Saturday, February 14, 2009

41: Common Sense Design

A Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander is an indispensable reference book for anyone building or renovating a house. It's the second volume of a three book series that gives readers new/old ways for looking at design. Alexander and his colleagues take a common sense, human approach to design issues (or patterns) and follow each with concise, useful advice. While they start in the larger realm of community and neighborhood planning and work their way down through the most intimate experiences of a house, it's all presented in an easy to dive-in-and-out of format that will leave you thinking and planning a more inspired and natural home. I found a lot of inspiration in this book. Fascinating stuff.

Friday, February 13, 2009

40: Inside Kitchen Cabinets

I like the pull-out shelves in my Plain & Fancy kitchen cabinets so much, I decided to give them their own post with pictures. As you can see, they still need a little organizing, but they really make everything inside accessible.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

39: Kitchen Cabinets

Some details and thoughts about my Plain & Fancy cabinets:

* Slide-out shelves in all the lower cabinets make every inch—front to back—accessible and easy to use.

* Soft-close hinges keep cabinet doors and drawers from ever slamming shut.

* Plain & Fancy offers standard paint colors, as well as any custom color. I picked one of their standard whites to help keep costs down. I matched it as close as possible to the white of the ceiling on the first floor. It's not a perfect match, but I like the character that the subtle variation gives the space. This is another example of when a little planned imperfection be a good thing.

* Their factory applied paint is much more durable than regular on-site painted finish. These clean up easily and beautifully. I use Mr. Clean's Erase sponges.

* I chose a very simple raised panel door style called Vogue.

* There weren't a lot of options for the hardware that can be purchased with the cabinets, but I liked their simple hammered pewter finish pulls and used them on both cabinet doors and drawers.

* My Plain & Fancy cabinets are finished inside with a wood veneer that looks very finished and is easy to clean when necessary.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

38: Kitchen Plan

I had certain ideas (and tears from magazines) of what I wanted my kitchen to look like, but I can't say enough about the value of a licensed kitchen designer. When I decided to work with Plain & Fancy cabinetry, they connected me with Empire Bath & Kitchen in Utica, New York to help me develop a plan. I'll admit that in the beginning I doubted that they were going to be able to show me anything I didn't already know, but boy was I wrong. My kitchen isn't that large, so there weren't a lot of options for how the room could be laid out. The kitchen is partially open to rest of the first floor, and it's also the passageway into the house from the back door. Plenty of reasons to turn to a kitchen expert.

It made more financial sense to have the open upper shelves built by Oak Tree Homes, but Empire Bath & Kitchen worked out a plan for the Plain & Fancy cabinets below the counters and also above the counter on the stairwell wall.

Empire Bath & Kitchen really took all of the guesswork out of planning the space and maximized my storage. They knew where I needed single drawers and where I needed a stack of drawers; where electric outlets needed to be placed above the counter; and figured out how to make it all fit in the limited space. It couldn't have been easier or flawless experience. The counters were templated, cut and installed as per the schedule they developed, and once everything was delivered (cabinet production took about 12 weeks) the entire room came together in a week.

Kitchen showrooms and dealerships are still more or less a mom-and-pop business, and their design services they are figured into the costs of the cabinets. There are mass retailers who make it possible for homeowners to assemble a kitchen on their own these days, but I've never seen one of those that looked seamless. Kitchens are great investments, and I would never recommend building a kitchen or renovating one without the skills of a licensed kitchen designer...even it you just need them to make your ideas into the beautiful room that you imagined.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

37: Paint for the Public Rooms

"Public rooms" is simply my way of collectively referring to the living/dining room, kitchen, mud room, half bath, stairway, upstairs landing, and upstairs bathroom. Working with Sherwin-Williams paint, I knew that I wanted to find a soft blue for these rooms. I'd used this color in my apartment in New York City, and it's a color that I find peaceful, soothing...and versatile. It's I color I almost always wear, and I guess it's just a color that suits me. The house is small (just over 1,600 sq. ft.) so I felt that I needed to commit to a primary color palette for the different experiences and color palettes to each of the two bedrooms for variety.

I actually saw a similar shade of blue used in a showhouse in Bridgehampton, NY. I had taken pictures of that project, and I had tears from a magazine that published it. (But let me point out here: magazines try very hard to get the printed colors on their pages to match the actual colors of the rooms they publish, but don't expect it to be a scientifically exact match.) With these images as inspiration, I pulled a handful of Sherwin-Williams color strips and spent time looking at them and playing with pairing shades of another blue for a second, slightly darker, shade to use on the trimwork in those rooms.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

36: Paint Color Test

Paint companies and magazines recommend testing paint colors before committing to gallons of paint. Most paint companies sell sample pots of paint, or you can always buy a quart of paint in any color you choose. Most recommendations are to paint a large square (or squares of different shades) on the wall of the room where you're planning to use it. I tried a different method for a very good reason.

