Tuesday
Aug152017

Diary of a Show House Designer -- Take 2

Five years ago, in the early stages of the blog, I chronicled my experience as a designer in the 2012 Junior League of Boston Show House.  Since then, there's been another Junior League Show House.   At that time, in 2016, participating in a show house was not an option: I neither had the will nor the capital to make it work.  But a year has passed, and when the Junior League announced that they were sponsoring a 2017 show house, I wanted in again. 

There's something about doing a show house that is intoxicating for me.  I get a huge adrenaline rush from it.  Coming up with a design, delivering a proposal, managing the project and making sure it gets done to my highest standards, all in an unbelievable short time frame -- it's exhilarating.  The anxiety is palpable, but so worth it, making the invitation to preview this year's site, when it arrived in my inbox, irresistible.

This year's show house will be at the William Flagg Homer House in Belmont, Massachusetts, a lovely suburb just 7 miles northwest of Boston.  Built in 1853, the house was previously owned by William Flagg Homer and his wife Adeline Wellington, uncle and aunt of American landscape painter, Winslow Homer.  It is currently owned by the Belmont Women's Club.  Architecturally, it's Victorian: a combination of Italianate and Second Empire styles.

The William Flagg Homer House, site of the 2017 Junior League of Boston Designer Show House

Designers were invited to preview the house in June.  The preview is always nerve-wracking for me.  I walk through the site waiting for a space to "speak to me."  In each space, I'm evaluating the existing condition of the space (to figure out if it's going to cost me an arm and a leg to rehab), the amount of light the space gets, possible functions and furniture configurations.  I automatically rule out spaces I've done in previous show houses (bathroom, butler's pantry) and spaces that have too many restrictions (like not being able to paint woodwork).  It's hard to put your design stamp on something you can't change a lot.  I come away from the preview with three spaces in mind: 1) a teeny space, not bigger than a walk-in closet, but with a huge window facing Boston; 2) a bedroom with two windows, two closets and a built-in sink; and 3) another bedroom with two windows, two closets, and about 200 square feet of space.  I'm very aware that other designers are vying for the same spaces.

We're encouraged to submit as many as three room proposals: the more proposals you submit, the better your odds for being awarded a space.  I spend a couple of sleepless nights brainstorming how I'm going to design each of the three spaces.  At this stage of any design project, we do what's called precedent research: looking at similar spaces to get design ideas.  I comb Instagram for inspiration.  I come away with three concepts: 1) design the teeny space as a nursery (it's just the right amount of space for a crib and changing table/dresser); 2) design the bedroom with the built-in sink as an explosive toile-decked bedroom; and 3) design the other bedroom as a sitting room/office.  Yeah, I've done a sitting room/office before (in 2012), but it's more fun for me to design than a bedroom.

The nursery and sitting/room office come together like magic.  But I struggle with the explosive toile-decked bedroom.  After a day at the Boston Design Center, I haven't found the right toile to satisfy my instincts.  And the layout of the space, specifically where the windows and closets are situated, make me realize that it will be challenging to fit a bed in the space as a focal point.  I abandon this plan and focus on my proposals for the nursery and sitting room/office.

I'll feature the design that didn't get picked in my next post.  Stay tuned.

Thursday
Jun152017

Touchless Kitchen Faucets -- American Standard's Beale Pull-Down Kitchen Faucet

In March, I wrote about putting my current status as an empty-nester in perspective and preparing to downsize.  It's very topical among my baby-boomer peers right now.  (I welcome recommendations of where I should move.  Feel free to leave yours (California, excepted.))

I've undertaken some of the preparations I discussed to get ready to sell my house, among them replacing my old kitchen faucet.  This is what my old faucet looked like:

 

You can see that it had a brass finish that had actually peeled off.  What do you expect from a builder-grade faucet after 21 years?  Just in time, American Standard offered me their Beale Pull-Down faucet with Selectronic Hands-Free Technology, and I jumped at the chance to try out a new-fangled touch-free faucet.

Because my old faucet had an eight-inch spread with a separate hose attachment (requiring 4 holes in the sink), I needed to get a new sink to accommodate the Beale faucet (which only requires a single opening).  No big deal because my old enamel sink could also stand to be replaced.

