Brushing your teeth, shaving, styling your hair— those mundane tasks are a necessary part of our daily lives. But what if you could start and end your day in a calm and tranquil space? How might a soothing ambiance alter your mood and set you up to tackle the workday or prepare for a restful night’s sleep?

These homeowners were seeking just such an environment. They desired a space that would exude a Zen-like feeling in their home, and provide an oasis in which to refresh and rejuvenate. Here is how you can incorporate a similar vibe in your own home.

  • Use calm colors. You’ll notice my use of harmonious colors, rather than bold contrasting colors. Neutral earth tones are always a great choice for restful spaces. Keep colors “quiet.” Please notice that I don’t necessarily mean light colors. It’s fine to use darker colors also— notice the dark granite, dark wood cabinet, and dark finish on the fixtures. Contrast adds interest, but the overall look should not be jarring.
         
  • Incorporate natural materials (or at least great imitations!) Notice the use of stone, glass and wood in these baths. You might think that natural materials are more difficult to care for, and sometimes that is indeed true. For example, marble is quite porous and requires regular sealing to reduce the possibility of staining. I don’t usually recommend marble in the bath, except on a backsplash or as an accent in the shower. Fortunately, nowadays there are are easy-to-maintain porcelain tiles that look amazingly similar to real wood and stone, which allow you to get the look you want without the high maintenance. I use these materials in many of my bath projects. Likewise with countertops. Quartz counters are man-made, but are an excellent choice for baths. They are non-porous, anti-microbial, and never need to be sealed. And they are available in many patterns that strongly resemble marble and granite.
         
  • Minimize the clutter. I’ve said this many times before, but I’ll say it again. Too much clutter does not make for a calm and tranquil space. Do your best to go through all those beauty products and keep only the ones you actually use. Make sure each item has a “place to live,” be it a medicine cabinet, drawer, or wall cabinet. Having an uncluttered space will definitely help maintain that Zen feeling.
         
  • Consider incorporating clean, angular, contemporary lines in your design. You undoubtedly noticed that two of the baths in the photos feature Asian-inspired design elements. This type of decor is certainly not mandatory to create a tranquil oasis, but the reason it does work is because of the simple, clean lines and minimal ornamentation.
         
  • Put your lighting on dimmers. I often include lighting in the shower and over the tub, and when I do, I always specify dimmer switches. Even your vanity lights should be on dimmers. Imagine a luxurious shower or bath with relaxing low lighting. And if you wake up in the middle of the night, you’ll appreciate not having to turn on those bright lights.

By incorporating some of these ideas, you too can create a wonderful, tranquil bath.

Excited about the upcoming arrival of baby number two and a lengthy visit from the grandparents, these clients challenged me to reconfigure their existing laundry and powder rooms into an improved space which would include a larger washer and dryer, plus a full bath with a shower. They also desired a little more space for jackets, shoes and all of the items needed when leaving and entering the house through the garage. By removing one wall and adding another, and borrowing a few feet from the adjacent hallway, I was able to fulfill their requests with a lighter, brighter, more modern laundry room, bathroom and “mudroom.”

Before:


(Scroll down for “after” pictures)

The new bath could have been featured in my previous article about tiny baths—it is quite small, but it does provide the basics in a very attractive way. The all-glass shower features two shelves for toiletries and beautiful glass tile accents. I used the same large tiles on the walls and the bathroom floor to visually enlarge the room. The matching 2 x 2 mosaics were used on the shower pan, which we made flush with the floor to gain as many inches as possible inside the shower.

The medicine cabinet provides some additional storage, and by using a pedestal sink rather than a vanity cabinet, I kept the room from looking too crowded.

There is plenty of light, with an LED recessed can light in the shower and the vanity light above the sink. We also updated the lighting in the laundry area with LED recessed cans.

The creamy off-white wall color was chosen to blend with the tiles, and again, to keep the room looking light and bright.

I used the same tile flooring and wall color in the adjacent mudroom and laundry area for continuity. They had purchased a few hand-made ceramic tiles on a trip to Europe, and we were able to incorporate them into the floor, adding a personal touch.

The new laundry area features a large stackable washer and dryer. Custom cabinets were designed to fit alongside it, providing plenty of storage for supplies, and a small countertop to hold the laundry basket. (At the time the photos were taken, the cabinet had not been completed yet, which is why it does not appear.)

