Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Turning Over A New Leaf In '09

Hello, my name is Melinda, and I am addicted to dishes. Whether it is Majolica, Spode, Mikasa, or Pier I, I admit I am powerless over my desire to own gorgeous ceramic ware. I buy dishes I don’t need just because they are beautiful. My cabinets tell the sordid tale. They are all stacked full of place settings. Four sets of china, six sets of stoneware, shelves of serving pieces and cache pots, old and new, stashed everywhere, and yet I keep buying. Not to mention all the special holiday dishes. Glazed pottery has taken over my life. I can't resist the urge to mix and match them all together, never doing the same look twice. The leaf pattern Majolica pieces, and myriad copies that I have, are just too easy to blend with all the other patterns that I have, tying the look of my tables together.

My New Year’s resolution for 2009 is to work on just admiring plates from afar, without giving in to the constant cravings to possess them. I rely on a power greater than myself, American Express, to help me stop this insanity.

Read more!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A Room Of Their Own

This is a guest room done with an assortment of dog accessories ranging from artwork to lamps, and even pug motif fabric, clearly reflecting my client’s love of her dogs. Though normally not allowed on this bed, they got special treatment for the photo shoot. Apparently the dog in the painting doesn't have the same rules, as she is allowed to nap in the chair, inspiring dogs everywhere.

Read more!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Building A Custom Home

What makes it a custom home? A true custom home is a one-of-a-kind product, designed specifically for you, with the style and amenities you desire, laid out to fit precisely on your lot. The home is handcrafted on site by construction crews, from a set of two-dimensional drawings and elevations. A real custom home is a creative collaboration of experienced professionals who combine their talents and expertise to craft a beautiful, high-quality house that conforms as closely as possible to the client’s conceptualized vision of their dream home.

Behind every custom home there is a team of talented professionals who take on the challenge of transforming ideas into reality. Most often consisting of the builder, an architect, an interior designer, and a construction superintendent, these professionals use their experience to develop the blueprints and specifications, render technical information and advice on the myriad of decisions that will need to be made, supervise the process, and create the vision of how the finished product will look and function.

Read more!

What Does The Builder Do?

The Builder, or general contractor, is the main figure responsible for overseeing the entire project. The builder assembles the home building team according to his unique strengths and focus. There are as many different ways to organize this team as there are home building companies, and every company seems to offer its’ own personnel mix. Some builders are architects specializing in signature home designs, leaving the bricks and boards to the superintendent. Many large builders are primarily developers who focus on planning new communities, offering architect and interior design services on an in-house or contract basis, with superintendents following the day-to-day project specifics. Other builders are hands-on craftsmen who enjoy supervising the construction aspect of their projects themselves, using independent, free-lance architects and interior designers with whom they have established a working relationship. There are builders who leave it up to the client to choose their own architect and interior designer to bring to the project. But, typically builders who don’t offer the design service professionals necessary for a project are able to make referrals for these resources.

Read more!

Do I Need An Architect?

The Architect draws the detailed blueprints that will determine what your home will look like and how it will be built. Everyone involved in the project will be working off these plans. These are very detailed and must be accurate as they will lock-in many aspects of the house that are very expensive and problematic to change later. Everyone involved in the project will be working off these plans. An architect needs to be a good listener as he will draw your home according to your wish list of needs and wants. His input as far as maximizing space and traffic flow, as well as attractive design, are invaluable and what he gets paid for, but you determine what goes into the house according to your lifestyle and preferences. The interior designer is often at these design sessions with the architect, and I highly recommend it. Countless details for the interior finish-out have to be considered at this time and will affect how the house is designed and the plans are drawn.

Read more!

Doesn’t The Architect Design The Interior?