 

Here's the sink after the plumber started dismantling it.

Because I also didn't want to replace my countertops (which, I confess, could stand replacing, but I'll leave that to the next owner), I opted for a similar over-mount enamel sink with the same dimensions.  It was no problem for the plumber to remove the old sink, install the new sink and reconnect my existing garbage disposal.  The faucet was easy to install; however, there was a glitch with installing the solenoid device which enables the hands-free operation of the faucet.

 

Here's Andre, my favorite plumber, installing the battery pack for the faucet.

If you're thinking of a hands-free faucet, I'd recommend using a plumber experienced with the installation.  At least with the Beale, the solenoid installation can be confounding.  That seems to be a shared experience due to confusion with separate arrows on the device for flow and installation.  It’s easy to install the solenoid backwards since one of the arrows, the one that applies to installation, says “up” and when installed correctly, points down.  Go figure.

Installation aside, I'm very happy with my new faucet.  I opted for the stainless steel finish which looks like brushed nickel (the faucet also comes in polished chrome).  It's easy to use, multi-functional and certainly is a vast improvement over what I had.

 

Click on the picture below to view my video debut featuring the benefits of my new Beale Pull-Down Kitchen Faucet.

Sunday
Jun042017

What Price Wellness?

Last Thursday (June 1, 2017), I listened to Donald Trump announce that the United States would withdraw from the Paris Agreement to combat climate change.  I'm trying to keep this blog a politics-free zone . . . so I won't say anything more about that here.  I mention it to bring up the environmental challenges we all face, even in our own homes.  What price would you be willing to pay to ensure that your own home environment didn't make you sick, but rather promoted wellness?

I was part of a group of designers, design bloggers and wellness professionals who, as #DesignHounds, entertained this question two weeks ago in conjunction with the International Contemporary Furniture Fair (ICFF) in New York City.  What if it's not your diet, or your sedentary lifestyle, or stress that is making you sick, but your furniture?  Seriously, that's not a ridiculous question.

In modern times, we faced the major realization that our interior environments could make us sick when Legionnaire's Disease broke out at an American Legion convention at a Philadelphia hotel in 1976.  The culprit was a bacterium naturally found in fresh water, but which can become a contaminant when found in man-made water systems.  This outbreak made us acutely aware of how vulnerable we are not only to external air quality but to interior air quality as well.

In addition to air quality, these aspects of our interior environments impact our well being:

  • exposure to light
  • water quality
  • sleep quality
  • ergonomics and comfort
  • acoustics and noise disruption

It seems a no-brainer that if you could incorporate furnishings and materials in your home that could enhance your health and vitality, you would, right?  But most people don't.  Simply because they cost more.

You can improve your interior environment (and, in turn, the exterior environment) with some simple fixes:

  1. Use a zero-VOC (Volatile Organic Compound) wall paint that absorbs and reduces VOCs.  Sherwin Williams Harmony latex paint is one example.  Not only does it reduce VOCs, but it prevents build-up of mold and mildew.
  2. Avoid buying furniture and cabinets made with conventional particleboard, plywood and medium density fiberboard (MDF) which may contain formaldehyde-based adhesives.  Choose furnishings made with certified-sustainable hardwoods or formaldehyde-free particleboard, plywood and MDF.
  3. Avoid synthetic carpets and rugs, synthetic padding and glue-down installations.  Choose wool or other natural fibers for carpet.
  4. Avoid furniture and mattresses made with foam.  Foam produces harmful VOCs.
  5. Incorporate dynamic lighting systems.  Dynamic lighting provides the appropriate light levels for the specific environment and its intended uses.  It also matches light levels to our natural circadian rhythms, for example, by dimming lights as daylight wanes and sleep approaches.
  6. Reduce ambient noise by installing sound-absorbing materials (rugs and carpet, draperies, even bookshelves with books) and insulation.  Update appliances with newer energy-efficient models that make less noise.  Install double-pane windows and storm windows.  Replace hollow-core doors with solid wood doors.
  7. For ergonomics, avoid furniture that causes slouching and poor posture.  A good tip -- measure the distance from the small of your back to the inside of your knee.  Chairs and sofas that have a seat depth greater than that measurement will lead to slouching and cause back and neck strain.

