Fashion Forward

- Friday, May 03, 2013

Spring Forward in Home Fashion

If I asked you to name a city that hosts an influential fashion show twice a year you would no doubt think of New York or Paris or perhaps Milan. But what about High Point? Yes, the small city in North Carolina does just that, only instead of haute couture, it showcases the latest emerging trends in home décor, as in the fashions your house will be wearing in the seasons to come. And just like those uber-chic cities, the semi-annual, week-long celebration in High Point draws buyers from around the globe to take a look at what’s to come from furniture and accessory manufacturers, and the taste makers, who market them. The High Point Furniture Market is considered the destination for top trends in home fashion.

As an interior designer, the trip to market is both invigorating and exhausting. I go with the intention of sourcing specific items for projects I am currently working on but sometimes I find myself venturing off in a totally different direction because of something that inspires me. Then, after about five days, my brain is on sensory overload, my feet hurt, and I just want to come home to re-group. Now that I have been back recuperating for about two weeks, I think I can give you a brief synopsis of what I saw, what I liked, and what trends you can expect to see for home décor in the near future.

If you were to spin the color wheel you would find one side of the spectrum more popular than ever and that would be the blue, green, and yellow tones. But these are not the wimpy watery blues, subtle sage greens, and mellow yellows of past seasons, as the volume has been turned up considerably. Think nautical navy, grassy green, and sun-kissed saffron. The palette has been pumped up and it delivers a powerful punch to even the most bland of neutral backgrounds, like a Lily Pulitzer print towel lying on a sandy beach.

Speaking of the beach, resort-chic is hot, so pack your bags and head on down to Palm Beach, or any other chic, upscale, ocean-oriented resort destination for that matter. Sophistication and relaxation are the keys to easy, breezy style. Did you catch the premier of Mad Men this season? The cast was in Hawaii, in the late 1960’s, where a mix of mod mid-century chic was set in a tropical locale, and it was absolutely glorious. Asian influences, geometric rattan, martini tables and seashells all co-mingled on the sets of the show and these were in full view at the market in High Point.

Luxurious, exotic details, from burnished gold, to hammered leather, to cut velvet, all had supporting roles in High Point. Golden threads spun through the fabric on lampshades added glints of shimmer and shine. Tooled leather accents, on the fronts of chests of drawers and the backs of chairs gave these pieces an added dimension and presence. Nail-head trim made a strong showing at last fall’s market and further defined embellishment with Moroccan and Indian patterns. Fringe had a comeback as well, but in a more interesting way than the usual pillow trim. I purchased a nautical-themed, rope-fringed mirror for a project in Colleton River Plantation where I wanted to play-up the coastal theme. Traditional velvet took on a whole new look with patterns cut into the fabric on everything from pillows to throws to upholstery.

And finally the call of the wild is still prevalent, only now with an amped-up attitude. Cowhides, normally shown in their natural colors, were showcased in hyper-realistic colors such as chartreuse and raspberry. Frankly-faux is the new norm, and is fun to boot. The unexpected punch of color adds drama and a sense of fantasy.

Looking into the near future for interior design trends, I could not be more excited by the options. The overall mood at market was fun and fresh and even optimistic, drawing upon the past but updating it with a new twist and vision. We are moving forward, cherishing what we love from classic themes and then tweaking it to suit our modern lifestyles.

Pairing the Perfect Palette

- Monday, April 01, 2013

Choosing the right pairing is not always an easy feat. Whether it is selecting a skilled partner to play in a golf tournament, grabbing the right handbag to go with a great pair of shoes, or pouring the perfect wine to serve with rainbow trout, the process can be a challenge. This is often the case when selecting the right color combination for your décor. Sometimes we want a no-brainer, the perfect match. Sometimes we want a subtle compliment for nuance. Sometimes we just need a big punch of drama to jazz it up.

Those of you who follow my column regularly know I am all about using color. I love how color can set the mood for a room and turn the volume up or down depending on the intensity of the hue and the juxtaposition with other tones. Personally I feel color is the next most important element of successful interior design after establishing the scale and layout. For instance, your furnishings may be the right size for the room and logically laid out for the flow, but if the upholstery and accent fabrics do not work well with the wall and flooring colors it will simply not look right.