The Interior Designer
takes over where the architect leaves off, at the inside walls. The finishes, details, and materials are not usually included in the blue prints. Every component of the custom home’s interior must be selected by the homeowner in accordance with the production schedule to prevent costly construction delays. This can seem like an overwhelming task, so a big part of what the designer does is break this process down for clients, making it a step by step progression with each decision leading to the next. Designers pull it all together, making sure that the all the choices the client has made will work to create a cohesive interior scheme. They , also, create the special features that give clients’ homes a true custom look, such as intricate tile patterns, furniture-style cabinetry, and faux treatments. They have the skills to assemble samples, sketches, and mock-ups to help clients visualize how their choices are going to look, and the resources to research and locate any unique products a client wishes to use that might not be available from the usual suppliers. Working with a designer allows clients get to make their selections at Trade Only showrooms that offer more cutting-edge design ideas, better technical information, and wider selections than the resources generally available to the public.


Read more!

What Does The Superintendent Do?

The Superintendent is the manager on-site, overseeing every aspect of the construction process. He manages time, communication, and money. It is his job to make sure that the sequence and timing of the work adheres to the production schedule, the timetable established to build your home by the completion date. He coordinates men and materials so that they are on site at the appropriate time and are staying within the budget. Quality control and building codes are also his responsibility, regularly walking the project with building inspectors or the client. An experienced superintendent has creative solutions to the inevitable problems that arise when a two-dimensional drawing is translated into three-dimensional form, or when the client says, “Oh, I didn’t realize it would look like that!” His technical knowledge and attention to detail are reflected in the quality of your home.

Read more!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Go Left At The Ugly Green Sofa

I found this antique art deco bar at a place in Kansas City called Cheap Antiques about 20 years ago. They had an unusual way of selling their furniture. Every Friday before their weekend sale, they would hold a furniture preview. You could walk in, see what you wanted and make notes for the next day. I wasn’t able to go to the preview, so a friend drew me a map of the art deco bar (go straight until the huge armoire, take a right at the butter churn…).

On the day of the sale, people lined up for hours before the store opened. While we waited, the sales people handed out several cards to each person. As soon as the doors opened, everyone made a mad dash to place a card on the furniture they wanted, and I raced in. Following the crazy directions, I found this perfect art deco bar.

Twenty years later I built an English Tudor home, but this beautiful bar is a timeless piece and blended with my décor perfectly. I added a few accessories, an interesting piece of art above it and now that bar is the focal point of the room.

So the next time grandma wants to pawn off one of her antiques, take it! It sure beats having to scramble around a store trying to claim a piece of furniture. Read more!

Design Emergency!

If you have ever had a bad experience choosing a paint color, or a sofa, or hanging artwork, don’t despair. Don’t think you haven’t got what it takes. You probably just didn’t go through the process that designers do and follow as many steps to have success. Designers measure everything. They do samples, and sketches, and lay-outs. They add and subtract, arrange and rearrange until they get it right, When rooms are photographed for magazines, a whole team of experts comes in. They use special lighting, bring in buckets of flowers and greenery, find the best angle, check every detail, and take all day to make that one shot look perfect. Just like airbrushing the models in a fashion shoot, they achieve a level of perfection rarely, if ever, seen in real life. But, good design is more than a two-dimensional image on paper. It is the bringing together of cohesive elements you love that represent your taste, and organizing them in a comfortable, functional environment that beautifully expresses who you are.

(Artwork by Joseph Baron)

No question there are individuals who have a natural talent with great flair and a good eye, which is a critical component of design. In fact, many design schools have entrance testing to weed out those students who lack the innate ability to be good designers despite adequate education. But just having that style doesn’t guarantee a great outcome every time, and not having it doesn’t condemn you to being decoratively challenged for life. Good design is a process. It’s about information gathering and analysis, trial and error, success and failure until you get it right.

You can either hire a designer to do this work for you, or you can learn from their methods and do it yourself. And, you don’t have to know everything that designers know. Just start with one aspect of your decor at a time, and learn something about it before you try to incorporate it into your home. A perfect place to start is picking paint colors. I am constantly asked how designers can pick the perfect paint color off of those tiny color chips in the fan deck from the paint store. Here’s the secret. They don’t. I don’t think anyone can. If someone has, they’ve just gotten lucky and chances are it won’t happen again. And when I am picking a color for a client to paint a room, I don’t take chances. There is a deliberate process I go through to get the color right. It costs time and money, but it works. The same is true for picking furniture, accessories, placement, or anything for a client’s home.

