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Curb Appeal

Switching gears for a bit to discuss the exterior of our house.  For the last two years, we've spent the majority of our time and funds working on the inside of our house.  We did quite a bit of landscaping last year, and earlier this Summer, but, for the most part, the exterior of the house sat idle.
Not that I didn't have big plans for it, we just try to find balance of time and budget for our projects.  I've always felt our house had a big case of the blahs - not an eyesore by any means, but not a lot of curb appeal, either, and that killed me.  I strive to take a house to its best potential, and that has been the driving force in me with this house - the unmet potential it has.

The style of our home is traditional - a standard colonial built with brick and metal siding. The siding was faded, and needed to be cleaned, but otherwise, it was in good condition (i.e. no hailstorm dents, etc)  I can't even tell you how many door-to-door salespeople we've had trying to sell us vinyl siding!  Replacement just didn't seem necessary, and the control freak in me didn't want to be limited in my color selection when it came time to update the exterior.

This is the house as it looked when we bought it

So, we hired a local company that specializes in painting siding.  We discussed general color options, noting the benefits of going with a higher-contrast color combo, like medium-to-dark siding, with a darker color for shutters, and true white for the trim.  I knew I wanted to stay out of the true beige arena, but the brick on our house tended to pull me in that direction until I decided to ignore the brick altogether, and go with what I liked!
We ended up choosing Sherwin Williams colors: Functional Gray (as it turns out, a perfect "greige") for the siding, Peppercorn for the shutters and garage door, and Extra White for the trim.

...and here's how it turned out
I can't get over the change.  I keep driving up wondering if it's my house!  
Now, to be fair, we replaced the doors last year, which has made a huge difference in our front entrance.  We also added a crossbeam above the pilasters to bring some architectural interest, added fresh house numbers, and replaced the sconces.   Still, the power of paint!

I no longer feel like our house has the blahs, but instead is one of the happiest houses on the block!

Master Bath Transformation - Before and After

It's been a long stretch since I stopped in here for an update, so I figured I'd bring you up to speed on our bathroom redo.  When we moved into our house, I had a long list of "I'd like to change that." Our master bathroom, however, fell more under the S.O.S. category.  Still, I think there's benefit to living with a space, no matter how discouraging, for a while to really get a sense of what works, what doesn't, and why.  About six months ago, we decided to lift the quarantine.
Before I jar you with the "before" images, let's cleanse the palate and see what I envisioned for the renovation.

Now, brace yourselves for the "before"
(image from the MLS listing when we bought the house)

I like to call it:  the Mid 70s Builder-grade special.  With a splash of hospital. 
Original mauve tile, with walls painted to match.  Original vanity, which was curiously squat - even for a short stack like me.  Needless to say, there wasn't anything worth salvaging.

I use the word "master" bath loosely because, although it is ensuite, it is tiny.  Yes, it would be lovely to have dual sinks, but we actually don't overlap too much in terms of use.  We also didn't have much option to expand the space without creating a weird jut into our bedroom, or taking up valuable closet space.  So, the footprint had to stay.
The good news was that having a small footprint meant I could go a little more luxe in terms of finishes.  More than anything, I wanted to brighten it up, and try to expand the space visually.
I believe we accomplished that.

The design plan was pretty straight forward - I wanted marble subway tile to the ceiling in the shower, then to wrap around the other walls at a half-wall height.  The floor tile needed to have a higher grout-to-tile ratio to prevent slipping, so I opted for a small marble herringbone mosaic.  I carried the same tile from the vanity area into the shower to continue the visual line - another trick to make the space seem larger.  We designed a small vertical panel of the mosaic in the facing wall, because, hey, I couldn't get enough of it.  We were able to keep the lines all nice and clean by tucking two shampoo niches into the back wall.   So again, not an inch larger, but it feels soooo much more open!

P.S. - Artwork by my daughter and I (yay for freebies!)

I went with brass fixtures to warm up the color scheme, but mixed in polished nickel for the towel bar and tp holder to keep it from feeling too Liberace.

The other major component to visually enlarging the space was to mirror that baby up!  It was tricky, but I had plate mirrors cut for the dimensions of a mirrored medicine cabinet.  It's a nice, layered finish, and bounces tons of light.

