The Kitchen Makeover

Kitchen remodeling can be a tricky balance of value & style. With so many options, and so many elements to design…a simple kitchen can quickly become a culinary cathedral. Here are a few tips from The Design Coach on the best ways to maximize your kitchen makeover, regardless of your budget. 

1.)    Realize that a custom look does not always mean paying a custom price. When replacing your Kitchen cabinetry, try to stay within the standard box construction, drawer and door sizes offered by the manufacturer. In addition, upgrading to a custom finish package will give your cabinetry a higher-end appearance. Designer Resource:

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2.) Think of your lighting as the ultimate accessory. Believe it or not, there is life beyond the pendant light. Choose fixtures that give you both ambient and directional lighting at the same time – you don’t have to sacrifice style to get a good look at what you’re preparing at the island. Be brave in your lighting design! Designer Resource:

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3.)    Embrace the backsplash! Installing a dynamic accent tile between the cabinetry and countertop is one of the best ways to achieve a magazine quality look in your Kitchen. Subtle or dramatic, try to select a tile that gives a triple visual threat…texture, pattern and color. Designer Resource:

4.)    Coordinate your horizontal surfaces. Look to visually connect two of the most important and prevalent canvas’ in your Kitchen. Coordinating your countertops and flooring will act as a “style anchor” and will set the stage for all of the elements to sing out loud. Designer Resource:

5.)    Window treatments and fabrics are essential. The right fabric package, in both upholstered elements and window treatments, adds much needed softness to the cleaner lines typically found in most Kitchens.  Designer Resource:

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For more information on Kitchen Design, check out Philip’s interview the Peggy Helgeson of Geneva Cabinet Company on the link below. 

Answering The Age Old Question: What Am I Missing?

During a recent workshop, I outlined one of my basic strategies for creating environments of interest. Sometimes advice like this is easier expressed than executed. But for those of you who feel your design may be missing something, maybe this will help.

In general, I tend to look at spaces more like an artist approaches the composition of a painting. I look for opportunities to create Interest -Color/Pattern/Texture, Balance -The appropriate percentage of colors throughout the interior, and Scale-The right size pieces that make the room function based on a desired design intention. But beyond the obvious, I also seek out areas in a room, where the client and I can make personal & authentic statements which may or may not include the well placed store-bought accessory. Here’s a quick overview:

1.) A visually tight color scheme starts with softer, more neutral colors on the walls. Paint manufacturers do a great job drubbing into our heads that room-color means wall paint. It may sell a lot of gallons, but it more often than not makes for simplistic and sophomoric spaces, where the wall color detracts from, or even worse, dominates the interior. I like to derive my color schemes from inspiration fabrics and flooring textiles. I then look to extract the accent colors in deliberate percentages to add interest and balance to a room. Textile design is a wonderful place to start because they seamlessly blend colors in interesting and beautiful percentages. So before you head to the paint store, find a great rug and coordinating inspiration fabrics.

2.) Most of the existing rooms that I design, even the ones presented to me by a builder or architect, are typically under lit. Usually to keep the cost down. However, since a poorly lit room can kill a good design, I like my lighting to be both functional and inspiring. So, if your light fixtures and lamps are visually underwhelming…you’ve missed a huge opportunity to add “functional personality” into your space. Think of lighting as performance art.

3.) I learned early in my career that not all walls are created equally. So I tend to look for the wall space within a room where I can launch a really big idea. The kind of design statement that not only makes the jaw drop, but one that also gives some personal insight into the lifestyle of the client. If your best wall space is littered with forgettable elements, chances are the room is too.


4.) The most impressive way to change an interior may be right over your head! Ceilings create big design opportunities. Not sure who thought “ceiling white” was inspiring, but the once chic and minimalist statement, has now morphed into an icon representing gutless/default design. You can do better. Paint a color, add molding, and find a way to treat the largest canvas in your room with the respect it deserves.


5.) And lastly, window treatments matter. Time to lose the swag of fabric over the window and invest in a look that is more tailored than toga. There is no better opportunity to finish the look of a room than with the right window treatment. It takes the color, texture and sophistication of an interior to a whole new level.


