Living Large in Less Space

- Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Let’s be honest, if given the choice between having more or less space to inhabit most of us would pick more. I know I would. If I could change just one thing about my home it would be to have slightly larger rooms. OK, maybe I would also want another bathroom. Make that a very large, luxurious bathroom. And I definitely would want a walk-in closet. A cavernous, dressing room style walk-in closet. Perhaps even a home gym……alright, I know I said just one thing, but since all these wish-list items involve extra square footage, you see where I am going with this.

The truth is, you can live very large in a small space by simply employing some smart design tricks. I experienced this first hand recently while spending the weekend with a friend on her boat. During the past four months she and her husband have been piloting the vessel down the east coast from their home in Annapolis, docking in marinas along the way. I was amazed by how “livable” a 46-foot long watercraft could be. Two sleeping cabins with private baths, a salon and galley, a control bridge, and an engine room were all artfully assembled like a jigsaw puzzle within the haul and under the decks. The efficiency of the packaging was fascinating to me.

The old adage of form follows function can be especially helpful when designing smaller scaled living spaces. Your small space will work better if you figure out how you want it to function. Knowing how the room is going to be used will help you select appropriate furnishings and effective storage. 

Flexible seating with smaller scaled proportions will keep a less-than-spacious room from feeling cramped. You will be surprised how much volume those trendy over-scaled arms and backs on sofas take up in a room. And try to keep it bare – exposed legs on upholstery pieces open up a space by making it look taller and larger, skirts will only close it in.

Multi-tasking furnishings are a must-have in a smaller space. Storage ottomans can act as a seat, a table (many have flip-top trays) or a toy chest. Nesting tables are great to employ because you can bunch them together when not in use and save room. Sleep sofas can provide you with instant guestroom accommodations.

Be careful when selecting fabrics, choosing prints with dense, busy patterns can be claustrophobic. Instead, go for simple, bold patterns that will work better in small spaces by creating a feeling of expansiveness. The same principle applies to the floor, a striped rug can elongate a room and tile installed on the diagonal will expand a space.

Just because a space is small does not mean you should fill it with lots of small furniture, using fewer pieces will allow for a more open feel. Leave room to breathe and allow at least 18” of space between upholstery and coffee tables. Window treatments should be kept to a minimum, use simple styles and lightweight fabrics.

Mirrors are another design trick that can expand the illusion of space, just keep in mind what is being reflected. For instance, you would welcome a garden view outside a nearby window but will want to avoid reflecting the door to the coat closet or the thermostat on the wall.

If you are designing a room from scratch consider specifying items such as built-in furniture and pocket doors to maximize available space. Also, mounting a flat-screen TV on the wall will give you more floor space to devote to traffic flow. The same can be said for utilizing wall-mounted lighting.

Living in less space can have its advantages; less square footage is easier to heat and cool, and you have fewer rooms to furnish and maintain. The trick is to plan for it carefully and make every square inch count. I asked my friend Ann what has been her biggest concession about living on a boat for the last 4 months. I expected her to say the lack of a walk-in closet, forgetting the fact she is a professional caterer. “Well, the kitchen is obviously not as big as the one I have at home,” she said, “but the ever-changing view out the windows of my floating home-away-from-home more than makes up for it.”

Looking with a Fresh Set of Eyes

- Wednesday, August 03, 2016

A colleague and I were laughing the other day about her squeaking ceiling fan. Apparently a guest in her home had noticed the aural assault and felt compelled to comment on just how noisy it was. “I guess my husband and I had become accustomed to the constant squeak. I think we became oblivious to it over time. Do you know what I mean?” she asked, slightly embarrassed. Oh, yes, could I relate to that.

You see, I too, have a dear friend, a fellow designer no less, who is not at all shy in offering her opinion on all matters of your décor, whether you ask for it or not. This is all in good fun and we joke about her free-flowing critiques and lack of verbal filter. And then, of course, I make a mental note to be sure and point out all the things with her interiors that might need a little fluffing the next time I visit her in her home. I’m just saying.

The truth is a fresh pair of eyes can be very helpful in seeing things that might need a little fine-tuning or tweaking. I mention this because we do tend to see (or put up with) things the way they have been for so long because we actually do not notice that they may indeed need a re-freshening. Sometimes it is the function of a space, sometimes it is the design and decoration, and sometimes it is both.

