Meet The Browns: Part 1

I love solving design problems of all sizes. But I gotta tell you, there’s something magical that happens when clients entrust me to tackle the big ones – the kind that really change the way they live.

Today’s post is the first in a series that’s a step-by-step look at some of the larger projects I’ve worked on – it might give you the gentle nudge you need to address that big design challenge you’ve been fretting about for years.

So meet the Browns, an Omaha couple who loves international travel and minimal, modern spaces. The problem? Their home, constructed in the 1980s, didn’t reflect any of the above. We’re talking:

  • Pickled oak trim and flooring throughout the house
  • Laminate kitchen countertops
  • Appliances that have bitten the dust
  • No pantry storage (they were using portable microwave carts to store everyday dishes, which just makes me sad)
  • A small kitchen footprint that doesn’t jive with the size of the house
  • Lack of a true entertainment area (nobody uses the dining room and huge family room that are just steps away from the kitchen, which everyone crams themselves into during the holidays and other celebrations)

 See for yourself…

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 My concept:
  • Swap the existing kitchen table area with the sitting area in front of the fireplace to allow guests to sit closer to the kitchen during gatherings
  • Create a butler’s pantry by using about 25 square feet of existing garage space
  • Remove the kitchen peninsula and replace it with a long island to create an incredible cooking area as well as a secondary area for guests
  • Add full height cabinetry to store everyday items, household paperwork and entertaining supplies
  • Add an under-the-counter refrigerator drawer to the new buffet area so guests and grandkids have access to drinks without getting in the way of the cook

Take a look:

In Part 2, I’ll be talking about finishes and fixtures. Details and how they work together matter.

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

– EM

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Sarah Saves: My “Custom” Basement Shower

Sarah B.
Sarah B.

I love saving, whether it’s time or money or the planet. It gives me a great deal of satisfaction, and it allows me to channel my “do it yourself” energy in a lot of different ways.

When Kevin and I decided it was time to tackle our basement, I knew we had to keep the costs down. I also wanted a nice shower – one with a custom feel that set it apart from your typical inexpensive fiberglass or acrylic surround with a curtain.

I decided to tile the shower walls, so I started with a standard sized shower pan. I picked the pan I wanted instead of tiling the floor because it’s less expensive and easier to execute, especially for a DIY’er. When you’re tiling a shower floor, you have to get the right slope for the drain if you don’t want to experience leaks down the road. If that doesn’t scare you from attempting it, consider a pre-molded base that’s ready to have the tile applied to it, like those from Tile Redi.

I love the look of thin, rectangular marble tiles, but they were too expensive for my budget. To cut costs, I bought 12 x 12 marble tiles at Home Depot for $3.99 a square foot and cut them down to 3 x 12. Home Depot sells by the individual tile, so I was able to buy a bunch of boxes and sort through them, picking ones I thought looked good together and returning the rest. I sanded one tile down with an orbital sander and 600 grit wet or dry sandpaper to see if I preferred a honed look, but I ended up preferring the polished look.

If you’re considering using marble tile in a bathroom, make sure to research all the pros and cons. It’s also a good idea to seal polished marble before and after grouting to avoid a cloudy finish on the tile when you wipe off the grout.

Curtains in bathrooms are not my thing, so we purchased a pre-made clear glass door enclosure from Overstock. (I got it for $750 with a coupon, it’s now listed at $944.99 – timing is everything!) It obviously set me back more than a rod and curtain would have, but it was cheaper because we installed it ourselves.

I do not miss that border at all.
I do not miss that border one tiny bit.

The finishing touch – a wood shower grate to hide most of the inexpensive white shower floor. You can buy pre-made grates out of teak, but that can get costly – somewhere between $150 to $200. We made one from clear cedar and stained it to match the vanity, then sealed it with an outdoor use poly. It has rubber feet and can be removed for cleaning, and we used decking screws so they wouldn’t rust. We paid about $40 for the wood, so you do the math.

Since this shower isn’t used constantly, our homemade grate has held up well, and overall, the project has added to our basement’s versatility. I can send houseguests down there to shower and feel good doing it!

– Sarah B.

shower-grate
We made our shower grate out of cedar and stained it to match the vanity.

Vito Knows Flooring

Meet Vito, the newest member of the design team.

