25 April 2011

Welcome to Chez J - Update #1

As many of my readers know, I moved back to Southern California last year after a decade away. (Oh, how I missed you, Golden State!) I had long wanted to live in San Diego and finally made that dream come true. I'm so glad I did, as living here has been even more wonderful than I imagined it could be.

I found my new home last summer, and after a protracted buying process, moved into "Chez J," a three-story South Bay town house, the day before Thanksgiving. (I had so much to be thankful for. Still do!)

The place was built in 2006 and in mostly move-in condition. This enables me to take my time in making it mine. I have a long wish list, but find myself short on time to coordinate it all. I also have to be careful not to over-improve the place, as I always advise my clients against doing!

I've already made some small updates, like getting my beautiful Brizo Talo faucet installed in the kitchen and a new light fixture, shower rod, rings, curtain, cabinet hardware, a small wall storage cabinet and accessories for my own en suite bath. (I just couldn't stand looking at the ugly stuff any longer!)

My main focus has been the powder room, since it's the smallest room in the house, thus the quickest to update. Here's what I've achieved there so far, working part-time around projects and deadlines.

You'll note that my taste is simple, not exotic. I'm not looking to make a statement, just to create a comfortable, functional, appealing (to me, at least!) space.

I changed out the builder basic faucet, towel bar, mirror, light bar and TP holder. I added an accent rug to coordinate with the paint I'm planning for it and a bath cart to hold tissues, guest towels and the soap dispenser that won't fit on the too-small pedestal sink.

That sink is due for a future change, too! Maybe to this Bancroft pedestal from Kohler, maybe to something similar. I like its simple lines and the wide top that gives plenty of room for faucet and soap dispenser!

This is my new faucet from Huntington Brass, suggested to me by plumbing guru Dennis Hargraves at Fixtures. I really like its clean, retro lines!

My new light fixture looks like this Restoration Hardware Dillon Double Sconce, but cost less than $100 at Home Depot! I like how its square lines echo the faucet's.

My new mirror, also a home center steal, pivots like this one, but has sleeker posts to better coordinate with the sleek faucet and light fixture.

This Burnished Brandy by Sherwin-Williams will probably be the powder room paint color. (Of course, your monitor settings might not display its warm, chocolatey tones.)

Eventually, the powder room flooring and that of the adjacent hall, living room, kitchen and dining room will all be wood. While I love dark floors, I think this engineered Amber Valley Oak from Lumber Liquidators -- or something like it from one of my trade sources -- will work better in my space. (A very similar wood floor looked great with my furniture in Florida, and was very easy to live with!)

In the meantime, a brown/blue edged area rug (in the back of the image below) from Bed, Bath & Beyond covers much of the boring 12-inch, tan ceramic tile.

When the new paint goes on, I'll share some powder room pics. I won't make you wait for the wood floors or new pedestal sink... Promise!

20 April 2011

SENSIBLE STYLE - Pet-friendly Kitchens

Curiosity actually can kill your cat. And an old dog's new tricks may leave messes around your kitchen. So how do you make this hard-working space friendly for both four and two-legged occupants? That's what this edition of Sensible Style is all about.

Since this is an area in which I have blissfully little experience-being happily pet-free for the past nine years-I decided to bring in some experts for this post. They include a veterinarian, a custom cabinetmaker and a professional organizer.

About that killer first line...

I asked Dr. Holly Trief, VMD, of San Francisco, a veterinarian for 24 years and my older sister for, well, longer than that, what kitchen-related injuries she sees most often in her patients.

These are the first three on her list, and all are preventable with some changes to your kitchen:

  • "Burns to cat paws from jumping on stoves.

  • "Digestive upset/obstructions from [eating] items in the trash, such as chicken bones, plastic wrappers, sponges, Brillo pads, and [eating] items off table and counter tops, most commonly seen in dogs but occasionally in cats too.

  • "Electric cord injuries, especially in kittens. Dogs will also chew on electrical cords.

