Tuesday, January 27, 2015

A Bonus Room - OR - Storage with a Mortgage?

In the 1980's, residential architecture changed significantly as architects began including undesignated living space in many new home plans. They called this extra space a "bonus room".  Clever, huh?

The bonus room revolutionized residential design because prior to that time, most homes lacked auxiliary space. If an office or extra bedroom was needed, owners usually had to add on to the home. Such additions were costly, inconvenient, and not always in keeping with existing design.

The function of the bonus room was purposely undefined by architects. This allowed homeowners to decide how the room could be used to best fit their needs. What architects did not envision, however, was that the bonus room would be a catch-all space for so many homeowners.

A bonus room should be just that -- a BONUS. Unfortunately, most bonus rooms we see during our staging and design consultations are far from being termed a plus. Our experience has been that most bonus rooms fall into one of two categories. The first is a bland, nearly vacant space with little character, scale, or purpose. The second is what we refer to as storage with a mortgage. It is a room crammed so full of stuff that it cannot function aesthetically, efficiently, nor effectively.

Take a look at these rooms and consider whether, as a buyer, they would seem like a bonus to you . . .

Transforming an underwhelming room into a real bonus is not difficult. Really all it takes is some decisiveness. Simply choose how the room should function and stick to it! If the room is to be an office, don't let it turn into an office + workout station + kids kingdom + media room + storage center. And if the room must do double duty, limit it to no more than 2 functions per 1000 sq. ft. 

Recently we tackled a bonus room that wasn't exactly sure what it wanted to be. It pretty much fell into the first bonus room category of bland, unbalanced, and needing purpose. Take a look . . .

Because the room was really only used as a hangout for teens, it was pretty much an afterthought to the homeowners. No art was hung, more light was needed, and the room just wasn't in keeping with the rest of the home. Simply -- it was probably not the bonus that buyers in this price point were seeking.

To show off the room's amazing possibilities while at the same time keeping its function as a teen hangout in tact, we had to rearrange and accessorize. First we separated the huge sectional to form a more symmetrical conversational grouping. Breaking down the large sectional AND opening the drapes helped to achieve better balance in the room. It no longer felt as if the room was weighted on just one end.

We counterbalanced the large furniture grouping by adding a console table at the opposite end of the room.
Finally we brought the room to life by adding art, accessories, and light elements. 
The room remains true to its primary function as a teen hangout, yet the design is sophisticated enough to appeal to adults and wow buyers. The transformation is a real bonus that will never be mistaken as just storage with a mortgage.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Dream Driven Design: A How-To

Last week I was introduced to the gorgeous treasures at Chairish.com. If you haven't visited Chairish.com, you must do so today! Especially if you're looking for high-end home furnishings that won't bust your budget. The site is filled with tons of upscale vintage furnishings. Even the most sparse, drab interiors can be transformed by the fabulous finds at Chairish.com, and I have proof . . .  
Only hours before I first found Chairish.com online, I was standing in one of the most awkward spaces I've ever seen. The owner kept referring to it as a master suite, but the vibe I got was more like a bleak suite. Scant furnishings and lack of personality were just one issue. The real challenge was odd architecture and poor space planning.
Here is a rendering of how it looked:
View from room entrance
View from bath
The builder of this home has dotted our area with plenty of these designs, but this was the first time my partner and I had seen the master suite built like this. In a word, it was strange. Typically with this model, the bedroom area is larger and has wall space to accommodate a king size bed, night stands, a dresser, and accessories.

In this room, though, that was not possible. For some reason the builder put a wall and pair of side-by-side closets where much of the bedroom would normally be. Then, walls in the middle of the room were oddly bumped out and the master bath placed where a large closet usually sits. The result: a very narrow, pinched, choppy design.

