Monthly Archives: April 2013

Recipe for Success: Plan Ahead!

Kitchen by Siematic

Many years ago while visiting my parents after they had just finished a kitchen renovation, I learned some valuable lessons about kitchen design that have stuck with me.  “Where are the garbage bags?” I asked.  “In the third drawer underneath the microwave,” my mother replied.  I wondered to myself why they weren’t near the garbage can.  Later, while making dinner, I checked several cabinets before locating the pots and pans.  Why weren’t they closer to the stove?  And when I finally found the recycling bin in the broom closet and not near the garbage, I had to ask my mother why the placement of so many things in the kitchen didn’t really make any sense.  It seemed as though it was almost an afterthought.  It really didn’t bother my mom at all, and she laughed it off as yet another example of my Type A personality compared with her Type B.   What I realized is that if you take the time during the design phase to carefully plan out the locations for as many things as you can, then the result will be a highly efficient space.  The truth is, my parents’ kitchen is large and has plenty of drawers and cabinets, so careful consideration for the location of things wasn’t really that necessary.  When you have a smaller kitchen and space is at a premium, however, you tend to plan out every inch of space.  But when space isn’t an issue, inefficiencies abound.  I’ve often told my mother that I would like to spend an afternoon in her kitchen simply relocating a few things and creating a more efficient layout.  Somehow I have yet to get around to it, as my parents (after many years now in this kitchen) have a system of sorts which works for them.

When planning for a kitchen, once the basic floorplan has been determined, then how you plan to move around in the space will have a direct impact on the specific cabinet and drawer layout.  For example, when you are standing at the food prep area can you easily reach the knives and cutting boards?   Are the spices within reach if you are standing at the stove?  Imagine yourself emptying the dishwasher…is the cabinet or shelf that will hold the dishes nearby?  When you take out the garbage, is there a drawer or cabinet close at hand which holds spare bags?  Or when you brew a cup of coffee in the morning, are the mugs and other supplies near the coffee pot?  For some, these suggestions may seem obvious, and for others the thought of planning out every cabinet and drawer might seem tedious, or even daunting, but it’s absolutely worth the work.  A large part of the design process involves thinking about how you will work most efficiently in the space, so the more time that you spend considering these things during the design and planning phase, the happier you ultimately will be.

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Time to Plan Another Road Trip to Brimfield

Several years ago I made my first trip up to the Brimfield Antique Show in Massachusetts.  Having never been before, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but my friend assured me that we would have a great time and unearth some fabulous treasures (boy, was she right!).  We left at the crack of dawn before the sun came up, hitched a small trailer to the back of my Suburban and hit the road with great anticipation for the road trip ahead.

When we arrived at Brimfield, I was taken aback at first by the sheer size of the antique show.  Several thousand dealers were spread out in booths across multiple fields, which extended along Rt. 20 for almost a mile.  Comfortable shoes were a must!   It would be easy to become overwhelmed by the incredible volume of antiques and vintage treasures, so we quickly learned that it was best to have a plan.  We made note of what we were hoping to find and tried to keep track of where we had been, and ultimately we were delighted with the success that we had!  When we drove home after that first day, with tables and bureaus strapped to the roof of the car, the trailer filled and secured with bungee cords, and the inside of the car packed to the ceiling, we were both shocked when we realized that we could have used more room – there was so much more to buy!

{Purchased at Brimfield:  console table, glass cloche, two crocks, foot stool, linen fabric for foot stool}
{Brimfield Finds: console table, glass cloche, two crocks, foot stool, linen fabric}

Recently, while trying to figure out what to do with a bare wall in my house that just needed a little something,  I went into my garage and pulled out a pretty shabby-looking console table that I bought on that first trip up to Brimfield but never used.  One by one, I started layering different objects from around the house onto the table (some new, some old), trying to create a little vignette that might work.  When I finally finished, I realized that much to my surprise, several of the items that I decided to use had been collected over the years from trips up to Brimfield.  There’s no greater pleasure than when you realize that your house is filled not only with things that you love, but also with things that you have collected over the years that remind you of the places you’ve been.  When I look at that table, I remember the dealer from Kentucky who sold it to me.  And when I see that stone crock under the table, I’m reminded of how excited I was to find a crock with its original lid.  If you had seen what that stool looked like before I had it re-covered (with the brown linen fabric that I purchased at Brimfield for $10), you might have walked right past it.