Color-blocking is a term I keep hearing thrown around on by the judges and contestants on Project Runway. You fashion-forward types probably already know it simply means layering of multiple solid colors in an outfit. Typically, the use of pattern in color-blocking is kept to a minimum, although multiple textures can be employed for added interest. Can you apply the same technique to you interior décor? Absolutely! The key is pairing the right colors together.

Injecting some bold color into your living room does not have to be a major, long-term commitment with a particular hue. If you favor a quiet, neutral, background then add some punch with small touches of an accent hue. Bright pillows on an off-white sofa will offer a dose of drama. Try to pull from a favorite color in your artwork or area rug. A snazzy strip of color as a ribbon or flange on the lead edge of a neutral fabric drapery panel can accentuate without overpowering. A solid color ottoman or throw can do the same trick.

You can pull off a similar effect in your bedroom. Are you afraid to commit to an entirely blue or green room? Then consider painting just the headboard wall. In fact, for my master bedroom, I did just the opposite, choosing a darker-toned, cool, teal blue for three of the walls and then wallpapering the headboard wall with a warm ivory-hued grasscloth. Since the headboard wall is opposite the door to the room, the darker color is not overwhelming upon entering. Thus, when in the bed, all you see is teal and it is both enveloping and relaxing at the same time, perfect for slumber. The ivory tempers the teal in the overall theme.

OK, so while we are in the bedroom, lets talk about that bedscape. I often use a plain white bedcovering such as a matelasse coverlet. Why? Because, you can do so much with it since it acts as a blank canvas. You can add layers of interest with colorful pillows and perhaps a textured throw or quilt draped across the foot of the bed. Sometimes I even use colored sheets underneath as well for a contrasting accent. Remember, it is all about the experience of using a room.

Color combination trends come and go, so I am not going to lecture you on what color to pair with another. What is popular now you ask? Well, mostly anything neutral, be it brown or gray or something in-between, combined with accents like bright orange, pink or anything in-between like coral. Yellows are popping up too, as a brightener for a “quiet” palette. The point is to have fun with it.

With all that goes on in our world today, we are making our homes our cocoons more than ever. We desire the “comfort food” mode for our interiors just like we crave mac-n-cheese for our appetites. It is safe, familiar, and satisfying. But sometimes we need that extra spice, like a hit of pepper sauce, that the exotic and unexpected offers. Paired together they can feed us well.

A Sectional Sofa Saves the Day

- Friday, February 01, 2013

Sectional Sofas Are Not Just For Media Rooms

“We are completely stumped with this room as far as how to arrange furniture in here,” my client Sylvia said to me as we stood in her living room. “We really want to maximize the seating but as you can see there is only one full wall on which to place furniture.” 

I scanned the room and took in all of its positive attributes. It was a welcoming space, boasting a large bank of windows commanding a great view of the yard and the golf course beyond. Opposite that wall it was completely open to the foyer and formal dining room. A nicely detailed fireplace flanked on either side by a built-in bookshelf and a large passage to the adjacent family room was perpendicular to the windows and opposite the only solid wall in the entire room. And, although nicely proportioned, this room was not really big enough to “float” furnishings in the middle of it.

“What about a sectional sofa?” I offered, waiting for the inevitable reaction of confusion at the suggestion of that type of seating in any room other than an informal family or media room. “I love sectional sofas, but aren’t they too casual for this kind of room? I do not want it to look like a conversation pit from the 70’s.” she jokingly replied, just as I had suspected. “Not at all,” I assured her, “it is all about how you treat it, and this is the ideal application for a room where you want to provide a lot of seating but the space presents a few furniture placement challenges.”

I often find people have a prejudice in regards to sectional sofas, thinking they need to be regulated to basements, media rooms, and “man-caves” as if they are just not suitable for more “fancy” spaces like living rooms. In fact, there almost seems to be an embarrassment in the use of a sectional sofa which is on par with that of buying a recliner. Nonsense, I say! In many instances, a sectional sofa is not only a functional choice but can be an aesthetically pleasing one as well. There is no shame in using one in your living room.

