About Me

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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.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

For the Love of Foam

I have had a love affair with Windex ever since I was a kid, helping my mom get ready for company, "Windexing" was one of the jobs she would willingly hand over. Presumably with an "I need the help, and how much damage can she (me) really do" thought in mind. I loved cleaning, seeing how long I could make a cloth last, experimenting with different quantities of cleaning fluid, seeing the dirt disappear. Sounds exciting huh, well let's remember there weren't 200+ TV channels and iPads to play with back then! Helping Mom out was a great pass-time and generally came with a small reward.

I can remember when Glass Plus first came out,  and my mom brought it home to try. It just wasn't the same. I used excessive amounts to get rid of it quicker, and left the windows streaky in the hopes I'd be rewarded with the return of Windex. I can honestly say, I've never tried other types of glass cleaner as and adult.

A couple of months back I was contacted by a company to try out their window cleaning product. I thought, well, why not give it a try, it was complimentary which I must mention for the record. I was a little leery of the name "Fish Foam" which to me conjures up images of fishies being whipped up in a blender...a few days later a box arrived with three big red cans. Yes cans, with a nice big button to dispense the product. The first thing I thought was, that's an improvement, I can remember how many times I've had to swap pumpers from one bottle to another, annoying and drippy.

Since I received the package, I have to say I have done several comparisons between Fish Foam and my Windex, and Fish Foam has performed very favorably as a cleaner.  I also find it really easy to dispense and control the direction of the cleaner. It seems to me there is less waste, making it economical, and Fish Foam dries streak free.  I have shared it with friends and gotten all positive feedback. I would recommend the the product especially to anyone who has trouble using spray pump bottles. My only criticism would be that the name doesn't make me think it's a cleaning product.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Thermador: Patented Innovative Technolgy

Recently back from my visit to the BSH design center in Arizona, I wanted to share some of the product features that are currently being rolled out. There are are so many, I think it's going to take a few posts to share what I saw and learned.

 As a designer I get asked regularly: “what’s better, a cooktop and wall oven combination or full one piece oven?” if
space and budget aren’t a concern the answer for me is very simple. I love the convenience of the two appliances. I recently learned that Thermador introduced the first wall oven and cooktop to the market in 1947. At that time they set a new standard for luxury and convenience in the kitchen. Prior to that all cooking was done on a central hub. The idea of separating the two functions offered the homeowner a multitude of benefits, being able to remote the oven outside the work triangle keeps the space cooler when you are running the oven for long periods of time, being able to have the oven at a height that is comfortable to the individual chef means greater ease when lifting heavy roasts in and out, it de-clutters the work area, as well a making it an attractive companion to a microwave, warming drawer or steam oven and allowing the space above the cooking to become available for a more powerful hood. And although now we have dual fuel ranges, it was also the earliest way to achieve an electric oven and a gas cooktop, something we can do today with dual fuel ranges as well.

This new category of appliances became a new standard homeowners strove for and created a influx of new appliance choices as many manufacturers joined in the competition for the more well to do clientele.

Thermador's Pro Range 48" with Oven,
Steam Oven and Warming Drawer

A year after they split the oven and cooktop up, Thermador introduced their Pro Range, and while the idea of professional style ranges for the home has actually boomed over the last 15 years, Thermador has found a way to sweeten the pot once again by offering a 48” Pro Range with a full oven, a warming drawer and a built in steam oven all in one. For those of you who don’t know much about me and steam cooking, we go way back. I began using a pressure cooker when my kids were small. I bought it as a lark at a Macy’s One Day Sale, it reminded of the old TV shows I grew up watching. Miraculously, I found it was a way I could very quickly whip up delicious healthy soups and stews and other things that would sneak veggies into my kids.

Well technology has taken this cooking method one step further, the steam ovens of today do a fantastic job of roasting, slow cooking, steaming, reheating, and baking, all in less time and with better results. In fact when you speak to someone who has used one, they actually suggest it takes the place of the main one for many who try one; much the way my pressure cooker replaced my regular pots for almost everything except sautéing and low simmering.

The Thermador Patented Simmer Top Left
 Simmering brings me to a recent test I was lucky to participate in, this is a key function on a stove for anyone who likes to either eat or make sauces. With my hectic schedule there are weeks my main family staple is a pot of homemade tomato sauce. Good sauce is all about the slow simmer.

