Category Archives: Decorating Ideas

Spring Color Palettes

The Art in Artichoke

There’s just something about April: Chaucer talked about the showers, T. S. Eliot said it was the cruelest month, and travel agents call it a “shoulder season.” Though to me April means doing a lot of weeding, I think it’s also a great time to develop a nature-oriented paint scheme for freshening up your interior.  My friend the architectural colorist Tina Beebe once told me to look no further than the artichoke for one of nature’s most elegant color palettes so, since artichokes are now in season, let’s start here. Cut one open, as this photo (courtesy The Delicious Life) shows and you’ll find a surprising range of spring hues to choose from. Now thanks to color matching websites you can develop a palette from

almost any image. Here’s the palette that deGraeve’s Color Palette Generator produced from the photo I uploaded. It’s appealing, with bright and dull versions, though it didn’t get the subtle violet at the center. Or how about this

image of a granite dock on the Maine coast. I like the greens and grays. Here’s how deGraves’s other color match website called Color Hunter isolated the hues.

You don’t get to see the original image alongside the isolated hues as you do with deGraeve, but Color Hunter’s black background makes the tones stand out. Though you should always allow for color variation on the computer as well as in print, this is a great way to develop a set of colors you like before confronting the dauntingly vast array of color chips at the hardware or paint store. Another way is just to print out an image of a space that appeals, like the living room of

Plan 496-1 by Australian architect Leon Meyer, then identify the color palette yourself. Here the white walls, black hearth, moss green fireplace front, and natural wood furniture work well together: it’s essentially a white background with major and minor accents. The living room in a Sea Ranch, California house designed by Tina Beebe and her husband architect Buzz Yudell offers

similar lessons. Here again, background colors, this time in wall plaster and concrete floor, are neutrals; accents are mostly primary with greens toned to echo the meadow grasses outside; the wood is unpainted. In short, paint palettes don’t need a lot of colors; simpler is usually better; materials like wood and concrete are part of a palette just like paint and fabric; and nature is often a very good place to start.

For a fine introduction to the subject see Design With Color, by Karen

Templer, who is the newest member of the Houseplans family. It includes a wide range of color schemes to help you articulate your own taste. And for an intriguing view of color history I recommend browsing Pantone: The 20th Century in Color, by Leatrice Eiseman and Keith Recker, which

cleverly shows color palettes derived from popular culture, decade-by-decade. The authors isolate key colors from each period — for example, the Arts & Crafts Movement is represented by various artifacts, like a chandelier designed by

Greene & Greene and is paired with eight Pantone swatches. It’s fun to see how the authors derive the dominant colors for each era. It all shows how color taste changes and makes me wonder what a representative palette for the 21st century — so far — would be.

Paint Palettes New and Old

Hues and Dyes

I just played the online Color Sense Game by Voice of Color from Porter Paints (part of PPG Paints). It’s a kind of test – your answers to a range of questions like “pick 5 words that inspire you” (out of a given list), or “where would you feel most at home?”(you select one image out of a wide range), or “what animal would you be?” (again from a range of pictures) —  result in your own personal paint palette. It seemed fairly accurate in my case; that is, I liked the color range that my answers produced.

Apparently I’m “Al Fresco” – or is that the brother of Bill Fresco. Apparently it means that I like green tones. You’ll note that there is a little tab on the upper right corner that says “Your Secondary Harmony Family” (this will be news to my wife — and me too, come to think of it!).

My secondary family turns out to be the Whites…It all sounds a little corny, but I think it can help you figure out what colors are meaningful to you. Painter beware, however because if you play again and change one or two answers you may get a very different set of colors…After I switched from tiger to eagle

my secondary harmony family became Desert Spice. I think I like Al Fresco and the Whites better. I guess I’m just a cat after all.

Color is at once very simple and subjective (you instinctively like certain hues) and highly sophisticated and complex (the psychological study of color perception, for example). In the history of architecture there are many color palettes, from the vibrant reds and yellow ochres of Pompeiian frescoes (image below courtesy Natural Pigments)

to the white and intense chromium yellow that Thomas Jefferson used

in the dining room at Monticello. According to retrofit guru Bob Vila, this particularly vivid palette is a relatively recent discovery, thanks to scientific analysis of the original pigments (photo courtesy his website). At the turn of the 20th century architects like Frank Lloyd Wright and the Bay Area’s Bernard Maybeck became identified with an Arts & Crafts palette (from the movement of the same name) and evolved their own set of hues and tones

often with autumnal hues like red, burnt orange, and even gold to complement the use of natural materials like redwood and brick. In fact Wright’s favorite color was what he called Cherokee red (photo of Wright’s Zimmerman house, by David J. Bohl, courtesy Currier Museum of Art, from About.com).

