don’t fear your basement

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I feel sorry for basements.

In film after film, they’re the place where horrible things happen to good (and sometimes stupid) people. Most homeowners don’t give them much thought unless they need to seek shelter during a tornado warning. And when it comes to cleaning, they tend to fall into the once-a-year category (imagine if you treated your kitchen or bathroom that way).

It’s time to stop the madness, people, and start thinking about the potential our basements possess. That’s why I was super excited when Jamie and Susan Towles called with a request to transform their “basementy” space into a modern, bright environment that would accommodate a multitude of simultaneous activities. Their wants:

  • A tv/game area for adults
  • Conversational seating for board games and adult gatherings
  • A large island/bar area to accommodate food and drink for social events
  • An office
  • A space for guests to stay
  • A guest bathroom with a shower

I started with a completely empty basement and two windows. The only existing walls surrounded the stairway. In addition to feeling super “basementy,” the long, narrow space was divided by stairs, and the HVAC ran through the center of the ceiling space in an irregular pattern. How was I going to create an office space that didn’t feel like a prison cell and pull together the modern vibe that ran throughout the rest of their home?

Since adding more windows wasn’t an option, I brought light in with reflective finishes, using products that could take a spill and clean up nicely. I also created gloss white wall and ceiling details to add visual interest and break up the large, narrow space without closing things in.

Jamie and Susan didn’t want the bar area to feel like a full-size kitchen, so I eliminated the upper cabinets and used reclaimed lumber from Ludlow Barnwood to cover the wall and create a floating shelf with help from the incredible Dan Casey at Creative Concepts Custom Cabinets. We topped the bar’s sleek wall cabinet with a clean and classic Quartz countertop with help from our friends at Martin’s Countertops.

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In the bathroom space, the couple wanted an upscale look without the cost of tiling all the way to the ceiling. I used an accent tile in vertical strips by the mirror, then repeated this motif along the shower walls to create an ultra custom look at an affordable price (I’m always thinking about your wallet, people).

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My favorite design feature – using glass panels between the studs covered in drywall in two areas: around the stairs and along the exterior office wall. We wanted to open up the stairway and office without restructuring the home’s supports (way too much $$$$$) and sacrificing the privacy an office provides.

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Jamie and Susan, who had never worked with a designer before, encourage those about to embark on a renovation to keep an open mind while staying true to their likes. I asked them to describe the end result in three words. Their response? “Useful, modern, wow.”

Awwwwww, thanks, guys!

Until next time, I’ll be keeping an eye on design for you.

– EM

 

 

 

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vibe your business environment

There are lots of things I love about what I do. Close to the top of the list is the variety of environments I work in (someone once told me you shouldn’t end a sentence with a preposition – feel free to discuss).

Grab some coffee and take a seat so I can tell you about a particularly inspiring one – Lark Blow Dry Studio.

Owner Sara Slimp wanted to create a fresh, modern vibe that reflected her style and business philosophy. She was inspired by businesses on both coasts – Dreamdry in Los Angeles and drybar in New York City.

The first thing I do after my initial meeting with a new client is begin my research process. I ask myself, “Elizabeth – do you need to make structural changes to the space? What pieces will work in the new design, and where will you find them? What service partners will you need to create the overall vibe you’re going for?” (There I go with that preposition thing again.)

In this case, I headed east to check out Sara’s NYC inspiration and came back with a plan – a classic look featuring furniture pieces for each styling station and modern details in both the front desk and shampoo areas.

For me, the front counter – one of the first things you see when you enter the studio – sums up the place’s design vibe. In order to achieve it, I reached out to Dan Casey, who built the custom cabinetry, and Martin’s Countertops, the latest addition to our Modern Design Directory. The raised portion of the piece is an incredibly beautiful Soapstone, and the lower portions are topped with Carrera marble. The combination of the two surfaces is clean, classic, high end and timeless.

The cool thing is, you can check out my work the next time you need a blow dry.

A bit more about my peeps at Martin’s…the company was founded in 1980 by Richard (Dick) Martin and is currently run by the second generation of the family. They approach every job as if it were for their own personal use.

Hey, Martin’s – welcome to M.O.D.!

– EM

getting that designer look

“I can’t quite put my finger on it, but my home just doesn’t feel pulled together. Can you help?”

I get these calls a lot. Let’s face it, it’s hard to view your domicile with an objective eye. It’s the place you’re comfortable being naked in, the space that offers you refuge at the end of a craptacular day, the nest where you watch your squawking baby birds grow into happy, successful adults who eventually move out and catch their own worms.

Have no fear. We’re happy to pop over and brainstorm fixes that will make you eager to throw open your front door to family, friends and the occasional Girl Scout selling cookies.

May we suggest…

Undertaking a minor project with a major impact.

Changing out your light fixture can make a big impact without breaking your budget.
Changing out your light fixture can make a big impact without breaking your budget.

Think about painting a wall or adding a backsplash tile or changing a light fixture. One of my favorite minor projects is adding a small built-in feature like floating shelves or a window seat with storage. The latter is great for people with kids and grandkids who have tons of toys that end up everywhere they’re not supposed to be (playroom – ha!).

