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Tuesday, December 6th, 2011

5 Must Haves for a Sustainable Kitchen Remodel

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Ah, the holidays…  Delicious cookies baking in the oven.  Spiced cider simmering on the stovetop.  Relatives and friends jostling their way through your sad, frumpy old kitchen another year in a row…  Sigh.

Yes, we’ve all been there.  Kitchens get a lot of wear and tear, and they are one of the first areas of a house to feel dated.  Remodeling the kitchen is usually the #1 priority with my new clients, and it is also one of the best places to make an impact with sustainable design.  If a kitchen remodel is on your todo list for the New Year, check out this list of stylish and sustainable “must haves”.

Zephyr Milano

1.  A good range hood – Perhaps no element of a kitchen remodel is more misunderstood and neglected than the range hood.  Oh sure, you plan to have one, but will you ever use it -at least before the smoke detector goes off?   Well you should, because even when your house isn’t filling up with smoke, it IS filling up with noxious fumes every time you cook, especially if you have a gas range.

“But those fans are always so noisy!” you protest.  “I can’t even hear myself think.”   Well, the great thing is that there are now range hoods on the market that clear the air very well, but are so quiet, you might forget they are on in the first place!    The Next Generation Europa line from Zephyr uses new technology that gives you an extremely quiet fan, as well as having other great sustainable features – such as warm white LED lighting!


Vetrazzo's Bistro Green

2. Composite countertops – Granite is so last decade!   Composite countertops are where it’s at now.  Available in an amazing array of colors and textures, these environmentally friendly surfaces are not only beautiful, but they are usually more durable than natural stone too.  Unlike the more porous nature of granite, most composite countertops on the market have very smooth surfaces which don’t require sealing, and are also less prone to staining and bacterial buildup.  Some of my favorites include the fun recycled glass countertops of Vetrazzo, and the composite stone of Caesarstone.

Aga Energy Star Refrigerator

3. Energy Star appliances – The “star” program of energy efficiency in the appliance world, this successful government program is the source for all those big yellow stickers you see when you salivate over that big stainless steel, french door refrigerator at your local home renovation mart.   Purchase washers, dryers, microwaves, refrigerators, or dishwashers that are Energy Star rated, and you’ll start saving money as soon as you plug them in.

Bazzeo's Gaia Cabinets

4. Cabinets w/ no-added formaldehyde (NAF) – Cabinets are THE big budget item in any kitchen remodel, so spending even a little more to ensure the wood doesn’t have any added urea formaldehyde may seem like overkill, but believe me, it’s worth it.  Classified as a known carcinogen by the State of California, urea formaldehyde is also an airborne irritant as it off gasses into your home, especially for those with asthma and other respiratory issues.

Luckily, as demand has increased for NAF cabinetry, cost has decreased, so beautiful options such as those from Bazzeo or Snaidero are easier to budget for.


Wicanders Cork Floor via Country Living

5. Earth AND back friendly flooring – I’m a big proponent of using cork or linoleum flooring in kitchen for two good reasons.  One, they are both made of natural, biodegradable materials, and that is always a good thing.  Second, they are both resilient (especially cork!), which puts a lot less stress or your back and legs as you hustle around making your bonanza of a holiday dinner!  Plus, if Aunt Alice gets a little too tipsy and drops her glass of champagne, it is much less likely to shatter into a million pieces.  Whew!

Enjoy your holidays and may a sparkly, sustainable new kitchen be yours in the New Year!

~ Rachel

Wednesday, February 16th, 2011

Defining Differences: Decorators, Designers, Contractors, and Architects

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As an interior designer, I am frequently asked about the defining differences between an interior decorator and an interior designer, a contractor and an architect.  It is an insightful question because while the distinctions may seem subtle, they are actually rather radical, and can make all the difference between the intended and finished project.

The Role of the Interior Decorator

Typically, a decorator works only with surface decoration such as paint, fabrics, furnishings, decorative lighting, and materials.  Decorators also design drapery treatments, specify carpeting and rugs, wallpapers, accessories, and other “soft” items.

