Monday, May 1, 2017

RAISE THE ROOF




Contrary to popular belief, interior design isn't always about fluffing a pillow or buying overpriced wallpaper, sometimes it's about taking an ugly space and making it, well, less-ugly! Another contradiction of sorts; I actually prefer working with people who have budget challenges, because it forces me to be more creative and think way outside the usual idea box. Take the top photo, for example, is a challenge I faced a few weeks ago; how to make this basement bathroom less hideous with a tiny budget. THE FACTS: House was empty for several years so rodents had moved in (GREAT), bathroom in basement smelled like mildew, toilet leaked, vanity was dated, floors were carpeted, fan didn't work, ceiling was a musty drop-ceiling typically seen in basements. SO, how did we fix this?
VANITY: $169.00 at Lowe's
TOILET: $110 at the Home Depot
NEW FAN from the Home Depot: $29.99 plus installation
TILE FLOORS: $65.00 plus installation
PAINT: $25.00
NEW MIRROR: 19.99 (from Ikea, painted with high gloss paint, slightly darker than wall)
REPLACE CEILING PANELS WITH WOOD: $36.50
Because functionality often trumps beauty, we needed to keep the drop ceiling for a few reasons; A.) it concealed pipes from bathrooms above and B.) Sheetrocking would be cost prohibitive, SO, I decided to take this one into my own hands and ran to the Home Depot where I found 3/8" thick lightweight wood. I removed each panel, traced them and cut accordingly. I've not decided what color to paint the metal railing at this point nor what stain to use on wood (it's a bathroom, so stain, even clear, is essential to keep wood looking good). For now, however, an hour later and less than $40 invested, I think the results are great.
UPDATE: Upon closer examination, some of the wood pieces bow up and appear to not fit properly, a quick pop down to the hardware store for drop ceiling clips solved that. The key pieces here are the lightweight wood (so the frame will hold) and remembering to stain the pieces for moisture protection.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

A FEW TIPS


This morning, as I sipped my cup of morning Joe and attempted to catch up on the days headlines on my iPhone, a message popped up, "not enough storage to view." I turned on my iPad where I saw the same message. My new iPad, charging, screamed, "downloading latest updates. 1 hour 20 minutes remaining." My iMac was also busy charging. And my incredibly sleek, totally cool desktop decided to take the day off.  Only a few sips into my morning, I wondered how it was possible to have a technological world so incredibly advanced yet completely unreliable? So, in a world filled with complicated checks and balances, I decided to revert back to a few of my incredibly simple tips today. I also happened to have a few minutes to kill this while waiting for my devices to wake up!
RUB-A-DUB-DUB:
We tend to shop at big stores like Cost Co and Sams club for home goods, so with that comes enormous, ugly packaging. Because I don't want a bottle of dish soap the size of bag of flour on our countertop, I use various smaller bottles to use in plain view. Several years ago I purchased beakers in various sizes to use as vases, water jugs for dinner parties and mixers for cocktails (often fun, for example, to have fresh lemon juice, freshly squeezed orange juice and other mixers out for guests during cocktail parties). For dish soap, I grabbed a smaller beaker and added a cocktail pour-spout to the top for a fun, simple holder of dish soap.
MESSAGE IN A BOTTLE:
I love to save interesting bottles for various future uses. In the past I've placed cool bottles on tree limbs so things like apples or pears could grow into them (then add vodka and let sit for a month for flavored vodka), I use them for water during dinner parties, vases, or water for guests on bedside stands. After cleaning them it's often difficult to get them to DRY. My quick tip to do that...roll up a paper towel in a funnel-shape and stick in the bottle. 24 hours later the towel will absorb the water and you'll be ready to go!

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

THE BEAUTY IN UGLY

Please remember before emailing me about the poor quality of this photo, I'm NOT A PROFESSIONAL photographer! Now that we've got that out of the way, let's talk about a few secrets in house painting. Some people think I'm crazy, but I actually enjoy painting, and added bonus, save a lot of money by doing it myself. Last summer I painted the outside of our mostly-brick house (I used a special paint specifically for masonry, stucco and brick) and after my long-winters-rest I've started the process of painting the interior.  For this project absolutely every room, every surface (ceilings, walls and trim) need patching, priming and painting. In short, it's going to be a long road to the finish line, but the final results will be well worth it and save us around $10,000.00 by doing it ourselves. Grey tones have taken over the tans of the last several years, and Benjamin Moore has an impressive line of grey, from warmer (more traditional) to more modern darker greys. While most of my clients insist on using Benjamin Moore, I've never understood why; I don't think the product is any better than Valspar at Lowe's or Behr at the Home Depot and the average cost of a gallon of Benjamin Moore paint is $65 compared to $20 of the previous mentioned brands. For the amount of space I need to cover in our home I'd bust our budget if I used Benjamin Moore, so off to the Home Depot I went where their new services include matching ANY other brands color! I simply told them I wanted Benjamin Moore's "Light Pewter" and they matched the exact same color in Behr for $25/gallon. On some of our better looking trim surfaces I use high gloss (Benjamin Moore's high gloss finish is $85/gallon compared to Behr's $35/gallon). Because many of our windows are unremarkable (typical 1960's boring ranch trim) we didn't want to draw attention to them so we decided to paint the trim in the same color and same finish as the walls, essentially helping them disappear (note photo above...right side of trim shows painted version). While some people love putting lipstick on a pig, we'd rather let ours go au naturale.
BEFORE YOU ROLL, DON'T FORGET THESE TIPS:
1) If you like more expensive paints like Benjamin Moore or Farrow & Ball but would rather not spend the money, take the color and code to your local Home Depot and have them match it for you for more than half the savings. In addition to color and brand matching, Home Depot will also take any object you have and match the color. When we lived in California I wanted to paint our kitchen the color of one of my favorite yellow ware pottery bowls, so took it to the local hardware store where they did the same for me. Now the Home Depot will do it too!
2) If you have beautiful trim, show it off by painting it in high gloss. To really make it pop, paint it white.
3) High Gloss is different from Semi-Gloss and, while it gives a beautiful finish, surfaces MUST be prepped and primed as every imperfection will only be highlighted by the incredibly shiny finish.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

