As a professional interior designer, I’ve seen the inside of many residences–large and small, modest and luxurious, rustic and polished–but they all have some of the same decorating dilemmas in common. I always have to smile when a potential client says, “Don’t look at my house! I’m embarrassed by my decorating skills.” To which I reply, “Well, if it was perfect, then you wouldn’t need me, now would you?” I’m certainly glad that everyone is not an expert designer, otherwise I wouldn’t be employed.
I think that many people automatically assume that a designer is taking a mental tally of design mistakes while they evaluate a new client’s home, along with subconsciously performing a white glove test. Wow…that’s a lot of pressure for a new client! But, you can relax, because the truth is that we really aren’t that critical. Whew! Thank goodness, right? We probably are taking stock of what’s working and what isn’t, what style the client prefers and which additional pieces would help to round out a room. That’s our job, after all. So, I decided to blog about the most common reoccurring design mistakes that I’ve noticed over the past thirteen years, because they really are pretty universal.
- Artwork that’s too small. I would say that incorrect scale is BY FAR the most common design problem that I encounter. Most often, I see artwork that is too small for a space. That doesn’t mean that bigger is ALWAYS better, either. It’s just as much of a problem to go too large with a piece of art. So, how do you determine the correct scale?
The first thing to keep in mind is the size of the wall where the art will hang. Second, consider the size of the object that most relates to the piece you are purchasing. For example, if you are purchasing a piece of artwork for the wall over your sofa, you should measure both the empty wall space above the sofa and the length of the sofa. If the sofa is 80″ long, a good rule of thumb is to find a piece of artwork that is approximately 75% as long as the sofa or larger (up to the same width of the sofa). In this case, that would be about 60″ long minimum and up to 80″ long maximum. The artwork should hang a few inches above the back of the sofa and should take up approximately 75% to 85% of the wall’s height behind the sofa. Therefore, if the ceiling is 96″ and the height of the sofa back is 36″, there are 60″ left of open space to hang the art. That means that the artwork should be somewhere between 45″ and 51″ tall. This is only a loose formula, and there are always going to be exceptions (such as vaulted or cathedral ceilings), but this is a good general rule of thumb.
So, what if you have the perfect piece of artwork that is 48″ x 48″ that you want to hang over the sofa? It’s too small, right? No, not at all. Simply hang a sconce on each side of the artwork, or another pair of objects to fill the additional space. Just don’t get too cluttered with lots of very small pieces. A collection of medium sized art pieces can work, as well, like the one below.
- Area Rugs that are too small. One of the most common design problems that I notice are area rugs that are too small. If the only piece of furniture touching your area rug is your cocktail table or ottoman, it’s much too small. You’ve probably heard the saying that, “No man is an island”. Well, I like to say that “no rug is an island” either. If your rug is acting like a place mat under only your cocktail table, it’s time to go bigger. As a general rule of thumb, I like for the front legs of the sofa and the front legs of side chairs to anchor the area rug.
However, if all of the legs of the sofa and chairs are sitting on top of the rug, then it’s possible that it’s too big. The exception to this rule is dining tables and chairs. It’s preferable for all legs of a dining table and chairs to sit on an area rug. One reason that clients are sometimes tempted to skimp on the size of large area rugs is that they are expensive! My solution for a large rug on a small budget is to select something cost effective like a solid color shag carpet or a smartly woven sisal rug. You can always save up for the luxurious hand knotted rug that you’ve been dreaming of and let the correctly sized solid rug stand in as a substitute in the mean time.
- Paint colors that are too loud. Have you ever walked into a room where the walls were school bus yellow or screaming orange? Most likely, you wanted to turn around and walk right back out. People are inherently drawn to calming or happy spaces, but paint colors that are too saturated can be jarring. Paint colors set the entire tone for any room, but it can be so difficult for the average person to select one without a trained eye. So, what’s a girl or guy to do with so many thousands of choices?! If you desire a “color” rather than a neutral, don’t select it from the front third of the paint deck. Paint fans are typically arranged from the most saturated or pure colors at the front of the deck to the most muted colors toward the back of the deck (as a general rule, some paint brands may vary). Therefore, the yellows at the front of the deck will not have any gray added and are extremely pure pigment. In other words, they will be screaming yellow. A pure yellow swatch may look very happy in a 2″ x 2″ size, but a 10′ x 12′ wall of this color will make your head hurt! It’s much easier to live with more muted colors on a daily basis. Remember, colors tend to be brighter and a shade darker when applied to an entire wall. Therefore, when in doubt, select a color that is more muted (grayed out) and purchase a trial 6oz. jar to test on a piece of poster board before painting your entire wall.
