27 August 2010

HGTV vs. Reality

Are you an HGTV fan?

Before I became a kitchen and bath designer, I watched the Home & Garden Television channel all the time. It was on my remote control favorites list. I still catch an occasional House Hunters International episode and will confess to being a Design Star reality show fan. I just no longer spend hours on end watching redesign and remodeling shows.

This is not true for many of my clients, especially when I was starting out my career at the Home Depot. Dreamy-eyed women would quote HGTV details to me all the time, some applicable to their kitchen or bath, most not.

Kitchen designed by Candice Olson, one of HGTV's most popular and talented designer-hosts as seen on HGTV.com.

You see, the actual process of completing those projects is so fundamentally different than what you see on television, which can only show a sliver of the project. Making a complete room redesign or remodel fit into a compelling 30-minute show has to gut the perception or no one would watch! This truncated vision conveys a ridiculously simplistic and distorted impression of the complexities of these projects. I salute those designer-hosts who make it look quick and easy. It's not, even in the best cases.

After several seasons of disastrous Design Star kitchen competition botch-ups, the show producers wisely went to a catalog shoot challenge this season.

As a designer who works strictly in the off-screen realm right now, I feel compelled to share some of the contrasts between real life and HGTV that are essential to consider if you're planning a kitchen or bath remodel.


A full-scale kitchen or bath remodel is completed in 30 minutes, often timed perfectly to accommodate a huge family Christmas dinner or other special occasion shown in the final moments of the show.


A full-scale, full-service kitchen or bath remodel is typically completed in 30 days or longer. Much longer, in many cases. Yes, I know there are one-week bath firms out there, but their scope is limited.

The few seconds of demolition, construction and installation shown on remodeling shows, often in fast-forward motion, can be days or weeks of work in your home, in your life, in your face.

And here's something I tell all of my clients on every single project: Never, never, never plan a major event around a remodel or new construction project. Murphy (of Murphy's Law fame) will most likely Kick Your Butt if you fail to heed this advice.


The happy homeowners see their remodeled room for the first time at the 25th minute of the show.


In most remodeling projects, the homeowners are living on the job site the entire time and see their room at all phases of the project. These include the scary "there's no sink or floor in here" phase, the dust-everywhere construction phase, and the touch-ups at the end phase long before my personal favorite "everybody hugs each other" phase.


A brilliant designer magically appears when you need one and knows all of your wants and needs after a five-minute meeting. You heed his or her every word, even those gleaned by reading your mind because you just get that they're all-knowing.


You spend significant amounts of your free time looking for a designer and interviewing designers. If you're fortunate enough to find a real pro, (and using the National Kitchen & Bath Association Find a Pro search can help greatly in this regard), you're going to spend hours sharing your preferences and needs with an experienced designer who will factor them into your plans. He or she will also check in with you on ideas they have as questions arise, and on the sometimes-shifting dynamics of a project. There's no mind-reading involved in this process.


Budgets are rarely discussed. When they are, they typically don't include the dollars that cover labor, as the host's team is doing the work. Occasionally, the narrator will say that the budget was increased to include x, y or z that didn't get factored in from the start, or that the client paid for a, b, or c out of their own pockets, a favorite of the house-selling shows.


You're dealing in real dollars -- your hard-earned dollars -- and the professionals you hire need to respect your budget and advise you if a product choice you make impacts it. My pro colleagues and I ask about your preferred investment level at our first appointment, as it impacts the cabinetry, appliance, countertop, fixture, faucet, hardware and flooring options that we will recommend for your project.

We also factor in labor charged by the contractors, installers, plumbers, electricians and other qualified trades who will turn your dream kitchen or bath into a wonderful reality for you.

Otherwise, you're in for one of those nightmare remodels that have made Holmes on Homes a household name.

Mike Holmes, contractor and host of Holmes on Homes, fixes bad remodeling projects.

And that's just reality, not TV.

19 August 2010

Designer's Wish List - Home Office

Last fall, as I was planning my move from Tampa to San Diego, I shared my vision of my own future kitchen and bathroom spaces in a pair of Designer's Wish List postings. This edition will share my envisioned home office, hopefully to become a reality in the next few months. It will, most probably, occupy a den and serve as my writing and design studio, library and overflow guest room.

I already own some of its planned furnishings, including Cost Plus World Market's Cohen desk chair shown here.

I'll probably get a plain twill seat cushion to make it a little cushier for long design and writing sessions.

I also have a sextet of professionally-photographed family black and whites that will grace the room with new wood frames. And I plan on incorporating this 30" by 40" travel poster from AllPosters.com in a coordinating frame to keep the memories of a recent vacation fresh and visual.

