High Point Market Is Here!

There are a few different furniture markets during the year that everyone in the business attends to find the latest and greatest but I still prefer the High Point Market.   It’s the original furniture market, primarily because of its geographic location to where most of the furniture in the United States used to be made.  Even though a lot of our goods are now imported, the big companies still maintain their major presence at this market.

High Point market begins in one week.  I’ll be there scouring the showrooms for some of the best design finds and values.  In my next blog I’ll bring you some of my favorite purchases but I thought I’d give you a little background on the market before I go.

During market week, any manufacturer who has the means puts out their best displays and products to lure buyers and designers into their spaces.  It’s a fast paced week and to explain it as “sensory overload” is a huge understatement.  It covers 180 buildings and 10 million square feet of display.  It represents over 2000 manufacturers from 106 countries.   Attendance is usually in the area of about 800,000 plus buyers.

Buses, transports, taxis, rental cars, shuttles, and streets filled wall to wall with people rushing from one space to another, make for long days.  Food is fairly scarce except for light snacks and possibly a sandwich stand.  No one is eating much or enjoying the beautiful scenery outside.  Everyone is fighting the clock and trying to cover as much territory as their feet will allow.

So why do we put ourselves through this torture?  Because hidden away in a remote new showroom, lays the promise of an amazing new discovery.  And that one item can lead to an entire market trend over the next few years.   It also gives us a chance to see the new products that everyone is introducing and gives us a chance to put in our orders and become the first showrooms to have the products for sale.

In High Point you see everything.  From Indonesian imports to Christmas trees, from loungers with built-in sound systems to tables made from petrified wood.  There is no shortage of originality and it all depends on the buyer’s taste if it’s the right thing for them.

The market is only open to the trade and if you think you want to try to sneak in, you better have some pretty impressive credentials.  Most people are pre-qualified with entry passes before the week starts.  Security is everywhere and people are turned away all day long.  And if that isn’t enough, most quality showroom spaces have added another layer of security at their front doors to screen buyer’s qualifications.  Yes, there is that much business.

High Point is only open two weeks a year.  Buyers from every store in the country need to make their purchases for the next 6-12 months during that single week and the results can often determine the future of a manufacturer.   Everyone is under pressure and it’s sort of like Wall Street at 8AM on a Monday morning.  Every elevator is packed 100% of the time.  Hotels are booked up to 30 miles away and everyone is getting a premium for everything from rental cars to food.   Advertising is everywhere…the sides of buildings, buses, windows, street poles, shirts, you name it.  Companies are determined to get your attention and your dollars.  Basically, it’s insane.

Every market is a little different.  But each one brings styles, new products, and new trends.  Some people find what they’re hoping to find, some go home disappointed.  And even though everyone leaves with  really sore, aching feet, there’s that feeling of satisfaction knowing that once again you’ve conquered the beast and you’re heading home.

Interior Design Begins On The Exterior

So you’re taking advantage of the real estate market’s demise and you’ve just purchased a new home.  One of the first things you’re probably thinking about is what style you want to create for the interior.

My first suggestion is if you liked the style of the home, stick with that same style on the inside.   It always feels a little strange to me when someone buys a colonial house and furnishes it with contemporary,  minimalistic pieces.   It just comes off as a big disconnect.   Likewise, if you buy a contemporary home, keep the pieces clean and avoid all the clutter and embellishments.

When you’re designing a home, you’re creating a package.  The exterior should give the visitor a glimpse of what to expect and the interior should finish the job.  I’ve seen some of the oddest combinations over the years and often,  the only way to remedy the situation is to start over on the interior or find a new house that will more appropriately reflect your interior style.

Granted, most people have some possessions that they want to incorporate into their home from their previous home.  This can be done if you understand that some items will need to be repurposed, separated from their original location and possibly undergo refinishing or reupholstering.   If you find yourself in this category, I’d strongly suggest you seek the assistance of an interior designer to give you an objective opinion.

Every style offers a few variations so don’t feel you have to make it a “theme” house.  A casual bungalow, for example could easily be transformed into either a coastal cottage home or embrace a mission style.  A common misconception is to over-decorate a simple home, thereby dismissing the original architecture and displaying an obsessive vulgarity or overruling ambition, as Frank Lloyd Wright would call “grandomania.”

In the same thought, an elegant luxury home also needs to continue the thought.  Buying an impressive home only makes sense if you have the means and intent to complete the picture.  A good rule of thumb that I use is to budget about 25% of the home to complete the interior.   Nothing feels more awkward than enjoying a million dollar view from a $400 sofa.  Not to sound like a snob, but come on.

The same hold true for your color scheme.  The outside and inside colors need to complement each other and appear to be part of the plan…including the fabrics on the patio.   And while those painted Adirondack chairs look great on the porch of your beach house, they will look like a flea market find on the patio of your golf course estate home.  It’s like wearing a sweatshirt to a wedding.

The bottom line is to be true to your style.  Find a home that represents the style you want to create and live in and then complete the interior as part of the same design thought.  When you are done, you will have created an oasis, a place that represents who you really are and one that makes you comfortable.


Understanding Modern Style vs. Contemporary Style

Customers often find it very confusing to try to understand the difference between the two terms.  Some people have their own ideas or interpretations but there is only a hair’s difference between the two.  

Mies Van Der Rohe "Barcelona Chair"

The Modern style came at a time of social reform and change. It was affordable and incorporated low-cost materials and manufacturing techniques never seen before this time.   Unlike its classic predecessors, it was clean and simple and produced a profound and aesthetic effect and brought the world of furniture to a new awareness.  Furniture design would never be the same again.

Naguchi Bamboo Chair

One of the most famous schools of design, the Bauhaus school in Germany, produced many of the great designers that would later develop the “modern movement.”  Designers like Eames, Noguchi, and Mies Van Der Rohe created timeless pieces that even today, are considered masterpieces. One of the advantages of modern is that many of the pieces, carefully designed by designers, architects and engineers, offered function along with form.  Many of the pieces contained built-in storage or adjustable pieces, making it perfect for apartment or city living.  This made it particularly popular among the design and art communities.

Contemporary design did not come into play until the l970’s.  Technically, contemporary refers to a time period, such as the one we live in today.   While not acknowledged in the design world as a period of design, it brought comfort, beauty and simplicity to designs with their roots in the “modern” style.  It represents what is new and prevailing.  This could mean different things for different part of the world.   But like Modern, the lines are simple and clean and the details are uncluttered.  It represents new technology and products, most recently infused by the eco movement to go “green.”

The Mystery Of Fabric Content

Shopping for a new piece of furniture is always an exciting time for anyone.  It’s a chance to find something new, a way of expressing our personality and giving us something to look forward to in the future.

Many of the pieces of furniture that we buy for our home are covered in fabric to some degree.  Sofas, chairs, pillows, draperies, bedcoverings, etc., to name a few.  But before you plunk down that credit card and finalize your purchase, it’s a good idea to have a little knowledge in hand about just how that fabric is going to hold up or how you’re going to clean it if it’s gets soiled or stained.  After all, the condition of the old fabric is usually the first consideration when deciding to replace a piece and usually the first thing that attracts you to a new piece of furniture.

Here is a brief rundown of the majority of fabrics that you will come across in the home furnishings stores.   While this only serves as a guideline, it could save you from making an expensive mistake.


Cotton has been around for about 7,000 years dating back to 5000BC from excavations in Mexico and Pakistan.  It’s almost pure cellulose.  It grows in a boll and is spun into yarn which is then woven into fabric.  The cotton part of the plant is used to help distribute the cotton seeds in the wind because of its light weight.  In older times, it was a fairly expensive fabric but since the invention of the cotton gin, it has become extremely affordable.  It has since become the best-selling fiber in the United States.

Cotton is available in natural cotton and cotton blends.  Cotton blends tend to be stronger and more durable than cotton.  Adding a stain-resistant finish helps cotton hold up well around children.  However, staining and wrinkling can occur.  If soiled, cotton should be professionally cleaned to avoid shrinkage and discoloration.  It’s a perfect fabric for warm climates.


Silk is a fragile material for use on pieces that are not used often.  It can be easily damaged or stained and typically not great around children or pets.  The most widely known silk is a natural protein fiber produced by the mulberry silkworm.  The prism-like shape of the silk fiber allows it to capture light and reflect it back in different colors.  The only type of silk used for textiles comes from the moth caterpillar.

Silk is one of the strongest natural fibers but is easily damaged by water, after which, is impossible to repair.  Once available only to Kings and royalty, silk is still considered a luxury fabric.  It can have a smooth texture or be woven into a slub texture.  It holds color and patterns extremely well but can also have a tendency to stretch if used for drapery without the proper inner-liner or backing.  Silks can only be cleaned professionally.


Linen is woven from fibers of the flax plant.  It is another strong fabric that is popular in warm climates because of its cooling qualities.  Linen is a very labor intensive fabric and this explains why it is more expensive than some of its rivals.

