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.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

CHAIRMAN OF THE BOARD





I won't play the "can you tell which one is really vintage" today because it's pretty obvious what photos were taken with an iPhone in questionable lighting with a shaky hand! But you can see where I'm going with this...while designing a weekend home for a busy Boston couple with an affinity for everything mid-century, I headed out on a shopping spree. My mission; to furnish a 6,000 square foot house but make it look like it hasn't been touched in years. While the budget has no limits, I always save when and where I can. One of the factors I consider when buying anything for clients is how they will live in the space. Are they relaxed, single retirees? Do they have animals? Is it a family with kids who act like animals? In this case, the active teenage kids tend to bring friends along for weekend retreats, so that will dictate what I bring into the design. For example, I wouldn't splurge on an expensive rug or light colored fabric in an active home. Instead, I will devote more of the budget to appliances, light fixtures and flooring. As I shopped for a mid-century dining room table I found this incredible set for $5,500 (insert gasp here). While the clients fell in love with the pieces, one requirement was for multiple guest chairs for larger parties. That's when I turned to my trusty friends over at Overstock.com where I found chairs that could easily co-star with these A-listers. The price? $90 for TWO! While the CEO of this family probably wouldn't normally bargain hunt, they certainly appreciated the way I balanced their design budget!

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

TILE AND ERROR

I don't like fake people and I don't like fake wood. Fake wood, in my opinion, feels like older men (especially actors) who decide to have plastic surgery but don't consult their better halves before diving in face first. When you're pulled so tight you can't close your lips, gentlemen, you've taken it a bit too far. And, just like the guy wearing the kitty cat on his head, WE KNOW IT'S FAKE, so instead of trying to fool everyone, JUST OWN IT. A few weeks ago I met a different kind of faker;  I call her the "pretender" because she acts like she's Martha Stewart but couldn't boil a pot of water if her life depended on it. My task was to help her replace the flooring in her kitchen. The challenge: she wants something she never has to clean. After explaining to her that no product exists that doesn't need cleaning, especially flooring, she slapped back with; "well, they say laminate floors, especially those that look like wood, hide everything!" First thought that came to mind; Who in the hell are "THEY?" Second, what exactly was she trying to hide on her floors? Shoes? A cat? Her husband? After a sip of happy juice she relaxed and explained that budget constraints prevented her from installing real wood, and I totally understood. Much like the man attempting to hide his bald spot with a stuffed chimpanzee, she was trying to re-create something that just wasn't real. INSERT HUGE CONTRADICTION HERE: On occasion I come across cool products that stop me in my tracks.  Porcelain tiles that look like wood are incredibly trendy now, but evergreen in their design and look (in other words, a year from now it won't be like the second season of "LOST" where you just don't give a crap anymore). They are simple, clean, they come in many different shades and shapes and, quite honestly, I see them as cool, interesting tiles on their own, less than something trying to be something else.  These are part of the "Montagna" line at the Home Depot for $1.69/square foot and is a photo of the bar area in the basement of my home. They are inexpensive, easy to clean and ON TREND!

Thursday, September 1, 2016

WRAP YOURSELF IN PLASTIC


Today's meltdown is brought to you in part by Peets Coffee, little sleep and dirty contractors. Allow me to take us back a few days before my volcanic eruption of this morning, when my lava had yet to burst, to a clients home where several guys have been working for the better part of three months. NUMBER ONE KEY TO ANY RENOVATION: The homeowner must be up for it emotionally. If you can live somewhere else during renovations, DO IT. That said, many of us don't have the luxury of renovating a home, and those that do likely live through every bit of it. My advice: PREPARE, PREPARE, PREPARE. I've worked with a set group of wonderful contractors, architects, painters, electricians and plumbers for YEARS and I still pick up after them almost every day. I won't tell you about the toilets I've scrubbed or the other filthy things I've cleaned to keep a project TIDY (if you can afford to, RENT A PORTA POTTY for extended renovation projects...trust me, the money spent will preserve your sanity). I walked into the final stretch of a project the other day...floors are in and stained, countertops are in, lighting is finished, new furniture has arrived. In final approach tiny details (often) become big messes. I asked my lovely tile man to secure a few loose tiles in the new entry. No problem, so I thought. I returned at the end of the day to find everything I mentioned above...floors, counters, NEW FURNITURE...covered in a thick layer of dust. This lovely professional had gone outside to grind off glue from the tiles (I appreciated the fact that he went outside), sadly it was only to the front porch opposite two large open windows. With a slight New England breeze blowing, ALL of that dust wound up inside fueling the churning lava inside my mood. In the haste of my day I forgot to mention the importance of covering the countertops, new furniture, closing the windows and adding one of my favorite construction necessities...PLASTIC WALLS. While I don't have children, I do work with straight men...and no matter how gifted and talented they might be, at the end of the day I often feel like a frustrated parent. The lesson, again, is to PREPARE and stay ON TOP of your men.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

