31 January 2008

More appliances: home, home with a range

In the world of kitchen appliances, the second one in importance and price to the refrigerator is the range. Most people refer to them as either a stove or an oven, but in appliance land a stove is something that burns wood and heats a cabin and an oven is the compartment where you bake or roast things. The whole appliance is called a range. Ranges come in two primary styles, a free-standing and a slide-in.

A free-standing range has finished sides and functions independently from the counters and cabinetry to either side of it. The easiest way to identify one is that it always has a riser on the back of it, and the appliance's controls are located on that riser for the most part. Free-standing ranges are the traditional design of an American range, it's what most people grew up with and already own. There are gas and electric versions of every model sold by the major manufacturers and they stick to the free-standing and slide-in general styles.

The primary benefit to them is that they cost less than their more contemporary brethren, the slide-in ranges. The downside to them is that they have a riser on the back of them. If you're renovating a kitchen and you want to feature an interesting mosaic backsplash behind your range, a free-standing range shoots you in the foot because it covers such a large part of that space. The cooktop on a free standing range sits at or just above the counter tops to either side of it and they leave a gap between the appliance and the counter.

So far as I know, all electric models sold in the US these days have a ceramic cooktop. The old "eyeball" burners have all but disappeared. As an aside, those cooktops everyone refers to as glass as a ceramic product called Ceran and Ceran is made by one company in the world. Never let someone try to tell you that brand A has a better quality cooktop than brand B because both brands bought their Ceran from the same place.

The newer alternative to a free-standing range is called a slide-in range. A slide-in appears to be smaller than a free-standing range when you see them side by side. To an extent that is correct. However, the oven compartments in both appliances are the same size, the cooktops hold the same number of burners and with no riser the control knobs get shifted to the face of the appliance. So far as function is concerned, both appliances are the same size.

A slide-in doesn't have finished sides and is designed to "slide in" to a gap in the cabinetry and counters. The height of the appliance keeps the cooktop at the same level as the counters and there is no gap between the cooktop and the counter. This makes for a neater appliance. The counter extends underneath the cooktop itself by around a half an inch on both side and on the back. This means that the appliance is not the full depth of the counter and that counter top material extends behind the cooktop.

As a practical matter, replacing a free-standing range with a slide-in in an existing kitchen set up will require that you get new counters at the same time. Fitting one of these things can be tricky, even in a new kitchen. They have zero tolerances for the variation in counter heights. The old rule of thumb in kitchen design was that the top of a kitchen counter stood 36" above the floor. Back in the day, this was a nominal dimension. All homes have uneven floors and there was always some flexibility regarding that 36" height rule. Not since the dawn of the slide-in though. They HAVE to be at least 36" off the floor or they don't fit. Talk about a heartbreak. Imagine spending $40,000 on a kitchen renovation and on the last day, when the appliances are going in you find out that your $2000 slide-in range doesn't fit and that you can't fix it. Oy, that's the stuff that keeps me awake at night.

Every consumer-grade manufacturer out there that I know of makes four versions of the same range: free-standing electric, slide-in electric, free-standing gas and slide-in gas. Most differences between slide-in and free-standing ranges are aesthetic. Free-standing ranges look better because they appear to be smaller, they don't dominate the back splash area and they are more contemporary.

Just as you have to select a refrigerator, so to you'll have to pick a range. If it's up to me, you'd get a bottom-mount, single-door, 36" refrigerator and now a slide-in range. Next up is dishwashers and microwave ovens. Woo-hoo!

Again, both of the appliances shown above are from KitchenAid http://www.kitchenaid.com/

30 January 2008

An introduction to appliances: refrigerators

A lot of times, people call me in the very early stages of planning a kitchen renovation. Most people have an idea, even if it's a vague one, of the way they want their new kitchen to look. For most renovation jobs, the largest expenditure will be for the cabinetry that ends up in their kitchen. The second largest they're going to write is to the place where they buy their appliances.

Kitchen appliances aren't really so daunting and learning about them is pretty easy. Most folks end up with the four primary, basic appliances that go into a kitchen. A refrigerator, a range, a dishwasher and a microwave oven. So for kitchen appliances 101, I'm going to concentrate on those four things. And tonight's going to be a run-through on home refrigeration.