Existing floor plan
Because of its narrow design, placing the bed on any of the three large walls made the room feel choppy. Plus, those options lacked the wall space to accommodate a bed and two side tables. To improve style and functionality, it was clear we would have to do something we almost always try to avoid. We had no choice but to place the bed in front of the windows. And while we were at it, we decided it was time to move the baby to its own room. Look at what happened when we did those things . . . 
Proposed floor plan
With a new floor plan established, it was time to start thinking like a kid by making a wish list where nothing was off the table. Chairish.com was a great source of inspiration for my list. For the first time since seeing that bedroom, I could imagine a beautiful, functional, and on-trend master suite. Take a look at the fabulous finds from Chairish.com that served as impetus for the new master suite . . .
Amazing vintage furniture & accessory finds from Chairish.com
At Chairish.com, I found:
  • A pair of gilded French commodes flanking the new bed sets the tone for the entire design; offering an eclectically chic style.
  • The vintage Victorian mirror adds subtle bling without overpowering other elements in the room.
  • The black & gold French desk is a gorgeous and functional statement piece.
  • Blue & green silk vintage ottomans helped establish the color palette. So pretty.
With those pieces in mind, I started dreaming of how the room could look. Here's the potential I saw in that master suite . . .
Improved master suite design
Closer view of bedroom side of the suite
Closer view of sitting area & workspace
Can you believe it? Hardly even resembles the old room. The blend of beautiful and functional elements help to transform the once awkward space into a true master suite.
What's even better is that almost anyone can do this. Just start by composing a check list and/or a design board of items needed to create your dream room. A design board (sometimes called a "mood board") looks something like this:
Examples of furniture & fabric pieces needed to achieve the desired look

Light & Art Element examples found at Chairish.com
With your list of furnishings and accessories complete, you can start shopping -- even if you have a tight budget. Determine the look you want, then shop for dream-like items that your wallet can handle. I'm not promising the shopping part will be easy -- it won't! But it will be easier than winging it with the hope that things will miraculously fall in place.
A design board and wish list can also help you decide on which unique and one-of-a-kind items you should splurge. In the case of our room, I found lots of splurge-worthy elements at Chairish.com like these fabulous finds (pictured above):
  • A pair of Arteriors Home gilded floor lamps for the sitting area
  • A pair of vintage crackle glaze ginger jar lamps for the bedside tables
  • 3 Bernard Buffet lithographs, ca. 1968
  • A vintage 1930s Chase Co. chrome desk lamp
  • Linda Colletta "Spring Blush" abstract painting
  • An oil on canvas painting of the Lahinch seaside
Chairish.com is my new go-to for extraordinary pieces to add serious panache to bland spaces!
So the next time you find yourself dealing with a difficult space, don't fret. Seek inspiration from places like Chairish.com and start dreaming. Then let those dreams drive your design.  

Friday, November 7, 2014

Challenge Accepted

Brace yourselves. I've got big news.

The amazing team over at Chairish.com has invited me. . . yes, ME. . . to take part in an online design challenge featuring some of their fabulous vintage furniture and accessories. I'm so excited. Here's Carlton doing an impression of me right now . . .

If you haven't visited Chairish.com, you should. They have incredible vintage furnishings and accessories -- stuff you probably won't find anywhere else. We're talking authentic statement pieces that can help make your designs totally unique. In fact, I just found an original Eames rocker from 1948 in the most perfect Tennessee orange. Go Vols!

Can you just imagine how spectacular that would look in my son's new UT apartment?
So here's the challenge: I've been sent a selection of 17 vintage furnishings and accessories to use as inspiration for a design board & blog article. If the team at Chairish.com likes my ideas, they will feature it on their site and social media network. Whoop! Whoop!
My mind is already churning with ideas inspired by many of the one-of-a-kind items that Chairish.com sent me to use in the challenge. Also serving as impetus for this project: the unbelievably horrible architecture of a bedroom suite I consulted on yesterday.
That's all I can tell you right now, but I will leave you with a little taste of what's to come in my next blog article where I accept the Chairish.com design challenge. This Gilded French Commode will definitely be starring in the project. 



Monday, August 18, 2014

The Affordable Dorm: A Decorating "How To"

I love this time of year and seeing the photos of college kids moving into their new digs. Some of you are so creative and stylish!

With so many great examples of gorgeous dorms, it's hard to imagine how dorm design can perplex so many -- but it does. Trying to make the most of small, cramped, bare spaces really overwhelms some of you. Perhaps it's because the furniture is rarely in the best arrangement when you first see it. Or maybe it's that everything looks the same. Whatever the issue, lots of people want to know how to take that stark, drab, and utilitarian and turn it into something fabulous.

