21 December 2010

If money were no object: a fitting end of year Blog Off Post

I've been pondering what to include in my final post of 2010 when this Blog Off topic came to the rescue. (Let's Blog Off is a regular online feature that invites different writers to cover the same question from their own perspective. I'm a bit late to the game!)

As my regular readers know - and as my irregular posting schedule of late attests - this has been an unusual year of personal and professional transition for me.

On December 30, 2009, the day my Tampa house sold, I packed my car, plugged a San Diego hotel into the GPS (or Goldberg Positioning System, as I call it) and drove 2500 miles across country to my new hometown.

I had planned to move here in 1988 when I left New York, but ended up living in Los Angeles instead. In 1998, I was again looking at moving to San Diego, but then I met my future ex-husband and relocated with him to Louisiana (the other LA), then Florida. While I met great folks in both regions and enjoyed traveling throughout the South and using y'all whenever possible, neither place really felt like home.

Twenty-two years later, San Diego finally does. I've loved living here this year, and I love the wonderful people I've met, who have gone out of their way to help me settle in.

I love San Diego's natural beauty and urban charms. For most of the year, I lived a short walk from Balboa Park and a few blocks from the incredible Hillcrest Farmer's Market.

I also love San Diego's mostly balmy climate and quick drive to family and friends in LA. I love that it's convenient to mountains, desert and coastline. And I love being a homeowner again!

If money were no object, I'd rent out the townhome I just bought, (rendered above), and build my dream cottage on a local lake.

This house plan comes from Sarah Susanka's Not So Big House site, and I've long been an admirer of her work.

It would have to be modified to include a two-car attached garage, which I'd access via a breezeway along an outdoor living space.

There would be a three-lane, simply-styled Olympic-length lap pool, an outdoor kitchen and lots of outdoor entertaining space to take advantage of the region's year-round warmth. There would also be an outdoor fireplace for cooler evenings.

I'd like my office to be attached to a pool house, so I'd feel like I was on vacation at work! This Eames lounger, along with a nearby fireplace and custom built-in desk and bookcases, would find its way into that office!

So would memories of my trips, like this poster celebrating Key West.

While I enjoy my work enormously, if money were no object, I would schedule at least one long international vacation per season and shorter trips around the USA, too. On the "bucket list" are stays at each of the National Park lodges.

I also want to visit Argentina, South Africa, Iceland, Paris, Venice, Iceland, Belgium, Viet Nam, Australia, Equador, China and the Galapagos.

I would like to taste my way through the great wine regions of the world with my favorite wine buddies!

I would like to visit the 2016 Olympics in Rio.

I would like to fly business class everywhere.

I would like to have an on-call driver, personal trainer, maid and assistant.

I would like to sail across the Atlantic on the Queen Mary 2.

And on a more altruistic note, given the spirit of the holidays, I would like to share the details of the charitable foundation I plan to establish. If money were no object, I'd start the process 1Q11. Realistically, it will be set up within the decade. My foundation will help disadvantaged homeowners and renters make their living spaces more comfortable and attractive with design grants and design assistance.

My foundation will be called Sanctuary, because I feel that everyone's home, whether owned or rented, should feel like a welcome refuge from the outside world. My beneficiaries could be teens aging out of the foster care system, abused moms fleeing domestic abuse, disabled veterans, house fire survivors or fixed-income seniors.

I will partner with affordable style sellers like Target to potentially match donations with store grants, with fellow designers around the country to donate their time and services, and with organizations like the American Red Cross, Habitat for Humanity and others to identify beneficiaries.

Happy holidays, dear readers, contributors and friends. Thank you for sticking with Gold Notes through its sporadic schedule this year, for your generous guest posts and, as always, for your wonderful comments.

14 November 2010

I've Got a Sinking Feeling!

Never underestimate the power of a kitchen sink! It is one of the hardest-working features of your kitchen. It is also one of the most taken-for-granted.

In January 2011, I'll be part of a group of six design bloggers traveling to Cologne, Germany to meet the talent behind Blanco. Blanco is one of my favorite kitchen industry manufacturers, a firm whose sensational sinks I've been writing about since I launched Gold Notes in 2008.

