5 Ways to Freshen Up Your Apartment (On a Budget)

If you fall prey to the time-honoured tradition of spring cleaning, you may inevitably fall into another annual spring home ritual: thinking that your place is actually pretty boring, and that it’s time to give it a makeover.

I usually partake in this by browsing expensive furniture sites until I’m depressed enough to give up,  but there actually are ways to give your living space a refresher without dropping thousands of dollars. We’ve got five of those ways here.

1. Go Green

Photo via rebloggy.com

Dare I say it, but plants are trendy right now. Adding a little green to your home is a great way to add some life to empty spaces and freshen up a cramped space. Some may go all out with plants, filling their places with mini-trees with huge, sprawling leaves, or with something nearly impossible to care for like orchids.

The rest of us are going the way of the succulent and it’s easy to see why. Succulents are affordable and relatively easy to care for. (They actually DO need to be watered, just not as often as other plants.) You can get some teeny-tiny fellas to pop into a windowsill and call it a day, or go with something a bit more extravagant. As someone who is terrible at keeping things alive and has two succulents, it is important to do a bit of research into their care before you get one. If I’m being entirely honest, both my plants have one foot in the grave at this point.

If any level of plant care is too much, there are always fake ones. And honestly, with some of them, you can’t even tell the difference right away. No care required, but your apartment will still look fresh and fancy af.

2. Art

Gif via Tumblr

Let me be very clear. When I’m talking about art, I’m not talking about art. I don’t mean you can finally put up that original Rothko you inherited or anything, but if you have lots of blank wall space, why not fill it?

Photo via Pinterest

You can decorate your walls with anything. Maps, photographs, old postcards. I have a penchant for space-related posters and charts. You could put up old movies posters (ask at independent theatres if they keep their old posters, and if they have any you can take). If you can find an antique market near where you live, a quick browse there could give you lots of ideas.

It’s a way of decorating your place, sure, but these are the kinds of things that make the place you live your home. It’s glimpses into your personality, your interests and likes, and it adds character to a place that could very well be boring.

3. Scent

Photo Source

You ever have that moment where you’re walking through your apartment and something just smells…off? Nine times out of ten it’s the garbage you’ve been meaning to take out for like, three days, or it’s your neighbours experimenting with cooking again. I’m a person who likes my apartment to smell good, if I can help it. I’ll open windows to get fresh air inside, I’ll spray Febreeze all over my pillows and I’ll light candles.

Candles are my way of adding a little extra to my apartment. They’re a really nice touch on a cool, rainy day and I always have one going when I’m expecting company. It’s the perfect way for people to assume you have your life together.

If you’re scared of fire or candles in general are not a good option for you, may I recommend diffusers, a flame-free way to bring scent into your space. If you don’t like artificial scents at all, there’s the option of sticking some bounce sheets into choice places: one in your bed, tucked into the sofa, behind a pillow.

Last but to leas,t may I reinforce, do not underestimate the power of opening a window. Getting a breeze going through a stuffy apartment is like an I.V. for the soul.

4. Revamping Your Furniture

Photo via Pinterest

No one can afford new furniture. Or at least some of us can’t. Most of the apartments I lived in while at university came with their living room and dining room furniture already there, and at the time that was a godsend.

If you are living at a place where the furniture was already there, or you’ve bought your own older, maybe second-hand stuff, there are still so many ways to make them seem new. Re-varnish your dining room table, or at least throughly clean it. Get a cover for your sofa, or even use a cool curtain you found at Value Village. This is especially helpful in covering up mysterious stains on couches.

If you have some cash to spare, pick up some throw pillows or a blanket to add some comfort to the living room. These things are also helpful in the event of unexpected overnight guests.

If your bed is feeling a bit old or unappealing, consider some new pillowcases or a duvet cover. You don’t have to break bank on bedding. There are so many places you can find affordable and nice stuff, such as Bed Bath & Beyond, Society6, Urban Outfitters and yes, Ikea.