Like the mystery of the sphinx or the question to the oracle, everyone is looking for the secret to great design and gorgeous rooms. What is the key to getting your home to look like those photos in magazines? The secret is, there is no secret. In most cases, it takes a lot of hard work and knowledge, coupled with talent and experience. Good designers just make it look easy because they have done their homework. Lots of it. There are long standing principles of design, guidelines, and rules of composition that take time, study, and practice to master.

Read more!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

What Is Real Estate Staging?

Staging is the process by which a home is visually prepared to be put on the market that is proven to make it sell faster and at a higher price than the comparable homes in your neighborhood. With so many homes on the market right now, this is a way to give your property an advantage over the competition without lowering the price. Staging can transform humdrum rooms into showcase interiors, and create an atmosphere of spaciousness and hominess that can add to the final sales price as surely as a big lot and a nice view. For the realtor, it is a great way to jump-start a new listing or to re-energize a tired one. For the homeowner, it maximizes financial return and minimizes selling time.

Read more!

What Is The Staging Process?

Whether you do-it-yourself or hire a professional, the process starts with a comprehensive evaluation of the visual condition of the home to develop a plan of action. Identify the positive and negative aspects of each room. This evaluation should develop a to-do list that you can prioritize by money and time. Repairs and cleanliness are the highest priorities. One rusty, broken faucet gives the impression that the entire property is in disrepair. The biggest bang for your buck is fresh paint in a neutral color throughout the entire house. The second biggest bang is having the carpet cleaned or replaced. If necessary, brighten the kitchen by painting dark cabinetry. Your home’s needs may be as simple as removing clutter and rearranging furniture or as extensive as completely updating color schemes and interior finishes. Professional stagers will put the designer touch into accessory placement, floral arrangements, and tablescapes that create a more desirable, memorable property. The goal is to make the house appeal to the broadest market.

Read more!

Staging--First impressions Are Crucial

The front porch is the first area of contact with the potential buyers. This is where they will linger the longest while waiting to be let into the house. It takes a prospective buyer only fifteen seconds to size up a house. Any sign of poor maintenance here will affect their impression of the entire house. Make sure the front porch area is pristine with spotless paint, hardware that is polished and working properly, a functioning doorbell, a bright light fixture, and a brand new door mat that is traditional and plain. Add pots of seasonal color, and put fresh mulch in the landscape beds. Make sure there are elements of interest with a splash of color such as a classic door decoration, and if there’s space, a welcoming chair or bench. This area needs to show well from the street in order to draw people out of their cars and into your home.

Read more!

Staging Basics

Think “model home”. A few simple changes can dramatically impact the potential buyer’s perception of the property. Calm the rooms down and soften strong decorating style unless it complements the original architecture of the house. Clear counter tops in the kitchen and bathrooms. Pets, medications, and toiletries should be kept out of sight. Decrease the amount of items in closets and cabinets by at least 1/3 to create the impression of abundant storage space. Return rooms to their original purpose and decorate accordingly. Don’t show an extra bedroom or the dining room as an office. Depersonalize the decor. A charming family portrait that dominates the mantle or that one-of-a-kind special collection can make potential buyers feel they are intruding in another’s personal space, and that will keep them from relating to the house. Also, remove sensitive or controversial objects, everything from guns to religious references. Your enthusiasm for these items may not be shared by others.

Read more!

Staging—Subliminal Techniques


Appeal to the five senses – use flowers, fruits, vegetables, herbs, etc.

Set an inviting dining table.

Place a telescope or pretty table near a window with a view.

Set up a tea tray and an open book on an ottoman.

Leave treats and drinks available where you want people to linger.

Leave a game, like checkers or chess, in progress.

Create scenes that suggest entertainment possibilities.

Create a leisure setting on the patio.