Home refrigerators are sold in three primary sizes. And those sizes are their nominal widths. By that I mean, that they aren't really as wide as their sizes suggest. The manufacturers round up the dimension to the nearest size. The sizes are 30 inches, 33 inches and 36 inches. A 30 is the size that would normally end up in an apartment. They are too small for a family to use and unless your home is tiny, it's best to avoid them. 33s aren't very common, though there are a few manufacturers who still make them. I think that the 33 is an endangered species frankly, and they won't be around for much longer.

The 36 is the size where you'll find the largest selection of models and the widest assortment of features. Even if you don't buy a 36 at the time of your renovation, leave room for one and float a smaller-sized fridge in the space for a 36. That will allow you to upgrade later without destroying your cabinetry.

The side-by-side model is probably the most popular one sold in the US. Most of them come with an in-the-door water and ice dispenser. I see a problem with this design though. The freezer side is too narrow to fit something wide. Even though most people don't stockpile a lot of food in the freezer any more. But on at least one occasion a year, you'll buy a great big turkey only to find that it won't fit in the freezer. Ugh. It's sad, but true. The freezer side is too narrow to handle stuff like that. A lot of people who have these realize that keeping an auxiliary fridge with a wider freezer in the garage is a life saver on holidays and other occasions.

The side-by-side pretty much took over the place that top mounted freezers once held. Back in the day, all refrigerators had top mounted freezers, or so it seems to me. Then they went away to be replaced by the side-by-side. So in response to the skinny freezer problem, wider ones are back. But with a twist. Now the freezer is on the bottom. Freezer on the bottom designs makes more sense when you think about it.

Cold air sinks for starters, so it would take less energy to keep colder air low rather than forcing it to an upper compartment. Most people spend more time in the fridge than in the freezer anyway, so it makes sense to keep chilled things at eye level. The bottom mounted freezer is always a drawer, so when you pull it out, you look down at the contents of the freezer rather than having to dig through a compartment as in the days of old.

The newest innovation is what everyone calls a French door fridge. They look good for now but I don't see them adding any real function that will make them last. Most of them have a moveable gasket that locks the doors into the closed position and I always worry about moving parts on something that's going to get used a lot. They are new to the point where no one really knows how long that seal will hold up, but they do look good if only because they're new.

In later installments, I go through the basics of ranges, dishwashers and microwaves. Whether we get into the honors track stuff that covers built-in appliances, drawer freezers, ice makers and the rest of them remains to be seen. I love interesting appliances, I need to find a way to make them interesting though. Hmmmm.

Oh, the refrigerators ion this page came to us from our friends at Kitchenaid. Spend some time on their site, http://www.kitchenaid.com/, they make beautiful and long-lasting appliances.

29 January 2008

Budget jobs

Everybody has a budget for a project. It may be $20,000 or it may be $150,000, but in the end there is a limit to how much someone wants to spend. Believe it or not, fitting into a high-budget budget can involve more squeezing than fitting into a lower-priced job. Folks at the higher end of the market tend to have higher expectations and much longer wish lists.

I'm thinking about budgets because I have a meeting tomorrow morning with a very nice couple and their builder. The Very Nice Couple are in their mid-thirties and they have four kids, and I think the oldest is about 12.

These fine folks aren't wealthy, but they seem to be doing on the better side of OK. They seem pretty typical of most of the people who populate the endless suburbs. They are truly interesting and their children are their number one priority. Mom and Dad's vanity is not why we're having this meeting tomorrow morning. Rather, they live in a typical Florida block ranch house with its also typical tiny kitchen. They are out of room and they need to do something.

My job is to give this pretty cool young family a kitchen and a pantry that will make their lives easier, look great and not prevent the kiddies from going to college in a few years. Also typical for them and the house they live in, there are a bunch of mid-80s "innovations" that need to be undone, hence the presence of a contractor at tomorrow morning's meeting. They are buying their cabinetry and counters through me and I can control those costs somewhat, but I have to go easy on the construction demands I put on the contractor. I would love to remove the popcorn ceilings in the whole damn house, but that's just not in the cards. So we're going to move a doorway and remove a soffit that's hanging from the ceiling in the existing kitchen. We can't remove a bunch of interior walls, but we can get rid of one of them. Tearing down non-bearing walls in a ranch house can transform them.

