Monday, December 31, 2012

Scale and Proportion: What's the Difference?

Painting Out of Scale With the Buffet
Have you ever been disconcerted by seeing a king size bed that fills a tiny bedroom, or by a lamp shade too small for its base, or perhaps by a massive flat screen tv that overshadows the fireplace mantle next to it? If so, you were reacting to a problem with scale (the bed and the tv) or proportion (the lamp shade). The two terms are often confused, so let's sort out the differences between them.

What is Scale?

Scale is how the overall size of one object relates to the overall size another object, or to the space in which it's placed. On the right is a painting that's much too small to fill the area above the buffet in a pleasing way. Instead of creating a harmonious composition, the painting and buffet seem unrelated, and the little painting looks like a orphan.

Choosing furnishings or accessories in the proper scale is essential to a space that works. Here are before and after examples from librariantellsall.comThe "art"  doesn't resonate with me, but the pictures do illustrate the point.

The Proper Scale Makes a Difference

Scale Issues to Avoid When You're Selling

One of the most common mistakes I see, particularly in vacant houses, is the use of forlorn, small pieces of furniture and/or accessories here and there in a misguided attempt to make the house look furnished or "staged". Not only do they look wrong because of scale, the style often is inappropriate for the location, such as the typical flimsy aluminum outdoor chair that gets dragged in from the deck, or the accessory that's wrong for the architecture of the house. It's much better to have no furniture and accessories than it is to have the wrong ones.

What is Proportion?

A Proportion Problem
Proportion is the relationship between one part of an object and another, measured in various terms, such as size, quantity or color.  An example in design is furniture. If the legs of a table aren't in the correct proportion to the top, the table could look silly. Or if the arms of a sofa are over or under-sized, the sofa is uncomfortable and unattractive. When you buy a replacement lamp shade, it has to have a pleasing shape and be in the correct proportion to the base. What other examples can you think of? 

Proportion is important because each time it's used correctly, it creates a little spot of harmony. When it's misused, something looks or feels "wrong". 

The Golden Mean

Some proportional relationships are more pleasing to us than others. The ancient Greeks came up with the Golden Mean, which expressed ideal proportions in a simple formula: 
Golden Mean Expressed as a Line

Golden Mean Expressed as a Rectangle

For ideal proportions, the ratio of the smaller section to the larger section should be the same as that of the larger section to the whole. 

This 2:3 ratio is found in nature and design, including the standard dimensions (4 x 6, 8 x 12, 16 x 24, etc.) of familiar objects, such as rugs and picture frames. Did you know that we have the ancient Greeks to thank for these things? 

Essential Differences Between Scale and Proportion

  • Scale refers to the overall size of an object. Proportion refers to relative size of the parts of an object.
  • The proportional relationship is constant regardless of size. Scale can vary, and there can be small, medium and large versions of the same item. 

"The basic rules of proportion and scale are unchanging. They are reinterpreted according to the needs of the time. I like simplicity and I believe in restraint. Above all, there should be harmony-of proportion, line, color, and feeling. The most important element in decorating is the relationship between objects - in size, form, texture, color, and meaning. None of these is in good taste in itself but only in relationship to where it has been placed and what purpose it is to serve."
Eleanor McMillen Brown

Keep Scale and Proportion in Mind

The next time you're considering a design project, keep scale and proportion in mind. If you need a little help, call me at 828-692-4355 to talk about what you'd like to accomplish and schedule a redesign or color consultation. 

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Choosing Paint Colors for Interior Doors

A Door to Nowhere
This is a story about accenting decisions for interior doors, using the white door in the center of the picture as a case in point.

When I came to this house to do a staging consultation to get it ready to go on the market, I immediately noticed many details had been accented, including the doors, windows, wall vent, railing cap, doorway arch, baseboards, etc. 

The problem of seeing all those details first, instead of seeing the room as a whole, was exaggerated by the high contrast between the stark white trim and the walls. Left as is, there would be much less attractive pictures for marketing, making it a weaker competitor, especially because the house was vacant and all those details had nowhere to hide. Not only that, if prospective buyers came after all, the house wouldn't show as well in person as it could with a few simple fixes. 