It will adorn the wall directly opposite the entry door so that I smile each time I pass or enter the room, even if I'm just in there to pay bills or running out on an errand!

The space will likely have wide-plank dark wood flooring like these Virginia Mill Works 5" Yorktown handscraped prefinished floors from Lumber Liquidators...

And a cozy area rug as yet to be discovered that pulls from the poster's colors. I might even use the lovely wool rug that used to live under my dining room table. Change is good!

Ultimately, I'd like to have custom built-ins along one wall. They will incorporate a wide desk, as I use two computer monitors and like to have extra surface room; a base cabinet to hold and keep dust off of my computer tower; a two-drawer filing cabinet (to separate business from personal papers); side shelves for design books and decorative items, and space for a built-in beverage center.

While this Logan suite from Pottery Barn isn't custom or built-in, as the one I'll design for myself will be, it does convey the overall look and scale I'm seeking.

Lighting is key, and I'll incorporate task lighting into the work space and in the form of a bronze table lamp I already own next to a reading chair. This is Pottery Barn's Manhattan recliner that I'd love to have.

Or I might fulfill a long-held dream and get the classic Eames lounge chair and ottoman from Design Within Reach (or Craig's List!).

I'd like to have a ceiling fan like this Harbor Breeze 52" Tilghman Bronze model from Lowe's to keep fresh air flowing right along with fresh ideas!

The windows will be dressed in simple panels like these Casual Twill Drapes from Restoration Hardware, on a bronze rod to match the fan and table lamp.

I'm thinking of a muted pumpkin or gold for the walls that would pull color from the Key West poster.

All in all, I'm looking for a warm, bright, happy place to work, read and enjoy.

12 August 2010

Sensible Style Kitchens and Baths for Home Sellers

This is a special edition of Sensible Style, one geared toward the thousands of homeowners wanting - or needing - to sell their average, everyday homes, condos or townhouses, the kind you find scattered through neighborhoods everywhere. (It's not intended for the mansion set!)

It's also a "preview" of a seminar I'll be presenting at the Del Mar Home Show on Friday, October 15, 2010, and of a possible e-book (or printed volume).

You can now also get a Sensible Style consultation for the home you want to sell, either in person in the San Diego area, or electronically in other parts of the country. Contact me at 760-705-8319 or jamie@jgkitchens.com for details.

As a house seller and house hunter myself, as well as a professional kitchen and bath designer, I can share tips from every perspective... How your home looks to a buyer. What reads well and what doesn't. How to boost the perceived value of your place, especially in its crucial kitchen and master bath areas.

My goal for this Sensible Style Kitchens and Baths for Home Sellers post is to help you sell your place quicker, and for more money. The tips here are all low-cost and can improve how your home shows to prospective buyers without a major investment of materials or labor.

In fact, most of the resources included in this post are available through The Home Depot, (except where noted). Most are regularly-stocked items there, too, though what is stocked varies by region.

One note: These tips are geared toward transitional and traditional homes, rather than contemporary. That's because more homes on the market fit into those two categories. There are certainly options like these available for modern homes, and I offer Sensible Style consultations for contemporaries, too.

So, let's get started on getting your home sold sooner, and for more money!

Paint: First, lasting impression

This is one of the first things buyers will notice about your place, and one of the most affordable to change. Realtors always rave about "neutrals throughout," but neutrals aren't the mainstay of the magazines, websites, catalogs and even the model homes buyers look at through the home selection process.

Even neutrals are showing up now in deeper, richer tones - e..g, coffee rather than beige, and new neutral definitions include woodsy greens like sage. The more your rooms resemble current, stylish home images, the quicker your place will sell.

Use color schemes shown in popular magazine spreads or at upscale retailers. Restoration Hardware has a nice, rich palette that I like to work with.

Choose a rich palette, like the Restoration Hardware selections, for an affordable upgrade.

For suggestions on which paints go with which cabinets and countertops, please check out this earlier Winning Color Combinations Sensible Style post.

Lighting: Let there be improvements!

I've replaced hundreds of bare bones light bars in six years of bath remodels. Do yourself a favor and replace yours if it looks like this one. Choose a model that works with the other finishes in the room, but adds some updated style. It's cheap. It's easy. It's one of the simplest improvements you can make to your bathrooms, especially the master!

You wouldn't be seen naked in your bathroom before a prospective buyer; why should your bulbs???

Add style with this World Imports Satin Nickel Bath Bar instead.

Flooring: Potential trouble afoot?

