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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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

 

 

 

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