- 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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Consider these suggestions when planning your own interior design projects:
- 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?
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
When it comes to interior design, many people find it easier to tell you what they don’t like rather than what they do like. Can you describe your own design style? Are you traditional? Modern? Contemporary? Classic? One reason it’s so difficult for us to pin down one particular style is that most of us, at least here in California, tend to gravitate toward a mix of styles. Seldom do I see (or design, for that matter) a room that’s 100% one way or another. Have a look at these kitchens and you’ll see what I mean. In each example, there is a blend of elements, materials and finishes, all fitting the personalities and lifestyles of the clients who own them.
“Traditional” and “Classic” elements– In some traditional and classic kitchens, you’ll find natural wood cabinets, and in others you’ll see painted cabinetry. Both types can fit into traditional décor. Painted cabinetry is often glazed or antiqued to give it more character, and wood finishes tend toward the dark, formal and dramatic. Color schemes tend toward neutrals like earth tones and black and white. Traditional kitchens often feature beautiful millwork, such as crown molding and embellished cabinets. Decorative corbels supporting breakfast bar countertops, and furniture-style toe kicks are definitely elements of a traditional kitchen. So are custom wood hood vent surrounds. You might see farmhouse (also called apron-front) sinks, and elegant plumbing fixtures. You’ll often see luxurious materials like marble tile backsplashes and natural stone counters.
“Contemporary” and “Modern” elements– Contemporary kitchens might also feature natural wood or painted cabinetry, but the door style is much simpler, less ornate, with cleaner lines. Very modern cabinets might have a high-gloss lacquered finish in white or black or a bold color like orange. Shaker style or flat-front (also called slab) cabinetry is very popular for contemporary and modern kitchens, and in some kitchens, you’ll even see wood grain running horizontally rather than vertically. Mixing natural and man-made materials is also common. For example, you’ll see sleek quartz countertops paired with marble tile backsplashes, or granite counters combined with glass tile. Decorative light fixtures and pops of color are also characteristic of a contemporary kitchen. Faucets and sinks will be simple and unadorned, often stainless steel.
Distressed wood floors and heavily textured stone backsplashes are two popular features you might see in today’s contemporary kitchens. A strategically selected rustic element can soften the look of a very modern kitchen and make it more casual and livable. For example, combining hand-scraped, distressed wood floors with sleek, crisp cabinetry creates an interesting juxtaposition, and also provides a practical walking surface for busy families with kids and pets. Unless the entire kitchen is designed intentionally as a rustic mountain cabin, the addition of one or two rustic elements does not make the kitchen any less contemporary.
All of this brings me to “transitional” design—a very popular term used today to describe a design style that I think most of us can relate to very well. I define transitional design as a successful blend of both traditional and contemporary elements. I think that all of these kitchens shown can be described as transitional kitchens. Some may lean a bit more traditional or more contemporary, but none is a pure example of any one style. These days, unless you really know undoubtedly which style you prefer, chances are you’ll feel right at home in a transitional kitchen, blending elements of traditional, classic and contemporary styling.