Thursday, April 30, 2009

Quiet Time

photograph courtesy of Tim Clark

Today is the closing of the sale of half of my company to a competitor (story of the year, yes?). Although I've been working on the legal aspects of the sale pretty much full-time since early February, it always seems like 90% of the work gets finished in the last few days. After a very long week, I'm seriously looking forward to some quiet time Friday night. And, for me at least, there's nothing like a good long soak (with a good book or magazine and a few scented candles) to wash the worries of the week away.

Until tomorrow though, I'll have to be content with dreaming. To fuel my fantasies, I thought I'd post some of my favorite bathrooms designed by some of the best designers in the business. Designers get extra points if the tub is adjacent to a fireplace or overlooks a beautiful view. And, hey, since it's my fantasy, I'll go all the way and request a glorious chandelier in there, too, while we're at it. The bathroom designed by Tim Clark (shown above) would definitely fit the bill.

photographs courtesy of Peter Dunham

Fireplace, gorgeous inlaid tile floors, a gigantic rain shower flooded with light that renders a bathtub completely incidental -- does it get any better than this? I also love the Spanish touches throughout the space, from the windows to the heavy wooden door. In short, if I owned this bathroom, bathing would become a religious experience for me.

photograph courtesy of Mary McDonald

I know this bathroom by Mary McDonald has appeared everywhere from the pages of domino to just about every design blog on the web, but I love how beautifully it merges class design with a fun, zany aesthetic. The monochromatic palette keeps it from veering into busy. The zig zag floor is a great modern counterpoint to the seersucker settee and Classical statuary (a wee bit cheesy, but I'll forgive her). One thing though I'm not sure I can forgive Mary for are the balloon curtains. I'm pretty sure I had the same ones (but in pink, naturally) in my bedroom growing up and it's just too '80s for me.

photograph courtesy of Tim Clark

This bathroom is very peaceful in a modern bohemian sort of way. I also love how the tub is centered underneath the large window, which is framed perfectly by the sloped ceilings. The hardwood floors and faded rug give the space a cozy quality. This bathroom (together with the other bathroom designed by Tim Clark shown at the beginning of this post) is also a great illustration of how bringing in "real" furniture (like the ottoman and side table) and accessories not normally used in a bathroom (like the rug and draperies) can really go a long way to sprucing up a bathroom.

photographs courtesy of Traditional Home

This his-and-her bathroom by Traditional Home's Robert Young for this year's Kitchen/Bath Industry Show is the mother lode of all bathrooms. Murano glass chandeliers, a Michael S. Smith free-standing tub, Chinoiserie-inspired glass mosaic from Ann Sacks, Phillipe Stark's Ghost short, it's a design-lover's fantasy. Any one of the three rooms that make up this bathroom is spectacular, but altogether it's just mind blowing. One thing I particularly like about this room is how the "her" tub is a built-in shower/tub combo that is so typical of most homes (despite the growing trend for free-standing tubs). And yet, with the tub surround and tiling, the standard issue shower/tub combo is elevated to something really special.

photograph courtesy of Phoebe Howard

I've sung the praises of designer Phoebe Howard before, but I can't help doing it again -- Oh how I love this bathroom! In some ways, it's fairly standard (white cabinets, Carrera marble counters) but there are so many details (like the floor and mirror!) that make it fabulous. All that beautiful built-in storage would be great, too. I love how Howard tends to build out cabinetry all the way to the ceiling. Not only do you maximize storage space, but the added cabinetry makes the room feel so much taller (and so much more custom). My one reservation about the space is the toilet seat: I just don't get using a dark wood toilet seat. I know it's a bit retro, but I see no reason why you would want to draw extra attention to the porcelain throne.

photograph courtesy of Nathan Egan

The New York-based design firm Nathan Egan Interiors is actually the design duo Wayne Nathan and Carol Egan, and if you aren't familiar with their work, I highly suggest to take a spin through their fantastic portfolio. The team's aesthetic is cutting-edge and modern, but still very livable. Their art choices, like the large-scale art work of a diver in the bathroom above, are also masterful. There's definitely a lot of whimsy in this space, like the ladder leaning to nowhere, and yet it still feels restful and luxurious.