Utility/Closet/Storage Area Doors

When I explored the room, I discovered that the center door led to a utility room, not to a living area. When the door to the adjacent powder room was closed, as it was most of the time, those doors side by side created visual confusion and focused unnecessary attention on a door that lead essentially nowhere. 

To create a more attractive, harmonious, photogenic impression, I recommended painting the utility room door (and all the other undeserving details) in the wall color to make them become texture that blended, instead of things that drew the eye. Even if you're not selling, it's a solution worth considering for your doors that lead nowhere, such as those to utility or storage areas, or to closets. 

Hallway Doors

Hallways are another good place to think about accenting decisions. In a long hallway with many doors, consider how much you want to call attention to them, particularly in the following situations:
  • When most of the doors are on one side.  Accenting could make the hallway look lop-sided.
  • Doors that lead nowhere. Accenting them could create confusion, as in the case above.
  • When there is more than one type or style of door or cabinet door, particularly if some have more merit than others. Accenting everything could bring attention to doors that don't deserve it, or add too much detail.


Resist the temptation to create even more detail with accent colors, as in the case of the arch in the room above, or this inset panel door. 

Before-Overzealous Accenting

After-Simple Texture 


In addition to accenting with restraint, consider using paint colors with less contrast. One way to do that is to compare their LRV values (Light Reflectance Values) found at the back of most paint fan decks, and choose colors whose values are close, say no more than seven points difference. 

When it comes to deciding how to paint interior doors, there's a lot to be said for accenting wisely and keeping things simple.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Glorious, Joyous "Misa Criolla"

It wouldn't be Christmas without listening to certain music, and for me, one of the essentials is the glorious, joyous, "Misa Criolla" created in 1964 by the Argentine composer, Ariel Ramirez (1921-2010). I first heard it in San Francisco at the home of our friend Althea who had on cassette, and it captivated me, although it was in Spanish and I understood only a few words. To this day I haven't gotten around to translating it all because I haven't needed to. The spirit of the music is universal. 

Here's what Wikipedia says about it:

"Misa Criolla was an early non-Latin Mass post-Second Vatican Council.[2][5] The Washington Post described Misa Criolla as "a stunning artistic achievement, [that] combined Spanish text with indigenous instruments and rhythms".[5] It led to album sales numbering in the millions internationally.[5] Ramírez once told The Jerusalem Post how Misa Criolla was inspired by a visit to Germany after World War II.[5] While there he had an encounter with a group of nuns, which led him to consider writing "a spiritual piece". This would eventually become the Misa Criolla.[5]

The Misa, a mass for either male or female soloists, chorus and orchestra, is based on folk genres such as chacareracarnavalito and estilo pampeano, with Andean influences and instruments. It is also one of the first masses to be celebrated in a modern language following the lifting on their ban by the Second Vatican Council. Ramírez wrote the piece in 1963–1964 and it was recorded in 1964 by Philips Records, directed by Ramírez himself with Los Fronterizos as featured performers (Philips 820 39 LP, including Navidad Nuestra, remastered in 1994 and released by Philips as CD 526155-2). It was not publicly performed until 1967 in DüsseldorfGermany, during a European tour which eventually brought Ariel Ramírez before Pope Paul VI. His Mass for peace and justice (1981) is quite famous.[2] Equally famous are the recordings with the solo voices of George Dalaras (1989), José Carreras (1990), and Mercedes Sosa (1999). Plácido Domingo recorded the Kyrie (the first movement of the Misa) with Dominic Miller on guitar (2003)."

YouTube has several versions, including my favorite, this heartfelt performance by Los Fronterizos (about twenty minutes):

I hope you enjoy "Misa Criolla", and that it becomes part of your holiday tradition, too. Merry Christmas, everyone!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Magic Hands of Grinling Gibbons

Grinling Gibbons (1648-1721) is widely recognized as the finest wood carver who worked in England. If you've visited St. Paul's Cathedral, Hampton Court Palace, Blenheim Palace and other major sites, you've likely seen and marveled at his extraordinary artistry. Faced with the need to earn a living, Gibbons also was concerned with practical matters, like payment. He was reputed to have included a closed pea pod somewhere in each project, and if he was paid his commission, he would return and carve it open. 

Here's a wonderful tribute, "Grinling Gibbons, Master Carver" that I recently discovered on YouTube:

The ethereal quality of Gibbons' works and the incredible depth and detail make it difficult to believe they could have been carved from wood. His carvings were so realistic, it was said a pot of carved flowers at his house in London would tremble from the motion of passing coaches. 