Once used as currency in ancient Egypt, linen has long been considered a luxury fabric due to its purity and fine woven qualities.  However, linen wrinkles more than any other fabric.  While some people may find this troublesome, most people who purchase linen, buy it especially because of this relaxed look.  Being a natural fiber, linen should always be professionally cleaned.  It can also have a tendency to “pill” or gather small balls of fiber on the face of the fabric with wear and tear.


Synthetic fibers are the result of extensive research to improve on natural plant or animal fibers.  They can be produced in quantities with complete control over their qualities.  As a result, synthetic fibers tend to be less expensive but are usually extremely durable and easy to clean.  The majority of synthetic fibers used in furnishings fall into four types:

Nylon: Nylon was developed by DuPont as a replacement for silk.  It’s very strong, easy to clean, resists mildew and insects and great for high traffic items and carpets.

Acrylic: Also developed by DuPont in 1941, acrylic can be woven to mimic soft, luxurious fabrics such as cashmere, wool or chenille.  It can also be made to look like cotton.  The colors are pigmented into the yarn before weaving, making acrylic very color steadfast.  It holds up against chemicals, moths and deterioration from sunlight.  It is also the perfect fabric for patio furniture or areas that are easily soiled.  It can be cleaned with mild soap and water.

Polyester:  Polyester is used extensively in home furnishings due to its stability and strength.  It is very stain-friendly and cleans easily with mild detergent and water.  It may have a tendency to “pill” with wear and tear.  It is an affordable fabric and is available in many different colors, patterns and textures.

Olefin:  Olefin is abrasion, stain, sunlight, fire, and chemical resistant. It does not dye well, but has the advantage of being colorfast.  It provides warmth without weight and is abrasion resistant.  One of the most important advantages is olefin maintains its strength in wet or dry conditions.  In other words, it wears like iron for years and years.  It is non-absorbent so stains usually don’t present a problem unless they are oil based.  Water and mild soap should clean most spots including oil stains.


Rayon is actually a semi-synthetic fiber with the same properties of a natural fiber.  It’s a cellulose fiber manufactured from naturally occurring polymers.  It’s in a category of its own.

Rayon can imitate silk, wool, cotton or linen, all with some added advantages.   Rayon is a soft, cool, absorbent fiber but does not insulate body heat, making it a good choice for warmer climates and is relatively affordable to most.   Rayon has a low melting point so it should never be exposed to ironing or dryers.  Only professional cleaning is recommended.


Leather is a category that is often confused because there are different grades of leather, each representing a different cost.  Since leather furniture is often the most expensive, it’s a good idea to know exactly what grade of leather you are purchasing and what the advantages and drawbacks could be.   It is broken down into four main categories.

Full Grain:  Full grain is the most expensive type of leather available.  It is the hide in its purest form without the epidermis or hair.  It has not been sanded or corrected to remove any imperfections and therefore retains its strength and breathability,  resulting in less moisture from prolonged contact.  This type of leather will, over time, develop a patina based on a wear pattern and is absorbent so it will stain.  It’s natural to find small imperfections in this leather as a result of insect bites, barbed wire or contact with other animals.  This is considered the very best leather you can buy.  Full grain can be aniline or semi-aniline dyed depending on whether you want an extra layer of protection on the finish of the leather.

Top Grain:  This is the second most expensive leather, having its split layer underneath removed, reducing the thickness of the leather making it thinner and more pliable.  The top has been sanded and a protective finish has been applied sometimes making it more “plastic” looking and cold.  It is less apt to show wear, will not patina with age and will resist stains as long as the finish remains intact.  It is much less expensive than full grain.  Sometimes top grain can be lightly sanded on the grain side raising the fibers to a velvet quality, becoming nu-buck leather.

Corrected Grain:  This is any leather that has had an artificial grain embossed on the face of the hide.  This leather has been sanded and treated and stamped with an leather grain.  These leathers are made from the hides that do not meet the standards for full or top grain because of their scaring or conditions.  Once dyed, these leathers tend to have a uniform pigment dye, allowing them to hide the corrections made.

Split:  Split leather refers to the leather after to the top grain has been removed.  Depending on the thickness of the hide, it can be split several times into thinner layers.  The top is then coated with an artificial material and stamped with a leather embossing.  This is also known as bycast.

Splits are also used to make suede.

So as you can see, it’s a little more involved than just looking pretty.  If you’re working with a designer, they can steer you into the right direction but if you’re shopping on your own, you may want to take a little more time to digest what you are getting into.   In the end, you’ll have a product that you not only love and appreciate but one that will have meaning.


Traditional Is Peeking Its Head Through The Door

Whenever the economy takes a hit, people tend to react by looking for ways to find comfort and safety in their otherwise uncertain lives.   Recessions tend to make everyone a little more hesitant to venture into unchartered waters.  As a result, a shift in design trends is beginning.

While contemporary remains the driving force of the home furnishings business, those looking to invest large sums to furnish and design an entire home have already begun to once again express their desire for something with a little more permanence.  Based on historical performance, traditional is the one style that has always lasted the test of time.  But this time it’s taking a little twist to the left.

This is not to say that the true traditional interiors are being replaced.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.  Traditional designs have been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be the backbone for serious-minded clients.   It’s a style that is truly timeless and represents a historical tribute to the periods of design that have brought us to where we are.  A quick tour through some of the most prestigious homes, including the White House, should make this clear.

The “New Traditional” is a much cleaner version of its predecessors.  While the finishes and features represent the true details of traditional styling, the lines are being slightly adapted to appeal to those who might otherwise have considered going with a contemporary or transitional interior.  The result is a more relaxed traditional, much lighter in color and feel and often with personal touches of distressed or painted finishes.  Mixing these with a few classic, rich, and beautifully made wooden pieces gives the interior the feeling of being in the present with a deep respect for the quality of the past.

In the transition, many of the details that were once a staple have been eliminated, such as bullions, fringes, etc.  At best, tapes are applied in geometric accents but the lavish, over-the-top expense of adding layer upon layer of detailing has left us.  Draperies have become simpler and understated, adding the luxury element without competing for attention.  Rugs are becoming more tone-on-tone or textural.  Accessories are bolder, collections are more varied, and lighting adds a little bling.

This is not the stodgy old traditional interior of your grandmother’s house.  This is a new lifestyle look that speaks of relaxed luxury, comfort and pieces that speak about the owner.  It’s a backdrop to compliment the people who live there, not a home that dictates how you live.

This is a style that mixes well with contemporary and can take the cool edge off for those who want a little more personality and user-friendly, as well as eco-friendly, interior.  It’s a style that will let you add to your collection over time without the destroying your present design direction, allowing you to make those one-of-a-kind crazy purchases knowing full well it will be with you for a long time.   And it’s a style that conveys a welcoming good taste.


Photos courtesy of Hickory Chair

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Cheap Is The New Expensive


Nothing makes us feel better than finding a bargain.  That’s especially true when we are in the process of buying some otherwise high ticket items such as furniture.   Unlike cars or jewelry, furniture shopping for most,  is a fairly rare occurrence.  And having been out of that retail market for some time can cause quite a sticker shop for new consumers.

Part of the problem is that most of the furniture ads that we see are primarily for sale items from mass retailers.   That’s all well and good if you’re looking for the least expensive import piece of furniture to go with your used 2002 Subaru.   But if you’re the type of customer who prefers a little more style and quality, like the BMW parked in your driveway, the reality of today’s furniture prices may catch you a little off-guard.  And if it’s been 10 years since you made any major furniture purchases, the effect could be a little overwhelming.

Like everything else, prices have gone up.  To combat that, many retailers and manufacturers are “out sourcing” their products to overseas, primarily China and Asia.  The result has become the great divide between quality and low prices.   Some companies, however, have held steadfast to their integrity of delivering high quality goods from around the world.

A bargain is only a bargain when you are buying the same item that would normally sell for a much higher price.  It’s not a bargain when it’s a mere look-alike.   Everyone tries to knock off the best style of the quality companies but the real bargain lies hidden beneath the surface of the quality items.

A good example is the purchase of a sofa which most people buy every 7-10 years.  Ads on TV lead us to believe that we can purchase a beautiful sofa for $399.  Hard to believe, isn’t it?  After all, it takes about 20 yards of fabric just to cover it.  And remember, at $399, the retailer is still making a profit.  So just how much quality do you think is in that sofa when you deduct their profit, the cost of the fabric and the cost of shipping?  Not much at all. It merely becomes temporary, disposable furniture that is great for a college student or new grad on a budget.  But it is certainly not going to hold up under normal wear and tear conditions, especially if you have a family or entertain very often.

