- Aston Smith
- I have 20+ years experience in Home Furnishings and Interior Design, specializing in Kitchen and Bath Design since '01. I work for Bilotta Kitchens in the A&D Building on East 58th Street in the Mid-town Manhattan. I have a passion for learning and love the opportunity to collaberate on projects of all sizes. My strengths in the field begin with my design background, use of color and texture to bring interest to a room, spatial relationships, organizational skills, innovation, decisiveness, and planning. I have had the thrilling experience of helping hundreds...?maybe thousands of people with their projects, and what I love is it never gets boring, and no two are ever the same. Thanks for reading.
Thursday, December 9, 2010
I work in the nicest neighborhoods, lucky to be welcomed and wanted in New York for something I do naturally with passion and an acquired knowledge. Lately I look at the yellow line on the subway platform as my personal Yellow Brick Road...how lucky am I?
Sometimes when I’m working, clients become abruptly demanding and border on rude, sometimes they cross that border, wanting 27 technical answers from me in an instant…and I think “am I a machine?” Then reality sets in, I try never to let them down, they have come to rely on and expect instantaneous expert advice from me, to them that is what I am, a creative machine, and my ability to provide this service and smile and never sweat, that keeps me in this position, where I want to be…so fire away I say!
Recently as the work began to pile high on my desk, I said to an architect, someone who brought me a wonderful project, Tom Hut of HS2 Architecture, “we have a lotta work to do here in a short time, let’s get the pleases, excuse me’s and the thank you’s out of the way up front, we know we mean them, but they are killing us ion time”…he agreed…and cutting to the chase has tidied up the relationship and gotten the job done. I'm on the edge of my seat to see the final product! ans at one time I thought architects only came to my showroom to steal my ideas. (Shh...I might have said it once or twice, I might have said it to you) How wrong I was, and thank you Steve Naphtali for holding my wine while I ate crow...
When I go home my kids tell me everything I don’t know…apparently the older they get the more I don’t know! It’s a great system they have to make sure my head never swells too much. This year one of my daughter’s changed her name. Imagine, the second thing I gave her, right after life, didn’t make the cut…she doesn't like the clothes I buy her either, but I know for a fact she is mine, she had too much hair to confuse with any of the other babies in the nursery.
Just then I passed a man as I walked from the Subway at Union Square headed towards my office. He was no more than 25 years old, quite good looking, and on his feet as "shoes" he wore paper bags, folded over many times and tied to his feet with twine. He was indescribably dirty, and on the brink of losing his toenails and I did mention how cold it was, in the 20’s? I stopped and swallowed hard, and though he wasn’t begging, I turned to go find him, but he was gone in the crowd. Where was his family, how did he end up like this, and was he given too much or not enough growing up, where was the love?
I used to only donate only to established charities, heeding the official warnings that people in the city will rob you if you give them money. After nearly a year here, I can say I have changed my thoughts on that. I am considerate of who I give money to, but I just can’t ignore daily the poverty and sadness that walks quietly among the wealthy and splendid of New York. There is suffering here, and I always think, how did this young person become this way, how can I help. There is a young man, who is often in the Columbus Circle or Lincoln Center Subway stations, he has no arms, he politely stands with a pack attached to his chest, and I cannot pass him without giving him a dollar or two if I have it. But there must be more I can do.
I’ve never felt like I had less after I volunteered time, money or food to someone in need… in fact it always makes me feel like I have way more…2011 should be a year of giving back. Last week, I went home to find my daughter has joined a community group of young volunteers who will help the elderly or those in need with household chores and snow removal etc., what a gift for me to receive, that my daughter will have the spirit of volunteering! It just goes to show you are never too old or too young to make a difference, to care about a stranger as you would for someone you love.
Be rich with the spirit of giving, no contribution is too small to make a difference. Cheers to a Happy, Healthy, and Prosperous 2011! Remember to Love thy neighbor as thyself.