For me, the fun of going up to Brimfield is not only in the fabulous finds, but also in the hunt itself.  Since that first trip, my friend and I have been back up to Brimfield several more times, and we’ve devised a strategy of sorts for covering as much ground as we can and for visiting the shows and vendors that we like the most.  It’s taken a few trips, but we’ve settled into a rhythm, and we’ll definitely be back again.  So, with the spring Brimfield market opening on May 14th, and another to follow in July, I’m thinking I might just have to plan another road trip!

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Recipe for Success: A Bathroom That Has It All



There are so many ways to make a bathroom fun and interesting.  This bathroom, which was designed for the 2012 San Francisco Decorator Showcase by Tineke Triggs, exemplifies some of the many creative ways to design a unique bathroom.  Even if you have a space that is completely lacking in character and architectural details, you can easily create visual interest by jazzing up some of the basic elements of the space:

  • Pick a statement wallpaper or follow the lead of the bathroom above by stencilling the walls with a favorite pattern
  • Install a fabulous vanity with great hardware, such as the custom-made vanity above
  • If you don’t love the hardware on your vanity, change it up and use something really special
  • Select terrific light fixtures, both on the wall and on the ceiling (if your space permits)
  • Place a statement mirror over the vanity
  • Carefully select a faucet that represents the overall look that you’re trying to achieve
  • Create visual interest by installing a beautiful, patterned tile on the floor
  • Select a great countertop material such as the natural stone top in the bathroom above, which coordinates perfectly with the stone on the floor
  • If your space is lacking in architectural detail, then by all means add it!  Think about installing interesting woodwork such as raised-panel wainscoting, picture molding, crown and baseboard molding or a chair rail.

If you have a bathroom that just doesn’t seem very special, then consider adding some interest by employing some of the ideas above.  You’ll be surprised when you see the impact that some carefully selected design elements can achieve!

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Interview at Marigolds: A Working Cook’s Kitchen

IMG_3245Recently I had the opportunity to sit down with friend and restaurant owner, Mary Cummins, to discuss the opening of her new restaurant, Marigolds.  When you step into Marigolds you instantly feel enveloped in this warm, cheerful space.  Mary works hard to make her guests feel welcome as she greets everyone with a warm smile and a hearty “hello!”   Marigolds is a cozy, local restaurant in downtown Summit, New Jersey where the food is made fresh daily in the small kitchen behind the curtain.

Mary is the busy mom of five and an avid cook, who is no stranger to preparing meals for a crowd.  Several years ago she realized that busy families were often struggling to put healthy meals on the table each night, so she began preparing delicious homemade dinners to go from her home kitchen.  As her client following grew and her business began to take off, Mary took the next step and opened Marigolds.

Mary set out to design a working cook’s kitchen, using stainless steel as the primary finish on both the appliances and work surfaces.  Careful attention was paid when selecting appliances that would be both powerful and dependable.  What resulted is an efficient space that can handle the demands of its busy occupants. In addition to serving a light breakfast and a lunch menu of homemade soups, salads and paninis, Mary continues to spend most of her time on her labor of love:  her evening meals to go.  Out of that small kitchen, Marigolds prepares meals that feed five hundred people each week.  That’s no small feat!


1.    What inspires your cooking?

I want Marigolds to be known for serving food that’s fresh and delicious, and not complicated or fancy.  I am inspired by Ina Garten, the BarefootContessa, and her desire to use fresh, simple ingredients to prepare traditional recipes with a twist.