The result?  You’re going to end up buying a new sofa in a couple years, and then in another couple years, etc.  Or you may end up buying the better quality sofa only after replacing the sofa a couple of times first.  This is definitely an expensive lesson to learn.  On the other hand, a good quality sofa will easily last the 10 years or more before you’ll want to replace it and chances are the only reason you will replace it is to find a newer style.   Or perhaps you’ll keep it and just reupholster it.  Either way, it is less expensive in the long run to opt for the better quality from the beginning, even if it means buying one piece at a time.

Most companies have established their reputations in the home furnishings field and if you’re working with an experienced designer, they should be able to guide you through the maze.  There are areas where you can save and areas where it will become a mistake.  If you’re not familiar with the brand, ask questions about the history of the company, the warranty, and the construction.

If you’re really looking to save money you need to ask yourself whether you are looking for short term savings or long term savings.  And if long term is the direction you choose, then consider selecting items that are the real McCoy’s.   Take your time making your choices.  Find the things that make you happy and that you know you’ll enjoy for the rest of your life.  Then give yourself a pat on the back knowing you just saved yourself some serious money down the road.


Photos courtesy of Hickory Chair


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The 2012 Color Forecast

For those of us in the interior design business, nothing makes more of an overall impact than the use of color.  Of course it’s always important to understand style, scale, proportion, relationship and product, but nothing catches the eyes of an end consumer more than the perfect use of color.  It’s one of the simplest tools but still one of the most important when trying to capture the personality of a design.

Thankfully, Sherwin Williams works diligently to watch trends in the world of color.  They constantly monitor fashions, home décor, and design trends and study consumer behaviors to find the underlying influences behind our purchases and then provide us with a forecast for the upcoming year based on their findings.  It’s no small task and their results often affect the future color trends on a global scale.

From couture fashions to dinner plates, Sherwin Williams strives to stay one step ahead of consumers, providing manufacturers and designers with a glimpse of what is to come.

While other companies such as Pantone and Benjamin Moore also make their own predictions, Sherwin Williams seems to capture more of the consumer mood.  With the release of their 2012 Color Collections, prepared in partnership with HGTV, they have provided the consumer with a hands-on tool in selecting a palette that is not only current but will also reflect the individual tastes of the homeowner.

They have broken down their findings into eight categories.  Their colors are based on our obsession with “going green” and take hues commonly found in nature, along with varying shades and compliments, to define different lifestyles.  Colors have become more sophisticated and blended, not bold and pure.  Never has anyone been so on target and made this process as easy as they have.

Here are few of their highlight images showcasing each color family.  If you would like to see the actual colors for each collection or to read more about their products, go to:

http://www.sherwin-williams.com/do_it_yourself/hgtvhome/color_collections/Courtesy Sherwin Williams & HGTV



“Coastal Cool”



“Global Spice”




“Livable Luxe”




“Neutral Nuance”



“Color Pizazz”




“Traditional Twist”




“Urban Organic”



“Rustic Refined”


This doesn’t suggest that you should repaint or change your interiors every year to follow the current trend.  Rather, it’s just a helping hand should you be at those crossroads where change is in your future or if you’re looking to change things up a bit.  Choosing from the color palettes above, it’s easy to enhance and give your existing home a fresh look without breaking the bank.

And if you’re still feeling a little uncertain, our design staff is always willing to assist you.

Destination: Door County


It’s time for a little vacation from work and writing.  No cell phones, no computers, no deadlines.  This year I’m off to one of my favorite spots, Door County.  It’s the large peninsula on Wisconsin’s eastern shore that jets out into Lake Michigan.  We all have to recharge our batteries once in a while and I like to choose a place where nature rules.

Rated by Money Magazine as “One of the Top Ten Destinations in North America”, Door County, often referred to as the “Cape Cod of The Midwest”, has over 300 miles of rugged shoreline, five state parks and eleven lighthouses (more than any other county in the US) not to mention acclaimed performing arts, more than 80 galleries and museums, incredible one-of-a-kind restaurants and shops and some of the friendliest people on earth.  National chains are not even allowed north of Sturgeon Bay.  Outdoor concerts, farmer’s markets, fishing, boating, hiking, golf, etc.  There’s always something to do or you can do nothing at all.






It offers breathtaking views perched above the water or overlooking any of the more than 30 islands that dot the shoreline.  Driving along the peninsula,  you travel from one village to another, each situated along the water with many featuring their marinas and their love of the water.  Buildings date back to the early 1800’s and most of the historical charm is maintained in the architecture.  It’s no wonder Conde’ Nast and Travel & Leisure magazines have written quite a few articles about it.

The scenery is nothing short of amazing.  It’s the perfect string of small coastal villages without the influence of the corporate world.  The air is crisp, even in the summer, with little need for air conditioning most of the time.  Traffic can be a little hectic since over 2 million visitors come here each year and just like the vacations you took 30 years ago, everything is still two lanes wide.






But don’t let the small town charm fool you. If you’re planning a trip there, you’d best be advised to make reservations at least 6 months in advance if you want some of the best accommodations.  There are some great inns and B&B’s, but no big hotel chains.  My choice is to find a great home on the water for rent and use it as a home base during my time spent there.  Summer is by far the busiest time and traffic can often come to a standstill especially in Sister Bay or Fish Creek or if there is a local weekend festival or fair…which there are a lot of.

If you want to enjoy the area with fewer crowds in the streets and restaurants, you might want to consider going after Labor Day.  And if you’re wanting to enjoy the fall foliage, I’ve found that the second or third week in October is usually peak color.  Here’s a few pictures from my last trip.  I’ll try to take more pictures this year of the small towns and local flavor.















So I’m off to enjoy fried cheese curds, cherry pie and fish boils. Afternoon naps and picnics in the park. Time for homemade ice cream and outdoor concerts.  I’m taking a time warp to the past so I can endure the future.

“Color Me Crazy”

One of the best and least expensive ways to pull a home’s design scheme together is by coordinating the colors.  While that sounds like an understatement, most people tend to panic after they’ve picked the first one or two colors and have no idea what to do next.  To those people I say relax.  It’s only paint.

Actually, there is a simple method to it.  First, you need to have some idea of the overall feeling that you are looking to accomplish.  Do you want something serious and formal or something with a coastal feeling? Maybe you want it to be bold and contemporary to highlight your art or collections.  Or maybe you want an eclectic feeling so you can reuse some family heirlooms.  Whichever concept you have in mind, there are colors that will compliment it.

If your design plan is going to include area rugs, I suggest you start there.  It’s much easier to find fabrics to go with rugs than the other way around.  It’s also a good idea to have the rug in your possession when you are choosing fabrics and colors so you can be sure to get the perfect colors.  Once you’ve selected the rug, which for most people will be in the main living area, it’s time to start working on your color palette.

Select one color from the rug that seems most appropriate for your design plan.  This should be your main living area color.  This color will tie the rest of the home together as you move from room to room.  Unless you have an extremely large room, you should probably stick to colors that are not too saturated or dark.  Strong colors are best saved for areas where you need a more dramatic effect.

Next, select three or four other colors that might work in adjoining rooms.  Don’t make a final decision and start painting just yet.  There is still more planning to do to make sure it all comes together in the end.   The next step is to decide on a trim color and ceiling color.  While some people disagree with me, I like to make sure all the trim inside the house is all the same color.  One of my pet peeves is having the living room trim color on the outside of a bathroom or bedroom door and the inside of the door is another color.  When the door is open, the two colors fight each other.  I tend to keep the trim in the white family.  Whites looks best when they are truly white or a slightly warmer white such as Benjamin Moore Dove White.

One you’ve picked your trim color, you’ve also picked your ceiling color as the two always work well when they are the same shade.  For those with architecturally interesting ceilings or a need to be more daring, consider ceiling colors that match or coordinate with the walls.

I like to use semi-gloss on all the trim and a flat finish on the ceiling and walls.  Flat finish paints tend to hide imperfections and won’t give a reflective quality, which softens the light in the room.  Semi-gloss on the trim hides a few sins but still gives a nice sheen to highlight the trim details.

Now it’s time to have a little fun.  Start putting together your fabrics and use your rug and paint colors for reference.

The main living area color should follow the architecture of the home.  If you have hallways to bedrooms or other rooms, keeping it the same color will make your home feel larger and more cohesive.  Color changes are best accomplished when changing rooms and you have trim or doorways to separate the colors.  Also keep in mind that colors should complement each other.  Again, refer to your fabrics.  Chances are that the fabric designer has already done your homework and if you stick to their choices, the colors will flow pretty nicely.

For the closely adjoining rooms, select colors from the main area instead of introducing a new color.  Some people like to keep all the walls the same neutral color which gives a lighter feeling.  However, if you want a little more interest, subtle color changes can make a big difference.  The secondary areas such as a dining room or family room could use one of the secondary colors from the living room that didn’t play a large role.  This helps tie the two rooms together.  Once the rooms are related by color, move on to finding fabrics for that room.  Also keep an open mind to using wallpaper in a room or two such as the powder room, master bath or dining room.  See my article “Wallpaper, Wallpaper, Where Art Thou” for some suggestions.

