Monday, December 8, 2014

Gifts With Heart: Your Curated Gift Guide to a Compassionate Christmas | The Citizenry

You know that moment when you feel like you've found your people? They share the same love languages, the same aesthetic, they're passionate about the same things you are, and when you look at what they are all about you keep saying "Me too!" Yeah. That.

The folks at The Citizenry are my people.

A brilliant marriage of beautiful design and compassionate purpose, with The Citizenry's collection, neither is compromised. Each makes the other more beautiful. And together, they leave you utterly inspired. That's why I am beyond excited to feature them as a part of my Gift Guides for a Compassionate Christmas.

By personally traveling to each artisan country and using only local materials, the team at The Citizenry has created sustainable relationships with their artisans. And by selling directly online, they're able to offer handmade goods - crafted with the highest quality materials - at more reasonable prices than traditional luxury boutiques.

I love the philosophy behind their name: THE CITIZENRY.

"We set out to build a company that celebrates the people behind our products. Our name is a reflection of the collective of individuals – artisans, designers, and dreamers – who rally together across cultures and continents to craft our collections. The Citizenry is our way of sharing these stories and products with you."

The designs are so beautiful that you'd love them without that backstory, but knowing the beautiful process behind the products makes them the kind of treasures you can happily share stories about at dinner parties for, like, ever.

As a designer, I'm in love with the entire collection. The modern aesthetic and their use of wood alone had me at hello. And that butterfly chair with the copper frame? Come. On. Needless to say, you will not go wrong in choosing a gift for the design lover in your life from their collection.

To sweeten the deal, they've offered a couple of lovely little perks for my readers:

1) They always offer free shipping within the continental US, but they have happily offered a code for free international shipping on all orders (including rugs and chairs!!) for my fellow Canadians. Use code: FIRSTCLASSTICKET

2) Free gift wrapping on an unlimited number of items. Click here to add gift wrapping, and then use code WRAPPEDWITHLOVE at checkout and the $5/package gift wrapping costs will be removed! Easy peasy and delivered right to your door with the proverbial bow on top.

I hope this makes giving gifts with heart a little easier for you this year! I truly believe the most beautiful gifts are ones that don't compromise on either the process or the product.


P.S. A little shipping/shopping nitty gritty for you below:

USA, to deliver on or before Wed, Dec 24… 
Standard/free: Order by Sun, Dec 21 (midnight CST)
Express 2-day: Order by Mon, Dec 22 (midnight CST)

INTERNATIONAL, to deliver on or before Wed, Dec 24...
Standard for all countries, excluding Canada and Mexico: Order by Sun, Dec 14 (midnight CST)
Standard for Canada and Mexico: Order by Wed, Dec 17 (midnight CST)

Express: contact

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Gifts With Heart: Your Curated Gift Guide to a Compassionate Christmas | Far & Wide Collective

There's been a resurgence in the social consciousness of late; a reawakening to the value of unique items that are handcrafted by artisans who are truly valued for their work. I think we are realizing once again that the story behind the products we purchase matters. The people behind the products matter. And in our globally inspired world, those stories are often stories of people from the other side of the world.

The founder of Far & Wide Collective, Hedvig Alexander, has done a brilliant job of bringing her artisans stories to life as she curates the products that make up the collection. Her passion is empowering and honouring the makers while bringing beautiful products to the North American market. That is why the Far & Wide Collective makes for a perfect feature in this year's Curated Gift Guides for a Compassionate Christmas.

From baskets to jewelry and accessories to art prints and home décor, there is something for just about any lover of beauty on your Christmas list!

I hope you're feeling inspired to give gifts with heart this year! Empower an artisan across the globe and tell a story of hope while sharing beautiful treasures with your loved ones this season.


Monday, December 1, 2014

Gifts With Heart: Your Curated Gift Guide to a Compassionate Christmas | Ten Thousand Villages

It's December 1st and that time of year again! The time when we scour the globe in search of that perfect something that will light a spark in our loved one's eye and make them feel treasured. Honestly, gifts are my top love language {tied with words of affirmation} so I really value the opportunity Christmas brings to shower love on my special people this way.