What about you? Where do you escape when you're looking for some quiet time?


Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Week One: The Beginning

In spite of the torrential rains that the greater-Houston area has been experiencing since Monday, our builder has managed to break ground on our new house. My mom was in the neighborhood Tuesday afternoon and swung by "just to see" and -- as promised -- work has begun. I hope to make it by myself this weekend to take a look around at the progress.

So far, it's a lot of pipes and dirt, but suddenly it's starting to feel very, very real.


Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Houston Goes Green

Via my good friend Maple, I recently learned that Chief Justice Adele and Dan Hedges, a high-powered Houston legal couple here in Houston, have just recently completed the first
LEED platinum home in the Bayou City. [Adele Hedges is the Chief Justice of the 14th Court of Appeals and Dan Hedges is a named partner of a top-notch local law firm.] Designed by the local husband-wife team of Adams Architects, the 3700-square foot house is in Upper Kirby, a neighborhood in Houston not 5 minutes from my own. The interior is designed by Marlys Tokerud, lead designer of the Houston-based design firm Tokerud & Co.

The house harnesses energy from a multitude of sources, from geothermal radiant heating and cooling below ground to solar panels covering every square inch of the roof (see above). During daylight hours, the house is powered entirely by the 140 solar panels. At night, the house runs off the power grid, with a back-up battery available in case the grid go down (a very smart investment for Houston's hurricane-prone summers).

The galley-style kitchen is flooded with light from the large windows, which largely eliminates the need for artificial light during the day (and bring in great views of all the mature oaks on the property). Bamboo cabinets are topped with Richlite, a durable and nonporous composite countertop made from FSC-certified and/or recycled paper products. I'm not sure what material the mosaic-tile backsplash is, but I would guess recycled glass.

I love how the living room is divided into a multistory sitting area and a cozier, low-slung library around the perimeter. By varying the height of the room, the architects were able to delineate between public and private zones within the same space. The window seats underneath each window provide extra storage and welcome nooks for readers.

The electric fireplace is cleaner and more energy efficient than traditional gas or wood-burning ones. The house's steel frame is left exposed throughout the house, lending an industrial feeling to the rooms. While I appreciate the restraint the interior designer (and clients) used in decorating their rooms (the place is completely devoid of clutter and chotkies), I wish they wouldn't been a little bit more venturesome color-wise than the beige, steel gray, and white color palette.

The Hedges' large two-story master bedroom is definitely a "less is more" kind of space. I particularly love the Venetian plaster on the far wall where the chaise lounges sit -- the traditional architectural feature is a stunning contrast to very modern room. Unadorned clerestory windows let in plenty of light during the day, yet are high enough not to become a nuisance should the couple sleep in.

The screened-in porch runs the length of the home and -- while I think I would like this even more if it were a wee bit wider -- the modern skylights, natural wood decking and sparsely modern furniture are lovely. I can just imagine dining al fresco here on a spring day. Delightful. I am left wondering though what the large gray conical piece is in the corner -- is it sculpture or does it perform some other function? Any ideas?

For more information on Houston's greenest home, go to the full-story as it appeared in the Houston Chronicle HERE. All photographs courtesy of Aker/Zvonkovic Photography.


Monday, April 27, 2009

How much would you pay for a piece of furniture?

I've been obsessed with the Alton coffee table from Hickory Chair (and designed by Thomas O'Brien) since I saw it in the Williams-Sonoma Home catalogue a few weeks ago. It's simple and timeless, but with just enough unique detailing (like magazine racks-turned-legs!) to make it interesting. It's also made here in the States by hand out of FSC-certified hardwood, so quality-wise, it's top of the line. Of course though, it's nearly $3,000 and way more than I would normally pay for a piece of furniture. In fact, that's roughly double what I spent on my sofa and, well, that was a sofa.