FROM BLUES TO BETTER HUES




I'm probably the only sicko who remembers a repulsive reality show from 2004 called "The Swan." In this repugnant excuse for entertainment (yes, I was addicted to it at the time) participants, all women, who were down on their luck underwent physical, mental and emotional "transformations." The overweight nerd whose husband cheated on her with her mother gets a nose job and new shoes. Ms. Sad Pants with one short leg gets an extension, new cheek implants and a tacky dress from Nine West. The skinny teenager gets new tits and a pair of sunglasses. Every episode, no matter what the story, the answer was PLASTIC SURGERY WILL MAKE YOU HAPPY. What a message to send, huh? It's no wonder the show only lasted one season. What in the heck is my point, you're wondering? Well, just because you're ugly doesn't mean a nose job will make you pretty and happy. Wait, nope, that's not my point. Drastic measures, like plastic surgery or expensive remodels, are not necessarily the answer to creating a happy space (and/or life). The photos above are one of the four bathrooms we recently renovated in my friends house (please note light green carpet in first photo...if it looks like pee, it smells like....). While she wanted to bust her budget on tile and vanities, this one bathroom cost less than $5,000 from tile to toilet paper. The big reveal proved to bring a big smile to her face!
WHAT'S OUT: We took one look at this old broad and new she needed a makeover from tits to toes, so we ripped out the carpet (yup, that's right), the hideous tile underneath, tossed the vanity, toilet and jacuzzi tub and installed a new subfloor and durock for tile (previous owner removed tub and shower to install jacuzzi and added shelf unit for towels. To create a space for the tile-enclosed new bathtub and shower AND to give more space to the master on the other side, we bumped into the bathroom two feet to achieve that.
WHAT'S IN: Lowe's actually has some incredibly good looking vanities and bath products, so we spread our wings and headed over to find a deep grey vanity with marble top, Kohler cast iron bathtub and splurged on a Todo toilet. For a unique twist, I suggested wall tiles for the floor that looked like brick pavers. Total spent with plumbing and electric work: $3,650.00

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

OH BUCKET!


Our President and his team seem to love using the word "robust" as much as I adore "repurpose," so guess what I'm doing today? Yup, you guessed it, I'm REPURPOSING. Because we've repealed and replaced our old coffee tables, I started a campaign to find better solutions. I love unique people and I love unique pieces, so it's only fitting that my friend Mackenzie (a pro at finding totally cool things) tracked down an awesome vintage storage bucket for me to use as a cocktail table. Last year I found a cool one in a consignment store in upstate New York for $10, so when I wanted more I reached out to Mackenzie, who tracked this one-of-a-kind bucket down in Connecticut. The house majority leader (Joe) loves it, so that's all that matters. While I won't try to swing your vote about blah coffee tables, I will attempt to sway you into thinking outside the boring design box and into something new, creative and unique!

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

THE BEAUTY IN UGLY


If I can offer any advice to someone attacking a home renovation project of any size it is to PREPARE and BE CALM! Renovations are dirty, they're loud, they cost a lot of money and just like a relationship, sometimes you want to drop it and run away in the middle...but DON'T!  We are day one into a four-bath remodel and my friend is about to lose her marbles. Because she is living in the house during renovations, I told her to do three baths completely in phase 1 (leaving the fourth to use during construction), then loop back around and finish the fourth last. Impatient Patty we will call her, went behind my back and told the plumber to gut everything at once. Hummm. Not a great idea unless she has a composting toilet or lovely hotel nearby. So, here we are. The top photo is her tiny master bath which shares a wall with the main floor bath. Like an old Hollywood dame, this house has evidence of a few nips and tucks, one of which was the hall bath where the previous owner removed a tub/shower combo and replaced it with an enormous jacuzzi bathtub. At first glance I noticed an opportunity to push into the guest bath a few feet to allow the master to breath a bit, while not jeopardizing space in either one. My lovely friend couldn't picture my vision until the walls were gone, so now she's getting excited..as she taps her heel and demands the men work faster and harder. While I make her a cocktail to calm her nerves, if you're planning a project at home, log onto the APP store on your iPad or computer and download HOME DESIGN 3D. Well worth the $10!

Thursday, March 9, 2017

BEHIND DOOR NUMBER 2

After a long winters nap I think it's time to check back in with my friend in Connecticut and her ongoing renovation project (s). If you will recall, she opted to buy the cheapest house in the nicest neighborhood and do as much as she could with a sad ranch to make it more modern, roomy and fun. Last time I was with her, holding a hammer in one hand and cocktail in the other, we had accomplished many things (with the help of my great contractor); we removed several walls on the main floor to create an open concept living/kitchen area with brand new appliances, an enormous island housing a gas stovetop and double ovens, relocated the front door to create an extra bedroom, turned a porch into a dramatic dining room, removed hideous carpet to reveal (and redo) lovely wood floors, gutted the lower level and added windows, new floors, sheetrock, lighting and new fireplace, updated the electrical system, added air conditioning and painted the exterior. I'm exhausted! Now it's time to attack the refreshing of four bathrooms, each of which is more hideous than the other. The day I walked through this house with her last March I mentioned that EVERY SINGLE SPACE AND SURFACE needed attention, and I wasn't being dramatic. The bathrooms all have carpet over dated tile. The vanities all look like something you'd find in a crack den. The showers and tubs...same goes for them, and the toilets all look like they've had more action than most politicians in D.C. Need I say more? Because this isn't her "forever home" I suggested she NOT go nuts with the bathroom designs, yet make them look unique, comfortable and fresh. So, let's start at the beginning with a PLAN. What does she like? Well, she mentioned seamless glass doors for starters and I quickly whipped out my needle to burst her bubble. She referenced a bathroom I did a few months ago (photo above) in a basement. The seamless glass door cost $1,700! I told her I could furnish one entire bath on that budget. How? Well, let's start with the doors and a new find at the Home Depot. Delta just introduced seamless doors that are as easy as 1, 2, 3! Step 1) Choose door style and finish, Frame style and finish. Step 2) Choose glass type and Step 3) Choose knobs/handles and finish. The cost? $350!! Unlike the doors above that take up to seven weeks for install, you walk out of the Home Depot with these and pop them in the back of your wagon and off you go...with a few extra pennies for a Starbucks coffee!