For me, the best gifts are gifts with heart - gifts that are thoughtful, meaningful and personal. But gifts with heart can also be gifts with a compassionate conscience.

As you all know, I'm beyond passionate about the process behind a product, believing that the way something is made can contribute {positively or negatively} to its true beauty. If a product is made in a way that honours the people and planet involved in its creation, then it has true and lasting beauty. Conversely, if a product is made in a way that abuses people or the planet, then any outward beauty it may hold isn't authentic.

That's why I'm thrilled to shine a spotlight on Ten Thousand Villages today for my first Curated Gift Guide for the season. Ten Thousand Villages is all about authentic beauty from the inside out. They are one of the largest and most experienced fair trade retailers in the world, which could bring with it some hefty buying power. But rather than negotiating for the lowest possible price from the artisans they work with, they pay fair prices as set by the artisans themselves and reinvest company profits to support education for the next generation, food security, community development and the creation of more employment and leadership opportunities. Now that's a beautiful process.

Oh yes, and the products? Gorgeous! Just take a look at my Curated Gift Guide from Ten Thousand Villages this year.

I recently popped in to visit our Oakville location and was blown away by how many incredible finds were there waiting for me. So much beautiful craftsmanship, so many beautiful stories behind the products! And so many meaningful gifts waiting to be given.

The line up of products is so extensive I could never feature it all, so why not pop into a local store or visit them online and get your shopping done without ever getting out of your jammies? No one will be the wiser, and they'll be feeling the love when they open their gorgeous gifts with heart.


Saturday, November 29, 2014

Thanksgiving-Inspired Homemade Baby Food | Baby Brezza

I don't know about all the other mamas out there, but transitioning Tate to solids has been  s  l  o  w. Seriously, I joke he is a part of the slow food movement. It's totally foreign to me because Noah was always a great eater. But Tate? Tate has chosen his own pace and his own timing, as he seems to do with many things.

Of particular challenge has been finding proteins we can get into him. The store bought baby foods with protein are just plain nasty - they stimulate his gag reflex in about 5 seconds flat. Honestly, I can't blame him! I was beginning to wonder if we would ever get over this hurdle together...until recently when I received a Baby Brezza. With the technology to make finely puréed, organic baby food right at my finger tips I found myself suddenly at an advantage in this mealtime game of chicken.

Sorry, bad pun.

Anyway, armed with my Baby Brezza and the steely determination of a loving mama, I found inspiration in my Thanksgiving stuffing recipe and set about winning this little battle. Turns out it wasn't mealtime {or protein} that was the problem so much as the food just needed to taste good. Go figure! I can handle making things taste good, and the Brezza can handle steaming and purée-ing things to a baby-approved fine texture, so together we are kind of unstoppable.

Here's what I did:

I started by sprinkling some dried herbs on an organic chicken breast and sautéing it on high heat very quickly just to brown it slightly. My goal wasn't to cook it, because the Baby Brezza fully steam cooks the food for you. I just wanted to give it some flavour, and a bit of caramelization on meat is pretty much magic, right?

I then sliced the chicken breast up and added:

1/4 c. organic pumpkin purée
1/2 an organic fuji apple
5 organic dried apricots
The teeniest touch of salt

I clicked the Baby Brezza into place {this requires a firm hand} and hit the steam + purée button and then chose the 25 minute cycle to ensure that the chicken would be fully cooked. I pressed the round green button and walked away.

25 minutes later I came back to perfectly puréed, actually tasty, totally healthy baby food. Yes, I did try it myself and yes it was indeed quite yummy. But the proof's in the pudding, as they say, and Tate was the ultimate taste tester.

The great news is, he approves! Such a huge relief to feel like I can get balanced nutrients into this sweet little nugget. I'm still experimenting with recipes, but my creativity is really the only limit. I'm sure it goes without saying that the Baby Brezza would make a really thoughtful gift for any parents-to-be on your Christmas list. And if you are a mom struggling to get your little one to eat their protein and greens, don't wait! Just pick one up for yourself right here.

Three cheers to winning that mealtime battle! Baby steps, right?


