“new” doors

Like a lot of houses, this one has the cheapest doors possible.  They’re hollow-core, which means that they feel – and are – lightweight and insignificant.  Doors with a single panel (one large panel, as opposed to a more standard 6 panel door) are my usual favorite, but that can cost over $100 a door to replace.  Since we do not have a budget like that I decided to try painting the doors a dark color.  I hadn’t seen this before, so it was a bit of a gamble but I am so happy that I did it.  It makes the doors look more sophisticated, like someone actually cared about them.

The second line of attack on the doors was to replace the hardware.  What was once a shiny brass knob is now a satin nickel egg-shaped knob.   Brass hinges that twinkled in the light are now a matte nickel that calls no attention to itself.

So with a little paint, an $18 door knob and $5.50 in hinges a door it’s like we have new doors.  See the Product Picks category for some door knob suggestions.  Some before and afters.

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stairway to…

It’s been a while since I posted about our house because it seems like while we’ve been making progress nothing is at a state of being really done.  But finally something I can cross off the list, the stair.  We have a raised ranch, so the main living is on the upper floor.  That means the stairs are not only physically important but they also set a tone for the rest of the house.  Here is the picture from the front door the day we bought the house.

Blah.  I can’t even remember that carpet, thankfully.  We had the floors upstairs refinished before the movers brought our stuff, including the stairs.  To save a little money we decided to just have them finish the treads and not the risers.  I’m a fan of painted risers because it creates more depth to the stair run (with the alternating use of color/wood) and I’m thinking of buying Benjamin Moore stock.

There was  piece of trim under the nosing of the stair that was too curved for my taste so we pulled, or chiseled, it off.  Here is a picture with the curvy trim and one after.  We had to do some wood filling and sanding to get it ready for paint.

Unfortunately the scroll piece is integrated into the actual stair treads!  I couldn’t believe it, except I also ran into the same condition on a project the other day coincidentally.    So we couldn’t take it out.  See how the scroll piece goes behind the tread in this pic?  There was no way to pry it out without ripping apart the treads we had just paid to make nice.It took me a while to paint the risers because I was going back and forth about what to paint that damn scroll.  I was set on the dark grey for the risers.  So the scroll could be the same dark grey.  Or the scroll could be the light grey of the walls, but then meeting the two colors at the corner of scroll and riser had to be dealt with.   So maybe the risers should just be the light grey?  But the dark grey really highlighted the nice honey color of the tread.  Plus with little muddy feet, and big husband feet that barely fit on the treads, around it would be a losing battle to have a light color and not be repainting over scuffs.

We went with the dark grey and decided to paint the scroll dark.  Our new view from the front door and the scroll.

As you can see, the scroll isn’t noticeable from the front.  You can only see it if you’re walking from utility room in the back.  And anyone who sees that disaster area and makes it back alive will have plenty of other bad things to say about us!

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Color Theory by the kids

I don’t really want to talk about my kids on this blog because it’s not that kind of blog.  But we had a conversation the other day that has been sticking with me and it relates to my life as an architect.  I don’t remember how it came up, but my 4-year-old son Felix said that if his head had a color inside it would be orange.  That quickly changed to the whole insides of his body would be orange.  My 2-year-old daughter Amelia said her insides would be pink.  I am not sure if she means pink or purple, as she often gets them confused.  I’m hoping for purple, personally.

Anyway, so Felix told me that my insides would be green.  Then he asked what color I would want.  I couldn’t really answer because I don’t have a favorite color, I like too many.  (For example, the header image is the color palette for our new house, no room is white.)  I said green was fine with me, but tried to use it as a teaching moment and told Felix about the subtlety of colors.  I’m fine with a green more on the side of turquoise then say a kelly or forest green.  The best part of the conversation was when the kids thought that my husband’s insides would be brown.  I guess they know who really makes the paint color decisions around here.

This whole conversation has me wondering if  notions about colors and our level of interest in them is ingrained in our DNA.  Felix is truly obsessed with orange as his favorite color and has been steadfast on it for as long as he could say it.  It also makes me wonder if colors are a nature versus nurture topic.  Felix’s room has been orange (old and new because that’s what he wanted) since he was one and a half.  So does he like that color because it’s surrounded him and he identified it as his or did I happen to pick the right color to go with his cosmic color sign?  I grew up in a house with all white walls (and trim, and ceilings, you get the idea).  What does that say about my wanting a house full of color?  I don’t think I want to analyze that because I had a happy childhood!

I can’t wait to see how Felix’s relationship with orange progresses and watch how both he and Amelia use color in their lives.