Now, consider adding features that promote wellness.  It's long been considered a feature of luxury bathrooms to incorporate a steam shower.  It's not just for the in-home spa experience.  It's for good health.  A steam shower promotes respiratory health, improves our appearance by hydrating the skin, removes body toxins, increases circulation, reduces stress and encourages relaxation, boosts metabolism, and increases flexibility, among other health benefits.  Adding aromatherapy, chromatherapy and music to a steam shower augments the health benefits.  If you amortize the cost of a steam shower over the time you'll live in your home, it could cost just a few dollars a day . . . less than the cost of your daily coffee habit.  Wouldn't that be worth the price for your health and well being?

I've written before about Mr.Steam, an industrial leader in the manufacture of steam boilers and in the promotion of health and wellness through steam showers.  Since my previous post about Mr.Steam, the company has added some attractive features to its product line that enhance the health and wellness benefits of its products.  It has introduced a Linear SteamHead (left) that lies flush to the shower wall, is quieter and reduces the pooling of condensate.  Mr. Steam has added aromatherapy to the steam shower experience with AromaSteam SteamHeads.  Chromatherapy is available with Mr.Steam's ChromaSteam system which introduces a spectrum of colors through waterproof LED modules for the steam shower.  And, to ensure that your experience lasts even after you step out of the shower, Mr.Steam has introduced a line of attractive towel warmers.

If health and wellness is important to you, wouldn't it be worth making your home a place that supports that aim?

Friday
Jun022017

Not Your Parents' Hubbardton Forge

If you're familiar with Hubbardton Forge lighting, what images come to mind?  My first taste of the company's products was 20 years ago before I was a designer when I was selecting a pendant for my kitchen.  I was attracted to the simple lines of their forged iron fixtures inspired by nature and arts and crafts style. 

That is not today's Hubbardton Forge.

In January 2017, Hubbardton Forge introduced two new lines that bring the company into new product territory: the Synchronicity line and Vermont Modern.  I saw fixtures from both lines with the #DesignHounds at the 2017 International Contemporary Furniture Fair (ICFF) and they were clear and welcome departures from what I've come to expect from the Hubbardton Forge brand.

For designing Synchronicity, Hubbardton Forge assembled craftspeople with backgrounds in architecture, jewelry making, stone carving and artisan glass.  Uniting Swarovski crystals with LED technology, the outcomes are dramatic and utterly contemporary.

 

The Solitude fixture (above) features angular crystals emanating from an LED light guide.  The crystals and LED light source scatter light brilliantly, casting a glamorous sparkle.

Hubbardton Forge has partnered with Swarovski to introduce Swarovski's Wave Cut crystal, a crystal that has both concave and convex surfaces.

  

Close-up of the Swarovski Strass Wave Cut Crystal, left, and the crystal in the Synchronicity Courbe Duet Pendant, right.  Photos courtesy of Hubbardton Forge.

The sinuous steel forms of the Courbe Duet Pendant (above) match the graceful arch of the Wave Cut crystals.  Hidden LED light sources make this fixture less about illumination and more about art.

Artisanship is evident in the Synchronicity Solstice Pendant, below.  Each of the textured glass pieces is handmade.

As graceful compositions of glass and steel, the Synchronicity fixtures lend themselves to more luxurious settings.  In contrast, Vermont Modern fixtures are more edgy and geometrical, catering to a more modern and industrial vibe.  Available in six standard colors -- black, white, gold, silver, red and aqua -- on powder-coated steel, Vermont Modern's fixtures are perfect for adding a whimsical touch to not-so-serious interiors.

The Vermont Modern Anemone LED Pendant features bristles in a steel frame and comes in  circular and linear forms.

At ICFF, Vermont Modern displayed an aqua floor-lamp version of their Cumulus fixture.  It's a fun sculptural piece that floats on its base and has mobile-like qualities when ever-so-slightly pushed.