REIMAGINING SPACES/ROOM THREE


Back on the ranch of my Connecticut friend, and one area we both thought had major potential but needed A LOT OF WORK (picture the television show THE SWAN where ugly ducklings...not my words, but the real description of the show...were given major makeovers to become, what the producers thought, were "beautiful"). Unlike the show, that gave nose jobs and facelifts to participants then forced them to diet, making them look more like strange aliens in costumes, we imagined this lower level and its great possibilities. With a bedroom, full bath, walk in closet, kitchen area, living area, office area and about a thousand square feet of unfinished space, the options were ENDLESS in our minds (the realtor photos make the red room look far more interesting than it was in person). I immediately said the Days Of Our Lives-inspired glass brick wall HAD TO GO (it felt more like a dentists office) and the addition of windows would make a HUGE difference. We replaced pet-urine saturated carpet with tiles from the Home Depot that look like wood floors ($1.75/square foot), took down the ugly ceiling tiles and replaced with sheetrock, insulated and sheet rocked the walls and added an accent wall of shiplap tongue and groove to the far wall. The space you see in the after shot is the space at the far end of the first photo near the glass wall. The other end will house a new wood-burning fireplace and bar area (that photo will come soon). COST OF THE BASEMENT MAKEOVER TO DATE: $4,750.00, mostly due to labor of installing three windows and the cost of a thousand square feet of drywall and insulation. To date we have created a new bedroom and entry upstairs, added a new dining room and reimagined the space downstairs to add a cool bar area, comfortable fireplace area for winter, tv watching zone, bedroom and bath and gym ALL FOR FAR LESS than the air-conditioning estimates of $18,000+. STAY TUNED

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

REIMAGINING SPACES/ROOM TWO


ANNNNND WE'RE BACK (in Connecticut, that is, at my girlfriends project). On the initial viewing of the house, my girlfriend went NUTS when she saw this porch, and we both vowed to screen it in the first day she took possession so we could enjoy mosquito-free mojitos! Then I did it again...opened my BIG mouth to create yet another huge (not really) project. When I examined the roofline I noticed that it pitched a bit and immediately pictured a fantastic, dramatic dining room. Once again, she loved the idea, so we started pulling down the tacky vinyl siding, which to our surprise revealed a nice pitch in the roof. To save money we repurposed the door from the living room to the porch and added four windows we bought off the floor from the Home Depot (we squeezed them together to look like two large windows, a savings of thousands of dollars..and a blog I did a few weeks ago). We found an incredible chandelier at Lowe's (yet again another blog from a few weeks ago), added wood floors (when installing ontop of concrete we started with a protective layer, then added plywood and placed the unfinished red pine on top of those). Because we added shiplap tongue-and-groove to the new foyer and in the basement, we thought an accent in the dining room tied it all in...we will be staining a light grey in one of the final steps and painting brick high-gloss white. COST: While the floors came in at a whopping $850 with all materials, the most expensive part of this room was brining in my plumber an electrician to add two new outlets and bring the heat in from the existing living room. The total for a new 200 square foot dining room? Right around $5,000. If you're keeping track, we are still WAY under the air-conditioning budget and have three new HOT rooms...stay tuned for MORE!