I can thank my current range who shall remain nameless for death of at least 4 sauce pots in the last two years. As we all know, good pots are expensive, I have abandoned my trusty stainless and I am trying my hand at enamel right now, but the jury is out. Back to the test, recently four high end pro-style ranges got together for 90+ minutes with a small sauce pan, the lowest possible simmer setting and a cup of chocolate chips. The results were amazing and the only one that didn’t scorch the pot or harden the chocolate was the Thermador with the unique patented Star shaped burner and the simmer setting that allows you to control the flame in an on again/off again fashion automatically. There wasn’t even a question as to the performance; the Thermador burner was far superior.
The New Freedom Series of Mudular Refrigeration
Built in with Ice and Water Through the Door

True to their ingenuity Thermador is also poised to launch the Freedom Series of built-in modular refrigeration and aside from the clean flush good looks, superior high quality 115 degree hinging, attractive easy to clean well appointed interior, and they offer an 18” and a 24” full freezer with Ice and Water through the door. Now while many of us designers don’t prefer to see these little conveniences interrupting the “flow” of our design, homeowners want them. It’s a simple fact; it’s the recliner of the kitchen.

Thank you to Thermador for making this an option as well as so many other features in your product line.

Friday, November 18, 2011

A Mid-Week Weekend with BSH Group

Thermador Chef's Kitchen With
New 48" Pro Grand Oven
 with Steam oven built-in.
 There are many Appliance Brands out there that are a househould name, for instance Hoover...When I hear that name, I immediately think of vacuum cleaners, to the point I don't even know if they make anything else.There are a few major appliance brands  that have that same impact, I call it the the "Kleenex Effect". 

When I say "BSH Group" or Bosch Siemens Home Appliance Group I don't "household name". But in fact they are the parent company behind the brands: Bosch, Thermador and Gaggenau , household names around the globe and leaders in appliance technology.  My guess would be that a large percentage of people who have remodeled a kitchen in the last ten years will recognize the Bosch and Thermador brands very popular respectively for dishwashers and oven/cooktop technology and a host of other kitchen and laundry appliances. Gaggenau perhaps less known but a leader in elite cooking technology and a brand to explore if you are planning a luxury kitchen renovation.
Arizona Sunset

While the company is headquartered in Huntington Beach, California, it has operated a training facility in Scottsdale Arizona for several years. I was fortunate to be invited out last week for an extensive tour and immersion in brand training, it is the last tour they were doing before closing the facility and constructing a new one near the company headquarters. It was a treat to be in Scottsdale and and opportunity to appreciate the landscape and the beautiful giant cactus which can live up to 200 years.

The Frank Lloyd School of Architecture and Private
 resdience at Taliesin West, Scottsdale, Arizona.

Even though the visit was brief it was packed with activity and information, and I was fortunate to be included in a diverse group of some of the most talented and innovative kitchen designers you will find all brought to Scottsdale from around the country for two days of learning and sharing. There is so much to tell that I am planning a separate post on each brand and wanted to begin today by sharing a bit about the Team Build they offered us upon arrival that impressed me beyond my expectations and is a must see for anyone visiting Scottsdale with an ounce of interest in design, Taliesin West, the Winter home and architecture school of Frank Lloyd Wright, now owned by his foundation.

Construction began in the late 1930's, and rests in the Arizona desert foothills, positioned to overlook what Frank Lloyd Wright called his desert ocean, a vast see of varied species of Cacti resembling sea coral, the principle theme behind all of the structures is that they have a roof slope of 30 degrees resembling the gentle slope of the desert mountains . Building went on here for many years, and his streamlined contemporary design belies the fact that he was born in 1867.

Arizona Cactus Landscape

There are several water features on the campus, where the school of architecture still operates here half of the year. And on the tour we were able to visit the personal living spaces he and his wife shared and entertained in, as well as the two theaters, and his private screening room. I now say he invented the original Man Cave in addition to the carport, theater aisle lighting, and THE OPEN FLOORPLAN.

Frank Lloyd Wrights "boardwalk"
to his favorite vista.

When Frank Lloyd Wright died at nearly 92 years old he had authored 20 books, and of the 1100+ project he has designed over 500 were completed. It's a rich history and something I would definitely repeat given the chance also noting it was a fitting filed trip considering the breadth and contributions to technology made by the Bosch, Thermador and Gaggenau appliance brands. Over the next week I will look forward to sharing some of the history and innovation that these brands are famous for as well as share some of the results of the brand comparison testing we were able to perform at the training facility.

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Wednesday, October 5, 2011

New Appliances Offerings as Scholtes Launches in the U.S.

Kitchen with appliance by Scholtès,

As of October 4th, designers and homeowners in North America have a new entry level luxury appliance line to choose from. Scholtès, a European line from Indesit, has entered the market and is looking to go head to head with Kitchen Aid, Bosch and other appliances that already do battle for the high end remodeling client.