Their booth is a must-see whenever I attend the North American Kitchen & Bath Industry Show, as I know they'll be showing off some cool new German engineering feature when I get there! (Guess you could say they're the BMW of fixtures!)

Blanco is paying all the travel expenses for our group - Paul Anater, Susan Serra, Leslie Clagett, Cheryl Kees Clendenon, Kevin Henry and yours truly - to visit their factory and meet with their engineers and designers.

Smart, strong and sexy -- the Blanco Silgranit Performa

This is a rare and wonderful opportunity to share feedback and ideas with a forward-thinking firm that already makes some of the best products on the market. Chances are, too, that they'll be showing us some of the products they're working on for 2011 and beyond. How incredibly cool is that???

I'm particularly drawn to their Silgranit sinks, which offer tremendous Sensible Style benefits to their owners:
  • They're extremely durable
  • They're super-low maintenance
  • They have numerous accessories available to make your clean-up chores easier
  • They're easy to live with and maintain
  • They look darned good!

For those who like their sinks sharp and sleek - the Blanco Precis!

So, here's why I'm writing this post now, rather than waiting to see all the new goodies we'll undoubtedly be shown overseas: I want your input!

Please tell me...
  • What do you detest about your current kitchen sink?
  • What features would you love to see in your next kitchen sink that your current one lacks?
  • What sink accessories do you wish existed today?
  • Is there a shape or size you wish existed that you've never found?
  • Is there a color you'd love to see in a sink?

A Blanco Diamond sink can be a girl's best friend!

Thanks for your feedback. I'll be sharing it with the Blanco team when I get there and thaw out!

PS: I'll also be sharing some of the trends and products I'm sure I'll be seeing at the debut of IMM's Living Kitchen trade show that week!

21 October 2010

SENSIBLE STYLE - Family Kitchen Tips

So many of the kitchens I design are for families with active children or teens. Some include grandparents who now live with the parents and kids. Some also include pets. I love designing these projects, as I know that my success in making them both sensible and stylish will lead to years of happy use.

The sensible component means that the kitchen will fit...

  • how the family will really use the space on a daily basis;
  • with the home's architecture, especially when we're tearing down walls to open it to great rooms and dining areas;
  • the home's value, so that if they move in the near future, they will maximize their investment in the kitchen project;
  • prevailing neighborhood standards, also for maximum resale consideration.

The style component in Sensible Style gives them a look that they'll enjoy for years to come, as well. It won't be fad-driven, but updated in a way that reflects the homeowners' long-held preferences. If prevailing neighborhood standards dictate integrated appliances, I'll recommend that option to the client. If every other home in the neighborhood has stone tops, I'll suggest that for maximum resale, should they decide to move in five or seven years.

The most important consideration, I believe, is designing the kitchen to how that family uses the space on a daily basis. That means creating storage that accommodates their everyday cookware, serveware and meal ingredients.

Material Matters

Sensible Style kitchen planning means guiding my clients in selecting materials that will stand up to daily use with a maintenance level that makes sense for their lifestyle. Here's a typical example. Granite is a very popular countertop material for its unparallelled natural beauty, heat and scratch resistance - as well as its historically high resale value - but many homeowners fail to take into account its porosity.

When a client with young children or the popular teen hang-out house tells me that they want granite countertops, I let them know that the top will need to be sealed periodically, and what the recommended schedule is for the stone they like.

I also warn them that certain spills - e.g., orange or tomato juice - that go unnoticed for busy hours can stain that top, even eating through a sealer. I will typically suggest an easier maintenance engineered stone counter for this household. I also like their long warranties.

Cambria's engineered stone tops offer stone durability and concrete style, without the maintenance hassles of either!

Flooring is another key material selection. Travertine became a very popular choice for high-end kitchens, but it's not my recommendation for a busy family household. One, it's also a natural material that needs to be kept sealed. Two, it's very hard underfoot, which can make lengthy meal preparation painful to the cook's feet, legs, hips and back. Three, when wet, it becomes a slip hazard. And kitchen floors, especially with young kids, can get wet pretty often. For any grandparents in the home, that can be a broken hip waiting to happen!

For a Sensible Style family kitchen, I like a distressed-look wood or porcelain tile, especially through-body color for hiding chips and rectified for minimum grout lines. With regard to grout, I learned from my own previous kitchen to avoid white; it shows every morsel that ever drops on it! For hard floors like tile and wood, I also recommend a cushioned mat in front of the sink and cooktop.

