The Houzz Tour!

This week I was fortunate enough to have my own home featured on the Houzz Tour. For those of you unacquainted with, it’s a fabulous resource for lovers of interior design. On its most basic level, it offers tens of thousands (or maybe even more, to be honest, I haven’t counted) of photos of anything and everything interior-desgin related. Are you looking for the perfect purple paint for your powder room? Maybe you need some ideals to reenergize your tired living room. Or perhaps you are planning a gut-job renovation of your kitchen and don’t know where to begin. Houzz photos are a great way to find images that bring your ideas to life. Better yet though, Houzz features blogger-written “ideabooks” where they sort through and gather the images for you. Thinking of painting your front door red? There’s an ideabook for that. Thinking of doing a graphic wall-paper in your entry (in fact, I am!)? There’s an ideabook for that. You can also make your own ideabooks. As an interior designer, I frequently use Houzz’s extensive photo library to communicate my ideas to clients and vice versa. So take a tour of my home and then get started making your own ideabook.

The link to my houzz tour is below:

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Is Pretty Enough?

Don’t get me wrong, I like a pretty room.  In fact, given my northeastern urban locale,  I often feel like I’m the one waving the “pretty” rally towel amidst my clients’ calls for cool, stark modernism.  I think pretty rooms tend to get a bad rap, with people viewing them as old-fashioned, unsophisticated or, even worse, just plain old boring.

I think these pretty naysayers have a point.  As much as I like pretty things (see my earlier post about Gracie wallpaper!), every room needs something a little unexpected, a little jarring, a little (dare I say) ugly to make it truly interesting.  This little extra thing, be it an unexpected paint color, a piece of furniture that doesn’t quite belong,or a piece of art that’s just a little off, can transform a room from pretty nice to spectacular.

Example one:  Bunny Williams’ living room at the 2009 Kips Bay Decorator Show House

4594114923 d49501a148 b Tea With Claudia: Bunny Williams

Photo: Maria Quiroga

The room is classic Bunny Williams, beautifully layered and scaled, with just the right amount of color and texture.  And it is certainly pretty.  But it is the very unexpected red egg chair (unexpected both in terms of color and era) that makes it a truly interesting, tingle-inspiring room.

Example two:

4594115023 cb587dc622 b Tea With Claudia: Bunny Williams

Photo: Fritz von der Schulenburg

Another beautiful Bunny Williams room with lots and lots to consider and marvel.  But to me, it is the painting with its unexpected subject (some type of little gnome-like man??) and its jolt of bright green that transforms this room.  Imagine the difference if this painting were replaced with a more expected landscape.  The room just wouldn’t be as cool.

The moral of today’s story?  Don’t be afraid to put something you love into a room.  That quirky flea market find, the oversized bright pink vase, the funky pillow — go ahead and put them in your perfectly pretty room and watch what happens.

Kitchen Design Secrets 101: In Praise of White Cabinets

When did white cabinets become the dumb blondes of cabinetry?  It seems that the popular take on white cabinets these days is that they are  pretty but shallow while their darker counterparts are considered the more serious, deeper, and brainier option.  I’m currently juggling 4 kitchen renovations and not one of them features white cabinetry.  Why?  Is it the sense that white cabinets are over and done (or perhaps more accurately, “overdone”) and that by their very nature they are only suitable for a traditional kitchen?

Well I am here to raise the (white) rallying flag; a call to arms for white kitchen lovers everywhere.  Yes, white cabinets are pretty, adding lightness and brightness to what can often be a drab and dark space, but their true worth comes from their chameleon-like ability to adapt to any style or design.  They can be sleek and modern, elegant and clean-lined, rich and sophisticated, or breezy and whimsical depending on their setting.

The secret when going with white cabinets?  Accessorize, accessorize, accessorize!  Think colorful backsplash, graphic wall-paper, scene-stealing lighting, and wow window treatments.  Or stay with all-white and neutral accessories and create a beautifully peaceful work space.

The choice is yours, (breathtaking!) traditional

or chic and modern

And best of all, they allow your personal style to come through,

be it with a Buddha

or a fish

scene-stealing wall-paper

 or a great floor and curvy benches

 White cabinets are no dumb blonde!

Design Secrets 101: The Staircase — Making something out of nothing!

Most of us have at least one, some of us have several (including this urban dweller who has three). They came with the house when you bought it and you probably haven’t given them much thought since then.  I’m speaking about that old standby, the staircase.  I loved this photo from the moment I saw it. Why? Because one of my favorite things to do as a designer is to transform a home’s invisible spaces into focal points. Entrance foyers are a perfect example of such often overlooked spaces — they can be so much more than simply an entrance to your home, they can be a beautiful introduction to YOU.  I painted mine Tiffany blue and then added a super contemporary light fixture just to mix it up (those of  you who are familiar with me know that I can never resist the allure of a large lighting fixture or an icy margarita, but I digress.)

Staircases are another example of spaces that are too often forgotten. The photo above provides a lesson in how a staircase can be transformed into a quiet but stunning focal point.  The long adjacent wall serves as an art gallery, while the neutral carpet runner adds graphic interest; both lead the eye upward. Also adding interest and color to the space are the pops of pink on the benches and in the art.  I love it all.  But what really caught my eye, is the way they traded-in the expected wooden banister for this simple but spectacular iron one. Beautiful.