It seems that back in the day, builders jammed a bunch of tiny rooms into these 1800 square foot wonders to make them appear to be larger. All those tiny rooms have the exact opposite effect though. So by breaking through one of two of the 20 I'd love to get rid of, we can give them the appearance of a bit more room.

The contractor will come in somewhere between nine and ten thousand dollars, I know that. He's going to cover the construction, painting, flooring, cabinetry installation and lighting. That's going to leave me with about the same amount for counters, cabinetry, a range and a fridge. Oh yeah, I have to get a microwave oven in here too. That is a tall order, but I'm remaining optimistic about it. We're just going to have to get creative and the homeowners are going to have to roll up their sleeves and take on some of the labor.

I've already started weed-whacking my cabinetry designs and I've taken out the obvious budget-busters like glass inserts in doors and cutlery dividers. Gone too are the ornate moldings that first brought them to me last June. We're using a builder-grade cabinet called Silverline from Medallion Cabinetry (www.medallioncabinetry.com). Another thing they won't budge on is their insistence on granite counters. Granite counters aren't the outrageously expensive luxury item they once were. But still, they will need a couple thousand dollars worth of granite for their job. The trade off for granite on the counters is cabinetry made from maple instead of the cherry we started with. Maple is a fine hardwood, but it costs more for a reason --it just looks better than maple does. Oh well. But there are some things I just can't get rid of. Four kids generate huge amounts of stuff and I have to find places to hide all of that stuff when it's not in use.

So after seven months of reevaluating needs and wants, we're just about where we need to be to actually start. Mercifully, The Nice Couple has stuck this out. They understood pretty early on that I was there to help them transform their home. I have been upfront with them all along about prices and comparative values, and they get it. I love working with people like this for a couple of months. I love it when we can get our interactions down to the point where they trust me enough to say, "Paul, we want to spend less than $2000 on a 36"-wide stainless steel refrigerator. Is that even possible?" I care about this job genuinely and when we say goodbye for the last time in a couple of months, they will be happy our paths crossed.

I'm looking forward to this job. A lot of times, I'm party to the construction of ego trips rendered in wood and drywall. So much of what I do seems like it doesn't matter very much in the long run. I talk about improving people's lives, but I wonder how much improving I do sometimes. In a case like this though, I have no doubt that the four kids who will be fed from this kitchen will be fed by a far less frustrated set of parents.

I'm not a sentimental man, especially when it comes to children. But the idea of those four kids doing homework on counter tops of my design warms my cold, cold heart.

28 January 2008

Competitive bids

I sent out a proposal to someone who was referred to me a week ago. I did a proposal for a Cadillac-version of a kitchen renovation for them. They wouldn't tell me what their budget was, they wanted a lot of vague, nice touches and so that's what I gave them. I explained to them in a cover letter that what I had provided them was a proposal and that it was the beginning of a conversation. The perspective drawings I sent them showed what we'd talked about, and the price information I sent them was how much a kitchen containing the features I used would cost.

I received an e-mail back that they appreciated all of my hard work, but that they were getting two more "competitive bids" and they would get back to me.

A lot of people subscribe to the belief that they need to get three competitive bids before getting any work done on their homes and then they should go with the lowest bid. That sounds like a recipe for heartache to me.

Here's why: for starters, bids can only be competitive if your three bidders are pricing identical things. They can only price identical things if you write them a spec sheet and say; "Here, price this." If you don't know how to write specs for something you want to have done on your home you can either learn how or you can try a new tack.

Try this next time. Interview a bunch of bidders and go with the one who makes you comfortable. Or go with the one whom you trust. Or go with the one who has a track record he or she can prove to you through references. Construction stuff of similar quality costs about the same regardless who's providing them.