When Dave and I first bought our house, we bought a lot of inexpensive pieces from Bombay Company, Target and Crate&Barrel's Ready to Assemble collection. Now, as we contemplate moving into our "forever" house, I'm starting to consider replacing these temporary pieces with higher quality/longer lasting furniture. In doing so though, I'm feeling the sticker shock of "real" furniture. Sure, I want a beautiful home filled with beautiful furniture that will stand the test of time, but at what cost?

So, while I impatiently wait for my beloved coffee table to go on sale (the likelihood of which I'm unsure of), I wanted to put the table on the table (so to speak): What's the most you've ever spent on an item for your house (and what was the piece in question)? On a more theoretical level, what's the most you would even consider paying for a piece of furniture?


Friday, April 24, 2009

Ideas for Mother's Day

Generally speaking, I don't put a lot of stock in "Hallmark holidays" like Mother's Day (which will fall on May 10 this year) or Administrative Professionals' Day (which was Wednesday, actually -- whoops!). Despite that though, I find it's generally dangerous to ignore the occasion altogether lest someone get their feelings hurt. Accordingly, I like to acknowledge the holiday with a card and/or small gift to mark the occasion, which assures the intended that I planned ahead and thought about it (it being the thought that counts, and all that), but I don't tend to go all out.

Mother's Day Cards. I think a card is particularly appropriate on Mother's Day because what any mother really wants -- and yes, I'm making an assumption here since I'm not a mother myself -- for Mother's Day is for her child(ren) to spend time with her and let her know they care. So, in the absence of (or in addition to) hanging out with dear old Mom this Mother's Day, I'd suggest sending a card that let's her know how you feel. [And yes, I do think you should take the time and effort to write more than just "Love, Junior"; after all, you ought to at least make it worth the stamp it cost you to mail it.]

Happy Mother's Day card by Bean Sprout Studio ($4)

So this year I thought I'd pull together some of my favorite Mother's Day cards from Etsy. Any one of these cards has the benefit of being a lot more special than your run-of-the-mill Hallmark greeting. And since you can't just run to the 7-11 to pick one of these up en route to Mother's Day Brunch, you'll look like you put some real thought into the card this time. I love the one pictured above from Bean Sprout Studio with its 3-D paper flowers and smart chartreuse envelope.

I Love You, Mom letterpress card by Ilee ($3.50): Ilee has several cute Mother's Day cards, but I particularly like this one with its bright colors and cute design. Besides, who can resist some letterpress?

Thanks Mom flower ribbon card by Anna Cote ($5.50): This is a nice modern option from Anna Cote that gets right to the point. The fold-over style leaves you plenty of room to expound on the topic of gratitude.

Custom Mother's Day Card by Just Another Day ($3.50): Tired of all the hooky and overly sentimental Mother's Day cards? Then make your own! If you're not particularly artistic, Courtney Williamson from Just Another Day will make one for you. Just let Courtney know what you want the front to say and she'll customize the sentiment to your specifications.

Letterpress Happy Mother's Day Card by Sycamore Street Press ($4): Sycamore Street Press consistently creates letterpress cards that are just, well, pretty. And of course, I love the combination of pink & brown; it's just a classic.

Personalized Stationery. If you're looking to earn some brownie points this year with your mother, why not give her the gift of stationery? Personalized stationery is one of my go-to gifts for just about anybody and for just about any holiday: it's thoughtful, always useful, and you can never have too much paper. Even better, there are tons of affordable (i.e., under $30) options on Etsy for custom stationery that's sure to make your mom smile. It's also a nice change of pace from the standard gifts of flowers or candles/bath products.

Custom Wood Type Stationery letterpress cards by the Paper Peony ($24/set of 8): I love the simplicity of the single lower case letter (how e.e. cummings!). Choose from all 26 letters and a variety of ink colors. A spare envelope is included for any mistakes.

Zig Zag Personalized Notecards by Just Another Day ($20/set of 10): I'm tempted to pick up this set for myself. I love the Missoni-style zig zags in bright Easter egg colors.

Paradise Flower Personalized Notecards by 12fifteen ($18/set of 12): This one by 12fifteen satisfies my current craving for all things red and turquoise.