David Esterly has written an excellent book, "Grinling Gibbons and the Art of Carving", that not only is a biography, complete with numerous color photos, it also describes the techniques and tools that Gibbons used to transform limewood (in fact, two types of Tilia, commonly known as the linden tree) into a lobster, or a violin or a flower, etc. 

I became a Gibbons fan after visiting Hampton Court Palace, where I also became intrigued by the elaborate iron gates forged by Jean Tijou, and began to look for more examples of their work. A few years ago I made a special trip to Petworth House in Sussex, most famous for being the subject of numerous paintings by J.M.W. Turner, to see Gibbons' famous Carved Room. 

I'll always remember the awe and exhilaration of seeing so many of these grand carvings in one room, and marveling at the work of this sublimely talented artist. Surely his hands did have magical powers. 

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

When a Room is Dark

Although we enjoy living in rooms bathed in warm, natural light, it's not always possible to achieve. Sometimes the light that can be captured indoors is diminished by the orientation of the house, the position of the room at or below grade, trees and shrubs outside the window, or the need to create privacy, or hide an unattractive view.  If you live in a house with dark rooms, what can you do to make them feel comfortable and inviting? 

Here are some things to consider when you look for solutions:

Purpose of the Room

A Home Office/Jewel Box
There's no design law that all rooms must feel sunny and bright. Sometimes the purpose of the room will lead you to decide that, instead of fighting nature, you want to create a cozy space, or a luxurious jewel box. Examples include a room where you watch movies or television, a dining room mainly used at night, or a bedroom. Rather than using light, reflective colors, the color in these rooms could be deep and rich, as in this home office. Notice that the red desk and chair blend with the walls, making the room look larger.


Light Fixtures
In a dark room, especially one used primarily at night, artificial lighting is a key consideration.  Analyze the existing lighting. Does it meet your functional needs and suit the look you want? Each room should have three types:  Basic Types of Lighting 

Light Bulbs
In addition to the light fixtures themselves, you need to be up to date on the types of light bulbs that are available for each one, because they will affect the color of everything in the room. If you haven't already done so, replace old-fashioned bulbs with energy-efficient ones, when possible. For each new light bulb you’re considering, you need to know:
  • wattage in lumens, compared with the bulb you’re replacing.
  • its color temperature (CCT) which shows whether the light cast by the bulb is warm or cool, as measured in degrees Kelvin on a scale from 2700K to 6500K. The lower the number, the warmer or more yellow the light. In darker rooms, it's important that bulbs cast a warm light, or the room will feel cold and gloomy.
  • its CRI (Color Rendering Index) number which tells you on a scale of 1 to 100 how accurately the light renders color. Avoid bulbs that don't do this well. 

Orientation (Exposure) of the Room

If you use the room during the day, analyze the natural light it receives, if any. What direction(s) do the windows face? The exposure determines the color that's cast by natural light, and must be factored in to color decisions. North-facing rooms, for example, have constant blueish light, while rooms that face East and West change color with the position of the sun. Color expert Lori Sawaya offers some excellent guidance:

I second Lori's recommendation to test the colors before you decide. Be sure that the sample is at least 2 x 3 feet. A tiny paint chip won't do. 

Who Will Use the Room?

Will the room be used by one or more family members, or is it a semi-public space, like a dining room, that also will be used for entertaining? If it's a personal space, there's a smaller audience to please, and that makes decisions much easier.

Colors in the Permanent Elements

Smart use of color, especially paint color(s) is a key part of your design solution. To start, determine the following:
  • Color family(ies) of the permanent elements, such as flooring, carpet, woodwork, cabinets, counter tops, etc. Are they warm (red-orange-yellow), cool (green-blue-purple) or neutral (pure white or gray)? Be sure your paint colors are compatible. If you have warm tones, choose warm versions of your colors, such as a yellow red instead of a blue red.
  • Dominant colors of major pieces of furniture and accessories, such as sofas, chairs, area rugs. 
  • Colors used elsewhere in the house. The color you use in the dark room should relate.