If the folks I wrote about at the beginning of this are getting bids and that's their prerogative. Had I known that all along I would not have invested the time in their proposal that I did, that's for sure. Had I known that from the start, I would have outlined the specifications I was planning to follow (since they didn't have a clue) and I would written that down and given it to them to use for their other bids. If I'm going to have to compete for something, I am going to do everything in my power to level the field, believe me. So now these fine folks have my proposal that they think is a bid. If they go to two other bottom feeders, they will get bids from them that are half the price of my proposal and I will look like I over charge. I don't over charge though. I sell a better product than what you'd find at a home center or a buyer's club.

It's as if you went to a BMW dealer and said, "I want a car, how much for a car?" The dealer will come back with a bunch of questions and through those questions will figure out what you want. Then he'll look you in the eye and tell you that what you want costs $55,000.

Armed with that information, you drive down the road and go to a KIA dealer and go through the same thing. The KIA guy comes up with a price of $18,000.

Finally, you go to a Dodge Dealer and he's having a special on Neons and he can put you in a Neon for $14,000.

So now you have three prices, three competitive bids in a very warped sense of the term. They tell you nothing about the comparative value of those three kinds of cars. They are three prices for three very different things.

So with that off my chest, I have this to say: go get your bids if that will give you a sense of control. But tell the people you're getting them from what you're doing. Be sure you are pricing identical things if you're comparing prices. But be warned, when you're contemplating something as complicated as a renovation or a construction project, direct comparisons are nearly impossible. So find someone you trust, it will cost you less in the long run.

27 January 2008

Lighting and its consequences

I had a meeting this afternoon with a client and one of the ways he wants to save money on his job is to buy cheap lighting. That's an understandable impulse. It's easy to lose control of a budget when you're building a new house, and there are sensible ways to get it back under control. Lighting is a logical place to look when you're trying to squeeze dollars in the final push to complete a project.

There are some things you don't want to cut out though and it's important to follow a lighting plan. Finding less-expensive fixtures is not terribly difficult and with some perseverance and a good eye, no one will ever know you cut some corners. Corners you cannot cut are the three kinds of lighting that every good room needs. Ambient, task and accent are the three primary categories of lighting. Ambient lighting is general illumination like that of can lights or ceiling lights. Task lighting is from pendant lights over a counter or bar or from table lamps. Accent lighting is light that draws attention to art or plants or architecture. Accent is exactly what it sounds like, an accent. Just as relying on a single ceiling light to illuminate a room is a bad idea, so is trying to light a room using nothing but a couple of uplights trained on your houseplants. You cannot have a single light fixture multi-task and do anything other than what it's intended to do. So don't cut the number of lighting fixtures and features, just pick less-expensive parts to do those jobs.

Good lighting is like good anything else. It's expensive and it's usually expensive for a reason. It's innovative, or beautiful, or it's a unique piece of practical art. There are lighting companies out there who specialize in this sort of fixture and charge accordingly. Artemide (http://www.artemide.us/) and Tech (http://www.techlighting.com/) come to mind when I think about this kind of lighting. As a designer, the offerings of these firms and many others like them make my mouth water. When somebody tells me "I want a really gorgeous pendant light." I am going to specify something from Oggetti (http://www.oggettidev.com/intro.html). Oggetti makes what I consider to be gorgeous light fixtures and they start at about $500.

I may be a designer whose eyes are easily drawn to expensive, shiny objects. But I'm also a realist and a notorious cheapskate. I may specify $500 pendant lights all the time, but it will be a cold day in hell when I spend that kind of money on a light fixture for myself.

So what is there to do? Put simply, what there is to do is study the high end of the market and pay attention to what's making those expensive lights unique. Is it the glass in the shade? Is it the patina on the metal accents? Are they really sleek? That sort of thing. Try to home in on specific features about that stuff that you like and then go find a knock off. Lighting snobs like me will be able to spot the fakes from across the room, but no one else will.

There are surprising knock offs of the good stuff that show up in the lighting aisles of Home Depot and Lowe's, but they are few and far between. Most of what's in those aisles is as graceless and poorly-designed as it can get, but every once in a while they hit on something good. I was in a Lowe's this afternoon in fact, and I was struck by the sheer ugliness of most of the lighting department. The two or three acceptable pieces were made acceptable by comparison only. It was a bad selection day at Lowe's. Ugh. A better bet is to dive onto the internet and go see my friends at Faucet.com (http://www.faucet.com/).