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Thursday, November 18, 2010
Tuesday, October 19, 2010
Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY; and private chef to notables around the globe. Chef Lumino will be at Manhattan Center for Kitchen and Bath at 29 East 19th Street between Broadway and Park, every Wednesday from 4pm-6pm. He will be mixing up seasonal dishes using fresh organic produce, meat and dairy from the Farmers market at Union Square and cooking to perfection in the live SubZero/Wolf Kitchen with Cabinetry by Rutt and Counter tops by Caesarstone, featuring Concetta.
These delicious demonstrations will become a weekly “Webisode” cooking show on MCKB’s YouTube channel starting in November. Clients and interested folks are welcome to stop by and become part of the fun. This week lucky by-tasters will sample pan-seared ostrich, fresh greens and an apple cobbler with locally grown apples.
So if you are in the city stop by and catch a live taping of the show titled THE ILLUMINATED KITCHEN at Manhattan Center for Kitchen & Bath. Wednesdays at 4pm.
Monday, October 18, 2010
|as seen on Apartment Therapy|
People want to know:
"is it really a green product?" YES
"can it be washed?" YES
"Is it easy to install" YES
· Cork as a material, is harvested from the bark of living trees, so the resource isn’t diminished by the process, in fact it seems that it encourages more rapid growth. Additionally the material we offer at MCKB is made from 100% recycled material procured from the wine stopper industry.
· The composition of the material, little air filled pockets, is what makes cork naturally quiet, dent resistant, sound absorbent, and also warm.
· The cork can be installed over existing flooring, concrete or plywood
· The finish is applied after the floor is installed and should not need a secondary application for 5-7 years under normal residential use.
· Recommended cleaning is regular vacuuming, occasionally should be cleaned with hardwood floor cleaner.
· The VOC measure on the product is considered negligible
· Some manufacturers offer a 25 year warranty with limits on finish
· Expected lifetime of 25+ years.
· Qualifies for Leed points based on the following considerations:
- recycled content
- rapidly renewable material
- low-emitting materials
Saturday, September 25, 2010
To add to the little hustle and bustle just across from the Flatiron on Broadway and 23rd a slpendid new shop "Eataly" has just opened offering all sorts of delicious ready to eat gourmet fare, flavors from all over the map and of course for New Yorkers--exotic delicious varieties of freshly brewed coffee right at the front door of the shop. Although I will say the store can get quite crowded, YUM! I can't wait till the line is short enough that I can run there at lunchtime!
Thursday, July 22, 2010
I just wanted to say a special thanks to Jeff Lewis, Designer of this Years House Beautiful Kitchen of the Year in Rockefeller Center. Last night he took time out to stop and speak honestly about a range of topics from personal to professional.
I was fortunate to be in the kitchen last night, a more intimate setting than it had been previously this week. KraftMaid had taken over the venue and was hosting architects and designers as well as the company's own top executives. It was a great opportunity open every drawer, push buttons on the JennAir appliances, and truly appreciate the minute details of the kitchen.
But the highlight of the evening was the personal time Lewis took to share a little bit about himself, growing up with two brothers, living in LA, and what drives him to success! His 4th season of his show "Flipping Out" returns to Bravo on August 10th, I don't think he needs luck, he's obviously got what it takes and works hard for the succes he enjoys.
Tuesday, July 20, 2010
Today in Rockefeller Center House Beautiful Magazine opens its third annual "Kitchen of the Year" to the public; and yesterday I was among a fortunate few to preview the handiwork of Jeff Lewis, this year's guest designer and star of Bravo TV's "Flipping Out" and his talented team. Supported by powerhouses in the industry such as Masco, Kravet and Mohawk they have brought to life design possibilities that will have small town USA putting away their raised panel door ideas and going slab!
The kitchen sits perched above the Rockefeller Centers famous Sea Grill and is flooded with light under a glass ceiling. It's very "New York" in its styling; with strict use of clean lines and decisive finishes...there wasn't an ogee edge or a glaze hang up in sight!
This was such a pleasure to see, since 4 out of 5 city kitchens we do at Manhattan Center for Kitchen & Bath are contemporary. Repeatedly we heard yesterday from the representatives of House Beautiful that the magazine will be spotlighting more of what they referred to as "warm contemporary" in upcoming issues, a new bold direction for a magazine that has mass appeal in areas of the country that are known for being very traditional. Their commitment was obvious in this years show kitchen.