If you home is based on using a palette of 4 colors, try to stick to these colors or shades of them throughout the house.  Let different rooms highlight each of the different colors.  Of course there are little tricks you can do along the way like painting the ceiling of the bathroom a shade darker than the walls or intensifying one of the colors for one of the bedrooms.  It will still feel like part of the same design thread.

If you already have existing furnishings, try to find colors that will tie the rooms together.  You don’t need to match a color exactly… it could be a shade of that color.  I always suggest getting sample colors mixed and put on the wall to look at for a day or two and see how they look in the room.  Sometimes the light in the room can make a color look quite a bit different than a paint sample in the store.   When looking at colors, try to look for nuances in the color that might add a little interest.  Grey colors can be tinted brown, blue or green if you look closely.  All colors have varying tints in the background, so have a critical eye.  Whites can be especially tricky with shades of yellow, blue or pink.

The colors you pick should reflect your lifestyle.  The are an extension of your personality.   They should create a backdrop for the type of interior and furnishings that you are most comfortable with.   By picking the right color you can cool the room or add warmth, make a bold statement, increase or decrease the perceived size of the room, or add depth.   When you’re done, you’ll be amazed how something so simple can make such a dramatic difference in your home.



Designing For Small Spaces

In a world where bigger usually means better, smaller spaces have one major advantage.  Intimacy.  More and more clients are deliberately choosing to live in smaller spaces for a variety of reasons.  For some, it’s simple economics but for others, the choices represent a shift in lifestyle, especially for the baby boomers.

For many, smaller homes represent a time when life was good and there was more to life than having a 5-car garage.  The trick, however, is to create a space that will still indulge us with all the amenities that we’ve grown accustomed to.

The financial upside is that smaller spaces are usually less expensive than their counterparts and therefore allow us to move up the real estate scale in terms of location.   Living in the suburbs in order to get a larger house may, to some, not be as desirable as living in a smaller space that is closer to downtown and a more active lifestyle.

But designing that small space so it doesn’t feel like a cracker box can be a bit a design challenge.  There are several ideas you can employ to make your small space feel like a designer’s dwelling.

First, consider what areas are a must and which can be consolidated.  Dual usage of space not only gives you extra room, it shows creativity which people find interesting.  A good example of this is converting a guest bedroom closet into your home office.   Or maybe using a desk behind the sofa instead of a console table and replacing your PC with a laptop.  Using wireless printers/faxes allow you to store your devices anywhere out of sight.

Next, consider the furniture layout.  Here’s where it can get a little unnerving since most people think smaller spaces should have less furniture.  This is not necessarily true.  A good trick is to simply select smaller scale pieces, allowing you to introduce more accent pieces which are typically only found in larger rooms.  If your room only allows for a sofa and two chairs, don’t use matching pieces.  Adding variety gives the eye more to look at and again, fools the brain into thinking there is more to the room.  The same holds true for tables.  Different shapes and sizes give you more opportunity to create small visual vignettes rather than a big grouping of furniture.

Another factor in the layout is to avoid the straight line effect.  Break up the space into smaller areas so that you walk around the areas rather than through them.  Also keep in mind the view that guests will have when they are seated.  Arrange furnishings so that they direct the view to the largest area rather than facing into a wall.

Keep in mind a few points when designing your layout.  The point of view that people see when they first enter should be a focal point.  In some cases, it may be nothing more than a short wall in a foyer.  If so, think of ways to make a statement without taking up any space such as mounting large moldings to the wall and inserting vintage mirror into it.  Then hang a large oil painting over the mirror and feature it with special lighting.  This could also work in a small dining area to make it feel larger and brighter.  By hanging something over the mirror, the mirror becomes secondary and layered, and it keeps people from seeing their own reflection.

Planning ahead before you move in can allow you to make some minor construction changes that could change the appearance of your home entirely.  Door swings can be changed or eliminated with pocket doors, long blank walls can be broken up with partial columns or detail moldings, and ceilings and soffits can changed to incorporate accent lighting and different living areas.  Once you know your furniture layout, these are things that can be planned to make the presentation look much more impressive.

Certain items are a must, but keep your thinking cap on while thinking about each item.  While a bed is going to take up a certain amount of space no matter what you do, think about how to get more use out of it or make it more interesting to the eye.  Some beds have drawers in the base while others can be lifted to access a full storage area.  Wall sections can be built to extrude from the wall to make the bed appear to be recessed which then allows for bookcases, lighting and bedside storage.  By having the bed appear recessed, the room will actually feel larger since the bed won’t look as long.

Consider having multiple sources of lighting.  Recessed, picture lights, buffet lamps, chandelier, sconces, etc. can give the room featured areas at night rather than lighting it up like a gymnasium.  Lighting can make or break or room as most people think only in terms of having a couple matching lamps.  Yawn.

If you’re lucky enough, or have the means to install it, hard surface flooring such as wood or stone will give you the added advantage of using area rugs.  Rugs can define large or small areas and the combining of them adds another layer of interest to what would otherwise be a solid color floor.

When making design decisions about specific items, remember that in small spaces it’s all about the details.  If you only have one chair, make it something to remember.  Pick colors that can have an impact on the space and go for shades that seem a little less mainstream, whether dark or light.  Avoid buying matching pieces of furniture at all costs.  Avoid patterns or excessive draping on window treatments.  If possible, use glass tops for cocktail and dining tables to minimize the visual weight and allow the eye to see through them.  And when you’re just about done, accessorize.  Arrange small, tight collections in areas to catch the eye leaving open areas next to them so the overall effect doesn’t appear crowded.  Place artwork in prominent positions and use larger paintings to act as backdrops or fill large blank walls instead of multiple pieces.

And by all means, if you have any outdoor space such as a balcony or patio, make the most of it. Bring your sense of design outside and make it an extension of your interior.  It’s like adding a free room to your home.

In the end, your home will feel intimate, personal and dramatic.  It’s not about size, it’s about style.


“A Designer’s View on Opportunities”

Some of the topics I write about work well mixed with a little humor or sarcasm.  Some, like the one I’m writing about today, are best left as they are.  This is written for people who are feeling a little discouraged with the economy.  There is hope.

And one of the best sources of hope comes from designers.  Whether they work as auto designers, graphic designers, product designers, etc., they can make a huge impact on your life and the way you see the world around you.  They make a living out of turning nothing into something.  And then, without you even realizing it, that “something” becomes part of your everyday life. Maybe it’s your iPad, or your hybrid car.  Or maybe it’s your new sunglasses or that favorite new pair of jeans that you just paid a small fortune for.  Every product, every piece of clothing, everything you see on TV or print, has all passed the scrutiny of a designer before you were allowed to see it.  One good look around your home and you’ll see just how much influence designers have on your life.

If there’s one trend that I’ve noticed over the past few years it’s the concept that the good times are gone.   People are complaining about jobs, taxes, gas prices, loss of home values, etc.  It’s become a national pastime to find something wrong with everything.  Just listening to people who complain all the time can put otherwise optimistic people into a tailspin and it just propagates the whole situation.  It’s contagious.  We need to change our view.

Those things do exist and of course, it’s a concern to everyone.  What most of us forget when things get rough are the opportunities that present themselves.  It’s during these times when creative minds have a little more time to think, they think harder than ever  and as a result, we usually end up better in the long run. Remember the late 70’s and early 80’s?  A global recession was going on, mortgage rates were at 18%, but it was also a great time of inventions.  MS-DOS(Microsoft Software), Cell phones, the Hepatitis B vaccine, the IBM-PC computer, CD-ROM, Apple Mac, Sony Walkman, MRI’s, and of course, Prozac to name just a few.  Apparently, not everyone was sitting around relishing in their misery.

In the past, most designers in my area relied heavily on new home sales.  South Florida was in a building boom for many years and designers rode that gravy train to the last station.  Clients were spending like there was no tomorrow, some of them as if they were posting their W-2 forms on their front door.   It was a great time for everyone.   Unfortunately, things do change and we need to change with them.

The late designer, Jay Spectre, always had a positive outlook on life and business.  He used to say “The time to take the cookies is when they pass the plate.”  In other words, when opportunity comes your way, grab it.  And while the economy appears to be in the toilet for most people, it is creating opportunities for those who have the ability to see them.

A good example of one of the opportunities in the home industry is that while new sales are at a standstill, more and more people are deciding to stay in their current home for the next several years.  In doing so, many of them will be doing renovations and additions to make their homes more comfortable.  They are saving money by doing this instead of buying a new home and paying the higher property taxes or selling their home at a substantial loss.  They are making their homes worth more in the future.  These are opportunities for both designers and clients.  These projects may be a little more work, but it’s new way for people to consider upgrading their lifestyle without incurring more debt.   It’s also a great time for people to save money as many vendors and workrooms have lowered their pricing in order to survive.