So, I ask you, when was the last time you looked around your house? I mean really looked around? Have you become complacent with your surroundings? It is nice to feel comfortable in your home and ideally that is the ultimate goal of interior design. However, we sometimes get so familiar that we forget to take an honest, scrutinizing look.

For example, that dried floral arrangement you brought home 5 years ago to set on your foyer console has probably faded to brown and flaked off into a million little pieces by now. It looks like tumbleweed. Time to replace it with something new. Have you looked closely at that carpet runner on the stairs? Didn’t it used to be off-white? What color are you calling it now? Spotty beige? Is that a coffee table buried under all those magazines, books, remote controls and candles? What exactly is that stain on the sofa that you are trying to hide with that artfully draped throw and oddly placed pillow? You get my drift.

The truth is most of us probably have a rooms or spaces in our homes that suffer from a lack of focus, an impeded traffic flow, a general sensory overload, or worn-out materials. In other words, we could use some decorating help. If the situation has gotten out of control it may indeed be time for a “design” intervention.

Thus, the next time you walk through your home do it with a fresh set of eyes and see what others might see that could use some improvement. Maybe ask a friend for an opinion. If you have difficulty figuring out what needs to be done you might consider hiring a professional. An expert will help you not only pinpoint the issues with a fresh set of trained eyes but also offer you suggestions and solutions to problems. A trained professional will show you the true potential of a space and can help you make it look better. And remember, if you need to be mindful of a budget, a designer can help you prioritize your needs and then outline a plan of action to reach your goals.

How About a Waterfall for Your Kitchen?

- Wednesday, August 03, 2016

For those of you who follow my column regularly, you know I often talk about kitchens. I love helping design them for my clients and I enjoy inviting guests into my own kitchen to share in my culinary adventures. Or, make that culinary experimentation.

 Sometimes I create some really tasty morsels, and sometimes I just completely destroy a perfectly good piece of salmon… or brussels sprouts… or eggs. Poor old eggs, my soufflets are always too dry or too runny or just collapse upon themselves. The delicate art of omelets and crepes escapes me too. However, I digress.

Today in the kitchen I want to talk about waterfalls. What, you ask? Yes, waterfalls. Let me explain. You see, this past weekend I called my mother on Sunday afternoon, as I usually do. And she caught me up on every minute of her week, in great detail, as she usually does. My aunt and uncle from Florida had been there for a visit, having stopped at my cousin Debbie’s home on the Outer Banks along the way up to Virginia.

 “My sister told me your cousin Debbie is thinking about remodeling her kitchen. She has all these ideas and is ready to update it and she wants to have a waterfall in there!” my mother exclaimed, the perplexity in her voice coming through loud and clear. “You know, she has always loved being around water, but have you ever heard of such a thing?”

 “Well, Mom, actually I’m pretty sure she is thinking about a waterfall countertop,” I broke in, while thinking to myself, OK, here is the topic for my next column. Thanks Mom! “I don’t think she is going to have an actual water-feature in her kitchen besides the faucet at the sink. I doubt there will be cascading rivulets of water bouncing off stones and creating rainbows in the sunlight streaming from her windows,” I teased.

 You see, waterfall countertops have been popping up all over the place in kitchen design as of late, and it is a trend I really love. The look is totally fresh and a nice departure from the norm. I would not say it is exotic as much as a new way to treat the surfaces in the heart of your home.

What exactly is a waterfall countertop you ask? It is simply an extension of the countertop material, turned 90 degrees, so it runs vertically down the side of a cabinet until it meets the floor. Typically there is no overhang at the top nor is there a toe-kick at the bottom. The uniform shape between top and sides is reminiscent of the iconic parsons table and it is often employed to emphasize the contrast between the counter material and the cabinetry. A waterfall treatment can be used at the end of a run of base cabinets along a wall, on a peninsula, or on an island.

Budget-wise, a waterfall countertop will cost you a bit more as you will need more of your counter material and there will be added labor costs for fabrication. However, I think it gives you a lot of bang for the buck. And a beautiful stone is highlighted even more when showcased on a vertical plane, similar to full-height backsplashes. But there is no need to limit your material choice to natural stone. Corian, engineered stones, stainless steel and even wood can be used to create this dramatic look.

 So remember, as with cooking, the key to creating successful kitchen design is employing the right techniques to showcase your chosen ingredients.

