Update: Condo Bathroom Revision

There’s been a lot of good progress on the first of the two bathroom renovations in this condo.

We had to scrap the idea of the seamless shower because there were trusses underneath the floor, but we still will have our contemporary shower, just now with a threshold.

The floor tile, shower tile and shower wall tile and niche are in.

Next up are the fixtures!

Responsible Design

The Not So Big Showhouse:Schoolstreet

The Not So Big Showhouse: Schoolstreet


Recently I was invited to attend an industry discussion on new trends in luxury design. It was a roundtable made up of local builders, designers, architects, landscape architects, kitchen and bath suppliers, stone masons, a/v experts and realtors. I knew the trends I was seeing in my own experience and I was eager to share them. But I soon realized that my idea of innovative and exciting design trends was vastly different from what the majority of others were discussing. 19,000 square foot homes. Kitchens with double islands. Caterer’s kitchens. Separate home theaters – one for adults and another for the kids. 1,500 square foot outdoor kitchen and living spaces.  It went on.

I am not naive. I know we live in a market that has the top 1% living here. The money is there, so follows the desire. I am positive that these homes incorporate beautiful design features and are award winning. The amount of detail on a home of this scale is incredible and takes skilled craftsmanship. As I sat there listening to one giant house story after another, I felt ashamed. Why am I here? This is not my experience, my client base. My projects are much smaller, so therefore I am less of a designer. I don’t belong at this table.

But then I started to feel anger. The longer I sat there the more I wanted to ask: is this responsible design? We see every day the impact our choices make on this earth. It is not just enough to recycle, but to reduce and reuse, and make decisions that help our resources, not deplete them. It’s wonderful that you opted for that recycled wood dining table, but if it has to be shipped on a tanker from overseas, what is the benefit gained? We are making homes that are smarter, more efficient and that leave less of a carbon footprint than the ones that we grew up in. As with all industries, don’t we have a responsibility to make design more harmonious with the planet?

Tom Bassett-Dilley, architect Oak Park

Tom Bassett-Dilley, architect Oak Park


But this is just one facet of the industry. There are many designers and builders out there who are creating efficient, beautiful, smart designs. We are fortunate to have one of the leaders in the industry in our own backyard  – Tom Basset-Dilley.

My own market is working men and women, some with children, others not, who have modest homes and want to enjoy them and who chose to use a designer for a time and money saver and to bring ideas that they otherwise would not have thought to use. My clients are savvy and conscientious and their homes reflect not only their hard work but also their desire to live as responsibly as they can while still living their everyday lives. I am not a luxury designer and I will probably never make a million dollars. But I am okay with that.


Quick Tip: Time to Change Your Fan’s Direction

Most people associate ceiling fans with summer and cool breezes. But did you know that using your fan in winter can help you save money on heating bills? By reversing the direction of the fan so that it rotates clockwise and at a low speed cool air is pulled up, forcing warm air down and around you where it should be. The more warm air is circulated closer to the ground, the less heat you’ll need to use. Here’s to staying warm for less!





Top 5 Design Trends That Need To Go

Some of them are just overdone. Others are just plain silly. Here’s to seeing these trends go out with the new year:

 1. Vintage bulbs (also known as Edison bulbs).  I like my light bulbs to perform their duty. I like them to light a room. Vintage bulbs emit an extremely poor light. Plus staring at an exposed bulb makes my eyes cross. I want to insist that any restaurant that has these also equip their diners with readers. And for anyone who is interested in saving the environment, here’s a tip: these bulbs suck up three times the energy of a regular incandescent bulb. Not cool for a farm to table restaurant or any space touting eco friendliness.



2. Having every chair at the dining table mismatched. I understand this trend came from the accessibility of shabby chic design, and if you live in a log cabin or lovely seaside cottage, I like it: it looks as if you suddenly found out you had four extra people coming for dinner and you had an hour to run to the local roadside market to pick up a few chairs for $20 a piece.  Dining chairs are expensive, averaging $200-$400 a chair, and most tables call for at least 4 to 6 of them. The math adds up fast. But with all that said, there is something to be said for symmetry. Four chairs that match and that fit the style of a dining room table add warmth and believability. Do an arm chair for the heads of the table if you need them to differ, but they should still relate to the rest of the setting.

3. Barn wood and concrete.  Don’t get me wrong. It is a lovely combination: the warmth of reclaimed woods juxtaposed with harsh concrete. But can we please get back to creative design? I don’t want every restaurant I frequent to look the same. I eat at different restaurants for different food sensations. I would love the decor to be as fresh and original as the food.



4.  Dark finishes on hardwood floors. I know a lot of folks are going to challenge me on this one. But I never heard so many people complain about dirt and dust showing against dark floors, much more so than when floors were a medium tone. I think the dark floor finish people and the Roomba© folks colluded on this: Hey Roombs! We’re gonna push dark finishes, cause they look super modern. They’ll show every speck of dust, but that’s where you’ll come in and work your magic! Bonus if you get a video of a cat sitting on you while you, well, clean up the cat litter speckled all over the dark floor!