Why Interiors Matter

Ever since I was a boy, say age 10 or 11, my surroundings mattered to me. My bedroom, the source of lasting memories for any child, was shared with three brothers. And depending on the arrangement, it felt a bit like a dorm room. But I always had my quadrant, and enjoyed inventing elaborate themed environments that reflected my current interests. I remember my history phase, where I would build and suspend WW II model airplanes from the drop ceiling. Then came the introduction of the Space Shuttle, and I was obsessed. Various science posters, pictures, articles and magazine covers were taped to my walls like a cheap version of a museum display. And of course, always in the mix, were the images and game schedules of my sports heroes. Sweetness (Walter Payton #34), may you rest in peace. I trace my love for creating spaces directly to that bedroom, as it signals the beginning of a long and fruitful creative journey I am still on to this day.

In the daily routine and chaos of running a design firm…the smaller details of the experience can sometimes fog the bigger picture. However, recently I had the opportunity to work on two very different and special projects; a minor bedroom makeover and a lake house bunkroom. Both projects gave me a renewed appreciation for my work, and are prime examples of why interiors matter.

Let’s start with the Master Bedroom. My wife and I had the opportunity to help with a friend who had lost her husband to cancer. It had been almost a year since she was able to sleep in her own bed, settling most nights for either another room in the house or a couch. Finally feeling as though it might be time to begin moving forward, she decided it was time to reinvent the bedroom she had once shared with her husband. After discussing the project with our friend, my wife reached out to me to see what we could do. Eager to help, we started with selecting a new paint color for the walls, something a bit brighter that might reflect a new perspective. We unanimously settled on a soft, muted lime green. And in conjunction with the wall color, came a recommendation for new bedding…a sophisticated floral featuring washed raspberry, lime green and pale yellow accent. The selections were a bit of a departure from her typical design preferences, but my wife encouraged her to pick something she loved…regardless of her previous design direction.  Solid advice from my wife, who typically gives me sound and honest counsel.

The minute we removed the bedding from its packaging the gravity of the moment hit me. For our friend, this was obviously so much more than a quick bedroom makeover…it signified the start of a new life…a rebirth. The bedroom project had become a symbol of her amazing poise and perseverance. My wife and I were not only grateful that we had shared that with her, but we were so encouraged by her optimistic spirit and determination to rebuild her life for both her and her son. I guess I was just struck by the enormity of this small design gesture.

The lake house bunkroom was an all together different experience. It was a wonderful project that called me to craft an environment that reflected a collaborative interpretation of a summer surrounded by friends. When I first devised my design strategy for the interior, I recall saying that the space had to have a nautical spirit without too many of the obvious elements…and that it had to appear timeless while at the same time nostalgic. I think what I loved most about the project, was that the very nature of a bunkroom was that it’s meant to share and be shared. So with that in mind, I set out to craft an interior that would inspire the soul, nourish the eye and create lasting memories.


From the materials selections in support of the build-out, to the bedding selections and accent elements, the team and I worked hard to make sure the space was comfortable and not over designed…but detailed with enough big moments that would make an impression and set a tone. We used subtle backdrops of khaki and crisp white, combined with bolder accents of red and nautical blue. Not a new thought for a lake house, but it was how we used the colors to balance the space that inevitably made the difference. The lighting selections were classic and nostalgic in appearance…with the flair only brushed chrome can deliver. We mixed textures and orchestrated wood finishes that felt both traveled and familiar. Finally, we added the important finishing details (Reclaimed oars, vintage luggage, baskets and books), and found object art work (Machine mold forms, and framed flour/grain sacks) that had an industrial and decidedly patriotic overtone.


I feel so fortunate to work on spaces like these because they represent one of many reasons why I got into the design business. I wanted to build spaces that were meant to be shared, and specifically crafted to communicate that when you’re here…you’re some place special. Perhaps during this project I was channeling the creative 11 year-old of my youth. Who believed, and still believes our interiors are just one big piece of performance art. Hopefully, like my childhood bedroom, the bunkroom creates memories that will be with the family forever. And you never know, maybe the design will spark something in another young artist who will begin a creative journey of their own.Bunkroom2a

Before You Build: (5) Helpful Tips to Help You Maximize Your Investment.

Having been through countless remodeling and new construction projects, it still amazes me how little synthesis there still is between “the build” and the practical lifestyle/design considerations of the client. There’s enough blame to go around here. There are the architects who have difficulty managing client indecision effectively, and others who seem to be stuck in a professional service model more concerned with generating plans than “a plan.” There are the builders, whose almost unhinged desire to “seal the deal” with a bargain-basement overall cost and a quick construction timeline, force them to cut critical allowances to the bone just to land the job. And then you have the inexperienced designers/decorators, most of whom lack the necessary knowledge of construction to efficiently balance the design of the project with their more often applied talent…finish decoration. Regardless of who is at fault, the fact remains, successful creative outcomes are achieved through thoughtful attention to detail both financially and creatively.


