Every year, there are countless articles about what’s in and what’s out in interior design. Professional forecasters and trend-spotters steer us into selecting things that they deem are “on trend” for any number of reasons. Please don’t get me wrong— there is such a thing as outdated decor (I’m thinking back to my own first condo in the late 1980s with the blue geese artwork!) But, while I read all of those articles in order to stay current within my industry, I very much take my cues from my clients, not the forecasters, when it comes to designing their interiors.

Most clients don’t care if rose gold is in or out this year; they only know whether or not they like it. If they don’t like the color blue, then it doesn’t matter that all shades of blue are extremely popular right now. If they don’t like it, then I don’t use it for their design. My point is this: Don’t overthink things and don’t drive yourself crazy. Please design your interiors to fit your own personal taste and lifestyle.

In 2018, in the world of kitchen design, for example, we are now being told that stainless steel appliances are “out” and black stainless is “in.” Does that mean you should not get stainless appliances for your kitchen? Not necessarily! Will stainless appliances ever really be “out?” In my opinion, no they won’t. I pick the finish based on all the other colors and finishes in the room. Sometimes it’s best to use black, sometimes white, sometimes paneled, sometimes stainless. 

And in bath design, we are told that free-standing tubs are all the rage. Should you get one? Maybe, but maybe not! Do you love them? Do you have space for one? Are you a bath person? If not, then forgo the tub and stick with a wonderful walk-in shower instead. 

Is there such a thing as “timeless” design? I’m sorry to say that honestly don’t think so. Everything goes in and out of fashion, but not all of it, and not all at the same time, fortunately. But here are some examples of trends that I think (and hope) will stand the test of time: 

  • Mixing materials and finishes: I love this trend and I truly hope it is here to stay. Not all wood has to match, and not all finishes have to be the same. For example, even if all of your door hardware is brushed nickel, it’s fine to throw in a little gold somewhere— perhaps a gold light fixture, or a gold and glass table. Take liberties by mixing rustic and modern, matte and polished, angular and curved.
 
  • Unique and artistic light fixtures: Use light fixtures as if they were pieces of jewelry. Look for unique shapes, colors and materials and choose one or two special places in your house to showcase them. Over your dining room table, for example, or even in a powder room for a special touch.
  • Global influence: In the world of food, I love “fusion” cuisine, where flavors from different cultures come together to create unique and delicious dishes. I also love this idea for interior design. Blending colors, fabrics and styles from different cultures leads to rich, welcoming and interesting rooms.

It’s hard to believe we have said goodbye to 2017 already! Why does it seem like it went by in the blink of an eye? With this first column of the new year, I thought I’d share with you some of my favorite design projects from 2017, and what I like most about them. They all came out beautifully, capturing the needs and wants of the clients, and each space has its own unique personality.  Perhaps they will inspire you for your own projects in 2018.

Brown and White Kitchen

Why I love it:

  • The color scheme is neutral, yet has a lot of punch because go the high-contrast chocolate and white color scheme. 
  • The countertops have some sparkle in them, which is set off beautifully under the LED lights. 
  • The cabinet hardware is very cool, with a great mix of stainless steel and oil rubbed bronze. Perfect for this kitchen.

Blue and White Kitchen

This kitchen was a big challenge, with the different ceiling heights and step-down family room.

Why I love it:

  • Great use of space: we created a large pantry at the awkward, narrow area up the steps, and also expanded into the family room, creating extra storage and serving space for entertaining. 
  • I’m definitely a “blue person” so I love the color scheme. The cabinets look so crisp and clean against the soft blue walls. 
  • The backsplash is gorgeous— a mixture of blue and white marble tile, in a herringbone pattern. Kudos to the really talented tile installer we used on this project!

Open Concept Kitchen and Living Room

Why I love it:

  • Opening up the wall separating the two rooms made all the difference in the world. The original kitchen was cut off entirely from the living space— now it’s a great space for the whole family to hang out together. 
  • I love the touches of yellow to brighten up the gray and white color scheme.
  • I love the backsplash tile— it’s a really interesting combination of stones, colors, and textures. 

Elegant Powder Room


Why I love it:

  • I love the custom bow-front cabinet— it was designed especially for that tiny space, adding some much-needed storage, with lovely curves and elegant lines.
  • I love the touches of “bling”— note the crystal light fixture, cut glass cabinet knobs, and the slight shimmer present in the wallpaper. 

Compact, Contemporary Bathroom


This bath was part of a larger remodel project, where I was tasked with reconfiguring an existing laundry room and powder room to include a full bath and expanded laundry/mudroom.

Why I love it:

  • Lots of functionality in a small space, including a walk-in shower.
  • Despite its size, the monochromatic color scheme, frameless glass enclosure, and plenty of new lighting makes this bath feels light and airy, and larger than it is.
  • The accent tile in the shower is a really striking mixture of glass and marble tiles. 

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!

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. 

icp_1301Glass tile provides amazing color and pattern, and is a gorgeous accent in your shower or at your vanity area. Borders, stripes, entire walls— your creativity is your only limit.