Thursday, March 2, 2017

BUILDING A GOOD WALL

Contrary to what you may have heard, some walls are better than others. Pour yourself a little glass of something as this conversation could go on and on...are walls meant to keep things from getting out or protect from unwelcomed intruders? While I'm not a huge fan of walls of any kind (same way I feel about curtains or ponytails on men), sometimes they are absolutely essential. I know I've blogged about this tip before, but allow me to dip back into the tip jar today as I recently slipped and forgot this important tip. When it comes to projects in our home I tend to have zero patience and want it done immediately. On occasion, I've been known to pause a show I am watching and re-arrange an entire room (I call this Attention-Deficit Design...ADD). I've painted our front door after midnight because I couldn't stop thinking about it. A house guest got up from her chair one morning to refill her cup of coffee and I replaced the chair with a love seat before she returned. Yes, I'm a little nuts. This past weekend, however, my compulsive design habits caused me to skip a few very important prep steps before sanding our living room. After a few hours of patching and prepping the walls for painting, I sanded to my hearts content. Midway through my sand-fest it dawned on me that I'd forgotten to cover our BRAND NEW FURNITURE. As though turning around to a crazy old woman holding a meat cleaver, I spun around to find white, thick dust all over our lovely dark grey velvet sofa. Instead of throwing myself out the window I grabbed the shop vac and reminded myself about the importance of slowing down, taking time to prep and the need of a good wall of protection.
WRAP IT IN PLASTIC: For bigger projects at home, The Home Depot and Lowe's sell plastic walls that have zippers for easy access (don't let those dirty minds wander). For smaller tasks like mine I still prefer building room around my work rather than simply covering furniture. I get painters tape, plastic drop cloths and tape away. Spending a few extra minutes prepping saves a lot in booze...and frustration!

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

A STEEL OF A DEAL

I'm not a fan of granite. In fact, I think it's the Formica of today and before you know it more and more people will be searching for the next best thing. I feel the same way about stainless steel. In fact, I can't STAND stainless steel. Before you shoot me an email asking why I'm being so cantankerous today, walk up to your stainless steel whatever and tell me how clean it is....I'm waiting....In my humble design opinion it is similar to white paint and white carpet; can be lovely if you don't entertain, don't have children, spouses, animals or any of the above who act like animals. Quite simply, it's a pain in the neck to clean UNTIL NOW. I'd almost given up on ever having lovely, shiny appliances until I stumbled upon yet another product in the aisles of the Home Depot and decided to give it a try. While I love bar keepers for my stainless bar top (it's quite toxic and fume-filled, so be careful when using), MAGIC STAINLESS STEEL CLEANER ($4.99) has no odor, sprays on like Windex and leaves everything in its path looking like it's taken a lovely cleansing bath.
WHAT NEXT, YOU ASK? I know I've just shot down two major components to a kitchen today, so if I don't like granite or stainless steel, what do I think is the next hottest thing? I'm a big fan of Quartz these days as it comes in many colors and tones, is fairly budget-friendly and (for the most part) can take a beating. I also love stainless steel COUNTERTOPS (polar opposite of appliances, as I love the beat-up, used look of stainless countertops) and poured concrete is another favorite. As for appliances, I'm finding more and more clients wanting them hidden behind panels that match their cabinets. My problem with this option is A) they tend to be far more expensive if they're "panel-ready" and B) believe it or not, they can be a tad confusing. I recently spent a chunk of time in a beautiful kitchen with hidden-panel appliances and kept opening the pantry assuming it was the refrigerator, sliding open the drawer microwave thinking it was a drawer, etc. That gets old fast. Speaking of getting old, I'm not getting any younger so need to get back to my stainless steel cleaning before I replace them entirely!

Friday, February 10, 2017

FAUX REAL


I rarely pat myself on the back, and certainly would never hold a rally to praise my accomplishments, but I must admit I saw this trend coming a long time ago; tiles that look like wood. This certainly isn't the first time I've mentioned using these tiles, but I had to laugh when I read a piece in a high-end Interior Design magazine this week calling faux-wood tiles "the hottest trend in design right now." Really? I first started using them, not to trick someone into believing they were real, but because I thought they looked cool and different. I hate fake wood and I loathe anything laminate, but I adore these tiles because they're good looking, durable and affordable (depending on where you shop). The photos above are both examples of recent floor installs of wood-look-tile, the top was $1.79/square foot at the Home Depot and the bottom, from a custom tile store, was $8.50/square foot. To make an old barn look a tad more lively, we are installing these tiles in a herringbone pattern (stay tuned for photo) and in another home I installed these on a wall behind a vanity in a half bath for a little added drama. If you're looking to make a real impact, try going fake!

