These clients had an underutilized upstairs bedroom, outfitted with a small desk, a loveseat, and a TV in the closet. They challenged me to create a space where they all could be together, helping their young son with homework, surfing the internet, reading, and watching television. On their wish list: a large TV and comfortable seating area, two separate work spaces, ample storage for books and miscellaneous items, better lighting, and a space for a small microwave so they could heat up a cup of tea without having to go all the way downstairs. And, of course, make it attractive.

To make room for the large, custom U-shaped desk I designed, we removed the closet at the end of the room. The new desk features a work space at each end, with a long countertop, wall-to-wall upper and lower cabinets, and open shelves. In the center, we installed a large TV, and, while the microwave is not shown in the photo, notice the outlet in the right corner— that’s where it will go. And speaking of outlets, you’ll notice several new ones, both above and below the desk. This makes charging devices easy and convenient.

Their son’s workspace has an easy-to-reach book display, with drawers and cabinets for his school supplies. Both work spaces have their own desk light. The closed cabinets keep everything nearby but out of sight, while the open shelves provide display space.

My client loves the color orange, a friendly and energetic color (which is fitting, because she is also very friendly and energetic!), so you’ll see it distributed around the room. The accent wall is painted in a color called Winter Sunset by Kelly Moore. I absolutely love the double pocket doors also painted Winter Sunset. We widened the opening to the new den, and replaced the standard bedroom door with contemporary frosted glass French doors. This brings in more light, and adds a lot of personality. The doors are one of my favorite elements in this room.

The wall behind the new sofa is clad in wood planks, for texture and warmth. The wood wall coordinates with the wood shelves in the desk area, and the wood-look laminate countertop.

We kept the existing recessed can lighting, but added a contemporary track fixture, the individual desk lamps, and a wall-mounted reading light. Each on separate switches for maximum flexibility, the homeowners can now choose to have dimmer lighting for nighttime TV viewing, or lots of light for homework, bill-paying, and other projects.

With room for everyone, this inviting multi-purpose room has become a favorite hang-out spot for the whole family.

How do you feel when you walk into a red room? How about a green room? You’re not alone if you feel calmer surrounded by blues and greens, or more confident when wearing black. The subject of color psychology is fascinating. As we all might guess, color can have a profound effect on our mood, whether it’s in something we wear, or in our homes. 
 
Red—exudes excitement and energy, and it makes a bold statement wherever it goes. Think of a bright red sports car or a dozen red roses. In addition to stimulating appetites, red has been known to improve one’s sense of smell, as well as cause other psychological responses such as increased heart rate and rapid breathing. Red provides a jolt of energy and life. Just look at this kitchen!  I was happy when these clients took my suggestion of red as their wall color—it adds so much punch to all the gray and white.  Other energetic colors in the red family are fuchsia and magenta. If these colors are too intense for you, try burgundy or brick red, which are still bold, but a bit more subdued. 
 
 
Orange—is associated with warmth, happiness, whimsy and playfulness. Like red, it is also an appetite stimulant, and because of its energy, it also attracts attention, waking up any room. As the complement of blue on the color wheel, it is a great accent color to pair with navy or cobalt blue. Other colors in the orange family are copper and terra-cotta. Try combining copper with turquoise or purple for a very beautiful color scheme.
 
 
Yellow—is cheerful and outgoing, and a particularly wonderful color for rooms with no windows or natural light. Closets, small bathrooms and laundry rooms come to mind as spaces that could benefit from this warm and friendly color. Yellow can remind us of nature, as in golden sunsets, lemons and daffodils, or elegance and prestige, as in gold jewelry or gold leaf. 
 
 
Green—is a restful color, and, because of its ubiquitous presence in nature, can even act as a neutral, allowing other colors to play off of it. Dark greens tend to be masculine, traditional and can even imply wealth. Earthy greens like moss and sage are quiet and soothing. And bright greens, like in Granny Smith apples and limes, are playful and fun, especially when combined with tangerine orange, aqua blue or lemon yellow. Dark green looks beautiful paired with burgundy red (think vineyards and a glass of Pinot Noir). And mossy greens combine well with mustard and brick red.
 
 
Blue—is named by most people as their favorite color (including yours truly!) The color of the sky and the ocean, blue is calming and peaceful. Blue is a wonderful color for bedrooms, and really any room in the house. Lighter tones can be almost ethereal (great when you’re designing a spa-like bathroom for example); darker blues can be formal (think navy blue velvet with gold trim) or casual (think of your most comfy pair of blue jeans.) In the world of color psychology, the color blue exudes professionalism and dependability. Business consultants often recommend wearing navy blue suits, and many professional uniforms are also blue. 
 