My son is in his 4th year of college. Which means that not counting my own dorms back in the day, I've got 4 consecutive years worth of experience decorating the modern dorm, fraternity house, and apartment bedroom. I've learned all sorts of tricks too. For less than $200, I can show most anyone how to transform a plain-Jane dorm into a stylish and functional space.

STEP ONE:  Before you buy the first item for your room, you need to establish a theme. Whether that be a particular color combination, a favorite sports team, or whatever -- decide on the theme first!

STEP TWO:  Know what the room looks like. What are its dimensions? What furniture pieces will be in the room? How large are the windows and doors? How high are the ceilings? What size bed you have. Is it a twin, twin XL, full or full XL? Be sure you know that because it makes a big difference.

Above all, ASK QUESTIONS. Call the dorm directly and to gather information. Tour rooms when you are on campus. Look at photos; the school website AND from people who lived there in previous years. Once you have gathered information and really know your room's possibilities and limitations, you can use room planning software to create a great design.

STEP THREE: Find your bedding. Aside from a small fridge or television, your bedding is likely to be the single most expensive purchase for your room. So start early so you can get the best deals. Use coupons if possible and combine them with sale prices. You'll be shocked at how easily you can get a $100 bedding set for about $50. 

To further stretch your dollar, look for COMPLETE bedding sets. Get a set that at a minimum includes a comforter or coverlet, sham(s), and bedskirt.  Really great buys may also include items like matching sheets, pillows, or curtains/valances. The more you can get in a single package, the less you'll have to purchase separately.

STEP FOUR: Gather the character. Decide what additional elements you need in the room. Things like lighting, storage, window coverings, art, etc. Start purchasing or making those items. Look around the house for things you already have. For the items you don't have, scour the sale racks, garage sales, Craigslist, or wherever you can get stuff for a discount. Try to match your color scheme or get things that can be inexpensively altered with fabric or paint.

STEP FIVE. Be flexible and RELAX! Move-in day is stressful no matter how many times you've done it. Try to not let the crowds and chaos sour your mood or creativity. Expect there to be hiccups in your design plan and make the best of it.

Now that you know the steps to executing an affordable dorm room design, let me show you how we created a really great look for under $200. . .

For our "step one", my son requested a grey & orange scheme with subtle University of Tennessee elements. Once that was decided, I started planning and shopping -- hunting for the best deals. I also studied online photos of the model apartment and called the complex four different times to ask about ceiling height, particular pieces of furniture, etc.

When we first walked in we were greeted with this. Pretty bleak, huh? There was a full XL bed, a chest of drawers, a desk, and a chair. And remember when I warned you to be flexible on moving day because there will always be a hiccup in your plan? Our hiccup was that high platform bed. We were expecting a normal box springs and mattress set.

We started by rearranging the furniture to gain a more open and spacious feeling. Rather than have the head of the bed and chest of drawers on the right wall, we moved the chest beside the desk and placed the bed beside the window.

Next we put the bed together. I found a simple grey bedding set which included a comforter, shams, bed skirt, and two throw pillows. The best thing about it though is that it was super affordable. Just $60 for the entire set! We introduced the second color in the design scheme with orange throw pillows and sheets.

What really pumped up the bedding style is the padded headboard. Using a 40% off coupon at Hobby Lobby, I was able to get enough fabric to cover the headboard (which I made from plywood) and make a small pillow for just $14. The entire project cost just $35.

The black end table was another steal deal I found at Kroger Marketplace -- only $28. Trouble was, it was a weird yellowish pecan color. Obviously that wouldn't work with our grey & orange scheme. But with a coat of black spray paint in a satin finish ($8), the table matches the décor perfectly.

The lamp, hatbox, and state flag in UT colors were free finds from around the house. The hatbox was black and the lamp, navy blue. Again, with the magic of spray paint, we transformed those items to match the design scheme.

The curtains were added to soften and lighten the look of the room. Guys tend to want to pick out really dark things -- especially when it comes to bedding and window treatments. If we'd hung grey curtains, the room would've seemed dark and small. Instead we went with white, trimmed in orange. We saved money by using two flat, twin-size sheets -- just $4/ea at Walmart. We customized them with strips of ribbon sewn on the inner edge of each sheet.