European modernists like Le Corbusier developed their own palettes as well;

his was based on primary colors, but, as shown above,  included a variety of subtle variations. These colors (and the image) are from the website Aaltocolor.com. The elegant palette published in 128 Colors: A Sample Book for Architects, Conservators, and Designers, by Katrin Trautwein (Birkhauser,

Basel, 2010) includes 68 Corbusian hues along with 60 others. Trautwein founded an artisinal paint manufacturer in Uster, Switzerland in 1997. She explains how Le Corbusier’s colors were designed to “remain stable in space to support architecture’s three dimensional effects.” As a painter as well as an architect (remember his Purist efforts,

like this still life of 1922, courtesy Ferris) he knew what he was talking about. He probably was not thinking about tigers and eagles.




Man Caves and Other Magnets

Attractive Nuisance — or Not

Every home should have a place to relax on your own or with family or friends. For some this retreat is claimed by one gender and is often called a “man cave,” and is stocked with potables, munchables, and viewables. A current television ad for IKEA includes a minimalist modern example and the Sydney IKEA store even has one on the premises, which is cleverly described in The Week as “Manland: Day Care for Husbands.” Here’s an image of it, courtesy of Core77: amenities include magazines, free hot dogs, a pinball machine, and a Fussball table in a bright minimalist design environment. A more typical non-IKEA example might be a room where sport decor dominates, like this one.

I like the helmet wall but wonder about the barber  chair — for clipping penalties, perhaps? (image courtesy The Loss Column, Baltimore Sports). Some of the designs at Houseplans.com have rec rooms that could easily “evolve” with the addition of a wet bar,

like the sculptural modern one built into Plan 56-610, shown above.

Try googling “man cave” and you’ll find an entire industry devoted to this subject, with retreats that include everything from vintage jukeboxes and the odd firing range (“Don’t mind those muffled explosions — that’s just Borromir downstairs in the armory.”) to complete woodworking shops – as illustrated by writer Jennifer Matlack’s article on a handsome eco-savvy garage (shown below, courtesy Sunset Magazine.)


The entertainment here, aside from the vintage Mercedes roadster, is the workshop.

Designed by Harrison Architects, an imaginative Seattle firm, the garage includes a drought-tolerant sod roof planted with sedums and grasses, recycled newspaper insulation, and translucent polycarbonate wall panels — so it’s a retreat with a conscience.

Ergo, the man cave is not just about a basement, a keg of beer, and a behemoth flat screen anymore! Personally, I’d go for a more multi-purpose room – and I’d like to stay married — but I am intrigued by the range of invention displayed by these spaces.

Perhaps the ultimate man cave is on the island of Brac on the Dalmatian Coast. I visited it last week (in my constant search for bloggable items, of course). A relic from World War II, it’s a disused submarine pen or hideout.

Accessible only by boat, of course, it’s pretty basic — and only room for one sub.


But there’s space for essential supplies. According to our guide this where the local male population comes to chill out: I saw plenty of chairs and ice chests on the ledge…

No need to watch old war movies here…because you’re in one! You could say, as a brother just reminded me, that the “Hunt for Red October” is over.



Home Idea Hunting

Conceptual Drainboards Everywhere

Small ideas with large impact always grab my attention. For example, I just saw an early twentieth century farmhouse kitchen and I was transfixed — not so much by the kitchen as a whole but by the shiny wooden drainboard — which resembled part of the galley on a vintage yacht.