Friday, August 12, 2016

REIMAGINING SPACES/ROOM ONE





It's been awhile since we've checked in with my girlfriend in Connecticut and her massive renovation on a mini budget, and a lot has happened in three months. To bring you back up to speed, I raised my hand to help (and am now slapping myself for doing it) but her journey encompasses everything I strive to do in my business; prove to people that no matter the budget, you can live in a beautiful space. So, we set out on a mission to find a relatively inexpensive house in one of the best neighborhoods. MISSION ACCOMPLISHED. My lovely friend, prioritizing her renovation projects, then met with air conditioning installers who gave her estimates of no less than $18,000.00, which was the first of many times I would open my big mouth to create a huge project. Minus appliances, countertops, furniture and (most) experts (plumbers, electricians, etc.) I challenged my friend to designing and reimagining the entire house for less than the air-conditioning budget. At first glance I thought the house was disjointed and unbalanced; the front door was far off-centered, entering into an unusually big entry. A middle room, which the previous owner used as a dining room, was small and odd, adding to the choppy feeling of the entire space. While my girlfriend initially wanted to knock every wall down to create a huge open concept, I dialed her back and came up with an open plan that made sense. Every home I walk into with clients I'm constantly thinking RESALE, even if they tell me this is their forever home. Life happens, folks, and not everyone will want your built-in terrarium or the champagne glass-shaped bathtub plopped right in the middle of your master bedroom, so designing a unique space that's FLEXIBLE, is always important. Focusing ONLY on the entry and odd middle room for now, I showed her how to save money by simply flipping the front door with the window in the dining room (both were exactly the same size). Because the entry had a closet, it seemed like the obvious spot to place a new bedroom/office by eating into the dining room a tad (the lovely wallpapered room in the first photos). The remaining space in the old dining room would then become a new entry in the center of the house (those photos will come later). By taking an odd entry and useless middle room we created a new bedroom, new hall and new entry without adding square footage whatsoever. THE COST? $1,350.00 for sheetrock, 2x4's for framing and new tile for the entry. We scored big time by discovering wood floors under the blue carpet (something I knew when we first looked at the place...and a HUGE SAVINGS). While the progress photos here of the new bedroom are dark (sorry, I was tired and forgot to turn on lights) use the closet door as a reference point from the first photo. Stay tuned for ROOM TWO...

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

A WINDOW INTO DESIGN

The other day, as I arm wrestled with my cantankerous remote control desperate to find something not politically themed, I landed on a fashion design show that peaked my interest. The contestants, all vying for the grand prize of bits and drabs of nonsense and a few minutes of fame, were actually incredibly talented designers. The episode took the ten remaining millennials with peroxide hair and untied sneakers to a landing strip in the middle of nowhere and told them to use it as inspiration for a couture designed dress. The caveat; they had five hours to give birth to their genius. I was totally blown away by some of the designers creations, but even more shocked by some of the judges comments. One in particular zeroed in on the color of nail polish the designer had chosen for her model (ignoring the miles of glam she'd produced in less time it took this foolish judge to apply make up to her botoxed face). The polish, she thought, MADE THE OUTFIT. Frustrated by her idiocy, back to politics I went. Then I got to thinking, this C-level celebrity judge wasn't that far off...it's the details, folks, that really matter!  I once designed a seven thousand square foot home from tip to toilets with everything from sofas and beds to food-stocked pantries. What was the one thing the client noticed when she walked in on the reveal day? Two adirondack chairs I positioned out near her pond (I spoke about this a few weeks ago). The placement, she thought, was brilliant. I thought she was nuts, but hey, at least she liked something! Back on my planet of reality today, I've redesigned a home for a lovely couple with an ugly budget, so I've had to be innovative in the choices I've made. One area I thought tapped into existing square footage was in the basement where a little insulation, drywall, and inexpensive tile from the Home Depot transformed the space (I'll post after shot soon). To make it feel less like a basement, I added several windows, which triggered the clients to jam on the breaks, afraid that windows would blow their budget. Instead of heading to a fancy window and door company to special order a large window, I assured them I could create the same look for less by hoping over to the Home Depot. Anderson and other companies make a wide array of windows available off the floor AND THE BIG SECRET (to some) is to place two windows next to each other to look like one large window. The size pictured above was quoted at well over $1,000.00 by my local window vendor, but at the Home Depot I picked these up for $120/each. Once installed my clients walked in and acted like I had just recreated the pyramids in their basement. While the devil is certainly in the details, paying attention to them garners a heavenly result!

