that contest behind me, I have a new decorating challenge with less pressure and much better payoff. We moved! From a sparse, modern apartment in a concrete building to the upper half of a Victorian house. It feels right.

A Minute with Panda

Panda from Britt McMaster on Vimeo.

Now, to take a very brief break from all this Morgan Crossing madness, I present this video of our Boston Terrier, Panda, at 10 weeks. He’s just hanging out, and “being a real dog”! (I have THIS hilarious video stuck in my head).
Okay, back to Morgan Crossing… I was interviewed about my suite and you can watch the video HERE. I prefer the video of Panda myself, but you can check out my awkward hand movements and nervous laughter if you wish.

Kitchen & Bathrooms at Morgan Crossing

This is the main bathroom. It’s painted a gorgeous color called “Beluga” which I bought with relatively little consideration (for me) at Home Depot. I love it. If I had a white bathroom, I would definitely consider painting it this color. Here it is before:

I had looked for the perfect, vintage mirror to replace (or layer over) the existing one, but it turns out that I’m very picky (who knew?). In both bathrooms, I used these amber pharmacy bottles. Here they are in the ensuite:
Ensuite Bathroom
There is also this gorgeous wire storage rack from Old Faithful:
Ensuite Bathroom
The kitchen is really nice and super functional, with a huge island. Here it is “before”:
Kitchen - Before
First thing I did was address that slanted floor (bwa-waaa). I really didn’t have to do much in here. The only thing I didn’t like was those lights over the island which were a bit too “contemporary” for me, and also hung too low/close to the edge of the island. I hit my head on them after one intense brainstorming session at the island, so they had to go. I switched them out with some vintage-looking pendants that reminded me of these, and nestled some tolix stools under the counter (you know I have a thing for them).
Kitchen & Island
It was quite thrilling to come across those stools completely by accident. I think I should put together a little shopping guide based on all the cool places I came across. Yes, I’m using this experience as blog fodder for months to come!
The last room to show you is the master bedroom…

The Office at Morgan Crossing

[I am participating in this competition, in which I was given $12,000 to furnish a two bedroom suite within one month. More info here.]
The day before the competition was over, my mom was over helping and opened the door to the basically empty second bedroom and said, “So… what’s going on in here?” She immediately saw the crazed look in my eyes and gently closed the door. I probably shouldn’t admit these things, just in case the judges were to read this, but this was all put together on the last day. “Put together” literally, as the majority of it was picked up at Ikea that morning.
When I first started, I had my heart set on using this room as a child’s bedroom. However, the information we were given on their target markets didn’t include families. And I was further discouraged by the fact that the room was too small for THIS. So I made the room an office with a sofa bed for guests. On the last day. But, hey! It has a hanging terrarium!
I used fairly dark, moody colors in the rest of the suite, but I actually like that this small office is white and monochromatic. There seems to be lots of room to think, which my fictional clients (see explanation here) need as they do a lot of work from home while they live abroad.
I don’t have very good photos of the room, but here on the other side of the office, I had two storage units (Ikea “Melltorp” occasional tables to match the table I used as a desk) filled with storage boxes and books. There’s a whole lot of Ikea in this room, but I used accessories and lighting from elsewhere to keep it from looking too generic.
I want to get one (or three!) of those hanging terrariums for our place, which you can find at Old Faithful Shop. I went in to Old Faithful quite a lot during this competition, because it’s such an inspiring space. Panda is on friendly terms with their dog, Jean Pierre, who likes dragging Panda around by his leash. The day we ran in to get this terrarium, Jean Pierre wasn’t there and it was so cute to see Panda frantically looking for him. He’s grown so much, by the way. I thought he would grow into his ears, but they seem to be keeping pace. Okay, getting off topic…
Next I want to show you little shots of the kitchen and bathrooms.