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An update on a 60s classic

It was a couple of years ago that I got a call for a project that really excited me.  This client had a really interesting mid-century house and they wanted to rebuild a derelict sun porch.  The house was so cool in its circular entry, terrazzo floors, and quintessential 60s living room with floor-to-ceiling windows, a deep overhang, and a stone wall extending out onto the terrace beyond.  After a stop and start because of wanting to make sure they weren’t putting too much money into the house, I was given the official go on making a new sun room happen.  Here is what we started with:

Fitting into the framework of the existing style was challenging only in terms of the living room overhang.  I had to respect it and not obscure it, but in turn I only had so much room for my new roof and the volume of the interior of the new room.  I came up with two basic addition shapes and I presented them to the client, with an alternate window scheme for one:

They chose the taller structure, which was the one I was pushing.  I liked how I could hark back to the rhythm of the living room windows in how I broke up the sunroom’s.  I also liked how the chosen scheme opened up to their yard which backed up to an arboretum.

I’m writing about this today because I went yesterday to take some photographs and was really happy with the results.

I couldn’t get a good shot from back too far to take in the whole addition as it relates to the existing house unfortunately.  (I need these images for a fancy display board and there was a blue tarp I couldn’t move in the shot if I got too far out!)  I love the colors the clients chose, as yellow and grey is one of my favorite color combos.

I’m not really good at talking about my decisions on design because I feel like the answers are given to me by the surroundings or some divine worm that weezles its way into my subconscious.  So I feel that it’s unfair for me to take a lot of  credit for a job well done.  But this is one I am proud of.  I love the lines of the sunroom’s roof overhang, the coupling of windows/transoms/skylights show an attention to detail that not every house is privileged to have. You can’t even tell that the skylights are slightly off-centered from the windows due to a contractor framing error, my only complaint about the project.   Now that it’s built and not perceptible to the unknowing eye I’m glad I didn’t make an enemy of the contractor by making him tear the whole thing down and start over!

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Clara and Mr. Tiffany

I usually don’t pick a book by its cover – a way of selecting I reserve for which bottle of wine to try – but I was entranced by this one at the library the other day.

It’s about the creation of the famed Tiffany lamps and the role of the company’s all-woman department. While mostly fiction it’s based on actual events and main characters. I have found a new appreciation for Tiffany lamps because of this book. (I want to clarify that this Tiffany is the son of the famed little blue boxes Tiffany.) Before I thought the lamps fussy and not that original. But now knowing where the ideas came from and how they truly were a new and original idea, I’m hooked. I’m not saying I have to have one, but I had a chance at an authentic piece I would jump on it. It is a real departure from my usual aesthetic and I’m honestly surprised by that. This is why I’m sharing, because sometimes you have to be surprised and be outside of your “comfort level”. It’s OK to appreciate art for art’s sake.

I’ve found some images of original Tiffany lamps and I’m sure there are many more out there. Here are the ones I’m attracted too mostly because they are derived from some of my favorite flowers or because they have an interesting graphic quality.

I think my confusion about these lamp’s importance in art history is the mass-production of watered-down versions of the lamps seen too often over pool tables and kitschy English pubs. What’s lost in the mass reproduction of these lamps are the details and hand-created qualities. Here is detail of how the lamps once were, layers and layers of glass to create the right hue. I am in love with the 3 dimensional nature this image implies.

But what makes these lamps fascinating to me is the fact that Tiffany had the first and only women’s art glass department. It was still archaic in some regards; the women had to be single, if they married they had to resign immediately. (I think this was more because Tiffany wanted the women to be in love with him and his creative genius first and foremost.) The women had to fight hard for their place in history and it’s only been recently that they got the proper recognition as the creators of these lamps. I am tempted to read a biography of Louise Comfort Tiffany now but I’m afraid I’ll think most of it untrue as he took personal credit for the work his studio produced. And his studio was extremely versatile in the making of stained glass windows, mosaics, glass vases, enamels, etc. I can see I have a lot more research to do on the Tiffany Studios before I can put this topic to bed in my head!

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Jet Wine Bar

I found myself with blogger’s (if I can even call myself that yet) block when it comes to posting about my real-job projects in construction. I do have a few in the works, but haven’t had the time to sit and format drawing snippets to give you an overview of the project on paper to then juxtapose with photographed reality. Then I thought I should just get started with a finished project, hoping that once that’s done the flood gates will open on my posts in this topic.