For the design scheme I proposed a sectional sofa to be placed on the long solid wall, but I scaled-back the proportions so it allowed for space at each end. On one end I left room for a lamp table and at the other end, where the chaise projected into the room, for another accent table. The chaise element allowed for the sectional to wrap the space without blocking off the window wall. It hardly resembles a conversation pit at all.

To further lighten the composition and keep the sectional from overwhelming the space, I chose a bun-foot base and upholstered it in a luxurious, celery-hued chenille fabric. For some contrasting pops of color and pattern, I provided throw pillows in silky damask and textural circle-motif fabrics. As for the accent colors, turquoise and coral, I took inspiration directly from Sylvia’s impeccable wardrobe and jewelry. She is always sophisticated and elegant in her attire and I wanted this entertaining space to reflect that aspect of her.

The sectional easily accommodates four guests and is augmented by a rattan chair and ottoman on one side of the fireplace. A generously scaled lounge chair and matching ottoman on the other side of the fireplace balances the sectional. These pieces provide flexible seating for a crowd or lounge-like accommodations for more intimate gatherings. A large marsh painting on the wall behind the sectional echoes the colors used in the upholstery as well as the tones of the area rug anchoring the seating arrangement.

In the end Sylvia and I conquered her “spatially challenged” living room and created a beautiful and welcoming area for her and her husband Bill to entertain their guests. The non-traditional choice of a sectional is the star of the show but does not cast a shadow on its supporting players. Instead it works in perfect harmony to the overall composition of the room.

“Mirror, Mirror on the Wall!”

- Thursday, January 03, 2013

“I think I have bathroom envy!” Brandi Glanville declared as she toured Lisa Vanderpump’s glamorous new master suite on the season premiere of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. For those of you familiar with the show (come on, you can admit you watch it, I do), you know Lisa is the queen bee of the program and has a penchant for remodeling and decorating houses. Although her new "villa" is “downsized” to a mere 10,000 square feet from her former rambling Beverly Hills chateau, it is nothing short of Vanderfabulous as cast-mate Camille Grammer often refers to her.

The vanity cabinet in her humongous bathroom boasts padded, upholstered door and drawer fronts (pale pink, of course, her signature color) framed by mirrored strips and set-off with crystal knobs. The giant beveled mirror above the generously expansive white marble countertop is punctuated by three crystal be-jeweled sconces just dripping with glamour. Lisa has often boasted about the fact that she does her own hair and make-up and with an over-the-top setting like this in which to do it, who wouldn't? It is a vanity fit for royalty, and well, like I said before, she is the queen of the show.

Granted, while most of us do not have such sprawling bathrooms in our own homes, we can pick up a few design ideas from these fantasy rooms. Master bathrooms are one of the most popular rooms in a house in which to splurge and indulge. Whether you are building a new home or remodeling, have a little fun with this space. The vanity cabinet is perhaps the most important and central element of master bathroom design.

If there are two of you sharing the bath, and space allows, consider providing two separate vanities. These can be placed side-by-side, or even on opposite sides of the room, say flanking a free-standing tub or a shower stall. This set-up will provide the convenience and ease of use when busy schedules require two people getting ready at the same time. Keeping the peace during the morning grooming ritual is a good thing.

Who says a vanity has to be in the shape of the standard, heavy looking, rectangular block of cabinetry of which we have come to expect? Why not make it look like a piece of furniture, with legs or feet for an elevated and lighter look? Let it stand on its own. If your tastes lean toward a more contemporary vibe, a cantilevered or "floating" vanity can be stunning and sleek. Instead of solid doors, choose frosted or ribbed glass inserts to lighten things up. In the same vein, an insert of glasscloth wallcovering or, as Lisa did, padded upholstery, will add an unexpected and luxurious element.

As with kitchen cabinets, there are myriad organizational components available for the drawers to help keep all your personal grooming items neat and tidy. Dividers for cosmetics, medicines, and the like help make the task of getting ready easier. Recently I have been providing electrical outlets in vanity drawers for clients so that hair-dryers can be stored conveniently and at-the-ready. Also, built-in pull-out clothes-hampers are becoming more popular.