The vanity base ended up giving me a bad case of the willies.  I envisioned converting an antique cabinet into a vanity, and searched for something with the perfect dimensions (we had no wiggle room), that would still function like a true vanity - to no avail.  Having a custom vanity built was out of budget, so I had to go with a standard vanity base.  Little disclaimer:  Unless you can't tell the difference, I'm not a fan of using Big Box store items for renovations, and I really felt like I was selling out, design-wise to use one, but I held my nose and did it. By topping it with a custom volakas marble top, though, I think I'm at least somewhat redeemed. ;)  It also meant there was room to splurge on the radiant floor heat, which. is. a. game changer.  Toasty toes instead of frozen-stuck-to-the-marble feet is a huge luxury in my boat!

I think it's fair to say the space was completely transformed.  Before, it was painful to see.  Now, it's a  pleasure to use. 

Marble Subway Tile  ~ Marble pencil trim  ~  Herringbone mosaic tile (similar to)  ~  Shower fixture  (similar to) ~  Basin fixture  (similar to) ~  Vanity base (similar to, but think ours was more, and is nicer)  ~  Vanity top  ~  Mirrored Medicine Cabinet 

Inspired Spaces: White walls + Old Leather + rich wood = Luxe

Have ya'll seen the space put together by Will Kopelman (aka Mr. Drew Barrymore) in the latest AD?  It's the most anti-man cave, beautiful man-space I've ever seen.  In fact, I don't see any reason to designate it a "man space," as I'd move in in a heartbeat.

I'm generally a color gal, but throw in a neutral palette with some roughed up leather, and you'll get me every time.  Besides, the home office has enough suggestion of color with the enormous John Singer Sargent reproduction (Will's an art adviser - nice work if you can get it)  What I really love is the not-in-your-face luxe of it all.  From the rich polished wood paired with the contemporary pieces to the men's suiting fabric that makes the window treatments - all against the perfectly-white background.  As Ferris Bueller once said, "It is so choice."

Moving on to the bath and dressing room portion of the program, Will turns the tables and goes dark and rich.  The dressing room in black lacquer with hits of wood and brass still serves to scratch my itch for dark, high gloss rooms.
It also serves to remind me that rooms with drastically different feels can exist beautifully as neighbors - they key is the streamlined palette, and shared materials.

The bathroom is just - wow.  It's a lot, and I'm not sure I could deal with this much going on on a daily basis, but I LOVE that he went for it.  Like all-out, gentleman's glam.  I admire a man who knows his style and rocks it to the last detail.  Drew says she cried when she first saw the space - because it made her bathroom look downright granny.

I've had this white walls, rich wood, worn leather, mix of modern soup in my brain so much, I decided to use it to put together a design scheme for a class project.  My assignment is to design a Living/Dining room space.  I put more of a feminine twist on my interpretation, and the items I sourced would be filed under a budget known as...uh, dreamy, but here ya go.
In this room, every hour would feel like martini hour.   {sly grin}

Window Treatments - An Opinion Piece

I'm finally getting around to having window treatments made for our kitchen. Our kitchen (we remodeled last year) is lovely, and doesn't necessarily need treatments, but I think it might give it a more polished, finished look.  That, and I remembered I have a large remnant of Katsugi I've been dying to use forever.

I'm planning to do relaxed (fixed) roman shades. - something like these
source unknown

I know it sounds strange, but I have this love/hate relationship with curtains, etc.  Outside of the wide blinds we have for privacy, the windows in our house are bare.  Our home doesn't get a ton of natural light, so I don't want to do anything to impede light coming in.  But, there's more to it than that.  I have what might be called curtain paranoia that stems (I believe) from being too roped into the world of decorating.

What I mean is - the gorgeous, custom window treatments we see in magazines cost uh-lot of dinero. Often, it's those custom treatments that make a room look complete, pulled together.  But cheap window treatments can do the exact opposite.  They can take a room that was looking nice, and downgrade it.
I once read a fellow decorator say something along the lines of, "If you can't swing $5000 on curtains, don't bother at all," and it's that kind of thinking that keeps me in stagnant curtain mode.  I don't have 5k in the curtain budget, so rather than go inexpensive and risk cheapening the room, I just don't do anything at all.
Thing is, that line of thought doesn't play well with a lot of clients.  People want to be able to have nice curtains, etc without blowing out their budget.  There has to be a middle ground. And this is how I found it:

 1)  I bought my high-end fabric from another designer who sells her remnants at a greatly-discounted price.  I highly recommend her site - The Designer's Attic.  Often, she has smaller yardages, but if you're flexible and looking for inspiration, Shannon's your gal.