Some Ways to Create A Lighter, More Open Impression 

If you want to make the most of every little bit of light, natural or artificial, here are some ideas:
  • Use warm, bright mid-range colors for walls. Whites, and very light colors look dingy because there isn't enough light to render the color accurately. To make the room look and feel sunny, use a rich (not pale) yellow. Colors from the red and orange families also are good choices for a warm impression.
  • Use light to mid range colors for major pieces of furniture.
  • Install adequate, three level lighting, as described above.
  • Choose simple furniture and don't over-furnish.
  • Plan for ample negative space. 
  • Hang window treatments at ceiling height and to fall at or outside the window frame so no light is blocked.
  • Use mirrors on the walls and behind shelves. Place lamps or candles in front so their light is bounced back into the room.
  • Use glass on one or more table tops.
  • Choose reflective finishes for some pieces of furniture and accessories. 
  • Favor light, open accessories over large, dense ones. 
  • Carefully prune any trees or shrubs that are blocking light.

Figuring out how to make the most of a dark room is like putting together a design puzzle, starting with how you want to live in the room. Don't be reluctant to make the room into a dark, cozy nest, if that's what suits you. 

If you need help, call me at 828-692-4355 to schedule a design/color consultation. If painting is part of the project and we do the work, the consultation is a free part of our services.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Mirrors: Functional, Flexible and Fabulous

A mirror from the Horchow catalog
I've always felt that mirrors have magical powers in the way they capture and manipulate light, extend and enhance space, create a mood with their sparkle that adds intrigue and delight and lifts the spirit. Mirrors are nothing new. They've been around in one form or another since cavemen and woman admired themselves in pieces of obsidian, or pools of water. Glass mirrors can be traced to the first century CE in what is now Lebanon, and to Egpyt where they were backed with antimony, lead or tin. In the 1800's a German scientist developed a process for adding a thin layer of silver to a piece of glass, but in most of today's household mirrors, silver has been replaced by aluminum.

Mirrors continue to be popular elements in home decor because they come in all sizes, shapes and price points, and in all styles, from the most elaborate and traditional to the most sleek and modern. You can use mirrors for practical purposes, or for decorative ones. Such incredible transformative ability in a (usually) small object! 

Consider some of the many possibilities:

A Few Ways to Use Mirrors

  • focal point
  • work of art
  • to visually expand space, indoors or outdoors
  • add light
  • reflect light
  • utilitarian uses, such as applying makeup
  • enhance ambiance
  • sculptural element
  • light dark corners
  • as a backdrop
  • accentuate architecture - angle and details
  • as a collage
  • on a ceiling
  • tabletops
  • applied to furniture
  • divide long walls
  • back of bookshelves
  • line a tray
  • create a faux pond in the garden

Fretwork Mirrors from the Grandin Road Catalog

Creative Inspiration

Here are links to resources that will inspire you think about mirrors in new ways.

The Most Creative and Original Mirror Designs

Grandin Road Catalog

Designing With Mirrors

Another possibility is to add fretwork to simple mirrors (or windows, walls, furniture, etc.: 


Mirror Stickers

A Mirror Sticker From dezignwithaz
A recent development with endless potential, mirror stickers come in every subject and style you can think of. The ones from this company are created from a 100% mirrored acrylic/resin pvc material, and are lightweight and 1/8" thick. You can make a dramatic statement on a very small budget with one of their existing designs, such as the one on the right, or you can create your own.


For even less money, you could add a design with a stencil and change it easily when it was time for an update.

Are there any dark corners or design opportunities at your house? Consider mirrors. 

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Quirky Vintage Cookbooks

Nana's Specialty Cookbooks
My maternal grandmother Lillian Mills had a collection of little specialty cookbooks on a wide array of topics, from chocolate to Scandinavian cooking to easy Sunday night suppers. Some were published by the Culinary Institute, some by Betty Crocker and others by Oceanspray and the Boston Globe. Today most of the recipes seem quite dated, but to me, that's part of their charm. 
Fund-raising Cookbooks

In addition to Nana's cookbooks, I have other old-fashioned ones, mostly from New England.