By far, my favorite element in the room is the Smokey silhouette pallet art. That was so much fun to create and probably one of the easiest projects ever. Just $9 to make, but it packs a huge punch of charm.

Take a look at how much the entire look cost . . .

For under $200 we added incredible style without sacrificing space, light, or organization. It was so easy. With just a little planning and some smart shopping, anyone can have a great looking room at a truly affordable price.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Affordable Dorm: A Preview

If you've got a college age kid, you know how expensive going back to school can be. In addition to the tuition, electronics, and high-dollar books they need, there's also the expense of outfitting a dorm or apartment. Even the guys want their rooms as tricked out as possible. Some room décor can really stretch the wallet. The question is: Can your back-to-school budget handle it?

I'm no exception. I've got a son heading off to school for his fourth year. He's finally moving out of the fraternity house (not a moment too soon), and into an apartment. Like most people, I've found that ever-rising tuition costs and other expenses make a decorating budget pretty tight. So when the budget is tight, it's time to get creative.

We'll be moving him back to school this weekend, but before we go I wanted to give you a teaser of some of the budget-friendly décor we've chosen for his new apartment. It's pallet art that we're planning to hang over his bed. A total DIY project that cost me a grand total of $9.00 to create. More than that, it sets the tone for the entire room. I know my Tennessee Vols' family will surely like it. Hope you do too.

Pallet -- FREE
Small can of stain ("driftwood" color) -- $7.00
White craft paint for simple white wash -- Free (already had)
Orange craft paint -- less than $1.00
With tax I spent about $9.00!!!
With simple projects like this, you can easily give your dorm or apartment a dash of style in an affordable way. Hope you'll check back next week to see the finished room design.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Don't Be a Lame Duck!

Those around in the 80's probably remember the Paul Masson commercials with Orson Welles and that unforgettable tagline: "We will sell no wine before it's time." The practice of fully preparing a product for market was around long before Paul Masson gave it a slogan, but it still rings true.

One industry that sometimes forgets the tried-and-true practice of thoroughly preparing a product for market is the real estate industry. Understandably, agents are under enormous pressure to sign clients before competing agents swoop in and get the listing. The trouble though with a hurry-up (and list) offense is that performance often suffers due to poor preparation; and the outcomes can be costly.

The most frustrating aspect of our job as home staging consultants is trying to remedy a lame duck listing -- a property that was rushed to market before it was ready. Poor Mr. Welles would roll over in his grave if he could see some of the unprepared listings on the market today.

Those ill-fated listings hit the MLS and the initial flood of prospective buyers begins. Excited buyers and their agents arrive only to find a hot mess. Floors are dirty, walls are cracking, lights are broken, 1980's décor is all around, and pet odors assault the senses. Buyers waste no time in moving on to a market-ready property and their agents. . . well. . .their agents talk. They tell other agents and buyers of the property's need for repairs and updates. Then the listing begins to sit, and sit, and sit some more. As it sits, people start wondering what is wrong with it. The early surge of potential buyers has passed and what remains is a LAME DUCK!

In most cases, a lame duck listing is the result of a rush to market. A For Sale sign shouldn't go in the yard before the house has even been cleaned. Buyers should see the best example of your home the very FIRST time they visit. You wouldn't wear a t-shirt and shorts to an interview, then hope for a second interview so you can wear your best navy suit would you? Of course not. So why would you do that with the sale of your home?  If you want to avoid being a lame duck listing, you must properly prepare.  Here's how . . .

Clean. Clean. Clean. Before you ever hire a realtor, prepare for the sell by making needed repairs, declutter, and eliminate any issues that buyers may perceive as negative. But don't overdo it! Sometimes owners get so into the decluttering process that they throw out key furniture, lighting, and art items. Just get rid of the clutter like papers, trash, broken items, and unused things.

Hire a great real estate agent. Don't just go for the agent with the flashiest ads and best website. Interview the agent and seek referrals from people you trust. Your home is often your largest investment. Don't trust it to just anyone. Hire an agent with exceptional character; one who makes your interests their priority. If you feel excessive pressure or get a gut feeling telling you to move on, listen to it. Ask lots of questions and choose the realtor who best fits your needs.