In the mudroom space, we placed a bench seat with open cubbies below for shoes, a shelf with cubbies above it, and several hooks on the wall for jackets and bags,

After:

It’s amazing what can fit into a relatively small area, with a bit of creativity, and a few compromises. The finished space is just what the clients wanted, and the best part is that we finished in time for the new baby’s arrival!


Before (scroll down for after pictures)

This kitchen transformation is striking. What once was a dark and isolated space is now an open, light-filled, beautiful great room. The first item on their wish list was removing the wall separating the kitchen from the living room. This young couple wanted to be able to entertain friends and family, and be part of the festivities, rather than be relegated to the kitchen. Fortunately, we were able to do that for them, and the result is a large, open-concept great room, where everyone can be together.

Second on their wish list was enhanced functionality, in terms of increased storage space and counter space. To achieve this, I recommended changing the locations of the sink and cooktop. The large farmhouse sink is now under the front window (the new window stayed the same width as the old one, but became shorter to accommodate the wall of cabinetry and backsplash). By moving the cooktop to the old sink location we gained several feet of counter space on both sides, and we also gained a second oven, in place of the old one-piece range.

The island provides even more functionality. Notice the microwave drawer in the island— this frees up space on the counters, and still keeps it in a convenient location near the cooking area and the breakfast bar. The new island is great for serving food and drinks when friends come over, and, on a day-to-day basis, provides a lovely spot for drinking coffee and watching the birds out the front window.

 

Probably the biggest benefit in the new kitchen is the increased amount of storage space. Between the Lazy Susan in the corner, and the pull-out cabinet for utensils near the cooktop, large drawers for pots and pans under the cooktop, the large upper cabinets flanking the sink, the pantry cabinet with adjustable pull-out shelves by the fridge, and the extra space in the island, my clients have ample space for everything. I think my client said it best when she texted me while she was putting away all of her things: “Holy potatoes we have a TON of storage in this kitchen!!!!!”

To unify the living room and new kitchen, we extended the wood flooring throughout the entire space, and used the same paint colors in both rooms. The teal and yellow accent colors add a welcome pop of brightness to the calming white and gray color scheme. I was very happy working on this project, and am thrilled with the results. The new space is very warm, welcoming and fun, just like the clients.

I got to know my client a few years ago while we worked on her kitchen remodel, and I was delighted when she asked me back to work on her guest bath. She knew what she wanted— a free-standing bath tub and vintage charm— and she asked me to put it all together for her.

While her original bath was certainly usable, it was old and tired, and there was nothing charming about it. My client did not care for the tile countertop, and the room lacked precious storage. So here’s what we did:

New Bathtub

We couldn’t add any square-footage to the bathroom, so I found a 56” wide free-standing tub and tub filler that just fit into the space. (My client affectionately calls it her “tea cup.”) To protect the walls from water, we used ceramic tile bead board wainscoting on all four walls. Not only is it functional in terms of water protection, but it is also beautiful and adds a lot of character to the space. The old-fashioned tub filler and hand shower complete the look.

Improved Storage

The old vanity cabinet did not provide adequate storage for my client. To replace it, I designed a custom vanity with a tilt-out beneath the sink and three drawers. I also selected a large wall cabinet with a combination of closed storage and open shelving, which can hold lots of toiletries and also provide display space.

New Lighting

The fluorescent lighting in the old bath was unsightly and inadequate. We added an LED vanity light above the sink, cut into a large mirror, to increase the light throughout the space.

Color Scheme

We kept the colors light, to visually maximize the space. The crisp white of the cabinetry, bath tub, toilet and wall tile is softened by the light blue-gray wall color and the gray and white mosaic floor tile. And the polished chrome fixtures are like jewelry in the room. The blue and cream toile fabric on the window treatment adds another element of softness and charm. The countertop continues the color scheme; it is a Cambria quartz counter named Torquay— with it, you get the look of marble without the maintenance.

The new bath is just what my client envisioned— modern amenities with a lovely vintage feel. She loves it and says she gets many compliments about the newly improved bath— that’s music to my ears.

Before Photos

After Photos

At the end of a busy day, wouldn’t it be nice to retreat to a beautiful and tranquil bedroom? I recently completed several bedroom design projects, incorporating some tried and true tips for creating a lovely and peaceful space. I’d like to share them with you here.