Kraftmaid in their deeply rich Peppercorn finish offers a strong look not too dissimilar from the Dark Ebony and finely grained Wenge we feature in our showroom in Manhattan. The Caesarstone "Pure White" countertop with waterfall legs is a rich beautiful compliment and in strong contrast to the dark wood cabinetry. Quartz surface is the highest rated for lasting beauty and function in a kitchen. We find at MCKB that our clients request Caesarstone by name and are often somewhat educated on the benefits of the product before coming in to begin the design process; additionally New Yorkers seem to prefer the design palette offered for its quiet earthen toned colors over any other surface, including granite. In addition to showing many samples from the standard Caesarstone line, MCKB has just become an exclusive Concetto showroom, displaying this unique highly distinctive Caesarstone product which can be seen on display backlit for increased aesthetic effect.
Jeff Soderbergh and Jeff Lewis. Right down to the Kohler Karbon Faucet, it is hard to find fault in all this functional beauty, and I feel confident that it's "New York" chic style makes it worth the trip. Visit and be inspired by the designers and contributors whose blod ideas are brought to life, and perhaps you will find yourself ready begin the remodeling process!
Don't miss the opportunity to tour the House beautiful Kitchen of the Year and view some of the demos they will be running each day this week, and remember Friday when the curtain comes down, the kitchen will be converted into "Bar 30" and run by the Sea Grill.
Thanks for the tour!
Some Photography courtesy of House Beautiful Magazine.
Tuesday, April 27, 2010
Being in this business for so long now, it's become easy to recognize trends in the business, certainly among product and over the past two years, the undeniable slump the home remodeling industry has been in. Sunday when I listened to an interview of Kermit Baker,the American Institute of Architects’s chief economist as well as senior research fellow at the Joint Center for Housing Studies (JCHS) at Harvard University, my recent personal observations were confirmed. The remodleing industry is poised to experience a huge resurgence in business, and the primary focus of homeowners has returned to kitchens and bathrooms.
Mr. Baker mentioned in his interview with Maria Bartoromo of NBC News, that the home remodeling industry is now a $250 billion a year industry, still smaller than at it's peak but lager than the housing market at this time. He went on to say that 6-8 months ago homeowners were investing in siding, roofing, and windows, all retrofits and upgrades that offer immediate benefit in the reduction of home heating costs and/or energy efficiency.
Wednesday, April 14, 2010
Tuesday, April 6, 2010
While my mantra was my way of self-motivating, I also thought it was possible I could be fired, after all everyone is replaceable. And every kitchen designer stubs reputation along the way, we're only human after all.
Leaving me, a self supporting single mom creative type, contemplating the next step for me and my family in the face of what seemed the worst times, with skyrocketing unemployment numbers and the friends telling me that things couldn't have blown up worse out there and no signs it was getting better soon.
Wednesday, March 17, 2010
Thursday, February 11, 2010
Tuesday, February 2, 2010
One appliance that had me on the fence was a garbage disposal. I hadn't grown up with one, but had managed to feed nearly an entire set of cutlery to one in an apartment I had in college. So even though the designer was recommending I install one, I was skeptical. True also is that I was looking at the sweet plump fingers on my baby's hands, and the thought of her reaching in at the wrong moment, well it made me squeeze my eyes shut real fast!
When I caught my breath the designer gave me a little lesson in batch feed vs. continuous. Most people have continuous feed disposers with the black plastic flaps that give way to the food as it slides through the opening. This type usually has a switch on the backsplash or countertop that you simply flip as you are feeding the unit, it can run this way at any time, and if you drop a knife or spoon it's going in! I know it's a longshot but as a young mom, I could just envision my for year old son chucking his Thomas the Tank Engine down to here the cool noise, and well the possibilities of his retrieval method was of most concern.
What my kitchen designer recommended was what they call a Batch Feed Disposal. It has a plug that covers the opening but allows water to pass through it, the plug must be in and turned for the power to run to the unit. therefore there is zero risk of little fingers intruding on the blades, and it only slows down the feed process slightly, and just enough that you have very little risk of losing cutlery or jewelry or any of the other fun stuff that slips by.