Talk to a staging consultant. If your realtor does not offer staging services, ask for them to do so. Request a true consultant who will sit down with you and explain WHY you need to remove the 70 inch television from the dining room entryway. Let them help you develop a game plan for making your home as presentable as it can be. Don't just get someone to come over and start moving stuff around your home. Go with a staging professional with a proven track record of verifiable sales and quick turnaround.

Trust the professionals. Don't just have a staging consultant into your home to satisfy your realtor. Do what they recommend. The more willing you are to follow the staging plan from the outset, the better success you are likely to have. Buyer expectations have changed significantly in just the past five years and the professionals know it. Agents and staging professionals do not enjoy telling you your home smells like cats or that your collection of 10,000+ antique bells is too much. They tell you to make changes or remove items because it will sell your home. Trust them.

Price it right. If your home is over-priced and you are uncompromising, don't venture into the market. People view their homes much like their children. They don't often see its drawbacks and realities. Listen to your agent who knows the market. They want to get as much out of your listing as you do. It's how they are paid. The more money you earn from the sale, the more they earn. What you think is a low asking price is usually a thoroughly researched, realistic price designed to keep your home from being a lame duck.

Stick to the plan. After your home has been readied for the market, a good stager and real estate agent will provide you with a list of things to do before each showing. Do them! Remember showing your home is like an interview. It is the first and sometimes only chance you have to make an  impression on buyers. Whatever the professionals have instructed you to do, this is the time to do it.

True, there are exceptions to these rules . . . but not many. You may have sold three houses in 40 years with the same cuckoo clock and velvet Elvis collections hanging on the walls, but most likely it 1.) didn't happen quickly, 2.) wasn't close to full price, and 3.) wasn't after HGTV began educating the house-buying public. Today's buyers are more educated and more sophisticated than ever before. Simply sticking a For Sale sign in your yard and expecting great results is poor strategy. If you want to sell quickly and for the most money, you must properly prepare. Surround yourself with true experts and do as they recommend. If you put the time (and a little elbow grease) into it, you can avoid being the next lame duck listing.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

A Home Living Project

Last post I promised lots of before and after photos were on the way. I haven't forgotten. Today, I give you round two of The Summer of Before & After . . .

A warning first: This project is NOT before and after images from a home staging. This is a home living project. A few months ago we helped the homeowner's sell their old home. So when they moved, they asked us to help them create a design plan for their new place.

Creating a space for a client to live in is vastly different than helping them stage a home to sell. Design for living must take into account the homeowner's personal tastes and belongings. Great Aunt Helga's crocheted doily that we made them pack away when the house was on the market is probably going to be on display in the new home. Or bold wall colors that would never fly when selling a house, will now have to be incorporated into the design plan. Essentially, designing for a client long-term involves taking their conglomeration of stuff and personal taste, and finding a way to tie it all together in a pleasing fashion. This project is an example of doing just that . . .

We first visited this sweet couple just two days after their move. Things were still in boxes. Nothing was on walls. There was no lamp light. And it was really hard to see the home's potential. What we did notice, though, is that the client had unknowingly established a color palette. The primary color they inadvertently chose was a very deep blue with grey & green undertones. They had also established through upholstery and paint choices the secondary colors of brown and green. So even though things were in total disarray, we had a starting point -- Blue, Brown, and Green.

We gave the couple our thoughts about furniture placement and items they still needed like rugs, bedding, and a pair of club chairs. (Every home should have a matching pair of club chairs!) We also established a budget and list of shopping items that we would source in order to make their existing items come to life in the new home.

In the dining room we started out with their existing, very traditional Thomasville table, chairs, and china cabinet. The client also had a small antique buffet. The mirror was a bit of an afterthought. It was a piece they'd had for years and nearly forgotten. It sort of stood out among the accessory items stored in the garage, just begging to be hung in the dining room. The rug was a purchase we asked them to make before we arrived for the final installation. Look at the detail in the rug. Without realizing it, the homeowners kept choosing the same blue/grey color to establish the color palette.
Dining AFTER

To complete the dining room, we purchased a large pair of complementary botanical prints. It's difficult to see in the photo, but the mats in the pictures repeat the colors of the rug. We also added the skinniest pair of buffet lamps we could find in all of Nashville. The size of the buffet and the two-tone mirror dictated the need for skinny, gold lamps. We were thrilled to find those amazing lamps. Up close, the posts look like gold beads. They were the perfect amount of bling to dress up the dining room. Finally, we added a pop of bright berry and green colors to table through a floral arrangement the homeowners already had. With that floral, we reinforced the secondary green color, and added a third secondary color with the berry tone.

