More on Pre Fab Housing

January 13th, 2009 § 2 Comments

I think I am a true convert to prefab living after viewing this.

Making responsible material selections.

November 28th, 2008 § 4 Comments

Love this counter! I just dig it. Look at the color, the patina of it. It reflects light. The direction in counter design lately is for less shiny, more informal matte finishes as well as mixing textures such as glass, natural stone, engineered stone, wood or stainless steel.

I have the same emotional “ooh-ah” reaction when I look at velvety smooth soft marble counters. The creaminess is lovely to look at but the acid etching and staining, not so pretty after years of use. As with anything, surface beauty has a story behind it. Do the research before you buy. Understand how various materials rate for maintenance and the environmental impact a product has before you buy.

Did you guess that the counter featured above is concrete? If you did, you get to pass GO and get another roll at the dice again at the eco-friendly game of design monopoly. Any outsider thinking it is a piece of cake to make selections in materials, has yet to remodel. As design and remodeling specialists in our given field, we have the added burden of keeping up with all the latest information before us to help our guide our clients with the best materials for their remodel. The truth is, it is not really a burden. It’s only a burden if you don’t bother to educate yourself. It’s a fascinating time to be in design with so many wonderful material options and information available.

Getting back to the picture above, evaluating concrete counters we can say they are a good option for a sustainable surface, as they are made from limestone, an abundant mineral. Eco-friendly aside, is concrete for you? How fastidious are you about the materials for your project? For more facts on concrete counters than you ever need to know, click here.

If you love the look of concrete like I do, a quick primer video to watch by Fu Teng Chung, Video: Concrete Countertop Vulnerabilities, will show you a concrete counter that has been installed for over twenty five years. There is no reason to limit yourself to one material. Consider the use of more than one counter surface in your design.

Quick fact: Concrete has the same porosity as marble. Translation: monitored maintenance for counter surfaces, requiring regular sealing or waxing. If the idea of “wax on/wax off” is better suited for the Karate Kid and not a part of your cleaning regimen, consider the alternatives. Or if you are athletically inclined you could work in counter maintenance as part of your arm routine. Lats Tuesday: wax the counters. (Ok, so maybe you don’t need to buff out your counters weekly, but there is maintenance, unless you have the easy going attitude that Fu Teng Chung has about his counter tops. Be truthful, can you live with irregularities and vulnerabilities?).

For a similar look without the added regimen of regular t.l.c. & maintenance, watch for the hot colors coming up in 2009 from Caesarstone. For now, one of my favorite colors with Caesarstone is # 4350, Lagos Blue. You can order it polished (left) or honed (right).

There are other quartz products out there, so don’t write to me to tell me that, I am simply showing Lagos Blue as alternative color to the concrete shown above.

featured featured in The New York Times, Home and Garden section, 11/26/08: Of the Sea, and Air, and Sky

…I am shocked.
The design team and homeowners selected, approved and installed Brazilian rosewood cabinets for this kitchen.

Brazilian Rosewood, (Dalbergia nigra), is listed on the official list of threatened Brazilian plants by IBAMA. It is CITES-listed, (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), and illegal to trade. It is one of the most highly prized woods in Brazil.

The New York Times article does not provide all the specifications for the products, so to be fair, I do not have all the facts on this project. If anyone associated with this project can answer the question, I would be willing to post the answer here. Are the woods selected in this project FSC certified as harvested from a “well-managed” forest?

to own a wood product that is on the endangered list?

Brazilian Rosewood timber has been harvested since colonial times for high-quality furniture and musical instruments. Rates of deforestation are great. Regeneration appears to be poor, possibly because of seed predation by rodents. Source:

Factoid: Brazilian rosewood became famous in 1921 as an ingredient in Chanel No. 5 and continues to be harvested (often illegally and unsustainably) for fragrances, flooring, furniture, and musical instruments.
reference: Sustainable Development in the Brazilian Amazon: A Tale of Two Community-Based Organizations by Robert C. Tatum1,2 Department of Economics University of North Carolina at Asheville

This newly constructed McMansion Malibu digs featured in the New York Times article is of course, exquisite, and a testament to what money can buy . This could have been an opportunity to promote sustainable design by selecting wood products that are not derived from rain forest destruction.


