23 February 2009


I love New Orleans. I love its food, music, energy, funky eclecticism, soul, romance and architecture. I love its unzipped, everything goes, let's party attitude. (Family lore has it that one of my paternal ancestors was a pirate here!) This is my tribute to the Big Easy, in honor of Mardi Gras -- tomorrow's Fat Tuesday celebration that's already underway. Laissez les bons temps (et bons modes) roulez!

A is for Architecture

This is one of its most famous buildings, the St. Louis Cathedral in the French Quarter, photographed by Chris Jernigan. His work is available at his christophr shop on Etsy, my favorite new source for all things art and design.

B is for Brennan's

Brennan's exemplifies the lavish European style that is so prevalent in old Nawlins buildings, especially its historic restaurants and hotels. Brennan's also lays claim to inventing one of the best desserts ever experienced anywhere -- the Bananas Foster. Honestly, they also make it better than anyone else.

C is for Cafe Du Monde

Because B also brings you beignets, New Orleans' flavorful answer to donuts and pastries, no photo essay of the area would be complete without a shot of its most famous purveyor of beignets and chicory coffee. I'm not sure how Mailelani, another Etsy artist, found it so empty; this patio is usually overflowing with adoring fans. But then, it's definitely worth the wait!

D is for Dreamy Bedding

I spotted this New Orleans toile online a while back and have been pondering where I can use it chez Jamie. The fine folks at Hazelnut, a local home and gift emporium, have employed it well in this oh-so-luscious bedding. Sweet dreams, mon cher!

E is for Elegant Imbibing

There may have been no place better for a late night sip than the Sazerac Bar at the Fairmont Hotel, (nee Roosevelt Hotel), and no cocktail -- save, perhaps, the hurricane -- more identified with New Orleans than the Sazerac. If you fancied your drinking fancy, here is where you'd want to raise your wrist. After Katrina, you'd have been out of luck; the hotel was damaged by the storm and closed. Now, I understand, it's reopening this Spring as a Southern outpost of the famed Waldorf-Astoria, and the Sazerac will be returning! How divine!

F is for the Fleur de Lis

You can find these shapely symbols everywhere in New Orleans. They adorn gates and walls, NFL helmets and gold necklaces. The version shown here from Stencilease.com can easily adorn your home. I wouldn't be surprised to find it in mine one of these days!

G is for Garden Courtyards

One of New Orleans' secret pleasures is its courtyard gardens. Tucked behind walls and gates, these gems delight the eye and the nose. The one shown here at the Beauregard-Keyes House in the French Quarter delighted my heart, too -- it's where my husband and I got married in 2001. When we first visited in December 2000, it was fairly bare, but still charming in its classical lines. When we returned in May for our rehearsal and wedding, the magnolias were in full bloom. The air was perfumed with their fragrance and their magnificent white blossoms rivaled my wedding gown!

H is for Horse-drawn Carriages

Yes, they're touristy. And no, from what one driver told us, they're not even horses. They're hardier mules. But heck, it's all about fantasy and horse-drawn carriages fulfill every gal's dream to be swept off her feet by a handsome prince. Here, the carriage arrives at the four-star Omni Royal Orleans hotel.

I is for Intricate Ironwork

This is the iron lace that characterizes so much French Quarter architecture. Charming and iconic, nothing says old Orleans as much as the decorated balconies lining its streets. Those shown here belong to Gallier House, designed in 1857 by local archietct James Gallier, Jr.

J is for Jewel-toned Creole Cottages

You see them everywhere. Bright colors beckoning you onto narrow side streets, toward even narrower shotgun homes. Their joyous facades -- captured here by Etsy artist B. Sasik -- mock their humble size. They tease, tempt and tantalize. How fun life would be in one of these houses.

K is for King Cake

Never heard of King Cake? It's a long-held Mardi Gras tradition that blends calories, color and the Christ child. You'll find all three baked into a sweet treat each year at parties across town. Tradition demands that the snacker who finds the baby doll inside the cake brings the next one. The one shown here is from Gumbopages.com, which kindly offers a recipe, as well... Just in case you want to export the tradition to your town.

