Author Archives: courtney

Make a Big Impact with Lighting

via The Decorista
via The Decorista

Lately I’ve been spending a lot of time researching and sourcing light fixtures.  I’m a believer that lighting can make a tremendous impact in any space, and the kitchen and bath are no exceptions.  Often times people fail to see how both the proper amount and type of lighting are necessary components when creating a functional, beautiful space.  More importantly, lighting is often overlooked since people don’t realize that it is a decorating opportunity that’s well worth the time it takes to select just the right fixtures.  

via Houzz
via Houzz

When designing a lighting plan for a kitchen (or most rooms, for that matter) I want the lighting to be flexible.  For example, there are times when I’m cooking that I want my kitchen to light up like Yankee Stadium.  When entertaining, I want to create a mood that can only be achieved when certain lights are on.  And at the end of the night when the dishes are done and the kitchen is clean, I might only flip on one or two accent lights so no one is fumbling in the dark to grab a late-night snack.  When you’re designing your kitchen, consider a variety of light sources.  A combination of recessed lighting, island pendants, sconces and a fixture over the table all will provide both the appropriate amount of light for each designated area and the variety you need to keep it interesting. 

Kriste Michelini

Consider the following guidelines when installing your light fixtures:  

  • When installing a fixture over a dining table, begin by holding the light 30″ above the table surface for a room with an 8′ ceiling.  Add 3″ for every foot that you add to the ceiling height (for a 9′ ceiling try 33″).
  • When hanging pendant fixtures over an island, consider that the bottom of your light fixture should be roughly 28-34″ above the countertop.  Once again, if your ceiling is higher than 8′ you might consider hanging pendants  a little bit higher.   Some situations do call for as much as 40″ over the island, so bear in mind that every space is different.
  • When installing sconces in a bathroom, for example, a general guideline for where to begin is 64″ from the floor.  Oftentimes, homeowners and electricians have a natural inclination to install these fixtures much higher than they need to be.  But who wants to stand at the sink and look straight into the bulb?  The purpose of a bathroom sconce is not only to shed light so that you can see what you’re doing, but it’s also to act as a decorative element in the room, no??  

How you choose to install your light fixtures is ultimately up to you.  Customers and friends always ask if there’s a rule to follow when making these decisions.  Unfortunately, the answer is no — it’s simply not that easy.  There are guidelines, to be sure, but in the end, it’s your decision.  For me, I often err on the side of having a light fixture hang a little bit lower as opposed to a little bit higher since I believe that lighting on the lower side creates a sense of coziness and adds a bit of ambiance — but that’s just my opinion.  What I do tell customers is that determining the correct height to hang any fixture is best done with two people.  One person should hold the fixture in place while the other person observes the fixture from multiple vantage points.  First, sit at the island or table — can you see the person across from you or is the light fixture in the way?  Enter the room from each doorway and look towards the island and/or the table — do you like what you see?  Is the light fixture too high or too low?  Does it block the view beyond the fixture?   Remember:  lighting serves a dual purpose.  It’s meant to illuminate the space and to be beautiful at the same time.  Lighting is an investment, so I suggest you treat it as such and take the time to make sure that the fixtures you choose hang at the height that is the most pleasing to you!  


Posted in Design Element, Kitchen, Materials | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Why Put off ‘Til Tomorrow What You Can Do Today?

Circa Lighting
Circa Lighting

Lately I’ve been feeling as though I’ve had so many things going on that I’ve had trouble crossing the finish line with any one of them.  I’m a knitter (a great stress-reliever) and right now I have at least four different projects on the needles, none of which I seem to be able to actually complete.  Some may say that I’m a “process knitter” — that I simply enjoy the process more than the finished product.  When I say that, I know I’m just fooling myself — I love the finished product, too!  The truth is, I guess I just like having multiple things going on at the same time.  The past six months have frankly been like that, too.  With a kitchen and bath design business, a son applying to college, and a fledgling blog that’s received almost no attention at all, I seem to be busy all of the time and yet I keep putting off things that simply can no longer wait.  Last week I checked two boxes off my growing list of to-dos, and when I completed each one I felt like a million bucks.  The first one was to create an ad for my son’s senior yearbook.  Going through pictures and thinking of the past eighteen years has made me both wistful at this milestone and excited about what lies ahead for him.  When I finally selected the photos that I would use and the caption that would accompany them, I felt a tremendous sense of relief.  Why had I waited so long to get that done?  And then, propelled by the momentum generated by that achievement, I decided to tackle the biggest weight that had been sitting upon my shoulders since December…my Christmas cards!  Yes, I mailed my Christmas cards at the end of February, much to the amusement of many of my friends.  A post on Facebook that I wrote shortly after mailing day acknowledged that perhaps sending my Christmas cards in February is a measure of how out-of-control I must be feeling lately!  Well, at least it’s done — another box checked off the ever-growing list.  


