What happens when a younger brother asks his older sister for interior design help? My brother and I get along well now that we are adults, but we did have some heated fights when we were kids! I was flattered when my brother and his wife hired me to redesign their bath. They own a charming 1920’s bungalow in San Jose, but their bath had been remodeled in the 80’s by the previous owners, featuring a floral wallpaper border, and green and mauve color scheme. Remember that look? The idea was to create a comfortable oasis for them, with modern conveniences, and to use materials more in keeping with the original look of the home.

Ask my brother and he’ll confirm that I was most certainly a bossy older sister when we were growing up—I would forcefully dictate to him what we would watch on TV, and rudely order him leave the room when I had friends over. However, he also pushed my buttons, saying exactly what he knew would send me over the edge. We fought a lot as kids, but we also had lots of fun times together, like the year we moved to Sunnyvale and spent the entire summer outside playing “Jaws” in the pool and board games on the diving board.

So when he and my sister-in-law asked me to help them with this project, I had to dance a fine line of being a sister and being their designer. As a designer, I have to take the lead, present ideas, and be able to explain why I planned things a certain way. With regular clients, this approach is often just what they need. But would it seem bossy to my brother? How much do I direct the project and how much do I step back? Fortunately, the experience turned out to be a great one, despite a few construction glitches along the way. He says he’s glad that I “big-sistered” this project because he admits that he and his wife sometimes have trouble making decisions. So my big sister role served us both well this time.

ICP_9697The result is a beautiful, modern bathroom with lovely vintage touches. My sister-in-law and I made an afternoon of tile shopping and ultimately selected the watery, soothing aqua blue hand-made subway tiles that set the tone for the whole bath. The gray, white and aqua color scheme creates a crisp and clean look, and the polished chrome accents add some sparkle.

We replaced the old awkward corner tub with a roomy walk-in shower, and I designed a vanity cabinet to make the most of the narrow room and provide as much storage as possible. Two large mirrored medicine cabinets add extra storage and also allow two people to stand comfortably at the vanity.  My brother says it’s easy to keep things tidy, as now there is room for all of their toiletries.

A big change in the room was to relocate the toilet to the back corner behind a pony wall; in the old bath, the toilet was the first thing you saw from the door, which bothered my sister-in-law.

I selected a marble-look Cambria Quartz called Torquay for the countertop and bench seat, and the floor is a mosaic of white and gray marble. The wall color is a soft white with a gray undertone, which keeps the room light and airy.

I’m happy to report that my brother and sister-in-law are really enjoying this new bath. He told me that, on their last vacation, they realized that for the first time ever, their bath was nicer than the bath in the hotel! A great compliment indeed, especially from my little brother.

Custom drapes and top treatment add softness and color to this living room, while offering privacy.

Custom drapes and top treatment add softness and color to this living room, while offering privacy.

If it’s time to update the window treatments in your home, please allow me to offer you some advice. With so many choices out there—from brands to styles to colors and materials—it can get overwhelming. But on the flip side, with so many choices available, there is no reason not to find the perfect solution for your windows.

As you are investigating your options, make sure to keep in mind functionality as well as beauty. For instance, do you like your room to be dark in the morning? If so, select a window treatment with a room-darkening lining. Some products are described as “black-out” or room-darkening; others are described as “light-dimming.” As you can imagine, “light-dimming” is just that—it dims the sunlight coming into the room, rather than blocking it completely. Only you can decide which option is best for your needs.

Another consideration is light control. Are you a person who opens the drapes each morning and closes them at night? If so, then a single-function window treatment is probably right for you. Examples of single-function coverings are drapes, honeycomb shades, Roman shades and roller shades—anything where the covering is either open or closed. These types are great for a number of reasons, but they offer no light control. Dual-function coverings offer light control options. Examples of this type are wood blinds, shutters, vertical blinds, and Silhouettes. With dual-function shades, you can have them completely open or closed, and also have the option of controlling the light by opening and closing the louvers or slats. This can be important for reducing glare on a TV or a computer, and also for providing privacy without blocking all of the light.