5. Storage

Photo via Pinterest

Every apartment has something akin to The Corner or The Chair, a place where everything that does not have a place winds up. It can be an eyesore in your space and is a black hole of miscellaneous paraphernalia. Event though you know what lies there, you can never seem to find it.

Storage solutions doesn’t sound fun. It sounds like buying a giant plastic bin and putting everything in that bin and leaving it in a closet somewhere.

What it can be is reusing items you already have or finding inexpensive alternatives for storing things. Leftover baskets or containers from market produce can be washed and used to store small things. At one of my old apartments, I kept my books in milk crates that I stacked on their sides to create a makeshift bookshelf. When you hit the bottom of a candle, freeze it and then scrape out the wax so you can use it as storage for jewellery, hair accessories, anything you need.

And if all of this is sounding a bit too crafty, I will once again defer to the ever-wonderful Value Village, or any local thrift store, where you can find storage baskets, containers and old shelving units. When it comes to fixing up your apartment on a budget, secondhand is the only way to go. But also watch out for secondhand furniture that may be haunted. I’m not saying it’s going to happen, but I am saying I’ve seen Oculus and you were warned.


International design visionaries Diego Burdi and Paul Filek of design studio BURDIFILEK have been at the centre of luxury retail, with nearly 25 years of experience transforming retail spaces such as Holt Renfrew to a series of Neiman Marcus stores across the US. These design partners have won over 150 internationally recognized awards for creating shopping experiences all over the world from New York to Korea. 

It is true that social media and online shopping have changed the way retail works, but we asked Burdi and Filek about how retail space design has evolved in the last two decades and their take on what designers need to consider when creating retail spaces. 

Helen: How did Burdifilek get started?

Diego: We met as design students. We stayed in touch after graduation and eventually started Burdifilek.

Describe your personal design aesthetic.

D: Classic modern with an unexpected, almost eccentric twist.

Paul: Minimal, modern, pared back.

Can you break down your design process?

D: Our design process starts with understanding the real problem at hand and identifying the opportunities within the project from a global point of view.
P: Our studio designs holistically as a team, which means the designers aren’t broken into specialized groups by sector. We find clients benefit most from the shared learnings across our studio.

How do you balance personal aesthetic with clients?

D: We design spaces to reflect the quality, sensibility, and performance of a brand and its product. Since no two brands are the same, I strongly believe a good designer appreciates every form of design and understands how to bring the appropriate design language to their clients. Our clientele is drawn to this design approach and sensibility in our work, so while my personal visual aesthetic does not extend into my client’s point of view, the principles of careful consideration and editing that underscores my personal aesthetic does resonate throughout the work.

P: I agree – the principles of consideration are shared across my aesthetic, Diego’s aesthetic, and client’s aesthetic. It takes on a different visual expression for each client, but the level of consideration remains constant.

How have retail spaces evolved in the last 2 decades?

D: Retail spaces have evolved because the retail industry itself has evolved. Retailers have become more focused on what they are trying to offer the consumer, creating a more multi-faceted experience from a lifestyle point of view to celebrate their product. We are also more design aware as a society, and since consumers have so many options available to them now, there is a growing appreciation for the physical retail experience as a platform to attract consumers. A confident brand experience is becoming more and more important for the end user.

P: First and foremost, retailers are evolving because they are faced with more competition now than ever before. International competition is a big challenge for local and national brands. The successful retailers have become much more focused on targeting who their client is and they are becoming much clearer on what separates their brand identity and offering from all others. Retailers are all looking for that point of differentiation.

Is there a specific vibe people gravitate to now? Are people more likely to walk into a store that’s Instagram-friendly?

D: People gravitate toward authenticity and originality. We all seek things that speak to us.

P: I don’t think there is a specific vibe, but brands are recognizing the power of mood and atmosphere and embracing a unique point of view that is curated toward a specific customer. Shopping is a necessity, but the physical environment is also part entertainment so we are seeing more cues from the hospitality world intermingling with retail. Ideas around “interactive” and “experiential” come from hospitality.

How do you design a space that caters to a social-driven lifestyle?

Shopping is socially-driven and retail is entertainment. We don’t design spaces specifically to cater to a social-driven lifestyle because life is about being social. We design for life.