Another opportunity that we are seeing as a result of the economy is that many people need to sell their homes and the competition is brutal.  The market for staging firms is increasing dramatically.  It may only cost a small amount to stage your home professionally but for most homes, it will increase its marketability and value.  This may be especially true for the condo market where several identical units may be competing for the same buyer.  Don’t kid yourself into thinking that all buyers are just looking for the cheapest price.  That is just not so.  If they are from out of town, they may want something that is already done rather than deal with the headaches of construction or decorating a new home via long distance.

The economy has misplaced a lot of homeowners into rental properties.  Some of them will stay in the rental market for some time while they are rebuilding their credit and savings accounts.  For investors, this creates a new market for investment.  For renters, it presents a more affordable cost of living allowing them to save money for their future.   For those with families and careers, a rental home does not mean living like a college student.  They still want the same comforts of a home to raise their family.  Some of these new clients are renting luxury properties. These customers may not be looking to make lifetime investments so for those designers who have well-priced resources and ideas, this is a whole new market.

The economy has had an effect on everyone and hopefully we will now see the rebuilding of it in a stronger, healthier environment.  For many, the process has changed our values.  I strongly suspect that it’s one of the driving factors why contemporary furnishings have had a strong influence over the past few years.  People may be wanting something fresh, something less complicated and fussy.  It’s not unlike during the Depression, the most glamorous decade of the American century.  The Depression was the zenith of an era of unbridled, unapologetic and authentic luxury.  While our economy was at it’s worst, people were finding comfort by throwing the most lavish parties our country had ever seen.  It’s how they found balance in an world that otherwise seemed overwhelming.

While things seem a little rough right now, it might look a little more tolerable if we change our perspective.  Thankfully, my job as a designer gives me the chance to work on creating something for the future.  I  spend my days looking out the windshield instead of the rear view mirror.  And the view ahead is encouraging.




Burglar Alarms and Video Surveillance-Your Home’s Most Important Design Detail


Imagine coming home after a long day at work and walking into your home only to find your backdoor is standing wide open.   In a split second you notice the broken window and glass (and yes, they can even get through hurricane impact windows and doors!)all over your floor.  Your stomach instantly wrenches at the thought that you’re about to discover your entire world has been turned upside down and your peaceful home has become the target of a home invasion.

This probably isn’t something most people consider when they are thinking about remodeling or decorating their home.  Our thoughts are usually about furnishings, colors, future entertaining and raising a family in a beautiful new environment.  But this is probably one of the most important details that you should consider to protect yourself, your pets, your loved ones, and your new life.

Burglars do more than just steal your belongings.  They steal your sense of security.  As you look around your home after a burglary, you imagine some stranger rifling through all of your possessions, touching your things and randomly grabbing anything you’ve collected during your lifetime like they were at a flea market. You try to imagine the moment that they approached your house to see if you were there.  Did they knock first?  Did they walk around the house a few times first?  Did they operate alone or with someone else?  Did they have a weapon and if so, what would have happened if you were home?  Did they scare or hurt your pets?  Did your arrival scare them out of the house and if not, how long had they been gone?

In addition to stealing your security, there is a high chance they can steal your identity as well.  Most homeowners have “safe places” where they store important documents and items such as passports, social security cards, credit cards, checks, etc.  Once in the hand of a thief, this can disrupt your life for months to come as you try to regain your financial security.

As the first few days go by, it becomes more and more difficult to rest at home.  Falling asleep takes longer as every little noise in and around the house makes you want to get out of bed to make sure everything is okay.  There’s that little voice in your head wondering if they are coming back for more.

Nothing will give you more peace of mind than a good burglar alarm.  Doors, windows, and motion detectors all help catch any movement within the house.   Motion detectors can be set to preclude any pets to avoid false alarms and you can set your alarm to allow you to stay in the house at night by bypassing the motion detector while leaving the doors and windows still protected.

And if you want superior protection, the new standard in home protection is video surveillance.  High resolution infrared cameras, now available with up to 700 line resolution, can be place indoors and outside to capture every smallest detail in color, day or night.  They are accessible by an internet connection or smart phone to view while you’re not home even if it’s to check on your babysitter or the housekeeper.  Systems can be custom built to fit your needs with up to 12 cameras if needed.  In addition to the cameras, you’ll also need a separate DVR, hidden in a remote spot, for recording purposes.   It’s an excellent backup if you should have a problem or even suspect a neighbor who may be abusing your property while you’re not home.

Video monitoring is also great to see who is at your front door before you open it.  Complete systems with installation could run $2500 to $4000 depending on your specific needs.  Once installed, they are pretty much a “set it and forget it.”  If you should have a problem there is no need to remember all the details of trying to download any video.   Police departments now employ specialists who will come to your home after an event to download any video that might be helpful.  However, a simple thumb drive inserted into the front of the DVR will allow you to download any footage that you want to save.

Burglar alarms and video surveillance systems will not guarantee that you still won’t be the victim of a burglary.  They will, however, provide an excellent deterrent for anyone who thinks you are going to be an easy target.  And they will substantially increase the odds of catching any perpetrator.

So protect your family and yourself.  Protect your pets, family heirlooms and most of all, your security.  Once it is taken from you, the world will never look the same.


“Interior Design Books-The Best of The Best”

Inspiration comes in many forms.  Sometimes, for visionaries like Frank Lloyd Wright, inspiration may come from something as simple as nature itself.  For others it might come from years of conditioning and exposure, and the ability to notice a nuance that sparks the imagination.  Designers have always seen the world through a different set of eyes and sensibilities.  They can take something old and make it new again.  They can position an object or color in such a way that not only makes us notice it, but makes us feel it.

During my years in the business, I’ve met a lot of people working in the interior design business at different levels.  Some of them are very successful but a better salesperson than a designer.  Some have talent off the Richter scale but not a nickel to their name.  For some it’s a business but to a special few, it’s a passion.  These are the people who inspire me.

Anyone interested in interior design deserves to surround themselves with some inspiration from their peers.  We’ve all hit that wall once in a while when we are trying to put together a presentation.   Our minds are drawing blanks, the deadline is bearing down on us, and we feel like there isn’t an ounce of creativity left in us.  That’s the time to put my pencil down, turn off my brain and relax with a great design book and get lost in another world.  Seeing pictures of some of the most beautiful rooms in the world recharges me.  It gives me a fresh outlook and I no longer feel trapped by the ideas of my past.

I’ve decided to share some of my favorite books here.  I’m not selling them or recommend where you buy them, but these are by far some of the best.   If you have any favorites you’d like to share with me, please send me a comment.  I’m always in the market for a fresh read.  These are not listed in any order of preference…that can only be decided by you.



Architect and interior designer, Jose Solis Betancourt is a regular on the AD 100, Architectural Digest’s list of top designers, sometimes called the Oscars of the design world.  “Essential Elegance:  The Interiors of Solis Betancourt” covers 14 of his projects.   These are rooms where you find refuge and comfort.  His use of luxurious fabrics contrasted by his simple arrangement of furnishings and accessories create a subtle and sometimes dramatic effect.






Axel Vervoordt is a Belgium antique dealer who, along with his family, runs an 85 person design firm, a multidisciplinary center of decorative arts and crafts in the Kanaal, a complex of restored nineteenth-century warehouses and silos.  His is considered to be a master of color and light.  “Timeless Interiors” contains over 20 of his best projects.




Alexa Hampton’s “The Language of Interior Design” demonstrates the exposure and expertise she acquired as the daughter of interior design icon, Mark Hampton.  Now regarded as one of the top interior designers of our time, she also licensed product lines from different manufacturers.  Her style runs from the classic to the contemporary…each with an astonishing eye for proportion, finish and details.




“Mary McDonald Interiors:  The Lure of Style” combines vintage Hollywood glamour with everyday life. She is consistently ranked one of House Beautiful’s Top 100 designers.  Her personal style of layering and collections are neatly organized to add intrigue without appearing cluttered.  Her combination of styles has been called many things…it needs to be seen to be appreciated.



“Victoria Hagan: Interior Portraits” is the first collection of works for this seasoned designer. First discovered by New York magazine in 1998, Victoria Hagan has become renowned  for her” intelligent integration of architecture and interior design.”   This is a book about an artist with interior design…relying on what’s not there as much as what you see.  Her rooms are magically calm and organized, clean and crisp.  This is a book you’ll pick up more than once.



“Vincent Wolf, Lifting the Curtains on Design” is his most recent release from 2010.  It provides a glimpse into the mind of designer from concept to completion.  His work is clean, sophisticated, and uncluttered.  His palettes are weightless and his uncanny sense of using surprisingly affordable objects as focal points is refreshing.  Based out of New York, his work spans the globe in both residential and commercial projects.


