As regular readers of this column know, I design baths and kitchens for a living. By now, although it’s hard to come up with an exact figure, the number of baths and kitchens I’ve worked on is well into the triple digits. Over the years, the state of California has tightened up requirements on what is deemed acceptable for residential construction, particularly in the areas of water and electricity usage. This directly impacts the fixtures that can be used in remodeling. In this column, I’d like to offer you some rules to follow when planning your own bath remodel. (A similar column for kitchen guidelines will come at a later date.)

First, understand that most bath remodels do require city building permits. The only time you might not need a permit is if you’re replacing your toilet or sink (as long as you’re not changing the location of those items.)

Each city is a little different, but all cities must abide by state building codes. According to the Fremont Building Department, “A permit is required for bathroom remodels that include the replacement of the tub/shower enclosure, relocation of plumbing fixtures or cabinets, or if additional plumbing fixtures will be installed. A permit is not required for replacement of plumbing fixtures (sink or toilet) in the same location. Plans shall be required if walls are removed, added, altered, and/or if any fixtures are removed, added or relocated.”

When selecting plumbing fixtures, keep these rules in mind. In your shower, the shower head must have a water flow of less than two gallons per minute (gpm). You are allowed to have two shower heads (such as a main shower head and a separate hand-held shower) but if you want to be able to have them both on at the same time, the total water flow rate for both shower heads cannot exceed this same two gpm requirement. Since it is difficult to find showerheads with a flow rate of less than 1 gpm, in reality, what this means is that the plumbing needs to be designed so you can use your main shower head OR your hand shower, but not both at the same time.

Speaking of showers, the minimum size for your shower pan is 30” x 30” inside the curb. Many baths are very tiny, but the shower pan must meet this size requirement to meet code.

Sink faucets must have a flow rate of 1.5 gpm or less, and toilets must have a gallons-per-flush rate of 1.28 or less. The minimum space required around a toilet is 30”. Starting at the center of the toilet, there must be 15” on each side of it, and 24” of clear space in front of it. More is better, but this is the minimum requirement.

All lighting fixtures must be considered “high efficacy” lighting, which translates to LED or fluorescent. Unfortunately, using screw-in LED light bulbs in a regular incandescent fixture will not pass code, but you can use a vacancy sensor switch in this case. This is a special light switch that you turn on manually, but that turns itself off if you forget to, 30 minutes after you leave the bathroom.

There are other code requirements to know about, but these are the ones I get asked about most commonly. The full set of building codes is available at the city planning department and online, which will help you plan for a successful project.

If you’ve been paying attention, you have probably noticed an immensely popular design trend called “Rustic Modern” all around us. It involves combining clean, modern lines with more rustic, earthy, organic elements. What do I mean by rustic elements? Examples are reclaimed wood beams, or distressed wood floors, or chunky, hand-crafted furniture. In my mind, rustic means it’s got some history to it; maybe the item is handed down from grandparents, or repurposed from an old building, or, as happens today, a brand new item is made to look old. While I love modern spaces, with their minimalistic decor and smooth, simple lines, sometimes they can appear sterile and unwelcoming. Adding rustic elements helps make modern decor look more friendly and approachable.
 
In my daughter’s apartment, she combined a hand-me-down oak dining table with contemporary white and chrome dining chairs. A client of mine paired an burl wood coffee table, kept for sentimental reasons, with a mid-century modern sofa. The result is a room filled with warmth and personality, as well as a sense of history.
 
This design trend is really about contrasting textures— think rough and smooth, honed and polished, rustic and refined.
 

Consider these suggestions when planning your own interior design projects:

  1. For cabinetry, keep perimeter cabinets clean-lined and modern— perhaps Shaker style, or slab-front doors and drawers— but give your island some character by making out of knotty alder, or distressed oak. 


    2. If your house has exposed beams, consider wrapping them in reclaimed wood planks. Keep the walls smooth and simple, but repeat the distressed look with wood floors.


    3. Mix textures by topping a rustic bath vanity or kitchen island with polished, refined quartz or granite countertop. Use shiny chrome fixtures. Or, try the reverse— rustic bronze fixtures on a crisp white countertop and modern cabinetry. 


    4. Use a farmhouse sink in an otherwise contemporary kitchen.


    5. Select unique and interesting light fixtures. There are so many to choose from nowadays; In a dining room, install a very modern fixture above a farmhouse trestle table. Or how about wall-mounted lantern lights in a contemporary living room? Note the pendant lights and barstools in the kitchen photo; the bronze iron trim and old-looking Edison light bulb, along with the reclaimed wood on the stools, provide rustic elements to an otherwise contemporary kitchen.


    6. Use wood planks, or even bricks or stone, on a wall to create an amazing focal point in a room. How about installing wood plank porcelain tiles in a shower?