*Many thanks to Baby Brezza Canada for sending me this little baby mealtime wonder!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Inspiring Art, A VIP Party + A Giveaway!

Heads up, art lovers. There's a new kid on the curator's block, and she's all kinds of amazing. Friends, meet Alessandra Salituri of Citizen Atelier.

The most inspiring adventures are always born out of passion, and that is most certainly the case with Citizen Atelier. Alessandra spent countless hours visiting galleries and pouring over portfolios before curating her Montreal-based collection. And I think you'll agree, the art she offers is entirely chic, edgy, feminine, fashion-forward and totally my cuppa. In fact, she has included some of my favourite contemporary artists in her collection.

ANGEL I (left) and ANGEL IV (right) by ZENA HALLOWAY
I can't tell you how much I want one of Zena Halloway's Angels. Etherial. Dreamy. Feminine. Dramatic. Perfection.

And wouldn't it pair perfectly with one of Ashley Woodson Bailey's stunning florals? They are both moody and uplifting all at once {how is that even possible?}. Strong yet soft and somehow mysterious.

Gray Malin's art just makes me want to go on an adventure and enjoy my life. Seriously. All of it. And that's the best kind of inspiration to have hanging on your walls if you ask me.

Remember Jenny Andrews Anderson? Yep, she is a part of Citizen Atelier's stellar line up as well.

As if Alessandra's twin-sister-taste in art weren't enough to make me love her, she's coming to town. She's not just coming to town, but she's kind of moving to town, because she's opening up her first bricks-and-mortar presence in partnertship with the gorgeous Black Rooster Decor. And naturally, she's having a coming-out party to celebrate. Think VIP, invite-only kind of scene, rubbing shoulders with the who's-who of design and shelter publications all right here in Toronto this Wednesday night from 6-9pm.

And here's the best part: One of you lucky art lovers can win the chance to get your name on the exclusive invitee list for said party where you can hang out with me and Alessandra while taking innumerable selfies and sipping something fabulous. Oh yes, and that is also when and where you will personally receive your choice of a small print from Citizen Atelier artist Georgianna Lane. Just feast your eyes on these beauties!

Who doesn't need a touch of Parisian magic in their home? Georgianna's prints are the perfect way to make that happen.

So how do you make sure you are the one to party like an art lover and walk away with the print to prove it? 3 easy steps:

1. Follow @citizenatelier and @thecuratedhouse on Instagram
2. Sign up for my email list in the right side bar
3. Pin your favourite Georgianna Lane print above to Pinterest with the hashtags #citizenatelierXthecuratedhouse and #artgiveaway

That's it! 3 easy steps to truly the most exclusively delightful invitation and gorgeous gift of the week, so hop to it, darlings! Just let me know about all your social media love in the comments below, and we will announce our lucky winner on Wednesday morning. Can't wait to see one of you at the party!


Monday, November 3, 2014


IT'S BEEN JUST OVER 8 MONTHS SINCE LITTLE MAN TATE ARRIVED ON THE SCENE AND THIS MAMA HAS BEEN FEELING THE NEED FOR A WARDROBE REFRESH. So when we booked our annual Fall famjam photo shoot with the incomparable Gaby, I went in search of some inspiration. Little did I know I would find it right next to our new family favourite restaurant Cluny Bistro & Boulangerie in the Distillery District of Toronto.

They've really been upping their game in the Distillery of late with some great renovations and new introductions. Turns out, the cherry-on-top is actually more like a sparkly, pavé diamond cherry at the top of the lane. Friends, meet Gilding The Lily. Nestled at the top end of the cobblestone laneway that also houses hotspots like Bergo and Soma Chocolates, Gilding The Lily is officially THE it jewellery store to arrive on the Toronto scene in, like, forever. But don't just take my word for it. Take a gander at these gorgeous gems I got to play dress up with for our photo shoot!

I love the subtle edge to this Olympia Ring {above} by Carbon & Hyde. It's delicate and feminine yet totally rock-and-roll glam all at once. The over-the-knuckle styling is fresh and very of the moment, and it's surprisingly comfortable to wear.