2.  What’s the most memorable meal you’ve ever cooked in this kitchen?

We were catering a large party and preparing the food on what we thought would be a slow Saturday afternoon (but what turned out to be a busy lunch rush).  We were making pulled pork sliders and all different kinds of appetizers and fussy things. We had to deliver the meal by 4:00pm and we were struggling for time.   My brother came to visit that morning and I made him put on an apron and get to work.  He stayed for seven hours!  When it was all done and delivered, we felt really great that we could do it.

3.  What’s the biggest challenge for cooking in your kitchen?

The space.  It’s small and we don’t  have much storage. We would also like more refrigeration, but there’s simply no room.  We don’t have space for a freezer, so everything is made fresh.  Luckily, we get fresh bread and produce delivered daily, but when it’s gone it’s gone.  What it means for us is more frequent trips to the store to get everything else.

4.  How would you describe your cooking style?

I’m not classily trained, but I’m always learning and I love to try different things.  It’s important because keeping the menu seasonal and fresh is a challenge.  I’m not at all fancy, but that said, I’m pretty strict about what leaves the kitchen because ultimately it’s got my name on it.  My goal is to prepare homemade meals with carefully selected ingredients…so it’s a mesclun mix (not a bagged salad) with a homemade dressing, and a homemade dip with the crudités.

5.  What’s the best cooking advice you ever received?

Trust your own palette and don’t be afraid to stray from a recipe to discover something new.

I hope that you have enjoyed this peek into Mary’s kitchen as much as I did.   Thank you, Mary, for sharing some of your precious time with me for this article — as I have often said, you must have a 25th hour in your day to accomplish so much!  I believe that inspiration can be found in many places if you look closely enough.  Mary continues to inspire me in so many ways:

  • As a small business owner who saw a need and came up with a great business plan
  • As a person who makes everyone who enters her restaurant feel welcome with her enthusiasm and her cheerful disposition
  • As a cook who is always trying to come up with ideas for delicious meals to serve made from simple, fresh ingredients
  • As a mom of a large family who is teaching her kids about having a strong work ethic

Maybe you’ll be inspired to cook a delicious meal tonight — or if you’re in NJ, hopefully you can stop by Marigolds and stay for lunch or order dinner to go…you won’t be disappointed!






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Mad Men Inspired: Stainless Steel…Then and Now

Today I’m thinking about the season premier of Mad Men.  Devotees of the show have been waiting with bated breath for Season 6 to begin, and last night’s first episode did not disappoint.  I thought, like many other bloggers, that it would be fun to dig up a photo of a kitchen from the 60s, which I did, but I also found this great 1960’s ad from McLouth Steel Corp. in Detroit, Michigan, touting the virtues of stainless steel.  “If she takes pride in her home — give her a kitchen of stainless steel!”  Who would have known that using stainless steel in the kitchen would have lasted the test of time like it has!


The October 1961 issue of House Beautiful magazine featured this kitchen, and if you look closely you’ll notice that stainless steel is used in several different applications.  The cooktop, sink, counter tops and hood (I’m not sure if the faucets are stainless or chrome) are all made with stainless steel.  Look at the scalloped edge on that hood!


Fast-forward fifty years to see that the more things change, the more they stay the same.  Fan favorite, Ina Garten, chef, cookbook author and Food Network TV personality, allowed Town and Country magazine into her Paris flat in 2008 to discuss her love of Parisian life and, of course, cooking.  Photos reveal a fabulous kitchen with a stunning La Cornue range and…stainless steel cabinets, hood and backsplash!  What fascinates me is that this material that’s been used for decades, continues to be employed in many different applications.  Whether it’s used for appliances, counter tops, fixtures, cabinets, tiles or backsplashes, stainless steel in the kitchen has certainly endured.