- “Beige” paint that looks pink. Another design dilemma that I often encounter is “beige” walls that actually look pink. This is an extremely common problem. Once a potential paint color has been selected for your room, my best tip to avoid the “pink disaster” is to carefully study the entire paint strip for this family of colors, not just the loose 2″ x 2″ swatch. Are there any pink or peach undertones in the strip of colors at all? If it’s slightly pink or peach anywhere on the strip, then your color will have pink or peach undertones, as well. Look at the paint strip in your room during the morning hours, mid day hours, afternoon and evening hours. The colors will change as the light exposure changes in your room. It may take a little patience and time to select a great paint color for your space, but it’s definitely better than having to repaint!
Another way to easily check for pink undertones in a swatch is to put the paint strip next to a milk chocolate candy bar or coffee grounds. These colors are “pure” browns. Now, do you see any pink tones in your paint strip? Finally, as I mentioned previously, you can always purchase a 6oz. trial size of paint and paint a piece of poster board before painting your entire room. Check out the idea book called “Paint Colors” on my Houzz profile to view some of my favorites.
- Draperies that are too short or draperies that are hung incorrectly. One of my biggest pet peeves is draperies that are too short. If your long drapery panels are more than 1/4″ above your floor, they are too short. You don’t want to look like your draperies have rolled up their pants legs to prepare for a flood!
You want for them to look like they are lightly skimming the floor, much like a lovely couture gown. In my personal design opinion, the days of pooling drapery panels on the floor are over. Goodbye 1990! The neat and tailored look of panels barely touching the floor or 1/4″ above the floor is a much more updated and desirable aesthetic.
Another common design problem are drapery rods that are placed just above the window casing. This is too low. For the most appealing result, hang your drapery rod about 3″ below your ceiling line (or below your crown molding). This visually elongates the window and draws your eye upward, rather than stopping the eye abruptly at the top of the window casing.
It’s also important to extend the drapery rod 8″ to 13″ on either side of the window, whenever possible. This gives your window a greater fullness and adds width and softness. When the drapery rod is too short and doesn’t extend past the window casing, the drapery panels hang over the window panes and block out the natural light. This makes your window appear much smaller than it actually is. The diagram below shows the dramatic difference between hanging your draperies correctly and incorrectly.
With a little attention to detail, any home can transform from an awkward duckling into a swan. Remember that paying close attention to scale and color can dramatically impact your room. So, pull out those paint strips, roll out a larger rug, raise up those drapery rods and prepare to take on your next design dilemma! You are one step closer to the room of your dreams.
Hiring a contractor can sometimes feel like you’re playing a game of chance. There’s a strong possibility that everything will go smoothly, but there’s always the possibility of making a mistake, as well. It definitely feels more secure when a friend or family member recommends someone who they’ve previously hired and vetted. It’s even better when they give a glowing review of the contractor’s work. But, sometimes it’s not quite that easy. So, what if you’re hiring someone that you found online or through a local ad? What questions should you ask? What is truly important in choosing a reputable contractor?
I would estimate that over 90% of our potential clients ask if we are licensed and insured from the very beginning. That’s definitely a great first question to ask and I’m always happy to tell them that we are. However, I’m surprised that very few people have asked if we are bonded. While we are bonded, as well, the lack of this question made me begin to wonder if people really understand what these terms actually mean. So, what does it mean for a contractor to be licensed, bonded and insured?
I’m not going to attempt to explain licensing in every jurisdiction, so check your local requirements because they vary by city and state. But, for the sake of this example, I will focus on the local requirements. In San Antonio, contractors are no longer required to be “licensed”, but they are required to be “registered” with the City of San Antonio’s Development Services in order to obtain a contractor’s permit. With that being said, most folks around here still use the terms “licensed contractor” and “registered contractor” interchangeably, with the term “licensed” being the most common. So, what does it take for a contractor to become registered in San Antonio? Very little, actually. This comes as a real surprise to many people.
To become a “Registered Contractor” the applicant has to fill out the appropriate application and submit it in person, along with a government issued photo ID. The applicant must also pass a Criminal Background Check. And that’s literally all it takes. It’s actually rather scary that almost anyone can become a registered/ licensed contractor as long as they don’t have a criminal history. So, it’s definitely not enough to simply ask if your prospective contractor is registered and stop there. It’s quite possible that he or she actually has very little “real life” experience. There’s not a “written contractor’s exam” or a minimum amount of work experience required, as many people believe. So, it’s imperative to also ask your prospective contractor what kind of experience that he or she has. What kinds of projects that he or she has completed? What’s the largest project that they’ve completed? How many years of experience do they have? Ask them to explain, in detail, how they will complete your project. For example, if the contractor is repairing a shower leak, ask how they will prevent it from leaking again. What kinds of products will they use to complete the remodel? Why do they prefer this product over another product? An experienced contractor will have no problem answering these questions. Asking these key questions will quickly separate an inexperienced contractor from a knowledgeable one.
