31 October 2009

Reader question: Can I install my own quartz counters?

Hi --I am interested in quartz but it is more than I want to spend. There is Riverstone quartz sold at Menard's that you order direct from the manufacturer and install yourself at substantial savings. Have you ever done this or do you have any info about it? I can't seem to find any reviews on it anywhere. Thanks.
No ma'am. I have never been party to a DIY counter, I have no information on it and I cannot believe that someone's actually selling quartz composite counters this way. Please rethink this idea.

Working with stone and quartz composite is a highly skilled trade, a profession, for a reason. It takes a long time to learn how to work with these materials. Setting and seaming counters is as much an art as it is a trade and the men and women who perform this work earn every penny they get.

Quartz composites are tricky materials and they're also very heavy. Suppose you go through with this plan and at some point down the road someone delivers a thousand pounds of counters to your house. Then what? Who's going to pick it up? Who's going to guarantee that your kitchen cabinets can handle the weight? Who's going to guarantee that the counter will sit on a perfectly level surface? I looked over Menard's website and sure enough, they are selling that composite material as a DIY project. I see too that they are cutting sink holes. Now my question is, who attaches the sink and who drills the holes for the faucets? What may look to you as a way to save some money looks to me like a recipe for disaster.

Home centers are built around the fiction that anybody can do it themselves and save big bucks. Well, the truth is most people can't do it themselves. Most people can't diagnose their own illnesses, defend themselves in a lawsuit, tune up their own cars, invest their own money, rewire their homes, replumb their own bathrooms or grow their own food either. Unless you know exactly what you're doing, don't take on a project you can't complete with competence.

A better way to go about this is to assess your total kitchen budget honestly. Figure out what you need and what you want and then assign a reasonable dollar value to each of those things. Add up your wants and needs and notice that it's probably a larger number than the budget you started with. That's OK, because the next step is the most important one. Figure out how to adjust your wants and needs to accommodate your budget. The best way to do that is to talk to actual trade professionals. Go to a counter fabricator and tell him or her, I have three thousand dollars budgeted for counters and I like quartz composite. What can I get for that money? Similarly, go to a kitchen designer and tell him or her, I have $15,000 to spend on cabinetry, what can I get for that? Then do the same thing with an appliance person and a flooring person and a plumbing person. Find out how far your funds will go, and remember that all you're doing at this point is gathering information. Go slowly and be methodical. Get all of your numbers together and your questions answered before you spend a dime.

It may turn out that you can't afford a quartz counter. But what I suspect is that if getting a quartz composite counter is priority one, you will find a way to shuffle around the costs of the rest of your project to accommodate it. Find less expensive cabinetry, a less-expensive appliance package and less expensive flooring and before you know it, you'll be able to afford that counter after all. Budgets are made and broken in $100 increments, so keep at it and you'll find a way to make it work.

Or you could just cut to the chase and go directly to a kitchen designer and let her or him put together a plan for the whole thing based on the budget you have. But of course I'll tell you that. Hah! In the meantime, good luck and stay out of Menard's.

30 October 2009

Let me off in the Bronze Age

Six thousand years ago, an unknown and enterprising tradesman of the Elamite city of Susa combined copper and tin in a crucible and ushered in a new age of human development. It was the dawn of the bronze age and the Elamites were the first people to leave the stone age behind. Bronze was the first metal alloy devised by anyone, in Elam or anywhere else, and the technology to make and use it spread outward from what's now Iran and it eventually circled the globe. Its two component metals, copper and tin, almost never occur near one another and making bronze required trade with other civilizations. So ancient people found it to be not only useful, it also made them talk to their neighbors.

Bronze had a relatively low melting point, it resisted corrosion, it could be made into as many shapes as could be imagined and it was made from materials that were in ready supply in the Middle East. Bronze remained the go-to material until the beginning of the iron age, some three thousand years later. Bronze never lost its usefulness and human beings have been making and appreciating bronze for six thousand years and counting.

I can't think of a metal that feels as good as bronze does. It has a nearly velvety feel to it and that comes from the surface corrosion that results from the copper in bronze reacting to oxygen in the air. Bronze has the unique ability to stop corroding as soon as its surface has a layer of copper oxide coating it. It lasts forever and actually looks better over time.