We can do a better job at reducing the negative environmental impact with sustainable design selections.

The US is the second largest importer of tropical woods. Ouch! Not really an astounding fact, is it? I am not suggesting you throw out your grandmother’s rosewood jewelry case or the buffet handed down to you from your mother. Exotic woods have always had a cache, a status symbol of wealth. It is up to Design/Build professionals for reversing this trend of unsustainable design/build construction practices and providing our clients sustainable alternatives.


  1. Avoid any wood product that you cannot identify as domestic and second growth.
  2. For plywood, use domestic softwood plywood (pine and spruce) or hardwood plywood (maple, beech and birch).
  3. Avoid tools with wooden handles unless they are oak, ash or hickory.
  4. Buy used furniture or antiques.
  5. Always ask if any tropical woods are independently certified, such as SmartWood™. These are okay to buy.

Ask for manufacturer literature that indicates their level of commitment to protecting our natural resources. Manufacturers are willing to step up their game. One example of responsible manufacturing is Caesarstone. Caesarstone’s Eco Brochure shows the company’s environmental commitment.

Look for cabinet manufacturers that have earned their certification in the groundbreaking Environmental Stewardship Program administered by the KCMA (Kitchen Cabinet Manufacturer’s Association). This program was recently developed in 2006 and grants annual certification to those manufacturers who meet a stringent set of environmental criteria. The criteria, designed to promote the sustainability of natural resources, reduce waste, and to reward those companies who are going above and beyond in their efforts to reduce environmental impacts. The criteria is divided into the following five categories, which manufacturers are required to demonstrate their compliance.

  1. Air Quality: Manufacturers must demonstrate their use of low formaldehyde containing raw materials. They must also demonstrate compliance with all local and federal hazardous air pollutants (HAPS) regulations.
  2. Product Resource Management: Manufacturers must demonstrate their use of recycled and sustainable products.
  3. Process Resource Management: Manufacturers must have active recycling and energy conservation programs in place.
  4. Environmental Stewardship: Manufacturers must have a written environmental policy, as well as environmental management systems in place.
  5. Community Relations: Manufacturer must demonstrate their involvement with the community through service or charitable organizations.

Information is all around us. Resources abound. You can be informed. Another good source for further reading on conservation: Rainforest Alliance
Whatever you do, research your products before you buy. Look for the KCMA, FSC symbols as credible labels on your wood products.

Throw out what you know about the kitchen window

November 27th, 2008 § Leave a Comment

Feel constrained by your kitchen window? Lack of privacy? Do you have a sun baked kitchen in summer? Have a less than attractive view of your neighbor? Tired of conventional kitchen plans? Challenge yourself to think with a new view. You could pick up better storage, more task lighting, increased energy efficient windows, and a better view.

Start by throwing out what you know about your kitchen window. The sink does not need to be centered at the middle of the window. Once you allow yourself to throw convention “out the window”, a whole new window of possibilities for a better kitchen plan can be yours for the asking.

Here are some fabulous kitchens presented by Remodeling Magazine, one of my favorite trade publications. Follow the hyperlink to the article by Nina Patel, Back Lighting: narrow backsplash windows bring natural light to the kitchen while maintaining privacy.

And by the way, enjoy the view!

John Rogers, Rogers & Labarthe Architects

Both photos above and below: Phil Rossington, Rossington Architecture

Phil Rossington, Rossington Architecture

Alison Rainey, Merz Project

Both pictures: exterior and interior shots.
Iris Harrell, Harrell Remodeling

Click HERE to be directed to the slide show that provides written commentary by either the responsible architect, designer or builder on the project. Once there, click on the slide commentary to be directed to each company web site.