Friday, February 3, 2017

BASEMENT DWELLERS




Allow me to begin the way I do many conversations lately, with an apology. These photos were taken with my iPhone (which, at one point claimed to be one of the best cameras on the market..NOT). I'd also like to apologize for Elmer Fudd (my contractor) in the first photo. Now that we've got that out of the way, let's move on to one of my favorite spaces to design; the BASEMENT. While images of dingy laundry rooms, exposed pipes, haphazardly tossed Christmas decorations and old furniture left for dead come to mind when I think of basements, but tapping into unused square footage can be a major asset. At first sight this basement fit the profile to a tee; mouse traps, cinder block walls, abandoned furniture, and a stench of dampness filled the air. Now I won't act like a politician here and tell tall tales, as this project doesn't fall under the philosophy of this blog of great design at attainable prices. This 850 square foot space was transformed into the family room you see above with a fireplace, large windows, sliding doors to a pool, gym, laundry room, full bath and storage area. While my main goal was to take advantage of unused square footage to increase the functionality of this home, it was also to design a basement that didn't look, feel or SMELL like a basement. While the budget here edged close to the cost of some homes (mainly from expensive add-ons like heated floors, integrated sound system, expensive tiles, etc.) many of the items I incorporated into my design added big impact at a lower cost. THE LIGHT AT THE END OF THE TUNNEL...at the end of this large room I added sliding glass doors the width of the room, flooding the space with light year-round. We cut into the cinder block and introduced large windows on either side of the fireplace (smaller basement windows let little light in). FIRE AND ICE: the addition of an electric fireplace adds warmth and a focal point in the space. POP OF COLOR: adding a splash of color introduces drama in any space and, guess what, if you hate it next year, CHANGE IT!

Friday, January 27, 2017

THE SIZE ALWAYS MATTERS


What a week, huh? I've never heard so many discussions about (crowd) size in my life! Guess what, WHO CARES!  The only time I care about the size of anything is when looking at homes and trying to figure out how to make clients happy.  Sometimes I'm faced with the dilemma of enormous, hideous furniture and squeezing it into a tight space, or large, cavernous rooms with zero furniture (and no budget to work with). Last summer I faced yet another challenge with the friend I've mentioned here...the one who bought the cheapest house in the nicest neighborhood with the goal of completely renovating it from tip to toe on a tight budget. To bring her vision to life she brought me in to help her FOCUS. Because we've done so much comparing of photos this week, I thought it was a great opportunity to compare some of my own. When walking around her house initially I tried to determine where we could gain square footage without busting the budget. I turned an entry way into a bedroom, reworked the basement space to add another bedroom, gym, bar, family room and hang out area and when I spotted this porch I immediately thought about how we could easily rework it and incorporate it as usable square footage. Because of the pitch of the roof line (hidden but the original, ugly vinyl siding) I knew we could make an interesting space with little effort and minimal expense. Now, don't get me wrong, I've got manual labor on my side (I helped my friend with demo) and an incredible team that worked for great prices. The total of this renovation? Just a tad over $5,000.00 with all materials and labor. Not bad for adding 300 square feet and a dramatic room! I'm also aware that not everyone has a back porch or extra space to play with, but my point is to re imagine the spaces you have and not be afraid to think out of the box.
PROJECT DETAILS:
After removing siding and ugly carpet, we installed a vapor barrier on the exposed concrete floor with a thin layer of insulation and plywood (to protect from mildew, changes in temperature and humidity, etc.). We insulated the ceiling and added sheetrock, installed two windows on the new exterior wall and repurposed the original porch door. We added shiplap pine to the back wall to tie in with other areas in the house where we added the same accent and installed unfinished hardwood floors from the Home Depot. We added new lights and outlets to code and brought the heat into the room with new radiators. The goal handed to me was to create a dining room where she could place a massive table able to accommodate at least twelve, and we achieved that!

Monday, January 23, 2017

ADD A LITTLE BRONZER

While I would suggest our new President lay off the bronzer, accessorizing with Bronze is IN! In fact it's popping up everywhere, from fashion to interiors, lamps to end tables, the new shades are quickly becoming designer gold! My only fear about diving head first into a trend, is when it fades away often your love of it does too! Wallpaper was hot in the seventies but not in the eighties. White appliances were in during the nineties and way out by 2000. All of the aforementioned, by the way, are back in style, so just like the shift in political parties, trends might go away and when you least expect they're baaaaackkkk!  Most of us, however, don't want to ride the wave of those off-trend years, which is why many of my "hard core" design elements (floor and wall tile, cabinets and countertops, etc.) are pretty evergreen. White subway tile, for example, will always be classic...a client a few years ago fought and fought for lime green tile in her 2,000 square foot kitchen. I suggested, if she loved lime green, go neutral on the tile and paint the walls a lime green. She opted for the lime tiles, and while she initially loved it, a few years later she spent thousands of dollars to change everything to white. My point? If you love something trendy, SMALL DOSES! This grey kitchen with white subway tiles is an excellent example of that. The bronze faucet, drawer pulls and shelves are all bronze and can be changed down the road fairly easily and inexpensively. In the meantime, they create the dramatic pop needed in this space.
FEW TIPS OF THE TRADE: the simple canisters are from Target, white plates from the Williams Sonoma outlet and oversized lights are from Ikea. The bronze faucet was purchased at Lowe's for $110!

Monday, January 16, 2017

HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES



OH, unfasten those seat belts and chill out, I'm not getting political, at least not today! One of the many designer hats I wear is that of stager (actually, I kind of hate that term, so let's just say I get homes market-ready). Many times I'm able to come in and edit the things in someones house, sprinkle in a little space planning for good flow and then I'm good to go. If the furniture looks like it was pulled out of a dumpster in the alley of a crack house, however, then I need to get a little creative. Depending on the style of house, I'm often able to pick up incredible deals at places like Home Goods or Ikea. A few years ago, when I was inundated with staging jobs, I decided to test certain companies and products to see what would withstand the test of time (and aggressive little hands). Whether you're staging a house or trying to fill one economically, below is a list of some of my favorite spots to find deals and how their pieces have lasted.

CURTAINS:
I've purchased a similar set of curtains from Pottery Barn for $180/set and one at Ikea for $29.99/set. While the selection at Ikea is fairly limited to color and length, the quality is actually quite nice. If you're staging a house or just trying to cover a window with something simple, Ikea is the way to go! Silk curtains I purchased at Pottery Barn for $400 were misshapen, and after returning them twice and getting the same result each time, I gave up and headed for Ikea. TIP: The inexpensive curtains at Ikea also make great slip covers for chairs, small sofas and ottomans. I've often sprung for the slightly more expensive velvet curtains ($39-49/pair) and covered club chairs and ottomans!