So, what’s the purpose of General Liability Insurance and why should you look for a contractor who’s insured? First, homeowner’s should understand that General Liability Insurance is in place to protect not only the homeowner, but also the contractor. If a homeowner alleges bodily harm, injury or property damage, the insurance is in place to cover these damages. Without it, a large claim could easily put a contractor out of business. General Liability also covers any court costs for the contractor and pays out any court judgments issued against the contractor. So, how does General Liability Insurance cover the homeowner? If a homeowner’s property is damaged due to the contractor, the liability insurance will cover the costs (within policy limits). For example, if the contractor is unloading supplies and accidentally backs his truck into the side of the homeowner’s house, the insurance will cover any necessary repairs. This is also true in the unfortunate event that a homeowner is hurt during the project, such as stepping on a nail, tripping over a ladder or something more serious. But, what if a contractor fails to complete his work or runs off with a large sum of the homeowner’s money? General Liability Insurance does NOT generally cover these circumstances. Filing a lawsuit is about the only recourse that a homeowner has in these bleak circumstances, but there’s a fairly simple way for homeowners to protect themselves from this ever happening; they should insist on hiring a contractor who is not only insured, but bonded, as well.
Most folks don’t think to ask a contractor if he is bonded, but it’s actually one of the MOST important questions that you should ask. Why is it important for a contractor to be bonded by a surety company? Because the bond is in place for the sole purpose of protecting the homeowner. A contractor’s bond protects the homeowner if the contractor doesn’t complete the work, fails to pay for necessary permits, fails to pay subcontractors, or fails to pay vendors for materials used in the project. It also gives the homeowner recourse if the work that’s completed is sub-par. In the event of any of these unfortunate circumstances, the homeowner can file a claim with the surety company that issued the bond to the contractor. In layman’s terms, a contractor’s bond is an insurance policy for the homeowner. It’s a pretty fair bet that if a contractor actually pays for a bond to ensure that his clients are covered, he’s interested in providing his clients with peace of mind and is looking out for their best interest.
When searching for a contractor, look for someone who is licensed/ registered, insured and bonded. Research the requirements that your city has in place to issue a contractor’s license and don’t forget to ask lots of questions, too. Ask for copies of your contractor’s liability insurance and surety bond; don’t just take their word for it. Finally, make sure that their policy limits are sufficient to cover your project. Arming yourself with knowledge of the process and a clear understanding of the terminology can provide you with the confidence to make a great informed decision.
Move over and make some room, satin nickel; gold is back! But, never fear, this isn’t your granny’s gold. Gone are the days of shiny brass that blinded us in the 80’s. Today’s gold has taken on a whole new attitude. It’s antiqued, sophisticated and eye-catching. It’s taking the stage in the form of decorative light fixtures, cabinetry hardware, metallic tile and, yes, even plumbing fixtures.
Currey & Company leads the way in decorative lighting fixtures, like the beautiful ones showcased below.
One thing that I love about “today’s gold” is that it’s being used more sparingly than it was in the 80’s. An accent here and accent there is all you need. Gone are the days when the faucet had to match the light fixture, that had to match the cabinet hardware, that had to match the door handles. Mixing metals is also trending. So, go ahead and use a brushed nickel faucet with an antique gold light fixture. Who says you can’t?
Gold and Gray combinations are also trending. They make quite a striking pair! Gold looks especially sophisticated when paired with rich deep colors like charcoal gray, black, navy or chocolate brown. The cabinets below are from Martha Stewart, the lamp is from Currey and Company and the hardware is by Decorpad.
Gold wallpaper, mirrors and drapery hardware are also making bold statements. The classic Greek Key Design never goes out of style in antique gold, as evidenced by the beautiful Greek Key Lamp below from Visual Comfort and this stunning mirror from Polyvore. Starburst patterns are also extremely popular in gold, especially in mirrors and lamps.
The secret to creating a beautiful look with gold today is to keep it simple, sleek and showcase it as eye-catching accents. As my mother used to say, “A little dab will do ‘ya!” But, wow, what a difference that little dab makes!
My journey to becoming an interior designer is about as twisted and tangled as the interstate highways of “Spaghetti Junction” in Atlanta. It has definitely not been a straight or an easy path, but I can definitely say that it’s been one of the most fulfilling journeys that I have ever taken. And, the fact is that I still haven’t “arrived”. An interior designer is ever learning, ever creating and ever evolving into the greater designer that he or she hopes to one day become. A wise man once said, “The day that I stop learning is the day that I die.” That’s very much my mantra when it comes to life and to design.