Explain society’s need for instantaneity through the lens of design visionaries such as yourselves? Is this aspect difficult to infuse into your design?

Everyone is hungry for newness because there is so much happening at once. As a designer, we are constantly looking for ways to recreate the newness. Our society is bombarded with everyone shouting at 120 decibels. We are looking for new ways to cut through the noise and distill the design in a focused way that leaves a point of memory amidst the noise.

What makes someone walk into a store they don’t necessarily already know about?

P: When the confidence of a brand and product is appealing, then someone will be motivated to walk into the store. There is a curiosity in finding something new that resonates in terms of product quality and experience.

D: When the retailer’s program, offering, and point of view is strong from the lease line. A clear and focused message about their value and brand experience. When the product and environment are cohesive, one frames the other and the offering is focused for the consumer.

According to your expertise, what are some design strategies that retailers can employ to generate more sales?

A more focused program. Trying to be everything to everyone, and this just does not work anymore. In the times we live in now, where everything is available to consumers, a clear and confident point of view is what will make a brand successful.

Mark Lash

What are some common mistakes retailers make when designing their space?

Brands often seek a trendy visual language to sell cool. Piggybacking off the success of another brand’s design is a mistake because consumers are looking for the uniqueness in each retailer. “Monkey see, monkey do” does not work.

Most important physical elements to consider when looking to change a retail space?

D: Do not underestimate the importance of materiality and lighting in retail.

P: I think the most important physical element is to maximize the opportunity of the actual space itself. From the site selection, shop entry, or customer flow through the environment, every new location requires the brand experience to be optimized for each new space. Forcing a pre-set design into a new location removes all consideration for the brand experience.

What do you want people to know about designing a retail space in the current market?
A retail space is a continuation of the brand story, and there must be a strong connection back to that. Look for the differentiating brand factors that will set you apart. A space is a continuation of the story – like another chapter in the storyline – so it needs to be cohesive.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Retail is becoming more complex, and brands are hiring various consultants to help navigate the landscape. As a result, there are many new considerations and concerns in the front and back of house that accompany the launch of a shop beyond design. A strong retail program acts as the backbone for design and creates a canvas for the best possible experience. The whole experience must be well prepared and well thought out. The most successful brands do not show up in the mall with stock and leaving the experience up to chance. Every touch point is carefully crafted and considered.

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Toronto Dancer Creates Beyoncé and Rihanna Sweaters to Help Charities

Owner and creator of 1Club, Shawn Bracke says his 50/50 percent cotton/polyester sweaters are perfect for an active person, someone in a creative space. Photo by Sveta Soloveva

Whether he’s teaching a dance class or sketching in his notebook, Shawn Bracke always uses his art to support charities. Now he creates sweaters with faces of celebrities on them and donates 35% of the proceeds to a different charity each month. Founded in September 2016, his online clothing brand 1Club stands for the idea of “all for one and one for all”.

Sveta: Hi Shawn! It’s exciting to learn a new artistic side of you besides dancing. How did you come up with the idea of creating your brand?

Shawn: The idea was always charity, donations. But not all. I was sketching a lot for the last five years or so, and I started putting it on clothing myself. People really liked that. On top of that, I was donating once a month from classes that I teach to different charities. So I kind of just fused the two ideas together. I thought, instead of donating from the classes I would start a brand.

Sveta: Did you have any background in fashion?

Shawn: Yep, I used to be a stylist. I used to live in London, U.K. I was a stylist there for two years, mostly just like on set for music videos, TV, and films. So it’s not the most creative because you can’t do really much with film and TV — you literally give them like this template —, but I definitely had an understanding of the industry. Honestly, fashion doesn’t really apply to my brand. The whole goal for it is to be comfortable and wearable and easy.

Sveta: How does the design of your brand express its idea?