DINING ROOM CHAIRS/BARSTOOLS:
My friend who did the total house renovation wanted new dining room chairs for her new dining room (I'll show you in a later blog). She wanted simple metal chairs that are popping up everywhere, from Design Within Reach ($350/each) to Crate & Barrel ($100/each), I found the exact look at www.overstock.com for $100 for TWO. They look and feel exactly like the expensive ones, took a beating over the holidays and still look incredible!

FURNITURE:
This is always a tough one for me, especially when shopping with picky clients. With sofas, chairs and beds especially, I always insist a client try in person. Buying online can be tricky (I've ordered sofas site unseen on overstock and the quality is CRAPOLA). Ikea's prices are creeping up, but the Ektorp simple sofa for $399 is a solid piece if you're staging, decorating a weekend home or furnishing your place for the first time. For the long haul I'd upgrade to Pottery Barn or Crate & Barrel (sofas are over $1,000.00 but last). Ethan Allen has also surprised me lately with fresh, new products and great prices (quick ship sofas are around $900 and have several fabrics to choose from). In a pinch I ordered a sofa from Bobs Discount Furniture (believe the company is only on the east coast), and while the service was impeccable upon delivery, the product was pretty cheap looking and in feel. Eight years ago I ordered to faux-leather chairs from overstock for $150 and have staged them in several homes, and upon retiring them moved them into mine. Only recently did I notice the tearing and chipping of the fake leather (photographed). For the price, however, and incredible use and abuse these have received, I'm pretty impressed!

ACCESSORIES:
When designing homes of any size on any budget, I love to mix and match. I pop into local antiques stores and zip into a Target whenever I see one. When I need inexpensive mirrors and accessories that like lamps and vases, Home Goods is my go-to!



Wednesday, January 11, 2017

MAP IT OUT


One of the many pieces that help a space come together is often completely overlooked, but can either make or totally break a design; wall hangings (art, framed pictures, etc.) I always find it interesting when people either hang one tiny item on a large wall or a small cluster of things close together as high as possible. Many people love floating shelves with random crap resting on it. Ok, no judgment (actually, that was laced with judgment), but mapping out what you put on walls in your home is just about as important as creating a floor plan for furniture. Similar to the struggle for many of choosing paint colors, hanging pictures can be just as daunting. Not any more!  Here are a few tricks I use when hanging pieces in clients homes or my own; and, no, I don't waste hours measuring like a crazy person, I get a general idea of what I want in a room, hall or bath and I just go for it and use these simple tricks to help it all come together.
1.) If I'm hanging a group, I'll often use grocery bags or newspapers to create cutouts of each print then hang them on the wall and tweak as necessary. On each cutout I'll indicate where the hanger or picture wire falls so I know exactly where to place the nail.
2.) Sometimes, like in a hallway, I'll want a perfectly straight line of prints, so to achieve this I place the prints on the floor to get an idea of spacing then measure end to end. I measure the wall space, placing a nail on each end to indicate the first and last prints in the collection and link them all together with painters tape or a string so I can easily hang all in a line.
3.) Before painting a room, I will play with placement of artwork, hanging over and over until I get the look I want (nail holes don't matter because I'm repainting the wall). Once I settle on a design I patch the unwanted holes and leave the ones I like, snap a photo of the finished look, paint the room then replace the nails in the open holes.
By the way, speaking of mapping out a look, I LOVE maps (and incorporating them into my designs) and recently discovered the US Geological Survey website, www.store.usgs.gov where county and state maps are available for as little as $5! I bought the top 24" x 36" copy of a geological survey of our county for $8 and will place it in a frame I bought at Ikea for $29! Less than $50 for a conversation piece on any wall!

Sunday, January 1, 2017

BACK WHERE WE STARTED

I chuckled earlier this week as I dragged our Christmas tree, drunk with holiday cheer, out to the curb for its next journey to a wood chipper somewhere down the road. The routine felt eerily familiar. Ten years ago, in an attempt to exercise away our post holiday depression, Joe and I went for a walk around our Pasadena, California neighborhood. As we passed one perfectly manicured lawn after another, each meticulously coiffed like the homes they introduced, the thread that wove it all together struck me...each one had a discarded Christmas tree in the driveway waiting to be carried away. As if they'd partied too hard on Bourbon street, some had abandoned ornaments dangling from their dead limbs, while others were draped with tinsel, like fancy ball gowns returning from a New Years Eve bash. Naturally, I started snapping pictures and when we got home I googled; "what happens to Christmas trees in Southern California?" When I found the answer I decided to start a little blog...over one thousand entries ago! What does the after life of a Christmas tree have to do with dining and designing, you might ask? Well, it was the spark that lit the fire under me to begin sharing what I do and how I do it. At the time Joe and I were in the middle of an exhausting renovation of our early 1900's bungalow. Thanksgiving that year found us chilling pies on scaffolding outside our kitchen. Doors were a mere suggestion in most rooms. Our unfinished staircase lead to yet another long to-do list. Tylenol PM was the only way for me to fall asleep without worrying about our wide-open attic (and what creatures were moving in). Our big expectations far outweighed our renovation budget, so to finish the house we had to take matters (and tools) into our own hands. Toss in the decision to move our lives to the east coast (and a deadline to do it) and our nights and weekends were filled with hammers, sawdust, battered limbs and bruised egos. We decided to give ourselves the week of Christmas OFF from hard labor, so we moved construction equipment out of the way to put up a tree...our first together as a couple. While we were too tired to dig most of our things out of storage, we did manage to find a few ornaments...one Joe made as a kid, a few he received as gifts, some I had made and a few family pieces. One night we huddled by our fire, warmed by our sweet dogs and a little scotch. I looked around at our hard work in progress and the wonderful tree plopped in the middle of all of it and thought to myself, these are the things that make a house a home. Not expensive furniture or high-end appliances, but the people, pets, moments and memories that turn living into a life. We met our construction deadline and in the process learned how to hang drywall, install custom made cabinets, hammer in cedar shingles, finish a staircase and the room it lead to. The night before moving trucks arrived we were still painting our kitchen, and as we headed east in a rented motorhome with our puppies barking at passing semis, we wondered if our hard work would pay off. Would a buyer see our vision and PAY for it? While it mattered financially, emotionally it did not. An exciting adventure was on the horizon. Are you still wondering how a Christmas tree started a ten-year design blog? I often tell clients that my approach to designing a home is similar to how I decorate a tree...a tree, at least in my house, represents where we have been and who we are; the ornament Joe made in kindergarten, the danish Santa ornament I bought in college when traveling through Europe, gifts from friends and relatives, photos of our dogs we adore and miss...our tree is the road map of our lives. A home, no matter how big or small, should feel like YOU. As sad as I was that year to say goodbye to Christmas and put away the ornaments, I was excited to move on to the next adventure. Where does the road end for Christmas trees in Southern California, by the way? Many wind up in the hands of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, where the officers sink them to the bottom of lakes where they help smaller fish hide from predators. Our discarded trees become habitats for local fish. How cool is that? So, as we wrap a pretty bow around 2016 and tuck it away, let's take what we've learned...bruises and all...and make the year ahead even better. Endings are sad, but new beginnings are incredibly exhilarating!