I have to say at first glance the line has very good appeal, certainly not fussy, it has clean simple lines with a very interesting bar pull handle that is sure to catch your eye. It is a nearly full line, with a couple of apparent exceptions: the microwave and full size refrigeration. Yes we have to talk about it, almost every kitchen gets a microwave, but more important is a freezer. That said, I think what they do offer in refrigeration has the potential to become extremely popular, as in time it proves to be reliable and appeals to clients looking for something a little less expensive than SubZero for under counter fridge drawers.
It’s simple enough that if someone wants to use the majority of the line for it’s attractive styling, they can easily panel a refrigerator from another line, and specify a GE Monogram microwave to round out the kitchen.

What they do have are gas and electric cook tops, dishwasher, built-in oven, hoods, dishwashers, and an array of refrigeration options including well priced 2 zone 36” wide refrigerated drawers, and smartly designed single and dual temperature zone wine storage that fits perfectly into tall storage cabinets . I expect we'll be trying these out very soon at MCK+B.

The line has been designed in Imperial sizes, so there is no problem swapping new appliances into an existing kitchen. The logo is prominent on each appliance, but not intrusive as I find Liebherr who has their logo embossed in 1” high letters on some of their models. Side note to Viking, I personally think their appliances can carry the bulky nameplate they label with, and it’s actually a selling feature at this point!

I want to welcome Scholtès to the marketplace and suggest you check out their European website for a glimpse at what we hope is to come.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

First US Showroom for Axor

New Axor Showroom Opens in NYC

 Today marks an important day in the history of the Hansgrohe brand Axor, the premium manufacturer of state of the art bathroom fixtures opens it's first U.S. showroom at 29 Ninth Avenue in New York City.

Located in the trendy Meat Packing District, the loft like showroom is bright and well dressed with the finest offerings of the Axor designs and their design partners such as, Philippe Starck, Antonio Citterio, Jean-Marie Massaud and others.

There are working displays, including the a 5' by 5' shower featuring the Philippe Starck modular shower collection with a giant ceiling rain head tile with 3-way adjustable spray.

The showroom with be open to designers and the public, lead by Kiel Wuellner, the showroom manager, they will offer advice and expertise including specifications to facilitate the use of their products in actual designs, in addition to a "hands on" shopping experience.

This support should prove to be invaluable to area designers and clients, offering a unique upscale experience with an opportunity to speak directly to brand representatives.

Philippe Stark, world renowned designer and architect, was the first of the featured designer collections developed by Axor, it debuted in 1994 and has continued to grow. As time went on Axor developed lines with many other innovative designer introducing collections to the market which have kept Axor in the forefront of high end bathroom remodeling.

The fixture are of course water efficient and compliant, with possibilities to create a very personal shower or bath experience.

A grand opening is planned for this evening following that the showroom will be open to the public.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

DeGustibus Cooking School Unveils New Kitchen Sponsored By Miele and Caesarstone

Salvatore Rizzo and Martha Stewart In the DeGustibus School's new Kitchen
 Martha Stewart was on hand last night for the unveiling of the new kitchen at the DeGustibus Cooking School which is located on the 8th floor of Macy's Herald Square location. Seen here with the school's Owner/Director Salvatore Rizzo, they were joined by a room full industry related professionals ranging from professional chefs, to architects, to designers and journalists. Several of the evenings  attendees were chefs who have taught at the school.

Preparing food for the guests using the new appliance from Miele

Founded in 1980 by Arlene Feltman Sailhac, who was also on hand and addressed the crowd, the school has a list of over a thousand chefs who have shared their secrets with the students who attend, including but not limited to Emeril Lagasse, Tyler Florence, and Wofgang Puck. With a history of recognizing and showcasing world class talent before they are a household name and an open enrollment, it seems to me like a course of classes here would be the unlitmate gift for any true foodie. The foods cooked and served are coupled with wines that make the perfect accompaniment, and emphasizes and promotes the importance of the professional sommelier.

The kitchen has been updated to include the latest cooking technology from Miele, including sleek induction cook tops and state of the art convection ovens. The clean minimalist design of Miele works very well in the contemporary kitchen styled for the school, but the appliances are equally beautiful in traditional kitchens. Miele products are well know for their stiking design, as well as their efficiency and precision.

The counter top is by Caesarstone, and appeared to be the recently introduced Belgian Moon, although the room was so full of anxious onlookers it was hard to to get close in. Like all Caesarstone this surface gets high praise for it's anti-microbial properties, heat and scratch resistance, and general ease of maintenance.

