Monday, March 29, 2010

Dining Table Pendant

The much anticipated dining area light came in last week!  In a previous post, Time Together, I talked about installing a pendant fixture with a drum shade over our dining table. My hope was that it would bring some focus to our meals together and at the same time help delineate the small dining area in our open floor plan.

It arrived last Friday and the kids were excited to see the box full of packing material.  They had a great time playing in a sea of foam peanuts.  I thought it was fun until we tried picking up the static-y little buggers!   

When I pulled it out of the box it felt good.  O'lampia on Bowery St in NYC made the fixture per my sketch and they did a nice job.   Even though it's a simple fixture... just a ceiling escutchoeon, rod, shade fitting and bulb socket... it was critical to get the correct rod length and the shade at the right height over the table.   It's perfect! 

Fortunately, we already had a wall switch and a junction box at the ceiling. It was not located exactly where we wanted so we exposed the chord a bit and added a hook to put the shade directly over the table.  Please ignore the ring at the ceiling around the escutcheon plate... nothing is ever really done

If you don't have a junction box at the ceiling but still want an overhead light, there are many chorded options available that only require an outlet. Here's an example from CB2 and it's only $49.95...

I got the shade at Mackeyblue here in Hoboken for a steal.  I like that it has a subtle pattern, almost like wood yet slightly metallic.   And because it's a solid material, all the light is directed down at the table where I want it.  

We aren't totally finished.  Besides the ceiling patch, I'm not happy with the bulb selection yet.  It's a little glaring with the current halogen spot.   We like the strong focused light but we're thinking a dimmer might make it just right.  I tried a fluorescent bulb but it was awful.  Yes, let the environmental sticklers strike me down... but I'm sticking with incandescent at this location since it's only on at dinner time.  

Well, it's been a week and I already feel that the project was a success!  The family was surveyed last night at dinner and it was unanimous...  we all feel better about our dining experience.  Even my toddler appeared more content... or maybe it was because he was eating a hot dog.  (Just kidding, he had delightful quiche and side salad with a light vinaigrette dressing ;) 

What kind of lighting do you have at your dining table and does it work for you?

Monday, March 22, 2010

Back to the Kitchen

Wow, what a weekend...yes, spring is here! And with that comes the desire to fix up my house. We are back to thinking about our kitchen again.  It's for real this time... my husband started sanding the cabinets!

We've been debating what to do with the kitchen since it may get ripped out if we renovate the whole house. So we're looking at it like this... what would make our kitchen experience better right now? Easy... get rid of the tile counter!  I can't understand why anyone would want a work surface that's uneven with grout joints to clean?!

Unfortunately, it's the only element that would be difficult to reuse if the kitchen gets moved.  But even if we only get a few years out of it... I think it's worth it.  I'm tired of saying, "Someday I'll enjoy cooking when I've got a good work surface!"   So over the weekend I hit the internet for some counter inspiration. We're thinking about gray or black cabinets, so that's where I started...

These cabinets look great with the white Calcutta Gold marble counters.

Lisa Epley Design: Image from Decorpad 

Another beautiful white marble counter with black cabinets... I like that it's thick with minimal veining.

Jeff Lewis Design: Image from Decorpad

We may go with dark lower cabinets and light uppers.  Here the island is in a different material that blends beautifully with the floor.  And another bright counter (looks like I'm leaning towards white!).


We're thinking about subway tile for the back wall since it's economical and would tie into a white counter.  (And we have two boxes sitting in our shed!) Here are nice full walls of subway tile and they've used different colored cabinets.  I would prefer white grout instead of gray to minimize the tile pattern.

Image from Decorpad

These are actually dark brown cabinets, hmmm....

Image from Decorpad 

We're also considering a manufactured stone like Silestone or Caesarstone... which could be considered a 'green' option.  It is easier to maintain and more durable than marble, but mostly I like it for the consistency in color and the potential for a substantial slab edge...

Silestone: Image from Seven Seas

Caesarstone: Image from Re-green

I've read up on marble maintenance issues and found a good discussion on Apartment Therapy.  One other consideration for us is reuse.  If the kitchen does eventually get ripped out and we go with marble, I might cut up the counter for a bathroom vanity or a baking area in the new kitchen (yeah, 'cause I love making pastry?!).

So what do you look for in a kitchen counter?  I'd love to hear what you like and don't like about the material you slave over every day!  Well, at least that's how I feel.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Are You Leaking?

Well, are you?  No, I'm not talking about all you new moms out there....  I'm talking about your house!  Energy efficient homes have been getting more press recently and it's a good thing. So I thought I should share with you a recent experience I had during a house assessment for energy consumption.  

Everyone knows that recycling is important but does the average person care about the energy that's wasted heating and cooling our leaky homes?  You wouldn't leave a window open in the middle of January, right?  Like my dad used to say... as I'd stood with the front door open on a blustery day, "Do you think we live in a barn?"  But if your house isn't tight, then you might as well be. 

(It's kind of ironic that now I'd love to live in a barn... it's rural loft living!)  But I digress to another post...

Recently I was able to witness first hand a blower door test on a house in upstate NY.  It's a way to find where all the hot air escapes during the winter and the cool air in the summer.  Here they are setting up an exterior door to receive the blower...

The blower then gets attached and will suck out all the air. Using a pressure reading, they can gauge the overall house leakage. 

As the blower is running, you go around the house and feel where the air is being drawn out.  You'd be surprised where we found major air movement;  pocket doors, outlets, return vents, recessed lights... to name a few.