When I look back, I’m amazed at all that I have learned since my first day of “Design 101” in 1999. Many people told me that I was crazy for being there. You see, I was only a mere internship and two classes away from graduating with a Bachelor’s Degree in Public Relations. But, I knew in my heart that I was called to be an interior designer. It was a calling that was undeniable, clear and certain. It seemed like a reckless decision to others to change career paths this late in the game and I understood why, but it was the harder path that I longed to take. My passion was at the end of that road and I knew that I couldn’t get there any other way. I sat in front of my stunned adviser as she explained that “starting over” now with an Interior Design major would mean three additional years of college, when I had already attended for over four years. I paused for a moment and nodded my head, “Okay,” I said, “I’ll do it.”
“Don’t you want to think about it for a while?” she inquired wide eyed. “No,” I said, “I know in my heart that it’s right.” You see, I didn’t find design. It found me. In previous years, I had been secretly jealous of my friends and colleagues who adored their jobs and college majors. I longed to know what that felt like. I had majored in Public Relations because, frankly, I had to declare a major and I liked to write. According to my professors, I was a natural writer and gifted public speaker, but the idea of being in PR for the rest of my life just didn’t excite me. I was always subconsciously searching for more.
Interior design found me when I moved into the little white house on Donaldson Street. It snuck up on me and jumped on me like a ravenous fever. I tried to ignore it and it refused to let me go. The passion welled up in me and I pushed it away it at first. It didn’t make any sense. I had four years of college under my belt and a bright future ahead of me in Public Relations. But, let me tell you folks, when you are truly called to something, there’s no escaping it. It will find you the way that design found me, ever calling and beckoning until I finally heeded the call. I was a naive newlywed, living away from my parent’s house for the very first time in my life. To say that I was still wet behind the ears would have probably been a huge understatement!
The little white house on Donaldson Street had been my grandfather’s house. Papa died when I was only three years old and I clung to the few faded memories that I still had of him. He was a big and tall man with a head full of gray hair, dark rimmed glasses and a kind smile. I remember him sitting in our green vinyl recliner, watching over me as I played with my dolls on the floor. “She’s such a creative child,” he told my mom, “I could watch her play and make up her little stories for hours.” It was a miracle that I had ever met him at all. He had almost died three years earlier when his heart stopped beating and the doctors had fought hard to start it beating again. All my life, I had wished that I could have known Papa longer.
So, when I got married and moved out of my parent’s house for the first time, I asked my Dad if we could live in Papa’s old house. He laughed out loud and said, “Are you sure you want to live there? It needs a lot of work, Jana. It’s old and it’s a mess.” But, I was determined to live there. In some strange way, it was a way to honor my grandfather. It was my way of feeling close to him again. I needed to live in that house. At the time, I had no idea what a significant role the little 1940’s house would play in my life. It would be the house where I found my calling and my passion.
It was the summer before I was supposed to graduate with a Public Relations degree and I didn’t have any classes to take. I would return to school in the fall to wrap up the last two classes and internship. Design had not yet called to me, but it would soon. It was waiting just around the corner, whispering to me at first and then calling more loudly. I worked tirelessly on the Donaldson Street house for every free moment during that first sweltering Georgia summer that I lived there. The tired and worn house began to take shape as I lovingly restored as much of it as I could. I painted every single room, even the sun porch with it’s dark paneling and nine tediously detailed windows. It seemed like there were a thousand window mullions in the eighteen windows of that tiny house and I painted them all. Blue painter’s tape became my closest friend and I completely gave up on trying to have nice looking finger nails. My next project was faux painting the three antique coal burning fireplaces. Then, I moved on to other design details.
I was a poor college student on a pauper’s budget, but I was on a mission to fix up Papa’s house. I frequently scouted the local Lowe’s parking lot for scratch and dent sales. When I found a chandelier for $25 that needed a little work, my brother hung it for me in the dining room along with the custom draperies that I sewed. I found peel and stick tiles for the kitchen floor that were 10 cents each on clearance. I cut them to size with kitchen scissors until I had blisters on my hands. I drove to every Lowe’s in surrounding counties to find enough peel and stick squares to finish that kitchen floor, too. There were two under the refrigerator that didn’t match, but that was my little secret! I made kitchen window treatments from an inexpensive table cloth and hung discount wallpaper in the neglected bathroom. After a little coaxing, my brother refinished the clawfoot bathtub, which was my favorite part of the house, along with the french doors to the dining room. My biggest splurges were black shutters for the front windows and an iron address plaque that proudly displayed “121”. The little white house was growing a new personality and my friends and family began to notice.