This Silhouette Window Shading offers light control, privacy and a beautiful soft look at this kitchen window.

This Silhouette Window Shading offers light control, privacy and a beautiful soft look at this kitchen window.

Some clients enjoy the clean lines of the blinds and shutters by themselves, while other clients choose to dress their windows even more with drapery panels and top treatments. Curtain panels, with or without a valance, add a beautiful finishing touch to your windows. Did you know that valances, draperies and curtain panels are more popular than ever? After years of plain windows, clients are back to embellishing their windows with layered window treatments.

If you have purchased new window coverings recently, you probably had some sticker shock over the prices. It’s not uncommon to spend hundreds of dollars on one window treatment, depending on the style and material chosen, of course. It’s true there are inexpensive options out there—wood blinds, for example, are quite affordable—but I’d like to caution you about purchasing inexpensive knock-off versions of more expensive brands. Knock-offs may be manufactured with inferior materials, leading to warping or fading, or simply not functioning properly. One important difference is the warranty on the product. Make sure to ask about the length of the warranty, and what is covered. How does the manufacturer handle any repairs that might be needed down the road? Is the shade reparable or are you out of luck if something goes wrong? It’s common for higher-priced brands to last years and years before needing any repairs. The most common repairs are for broken lift cords. And fortunately, those are relatively easy to deal with.

Plantation shutters provide privacy and light control, and are a timeless look for any room.

Plantation shutters provide privacy and light control, and are a timeless look for any room.

With inexpensive brands, the warranty may be for only two or three years; higher-end brands offer limited lifetime warranties. What does limited mean? It might mean that after 10 years, some repairs are still covered at no charge, while others might carry a nominal fee. Lifetime warranty can also mean that the blind will never fade or warp. One important note: while the manufacturer might cover the cost of the actual repair, installers will charge to come out to remove and replace the blind, and some dealers may charge a service charge for sending the blind back and handling the paperwork. Even with these charges, repairs should still be more economical than purchasing a new shade.

How long will you be living in your home? If you plan to stay awhile, invest in top-of-the-line window fashions. Even if you are planning a move in the next few years, it is important to know that beautiful custom window treatments can be a very attractive selling feature for your home.

Some of my clients live in large homes with soaring ceilings and plenty of space, but the majority live in average-size homes. A very common question my clients ask is: How can I make this room look bigger? Let me just start by saying that not all rooms need to feel as large as possible. Sometimes it is best not to fight a small space. Just make it as comfortable and beautiful as you can. Small rooms can be tiny jewel boxes, cozy and intimate, with dark colors and dramatic lighting.

On the other hand, for those of you who desire a more open, spacious look in your home, the following tips can help.

1. Choose light, cool paint colors for the walls. Cool colors recede, making them good choices for small rooms. Try icy blues and soft, pale greens. These restful colors are particularly good in bedrooms. Neutral tones like gray and taupe also
work well in small rooms. Keep ceilings and trim work painted white or in a lighter version of the wall color.

2. For flooring, use one type only, such as wall-to-wall carpeting or hardwood floors. If you must use an area rug, use one larger one instead of several smaller ones, and stick with a lighter, solid color or a subtle tone-on-tone pattern.Select Color Swatch To Paint Wall

3. Use a monochromatic color scheme for the room. Select one main color and run with it, using varying shades of the hue for walls, flooring and furnishings. Use tone-on-tone patterns in upholstery fabrics, but be sure to incorporate a mixture of textures to add interest to the space. For example, choose golden chenille for the sofa, creamy yellow for the walls and light oak wood flooring. Choosing upholstered pieces, such as sofas and chairs, in colors similar to the wall color will allow them to blend in and make the room seem more spacious. Avoid vibrant and busy fabric patterns.