Style-wise, I am seeing a trend for a more clean-lined aesthetic, with lighter colors for finishes. White still predominates, but grays, sage greens, and khakis are showing up as well as lighter stains on wood. The general look my be more simple but unique design details still prevail such as chamfered corners and unusual hardware for drawer pulls and door knobs.

 So, remember, whether you are the queen of your castle or just a humble "worker bee" like me, with a little planning you too can reign supreme in your master bath.

Holiday Decor

- Sunday, December 09, 2012

“I decided on red for the theme this year,” my mother said to me, stating the obvious, as she caught me scrutinizing the crimson-clad conifer in her living room. Having just arrived at my parents’ home in Virginia after a rather boring but fortunately uneventful 7-hour drive up I-95, I was mesmerized at the results of her artistic pursuits. “Babs, you done good!” I joked back at her.

You see, as polar opposite as my mother and I are in our interior design tastes, one thing we do share in common is our seriousness about our holiday décor, especially when it comes to trimming the Christmas tree. Although we each take a very different approach to adorning and finessing the holiday fire-hazard, it’s a big-to-do for us and is truly the centerpiece of our seasonal endeavors. It’s a passion we have shared for as long as I can remember.

I put up a live tree. Well, it was live at some point, probably a lot longer ago than the nice gentlemen at the tree lot will admit. Judging by the amount of needles they shed each season, I figure they are cut down in mid-October. Or maybe it is late summer.  All I know is come January, my poor vacuum cleaner threatens to run away from home!

My mother will have none of that mess. It is full-on faux, man-made, artificial tannenbaum for her. And, I must say, for a fake tree, hers is pretty good. And it is an older one, as I remember it from annual duty in a previous house some years ago. It does not necessarily look real (the shape is way too perfect) but it does an absolutely fabulous job of showcasing her ornaments, which is, let’s face it, a big part of the tree.

My tree is chaotic, over-the-top, and frivolous. Since I obviously get a different “fresh” one each year, thus the shape and proportions vary from season to season as well. I have certain cherished ornaments collected over the years which I like to showcase, but I do try to place them at different vantage points from year to year to keep things interesting. I also use different tree-toppers to mix things up. A mix of strands of clear lights, multi-color lights, chartreuse lights and purple lights provides the illumination.

My mother’s tree is very structured and methodical, but by no means stiff or static. She does a very cleaver mix of whimsical ornaments amassed (she has a penchant for frogs) combined with favorites from my and my siblings’ childhood (a 1970’s-era plastic Snoopy with reindeer antlers on red skis being my absolute fave) and whatever strikes her fancy that season. This year being red, she mixed in both matte and shiny-finish balls, graduated in size from smaller diameter at the top of the tree to larger ones at the bottom. The result is spectacular and fresh. She had a brief fling with multi-color lights back in the very early eighties, but she is strictly a clear white light devotee now.

Knowing I am going to host a Christmas Eve dinner at home in Savannah this year, Babs is already quizzing me about my tablescape as well as the menu (to say that she is slightly annoyed I will not be sitting at her table that night is an understatement). I assure her that I will be every much the humble host as she is humble hostess for the holiday festivities and will be every much as (not-so-humble) tree-proud!

Cabinetry 101

- Thursday, November 15, 2012

How to Choose the Right Cabinetry for Your Home, Lifestyle, and Budget

I have been doing a great deal of work in kitchens lately. No, not the experimental gourmet creations and events in my own kitchen that I fondly describe as dinner parties, but helping clients plan their own personal culinary laboratories. I have found that in my 20-some odd years of being a designer the kitchen is the number one space that often frustrates and overwhelms clients. And, given the plethora of options and styles available, combined with the wide range of price-points, it is no wonder clients become intimidated when faced with choosing all the components.

