- Please, please, please make a master plan before buying or starting anything. Even if you’re only working in one room at a time, think ahead to what you want your whole house to look like when you are done. This is especially important if you have an open floor plan. In open floor plans, there really is no such thing as one room— many rooms flow together, so the whole space should be taken into account to make sure the color scheme is consistent and the furnishings and other design elements are coordinated. Keep in mind adjacent spaces like hallways and the entry, so you have a cohesive look at the end. That said, I think I am more forgiving than other designers might be, so kids’ bedrooms and your own private spaces can deviate from the overall color scheme.
- As part of your master plan, measure your spaces carefully, check all dimensions of furnishings you plan to buy, and please buy only what you need. Resist all urges to buy a whole suite of furniture just because its on sale. I’ve seen very awkwardly arranged rooms due to too much furniture and furniture in the wrong size.
- Pick paint colors after picking out area rugs, textiles and furnishings. It is much easier to match a color to a fabric, than to try to find a fabric that matches your paint color. Trust me on this one!
- Ask for opinions, but not too many! If you’re working with a designer, you can trust him or her to do the right thing by you and not lead you astray. After all, you’re paying this person for his or her expertise and trained eye. If you are working on your own, ask a significant other or a trusted friend (whose taste you admire) to help guide you. Asking too many people for opinions only leads to self-doubt and a syndrome called “analysis paralysis,” in which you spend too much time thinking about things, but never actually move forward with your plan.
- Watch the placement and size of artwork. Not to be overly critical, but I have definitely seen my share of awkwardly placed artwork. In general, large walls need large artwork; narrow walls need vertically-oriented artwork, and horizontal spaces (like above a sofa) need horizontally-oriented artwork. And, if you are not sure how high to hang something, please err on the side of hanging it on the lower side, rather than too high. A great rule of thumb is for the center of the artwork to hang at 60-65” up from the floor. This applies even if you’re as tall as Kevin Durant, because artwork needs to relate to the furniture, not the wall height or the height of the people living there. If your artwork is too small for a particular wall, move it to another wall, or create a larger grouping for it using additional art pieces, or mirrors, or wall vases, or candle sconces.
- It’s OK to take your time. When we watch shows on HGTV, we get the idea that our homes should be “done” in a day. In reality, it doesn’t work that way. It takes time to order furniture and to schedule painters and electricians. It may take months to find the perfect piece to hang above the fireplace. A home evolves over time as our needs and tastes change. Take your time and enjoy the process.
- 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.
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.
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.
Looking back on the design projects I completed in 2015 gives me some insight into what clients will be asking for in 2016. Here are some of the most common requests from last year that I see continuing this year as well. As you plan your own remodeling and redecorating projects, keep these in mind.
Improved lighting throughout the house
This is an extremely common request, no matter what the project entails. All over the house we are improving the lighting by adding LED recessed can lights—in baths, bedrooms, kitchens, living spaces—as well as decorative pendants, chandeliers, wall sconces, and accent lighting. It’s hard to believe how many older homes came with almost no lighting at all! There are a lot of bedrooms and living rooms out there with no hard-wired lighting, just one sad small lamp on a table, or a rickety torchiere lamp in the corner. As we all age, this issue will even become more important.
Accessible bathrooms for different ages and abilities
And speaking of aging, several of the baths I worked on last year included grab bars, ADA-height toilets, and walk-in showers. With many people hoping to live in their homes forever, thinking ahead to later years is extremely important. The good news is that accessible baths cannot only be functional, but can also be very beautiful. The variety of products available is amazing.
Removal of traditional medicine cabinets
In so many bathroom projects, we are removing the existing medicine cabinets to make space for more interesting storage options, such as tower cabinets on the vanity or recessed wall cabinets. Removing the medicine cabinets allows us to also add more interesting lighting as well, such as wall sconces on each side of the mirror. In cases where we do keep a medicine cabinet, we are installing more functional cabinets with pull-out magnifying mirrors, mirrors on the backs of doors, and even electrical outlets built in. I bet you didn’t even know there were so many options.
Painted kitchen and bathroom cabinets
Wood cabinets will never go out of style, but painted cabinets are definitely “in” right now. Most popular colors for painted cabinets right now: white and gray, although I’ve done several projects where we used black and other colors as well. Whole kitchens can be painted the same color, or you can use two colors. For example, painting upper cabinets white, with dark gray lower cabinets, or combining wood perimeter cabinets with a painted island. I don’t see this trend going away any time soon. Varying the finishes and colors really does add a lot of personality to the space.
Well-designed living spaces
What I mean by this is that more and more people are tired of feeling like their rooms are a random hodgepodge of hand-me-down furnishings or rooms filled with purchasing mistakes. An increasing number of people are asking for living rooms, family rooms, dining rooms and bedrooms that are professionally designed, with fabrics and furnishings that go together and are color-coordinated. I can’t tell you how many times people ask me to design “grown-up” living rooms – no matter what age they are! I’ve worked with young folks in their 20s and 30s, all the way to retirement age, and it’s a common request. Maybe it’s a result of too much HGTV, but whatever the cause, people really do want to feel comfortable and happy in their homes.
Raise your hand if you enjoy doing laundry. Maybe there are a few hands raised out there, but probably not too many. But what if your laundry room were a very pleasant place to be, rather than a cramped, dingy room with no personality?
Even if you can’t undergo a large remodeling project like these two, you can at least give your space a face lift with paint, artwork, and improved organization and storage. If your budget allows, however, borrow some ideas from these two recent design projects to achieve your own beautiful and functional space.
Laundry rooms are often more than just a place to wash clothes. Many laundry rooms are right off of the garage, making them the first entry point into the house. Because of this, it’s important to create space for things for more than just the washer and dryer. In these two examples, we designed multi-functional rooms, specific to the needs of the families who live in these homes.
There are spaces for each child in the family to store backpacks, shoes, jackets, and ballet bags. There is a dedicated space for washing, folding and hanging clothes. There is an organizational area where important notices can be kept. The green laundry room even includes a desk for craft projects and household organization.
In both projects, we used highly durable surfaces such quartz countertops, tile backsplashes, and porcelain tile flooring. And both baths have a sink, which is very convenient for hand-washing delicate clothing, cleaning kids’ sticky fingers, and even washing small pets.
Things to keep in mind when designing a laundry room:
- Make sure there is enough lighting. Install ceiling lighting like recessed can lights or surface-mounted fixtures. Consider a solar tube to bring in lots of natural light, especially if you have no window. I have a solar tube in my own laundry room and I just love how light and bright the room is.
- Add color! The lively green walls and black and white flooring makes this laundry room cheerful and friendly. The blue, black, white and gray color scheme is sophisticated and timeless. In my laundry room, when it came time to replace my washer and dryer, I decided to go bold: My washer and dryer are a color called Chili Pepper Red!
- Think about your storage needs. Laundry rooms are usually quite small, so storage space is very limited. Open cubbies can work really well for things you need to access everyday, like backpacks and shoes. Closed storage is great to hide cleaning supplies, linens, and anything else you need to store. We keep extra light bulbs and batteries in our laundry room, and I find that drawers work best for those items.
- Add personality with wall decor. If you have wall space, hang some artwork to add some color and whimsy. How about travel photos, kids’ artwork, or inexpensive decorative art from Home Goods? In my laundry room, I have a very cute collage my daughter made for me of clothes hanging on a clothesline.
You may never actually love doing laundry, but a beautiful environment can make this everyday task more enjoyable.
Anna Jacoby is a local Certified Interior Designer. Contact her at 510-378-6989 or firstname.lastname@example.org.