I'm fortunate to sell a line of cabinetry hardware from Schaub and Company in Grand Rapids, MI. Schaub sells some of the finest hardware I can think of and when Tom the Schaub rep comes calling it's like Christmas. Schaub and Company approaches what they do with the care and precision of jewelers and they do a lot with bronze. Tom's visit yesterday afternoon didn't disappoint.

This is a collection called Vinci, and it features some pretty modern shapes in an ancient metal. Well sign me up. I knew I was going to love it before he even unwrapped his sample kit.

These handles and knobs come in two finishes and the handles come in five sizes. Measured center to center, the handles come in four-inch, six-inch, 12-inch, and 18-inch cabinet handle and then a chunkier 18-inch appliance handle. The knobs come in two square sizes and the entire collection is available in two finishes, antique bronze and polished white bronze.

Polished white bronze is an almost mirror finish on a roughly cast modern shape. It's sensory overload and my new favorite handle.

As if it weren't beautiful enough already, the entire Vinci collection is unlacquered and has what's called a living finish. I wrote a series on living finishes last winter in response to a reader request that I come up with a definitive answer. I came up with three definitive answers and you can read them here, here and here.

A living finish means that the surface will continue to change color with time and exposure to the elements. This takes time and it provides true character to a metal finish. Your life leaves a mark on a living finish and the idea of my leaving a mark on an inanimate, decorative object is something that appeals to me on a really basic level. It's for that same reason that I like marble counters so much. I'll take character over something that looks pristine any day and believe it or not, I kind of like my crow's feet too.

Anyhow, this new Vinci bronze collection from Schaub and Company has given me one more thing to love about their hardware. Poke around on their site, there's enough there to appeal to just about everybody.

29 October 2009

Fun uses for your dishwasher

I always feel like I'm derelict in my duties when I do a non-design post like my PSA on the flu this morning. So here's a topical quickie, stolen shamelessly from the pages of Real Simple magazine's website. I rarely have any use for that magazine or the idea that I need to pay someone to tell me to get rid of all my crap so I can replace it with more crap that costs more money but takes up less space. Why not just get rid of my crap and not replace it with anything? Hmmmm. Anyhow, here's their list of  dishwasher fun facts.

You Can Put These in the Dishwasher

Baseball caps can get bent in the washing machine but hold their shape in the dishwasher. Don’t wash them with dishes; food can get trapped in the fabric.

Action figures and other small toys can ride in a mesh lingerie bag on the top rack (but don’t wash Barbie or she’ll have a horrible hair day).

Rain boots should have the liners removed and lie horizontally. Hook flip-flops on tines in the top rack.  (FYI, Crocs are not dishwasher-safe.) [editor's note: that should matter because none of my readers own something called "Crocs"]

Tools with metal or plastic handles will be fine. Towel-dry afterward to prevent rusting.

Ceramic cabinet knobs do well in the silverware basket, so if you feel like embarking on the process (remove, wash, replace), go for it.

Hairbrushes and combs made of plastic can take a spin, but not wood or natural boar-bristle brushes. Be sure to remove all the hair first to protect the drain.

Fan grilles, switch plates, and vent covers are in if they’re plastic, aluminum, or steel. Enameled, painted, or plated should stay out.

Shin guards, knee pads, and mouth guards―toss them all into the top rack.

Light-fixture covers are fine in the top rack, as long as they’re not antique, enameled, or painted.

Garden tools may have come in contact with pesticides or animals, so don’t mix them with a load of dishes. (And don’t wash those with wood handles.)

Potatoes can get nice and clean in the top rack with a rinse-only cycle (no detergent). Sound crazy? It makes mashed potatoes for 20 a lot quicker.

Things You Thought Could Go in the Dishwasher But Really Shouldn't

Cast-iron, enameled-cast-iron, and copper pots and pans are on the never list. Why? Cast iron rusts; enameled cast iron chips; copper dents.

Formal dishes and nice flatware can get worn with repeated washings. Rule of thumb: If it’s something you would cry over harming or losing, don’t put it in. (If you do put sterling silver in the dishwasher, use about a tablespoon of detergent and don’t mix it with stainless-steel flatware; a chemical reaction between the metals can discolor the silver.)

Wooden spoons can warp and crack. If you don’t mind replacing them frequently, throw them in; otherwise wash them in the sink.

Good kitchen knives and steak knives aren’t cheap. Why risk dulling their blades?

Crystal glasses are especially vulnerable. Food particles can etch them; heat can cause cracks. After hand washing (it’s usually safer than using the china/crystal setting), dry with a cloth that hasn’t been laundered with fabric softener, which can leave a film.