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Design Elements: Mirror, Mirror on the Wall

Have you ever considered using mirrors in your kitchen?  While adding a mirror to a space to achieve a particular effect is certainly not a new trend in design, it’s one that is often overlooked as a tool in kitchen design.  Adding a mirrored backsplash to your kitchen is a great way to reflect light (or possibly a terrific view), as in this kitchen designed by Fairfield County architects Brooks & Falotico.   Not only does the mirror reflect the light, but it also adds a slightly contemporary flair to the space, and the coolness of the material compliments the warmth of the beautiful wood island.

In this elegant bar, tucked away in a family room designed by Sutro Architects (and photographed by Aaron Leitz Photography), the mirrored backsplash gives the illusion that this small interior space is much larger than it truly is.  If I had a bar like this, I think I would leave the door open, too!

This mirrored kitchen island, photographed by Pia Ulin, certainly makes a design statement!  The tension that is created when the sleek, modern cabinets and mirrored finish on the island are juxtaposed with the more traditional architectural features as seen in the windows and doors and the herringbone floor, makes this kitchen so interesting!

So, whether you choose to make a big impact, such as the one made by this mirrored island, or a small statement with a framed mirror hanging on the wall, why not try to add a mirror to your kitchen to see how it changes the space?

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Small Space: Big Impact…Elements We Love

This kitchen certainly proves that you don’t need to have a large space to make a big impact — it’s all in the details and the careful selection of unique design elements.  I have wanted to write a post about this kitchen for a while, and just thought that I would wait until I wrote about selecting the right hood for your range — and what better example to use than this beautiful hood from designer Michael S. Smith’s home in Bel Air? The problem is that I fall in love with this kitchen for so many different reasons every time I see it, so why wait to write about it until I dedicate an entire post to hoods??

What is it about this kitchen that resonates with me so much?  Well, the hood is definitely my favorite element.  Designed by architects Oscar Shamamian and Joseph Singer, the gently curved hood, with its antique pewter finish, hangs over the BlueStar range just as if it were in the kitchen of an old British country home.  And that’s certainly in keeping with the English country style that Michael Smith was going for when designing this house.  The hood is not the only unique element in the space, however.  The use of the unexpected barrel-vault ceiling (inspired by famed British architect Sir Edwin Lutyens) draws your eye up, which when coupled with a glass-fronted refrigerator and cabinets, is such a clever way to give the illusion of more space.  The curved lines of the ceiling, hood and pendants (from Ann-Morris Antiques) are such a nice contrast to the more linear features of the cabinets, appliances and stunning wide-plank floors.  Together, they make for a much more interesting and unique space.

Another thing that I admire about Michael Smith’s design aesthetic is his belief that you should select elements that you love for your kitchen, and not just practical ones that always look perfect.  His countertops, for example, are made of Lagos Azul limestone from Walker Zanger, and are known to stain when they come into contact with certain foods.  “Every once in a while I’ll have them professionally cleaned, but I like the fact that they’re not static…If I have counters that stain and floors that need to be waxed, then I can say with great confidence, ‘Hey, don’t be afraid.  It does require some extra effort, but it’s worth it.'”  I completely agree.  When renovating my own kitchen, I wanted to use honed marble on my island.  I love to cook, and staying away from citrus, tomato sauce and red wine was simply not an option.  Everyone, without exception, told me to avoid marble since it’s so porous and prone to staining.  But I loved the marble so much.  Happily, six years later I am so glad that I went with my gut and picked the material that I really wanted, despite the warnings.  It has aged beautifully and has a patina that will only continue to improve with age.

Michael Smith’s kitchen exemplifies the fact that you can successfully use both interesting architectural features and design elements to make a space feel larger.  In his own kitchen, Michael Smith also teaches us a lesson in having what you love.  Yes, it’s sometimes a bit more work to maintain, but a kitchen is an investment, so if you can swing it, shouldn’t you have what you truly love?

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