What color cabinets will go with my hardwood floors?

November 28th, 2007 § Leave a Comment

In an email posted by a reader of this blog, the call for help with color for cabinets was asked.

Hello Laurie!
I found your blog and am very impressed with your kitchen designs.We are doing a new construction of a brand new home and am having trouble deciding on what color the kitchen cabinets should be to go with. We have decided on a flooring, it is Brazilian Cherry here is a sample of what it will look like We are going with Omega Dynasty Cabinets Anson style door. It would be great if someone could assist on a color for the cabinets. We are open to input, and suggestions, we are open to having the counter anycolor. Thanks!

Dear Myron, thanks for reading my blog. Although I can’t answer your question directly without benefit of a design retainer, I think this is a good question in general that so many will face when selecting hardwood floors and cabinets in a kitchen. I can give you some points in general to think about.

When deciding on color for cabinets consider the factors of the space.

  1. The amount of natural lighting: is the room dark? is it flooded with light?
  2. Does the room open up to a great room or is it separated from the rest of the house? Are you looking to integrate the cabinetry to blend into the open space? In other words, the appearance of the cabinetry looks like furniture, blending with the entertainment center and other furnishings.
  3. What is the style of the house? What is it that you want to accomplish with the style? Do you want traditional, modern, contemporary? With the Brazilian cherry you can really play this up with anything from a complementary off white Painted cabinet color for a traditional look. For a contemporary influence tone on tone with a monochromatic color scheme is another direction.
  4. Additionally, are you prepared for the additional maintenance that goes along with hardwood floors? Do you have dogs that could potentially scratch your hardwood with their nails? Have you considered the warranty?
  5. And finally purchase responsibly. Make sure the flooring you are purchasing carries independent certification by an organization accredited by the Forest Stewardship Council. Ask about it before you buy. Do not buy woods from Endangered Forests. Check this list out.

True Story. American Cherry Vs. Brazilian Cherry

I always offer this true story example. I have a friend that owns a condo on Lely Barefoot Beach. Ten years ago they installed a beautiful American (considered very soft) cherry floor and in that time took extreme care of it by paying attention to care & maintenance. It looks as new as the day it was installed.

On the other hand I installed a Brazilian Cherry (considered quite hard) floor on Fort Myers Beach about six years ago. In both cases they were less than 50 yards from the beach itself, where sand “created a problem.”

The owner of the Brazilian Cherry floor had a very active adult household who didn’t clean up after themselves as much as the other family of four kids and a few pets. Today their floors need refinishing near high traffic areas and moisture sources such as the kitchen sink, refrigerator with icemaker.


There are many colors and styles available today and we realize the choices can be overwhelming. If you’re sold on buying for hardness, do not be disappointed unless you live in a careful household.

Ken Fisher

Kitchen Do’s and Don’ts : Series # 1

September 19th, 2007 § 5 Comments

What went wrong here? This small kitchen has some big problems.
The sink is wedged between two protruding appliances making it impossible to stand at the corner sink. I like white in a kitchen, just not on these appliances here. Yikes!

Think you can’t do anything because you have a small kitchen? Not so.

The sad thing about this kitchen is it looks like the homeowner remodeled and spent money on refinished hardwood floors, new appliances, new tile floor, and new counters and plumbing fixtures. In my never to be humble opinion, they threw money away by not planning this out properly and are stuck with an ugly & dysfunctional layout.

If space was a problem and the homeowner said they didn’t want the kitchen to grow an inch, then it’s time to get creative and think outside the box. If this was my client, the first thing I would do is have them fill out my questionnaire. Do you cook? How many people live here? Is this a “fix up for sale” or you staying long term? Do you entertain? Have you set up a budget?

Once we know what the parameters are for the project, then the design process begins.