I bought several sheets of foam-core poster board. You can find them in most places that sell art supplies, even some pharmacies. They're thicker than regular poster board, so they won't warp as much as regular poster board when you apply the wet paint.

The benefit of foam-core is that you can paint it and then move it around the room to see how the paint looks in different light. And, trust me, it will definitely look different in a corner of the room, next to a window and opposite a window. I went a step further and painted a wide border on one side to get an idea of what the trim color would look like, too.

It's a great trick for fine tuning your color choice. I even placed them in different rooms so that I could get an idea of what it look like seeing the color of one room against the color of another room through doorways. Again, I looked at these samples in various lights: bright daylight, twilight, even with electric light in the construction site.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

35: Paint Color

Many people are paralyzed by paint colors, and I suspect that white (and its many shades) is the most popular paint color for this reason. I decided to be bold—but not crazy. Winters in the Catskills can be long and gray, and I wanted the house to be happy and uplifting. I wanted some variety in the colors, but I didn't want the house to feel like a rainbow. So, I kept to one palette for the public rooms (living room, dining room, kitchen, bathrooms, stairway and landing) and another for each of the two bedrooms.

Color choices are really endless, but I turned to something that I've recommended before: my collection of photos of rooms that I like and pages from magazines that I've liked enough to tear out and save. Even if you haven't been saving things like this for years, it's worth a few visits to a newsstand, buy as many magazines as you can afford, and get to business tearing out images of things you like. You don't even have to limit yourself to images of rooms. Inspiration comes from everywhere: gardens, fabric, cars, plates, book covers, you name it.

I know that if you'll spend a little time collecting examples of things that you like, when you start sorting and looking through the cache, answers to things you like, like color, will become clear. It might look like a tornado blew through the room in the beginning. But the answers will be there.

Then visit paint stores and start matching paint chips to the images. You may not even need to take the images with you. I know that after the tearing and collecting exercise you'll have a very solid idea of what you're looking for—maybe not the exact shade, but the sea of colors won't look so confusing.

I collected paint chips, strips, whatever you want to call from several manufacturers. While they're free, keep your focus on just a few palettes. (I did and I do recommend picking up just one or two other colors outside of your palette that catch your attention. They can be helpful in re-confirming your earlier palette choice.) If your project or house is large, you may want to divide and conquer, say first floor one visit, second floor the next? But the idea is to gather a nice range of shades within the palette you're looking for. Take them home. Sort them out. Then start looking at them in different lights: daylight, twilight, lamp light. You'll be surprised how some colors and paints will shift in the different lights. In my opinion this is a good thing. These are colors will have a life on the walls. It's often subtle. When I say shift, I mean the hue of the color might go from warm to cool or yellow-ish to blue-ish in different lighting conditions It's all very subtle, but magical when you get the colors right on the walls.

I chose Sherwin-Williams paint. You'll also need to ask about your choice's lines of paints. Some are eco. Some are more wipeable than others. And then there are the finishes, which I'll get to later. In the beginning, I recommend "living" with the edit of your color chips. Look at them in the morning when you wake up, on a good day, when you're in a bad mood. Let the palette that you've narrowed sink into your imagination. Trust me, you'll find yourself changing your mind over the differences in subtle shades, but your subconscious will help get close to the final colors. There's one more step that I highly reommend before buying gallons of paint. I'll share that with you next.

Monday, February 2, 2009

34: Don't Let Anything Slide

At the end of a construction project, the homeowner and builder have to both agree that everything was completed as per the terms of the building contract and the final check is written. The homeowner gets the key to the house, and it's theirs to it is. I'm not encouraging anyone to assume that there will be things in dispute at this point, and I don't recommend withholding the final check unless things have gone seriously awry. I do recommend, though, that the new homeowner makes doubly, triply sure that everything is completed as expected and as specified. It's really easy at this point to be so happy that construction is finally complete that details can be overlooked...even ignored.

I should have learned my lesson. About 10 years ago, I renovated an apartment in New York City. The renovation experience didn't even begin to compare in scope and scale with my experience building a house, but when the renovation was complete, I was so happy and relieved to be back in my apartment I overlooked a few things that had been done incorrectly. Ten years later, I'm still living with mosaic tiles that weren't installed correctly in my bathroom, and—worse—a darker grout that was used on only one of four walls. The color is only slightly darker, but I notice it with a tinge of irritation every time I turn on the light in the bathroom.

Here at Twilight Field, there was one problem that wasn't readily apparent when work was finished and I took possession of the house. The in-wall sound system in the living room was installed, but I didn't yet have a TV to check it and discover that the subwoofer was missing behind it's grillwork...and over a year later I'm still trying to get the system connected and working correctly. My builder has come back and installed the missing subwoofer, but something more is wrong with the system. It's still not working.

Mistakes happen, and it's amazing that this is the only real problem that I've had during or after construction. But, don't let anything (in my case needing to purchase a TV in time) prevent you from checking out everything in the project before you agree that the job is done. I'm back in touch with my builder, and he's coming back to work out the problem. I'll share more about the sound system in another post.