Many thanks to White Good's Sherry Qualls and Julie McCrary for the invite!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Built-in Under Counter Refrigeration U-Line Introduces the 3000 Series

For almost 50 years U-line has been a leader in under counter refrigeration, a heretofore small niche area of the appliance market that has been growing steadily over the past 10 years. Traditionally consumers sought out under counter refrigeration for mainly bar and entertainment areas. Of late they have gained favor with designers and homeowners as an answer to a need for additional flexible refrigeration.

In our age of convenience, where such a variety of food and beverage choices come individually packaged for easy single-serve snacking, families gravitate towards these convenient under counter fridges to store their supplies. Designing these refrigerators to the outside of the kitchen work triangle, keeps little ones safely out of the line of traffic when it’s time to prepare meals but leaves their juices etc. accessible. Reducing the amount of time and frequency of opening the homes main refrigerator not only is more energy efficient but also keeps food stored in it fresher longer.

U-line has recently introduced it 3000 series of refrigeration, if you are considering designing one into your space you should take a look at their latest offerings. They have models available in 18” and 36”, with stainless and glass fronts as well as panel-ready to match your cabinetry. In addition to the excellent range of temperature control, the units have a USB port and key that monitors the function and history of the appliance, so in the event of a power loss, or malfunction, the data can be read to troubleshoot the appliance before a repair person were to come out.

Aesthetically, the units are truly fully integrated, when you add an overlay and a toe kick panel they appear to be a regular base cabinet.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Grothouse Walnut Island in the House Beautiful Kitchen of the Year

I just wanted to share a stunning kitchen island, designed by Tyler Florence, and made by Grothouse Lumber, for the House Beautiful Kitchen of the Year. It's made of solid planked walnut with a 4" thick end grain walnut top. The island is on heavy duty casters to allow the chef to remove meats and casseroles out of the oven, then wheel them directly out of the work area where the food can be carved and prepped for serving. This one has deep drawers, and versatile open storage. It's a great idea for any kitchen!

Open to the public all week in Rockefeller Center, the House Beautiful Kitchen is a great source for decorating ideas, and worth adding to your tour, so if you are near the city, don't miss it! Check out the innovative, new product offerings, and design ideas that are second to none. Cabinetry is by KraftMaid, Counters by CaesarStone, designed by Tyler Florence,  and supported by Sunbrella, Kohler, Chobani, and Kitchen Aid.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Chef Tyler Florence Takes New York By Storm

Yesterday  in Rockefeller Center House Beautiful unveiled the 2011 Kitchen of the Year, Designed by Chef, restaurateur, and TV personality Tyler Florence. Editor in Chief Newell Turner was on hand to unveil the kitchen at a special press luncheon. He was joined by Kate Kelly Smith and a host of Representatives of the Companies supplying the products to make up the gorgeous kitchen. Notable contributors again are KraftMaid for the cabinetry, Kravet for the Fabrics, Sunbrella, Ann Sacks tile, Kohler, and many others.

Chobani, known for it's Greek Style yogurt joins Truvia, the natural sweetener as a food sponsor.

Tyler Florence brings a California flair to this year's
kitchen, and has added a large outdoor cooking and
dining space which includes a fabulous pizza oven.

While I got a quick sneak peak yesterday, I am returning tonight, as KraftMaid will be hosting it's own ev
ent in the kitchen.  I'll be following up after having a closer look at all treats this kitchen has to offer.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The BIG Questions When Hiring a Contractor

Can I meet a client and see a project that was completed 5-10 years ago?

We all like to browse cutting edge technology and the latest and coolest design offerings, but that is what showrooms are for! Truthfully if you can see one or two prior completed jobs when you are considering hiring a contractor, see something that was designed and built a few years ago. This will give you a window into a few important things
  • Brand and Durability of products offered
  • Integrity and quality of the installation
  • Ease of the process'
  • Long term Client satisfaction
  • How long the Contractor has really been in business*
*a few contractors, certainly not all contractors, exaggerate the longevity of their business, beware of this practice.

When you meet that client, it’s important to ask the right questions

  • Was your Project completed on time and in budget?
  • Were there many changes after the project began-surprises and extra work
  • Were you permitted as the homeowner to supply any of your own material, tile flooring etc? Or did everything need to be purchased through the contractor?
  • Did the contractor charge a premium?
  • Was the job well supervised?
  • Was the work continuous within reason (stopping for inspections)?
  • Were there any issues after the job was completed, how were they handled
  • Does the client feel like they got good value, and what they expected?
  • Was the name of the Business hired 5 years ago the same as the contractor is using today?*

*again, changing a business name is a tactic used by a few contractors out there to hide from bad reviews, lawsuits, and dissatisfied customers. Do your homework and don’t fall for this.