There is another amazing staircase featured on my website. Here too the adjacent wall showcases the artist-owner’s own art as well as pieces from her extraordinary collection. Also adding punch to the space are the bold choices of paint (lavender!) and carpet (orange!), and a beautiful vintage chandelier from a Syrian church. Simply spectacular. Now that’s making something out of nothing!

Kitchen Design Secrets 101: The Banquette

I’m currently in the middle of three kitchen renovations.  Not personally (thank goodness!) but I am vicariously experiencing the pain and inconvenience that goes along with such projects. While function is important to any room, it is especially important when designing a kitchen.  In this case, form should definitely follow function and the design should be well thought out before any work begins.

One piece worth considering when doing a kitchen design is the uber functional banquette.  It’s a space-saver while also adding softness to a room full of hard surfaces and finishes.  Kitchens are often begging for a little pattern and color to break-up the monotony of all those cabinets and appliances.  A banquette can be one-sided, two or even three, depending on your needs and space.

And best of all, the banquette is an equal opportunity seater — it works regardless of your personal style.  Modern, traditional, eclectic, heck it can work with any style de jour — a hollywood regency kitchen anyone?  So, find a corner or a little nook and settle right in, a banquette may be just what you’re looking for.

Why This Room Works: Design Secrets 101

In praise of the “just right” room

Pictured above is a living room designed by Lynn Morgan and featured in the April issue of House Beautiful.  It is undeniably fresh and pretty with its crisp white walls and pastel blues. Perhaps a tad too traditional for my preferred taste, I am highlighting it because it exemplifies what I believe to be one of the most important aspects of successful design.  Yes it is functional, yes it is aesthetically pleasing, yes it appears to feature a nice mix of old and new — all important elements of good design.

But I’m focusing on this room because of what it isn’t — over-designed.  There is something very pleasing about its simplicity. It’s a little breath of fresh air.  No window treatments, a simple sisal on the floor,  there’s a minimum of pattern and even color.  But this room isn’t cold or sterile.  Indeed, it strikes me as someplace that I’d like to spend an afternoon.

Not over-designed, not under-designed, it is a “just right” room.

Given my love of graphic patterns and layers of color, it’s refreshing to take a step back and admire the charms of a lovely, simple room.

Why this room works: Design Secrets 101

What are the secrets of good interior design?  Why do some rooms work while others just don’t?  As I often say (I’m sure frequently to the groans of my friends, family and clients), good design is just like a good drink — it’s all about the mix.  Whether you are talking about fabrics, furnishings, colors or styles, it’s always about how you put it together.

A well-designed room needs both hard and soft, clean-lines and curves, feminine and masculine, the expected juxtaposed with the completely unexpected.  You need some graphic to spice up the neutral, you need the symmetry that pairs bring to a room but also the glory that comes from a single unique piece.  When combining fabrics, you need the large mixed with the small, the loud mixed with the whisper, and the over-the-top, want-to-slap-your-mama-because-it’s-so-beautiful mixed with the neutral and subtle.  The same is true of wood tones.  Don’t fall into the trap of having your furniture look like you bought it all at the same time… from the same line……at the same store!  Mix your woods.

I know that when you are alone staring at an empty room, achieving  this successful mix can seem like a hard nut to crack.  And while it’s true that creating this mix is easier for some of us than for others, it’s really just a matter of learning the secrets.  And the best way to learn these secrets is to study rooms that have mastered the mix. Thus, the birth of what is sure to become a regular feature, “Why this rooms works:  Design Secrets 101.”

And now on to our first victim……. this beautiful living room designed by Claiborne Frank and featured in Elle Decor November 2011.

Why this room works:

Symmetry:  the pair of sofa side tables and lamps; the matching cheetah ottomans on either side of the coffee table; the club chairs in the foreground; even the windows at the rear of the room.  There is a lot going on in this room but all the potential chaos is kept in check by symmetry.  What would happen if there were different tables and lamps on each side of the sofa — maybe one larger than the other, perhaps in different colors and finishes?  The room would be too much for the eye to take in.  Same goes for the ottomans and the club chairs……which brings me to my next point

Neutrals:  another important reason that this room doesn’t feel chaotic is the predominance of neutrals.  The sofa and the club chairs are covered in a neutral and the curtains are neutral as well.  I know that the impulse would be (and perhaps I’m projecting here) to use a more vibrant or graphic fabric for the curtains.  But I think that might have been a mistake paired with accessories like these fantastic Madeline Weinrib pillows on the sofa and the animal skin ottomans.  So what if you really wanted a more graphic or colorful fabric for the drapes……I say go ahead and go for it, but remember to tone down your other fabrics and accessories because  (let’s say it all together now)…’s all about the mix!  So if you decide to make the curtains a little more attention-getting, just make sure that the other pieces demand a little less.

A little taste of Graphic:  of course all of those neutrals would be boring if it weren’t for our friends the graphic punches.  The pillows, the ottomans, the red vases, the blue lamps, all add interest, color and design.  Also at work in this room, is one of my favorite pieces to add to any space — a graphic rug.  Here it works as both a neutral and a graphic, adding  subtle (but important) interest to the overall design but not overpowering the space.

Why do you think this room works?