L is for Luxury

New Orleans knows how to luxuriate. While this handsome suite lives in the elegant Windsor Court Hotel, you can find bedrooms like this in fine homes throughout the comfortable neighborhoods in and around the city. Wouldn't you enjoy slipping between these sheets?

M is for Mississippi River Steamboats

I love the Mississippi River. Whenever I cross over it, whether by car or plane, I sing a verse of "Ole Man River" under my breath. Nothing symbolizes the river more than its steamboats. Here's the Natchez, still plying the waters off New Orleans, though it now carries diners enjoying jazz, not cotton or contraband

N is for Nottoway

This 150-year-old Southern belle upriver from New Orleans has
the quintessential porch. Pull up a chair, sip a julep and set a while. Nottoway: Isn't this how you picture the old South?

O is for Oak Alley

Another iconic Louisiana plantation home, Oak AlleyPlantation sits along the famed River Road in Vacherie, an easy drive from New Orleans. I include it here because its elegant allee exemplifies classic Southern architecture. If it looks familiar to you, it could be because Interview with a Vampire was filmed here, and the home co-starred as Louis' home.

P is for Pitot House

This is a far more typical Louisiana architectural style. The Pitot House is the only Creole colonial home museum in New Orleans and a state landmark. The broad, steep roof, double porches and French doors opening up to the rare breeze are local archetypes. This is the type of home I'd love to build, though on a not-so-big scale!

Q is for Queen of the Damned

Ann Rice, author of the Vampire Chronicles, is one of New Orleans' most famous residents. Her Garden District Greek Revival home, shown here, was the setting for numerous Rice novels. (Bet you didn't think I'd come up with a "Q" entry, did you???)

R is for Rex - King of Carnival

The legendary Rex Organization was founded in 1872 and defines Mardi Gras traditions. There's the King, the Queen, the Court, the parade and the Rex Ball. Rex's 2009 theme is "Spirits of Spring." This beautifully-illustrated Rex Proclamation is available for sale. Even if, like me, you're not particularly entranced by middle-aged business men in royal regalia, you've got to admire the lovely art nouveau poster! Ed Dyer is the artist.

S is for Soniat House

I love the quiet elegance of this French Quarter hotel. It's a welcome retreat from the mania that is Mardi Gras-central. Savor the soft hues and fabrics. Soniat House embraces its guests in cool comfort. This is where I want to stay on my next visit.

T is for Tangerine, Teal... and Trash

New Orleans homes are famous for their colorful facades. Here's one I spotted online in bright orange and several shades of blue and green. Gotta wonder about the dreary trash can out front, though... Still cleaning up after Katrina?

U is for Ursuline Academy

UA is the oldest continuously-operating school for women in the U.S. It's also a fine-looking building turning out fine-tuned minds.

V is for Voodoo!

New Orleans might be the only American city with a voodoo shop. I spotted it on my first trip there, and tripped out! When I was wandering around Etsy the other day, I spotted this voodoo doll on DBayou18's shop and time-travelled back a decade.

W is for World War II Museum

New Orleans is home to the National World War II Museum. Its architecture is far more modern than the history it shares, but the contemporary space and its precious contents are all worth a look. This official image shows the Louisiana Memorial Pavilion at night.

X-Rated Disneyland

Sorry, I'm not including a picture of drunken women showing their boobs or butts for plastic beads. There are other web sites for images like that! However, the prevailing mood of Mardi Gras is one of alcohol-soaked revelry. In my opening paragraph, I described New Orleans as unzipped. Others call it the Big Easy. Get as loose as you want. No one will mind, cher!

Y is for Y'all Come Back Now!

If you love New Orleans, go back for a visit. Support the local economy. Visit the local sites. View the local architecture and make new friends! Maybe you wait until Jazz Fest or the French Quarter Festival, but pay a visit to the Crescent City this year!

Z is for ZZZZZ

This labor of Louisiana love took far longer than I expected. It's 1:37 and I'm calling it a night! Sweet dreams, mes amis!