None of this is to say that you shouldn’t hire a new business or a young contractor. Quite the contrary, it just does pay to do your homework to find out where they got their start, and if they are young, have they worked for someone in the past? Ask to speak to that contractor.

Some contracts have 50 clauses on the back, if they do, take the time to read each one. If you think you need a lawyer to review the contract, then get one or move on to another contractor. It's possible the contractor you're dealing with has been on the receiving end of a lawsuit. This may or may not have been warranted or unwarranted. Your contract should be in easy to read language. Make sure that you are protected and negotiate changes you want up front.
I grew up in the construction business, third generation after both of my grandfathers’ and my own dad. Many of the people who worked for my father went on to have their own businesses. They stayed in touch with us as a family, and when the work was getting beyond my father he took pride in handing the jobs down to his past employees, with confidence they would do a great job.

If someone hasn’t come up the ranks working on the job-sites, as an apprentice, then journeyman, then master craftsman they are more of a “marketing expert/business person”, their perspective on the business may be very different than someone who learned the business from the foundation up.

Finally always check the name of the business with the Better Business Bureau. Accreditation with this organization shows a willingness by the contractor to be openly scrutinized. This practice protects the consumer and the Contractor, and if the business you are looking into has nothing to hide, they will want to share their excellent rating.

Author’s note: Working for one of the top kitchen design showrooms in the country is an honor and a pleasure. I have shared with my employers at MCK+B what I have learned through my personal experiences in this business, and they know that while they chose me as the right person for the showroom, I chose them based on their impeccable reputation. I am never too busy to offer advice, or give the name of independent referrals within the industry. Follow me on Twitter for industry updates!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Semi-Custom vs Custom Cabinetry

Flawless Design and Installation
Lately, the question of the hour seems to be, "should I use semi-custom or custom cabinetry, what's the difference?"  I say this: To some the only difference is the company's position in the marketplace. Just because a company adds new painted and glazed finishes and many semi-custom options would the "Largest Stock Cabinet Manufacturer" in the country give up their position on top to become a smaller fish in the semi-custom market? That may seem like an overly simplistic answer,  but it brings you to the truth of the matter, which is each company should be evaluated for their product, and each kitchen for it's need.

The higher end custom companies do definitely have higher quality finishing, and attention to detail as well as allowing for full creative input from the designer, Like the kitchen above designed by Sol Kassorla of Manhattan Center for Kitchen + Bath. Even if you aren't looking for the "fancier" or "better" options, how about the attention they pay to lumber grade, and the curing of the wood, the toners used to stabilize the finish, and cabinetry that can be perfectly sized to fit high end appliances like the featured Sub Zero glass door refrigerator. These are all things that matter tremendously to the overall finished look of your kitchen.

I have seen a semi-custom cherry kitchen that looked beautiful when it was new, turn into the "Tony the Tiger" kitchen after the wood began to season and stripe. Over the first year after the kitchen was installed the contrast of the white and green wood that was mixed in the doors became overpowering. And the kitchen, which was high end semi-custom lost mush of it's visual appeal.

Beautiful Custom Rope Columns
Also to keep in mind, semi-custom companies do offer many structural modifications to their cabinetry, making them easier than ever before to customize to fit, the options vary from company to company. However, keep in mind that if your layout demands many of these modifications to properly fit the space you will be driving cost up and can end up spending as much as you would for a full custom kitchen. If from the start you are looking for things like working side entries on cabinets, meticulously engineered wainscoat panels, moldings and columns look to a designer like Steve Naphtali of  Kitchen Expressions of Short Hills who designed the kitchen on the right which was featured on HGTV.

If Old Navy jeans are okay at $39.00 dollars a pair, but you need to have the leg and the waist tailored for another $40.00, wouldn't it make sense to buy the Gap jeans that fit you perfectly for $69.00? Kitchens are more complicated than jeans so you need to do a little more homework.

Consult with designers for both types of cabinetry, see what products and services are offered and what fits your kitchen best. A kitchen is only as good as the installation, so do yourself a favor and stay away from online contractor referral schemes, talk to your friends and neighbors  to find out the best services in your area. Remember "Service Magic" is paid for by the contractor who wants your business, this not an independent referral service!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Bright Ideas in Under Cabinet Lighting

 Traditional Inset Kitchen with LED strip lights.
There are so many decisions to make when planning a kitchen. Some of the most important ones need to be made in the beginning, like appliances, cabinetry, under cabinet lighting. You may wonder why under cabinet lighting couldn't wait until closer to the end, especially if you're feeling overwhelmed by the choices. When properly planned for ahead of time a professional designer will customize the bottoms of the cabinets to conceal the light fixtures. If you wait until the cabinets are already  made to decide you could end up scrambling last minute for cover moldings, panels, or worse yet staring at your fixtures for the lifetime of your kitchen.