Cabinetry is the backbone of any kitchen design and given that, on average, 50% of a new kitchen budget goes toward cabinetry, it is a major investment as well. Therefore, making smart choices with the right type of cabinet is very important. There are three basic categories of cabinetry: stock, semi-custom and custom. Each type has its pros and cons and their costs reflect their quality and options.

Stock units from a home improvement center can be bought “off-the-shelf” and usually preassembled (units from places like IKEA being an exception). These limit your choice of sizes, styles, and colors and are usually are not made from solid wood. Stock cabinets are the most economical for adding a second kitchen in a basement or rental unit but most likely not ideal for use in a primary kitchen.

 Semi-custom cabinets allow you to select many options of sizes, styles, and finishes provided by the manufacturer. These cabinets are made-to-order with the options specified from standard size units and take several weeks for delivery. With careful planning, these units can mimic much costlier custom units.

 True custom cabinets are built by a cabinetmaker or woodworker and tailored to your exact specifications. Often crafted from exotic wood (or other specialty products) they offer complete personalization, thus they cost more to create and take longer to construct. The end product is truly a work of art.

If you are using semi-custom or custom cabinetry in your new kitchen you will have a choice of finishes. You can select from the full spectrum of stains and paint colors. And, on top of that, you can embellish them even further with a glaze for definition or distressing for an instant worn and antiqued look.

The next step is to choose your frame style. Partial overlay doors are the most popular and are characterized by doors and drawers that reveal some of the frame (or box) of the cabinet. These are frequently used in traditional style kitchens. Full overlay doors cover the entire frame of the cabinet box, leaving just enough space for them to open. This provides a seamless look popular in more modern and contemporary decors. Full inset doors fit flush with the frame and are the most difficult to manufacture, so these are distinguished by the custom upscale look the most expensive option.

Door styles are available in any panel design you can imagine. Flat, raised panel, recessed panel, or applied molding can be combined with straight or arched motifs to create a completely personal look. You can also add glass doors or bead-board inserts to mix it up. Since the façade of your cabinetry dominates the visual effect of your kitchen, carefully consider the overall look you desire.

 Once you have established the basic look of the cabinetry it is time to add personality and sparkle. The hardware is like jewelry for cabinetry – it adds some bling and drama. Whether you opt for knobs, pulls, latches or hooks, these functional elements can also define the style. Decorative details like corbels and crown molding give cabinets some architectural flair and definition. And remember, not all embellishments are visual, so consider soft-touch hinge systems to eliminate the slamming shut of doors and drawers. Your ears will appreciate the silence.

 So, if you are planning a new kitchen, don’t be afraid of the process. Think of it as trying a new recipe. If you are intimidated, consult a professional. We are here to help guide you through the myriad steps of selecting the ingredients and when the right ingredients come together the result is delicious and satisfying.

What Style Is That?

- Wednesday, October 03, 2012

"Oooh, I like that one!" one of my nieces exclaimed as she scrolled through images of recently completed design projects on my iPad this past weekend. I had gone up to Virginia to celebrate my father's 80th birthday in conjunction with an annual family reunion. While waiting for the food to be prepared, we had found a spot on a blanket out in the yard to sit and catch-up. She and her husband had just recently bought a new house and I thought she might enjoy getting some ideas for their new place. The photo that caught her eye was of a casual dining room overlooking the marsh in Colleton River Plantation.

“It looks like something out of a magazine. What do you call that style of decorating?" she asked.

“Actually it was just published in a local magazine this fall,” I said proudly, regretting the fact that I had forgotten to bring along a copy to share on my visit. And then I was stumped for an actual term to categorize the style for her.

I quickly started thinking of industry buzzwords to describe it. Industrial Chic? No, not really, it didn't have that cold industrial vibe. Urban Loft? No, the setting in Colleton River is hardly urban or remotely loft-like. Beachy? Well, no, you will not find a lighthouse or life preserver motif in the composition. Coastal? Maybe, but not really. There are indeed some oyster shells adorning the chandelier and a fragment or two of a sea fan on the tablescape, but that is hardly the theme of the space.