Burn free

You can reduce the chance of your cat burning its paws by changing from gas or electric cooking to induction. An induction burner will only heat up when there's a pot covering it. It will also cool faster than an electric or gas burner.

If changing your range or cooktop is not an option right now, and you have a curious cat, you can keep the burners covered when they're not in use.

Protect your pet's paws from burning with a Burner Kover from Range Kleen

Doggone it, Fido's gotten into the trash again

Our childhood German shepherd would do this. So did my lab stepdog, on occasion. What both dogs' kitchens had in common was a tall, open trash can. It was an invitation to mayhem, if you think about it. You can minimize the likelihood of this happening in your kitchen by moving the trash to a closed cabinet. Even if Fido smells something yummy inside, chances are he can't get to it.

Consider a trash pull-out for a base cabinet as a solution. Often, they'll fit in the open space below the sink, which happens to be a very convenient spot. Pull-outs come in various sizes and configurations. A two-can model will hold both recyclables and trash. They're available online and at many home centers.

Stop your dog from trashing your kitchen with a cabinet accessory like this Rev-A-Shelf pull-out

Shockingly-simple solutions

The simplest way to save your pets from electrocution is to unplug your countertop appliances when they're not in use. This will also help save money and the planet by using less electricity. However, that won't solve everyone's problems, especially if the pet chews an appliance cord when it's in use.

Dr. Trief recommends a baby gate to keep pets out of the kitchen while you're cooking. That would greatly reduce the chance of an electric cord mishap, or a cooking burn, for that matter.

If your kitchen entrance doesn't lend itself to being closed off, (as is the case in some open plan layouts), an appliance garage could be an alternate solution. Keeping the toaster oven out-of-sight can keep your pet from hurting itself. (Just be careful not to forget about the appliance yourself if it's in use, and read the manuals for ventilation requirements!) Garages are most often installed during a remodel, and can be factored into your next update.

An appliance garage, like this one from Armstrong, can keep your cat from chewing appliance cords

More vet cautions

Dr. Trief shares these additional pet hazards:

  • "Some people bathe their pets in the sink. Be careful about drain traps that have holes that claws can get caught in.

  • "Open dishwashers can be a hazard, especially if people load them with the knife blade pointed upwards, (particularly for dogs).

  • "Fumes from overheating non-stick pans produce chemicals (polytetrafluoroethylene) can be toxic to birds. Smoke and fumes from other burnt items in the kitchen are also dangerous for birds.

  • "Cleaning products and dishwasher detergents can cause chemical burns and digestive upset, (diarrhea and vomiting). This is seen mostly in dogs.

All of these, in my opinion, speak to exercising a level of caution with your pets that you'd give to a toddler. In fact, this experienced vet points out that pet-proofing your home is not unlike baby-proofing it.

Planning around your pet

Pets, like babies, come with a lot of gear and their own set of nature calls. Some, like St. Bernards and Newfoundlands, slobber quite a bit. Others, especially pups, chew like crazy. Cats jump onto whatever they can reach. (We won't even tackle claw sharpening!) Aging pets and cuddly young ones have accidents. How do you factor all this into your kitchen redesign?

If you're planning a remodel, you just build it in. In addition to the components listed above, you have numerous other options available to you. Let me share a few off the top of my own head.

I'd select Corian for its repairability, or engineered stone countertops for their durability and non-porousness as a hedge against jumping cats and large bird claws. After all, you don't want whatever they've eaten on the top to seep into it. Nor do you want permanent damage from their claws.

I'd specify rectified porcelain tile flooring for its durability against large dog claws, and for its minimal grout lines, which also makes clean-up easier.

I would design in a place for pet food, pet bowls and other pet gear you need to keep handy, maybe even a bed if the kitchen is where you want your precious pet to sleep. More about this in the next section.

I'd also choose a scrubbable paint for your walls to easily remove pet marks.

Choosing the right paint, like Sherwin-Williams' Duration Home Interior Latex, can make pet marks so much more cleanable.