Don’t let his age (nine weeks this week) fool you – Vito knows flooring. This English Mastiff from Summersville, West Virginia, spends a lot of time on the ground, especially since he can’t climb stairs yet.

When he’s full grown, he’ll weigh as much as an adult human (between 140 and 200 pounds), so materials of substance are a big deal to Vito. So is color. He’s particularly fond of fawn, apricot and brindle (the colors of his breed) and is interested in creating his own paint line, but more on that later.

Vito’s first piece of flooring advice to share: consider vinyl plank flooring. Take a look at the following photos – one is vinyl, the other is wood. Can you tell which is which?

If you guessed the top one is wood, you’d be wrong. And if you guessed the bottom one is wood, you’d also be wrong. Ha! They’re both luxury vinyl plank flooring – really.

Gone is the time when vinyl was relegated to kitchens, bathrooms and other spaces that trap water, dirt and other gross stuff. Today’s vinyls are known for their durability, flexibility and water resistence, and they’re also easier to install. We use the term “luxury vinyl” to describe tiles or planks that mimic the look of wood or stone, including marble, slate and the the oh-so-revered travertine.

On the down side, it will show your floor’s imperfections because of how thin it is.

Confused?

Give me a call, and we’ll take a trip to The Floor Club, one of my favorite design haunts and the latest entry in our Modern Omaha Directory. (Vito has to wait until he’s potty trained.) The Floor Club is a wholesale floor covering and window fashion showroom that caters to industry trade professionals only (that would be me). It’s got a vast selection of name brand products at wholesale pricing – I love taking my clients there when it’s time to talk floors:

Vivero from Armstrong Flooring

Messenia Travertine in Antiquity - I mean, come on!
Messenia Travertine in Antiquity – I mean, come on!

COREtec from US Floors

boardwalk-oak
Boardwalk Oak from COREtec is one of Vito’s favorites.

Luxury vinyl sheets from Mannington Residential

Majesty "slate" in Dark Forest - dreamy!
Majesty “slate” in Dark Forest – dreamy!

Let’s go flooring!

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

– EM

sit and feel content

The left wall in the home's front entry is now a show stopper.
The left wall in the home’s front entry is now a show stopper.

If you read my blog regularly, you know I love giving advice – especially when it comes to making your home your castle (or whatever it is you’re into). So today, I’m going to share some advice from an extremely wise client of mine: “It’s awesome to sit in your home and feel content with your surroundings. In order to make a space perfect for you, know what you like/dislike, know your budget, and don’t be afraid to seek help.”

Wow – I couldn’t agree more.

Now I’m not judging, but too many of you spend too much time dreaming about what you’d do if your place was selected for a makeover on one of the many home improvement shows you watch instead of taking the steps to make it happen.

Take my wise client, for example. She and her husband had never worked with a designer before hiring me. They chose to tackle each room of their spacious, open house on their own. If they got stuck or disagreed, they sought the opinion of friends and family.

The design issue that no one could resolve? The couple’s front room entry. It contained old furniture that overwhelmed the space and created a  “first impression” vibe that didn’t fit the family’s nod to mod. As a result, they never used it except to enter and exit their home and feel badly about themselves while doing either.

My solution? Purge the old, stay simple, and make an impact. I helped the couple select a crisp, geometrically-inspired wallpaper for the west entry wall to showcase the sleek, freestanding wall cabinet they had picked out. The finishing touch? A whimsical black and white wall clock made by the male half of the duo (he also hung the cabinet). Oooh la la!

On the other side of the entry, I took full advantage of the home’s incredible windows by adding simple shades and fronting them with a pair of tufted white leather benches in an inverted L shape. A corner table displays a favorite metal sculptural piece, striped carpet tiles from FLOR laid in an irregular pattern give the room texture, and a simple wood desk and plywood dining chair tuck neatly into the space’s remaining corner – the perfect place for homework or catching up on email.

One of the other design challenges the couple (and their friends and family) never resolved was the fireplace wall in the main living room area. “It always felt off,” my client said. “We needed something to fill the space but just couldn’t wrap our heads around it.”

The issue? The fireplace was dead center along a 20-foot high white wall, and the brick – although lovely – only extended to normal mantle height.

My solution? A sleek and simple wood mantle that’s part of a larger wall grid constructed from the same wood. The grid bisects and trisects the mammoth wall and creates a series of well-defined areas for displaying 2D and 3D art.

img_8384_photoshoped
Now that’s a focal wall.