Whimsy Family Personalized Notecards by Ink Spot Workshop ($17.50/set of 12 + return address labels): This stationery seems just the ticket for the "super mom" with the super family. Even better, the set comes with coordinating return address labels and comes in your choice of 4 colorways. (I like the gravel and magenta one best.)

Blind Impression Simple Custom Letterpress Notecard Set by Simple Song Designs ($27/set of 15): You can't get any more streamlined and modern than these cards. Blind impression is letterpressing without ink, which creates an indentation in the paper without coloration. These, by Simple Song Designs, are the height of minimalist chic (and a great deal for letterpress!).

Callings Cards. If you're looking for a gift that's a little more unusual than custom stationery, what about customized calling (or business) cards?

100 Personalized Calling Cards by Happy Girl Greetings ($20/set of 100): You can really stretch your dollar with these babies, which come in a pack of 100 for a mere 20 clams. There's an almost infinite number of choices for graphics, but I love the old fashioned typewriter, which goes so well with the ecru paper and traditional font. Very sophisticated.

Birds and Branches Calling Cards by Michelle Brusegaard ($20/set of 50): This is a great option if you're looking for something a little cuter. The square shape will be sure to stand out amidst a sea of business cards.

What about you? How do you typically celebrate Mother's Day? Any good tips on great gifts or activities to mark the occasion would be most welcome!


Thursday, April 23, 2009

Selecting Options: Part 2

Time for the second installment of selecting options on the new house. If you missed the first installment, you can catch up HERE. To view the layout for the new house, go HERE. The major upgrade we decided to spring for on finishes was flooring. Both Dave and I have a strong preference for wood floors over carpet or tile and with my allergies to our two cats, hard surface flooring is a necessity and not just a luxury. We ended up selecting an engineered oak floor in the stain pictured above. The sample is in 3" planks but we decided to go for 5" planks (at no additional cost...shocking, I know). I think wider floor boards are definitely more modern and, given our experience with our current pine floors, the fewer gaps and seams the better. Of course, engineered wood has the benefit of locking together, so I anticipate much lower maintenance on these floors than those in our current house. The wood floors will be installed in the entire downstairs, save for the kitchen/breakfast area, the utility room, powder room and master bath.

For the master bathroom, I really wanted to go for a very light backdrop. While I always envy those all-white bathrooms found in so many magazines, I inevitably get bored and end up painting the walls in something less neutral. For now though, the intention is to go with a soothing, all-white space save for the vanity, which will be in the same English Leather finish as the kitchen cabinets. I think the contrast between the dark cabinets and light tile floor (pictured above), which we'll be laying on the diagonal, will be nice, don't you think?

For the vanity counter, I decided to go with Silestone, which is something I've been wanting to try in my own home, but never had before. This Silestone (Mont Blanc) has flecks of mahogany, black and gray just as the granite in the kitchen does, but is far lighter than the kitchen counters. Here's a side-by-side comparison:

I think these "go" together without being overly matchy-matchy. What do you think? I also thought using the same granite in the bathroom would just make the vanity look too much like it belonged in a kitchen. Plus, it's always fun to try a different (and new to me) material.

For bathroom fixtures, we just went with the builder's standard, which are the Monticello fixtures by Moen in oil-rubbed bronze. They're nice, but definitely nothing spectacular.

In the upstairs' bathrooms (there are two full baths), I went with a slightly darker gray 13" tile for the floors. On the shower walls, we're using the same tile, but in a 6" size for contrast. It'll be a nice neutral backdrop for whatever I decide to do with them. Cabinets will be basic contractor-grade white cabinets and the vanity tops will be white cultured marble. I'm really not a fan of cultured marble (kind of plastic-y looking and overly fussy for my taste) or the base cabinets, so I may end up removing/reselling them and upgrading at some point. Fixtures are the same as the master bath.

Having blown most of our options' budget on the hardwood downstairs, we decided to stick with builders' grade basic carpet upstairs. Carpet has the advantage of being easy to replace anyway, should we decide to do something else down the line. For now though, I think this basic greige carpet works just fine. For some reason though, it looks a lot more brown in the shot above than it actually is (it's actually more in line with the picture below, which shows the carpet sample behind the paint samples). The slate-like tile below will be the floor on the upstairs' porch. Dave really loved this one, but I'm a little nervous that it will clash with the brick we've selected. I guess we'll just have to see.