Faucet.com's offerings are extensive and priced across a wide range. They also sell some decent stuff there too, so you can find originals and knock offs on the same site.

The lesson? Stay out of home centers and listen to people like me.

26 January 2008

Particle Board vs. Plywood

A lot of people come to me, fresh from watching HGTV and its misleading commercials, and they specify that they want ply wood cabinetry in their new kitchen. So I put together a proposal using our plywood construction option and their eyes bug out when they see the price. Even worse, some of them run to a local distributor of cheap plywood-built cabinetry from China and spend their money on garbage that will fall apart in a couple of years. Some folks out there hear the word plywood and their eyes glaze over. "I want that!"

No one ever talks about the difference between grades of plywood. A two-ply sheet of plywood is technically plywood, sure. But it has the strength of a Kleenex. But a couple of levels below that, I want to know where the perception that it's always better and always superior comes from.

The standard-built, made-to-order cabinet sold in the world is made from particle board. And when I say made from I mean that the box of the cabinet -- its sides, back, bottom and shelves are made with a laminated particle board. Cabinet doors, face frames, moldings, etc. are almost always made from a combination of solid hardwoods and hardwood veneers. The industry realizes that particle board has been unfairly maligned and so they refer to it as "furniture board." The term furniture board strikes me as being a bit forced.

Anyhow, particle board is also graded; much the same way that plywood is. The some-assembly-required shelf system from IKEA is made from particle board. So is a one-of-a-kind set of kitchen cabinets from William Ohs. There is a profound difference in the quality of that particle board though.

Put simply, cheap particle board is made from sawdust and Elmer's glue. Good particle board is made from sawdust and airplane glue. Good particle board is water-resistant, strong, heavy and stable. It can also be milled consistently. As a manufactured product, it can be made to spec. If somebody wants it to be 1 and 11/16ths inches thick, then it will be.

You cannot be so precise with plywood. Plywood is also a manufactured product, but it expands and contracts in reaction to ambient temperature and humidity. That it responds to humidity tells me at any rate that it isn't very water resistant.

Plywood can be drilled, patched and repaired more easily than particle board can. Plywood also hold color better. Plywood is always a premium, price-wise. The industry knows that there is a perceived value and they run with it.

There are times when its use is warranted and there are times when it's a waste of money. One thing that plywood is not is automatically superior to particle board. It's just not. If it can save 20% on the cost of a set of kitchen cabinets to make them from Particle board, why not? You can use that 20% to buy better counters or something else you can see. Or do what I would do and just spend less money on your new kitchen. But what do I know? Hah!

25 January 2008

More cabinetry thoughts

I had a meeting with two clients who are building a home today. We've been working on the plan for their project for about a month already and we are still hammering out their kitchen. At this stage of the game, I'm still not sure they want to use me and I don't want to spend a whole lot more time on their plan until I know that this won't be a waste of my time.

I found out today that the construction loan they're getting for this project has allowed them a cabinetry budget of $13,000 to cover the whole house. That's a kitchen, an office, a master suite, three other baths and built-ins in the living room. Their kitchen alone is sitting at $23,000 as of this afternoon. That $23,000 kitchen is a nice kitchen and it's giving them a lot of what they loved about it when it was a $34,000 design. It's a testament to my skill that I could pull $11,000 out of a design and still have it look so close to what they are after. Anyhow, I would love to know where banks and insurance companies, or builders for that matter, get their prices when they are figuring out cabinetry allowances.
Spending $34,000 on kitchen cabinetry gets you quite a room. Spending a third of that on an entire 4500 square foot house is not something I even want to see.

So what my latest tack has been to get this price down to something they are willing to spend has been to use a coordinated builder-grade product for the island and some other accent pieces in the kitchen. That ought to get the price down a bit more but I cannot get any lower than that and still give them what they are looking for. I don't think anyone else can either.