Friday, December 9, 2016

GOING GREY


Wow, here we are rolling right through the holiday season and I haven't written one thing about how to find inexpensive gifts or what to make for dinner. Why, you might ask? Because I'm absolutely sick and tired of morning "news" programs filling every minute of every hour with "new" ways of doing the same old crap. If I see one more segment on how I can make an inexpensive hostess gift out of recycled cans or listen to a therapist list the ways one can survive the holidays, well, I'm gonna lose my marbles! Don't get me wrong, I love the garish, campy, overly-garnished holidays more than anyone (I have five trees set up in our house and enough glitter to make even Liberace pink with envy!), but the explosion of holiday nonsense makes me insane. It's all enough to make my grey birthmark even more grey! Speaking of grey and new ways of doing the same old thing, I am working with a cool couple who bought a neat old farmhouse they plan on turning into a bed and breakfast. While they want to maintain the integrity of the traditional farmhouse, they want to make it slightly more modern and user-friendly. How can they achieve that fairly quickly and inexpensively? PAINT. Architectural Digest recently published an article on "new trends in white paint." Humm. Blues were hot a few years ago, pinks before that, and everyone seems to be talking about GREY lately. Thankfully, just like old saint nicks red coat, grey is fairly evergreen and won't go out of style any time soon. The wood trim in this house was already painted (several times, in fact), so I suggested painting the walls a light color grey/white tone and the woodwork a darker grey. Because this will be a heavily used home, I suggested tile that looks like wood in the entry in a herringbone pattern (original floors in this area were badly damaged from weather and adjoining rooms have wool, inlaid carpet, so this won't compete with real wood floors). What we achieved was a clean, simple, yet traditional look that will take a beating for years to come and keep on shining.

Friday, December 2, 2016

RUB A DUB DUB


I've said what I'm about to blurb so many times I'm even making myself crazy...it doesn't cost a fortune to make a big change in a room, EVEN a bathroom!  Yeah, yeah, yeah you'll hear over and over how expensive bathrooms and kitchens are to renovate, but if you do your research and find a good carpenter (or if you can do it on your own without destroying your home) then you, too, can have a space you don't despise. I've been working with a lovely couple who bought a weekend home in the Hudson Valley and initially hired me to buy furniture and choose colors for the walls. That evolved into a slightly larger project, but as I do with many clients and friends, I put the brakes on this one (well, I pumped them a bit) and suggested they LIVE in the space for at least a year before doing anything major. The master bath, however, looked like the set of an 80's sitcom and needed some attention. The leading lady of this home wanted to rip it out completely, but I suggested starting with what she wanted most...a new tub. Because the tub will remain a focal point of the new space when we renovate next year, I knew we could start there and not worry about tearing it out down the road. My lovely contractor removed the dated jetted tub and surround and took out the southwestern-inspired built in bookshelves. We painted a softer tone, changed drawer pulls on the vanity, added crown molding around the mirror and removed dated sconces. Total cost of this spruce?
Materials: (new sheetrock for behind bookshelves, molding around mirror, drawer pulls, paint, grout for tile we found in garage: $495)
Bathtub by Brisso: $2,250
Labor: $750.00

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

VISUAL LEARNER

If you're telling me a long story without pictures or puppets, forget it, chances are I'm not paying attention. Sorry, but it's the way I've operated for a very long time...tell me how to change a tire, and I retain nothing. Show me a picture, and I'll probably get it! I've mentioned several different ways to choose the perfect paint color and will be the first to admit I still haven't found the best option (I've now painted our family room three different colors and haven't found the right color yet..call me the Goldilocks of designers). I'm a big proponent of painting large swatches on a wall and watching how the light plays with it throughout the day.  I also like buying quart-sized options and painting an entire wall (as evident in my own home), but to get things started with clients I've now turned to another wonderful tool (I mentioned this a few months ago but didn't include the visual, so here you go). Benjamin Moore (and others) offer free downloadable apps OR have tools on their websites where you can download an image of your room then add any color to the walls to get a better idea of what the space will look like. While I love this tool, I stand by my real life testing. Sun, shade, weather all play into how that color will REALLY translate to your space, so while the Benjamin Moore test certainly helps, there's nothing like seeing it in real life to learn what's best for you!