Two Vintage Fund-Raising Cookbooks

Historical Society of Hollis, NH

My two favorites are the ones on the right that were created as fund-raisers. In the foreground is "A Cookbook, A Guide To Hollis Hospitality 1975", from the Historical Society of Hollis, NH, home of my paternal grandmother, Beth Brainard LeRoy. Grandmother was a great lady in many ways, but was considered to be a so-so cook, despite the extensive practice she had raising eight children. She contributed her recipe for Cherokee Indian Pie with the comment, "Delightful surprise-first tried as an experiment." Looking at the ingredients, the Cherokee association is difficult to understand, but here's the recipe:

Grandmother LeRoy's Cherokee Indian Pie

1 cup brown sugar
2/3 cup white sugar
2/3 cup quick cooking oatmeat
2/3 cup shredded coconut
pinch of salt
2 tbsp melted butter
1 tsp vanilla
3 eggs, well beaten

Combine all ingredients except the eggs and mix thoroughly. Add the eggs and mix again. Pour into an unbaked pie shell and bake at 350 degrees for 30-40 minutes.

Natural Spiritualist Teachers Club

The green cookbook behind it is from the National Spiritualist Teachers Club, and it was a gift from my second cousin, Genevieve LeRoy King Woelfl. I met her only twice when she was in her late 70's, and found her charming and delightful, if a little bewildering. Genevieve was a minister in the National Spiritualist Church, an organization I knew nothing about, except that it was everything to her. I remember that she conducted a seance for me so that I could communicate with my late parents, and claimed that they indeed were in the room, although I had to take her word for it. What I like about the NST cookbook isn't the recipes, it's the quotations in between, sayings from Ghandi to Emerson to Cousin Genevieve herself (the majority), a mind-numbing juxtaposition!

Here are some samples:

  • In between the recipe for "Tuna Cones" and "Goulash" is a quote from Emerson, "The good soul nourishes me, and unlocks new magazines of power and enjoyment to me every day."
  • After "Hot Baked Dish" is a saying from Cousin Genevieve, "Let everyone to whom I speak be blessed by that word." - Reverend Genevieve Woelfl, N.S.T. 
  • After the recipe for "Mock Raviola", is another quote from her, "Through silence we attain Meditation, through Meditation we reach God." 
The little NST cookbook offers food for the body, mind and soul, which I bet is what Cousin Genevieve had in mind, in addition to raising money, of course.

Fannie Farmer Cookbook

My Trusty, Battered Cookbooks

I don't have many cookbooks of my own because most of what I make is intuitive, which explains why I'm a lousy baker. However, when I was a young bride, I bought this Fannie Farmer Cookbook, which I have to this day, and love all the more because it's been everywhere with me and is so well-thumbed the spine is gone and is generally the worse for wear.

Woman's Day Encyclopedia of Cookery
The largest amount of shelf space in our kitchen library is reserved for "The Woman's Day Encyclopedia of Cookery", which I bought a long time ago at a rate of one per week at the local grocery store. Today I still have all twelve volumes and mainly use the books as a place to file by topic all the recipes I download or cut out of newspapers and magazines.

I love these quirky vintage cookbooks because they connect me with both sides of my family, and with my early years when I was first learning to cook and needed all the help and inspiration I could get. Today all these recipes would be kept on a computer. Finding the one you want is much quicker and more efficient than looking through a cookbook, but the human element and these charming links to the past are missing.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

What Message Is Your Furniture Sending?

Don't Come In...
Furniture arrangement is a powerful design tool in many ways. Apart from creating a look, the way furniture is placed also conveys a message - whether you intended it or not. For example, when you place the back of a couch facing the door where you enter a room, you've created a barrier, not a welcome. The unintended message is, "Don't come in".

Another way furniture arrangement conveys a message is whether it helps or hinders your ability to have a conversation.  There's a name for each type of furniture arrangement, thanks to British psychiatrist Humphrey Osmond (1917-2004), who coined the terms sociopetal and sociofugal.  

Socialfugal Arrangements (discourage conversation)

  • back to back chairs (airport)
  • side by side chairs (doctor's office, movie theater, classrooms)

Sociopetal Arrangements (encourage conversation)

  • rectangular dining room table
  • circular conference table
  • living room conversation area

Conversation, Comfort and Convenience

Table Within Easy Reach
When you're thinking about furniture placement in your living room or family room, keep in mind the goal of social interaction. If you want to encourage conversation, most sofas and chairs should face each other and be no more than eight feet apart. Choosing suitable tables for sofas and chairs, and placing them for comfort and convenience is also important.  Each side table needs to be as tall as the arm of the sofa or chair, or one to two inches lower, and should be positioned beside it for easy reach. Allow 16 to 18 inches between the front of the sofa and a coffee table so there's room to access it and still be able to use the table, which should be no more than 3-4 inches different in height from the seat of the sofa. Sofas and chairs should be placed about 6 to 10 feet apart, depending on the scale of the furniture and the size of the room.  Before you commit, test your furniture placement to be sure that traffic flows smoothly.  Test sofas and chairs to see how easily you can use the tables that go with them.