Alno Creations
Alno Creations

Truth is, I do enjoy being busy.  The past six months have been exhilarating, and I’ve met so many terrific people and learned so much.  Lately I’ve been helping several people to refresh their kitchens which after several years have simply become dated.  With cabinets and countertops in good shape, sometimes the best way to give your kitchen a face-lift is with a change to several key materials.  Re-tiling the backsplash, changing the plumbing and light fixtures, painting the cabinets and changing out the hardware can all have a meaningful impact on the overall look of your kitchen.  In future posts I’ll show some before and after photos to demonstrate how these changes can dramatically affect your kitchen’s overall appearance.  


Walker Zanger
Walker Zanger

In the meantime, the images that I’ve selected for today’s post should simply serve to get you to begin thinking of which elements in your kitchen you could change that would make your space look just a little bit more current.  Could it be the cabinet hardware or the backsplash tile?  Or would simply replacing the light fixture over your kitchen table be enough to refresh your space and reinvigorate one of the rooms in your home where you likely spend the most time?  Stop putting it off and consider changing some basic design elements in your kitchen — it can have a lasting impact.  Think about it!


Posted in Design Element, Kitchen, Materials | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

For the Love of Tile


It’s been entirely too long since my last post.  My excuse is simply that life has gotten in the way.  Funny how one of my many jobs as a parent is to teach my children the important life skill of time management.  Perhaps I haven’t been modeling good behavior lately as I’ve quite literally been burning the candle at both ends, and a few things have inadvertently fallen through the cracks.  September is one of the busiest months of the year, and most moms often ask one another “What’s worse:  September….or June?”  Endless meetings for school, requests to shuttle children to sports events, daily household chores and the launch of my kitchen & bath business have swallowed-up the month of September.  And it all came to a head today when I learned that I had forgotten my mother-in-law’s birthday yesterday.  Ah yes, the wheels appear to have come off the wagon.  Happily, October begins tomorrow, and with that I suspect a more normal routine of sorts will ensue.  By October we are generally in a rhythm – the kids with school and sports, and me with work and other commitments.  So, rather than feeling as though my family is spinning out of control, I am hopeful that the chaos of September is behind us, and that we will all start fresh in October!

Lately I have been spending time in tile showrooms sourcing backsplash tile.  I had the great fortune to visit the Walker Zanger showroom and I was so impressed by their beautiful selection.  I have written about tile in previous blog posts, as I’m a believer that tile is a great way to make a statement in both the kitchen and the bathroom.  What struck me during this most recent visit to Walker Zanger was the incredible variety of tile that is available today, and the countless ways these exquisite tiles can be used.  In the kitchen above,  designed by Drawing Dept. of Cincinnati, Ohio, the tile choice is so fresh and modern and makes quite a statement behind the sink.  At first it looks like custom millwork, doesn’t it?

In this bathroom designed by Tatum Brown Custom Homes in Dallas, Texas, tile is used behind the sink in lieu of wallpaper.  What a fantastic way to add both color and texture to arguably the most important wall in the powder room?  Who wouldn’t notice this bold statement when standing at the sink?