So, introducing the Jet Wine bar in Philadelphia. (1525 South Street if you want a taste of delicious food and an even better wine selection.) I loved working on this project, even with the headaches of fitting a commercial space into a typical Philly rowhouse. I had done a few coffeehouses but a bar is a totally different vibe and one I was anxious to try out. After presenting three schemes to my clients they selected the one that was the most streamlined and modern. The end result:

Like I said this is in a typical rowhouse, and so only about 15′ wide. Because of that the bar and metalwork above is an arc. This makes the space feel larger because your eye perceives the open space and its fluctuation in dimension. A straight bar would have felt stymied and would have only accentuated the “shoebox”ness of the space. The metal work on the ceiling was important to the design because the radiating fins create a feeling of width and alter the perspective of the room. I love this photo because it exaggerates the arc.

The bar, kitchen, and toilet room fill the whole, albeit small, first floor. Then it’s down to the lower level for a more loungy feel. The wall behind this photo is also all banquettes, giving a cozy subterranean space to huddle together with your friends of loved ones over a glass of wine.

Because the spaces were small and the overall aesthetic was meant to be on the minimalist side, it was important to have nice details to add to the personality of the bar. A cheese cabinet was designed to combine the need for storage and interesting display. The handrails were also custom-fabricated and play an important role in the space.

And I am always a fan of an interesting restroom in a restaurant or bar. Luckily so was the client and she found this great wallpaper. The Anemone Light by Robert Abbey and a door with a portal was a perfect fit.

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Vinyl Style goes a long way

I have found something that will change the wallpaper industry forever – a chance to decorate your walls with a graphic that is stylish and removable. There are a lot of shops on Etsy that are doing this, just type in vinyl wall decal in their search box.

My brother and sister-in-law said they needed some art to fill a blank wall in there house for Christmas and viola, a series of bamboo cut-out panels:

My son shares his room with a “longneck” dino mommy and her baby:

I love the idea of these decals because they’re a chance to do an interesting piece of “art” at a reasonable price and they can quickly add personality and style to a blank wall. The only reason my walls are not now totally covered in vinyl is because I just can’t decide what to put where. The first spot that needs attention is the wall coming up my stairway. It’s hard to hang art here because you can’t get close enough to really look at the art, so I’m thinking a wall decal is the way to go. Here are the ones I’m trying to decide between:
from UrbanWalls, I would use multiple sets to make a regular pattern like a wallpaper

from WowWall, but I’m afraid of overdoing the forest theme in the house

from PlanetWallArt

Once I make a decision I’ll post an image…

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Zebras & Trees, living in graphic harmony

I started planning our dining room almost as soon as I knew we had found The House because in our old house our only eating option was around our built-in banquette in the kitchen. I either had to find chairs fast or that picnic blanket we got as a wedding gift was finally going to get some use. After looking at the usual suspects (Crate and Barrel, CB2, Room & Board, Design Within Reach) and not finding anything doing it for me at a reasonable price, I turned to eBay. It wasn’t long before I had 6 dingy beige-ish chairs with nice lines. The wood was a mid-range and undistinguished brown and the seat covers were almond vinyl. Sorry no before-photos to share but I had no idea I’d be sharing at the time. I like a project so while we lived with my stepdad for two months waiting for settlement, the chairs were my weekend project. They were stripped (don’t waste your time with the eco-friendly stuff though I know you want to do the right thing), stained ebony with multiple coats and then polyurethaned (I want to shake the hand of the man who invented the wipe-on poly).

The only question was what to do with the seats. I found a rug pattern I loved on FLOR that spoke to my love of black and white – appropriately titled Black & White I, http://www.flor.com/black-white-rug-1-small-3-x-8.html. I couldn’t believe it kept popping into my head because I have never before been an animal print kinda gal, but all I saw for the seats was zebra. So I went for it and here is the result of chair and rug.

There was a chair rail in the dining room so I had a chance to use two paint colors; and a general rule I have is that when you have the chance always use more than one paint color. Teal and dark purple is one of my favorite color combos and before I knew it the dining room had a bold new life of its own. Here is a before shot and two afters. I’m guessing you can tell what’s what.

I show you the before photo mostly for the light fixture. It wasn’t originally planned in the budget, but even my husband couldn’t sit under that fixture with the rest of the room looking so done. I said I wasn’t ready to replace it UNLESS we could splurge for this one fixture I thought was perfect for our new life in the woods. (It’s good to find a corner of your brain, or digital folder, or old-fashioned manilla folder to store thing you want to have for occasions just like this.) I like to peruse www.ylighting.com for ideas – and that corner of my brain – and I fell in love with the Shade Tree Pendant. We are very much surrounded by trees and I thought it cheeky to bring that inside with this cheeky pendant. Because of the other design elements already in place in the room, we could go with the less-typical and there for unexpected black shade option. I love that the shade is slightly over-sized too. Here it is with a peek to the inside to see the trees without the light on (note how it relates to the view out the window) and one with the light on so the trees show through.