Next to the lack of options for backsplash, our choices for paint color were the most frustrating aspect of the selection process. For paint, we had our choice of 4 colors (including white). We were able to select one color for trim/ceilings and a second for the walls. And that's it. One wall color for the entire house. For those of you who've read this blog for a while, you'll know how big I am on colorful walls. I hate the idea of repainting freshly painted walls as soon as I move in, but I know that, at least in some of the rooms, it's inevitable. What's particularly frustrating is that a gallon of gray paint costs just as much as a gallon of blue, though perhaps they buy these colors in such bulk that they get a substantial discount. Our lack of options may also have something to do with the effort of instructing the crew what color goes where. In the immortal words of Kurt Vonnegut, "so it goes". On the plus side, I actually rather like the greige "Caravan" I selected for the walls; it'll be a nice base for the family room, hallways and upstairs (which I suspect will go undecorated for quite sometime). I'm a bit concerned that the white I selected for the trim and ceilings is a little too yellow, but we'll see how it ends up looking once it's painted out.


Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Cibus Corner: Week Night Dinner Party

After a month-long hiatus, Cibus Corner is back. This time, Chef Babs reveals the secrets to a successful week night dinner party.

Chef Babs, age 4

I used to watch Emeril and Mario on The Food Network and try to emulate their intricate recipes. But that was when I was in graduate school and college and had a lot more free time on my hands. Now, when faced with a complicated recipe, I think: “I guess I’ll order a pizza.” With the demands of working full-time, family, and other obligations, few of us have time to cook gourmet meals nightly. Sometimes, recipes that require a lot of ingredients or take an hour or more to cook seem undoable in our fast paced, schedule driven lives. This, of course, is what made shows like 30 Minute Meals, and Everyday Italian so popular. People require recipes that are good, quick and simple, otherwise, they resort to take out.

Recently, my favorite couple was in town. Although they were only in town during the week, I was still determined to make a good meal. It is our tradition that we always celebrate getting together by throwing a dinner party. I must say, it turned out fantastic, and, it did not take much preparation. This dinner party was a huge hit, and all of the dishes were delicious and simple to make.

Pork Loin with Mr. Yoshida’s Sauce

A family favorite for grilling is Mr Yoshida’s sauce. It used to be available at Sam’s, but is now available online HERE. While I do not normally purchase food online, this marinade is the exception. It really is that good. I have also heard that Jack Daniel’s purchased the brand and it now sells in grocery stores under the label “Jack Daniel’s BBQ Sauce", but they appear to have tampered with the recipe and it's just not the same. Moreover, when you order online, you can get 63 oz. for under $15 -- and trust me, you'll be using this a lot, so it's best to buy in bulk.

3 lb. Pork Tenderloin (1/2 lb. per person)
2 cups Mr. Yoshida’s sauce
1/2 stick butter, melted
salt and pepper to taste

First, prick the pork tenderloin all over with a fork. This allows for the marinade to sink into the pork. Next, place the tenderloin in a zip lock bag and pour in the Mr Yoshida’s sauce and the melted butter. Place in the refrigerator until ready to grill. You can even do this in the morning before work and leave it to marinate all day. Allow to marinate at least 1-2 hours. After it has marinated, place the tenderloin on the grill, and cook until done. Cooking time will depend on the hotness of the grill and the size of the tenderloin. For a 3 pound tenderloin, cook at least 20-25 minutes. Place the remaining sauce in a saucepan on the stove top. Boil for 10 minutes and serve as a reduction sauce for the cooked pork tenderloin.

