27 March 2012

Smart Home Security - Guest Post by Madison Parker of Home Security Systems Blog

Done well, home security blends into your architectural and interior design, sight unseen. It should be unobtrusive and user-friendly, dependable but as invisible as possible. Like many other aspects of our lives, security is increasingly being tied into our tablets and smart phones. When Madison Parker of the very informative blog, Home Security Systems, offered me a guest post on the latest home security trends, I thought it was something we’d all find valuable:


Smart home technology means that advances in sensors, remote control devices, and key pad- based information systems can be tied to your smartphone, tablet or laptop. When home designs fully integrate and employ smart home technology, greater homeowner comfort and security are virtually guaranteed.

Smart home systems are being built into homes to manage a variety of systems from heat and air conditioning to security systems, appliances, temperature- and light-controlling window coverings and sprinkler systems. Smart systems’ remote control and remote access wherever an Internet connection can be established will mean that lighting, heating and cooling, and electricity fed to appliances can be shut off or turned on, lowered or raised, from any location.

Smart home controls integrates all aspects of a smart home’s utilities from temperature to security, audio, and visual controls.
(Photo Credit: Control4)

Smart technology is being developed for interior lighting, too. Built in features turn lights on and off by the time of day, regulate brightness, and even include sensors that will activate or deactivate lighting in individual rooms based on whether that room is occupied. Smart occupancy sensors can also be used to respond to the amount of available natural light in any given room, or along outdoor paths and walk ways.

If you’ve ever worried about leaving the stove on when you left on your vacation, you’ll want to know about power strips that recognize when an appliance is turned on – and turn it off for you when necessary.

Smart security systems with motion detectors, security camera feeds and perimeter alarms can be activated and observed remotely. Smart homes will also feature intelligent energy-saving devices such as these solar-powered house numbers and security lighting.

Solar-powered,illuminated house numbers help ensure that emergency response teams can locate your home quickly, and help visitors and delivery personnel to locate your home.
(Photo Credit: PR Web)


Madison Parker is a security expert whose interests range from personal to home security systems. Get more tips and advice on the blog Home Security Systems.

20 March 2012

Food for Thought #6 - Why shopping for kitchen cabinets is like shopping for a new car (and why it isn’t)

I started my kitchen and bath design career at The Home Depot, as thousands of other designers have before and since. Most of my suburban clients were successful – or successfully-retired –professionals and business owners. They were all extremely intelligent and knowledgeable in their own fields, but would get a deer in the headlights look the first time they walked into my department.

An intimidating process

They had no idea how to start, and no frame of reference for many of the components that go into creating a kitchen. They knew there were a lot of dollars – including their home value – at risk in the process and as many bad remodeler stories as bad car salesman stories.

They came to us because they trusted the Home Depot brand and were used to shopping there for the rest of their house. It was comfortable, convenient and reliable, if not luxurious.

My job description called for selling them cabinets, fixtures, appliances, countertops and installations, but a whole lot of education and decision-making had to happen before that stack of papers would eventually get signed. (Another similarity to car buying, I might add, is the absurd amount of paperwork involved.) The cabinet displays were where I always started – and where the car analogy was born.

We didn’t sell Ferraris or Porsches at the Big Orange Box. (They still don’t.) We had five cabinet lines – from serviceable to relatively superior, which made it pretty easy to communicate. These are our “Yugos,” I’d share, pointing to the bare bones cabinet line. They’ll get you from Point A to Point B, but you’re only going to get the basics, no upgrades.

This is our Mercedes line, I’d share, pointing to a cabinet brand with more luxurious styles and finishes, plywood construction and some customization. Pointing to another, I’d say, here are our Toyotas: good quality construction, reliable quality and more affordable. If you can’t afford the C Class – or it doesn’t make sense for your home value – we can get you something nice and well-made in a Camry. It won’t have all the bells and whistles of the Mercedes but it will stand you in good stead. (My builder put the Toyotas into my home and I’ve been very happy with them, I’d share.) This approach made cabinet shopping as familiar as car shopping and far less stressful. It also let me know where my new client wanted to be.

Home Depot's "Toyota" brand -- American Woodmark

I would then go over the different options that were available, making standard overlay vs. full overlay door styles as understandable as coupe vs. sedan and engineered vs. plywood construction as easy to follow as cloth vs. leather. No, the comparisons are not apples to apples, but they are simple. And the simplicity put people at ease.

You get what you pay for

I explained why someone would want full-extension soft-close drawers by demonstrating those then Mercedes-only features on the display, much as a car salesman would demonstrate a self-closing minivan door. The convenience and comfort are pretty comparable, actually.

Just as with cars, there is a strong relationship between what you pay for cabinets and what you get. This has less to do with basic durability – I lived for close to a year in a sublet with 13-year-old IKEA cabinets that were in very good shape after who knows how many tenants – than it does with finishes, features and customization.

If you’re looking for a 14-step, hand-distressed paint and glaze, you’re going to pay top dollar for that workmanship. You’re also going to pay top dollar for a custom color, custom door design, custom width, shape or height. The Yugos (or Kias now) and Toyotas won’t offer you that.

Top of the line classic Dutch Made Custom Cabinetry

I’m happy to see that features like soft-close cabinet drawers and doors -- once exclusive to upper-echelon custom cabinets -- are becoming more widely available today at the Toyota level than when I started out, but you still have to go to an independent designer or showroom to get the Ferraris, Porsches, Maybachs and Jaguars.

Sticker shock

Another car comparison point is financing. Our clients really liked the deals designed to put them into a new kitchen they could easily “drive off” the showroom floor. Credit isn’t as easy today, certainly, and homes are no longer the ATMs they were before the housing market crashed, but cars and cabinets are still big ticket items that are often financed in some form or other.