What could be simpler, or warmer in its honey tone and richly grained texture than this shiny slab and backsplash, with undermount sink and porcelain-handled taps. This kitchen, which was beautifully restored by Backen Gillam Kroeger Architects for the MacMurray Ranch vineyard, is a throwback but also perfectly contemporary in its use of a natural material as a thing of beauty in itself, without affectation. Such a drainboard is hard to do today — the various woods available are costly and maintenance around water is always problematic — but it is seductive nevertheless and reminds me of the counters made of sugar pine and other woods that early modern architects like Gardner Dailey and William Wurster used in kitchens, well before the explosion of new materials like Caesarstone or Zodiac. These latter materials are attractive in their own right but a little wood goes a long way toward warming up a space. The way to achieve a similar effect today without risking water damage might be to use wood on a kitchen island, as architect Jonathan Feldman does in this example.

Or simply purchase a wood-topped rolling cart like the John Boos Rosato Kitchen Cart (below)

or the Belmont White Kitchen Island (below) — both through Remodelista, one of my

favorite home resource websites, where co-founder/curator Julie Carlson has an exceptional design eye. Another way to use wood as a warm-up accent is shown in the house built from our Plan 508-1 by architect Nicholas Lee,

where the extended hearth — for display as well as sitting — is a length of recycled fir. Such a device not only warms up an all-white room but adds individuality.

Of course, paint is really the easiest way to personalize a space quickly. A new apartment complex called The Presidio Landmark in San Francisco – an elegant adaptive reuse of an old hospital by the architectural firm Perkins & Will – includes a model unit that shows a clever way to add character to a room without a lot of effort and expense: painted wainscoting, as shown below.

The green swath reaches to head height and draws the eye up, at once creating an intimate corner within the larger space. It adds personality without the expense of extra woodwork. Look around you — and keep that digital camera or I-phone handy — you never know when an idea for your new home will strike — or drain, as the case may be.

Storage and Display Ideas

Pegboard Potential

I recently saw pegboard used for the backsplash in a kitchen and it made me realize just how versatile this material is for storage and display. Architects and designers have been adapting it for years. Here are some examples.

This clever use of a single sheet of black-painted pegboard, by Margaret Oomen of Resurrection Fern, becomes the holder and the frame for a collection of wood spoons and spatulas — a perfect example of cuisine-art, pardon the pun (image courtesy re-nest.com). Painted white, a strip of pegboard works as a lively and useful backsplash, as shown below.

Note how the power strip seems to repeat the dot pattern for an encompassing composition. It’s from Margaret Simpson’s very useful blog My New Kitchen. It’s a reminder that the backsplash is where you can get very creative — I have seen large glass tiles that can be drawn on with special markers for a personalized touch that’s changeable (drawings can be wiped off), or blackboard paint (ditto), along with the infinite variety of tile, stone, and synthetic stones now available.

And don’t forget how Julia Child’s husband Paul outfitted her famous Cambridge, Massachusetts kitchen with an entire pegboard wall — both easily accessible and artful — for her collections of knives, pots, pans, whisks, etc.

(The image above is courtesy Thomas Jayne at Interior Design Magazine.) Many folks use pegboard in the garage or  workshop — often with outlines to show where specific tools are stored.The elegant example below is from Plansnow.com.

I have even seen pegboard made out of stainless steel (custom designed, however) for a very sleek solution behind a stainless steel range. But there’s also a stainless steel product that’s designed to be magnetic, shown below.

It’s by Blomus, comes in a variety of sizes, and is found on  Organize.com and Allmodern.com.

And here’s an innovative use for a narrow hallway, which do-it-yourselfers Derek and Lauren from Design Sponge call a “pegboard magazine rack/organize-a-majig.”

It’s the kind of multifunctional solution for small spaces that you might find on a boat. I guess you can organize your life with pegboard!

 

News from the 2011 Dwell On Design Expo

From Hobo Lanterns to Infinity Drains

The yearly Dwell On Design expo in Los Angeles took place last week: it’s an important venue for innovation in home design and always has surprises in store. We asked architect Sarah Sobel to scout it and give us a report. Here are her top new product picks.

Nature Nurtured. These eye-catching pendant lights inspired by brain coral are the “brainstorms” of David Trubridge. They’re available through Ford & Ching in a variety of colors — like a modern version of the classic lightbulb-as-idea metaphor (this is Dan talking).

Trubridge calls them“kitset lightshades” and they’re made of painted bamboo and plywood with nylon clips. Something for the dining room or the lanai, as shown here in a photograph by David himself.