Apples, whole coffee beans, and vanilla candles absorb odors.

Read more!

Staging Works

A house in “showroom condition” makes that strong first impression that sells.

Homes that are staged tend to sell much faster and often for higher prices than comparable homes that have not been properly prepared for sale. The goal of staging is to shift the focus away from a home’s contents, and put the emphasis on the positive architectural features of the property. Using the right furnishings and strategic placement, staging plays up positive features, hides design flaws, enhances room size, and optimizes layout and traffic flow. For example, there should be access for 3 people, the realtor and a couple, to travel through the major areas of the house. Removing crowded furniture can open up that traffic flow. Similarly, no matter how expensive and elegant, heavy window treatments can be a distraction and reduce light, giving a room a closed-in feeling. Taking down window treatments and placing a large plant next to the window can highlight the great view, and enlarge the space. Removing rugs can reveal the beautiful floors. Once the furnishings are pared down, artwork and a few well-chosen accessories can be repositioned to emphasize a dramatic fireplace, a grand staircase, or any other special features of the house. Good staging will develop a “wow factor”, creating that emotional impact that sells. The higher the price, the more excitement the buyer expects.

Read more!

Furniture With A Past

The drawers in this furniture piece are gorgeous, quarter-sawn oak, and they started out in an old, turn-of-the-century drugstore in Tulia, Texas where they held pharmacy supplies. The drugstore was owned by my husband’s grandmother. When she later retired and sold the store she passed the drawers on to my husband’s mother who had this new base cabinet built to house the drawers, preserving the legacy of the business her mother had built. She kept it in her home for the next forty years, even leaving what remained of the labels for the pharmaceutical products on the original drawer hardware. Eventually, my husband inherited this piece, and I had to find a place for it to work in our home, that was already a co-mingling of his, mine, and theirs. It was big and heavy and not necessarily a style that fit with the rest of the house, but it held deep sentimental value for my husband, so I had to make it work.

I realized these drawers were the perfect size for CD and DVD storage, and that we had the base for a great entertainment center to hold our new flat screen TV. I drew up a design for a hutch unit that could rest on top to house the TV, my skilled cabinet man built it exactly to the specifications to line up with the base, and my furniture refinisher matched the old finish perfectly. We’ve end up with an entertainment center with modern functionality and antique aesthetic that preserves a piece of my husband’s history. He didn’t want to remove the old pharmacy labels, but the one that read “Feminine Products” disappeared mysteriously during the redesign process.

Read more!

Mirror Mirror

Mirrors are a great decorative accessory and a design tool. They can brighten up dark areas, give the illusion of more space, and highlight a positive feature when placed correctly. They look the best when something beautiful is reflected in them, such as a crystal chandelier, a piece of art, or rich moldings. Placing a mirror
where it will reflect a gorgeous outdoor view, duplicates this feature onto another wall of a room. This can effectively punch a hole in an obtrusive wall or closed-in space. The mirror in this photo is hung opposite the front door in a narrow foyer. When guests arrive, the mirror gives the room a bright, airy feel, reflecting their image and the outdoor view behind them. The biggest mistake I see is hanging a mirror where it reflects an undesirable view that is directly opposite it, like a blank wall, dark doorway, or appliances.
Read more!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Arranging Artwork

Artwork should relate to the surrounding furniture in weight, scale, and line. Is it the right size and shape? Do the colors create harmony with the furnishings? Is it too prominent or does it look lost? Does it fit the style and use of the room? Once these critical evaluations are made, you are ready to position the artwork.

Place the center of the artwork or grouping at eye level. Remember that eye level changes depending on the activity in the room, whether people will be primarily seated as in a dining room or standing as in a hallway. Artwork should relate to the surrounding furniture in weight, scale, and line. Is it the right size and shape? Do the colors create harmony with the furnishings? Is it too prominent or does it look lost?