There are considerations to using glass tile in a bathroom, so let’s discuss some of those.

Cleaning and Maintenance: Many clients ask me about this issue. Because of the smooth surface of glass, it is actually relatively low maintenance. All you really need is a little glass cleaner and a cloth. The larger the tiles, the easier they are to keep clean, although those small mosaics sure are beautiful! The glass itself is quite easy to keep clean, and because glass is non-porous, it is naturally mildew resistant. But mosaic tile means more grout, so more effort will be required to keep the grout clean. Make sure the grout is sealed properly after it is installed, and reapply the sealer every year or two for best results. The best thing to do is to start the habit of using a squeegee in the shower. After each shower, use the squeegee to wipe away the water from the tiles. It takes a few extra minutes, but it is really worth it and will help you avoid having to deep clean the grout. At my own house, my husband and I squeegee daily, and our 15 year old bathroom tile still looks like new.

icp_1489Glass tile can scratch, so make sure to use a non-abrasive cleaner and a soft cloth.

If cleaning and easy maintenance is your main concern, then you’ll be better off with large tiles instead of small mosaics.

Cost: Glass tile is definitely more expensive than other types of tile such as porcelain or ceramic. But the good news is that you don’t necessarily need to use a lot of it to make a beautiful design statement. One simple border in the shower, for example, can really dress up plain tile. You can offset the cost of the glass tile by selecting more moderately priced tiles for the rest of the shower walls and floor.

Versatility: Glass tiles can be used almost everywhere with great results. If you like curvy lines, then small mosaics are for you. They can be cut to create wavy lines, or cover the front of a curved shower bench seat. Straight lines are always easier for installers, however, so you might consider vertical stripes, or multiple horizontal borders instead.icp_1582

Beware of using glass tile on the floor; some glass tiles can be used on a shower pan or on the floor, but others cannot. Some glass is not strong enough to withstand people walking or standing on it. Make sure to ask at the tile store if what you selected can be used for the application you have in mind.

Design ideas: These photos should give you some creative inspiration of how you might use glass in your bath. Think about using more than one horizontal stripe, or one wide vertical stripe. Cover the face of your shower bench seat or use it inside of a recessed niche. You could also use glass on your backsplash, either in the 4″ or 6″ size, or on the entire wall behind the vanity. If your budget allows, using glass on one or more entire walls of the shower is a stunning look. With so many colors, patterns and sizes of glass tile available, your options are limitless.

 

icp_0923This family has four adorable young children, and wanted to reconfigure their out-dated baths to increase space and add functionality. These two baths were back-to-back in the house, in between the kids’ bedrooms. They needed to be child-friendly, with easy-to-maintain materials, but also coordinate with the rest of the house in terms of color and style. The left-side bath had a very tiny, claustrophobic shower awkwardly situated behind the bathroom door, and only one sink. The right-side bath had a tub/shower combination and again, only one sink.

The clients and I considered different options for the two baths. One option was to remove the wall separating the baths and create one large, open bathroom space with a bathtub, a walk-in shower, and four sinks and vanities in the center, sort of like a kitchen island, for the four children. But, after weighing pros and cons of our options, ultimately we decided to keep two separate bathrooms. Here’s what I designed for them to give them the flexibility and space they needed:

  • In the bathroom on the left, I moved the walk-in shower from the tiny little space behind the door to the back of the bathroom. This allowed for a much larger shower, and also provided a striking focal point in the space. The toilet was moved several inches in order to create the space. The window was left in its current location, but is now inside the shower.
  • Relocating the shower gave us space for a much needed second sink.
  • I also recommended reversing the door swing on the bathroom door—in the old bath, it blocked the entrance to the tiny shower, and, had it remained as it was, it would have blocked access to the sink. Reversing the door swing provided much more floor space.
  • In the bathroom on the right, we kept the tub and shower in its existing location, but removed the overhead soffit to make it more spacious and bright.
  • We added a second sink, while still being able to keep linen storage in the bath. The new linen cabinet even has a pullout laundry hamper.
  • In both baths, we plumbed for a hand-held shower on a slide bar. This allows the showerhead to be adjusted for the varying heights of all four children (adults too!), and also allows for convenient cleaning of the tub and shower.
  • For consistency and flow throughout the house, I recommended keeping the colors neutral and using the same materials in both baths. However, I did change the tile design to keep things interesting.  Notice the asymmetrical vertical stripes in the shower, and the large arch feature in the tub- the same glass mosaic is used in both spaces, but with very different results.
  • The wall and floor tiles are porcelain, and the countertop is engineered quartz, for easy cleaning and maintenance.
back-to-back-baths

The end result is two beautiful and functional new bathrooms that fit the needs of this busy family.

What happens when a younger brother asks his older sister for interior design help? My brother and I get along well now that we are adults, but we did have some heated fights when we were kids! I was flattered when my brother and his wife hired me to redesign their bath. They own a charming 1920’s bungalow in San Jose, but their bath had been remodeled in the 80’s by the previous owners, featuring a floral wallpaper border, and green and mauve color scheme. Remember that look? The idea was to create a comfortable oasis for them, with modern conveniences, and to use materials more in keeping with the original look of the home.