Monday, August 1, 2016

A (WORKING) LIGHT AT THE END OF THE TUNNEL


I've said this before and I'm saying it again, sometimes I feel like the town hooker because I've been in just about every house this summer and seen JUST ABOUT EVERYTHING. One lovely couple asked me to update a few rooms in their sixties ranch and make them more authentic to the period, so I dove right in and did everything from shag rugs to an orange sofa, lava lamps to bean bags. When it came to lighting, my clients desperately wanted a starburst chandelier for above a game table, but they didn't want to pay a lot for it. A little digging goes a long way, as these photos show. While walking through Lowe's for another client I was pleasantly surprised at the quality (and price) of both indoor and outdoor lighting options. The second, gold chandelier in this post is from Design Within Reach and costs $3,400. The top, very similar light, is only $199 at Lowes! Not your taste? If you're hunting for lights, head to Lowe's first, they might just be the solution for your bright idea.

Friday, July 22, 2016

CRAIGS LIST: SELL IT ALL, INCLUDING THE KITCHEN SINK!

You know when you're feeling over the moon happy (maybe, just maybe you've had a cocktail or TWO) and you offer to do something for a friend then wake up the next morning regretting that you went out in the first place? Yeah, happens to the best of us! In this case someone (I won't mention names; ME) committed to helping a friend in need renovate most of her new home, including a kitchen renovation, three bathrooms, adding a bedroom, converting a covered porch into a dining room, reconfiguring a basement to include new windows, fireplace, bed and bath and gym...OH and painting the exterior, new roof, new garage doors, new outdoor kitchen, driveway, fence and landscaping. What was I thinking? And, yes, I've mentioned her before and will show before and after pictures soon. In the meantime I was exhausted this week working on several different projects and as I reluctantly peered at my "to do" list for the Connecticut job I saw, "kitchen demo and removal" for this weekend. I cried. Then I had a glass of wine and cried some more. And then I decided to enlist the help of my friend, Craig. Craigs LIST, that is! I posted a fairly straight forward ad with detailed pictures of the kitchen and simply said, "parting out kitchen. if you want it, COME GET IT. $300" And the calls (especially from contractors) came flooding in. Instead of bashing apart walls today and cursing like a drunken sailor, I sat back, made a lovely drink and watched other people do the work...OH, and did I mention we made money on this deal? Craigslist transactions can be a tad scary, so be careful what you post (I always say I'm a designer working in someones home with a crew so any potential odd ball knows I'm with a group AND I always talk to people before meeting and ask for email addresses and names...and I google them!) Next time you're staring at something ugly and want to bash it apart and toss it in the dumpster, just remember the old saying...one persons trash is another's treasure. Then POST it on Craigslist!