If you are already in the process and haven't addressed this yet don't wait, contact your designer and add a small molding to the order, something like a soffit crown for a traditional kitchen or a solid stock with return, a plain molding like this can be left "as is" in a contemporary kitchen or receive an applied molding to dress it up. Calculate the linear feet of exposed bottom edge and then round up to the nearest multiple of eight. If you are within two feet, add an extra length. Ultimately you want your molding produced with or as close to your cabinetry as possible to achieve the best match and allow all the materials to age together.

Next you will want to sit with a knowledgable lighting specialist, someone who can match up the necessary drivers and connectors to whichever fixtures you decide in. They should also be in the best position to show you the latest offerings in lighting. There are so many to choose from, flourescent, halogen, LED, avaialable in tones ranging from cool white, to warm, to natural daylight. Not all fixtures can be placed on dimmers, so if this is a feature you like, make sure it's compatible.  

Contemporary Kitchen in Blue
Lacquer with Figured Anigre
In a kitchen you can create visual excitement by layering your lighting as in this contemporary blue kitchen. There is LED cool white puck lighting installed in the stainless flyover panels, under the cabinets, and behind the butterfly cabinet doors.

Custom Light Shelves
If you are looking for a more subtle lighting effect, I recommend custom fabricated bottom light shelves. The ones here are a constructed as a double hulled glass with interior flourescent lights to create pleasing downward and and upward lighting, perfect for cabinets with glass doors. Here shown with backpainted white glass lift up doors. All the materials shown here were designed and are on display at Manhattan Center for Kitchen + Bath.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

An Easy "Must Read" For Anyone About to Redo Their Kitchen- Kelly's Kitchen Sync

Buying a kitchen can be a daunting task, not everyone is a natural planner and with an investment this size, it's good to have the best advice. Obviously hiring a professional kitchen designer is one way to make sure you get the most out of your remodel. But not everyone can afford to hire their own consultant, and even if you can, arming yourself with information is one of the best things you can do. I have three little words, my own personal mantra, if you will, "fit, form, and function" ...they ramble through my brain daily, because without them, the most beautiful kitchen in the world is a complete waste of money.

I am a big fan of the "Dummie's" books, I own quite a few, personal finance was the one that got me started almost 20 years ago. When there is something I don't know anything about, I reach for a book.

Kelly Morisseau, CKD, noted Kitchen Designer and Blogger today has released her first book "Kelly's Kitchen Sync". In my opinion it's a "Must Read" for anyone thinking about redoing their kitchen. It's easy to read, comprehensive, and engaging, she tells it like it is without talking down to her reader.

Kelly offers practical advice on everything from lighting, to cabinet function, to layout and more. I highly recommend picking this up for professionals and layfolks alike, there's something for everyone to learn. Thanks Kelly for this great perspective on a craft I love!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Bathroom Trends

Bathrooms are the second largest single home renovation project second only that is to a kitchen. It's exciting as a designer when a bathroom comes my way that rivals a kitchen in size and complexity. It's fun exploring the new technology and being creative with the client to achieve a look that is personal to them. And it's easy to spend upwards of $50,000 on a well appointed master bath. As homeowners are considering their home longer term investments and less apt to "flip" property, they are returning to the well planned and better equipped Master ensuite.  

12"X12" Faceted Limestone

 Recently I had such an opportunity in a great loft apartment in Chelsea on the West Side. Going for a minimalist look, the entire bathroom was designed in limestone (with the exception of one accent wall), to which we applied 3 coats of stone sealer, while an adding expense and time to the project, it will protect the stone and grout joints and ensure a good finish to the project.

In a move to get away from smaller tiles and too much grout in the shower we faceted the 12" x 12" tiles towards the shower drain. This eliminated the need for a mosaic tile which would normally be used for it's ease of "grading".

Toto Washlet Toilet
We used Hangrohe Axor Starck (by famed Architect Philippe Starck) plumbing fixtures and WetStyle Cube Freestanding Soaking Tub and Wall Hung vanities. This combination of clean lined materials made for a sophisticated unfussy look. Even  though this bathroom is larger than average, the use of wall hung vanities not only opens up the space, but makes the bathroom very easy to clean.