One of the major ways in which car and cabinet shopping differs is depreciation. Your car loses value as soon as it’s driven off the lot, whereas your home tends to appreciate in value over time, and improving its kitchen smartly adds even more value.

Have I got a deal for you

Another big difference is sourcing. New cars are typically purchased at new car dealers or through a buying service that negotiates with dealers on your behalf. New kitchen cabinets may be purchased through a home center, cabinet showroom, local custom cabinet shop, architect, designer, builder or contractor. The variety of sources adds a level of complexity and confusion – especially since most cabinets don’t come with sticker prices, require knowledge to combine into a sound, safe kitchen and someone with additional skill to install in your home.

Window pricing -- but no custom features -- at IKEA

Bottom line, new cars and kitchen cabinets are major purchases you’ll be living with for a long time. Be sure that what you’re buying in both instances fits your needs – like the mini van, rather than a Maserati, for the suburban soccer mom – and your budget. Be confident that the person guiding you through your purchase cares about your concerns, respects your investment and is knowledgeable in their specialty.

PS: Please feel free to add your own similarities and differences in the comment section!

13 March 2012

More Houzzing Around - Technology Focus

As many of you know, I became a Featured Ideabook contributor to Houzz.com last December. For those of you not familiar with this fabulous site, it's one of the largest, fastest-growing design resources on the web.

I shared a few of my first Ideabooks around the holidays that could help you make your home more guest-friendly. I'd like to share a few more with a technology focus this week:


Sliding Top Kitchen by Minimal USA  kitchen countertops

This Ideabook shares products that slide in and out of view, enhancing your kitchen with their style and technology.



KOHLER digital shower controls modern bathroom

Looking to add technology to your bathroom. This Ideabook shares some strategies and products for doing so.



Sophisticated Contemporary contemporary kitchen

As regular readers know, I'm a big fan of LED technology. No, it's not perfect (yet), but what great innovation hasn't been improved over time. This one already offers major energy-efficiency and versatility benefits for your home. My first LED Ideabook shares numerous ways to incorporate it into your kitchen.

06 March 2012

Sensible Style - Finding Inspiration for your Kitchen or Bath Project

How do you find inspirations for your kitchen or bath remodeling project? Sometimes, magazine pictures just don’t do the trick. You want something that speaks to your heart, as well as your brain and budget. Inspiration is everywhere… You just need to know where to look!

Special events

Home shows, builder showcases, local Realtor open houses and home tours are great inspiration sources. If you’re planning an addition or remodel this season, spend some time exploring all of these options.

If you live in or near San Diego, Cal. Please come see one of the kitchens I designed on the National Kitchen & Bath Association’s Kitchen & Bath Tour on Saturday, March 10. Ticket sales benefit the Veteran’s Village of San Diego.

It’s important to consider which of these styles and technologies will translate well to your home, your neighborhood, your lifestyle and your budget. Looking at remodels in your own area can be particularly helpful, because recent improvements in a nearby home can indicate what will benefit your future resale.

Travel and leisure

A vacation can easily inspire a bath remodel. It’s not uncommon to have my clients share photos from their recent spa resort or B&B getaway. If you crave performance showering or a romantic space, these can be great inspirations.

The Sensible Style approach is to integrate the elements that best fit your master suite. Take cues from the major furnishings in the bedroom for the styles and finishes on your bath cabinetry, to create a cohesive space. If you’re redoing your master bedroom at the same time, look for furniture pieces that tie into your new bathroom’s look. While master suites are private and don’t need to match the public areas of your home – in fact, they should enjoy the best appointments – I believe a comfortable home is one that’s generally cohesive.

Another great inspiration source for redoing your kitchen or bath is your favorite cafĂ© or after-hours spot. Is there a great tile design you can adapt to your floor? Are the bar stools or banquette perfect for your kitchen? Do you adore the faucets or countertop material in the washroom? There’s nothing wrong in bringing some fun into your project, as long as it makes sense for your home.

I get dozens of hotel bath shots from clients. This photo is from the New Orleans Marriott Metaire at Lakeway.

Gardens and great outdoors

One of the prime joys of living in the Sunbelt is our indoor-outdoor lifestyle. More meals are enjoyed here on our decks, surrounded by native plants, than in our dining rooms surrounded by four walls.

Let your love of nature inspire coastal, desert, prairie or mountain color schemes, depending on your location and preferences. It’s easy today to find low maintenance, high performance cabinetry, countertop and flooring materials that will work with any of these looks.

I’m particularly intrigued by the durable new porcelain slab counters that are starting to arrive on American shores from Spain and Italy. Their subtle texture lends itself perfectly to a contemporary nature-inspired palette.

I love these new porcelain slab countertops from Tile of Spain member, The Size!

When I was on a Tile of Spain press tour earlier this month to Valencia’s Cevisama expo where I saw the top above, I also saw fabulous new porcelain tiles that offer both easy-maintenance and non-slip finishes, letting you create a seamless flow between your indoor and outdoor kitchens. These will be arriving in local showrooms in the coming months.

Read all about it!

Keeping up with blogs like this one and the ones linked from the side column is a great strategy. So is following design magazines, especially local ones, and design sites. Pinterest and Houzz.com may be new names to you, but both are red-hot sites for home inspiration, including kitchens and baths.

Again, it’s important to keep your head while your heart goes aflutter. What works in a downtown Houston loft may not work in your Utah ski cabin. Be inspired sensibly while you’re being seduced stylishly!

(This post is adapted from my February 2012 San Diego Union-Tribune column.)

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