Insulated mugs and containers feature vacuum seals, which can be destroyed if water seeps in.

Brass items should never see the inside of a dishwasher. Hot water can remove the natural protective layer that forms on brass.

Wooden cutting boards can swell and contract, leaving them teetery and essentially useless on a counter. Most bamboo boards are susceptible, too.

Technically Acceptable for the Dishwasher...But Too Questionable for Us to Endorse

Broom Ends (and Dust Pans, Scrub Brushes, and Vacuum Attachments)
Why you would: It’s the only way to get them clean.
Why we wouldn't: Ick.
If you're so inclined: Shake loose dust into the trash first, says Shannon Lowe, the Tulsa-based author of the blog rocksinmydryer.typepad.com. Stick brushes and attachments in the silverware basket and broom ends and dust pans on top.

Computer Keyboards
Why you would: Because you spilled coffee on it. A crazy, last-resort attempt to save something that may be ruined, but some techies swear by it. Terry Jarrard, a computer programmer in Collinsville, Oklahoma, has washed his keyboards “at least a half-dozen times and never had a problem.”
Why we wouldn't: We don’t believe in Santa Claus or unicorns, either.
If you're so inclined: Place the keyboard facedown on the top rack, don’t use detergent, and skip the drying cycle. Afterward, unscrew the back, if possible, or pop off the keys (take a picture beforehand so you remember where they go). Air-dry two to five days. Pray the Computer Fairy is looking down on you, then reassemble.

Why you would: Because it’s an Internet cliché that happens to work. Impress friends! Make kids laugh!
Why we wouldn't: Our food editors tested this “recipe,” and though the fish did cook, the dishwasher reeked afterward (shocker). Plus, you’re actually cooking the salmon with your crusty dishes and coffee-stained mugs.

This year's flu and you; a public service announcement

2009 to 2010 promises to be a particularly tough flu season. I can't imagine that this is news, but there are two flu strains making the rounds right now; H1N1 and the regular, seasonal flu. There are vaccines now available for both of them and please, if you are part of the at-risk population, get vaccinated. If you're not considered to be at-risk, please get these vaccinations anyhow. Both vaccines have been tested thoroughly and are safe. WebMD has a great section on it that dispels a lot of the myths and misinformation surrounding the H1N1 vaccine particularly. If you'd like to read something topical that's based on real science, please direct your browser there.

These influenza viruses are no fun and containing their spread is everyone's responsibility. If you get the flu this winter, please stay home and take care of yourself until you're no longer contagious. The primary means of flu transmission is from inhaling airborne mucous droplets that carry viruses. These droplets and their hitchhiking viruses become airborne when someone who has an active flu infection coughs or sneezes. The second most common means of flu infection is from touching infected surfaces. These findings are from a paper by Dr. Mark Nicas of the University of California Berkeley’s School of Public Health, and Dr. Rachael M. Jones of the University of Illinois Chicago’s School of Public Health. Their findings appeared in the September issue of the peer-reviewed journal Risk Analysis, published by the Society for Risk Analysis.

According to Nicas' and Jones' research, the relative likelihood of being infected by the different exposure routes are:
  1. hand contact with contaminated surfaces, 31 percent;
  2. inhaling small particles carrying virus when in the room, 17 percent;
  3. inhaling relatively large particles carrying virus when three feet or closer to the infected person, 0.52 percent; and
  4. close contact spraying of cough droplets carrying virus onto the membranes of the eyes, nostrils and lips, 52 percent. 
Oy. So even though there's nothing you can do to make these viruses go away, there's a lot you can do to manage the risks and prevent infection. The website Flu and Health is great resource for factual, science-based and non-inflammatory information that might help to keep you, your family and your workplace flu-free. From their website:

Get Vaccinated: Remember that you need two vaccines for the 2009 flu season.
  • Seasonal Flu: The single best way to protect against the seasonal flu is to get vaccinated each year, preferably in October or November.
  • H1N1 Flu:  In addition to providing the seasonal flu vaccine, the U.S. government is working closely with manufacturers to develop and provide a 2009 H1N1 vaccine. The H1N1 vaccine is expected to be available in the fall.
Disinfect your home
  • Disinfect frequently used surfaces like doorknobs, counters, table tops, dials, handles and switches.
  • Clean dishes, cups and utensils in the dishwasher
  • Use chlorine bleach on white bedding, towels and other laundry as appropriate
Maintain a healthy lifestyle
  • Get plenty of rest, exercise regularly and manage stress.
  • Encourage anyone with a cough or fever to stay home from work or school or errands to rest and avoid contact with others.
  • Avoid crowds wherever possible during peak flu season.
  • Practice good personal hygiene.
  • Wash hands frequently, for 15 – 20 seconds at a time. Alcohol-based hand cleaners may be used to supplement hand washing.
  • Cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing.
  • Do not share food, drinks, dishes, utensils or beverage containers.
  • Remind children to wash hands and refrain from touching their noses, mouths and eyes.
Read about chlorine disinfection here.

Read about how to disinfect surfaces here.

Frequently asked questions about the H1N1 vaccine from the CDC here.

Read about Dr. Ralph's flu preparedness kit here.

Stay well!

28 October 2009

Delta revisits a classic

In the 1950s, the Delta Faucet Company introduced the first single-handle kitchen faucet. Back then, it was called simply The Delta Faucet. For a long time, this is what a kitchen faucet looked like. Times changed and tastes changed and Delta introduced a wide collection of other styles. They remained true to their roots and the original, single-handle Delta faucet never went out of production.

I grew up in a rambling old house in rural Pennsylvania. The kitchen in that house had been updated at some point in the 1950s and when I arrived in the 1960s, that same kitchen was still feeding our family and serving as our central gathering spot. I'm fortunate to have a lot of photos from those years and when I look back through those old black and whites a lot of them were taken in that old kitchen. From the background of some of those photos, I can see that we had a Delta single-handle faucet. We were hardly unique in our faucet choice. The Delta single-handle delivered tap water to a generation.

Well, rather than retiring the Delta single-handle, it's now called The Classic and Delta just announced The Classic's first redesign in its more than 50-year history.

Here's what The Classic looked like in the last model year.

That kitchen faucet has been in more apartments where I've lived over the years than I can count. And why not? It worked, it lasted a long time and it was an inexpensive faucet.

Here's what it looks like now.

Wow. The suggested retail price on that faucet is $133.50 but I found it for less than $90 on a number of plumbing websites. Double wow. You know, if you showed me that faucet and told me that it cost $400, I'd probably say something like, "Hey, that has really nice lines..." I'm telling you, that price point is proof that low budgets don't have to mean ugly outcomes. That Classic is an attractive fixture for any price point. What makes it beyond attractive is that The Classic is a value proposition all around. Check out the entire Classic collection on Delta's website.

Delta's update of The Classic isn't purely cosmetic, the lion's share of the development of this faucet is inside, where you can't see it. Delta threw out everything about how a faucet is supposed to work and re-imagined it from the ground up. The original single-handle had a then-revolutionary ball valve inside of it. It was an industry first that became an industry standard.

Well, Delta's making industry history again with the development of their Diamond™ Seal Technology. The Diamond™ Seal valve is leak proof, lead-free and will last ten times longer than the valve it's replacing. Here's a video that explains Diamond™ Seal Technology.

All in all it's a real winner and it's emblematic of the incredible things Delta Faucet has been up to in the last few years. Seriously, spend a little time on their website and see what Delta can do. Oh and fans of mid-century nostalgia will be happy to know that the ball handle is still available.

27 October 2009

Silestone adds life

I was at my favorite counter top fabricator yesterday. Finding an interesting stone to use in a bath project I have cooking. I found the stone I was after, and then went into my rep Kelly's office to review some of the other projects I have in the works right now. While I was in there, I came across some Silestone samples in colors I'd never seen before.

At some point over the summer, Silestone introduced a six-color palette they're calling Life. I was really taken aback by them. I never think of Silestone when I'm thinking about edgy colors for a counter. Although I'm sure I will now. Kelly very diplomatically referred to the Life series as very "taste specific" and they are definitely that. I think it's interesting that in a time of a dramatic downturn in the housing and renovation industries, Consentino (the parent company of Silestone) decided to go wild with color instead of the expected darks and neutrals. Well bully for them. So without further ado, here they are:







So what do you think? Would you ever use any of these colors for a counter in your home?

26 October 2009

When Franki met Thomas O'Brien

Franki Durbin, from Life in a Venti Cup, wrote yesterday of a dinner she shared with a couple of top-notch designers while she was in High Point last week. One of those top-notch was Thomas O'Brien. Well, Franki envied my spot at Fashion Week back in December, but yesterday was my day to envy Franki.