Decorators do not always have a formal design education.  While they do deal with tradesmen such as painters and wallpaper hangers, their responsibility is limited to the degree to which they can read, interpret, or create drawings.  They do not move walls, lower ceilings, or add any structural enhancements to the space.  If you want to refurbish your home but like the existing plan and feel of the space, and have no desire to make any structural changes, then the services of a decorator should suffice.

The Role of the Interior Designer

Interior designers deal with form and function, space and aesthetics.  In addition to performing all the services of a decorator, they are professionally trained—typically through the NDICQ qualifying exam—to create pleasing environments through interior space manipulation and planning.  An interior designer typically has the following expertise:

- Allocate, organize, and arrange a given space to suit its function

- Identify, research, and creatively resolve design issues

- Design and specify the type of lighting (such as cove lighting, down lights, etc.) and/or the design of light fixtures

- Monitor and manage construction and installation of the design

- Select and specify plumbing fixtures, furnishings, products, materials, hardware, and colors

- Design and supervise fabrication of custom furnishings

- Develop documents and specifications relative to interior spaces (manuals and schedules delineating the plumbing, finish, hardware, paint, lighting schedules)

- Help establish project goals and objectives

The Role of the Contractor

Contractors implement the design drawings, taking direction from the aesthetic directives of the decorator, designer, or architect. Caveat Emptor: Contractors do not design; they build.  His (or her) expertise is in the implementation of a design, not in its creation.  Contractors do not choose colors, fabrics, or finishes. They do not design kitchens, bathrooms, living rooms, etc.  The homeowner that chooses a contractor in place of an interior designer or architect cuts out the most vital step of the design process: the vision, the creation, the style, the good taste.

In addition, when a contractor performs an architect’s job, he removes a checks and balances system vital to the consumer.  There is no one to oversee the contractor’s precision or attention to detail. A good contractor is vital to the success of the project, but he is there as the facilitator of the design, not as the creator of it.



The Role of the Architect

Like the interior designer, architects mold and manipulate space to create aesthetically pleasing and well functioning homes or offices for the client.  Architects are knowledgeable about the mechanics of finishes and materials; “structures,” or the how and why things work the way they do; and the surrounding environment’s relationship to their creation. The major differences between an interior designer and an architect are the architect’s education, training, and experience and their ability to create new structures from the ground up.  They are typically not trained in, and customarily not interested in, the finishing of a space, that is, its decoration. I say typically because until the latter part of the 20th century, most architects focused on buildings and houses.  More recently, however, they have extended their domain to include interior renovations, encroaching somewhat into the designer’s territory.

The residential architect can be masterful in creating a satisfactory built environment, inside and out.  But this is more the domain of the “design architect,” one whose interests veer towards combining great design with great structure.  They are interested in the implementation of a master plan and the outfitting of its interiors.

The best projects combine the skills and abilities of the architect, the interior designer, and the decorator.  It is rare, however, to find a firm or individual who can successfully bring all three skill sets into play.  Josef Hoffman, Charles Rene Mackintosh, Robert Adam, William Morris, Rossetti, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Le Corbusier are among those icons who have done such, designing beautiful environments inside and out. More common is the confrontation among the three professions, rather than their seamless integration. When the designer or decorator places furniture incongruous to the structure, or when the architect designs space without consideration for how the furnishings will be laid out, then the client suffers. Happily, more and more design professionals are teaming up, creating comprehensive design networks to better serve the end product and their clients.


Friday, October 29th, 2010

Allusion or Illusion?

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As an interior designer for over twenty-five years, I have learned how to create space through the use of what I term “design magic,” ideas that contribute towards successful design. The premise underlying “Tricks of the Trade: A Professional’s Perspective” is my belief that effective design is achieved through a series of manipulative “twists of the wrist,” magic made by a professional.  By exploring the secrets behind timeless design, I hope to reveal how, through the sculpting and carving of space and the use of different and interesting materials and finishes, a designer creates magic.  “Tricks of the Trade” explains how these twists are created and then brought to fruition.