Fencing that Fans the Imagination. Harwell Fencing and Gates shows how a fence can be more than just a barrier. 

It can be a backdrop that draws the eye and creates a dramatic frame for outdoor living space and plants. Precise horizontal spacing makes all the difference — these fences are built like furniture and carefully sealed against the elements.

Simpler Sinks. Undermount sinks are easier to clean because there is is no rim where dirt can build up along the seam. Duravit’s vanity basin is a simple clean design that works well.

Flexibility and the Disappearing Drain. A traditional center drain — for a shower, say — requires that the floor be pitched in four directions, which limits tile size or slab material. Enter the Infinity Drain making it possible to pitch the surface in just one direction so there’s no  limit on tile size or slab.

The drain comes in a variety of lengths to suit different shower sizes.

One version can even be camouflaged with the shower floor material for a sleek seamless look. Can you see it along the edge of the shower above the sprayer?

Everyday Objects Transformed. Molo Designs is an exceptionally creative industrial design firm specializing in re-imagining furniture and lighting. Sarah says: “The studio of 18 from Vancouver makes beautiful, ingenious, flexible furniture /walls from paper, Tyvek, felt, and LED’s.” I could not agree more! I am especially taken with their “Softwall and Softblock” space partitions, which turn the screen into a form of animation.

The partition is made of pleated kraft paper — like a giant accordion/paper slinky — and expands in serpentine arrangements. According to Molo, it’s a modular system that connects flexible honeycomb elements of various heights, colours, and material to one another simply and seamlessly with concealed magnets to create continuous lengths of wall.

When compressed for storage it takes up little space. The material can also be stacked vertically “like stretchy lego blocks.” The “Softwall” suits a loft or great room  — say, to create intimacy within a larger space for Plan 64-183, below.


Molo’s Hobo Lanterns use an LED light in a felt bag.

It’s both a tote and a lantern — or is that a lote or a tanturn? Thanks, Sarah for lighting our way to all these innovative home products.



Conversation Pits and Refugee Home Design

Modernism With Individuality

A recent Wall Street Journal story by Julie Iovine, executive editor of The Architect’s Paper, perceptively describes the mid-century modern J. Irwin  and Xenia Miller residence in Columbus, Indiana, which is now open to the public (photo courtesy Wall Street Journal). Built in 1953 for the chairman of Cummins Engine and his wife —  who put their town near Indianapolis on the map by paying the design fees for every new public building as long as nationally recognized architects were hired to design it — this remarkable house is both abstract and highly personal. It was designed by Eero Saarinen, architect of the St. Louis Arch and Dulles Airport; influential modernist landscape architect Dan Kiley did the garden. Organized on a grid with a flat roof that almost floats, with walls of marble and glass that draw the eye into a similarly abstract landscape, the house has anumber of surprises, including a splendid conversation pit, shown here, with colorful patterned fabric and pillows by industrial designer and folk art collector Alexander Girard. (The International Museum of Folk Art in Santa Fe, New Mexico devotes an entire wing to the extraordinary collections Girard amassed, which became the inspiration for his own designs.) That sunken square sitting area is a classic example of functionalist thinking: both open and constrained at the same time. According to Iovine it was often used for slumber parties.Nearby in the same wide open space is the cylinder-shaped fireplace suspended from the ceiling (you can also make it out at the rear of the previous photograph, though because it’s white like the surroundings, it almost disappears). A long storage and display wall and ribbon skylights are the other key elements animating this space. What a classic and marvelous example of Modernist
design thinking: Saarinen has reduced architecture to the manipulation of form and function. He used structural geometry — the square, circle, and straight line — instead of conventional furniture and walls to define each functional area within a larger space (three interior photos courtesy Indianapolis Museum of Art). Without these finely worked materials and vivid accents such an abstract approach could result in a cold, anonymous, corporate lobby-like design — but here it has immense personality and power. Contact the Indianapolis Museum of Art/Miller House for tours.

