Before HGTV came on the scene in 1994, most people picked their own paint colors, bought their own furniture, and selected their own bathroom tile. Some were very successful; others, not so much. Then came the avalanche of design shows, and pretty soon, we were all benefiting from the talents of the professional designers we were seeing on TV. Because I had been interested in interiors since I was a very young girl, I too found myself glued to the TV, inspired by all those television designers. It was during those years that I decided to switch careers, take design classes, and begin my new career. HGTV made interior design accessible to everyone, and for that I will be forever grateful. It’s the reason I have a successful business. But, for as much advice as HGTV dispensed, for many people the result was to create more confusion and self-doubt. If you are someone feeling a little unsure, allow me to offer some friendly advice as you undertake projects at home. 
  1. 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.

  2. 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. 
  3. 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!

  4. 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. 
  5. 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. 

  6. 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. 

“How can I have a bathroom that’s beautiful but still easy to clean?” This question comes up frequently when I speak with clients about their bath projects. The good news is that there are solutions!
 
By far, the most popular surface for shower walls is tile. In the world of tile there are literally thousands of options—from natural stone, to ceramic, to glass, to porcelain. Regardless of the look you are aiming for, there is a tile out there that will fit the bill. However, some tiles are definitely more high maintenance than others. One example is marble. Marble tile is gorgeous, and I wouldn’t tell you to never use it in a bathroom, but if you do, you need to be aware that it must be sealed periodically, and that it can stain. Fortunately, however, there are some high-quality porcelain tiles that look very much like real marble. No sealing required, and no staining either.
 
With any tile, it’s really the grout that needs the most attention. To minimize the amount of grout  in the shower, select large tiles— 12” x 24” tiles are a very popular size— and install them using the smallest grout line possible. Many tiles now are coming in very large sizes- like the 36”  wavy tiles shown in the photo below. Using large tiles gives the shower walls a very sleek look, and can actually make a small shower look larger. The large tile is almost like using a solid surface material, which I will discuss shortly. 
 
 
Plan to seal your grout periodically; in a heavily-used bath, once a year is advisable. In occasionally-used baths, every few years is probably sufficient. Probably the best thing you can do, however, is what I tell my clients all the time: Make friends with the squeegee! Keeping water from sitting too long on the tile or the grout makes all the difference. Take 60 seconds after each shower and use that squeegee on the walls (don’t forget the shower doors!) I’m not kidding when I say that this step will save you lots of cleaning time. 
 
One design trick I’ve started using in some of my bath projects is using tiles on the large wall of the shower only, and solid surface material on the two side walls. This is a great idea from both a stylistic perspective and a cleaning perspective. In the photo, for example, the only tiles used are the large navy blue ones on the center wall. The two side walls are full-height white solid quartz slab. The matching navy blue grout lines are minimal in size (1/8”) and easy to clean. The dark tiles make a bold statement in the room, while the gleaming white quartz keeps the space looking light and bright. 
 
Another option, if you want no grout at all, is to use quartz slabs on all the walls of the shower. Quartz is non-porous, which means no sealing and no staining. And with the myriad choices available, you are sure to find a look you like. More and more beautiful colors and patterns are being introduced all the time, which means you can have walls with beautiful granite-like patterns, as in the photo, or walls resembling concrete, marble, and limestone. For folks wanting a bold punch of color, quartz also comes in very vibrant hues like fire engine red, cobalt blue, and lime green. For one wall or all the walls, using solid surface materials in the shower will increase style and reduce cleaning time. 
 
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.

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!

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. 

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.

Excited about the upcoming arrival of baby number two and a lengthy visit from the grandparents, these clients challenged me to reconfigure their existing laundry and powder rooms into an improved space which would include a larger washer and dryer, plus a full bath with a shower. They also desired a little more space for jackets, shoes and all of the items needed when leaving and entering the house through the garage. By removing one wall and adding another, and borrowing a few feet from the adjacent hallway, I was able to fulfill their requests with a lighter, brighter, more modern laundry room, bathroom and “mudroom.”

Before:


(Scroll down for “after” pictures)

The new bath could have been featured in my previous article about tiny baths—it is quite small, but it does provide the basics in a very attractive way. The all-glass shower features two shelves for toiletries and beautiful glass tile accents. I used the same large tiles on the walls and the bathroom floor to visually enlarge the room. The matching 2 x 2 mosaics were used on the shower pan, which we made flush with the floor to gain as many inches as possible inside the shower.

The medicine cabinet provides some additional storage, and by using a pedestal sink rather than a vanity cabinet, I kept the room from looking too crowded.

There is plenty of light, with an LED recessed can light in the shower and the vanity light above the sink. We also updated the lighting in the laundry area with LED recessed cans.

The creamy off-white wall color was chosen to blend with the tiles, and again, to keep the room looking light and bright.

I used the same tile flooring and wall color in the adjacent mudroom and laundry area for continuity. They had purchased a few hand-made ceramic tiles on a trip to Europe, and we were able to incorporate them into the floor, adding a personal touch.

The new laundry area features a large stackable washer and dryer. Custom cabinets were designed to fit alongside it, providing plenty of storage for supplies, and a small countertop to hold the laundry basket. (At the time the photos were taken, the cabinet had not been completed yet, which is why it does not appear.)

In the mudroom space, we placed a bench seat with open cubbies below for shoes, a shelf with cubbies above it, and several hooks on the wall for jackets and bags,

After:

It’s amazing what can fit into a relatively small area, with a bit of creativity, and a few compromises. The finished space is just what the clients wanted, and the best part is that we finished in time for the new baby’s arrival!