Also released in 2010 is David Easton’s “Timeless Elegance: The Houses of David Easton”.  The book features mostly work that has been unpublished prior to this book and includes blueprints and drawings from the projects to better understand the design decisions that were made.  His work is layered, classic even when doing contemporary styling and finished with tons of detail.  This is a man who understands art as much as interior design and architecture.  Although his clients have great means, the rooms carry an artful refuge and calmness.



Thomas Jayne’s “The Finest Rooms in America” is a collection of 50 interiors spanning the history of the United States.  It includes everything from Monticello to New York loft.  It’s about the best of the best in both design, periods, furnishings, accessories and fabrics.  Jayne himself is an accomplished interior designer but he has chosen not to include any of his own work in this book.  This is a book you will reference over and over.

I’m sure all of these books are available through amazon.com or the like should you care to purchase any of them for yourself or someone who might really enjoy them as a gift.  They will provide hours of enjoyment.   You’ll probably find that if you leave them lying around on your cocktail table, your friends are likely to pick them up and get immersed in them…and probably ask to borrow them.  All of them provide excellent examples of some of the finest interior design work of our time.  You’ll find them to be an endless resource of ideas and inspiration.  But of course, as with libraries, the collections grow and designers rise to the top.  As I discover new books, I’ll be happy to share them with you.

Happy reading.                                                            








“Southern Comfort, Fort Lauderdale Style”

“Southern Comfort”


Florida has long been a haven for those looking for a better life.  For the young, it’s the promise of beaches, sunshine and a new beginning.  For the elderly it may be the thought of an easier life playing golf, strolls along the beach in the morning or not having to worry about the dangers of living with snow and ice.   It’s a place where people come to play, and for us lucky ones, a place to live and work.

The interior design climate in South Florida is one of the strongest in the country along with places like New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.  People come here from all over the United States and Europe to find a place to call their own.  For some it’s a permanent move and for others it’s a vacation home.  The one thing most of them have in common is that they want it to look great.  After all, not many are willing to invest in a dream home with the intent of having it look poorly.

South Florida, as a result, has become a leader in the interior design industry.  Our styles are constantly evolving but one thing remains…above all else, we want comfort.

The day of quilted floral sofas and matching draperies is over.  Formica built-ins have been laid to rest.  Mirrored walls have lost their sparkle.  Wall-to-wall carpeting has been rolled up and hauled away. And households of matching rattan furniture pieces have been sent off to distant consignment shops.  The new Florida has emerged as a sophisticated, casually elegant design haven.

During the 80’s we saw a huge boom in the building industry that lasted 20 years.  Homes were commonly being referred to as “McMansions” for good reason.  Design was secondary to size and the bigger, the better.  Ceiling heights soared and rooms became oversized just because they could.  And in the process, many of us began to realize that the one thing we were striving for was actually eluding us.  Comfort.  The giant scale of the rooms created an impersonal feeling that even the largest pieces of furniture couldn’t compensate for.  What were intended as family gathering spaces turned into lifeless museums now dotting numerous country clubs and gated communities.

Sometimes we have to experience the effect before we can actually understand it.  The younger clientele, having grown up with these large homes, suddenly started asking for their spaces to be tamed into smaller, livable, and family- friendly rooms.  Although we have grown accustomed to the additional square footage (which many still request), our attention has turned to the layout and architectural details that create a backdrop that is inviting instead of intimidating.  More and more homes are being built with two stories instead of having 20’ ceilings.  Smaller rooms, wider hallways, custom millwork and details reminiscent of historical quality are taking the stage.  It has become quality over quantity at every corner.

This is not to say that one style is better than another.  Traditional interiors are still the most requested by those looking to make long term investments, especially for clients in mid-life.  Younger clients, as well as some older clients looking for a change, are turning to crisp, clean contemporary interiors.   In either case, what seem to be diminishing are the extremes.  The traditional interiors have lost their dripping in ornamentation and the contemporary interiors are beginning to soften up with the addition of transitional design elements.   Add a light color palette, simplify the patterns, introduce some earth-friendly finishes, and you have what is becoming the new Florida look of the future.

Personally, I think it’s a welcome change.  The variety that is now available will hopefully prevent us from falling into the trend vortex that caused the interiors to become outdated every few years.  The cost of fine furnishings has become a major investment and they should last a lifetime.  It makes more sense to build on our collections rather than starting over each time.   By being able to add personal elements such as color, textures, finishes, and accents, homes will now begin to have an identity that will become part of the South Florida landscape.

Big or small, our home is our home.  It’s where we find refuge, where we go to relax and be ourselves.  We want our guests to feel like family.  And while we want it to look nice, we don’t want to have to be a slave to it. Our priorities have changed.   We have become more practical and sensible.  And as a result, I think we’re all living a little better each day.

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“Wallpaper, Wallpaper, Where Art Thou?”

For some of us, wallpaper never left the room.   I’ve always enjoyed using it as another layer of texture or pattern in my overall design scheme.  For me, it adds a finished feeling that paint can’t always provide.   For many, the idea of sifting through hundreds, if not thousands of samples, can be a tedious task but for those who are willing to invest the time, and the expense,  stand to enjoy the rewards for years to come.

Wallpaper is a classic interior design element.  It is to the walls what draperies are to windows.   It can transform a simple apartment into a showcase or tame the largest room down to scale.  It can be dramatic or subtle, contemporary or traditional.   This is a quick look, and some inspiration from other designers as well, on how and where wallpaper might make your home a little more appealing.

The first trick of the trade is drama.  The walls become your art and focal point.  A good example of this is this dining room encased in this black chinese-inspired bamboo design.  Notice how the furnishings, fabrics and rug have been kept very simple so your eye is focused on the walls.  And not only is the color of the paper dramatic, so is the scale.



Here is another example of drama, but a little more subtle and contemporary.  The horizontal stripes actually make this room feel larger than it is and it adds a bold design statement as well.  Again, the pattern and color have not been upstaged by the furnishings.






Here is a classic look without overdoing it.  The wainscoting panels on the lower half make the architectural statement while the wallpaper adds a backdrop for the design.  Another note is the unexpected pattern which suggests a sense of sophistication.  The furnishings are more eclectic than one would expect, making it appealing to a younger clientele.


For those who appreciate simplicity, “green” elements and a sense of calm, textured papers such as this bamboo wallcovering are a perfect solution.   It’s just at home with contemporary as it is with traditional furnishings.  The direction depends on the style you prefer.  I’ve used in bedrooms as it is and also have had it painted to create an even allover color.  It’s also great in studies, dining rooms and foyers.



The scale of the pattern can make or break a room.  If you don’t have the budget for elaborate furnishings, consider making your walls the investment.  This paper is an outstanding, if not brave, choice.  It says a lot about the personality of the homeowner and creates a room that is not easily forgotten but very easy to live in.





For those who like a little more formality in their lives, wallpaper can make the difference between ordinary and extraordinary.  In this dining room, while the furnishings are as beautiful as the architectural details, the paper adds that little extra something that finishes it off.  The pattern is subtle and the color is very soothing.  It also highlights the structure of the room and defines it as a place of importance.







Don’t be afraid to introduce the unexpected.  When the pattern and color work well with the interior palette, forget about the trappings of textbook style.  This otherwise contemporary print is perfect for this traditional setting and once again, adds youth to an otherwise mature interior.  The geometrical pattern is an ideal complement to architecturally inspired interiors.



Likewise, this geometric pattern works very well with this tone-on-tone transitional interior.  The smaller scale pattern expands the room and provides a tailored atmosphere.  While the effect seems easy enough to achieve, finding the exact pattern and shade of color to match the coordinating fabrics takes patience and time.  Notice the oval mirrors become the “jewels” in this room.


And then there is always the design sense of the French.  The application of the same toile wallpaper pattern as the predominant fabric pattern in the room is something they’ve been doing for centuries.  It always works.  Notice they have kept the period of furnishings relative to the style.  A classic at any time.



All in all, wallpaper is making a huge return to interiors in a time when we want our homes to be our sanctuary.   It provides a level of personal variety unmatched by furnishings that are available.  It’s a great way to express yourself without having to make a lifetime investment.  So the next time you’re thinking about painting a room a new color, talk to your designer and see if they can’t take it one step further.  And have fun with it.



“The Color of Summer”

The Colors Of Summer

Ever since the time when we were young, the idea of summer meant fun, friends and freedom.  Even though most of us no longer get the summer off anymore, we somehow continue to look forward to it like some sort of annual reward for a year of hard work.   With winter behind us, we begin to plan vacations, cookouts, or maybe just a plan of getting a good tan and reading a few good books.  It’s a time for both fun and rest.

If we were to put colors to the time of the year, summer would be the most colorful.  Maybe because those colors remind of us of summers past or maybe they just inflict a feeling of happiness.  It’s a time when everything blooms, when we spend time at the beach and county fairs, and gardens are filled with fruits and vegetables that beg to be eaten.  Color is everywhere and we love it.