In the family room, we tackled one of our most hated obstacles -- THE SECTIONAL SOFA! Our regulars know why we abhor sectionals. If you missed it, you can find out why here.

Family Room BEFORE
Despite our distaste of a sectional sofa, it was staying and we had to deal with it. There was no moving it to a better location. It was in the only place it could fit in the room. Really, the only thing to do was to break up the massive brown span of knobby upholstery -- but how? A RUG and PILLOWS! We lightened and visually separated the gigantic brown "L" with a light rug and pillows in natural tones. Then we added some accessories to the table, brought in a floor lamp, and dressed up the bookcases with the client's favorite things.

Family Room AFTER
Family Room AFTER
Opposite the sofa, there was this small, plain, boring wall. The homeowners had an extra dresser, so we told them to place it on the wall when we were there the first day.

Family Room BEFORE
The homeowners also had a pair of really cool lamps, but the shades were old, tired, and PLEATED. We purchased new shades for the lamps, a potted plant, and an amazing piece of art. With just three accessories and a nod to our blue, brown, and green color palette, we completely transformed that little boring wall.

Family Room AFTER
The huge breakfast room is one of the most used rooms in the homeowner's new home. Their existing table sets a Chinoiserie tone in the room, yet the other antiques are very Americana. We needed a way to tie the various furniture genres together.

Breakfast Room BEFORE

Breakfast Room BEFORE
We removed the chargers, placemats, and mirrored tiles from the table. Then we played up gold metallic tones on the accessories -- the Chinoiserie hurricanes on the table, the lamp on the console and the picture above it -- to tie the room together. We are still on the hunt for some art for the back wall, but you can see how the room is coming together.

Breakfast Room AFTER

And now for my favorite transformation . . . The Master Suite. Basically we started with really dark walls and tons of furniture lining them. There was nothing soft or relaxing about the room. In fact, it was kind of depressing.

The first thing we did was advise the clients to buy softer & lighter bedding, a rug, and a pair of club chairs. When we returned for the installation this is how things looked.

Sitting Area BEFORE

Bedroom BEFORE
Bedroom BEFORE
We wanted this space to be an inviting, relaxing retreat for the owners. It already had a very dramatic color, so we needed to match the drama while softening and lightening the room. We also wanted to drive home the drama using the secondary palette colors of berry & green. Remember the dining room? Those same colors were ideal for adding a dash of pizazz to the master suite.
Starting in the sitting area, we had the clients purchase a pair of matching club chairs. Fortunately they chose a light, almost white, upholstery. It worked great with the monochromatic accessories in the room, but it was tough to make it work with the existing skirted table. We solved the problem with multicolored pillows. Those little accent throw pillows introduced the berry color, green, and a pale yellow. That's how we arrived at the color on the table skirt. We repeated the blue and berry color using a lamp that the owner already had. We gave it an updated appearance by replacing the dated, pleated style shade with a more on-trend barrel style. Then we moved the owner's undersized art from above the bed and placed in the sitting area to once more add a pop of green. A little table top accessorizing with some berry & blue hardback books and the sitting room was complete.
Sitting Area AFTER

Around the television cabinet, we repeated the soft cream, pale yellow, and light blue colors with artwork and a plant. So simple, yet so impactful.

Bedroom AFTER
Finally, we finished the dramatic transformation of the master suite by having he homeowner buy a new bedding in a soft, creamy white tone. We repeated the berry and blues on the bed with throw pillows. We further softened the look with a pale grey and cream rug. We added bling and more color with those gorgeous abstract prints and mother of pearl lamps. Then we tied the bed area to the sitting area by filling the odd shelving unit built by the previous owners with simple all-white accessories. The result is soft, relaxing, and beautiful.
Bedroom AFTER
Bedroom AFTER
If you'd like to learn more about achieving a cohesive and beautiful design using your existing furnishings, please send us a message. We can help with all aspects of interior design needs.