Kerlite, used most often in commercial settings, is a stylish, durable porcelain tile for busy kitchens, too

Cork and Marmoleum Click are both good soft floor alternatives. They're both also eco-friendly and aging in place friendly. Neither, however, is going to give you the resale power of wood or tile.

Marmoleum Click is green and great for comfortable family spaces

Space Case

As I mentioned, designing a Sensible Style family kitchen involves strategic space planning. This includes figuring out how to allocate food storage. Will a standard 36 inch refrigerator meet the family's needs? If we're upgrading to a sleeker countertop-depth model, do we need to go to a 42 or 48 inch model? Would separate fridge, freezer units make more sense, given their flexible sizing options?

Each family is going to have different needs, of course, but I wouldn't want to put a family of four in less than 25 cubic feet of fridge/freezer capacity. I also wouldn't want to give them less than 36 inches of pantry space, with roll-out trays for easier access.

Often, supplemental fridge drawers on an island can be a boon for a busy family. It can be a good spot for putting kids' treats within their reach, and saving on energy bills while they deliberate on their afternoon snack.

A single or double refrigerator drawer, like this one from Sub-Zero, is great for easy kid access and supplemental food storage

Landing Zone

Kitchens aren't just for cooking and clean up any more, especially in family homes. They are often homework central, bill paying depot, the household scheduling center and serve dozens of other purposes, large and small. They are typically the first room family members enter from school and work, slamming their briefcases, purses and book bags onto the nearest surface. Basically, a family kitchen is also a clutter magnet.

To counter this norm, I like to develop a "landing zone" for the family as they enter and leave the kitchen. Each member of the household, old and young, has closed door storage for their bulky items, a drawer for small items, an outlet for their cel phone or other chargeable, and a basket for their mail, notes and other paperwork. This will keep most of the clutter off the other kitchen surfaces and organize each family member.

Safety Counts

If I'm putting a slide in range or cooktop into an island or peninsula plan, I like to have an absolute minimum of 12 inches left and right of it. I don't want a running child or excited pet to knock over a hot pot by bumping into the handle. I also like to have at least 15 inches behind if there will be counter-height seating on the other side, 12 for bar height.

My recommendation to clients with aging parents, forgetful teens and young children is to consider an induction cooktop or range. Induction will give cooks the performance level of gas without the hazards. It's energy efficient, easy maintenance and safer to use. Only the area under and immediately next to the pot or pan gets hot, and once the pot or pan is removed, the magnetic-generated heat goes away.

This induction range by Electrolux is feature-rich with convection capability, plus a warming drawer/second oven, and very family friendly

I'm not a fan of over-the-range microwaves, as I consider them both unsightly and potentially unsafe. This is particularly true for petite clients, children, older clients who may have less upper body strength, and for clients with gas stovetop burners. It's so easy to hurt yourself on a front burner when reaching up into a microwave.

Whenever space allows, I like to move the microwave to a more comfortable height near its own counter space for unloading. Microwave drawers on islands are great for older kids in the house. They can heat up their own snacks and meals and not be in the way of the cook, who may be preparing dinner while the child does homework nearby.

A microwave drawer, like this one by Wolf, is a more family friendly choice than an over-the-range model

Eat-at islands have become very popular in recent years. I recommend against them except when I can locate the seating on the non-working side of the kitchen. I don't like to seat anyone between an island and cooking surface for safety reasons. I also prefer not to seat them between the island and a prep or clean-up station, so that a person with a knife in their hand isn't getting bumped by a family member sitting nearby.

If there are grandparents in the household, I like to plan seating at table height, rather than a 42 inch bar or 36 inch counter. It's awkward for an older person to climb onto a stool and impossible if they're disabled.

If there are pets in the house, I like to designate a feeding area for them away from the cooking, prep and human eating zones. They're less likely to be tripped on that way, or trip up someone carrying a hot item to the table.

Must Have Item for Every Kitchen

I strongly recommend that the family purchase a fire extinguisher for their kitchen and store it in the pantry or under the sink for quick, easy access. Everyone in the household should be trained on its use in case of an emergency.