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

TRICK OF THE BUY



What seems like a lifetime ago, I attended a small boarding school in Northern California where my weekends were spent with one of my favorite aunts, aunt Rita, who is one cool chic! She's not your typical aunt; not thrilled when I call her "aunt," she will respond with, "yes, nephew Paul." One day she told me she'd rather be called "Alex" because it seemed more hip than "Rita." She antiqued long before it was cool, she could effortlessly transform Top Ramen into a gourmet meal and today she loves quilting (if you're an HGTV fan, picture Nicole Curtis from "Rehab Addict" and that's the blond version of my aunt). Tedious, depressing weeks at boarding school were made more bearable because I knew I'd be spending the weekends with Rita/Alex. At the time she had purchased a new home and was slowly trying to make it her own by doing things like pickling exposed beams in her master bedroom, wallpapering an entire room (including the ceiling), added moldings to otherwise drab rooms, and other innovative, incredibly edgy, cool designs. To say I absorbed creative talents from her is an understatement. One Friday afternoon she picked me up, avocados in tow for her homemade guacamole, and when we arrived at her house a man was painting a phone booth in her kitchen around an antique phone she found in rural Michigan. When I looked slightly baffled, Rita said; "it's a painting trick called Trompe l'oeil, which means "trick of the eye." The technique tricks the viewer into perceiving a painted detail as a three dimensional object. She thought it would be cool to have what looked like an antique phone booth around this cool piece she found, and dang it, she was right! What could go terribly wrong in some homes looked incredibly amazing in Aunt Rita's kitchen. I often picture those weekends with her, where I'd quietly observe design brilliance at work, as I try to help people today, especially when they're trying to sell their homes. One simple trick I've used many times (and used twice this week) is the simple art of drawing ones eye OUTSIDE. To have a beautiful property is one thing, to get other people to WANT it is another. I often set up little "moments" outside, whether the current owners would actually participate in the experience I'm creating doesn't matter. In our click-to-view world of today, a picture truly is worth a thousand words. The simple art of placing chairs out in a yard pointed SOMEWHERE, creates the illusion of something more interesting in the distance.  My hope is that fantasy lures someone into the reality of owning a new home.  Yesterday a client looked at me like I was a lunatic, as I dragged her teak dining room table out under a tree in the far end of her yard. I came back to her as she stared out onto the horizon and the "moment " I had created. She looked at me and said, "Wow. I want to be THERE!"

Friday, July 15, 2016

FILL YOUR CRACK IN!

Today it's back to the ugly ranch in Connecticut where I continue to help my friend surf her way through the tidal wave of projects in her home. One of the things she hated most about the sixties ranch when she pulled up was the ugly, dated plastic siding someone installed in the nineties. Don't get me wrong, I totally see the benefits to siding, especially on the east coast...maintenance FREE. That doesn't mean, however, it doesn't look like the ugliest person at the prom! She also wasn't crazy about the red brick, which also dated the house. So, as electricians work away on the interior, we decided to focus on the outside. I chose shiplap to replace the vinyl siding, because it can play both contemporary and rustic, depending on how you finish it. Because she bought a (somewhat) contemporary home surrounded by farm houses, I thought it was a nice way to marry two styles (we will use some with reclaimed wood on the interior, but you'll have to wait for that one). Like most people she grabbed a few paint samples and a stain sample she slapped on a tiny piece of wood. RULE #1: the true color is hard to determine based on a glossy 2"x2" card, so buy samples for $3.25 at the home depot (even if it isn't the same brand you choose they will match the color in a small sample) then slap it on the wall! Especially when painting brick, it is important to get it on THICK or you'll be painting for days (we will more than likely have her painter spray most of the house but wanted to get a majority of the front finished to see what it looked like). Many brands make this great paint, but at the Home Depot it is Behr who makes a special finish for Masonry, Stucco and Brick. Make sure you buy a roller for rough services, too, then go for it! In a few short hours this house went from ugly duckling to Prom Queen!

Saturday, July 9, 2016

POLE DANCING



Have you ever found yourself at a party or friendly gathering where you're involved in a deep conversation, when someone suddenly inserts themselves, throwing the rhythm off? Take that annoying party-goer and replace them with renovation projects as we head back to my lovely friend in the Connecticut countryside, where I opened my big mouth and suggested she remove an 18' span of wall to create a more open, modern vibe. Of course it's totally doable, but we needed the assistance of professionals, so I called on my contractor to bring in a heavy duty beam. That wasn't the problem. Like the previously mentioned annoying inserter of unwanted opinions at a party, my contractor told us we also needed to put a new lolly column in the basement directly underneath where the wall was removed upstairs for additional support. The issue (at least in my crazy mind), the beautifully finished basement will now have an unwanted, ugly visitor in the form of a concrete, round beam. SOLUTION: Instead of being nasty to that intruder, EMBRACE IT!  So, I'm planning on doing one of two things, either painting it a fun color in a tone completely opposite from anything in the room (trying to make it blend will only make us look like we're trying to hide an obvious blemish) OR wrapping it in burlap rope. Because it's close to the entry of the basement I can't build a square column or bar table around it (something I've done in other basements). SO, I've chosen a few colors and have my string and am ready for action. Stay tuned for more PROGRESS pictures from Connecticut!