Stanford Students Design For Haiti

Architecture has many roles: inventing inspirational one-of-a-kind custom homes is one; solving urgent housing needs for refugee populations is another. I was privileged to watch architecture, engineering, and product design students addressing the latter problem recently when I served on a design jury for a class at Stanford University taught by architect Charles Debbas and engineering lecturer Glenn Katz. The assignment was to develop housing prototypes for Haiti earthquake refugees that would be climate appropriate, economically feasible, well engineered, sustainable, and require no skilled labor to build. A monumental task! During the term experts gave informational talks. Kate Stohr from Architecture for Humanity (one of their projects is shown above) spoke about reconstruction efforts for refugees and dealing with corruption and political obstacles. Kristel Younes from Refugees International described human conditions in refugee camps throughout the world, infrastructure of camps, safety, sanitation. Monica Underwood from America USAid Projustice discussed rebuilding the legal system from scratch when all records, birth certificates and criminal records are lost.

I think the students’ resulting projects are highly imaginative — and very inspirational, too. Many teams used easy-to-grow and harvest timber bamboo as  the key building material. One combined the bamboo with gabion baskets containing decontaminated rubble from the ruins (top, right above) for the walls.Another devised a clever cruciform plan (see upper left on the board above) to ensure cross ventilation and private outdoor space. Another studied regional building traditions and adapted them (left, above) to contemporary needs. Each team combined a wide variety of disciplines to come up with feasible real-world solutions. I was impressed by the esprit de corps and ingenuity demonstrated by each project and I toast all six teams. They are already helping to make a brighter future — and the conversation has just begun. Bravo!

Flat Screen TV Placement

Digital Decor

In our house we have a tiny TV room/home office that was carved out of part of a bedroom. Call me a “slow adopter” but I think it might be time to take advantage of the flexibility that today’s flat screens allow: replacing our bulky television on its rolling cabinet with a flat screen mounted on the wall would dramatically expand the available floor space. The clever five-part wall cabinet  by my friend Nathan Hartman of Kerf Design, shown here, would be  a great way to go. The cabinet acts as a frame, turning the TV into a contemporary artpiece. And according to Nate it’s a drinks cabinet as well as storage for dvds — what a clever idea — mai tais with movies! The TV cabinet unites the dining area with the rest of the kitchen — where the Kerf system expresses new functionality and warm contemporary character.

Or consider Sarah Susanka’s Plan 454-6 (Not So Big Showhouse 2005), which shows a popular approach in the living room:  treating the flat screen like a painting over the mantelpiece. The wood of the mantel itself helps frame the TV. A flat screen can even be worked into the wall paneling, as the master bedroom in Plan 56-604 demonstrates. The flat screen can be set into the wall between the studs — so it’s flush with the wall surface — a pricey but elegant solution. Sometimes it’s even hidden behind a real painting whose frame is hinged.  It’s even possible to aim a little higher, as happens in our Plan 48-433. Here bedtime stories take on new meaning when you lie back and look up at the TV in the master bedroom  — it’s on the ceiling. Talk about Super Titles! For more flat screen placement ideas check out Houzz.com, a fascinating and comprehensive source for remodeling inspiration.

Houses and the Academy Awards

Oscar as Client

In films, houses are often metaphors for a state of mind or an idea.  Residential settings in two recent Academy Award contenders are especially evocative — and show how design creates a mood. Roman Polanski’s The Ghost Writer stars Ewan McGregor, Pierce Brosnan, Olivia Williams, and Kim Cattrall but the isolated and foreboding modern house by the sea — where much of the action takes place — has an important supporting role. The house where the ex British Prime Minister (Brosnan) works on his memoirs with his ghost writer (McGregor) after the previous writer’s mysterious disappearance

is all geometric glass and concrete. The contemporary furnishings (by Walter Knoll Designs) in sombre grays and black, with a splash of blood red in the modern painting, exude corporate cool and the threat of danger. In the distance is the glass railing around the stair. Everything appears rational and visible and yet invisible at the same time — like the transparent railing itself. The orderly home office

where the writer is supposed to work telescopes the film’s core conceit.  Precisely positioned items  — juice bottles, manuscript pages, file box  — allude to a straightforward narrative, at least on the desktop. The modern window wall looking out on a severe landscape of sea grass, dune, and gray sky frames a view of apparent clarity, yet there’s hardly anything there. Or rather, what’s there is hidden below the surface, and every surface in the house is sleek or sharp or reflective. It’s not giving away the plot to say that nothing is as it seems; or everything is. The house is itself not a real house but completely invented; an impressive example of set designer Albrecht Konrad’s  artistry. Photos courtesy House of Anais blog.