The dining room in the photo was eclectic, but not in a Bohemian sense. The rectilinear dining table was built from reclaimed wood fashioned in a very casual and simple picnic table style, with x-shaped legs. The matte-finish of the plank board top is driftwood colored and suggests years of wear. A set of wicker side chairs, finished in a weathered gray-beige, are paired with more modern, fully upholstered and skirted host and hostess chairs at each end of the table. The nubby, sage green upholstery of the host and hostess chairs picks up the green hues of the ikat patterned cushions of the wicker chairs. Antique brass nail-head trim on the upholstered chairs keeps them from being too slick for the more vintage looking furnishings. To keep the room from being too traditional and give it a contemporary vibe I turned the table on the diagonal. The effect is unexpected and fresh. 

The uniting element in the composition was the palette of natural colors and casual materials that made the different pieces work together as a whole. The walls were skimmed with a pigmented plaster coat that softens the newness of the construction and adds a warm ambience. A faded, washed green tint on the butt-board ceiling allows some of the wood-grain to show through and creates subtle pattern on an often forgotten surface. The tawny colored oak floors were left bare and undressed windows let the incredible views of the palmetto trees, marsh grasses and river beyond to permeate the interiors and provide a soothing backdrop for dining.

The room is conducive for leisurely morning breakfasts, perusing the paper and doing crossword puzzles as well as hosting evening dinners for eight people. It is also a great spot for a game of cards or to sit and work on a laptop, the perfect multi-functional space.

“It is comfortable, casual, and inviting. That’s what we are all about down in Hilton Head,” I told my niece. “I call it Lowcountry Chic.”

Protecting Your Investment – Pride of Ownership

- Friday, September 07, 2012

How did you spend your Labor Day holiday? I spent mine, well, laboring. OK, maybe not the whole day, but I did not lounge on the beach or swim in the pool as I had originally planned.

You see, I went to meet Matt, the manager for my rental property in Savannah. My most recent tenants had moved out and Matt wanted to meet me at the house to discuss some improvements he felt were needed to best market the house to potential renters. “Can you meet me Monday morning? I know it’s a holiday, but the market is flush with houses for rent right now and we have to be competitive.” he told me on the phone Friday afternoon.

I arrived a little early and while waiting for Matt I decided to start pulling some weeds from the front yard. The whole time I reminded myself – it is all about curb appeal. By the time Matt arrived I had worked up a sweat. “Dude, the yard is actually OK, but there are some things inside that really need attention,” he said as he greeted me.

Once inside, I saw what he meant. Some of the window blinds were in disrepair, the vanes splayed at odd angles. The millwork was no longer a crisp white and looked dingy. The hardwood floors, once so shiny, were dull and lack-luster. And then it hit me, nothing shined, where was the sparkle?Would this appeal to me as a potential renter?

I admit, the property has easily rented over the years so I have not put too much thought into it. It is a charming 1920’s bungalow located in a wonderful mid-town neighborhood and literally across the street from a coveted Montessori school. As realtors will tell you, it is all about location, location, location!

However, I had not actually been in the house to scrutinize its finishes in about 4 years. Matt’s company does a fine job with periodic inspections to ensure no holes have been punched in walls or chandeliers and ceiling fans pulled from the ceilings. And, remember, too, most maintenance issues are really only obvious when looking at empty rooms. When the previous tenants moved out I had full intentions of doing some touch-ups but then new renters moved in within days of the previous ones, before I got the chance to do anything.

Obviously renters are not going to care for a house in quite the same manner as if they actually owned it. It is not their investment and thus they do not share the pride of ownership. Indeed, I have been very lucky, knock on wood, that the house has not been abused by tenants over the years, but the simple fact is day-to-day wear and tear takes its toll over time. And I try to remind myself that even though I have a sentimental attachment to the property as the first home I ever bought, it is first and foremost an income producing entity. It is a moneymaker, plain and simple.

No one wants to really put the effort and time into painting or replacing blinds or applying a fresh coat of polyurethane to floors, much less pay someone else to do it. It is even less appealing when it is not the house you physically inhabit. However, it is just one of those things that come with an investment. You have to protect that investment and periodically improve it to get the best yields from its potential. As a rental I want absolute top dollar for it. It is, after all, about keeping the positive cash-flow coming in! I tell my clients with rental properties the same thing. No one is going to pay top dollar to rent a villa for a week that looks like it was decorated in 1982. Would you?