Dining Area at Morgan Crossing

Dining Room (Cropped)
[I am participating in this competition, in which I was given $12,000 to furnish a two bedroom suite within one month. More info here.]
It’s not a room, or a nook really. I’m going with “dining area”.
Layout - Dining Nook
This is pretty simple, painted in the same color as the living, um, area. I had wanted to wallpaper the wall in the back, but I couldn’t find a wallpaper that I like and was in stock. I’ll spare you all the details, but these are some of the wallpapers I tried to find:
Wallpaper Options
The ubiquitous (and gorgeous) “Woods” wallpaper; Orla Kiely’s “Flower Blossom” (my first choice); “Retro Leaves” and “Wild Flower”, both by Ferm Living. I think wallpaper is hard to get right. I’m only happy if the scale is large enough to be pleasing from a distance, with enough detail to be interesting up close as well.
However, I was very pleased to find that Danish modern pendant light. Ever since Morgan suggested a PH lamp, I’ve been on the lookout, and I found this vintage beauty on sale for $200. There are two more and I might have to grab one for our place.
I bought the Eames-inspired chairs on craigslist and the table from Ikea thinking they would look nice and neutral against a patterned wall. I actually held out hope that I would be able to find the right wallpaper the morning of the last day, but the store I was banking on was closed. I hear it’s not a good idea to tackle your first ever wallpaper project in the last moments of a design competition though (as the old adage goes…), so it was probably for the best.
Next room: the office!

Living Room at Morgan Crossing

Living Room
[I am participating in this competition, in which I was given $12,000 to furnish a two bedroom suite within one month. More info here.]
Sooo… not what you were expecting, is it? Me either. I think that’s what I like about it best. It honestly feels like I was decorating for someone else – my fictional client – and not myself. I wanted to target couples in their mid-thirties, while still appealing to a wider range of people. My “clients” moved to Canada after watching the Olympics and becoming quite smitten with the Lower Mainland. This couple was quiet, reflective, and semi-outdoorsy. They wanted their apartment to feel like a cozy cabin, where they could bundle up by the fire after skiing. Morgan Crossing stood out to them because of the convenience of having lots of shops around, and the beautiful rooftop gardens. They also liked the proximity to the US border, because they could fly home from Seattle for much cheaper. So this is what I came up with for them.
Lots of the pieces I had my heart set on needed to be shipped in (why doesn’t anyone carry stock?!), which forced me to be creative in sourcing furniture. I went into stores I would usually avoid like the plague, and occasionally I was pleasantly surprised.
Living Room Before
This is what it looked like when I arrived. I’m leaving the “before” photos untouched (they get worse) to make the “after” more dramatic. Even though I showed the “after” before. You with me? Here’s a wider shot of the living room “after”:
Living Room
There’s a little console table along the wall on the right with ottomans tucked under it for additional seating and whatnot. Also, a place to mix drinks. Because that’s real important.
Bar Table with Ottomans
That clock is (was?) also sold at Terrain, but I found it here.
Living Room - Clock
I was pleased to find a few things in stores here in Vancouver that I had coveted online. Another example is this lamp on the mantle which can be found online at Haus Interior, but I found it at Fullhouse.
Living Room - Mantle
Ryan kindly did that painting on the mantle, which is actually huge at 3′ x 3′. I wish I had time to mount it on the wall, a few inches up.
One of the things I did that I think really set my design apart is I took down the big ol’ slat blinds and replaced them with Ikea ENJE roller shades. Instead of having to wrestle those big slats up the window (they were heavy!), these open easily and let light in even when they’re closed while still giving privacy. You can cut them down to the right size fairly easily. Those slat blinds were also on the door to the balcony, see:
Living Room - Before
So I also added frosted panels to the door:
Living Room
Those pictures by the door were hung seconds before the deadline, and have since fallen down numerous times. The middle one is missing from some photos. Ryan did these as well, and I loved how they turned out.
Here’s a close-up of the replacement sofa I mentioned earlier, and you can see the beautiful rooftop gardens through the window:
Living Room - Sofa
By the way, the wall color is really hard to capture. The top two photos (the much better ones) are taken by a professional photographer and the color seems more accurate. After really hating green for a long time (I was scared of the forest greens and institutional blue/greens of the nineties), I’ve been dying to paint a room a nice gray/green (based solely on a photo from this sneak peek). These were the contenders:
Living Room Wall Color Options
I used a Farrow & Ball paint in the bedroom and it was so nice to work with, but the greens just didn’t feel right. The green in Castle Gray is much more subtle in real life (beautiful, but not what I was looking for), and Green Smoke is really dark. So I went with a color from Restoration Hardware. Apparently Silver Sage, which is from the same family as Blue Sage, is quite popular, but I wanted something more dramatic. It was a risk painting the whole living area and dining nook this color, but I think it payed off because it really changed the overall feel of the suite as you walk in.
Phew. One room down. Are you still reading? Thanks. It’s scary knowing that people are walking through the suite, judging my choices and filling out little ballot forms, but it’s more terrifying to put it out here on my blog. Next up (and closely related): the dining room nook!