I took his advice, and bought the Kitchen Aid Batch Feed Disposal. I was so happy for the convenience and peace of mind it offered, and I recommend the very same unit to my clients today. Batch feeds are made by many manufacturers and they all work fairly the same way.
As with all disposers, the recommendation is that you use cold running water and do put bones down. It's generally thought that this does the best job of preventing grease from buuilding up and clogging the waste line. Check with your town before installing one, as not all municipalities allow them, and if you are on a septic system check into the special enzyme treatments to assist in the decomposition of the food matter.
Friday, January 29, 2010
The remodeling industry is frought with nightmare stories, so it's also important to be able to weed out the truth, the homeowner may have had a bad experience yes, but it's possible that it had nothing to do with the contractor.
One of the most daunting things about remodeling is the cost overrun factor. If you ask a neighbor who just had their kitchen remodeled and they exclaim "my kitchen was supposed to cost $50,000, but when I was done paying for the extras it was closer to $70,000...I love my new kitchen, but I won't recommend the contractor because of how the price went up." Hmmmm, what can you make of that statement, it comes down to what were the extras? Was it that the tile, which the homeowner said went completely under the cabinets really only went two inches under them?...and now with the new cabinet layout the entire floor needed replaced, and while selecting the material, the homeowner fell in love with an exotic marble tile and thought it made sense to add radiant heat, and continue the floor to the foyer?
That's a big change, they just added work and material to include:
- Rip out and removal (contractors pay to dump waste) of the exisitng floor
- Expanded the job to the foyer not just the kitchen ($50,000)
- Radiant heat (will invlove either plumber or elecrtrician depending on the sysytem)
- Labor and material for Marble floor install (more expensive than ceramic/porcelain.
This change could easily add $10,000 to the bottom line on a job. If the homeowner was warned that uniform flooring throughout was key reusing the exisiting floor in a new layout, and advised of the costs of a potential new floor, gave the go ahead, then the contractor was completely upfront and the homeowner just has remorse over the expense. The homeowner picked beautiful natural stone and wanted warm feet, no wonder they love their kitchen! Give the contractor a break here, he was doing his job.
Now take the same floor, same homeowner, they told the contractor the tile only went under the cabinets by two inches and they wanted to replace it with marble throughout the foyer and add radiant heat since the tile was cold in the winter. The homeowner still ended up with almost $8,000 in additional flooring costs, then you would look at the allowances the contractor included for labor and material, were they enough, did they include the foyer at all?? Probably not or at too low a rate, in this case the homeowner has a right to feel upset.
Unforseen conditions and exposed code violations have to be brought up to code at the homeowners expense. If you bought Pandora's box, it's unfortunate, but it's yours. In this case, the key to a good contractor is that he helps you through the process, with the right subs, and getting the work done quickly and inspected so you can put the situation behind you and your mind at ease.
Remember if you told your contractor your entire wishlist and that you wanted to spend $50,000 on your kitchen, you have to carefully read the contract that everything you want is included at your number. Full disclosure is they key to an honorable home improvement contractor. Ask for a list of what is not included in the job, or what is covered by an allowance, how much is it, and can you go to any store? What good is a $750 allowance for an Exterior French Door, when the least expensive one they sell at the approved vendor is $2000? Well, it $750 worth of good, now add $1250 to your personal bottom line.
Items typically covered by an allowance only or not included:
- flooring material
- cabinetry upgrades (premium woods, finishes, drawer glides, plywood const.)
- specialty windows
- exterior doors
- exotic granite
Remember it IS reasonable for the contractor to cover these items by allowances, after all, you don't want to have the cost of Blue Bahai Granite built in to your kitchen when what you want is a Blue Sapphire or Blue Opal. If you know the stone you want ahead of time, you can ask that it is specifically included in the contract to avoid questions later. When it comes to a kitchen faucet you could spend anywhere from $120.00 to $1200.00, if the contractor offers you a credit to supply your own, believe me there will be noisy days you won't want to be at your house, and they will be perfect for faucet shopping!Three reasons not to base your decision to hire a contractor:
- He/she said we didn't need permits or contracts because my project just direct replacement etc.