A Barbara Barry mash up

The first designer on the contemporary scene whose aesthetic I really fell for was Barbara Barry. She brought about a simple glamor and I'm convinced her furniture designs played a huge role in a renewed appreciation of mid-century modernism. There's a furniture store in my part of the world with a Barbara Barry showroom in it. When I walk into that showroom, it's as if I've walked into Lisa Douglas' Park Avenue apartment. It's at the same moment that I start thinking about Lisa Douglas that I start to realize that maybe Barbara Barry's not for me, lovely though it is. I'd never turn down a Barbara Barry chair, mind you but when it comes to furnishing my own living room, Lisa Douglas is not the image I'd like to project.

Well that's where Thomas O'Brien comes in. O'Brien refers to his aesthetic as Warm Modern and I can't disagree. He invokes a lot of the icons of modernism in his furniture and furnishings, and he does in a studied and orderly way. I think it's his studied orderliness that appeals to me. It's almost as if he took a thread also followed by Ms. Barry and butched it up a little and came up with something that's wonderfully, uniquely his. Franki titled her blog post about her meeting with him Thomas O'Brien: The Thinking Man's Designer and it's the perfect descriptor. Under all of that seemingly effortless design flows a sea of planning and thought.

It's beautiful, all of it. I spend a lot of time thinking about what I would put in other peoples' homes. In order to do that, a lot of times I ask myself "If this were my home, what would I do here?" But I never stand in my own living room and ask myself that same question. When I get around to it for real, part of that answer is scattered around this post. Without all of the clutter of course.

25 October 2009

This small space is brought to you by Houzz

I found a terrific new website for design inspiration and like just about everything I find these days, I found them through Twitter. Houzz is home to 15,000 design photos and what's cool is you can save any of those photos in your own idea book on the site. It's sort of like an electronic clip file. Houzz calls them idea books.

The photos are credited to the designers who created the rooms so from whatever idea book you assemble, you can always tell who designed the room you admire.

Houzz goes through their collection and assembles idea books in advance too. There are idea books that contain only images of small kitchens for example. There are also idea books for color and pattern, or green architecture, or landscaping. Their collection is always growing, and it's a terrific place to go to find inspiration for your next project.

There was a project by Bosworth Hoedemaker in Seattle on Houzz last week and it really got my pulse going. I love older homes and I love clean designs. Bosworth Hoedemaker renovated a kitchen and bathroom in a Mt. Baker bungalow and the results are everything I try to have my designs be. These two renovated rooms honor the architecture of the house in the sense that they use it as a starting point to construct modern spaces. Despite the modern twist on the final designs, they never lose sight of the structure they're surrounded by, nor do they add anything that doesn't belong.

Here's the slide show from Houzz:

This kitchen is perfect.

The sink wall is particularly beautiful. I love the windows and shelf in lieu of wall cabinets. The room is flooded with light and to me at any rate, it seems that standing at this sink and scrubbing pots would be a pleasure.

The side opposite is pretty slick too.

Check out the great use of marble tile on the wall and the niche behind the range. It's clean, efficient and just beautiful. My only criticism is the Viking range. Why not just buy a Hummer and be done with it?

The bathroom is every bit as great as the kitchen though.

This is a case study in how to make a small bath seem downright huge. Hats off the Bosworth Hoedemaker and to Houzz for bringing this great project to my attention.

24 October 2009

Just doing what I do

I wrote a post on 15 September and in it I told the story of a client who was panicking about a back splash that was being installed. She was regretting her decision to follow my suggestion and she had a melt down. It happens. Sometimes, people reach a breaking point and they can't handle any more renovation-related aggravation. I don't take it personally, and I see it as part of my job to walk people through episodes like that.

When I design a room, I see it as mine. It's my vision after all and since I'm responsible for it, I consider it to belong to me until it's completed. As the job progresses, I start letting it go and by the time I'm doing my final walk-through, I've let it go completely. That may sound odd, but that's the process I usually go through during the course of a renovation. I tend not to go back to see them after my clients have moved back in and settled their stuff into whatever it was that just got renovated. It's odd, I really lose interest in them as soon as they're not mine any more.

There are a handful of clients I've had over the years who have evolved into friends, but for the most part, I never hear from people again after I leave for the last time. That's OK too.