Clear the clutter

This is not always easy, but it is truly one of the best things you can do for your bedroom. It’s very difficult to relax amidst a lot of clutter. If you’re the parent of young kids, try your hardest to keep your bedroom a toy-free zone. You will thank yourself for it. Clear the top of the dresser of extraneous items; keep just a few decorative items on top— perhaps a jewelry box, a couple of photos, a lamp, or a vase of flowers. At my own house, I’m not going to lie to you and tell you my bedroom is pristine and perfect— sometimes there are clothes on the floor, and sometimes I don’t make my bed, but every few days I pick everything up, put everything away and start over with a clean slate. It always makes me feel better!

Remove work-related items

Years ago, before I had an office, I set up a small desk and my computer in a corner of my bedroom. What a mistake! Seeing that computer every night reminded me of all the things still on my to-do list, and it really kept me from relaxing and falling asleep. It was a short-lived experiment, as I pretty quickly realized that all those things had to go. I strongly recommend keeping computers, files, technical books, and anything else related to work out of the bedroom!

Include decorative items

Sometimes bedrooms are an afterthought, and people don’t think to actually decorate it. Pretty linens, accent pillows, a cozy throw blanket at the foot of the bed— your bedroom should not only be functional, but also beautiful. And do go ahead and hang some decorative artwork. When you wake up in the morning, make sure what you look at is pleasing to the eye.

Use restful colors

My go-to colors for bedrooms are cool colors like blues and greens, mixed with neutrals like taupes and grays. Accent colors are fun to incorporate in smaller doses, such as in artwork or fabrics. In the world of color psychology, cool colors, even dark and bold ones, exude feelings of tranquility. That said, if you prefer warm colors like yellows, peaches and pinks, please do so— it’s more important for a room to make you happy, than to abide by the “rules.” But if you’re planning to redecorate and need a color, you won’t go wrong by looking at soft blues, greens and cool neutrals.

Address the lighting

There are so many options! Add general light as well as beauty, with an overhead decorative chandelier, If you like to read in bed, consider hanging pendants, or wall-mounted swing-arm lamps. If you prefer bedside lamps, make sure they are tall enough to read by. In one project, I used lamps with built-in USB outlets for charging phones. A great idea!

The important thing is to create a personal space where you can relax, recharge and get ready for the demands that await you tomorrow.

After decades of living in their Fremont home, this couple opted for a full remodel of their kitchen. The old kitchen was dated and dark, lacking in storage and counter space, and definitely in need of a makeover. My clients told me that, at this stage of their life, they were ready for their home to finally reflect their taste and design aesthetic.

Before:

   

(Scroll down to see the after pictures.)

We had a few goals for the new kitchen:

  1. Increase the lighting. One important way to get more light into the kitchen was to remove part of the wall separating the kitchen and living room. In place of the wall, we maintained separation by creating a high counter. At the end of the counter, we installed a three-light pendant fixture both for extra light, balance, and to create an interesting focal point. In place of the old ceiling-mounted fixtures, we installed dimmable LED recessed can lights, and LED under-cabinet lights. As a result, the new kitchen is much lighter and brighter. 
     
  2. Make the kitchen feel more spacious and open. We could not increase the size of the kitchen, but we make it feel larger and more open by changing the layout of the cabinets. We moved the refrigerator to the back of the kitchen, removing a large visual block in the front. The removal of the wall was also key in opening up the space. Replacing the old hood vent and cabinet with a new chimney hood also opened up the space. One other trick to make a space feel larger is to use the same flooring throughout the space. In this case, they already had hardwood floors in the living room and dining space, so we extended the same wood floor into the new kitchen.
     
  3. Add storage. You may have noticed that we extended the cabinets as close to the garage door as possible; this added several inches of cabinet space to the lower and upper cabinets. By moving the refrigerator, we were able to extend the cabinets to the edge of the wall, and also add a peninsula for additional counter space and storage space.
     
  4. Add functionality. The flow through the kitchen was improved by relocating the major appliances. Moving the refrigerator was the biggest change. That opened up the space tremendously. Putting the microwave in an upper cabinet created more counter space. And, of course, the new custom cabinetry is outfitted with full-extension drawer glides and pullout shelves. One thing you don’t see in the photos is inside one of the cabinets: we added outlets inside the upper cabinet next to the garage door. This gives them dedicated space to charge their phones and tablets without everything sitting on the counters.
     