While a traditional 3″ x 6″ subway tile is a classic shape for a kitchen backsplash, the use of  hand painted ceramic tile with its depth and variety of color makes this classic shape appear much more current.  This kitchen designed by California-based Fiorella Design demonstrates that subtle color variation can add just the right amount of interest to the backsplash.  
So, here’s to a fresh start to fall and to a renewed enthusiasm for making a beautiful design statement in  your own home.
Posted in Bath, Design Element, Kitchen, Materials, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Design Your Multi-Purpose Room Thoughtfully for High Functionality

It’s an all too common occurrence. Many homes today have at least one multi-purpose room where every activity that doesn’t have its own dedicated space occurs. So often, however, rooms that have to perform double-duty lack clear definition and as a result aren’t highly functioning.  But not this room…

This laundry room — mudroom combination designed by Rock Paper Hammer in Louisville, Kentucky struck a chord with me as it seems so well thought out. The designer’s attention to detail is evident in the careful selection of materials — high gloss paint on the ceiling and walls, brick floors sealed with a gloss clear coat to create a clean, “wet” look, and the unexpected choice of zinc for the countertops  — all blend so nicely with the rest of the elements in the room. Large cubbies for storing everyone’s belongings help to bring a little bit of order to a busy house. Additionally, having the laundry room reside in the mudroom with a nice big sink and large counter for folding certainly makes sense when you consider how much dirty laundry passes through that space daily. At least the chore of folding laundry would be a little bit nicer in that bright sunny spot looking out the window.

I am a big believer in the “if you build it they will come” theory of organization. If you can design and build a place to store everything, then you set yourself up for success. Before we built a mudroom in our home several years ago, our kids would come home from school every day and drop their shoes and belongings by the front door. My front hall was always cluttered with smelly sneakers, backpacks and sports equipment. Truthfully, I couldn’t really blame them: at their ages they were too small to reach the rod in the closet to hang up their coats, and there was simply no place for them to put their things.

When we built our mudroom, I planned a cubby for each child. Inside there are several hooks for coats, a spot for backpacks, and an area underneath for shoes that can be easily swept out if dirt or turf grit comes in from outside. An upper cabinet with a basket offers extra storage for off-season items that aren’t being used. Once the mudroom was in place it was easier to teach the kids to put their things away since there was a place for everything. Do they always put everything where it belongs? Of course not…they’re now teenage boys…but with a dedicated spot for all of their stuff they’re more likely to hit the target than just drop their things in the front hall.

The mudroom designed by Rock Paper Hammer reminds me that good design can really make life easier. If you take the time to consider how you will use a space and then plan for that, you will have a room tailored to your family’s needs, which will likely result in a little bit more order. I would certainly put this mudroom to good use if it were in my own home. The only modification I could possibly make would be to substitute my black and yellow labs for the cat…but then there would be dog hair everywhere.

Posted in Design Element, Laundry Room, Materials, Mudroom | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Add Some Independence Day Style to Your Kitchen

Traditional Holiday Decorations by Other Metro Furniture and Accessories Pottery Barn

Today is the Fourth of July, my all-time favorite holiday, so this is the perfect opportunity to talk about adding a little bit of Independence Day style to your kitchen.  Since red, white and blue together make quite a bold statement, it’s no secret to share that clearly a little goes a long way.  While these kitchens are by no means Fourth of July themed, I was inspired to find examples of kitchens that embraced any one or more of these significant colors.


This Lake Michigan kitchen designed by Martin Horner uses the color blue as a design element so perfectly.  When combined with perimeter cabinets painted white and a dark stained island, the use of this color in select materials adds blue in a way that isn’t overwhelming.


This Windsor Smith kitchen and adjacent dining area takes a bold shade of red and employs it throughout in a series of accents.  By introducing pops of red through the chinoiserie-style chairs, lantern and pendant light fixture, tremendous interest is added to the space.  The tension that is created by the contrast between the white cabinets, dark stained floors and bright red accents is so appealing.  Notice that just these few elements of bold color are all that is needed to add a little drama to an already beautiful space.

The next time you want to add a little bit of color to liven-up a quiet space, you might consider taking some inspiration from the flag by adding a touch of red or blue.  What a great statement that would make!

Posted in Design Element, Design Inspiration, Kitchen, Materials | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

How Do I Love Thee…A Kitchen That Has It All

lymankitchenThis post should really be titled “how to add character and warmth to your white kitchen,” but really that title would be kind of boring.  What truly grabs my attention about this kitchen which was featured in the June 2012 issue of House Beautiful Magazine is how designer Samantha Lyman used numerous elements to make this space truly unique and incredibly inviting.

How do I love thee…let me count the ways!