If you are hanging a group of objects together, lay the actual objects out on the floor in the proposed arrangement. Step back and look at the arrangement from a distance. Is there a common theme tying these pieces together? Is there vertical and horizontal order to the arrangement? Does your eye travel smoothly from one object to the next? Or does one area jump out at you or look lopsided? Rearrange the objects in the grouping until it is visually pleasing.

Once you get it right, make paper templates of each picture, plate, or whatever object before hanging. Use masking tape to place the templates to the wall where you want the arrangement to go. Stare at it. See if it works. It’s much easier to move paper than repair nail holes. Use the templates to mark where the hanging hardware needs to go, instead of marking up your walls. Anchor the hardware to the wall through the paper templates, then just tear them away.
Read more!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Choosing the Right Accessories

In Steel Magnolias, Dolly Parton put it well when she said,
“The only difference between us and the animals is our ability to ACCESSORIZE!”

Choosing the perfect accessories is an area of design that really stumps people, because there are very few, if any, rules. Accessories are the least functional design elements. They are more personal and simply an expression of individuality, taste, and interest. I tell my clients just to pick what they really, really love, and let their personality come through.

The only real mistake I see is buying too many little tiny things, instead of good quality, larger scale items. This usually means the client hasn’t built up enough confidence in their own taste and is easy to overcome. The same guidelines of size, shape, weight, balance can be considered so that a particular piece fits its environment, but most accessories should be chosen for their beauty alone. While accessories can perform a function, their main role is to be looked at and enjoyed.

The real problem with accessories is, most people don’t have enough. Once again, I don’t mean little chotchkes, I mean enough nice accessories that have presence and give definition to their location in the room. Some designers say that at least 25% of your furnishing budget needs to go to accessories. Most people don’t even come close to that. After they are finished purchasing their large furniture pieces, they usually spend very little to finish the room. What they buy looks wrong just because it is so alone. Next time you are admiring a photo in a magazine or coveting a designer showhouse and lamenting your lack of design ability, count the number or floral or greenery arrangements in those rooms. Then count the decorative objects. Compare those numbers to what you see in your home. I think you’ll see that in this case more is more. And, in the more spare contemporary settings, less is just bigger and bolder.

Read more!

Ways To Make Better Use of Home Office Space

If you have a cramped, inefficient home office, you can transform it into a roomy, functional work space. The right furniture combined with a little creativity (and the strength to remove any furniture that is not serving a specific purpose) can help you make the most of your home office space.

1. Make your office flexible by using modular furniture. As your needs change, simply move your office furniture around. Consider function over aesthetics. But don’t buy cheap furniture that will fall apart after two moves. Check out furniture dealers and office furniture stores (not just the office supply superstores) to find quality home office furniture.

2. Use sturdy shelves or tall bookcases to store books, reference materials and supplies nearby. Don’t overload the shelves. The heavier books should be on the bottom shelf. (I know that’s common sense but people forget that.) Store similar items together and place these items strategically. Keep books you refer to often within reach while supplies and other materials you use less frequently should be placed on higher or lower shelves instead of middle shelves.

3. Make one piece of furniture serve more than one purpose. For example, the top of a lateral file cabinet can double as an extra surface for a paper cutter, fax machine, copier, etc. An antique dresser (something I used in a former home office) looks nice and can be functional.

4. Be creative and use two file cabinets with a board across them for an extra surface. I used to recommend that to clients long before a certain retailer offered this option in their catalogs. This trick used to be reserved for starving college students but I've seen expensive home offices furnished this way using high-quality file cabinets and durable surfaces.
Read more!

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Perfect Arrangement

Finding the perfect office arrangement is as easy as A-B-C or in the case of home offices, U,L,P and V. The beauty of having a home office is that you can set it up any way you like. Your only constraints are budget and available square footage. Choose one of these four arrangements to make your home office more functional, productive and inviting. (After all, if you don't like your home office, you won't use it.)

• The U-shaped work area, the ideal of all four, allows you to keep everything within reach on three surfaces. If you tend to save too much however, limit the amount of open surfaces in your office. I know, you’ll just put things on the floor, but get in the habit of putting things away or at least storing them somewhere other than the floor
• The L-shaped work area offers the important advantage of getting equipment off your desk and onto a secondary surface, without taking up as much room as the U.