Anyhow, from time to time a client will reach across the distance I put between myself and their completed job. One such client was my hysterical homeowner from September 15th. I received this in the mail yesterday:
Dear Paul,

Thank you so much for my beautiful kitchen. I'm really enjoying everything in it. You wouldn't believe the people who've been in our home. My friends here ask if they can bring their friends or families over to see our kitchen. People from Pittsburgh, Ohio, New York and Canada have said it's absolutely beautiful. Most people said the design and cabinets are high end. My one friend said the back splash is to die for!!!

Thank you again,

I cannot tell you what a day brightener that was.

23 October 2009

Win a George Nelson Ball Clock

I came across Lush Pad on Twitter yesterday. Lush Pad is a marketplace for Modernist furniture and furnishings. Got an original Hans Wegner chair lurking in the attic? Or maybe you'd rather buy a couple of original Bertoia stools. You can do both on Lush Pad. If you have a thing for Modernism, check out Lush Pad.

As an added incentive, in a contest sponsored by Modernism Magazine, Lush Pad is giving away a Nelson Ball Clock like the one pictured here. Though this clock's not an original, it's a licensed reproduction by Vitra and it normally sells for $355. All you have to do is tell them your favorite modern designer and you're in.

George Nelson was born in Hartford, Connecticut in 1904. He's considered to be one of the founders of American Modernism and a lot of his iconic pieces, like the Ball Clock, are still in production decades after they debuted.

I came across this interesting history of the Ball Clock on Design Within Reach yesterday:
George Nelson often collaborated with other designers, and in the case of the Ball Clock (1948), Nelson was at a dinner party with Isamu Noguchi, Irving Harper and Bucky Fuller. As the story goes, they were all sketching and "we'd had a little bit too much to drink," said Nelson. In the morning, they saw a drawing of the Ball Clock on a roll of drafting paper. "I don¹t know to this day who cooked it up," said Nelson. "I know it wasn't me. It might have been Irving, but he didn¹t think so. [We] both guessed that Isamu had probably done it because [he] has a genius for doing two stupid things and making something extraordinary out of the combination. It could have been an additive thing, but we never knew."
So run on over to Lush Pad and enter for a chance to win this baby.

22 October 2009

Sears' Blue Crew, the conference call

If you've been following the unfolding story regarding the Sears Blue Crew, here comes the last update for a while. However, just because I won't be writing Sears posts every couple of days doesn't mean this is over. Oh far from it. But before I get to that, if you need to get up to speed, click here, here and here.

Let me start out by saying that I am beyond impressed with Sears Appliances. I see them in a whole new light. I mean, how many members of the appliance industry would open themselves up to a panel discussion with a group of designers and architects who'd been hand picked by blogger who'd been done wrong? I appreciate the trust of Mike Léger from Sears particularly. I had no intention of having this be a finger pointing session but he couldn't have known that. So hats off to you Mike. Kudos to your whole team and your whole organization while I'm at it. You guys showed me a side to your company I never knew existed. Bravo.

I want to thank everybody from the designers and architects panel who agreed to participate in this conference too. So to Kristin, Susan, Kelly, Jamie, Ann, Mark, Rachele, Pam, Richard, Mike, Peter and Alex; I say thanks for your willingness to help turn a frustration into a path to a solution.

Our conference call yesterday last for an hour and it could have gone on for a few more if you ask me. This was not a sales job or an attempt to make customers out of us, rather it was an honest request for feedback. We covered a lot of bases and our allotted hour was up too soon. In moving forward from here, we're going to continue to meet and to come up with more ideas and solutions. 

We have a lot to learn from one another. We work different sides of the same industry. How few opportunities there are for these sides to interact hit me as I was calling into the conference yesterday afternoon. It was good to play a role in providing one. More please!

Happy birthday Gram

This was my Grandmother, Guellma Gevene Flowers-Smith-Stewart and today would have been her 104th birthday. Of the many people who played a significant role in my life, none loom larger than Gevene. The older I get the more I see her in me. And the older I get too, the more I see just how great a thing that is.

She loved life and embraced it, warts and all, with a passion and an energy that makes me marvel even now. In the photo above, she's playing with her first great-grand daughter. Oh how she loved that baby. I remember when that photo was taken, I was standing right there. It really doesn't feel like it was very long ago, but I suppose it was. The baby in that photo got married a year ago and she and her husband are eagerly awaiting the arrival of a baby of their own.