In the current rebuilding-phase of the construction industry, two things are becoming very clear. First, overall allowances are typically inadequate for the generation of clients, who desire a magazine quality aesthetic on the newspaper budget provided by some builders. And second, a good number of architects seem to be more concerned with pitching a plan and closing out on a fee, than thoughtfully guiding the clients to the finish line on their dream build. What a shame, as the building process for many of these clients represents a major milestone, not to mention a significant investment. Over the years, my team and I have seen this lack of professional consideration manifest itself in some pretty ugly ways…with one exception…when one or all of these key players decide, in the best interest of the client and the project, to remove the ambiguity from this flawed dynamic. It might seem obvious, but the protectionist posture of many in the building industry has ignored that the design is still in the details. And whether your project is large or small, it’s less about how much you spend…but more where you spend it. Listed below are five, helpful tips to add clarity to the vision of your build.


1.) Pack your prints: Put as many details in the plan as possible BEFORE you select a builder. Map out, to the best of your ability, the visual destination of your project with your architect and designer before you set sail. Pay particular attention to cabinetry, millwork (Ceilings in particular), flooring and electrical/audio-visual features. The best builds have a lifestyle-sensitive electrical plan, a solid millwork package that gives the project timeless character, creative flooring designs that give interiors a flexible decorative foundation, and great cabinetry that is both beautiful and functional. However, if the details aren’t in the plan, the builder won’t bid it properly and you could be left designing on the fly…or worse drifting in unchartered creative waters.

2.) Focus on value over cost: This can be a tough concept for clients to understand, but if you keep this in mind you’ll be able to apply the appropriate financial resources to each allowance. Most clients value some design/build elements more than others. For example, the Kitchen/Family Room is often times a major focus for most clients. Thus, adequate cabinetry, appliance, countertop, tile, flooring, millwork and electrical allowances need to accommodate the vision of the client. Sadly, that’s not always the case. All too often, clients have not thoughtfully explored the costs associated with the wonderful or magazine clipped interiors before presenting them to your build team. My suggestions…thoroughly discuss and document the lifestyle and design elements you value most. Since most projects do not exist with unlimited budgets, design becomes an exercise in acceptable “trade-offs”. For example, selecting less expensive appliances, might lead to opportunities for a more striking millwork/cabinetry selection. In short, put yourself and your build team in a position to exceed your expectations by defining what’s important to you. If you attempt to discuss a good chunk of these during the build, you’re going to waste precious time…and project fatigue will set in much sooner than you expected.

3.) Break your project down room by room: Work with your architect and designer on actual furniture layouts for each room. Don’t settle for the architects “place-holders” in the plan. Furniture layout can drive everything from electrical to HV/AC considerations. Not to mention, play a significant role in determining whether or not the room will function the way the client intended once it’s built. If you’re taking furniture with you…photograph it, measure it, and make a home for it in the plan. Taking this step will not only give you the rooms you want, but will put you in a position to identify the longer term decorative needs of each room. The kind of needs that allow you to finish your interiors in style and make that house a home.

4.) Don’t let your builder drive your design style: Most of the time builder’s see the designer’s role as merely cosmetic. WRONG. A good design team will not only connect the client with a personal sense of style related to color, texture and function…but the result of structured “before you build” creative conversations…with an experienced design professional…will make selections related to the build so much easier.

5.) Know the difference between design and decoration: There is a difference between design and decoration. Here’s an easy explanation. Design happens first and typically involves elements that cannot be easily changed after the build. (Cabinetry, built-ins, millwork, flooring, bathroom/tile, etc.) Decoration usually happens at the end or after the building process to finish the interiors for the client. (Painting, wallpaper, furniture, window treatments, etc.) You and your design team must balance both the design and decorative needs of the project simultaneously. You should focus on the building needs first so that you can provide timely guidance on materials selection to the builder. This will help keep the project on schedule. However, all of those selections must be done with the overall decorative end-result in mind. So, beware of the design professional or decorator with limited construction/design experience. Also, make a point to hire a design professional that understands how to effectively and respectfully communicate with the various contractors on your project. Proper design/decorative visuals combined with professional communication, is essential to making sure you get the most out of your build team.