Shawn: We stand for all for one and one for all. So the goal of the brand is essentially to create all-inclusive type of company, something comfortable and supporting. Originally, they [sweaters] are just faces of people that really inspired me. People who are using their celebrity styles to make a change in the world. There are pretty big names, like Beyoncé and Rihanna, Gigi Hadid, Victoria Beckham. They all are known for what they do either as musicians or designers, but I love all of them because they are affiliated with charities. And obviously, I know that people would love to wear a Beyonce sweater or Rihanna [sweater]. And I like that it’s all strong women. A lot of charities that I focus on are geared towards helping women.

Photo by Sveta Soloveva

Sveta: What are some charitable organization you work or have worked with?

Shawn: Right now we are with Red Door Family Shelter. We’ve worked with Covenant House. They are cool. They are like a shelter for the homeless slash for people who are distressed. So they help a lot of women who are in bad situations with their husbands or who are trying to escape.

Sveta: What is exciting for you about working with charities?

Shawn: I’ve always loved donating to charities, but as a dancer I would just do it with my credit card online. With the company there’s different formatting. You obviously have to build relationships with them [charities]. It’s been very cool to see their responses and meet different people within the charity. And also, knowing where the money goes is comforting. I was kind of nervous going into it, that these different charities wouldn’t be that interested and would just kind of take a donation, but they all have been so lovely and so caring. Just hearing the cool things they do to change people’s lives is awesome.

Sveta: Does anyone help you to run the business?

Shawn: Yeah, so the sketches I do myself, and then I have a company, actually, a friend, who prints all the clothing. He works in film and TV, so it’s cool we have that relationship. And I also have some friends who help me to run the company. Primarily, it’s just me, but we do a lot of events. We go to different markets, so I have a crew who sometimes writes the emails and does the administrating.

Sveta: What is the most difficult part of running a clothing company?

Shawn: I would say, continuously promoting our brand. The more promotion you do, the more you need new people. And it’s not even bad. The most difficult is the most fun in a weird sense. I think it’s just the nature of any creative person: anything that’s difficult, you like doing because you know that it’s a challenge for you. I don’t know if as a journalist and a dancer you can agree with me. I hope that answers the question.

Sveta: I think I agree with that. Would people who wear your sweaters be creative as well?

Shawn: Obviously, I would love everyone to wear the sweaters. The goal is to benefit charities and feel comfortable and cool, yeah? But, generally speaking, the people, who have been gravitating towards it, are people like us, who work during the day and take a dance class or a yoga class or go to the gym at night… Or maybe they just wanna have like a Sunday-cozy sweater to go to a brunch and go for a walk after. My mum and her friends wear it too. They wear it on Saturdays if they go out for a show or something.

Sveta: Do you have your favourite sweater?

Shawn: Right now the Beyonce-embroidered is my favourite just cause I haven’t seen anyone do an embroidered sweater and I just love the texture of it. I’m excited that my drawing can be transmitted into an embroidered sweater.

Photo by Sveta Soloveva

Sveta: How do you build your collections in terms of frequency, colours…?

Shawn: As we partner with a different charity every month, the goal is to do a new sweater every one to two months. The first collection is all white, and the second collection had like that salt-pepper and safari [shades]. And then for the next one we are gonna go back to straight one colour. I definitely want to keep them neutral. For me, as a dancer, rehearsing, I like to wear very basic colours or shades rather. And my clients love that kind of neutral shades, so… We might play with colours later, but for now we are gonna keep it.

Sveta: Are you planning to add more items to your collections in the future?

Shawn: In September we have few other things coming. T-shirts and some other stuff, which I’m gonna keep secret.

Sveta: Were you thinking about creating 1Club physical store?

Shawn: Right now it’s an online-brand. I think we are gonna keep it there for a while. I don’t really have any goals to make it a physical shop… like in the near future.

Sveta: What does 1Club mean to you personally?

Shawn: 1Club for me is a nice escape from the dance world [we both laugh]. That sounds terrible! I couldn’t live without it [dance]. It’s like who I am, but there’s so many sides of me. Just like there’s so many sides of you. So it’s like a break from always focusing on like, Oh, I need to do this with dance. I need to focus on this with dance. For me it’s to meet different types of people with 1 Club that I would never be able to meet in the dance world.