Here are some of my ideas if this was my client. Let’s say this is a guest or studio apartment for one person. No need for a large refrigerator like the one in the subject kitchen. I would eliminate it in favor of an under cabinet refrigerator to gain more counters and base storage. A kitchen needs counter space and adequate space between appliances. If this is a studio set up for one person, most busy urbanites never find the time to cook in their homes anyway, opting for take out instead. Although if I could increase the footprint, I would prefer a regular but compact refrigerator, preferably counter depth.

If a family of two or more are living here then a full size refrigerator is a must. Shift it over to the left 18″. (Ok, so I am making the kitchen bigger!) Make it counter depth. Sub Zero 30″ 611G shown below. Check out the message board on the side. Great!

If the budget is tight, consider a retro style refrigerator. (Careful, some retro refrigerators are more expensive than standard refrigerators). Have it painted a stand out color. Look at that beautiful wall color (shown below) with the punch of green on the refrigerator. Delicious! If you saw either of these two bold colors on a paint chip by themselves you may be afraid. But wait till you pair them. Wow! Here is where white pops and looks so great with the vibrant and dark colors.

The two images above and below I found at a creative blog dedicated to small spaces called Small Space Style. Small spaces can be fun to design. Resources abound! Anything can be beautiful if you try. And it doesn’t mean you need to break the bank if you get creative.

The small kitchen could have gone country as well. Simplicity rules with details such as open shelves in place of wall cabinets. You don’t need to have wall to wall cabinets. Play it up with paint. Butter Cream Walls. Pick a theme. French Country, Italian Country or Montana Country; why not keep the materials simple and rustic? Keep the budget “shoestring friendly“. Or simply splurge on good appliances as shown in picture above. (I do hope that dishwasher shown in the picture above clears the knobs and oven door pull on the range. I would have put the dishwasher on the left, or swapped it with the drawers). Looks like an Ooops!

Case in point: Small Kitchen with too many door ways creates awkward space for appliances.
Here are the before photos. Unbearably small area for breakfast table. In place we used a hutch.

Maybe a hutch found at an Antique Store on an opposite wall for additional storage. Use shelves instead of cabinets as we did with one of my clients. Simplicity.
From rendered view to completed kitchen. I favored a sage green for walls while my client liked the bold red walls. She won. I wish she used stainless steel outlet plates though and dropped the height.

The old space had a small peninsula. No space for a dishwasher. It was used as a mini island.
We put in a door to the side yard. That’s her potted herb garden you see. This kitchen used to have three entrances. We close one. It used to have a tiny peninsula and a breakfast table and a huge plate window in front of the table. We 86′d the breakfast table, put in a door in place of the window, made way for a hutch and then opened up the wall off the dining room for seating and openness to the kitchen. Everybody wants to be in Rosie’s kitchen!

With another client we claimed storage on a narrow wall with a built in narrow hutch. We gave it height and depth variation for interest. Wall base cabinets save on space in a narrow kitchen.
In the subject kitchen my advise would be to change out the 42″ high wall cabinets that only emphasize how small this kitchen is. I don’t like the corner wall cabinet or the solid doors. Give corners visual interest.
I would take away the verticalness of the 42″ high wall cabinets and in place “cheat the eye” to emphasize a wider space than it really is with horizontal lines by using 30″ high wall cabinets. If it’s modern, I like the horizontal look of swing up doors.
Small cabinets can make a BIG STATEMENT with Details. Try a base valance at the toe area. The high ceilings are an opportunity and yet the whole kitchen shoved into the corner makes this space unbearably cramped. This is what you call a punishment corner! The tile floor looks funny and with the refrigerator half off of it, this emphasizes the cramped space. The floor should be one material. They should have made this hardwood as well since the rest of the floor is wood. Small spaces don’t have to be ugly.

Another photo from Small Space Style. Notice the 24″ range and 30″ Wide Sub Zero. Love the detail of the semi-backsplash at the island. Tre Chic!