So to pay respect to our summer fantasies, I’ve decided to dedicate this blog to an area of design in which summer plays an important role.   This is a photo blog about our backyards, patios and porches, and that little piece of our world where we can create our own vacation.


Nothing feels cleaner and quieter, than the strong presence of white.  Like fresh clean sheets, it invites us to rest.  The use of green repeats the theme of nature and invites guests to feel welcome.   The patio furniture is kept simple so as to not detract from the overall effect of the use of color.



The mixture of materials can create an intimate area that is filled with character.  This can make an otherwise small space seem more interesting and memorable.  As always, the garden is part of the furnishings, not just a backdrop.


The patio should be an extension of the home.  The use of the same flooring makes the interior expand to the outside and makes the house feel larger.  The style should also be in keeping with the style of the owner and house.  This makes moving from one area to the other appear seamless.  In this case, the natural tones of the house have been repeated and the large scale of the home has been tamed by the simplicity of design.

Outdoor fireplaces have become a major focal point for outdoor living.  They are great to take a chill out of the nighttime air and provide a warm ambient light for entertaining or just relaxing at the end of the day.


For those who prefer the indoor patio, nothing speaks of summer more than the cool color of blue.  Blue ceilings, originally designed to fool birds into thinking it was the sky so they wouldn’t build nests, have become an icon of southern beachfront homes.  The addition of same color prints and accents, along with classic wicker furnishings and a painted wood floor, give this porch the feeling of a private guest house.

And patios aren’t just for patio furniture.  Draperies, used for backdrops or to disguise the neighbors view, are kept light to catch the breeze.  Notice in this photo that the main pieces of upholstery are contemporary but they have introduced a mixture of accessories for character.  The symmetrical arrangement and clean lines add to a more formal atmosphere.

Sometimes you just need to carve out a little niche’ just for yourself.  A single comfortable piece surrounded by things you love, old and new, will give you a place that belongs to you.  Have fun with the colors trying to make the fabrics feel as organic as the foliage surrounding them.

Whether you’re looking for a dramatic space for entertaining or just a private getaway, let nature play the most important role.  Keeping things a little more organic will increase the restfulness whether it’s teak furniture, clay pots and urns, stonework, or even a water feature.  Divide your spaces up into different areas but try to keep one main focal point such as the pool, the gardens or even a large artifact.  Have fun with it and change it up a little every year like a new vacation spot.  Summer is only here for a short while.

“Who’s Driving This Bus?”


There’s one thing lot of people overlook when they decide it’s time to furnish their home.  One of the most important decisions is whether to do it themselves or fess up on their lacks of skills and hire a professional.  All humor aside this time, this is serious business and some serious money.

There’s a good argument for both sides.  Some people are able to do it themselves and have a good eye for putting together a nice home.   My experience has taught me that most of these people usually end up taking much longer to complete it and usually spend more money than they had planned.   Typically, at least some of the honest ones that I know, will admit to a few mistakes they are living with until they’ve gotten their money’s worth before they replace them.   However, to most of these people, it’s the process that they want to savor, the endless weekends of roaming around furniture stores and the endless nights of agonizing over details like tile selections, lighting fixtures, paint colors, etc.  Can you  say “self torture?”

Some people enlist the help of friends or neighbors while others entrust the whole process to a salesman from a local store.  There’s nothing wrong with any of these assuming the friends, neighbors and salesman are knowledgeable…because they are doing it with your money.  The big question is who is taking responsibility if things don’t go as planned?   I’ve known a few people who’ve ended up in therapy and minus some good friendships as a result.   Still, there are plenty of talented people out there who are starting their careers in the design business that will someday rise to the top.

If the idea of spending every weekend for the next year shopping for furniture, or the idea that you might have to fire a close friend because you don’t think painting every room in your house beige is a smart decision, you always have the option of hiring a professional interior designer to take the heat.  Beyond saving your marriage, they may save your home from a design disaster.

Contrary to belief, most good designers will actually save you money in the long run, assuming you have your wits about you when you make your compensation arrangements with them.  Make sure to figure in their commissions or design fees in the overall budget.  Some of the biggest savings will be in your time.  The designer will do the leg work and usually bring you in at the end for your approval.   Another huge savings is the money saved from not making mistakes.  Designers are especially trained to work in scale to make sure pieces fit as planned.  This can save a lot of heartache not to mention a lot of space in the garage from storing that oversized sofa that didn’t fit in the living room and couldn’t be returned.  Mistakes are one of the most costly components in the design business and when you’re making those choices yourself, you have to own up to them.  When it happens, and it will, you’ll wish you had a good designer on speed dial.  However, the single biggest advantage of a hiring a professional will be the final outcome.  Most homes, in their natural state, do not inspire many homeowners to design beyond the expected.  A good case in point are these before and after pics.  It’s a good example of how an ordinary space can be transformed into an oasis.



Designers can also save you money by educating you on your purchases.  The least expensive sofa can be the most expensive, especially if you don’t learn the lesson the first time.  It’s cheaper to buy a better sofa than to buy two inexpensive sofas…and it will still outlast both of them in terms of quality and style.

One big concern about hiring a designer is how to select the right one.   That’s kind of like asking who would make the best President.   It all depends on who you ask.  There are a lot of people who call themselves designers since the design field has few regulations.   Until recently, Florida was a leader in the interior design field and required anyone calling themselves a “designer” or “interior designer” to be licensed by the state to ensure their qualifications.   Qualifying for that license meant accredited educational training and/or extensive experience in the field before taking a grueling exam that is not so easy to pass.   This law was recently rescinded.   It’s now open season on potential design clients so do your due diligence before making your choice.   I would recommend making a few background checks.  Get some references and check their background. Are they licensed?  ASID members or affiliates?  Have they been in business awhile?  Make sure you’re comfortable giving this person large sums of your money because it’s going to happen.  If they suggest paying vendors directly, be very, very careful!

Once you hire the designer, step back if you want the best possible outcome.  Too many clients hire designers and then try to control every aspect of the job.  They are usually the ones that are the least thrilled with the final outcome because it looks like it’s missing something.  And it usually is…it’s missing the designer’s taste that’s been replaced by the clients choices.  An experienced designer can read into your lifestyle and create something for your future rather than the present.  They can avoid pitfalls and trends that will quickly date a look, helping save you money over the years to come.   They can expose you to ideas and products that you probably don’t even know exist in some cases.   Think of it like hiring a lawyer.  You wouldn’t hire one and then cite case numbers to help him defend your case.  Let them do what you’ve paid them to do.

In the end, anyone who plans on furnishing a room or a whole house can afford a designer.  It might be a small budget or the budget of a small country.  Designers don’t dictate the prices of items.  They just help you find the best ones that are in your price range.   A designer can be your best ally but you have to be honest when you talk to them about expectations and limitations.  Be honest and straight forward.  If you do, you’ll get more than you’ve bargained for.  If your budget is unrealistic, they can help you figure out which items you should start with.  Sometimes you might need to break it down into a few phases over time but you should have a long term design plan.

However, if you’re thinking about tackling the project on your own, let’s see if you’re equipped for some of the basics.  Here are a few simple questions you’ll probably be asked during the process.  (answers below)

  1. If you’re using polished stone in your shower, should you use sanded or unsanded grout?
  2. If you have incandescent lighting in your kitchen ceiling, can you use LED lighting under the counter?
  3. How many ceiling lights can you put on one switch?
  4. If you’re hanging wallpaper, should you use oil based or water based prep?
  5. If you are building a banquette in your kitchen, what is the best seat height?
  6. If you’re buying a rug for under your dining room, how big should it be?
  7. How big should your chandelier be if your dining table is 60” round?
  8. If you have allergies, why type of cushion material should you use in the sofa?
  9. How much bigger is a king bed than a queen bed?
  10. Should you lay your wood floor parallel or perpendicular to the sliding glass doors?

Simple questions?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  But the wrong answers could be costly or annoying to live with.  Hiring a good designer also has a lot of other benefits also.   They are trained to look at your lifestyle, how you plan to use the house, accessibility for handicapped clients, fire ratings, building codes, safety issues, manufacturer’s reputations, space requirements, etc.   Of course they also bring a huge knowledge of how to select the proper furniture styles and which ones work best together.  Over time, you will build more than a beautiful home together, if they are a good designer you will probably build a relationship that will last for many, many years.  They are one of the few people that you will meet that will get to know you like only a few ever will.  And with that knowledge, they will always be there for you to make sure your best interests are looked after.

If nothing else, do yourself a favor and invite a designer over for a chat.  Look at their portfolio and get to know them a little.  Tell them what you have in your head and leave yourself open for new ideas.  And if you decide to hire them, start planning your weekends because you’re going to have a lot more free time on your hands.