Ask my brother and he’ll confirm that I was most certainly a bossy older sister when we were growing up—I would forcefully dictate to him what we would watch on TV, and rudely order him leave the room when I had friends over. However, he also pushed my buttons, saying exactly what he knew would send me over the edge. We fought a lot as kids, but we also had lots of fun times together, like the year we moved to Sunnyvale and spent the entire summer outside playing “Jaws” in the pool and board games on the diving board.

So when he and my sister-in-law asked me to help them with this project, I had to dance a fine line of being a sister and being their designer. As a designer, I have to take the lead, present ideas, and be able to explain why I planned things a certain way. With regular clients, this approach is often just what they need. But would it seem bossy to my brother? How much do I direct the project and how much do I step back? Fortunately, the experience turned out to be a great one, despite a few construction glitches along the way. He says he’s glad that I “big-sistered” this project because he admits that he and his wife sometimes have trouble making decisions. So my big sister role served us both well this time.

ICP_9697The result is a beautiful, modern bathroom with lovely vintage touches. My sister-in-law and I made an afternoon of tile shopping and ultimately selected the watery, soothing aqua blue hand-made subway tiles that set the tone for the whole bath. The gray, white and aqua color scheme creates a crisp and clean look, and the polished chrome accents add some sparkle.

We replaced the old awkward corner tub with a roomy walk-in shower, and I designed a vanity cabinet to make the most of the narrow room and provide as much storage as possible. Two large mirrored medicine cabinets add extra storage and also allow two people to stand comfortably at the vanity.  My brother says it’s easy to keep things tidy, as now there is room for all of their toiletries.

A big change in the room was to relocate the toilet to the back corner behind a pony wall; in the old bath, the toilet was the first thing you saw from the door, which bothered my sister-in-law.

I selected a marble-look Cambria Quartz called Torquay for the countertop and bench seat, and the floor is a mosaic of white and gray marble. The wall color is a soft white with a gray undertone, which keeps the room light and airy.

I’m happy to report that my brother and sister-in-law are really enjoying this new bath. He told me that, on their last vacation, they realized that for the first time ever, their bath was nicer than the bath in the hotel! A great compliment indeed, especially from my little brother.

ICP_5875In every relationship, one spouse favors certain things, and the other spouse favors other things. In remodeling, those differences often come to the forefront, and it’s up to the designer to create a plan that pleases both partners. I’ve worked with many, many couples over the years and have learned what questions to ask and what to do to strike a perfect compromise. For example, in some relationships, one partner loves baths while the other prefers showers. One likes to have a separate sink and drawers, while the other doesn’t mind sharing. One favors traditional styling while the other loves contemporary.

Here are some tips I can offer so you both get what you want.

1- Make a priority list.

Each partner should write down his or her must-haves for the project. For example, her list might include a large bathtub, a hardwired makeup mirror, a place to store her hair dryer, and some “bling” in the form of polished chrome fixtures, or a glass light fixture. His list might include a separate room for the toilet, a luxurious large shower head, and an extra outlet on his side of the sink for his electric razor. It’s important for both partners to get their lists on paper. They may find they have more in common than they thought!

ICP_58712- Consider one sink over two sinks.

I’ve had this conversation a number of times with couples. I will ask them about their habits— do they both use the vanity area at the same time? What’s more important to them: their own sink? or more counter space and storage? If you already have two sinks, take some time to determine if you can eliminate one of them. By eliminating a sink, that leaves the option open for a lot more counter space, and more drawers or cabinets.

3- Think about things you need to store in the bathroom.

Do you need to store towels or do you have a separate linen closet elsewhere in the house? Do you tend to buy toothpaste and shampoo in bulk quantities or do you just keep what you need on hand? Are you someone who has multiple hair products or do you share one bottle of shampoo? All of those questions come into play when making design decisions. A traditional medicine cabinet may be the most appropriate type of storage for you; someone else may prefer a bank of drawers, or a tower cabinet on top of the vanity deep enough to store linens.

ICP_59094- Select materials that make you both happy.

Given that the norm in interior design nowadays is mixing materials, it’s relatively easy to select materials that please both spouses. If one likes shiny and smooth, go with polished chrome and glass tile. If one is more outdoorsy and enjoys nature and texture, then consider using pebbles on the floor, or tile that looks like wood.

ICP_5892This bathroom underwent a major transformation. Both spouses said they wanted a spa feel in the new bath, and surely you’ll agree that they both got their wish. We borrowed space from the master bedroom to enlarge the bath. This enabled us to create a “wet room” with both a bathtub for her and a shower for him. High on his list was a separate toilet room, so I incorporated it into the design. They kept their two sinks and separate medicine cabinets, mirrors and storage drawers. They both like contemporary styling, so that part was easy. And they both loved the mix of materials with the porcelain “wood” tile floor, the pebbles in the wet room, the frosted glass door, the textured wallpaper, contrasting with the smooth quartz countertop.

With advance planning and lots of conversation, pleasing both partners is definitely possible.