- He/she looked the most professional.
- He/she stayed for hours going over the reasons we should hire them.
You may feel more comfortable and friendly with a contractor who doesn't want to deal with paperwork, let call it a "handshake deal", but the truth is, a contract is to protect everyone and your state has laws by which the contractor must abide. This is important for both parties, and it should clearly outline all of your project specifications, allowances etc as well as your obligations for payment and cost overruns. A well written contract can save the project for all involved. With regard to permits, allow the town to tell you they aren't needed, even if you are just upgrading from electric cooking to the evermore popular dual-fuel range, you will need a plumbing inspection. This is in your best interest to get.
It's fine and good to clean up and present well after a day on the jobsite, but when a contractor sits in your home for 2-3 hours in a pressed shirt and slacks and says "you know how I know all this, it's because I make this presentation to homeowners four times a day." Now ask yourself, if that is the case, when will he/she find time to be on my job. You are talking to a professional salesman. If he really does this schpeel that many times a day, how would he ever find time to manage or supervise your project? BEWARE.
This "contractor" who took 2 1/2 painstaking hours selling you on the reasons to sign with him/her surprises you and then jams through the paperwork so quick you don't remember what you bought. Now should now sit down and read the paperwork before your time to ask questions is up. Often under the sense of relief that the commitment is made and the process is underway, homeowners tuck the contract in a drawer, unfortunately the next time they pull it out is when they face the first unexpected add-on of something they thought was included
Lastly, online contractor referral services, they are paid for and supported by the contractors. Not all the feedback customers post remain online for your eyes to see. These services are not necessarily bad, just make sure you check references carefully. Always consult the Better Business Bureau, local trade associations, ask for references, speak with the subs if possible, meet directly with the kitchen designer and go see at least one job!
I wouldn't like to make it sound like one industry has it tougher than another, but if the landscaper scalps your hedges and they look terrible, you can still take a shower and sit down to a home cooked meal. A troubled home renovation can affect how you live for many months so take the time to make a wise choice, you will be happy you did!
Wednesday, January 20, 2010
Along the way, I learned a couple things about kids:
- kids will eat foods they help prepare so I always recommend child safe veggie peelers as a must have in the kitchen
- you can slip a lot of nutrition into soup and thererby into your kids without them even suspecting what you are up to!
- kids love to see things close up, so don't be afraid to keep a magnifying glass or microscope nearby
As I became a little older and hopefully more savvy, I began to look for ways to economize for the sake of my time, and that led me to a store called "Fortunoff's" now gone, but was then "The Source" a destination spot for many a young homemaker looking for obscure kitchen items like my fish turner and my measuring spoons (dash, pinch, and smidge sized). It was there I purchased my first actual pressure cooker, a kitchen gadget of cartoon lore for most of my generation...I know for sure my mom never had one, and the only rare others I'd seen were in the basements of older neighbors.
This little stovetop appliance became my number one go to gadget anytime I was making soup, stew, rice, pasta, you name it, if it boiled it went in the pressure cooker. Chickens that formerly boiled for 2+ hours to make soup were ready for adding veggies in 30 minutes and tasted delicious when done. When cooking short ribs or other meats, I generally brown the meat and the onions in the bottom of the cooker with a little oil before adding water and the lid, it makes for a delicious full flavored gravy and I never worry that the meat will be tough.
Cooking accounts for approximately 10% of the energy used in a home, and pressure cookers cut cooking time by 60-70%, so by using this handy gadget, you can significantly cut you energy usage, good for you and good for the enviorment. The shortened cooking time also means that your kitchen doesn't overheat, essential if you live in a warmer climate.
The most difficult thing about using a pressure cooker is getting over the fear of buying one, if this sounds like you get a less expensive one to start $50-$60 and try it, you will wear it out in time and want a better one. By that time you will know it was worth the investment and $100-$200 will not seem like much at all. Stainless steel, in my opinion, is better than aluminum, they hold up better with no fear of leaching of mineral content and they are better for browning meats. Always remember to wash the gasket by hand even though the rest of the pot is dishwasher safe.