 
 
Purple—combines the vibrancy of red and the tranquility of blue. Historically, purple has been the color of royalty, and it connotes wealth and luxury. Purple is also associated with the exotic and mystical. Red-purple is sensual and exciting. Eggplant and plum are regal and elegant. Lavender is delicate and sweet. 
 
Please enjoy this collection of some of my favorite design projects from this year, 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 2019.
 

Parisian-Inspired Kitchen

Why I love it:
  • The kitchen has so much personality, with display space designed especially for the client’s treasures and collectibles. 
  • I love the toile wallpaper— it is so subtle and pretty. 
  • The countertops are stunning— it is quartz material from Cambria, called Britannica. Not only is it hard-working and easy to maintain, it’s pattern is very striking and beautiful.
  • The finishing touches really do give this kitchen the feel of a French bakery. 

Colorful Kitchen

Why I love it:

  • Great use of space: where there were no cabinets at all, we added a wall of them for food storage, but also for a dedicated prayer space, as requested by the clients.
  • The backsplash is gorgeous— a colorful mixture of glass, metal and stone, in reds and coppers. It really adds a bold and fun touch in this room.
  • I love the two-tone cabinetry— if you can’t decide whether to use painted or stained cabinets, this solution allows you to have both!

Contemporary Kitchen

Why I love it:

  • I absolutely love the horizontal grain of the light wood cabinets— so modern and sleek!
  • I love that we used the stunning quartz countertop on the backsplash also— that steak of color is even prettier in person.
  • I love the dark walnut island— it provides a beautiful contrast to all the lighter tones in the kitchen.

Master Bath “Wet Room”

Why I love it:

  • I love the challenge of taking a client’s wish list and making it all fit into a new space. In place of the too-large, dangerous step down tub, we created an enclosed wet room with a separate tub and luxurious shower. Great use of space!
  • I love the color scheme and the mix of tiles— it’s very restful and elegant.
  • Lighting on dimmers allows for every scenario. 

“Vintage” Master Bath

Why I love it:

  • I just love the overall look of this bath— the client desired a traditional, feminine, look, and she certainly got it! 
  • I love the crystal chandelier above the vanity— so sparkly and pretty.
  • I love the huge shower with the shiny chrome fixtures. It’s functional as well as beautiful. Even the grab bar is pretty! 
Interior design is an art as well as a science, encompassing so much more than the visible, tangible items in the room, such as the sofa, the lamp and the drapes. Those items are important components to the finished room, of course, but there is so much more to it. Before the designer can get to selecting those items, he or she must step back, evaluate the entire space, and consider the seven guiding interior design elements to create an cohesive, harmonious space that is both functional and beautiful. Let’s look at each of the seven elements in a little more detail.
  1. SPACE
    Space refers to the physical boundaries of a room. The designer must be very aware of the space available, both the two-dimensional floor space, but also the three-dimensional volume in the room. The designer must find a way to use existing space to his or her advantage. In a long, rectangular room, for example, the best use of space might be to divide it into two distinct living areas: one for TV watching and another for working from home. A area containing furniture and décor items is a “positive space,” while an empty spot is referred to as a “negative space.” The negative space can often be as important as the positive space, as it gives the eye a place to rest, and brings other elements into focus. 
  1. LINES
    Lines are generally categorized into three types – horizontal, vertical and dynamic. Think table tops, shelves for horizontal lines; windows, doorways and tall fireplace chimneys for vertical lines. Dynamic lines might be an angled ceiling, a curved wall, or an arched doorway. Interior designers know to use a combination of lines is when selecting the selecting the items, or “forms” that will adorn the space.
  2. FORM
    The term “form” is used interchangeably with “shape” (and is also closely related to line).  A form can have straight, angular lines, or be more “organic” or curvy. Forms can also be categorized as open (think of a birdcage light fixture that you can see through) or closed (for example, a solid ceramic table lamp base). Designers combine forms and lines to maximum effect in a space. For example, a long table in a rectangular dining room fits well. A similarly rectangular light fixture can provide nice repetition of lines, but a trio of round pendant fixtures above the table instead will provide an interesting contrast and sense of balance. Either would be an appropriate choice; the key is to combine and balance the elements.