Anyhow on a happier note, I figured out how to post photos today. Let's give it a try. Here is a beautiful set of Medallion Cabinetry (http://www.medallioncabinetry.com/) in a door style called Chelsea:

Chelsea is an inset door style and it's shown here in a white paint on maple and the islands in the foreground are the same door style only in a stained cherry.

This Chelsea kitchen reminds of a great one I did in Tampa last summer, only we used St. Andrews (a full-overlay door instead of an inset) in the same off-white. We used honed statuary marble for the counters instead of what looks like absolute black granite in this one.

It had the same 48" Wolf range and hood as this one though. When I'm beating my head against the wall about not being able to get a budget and a design to come together, it's nice to look back on some of my successes from the recent past.

Here's another nice room in another Medallion inset door:
This is an entertainment center made using the Winslow door in both cherry and maple. It's a great use of a variety of textures and colors and I love it.

24 January 2008

Out of kitchen cabinetry

It was a hardware afternoon after all. A good time was had by all, at least after the shock of what good cabinet hardware costs wore off.

I sent out a proposal for an office and an armoire today. The builder for this job has been beating me up over costs, but there is not way to bring in a decent-looking office or piece of furniture from a cabinet company that doesn't cost an arm and a leg. A thousand-dollar home office is something you go to Office Depot to buy, not something you order as custom cabinetry. Things don't have to be outrageous, but good stuff is expensive and I suppose everyone has a different opinion of what constitutes "outrageous."

I was reading a British Cabinet maker's blog and he refers to what he makes and sells as "Fitted Furniture," a term I think I'm going to steal and use as my own. Because really, that's what it is.

I am a kitchen designer and as interesting and enjoyable as I find general interior design, selling cabinetry is what pays my bills. Great cabinetry is a gift from the gods. And it doesn't come cheap. Ever. Dollar for dollar, it's no more expensive than great furniture and I don't understand why people think that it should be. I suppose that's something else we have to thank our friends at the home centers for.

But anyhow, I sell a brand of cabinetry called Medallion (www.medallioncabinetry.com) and it's a fantastic product and while not cheap, it is a tremendous value. For about the same amount of money as the disposable crap at Home Depot, Medallion is heirloom stuff. Using their products, I can put together a really functional, beautiful office as I proposed this afternoon. But I can't do it for much less than 10 thousand dollars. To get something for less money than that, then either the function or the beauty has to go.

Granted, $10 grand is a lot of money, I never lose sight of that. It's more money than I would spend on an office for myself, that's why I sit on my sofa and work on a laptop. Hah!

It is funny though, kitchen cabinetry is a pretty competitive product category. A sink base is a sink base and there are some pretty rigid market rates at work to determine how much someone can charge for one. But as I tell my clients all the time, cabinet companies make money from ways that they differentiate themselves from other cabinet companies. Cabinetry for rooms other than the kitchen is a prime example of that. Office cabinetry, entertainment centers, bookcases and the rest are profit centers. Know that going in and you can control your costs a little better. Moldings and carvings are another one. Those pretty cornices and French feet are $400 a pop! So apply stuff like that with a light hand.

23 January 2008

Tomorrow's gonna be hardware kind of day

I Googled my name today and this blog came up as the number two hit. Wow, that was fast! I've been at this for four days and it's showing up in the search engine already. I feel like a movie star.

Anyhow, I have an appointment tomorrow with a client to whom I sold ten rooms full of cabinetry in a house that's under construction. Her cabinetry is being delivered next week and we're getting together tomorrow to pick her hardware. This is pretty late in the game to be doing this, and she wants to keep this appointment to under two hours, so this will be a pretty rapid-fire operation.

The hardware we sell at the studio is by Schaub and Company, and a better collection I have yet to find. They are unbeatable at their price point. They make and sell really beautiful stuff, yet at the same time it's priced at what I would considered to be a good value. Few things break my heart the way cheap knobs and pulls do. That's never a problem with Schaub. They handle the middle of the market really well. Their metals are of a high quality and their finishes are both varied and well done. As they start moving into the higher end stuff, watch out. Who knew cabinet knobs could be this gorgeous?