If sleight of hand is the magician’s forte, then sleight of imagination is the professional designer’s expertise. What distinguishes the so-called ‘do-it-yourself’ decorator from a real pro is basically the magic they create in sculpting and creating space. No mere pretty pink polka-dots on a wall, but perhaps a floating wall, one which seems to exist in space with no apparent support. Is this magic or professional know-how? It is both one and the same. It is an understanding of how a room can be made to look other than it is, and for a space to be constructed to look as though its imperfections were perfectly manicured.

Challenging Spaces Become Features

Consider the narrow passageway. The professional knows that by dropping the ceiling, the side walls “seem” to expand in breadth, thereby giving the sense of increased space. Was the space really widened? Was the neighbor’s apartment encroached upon? Of course not. It is simply a trick of the trade. Another bit of magic can be employed to make a floor appear larger than it is. By tiling or laying the floor on the diagonal, it appears to open up the space spreading off into some undetermined distance. Put a border around it and the magic is destroyed, the illusion cut short.

The Big Impact of Small Spaces

When visiting Malmaison outside of Paris last week, I noticed an abundance of antechambers—spaces designed to create the expectation of surprise and a breathing area, like a stop in music, where one waits in wonder as to what comes next. Often, these antechambers have dropped ceilings so as to create a sense of enclosure while simultaneously making the entering space feel even larger and more majestic. This sculpted drama is sensual in its appeal of the unknown. And then, when the individual passes into the major room, it is grander than thought. Back here in the United States, the entry foyer creates this same magic. By carving out a space, albeit small, it serves as a preface of what is to come. Again, it gives the illusion of grandeur beyond. So as not to enter directly into the living room, it is a transition area for circulation and surprise. What exactly lies beyond this curved wall, or veiled panel? There is really a type of physics going on here, as one lessens the feel of one area, the conjoining area seems enlarged. Niches do a similar thing; they carve out space, yet make it look larger. They create diversity and a sculpted sense that something lies beyond and within.

The Intrigue of the Half-Wall

Another bit of magic is that created by the half-wall. Instead of building all the way up to the ceiling and thereby closing off a space, a half- or three-quarter wall is created to divide spaces, while maintaining an open, airy feeling. These partial walls, which may be made of glass block, cabinetry, sheet rock, sandblasted glass, metal, basically any material, add interest and intrigue. It begs the question of what is beyond…. and yet visually it is completely open. This too is magic, as the viewer must now postulate on what lies ahead.

These are just a few of the sleights of hand, flights of imagination that the professional designer and architect conjure up to create the magic of space.

Coming in the next blog: The “magic” of mirrors, pocket doors, and perfectly placed furniture.

See my Designer Profile on HomePortfolio.

Friday, August 6th, 2010

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle,… What Do They Really Mean???

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Recycle Defined

Reduce, reuse, recycle…  Reduce, reuse, recycle…  Reduce, reuse, recycle…

When you work in the field of sustainable design, you hear that set of words so often it becomes almost meditative.  Ohm…..

But what do those words really mean when it comes to sustainable interiors?  How do they differ from some of the other “re” words, such as reclaim, or re-purpose?  Why are some more important for one product, but practically meaningless for another?

Allow me to try to help you sort it out.  The following is a list of some of the most common “re” terms used to describe sustainable materials, along with my advice as to why and when it matters.  (All definitions are from Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary 11th ed., unless otherwise noted.)

Reduce - “to diminish in size, amount, extent or number”

There is a reason that ‘reduce’ is the first word of the holy trinity of green words.  It is, after all, the most basic and important concept.  Every time we remove something from it’s natural state of being, there is an impact on our planet.   The less we take, the more stable our planet becomes.

Although designers, by the very nature of what they do, must specify “stuff”, that stuff doesn’t have to be as resource intensive.  Imagine the difference in the amount of material used to make a simple, light weight, wall mounted shelf system, vs. a set of heavy, built-in bookshelves.  This principle applies to every imaginable product, but is often overlooked by both designers and manufacturers as an aspect of green. (more…)