When designing a new kitchen always remember to discuss with your kitchen designer what types of small appliances and pots you use so they can make sure your new kitchen offers the proper storage solutions to meet your needs.
Tuesday, January 5, 2010
Almost two months ago, as I was beginning to sift through this years accumulation of stuff, in preparation for the arrival of Santa's sleigh, I attempted to discard a small wipe board that was wedged under Kirstie's bed. "No Mom," she squealed, "I need that for my homework". I pushed back the bedroom door to reveal three more wipe boards of various sizes. Kirstie shrugged and began to explain the part wipe boards play in her study method. A method I am not permitted to reveal at this time. Well, honestly, she gets better grades than I did as a kid, so who am I to question her?
I left the boards, but now I was thinking. I returned to the living room and began to pick up an assortment of artwork and discarded doodles off of the floor. My kids had just been there with their friends a short time earlier. And as I walked towards the recycling bin, papers in hand, I passed my foyer wall, my personal decorating nemesis. I can't tell you how many 20 minute intervals I have logged in front of the paint samples, just not "feeling" the right color for that space. Suffice it to say, this hallway/pseudo-room is:
- the very first thing you see when you enter
- like Grand Central Station bustling with activity
- got 4 doorways and two archways
- serves as a casual dining area
- adjoined by 5 other rooms each with a color
- a very difficult space to define
It was at that moment an idea started to take shape, as I looked down at the bunches of paper in my hand, I was about to discard an entire logs worth again. I knew this wall was meant for a better purpose. A purpose I believed any home with kids or even kid visitors could benefit from. I was going to have a (semi) permanent memorial to my kids creativity, and make a commitment to save paper long term.I shared my plans with my daughters, and Miss. Middle School scrunched her nose at me and asked "are you crazy Mom?", Kendall began to jump around "when can we get the paint, when can we go Mom?" Kendall has vision, I want her to stay 10 years old. I told her it would take a little planning, and that during the week I would put up the chair rail molding and sand and prepare the wipe-board section of the wall ready for the Rust-o-leum Dry Erase Paint.
The space below the wipe board section was the blank canvas for my girls artwork, and a few of their friends they had invited. In preparation for Sunday afternoons mural, Kendall and I headed down to the local Home Depot and chose 9 colors. The associates were so helpful. We chose primary colors for mixing and tinting and a few other fun shades like a lime green, pink and a purple. The convenient 8oz pots were about $3.00 each, and we grabbed a gallon of pure white that had landed on the "oops cart" (rejected paint) for $5.00. It was a great find!
On Sunday, we collected an assortment of brushes, we put plastic down and taped the area for protection...and the handiwork began. It took 7 girls three hours, a couple dozen plastic cups, and just a little adult supervision (special creative director and Dad of artists) for mixing colors and cleaning brushes, to create the happy masterpiece that replaced my blank unappealing wall.The first chair rail was up already approx 36" AFF (above the finished floor), I left an approximately 30" space between the first and the second one I added. The space, 84"x 30" was prepped and painted as wipe board, I applied 5 coats, more than the directions suggested, but it gave a smoother finish, and then I allowed extra dry time too, 3 days for the paint to cure instead of 2 days. I closely followed the application instructions as they pertained to time between coats and how quickly the dry erase paint must be used or discarded. The results were terrific.
Now the "wipe wall" is the first place everyone goes when they come in, it's a place for open expression, frivolous doodles, important and other miscellaneous (welcome home, going to dad's this weekend. etc) messages, it was even the home of our official New Years countdown, the kids monitored the official count, and ticked off the hours leading up to 2010. It's fun, eco-friendly, whimsical, saves paper, encourages creativity (sorry TV)... and never gets boring.
My total project investment was less than $80.00 and I recommend if you have kids, get a wall like ours (no two are the same of course)...and if you don't have kids, it's still a fun useful project!
Thanks for all the beautiful work Sadie, Molly, Anna, Kendall, Kirstie, Alana, and Ariel, I love our wall.