  5. Add beauty and style. The gorgeous granite, with its dramatic colors and patterns adds a real wow factor to this kitchen. And we chose horizontal grain cherry wood cabinets for a sleek, contemporary look. Everything is streamlined, clean and crisp, with a mix of textures, patterns and colors. My clients are thrilled with their new space— it finally is an accurate reflection of their style.

 

After:

Let’s face it: some bathrooms are just plain tiny! You know what I mean— bathrooms where the door barely clears the front of the toilet; or where you have to contort yourself to get past the toilet and get into the shower.

I’ve designed dozens of bathrooms over the years, learning quite a few things along the way about how to make the most of a very tiny space. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked, “How can I make this small bath look and feel bigger?” Please allow me to share some tips with you on how you can create a beautiful space in a tiny footprint.

NOTE: Despite the camera tricks (gotta love the wide-angle lens!), the baths shown in these photos are very small, meeting the minimum requirements for California building codes.

  1. Create the illusion of space. A wall-mounted vanity can expand the floor space, and large mirrors can give your bathroom an airier, lighter feeling.
        
  2. Add lighting. Most baths, even small ones, can benefit from multiple sources of light. For example, add a recessed can light in the shower, or above the toilet, in addition to the vanity lighting.
        
  3. Use lighter colors. Keeping wall tiles and paint colors on the lighter side will help to visually expand the space. Also, using the same tiles on both the floor and the shower walls can make a difference. Minimizing contrast helps keep rooms looking more spacious. Of course, you may opt to add some contrasting colors and materials purely for aesthetic reasons. This is always OK to do!
        
  4. Consider custom cabinetry. Custom cabinets can be expensive, but they allow you to make the most of every inch of space. In one bath, we made a custom cabinet to use the entire wall-to-wall space above the toilet. There are no ready-made cabinets that can do that.
        
  5. Move the plumbing. This can also add to your overall remodeling cost, but it can make a huge difference in functionality. In all of the baths shown, we moved the shower plumbing to the wall opposite of where it was originally. Wedging yourself around the toilet to turn on the water is not comfortable at all; think about moving the plumbing to the opposite wall, so you have ample space to get in and out of the shower. In one bath shown, the original shower had been squeezed into a very tiny alcove. To create a much larger and more comfortable shower, we moved the toilet into that alcove and moved the shower into the space where the toilet was. That allowed us to use the full length of the bathroom for the new shower. We even added a bench seat in the shower.
        
  6. Add efficient storage. Tiny baths can still offer adequate storage, but I would also advise you to minimize the toiletries you need to store in the bath. Lots of clutter instantly makes a bathroom look and feel smaller. Consider recessed niches in the shower (your contractor can make them in almost any size), extra tall or wide medicine cabinets, and cabinets above the toilet.

The beautiful bathrooms in these photos are a perfect illustration of the old saying: Good things come in small packages.

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If you’re embarking on a kitchen or bath remodel, one of your most important decisions is the countertop. Which materials are available and what are the pros and cons of each? Let me give you an overview of your choices, and my take on each.

Granite:

I get asked frequently if granite is still “in.” It’s true that many of my clients are preferring Quartz over granite, but many still prefer the natural beauty and uniqueness of granite. I don’t think granite will be going “out” anytime soon, although I think many people will be looking at more unique colors and patterns going forward. There are some granite patterns that are more ubiquitous out there— those are the ones that may end up looking dated in several years.

Pros: With granite, you can get an enormous “wow” factor— brilliant color, amazing pattern, and a true one-of-a kind kitchen or bath. Granite is extremely durable, and is a great choice for busy kitchens, as it stands up to knife nicks and high heat quite well.

Cons: Because it is a natural stone, it is porous, and can possibly stain, especially the lighter colors. Take care to wipe up spills right away, and plan to seal your granite every few years to protect it. If you’re planning on putting new granite on top of your existing kitchen cabinets, make sure they are sturdy enough to support the weight of the granite slab— your contractor should look at your cabinets and determine whether extra support is needed.

Marble:

Marble is stunningly beautiful and elegant, and is especially lovely in traditional kitchens.

Pros: It is the preferred material for pastry and baking because it stays cool. If you are an avid baker, you might want to create a baking station in your kitchen and use marble for that countertop.

Cons: It is much softer than granite, and can very easily stain, even if you seal it regularly. It is a bit harder to maintain, which is why most people tend not to use it in their whole kitchen. You might see marble used on an island, or a bar, or on the backsplash as an accent.