I’ve got a few more gems to share from this job, but they’ll have to wait for another entry.

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

– EM

 

 

 

help bring them to omaha

Me and the boys.
Me and the boys.
When the EMD team travels, we travel in style.
When the EMD team travels, we travel in style.

As a mom of three little ones, it’s not often that I get to enjoy a meal without having to tell someone to eat.

It happened last week, which is awesome in and of itself, but where it happened made the occasion even more special – Rebuilding Together Omaha’s luncheon featuring Drew and Jonathan Silver Scott, known to millions as the “Property Brothers.”

I have to admit I didn’t know a lot about Rebuilding Together Omaha before the event, but I’m impressed by what I learned: this local nonprofit provides low-income, elderly and permanently disabled homeowners in Douglas, Sarpy and Pottawattamie counties with no-cost home repairs and accessibility modifications. Its goal is to allow these citizens to age in place while living in warmth, safety and independence – how cool is that?

As an avid viewer of “Property Brothers,” I did know quite a bit about Drew and Jonathan – tall, talented twins who’ve helped family after family find and renovate their dream home. They were as charming in person as they are on television, and the sense of humor they share is genuine.

Those tiny specks on stage are Drew (left) and Jonathan Silver Scott.
Those tiny specks on stage are Drew (left) and Jonathan Silver Scott.

Since we’re in the same business, I was eager to hear what advice they had for this particular audience, which was filled with a combination of Rebuilding Together Omaha supporters, realtors, and Drew and Jonathan fans (there was a ton of the latter). Here are my takeaways from the Scott boys:

  1. Be selective on where you spend your renovation money. Focal points like fireplaces or kitchen islands can have a big impact on the overall vibe and value of your home.
  2. Find ways to make your current home work for you rather than relocating (I love helping clients do this!). Every home is going to have issues, just like the people who live in them.
  3. If you’re trying to sell your home, do a light update to all areas instead of spending all your money in one spot, like a kitchen or bathroom renovation.

It was a great afternoon for a great nonprofit, and it was inspiring to see so many people passionate about design gathered in one spot. It was also great fun getting behind-the-scenes show scoop from Drew and Jonathan (like how the network decides which cities to film in), which brings us to the audience participation part of this blog entry.

If you, like me, want to see the Scotts film an episode of “Property Brothers” in Omaha, let HGTV know it! Let’s bombard all the HGTV social media outlets with ‘Come to Omaha’ messages, photos and video (tell ’em EMD sent you). We’ve even made it easy for you – just download this sign, take your picture with it (or take it to an Omaha location and shoot some video with it), and post in on:

twitter.com/HGTV

facebook.com/HGTV

facebook.com/propertybrothers

pinterest.com/HGTV

instagram.com/HGTV

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

– EM

 

Introducing Sarah Saves

Sarah B.

After months of searching, I’ve hired a design assistant, and boy, is she a keeper!

Sarah B. studied graphic design at the Savannah College of Art and Design, and received her B.A. in multimedia and web design from the Illinois Institute of Art. She and her husband, Kevin, have lived in Bellevue for almost 10 years. The couple bought their first “fixer upper” seven years ago and is steadily tackling projects one at a time.

One of the things I love about Sarah is that she’s a DIYer in every sense of the word (or acronym), so much so she considers it a hobby. She and Kevin have amassed so much DIY knowledge from their personal experiences that I wanted to share it here.

So, without further ado, welcome to the first edition of Sarah Saves. Each month, Sarah will be recapping one of her DIY projects, including how to save money and still get the design aesthetic you want.

Elevating My Entryway
by Sarah B.

I was never happy with my entryway. The solid banister and stained wood made it feel small and dark. I also hated the open railing, which allowed you to see the feet of my living room furniture the minute you walked through the door. The floor was covered in small mosaic tile, which is hard to clean, and the only storage was a small coat closet at the top of the stairs.

Being DIYers and penny pinchers, Kevin and I managed to improve its look and function on a realistic budget. Here’s what we did.

 The Door

The old door was wood, which wasn’t good for security or energy efficiency. I also wasn’t a fan of how it looked, especially its three tiny and oddly placed frosted windows. Since our split entry has a Craftsman/Mid Century Modern exterior look, I decided to go with a Craftsman-style door for more light.