Monday, November 21, 2016

CRACK UPDATE



I received several emails asking for more details on the curtain rod I created using plumbers pipe, so here you go. Please note TWO things: I acknowledge that many times I leave out some details because I assume everyone is as attention deficit as I am and will start fantasizing about ice cream and summer vacations if I deep dive, so my apologies. SECOND, these images are horrible because after removing the previous owners monstrosity of a curtain system, it left scars worse than a teenagers skin. I wanted to get these up asap to make sure they worked before patching the wall and making it look lovely. So no nasty emails about my attention to detail (or lack thereof). ANYWHOOO..few simple things here:
1.) Plumbers pipes come in black, copper and this more rustic silver.
2.) Because we were trying to cover a window of slightly wider than 14', we needed a middle brace.
3.) This system included brackets attached to the wall at each end and one in the middle (these MUST go into studs or use anchors because pipes are quite heavy). Two corner bends for each end with threaded connectors and a "T" in the middle with a threaded connector (which links it to the wall mount)
4.) If you have NO CLUE what I'm talking about above, ask the guys in Lowe's or Home Depot and tell them exactly what you're doing. It's far easier than you'd think and MUCH cheaper than curtains!

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

PLUMBERS CRACK

If you've ever hired a plumber to do anything in your home you know two things; 1.) They are incredibly expensive and 2.) more than likely they'll show you their crack, unintentionally, of course! This summer I witnessed many plumbers cracks as I renovated several homes, and while they were on their backs, lifting toilets, tossing sinks and charging a bundle, I came up with a little idea to save big money. In one home I was faced with the challenge of covering a 14' wide window. The clients were not huge fans of curtains (and neither am I) but the afternoon sun proved to be an unwelcome guest, so curtains were a must. Rod systems to cover that span were either hideously ugly or incredibly expensive (and usually a combination of both). While daydreaming about solutions, my plumber carried out a ten foot span of copper pipe, and just like that I found a solution. I popped into my local Home Depot where I found several finishes and sizes of plumbing pipe and fixtures; from black to copper, I settled on galvanized for a more modern, industrial feel. With measurements in hand, I had the lovely Home Depot employee cut the pipe to size and thread each end (at no extra charge). Once mounted into studs on the wall, the pipe is incredibly strong and sleek looking (photo above is before walls were patched, primed and painted revealing previous owners hack job to the wall with standard curtain rods). The price in the end for a 14' span with all fixtures? $26.95! Now I have enough left over to buy my sweet plumber a belt to keep his pants up!

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

A DIFFERENT VIEW

Everything on television seems absolutely filthy to me. Maybe I'm getting older, or maybe my tolerance for nonsense has decreased, but I've decided to take us to a much cleaner place today. Welcome to one of several projects I'm working on this month and a tub with an incredible view while you rub-a-dub-dub. What's the problem, you ask? It's incredibly dated, and while the new owners don't want to spend a fortune on a full bath remodel quite yet, I suggested a few simple (relatively inexpensive) tweaks to pull this space from it's sad past to a happier future. In the after photos you'll see in a few weeks, you will notice a few things: I plan on placing a nice trim around the mirror, updating the 1980's sconces, removing the built in shelves and tub-surround (in this relatively modern home the previous owner decided to infuse a southwestern theme in the master), painting the vanity and swapping out the gold fixtures for more contemporary pieces. Stay tuned and tell me what you think!

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

A WARM WINTER

What I'm about to say will blow you away. You ready for it? Sometimes the experts are WRONG. Of course I'm not referring to THIS expert, rather to all of the pontificators out there who deliver opinions on everything from the weather to what President we will have. Last week much of the west coast was put on high earthquake alert after a few tumblers rolled through the area. As someone who grew up in Southern California, I remember after every earthquake the news would cut to a lovely "doctor" at CalTech University who would say, "no, this has not relived pressure from THE BIG ONE we might get any day." Imagine how calm this hysterical person was growing up in earthquake country! Last year I heard weather "experts" predict the northeast was going to have rough winter, some predicted a dry one while the good old Farmers Almanac said things would remain the same. How was it in the end? Pretty darn mild (much to my disappointment). One thing I know FOR SURE (and have discussed many times) is the best time to make big purchases is when the item is out of season. Need a snow blower? Buy it in the spring. Lawn Mower? Purchase that puppy in the fall. Depending where you are in the country, outdoor pieces tend to go on sale between mid-August and September, where retail giants like Lowe's and Home Depot mark them down up to 75% off. Act quickly, though, as the sales tend to last only a few days (especially today when we roll right into the holidays by summers end). I purchased the set above for a client at a whopping 80% savings because I asked them to be patient and trust me. If you aren't in the market for outdoor pieces, most retailers also sell all sunbrella throw pillows which easily transition indoors. If you have pets or hang around with people who act like animals, these are easy to clean and great things to snatch up when they're on sale (pillows shown sold in the high season for $45/each but I grabbed them for $11.25!! A deal like that will brighten any ones day!

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

HOT TOMATOES IN YOUR FACE


If you don't like tomatoes, well, you just won't like this blog entry, but if you do and are the least bit adventurous, then KEEP ON READING! While living through a kitchen renovation this summer we have enjoyed cooking anything and everything outside on our grill. By "enjoy" I mean it was our only option, unless we wanted to spend our renovation budget eating out every night. Because we wanted to have money to buy new appliances, we chose to eat in and let our spatulas guide us down an adventurous culinary path. Here is one (of many) we've enjoyed over and over...grilled cherry tomatoes.
Here's how we did it:
1.) We bought cherry tomatoes (duh...)
2.) Turn on grill and place directly on, watching carefully. As the tomatoes being to look grilled (I know this sounds like an idiot typing, but once grill marks appear YOU ARE DONE)
3.) Place tomatoes in bowl and add salt, pepper and balsamic vinaigrette.
4.) ENJOY