5. And I’ll leave you with this. 


Tub or No Tub?

It’s the first thing to decide on when doing a bathroom renovation: should you have a tub? Ask yourself these questions to help determine an answer:

  1. Do you have room for a separate tub and shower?
  2. Do you plan to have kids?
  3. Do you live in a family friendly area and do you plan to sell your home in the next 5-7 years?
  4. Is there another bathroom in the house with a tub?
  5. Are you empty nesters who plan to keep your home for a long time?
  6. Do you have elderly parents that visit often or are you yourself getting on in years?

If you answered yes to questions #1-3 then you should probably have a tub. Several realtors have told me that, with all other things being equal, people have turned down making an offer on an otherwise beautiful home because there was no bathtub. It seems that people can envision replacing a tub with a shower, but the reverse seems like too much work, and since perception is everything, buyers are turned off. I say five years because by then you will have recovered from a shower renovation long enough to contemplate the idea of putting a tub back in, if your buyer’s market calls for it.

Even if you are a shower person, there comes a time when having a good soak is handy, such as when you need to recover from sore muscles or dry skin and need the magic of an epsom salt bath. When I took a nasty fall a couple winters ago, I rediscovered my love for a tub and long soaks.

If you answered yes to questions #4-6 then lose the tub. Stairs and tubs are a hazard as we age, and I don’t care how many grab bars and slip mats you have: stepping into and out of a tub is dangerous. If you do have grandkids or if your kids still like baths then there are temporary tubs out there like this one that can come in handy.

As I often tell my clients, it’s your home: make it your own. Things can always be changed with time and money, and there’s a buyer for everything. Decide what is important to you and enjoy your home the way you were meant to enjoy it.

E. H. Shepard/Winne The Pooh


Current Projects: Bedroom finishes

I love the beginning stages of the finishes. The walls are up, lighting is in, floors are done, and now for the jewels: the drapes, pillows, wallpaper, upholstery, etc. What makes a room your own….

Feng Shui & Autumn

As many of you know, feng shui is about respecting a naturally occurring order to life: fire burns wood and turns it to ash, ash becomes earth, the soil of the earth produces metal, metal collects water in the form of condensation, water brings life to wood, and wood feeds fire. This is know as the creative cycle:

This cycle can also be represented by the changing seasons: summer into fall, fall to winter, winter into spring, and back to summer again. In the northern hemisphere we are experiencing autumn and it is a passing, like all seasons, from one creative phase to another.  Because this beautiful season never seems to last very long it should be appreciated for all its remarkable change. I always feel a charge when autumn approaches, as do most people. There is a coolness to the air, the leaves are falling, the days shorter, and the sights and smells of an imagined harvest seem to propagate from every house I walk past: orange and white pumpkins commingling with multicolored potted chrysanthemums on front steps, wreaths of berries and gherkins adorn front doors, piles of red and brown leaves smelling like wet earth sit in great piles along curbs waiting for removal. We invariably prepare for winter like all animals, and within that comes another important aspect of autumn: accepting change and letting go of things no longer needed. With each leaf raking, each removal of dead flowers we are preparing to enter a quiet time for appreciation and anticipation. Fall is an excellent time to declutter and let go of things that we no longer need so that we have room to accept new opportunities, new people, new jobs, wealth, etc into our lives.  I have always loved the Native American saying “Be thankful for blessings already on their way,” because to me it encapsulates the essence of fall and letting go. Regardless if your summer was one filled with joy or with sadness, fall is an opportunity to reflect, appreciate, release and prepare for blessings already on their way.

Design Tip for the Week: Painting Stair Risers

This is an oldie but a goodie. If you are lucky enough to have stained wood risers – I applaud you!  Don’t ever paint them! As for the rest of us  – we know that there is not enough Magic Eraser in the world to remove those scuffs…


If you’re fed up and thinking about painting your risers, do so and know that it’s still a bit of a trendy choice but once that is quickly becoming accepted into the mainstream. Choose a dark color (it does not have to be black) to hide the marks. Make sure to pick a paint designed for wood (different from wall paint) and a finish like satin that allows you to wipe off dirt. You’ll want to give your risers a good cleaning and a nice sanding before applying the paint. Then you’ll need to decide if you want to keep your stringers the same color as your trim (white as in picture two below) or paint them to match your risers (black as in photo three). Paint one or two first, stand back and see if you like the look. If you don’t, you can always go back to your original color.


You can even add a decal if you’d like, but make sure it’s dark enough to hide the dirt, and also select one that doesn’t make you dizzy going up and down the stairs:

What I’m Loving Now: Beautiful Fans

When renovating my home recently I had to decide whether to keep the ceiling fans in the upstairs bedrooms. I have a love/hate relationship with fans. They circulate air – helping to cool rooms in the summer and keep rooms warm in the winter – which is a good thing in feng shui and for good health. But the majority of the fans out there are so, so ugly. For a long time it seemed the choices were

  1. The Boob Light 

2. The Exposed Bulb/Blinding Retina Light

3. The No Light Clunky Looking Fan

I told myself I would install new fans for their air circulation quality if only I could find a fan that would complement the decor and the new light fixtures that I was installing. I discovered the Matthews Fan Company through my favorite local lighting source and fell in love with the Irene fan:

It’s a beautiful fan, with or without the light. It doesn’t make a sound, regardless of  speed. It goes with any decor. It comes in a variety of finishes and styles. I have my air flow and my style. I’m happy. 