I found a fiberglass slab door at Lowe’s for $259, but I didn’t like the busy design of its glass window pane. I really wanted a plain glass pane. We could have custom ordered the same door with a plain glass pane from Lowe’s for $700 (too expensive). I noticed the window was removable, so we bought the cheaper door, and I contacted Rainbow Glass in Papillion to see if I could have a plain glass replacement made. We brought the “busy” glass pane over, and they said they could make a pane with the same thermal insulating tempered glass for $60. Sold!

They put all the glass in a metal frame and had it all ready to slide right into the door. It worked out perfectly! We also added new door trim – a mixture of baseboard and decorative trim – then painted it all.

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The Floor

We removed the small, hard to clean mosaic tile and replaced it with Indian Autumn Slate tile, which we purchased from Ceramic Tileworks Center in Omaha (I think it was around three bucks a square foot). We also purchased a natural stone sealant so the tile would stay lighter.

Ceramic Tileworks Center is a great tile shop – not only does it carry a lot in stock at fair prices, it’s also DIY friendly. It carries all the professional grade tools and quality grout, thinset and sealants you need to do the job yourself. Their employees are friendly, knowledgeable and ready to offer any advice or support you may need. Whenever we have a tiling question, we always call them!

DIY Tiling Tip: If you don’t plan on doing much tiling, you can rent a large wetsaw (it will make the job go much faster, especially with larger sized tile) at tool rental places or big box home improvement stores like Home Depot or Menards. If you plan on tiling until your knees hurt, the large wetsaw from Harbor Freight is fantastic if you add a good blade to it. It also seems to be less expensive than ones sold at other home improvement stores. If you can use one of their 20% off coupons, the price is even better!

The Wall with Railing and Storage

entry-storage-railing2To help create privacy between the entryway and living room and resolve the issue of seeing the legs of my living room furniture when you walked through my home’s front door, we replaced the open spindle railing with a railing that was more half wall. I also thought this would be a good place to add much-needed storage. My solution? Find a couple of cabinets with open shelving that offered spacial depth.

I went to one of our Habitat Restore locations and found two taller wood cabinets in good condition for $80. We sanded, primed and painted them, then added new, flat hardware so nothing would catch on them. Then we built a simple bookshelf to go between the cabinets. When we anchored the cabinets and bookshelf to the floor and wall, we did so in a way that allowed the bookshelf and one of the cabinets to be removable (in case we ever need more space to move other large items through the front door).

The cabinets are great for storing mail, shoes, backpacks, purses, winter hats, gloves, scarfs – you name it! To help visually tie the cabinets to the wall space behind them, we added painted wood pine planking to both the wall and back of the bookshelf. We purchased the planking from Menards when the store was having a sale, so we bought one pack for $14 and got the second one free!

The Banister

banisterI wanted my tiny entryway to feel a bit larger, so I thought a more open railing with a newel post might do the trick. The existing wood banister was pretty easy to remove, so we removed all but the bottom section. Instead of buying a pre-made newel for $100 or more, we made our own. That way, I could design its look and make sure it would fit the large base that was still on the stairs.

For $50, we bought a 4×4 post, anchored it, then added premium wood boards and trim pieces around it to finish it. Then we sanded, wood filled and painted it all white. We purchased the balusters from Menards for about $4 each.

The Stairs

stairs_cabinetsThe old stairs were carpeted, which we didn’t want since we added oak hardwood floors on the main level. When we removed the carpet, we found old construction-grade pine stairs that weren’t in good enough condition to stain. We bought oak Retro Treads for $28 each from Lowe’s. They fit over the existing wood stairs like a cap, so we cut them down to size, added stain/poly and glued them into place. We used nice wood for the risers, then painted and secured them into place as well. We purchased the oak handrails from Menards (they were on clearance for $60) and stained them to match the stairs.

Wood Top

I wanted the new cabinets and bookshelf to have a finished look. The problem – we couldn’t find a board wide enough that wasn’t too expensive or looked like butcher block. Our solution? We purchased three long oak boards from Menards during one of the store’s 11% off sales and joined them together using a jig, wood glue and wood filler. Then we sanded, stained and sealed it. I took my time to find three boards that looked like they went together.

Now I love walking through my front door. It was totally worth the time and effort!

entryway

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