Friday, September 30, 2016

REALITY STARS

I love when a reporter or fans pull back the mask of reality shows to reveal what really goes on. Take, for example, one of the most popular shows today on HGTV (one of my faves too!) FIXER UPPER, at first glance Joanna Gaines does an incredible job with her team transforming a space (no argument there), but do you ever wonder why the entire house is furnished with new pieces (shouldn't it reflect the homeowners a LITTLE bit?) THE REALITY: Joanna packs the houses she does with furniture from her own store, MAGNOLIA, and will make a few pieces for the clients within their budget (that's when we get the plug from the guy she works with who makes tables). When the cameras turn off the clients are asked if they want to BUY all of the "stuff" and if not, it leaves the next day and the clients are left to decorate their home. The story is the same with many reality shows that end up being a big advertisement for whoever is hosting. My point? From time to time I TOO like to check back in on several projects I've talked about here to give you the TRUTH behind how they really went down, if they worked, etc. Today there are a few things I'll check back in on...
1.) In renovating a friends house in Connecticut, we researched the best deals for appliances for her new kitchen and landed on a packaged deal from Lowes. After waiting six weeks for them to arrive, one of two double ovens were broken, so we had to wait another month. The other problem? While saving a few hundred dollars, Lowe's did NOT mentioned that the "package deal" included different brands, so the refrigerator is Frigidaire, the dishwasher Kitchenaide, ovens GE. If you don't care, no problem, but just a word to the wise.
2.) I found an incredible deal at Lowes on a stainless steel sink and faucet combination for $215. They look incredible together and a similar combination from a kitchen store could run as high as $1,000.00 or more. The problem: the grading of the sink here is a bit off, so water sits on the outer edges of the interior of the sink and have to be guided into the drain. If you don't mind the extra work, I'd say go for it.
3.) The burlap project above...wrapping ugly metal support beams in a basement...certainly looks good in the end but was a little more work than I thought. A roll of burlap rope from Home Depot cost $8.75 and this 8' pole took about four rolls. I attached with liquid nails after my hot glue gun bailed after the first time. Lesson here: give yourself a few hours and use liquid nails. Hot glue guns SUCK!
4.) For another client and a different kitchen renovation, we ordered a higher end dishwasher from Kitchenaide with noise-dampening technology..this proved to be a MUCH NICER feature than I'd imagined (it's basically wrapped in insulation) especially in an open concept home as after dinner conversations won't be interrupted by the noisy dishwasher. PROBLEM: new dishwasher don't hold bigger dishes because of the interior mechanisms so MEASURE when you are in the store to make sure your dishes fit. Thankfully the upper deck was designed to carry dishes, so my client found a solution without returning the unit she waited four months for!

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

RAISING A WHITE FLAG

This week I worked for hours with a colorful client helping her choose the perfect WHITE for her entire house. One doesn't know the sea of whites you can drown in until you venture into the vast world of color.  If you are a regular reader you will know one thing I've suggested over and over again when choosing paint colors...YOU MUST GET SAMPLES and paint them in different areas of your house (if you are picky) before committing. Sometimes I will grab a large board or piece of sheetrock and move those around a house, but to get a TRUE READING you need to commit to AT LEAST A SAMPLE (and, yes, I'm yelling..as I did to my client). Sample cards in stores are IMPOSSIBLE to get a true reading of color. The one I'm holding up here is the one she chose months ago..I'm holding it up against an unpainted piece of raw sheetrock, she explained months ago she did NOT want a color that looked like this!! When I showed her the comparison she was shocked, so I did what I always do and painted several walls in her house with various samples of white. She then picked certain swatches in each room (I placed four on each wall). Little did she know I PAINTED THE SAME WHITE EVERYWHERE. My passive-aggressive lesson: white is a tough one, as are many colors, because the changing light throughout the day changes EVERYTHING. She eventually surrendered to another suggestion of mine...light grey...and it brightened her day!
IN THE END...
I understood what my client was going for..she wanted simple, bright and clean. The reality of her space, however, high atop a mountain in the woods of the Hudson Valley of New York, darker afternoons made the pure white look drab and dirty. Adding a splash of ANY color created vibrancy. I often suggest, especially in an area like the northeast where weather (and light) changes constantly, add those fun splashes of color in accessories, artwork, carpets, etc.
***If you've ever painted red or tried to PAINT OVER red you know it takes about ten coats to get results, and white is the same way. If you live white, PREP the space by sanding, cleaning and patching any holes or everything will show up like a zit on your cheek on prom night!

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

ATTENTION TO DETAIL


I often say the curse of Attention Deficit Disorder is far from that, in fact, while some assume one with ADD can't focus on any ONE thing, many of us can focus on several tasks AT ONCE. Take last night, for example, as I headed into our YET TO BE COMPLETED pantry to grab a quick snack for dinner, I looked down and was horrified by the hideous linoleum floors we put so far down on the list of projects I knew we wouldn't get to it until next summer. CUT TO an hour later and I'm in line at the Home Depot checkout (needless to say dinner didn't happen). For less than $10 and in under an hour I changed the floors from vile to pretty cool (at least for awhile). The countertops in our kitchen look like concrete and our entry has concrete-type tiles, so these peel-and-stick versions seemed to blend nicely with everything else in our design plan. A few hours later and, in my opinion, the results were well worth it. Now, what to have for dinner...
FEW AFTER-THOUGHTS:
1.) I wouldn't use this on a bigger scale as they've already scratched a bit when dragging a drawer unit with spices across it gently. If, however, this appeals to you more than porcelain or other solid surfaces, consider a higher quality vinyl (still major cost savings to solids)
2.) They are easy to break, so cut with care and grab a few more just in case.
3.) Because we won't be getting to renovating our guest bathroom until next year, I might consider these if we have guests over the holiday just to get a cleaner look on the floors without moving the toilet, vanity, etc. as we would if installing real tile.
4.) FOR THE MONEY AND QUICK CHANGE, you can't beat it.
THE REALITY:
With a list of projects longer than Santa's list of bad children, I knew the pantry would fall close to last (pantry was once a closet in our living room used as coat closet then bar and is now part of our newly renovated kitchen). Because I wanted it up and running for the busy cooking of the holidays, I decided to make do with what we have (the bigger plan is simply to add a few more shelves and stepped shelving units for spices, etc.). In the meantime, my floor project turned into priming and painting the whole closet, so instead of ONE hour it took me FOUR.