A piece of art. A colour palette. A potted succulent. For Valerie Stafford, Partner and a Lead Designer at Rumor Designs, the smallest detail can be the thread that weaves together her whole vision and concept for a room. Her practice is focused on the quality of the materials in a space, from surface finishes and wall colours to lighting and fabrics.

“That’s the best part,” she says. “Starting a design is so much fun, and then following the path as it winds is the second best part.” Here’s how Valerie Stafford approaches a room and achieves the perfect balance of modern luxury.


1. Start With a Sense of Purpose

The thematic vision for a room might come from a single detail—but regardless of décor, it’s important to remember what exactly a space needs to achieve. “Each room should have a primary purpose,” explains Stafford, “and the furniture and lighting should support those functions.”

And while a room has a functional purpose, its visual style also plays an active role in shaping how the space feels for you and your visitors. “Our surroundings, whether we are aware of it or not, set the tone or mood for our experiences,” explains Stafford. “So at work or in the home, a beautifully designed space can create purpose, inspiration, energy, or peace.”


2. Look High and Low

One thing Stafford points out is that a room doesn’t necessarily have to have four walls in order to be a unique and functional space. When faced with an open-concept space, she finds alternative ways to create distinctions without any need for conventional barriers.

Stafford notes that homeowners tend to underestimate the significance of lighting. There are three types she considers whenever she designs a room: task, for lighting up specific spaces for specific activities; ambient, for illuminating the room as a whole; and decorative, in which the light fixture itself is a unique, aesthetically-compelling unit worthy of display.

“One of the most common requests during a remodel is to add more light,” she notes. “You can never have too much, and you can always dim if needed.”


3. Take Care of the In-Between Spaces

Whether it’s demarcated by walls or not, Stafford focuses on conscientious space planning when organizing a room, arranging furniture pieces that create a sense of cohesiveness and individual character. The self-contained look is important for setting a room apart from its neighbouring spaces, and Stafford advises homeowners to invest in custom fixtures if they have glaring gaps they can’t seem to fill.


4. Pay Attention to Entrances

On the topic of inviting spaces, Stafford emphasizes the importance of first impressions. Homeowners should take time to think through the experience of coming into a space — or of coming into the home.

“An entryway helps get your entertaining off on the right foot and makes your guests feel welcomed,” she says. “Whether it is as simple as a small table and a mirror to check yourself on the way out, or as grand as a water feature and chandeliers, you can’t go wrong keeping the design elevated in this area.”


5. Don’t Let Setbacks Set You Back

If there’s one thing Stafford wants you to know, it’s that homeowners need to be problem solvers and should never get deflated when the unexpected happens. “I have rarely seen a project where every element goes as planned. Building a home is a creative endeavour, and there are always things that pop up, no matter how much planning you do. If you anticipate this, you can embrace it and find the opportunities in the hurdles.”

At the end of the day, creative design is the work of many, not just one. “There are a thousand and one details and it takes a village,” says Stafford of the design process. “Hire a designer you connect with, a builder who is good with both communication and numbers, and an architect who inspires you.” With the right team in place and the patience to wait out complications, every home project can become a realized work of art.


This article was published on December 17, 2020 and updated on November 19, 2021. This article was originally published on Sotheby’s International Realty’s Extraordinary Living Blog and has been adapted for Sotheby’s International Realty Canada’s INSIGHT Blog. 

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