  3. LIGHT
    Light is absolutely key in interior design. Generally speaking, a room needs three types of lighting: Ambient, task, and accent. Ambient lighting illuminates the entire space (think recessed can lighting); task lighting could be a bedside or desk lamp; and accent lighting is the “dazzle” in the room that provides the beauty and character. Examples: a crystal chandelier, or pendant lights above your kitchen island.
  4. COLOR
    Color has the power to create many desired effects in a space. It can make a small room look larger and a large room look more cozy. It can create a sense of calm, or inject some drama into the space. Colors have values and intensities, and color schemes can be monochromatic, harmonious, or complementary. Designers combine colors to achieve their desired goals.
  5. TEXTURE
    Texture describes how typical surface looks and feels. Think of polished granite versus concrete; velvet versus silk. Texture adds depth and dimension into a space, and a variety of textures makes a room more interesting. A sleek glass-topped table, atop a shaggy area rug, combined with a velvet chair will look more interesting than a room where everything is the same.
  6. PATTERN
    A room always needs a bit of pattern to add interest. Pattern can be linear/geometric (think about a subway tile backsplash, or a striped wallpaper) or curvy/organic (think paisley or florals, or even animal print). Patterns can be subtle or dramatic, and often a little goes a long way. A mixture of geometric and organic patterns is best for creating a cohesive interior design. 
Successful interior designs are achieved because of careful consideration of these seven elements. 

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.

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.


Many people find it challenging to combine different colors and patterns when shopping for new furnishings. They feel more comfortable purchasing a matching sofa, loveseat and chair, for example. However, mixing colors and patterns makes a room much more interesting, and it is not as difficult as it may seem.


As a general rule, vary the patterns in your room by including small-, medium- and large-scale designs. An example would be a large geometric, a midsize floral, and a narrow stripe. If one of the patterns is large-scale, like the wide stripes on the walls in the living room shown, look for small- and medium-scale patterns for the other pieces. And remember that all of the patterns in the space do not need to be bold— they can certainly be subtle and understated, with soft colored and muted designs.


I always like to incorporate solid colors and fabrics with tone-on-tone patterns and textures in my designs. They add interest without adding a lot of pattern, and offer a break to the eyes. Consider using textural fabrics such as velvet, silk, linen, chenille, tweed, boucle, leather, suede and metallics to boost the interest level in the room. Use the colors from busiest of the patterns as a jumping off point for the other fabrics. For example, if you have a chair upholstered in a paisley print, use a geometric design, like a herringbone, stripe, diamond or pin-dot pattern for your sofa that includes two or more of those colors. Then perhaps a leather ottoman or velvet pillows, or linen curtains.

Additional patterned fabrics can be used for dining room chair cushions, accent pillows, window treatments, and ottomans, or you can repeat one of the fabrics you’ve already used. For example, make some accent pillows out of the drapery fabric for the sofa or the chairs. And while you’re at it, make one or two additional accent pillows in the chair fabric for the sofa. Pillows are a great way to tie all the furniture pieces together. Add some texture to the pillows by trimming them with a variegated fringe that incorporates two or three colors in the room.


Aim for a coordinated, blended look, rather than a “matchy-matchy” look. By selecting a variety of coordinated colors and patterns, your room will be unique and interesting.

For a variety of reasons, some living rooms are difficult to furnish. Maybe the room is too small, or even too large, or just awkwardly laid out. Or maybe you’d just like a new idea for furniture arrangement. Instead of your typical sofa, try a grouping of chairs instead.  Here are some reasons to try this arrangement in your house:

  1. When your fireplace is awkwardly placed. A fireplace is often the focal point of the room, but if it is off in a corner, or is splitting your room in two, then mostly likely, a sofa facing it will not work. A grouping of two or four chairs might work better, and still provide the same amount of seating as a sofa. 
  2. When your living room is small, with no obvious spot for a sofa. If this is the case, then bring the furniture away from the walls with a cluster of four chairs around a coffee table. This creates an intimate and conversational seating arrangement.
  3. When the focal point is something grand, like a piano, for example. In the photo, you’ll notice the stunning black grand piano, which is definitely the center of attention in this amazing living room. The group of four teal chairs fits nicely alongside the piano, perfect for listening to music and conversation.
  4. When you need a flexible seating arrangement. Let’s say you often have gatherings at your house and need to be able to move or expand the seating area easily, or clear the floorspace. Chairs are much easier to move around than are large sofas. 

Some guidelines when planning your space and before you make your purchases:

  1. Measurements are key— you don’t want chairs that are too large! Measure your space carefully, and err on the side of narrower and shallower, over wider and deeper. 
  2. Chairs should coordinate in terms of color and style, but they don’t necessarily have to match. If you’re not sure what to do, though, go for matching chairs. Or perhaps two different chairs, but in the same fabric. If you choose two different chairs, make sure they are the same height and width, give or take an inch or two. You don’t want two of the chairs to dwarf the other two. 
  3. Make sure the chairs are comfortable. If you’re forgoing a comfy sofa, you want to make sure the chairs are just as comfortable. 

There are no interior design rule that says a living room must have a sofa, so look objectively at your space and see if this type of seating arrangement will work for you.


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.