How to Hire A Painter

I never understand why people say “it’s just paint”, or “painting is easy”, that “you can just change it” or that “paint is cheap”, etc etc. People who say that must not have gone through the process of choosing colors, hiring painters, having your home covered in tarps and smelling like weird plastic for a week. True, painting is cheaper than moving, but it’s not inexpensive either. A good paint job takes time to accomplish and should last at least ten years, and if you are going to go through the above mentioned process, you want to be happy with the final result. The best way to achieve this? Educate yourself a bit on the painting process, determine what results you want to see, and learn how to communicate your needs effectively so that you and your painter are on the same page from day one.

How do you find a painter for starters? Ask for recommendations from people that you know and trust. Ask them what was the best thing and worse thing about the experience, and what they would have done differently had they the chance. Once you’ve narrowed down potential painters then set up individual walk throughs. The walk through is going to be the most important part of the process. Take time to do a thorough walk through. Trust me. This is where the communication comes into play and sets the tone for the whole process going forward.

Start with your walls. Are your walls drywall or plaster? If plaster, how much repair do they need? Do you want the painter to simply fill in cracks, or do you want him/her to smooth your walls so much that they look brand new? A level five drywall finish is when your walls look perfect. Do you need your plaster walls to look like drywall? Or do you want your plaster to retain some character? Decide what you’ll be happy with, and the quote you receive from the painter will reflect this.

Next, move on to millwork. Millwork refers to baseboards, crown, door casings, window trim, bead board, chair rail, any detail on your walls. Painting millwork is time consuming and therefore can add a lot to a painter’s quote. Sometimes it’s necessary to paint to get a finished look. Decide with your painter what millwork, if any, that you want painted.

You also need to discuss doors. A painter may paint your crown and baseboards but do not assume he/she is including doors. If they are in good shape, you may not need them painted. But if your millwork is getting painted, will your doors match? Will your painters paint both sides? And what about your closets? You need to specify if you want the inside of your closets painted. Most painters will not assume to paint the inside of closets unless asked.

Now on to ceilings. Ceilings that are in good shape and do not have signs of cracks or water damage don’t necessarily have to be painted. But if there is damage to them, will the painter fix it? If you have stucco or popcorn ceilings, will the painter paint them so that they look seamless with the rest of the ceiling?

Do you have kitchen or bathroom cabinets that you want to see painted? Cabinets, like millwork, require a different types of paint from wall paint. Make sure you understand the product that your painter is going to use on your cabinets, as well as the process to prepping and painting cabinets.

Now on to paint. There are many different types of paint out there and you need to educate yourself a bit on the types of paint because there can be big differences in cost. The most basic level of paint offers the minimum of coverage (called hide) and is generally used for commercial purposes, like landlords needing to repaint after a tenant leaves. Paint companies offer products up from here and they can range in coverage and VOCs (volatile organic compound) and specialty, such as moisture resistant paint, primer and paint in one, etc. You must specify with your painter which type paint you want to use because painters will usually buy the paint for you and include it in the overall cost. I don’t want to be alarmist here but I’ve heard of painters charging a client for a higher level product and then purchasing a cheaper paint and pocketing the difference. And the difference in cost can be significant. Imagine paying up front for ten gallons of paint at $50 a can but your painter then uses your deposit to buy $25 gallon paint and hopes you don’t notice the difference. To avoid this scenario, tell them you want to see the cans, and tell them that you want the cans left at your home when the job is done. Don’t assume they will – I have heard stories of painters taking cans purchased by one homeowner and using them on another job, all the while charging the second homeowner for the same can of paint!

Once your colors and the type of paint you want to use are chosen then you need to specify what sheen you want on your walls and millwork. Flat? Matte? Eggshell? Pearl?Satin? If you are not sure, pick up a sheen chart at your local paint store. You know how your home is used, not the painter. If you have lots of kids in high traffic areas, put a sheen on the wall that can be easily wiped off. If you hate the wet look on trim, make sure to tell your painter you want a more matte finish.

Compare quotes. You should get at least three detailed quotes from the painters and compare them, apples to apples, on what is to be painted and which product and whether paint and materials (drop cloths, brushes, etc) are included.

When will they work? 9-5? Do you want them in your home on the weekends? At night? Early in the morning? Specify when you want them in your home. Ask them how long the project will take. Will they call you if they can’t come that day?

Specify low VOC or no VOC paints if you want them. Most paints are low VOC these days, but not all, so make sure you are on the same page. Primers have VOCs in them, so make sure you know how much odor the primer will give off.

Educating yourself on the painting process will insure that you are 100% happy with the finished product. And believe me. Once the job is done, you’ll be happy you won’t have to repeat it for a long time.