Enjoy all of the Sensible Style posts; the complete list is in the box on the right column!

07 October 2010

Please take a seat!

Have you ever wondered what the difference between a counter stool and a bar stool was? I didn't know either, until I became a kitchen designer and learned about the different options for eating and working spaces. I've also happily learned that there are wonderful choices in both categories to coordinate beautifully with your space. You can even get counter or bar stools to match your dining chairs! (Not that you have to.)

Bar stools

Once upon a time, you would buy bar stools in a specialized store, and they largely went into dark, paneled rec rooms. No more! Now you can find them pretty much everywhere furniture is sold and they go into kitchens with breakfast bars, as well as great rooms, wine bars and even nooks with bar-height tables.

What distinguishes a bar stool from a chair or counter stool is its increased seat height. They're made to position the user comfortably at a 42 inch eating or drinking surface. A standard dining table is about 30 inches.

As a kitchen designer, the 42 inch surface is usually a built-in breakfast bar on the back of a work station. Many builders and homeowners liked that these raised bars hide unwashed dishes or pots in the sink from the open dining or great room areas.

I'm not a big fan of breakfast bars for two main reasons. One, those same builders often skimped on both counter and walk space so that using the bar can be somewhat uncomfortable. Two, their higher seats make bar stools challenging for anyone with balance or height issues. This often includes seniors and children - i.e., the extended family you want around you while you're cooking!

However, if you've got a raised bar in your kitchen and it's working for you and your household, there are some great options in just about every style and finish.

Counter stools

I had never heard of a counter stool before becoming a kitchen designer, but they sure come in handy now! For those kitchens whose countertops extend beyond the cabinet for seating on the other side, counter stools are the ideal height. Standard kitchen counters are 36 inches high, which makes them too low for bar stools and too high for dining chairs. This is why counter stools were invented.

I like them because the person sitting on the non-working side of the kitchen can socialize with the cook and still help out with food prep if they wish, having the full expanse of counter to work with.

One challenge for counter height seating areas is that they require more overhang than bar tops. This deeper counter keeps the person sitting at it from hitting his or her knees on the back of the cabinets. Sometimes, you simply don't have the extra three inches you need to make this a comfortable seating area.

If you're fortunate enough to have the space for a counter-height overhang, there are also great stools to choose from. In fact, most companies now offer stools in bar or counter height. Some also offer coordinating dining chairs if your kitchen is open to your dining area.

Planning note

This comes up more often with counter-height seating than bar tops, but I always recommend against designing your overhangs in work aisles, especially near a cooktop or range! When possible, plan your seating on the non-working end of the kitchen.

What's in store!

I've found some nice styles that will work with a range of kitchens. I've also included backless versions. If you're tight on space, a backless stool will park under the overhang and give you more walking room behind it when it's not in use. Just a thought...

Vienna Black Counter Stool at Crate & Barrel brings cafe style to transitional kitchens

Sister store CB2 jazzes up your contemporary kitchen with Phoenix Orange bar and counter stools

Add classic vintage flair to your space with West Elm's Overlapping Squares Bar and Counter Stools

Get rustic with these Iron Grate stools from NapaStyle

Get sleek with Room & Board's backless Emeco Stools

Bring affordable island bling to your space with Cost Plus World Market's Elana Banana Leaf Bar Stool pair

Williams-Sonoma brings back the classic diner chair as their Diner Stool, available with or without back, at counter or bar height

Ballard Designs
goes vintage transitional with their Constance Bar Stool

Another fun Crate & Barrel find -- the 30" Spin Bar Stool!

Bring rustic elegance to your home with another NapaStyle pick, their handsome Talavera Stool

Spunky style comes to your kitchen with Room & Board's Radius Counter Stool

16 September 2010

Art for Your Kitchens and Baths

I love art. Not the kind that lifts a particular color perfectly from the sofa. The kind of art that lifts your soul whenever you look at it. Some art stimulates. Some calms. Some, like handsome photographs, evoke memories of special places, objects or people. Some take you to places you've never been, even places that live only in the artist's and viewer's imagination.

Great art elevates your space and your spirit. Choose wisely! When choosing art for your kitchen or bath, you need to keep other conditions in mind, too...

Artful suggestions for kitchens
  • Will grease from a poorly ventilated cooktop damage the surface of the artwork?