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Winter Stations: the beauty of Toronto’s beaches

North by Montreal studio PERCH

The comfortable temperatures have been pampering Torontonians this winter, and even if some of us got the winter blues, there was no need to travel too far. A winter walk along Toronto’s eastern beaches has never been so entertaining. Visitors can get lost in a forest of upside-down trees and leave “a message from the sea” in plastic bottles.

Those are some of the five winning installations of the third annual Winter Stations, the international design competition to transform lifeguard stations across Balmy, Kew and Ashbridges Bay beaches into an open-air gallery with fantastic and interactive exhibits.

The jury of professional designers and architects of the Winter Stations, which is growing every year in its partners, organizers, and participants, received more than 350 ideas from around the world. Five were selected to be built on the beach along with three designs from the University of Toronto, University of Waterloo, and Humber College.

“Sometimes it was their [students’] first construction project,” said organizer Aaron Hendershott of RAW Design. “They should feel quite rewarded for their success.”

Catalyst, the theme of the 2017 Winter Stations asked the participants to envision a new waterfront landscape and to reinvent the way Torontonians interact with the beaches during winter. As it is only a five-week event, the other requirement included thinkining about how the installation can be reproduced, recycled, or used in other way.  

Flotsam and Jetsam by students from University of Waterloo

The 20-foot high sculpture Flotsam and Jetsam by a team of architecture students from the University of Waterloo resembles a huge Tetris-like horse from afar. But a closer look reveals many plastic bottles in wire cages. The installation is a close-up on the abundance of disposable packaging and its harmful impact on our planet.

North by Montreal-based Studio PERCH is a forest of forty-one fir trees hung from lifeguard stands. Hendershott explained that it was made from trees that didn’t found their homes over Christmas. The green installation stands out in the middle of the sandy beach covered with light-blue crusts of ice.

Collective Memory by Mario García from Barcelona and Andrea Govi from Milan

One of the most interactive designs is Collective Memory by participants from Barcelona and Milan — two walls constructed out of clear plastic bottles in which people can write messages about their experiences as Canadian citizens or immigrants in Canada.

“Over the period of the installation, hundreds of messages are making the piece more dynamic and interesting,” said Hendershott.

The Beacon by Joao Araujo Sousa and Joanna Correia Silva From Portugal

The creators of Collective Memory, North and the winners from Portugal, who designed The Beacon, the wooden lighthouse, were paid for their trips to Toronto to see how their pieces were constructed.

“They were quite satisfied that we were able to maintain their vision,” said Hendershott. “Being able to see it for the first time is little bit magical and emotional.”

Midwinter Fire by students from the University of Toronto

He added that it is always difficult for the jury to pick only a few designs from hundreds submitted, but that they focus on presenting something entirely new each year.

“There are a lot of repeated ideas, and [we have to] make sure that we keep the event fresh for the public,” said Hendershott.

BuoyBuoyBuoy by Dionisios Vriniotis, Rob Shostak, Dakota Wares-Tani, Julie Forand from Toronto

The Winter Stations event was founded by RAW Design, Ferris + Associates, and Curio in 2015 to inspire people to explore the beauty of the North.

The eight installations will remain open for public viewing until March 27.

All photos by Sveta Soloveva

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Is Haute Couture Still Relevant?

Is haute couture still relevant? That’s the question many fashion industry heavyweights have been asking as of late. As a flurry of rising fast fashion powerhouses, online shopping and now the emergence of see now buy now collections become a major trend within the industry, Parisian haute couture has been seeing a slow decline in customer interest and even industry interest. With many iconic houses opting to shut down their haute couture operations and others only being kept on the official schedule out of good grace and respect. Many believe that the iconic couture industry will, sooner that later, die out. But there’s an underlying question that can help answer the big question in regards to the current state of haute couture, and that’s why. Why is haute couture in such jeopardy of becoming the next big fashion faux pas?