I don’t see this trend leaving us anytime soon, but, in my opinion, as with all interior design, subtle and understated is much better than being hit over the head with it. In general, aim to keep things simple, by incorporating just a few rustic elements into your contemporary decor, or vice versa. Doing too much of one thing can quickly take a room from elegant to over-the-top. Adopting a “less is more” philosophy is usually your best bet.

Recently, my husband and I traveled to Florida to visit our son. We splurged on a nice hotel, with a room overlooking the beautiful Atlantic ocean. The view was indeed beautiful, but the bathroom, however, while attractive to look at, was very poorly designed. I design bathrooms for a living, and have certainly learned a few things along the way about the battle between form and function. In my opinion, this bath was a glaring example of what happens when form wins out over function. The result was a bathroom that was very impractical, awkward, and uncomfortable to use. 

If you’re embarking on a bath remodel this year, here are some things to consider so you don’t make the same mistakes as the designer of this hotel bathroom. 

THE TUB/SHOWER PROBLEM:

Our hotel bathroom featured a huge soaking tub that was also the shower. At first glance, it looked very inviting. But as I tried to use it, there were some issues. Soaking tubs are very deep— about 20” in height on average, and some are even taller. This makes getting in and out of them difficult for some people (especially for someone like me, who is only 5 feet tall.) For many people, lifting a leg this high off the ground to get in and out is tough. This tub had a ledge to sit on, but it was very wide (about 9”), and tall, and there were nothing to hold on to, like a grab bar, for example, to help lift myself over and into the tub. I am able-bodied and physically fit, but for anyone with any physical limitations at all (like my height), this would be a very difficult situation. My husband’s assessment: “If you are comfortable stepping over a saw-horse and into a deep hole, then this kind of tub is for you.” 

 

SOLUTION:

If you’re considering a deep soaking tub, please be aware of this height issue, and think about how you will be getting in and out of it. At the very least, install a grab bar nearby— everyone will benefit from that at some point. Ideally, a soaking tub separate from the shower is the best scenario, but many bathrooms are not large enough to accommodate both. In many bathrooms I work on, people are forgoing the tub altogether, preferring a large walk-in shower instead. 

PRIVACY PROBLEM:

Another design element that made this bathroom awkward (even for a married couple like us) was that the wall separating the tub and vanity area from the bedroom area was made entirely of clear glass. There was no privacy at all. Anyone in the shower was on full display on the bedroom side. This might not bother some people, but I’m guessing that most folks prefer a bit of privacy. 

SOLUTION:

While this wall of glass was indeed attractive-looking, a simple solution would be to install a window covering on the bedroom side, which could be lowered when privacy is desired. 

THE SINK PROBLEM:

The designer of that bath thought a tall vessel sink would look nice, and I agree that it did. However, the vessel sink was installed on a standard height vanity cabinet, so the sink was much too high off the ground. The edge of the sink was literally up to my chest, which made for a very awkward experience brushing my teeth. 

SOLUTION:

To accommodate a vessel sink, the cabinet must be made shorter to make up for the height of the sink. If your vessel sink is four inches tall, for example, the vanity should be no more than 32” in height. Unless you are very tall, aim for a finished height of no more than 36” for the sink and the cabinet. If you are short like me, a finished height of 34” might be more comfortable. 

There were other issues also, such as no towel bars at all near the shower or the sink, terrible lighting, and glossy, slippery tiles on the floor. But on the upside, this bathroom provided the topic for this month’s column!

The most rewarding part of designing kitchens is customizing the design to fit the individual needs of each client. Interior design is about creating beautiful spaces, certainly. But more importantly, it is about creating spaces that work well and improve the quality of life of the clients. The kitchen is truly the heart of the home, so why not create yours to be as personal as possible? Why not include some special features?

At the start of each project, I spend a good amount of time talking to the clients. I ask them to tell me what works and what doesn’t work; what they like and what they don’t like about their current kitchen.

In my designs, not only do I tackle the most common complaints about not enough storage and not enough counter space, often I am also given wish lists of very personal touches that I need to incorporate. In one kitchen, for example, the client had a beautiful handmade wooden cutting board she wanted to display. So we designed the island specifically so she could have this important wish list item. This client is an avid quilter who often hosts quilting sessions in the large adjacent dining space. Just for her, the island also features bookshelves to house her quilting books, and cabinets for supplies that are easily accessible from the workspace.

Another client wanted to incorporate a prayer corner in her kitchen— she described to me what she wanted to display there, and we designed her cabinets accordingly. She wanted a combination of open shelves and glass cabinets, so she could display and store her religious items. I was happy to oblige.

In another project, the homeowner had a set of beautiful leaded glass panels from her original kitchen that she really wanted to incorporate into her new kitchen. She got her wish with a custom-designed cabinet made to fit these panels.

Many clients ask for serving areas, wine bars, and small work spaces for laptops. Others ask for special cabinets for pet food, designated drawers for phone chargers and bookshelves for favorite cookbooks. One avid baker I worked with asked for an island topped with a marble slab, knowing that is the preferred surface for baking. Knowing yourself and how you use your kitchen helps me design it specially for you.