…Aaaand Exhale

The contest is over! I wanted to blog every minute of the process but I was too busy thrashing around aimlessly for the first two weeks and then frantically rushing around the last two. Honestly, I’ll just be happy if the judges don’t laugh at my design. I mean, some of the other contestants are legit, and have actually done this before. This suite would definitely be empty and sad without all the help from my amazingly patient husband and parents (thank you, thank you, thank you!).
I actually thought that I would be done early enough to take photos of the finished suite while there was daylight yesterday. Ha! We were sweeping behind us as we left at 11:59 last night. I could have used a little more time, maybe a month or so. Anyway, I’ll take some photos of the suite when I go down there sometime this week.
In the meantime, I’ll leave you with this little gem of a story. First, I must explain. I bought a really cheap loveseat thinking that it would leave more money for some sort of iconic chair, and I also thought it was sort of reminiscent of a chair I liked at Room & Board. Here, for comparison:

I know, it’s a stretch but the loveseat was less than $300, and just the right size. Imagine it with a vintage persian rug and maybe a off-white wool pillow, sitting across from an Eames molded plywood lounge chair. So we rented a truck one night to pick up a bunch of larger items. The Ikea stop took much longer than anticipated and we found ourselves rushing to pick up the loveseat. We were so proud of ourselves, and we were having such a great night as we pulled into the underground parking garage with our pickup truck full of furniture, that we didn’t think to check the height clearance. One loud crack later, the loveseat was a crumpled mess on the ground. I’m going with “it was cheaply made” but it may have been partly my fault. Oops.
I was quite distraught right up until I saw this little beauty at Fullhouse:

(Photos from Fullhouse) A definite upgrade at almost ten times the cost of the first one, but I think it was worth it. It’s gorgeous in person, ridiculously comfortable, and just the right size. We were mighty careful while transporting this one.
If you are in BC’s lower mainland, looking for something to do between January 19th and February 20th, go check out the six show suites at Morgan Crossing (and vote for mine, please!). Details are HERE.

Morgan Crossing – Room Concepts

Morgan Crossing
Living Room
By choosing to use this format for the images in the video, I really limited the products I was able to use. Many of the things that I wanted to use were either from a funny angle, or too small. I also didn’t want to use anyone’s art without their permission so, for this room, I ended up using images from this site. So I’m fairly sure that the end result of the actual suite is not going to look anything like this. However, I thought it would be good to document these pictures for my reference.
Morgan Crossing
The video was based on a one bedroom + den suite, but I have been assigned a two bedroom suite. I’m not sure what I will be putting in the second bedroom yet. It could be an office, or a guest room, or a kid’s room. Possibilities!
Morgan Crossing
Dining Room
Here’s another example of some placeholder art – that poster is from Ikea. I like it but I would like to use something more original.
Morgan Crossing
This is my favorite of the rooms, and probably closer to what I want to do with the whole suite.
I will be sharing some inspiration images and moodboards as I figure out what I’m going to do. I can’t wait to start spending some money!

Top Six!

Morgan Crossing
After narrowly making it into the top fifteen of the Morgan Crossing interior design competition, I have been chosen by the judges to be in the top six! Huzzah! Thank you so much to everyone who watched my video and voted. You guys are the bestest.
After entering, I realized that it was really quite presumptuous of me to enter such a contest, as I have no real experience. At all. In order to not get completely paralyzed by fear, I’m accepting the fact that I will probably fail. That may seem like a defeatist attitude, but it’s really not. If I’m not afraid of failing, I can just get to work, and enjoy the experience. (Thanks, Seth.)
This whole thing might actually be quite entertaining for you. You’re welcome.
Here’s the details: I will be decorating a 2 bedroom suite at Morgan Crossing over the next month (until January 16th) with an allowance of $12,000. It will be tricky to make that money stretch, but I do like a challenge. Last night I had a chance to check out the suite. It’s really quite beautiful, and I’ll take some photos to share with you next time I go down there.
Last night they gave me a flip cam to keep a video journal of the process. So stay tuned for that awkwardness!