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.