Somehow, somewhere, Guellma Gevene Flowers-Smith-Stewart is ecstatic.

21 October 2009

I am shocked and appalled

By this.

This island made of Legos is making the rounds of the design blogs this week and it's being met with near-universal heaps of praise and squeals of delight.

Ugh. Ugh. Ugh. The trappings of childhood are best left behind in childhood if you ask me. This is not cute, this is not clever and this is not cool in any way.

I get it, the designers are attempting to be smart and stand out from the crowd. Maybe they're trying to teach some kind of a saccharine lesson about the virtues of simple mindedness. Again I say. Ugh. Ugh. Ugh.

But on a happier note, I found this story on a host of sites but in following the links back through a bunch of them I came across one of the best finds I've found in ages.

A commenter who goes by the name of Clarity left a comment a couple of weeks ago and her Google profile was a dead end. I'd resigned myself to not knowing who she is. Well, in digging around about this absurd island, I came across Kitchen Clarity, commenter Clarity's blog. And oh what a blog it is. Seriously, check it out. She has fantastic taste, isn't afraid to say what's on her mind and unlike me, can express herself completely in one or two paragraphs. Astounding! Check out Kitchen Clarity and tell her I said hello.

In the meantime, what do you think about this island? Is it as mortifying as I think it is, or does it have some hidden redeeming qualities I just can't see?

*All images by Goluza Photo for Maison Francaise.

20 October 2009

How many CFMs do you need for your cubic feet?

Many thanks to the gang at Faber Hoods for this very helpful guide on the technical side of kitchen ventilation.  True kitchen ventilation (rather than the cheap and usually ineffective method of hanging a vented microwave over your cooking surface) is an idea that's catching on again. All ventilation uses a measure called Cubic Feet per Minute to indicate how effective the blower motor in a ventilation system is at circulating air. Few topics can confuse people as quickly as CFM ratings. There is a mistaken belief, that like most everything else in appliances, bigger is better. Not necessarily.

Using a hood with higher CFM (above what you need for your cooking surface) means more air is being pulled out of your kitchen and your home than needed. Therefore a lot of cooled or heated air is being pulled out your home, which would lead to higher heating and cooling bills.

Also, a situation of negative pressure can also occur when too much air is being pulled out of the home and isn't being replaced by air from the outside. Homes built today are increasingly air tight and when too much air is pulled out of a home, you need to sometimes make up for that lost air by pumping outside air into the home. There are all kinds of rules of thumb regarding make up air and it's best to consult with an HVAC specialist before you install a high-powered ventilation system in a newer home.

When you're choosing a hood for your cooking surface, one that has too many CFMs won't be energy efficient and too few CFMs won't provide adequate ventilation. The more CFMs, the more energy they use and the more noise they make. The key is to buy the right hood for the job at hand. Somewhere there's an ideal CFM count to match your needs.

So buy a hood that can remove the heat, steam, odor, smoke and grease produced by your cooking properly while at the same time not overdoing it. This diagram below shows a good way to estimate how many CFMs you need for your kitchen. In this kitchen, the ceilings are ten feet tall (Z). The walls are 10 feet (X) by ten feet (Y). So Z x X x Y = 1,000 cubic feet. If you have a 500 CFM rangehood in this kitchen, in 2 minutes you will have completely exchanged all the air out of the kitchen (or 30 exchanges in an hour). The National Kitchen and Bath Association recommends 8 to 15 air exchanges in an hour for proper ventilation, so in this example, we're at double the recommended level. Rules of thumb like this can get you started but the amount of heat generated by some cooking appliances throws a wrench into the works. Heat is measured in British Thermal Units, or BTUs. There are additional calculations that need to be worked out when it comes to using professional-style ranges so be sure to consult with a professional kitchen designer before you commit to buying anything.

So even though the example above has us at twice the recommended CFM, using a four-burner gas cooktop will put you 100 CFMs under the required 600 CFMs for use over gas. If you're upgrading to something more substantial, a 48" range top for example, you're going to need at least 1,000 CFM. In the opposite direction, because induction cooktops generate so little radiant heat, a 300 CFM ventilation hood over it would work out perfectly. Confused? Don't be.

Calculating the volume of your room is helpful and knowing the heat output of your cooking surface is helpful too. Combining the two and coming up with a satisfactory CFM takes a bit of judgement and experience, but that's why I'm here. Me and a whole bunch of compatriots who like nothing better than to figure stuff like this out.