Friday, February 27, 2009


We have high density, low density, high compression, low compression,   5 ,10 or 15 year, open cell, closed cell, latex, visco-elastic, memory, craft,outdoor and camping foam.  And all you wanted was some new foam for the chair pads in the kitchen.

So here you are, the Foam dictionary:

Density: refers to the amount of material per square foot. High density has more material, low density has less. This figure is usually expressed in pounds per cubic foot - how much  a piece of foam 12” x 12” x 12” weighs.  Or you may hear high, medium and low density. A number 1 density means the foam weighs 1 pound per cubic foot. 

Compression:  The number of pounds of pressure it takes to compress the foam 1 inch. 40 compression foam takes 40 pounds to compress.  This is referred to as the ILD  ('Indentation Load Deflection'  and it is actually a bit more complex than this simple definition but it’s close.) Typically a high density foam requires more compression to flatten it, but this is not a rule.

Closed cell: The very firm  foam  that  is used, for example,  to construct a packing case that mirrors the shape of the object being packed.

Open cell: the holes are not independent, they run into each other - take a close look at a sponge.

Latex: made from rubber, not petroleum products like most foam. Because of it’s resistance to  mold and mildew this is the most hypo-allergic type of foam.

Memory: a type of visco-elastic (latex)  foam that conforms  closely to the object being placed on it (like you).

Craft:  Inexpensive open cell polyurethane foam

Outdoor: An open cell foam with big holes that are large enough for water to pass through. This is the best stuff for out door patio furniture or boat cushions.

Camping and  craft: inexpensive foam, usually black in color, wears out quickly.

5, 10 or 15 year - the number of years of average use it will take to cause the foam to stay compressed when pressure is applied.

Testing foam by squishing it between your fingers will tell how hard you have to press your fingers to squish the foam. Not much else. If you want to know more about the foam you are buying, ask the seller. If they can’t tell you the density, or compression, or year rating assume that you are buying a low quality foam.

I hope this helps de-mystify foam a bit. Once again, if in doubt go to a reputable dealer, tell him your needs and ask for his advice. Prices vary from supplier to supplier and are usually directly related to quality but you should ask. Also remember that foam can not be returned once purchased so make sure you are buying the right one.

Usually for foam that will be used daily such as  chair pads or sofa cushions, a high density, high compression foam will last the longest. But, you may not want a really hard seat, therefore you will want to find a high density, low compression foam.   Or, you may use a high density, high compression foam as the inner core with a memory foam top layer. Most foam cushions on a sofa or in a cushion will have been wrapped with a quilt-batt  like substance, usually dacron or teralyne, that softens the look of the foam and rounds the edges a bit. 

Price of foam:  Some retailers sell foam by the foot or meter per pre-cut width, most foam suppliers calculate the price based on board feet. This is a piece 12” x 12” x 1 inch thick. If the piece was 2 inches thick, it would be 2 board feet. Currently the price of  hi-density 15 year foam is  about 3.50 per board foot.   This means that a sofa cushion 30 x 26 x 6  will cost about 114.00.  Why so much? The only answer I have been given over the last few years is that there were 2 plants producing the raw product for foam in North America prior to Katrina. One was destroyed in the hurricane and this resulted in the high prices. I don’t know if this is true or not but there was a huge jump in foam prices after the hurricane and these prices have not gone back down. 

How to cut foam: Most foam sellers will cut the foam to the shape you need. Take a paper pattern of the shape. Remember too that in order to have a really snug cushion the foam is often cut about 1/2" larger than the finished size. This is up to you. Be careful with this though, if the foam is less than 3" thick or so, it may buckle. 

Cutting foam at home is easy if you use a bread knife or an electric knife.  I bought a new electric knife just recently- cost $8.88 and works very well.  

The following link has good descriptions of most types of foam, including common uses of each type:

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Feature Wall

In the last column I mentioned a design ‘rule’ that is : the eye will go to the area of greatest contrast first.(White belt on a black outfit)   Another example of this is: Think of a tree standing all alone in a field. Now think of that tree with a branch partially broken, hanging down. What is the most obvious thing about that tree, the one thing everyone will see first, before they see the tree? Yup.. the broken branch.


This is one of the main design guidelines. If you want something to be noticed in a room, make it different than it’s surroundings.  Another example:  Put three vases of similar size  on a window sill. One is pale green, one is pale blue, one is red. Which one will you notice first? Was that your intention, or was it to have the three vases be a grouping of similar things?  

So, now to feature walls. The function of a feature wall was originally  to create some interest where the was no specific architectural feature in the room. Instead of using furniture or fabric, or art to create a focal point, the feature wall was a bold blast of color, usually contrasting to the main color in the room, that said ‘Look at me, I’m the focal point’.  This is where we put the TV stand in the family room, or the head of the bed in the bedroom. It’s contrasting color made it the first thing someone  would notice when entering the room- the focal point. 