You need real cloisonne? They got it. Ditto shell inlays, semi-precious stones and hand cast bronze. Again, really nice stuff. While nobody would ever call it inexpensive, compared to who they are going up against in the market, the stuff's a steal.

Shaub shows its collections well on their website too. http://www.schaubandcompany.com/

Anyhow, the first question that will come up in my appointment tomorrow is going to be what goes where? To which I will respond the way I always do: "There are no rules," I'll say.

What there are though are general guidelines. This woman's kitchen is rather large, so her room can handle an assortment of hardware. Most hardware comes in a suite. That means that there will be one or two knobs, one or two pulls and a cup pull that have the same color and style. They are meant to be mixed and matched. I tend to like a knob on a cabinet door and a handle on a drawer, but that's just me. Same as anything else though, what's important is that you introduce a pattern and stick to it. If doors are going to get knobs and drawers are going to get handles, then use cup pulls on big pot and pan drawers. If a kitchen has wide drawers, mixed with narrower ones, introduce a new rule. My general rule is that all drawers 24" wide or less get a single handle. Any drawer from 25" to 36" wide will get two handles. If you want to use bin pulls, or what we call cup pulls; introduce a new rule. A drawer between four and six inches tall will get a handle. If a drawer is taller than seven inches then it will get a cup pull. So there are some basic rules and I just made them up. Well, not exactly, they are the rules I like to see applied when I'm selecting hardware.

22 January 2008

Tile backsplashes

I signed a contract today with a client I met originally about a year ago. She was in another house then, and now with a new house, she's ready to take on a pretty good-sized renovation. While we were finalizing her selections for the kitchen cabinets, I started assembling a palette for her of some potential finishes. I pulled out a bunch of 8-1/2" x 11" color sheets from my Sherwin-Williams binder, found a porcelain tile for her floors and grabbed a couple of tile samples. Voila, we had something to work with. She was unsure of the idea of glass tile. Here's what I have to say about that.

Glass tile back splashes are gorgeous. That whole tumbled marble nonsense is going away thank God and glass tile is coming on strong. The back splash of a kitchen is the wall that runs from the counter to the underside of the wall cabinets. That space is usually 18" tall and is a great canvas to do something interesting with.

At KBIS last year in Las Vegas, the mosaic tile people were out in droves. It was great to see all of that gorgeous tile and it was equally interesting to see where the different manufacturers were going with it.

When glass wall tile first caught my eye, it was always small squares in colors that were dark and there were usually a lot of metal tones to them. Then things started to evolve into the same small squares, but they were starting to get more translucent and the colors were getting brighter. As I saw at KBIS, all bets seem to be off. There is a rebirth of traditional mosaic patterns (basket weaves, herringbones, subway patterns, etc.) only now they're being rendered in glass. The scale seems to be shrinking too. This is neat. I love seeing a brightly-colored glass mosaic made up of individual pieces of about 1/2" in height by 2--3" in length and set in a subway pattern. A lot of them are still coming up pretty tailored and polished as the selections available from Mirage are. And then there are some that are more ragged and primitive looking, such as the stuff available from Emenee. I'm glad to see some of these smaller firms taking a lead with this stuff rather than waiting around for Walker-Zanger and Anne Sacks to take the lead. Don't get me wrong, anything that comes out of those two companies in particular makes my mouth water. But at the end of the day, they are part of the Kohler company. I love Kohler's offerings, but when I want innovation I don't go looking for a giant corporation to provide it.

So anyhow, the client today signed off on my entire, impromptu palette and marvelled that I could pull that out of the air so quickly. What I didn't tell her was that I was showing her the sort of stuff I always show indecisive people. That is, another damn neutral palette. Somebody please, let me do something wild! Just once, I want to use primary colors and get away with it. Let me paint your living room orange and your bathrooms lime green!

21 January 2008

Some more thoughts on color

Last night, after I finished writing up the paint color schedule for the house I was in yesterday afternoon, I sent an e-mail to the ICI Paints rep in New Jersey.