“Is this the same house?” They said, “This looks amazing! You should have been an interior designer!” First it was one friend, then two, then five…
“If one more person tells me that,” I exclaimed excitedly, “I’m gonna do it!” Then two more people said it. I had a decision to make and it suddenly overwhelmed me. It was no longer exciting. It was scary. I rebelled against the calling until I could not longer fight it. Everything in me tried to ignore it, but I couldn’t. Finally one night late into the summer, all of the emotions came rushing forth. I melted onto the floor crying and rolling around clutching the course catalog like a ridiculous child throwing a tantrum. “I can’t do it! I can’t start over NOW! I’m almost FINISHED with college! This is dumb! Why am I even thinking this way?” I beat the course catalog against the floor in frustration. I was trying to talk my self out of it, but my heart had already made it’s decision. I met with the adviser three days later.
The next three years would be the hardest work that I had ever done. There were many “all nighters” with no sleep, endless AutoCad drawings, many days of wearing flip flops and baseball caps to class, countless projects, glue sticks, colored pencils and rendering markers, expensive vellum, a plethora of drafting tools and numerous trips to the blueprinting store. But, all along the way, the passion still burned within me and I forged on. Those three years would cement some of the deepest friendships that I have ever known and that I still have to this day. There were many late night talks, lots of laughs, a few tears and scrambling to help each other glue final samples onto presentation boards just before they were due. It was crazy; it was stressful and it was wonderful. And, it was exactly where I was supposed to be.
In 2003, I stood with my classmates, proudly dressed in our caps and gowns and marched down the football field at Paulson Stadium to receive my diploma. We turned our tassels to the left. Then, as the school anthem played, our mascot, a bald eagle, made his ritual flight over our heads circling the field to signify that we had made it.
My friends and I quickly exchanged hugs and then I looked for my family through the never ending sea of excited people. After a few minutes, I saw my Dad coming toward me and I couldn’t hold back the tears any longer. We embraced and he said that he was proud of me, through his own tears. I wished in that moment, that my Papa was there, too.
I lived in the little white house for another three months until I received my first job offer as a design assistant in Atlanta. Packing was bittersweet. I knew that I had lived there for a very important reason. I had found my calling in that house and I had connected to my grandfather again in a way that was very precious to me. In some ways, I feel like Papa was guiding me the whole time I lived there. And now, every time I go back home to visit, I drive by 121 Donaldson Street. My family doesn’t own it anymore, but it will always have a very special place in my heart. Thank you for all that you taught me, little house. I hope that your new owner loves you as much as I did. And, Papa, I hope that I made you proud.
It can be very daunting to select tile for your bathroom’s shower when there are so many options. Decisions become like playing a game of “Twenty Questions”… What color field tile should I use? What about the accent tile? What pattern should I set the tile in? What finishing pieces do I need to order? What color grout will look best? It can be absolutely overwhelming! Plain white tile can begin to seem like a very “safe choice” with so many shapes, colors and patterns out there. And while plain white isn’t necessarily wrong, thinking outside of the box opens the door to interesting and exciting designs for your shower that you might not have imagined. So, here are a few of my favorite ways to jazz up a shower’s design by using tile.
- Create a horizontal band with accent tile. Perhaps the most commonly used decorative accent in a shower is a horizontal band of mosaic tile. A mosaic tile band adds personality and interest to solid field tile; it’s also a very cost effective way to incorporate a few square feet of beautiful tile without breaking the bank. In this example, a 12″ band of accent tile is incorporated with larger textured subway tiles. Pencil molding provides a tailored look on the top and bottom of the mosaic band. The 6″ backsplash on the vanity also repeats the beautiful mosaic tile to create a unified design.
- Incorporate a vertical accent band and use accent tile in niches. This unique accent tile application is one of my favorite ideas for adding interest to a shower. Linear mosaic tile is turned vertically on the vertical accent band and horizontally in the niches. The niches and vertical accent band edges are finished nicely with tile pencil molding. The large white textured wall tile is soldier stacked to provide a transitional feeling.
- Feature a large decorative panel. There’s no better way to create drama in a shower than by showcasing a large panel of gorgeous accent tile on the focal wall. This is also a showstopper when featured behind an elegant soaker tub. In these examples, each large panel is finished with pencil molding or larger picture frame molding in a coordinating tile. Expertly finishing the edges of mosaic tile is extremely important to achieving a tailored look.
- Get cornered with accent tile. I have to admit, when I saw this tile design in “The Tile Shop” recently, I was really impressed with their creativity. Why not accent the shower corners with mosaic tile? There’s nothing boring about this design! The larger field tile is set vertically to further emphasize the long vertical lines. In the second photo, a niche is also cleverly incorporated into the vertical stripe.
- Showcase a decorative mosaic border. This tile application takes the decorative shower panel one step further by surrounding it with a stunning mosaic tile border. The border is also featured as a band on the knee walls of the shower. Pencil rounds finish the tile edges around the border. This shower is a show stopper, for sure!