The truth is, I didn't see a single piece in the store that didn't make me a little weak in the knees. Chalk that up to the killer eye of the owner, LA-based celebrity stylist Annie Jagger. Jagger's work has been featured in iconic publications like Vogue, W, InStyle, Jane and Rolling Stone. How lucky are we that she decided to make her first foray into retail right here in Toronto!

I am still swooning over the dreamy quality of Smith + Mara's Constellation necklace {top, above}, and paired with Carbon & Hyde's Gold Bar necklace {bottom, above} I felt layered to perfection and all kinds of fabulous.

The lovely store manager Christine was amazing in helping me style my look. We bonded over interior design as Christine selected pieces and shared some of her story. She and Annie met in LA and Christine worked for her as her assistant for a hot minute before moving into interior design, moving to Toronto, designing the store and becoming the manager. Something of a diamond-paved path, if you ask me!

When Christine first showed me this Starburst Ear Jacket by Jacquie Aiche, I wasn't sure I could pull it off. I mean, when stars like Selena Gomez, Kate Walsh and Jessica Alba are spotted wearing these edgy pieces...ya know? But. Then. I. Put. It. On. And it was like rays of sunshine peaking out from behind my ear. Who doesn't need to carry a few rays of sunshine with them everywhere they go? 

I'll share the rest of my outfit details in an upcoming post, but I just had to shine the spotlight on Gilding The Lily all on their own. They'd be worth a visit to the Distillery District if they were the only boutique there, but they are truly the pièce de résistance in one of Toronto's hottest neighbourhoods. Quite simply not to be missed.


All photographs by Gabriela Hansen

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

10 Steps To Creating a Compelling Brand Story

It's hard to believe it's already been over a week since my whirlwind trip to North Carolina. I was there speaking as a part of Decor Mentor's #Elevate series and was truly humbled to share the session with the incomparable coach Gail Doby. Gail is all about helping designers increase their profits and decrease their stress, and she spoke first on finding and getting hired by your ideal client. As usual, she was truly inspirational! In fact, I'll probably inject some of her nuggets of wisdom into my post here.

I promised those in attendance that I would share my portion of the presentation as a blog post so that they could revisit my tips and insights on how to create a compelling brand story, and I hope it will be of interest to all my designer friends and brands who are looking to connect with their ideal clients in a meaningful way.

So, why call it a brand story you ask?

Well, because we are all storytellers, and the framework of a good story really informs so much about what makes for compelling marketing, brand strategy and copywriting. Whether you design interiors or create beautiful products, you are telling a story. So let's make sure it's a good one.

{Side note: If you want to read more on this subject from two of my favourite thinkers, check out this book by Simon Sinek and also the work of Donald Miller. Both have significantly shaped my thinking and the insights I'm sharing here.}

I'll get into how the elements of story effect our thinking and good branding in STEP THREE, but for now let's dive in. Here are my 10 STEPS TO CREATING A COMPELLING BRAND STORY:


In his book Start With Why, Simon Sinek says: “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”

Apple doesn't have loyal customers and raving fans because their products are cheaper than the competition. They’re not. In fact, sometimes they are four times the price! They have loyal customers and raving fans because they have clearly defined their purpose and - even if they can't quote Apple's mission statement verbatim - their customers get it. Do you know what Apple’s mission statement is? They exist to challenge the status quo, and in doing so, they have become an extension of how their customers define themselves. They sell a philosophy. They sell a way of life. Their products are merely an extension of their WHY.

As another example, Gail Doby and Lisa Ferguson's Flourish Summit connects with designers because their WHY is abundantly clear. They exist for your success, and they want you to experience 3 things: Less Hustle. More Profit. WAY more joy.

Sign me up, right?! I don't know about you, but I want all of those things in spades! Their WHY connects emotionally because it is compelling, both for them and for the designers they seek to serve.