Hiding your little one’s stuff will open up your floor space and help create a calm environment. A window seat with large drawers will help you reclaim your room. When play time is over, scoop everything up and dump it into the drawers. Then fix yourself a martini, grab your laptop and pour over Pinterest while perched atop the toy booty.

Rearranging or repurposing existing items like furniture and accessories.

Identifying statement pieces that support your existing design.

This Bliss down-filled sofa will give you a statement piece as well as bliss.
This Bliss down-filled sofa from West Elm is a statement piece that will fill you with bliss.

Maybe you’ve got a large, empty room that’s got you stumped. We’d be happy to suggest a few key items that take it from “meh” to “meow!” by selecting some online examples for you to consider or shopping with you locally – as long as we can stop somewhere for coffee.  (We love to support local businesses!) Perhaps it’s a pair of killer side chairs and an accent table, or bookshelves and a game table, or a fabulous rug or a large grouping of art objects.

Assisting with seasonal decor and arranging.

We can help make your holiday less stressful by helping ready your home for guests.
We can make your holidays less stressful by helping you ready your home for guests and all the fa la la la la they bring.

Our homes are oftentimes the setting for large gatherings of family and friends, and we want the atmosphere to be just right, whatever the occasion. If you’re not a Martha Stewart-type, you might want some help, and that’s right up our chimney! We can take a look at your existing holiday decor, purchase a few new items and arrange your room so it looks like something you’d see in a magazine spread.

We might add something as simple as snowflake pillows or large groupings of candles with fake snow on them – you’d be amazed at what a difference in ambiance little touches can make. And, if you’re less stressed out with how your house looks, you’ll be able to enjoy the things that matter, like spending time with loved ones and making memories you’ll look back on when you’re old and crotchety.

Until next time, I’ll be keeping an eye on design for you.

– EM

 

 

 

 

what i do

If you’ve been following my blog since I started, I’m sure you can tell how much I love what I do.

What I’m not sure about is whether or not I’ve done a good job explaining how my design degree from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Interior Design/Interior Architecture Program influences how I approach each project and why it should matter to you.

So I’m going to tell you here, today.

Every interior space – we’re talkin’ bedroom, bathroom, mudroom, you name it – is made up of structural constraints and is designed for a specific use by us humans.

With each space I design, I start with its architectural elements – flow, function and form – and create a plan to maximize its success. Once the three Fs (think of them as the advance team) are hammered out, I introduce finishes, furniture and fixtures (think of them as the follow-up team) to enhance the beauty of the space for my clients in a way that reflects their unique design aesthetic.

That, my friends, is interior architecture-based design.

In contrast, an interior decorator isn’t involved with the design of a building or the layout of interior space. An article on apartmenttherapy.com has this take on the difference:

“He is focused entirely on the furniture, colors, textiles and textures of a room. His job is to capture the personality and style of the residents and express it in their space. A decorator doesn’t need any official training to adopt the title.”

The Council for Interior Design Qualification explains it like this:

“Interior design is the art and science of understanding people’s behavior to create functional spaces within a building. Decoration is the furnishing or adorning of a space with fashionable or beautiful things. In short, interior designers may decorate, but decorators do not design.”

Am I throwing shade? No way – I’m just super passionate about what I do and how it can enhance life in your home.

I love discovering how people live (not in a creepy way – I don’t crawl through bushes and peek in client windows under the cover of darkness) and creating interior spaces that work for them in ways they never even imagined – ways that also happen to look and feel incredible.

Both remodels and new construction allow me to personalize innovative solutions for every client. Drills, dust and dumpsters filled with pieces of your home can be scary, but I’m here to get you through it.

I love a design challenge that really tests my skills, so I’m throwing it down right here – try me!

Until next time, I’ll be keeping an eye on design for you.

– EM

 

 

 

the ray kitchen remodel: from claustrophobic to classic

Every home needs a version of this space-saving barn door. I covered this one in gorgeous reclaimed wood.
Every home needs a version of this space-saving barn door. I covered this one in gorgeous reclaimed wood.

Let’s face it – most homeowners are a little skittish when it comes to starting a major remodeling project. I don’t blame them a bit, especially if they’re juggling jobs, kid schedules, family responsibilities, civic/social commitments and who knows what else (there’s a long list of “what else” in my house).

Shayna and Matt Ray lived in their west Omaha home with three kids and three dogs for five years before deciding they couldn’t go another day without addressing their kitchen, a small space that suffered from bad cabinets, bad Karma and a bad layout. They described it as claustrophobic and confining – words that got me super excited (in a design sense, of course).

I love a challenge, especially when it’s rooted in the issue of usability. The Rays (well, maybe not their teenagers) love clean and clutter-free with a nod to Mid-Century Modern. Their design preferences are beautifully reflected throughout the rest of the house via their furniture, art and color choices.

I began, as I always do, by assessing how the family uses the space. When everyone is hanging out at home, we’re talking 3 kids, 3 dogs and 2 adults. The Rays also love having people over – in small groups and large bunches.

