15 popular countertop materials

Chicago Kitchen - Oakley Home Builders

Oakley Home Builders – Chicago

When remodeling a kitchen, choosing a material for the countertops is one of the most important decisions you’ll make. It’s a big part of the visual impact; and once you start cooking, it’s the surface you’ll interact with the most! I ran across a useful guide to countertops on Houzz today, and thought I would pass it along, because I found it to be very comprehensive, with some really nice photos! –> Continue reading on Houzz.com

Posted in countertops | Tagged , , , ,

fresh ideas for outdoor living

wave hammock - cropped

Wave Hammock

Mmmm… the weather’s getting warmer and it’s time to think about sprucing up our outdoor living areas. And there are some great new outdoor furniture pieces on the market right now! All you ocean-lovers out there might want to check out this elegant wave hammock.  Flawlessly designed, and perfect for a deck overlooking the water!

bubble hut

Bubble Hut


For those misty San Francisco days when you need a little more protection from the elements, how about this elegant, French-designed bubble hut?

You could totally use one of these as a guest room if you have somewhat outdoorsy friends and live in a mild climate. (A little like camping, but eminently more civilized!)

garden globe

Rotating Garden Sphere


Or how about this adorable rotating garden sphere from England? It’s provides great sun protection, so it’s really nice for fair-skinned people like myself. I love the smoked glass, and the aluminum shading at the top and the beautiful interior finishes. It rotates, so you can adjust it with the angle of the sun or wind. I’m truly enchanted by this thing, and would buy one right now except that I’m still choking over the exorbitant price (eee).  Super gorgeous and useful!

Posted in furniture, outdoor entertaining | Tagged , , , , ,

kitchen garden ideas

wall planter in kitchen

I really enjoyed this this new Ideabook on Houzz, showcasing lots of innovative products for growing herbs and spices either right inside your kitchen, or just outside on a patio or deck. Check it out!

Posted in health & wellness, resource conservation | Tagged , ,

lighting art properly

Shannon at Funston Residence

Photo by Ken Gutmaker

Have you ever noticed that the pretty girls are more likely to wear a touch of makeup and have nice clothes? The ones who don’t even need it, you think.

But reality is this: so often they look amazing *because* that lipstick is so perfect with their skin! *Because* that neckline frames their face so well!  And it’s just the same with art.

When people look at art that’s beautifully lit, their first impression is that THE ART is amazing! A quality giclée, bathed in a halo of light, will invariably attract more attention than an original oil painting stuck in a dark corner. (Apologies to my artist friends, but you know it’s true… you know it’s true more than anyone does!)

So my suggestion is to light the art that you currently own, as beautifully as possible. This doesn’t have to be an expensive proposition, and it will make your home look a thousand times more elegant right away.

Here’s how to do it:

1. When lighting art, use halogen or LED fixtures only. No incandescent, no fluorescent. End of discussion. If you’re not sure which fixture to buy, here’s a great one to check out.

2. You’ll need a dimmer switch. That’s because the natural light is changing throughout the day, and you’ll want to be able to adjust the lighting on your art accordingly.

3. It will probably take you a couple of tries to get the field angle of the bulb right. No problem – just experiment! The field angle refers to how wide the beam is that comes out of the fixture.  If your ceilings are 8-10 feet high, I suggest starting with a 25-degree MR16 bulb, and adjusting from there.

It’s really that simple! Of course you can make it more complicated, just like you can make putting on lipstick more complicated. And there’s a reason that both makeup artists and lighting designers exist! But doing this at the basic level is really not that hard. 🙂 If you want some help, of course feel free to call me; or if you need a referral to an electrician here in the San Francisco Bay Area, I’d be happy to help you with that too. Good luck and have fun!

Posted in art, lighting | Tagged , , , , ,

I want to love this, but…


I admit there’s something I don’t love about the toilet (that’s the part on the right) being so visually connected to the place where you Brush your Teeth.

Having said that, it’s definitely a great design in a lot of ways and I may need to get over myself. This little sink/toilet combo captures waste water from the sink, filters it automatically, and then puts that same water into reserve for use in flushing the toilet when you need it. A great little water-saving device, and a sleek (space-saving!) design for the right environment. More info here.

Posted in design ideas, resource conservation, water efficiency | Tagged , , , ,

control the heat from your iPhone and more!

nest-pic-croppedLast month, I came down with an awful case of the stomach flu. Lying there queasily feeling tired and weak, I really wished I could turn up the heat from an app on my iPhone. In that particular moment, getting out of bed seemed a Herculean effort.

Once I felt better, the concept of controlling the thermostat from my iPhone stuck with me for some reason. I decided to investigate further, and a poll of my tech-savvy friends led me to the Nest – otherwise known as the Most Amazing Thermostat On Earth! I’m not normally one to rave about gadgets, but I can’t wait to tell you about this one!

So clearly it allows you to control the temperature from bed, using your iPhone or iPad. That was my point of entry, and I find that I do really love this feature – whether I’m sick or not! But there’s more.