Flooring is often perceived as a big ticket item, and it can be in many instances. I'm currently renting a condo with ugly sheet vinyl flooring in the kitchen. Had I chosen to buy this place, that would have ka-chinged big time in my brain. Will your kitchen and bath floors resonate with your prospective buyers, so they'll be seeing good looks, rather than "gotta change this" when they walk through?

This old school resilient flooring won't resonate with buyers.

These Ceramica Exodus 12 x 12 Resilient Tiles by Trafficmaster would be an easy-install upgrade.

And this budget Marazzi Montagna Lugano 16 x 16 Porcelain Tile is an even better choice.

Bonus: If you opt for ceramic or porcelain tile flooring and add a coordinating backsplash, you'll up the perceived value of your kitchen even more. Many of the trims and mosaics that go with stock porcelain or ceramic tiles are also in stock for an easy, affordable upgrade.

This is one of the in-stock accent tile options that coordinates with the Marazzi porcelain floor tile. It can make a kitchen-enhancing backsplash an easy, affordable option.

Windows: Covering yourself

To me, nothing says cheap like aluminum mini blinds. (They also get bent easily by folks checking out your views.) Buyers look at them and imagine their replacements being a custom - i.e., expensive - change. It doesn't have to be. I like two-inch white faux wood blinds as a reasonable alternative to custom shutters. They'll look like an upgrade when you're selling, but many common sizes can be found in stock at home centers.

Aluminum mini blinds are outdated, unattractive and take away from your views.

Opt for 2" Faux wood blinds instead, like these DesignView Grandwoods in many stock sizes.

Another cheap-looking window treatment is plastic vertical blinds, especially on windows. (I see them all the time on patio doors.) You can use faux woods on windows, as noted above. I'd suggest long, wide fabric window panels as the most affordable option for doors. They're widely available in discount stores like Target, Bed, Bath & Beyond and Ikea, as are the rods to hang them on. Go simple and solid in a natural fabric like white cotton to offset your richly-colored, newly painted walls.

This Woolrich Grommet Window Pair from Target is a visual upgrade from plastic vertical blinds for your patio doors. Keep them open during showings.

Hardware: An easy upgrade

Cheap plastic hardware will make your cabinets look cheap themselves. No hardware (except on sleek modern cabinets) can have the same effect. Replacing them can be easy and affordable if you stay with the same spread, (i.e., hole to hole distance), to avoid repairs to the doors and drawer fronts. Or you can choose hardware that covers the old holes if you're changing sizes. I replaced knobs with bin pulls on my last home's kitchen drawers, which achieved the desired result without a drop of wood putty! Nice hardware can really dress up builder grade cabinets; consider it jewelry for your kitchen or bath!

You wouldn't spot these in a Parade of Homes tour home!

Dress up your cabinets with brushed nickel Amerock Inspirations Plain Pulls for a not-so-plain upgrade.

Faucets: Style turn on opportunity

Another turn-off is plastic-handled faucets in your kitchen or bath. They'll be noticed immediately and read low budget to your buyers. Sink faucets are very easy and inexpensive to change out.

They're cheap. They're ugly. And they're in kitchens from coast to coast.

Give your prospective buyers a sleek Delta Cicero pull-out faucet with soap dispenser, too, for an easy, richer-looking faucet impression.

The single-handle plastic knob faucet is in bathrooms everywhere and enhances none of them!

This Kohler Archer faucet easily replaces the abomination above and instantly upgrades your bath!

Tub and shower faucets are not as easy to replace, unless you can get ones that fits the existing valves. One way to tell if this will be possible is to note the manufacturer name on your current faucets, take a photo of them to your nearest home center and look at their special order books. If they show your model, they'll also show its valve and you may be able to find a new set that works with that same one. If so, that's an easy handyman replacement. (I did it at my last house for less than $200, including parts and labor.)

Details: Little ones can make a big difference

Though they won't deter a buyer, there are a couple of small details you can improve that will make your place look a bit richer. One is replacing the white plastic flush valve that comes with just about every builder toilet I've ever seen for one that matches your other hardware.

A decorative flush lever, like this Moen Banbury, will upgrade your bathroom instantly. Consider it for a powder room, and if your toilet is in a highly visible location in the master bath.

Another easy change is replacing those dreadful plastic shower hooks with better-looking metal ones that fit the style of your bath.

Shower Curtain Rings with Bearings or other coordinating styles and finishes, will improve the look for your bathroom.

Topping things off

Changing countertops can be an expensive proposition, but changing what's sitting on them doesn't need to be. Consider stainless steel countertop appliances and limit them to just one or two. Nothing else needs to sit out at all. Plastic drainboards and soap bottles are a definite detractor.