It was important for me to look at how their kitchen related to the adjacent rooms, especially the dining room. Also, the only way to access the laundry room off the kitchen (3 teens means lots of it) was through the powder room. Another issue – every visitor had a close-up-and-personal view of dog food central, which was set up (and sometimes knocked over) in the walkway between the dining room and kitchen.

In order to open up the space, I took out part of the wall between the kitchen and living room – a game changer. It allowed me to add an eat-in bar area, a must for folks who entertain. I also moved the location of the back door, which allowed me to add cabinets and create a grand 10-foot door in the dining room.

Adding lower cabinets (one of my secret weapons) allowed me to add a window that brings in more natural light. Opting for lowers really opens up a space while creating a ton of usable work surface. I also transformed unused dining room space by creating a long, narrow wall of cabinetry and a desk surface for laptop work.

Once the kitchen’s new architectural bones were in place, I started adding functional touches that met the couple’s wish list. I surrounded the refrigerator with pull-out pantries that hide appliances when they’re not being used. The sleek island surface isn’t interrupted by door handles – to access the storage, you simply push on the door surface.

And because the rest of the home is filled with warm wood, I wanted to introduce a touch of it to contrast with the kitchen’s gleaming white finishes. My solution – a barn door covered in gorgeous reclaimed wood (every home should have some version of it). This space saver allows access to the laundry without a trip through the powder bath.

One of my favorite places in the super sexy yet super functional new space is the black countertop pie shelf/coffee bar where the old kitchen sink used to be. It’s a Zen-filled nook complete with seating where you can enjoy a cup or hang out while someone’s making dinner. Shayna said the kids even enjoy preparing meals now. She also admitted that she can’t wait to get home to cook and bake.

From Shayna on hiring a designer:

We’d never worked with a designer before. What surprised us the most was that we were able to tell Elizabeth our preferences, and she far exceeded our expectations. She was able to limit the choices to make the project manageable. If we were unable to decide, we put complete trust in her decision, and she never led us astray. My advice is to find a professional designer who can design everything to scale and whose opinion you can trust. Elizabeth made a big job easy by finding great contractors and handling issues when they arose. Make sure your project is for the future and not just for the here and now.

It’s always a bonus when you get to work with awesome people. Thanks, Shayna and Matt! Check out the before and after images below.

Until next time, Dalilah and I will be keeping an eye on design for you.

– EM

welcome to the monocle

Mia and I in my office. I think better with my shoes off.
Mia and I in my office. I think better with my shoes off.

It’s February, and I love what I do so much that I decided blog about it. Welcome to The Monocle: An Eye on Design.

Since this is my first official blog entry, I’m going to start at the beginning – the very beginning – of how EMD (that’s me) came to be. Growing up, I was quite a bit younger than my siblings and spent a lot of time alone. Instead of playing with toys or getting into trouble, I did one of two things – 1) rearrange the location and layout of the clothes and toys in my room, or 2) rearrange the furniture in my room, then proceed to execute #1.

If no one was home, I’d venture outside my room and rearrange another area of the house, like the living room or my parents’ bedroom. To this day, I still prefer to move furniture alone, so don’t take it personally.

When I was around seven, my mom – ever the supportive parent – showed me my first design trick, something her carpenter father had shared with her. Graph paper! She used it to draw the room to scale. We used a separate sheet of paper to draw and cut out each piece of furniture from that room to scale, then played with different configurations to see what would fit where. That was it for me – there was no turning back.

A few years later, I signed up for a program at Omaha’s HDR Inc. where you could go and listen to architects explain what they did for a living. I was one of only a few girls there, but that didn’t bother be a bit. Everything that I’d been thinking about and doing started to make sense. It was exciting, like I had the answer to a puzzle that others were still working on.

Years later, it’s still exciting.

I think there’s beauty in every style – if it’s used in moderation. My personal design aesthetic can be summed up in three words: “clean,” “modern” and “architecture.” I always start with a clean slate by focusing on the bones of the space you want to design. You need to know how the space you’re designing will be used, how it accesses light and how these factors relate to one another before you start experimenting with color and texture and decor. Once the interior architecture of a space is layed out and any built-in details are designated, then you can begin incorporating the stylistic details that most people associate with interior design.

I love simplicity and minimalism. I also love contrasting old and new, particularly if the “old” is beautiful antique furniture with European origins. But what I love the most is designing an environment that will enhance a client’s life, no matter their aesthetic. Each client is different, and I have the ability to read people (sort of like a fortune teller, but better) to determine what they like and what they want, even if they have trouble putting it into words. It’s my job to create an extremely personal interior that speaks to their history and lifestyle.

Take, for example, my own home. It’s a mix of Midwest traditional (for Mike, my husband) and modern elegance (for me). If I lived alone, my home would look much different than it does today. But it’s this personal mix that makes this home ours, not “his” or “mine.”

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So there you have it, the story of EMD. (I also have three kids and two dogs and I’m really tall, but more on all that in future blog posts). I intend to use this space to share information about projects I’m working on, resources I love, tips that can help improve your design goals and more. If you’ve got questions, email them to em@elizabethmonicaldesign.com, and I’ll answer them here.

Until next time, I’ll be keeping an eye on design for you.

EM