Satin and Semi-gloss are both great kitchen paint finishes. Semi-gloss, in particular, is perfect for frequently-cleaned areas like kitchens. It can also be used on cabinets, as well as walls, for an affordable update.

Designing around your pet

Just as you create spaces for your dishware, cookware and glassware, consider creating spaces in your kitchen for your pet and petware. You can achieve this with the help of a professional kitchen designer in your area--find one on NKBA.org--along with good space planning and the right cabinetry configurations.

First, consider which pet products you want to keep in the kitchen, and which pet needs you want to meet there. (Hint: I wouldn't place the litter box within sniffing distance!) Your designer can help you determine the optimum space allowance and location for your pet station. That's going to vary widely from one household to another.

You don't need a custom cabinet line to achieve your pet center either. A skilled designer can weave together elements from a stock or semi-custom cabinet line to create the storage you need.

A talented designer can create an affordable pet center, like this one using Merillat cabinets

Building around your pet

If you are using custom cabinetry, you'll have more options in creating a pet center tailored to your home and animal.

Nadja Pentic of Case 540 in Alameda, Cal. recommends MDF core with a melamine finish for the cabinet's construction. (MDF stands for Medium Density Fiberboard, a very durable, non-warping wood composite.) "I think MDF would be more resilient than particle board to constant spills and messes and give the cabinets more longevity.. Melamine is also very easy to clean."

Pentic suggests glossy laminates for a contemporary kitchen's cabinet exteriors. While laminate can be damaged by pet claws, it's affordable to replace, she notes. She also believes the glossy exterior will have less scratch-appeal. (It's also very 'in' right now for Euro-style, I might add!)
I asked her to design a pet center for Sensible Style readers, which you can see below.

Pentic-designed cat center by Case 540, with space for feeding and storage

Here's a large dog center design by Pentic, as well.

Organizing around your pet

Professional organizer Jessica Barna of Kitchens Resolved in San Diego suggests organizing your pet cabinet to hold medicines and vitamins, toothbrushes and paste, flea and tick medicines, waste bags, grooming tools, treats, food and even your pet's medical records. Locate their food and water dish nearby, too, she suggests.

Barna also suggests:

  • "Inside of your pet cabinet, group like items with like. Also, group items together that you use at the same time.

  • "Traveling supplies can be in a small box in the back of your pet area - they are needed rarely, and they need to be grouped for easy grab-and-go.

  • "Have a "vet kit" that you can grab when you are headed to the vet (or in case of an emergency). This can be a small folder or accordion file with pet history, list of meds, a few treats, etc.

  • "Are you your own pet's groomer? Have a grooming container: store brushes, nail clips and files, toothbrush, toothpaste, etc. It will be very easy to pull out your grooming container, groom, and put it away."

Final thoughts from a pet-free blogger

Even though I may never need these tips myself, I'm grateful to my editor for suggesting this topic, and to animal lovers Dr. Holly Trief, Nadja Pentic and Jessica Barna for their invaluable insights.

If you're an animal lover, too, and want to honor your pet with a beautiful personalized kitchen element, consider a custom wood carving or mosaic to celebrate your beastly beloved's fine, furry, finned or feathered self.

A fish lover's stunning mosaic aquarium by New Ravenna

If you have pet-friendly kitchen insights to share, please feel free to comment below. Also enjoy my other Sensible Style posts by clicking on one of the links on the right column of this blog.


If you enjoyed this post, please check out more pet-friendly kitchen ideas at Kitchen Views, which included quotes from me and other professionals on their informative blog.

11 April 2011

Guest Post: Eco-friendly flooring options

I'm often contacted by commercial websites wanting to provide material for Gold Notes. Most of what they're offering is completely irrelevant, so I've said no thanks more times than I can count.

This post from CalFinder, a residential remodeling site, provides a rare instance of gaining some useful information for my readers that I'm happy to share. You'll see some of my comments included with the author's. I've noted those as (JG). So... Thanks, CalFinder. Thanks, Margaret Everton, CalFinder contributor... Let's get down now!