17 February 2009


So often, people don't know where to start a kitchen or bath remodel, and are afraid of making expensive and time-consuming errors. This posting is designed to help take some of the fear out of the process, and get you started on updating your home smoothly, stylishly and successfully!

These are the questions I've been asked most often, answered in one place for your convenience:

Q. Where do I start?

Start in the room to be remodeled. Stand there and look around. Take stock of what you like and want to keep – if anything – and what specific parts need to be changed. On a blank sheet (or screen, if you prefer), list what doesn't work for you and what needs aren't being met. Often, this will look like this, "I need more drawers; I can't stand that cabinet next to the dishwasher that goes all the way back; my floors are stuck in the 70s; my cabinet doors are coming off; I hate that flourescent light box in the ceiling…"

The more specific and detailed about what you want to get rid of and, more important, what you want to achieve, the easier it will be to achieve the results you want. You'll be relaying this list to the professionals you interview for the project.

Q. Who do I call – a kitchen and bath designer, contractor or architect?

There isn't a single, simple answer to that question, as each project is different. In general, I suggest that if the overall architecture of your home is going to be impacted by an addition,
or considerable interior structural changes impacting an entire floor of your home are being considered, an architect will be an excellent starting point. An architect will recommend a
licensed general contractor or builder for your project in this scenario. They may also team with a designer to select your finishes and materials.

If your project involves remodeling an existing space, rather than adding on, a kitchen and bath design specialist is the professional to engage. They will work with you on the overall design of the space, to include flooring and wall tile, cabinetry, hardware, lighting, fixtures, faucets, appliances and even some accessories. The designer can recommend contractors and installers, as well, to handle the work that needs to be done to implement the plan.

Q. How do I find the right person for the job?

Membership in a professional association is one way to gauge someone's professionalism. Some offer certifications, as well, that indicate added professional training and knowledge.

American Institute of Architects

General Contractors:
Remodelers Council of the National Association of Home Builders
National Association of the Remodeling Industry

Kitchen and Bath Designers
National Kitchen & Bath Association

Angie's List, a membership organization of consumers who rate services they've received, is another excellent resource for finding a well-regarded professional. Before interviewing someone, check with any state or local licensing commissions and your local Better Business Bureau to see if there are licensing issues or outstanding complaints against the person or company you're considering.

Finally, after finding someone you think you'd like to hire, ask for both recent and older references. (The latter will be able to share details on how the recommended products and workmanship are holding up over time.)

Q. How much will my remodel cost?

Again, each project is different in its complexity and material selections. As a general rule of thumb, your investment should be appropriate for your home and neighborhood. A complete
kitchen remodel for an upscale home in an upscale community could total 20 to 25 percent of that home's value. It will include top-flight appliances, fully-accessorized cabinets, and top-
of-the-line flooring, ventilation and countertops. Anything less could actually hurt that home's resale value.

On the other hand, a $100,000 kitchen remodel won't recoup its full value in a $300,000 home. An entry-level home should invest 10 to 15 percent of its value in a new kitchen to get the biggest bang for its resale buck. Homes in the middle of the market can safely invest 15 to 20 percent for a reasonable return on remodeling investment.

These percentages are applying more and more to master baths these days, as they become increasingly larger, more luxurious and higher tech.

Q. How do designers, architects and contractors charge for their services?

Everyone works a bit differently, so it's important to clarify in pre-contract conversations just how they do charge. In general, contractors and builders will provide you with a bid for the
overall project, based on labor costs and desired materials.

Architects and independent designers tend to be fee-based, and will charge based on the time or overall budget involved in the project. Some mark up products and allied professionals' labor. Some don't. Some take professional discounts and charge you full price; in these instances, the 10 to 15 percent is added to their compensation.

Some kitchen and bath showrooms apply retainers or design fees to the cabinetry sales, but mark up labor provided by their subcontractors to cover their coordination time.

It's important to understand how you'll be charged, and what you're getting for those charges, in order to truly compare different bids.

Q. I don't want to change my flooring, since it looks OK and runs throughout the whole first floor of my house. Is there a way to keep it?