Mind Your O's, U's, and L's 

When your goal is to create areas for conversation, remember the alphabet. In a dining room or conference room, the friendliest configuration is an "O", a circular table that allows maximum eye contact and interaction, followed by a small rectangle. Size matters. Think about what happens when you add all the leaves to your rectangular dining room table at Thanksgiving. That's why I sometimes like to ask people to change places for each course, or at the very least, for dessert. It also livens things up and makes dining under a fancy chandelier a lot more fun and a lot less stuffy.

The most common furniture arrangement in a living room is the "U" shape, where the open part at the top of the "U" is dedicated to the focal point, such as a fireplace.  "L" shaped sectional furniture can work well too, when supplemented with seats placed across from it. An ottoman, a piece of sectional furniture or a bench without a back, can facilitate conversations in more than one area in a large room by allowing people to sit facing in opposite directions. In larger rooms, it's often desirable to divide the space to have more than one conversation area, as in the example above where a table acts like a low wall and eliminates the view of the backs of the sofas.

Now that you know your furniture has a voice, make sure the way you arrange it sends the right message.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Creating A Focal Point

Note the repetition of color...
In interior design, the focal point of a room is the center of interest, activity or attention. It can be an unintended negative element, like a massive projection television that overwhelms a small room, or it can be the planned emphasis on something attractive that has been chosen to play this special role. A room should have only one focal point, but a room can, and should in the case of larger rooms, have centers of interest or activity, such as ones designed for conversation, dining, reading, working, watching television or movies, etc.

Finding A Room's Focal Point

Sometimes determining a room's focal point is easy because the architecture speaks to you, as in the case of a beautiful mantle or a large window that frames a panoramic view. In other cases, there is nothing special in the room that creates a focal point, giving you great latitude to decide what you want, and to create it. A natural place to locate your focal point is the wall opposite where you enter the room, but don't limit your thinking! You could make the ceiling the focal point, as was done in this example that uses paint and a glorious chandelier. Just be sure you have appropriate lighting.

A ceiling as the focal point.

Conflicting or Confusing Focal Points

Design issues can occur when one focal point, a fireplace for example, has to co-exist with another, often a  television. For the room to be harmonious, one of them should dominate. If it's more important to you to be able to sit around the fireplace and talk, yet the room also has to accommodate a television, relative size is one way to solve the problem. Use a smaller television, or hide the televison behind cabinet doors or a sliding panel when not in use, and let the more attractive fireplace be the vision "winner", especially when the only functional solution is to place the television on the same wall.

If the room is large enough, the best approach is to create separate living areas for conversation, viewing, etc.. For maximum flexibility, especially in smaller spaces, use "L" shaped sectional furniture, or multi-directional furniture such as a backless bench or large ottoman, so that one or more people can sit down and face the same, or different, living areas.

When you don't resolve the problem of conflicting focal points, the viewer's eye is distracted and doesn't flow through the room in a naturally harmonious way, and that can be confusing and disturbing because so much is happening that your eye doesn't know where it should go. This article by a staging colleague illustrates what happens to the "eye track" when you inadvertently create these conflicts.

Focal Point - How the Eye Works

Some Roles A Focal Point Can Play

Let's say that you have a room without a natural focal point, or you want to enhance what you have. Consider some of the roles that your focal point could play, and decide what you want to accomplish. Your focal point could meet more than one of these objectives:

  • starting point for the design of the room
  • make a statement, set a mood or create an emotional impact
  • make the room inviting
  • impress visitors
  • act as the cohesive element that ties everything together
  • divert attention from something unattractive
  • add visual weight to balance something elsewhere in the room
  • establish traffic flow

Traffic Flow

The issue of traffic flow is often overlooked, but it's a crucial consideration, especially in older homes that have to work for the way we live now. This article shows you how to weigh the options when you decide what your focal point is going to be.