Chocolate Marsala Cake


scant 1/3 cup unsalted butter

4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, broken up
4 large eggs
1/2 cup plus 1 tbsp sugar
1/3 cup self-rising cake flour, sifted 3 times
3 tbsp Marsala wine

Preheat oven to 350 F. Melt the butter and chocolate together in the microwave and set aside to cool. Beat eggs and sugar together until thick and tripled in volume. Gently fold the sifted flour into the egg mixture. Fold butter and chocolate very carefully into the cake mixture. Pour into 8-inch springform pan [Note: We just used a regular 8-inch pan and had no trouble getting it out.], greased and floured [Note: We used cocoa powder, which ensures no white mess on your lovely cake!]. Cook for 35 minutes. Cool on the rack for 5 minutes and then pour Marsala over the cake. Let cool completely before releasing from the pan.


4 oz. bittersweet chocolate
1 tbsp Marsala
1/3 cup + 2 tbsp. heavy cream

Melt the chocolate, Marsala and cream in a saucepan over gentle heat. Remove from heat and whisk until smooth and thick (but not solid). Pour over cake and serve.

This cake was easy, required few ingredients and was a hit with the people at the party (even my boyfriend P.W., who isn’t even that crazy about chocolate). It's also not a fussy cake and I assembled it while chatting with my guests. Again, it is a recipe from Nigella Lawson’s How To Be a Domestic Goddess. The cake is similar to a torte, and the chocolate ganache provides the finishing touch. Due to the richness of this cake, it would also be great to serve at a shower or around the holidays. It appears simple and elegant, and everyone will be surprised at how little time it took you to make. As I've noted before though, I highly recommend the book as so many of the recipes in it are absolutely fantastic. It is also a great gift!

To say the Marsala chocolate cake was a hit would be a gross understatement. We were left fighting for the last bite and scraping the ganache off the plate.

Whiskey Sours

We finished the evening off with whiskey sours, courtesy of Ina Garten. Whiskey sours are an excellent cocktail to serve at dinner parties because men and women both tend to like them. Men like that you serve them whiskey, and women are pleased that they are still sweet. Ina Garten's recipe for whiskey sours is the best one I have found. She made them on her show entitled “Jeffrey’s Treat,” because they are her husband’s favorite drink. Go HERE for the recipe. I am also a huge fan of amaretto sours, but the whiskey sours definitely appeal to a broader audience, so I tend to save the amaretto sours for girls’ nights.


Monday, April 20, 2009

Inspired by Elizabeth Martin

The cover shot in this month's Elle Decor (shown above) is from the Washington, D.C., home of George Stephanopolous and his wife, actress/author Alexandra Wentworth (perhaps best known for her guest appearance as Jerry Seinfeld's girlfriend (Schmoopie) on the infamous "Soup Nazi" episode). Decorated by Wentworth's childhood friend, designer Elizabeth Martin, the house is a charming example of a classic Colonial Revival home done up in a decidedly more modern way, with an eclectic mix of traditional antiques and artwork, bohemian eclecticism, beach house chic, and assorted curiosities primarily inherited from Wentworth's grandmother.

Going through Elizabeth Martin's online portfolio, I'm struck by how timeless her work is, despite being incredibly "of the moment" since one of the major trends for accessories this summer is nautical and seaside motifs (for some excellent examples, see Thomas Paul, Williams-Sonoma Home, and West Elm), which she employs with some gusto. In my opinion, Martin hits a home run for successfully incorporating Wentworth's gigantic collection of antique corals and shells into a very traditional (and not at all cottage-y) interior.

My two favorite rooms in the spread were the dining room (pictured immediately above and below) and the study. You can peruse the entire spread online HERE and see more pictures of the home not included in Elle Decor's story at Martin's portfolio HERE. In all of the rooms, Martin paints the backs of the built-in bookshelves (of which I am completely envious) a more saturated and, in some instances, contrasting shade, which not only highlights the shelves as an architectural detail, but spotlights the many wonderful books and objects that fill them. The pops of orange in the dining room are also brilliant, especially against the cool gray walls. Normally I dislike trim painted out in the same color as the walls, but in this room I think it works as it modernizes and simplifies very traditional and ornate trim work and moldings.

I love the orange curtains here. With the light streaming through them, they almost glow. The matching settee is also a great touch.