Your budget may not allow for stainless steel appliances, but a stainless steel toaster oven you can take with you can add countertop eye candy to your kitchen. This one by Breville at Williams-Sonoma features convection cooking, as well.

Other upgrades

Fluffy white bath towels and mat will read "spa" to prospective buyers and also contrast richly with your new paint color. So will brushed metal, natural wood (that doesn't clash with your cabinetry) or woven accessories, like bamboo tissue holders or wicker trash can. Remove anything that screams Walmart or Motel 6.

This Bamboo Square Bath Ensemble by simplehuman at Bed, Bath & Beyond will instantly add natural, updated style to your bath.

Final thought

Declutter. Declutter. Declutter. I was looking at an otherwise spacious townhome this week with ridiculously-overstuffed closets. It gave the impression that there wasn't enough storage in the place. Whatever doesn't fit in neatly, allowing both doors to open easily, needs to be stored somewhere else. The same holds true for linen towers, kitchen cabinets and bath vanities.

05 August 2010

Details #5 - Finishing Touches

This is the final installment of a five-part, first week of the month series with The Decorating Diva. Each focuses on a single room detail that can make a huge difference in the success of that space's style.

Last month we looked at hardware. (See links for the full series at the end of this post.) This segment focuses on those last little details that sometimes go unfunded or get overlooked. Think about the last time you walked into a darling powder room, only to notice plastic clips on the mirror or an ugly white switch plate. Or try to imagine this bathroom with plastic towel holders? (As its designer, I try not to!)

Design is in the details. So this edition of Details focuses on finishing touches.


We look at them every morning when we comb our hair, but when was the last time you really looked at yours? Are the edges chipped or rusting? Does your mirror lack a frame? Mirrors glued to the wall are tricky and hazardous to remove, but can be framed for a richer look. Clip-on mirrors or builder grade medicine cabinet mirrors can be more easily replaced. For a couple of hundred dollars or less, you can give your bathroom a much, much better look!

For a great splurge, check out this beauty. (I want one in my next home!)

It's a mirror. It's a television. It's a stylistic and engineering marvel. It's a Seura!

I can see this Crate & Barrel Largo mirror really enhancing a bath with cinnamon cherry cabinets.

Pottery Barn's Kensington Mirror creates an instant bathroom upgrade

Installed Accessories

Chances are, your home has some permanently-installed accessories in one or more room that are taking away from their appeal. Examples include dime store kitchen paper towel holders, plastic flush levers on your toilets, plastic towel bars in your bathroom and builder basic switchplate covers. These are easy DIY upgrade opportunities on their own, or should be factored into any larger remodel plans you're making.

Flush out ugly tank levers with coordinating versions, like this Brantford model from Moen

Vent your home fashion frustrations with a stylish register cover, like this Scroll model from Restoration Hardware.

Switch to better-looking outlet covers, like these Porcelain beauties from Rejuvenation... Perfect for a retro bath!

Countertop Accessories

This is the easiest, most affordable, no tools or handyman required, update you can make to a kitchen or bath. If your canisters or drinking glasses are looking dated, visit your favorite home goods store or web site for an instant upgrade. They tend to be smaller, lower cost items, so changing out every few years isn't a budget buster. (Donate your old set to a charity, please!) They're also a great way to add color, texture and a new style component to your space.

Give your bath modern, international flair with Jonathan Adler's Berlin accessories

Add pared-down elegance to your bath with Pottery Barn's Quinn Beaded bath accessories.

Form meets function in these stainless steel canisters at The Container Store.

Countertop Appliances

What is your toaster or coffee maker saying about your kitchen? I'm tired... I'm old... I'm bargain basement? Countertop appliances are also easy upgrades, albeit a little more expensive. The first principle of countertop appliances, however, is store the ones you don't use daily. The only appliances that should sit out are part of your morning or dinner routine. If the food processor or stand mixer only gets used once a month or so, it doesn't need to take up room on your countertops. For those essentials you do use daily, consider models that add functionality and style to your kitchen.

Give your kitchen coffee bar style and flexibility with this Cuisinart Coffee on Demand machine at Williams-Sonoma.

Think of it as a toaster on steroids! This Breville Countertop Convection Oven, also at Williams-Sonoma, is so much more. I want one of these, too!

Breville also makes a top-rated, darned good looking juicer! Available through Amazon.com.

Enjoy the entire Details series!

Details #1 - The Lighting Edition
Details #2 - The Faucet Edition
Details #3 - Fabrics and Fibers
Details #4 - The Hardware Edition
Details #5 - Finishing Touches

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