Absolutely! As there's so much of it, you'll want to factor it heavily into your design plans. Your new countertops should incorporate at least one of its major colors. Your new cabinets should be about two shades lighter or darker than the flooring. If you don't have extra flooring material available, you'll be somewhat limited in changing your floor plan. This doesn't mean that you can't enhance your storage, however. Accessories like roll-out trays, pull-outs and appliance garages can pack more storage into an existing footprint. Taller cabinets, stacked cabinets, backsplash storage systems and wall- or ceiling-mounted pot racks can take also advantage of untapped space.

Q. Should I reface my existing cabinets or replace them?

casions when refacing offers an appealing alternative to replacement: (A) You're happy with the available storage and work flow of your kitchen. (B) Your existing cabinets are well-made and in good condition, they just need a face lift. (C) You love your existing stone countertops and want to keep them. (D) A, B and C are all true for your home, and you're keeping your existing flooring and footprint.

What can you save by refacing? At the minimum, you'll pay less in labor, as installing new doors and drawer fronts on existing cabinets will be less expensive than tearing out old cabinets and installing entire new ones. You may not save a tremendous amount of money, especially if you're opting for an elaborate door style, accessories, crown molding, glass inserts and pricey hardware. However, your project will take less time than a full-scale replacement and be somewhat less messy and inconvenient if you're keeping your existing countertops.

Q. My kitchen opens to my dining room and family room. Do I need to match my sofa?

No, but you should coordinate with major, semi-permanent and highly visible pieces like your dining set. Coordinating doesn't mean duplicating. It does mean choosing cabinets that look good in the same view as other sizable wood pieces you plan to keep. A professional designer can help you find the best coordinates. You should also consider the existing architecture of the space. For more on this topic, please read The Top 3 Remodeling Mistakes You Don't Want to Make.

Q. How long will the remodel take?

This is a three-part answer that has nothing to do with 30-minute HGTV shows.

Part one is the planning/designing/shopping process. This will depend on your availability, as well as your designer's or architect's. It will also depend on the complexity of the project. In some instances, you're keeping your existing appliances, so you don't need to spend time choosing and shopping for new ones. That can certainly shave days or weeks off the process. In other instances, you're opting for a complex wall and floor tile design. This can add days, in terms of choosing each element of the design and approving layouts. Typically, a full-scale kitchen or bath remodel will take two to three months to plan, including showroom visits, design plan and revisions, contractor bid preparation and consultations.

Part two is ordering your selected materials. Cabinetry can take from two weeks to 12 weeks to arrive, depending on whether they're stock or custom. Special order tile from overseas can take weeks, as well. If you're not planning major structural changes, you can wait until the new cabinets arrive and are inspected before tearing out your old ones.

Part three is the actual on-site work. This will vary from days to weeks, depending on the extent of work to be performed. Your contractor can (and should!) advise you on the time line in advance. Chances are, by the time the project is completed, you'll be about four to eight months later than when you wrote your first check, longer for major additions.

Photo Note: The kitchen shown above was remodeled for a North Tampa client. The couple changed everything from the architecture to cabinetry, appliances, countertops and flooring.

Coming Up on Gold Notes

  • Next week will be a Mardi-Gras-inspired posting on New Orleans design and architecture.
  • The week following will be a posting on clocks... Just in time for Daylight Savings Time.
  • March 25 is Elton John's birthday and Gold Notes will be focused on showcasing your collectibles -- eyeglasses and otherwise!
  • April 22 is Earth Day, so Gold Notes will bring you the best of green design elements.

09 February 2009


Ah, whimsy, Cupid's favorite flavor. It lifts our hearts, our minds, our rooms.

In the spirit of lighthearted love, I've penned this whimsical, hyperlinked pictorial Valentine's Day rhyme. Enjoy the poem and pics. Click on any image to learn more about the item. Hug your honey every day this week of love. I know I will.

Ranges are red

Wall tiles are blue

Chocolate's SOOOO sweet...

But design gifts are, too!

Roses are red, violets are blue, Valentine's great... And my readers are, too! Thank you for dropping in.


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