But first, an aside: When I specify paint colors, I use a fan deck to find the colors I want to use. Fan decks and the color cards you find in a home center always have between four and 10 colors on a page, and there are subtle differences between the colors in a row. This is confusing for most people, because unless you do this really often, your brain can't differentiate subtle differences in hue, tone, saturation, etc. when small blocks of color are set up in a vertical row. So I use a fan deck to run through a range of colors and narrow down the choices I'm going to present to someone. Then, I order either 3 x 5 cards (in the case of ICI) or 8-1/2 x 11 sheets (in the case of Sherwin-Williams) of solid color. With the color selections on an individual sheet, it is a lot easier to see them. A loose sheet or card can be taped to the wall for a sneak preview too.

Anyhow, I wrote an e-mail to the rep from ICI last night and by nine this morning I had an e-mail back from him telling me that all of the 3 x 5 color cards I ordered would be in my hands tomorrow. That's what I call service. ICI Paints is gaining all kinds of points with me over their excellent treatment of my requests for fast turnaround samples, I'll say that for them.

I hear all the time from people that the paint they bought and put on the wall looksdifferent from the chip they saw on a rack at Home Depot. There are a couple of reasons for this and I think the biggest reason is that they weren't looking at their selected color in isolation, they were looking at it in a range. The second reason is that their lighting at home is very different from the uniformly awful lighting inside of a Home Depot. Since all color is reflected light anyhow, the quality of the light being reflected plays a huge role in how a color ends up looking in a home. All color chips that I know of are printed. They are printed in ink and are designed to represent a color with an eggshell finish. They do a pretty good job of accommodating the differences between printer's ink on a card and actual paint pigments on a wall, so even though the colors are an approximation, they are usually a damn good one.

I think a lot of the problem comes from people selecting sheens that alter how a color looks. A lot of people have the moronic idea that you can't scrub flat paint and that therefore it's bad. To which I usually resond: "When is the last time you scrubbed a wall?" And besides, modern flat paints are a lot more resilient than their predecossors were. But flat paint makes wall glow. Flat paint makes wall colors look rich and saturated. Semi glosses and satins reflect back too much light and come across as cold to me. Not to mention distracting. I hate seeing reflected glare on a wall. Ugh. I'll say it again, never paint a wall anything but flat. Paint trim with a satin sheen. They are a recipe for a great paint job.

Tomorrow, I have an appointment with a client in the morning and she wants to talk about paint color of course, and she walso wante me to recommend a glass tile mosaic tile for her kitchen. Woo-hoo! I'll have something new to blog about tomorrow.

20 January 2008

Today is day one of my new blog. I plan to use this space to post informative information regarding kitchen, bath and home design. I am a professional designer in Saint Petersburg, Florida. My work life keeps me hopping, that's for sure and I love what I do for a living. I find though, that there is a huge disconnect between the design professions and regular people. I want to use this blog in a similar way that I use my career --to try to bridge that gap. A nice home needn't be the sole province of people with a lot of money. Everyone deserves to live in a pleasant, well-though-out environment. So to that end, here we go:

I spent the better part of today selecting interior paint colors with a new client and I have paint on the brain it seems. Due to their contractor's insistence, I am selecting colors form ICI's palette with is an unusual thing. I'm usually pretty brand loyal to Sherwin-Williams. I love Sherwin-Williams for its neutral palette as much as anything else. Although they do a nice job with brights as well. ICI's neutral palette works differently and even though the colors going into this new house are fine I would have preferred to be working with Sherwin-Williams.

The key to color selections for a whole house is pretty basic coordination, regardless whose palette you're using. If the black values line up across a range of colors the house will have a harmonious palette. It's the same way with lining up the yellows or the blues or the reds. Although when I'm asked to do it, I go for the black values. I guess I am a neutral kind of guy at heart.

In English, all of that means that I used a taupe as a dominant color throughout the house in question. Based on that taupe, I selected accent colors for rooms that bled into one another. Starting with a darker version of the original taupe. Then a smokey blue and then a sagey green. Bouncing back and forth between those colors and combining them will allow these clients to live in a harmonious home. Harmonious from a color perspective at any rate.

As I figure out how to use this blog I will post examples of colors and how to combine them. For tonight though, I think I'll leave it at this.