When I saw the fixture as a gold pendant in the Vermont Modern catalog, I saw its potential in a variety of settings.

As my experience at ICFF shows, it's time to take a fresh look at Hubbardton Forge and its sister lines. 

Wednesday
May312017

ICFF 2017 -- Wilsonart Challenges Student Chair Design Competition

Last week, I took a break from my workaday routine to attend with the DesignHounds one of my favorite design trade shows, the International Contemporary Furniture Fair (ICFF) in New York City.  A highlight of the show, and a privilege I've had for two years running, is interviewing the winner and runners-up in the Wilsonart Challenges Student Chair Design CompetitionWilsonart, an international leader in engineered surfacing materials ranging from high-pressure laminate to quartz, has sponsored this competition for over twelve years.  Partnering with a different design school each year, Wilsonart provides students with a year-long classroom experience in which they tackle furniture design and construction and learn to prepare for a trade show.  It's particularly appropriate that the winner and runners-up get to show their creations at ICFF which typically attracts independent artisans and trend-setters at the forefront of contemporary design.

Each year, Wilsonart creates a specific challenge or theme which the students must execute with Wilsonart laminate.  This year's theme was "borders, boundaries and mash-up," inspiring the students to explore the extremes posed by their environment, culture and society.  Wilsonart partnered with San Diego State University for this 13th annual competition.  Given the multicultural influences in San Diego and the topographical disparities, San Diego State was an excellent school choice, and the students rose to the challenge.

The winning design was titled “A Piece of Tlaltecuhtli” by Matthew John Bacher.  Matthew was inspired by The Tlaltecuhtli Monolith (shown left), a giant historical relief he had viewed at the Museo del Templo Mayor in Mexico City.  Matthew's chair symbolizes the appropriation and commercialization of cultural artifacts.  To Matthew, San Diego is an epicenter for the "borders, boundaries and mash-up" theme as a tourist destination where Hispanic culture is reduced to iconography and merchantable souvenirs.  The judges also found his choice of materials --a laminate that mimics real stone -- an apt expression of the theme.  Also symbolizing misappropriation is the support Matthew used to prop his design: constructed of MDF and painted white, the support cheapens the artistry of his chair.

  

The winning chair, front and reverse, and its designer, .

Drawing inspiration from the Pacific Ocean at San Diego's doorstep, Anna Karreskog, a visiting student from Sweden, created her chair entitled "Waves."

 

Anna used blue and wood-toned laminates to represent the colors of sand and sea.  The shape of each spline is emblematic of the crest and trough of a single wave.  Taken together, the splines represent a series of waves and architecturally symbolize positive and negative space.  I found Anna's design culturally significant in a different way than others: its form and construction seemed rooted in the Scandinavian esthetic of her native Sweden.

The chair created by Megan Acera, titled "Joyful Frustration," combined the geometric forms created by acute angles with playful colors to symbolize the range of emotions inherent in the creative process.

  

I interpreted the convergence of the angles and lines of the wood grain to represent the successful result the designer achieves after much trial and tribulation.

Ricky Lopez, a native of San Diego, designed a bench that symbolizes the reliance of the manmade on the natural world.

    

The form is an Ionic column, halved and on its side.  Support of the column is dependent on the mortised block.

Caselle Reinke was inspired by the San Diego landscape in designing her chair, "Origins."

 

The colors and organic forms represent the mountains to the east, the ocean to the west and the palms and other vegetation that dot the landscape.

"Home Less Home," created by Chuck Thompson, explores the extreme contrast between San Diego's inhabitants: its luxury homeowners and its homeless population, the fourth largest in the United States.

 

Its a "mash-up" of forms: a glossy walnut-looking laminate covering remnants of a Morris chair; a raw wood-looking laminate mimicking deconstructed crates; and a concrete-looking laminate base.  The designer intended the chair to illustrate both the contrasting demographics of the San Diego populace and the precariousness of financial security: how an unforeseen event such as illness or unemployment can create a path to homelessness.  The concrete-looking support props up the chair, demonstrating that available assistance can keep someone from "hitting rock-bottom."