Now I just have to decide what to do for a new table top that will hold up graphically to the rest of the room…

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My Own Work in Progress

I started this blog right before we had settlement on our new house, when I had a spare 10 minutes. We used to live in South Philadelphia in a house that we had spent 5 years fine-tuning and loving. Two years ago we put the cherry on top with an addition used for my office and a roof deck. We thought this was going to be our 20 year home. BUT… for many reasons too numerous and varying to get into on a design blog we decided it was time to pack up our bags and head for the idyllic life of the suburbs.

We looked at a lot of houses, over 40. Thankfully our real estate agent is a good friend and put up with my seemingly endless search; she even enjoyed looking at and then dissecting “the losers”. You’d be surprised how few houses meet the standards of a picky architect, wouldn’t you. I had to find the right balance of good bones but needs work. If the kitchen was recently redone, forget it. My extremely pragmatic hubby wasn’t going to let me rip out a new kitchen just so I could do a new one in my style. It even seemed wasteful to me. I also knew that we had to pick a house with enough immediate potential because our renovation budget would be limited. It had to be a house that got good sunlight and gave the kids plenty of room to run.

We finally found it. The bad news was that only a day before we saw it for the first time a tree had fallen on the roof. Seriously. And we still said that was the one we wanted. In hindsight perhaps we should have kept looking because if you haven’t been involved in an insurance construction claim trust me that you don’t want to. It took 3 – 3! – months for the construction to be done and we could settle. I honestly don’t think that’s the norm and there was more than met the eye in this situation, but don’t risk it anyway.

The house is a very typical late ’60s raised ranch. It has a lot of square footage, a really nice airy feeling with big windows, great room lay-out, and the opportunity for my office to be pretty removed from the main area of the house. It also has the perfect yard for a family with two kids and two dogs – well I’m sure it’s perfect in their eyes but I will live every day of the spring/summer/fall yelling at all 4 of them to stay out of the stream that runs in front. We are surrounded by woods (remember the fallen tree?) on a secluded road. The best part is that we are also only a 10 minute drive from the very cool and up-coming Borough of Media.

There’s the good. Here is the bad. I can paint every square inch of this place (and I’m almost done doing it), but there are some things paint can’t fix. The electrical is appalling and infuriates me. I wish I had better things to be mad about. There are switches that do nothing (admitted by the old owners) but we can’t just remove because we’re not sure if they’re hot. We need a whole day just to go around figuring that out; but I think I mentioned I have two little kids so a whole day doing anything rarely happens. There are no ceiling lights to speak of but luckily my electrician uncle helped us remedy that in the bedrooms right off the bat. One side of the driveway lights switch but we have no idea where the other half switch from. We knew the kitchen wasn’t great but it is more limited on storage than we remembered. There is a roof overhang making a covered porch off the living room but the overhang obliterates the view up the hill and significantly limits the line of vision. I am quite mad at this aspect of the house and am tempted to go out there and figure out how to cut the roof back myself. One last thing because I don’t want it to sound like I’m filled with loathing for the house (which I swear I’m not despite this list), the driveway is sooo long and steep and we’re getting a lot of snow this year. Fortunately it makes for great sledding.

All my posts won’t be this long, but I wanted to lay the ground work for the category called My Own Work in Progress. I’ll be sharing images of befores and afters of the things I do to the house. Most, OK all, of it will be done with a very small budget so I hope to provide inspiration to turn any “typical” house into one more personal and cool. I’ve discovered after looking for my own new house that there are a lot of typicals out there that don’t need to be. I’m not quite sure to share any after photos yet because I don’t feel like one room in our house has really reached that point. I’m hoping to do some art hanging and such this weekend and then will feel more settled. In the meantime I will post a few images of the house as we got it turned over to us. Please don’t hold it against me and remember that I have very big plans for this place! (Because I am so worried that no one will take me seriously as a good designer after seeing them, please visit my work website – www.inHabitarch.com – to see what I’m capable of.)

Those out-of-place trees in front will be going, though they do kind of hide the house. And I don’t know if you can tell but this is a shot of the living room and shows how the view up the trees (which is quite nice) gets cut off by the white vastness of the porch.

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Bear with me!

Hopefully you’re not really reading this.  I am getting this blog up and running – figuring out how to work wordpress, fooling with the look of the pages, and generally feeling much older than my years as I struggle to get it all right!  But please check back soon and often.

PS – this blog won’t really have anything to do with bears.

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