What's really happening is that the wall cavity of the outlet or light is connected to exterior walls or roof that aren't properly insulated and air tight. Once we get the results from this house, I'll talk about different insulation options to help remediate that kind of problem.

To do the test we contacted a contractor that participates in the Energy Smart program offered by NYSERDA (New York State Energy Research and Development Authority).  They have a listing of contractors who perform house assessments and will provide you with a proposal to implement the work to make your house more energy efficient.  If you use a qualifying contractor, the progam will provide a 10% incentive for construction work or you could be eligible for low interest loans to do the improvements.  NJ has a very similar energy program, as do many other states.

The contractor will also do a CO2 test as part of the assessment to ensure equipment is working efficiently and is vented properly.  It's a good safety precaution on top of having carbon monoxide detectors in your house.

They also go around to every outlet to calculate the total electrical draw from your appliances, light fixtures and equipment.   After the assessment, the data is run through a computer program along with past utility info to analyze your total usage. The contractor will then provide a report that documents their findings and suggests improvements to make your house more efficient.  It's a simple process to see where you stand with regards to energy consumption.

So if you're thinking about renovations or building a new house, take a look at your state's program to see how you might incorporate energy improvements to your home.  Come on, green is the new black!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Apartment Therapy Kitchen

A friend of mine, who happens to be an architect and blogger (you might want to check out some of her great recipes!), came across a kitchen on the Apartment Therapy website and said....'Hey, this work looks familiar'.  Well, it turned out it was! Mowery Marsh Architect designed the kitchen which received many envious comments!  When she emailed me, I realized I should spread the word so you could all see it too

Here's the back-story...  my sister-in-law, Karen Marsh, owns the store Mackeyblue here in Hoboken.   Her quaint little shop on 12th Street has become a local favorite for authentic vintage finds.  It's an eclectic mix... from big ben clocks to classic suitcases to old-school typewriters to retro chairs... the list goes on and on. You never quite know what you'll happen upon, as her slogan states... "What might you find today!?"   We found this great mirror that was perfect for our own bathroom...

One day a writer for Apartment Therapy stopped by her store and loved all the great finds.  They got to talking and when the woman found out that Karen redid her own house, she asked to do a house tour for the Apartment Therapy website.  There's a slideshow of the whole house.

Brian had a hand in lots of the repairs throughout the house, such as the new Marvin windows he installed in the bedroom...yes, he does windows!

I remember working with Karen to find the right blue for these walls.  We decided on Benjamin Moore's Covington Blue...  I think we got it just right... it ties together all her blue greens and feels quite homey. 

Here are some more pictures of the kitchen from my website...

I find it interesting how different the mood is in these photos compared to the AT house tour... the color rendition is quite different with the lights turned off.   Something to remember when you're taking photos...turn on all those lights!

Let me point out some design items from this kitchen that you might want to consider should you renovate your own...
  • Areas of open shelving break up monotonous upper cabinetry. And beautiful everyday items like glassware are readily accessible.
  • Cabinets to the ceiling integrate the kitchen to the architecture... it feels like they've always been there.
  • The legs on the base cabinets give them the look of furniture and the black toe kick makes the floor appear continuous under the cabinets.
  • The high wainscoting in the dining area enhances the height of the space while creating a cozy eating nook.
We all know the kitchen is the heart of the home and the current design trend is to open up this space to other living areas.  It makes sense to me... what host or hostess wants to be holed up in the kitchen while everyone else is having a good old time socializing?!  So if we're opening it up... then it better look good!  And in my mind not feel too 'kitcheny'.   I think Karen's space fits the bill.

What do you prefer... a kitchen that is closed off so you don't see the mess... or a kitchen that is open and invites everyone in?

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

New Windows: Part I

In a previous post, I showed some images with black window sashes... and that got me thinking about windows.  I like a window sash that contrasts with the trim and the walls... windows are such a great detail feature, why not make them stand out.  Like we did here with stained Douglas fir windows...

But before I go there... I thought maybe I should talk about getting the right windows first!  Whether you're building your own home, renovating, or just putting in replacements ... it's a tough decision.  Windows are usually the biggest ticket item on any construction project.    And they should be.  In my mind, it's worth the extra amount to get a superior window.  Here's why... you want a window that will...  a) function properly for years to come,  b) be energy efficient to increase comfort and minimize your utility bills, c) and most importantly... look phenomenal!   A good looking renovation starts with the windows. 

We used Pella windows on this project under construction in Old Chatham, NY... the oversized windows are a predominant feature in the design.

Loewen is another step up and has beautiful wood windows.  I particularly like the push out casements they offer.  No annoying crank... they feel European.

And the interior screen 'door' is a great feature...

Another type of window similar to the casement is the 'tilt-turn' window.  In this case, the window swings in and the screen is on the outside.  It operates much like a door but it also has the 'tilt' option where the whole unit angles inward to allow for ventilation at the top. They come in large sizes so you can have expansive views.  In this project we used tilt-turn Marvin windows which allowed for big windows that were operable so the whole space could be open to the outdoors.

Photography by Elliott Kaufman

Anderson is another popular brand. It's a good standard window at a modest price point.  However, they only come with a vinyl exterior and have less design versatility. Also in my experience they do not have the longevity of some of the other more expensive brands.  Here's a great application of Anderson windows on a beach house in Rehoboth, DE...


But when we converted the screened porch to a three-season room, we used Marvin Magnum double hung windows... you can get them super sized!

So if you're starting to plan a renovation, take some time when considering your window options. Next time we'll talk about how to get the most out of your new windows!