- Use one color field tile in different sizes and laid in various patterns. This shower features one kind of field tile in various shapes, laid in different patterns to create interest. The chair rail is also the same material as the field tile. This application proves that tone on tone tile laid in various patterns can look amazing. The larger field tile below the chair rail is rectangular and is laid in a solider stacked pattern. The field tile above the chair rail is smaller and is laid in a herringbone pattern. The timeless black and white marble accent tile inside the niche and on the shower floor add even more interest. Who says black and white is boring?
- Create wainscoting with tile. These imaginative shower designs were created by incorporating a larger solid color subway tile below the tile border and a patterned tile above the tile border. The shower on the right features a three dimensional tile border, flanked by coordinating pencil moldings. The wainscoting creates a designer look that’s dramatic and timeless.
- Show off an entire accent wall with tile. We’ve talked about borders, bands and moldings, but keeping it simple can be quite elegant. Why not accent an entire wall with tile? No borders or bands are needed for drama here. A solid wall of tile serves as a stunning backdrop.
- Why not wood? If you’re looking for something different, try flooring on the shower wall. Of course, this is porcelain tile with a wood grain pattern and not real wood (which I would never recommend in a shower), but it definitely creates a fun alternative to traditional shower tile. When paired with a penny round floor, it provides a simple but fascinating aesthetic that’s definitely outside of the box!
- Let the shower floor show off. The shower floor is the perfect place to add some unexpected flair. It’s the perfect place to repeat an accent tile as a picture frame, as shown in these photos. It’s also a great place to introduce a coordinating mosaic to the wall tile. Don’t forget the floor; it deserves attention too!
So, the next time that you’re tempted to select all white tile to “play it safe”, remember that you have an exciting portfolio of options! The only limit to your shower’s design is your imagination, so forget boring and be creative! Special thanks to my friends at “The Tile Shop”; you have certainly demonstrated the amazing results of combining creative thinking with great design. I’m impressed and now I’m inspired to design a new shower. Who’s with me?
You’ve probably heard the saying that “the devil is in the details” and I couldn’t agree more! There’s nothing more disheartening than walking into a newly remodeled kitchen to see glaringly unfinished or hastily completed details. Details really do matter and they can often be the difference between a good kitchen and a great kitchen. So, here are a few of my favorite tips to make sure your kitchen is dressed to the nines, including the cuff links.
- Select the right cabinet hardware. Ahhh cabinet hardware…the never ending sea of nickel, bronze and chrome “cabinet jewelry”. Clients often become like deer in the headlights staring at the array of choices. What color is best? What size is correct? Can I mix different sizes and styles? To make matters worse, if they are frazzled at the end of a long kitchen remodel, they often select the first thing they see or the least expensive option just to get it over with. Or, even worse, they leave the cabinets “naked” and don’t install hardware at all.
Unless your cabinets are very modern euro style, they would benefit aesthetically from having beautiful hardware. After all is said and done, cabinet hardware often becomes an afterthought, when it should actually be a carefully considered and deliberate detail. Think of your cabinet hardware like the jewelry accessorizing your little black dress or the cuff-links and watch that compliment your tailored suit. The outfit feels incomplete without them. So, what’s first in deciding on cabinet hardware? Let’s begin with color and style. Is your kitchen sleek and modern? For modern or transitional styles, lean toward chrome, nickel, or even a solid matte black pull with very clean lines. Antiqued gold is also making a dramatic comeback, as well. The most important consideration for a modern or transitional kitchen is to select a pull or knob with clean and sleek lines. Is your kitchen more traditional? Brushed nickel or bronze hardware works well with this style. In traditional styling, more detailing is typical on pulls and knobs. Is your kitchen rustic? Bronze or black hardware works well with rustic styles. With all styles, it’s important to select a color for your cabinet hardware that contrasts with the cabinet color. For example, I would not pair a dark bronze knob with a dark chocolate cabinet. The knob would virtually disappear and everything would be the same color. Having some contrast is best.
So now that we’ve nailed down color, should you use knobs or pulls, or a combination of both? Personally, I am an advocate for mixing knobs and pulls to achieve a more interesting look. In a large kitchen, I tend to shy away from using all knobs, because they tend to look small and somewhat insignificant in the grand scheme of things (it’s fine to use all knobs on a smaller bath cabinet, however, because the cabinet doors and drawers tend to be smaller). Even though I try not to use all knobs, using all pulls can work well. For example, in modern styling, using all pulls works quite well to emphasize clean lines. There is no exact science to cabinet hardware. Much of it comes down to personal preference, but taking the time to really think it through is critical for a beautifully finished kitchen.