Selecting Wood Flooring

- Wednesday, August 03, 2016

I am a huge fan of wood floors. Every home I have ever lived in, 8 houses and apartments thus far in my forty-odd years, has had them. White oak, red oak, wide antique heart of pine, even 1980’s-era, pre-finished, pickled Pergo planks have graced my floors over the years. The pickled ones in my weekend getaway cottage are so dated they are actually coming back in style, but more about that in a minute. I simply cannot imagine living in a house without the beauty and warmth of wood floors.

I have never built a home from scratch, so I have always inherited the wood floors that came with each new abode (place). And since my limited personal renovation projects have not included the installation of wood floors, I have never had the chance to select any for myself. However, the choices are almost endless. Because of the many options available, I find it a decision that many of my clients struggle with when planning their homes. So many possibilities to consider!

There are so many types of wood flooring on the market, available in every color of the rainbow and every species of wood that is found on the planet Earth. The old standby’s of oak and pine and maple can be found along side the once exotics of Brazilian cherry, hearty hickory, and even bamboo. There are solid hardwoods that are installed by your contractor and then finished on-site, custom colored with a stain of your choice. Pre-finished planks come right out of the box with a factory applied stain and seal of polyeurathene, ready to be glued or nailed down. Engineered wood flooring offers a finished veneer top layer laminated to a plywood base for stability and durability.

The array of styles, widths, patterns, and colors are only limited by your imagination. Fancy a rustic vibe? Consider a reclaimed product, perhaps planks salvaged from an old warehouse. Do you want something traditional? It is hard to go wrong with a classic white oak that will accept a multitude of colored stains and offers a consistent grain pattern. Need a richer base for your furnishings, try a mahogany or cherry or hickory floor for a little more drama. Whatever your desires, there is a wood floor to suite your décor and budget.

Remember, the manner in which floors are laid can have impact as well. Your floorboards do not have to be all the same width and laid in the same straight rows. Random width planks can offer a casual look while a herringbone pattern can invoke an unexpected dose of glamour. Inlaid borders of contrasting wood can subtly define a room. A compass rose medallion can point the way north in your foyer and invoke a nautical theme.

What is trending now in wood flooring you ask? The juxtaposition of old and new, something unexpected, that is what is currently en vogue. A project I am now working on for clients in Sea Pines has a coastal feel with a modern twist. We are combining a Lowcountry vibe with modern elements to give it a casual ambience and ease. We selected a rustic oak wood floor that has an applied oil finish to contrast with the slick cabinetry, contemporary lighting, and modern mosaic tile motifs. The effect will be warm and inviting with an edge.

And remember those pickled floors from the 80’s I mentioned earlier? Yep, those light, Swedish looking wood floors are making a return to fashion. The ones in my weekend marsh cottage that were installed long ago were in such good shape I could not justify ripping them out to replace them. Besides, they lighten the narrow foyer and galley kitchen and convey the beachy, coastal vibe that sold me on the place from the minute I walked in. They may be a bit more blonde than the current, gray-toned driftwood hues of newer offerings, but they imbue the sense of calm and ease I crave for my coastal refuge.

The Art of Collecting Art

- Tuesday, August 02, 2016

I kicked-off last weekend by doing one of my favorite things, going to an art opening. I always enjoy going to them. Sure, the wine and nibbles and chatter with neighbors adds to the fun, but discovering new artists or seeing the latest works of an established one is thrilling for me. The visual stimulation can be inspiring for my design work and occasionally I come home with a new treasure for myself or for a client.

I, like you, am lucky to live in a part of the country with an active arts community. Between SCAD in downtown Savannah and the numerous artists here in the Lowcountry, we are surrounded by a vast network of galleries and exhibit spaces brimming with beautiful creations for us to peruse and purchase.

Over the years I have amassed a diverse collection of paintings, photographs, prints, and sculpture. Some were created by dear friends (one of the many bonuses of going to art school), some by artists I have met in my professional life, and some purchased at galleries or galas or on-line. I even have a few gleaned from estate sales. While a few pieces have been somewhat expensive, most of the others have been a relative bargain in cost. I have always bought art that I liked and that spoke to me in some way or another. Just like with antiques, regardless of the provenance, if it does not please my eyes I am not going to put it in my living room. I am thrilled if a piece in my collection goes up in value but I have never bought art solely as an investment.