The Toto Washlet toilet finishes the suite with self-cleaning conveniences and a heated seat.

Robern Uplift medicine cabinets set against a blue and natural mosaic variegated "fettuccine" tile and the "cherry on top" Runtal Towel Warmer make this bathroom with Manhattan skyline views the perfect, well designed, personal, sanctuary after a long day.

In addition to using larger more contemporary tile, clients are also frequently opting for taller vanities and/or wall hung vanities with height flexibility and also adding more electrical outlets for additional bathroom appliances. In this bathroom, not only did we have wall outlets and outlets in the medicine cabinets, we added them in the vanity drawers, perfect for keeping a hair dryer!

While an average bathroom renovation may fall in very reasonably around $30-40,000 premium fixtures and tile can quickly raise the bar. It's important when using these specialty materials to make sure the contractor has the skill to install everything correctly. I always recommend asking neighbors and friends for referrals of contractors who have done recent good work. Often what sets Home Center tile and high Quality Porcelain tile that you find in a premium quality showroom apart is the higher temperatures at which the tile is fired. High heat forces the air bubbles out and makes for a more durable product that will perform better over the lifetime of the project.

If you are interested in the above project, please feel free to contact me.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Avoid The Zero Point Renovation and Get Great Kitchen Results

Beautiful Simple Contemporary Kitchen by MCK+B

Recently I was visited in the showroom by someone interested in renovating their kitchen in a home they wish to sell in 2 years. I spoke to them a bit about the size of the kitchen and the look they wanted to achieve. I  gave them some literature and noticed they also had Home Depot Kitchen Brochures, including what I consider to be the nicest line HD carries which is KraftMaid.We began to discuss the budget for the project and the value of the home, which they revealed to be a $10,000.00 budget  including new appliances, in a home valued at $500,000. Granted the kitchen was tiny, it still wasn't a realistic number. A client this far off the mark, may need to explore the market more and hear similar from a few designers before they reevaluate their budget.

I attempted to explain to them  what they were proposing was a "Zero Point Renovation". This is a remodel that is so far below what the property value demands that when you go to sell your home, you get absolutely zero to negative credit from prospective buyers. In other words, you may actually get less for your home if you rip out older but nonetheless good quality materials, and put in new poor quality in it's place. When people are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars for a home they will look closely at the kitchen and bathrooms. And if you are going to live there for 2-3 years before selling it, the poor quality renovation will be truly lackluster by then.

When they asked me what is reasonable to spend on a kitchen remodel, I told them 10-15% of a homes value. Now I know there are many who believe the real number is 15-20% , but I think that a well spent 10% is plenty, and if the kitchen is small as in their case, and the appliances are going to be a nice quality GE, but not SubZero-Wolf or comparable, then realistically they could get the entire project done for 7-8% or $40,000. For that with the right design advice, I would expect them to be able to get:
    Stylish Upper East Side kitchen with a view
  • semi-custom cabinetry
  • basic granite or Caesarstone counter tops
  • Ge Profile appliances in black(possibly stainless)
  • natural stone or glass tile backsplash(Susan Jablon Mosaics is a great cost effective online resource)
  • under cabinet lighting
  • recessed lighting in the work area
  • under mount sink
  • Kohler Pulldown Simplice faucet in Vibrant Stainless at under $300.00 is a bargain  
  • Hardware is a great thing to save money by purchasing online (I recommend you order samples in at least the amount of the restocking fee, that way you hold them and know you like them before ordering the whole kitchen worth a risk being disappointed)
There are certain fixed costs in a kitchen remodel, namely the labor, including electrical and plumbing costs. Many times homeowners seek to save money by just cutting everything they can out of their cabinetry expenses. And while I've heard the expression "a box is a box" a few hundred times in past years, and there is  room for an argument here, but you aren't just giving up the box, it's the door, drawers, and more importantly the finish. I gave up being a field representative for a cabinet company, simply because they did business in a lower price point, and it was heartbreaking to meet with consumers disappointed and complaining about the finish of their cabinets after they were installed.  It's better to avoid this disappointment, shop, look closely at what you are buying at set your expectations appropriately.

I recommend a  balanced approached when trying to cut costs. Take advantage of some of the websites and tips I offered above as a way to get a well blended design and the most out of your renovation budget. In the end I believe you'll be more satisfied overall.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Appliances---When Size Matters

Two apartments in NYC that recently became one.
As anyone in New York City knows, combining apartments is our urban equivalent to suburbia's "putting on an addition". And just like in the burbs, this type of remodeling is on an upswing, perhaps even more so than "up country" because city dwellers can take immediate advantage of the drop in real estate prices when they buy their neighbors place. Where as in New Jersey...you already own your yard, it's just worth less than it was 3 years ago.

