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.