- Think about the sink. Another detail that is often selected in haste is the kitchen sink. I’m consistently surprised when clients agree to selecting whatever standard undermount sink that the granite yard has in stock “just to make it easy.” All too often, the sink is already installed when the client realizes that they really preferred something deeper, or with two bowls instead of one. Take the time to really think about how your family uses the kitchen sink. Do you wash dishes by hand or in the dishwasher? What depth is important to you? If you wash dishes by hand, chances are that you prefer a much deeper sink with two bowls. How much time are you willing to invest to maintain the finish on the sink that you select? A gleaming copper sink looks amazing in a rustic kitchen, but cleaning it and maintaining the finish can be quite labor intensive. What style of sink would look best in your kitchen? A sink with rounded edges works great in a traditional kitchen, but a sink with clearly defined square corners looks sleek in a transitional or modern kitchen.
A great way to incorporate some extra personality into your kitchen is to use an apron front, or farmhouse sink. Stainless steel takes an apron front sink from traditional to transitional style and porcelain sinks tend to look more traditional. Farmhouse sinks are highly desirable these days, but many homeowners don’t plan far enough in advance to incorporate one. A special sink cabinet has to be ordered to accept an apron front sink. Often times, the homeowner waits until the cabinets are already ordered to decide on a sink. At this point, it’s too late to select an apron front sink without remaking the sink cabinet. Be sure to let your cabinet designer know well in advance if you prefer a farmhouse sink. The kitchen sink is one of the most utilized items in your kitchen; be sure not to gloss over this important detail when making your selections.
- Beautifully finished backsplashes matter. If selecting cabinets is the most important decision to make in a kitchen, then selecting a backsplash is definitely a close second. The kitchen backsplash can be the star of the kitchen or it can be the eyesore. There are a few things to consider when selecting a backsplash. First, will the backsplash be a solid color or will it have a pattern? If the backsplash is a solid, consider how it contrasts again the cabinets and the countertops. For a more subtle look, choose tones that are similar to the cabinets. For a more dramatic look, choose a color that contrasts with the cabinets. I prefer some contrast with the countertops and the backsplash, even if it’s subtle. For example, a white cabinet with a white backsplash, white grout and a solid white countertop all blends together and can become quite boring. It’s more appealing to have at least some detailing to entertain the eye, even if it’s just interesting veining in the stone or a slightly contrasting grout color on the backsplash, such as light gray grout with white tile. That brings us to the second point to consider for your backsplash; different grout colors have the ability to give you COMPLETELY different looks for a backsplash. Be sure to consider grout very carefully and never allow your installer to select a grout color and install it without your input. This can cause quite an unwelcome surprise! For example, a white subway tile with matching white grout looks ENTIRELY different than a white subway tile with dark gray grout.
Dark grout creates a distinctive pattern and light grout minimizes the pattern. If you are in doubt about what color will look the best, ask your installer to make a simple 12″ x 12″ mock up board on plywood with each grout color. Many times, the tile showroom already has mock up boards prepared with grout to assist customers with this choice. In some circumstances, emphasizing the pattern may be desirable and in others it can cause the backsplash pattern to clash with a highly patterned countertop.
Which brings us to my third backsplash tip; choose one distinctive pattern for your kitchen, whether it is the countertop or the backsplash, and let that be the star. A distinctive pattern on a backsplash works well with a solid or subtle countertop pattern and a more solid or subtle backsplash works well with a highly patterned countertop. Distinctive patterns on both can quickly become too busy. One way to give a solid backsplash more interest is to install it in a pattern, such as a herringbone pattern for a transitional kitchen or a soldier stack pattern for a more modern kitchen.
Finally, my fourth tip for backsplashes is to properly finish the exposed or raw tile edges of your backsplash. This is my pet peeve because it’s a distracting eyesore to see unfinished edges, even in a gorgeous kitchen. Would you walk around in an unhemmed skirt or pants with the raw edges of fabric showing? Of course not! So, finish the exposed edges of tile with coordinating pencil rounds, silver schluter strips or bullnosed tile edges.
Be sure to order these critical pieces when you place your backsplash tile order. It gives your kitchen a polished and professionally finished look. When designing your perfect kitchen, be sure to take the time to consider your backsplash color, pattern, grout color and finishing pieces to create a beautiful result.
- Style and scale are key in selecting decorative lighting fixtures. As I mentioned in my very first blog, scale is something that many people struggle with. It’s also critical when selecting decorative light fixtures for your designer kitchen. So, how do you determine the right size for your decorative fixtures? First, consider where they will hang. If you are hanging pendants over an island, measure the island to determine it’s size. Let’s say, for the sake of this example, that the island measures 42″ x 62″. If there were two fixtures hanging over this island, the optimal size would be between about 10″ and 12″ in diameter for each decorative fixture.