The moody grey-brown-green walls (what would you call that color anyway?) of the study really cozy up this large room. I think the furniture arrangement is particularly well done here as Martin created two intimate conversation areas separated by a low wicker bench/console table. By dividing such a long space into two distinct areas, Martin ensures that entire room is usable space. And by placing the larger furniture pieces (i.e., the sofas) on this side of the room, Martin creates a visual anchor underneath the large windows that can stand up to the fireplace and built-ins on the opposite wall. Despite the formal paneling and salon-style art installation, the room still manages to feel relaxed and livable thanks to comfortable sofas and chairs that boast overstuffed cushions and more modern lines.

The insides of those bookshelves make my heart skip a beat. The brown velvet armchair and ottoman tie in with the brown velvet sofas in the seating area on the opposite side of the room. I also love the giant Chinese figurines on either side of the fireplace (my guess is that they're representative of George and Alexandra's Chinese zodiac animals as my parents have smaller bookends that look remarkably similar of an ox and a dog that represent their birth years as well).

For fun, I thought I might put together a mood board for a living room inspired by Elizabeth Martin's work at the Stephanopolous-Wentworth house. For wall color, I'd go with Benjamin Moore's Nantucket Fog, a mid-tone blue-gray whose name seems particularly appropriate given the nautical motif. Like Martin, I'd paint the trim to match.

Taking my cue from the dining room, I decided to use coral as my primary accent color, which gets picked up in the traditional side chair, Moroccan-style pouf, and some of the accessories. Hints of blue-grey would be found not just on the walls, but on a throw pillow and some seaside-inspired artwork. The bisque velvet sofa is comfortable, but has a contemporary shape that blends modern with traditional. For a coffee table, I'd go with table that looks like an antique trunk while the wooden side table has an organic and sculptural quality that is decidedly more modern. The zebra rug (which Martin uses in several rooms throughout the home) would keep the room interesting, but still grounds the space in neutral tones.


1. Colin Chair, Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams ($1445, as shown)

2. Zebra Rug, Pottery Barn (5' x 8', $349)

3. Taka Trunk, Crate&Barrel ($499)

4. Orange Pouf, John Derian ($269)

5. Decorate Spheres, Williams-Sonoma Home ($48/set of 6)

6. Faux Coral, ZGallerie ($19.95-$44.95)

7. Twist Stool, ZGallerie ($119.95)

8. Seabury Sofa in Bisque velvet, Pottery Barn ($2099, as shown). Pillows (from left): Bristol Pillow in Mist and Ventura Pillow in Sunset, Crate&Barrel ($39.95 each); Octopus embroidered pillow cover, Pottery Barn ($49)

9. Breezing Up by Larry Miller, Artassance ($89-$498, depending on size)

10. Nina by Alicia Grau, Artassance ($136-$1057, depending on size)


Saturday, April 18, 2009

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

These are our two cats, Subito (Latin for "suddenly", age 6) and Clio (named for the Greek Muse of History, age 2.5). While they may look innocent, don't be fooled by the sweet picture. In fact, in recent weeks they've conspired to wreck havoc on my house and turn it in to one giant scratching post. What's more frustrating is that they both have excellent taste. Mats and posts specifically designed for their scratching pleasure are deliberately ignored in favor of the really good stuff: the sofa, the chair I just got recovered, the good Oriental rug. Weekly nail clippings have only encouraged them to resharpen freshly clipped claws as quickly as possible to resume their destructive behaivor.

I'm at my wits' end and now turn to you, gentle readers, for advice. Any ideas short of declawing (which is particularly cruel at their ages, I think)? How do you keep your pets off furniture and your cats from scratching your house to bits? Please help!


Thursday, April 16, 2009

Selecting Options: Part 1

One of the aspects of building our new house that I was most looking forward to was selecting among all the options, especially the opportunity to select my own finishes. Unlike in our current house, I wouldn't be beholden to someone else's tastes or required to "make do" with countertops or cabinets that weren't exactly what I had in mind. As with everything else though about building a house (especially one that is not completely custom), my wishes have to be tempered both by my own budgetary constraints and by the limits of the builder's "design center".