Creating A Focal Point For A Blank Canvas

If you're starting from scratch, and especially when your budget is tight, there are many non-structural solutions based on using size, color, intrigue, arrangement of elements, and more. This is the time to express yourself and be creative. Here are some possibilities:
  • Define a focal wall with paint in an accent color.
  • Use paint in an accent color to define a focal area on a larger wall. Look at the yellow fireplace wall in the picture above. Repetition of color helps tie the elements of a room together.
  • Hang a large piece of art or other statement piece, such as a textile or sculpture, or even a beautiful large branch from your garden.
  • Place the largest piece of furniture or a furniture group on the focal wall, and build around it.
  • If the focal point is the view, use drapes with side panels, or emphasize it by placement of large plants, or with furniture or accessories.
  • Use an electric fireplace.
  • Install shelving and display your favorite collections.

Schedule a Redesign Consultation

Sometimes getting help is the best idea. Schedule a redesign consultation by calling me at 828-692-4355. 

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Cheap Pressure-washing Is No Bargain

Roger Does It The Right Way!
Today I received this letter from wonderful clients who hired us to pressure-wash their house several years ago, loved the result and recommended us, but we didn't hear from them again. We thought they might have moved, but that wasn't the reason. Here's what happened:

"Dear Roger,
We thank you again for the painstaking excellent work you did cleaning the vinyl siding of our home. Remembering how well you rendered the same service in 2009 for us, we were pleased that your quality of work has continued with high standards of workmanship.We have had so many compliments from neighbors and we are pleased to have our home sparkling clean.
Last year our HOA hired a company,(trying to keep cost down), that caused unneccessary repairs to our enclosed porch due to the extreme water pressure used. We are so grateful we can count on your meticulous, professional, knowledgeable work and kind manner. We also thank Sandy for her friendly and courteous way.
It is with pleasure that we recommend you and your company to our neighbors and friends.
Wishing you continued success.
Walt and Eileen Richardson
Hendersonville, NC"

It's understandable that a homeowners association might think that all pressure-washing companies are created equal and decide to save money by choosing the low bid. That's what happened in this case. We've heard from other homeowners in the development who also sustained damage and were unhappy with the low bid people because little time was spent on each house, and little care was shown while the work was being done. This is another instance where choosing the low bid was a costly decision. The Richardsons were so unhappy with the outcome that they chose to hire us again and pay the cost themselves. Keep their experience in mind when you choose someone to pressure-wash your house. 

If you want pressure-washing done the right way, call me at 828-692-4355 to schedule an estimate. 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Nana's English Plum Pudding

Nana's Recipe Boxes
The other day I was cleaning out a drawer in the kitchen and came upon a collection of recipes that belonged to my maternal grandmother, Lillian Harrison Mills, as well as some of her cookbooks. The collection is mostly recipes she copied on index cards, and clippings from the Boston and New Bedford newspapers, some of which are so old that they're brown and very fragile. That evening I had a wonderful time going through them and remembering the things Nana made over the years, especially at the holidays. 

It wouldn't have been Christmas without roast beef, mashed rutabagas and Nana's English plum pudding, the really traditional kind that's made with ground suet. When Nana and Grandpa married right after he came home from World War I, she was taught how to make the pudding correctly by her English mother-in-law, which meant doing it (them) weeks in advance so that the flavors could develop. The pudding steamed for hours in a little oval mold that had a scalloped done, and the same one was used every year. It was served warm with two kinds of hard sauce, and because it was so rich, the servings were small. One kind of hard sauce was made with butter, vanilla and granulated sugar, and always placed in the same little round cut glass dish (which I still have), with a bit of nutmeg sprinkled on top. The other version was made with butter, vanilla and confectioners sugar, shaped into a rectangle and sliced at the table when the pudding was served. That one was my grandfather's favorite, but my brother Mark and I always wanted some of each.

