17 March 2009

This is how a renovation should be done

The great and powerful Victoria ran a great post on the blog Design Ties yesterday and I feel compelled to draw more attention to it.

Victoria is an interior designer in Vancouver and her friend Kelly is an interior designer in Ottawa. Together, they write a blog called Design Ties. Between the two of them, that blog is always filled with interesting photos of the projects they work on in their respective practices and neither of them are shy about using their own homes to illustrate a point.

Yesterday, Victoria wrote a post about the floor plan changes she and her husband made in their current home and I was struck by how simple and elegant their solution to an intersecting archway was. Stroll over to Victoria's post on Design Ties and read her frame by frame description.

In rearranging the floor plan of their first floor, they had three rooms that led into one another and in order to open up the rooms, they decided to construct two intersecting door ways. So rather than leaving them as squared off shapes, they looked to the cove ceiling in their existing living room and interpreted the shape. The result is two shouldered flat arches that could stop traffic they're so beautiful. This was a brilliant idea that in the big scheme of things didn't add a whole lot to the scope of their project. But what it did was honor the architecture of their home and it made this renovation uniquely theirs.

It's the perfect tie-in to Sarah Susanka and Marc Vassallo's new book, Not So Big Remodeling: Tailoring Your Home for the Way You Really Live. I'll be writing more about Not So Big Remodeling this week, but if the kind of detail that this intersecting archway represents interests you, then you really ought to check out Not So Big Remodeling. Susanka's entire carer is dedicated to making homes more thoughtful and human-scaled places. Victoria and her husband's renovated home announces pretty clearly that they thought about what they were doing and that they cared about the results they achieved.

Bravo, bravo, bravo and bravo I say again. Structurally, this hallway of the intersecting archways is a winner and of that there can be no doubt. But the real thrill comes in when she added the paint colors she did. I'm out of superlatives. Really.

16 March 2009

Reader Question: New lighting in my kitchen?

Help! I just discovered your blog and love it! Thank you for sharing. What brought me here: I am in the early stages of a budget kitchen remodel. I live in a 1963 Royal Barry Wills Cape that was designed to look much older. There are black latches on the interior doors, not knobs, old fashioned windows, etc. My kitchen needed some updating, but I want to keep the cottage style. My kitchen is small --it's a wide galley with seven foot high ceilings.

I'm planning to replace the '70s tile floor with oak hardwood. I'm going to hire a professional to paint the cabinetry Benjamin Moore White dove. I'm going to replace the cabinetry hardware, replace the Formica counters and put in a bead board ceiling.

What ceiling light should I use and what counter material do you recommend? I love this Schoolhouse light for over the sink and I like soapstone counters but I'm concerned about sopastone's scratching and upkeep.

Thanks for the questions and I'd be glad to weigh in on both of them. Before I do though, if you're in a Royal Barry Wills Cape Cod home, you really ought to check out Gina Milne's Willow Decor. Gina lives in a Royal Barry Wills home and knows more about that architecture than anyone I know.

You want to light that room with a combination of recessed lights for ambient light and then a pendant over the sink and under cabinet lights for task lighting. Despite the fact that your ceilings are rather low, you want to go with recessed lights. Use three- or four-inch cans and use more of them than you think you should.

Put all of your lights on dimmers so you can control the light levels in that room based on what your needs are. Do not use a central, ceiling mounted light fixture. All you'll get is glare, something you want to avoid, avoid, avoid. Think about the work areas that will be in your new kitchen and place your cans accordingly. A mistake a lot of people make is to stick with a geometric layout for recessed lights without regard to how that lighting has to be used.

Hang an interesting pendant light in the appropriate scale over the sink. It will add task lighting and at the same time become a focal point in your renovated kitchen. Use xenon box lights for under cabinet light like this:

Have them put on dimmers too. Don't use puck lights because you'll end up with a row of spot lights. Kitchens should be lit evenly to avoid glare and shadows.

But more than any other advice I can give about lighting a kitchen, the best advice I can give is to go to an independent lighting store and talk to a lighting designer. Lighting design is a profession for a reason and no home center or website can give you the same kind of service and advice as an actual, flesh and blood lighting pro. Let a lighting designer put together a lighting plan for you and then let him or her supply your lights. It will be money well spent.

Now, so far as soapstone on your counters, I say go for it. The neutral color of soapstone will allow you to do anything you want to color-wise in that kitchen and it's entirely appropriate for a '60s-era Cape Cod home. While it's true that soapstone is soft and it can be scratched, it really has no maintenance or upkeep issues. Soapstone is completely non-reactive so you can't stain it and it's also non-porous. It gets used in chemistry labs for a very good reason. I have never met someone who has soapstone counters who didn't also love them.

Often times, people wipe down their soapstone counters with mineral oil but that mineral oil is not making the counter water proof or sealing it in any way. Rather, mineral oil sits on the surface of the stone and oxidizes, making the stone appear to be darker. I wrote a defense of soapstone back in October and you can jump to it here: Please Pass the Soapstone.

So my advice is go to a lighting designer to get a layout for a lighting plan and then say yes to soapstone.

And one last nugget of neighborly advice because I just can't help myself. Purge the clutter. Get rid of all of the stuff on your counters except for one or two things that you use every day. If you want to display something, hang it on a wall. If it won't hang on a wall get it out of your kitchen. Nothing makes a small kitchen look even smaller more than clutter. Good luck!

Got a question? Ask!

15 March 2009

This is a fun new Internet thing

And yet another cool way to plug my contest. May I present an original production of The Guy in the Uninspired Kitchen. Just like Barbra did with Yentl; I wrote it, directed it, produced it and a cartoon version of me starred in it. However, I'm sad to report that my stirring cover of Papa Can You Hear Me ended up on the cutting room floor.

14 March 2009

Pretty pretty Alessi Tonale

Ahhhh. This is Tonale by David Chipperfield for Alessi. It's being previewed at Alessi's flagship location in Milan and will be available worldwide next month.

Tonale is architect and designer Chipperfield's homage to the work of Italian artist Giorgio Morandi. Morandi was a Cubist painter of still lifes and his work was important to the later development of Minimalism. Morandi dealt in abstractions of shape and tone and in comparing Chipperfield's collection of table ware from Alessi with the Morandi paintings above, I'd say it's a fitting homage. It's a fitting homage and a soothing balm in troubled times.

Grazie mille to Pasquale Marchese from Alessi for the use of the Tonale photo. You can shop for Alessi online by clicking here.

Alessi S.P.A. US

12 March 2009

Maytag recalls 1.6 million refrigerators

I got a heads up from Ann Porter's KitchAnn Style a couple of days ago and it bears repeating.

The Maytag Corporation is recalling about 1.6 million refrigerators due to an electrical failure in the compressor relay that can cause overheating and pose a serious fire threat.

The recall includes certain Maytag, Jenn-Air, Amana, Admiral, Magic Chef, Performa by Maytag and Crosley brand side-by-side and top-freezer refrigerators.

The affected refrigerators were sold in Department Stores and Appliance Stores in the US and Canada between January 2001 and January 2004.  If your refrigerator is part of the recall, Maytag will provide a free in-home repair.

For more information, contact Maytag toll-free at  (866) 533-9817 anytime, or visit Maytag's repair web site. If you own a Maytag, Jenn-Air, Amana, Magic Chef, Performa or Crosley refrigerator, please go to the repair website and compare you model number against those on the recall list. With 1.6 million of these things being recalled, I guess this means that the Maytag Repairman won't be so lonely after all.