• With the parallel work area (the P shape), you place one surface in front of the other and still have two places to work. Your desk could be in front of a credenza or a sideboard.
• The fourth and least used is the V or corner arrangement. If home office space is tight, make use of often unused corners. You'll have a surface in front of you (ideal for your monitor) and surfaces angled to the left and right.

Whichever arrangement you choose depends primarily on the size of your office, the type of furniture you have and how much work surface you need. Keep in mind that if someone else is sharing your office, you may be limited to the type of arrangement you can use. Also, consider facing your desk to the door. I like knowing if someone has walked into the room. With two boys, that’s usually not a problem, but you never know.
Read more!


Whether you need to sell your home or want to take advantage of the market and flip a house for profit, being informed and choosing the right approach can make all the difference, especially in the current real estate market. Take a hard look at your neighborhood, the surrounding areas, your property and its place in the market before you set a price, set a goal, or set an expectation. How much do you want to get for it? How much do you need to get for it? Will you have to spend money to get that price? Are other home sellers in your area getting that much? Really?

This is not the time for wishful thinking. Don't overlook the costs you'll incur once the house is on the market, particularly if the house is unoccupied. It will be necessary to carry homeowners insurance, pay for the utilities, keep the house clean, and maintain the yard. To protect new appliances and other interior improvements, a security system might be required.
Now, take a hard look at your resources. How much time do you have available to put into the project? How much cash are you willing to front until the house sells? How much talent and ability do you have? Do you have the temperament for coping with a remodeling project? Are you sure? Now you can determine which category your house falls into and the best plan of action.


If you have found a real steal on a home or have been living in a home that has been paid off for years, and you lack the HGTV gene, you may not feel inclined to go for top dollar. It is tempting to clean the house, set a lower price, and promote it as a "fixer-upper". However, this can backfire. Most potential buyers cannot see past disrepair or deterioration and are unwilling to take it on. The house can sit on the market longer than expected, despite being a "bargain".
A better plan is to do three crucial improvements. First, make any needed repairs before they show up on an inspection report. Second, stage the home. If it is occupied, this will remove excess furnishings and distracting window treatments, giving it an updated look. If it is unoccupied, a few accessories, potted plants, fresh flowers, even lamps, strategically placed, can call attention to positive features and make the house look less bleak. Finally, finish with a fresh coat of paint in a neutral color throughout the house. These improvements put the house into move-in condition with broadens your market, and they pay for themselves at closing.

The current market conditions have caught many in the situation where there is little room in the sales price for any improvements, but the house still needs to get sold. Time becomes a major factor because monthly payments keep on rolling, reducing potential equity by hundreds to thousands of dollars every month that the house sits on the market. It could be necessary to do some strategic updating to prevent a loss.
The best approach with this scenario is to start with the improvements for the "Fixer Upper" -- repairs, new paint, and staging. Real estate numbers have proven that staged homes sell faster and for more money than un-staged homes. If the budget allows, take the improvements one step further by adding a few low cost high return design elements like distinctive cabinet hardware, framed bathroom mirrors, or upgraded light fixtures to give an updated, high-end quality to the home, and make it stand out.

Some of the older neighborhoods have had substantial appreciation, and the value of the surrounding in-fill houses can justify investing in a major redo on your home to sell it for top dollar. But, doing this requires money, time, and knowledge with no guarantee of profit. Being competitive with the new homes in your area might require updating mechanicals to bring them up to code, replacing windows, roofs, floors, etc.
Make the kitchen outstanding with new appliances, countertops, backsplash, and probably, new cabinetry. Give the master bath a facelift that includes new fixtures and tile. The floor plan might also need reconfiguration to open rooms up or create more storage. Focus on "high-impact" elements that will create an emotional connection with potential buyers and make your house memorable. Finish off with staging to guarantee maximum effect.
Read more!