2)  I found a seamstress via Craigslist.  DISCLAIMER - this is my first time to work with her!!  I'll update once everything is done, but my point is - look for a knowledgeable seamstress with experience who may work out of his/her home.  They have less overhead, and are often not as busy.  A go-to workroom is a decorator's best friend, but if you're competing with a lot of other people's projects a) yours may not get priority and b) it'll cost you more.

3)  Go with more practical options.  Because I don't expect to ever want to close the shades in my kitchen, the ones I'm having made will be fixed - meaning, they will appear to be operable, but won't be.  This saves yardage = $$, but the look will still be custom.  The same thought can be applied to other rooms.  A standard curtain panel runs 3 yards, and many times, you'd want a more plush look than that would allow.  So, you can see how quickly you could get into the 10+ yard range.  Decent fabric, liner, hardware, labor - you can do the math.  But, if your style will allow it, a lovely and tailored roman shade can give you a lot of custom bang for the buck without all that yardage.

I picked up on a lot of gorgeous examples of roman shades in lieu of curtains in designer Erin Gates' book, Elements of Style - a great resource, btw.

photos via EoS

So, my takeaway is:  don't let high-end decorating ways deter you from pursuing a custom look.  It can be done.  It just might take a little more research and legwork.  Totally worth it, if you ask me.  Stay tuned for the reveal of my custom/savvy spender kitchen shades.

Looking at 40

I turn 40 this year.  It's getting easier to say that, btw.  For some time, I've been dreaming about the ultimate getaway trip to celebrate this milestone.  You know, how you picture yourself somewhere fabulous, doing fabulous things you otherwise never get to to do?  I don't know, like sleeping in late, or lounging near a beautiful pool without wondering if your kids are drowning.  Casually browsing mesmerizing shopfronts, or lingering over dinner with your Significant.  You get the idea.

I've alway dreamed of Morocco as an incredible destination.   Can you imagine?  The sights, the aromas (spice heaven!), the shopping (I might as well book an export crate for the rugs, baskets, etc). Over the past, oh, five years or so, Morocco has blossomed as a legit and luxurious destination for Americans, but, over the past, oh, year or so, there's also been a lot of scary shiznit happening that might make you think twice about your personal security in that locale. 

So, let's just say I've had a rethinking.  Somewhere a little closer, a little less likely to see you captured and beheaded for your beliefs, but by all accounts (and we've done some Intel), incredible.

Panama.  I'm lookin' at you.  Specifically, the American Trade Hotel in Casco Viejo.  It's uh-maze.  A design junkie's end all. 
Check it.
The Lobby bar, and a guest suite.  I'm all about a contrasting black trim; we've done some in our own house, and I love the crisp-ness it adds to a room.  I love it even more the way it's paired with the amazing wood floors.

They have me at hello with that perfect Trad/Colonial facade tricked out with contemporary iron-framed glass on the main floor, and yeah, you might convince me to soak in that tub. #bathdesignporn

Just stop already with the badass tile situations, 'K.  If our newly-finished study had a Central American sister, this space would be it.
Your choice of cocktail-serving spaces. (There's a pool, too.  Case you were wonderin'}

Yeeeah.  I think it might work.  For what we'll save in time and airfare, we could stay an extra day to take in more cool stuff.
Forty's not looking' so bad, ya'll.

*images by Rue and American Trade Hotel - An Ace Hotel

Staging a blog comeback: The Ick Master Bathroom

So, new year, new me.  As 'muricans, we all love a good comeback, so I'm attempting to make this mine.  Attempt being the key word.  We've done a lot of renovating over the last year and a half, and I've been a total slacker about documenting it.  So, I hope to catch up somewhat with that, but really, I just want to get back to the reason I ever blogged to begin with.  To give voice to my inner monologue, the heavy emphasis being on interiors, and to plan and organize decorating projects.

Jumping right in...Our master* bath.  It's en suite to our room, but otherwise, there's nothing master about it.  It is wee.  Eight by five feet, to be exact.  Anyway, it's next on our project list.

 It's charming in that hospital-grade kind of way, right?
Original vanity that is super low, even for a shortstack like me.
 New tile, but I just can't deal.

I feel like I just stood in front of you naked.

For the record, it came to us this way.  The tile in the shower, and the vanity are the original 1970s builder-grade selections.  The previous owners installed new floor tile, and put a fresh coat of the oh-so-flattering mauve (flat finish, btw) paint and called it a day.
In the time we've lived here, the lack of an exhaust fan caused the ceiling paint to chip, and the sheetrock to bubble/chip.  Most of the walls also have water lines from condensation.  We've since installed an exhaust fan, but the damage was done.
We've been focusing our time/money/effort on other rooms the whole family enjoys, and I've been putting off the decision-making, but now it's time to bite this bullet.  Truth is, though I may not have run out of designing steam, our checkbook might've, so my original plans to make this a tiny but luxe bath have scaled back.