Another solution would be to hang three 6″ to 8″ diameter pendants over the island. This is pleasing to the eye because the visual weight of the pendants is distributed evenly across the island. Finally, using one 36″ to 42″ oblong fixture would look great over this 62″ island, as well. For proper spacing between multiple fixtures that hang in a row, hang the fixtures at least their own diameter apart or up to a maximum of about twice their diameter apart. For example, fixtures with a 15″ diameter should hang between 15″ and 30″ apart (or a few inches more) for maximum appeal.
The length of the light fixture is also important. For a vaulted ceiling, consider a fixture that is longer vertically than it is wide. It’s important to fill open vertical space with a longer decorative fixture for balance, as well. For a ceiling that is 8′ or 9′ tall, leave between 32″ and 36″ of open space between your countertop or tabletop and the bottom of the decorative fixture. To quickly determine the diameter of a dining area fixture, measure the space. For a 12′ x 12′ dining area with an 8′ ceiling, add 12 + 12= 24. Therefore, your decorative fixture should be around 24″ in diameter. It’s fine if it’s one or two inches larger, as well. This formula is useful in determining a general idea of what the diameter should be. If the ceiling height is over 8′ tall, add 2″ to the diameter for each additional foot of ceiling height over 8′. For example, if the room is 12′ x 12′ with a 9′ ceiling height, add 12 + 12 + 2= 26″ diameter fixture. For ceiling heights over 9′, consider a fixture with multiple tiers to help fill the additional vertical space.
Ok, that felt like a lot of math, so let’s move on to style! Selecting an appropriate style for your decorative fixtures is also very important in achieving a cohesive kitchen design. Larger decorative lighting fixtures serve as focal points and this is one area where I would focus heavily on quality and not so much on cost. You can get away with less expensive cabinet hardware and subway tile, but don’t cut corners with your decorative lighting fixtures or it will show. For a transitional or modern kitchen, consider chrome, nickel or even burnished gold finishes.
Chandeliers or pendants that incorporate shell, decorative glass or wooden beads can be very interesting in a transitional space. Try to think outside the box with decorative lighting and dare to go with something other than a predictable glass mini pendant. For a modern kitchen, consider a fixture with clean lines, square or cylinder shapes or barrel shades and a sleek or matte finish. For a traditional kitchen, consider antique silver, bronze or black iron finishes. Traditional styles can include lantern shapes, decorative crystal fixtures or classic chandeliers with fabric shades.
- Consider cabinet detailing such as crown molding and matching end panels. For a modern European kitchen, there’s nothing more beautiful than sleek slab cabinet doors and flat finished cabinet ends. However, with transitional and traditional cabinetry styles, additional detailing can make a giant impact on the overall design of a kitchen. I strongly encourage my clients to incorporate crown molding on upper cabinets in traditional and transitional kitchens. It provides an extra finishing touch that is the icing on the cake. I equate a transitional kitchen that doesn’t have crown molding to a business man wearing dress pants without a belt. It looks like something is missing. Crown molding is an excellent way to add an extra detail to your cabinets that reinforces the kitchen’s style. For shaker cabinets, a flat 35 degree crown or a gracefully curved cove crown work beautifully to add an extra finishing touch without fussy detailing. For traditional cabinets, crown molding is a necessary decorative element that can be quite detailed, like a finely carved piece of furniture. So, unless your kitchen is very modern, don’t skip the crown molding. Finally, I strongly recommend matching cabinet end panels on traditional and transitional style cabinets.
In simple terms, this means that instead of the cabinet ends being plain and flat, they match the paneled design on the cabinet door. The exception to this rule is shaker style cabinetry; matching end panels may or may not be incorporated with the simple details of this style. So, what’s the purpose of matching end panels, anyway? Matching end panels give a kitchen a customized and tailored look that steps up the entire kitchen design a notch. Paneled backs on a kitchen island or peninsula, called wainscoting, also add incredible tailoring that elevates the styling of an average kitchen to a designer level. So, when considering your cabinet style, don’t just think about the door style, the crown molding and paneled ends are just as important to achieving a designer look.
Designing a kitchen is a labor of love and an expensive endeavor. Many well-meaning homeowners take a tremendous amount of time to select cabinets, countertops and appliances, but gloss over the remaining details without much thought. Consider the details of your kitchen masterpiece carefully, because it is just that…a masterpiece. Putting in a little extra time to consider the cabinet hardware, sink, lighting fixtures, backsplash tile and cabinetry details are just the extra boost that your kitchen needs to bring on the “wow factor”. So set aside a little extra time to elevate your kitchen from good to great! I can assure you that it will be time well spent.