If there was an opportunity to increase the budget, I would expand out this kitchen along the refrigerator wall. Banish the L shape shown and replace with An island separating out the kitchen from the living space would allow for more counters, a proper place for the sink and maybe even some barstools on the back of the island for seating.
If there is no space for an island, I would stretch the length of the L shape to reposition the appliances. Here is another view of my customers small kitchen while we were in progress. The bag from Nordtroms on the range is holding the tile samples. Don’t worry, the gas is not connected! (PS., yes, that is marble, yes it is honed, and yes, it is staining. But my client is Italian and would not have it any other way. )

For a larger budget, I would add some clerestory windows along that wall where the refrigerator sits. Placed at ceiling level around the edge of the room are very effective ways of bringing in natural light without sacrificing wall cabinet storage. They could also be vented to add a natural way of cooling the space.
Here is a great idea for a small kitchen (picture shown below). Loft style. Monochromatic with a punch of color. Textural elements with the wood fireplace mantel and sheer draperies add warmth to the space. Clean details with the white cabinets, white walls and stainless steel make the small square footage of the kitchen become one with the rest of the room, making it appear as one large space. Great details for a small kitchen! This kitchen says “Ahhhh!” Who wants take out when cooking in this space looks so tantalizing?

Afraid of dark stained cabinets?

September 16th, 2007 § 1 Comment

Never fear dark stained cabinets as long as you know how to balance light and dark together.
Take a look at some kitchens that have successfully incorporated dark stained cabinets.

This kitchen, is located at the Residences at Victory Park. at the posh W Hotel in Dallas, Texas. The project became personal when design architect, Eddie Abeyta, of the W Hotel & Residences at Victory Park chose to make a condo in the South Tower his home.

Notice the lightness from the light horizontal shape wall cabinets, the 24″ high back painted glass back splash that reflects light. Not all of us can enjoy the soaring ceilings, but these ideas are transferable to a standard ht ceiling. I love the sculptural light over the table.

Dark-stained kitchen cabinetry pops against white paint and stainless steel. Eddie Abeyta’s favorite piece at home is above the dining table, where Ingo Maurer’s sculptural Oh Mei Ma Weiss pendant light casts a chic spotlight. (Photography by TERRI GLANGER / Dallas Morning News (MCT) )

We can take our cues for Residential Design from Public Spaces.

Notice the blend of light and dark in the restaurant, Craft, located at the W Hotel in Dallas Texas.

This kitchen is in a Terra Linda Eichler.
Notice the use of light wall cabinets that contrast against the dark base cabinets, high backsplashes, lots of glass, lots of stainless steel.

This kitchen is all dark cabinets against light floors, light counter surfaces and light walls. Minimalistic features keep this kitchen from feeling closed in. even if they warmed up the walls with a little bit more color, a warmer white perhaps, this would still feel bright. This is a comfortable modern kitchen.

This contemporary kitchen incorporates frosted glass horizontal bifold doors against the stained wall cabinet frame to keep things light. Again, notice the repetition of light-dark-light. Light floors, dark cabinets, light counters and splash.

Small spaces can use dark cabinets too. This is different. Notice the dark cabinets are on top! They work well, look at the inserts. They are a stainless mesh screen. Notice the repetition here from bottom to top: light/light/light/dark/dark/light. Light floors, light base cabinets, light counters, dark splash, dark wall cabinets, light ceiling. This kitchen is just so darn cute! It has great elements: beautiful wood tones, large slate tiles on the back splash make the space look bigger, bright off white counters. The counters would be too busy if it as a granite. The curve in the counter for a lap top is great. The blinds are wood and the tape is a contrasting fabric that blends with the cherry cabinets. No crown, no light rail. Simpler is better here. The stainless selection on the hood, cook top and sink are perfect. White or black would have been a bad note in this lyrical space. Whats wrong is the client kept the ratty old bow back spindle chair. This one needs to be banished in favor of a contemporary chair. So cute!

So far we have looked at Modern spaces. But traditional kitchens can also incorporate a little color ingenuity by combining colors in the design. The effect is welcoming. The lighter wood is Rustic Alder with a smoky-hued finish. Beautifully paired with a full-bodied finish on Lyptus to create a superb combination for this kitchen.