Engineered Quartz:

There are many brands of man-made quartz materials that you may have heard of. Silestone, Caesarstone and Cambria are among the most well-known. Quartz is surging in popularity, due to it’s durability and it’s vast array of colors, and now patterns too. If you tend to prefer solid colors over patterns, or want a very modern look, then quartz is a great choice. Quartz is also now available in patterns that resemble granite and marble, so if you like the look of natural stone, but prefer a lower-maintenance product, definitely look at those options.

Pros: It’s available in myriad colors, including the ever-popular neutrals, but also vibrant colors like orange, fire engine red, cobalt blue and lime green. Quartz is non-porous, making it very stain resistant. It is durable, and holds up well in busy kitchens.

Cons: Because of the resins used in the manufacture of quartz, it can possibly scorch if very hot pans are placed directly on it. Make sure to always use trivets to protect the surface.

 
Other choices: 

Tile:

Not too many people are choosing tile for their counters these days, although if you have a historic home that you are refurbishing, tile may be the best choice for aesthetics and authenticity. Most people don’t care for the grout, as it can be notoriously hard to clean. I love using tile on backsplashes and in showers or on the floors, but not on counters.
 

Laminate:

If you’re on a tight budget, laminate is a great option. It is very affordable, and comes in a host of colors and patterns. New laminates now can even look like stainless steel, or bamboo, or wood. It is easy to clean and maintain. But it can scratch or burn if you’re not careful. I like to use laminates on desktops. In my own home office I have a blue laminate countertop that is now 11 years old and still in perfect condition. 
 
There is no wrong choice for your kitchen or bath— but one product may suit your needs, lifestyle, taste and budget better than another. 

Looking back on the design projects I completed in 2016 gives me some insight into what clients will be asking for in 2017. Here are some of the most common requests from last year that I see continuing this year as well. As you plan your own remodeling and redecorating projects, keep these in mind.

Aging in Place

ICP_1353Just like in 2015, many of my design projects involved making changes so that homeowners could remain in their homes as they aged. Most clients asked for grab bars in the bathrooms, walk-in showers with hand-held shower heads instead of tubs, and ADA height toilets. A few asked for wheelchair-accessible sinks and showers. Other improvements included widening doorways to better accommodate walkers and wheelchairs, motorized window coverings operated by remote control, and kitchen appliances located at more ergonomic heights. In a couple of homes, we eliminated the step-down living room by raising the floor to match the height of the main floor. This is a great improvement for people with mobility issues, as steps and level changes can easily become safety hazards. If your goal is to stay in your house as long as possible, consider making some of these changes.

Lighter wall colors

ICP_4181Since I’ve been in business now for over 16 years, I have been hearing from past clients ready to update the paint colors we selected way back in the early 2000s. By this time, rooms need paint again, and clients are ready to make changes to their color scheme. Of course, every client and every house is different, but in general I can say there are three major trends in wall colors: 1) People are preferring lighter colors overall; 2) people are preferring one or two colors throughout the house, rather than lots of different colors, and 3) people are preferring cooler tones over warm tones. This means I’m specifying lots of off-whites and light beiges, very light blues and greens, and all varieties of gray tones.

Hardwood Floors

ICP_1616Hardwood floors are hugely popular these days. In many homes, clients have opted to replace all of their carpeting with hardwood. This could be for a variety of reasons. Some have allergies that are exacerbated by carpeting, some prefer the easy cleaning of wood over carpeting, especially if they have pets and kids, and some simply prefer the richness of wood. There are more choices in wood now than I have ever seen! New trends include wide planks, rustic finishes, and gray tones.

And I must mention other wood-like products, as this is also a huge trend in interior design.

Laminate flooring: you will not believe the options available in laminate flooring—the laminates are amazing today, in terms of color, texture, and variety. The quality is fabulous and you just can’t beat it for durability and affordability.
Luxury Vinyl Tile: this is a relatively new product category that has grown by leaps and bounds. For people who want a more water-resistant surface, especially in a kitchen or bathroom, this product is fantastic. And it comes in a huge variety of wood looks as well as tile. It’s really beautiful and durable.
Wood-look tile: this is one of my favorite products to use on bathroom floors. Water-resistant, durable and great-looking, there is a look for all design styles, from refined to rustic.

I expect these trends to continue through 2017 and beyond, and I look forward to seeing what else might be coming down the pike.