  • Is the available wall space needed for other purposes, like a pot rack or utensil storage?

  • Will heat from an open oven door hurt the artwork?

  • Bullets one through three should be answered by the artist or art dealer.

  • Will I bump into a bulky frame as I bustle about the space?

  • Will its subject matter inspire great meals or nauseate my diners?

  • Do I have a special collection I'd like to display? Glass-fronted built-ins or the space above your cabinets work beautifully for pottery.

  • Is there artwork available for outdoor kitchens? Yes, but a lot of it is rather generic.

Collectible objects, like this Seven-Handled Vase by Ephraim Faience Pottery, are perfect for kitchen display.

Artful suggestions for bathrooms
  • If an art piece is going into a powder room, will its scale match the room's compact size?

  • If a piece is going into a full bath, will moisture from the shower or tub damage it?

  • Will its frame rust in a moisture-rich environment? Many affordable, import frames do not hold up over time, especially in challenging conditions.

  • What kind of special mounting and framing is needed to withstand steam and moisture in a full bath?

  • The second, third and fourth bullet points need to be answered by a professional framer.

  • Will the artwork's imagery calm me during my nightly rituals or energize me in the morning? What do I want it to evoke in that space?

  • If you're hanging a valuable piece in a bathroom, be sure to have it professionally mounted and framed.

Limited edition artworks, like The Joyous Leaping of Uncanned Salmon by the late, great Dr. Seuss, can hang in bathrooms, but need to be professionally mounted and framed.

Artful inspirations

I recently attended Art San Diego 2010, a contemporary art expo put on by the San Diego Fine Art Society. There were galleries there from North and South America, and numerous art works that could work beautifully in a kitchen or bath. Here are some of my favorites from the show:

This magnificent photograph will hang in my next home. It will go near, but not in, the kitchen.
Dutch Still Life #2 by Jonathan Singer
Symbolic Collection

Sexy and stylish for your master bath.
Cradle Song - Ferragamo by Kim Joon

Fun and flavorful art for your kitchen.
Hopscotch by Silvia Poloto
Julie Nester Gallery

Sculpture, like this sleek piece, can be striking in a kitchen or bathroom.
Fernan by Jon Krawczyk
Garboushian Gallery

I love this mixed media pair for a dining area open to a kitchen, but not close to heat or grease.
Solis I and Solis II by Denise Tapella
Consorcio de Arte

01 September 2010

Gold Coast - Newport's Gilded Age

Gold Coast is a periodic real estate feature on Gold Notes, designed to share some of the country's greatest coastal regions and the homes that enrich them. This time, I'm taking you back to the Gilded Age. This was an era of robber barons and industry titans who built magnificent edifices to stoke their egos and entertain their wealthy friends.

The History

We're going to Newport, Rhode Island for this most golden of Gold Coasts! The estate below -- named Fairholme -- embodies the golden era of Newport, and was built as a "summer cottage" by a successful Philadelphia engineer, Fairman Rogers.

Here's what the New York Times' Great Homes and Destinations section shared on Rogers, his social circle and later denizens of Fairholme:

"Rogers, also a noted coaching authority, is the subject of Thomas Eakins' iconic tour du force of late 19th century American painting, "Fairman Rogers' Four-in-Hand".

Eakins painting

"Twenty years later, the Drexel family - also of Philadelphia - purchased the property and promptly enlarged and updated it, adding the Trumbauer ballroom and tower and otherwise modernizing the interior. The Drexels were very much a part of the Newport summer colony's social scene, and Fairholme was the setting for any number of lavish entertainments attended by friends and neighbors such as the Vanderbilts, the Astors, the Van Beurens, and the Belmonts. Slightly later, the estate was acquired by the Count and Countess Alphonso Villa, followed by industrialist railroad magnate Robert Young, whose wife Anita was the sister of artist Georgia O'Keefe. The Duke and Duchess of Windsor were close friends of the Youngs and were frequent guests at the estate during their tenure there, as was Jack Kennedy, who often made use of the swimming pool."