You need to connect on that same level with your ideal clients, so here are a few questions to ask yourself to clearly identify your WHY:

  • Why did I get started in this business to begin with? 
  • Why do I love what I do? Why do I get out of bed in the morning?
  • What are my non-negotiables?
  • What are my core values?
  • What are my filters for how I make decisions {on my designs, the products I select, how I run my business and how I engage with my clients?}

For example, the products you choose will become proof of WHY you do what you do. For some, “better” is about getting everything they can out of their budget. For others, “better” is about one-of-a-kind, it’s about bench-made craftsmanship and high-end quality. Neither one is wrong per se, but it is very important to know what your values are and how they align with your ideal clients.

Other questions to ask yourself:

  • What gives me the greatest joy and satisfaction - in my work and in my life?
  • What am I doing when I feel I am being most true to myself?
  • When am I most inspired?

Why do you need to put clear thought and language around all of this? Because when your clients understand and buy into WHY you do what you do, they will be increasingly loyal and less likely to even bother researching the competition. 

The other very important reason you need to clearly identify your WHY is that people will sense it, whether it is clearly written into your brand script or not. If you are only doing what you do to make money, people will sense that and they will not feel compelled to work with you. But if your WHY, for example, is to improve their quality of life, to inspire them, to free them to shine in their own areas of strength, to create a beautiful context or a beautiful product to enhance the way they live and their relationships...well, people will get it. They will more than get it. They will CONNECT with it. And it will become their WHY for working with you.

We all know Habit #5 from Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Successful People: “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” As designers, we have to decide WHO we are seeking to understand by first identifying our ideal client, and then we need to get to know them well.

We’ve all had at least one dream project, right? You know, the one that made you remember WHY you got into this business to begin with. The one that made you excited to jump out of bed each morning. The one that made you feel like your greatest strengths were being used to their full potential.

So take the time to write down WHY they were your dream client by answering the following questions:

  • What were their core values? 
  • How did they treat you? 
  • Was it a highly involved partnership or were they totally hands off, leaving everything to you? 
  • What kind of project did you work on together? Was it the style that made it a dream job for you? The scope? The speed at which it happened? The budget? The team with which you worked?
  • What was the outcome - both visually and financially?

I loved Gail's reminder that our clients - yes, even the CEO's and lawyers - are often intimidated by us as designers. So we need to do what we can to set them at ease, and the best way to do that is to make them feel understood. This means asking the right questions and learning to speak their language. It does not, however, mean morphing into whoever you think they want you to be. We will talk about why that is in STEP FOUR. But first...


Once you’ve identified your ideal client, it is incredibly important to identify what problem you solve for them. 


Because - as Donald Miller says - every compelling story has a main character who wants something and has to overcome an obstacle to achieve it. This is where the framework of story steps in to shape how we think about branding, copywriting and marketing.

Clearly your client is the main character in their own story. But if you help them overcome their obstacles in achieving their goals, you will become a very important supporting character in their storyline. You want to be a key supporting character in your ideal client’s storyline by helping them overcome their obstacles. 

Clearly articulate this by creating an empathetic statement that your brand can make towards your client’s problem. As a designer, this can be included in your bio such as "I understand what it is like to want a home that is as beautiful as it is functional for your real life." 

Remember that your client likely has both an internal problem {such as knowing their taste, creating a vision, etc} and an external problem {such as budget limitations, a house that needs renovation, a tree on the property they need to build around. etc}. You want to express how you help them solve both their internal and external problems to help them achieve their goals.


We’ve all heard it said that “you are your brand.” But in actual fact, I believe the formula is this:

You + Your Ideal Client = Your Brand

Marketing can be about science - what key words create the best SEO, what post titles get the most clicks, and so on - OR it can be about the art of inspiration. Whereas science or statistics-based marketing leads to transactional relationships, inspiration leads to loyalty because it taps into people's emotions. And as I’m sure you know, one loyal client is worth 10 cheap, one-time transactions over the lifetime of your business. So this is super important: You want to INSPIRE your ideal clients and leave them feeling like you and your brand are an extension of how they define themselves. 

In Canada, Brian Gluckstein has done a brilliant job of branding himself as an extension of the aesthetic and values of his extremely high-end clientele. His work has become synonymous with a very sophisticated, discerning and luxury segment of the market. So ask yourself this very important question:

  • How do my ideal clients define themselves and what would it look like for my brand to become an extension of that definition?