With so many flooring options available, it can be hard decoding the benefits of each and choosing which is best for your own space. While traditional hardwood looks great, many modern materials can create a beautiful and more sustainable floor-making responsible purchasing easier than ever. And even today's hardwood flooring is often built from re-purposed and reclaimed wood. Take a look at what is available to you.

Reclaimed wood

While you may picture beat-up planks, reclaimed wood exhibits no difference than brand-new wood. In fact, the wood is often more mature and detailed, providing a unique yet subtle finish. Companies like Ecohaus sell reclaimed wood in hickory, beech, chestnut and elm, to name a few. You can choose between hard and soft woods and color finishes, and with good conscience get the look you want.

Photo Credit: Southern Wood Floors


Sleek and smooth, concrete flooring is a favorite of ours. Think less the rough surface you rode bikes on as a kid, and more the high-gloss flooring of museums. A high shine terrazzo finished concrete offers as much chic as any other material out there. Not to mention that concrete sustains for years with minimal cleaning and upkeep, and lowers your energy consumption in the process. (JG: Versatile concrete can also be stained to look rustic, fun, classic or pretty much any other look you're after.)


Chic and responsible, bamboo looks beautiful without compromising the environment. Made from sustainable forests, bamboo can create many different and refined looks in a home. Installation is usually simple, due to the manufacturing process that creates smooth planks ready for traditional installation.


With a look similar to parquet, cork flooring offers texture and dimension while helping your home go green. Insulating against extreme temperatures, cork also lowers the noise level in a house. Soft and smooth, cork is extremely durable, and can withstand high usage and traffic. Cork usually provides a warm hue and nice detail, without drawing too much attention to itself. (JG: Cork is especially beneficial to aging in place homes, as it's far less wearing on one's joints than traditionally hard flooring.)

Photo Credit: Cork Flooring Pros


Made from mostly or completely post-industrial recycled content, rubber can hold its own. Popular in highly-trafficked commercial areas such as gyms, rubber comes in a wide range of thickness and details. With so many color options, this is a fun way to go. And don't worry about your place looking like a gym: rubber can be beautiful in a residential setting and offers long life, too.

Photo Credit: Spec-Net

*** Margaret Everton is CalFinder's expert home remodeling blogger. With a background in interior design and energy-efficient living, Margaret loves to create successful spaces. You can read her posts, ranging from kitchen remodeling to beautiful new homes, or get help with your next home improvement project at CalFinder.

05 April 2011

FOOD FOR THOUGHT #1: Are open floor plan kitchens making us fat?

When I was a young girl, our family television viewing took place in an upstairs guest room. We gathered together on the convertible sofa and armchairs and watched The Mary Tyler Moore Show, All in the Family, Taxi, MASH and our other favorites together. That guest room console was the only TV in the house for many years.

Families today watch shows together, too, (maybe the same ones on TV Land!), but with some major differences. One, TVs today come with high definition, hundreds of channels, DVRs and, most significantly for our waistlines, remote controls. That means none of our lavishly-entertained viewers is getting up to change the channel any more. Not a big exercise loss, admittedly, but an object at rest tends to remain at rest.

The second, I would say larger, difference is that most homes built today have open floor plans. My last house in Florida did. If yours was built or remodeled in the last 10 years, it probably does, too.

A house plan I like immensely for a future Chez J lakeside bungalow
from the Not So Big House site plans for sale

What this has done for so many American households is to put the refrigerator, pantry and microwave within view of the television. It also put the TV within a few quick steps of those food facilitators.

So, family TV time now is also a more convenient family snacking time. No one has to go up or down stairs, or across the house, to get food or drink these days. It's right there in front of you. As you watch (or even skim past) the commercials, all of those food messages are pinging off your brain and the stainless steel of your oh-so-close kitchen appliances.

In my professional opinion, this has as much to do with the obesity epidemic as suburban sprawl. In fact, you could say it's suburban sprawl of an entirely-related, more personal nature.

Found Gold: Popular Posts from the Past!

Don't miss out on any gold -- subscribe by email

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner