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. 
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.

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. 


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.

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.


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.

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

Clear the clutter

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

Remove work-related items

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

Include decorative items

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

Use restful colors

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

Address the lighting

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

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