  • Dark stained oak floors in contrast to the white upper cabinets make a dramatic statement
  • Antique French armoire custom fit to nestle in-between the modern, shaker style cabinets adds character
  • La Cornue range in stainless steel is both traditional and industrial at the same time (a statement piece in itself)
  • Walnut island countertop stained dark brown adds a richness and a warmth that complements the cooler marble perimeter countertop
  • Gray painted island is a nice contrast to the white painted upper cabinets and grounds the island in the space
  • Vintage pendants made of copper and enamel over the island give the kitchen a rich history and add even more character
  • Honed Calacutta marble countertop is a classic material that develops a beautiful patina over time
  • Starfire glass backsplash back-painted white gives a clean, contemporary look and reflects light in the space

Samantha Lyman has created a stunning kitchen that is functional, beautiful, interesting, and unique all at once.  The overall look that she has achieved demonstrates that by adding interesting elements to a kitchen with clean white cabinets, you can create a space that is both warm in its overall feel and ultimately full of character.  And wouldn’t you want every space in your home to feel that way?  I would!

Posted in Design Element, Featured Kitchen, Kitchen | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

I Think I Might Become a Minimalist


I think I might become a minimalist.  I grew-up in a home with a mother who couldn’t part with anything meaningful, and a father who wanted to remove anything unnecessary that simply wasn’t nailed down.  I fall somewhere in between.  I now have a house of my own where I live with my husband and four sons — not one of whom is a minimalist.  In fact, it seems as though they are all collectors of sorts, but do they hold onto things for sentimental reasons, or are they simply too lazy to purge the things they no longer use?

This week my house is particularly disorganized and I am trying desperately to restore some order.  I have one son who just came home from school and dumped the entire contents of his dorm room on the floor of the front hall — too heavy a load to carry up to his bedroom?  I just don’t know.  At the same time, my youngest son is about to leave for a month of camp, so his belongings are in piles all over his room getting ready to be packed and shipped.  My usual staging area for these things is the guest room, but it’s simply too small to store both boys’ belongings at the same time in an organized fashion.

So, while scanning the pages of Adore Home Magazine online, I came across this beautiful kitchen with its sleek marble countertops and backsplash, white cabinets and chrome and stainless accents.  This clean, utterly grown-up space makes me want to be a minimalist!  There’s just something about this kitchen that makes me want to hire a dumpster and start weeding out all of the unnecessary things that have been gathered during the fifteen years that we’ve lived here.  Perhaps if I tape this photo to my fridge it will motivate me by acting as a constant reminder to clean out so that I can restore some order to this chaos.


Posted in Kitchen | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

An Unexpected Bathtub



I’ve had bathrooms on my mind lately, and coincidentally came across this photo that gave me some much-needed inspiration.  I took this picture at the Kips Bay Decorator Showhouse in New York simply because it was so utterly unexpected.  Stepping out onto the terrace of a Manhattan townhouse only to find a beautiful, sculptural free-standing bathtub in a zen-like setting took me completely by surprise.  Daring design such as this by West Chin Architect clearly makes a statement.  I’m quite certain that the experience of taking a hot bath outside on a starry night in the fresh air would be a similar experience to a summer outdoor shower.  And if you are a regular reader of this blog you know how I feel about outdoor showers!

Now, let’s not quibble about the fact that this lovely, serene setting offers zero privacy.  With summer fast-approaching, I’m personally concerned about the prospect of putting on a bathing suit at the beach, so you can imagine how I might feel about soaking in a tub in my birthday suit on my not-so-very-private rooftop garden!  So, let’s suspend reality for a moment and imagine how delightful it truly would be (with the proper privacy screen, of course) to soak in that beautiful bathtub outside in the fresh air!  If you’ve heard me say it once, then you’ve certainly heard me say it twice…good, functional design can (and should) be beautiful.  Sometimes it takes an unexpected design such as this to remind us to be creative with our own spaces.  Instead of viewing your bathtub as a utilitarian fixture in your bathroom, why not consider it as a piece of sculpture that is an integral part of the overall design?  After all, while bathrooms certainly serve a purpose, they can absolutely be beautiful at the same time!

Posted in Bath, Design Element, Design Inspiration | Tagged , | Leave a comment