This transitional kitchen benefits from the flood of light coming in from the full walls of glass panels. The light honey blond of the floor and the light counter tops sets a beautiful counter point to the medium dark stain on the cabinets. I think this is one of my favorites yet!

This kitchen is beautiful but I would have suggested to the client they go a little further to complete the look. Something is a little off in this kitchen. Can you find it?
The refrigerator looks like they ran out of money and had to keep the old one. Folks, when you go this kind of expense, don’t skimp on the appliances. I would have ordered a built in refrigerator and applied integrated panels on the doors. The space is narrow and I want to see that refrigerator blend in, not stick out like a mistake. Also, the dark molding at the top of the refrigerator isn’t working either. It should match the white cabinets. The floor is maple natural and not the right tone. It is too light and contemporary looking. I would have gone with a shade or two darker and a wider plank. A hickory, cherry or oak floor would have looked better to complement the the traditional style of the kitchen.

Here is another one of my favorite kitchens. It has got all the elements, cleft stone walls in the back ground, a fireplace, painted cabinetry, stainless steel, dark wood tones, concrete, granite. Designed by Sandra Lutchens, this kitchen uses elements of oyster white as the primary cabinetry color. Anchored with a deep tone of Truffle on the island, paneling and trim, this kitchen is a dream. Notice the dark crown molding from the oven extending over the length of the range top wall. Great transition with shorter wall cabinets left and right of the hood. The island counter is a saturated coppery brown to match the island cabinets. Notice the dual sinks. Fabulous design!

Soapstone Maintenance

September 1st, 2007 § 12 Comments

Taking care of soapstone is a breeze. Apply a protective coat of mineral oil to all sinks and counter tops upon installation. Mineral oil enhances the inherent natural veining characteristics and crystallization detail of the stone. If your soapstone follow the easy restoration instructions below.

STEP 1 – Sanding Scratches
Most all scratches will disappear with a direct dab of mineral oil. To permanently remove a deep scratch, apply medium pressure to the scratched area with 80 grit sandpaper. A sanding sponge is recommended. The
deeper the scratch, the more sanding will be needed.

STEP 2 – Oiling

After the scratch has been sanded out, you will need to apply a light coat of mineral oil to the sanded area. The mineral oil application should be repeated 2-3 times over a 2-3 day period to match the coloration of the rest of the stone.

Returned to it’s former beauty…
To maintain your soapstone use a damp cloth or sponge with cleanser for daily cleanings when needed. Oiling will enhance the luster and color of the stone, and restore that brand new look once again. Subsequent coats should be re-applied monthly.

What is all the talk about Lyptus?

August 29th, 2007 § 7 Comments

You may be hearing talk of a new wood species named Lyptus. Cabinet manufacturers have introduced Lyptus in the recent past. Since that time, it has been well received as a unique and environmentally friendly wood species. Expect a wood species premium fee same as the Cherry wood premium, on average of 12%.

Lyptus is a premium, plantation-grown hardwood from Brazil. It resembles Mahogany with its rich, red coloring and tight grain pattern, however, it will exhibit dramatic color variations. Density and strength of Lyptus is comparable to hard Maple. For consumers interested in “green” design, Lyptus is an excellent option because it is a sustainable product.
It is a hybrid of the Eucalyptus tree and is extremely fast-growing with mature trees ready to harvest in just 15 years. After harvesting, new growth sprouts from the same stump and existing root system, and is ready for harvesting again in about 15 years.

For more information on Lyptus visit Weyerhaeuser.

Lyptus Natural. reddish, Pinkish Tones. Notice the beautiful grain pattern. Lyptus is one of the wood species that looks best when stained a dark color.

Lyptus is gorgeous is dark finishes.

Equally beautiful, Golden tones.

This kitchen has combined light and dark stains together. Great touch to use a rich, dark mahogany stain on the island and the refrigerator panels. The rest of the kitchen is shown in a lighter stain. So beautiful.

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