One project currently under construction is a kitchen designed for a client who loves everything French, and travels to France once a year. She asked me to design a “French-inspired” kitchen just for her. When it is complete, this kitchen will feature Toile wallpaper, a lovely French chandelier, marble-look quartz counters (more practical than real marble), and dark hardwood floors. She’s excited and so am I— I will share the photos when we are done!

This bath project was a pleasure to design— it’s a spectacular blend of form and function, delivered with a punch of vibrant color, and an interesting mix of textures. I work with and appreciate all design styles, but my favorite style is modern. I love the clean lines and simple, minimalistic aesthetic. Modern design allows the freedom to combine colors and materials like these— hand-maid glossy ceramic tiles in vibrant teal, wood-look porcelain in warm brown, and stark white quartz.

Before the remodel, this master bath was very tiny, as so many baths in Fremont seem to be! We borrowed a couple of feet from the master bedroom and expanded into the hallway linen closet to create this new larger space. Besides its new size, here’s a list of what really makes this bath unique and special:

The vanity

The wall-to-wall vanity provides ample storage for both spouses— each has his and her own set of wide drawers, with a common space in the center below the sink. This couple decided on a large trough sink instead of two individual sinks; this gave them more counter space. The wall-mounted faucet keeps the countertop clear. We installed lighting below the floating vanity, used for accent, but also as a night light. The custom-made cabinet is made of cherry wood, with the grain running horizontally. To break up all the angles, I purposely chose a large round mirror.

The tile

The client chose the gorgeous hand-made ceramic tile from Heath Ceramics. I opted to run the subway tile vertically rather than horizontally to break up all the horizontal lines, and also to draw the eye up to the skylight in the ceiling. The entire bathroom floor and shower wall are tiled in wood-look porcelain, giving the illusion of more space. The brown of the wood plank tile also balances the brown color on the other side of the bathroom.
I really love the high contrast of the teal with the brown.

The shower

The large ceiling-mounted rain shower head, along with the hand-held shower head are pure luxury. And please note that we intentionally placed the valve on the right side wall, which is the entry point of the shower— that way, the clients only need to reach in to turn on the water instead of walk all the way into the shower. The two recessed niches provide storage, but also looks like modern art to me, with the juxtaposition of opposing colors, lines and shapes. The clear glass shower walls allow all the colors to be viewed with no obstructions.

The color scheme

Three colors— warm brown, vibrant teal, and crisp white are combined throughout. I was aiming for planes of color, again with a nod to modern art. I selected a matching teal paint color to use on the wall behind the toilet to continue the color from the tile, but all the other walls and ceiling are bright white like the countertop.

The result is a roomy, colorful, modern, stunning bath for two. I only wish it was my own bathroom!

Is your fireplace tired and dated? If so, then a fireplace makeover may be in your future. Sometimes the fix is very simple— several coats of white paint on old bricks or a worn oak mantel is often enough to give the fireplace a fresh new look. But sometimes a more dramatic change is desired. If that’s the case for you, your only limitations are your imagination, and of course, your budget, as there are myriad choices of materials available, from traditional to modern.

Your first decision is whether to keep your wood-burning fireplace or have a gas insert installed. To keep our air clean, California has instituted many restrictions on the use of wood-burning fireplaces, so converting to gas may be the right decision for you. Depending on their size, gas inserts can provide heat for 1000-3000 square feet, while also emitting very little pollution and smoke into the air. They are also very convenient to use. Just flip a switch, or press a button on the remote control and you’ll have a lovely fire in seconds.

If you have not been shopping for tile or stone recently, you’ll be amazed at how many choices you have for your fireplace. If you prefer natural materials, among your many choices are marble, granite, slate, limestone, and stacked stone, all of which are available in a wide variety of sizes and shapes. There is also a large selection of unique materials available: metal tiles in stainless steel and copper, glass tiles, and porcelain and ceramic tiles in every color, style and shape imaginable.

For contemporary styling, consider large porcelain tiles with some wavy textures, or narrow stacked stone. With this style, less is definitely more, so forgo the heavy wood mantel and keep your lines very clean and simple.

For traditional styling, look at natural stone such as marble, which is a very classic and timeless material, and add a beautiful, ornate wood surround in white painted, or dark stained wood. Curved lines and carved details are common features in traditional decor.

Most of us prefer “transitional” styling, which is a blend of both traditional and contemporary. Clean lines, combined with traditional colors and materials allow for a look that pleases just about everyone. “Floating” mantel ledges are a great choice for transitional rooms the lean toward contemporary, while full wood surrounds with simple lines works best in transitional rooms that lean toward traditional.

The possibilities are endless, so consider your overall decorating style, look at lots of photos for inspiration, and treat your fireplace to a whole new look.

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.