The Property

Again, I turn to the esteemed New York Times for an admirable description of Fairholme's many charms and features. The listing agent used their copy, as well:

"Paradise found - Fairholme, a dazzling historic oceanfront estate, superbly sited on 4.3 acres of Newport's legendary Gilded Age coastline with 425' of ocean frontage. The main house, a Frank Furness designed Tudor revival masterpiece, built circa 1875 and considerably enlarged upon since, lies at the heart of this impressive compound, which also contains a picturesque six bedroom carriage house, three interconnected greenhouses, and a sybaritic swimming pool with a luxurious pavilion and outdoor living area overlooking the Atlantic.

"Graceful gates and a park-like setting introduce the impressive facade of the 20,000+ square foot main house which, with its elaborate half-timbering, richly textured surfaces and gothic tripartite entrance porch, gives few cues as to the relaxed graciousness of its interior. Silk covered walls, delicately molded plasterwork and an immense limestone fireplace blend together in the entrance hall in soft harmonies of color and light. Directly opposite the front door, across the south facing rear of the house, sun, sky and sea views pour in through leaded glass windows and doors. That great hall space is the organizing principal of the house, immediately establishing the main axis lines and underscoring the immense clarity of the floor plan. On the west side of the hall an intimate receiving room with a marble fireplace, a paneled library with an elegantly carved wood fireplace, and a spacious oceanfront salon give way to a graceful barrel-vaulted Horace Trumbauer ballroom. A long colonnaded terrace runs parallel to the salon, overlooking a wide clean expanse of lawn that sweeps down towards the sea. Back inside, to the east of the main hall lies the delicately hued dining room. With magnificent ocean views, diamond paned windows, and an elaborate marble fireplace, the stately proportions of the room are generous enough for a formal dinner, yet light enough in scale for more intimate gatherings. The substantial waterfront kitchen and sizeable butler's pantry, along with an extensive service wing, are located beyond the dining room, while two additional floors of staff living and sleeping rooms are located directly above.

"Upstairs on the second and third levels, the same attention to detail, comfort and aesthetic coherence is everywhere to be seen in the seven bedrooms, five of which are full scale suites. The second floor is divided into two generous oceanfront master suites, both with spacious stone terraces, bedrooms, sitting rooms, offices, baths, fireplaces, dressing rooms, and custom designed closets; both suites are thoughtfully appointed with bespoke amenities of every conceivable kind. Three additional luxury bedroom suites and two smaller bedrooms are situated on the third floor, where two large coffered skylights illuminate the hall. The house contains a total of eleven full and two half baths.

"An elevator serves all three floors and the basement level. A natural gas powered generator is capable of running all systems in the main house as well as providing power to the 3 bedroom carriage house apartment.

"The stunning 37ft x 71ft infinity edge swimming pool and decorative pool house pavilion lie sheltered from breezes within a brick enclosure to the west of the house. On the shore side, retractable glass walls allow for unobstructed appreciation of the oceanfront setting. Two heated marble cabanas, a covered lounging area, and an extensive sound system complete the pool amenities.

"Three heated greenhouses are located to the east of the main house and are currently in year round operation providing flowers, plants and topiaries, including Fairholme's signature pink geraniums, for the home and grounds.

"The 4000+ square foot carriage house contains a three bedroom apartment, a one bedroom apartment, two staff suites, an office, a gym, several storage garages and a main parking garage that can accommodate five cars."

The Times doesn't say it, and the agent doesn't either. But I will: This place could use some updating. It's got gorgeous bones that I wouldn't touch in a million years, but I don't think anything would be lost if the draperies, paint scheme and furnishings were updated in a style that pays homage to the era while bringing the place a bit more current and livable. Well, that is if someone is actually going to live in it.

Maybe the State of Rhode Island will decide to buy the property and let it serve as a museum to its storied past. In that unlikely instance, Fairholme could stay exactly as it is and taxpayers and visitors can see how the other half lived in the last centuries.

Details, Details

Year Built: 1875
7 total bedroom(s)
12 total bath(s)
11 total full bath(s)
2 total half bath(s)
24 total rooms
Approximately 20252 sq. ft.
Handicap features
Hardwood floors
4 or more fireplaces
Fireplace features: Marble, Stone
Pool features: In-ground
Parking space(s): 20
4 or more car garage
Waterfront features: Ocean Front, Saltwater Front
Lot size is between 2 and 5 acres

The Pricetag


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