So, in the days since meeting Matt on Labor Day morning I have ordered new blinds for the windows and lined-up a painter to give the walls a fresh coat of paint and a new polish to the wood floors. I know the cost of the improvements will be offset in the long run by attracting new renters desiring a fresh and clean home. It is a win-win situation for me as a property owner and for the future family who will call it home. And, while I may have missed my walk on the beach that morning or my swim in the pool, but I will smile broadly when that first rental check gets deposited into my account.

Beverage Centers and Wet Bars

- Thursday, May 03, 2012

Growing up as a kid in the 1970’s, I remember often gathering at the homes of relatives and friends. Whether it was a backyard barbeque after a ball game or the celebration of a cousin’s birthday, we would eat, play, socialize and have a good time.

In particular, I liked to visit my Uncle Charles' house. He had a large recreation room on the lower level of his 1950's era split-level home. I just thought it was the coolest space ever. Everyone would congregate down there and hang out. In one corner he had a built-in bar. I remember it had black Formica "slate" countertops and a black "pleather" padded armrest around the top edge. The front was finished in some sort of faux bamboo material and the barstools were covered in matching black pleather with tall, spindly iron legs. It was a favorite gathering spot in the house and I just knew that when I grew up I wanted to have one in my own house one day.

 Even at that young age I think I knew the entire set-up had a certain kitschy appeal to it. I know that for some people, the mere mention of the term wet bar can conjure up these images of a cheesy man cave, decked-out with sports memorabilia and blinking neon signs, and perhaps a collection of shot glasses featuring various images of Elvis Presley or Marilyn Monroe.

 However, it needn't be that way. Beverage centers and wet bars can be designed in myriad styles and finishes to be integrated into your home and they can provide more than just a spot to mix margaritas or shake martinis. They can provide a space for extra prep when entertaining or function as a wine or coffee bar as well. A refreshment center can be as simple or elaborate as you desire and your budget allows.

 A simple table top bar set-up can be made on the surface of a butler's table or sideboard. A more integrated arrangement can be built inside an armoire, sometimes even plumbed with a sink and a wine cooler. A full-scale, built-in wet bar with cabinetry and a countertop can be discretely installed in a corner or niche of a room or take center-stage and become the focal point.

Consider the type of refreshments you want to provide. Will you be serving coffee or wine or cocktails? Maybe all of these? Be sure to provide space for the appropriate drink-ware storage and ingredients.

 Will you need any specialty appliances or equipment like a beverage cooler, an ice maker, a mixer, or a dishwasher? Do you want a sink? Will this be a sit-down space with room for barstools? What type of countertop do you want to use? What type of lighting will you need? Think about providing ambient lighting as well as task lighting.

So, now that I am a grown-up, did I get my bar? Well, not quite the kitschy one Uncle Charles had in his home. However, when I remodeled the kitchen a few years back, I did carefully plan a space near the door to the dining room to serve as one. An under-counter wine cooler keeps the whites cool while there is space for the reds in the open lattice-style upper cabinets above it. An adjacent wide base cabinet has roll-out drawers on the bottom for bottles, sodas, and mixers. The shallow top drawer holds bottle openers and corkscrews, stoppers, wine glass tags, cocktail napkins, etc. Above this bank of drawers are glass door cabinets that store the crystal wine, martini, and cocktail glasses.

The set-up is ideal as it is an extension of the main work area of my kitchen but it allows drinks to be made without getting in the way of food prep during dinner parties. My favorite part? A collection of kitschy 1950's cocktail napkins depicting cartoon dogs enjoying their bespoke cocktails that  I had individually framed and hung in a row along the backsplash space. They are fun and festive and perfectly set the tone for entertaining and enjoying my guests.

Living Large in Less Space

- Sunday, April 01, 2012

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 galley and lounge, a control bridge, and an engine room were all artfully assembled like a jigsaw puzzle within the hull 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.

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.

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.

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.”

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