The more contrast there is in a room, the smaller the room will feel. (Think of a clutter filled room - lots of contrast.)  A contrasting wall color will make the wall advance, visually. Technically speaking, the lightness or darkness of the color  of the wall determines if the wall will ‘advance’ or ‘retreat’ but in my experience any high contrast color will make the wall more visible therefore making the room appear smaller. If you are decorating a small bedroom, for example, that has no architectural interest, painting one wall a high contrast color will only make the room appear smaller. Paint all the walls the same color and use the headboard as your focal point.  Or do the bed wall in a texture that is very close to the wall color. Or if you want to go big time dramatic, be bold and wall paper all the walls in the same paper.   One of my favorite small rooms of all time was in Chintz and Company in Calgary.  I worked there for a few years and the tiny, tiny ladies powder room on the main floor was wallpapered in a black paper with little bouquets of flowers. The ceiling too.  Very dark, very mysterious, very cool. Even though the paper was black, the room appeared much larger than it actually was because there was very little contrast between the walls, the ceiling  and the floor. 

So, please take care with the feature wall. Consider the purpose of the contrast, ask for some advice.  Maybe just a texture on the walls will do.  And remember the lady with the white belt.

Thanks to all who stopped by the booth at the Women’s Conference. It was good to meet so many of you and it was lots of fun seeing the looks of disbelief when I pointed to  Judy’s chair and said ‘ Yes, that’s a slipcover’. If you haven’t seen it, go to my website, and connect to the gallery. It’s my favorite slipcover. 

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Valances - the good the bad and the ugly

Yes folks, valances are back.  But wait!!  I am not talking about the newspaper stuffed balloon valances, or heaven help us, the combination of  2 or 3   wide rods hung really close together with fabric all squished up.  Style and  beautiful fabrics are what make today’s valances different.  The fabrics do the work. Like a classic dress, it is perfect proportion, great fabric, exemplary construction and attention to detail that make or break a valance.  

When  pre-made blinds and shades became readily available in the early 90’s, a lot of us stopped using fabric on our windows at all. The result was a minimalist look that fit well with the pared down type of decor design of the era. The trend now is toward a warmer, more cozy interior space and fabric window treatments are one of the easiest ways to achieve this. So, because we still have those blinds and shades in place and do not need window coverings to provide privacy or light control, good valances and side panels are the style of the day.

What makes a ‘good’ valance? It starts with matching the style of the valance to the style of the room.  If your room is truly a minimalist room, a simple, tailored box pleated valance works very well.  If this is your 7 year old daughters room, you may opt for a more ‘fluffy’ valance, perhaps one with some fringe trim, but again the more classic styles work best - like an Empire  valance. You won’t tire of them as quickly as with a ‘trendy’ valance. Remember the pole with the fabric looped over and over?  Enough said.  Look at the style of the room, look at a lot of magazines and choose something that suits the room. If you can’t decide, ask for help. Then go look for fabric that suits the valance.  I have a software program that allows me to take a picture of your window, design a drapery treatment on the photo itself, apply the chosen fabric and lets you see what the treatment will look like before you make a final decision.

Fabrics that blend with the wall color  work best.  Here is a design ‘rule’: The eye will go to the area of greatest contrast first. For example, think of a lady in a black blouse and black pants. Now put a wide white belt on the outfit. What will you see first? The black blouse or the white belt? The same  happens in design. If you have soft  grey-taupe walls  in a room with pink accents and you use a bright pink fabric in the valance,  the valance is  the first thing anyone will notice when walking into the room.  More than likely this is not the reaction you want. If you put up a soft grey valance, perhaps with some of the pink in the pattern, the effect will be much less jarring. However you may want the valance to draw attention to the window.  If you have a spectacular view, think of the valance and side panels as being the frame for the picture. Then the attention it draws is warranted, and wanted, and the color should compliment both the walls and the ‘picture’. 

The quickest way to ruin a good valance is to hang it too low or to make it too short. The rule of thumb is that the valance depth  should be  about  1/5 to  1/4  of the perceived window depth and  no less than 12 inches.  This takes a bit of planning. You may have to hang the valance higher and make it longer to achieve the correct proportion. Hanging it higher increases the perceived widow depth.

In one of my earlier columns I told about the new valance hardware available that allows valances to be mounted on doors that open in to the room.  Keep this in mind if you have French Doors that need attention. See the Articles Archive, November ‘ Valances on  In-Opening Doors’ on my website for the column.

So, keep it simple, use great fabrics and stay away from trendy, fussy valances.  Most of  you have a great innate sense of style. Trust yourself.

On my Website, Designsewlutions,ca have a look at the brown and yellow bedroom and on the gallery there are some pictures of E’s kitchen with a really snazzy Empire Valance.   

I will be showing a collection of slipcovered pieces and some Roman Blinds at the Women’s Conference, January 29 and 30 at the Prestige. Stop by for a chat.