Mme Jeanne Lanvin fitting a model photo from Style Magazine

To start, the biggest factor that’s come to affect couture is most definitely the rise of pret-a-porter. For the better part of human history, most clothing was either handmade or at least sewn on a machine but made to fit the customer like a glove. The idea of ready to wear collections that came in standard sizes was unheard of. Whether a person was young or old, rich or poor, someone was most likely making clothing meant to fit their specific measurements. That was truly the essence of haute couture. Whether a garment required the diligently trained hand of a master couturier to sew pearls into a silk bodice for an aristocratic woman or the caring hand of a mother making a dress for her child, couture had a way of coming into anyone’s home. Now some may argue that true couture started in the ateliers of Belle Epoque masters like Madame Lanvin and Monsieur Patou, but couture has truly been around for centuries, from the togas fashioned by the Greeks long ago, to the panniered gowns of the French court. Couture has been present throughout human history for ages.

Models backstage at Christian Dior Haute Couture ss12 Photo by GoRunway

So why put all that wonderful history to waste in favour of ready made garments. It comes down to cost. Historically, haute couture has been attributed to the rich upper echelon of the world and as the human population began to grow and go through revolutions in business, trade, and technology. The need for previous industries to quicken their production speed and product output was essential, causing the first real blow to haute couture. As time went on people forgot about the idea of handmade clothing and began to equate it with something only out of touch old money and nouveau riche people cared for. From then on the fashion industry began to grow into a commercialized form of revenue. Iconic houses like Pierre Balmain and Christian Dior had no choice but to begin incorporating pret-a-porter collections after designers like Yves Saint Laurent hit massive success in the market when he introduced his first ready to wear collection.

Christian Dior fitting a model Photo by Keystone/Getty Images

Another main reason why the fashion community has slowly lost interest in haute couture is due to the sterilization of individual style within the industry itself. As trends become the norm, luxury fashion houses are forced to create collections based on the year’s biggest trends as opposed to collections based on innovation and creativity. For example, the legendary house of Christian Lacroix dominated the world of fashion from the late 80’s up until its final collection in 2009. However, even though Lacroix was one of the most iconic and innovative designers for his time, his brand failed to ever turn any profit and was ultimately forced to close its doors due to massive debts and waning public interest. Likewise, design houses like Ungaro, Hanae Mori, and most recently Saint Laurent, have all halted their production of haute couture due to the massive expense it takes to create and the lack of clientele to justify its production.

A look from Christian Lacroix’s Haute Couture ss09 collection Photo by Marcio Madeira

With all that said, it seems that the future couture has been decided. With its slow but relentless decline in popularity and need, in a few years, couture may become completely obsolete. This, in turn, brings the argument back to its initial question, is haute couture still relevant? And the answer is yes. Couture should undoubtedly still be considered relevant. In an industry that’s become so obsessed with profit as opposed to artistic expression, wouldn’t it be important to keep something that showcases the art behind fashion? Rather than pumping out uniformity all year around, couture should be preserved alongside ready-to-wear to keep the craftsmanship and artistry alive. Like Simon Porte Jacquemus said, “I would like to see more poetry, less industry; because fashion is nothing without poetry.” Another very important reason to keep haute couture alive is for the sake of the seamstresses, tailors, and ateliers that devote their lives to perfecting their craft. Since couture must be made by hand, there are hundreds of ateliers working in various couture houses which carry the knowledge and the expertise to create extravagant creations that cannot be duplicated by a machine. Putting these valued and respected team members out of work would be a grave injustice to them and a grave injustice to the fashion industry as a whole. If the fashion industry rids itself of couture and the experts who make it possible, a piece of valuable knowledge would be lost for future generations. Who would be there to teach aspiring couturiers their secrets? Who will be there to uphold the artistry and standards that legends like Christian Dior and Cristobal Balenciaga created decades ago? Who will be there to take our wildest dreams and bring them to life?

A look from Giambattista Valli’s Haute Couture fw16 collection Photo by Alessandro Garofalo

In the end, questioning the relevance of haute couture is question fashion itself. Without couture, fashion itself becomes irrelevant. The storytelling becomes irrelevant. Without couture, the fashion industry becomes just another industrial engine, pumping out factory made clothing that doesn’t represent anything other than profit and uniformity.