4. Be careful when selecting furniture pieces. Using fewer, larger scale pieces can actually make a room seem larger than using many smaller pieces. For example, instead of a separate TV stand, stereo cabinet and DVD storage unit, house the
TV and all of the related components and accessories in one media cabinet. Also, keep in mind that some furniture pieces take up less visual space than others.  Armless chairs, glass top tables and low benches are some examples.

5. Minimize clutter. Too many tiny knick-knacks can make a room feel much smaller than it is. Instead opt for a minimalist look with fewer, larger accessories.  On the mantel, for example, replace any small, skinny candles with one or two
large-scale candlesticks. And over the sofa, use one large painting instead of a collage of smaller pictures.

6. Lighten up the window treatments. Replace dark, heavy draperies with filmy, gauzy fabrics that let in natural light. Select a neutral white or ivory, or a fabric color that blends with the wall color, and avoid busy patterns.

7. Add lighting. Dark rooms can seem smaller than they actually are. The best way to remedy this situation is to add lighting. I don’t mean to say bring in lots of table lamps. Doing this will simply add clutter, and will not adequately light your
space. Splurge a little and have an electrician add recessed lighting, a large center ceiling fixture, track lights or wall sconces. Money invested on lighting is always money well-spent.

With some careful planning and a few changes, your small rooms can look and feel more spacious.

Blue CurtainAre your window coverings in need of an update? Perhaps you notice a cold air entering or warm air escaping through your windows; perhaps your needs have changed and you would like to have a dark room in the morning so you can sleep in. Perhaps your current window treatments look outdated or worn out, or privacy is an issue. No matter what the issue is, there is always a solution. Here are some common scenarios and some options of how to treat the windows.

  1. You’ve installed a large new flat screen TV and would like to turn your family room into a full-blown media room. Anytime you need your room to be nice and dark for movie watching and sleeping in, a great option are room-darkening honeycomb shades, such as Hunter Douglas Duettes. They fit snugly inside your window casings, look sleek and modern, and block out almost all the light. They come in dozens of colors and pleat sizes and can even come motorized, which is a great option for those hard-to-reach high windows and for people who have a hard time with lift cords. Plus, remote control blinds and shades are just plain fun. To block even more light and add a decorative touch, operational drapes can be added to the windows. Duette Honeycomb shades are also the most energy efficient window treatments on the market today. They offer incredible insulative properties and UV protection.
  2. You have a home office and have trouble with glare on your computer monitor. A window treatment that offers you the ability to control the light would be a great choice. This means a product that allows you to open and close the louvers, such as a plantation shutter, or a wood or metal blind, or a vertical blind. The choices in louver size and color are numerous—there is something in every price range and for every decorating style.
  3. You have a lovely view out your windows and want to cover the windows but don’t want to sacrifice light or view. Two wonderful options are Hunter Douglas Silhouettes and Pirouettes. Both of these beautiful products offer privacy and still let soft, filtered light come in through the windows when the shades are fully closed, and when the vanes are open, the sheer fabric maintains the view. These lovely treatments look great on their own, and can also be dressed up with fabric valances and decorative curtain panels.
  4. You have a sliding glass door and don’t know what your options are. Luckily there are many options now for sliders. The most popular option is still vertical blinds. Many people think they hate vertical blinds because they remember the old style they used to have. I invite you to take another look at verticals, as there are many options available—woven fabrics, linen looks, attractive textured vinyls, and even wood verticals. These are still a very practical and affordable option. Other options include drapes, of course, Duette Vertiglides, which are vertical versions of Duette shades made specifically for sliding doors, Luminettes, which are in essence a sheer drapery and a vertical blind in one product, and gliding panel tracks, which are very contemporary looking and look terrific.
  5. You have windows that face the street and desire more privacy, but don’t want to block all the sunlight. To solve this problem, look for a product that offers a Top Down-Bottom Up option. Honeycomb shades offer this option, as do Roman shades and pleated shades. This feature allows you to lower the shade from the top of the window down, thereby offering privacy on the bottom, and light from the top. It’s perfect for street facing windows or windows that look right into your neighbor’s house.

With all the options available today, there is a solution for every window.