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Ask an expert: Interior designer 

Deb Nelson, Nelson & Co.

click to enlarge Deb Nelson used to decorate for television. - ANGELA GZOWSKI

Nelson studied interior design in Vancouver and may be best known as a stylist, having worked in Toronto for years setting up rooms for magazines, photoshoots and TV shows, including HGTV, the Food Network, and CBC’s The Steven & Chris Show. Here in Halifax the stylist is doing more design and decor work for homeowners, operating out of her storefront on Almon Street.

TC: What should a first-time homebuyer or renovator, what should they think about before they speak to you?

Deb Nelson: One is that the more prepared people are, the better. They should be honest with themselves, put down on paper what is it they want to achieve. Do they want to tear down walls, renovate or are they a first-time buyer and money is tight, so do they want to make cosmetic changes? Part two of that is, how do you get to that achievable goal? Cosmetic changes are a great starting point, especially for first-time buyers. There is some great stuff people can do with paint. I have painted a kitchen where I've painted nine different surfaces, from countertops to backsplashes, even the front panel of a dishwasher. I'm amazed at what you can do with paint and how much you can transform. I guess the third thing to think about is the timeline on doing it.

TC: A lot of the homes here in Halifax are older. Do have any advice to someone who may have purchased an older property to update it?

DN: Absolutely. From a design and aesthetic perspective, never try to change a house from its natural architecture. The bones of a house should dictate its look. If you're living in an urban downtown loft with concrete floors and floor-to-ceiling glass, you can certainly go with a much more modern style. Older homes lend themselves to a more traditional and layered, ecltectic looking decor. In terms of picking any finishes like flooring, older homes aren't suited to tile floors or concrete. The original floors or putting in hardwood is better. You can't fight the architecture of any house.

TC: You mentioned paint. Are there colours that you find yourself returning to that work in those old houses?

DN: Right now, I'm really into lighter, neutral colours. Grey is the new black, kind of thing. Brown was around for so long in the design world. It used to be called the coffee palate. Everything was called latte. Now it's moving to lighter grey. I happen to use Benjamin Moore fandex so I know the colour names: Revere Pewter, Edgecomb Grey, Manchester Tan. They're all very light, airy colours. I find they look great in traditional homes.

TC: In terms of furnishings, everyone has their own taste. But Halifax has plenty of antiques stores. Do you recommend people check them out?

DN: Absolutely. That's one of the things I really gravitate towards, a layered approach to design and decor, a mix of old and new. People are naturally drawn to antiques in a very nostalgic way. You think of something from your childhood, at your grandparents' house. There are so many little things that I have a very personal connection to. I always encourage people to tell me about the things that people love. Some people have a sofa they want to work with, some may have a vase. I love it when a house is mixed with comfortable, nice-looking furniture, but mixed with antiques is a great look.

TC: When you work with someone, are you joining them on the hunt or do you stand in the space and say, "This is what it needs, go to it!"

DN: I usually stand in the space. My approach when I'm working with people, I do these design consultations when I go into their houses. If you want to take this room to the next level, I'm going to tell you how to do that. But I'm going to tell you that through visual examples: what colours I would put on the wall, what lamp I would get, what rug I would get, what the art would look like. Then I'd say, "Now you go get it and enjoy putting it all together." That allows people to go to any of the great antique stores around, or they can also go to Homesense. It also works in terms of people's budget.

TC: Do you have any last recommendations?

CN: People shouldn't feel constrained. I did a segment for years on decorating on a budget. People think they can't have a home of their dreams without a huge pricetag. I believe the exact opposite. You can make any house into a beautiful home if you have the drive and time to spend on it.

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