  1. Polished stone or not, use sanded grout.  It’s more porous and dries quicker.
  2. Incandescent light gives off a warm white light, LED almost always has cold blue cast.  If both lights are on at the same time, it can look a bit odd.
  3. It depends on the wattage.  Best rule of thumb is 600 watts to a switch.  Larger capacity switches are available but they usually stick out of the wall to allow venting of heat.
  4. Always oil.  If you ever need to remove the paper, it won’t pull the face off your drywall.
  5. Dining height is 19-20” depending on the softness of the cushion.  This is slightly higher than normal seating height for a living room.
  6. A good rule of thumb in 36” beyond the sides of your table.  Otherwise, when guests pull their chairs out to sit down to eat, the back chair legs will be off the rug and the chair will not sit evenly.
  7. I always like to suggest chandeliers to be about 2/3 the width of the table.  The most common mistake is buying fixtures that are too small.   The distance from the table can vary from 30-36” depending on shape of fixture.  Personally, I like to oversize the fixtures a bit for effect.
  8. Poly filled cushions, preferably with spring cores.  Never any down feathers or latex.
  9. A king is 16” wider than a queen but not any longer.  And whatever you do, don’t buy a king bed and put a 24” wide nightstand next to it.  It will look like a postage stamp in most cases.
  10. You never want to look down the joints in the wood toward a major light source.  The “snaking” of joints can be very distracting.  Run the direction of the wood perpendicular to the light source.


“The Last Supper”


I love meeting with new clients.  They are always so full of hope.   They have enough dreams and wishes to fill volumes of notebooks.  I wish I had written down some of the most “original” ones over the years but on the outside chance one of them might read this blog, I think I’ll save that for my autobiography when I retire.  After all, you know us designers are all about keeping secrets.  Right.

One of my favorite ones comes at the end of a long interview session with a new client.  They’ve just told me how they want their house to be an extension of their own personality.  Ok, stop here for a minute while I digress.  The client I was speaking with has about 65 cigarette burns on the carpet next to the bed.  True story.  Just the thought of “drawing upon their personality” to design their home conjures all sorts of ideas…of course not many of them would win any design awards.

Anyway, the interview continues.  They would like seating for at least 10-12 in their dining room which is approximately 12’ x 15’.  Figuring that the chairs alone take up at least two feet each, that should leave about 2” for walking…oh, and let’s not forget they must have a buffet for serving when guests come over.  I guess they need more room for ashtrays.   As I’m about to explain the issues of space planning they push me into to the living room.  We proceed to go room to room.  They’ve obviously given this a lot of thought before I arrived.

And so the interview and walk-thru goes…on and on…and the list has gotten so long that I’m wondering if I have a backup pen.  After we’ve spent hours going through each room and learning about all their little quirks that must be met, we sit down to discuss the design contract.  Mind you, our interior design contract is fairly simple and straightforward.  All is going well up to the point where we need to discuss the budget for the job.

First, let me say there are a few standards in figuring budgets.  I have developed my own rules of thumb over the years but that’s my little trade secret.  Suffice it to say considerations need to be made regarding size of home, cost of home and location of home.  But budgets are important to know before starting a project.  I’ve seen so many designers, and some pretty experienced ones that usually work on a cost-plus basis (go figure… the more it costs, the more they make) take clients down the spending path without any sort of barometer of where they will end up until it’s too late.  Unless the client has given you carte blanche and you know for a fact that cost is no issue, this will have devastating results.  My advice is get all your selections and costs determined up front before you start making purchases.

Anyway, getting back to my story, I’m sitting with the clients.  I have my 62 notepads of wish lists.  I ask them what they feel would be a comfortable budget for the work we’ve discussed.   For a second I thought I could cut the silence with a knife.  Then, as if they’re offering up their first born, they lay it on me.  Of course, the budget isn’t even close to what it needs to be.  Seriously, the dining room set they wanted is more than half their whole budget.  Somehow they expect me to install new floors (hopefully not carpet in the bedroom again), purchase new furniture, paint the interior and let’s not forget about accommodating all the little quirky requests like the fact the granddaughter comes to visit and she needs what seems like an entire college library set-up in the guest bedroom.  You get the picture.  You just have to wonder how such otherwise smart, successful, worldly people could be oblivious to the retail world for so many years.  Personally, I don’t buy it.  After all, the car in their driveway cost twice that of their entire budget.  And, they have another one parked in the garage.  The apartment is a luxury oceanfront condo in Boca Raton, Florida.   I know when I get clients like this that the only way to get them to accept a realistic budget is to walk them through the process piece by piece so they can see for themselves what the actual costs will be.

I take out a floor plan and roughly sketch an entire furniture layout for them.  After 30 years, you sort of have a knack for this.  I draw in ¼” scale in my sleep.  I give them the sketch and ask them to sit down together and put a price on each item that they think is a reasonable amount they would expect to pay.  Every sofa, end table, lamp, rug, etc.   I also make a short list on the side for items like paint, flooring, electrical, etc., so they can put a number on those items even though I know those amounts will require a little more research.

Somehow I have a feeling when we meet again, the list of requirements will have decreased or the budget will have been miraculously infused from The Rockefeller Foundation.  Funny how that happens when they realize they either have to rise to the occasion or do without.  And so, the hour of reckoning has arrived.   I never like to feel too sure that this method will work.  I always run the risk of having a client realize they can’t afford to do the whole project as they had expected and both of us leave the negotiating table empty handed.   That is never my intent.  Sometimes it might mean doing the project in phases.  I always feel there are options to some degree.

Thankfully in this case, the option was determined by the fact that the client knew exactly what they wanted but were trying to lowball the job.  They were very aware of their taste level and expectations about quality.   The estimated budget that they came up with was not that far off from what I had originally thought it would be.  Thankfully, there were in a position to adjust their numbers.  We settled on an overall range in price and the project was a go.

The next step takes us to the point at hand.  One of things I find that is a huge waste of time for both the designer and client is that whole notion of shopping together, fashionable lunches and making a day out of finding a new sofa.  I’ve been around that barn so many times I’m embarrassed to say.  It’s fine for a beginner or someone who doesn’t have many clients but it just never worked for me.  Worse, the clients are subjected to what I call “The Last Supper” effect.

This is how it works.  Let’s say that the first item on the list is the main upholstery for the living room.  This sets the tone for the room and usually it’s one of the first rooms you see when entering the house.  Of course it’s a very important piece and should make a statement.  The details are crucial.  The fabric chosen should be something that is unique, tasteful and luxurious.  Let’s not forget some crucial decorative pillows are a must, trim included.  And while we’re at it, we should upgrade the cushion cores to make sure when someone sits in it that they notice this is no ordinary sofa from a furniture store.   Let’s add some special cording and some nail heads to finish it off.  Perfect.  We can cut some other corners down the road, but not the sofa.  DUMB IDEA!

This client just bought the sofa like they were ordering off the menu at the Last Supper.  This is not going to be the last sofa they will ever buy, and let’s remember they have a budget.   If you have the budget for an EJ Victor sofa, then by all means, go for it.  It’s probably one of the finest made in the United States.  But if your budget is $3000, you might consider another brand that offers comfort and style.  That’s a reasonable amount for a nice sofa.  Once you start the trend of upgrading items, there is no place to stop without it being obvious.  This is where the dog and pony show needs to end or your bank account is going to be in for a rude awakening.  This is where you need to step back and let the designer do their homework before making any more purchases.

This is a good example where a client can be led down the primrose spending path, each item having the utmost of importance and the budget is thrown out the window.  This is a bad practice that has given way to the notion that only the rich can afford a designer.  My design staff and I work very differently.  The designers select the items and make a comprehensive presentation.  Otherwise, we lose control of the job and the client ends up unhappy with the final outcome and costs.  In contrast, once we know the budget, we have a handle on what level of goods will fit the budget and we only select from vendors in that price range.  After we have assembled the complete job, we do all the pricing and make reselections where needed.  By the time the client is called in for a presentation, every detail and cost is worked out.  In doing so, the client can focus on the overall design.  They can see what the entire job will cost down to the penny before they spend their first dollar.   At that point, they can make whatever changes are needed.  There are always a few fabrics or pieces of furniture that they might want to change but overall it has kept them in budget.  Most of the time, we hit the target on design and price in a fraction of the time it would otherwise take.

No one realizes how important the final outcome of designing a new home can be.  We stake our reputation on it day after day.  The decisions we make in the selection process are based on experience and education.   It’s more than just style we’re looking for at that point.  We’re considering the price, the construction, delivery times, sizing, comfort, the reliability of the vendor and most importantly, the expectations of the client.  Multiply that times the thousands of decisions that each client requires, and you’ll understand what goes on behind the scenes.

So if you’re starting a new project keep your wits and wallet about you until you have your ducks in a row.  Determine your budget if you need one and wait for your final presentation before you start writing blank checks.  Trust me, this won’t be your last supper.

Bill Philby, ASID