It's always interesting to see what extra space is allowed for the new single kitchen, even if the apartment doubled in size, and they ripped out one of the kitchens...it's rare that the kitchen doubles, although I have seen it a couple of times recently. It does seem more likely that TWO 2-bedrooms will become a 3-bedroom with a family room than a 4-bedroom anyway, it's just another trend I see.

Miele 24" Oven, Microwave and Warming Drawer.
What to do then with the 3 bedroom luxury apartment with a 9' one wall galley kitchen and an island...well, first thing is be careful, and don't waste an inch. It's very important to consider cooking and shopping practices in these cases. While a three bedroom home on Long Island or New Jersey would usually have a 36" refrigerator, it wouldn't be uncommon to do a 30" Sub Zero in the city. And it's doable when you take into account the fact that we tend to shop more frequently, picking up fresh fruits and vegetables at the farmers markets on our way home. This is especially easy to manage if there is an additional space for a beverage fridge, say in the new family room.

People in both the city and the suburbs overall love the idea of a wall oven. It's so much easier to lift a heavy roast (or vegetable lasagna) out of an oven that is above counter height than to heft it from down low, possibly straining your back. The beautiful selection of ovens and their sleek look when combined with microwaves and warming drawers when  built in, conjures up images of an uncluttered, well functioning workspace. Normally you would allocate 30" for this appliance set up, but it is possible to do it with a 24" appliance combination from Miele, and if your apartment is a 2 bedroom, that oven may be large enough for the home. One thing to consider before buying a wall oven is if you have the electrical service to support it.  If it's not available, the cost of bringing it in can be exorbitant!

Of all appliances, dishwashers are the ones that sometimes get left out of the equation when something has to go, great space saving options are the Miele Incognito 18" fully integrated or a dish drawer which is generally 24" wide but can be installed as a single, leaving room for more storage under it.

Concetta with a Wolf 36" cook top.
Cook tops come in many different sizes, from the Wolf 15" two-burner up to 48" with grill...you will find one that is right for your space, people seem to like to go a little larger on this appliance, perhaps because of the glamour and fun of standing behind it, especially if you can install it in an island and enjoy time "cheffing it up" with your friends. To indulge a little here is okay, after all redoing a kitchen is a major expense and takes energy, you should enjoy it when its over.

The thing to be most careful about is that your appliances have a relationship, with each other, the number of people you would expect to live in the home, and of course, don't forget the sink. It's important that if you would reasonably expect to use a pot of a certain size to cook, you would have a sink or a dishwasher likewise to accommodate it.

Well thought out storage solutions are the key to a well planned kitchen, and as Gale Steves pointed out to me recently, it's about right sizing your home, you can add storage without adding space to the room, just be smart, and even the toe kick under your cabinets can be useful. Be creative and have fun!

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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Homeowner Beware Dishonest Practices

Be very careful what you read and believe in the online business review pages, such as Merchant Circle, Insider Pages, CitySearch etc. Not every business owner is scrupulous, and I know of one in particular who scoops reviews off other's LinkedIn and posts them on his own business pages as though the homeowner posted an unsolicited review. It's unethical and a good indication of the rest of the businesses practices.

Here is an example of one taken from me. The review on the left top was placed on my LinkedIn profile in 2008 shortly after the compeltion of the kitchen. It was recently re- posted on the web under a different business name, for a completely different purpose than it was written.

The person who took the referal is someone I worked for previously, so I am familiar with the ethics. I know  to be on the lookout for where my name will pop up, and it seemed to me he wouldn't stop with fake reviews, and taking referals that don't belong to him. Low and behold, while he stopped by my professional profile he also took the name of my blog...if it isn't nailed down he thinks he can have it. I obviously don't wish to have my business or reputation connected to this person, but what can a homeowner do to make sure they don't open the door to a conniver like this?

    The only way you the consumer can be sure that a review is genuine is to speak to actual clients and visit
their completed project, ask for three names, not just one. Ask for proof of how long the company has been
in business, and check with the Better Business Bureau, make sure they are a member,
these organzation can be very helpful in a dispute, and they keep good records. Ask if they have ever been sued or settled out of court, ask them face to face, not over the phone. Visit the address the business is incorporated at and if you have any doubts don't sign a contract. If you do sign a contract you have three days to rescind, but you must do it by certified mail. You could lose a lot of money by not rescinding properly even of no work has been done.

And Good Luck!