I am often asked by clients, friends, and family for advice on building an art collection. It seems many folks are somewhat overwhelmed by the whole process. It shouldn't be intimidating at all. Collecting art for one's own enjoyment should be fun and bring you pleasure. Hopefully I can share a few tips with you to help in the process of 

First and foremost, I strongly feel that you should buy a piece of art because you like it. Art should speak to you, make you smile, or in some way be provocative. Why would you want to buy some generic print from a big box store when there is so much original work readily available at relatively reasonable prices. That prime wall space above your sofa deserves something special and meaningful to you.

Art doesn't necessarily have to match the sofa in the great room or the duvet on your bed. That being said, there is absolutely nothing wrong with coordinating the decor of a room around a favorite piece, or pieces. I am always thrilled when a client shows me a treasured piece of art and wants to build a room around it. Sometimes I take inspiration from the color palette, sometimes it is the mood of the piece I want to evoke.

If you like to travel, consider buying a piece from a locale you visit on vacation. Years ago while in Granada, I purchased a beautiful little watercolor of a Moorish-style arched doorway. Though small in scale, the piece packs a punch with its vibrant hues and a graphically detailed depiction of mosaic tiles. I carefully rolled it up and packed it in my carry-on for the trip home. Now matted and framed, it hangs on a wall in my bedroom. Each time I look at it I am reminded of the fantastic trip I had exploring the wonders southern Spain.

Have you ever considered commissioning a piece? It is probably easier than you think. And it doesn’t have to be a painting. There are photographers, sculptors, metal workers, and fiber artists around who would be more than happy to create a custom piece just for you. Clients in Berkeley Hall had local artist Rhonda Fantozzi make a custom iron gate for their wine room as well as a table base for their breakfast nook. Both pieces are true works of art.

So go out there and explore the art world. Don’t be afraid timid about amassing some artful, one-of-a-kind treasures for your home. Build a collection that is fun, personal, and makes you smile.

Shades of Grey

- Tuesday, August 02, 2016

Move over “builder-beige” there is a new neutral in town. Grey has ascended as the most commonly requested color for interior walls. And it is easy to see why. Today’s trendiest neutral is far more versatile and complex than yesterday’s dull and drab tan. After what seems like decades of uninspired and “safe” backdrops in our homes, I say, “Bring it on!”

Having just returned from the winter accessory trade show in Atlanta I can attest that grey is indeed everywhere in design right now. Wood finishes, furniture, upholstery, fabrics, bedding, and accessories were all on display in glorious shades and hues. Grey has emerged as “the” versatile color that works well with many styles; traditional to contemporary, rustic to modern, and sleek to industrial chic. Grey has come to the party and it is ready to play.

So how do you choose the right grey for your walls? How do you avoid making a mistake? Selecting the perfect color is not always as simple as picking a swatch from fan deck and buying a few cans of paint. Let me share some advice.

First, most greys are not “true” greys. A pure grey is a white base with a certain amount of black present. These greys may seem a little flat and lifeless. In reality many colors labeled as grey have undertones which are not obvious until compared side-by-side to another grey. Some of these undertones are blue and resonate cool, some are red or brown and add warmth, and some are green and read the most neutral in a space.

Many people gravitate to the cooler blue-greys first. When using these greys add some warmth with natural woods and gold or copper tinted metal accents. Remember you will want to strike a balance between warm and cool tones.

Red or brown-based greys are earthier and more cozy, like taupe or moleskin. Compliment these shades with cooler blue accents like pillows or pottery. Warm grey walls work well for displaying art. Everything from classic antique prints to modern, abstract art will look wonderful with a medium grey backdrop.

Green-based greys tend to go with anything and can create a serene sanctuary when used on the walls. They seem to always work! A greenish grey also evokes peace and balance. It is an excellent choice for bedrooms because it is soothing and peaceful. Who doesn’t want to be in a relaxing environment to start and end their day?

Another thing to consider is the value - the relative lightness or darkness of a color. If you have a northern facing room with limited natural light then you may want a lighter gray for a more ethereal effect. Consider a silvery platinum. A well-lit space with a southern or western exposure could handle a strong grey shade. How about a smoky steel? There are so many possibilities.

So, go ahead and get serious about giving that boring beige the boot. Try on a shade or two of grey and see just what your walls have been missing.

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