Our builder gave Dave and I the opportunity to visit the Design Center twice, for a total of 5 hours, in order to select just about every aspect of the interior of our house, from kitchen sink to door knobs. Of course, many of the options presented to us were upgrades, meaning we'd have to pay up (sometimes substantially) for more customized options like hardwood floors, natural stone surround on the fireplace, or even a larger kitchen sink.

Before even setting foot in the Design Center, Dave and I had to decide generally how much we were willing to spend on options and what our priorities were. For example, both of us felt that it was important to upgrade the carpet in the majority of the first floor to wood floors -- not just for aesthetic reasons, but because of my allergies. And because of the costs associated with replacing carpet with wood floors over a large portion of a 3500 square foot home, we knew we'd have to allocate a significant portion of the money we'd set aside for upgrades for the wood floors alone. Accordingly, I knew I'd have to make sacrifices elsewhere, but it forced us to decide what we really want v. what would just be nice to have (a good exercise generally, I think).

One of the first decisions we were asked to make was what cabinets we wanted for the kitchen. While I like white kitchen cabinets, Dave has a strong preference for dark wood, so I compromised (yes, I do that from time to time) and we selected this:

We're going with maple cabinets in a deep walnut stain they called "English leather" (love that name!). Fortunately for us, these cabinets were in the standard options and we weren't going to be required to pay up for them. We did, however, end up adding a few glass-fronted upper cabinets, some molding around the kitchen island, and a few pull-out trays in the lower cabinets, all of which were extra. At the end of the day though, in light of the expense associated with replacing cabinetry, I think it was a wise investment to select a few options that increased their functionality and gave a more "custom" look to what might otherwise be a standard-issue look.

Next up was countertops and again, with an eye to costs, we made our choice from the half dozen or so granite selections that came standard. I ended up selecting the granite above (can't remember the name, alas), which is a nice medium-toned granite with an array of white, black, gray and a reddish-brown that I thought tied in well with the cabinets. I tried to stay away from anything too dark since the cabinets are already dark (I prefer a contrast, whether that be dark counters and light cabinets or vice versa). I also wanted something with a good bit of gray since I prefer greyish neutrals to beiges. We chose the same granite to go around the fireplace in the family room. Since the kitchen opens out into the space, I thought it would be a good way to tie the two rooms together.

Selecting backsplash was probably the most frustrating experience we had at the Design Center. The default was large ceramic [floor] tiles laid on the diagonal, which I thought looked completely out of scale with the size of the kitchen and the wall. One of my favorite aspects of our current house is the marble mini-subway tile we had installed as kitchen backsplash about a year ago and I wanted to do something similar in our new place. Unfortunately though, the options to do something else were limited, centering around elaborate natural stone mosaic tiles, tumbled travertine, etc. The options for a more modern backsplash were pretty slim, with even the glass tiles coming in only a rather unfortunate shade of pea green or ragweed yellow. I asked if we could forgo backsplash altogether (thinking we could install some ourselves post-move in), but alas, they gave us some gobbledygook about "providing the buyer with a finished product" and we were shot down.*Sigh*

And so, the above is what I settled on. The smaller squares of slate are contemporary enough and I think they work with the cabinets and countertops, but they're hardly the "big statement" I was hoping for.

Finally, Dave and I had to settle on flooring for the kitchen and breakfast room. We had our choice of about a dozen 13" ceramic tiles. We selected the muted brown-greige shown above, and (for a de minimis amount) decided to upgrade the tile size to 20", which we're going to lay on the diagonal (another upgrade, of course -- these builders are sneaky!). I think the larger size will be a great way to make a (relatively) small space feel more expansive and be a more modern statement at the same time.

Overall though, we had a positive experience at the Design Center. I feel so lucky to be able to pick (even if only among a few options) all the details that will be going into our house. On day one there's not going to be anything that I just hate or feel like I have to change immediately, and that's a great feeling. I think the challenge on this house will come later though, as we take our relatively standard issue new build and transform it into a home with some character. Next week I'll do a second post showing you what we picked out for the rest of the house.

Has anyone else had a house built? If so, how was your experience selecting options? Any words of wisdom would be most appreciated.

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