In The King’s Speech (directed by Tom Hooper)  Colin Firth as King George VI and Geoffrey Rush as speech therapist Lionel Logue, meet in Logue’s office. This space is shabby but architecturally distinctive, even elegant, with mottled walls that look as though layers of wallpaper have been stripped away, leaded arched windows and a curved clerestory. It has what might be called “good bones.” (Set decorator Judy Farr and production designer Eve Stewart reworked existing  rooms in London’s stately Portland Place, built in 1775).

The rooms are seen in contrast to the stultifying formal palace interiors where the royals live. The clever juxtaposition is between preserving appearances and understanding reality, between the psychological causes of the stammer and the therapeutic cure — literally the stripping away of layers of restraint. Wallpaper-as-psyche! I love it.

Not that we all need gloomy modernity or the equivalent of the analyst’s couch to shape our days and nights. But it’s worth remembering that architectural space can produce strong emotional effects through structure, furnishings, and light. In other words every space is a potential stage set.  A while  ago, when I entered the stairway of an aggressively sculptural public library in Buenos Aires I felt physically compressed, as if the walls were closing in on me. A space that to my mind ought to have been all about movement, instead shouted constriction. Maybe it should have been used in a movie!

Shameless Self-Promotion Department

In other news, a very thoughtful article about Houseplans.com appeared in The Washington Post last week. Real estate columnist Katherine Salant talks about some of the plans in our Exclusive Studio, including work by Sarah Susanka, and the Sea Ranch Cottages by William Turnbull, and explains the role of the architectural editor. So this is what I do!

Martha Stewart and the 2011 Home Builder Show

With apologies to Charles Dickens, the International Home Builders Show (IBS)  in Orlando last week was the worst of times and the best of times. Worst because of an economy that meant fewer exhibits and lower attendance and snowstorms in the southeast that closed airports and highways. Best because the smaller  size — only one vast convention hall

and a thousand exhibits to cover — made it easier to see everything and find time for several especially interesting show homes, like the net zero energy concept home produced by KB Home and Martha Stewart. The 2,667 square-foot, 3 bedroom, 2  bath subdivision house is slated to sell for $380,000. As you would expect from these folks, it’s full of great ideas and products, from the invisible glass-front, gas living room fireplace (Montebello by Lennox)

under the elegant round mirror that brings the entire room into focus (showing the media tour in progress), to the kitchen at the opposite end,

where cabinets, open shelves, and cubbies by Merillat allow for multiple storage and display options to make the rear wall both functional and visually compelling. The Dupont Zodiaq-topped island, 7 feet 6 inches by 4 feet 6 inches,

includes a wide, deep Kohler apron-front farmhouse sink, a convenient “drop-in” stainless steel compost canister by Blanco (want it!) instead of a disposal, pull-out recycle bins (to right of sink, not visible here),

and ample room for books. Nearby is the pantry,

accessible through glass-fronted double doors beside the microwave and wine storage. A built-in desk to the right of the pantry has space for a laptop.

Ten foot-tall sliding glass panels by Windoor open the kitchen/dining area to a spacious lanai,

with its own fireplace,

allowing the house to expand for entertaining in good weather.

At the media conference I asked Martha Stewart what her greatest challenge was in shaping the interior. She said it was “to keep it gracious, with good proportions, and high 9 foot 4-inch ceilings.” I would elaborate  that her team’s simple but sophisticated decisions — such as adding chest-high, white-painted horizontal wainscoting, setting windows low in the wall, using stone-like ceramic tile floor tiles and a refined pastel color palette (with AkzoNobel’s  Martha Stewart low VOC paint) throughout — made this house feel custom-designed.

Martha also said she was excited at the opportunity to make a production home so green that it uses less power than it produces — thanks in part to photovoltaic roof tiles (by SunPower)

and a solar water heating system (from Velux).

My only reservation about the house was with the exterior — I think the important lessons about simplicity and strong indoor-outdoor connection could have been expressed on the street front. But overall it’s an exciting project that shows how to be green, gracious, and give good value. A full description is at Builder Magazine Online; and a  virtual tour is at Builder Concept Home 2011. More idea houses and new product sightings from the Home Builder Show will be in my next post — so stay tuned.