This is in part about knowing yourself really well and articulating your unique strengths in a way that connects with your audience and their needs. This is where doing your StrengthsFinder assessment and getting coaching from StrengthsMentor. Add to that the potent and rich value of VIP coaching from Gail Doby and you will likely have cracked open your soul and poured out your essence in it’s most distilled and beautiful form. At the end of that process, you will know more than ever before who you are, what makes you happy, what your greatest strengths are and how you can best use them to make money, how to define your ideal client, how to create a complimentary team that has everyone working in their sweet spot, and how you can be truly happy in your daily work and life!


Once you have clearly defined who you are, who your ideal client is, what their internal and external problems are, how you help them solve those problems and how you are an extension of how they define themselves, you are well on your way to finding the language that most succinctly defines your brand story. 

Now it's time to start writing. From your website copy to your bios to your press releases, this is key:

When telling your brand story, use as few words as possible. 

Less is more, friends. Just like with the design process, EDITING IS EVERYTHING. Forcing yourself to be succinct will force you to get to the heart of the matter. Avoid fluff. Make every word count by putting your copywriting and marketing content through the filter of your answers to WHY you do what you do and WHY your ideal client hires you. 

A couple of tips on this:
  • Scan your copy to make sure you're not saying the same thing more than once. 
  • Seek connections between thoughts so that rambling paragraphs can be shortened into tighter sentences.
  • Create a story-like flow between thoughts so that the reader feels you are leading them to an important conclusion.

Are you more of a trusted girlfriend or a powerhouse authority on design? Are you more likely to be found in the city wearing Valentino pumps or in a country farmhouse with bare feet? How can you incorporate your personality and uniqueness into the language of your brand script? 

This is very important to building authentic relationships with your clients right from their first contact point with your marketing and media content. As Gail mentioned in our #Elevate session, people feel way more comfortable with someone who is warm and authentic. Trying to be too buttoned-up and starchy just won't connect with your ideal client. 

So think about how you speak with your family and friends when you are relaxed and then think about how that translates into your "professional voice." {Kind of like your "radio voice" for copywriting and marketing.} Yes, it's a slightly cleaned up version of your regular speaking voice, but it still needs to have warmth and personality and feel like you

Start by reducing your brand story down to a two minute elevator pitch. Next, see if you can get your brand story down to two lines. Lastly, see if you can reduce it down to one phrase or tag line that defines your business. If you can do that, you have clearly defined your WHY. Make sure you use your tag line on your website, on your business cards, and on as many other communication touchpoints as possible to reinforce your brand story to clients.

Do you do consults only? 

Do you have more than one tier of service? 

Break everything down into bite-sized categories so your potential clients know how exactly how to engage with you. This will take the intimidation and guesswork out of the process for them. The gents at Madcap Cottage have done a fantastic {and personality-filled} job of this!


How do you want your clients to engage with you first? By referral? By filling out a client questionnaire? By hiring you for an initial consult? By an initial phone interview? 

Whatever your answer is to that question, make it clearly available as a call to action on your website such as “Contact us for a quote” or “Book a Consultation” or simply "Work with Sarah." Every website should have a clear call to action so that people can act on the inspiration to work with you.


What does life look like for your client after they have worked with you? Cast a vision for them. Connect with them emotionally. Let them know their goals are achievable if they work with you.

You can define the "after" quite effectively through client testimonials. You can also of course define the "after" visually with your portfolio photographs. While it does not necessarily always have to be overtly stated, it does have to be very intentionally woven into your brand script and content. 

And that, my friends, sums up my 10 STEPS TO CREATING A COMPELLING BRAND STORY! I hope you feel a sense of clarity on what you need to include and how you can get there. 

And if after reading all of this you realize that you need someone else to strategically mine the gold from your story, polish it up, and present it in a way that connects with your ideal client, then let's work together! I am accepting branding strategy and copywriting clients on a limited basis and would love to speak with you about your needs.

Happy Wednesday! Here's to finding beauty and meaning in what we do. Life's too short to settle for anything less.


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