Here's Nana's recipe:

"English Plum Pudding Best Recipe"

1 1/2 Cups Flour (All Purpose Sifted)
1/2 Teaspoon Ginger; 1/2 Teaspoon Cloves; 1 Teaspoon Nutmeg; 1 Teaspoon Cinnamon; 1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1 cup Sugar; 1 1/4 Cups Suet (Put Through Grinder)
1 1/2 Cups Seedless Raisins; 1/2 Cup White Sultana Raisins; 1 1/2 Cups Currants; 1 Cup Mixed Candied Fruit.
1/2 Cup Fine Soft Bread Crumbs
3 Eggs Beaten
3/4 Cup Milk

Sift flour, measure, add spices, salt & sugar, sift again.
Add ground suet, fruit and mix well.
Add beaten eggs & milk, mix well.
Grease mold & cover well. Flour and shake.
Steam six hours, adding boiling water as it boils out.

The only exotic ingredient is suet, which you should be able to get pretty readily (no substitutions!). Just give it a few pulses in the food processor if you don't have an old fashioned meat grinder. If you make the plum pudding now there's plenty of time for the flavors to develop before Christmas.

I've never attempted it myself, mostly because Nana's mold wasn't among her belongings, and it's essential that the plum pudding look the way I remember it. Every time I visit an antique shop I scout around for the mold, so there's hope that one of these days I'll be able to continue the tradition in her honor. Don't let a mold fixation stop you from attempting the recipe with any mold you've got, and if you do, please let me know how it turns out. Better still, save me a piece!

Friday, October 19, 2012

Don't Let Your House Fight With Your Flowers

I frequently see houses and gardens in a war of clashing, unattractive colors because no one considered the effect of the flowers and foliage when the paint colors were chosen. In the case of brick houses, or ones with stone details, plant selection often ignores the color impact of these crucial permanent elements.

Usually the conflict results from mixing warm colors with cool ones. In this example, you see purple and pink rhododendrons (cool or blue undertones) mixed with red-orange azaleas and Japanese maples (warm or yellow undertones) used as foundation plants for a brick house with red-orange undertones. It would have been better to have chosen shrubs with yellow or white flowers to harmonize with the tones of the brick.

How to keep your house from fighting with your flowers: 

  • Try to see a flowering tree, shrub or perennial in bloom before you buy it, either in a nursery or someone else's garden. 
  • If that's not feasible, look at enough pictures on line to be reasonably certain what the color impression will be. You'll avoid an investment of money and time that winds up detracting from the appearance of your house. 
  • When you're considering new paint colors, keep in mind the dominant colors of your flowering plants, especially those in the front yard. 
  • If you live in a brick house or one with stone, figure out the color undertone and choose plants accordingly. 
  • When you're buying flowering plants for containers, keep color harmony in mind. 

Wise choices will enhance curb appeal and add value.

If you'd like help with paint colors, call me at 828-692-4355 to schedule a color consultation. If you have a painting project, schedule a free estimate. When you hire us to do your painting, the color consultation is a free part of our service.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Squirreling Away Nuts and Seeds

No matter the time of year, nuts and seeds are staples in our pantry, but in the Autumn they seem particularly appropriate, especially for seasonal dishes.

These are the nuts I usually have on hand:

Almonds - whole, sliced and slivered
Pignoli (pine nuts)
Hazelnuts (Filberts)

I also usually have these seeds:

Pumpkin  (Pepitas)

Speaking of seeds, I can't do without red pepper flakes, usually a mixture of dried cayenne, bell, ancho and miscellaneous peppers, including a lot of seeds. As Roger will tell you, they're added to almost every savory thing I make...

Because nuts and seeds are fattening and expensive, I don't pile them on. I buy them in bulk when possible, and store them in the freezer. For the nut supply in the pantry, I take out a cup or so at a time, roast them at 350 degrees until lightly browned, then squirrel them away in an air tight container. I often add nuts and/or seeds to baked goods, and when inspiration strikes, I also sprinkle them on cereal, soup, salad, pasta, candy, sandwiches, casseroles, etc, to add a little crunch and flavor.

Much as I love nuts and seeds, I do have my limits. There's a big Shagbark Hickory Nut Tree at the top of our driveway, and one year I decided to see what the nut tasted like. Getting through the outer covering and very hard shell took two tools and a lot of effort, and the tiny nut inside might have been a delicious treat for a squirrel, but wasn't worth the effort for me, even though the nut is said to taste good and be very nutritious.

To the dismay of our friend Nadine, instead of harvesting them for our nut department, the ones I collect are given to our many squirrels in the winter, in a futile attempt to distract them from the bird feeder.