And that's where I'm at:  redesigning.

As a visual, my first thoughts were to brighten it all up (obvs), add a lot of reflective and light surfaces to bounce light, and address the seriously-lacking storage situation.  Something marbly and mirror-y like these would make me happy.

BUT, after crunching some numbers, and really thinking about elements I love, I'm pulling more in a mixed materials/textures direction.

Still on the white marble train, but instead of a lot of white/light gray cabinets, walls, etc,  I'm planning to mix in some med-dark wood tones with brass to keep the color palette a little warm.  We live in a traditional Colonial, so keeping some wood tones suits the home, too.
Heading somewhere like

I would love to reclaim an old chest for a vanity, and have done some searching, but our very specific space requirements have made it tough to find the right piece.  I'll probably end up with a ready-made vanity (boo!), and will instead focus on the preeeeetty marble herringbone mosaic that'll cover the floor.

So , I have some design-boarding to do, but at least I can think New Year, New Bath!

Lovin' my Laundry Room

I've been jonesing for a decent, even (gasp!) pretty laundry room for a long time. Being a family of five means I spend a lot of quality time with the washer and dryer, so my wishes are justified, right?
Many of the homes in our area have a utility space in the basement, so I'm grateful ours is a legit laundry room on our main floor.  However, when we moved in, the layout made zero sense.  The washer and dryer were up against the side wall, partially blocking the window.  In what was a new "oh, that's...interesting," the drain tube from the washer was zip-tied (classy, right?) to the utility sink faucet, so each time the machine emptied, it splattered water everywhere. Last but not least, there was a wire-style shelf attached to the right wall.  I'm vertically challenged, but every time I'd do laundry, the clean clothes that were hanging on the bar of the shelf batted me in the head.
So, yeah, me and the laundry room were going to have a come-to-Jesus.
First, I'll address our machines: Rarely do you see top-loading machines in those awe-inspiring utility room pics, but ours came with the house, and the washer is brand new.  I would love a front-loader, so I could put a folding counter on top, but I'm gun shy.  I've had several servicemen say front loaders are finicky.  I can't deal with a temperamental wash machine, so for now, top loaders are where it's at in the Giese compound.
Layout Change: Clearly, the solution to the problem was to flip the washer and dryer to the back wall, then add storage, etc above.  First, we had a plumber install what I believe to be a "proper" water connection and drain box on the back wall.  We also had to close up the old, and cut a new dryer vent. 
Next, we dealt with the floors.  I considered painting the old linoleum in a fun pattern, but when I saw a box of vinyl wood planks for like, fifty bucks, I went for it. Ben installed them like some kind of pro. I think it took less than three hours.
Disclosure:  I was aiming for a "look," but not to spend a ton on this room.  I was really pleasantly surprised by how decent those vinyl planks look.
Then, the wallpaper went up.  I have to tell you, this was the Game Changer.  I had a general design idea in mind, so when a great Schumacher grasscloth popped up on The Designer's Attic, I jumped. NB: If  by chance you're considering hanging your own wallpaper, grasscloth is not Beginner's level.  Our paper hangers are great, and they mentioned how tough this paper was to deal with.  On the other hand, I think it probably added a layer of structure stability to the room.  The stuff is serious.

I love the durable, "wheatey" texture, and it immediately dictated the need to pair it with a glossy, deep blue on the cabinet.
Speaking of...I bought a basic stock wood cabinet and closet pole, painted the cabinet, and added some vintage brass hardware.
Can I just take a moment to say what a HUGE moment this was?  Clothes. No longer. Batting head.
OK.  Carrying on.
I can't even tell you how happy I am with the reconfiguration.  The tiny room feels so much more spacious, and appropriate for the task at hand (i.e. the endless pile of clothes.)

 Even the Hubster, who initially thought it was a frivolous project, gave it a thumbs up.  Win-win!

Vinyl wood planks - similar to these
Wallpaper - Schumacher grasscloth via The Designer's Attic - an amazing resource, btw.
Cabinet - Unfinished wood cabinet from Home Depot
Cabinet Paint - BM water-based Alkyd in high gloss Polo Blue
Cabinet hardware - vintage.