Have you ever forgotten to turn off the heater or air before leaving the house? No problem. With the Nest, you can adjust the thermostat from your phone from anywhere in the world. The Nest can actually figure out whether you’re home or not, and turn ITSELF off when you leave.

If you will be heading home soon, and want the house to be a comfortable temperature when you arrive, that’s no problem – just open the app on your phone, view the current temperature inside your house, and adjust as necessary.

If you have a fairly consistent schedule of coming and going, the Nest will learn your habits in about a week and start anticipating the temperatures you prefer at different times of day. (This function doesn’t work for me because my schedule is different every day, but other people seem to be thrilled with it!)

The Nest also gamifies energy savings.  By reporting out the number of hours per day that you are choosing energy-saving temperatures, the Nest offers you an opportunity to beat your best “previous score.”  So far, we have increased our energy savings every single day that we’ve had the Nest, even as outdoor temps have been dropping.

A final note: I realize looks aren’t everything, but have you seen this thing?!? Sleek and round and free of button clutter… It looks fabulous on the wall! Which may turn out to be the only thing it’s good for if it continues to nudge me in the direction of not using the heat at all! 😀

Posted in energy efficiency, resource conservation | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

World’s Coolest Offices 2012 (from Inc. Magazine)


squareThese 20 offices are some of the world’s best-designed and most awe-inspiring. Ping-pong tables and bright plastic furnishings are so 2011. This year, the companies with impressive digs have taken a more nuanced approach to giving their employees a covetable workplace. Lavish libraries? Check. Classic mid-century modern chairs? Check. Exposed beams, bricks, and concrete? Definitely. Finish reading here! http://www.inc.com/ss/worlds-coolest-offices-2012#0

Posted in design ideas | Tagged , , , ,

2012 Kitchen Design Trends

 Reinventing the hood

One of the most striking visual changes we’re seeing in next-generation kitchens is that ventilation hoods are turning into works of art. That’s not a crystal chandelier in the photo above – it’s a stove hood! Now, I wouldn’t want to be in charge of keeping that puppy clean… but you must admit the concept is very cool! More artistic hood ideas here.

Digital Recipe Access

More and more of us are storing our recipe ideas digitally, but certain things about this can be awkward. Placing a laptop on a kitchen countertop squanders valuable prep space, a touchscreen is not optimal with sticky fingers, and printing a recipe every time you need it is a little wasteful. Designers have responded to these challenges with a wide range of creative solutions – including an iPad stylus especially for chefs (shown right) and a mounting kit for affixing an iPad to a refrigerator or the front of a cabinet door. Don’t have an ipad? Check out this compact recipe tablet instead. Coming soon: LCD screens with full access to the cloud, seamlessly integrated into cabinets and countertops.

Integrated compost

Most urban kitchens were not originally designed to handle compost, and it shows. In cities that have introduced municipal composting, like San Francisco, it’s common to see little plastic bins placed awkwardly next to the sink (often attracting fruit flies), or underneath the sink (edging out the cleaning supplies). Luckily, there’s a better solution available now, and it’s simple and affordable to implement if you’re embarking on a remodel anyway: simply install the compost bin right into the surface of the countertop, as shown in the image to the left. This useful feature is well on its way to becoming standard issue for new kitchens and renovations in the Bay Area.

Mark English Architects, AIA

Multiple cabinet and countertop materials

We Americans do love our big open kitchens… Many two-career couples like to cook together, it can be lovely to socialize with guests across an island, and it’s comforting to keep an eye on your children in the next room while you’re engaged in kitchen tasks. The downside of these big, open spaces is that sometimes they can be visually overwhelming. This is especially true when a kitchen expansion has claimed extra square footage from the original dining room or living room, creating a space that looms out of scale with the house as a whole. Designers are tackling this problem to great effect by mixing and matching materials to ease the visual impact of a large kitchen while maintaining its desired functionality. Check out this ideabook for some more inspiration images.

LED recessed cans

In California, energy-efficient fixtures are required by code in kitchens and bathroom. A well-intentioned law indeed, but reality is this: most people don’t like fluorescent lights. Thus, it has become a common practice for homeowners to install the required fixtures, wait for the inspector to leave, and then promptly switch out the dreaded fluorescents for the incandescent cans they desire. Happily, this wasteful practice is about to go by the wayside, because LED recessed cans are starting to edge out both fluorescents and incandescents with their nice quality of light, amazing efficiency, dimmability and ever-lower prices. I recommend these cans from Juno.

(Know someone who’s planning a kitchen remodel? Please use one of the share buttons below to pass along this post!)

Posted in appliances, cabinets, countertops, design ideas, energy efficiency, lighting, San Francisco Bay Area | Tagged , , , , , , ,

shop local on Etsy for holiday gifts

Do you love the idea of buying local, but find it hard to forgo the convenience of shopping online? Me too. Which is why I’m super-excited about my latest discovery: shopping local on Etsy. Here’s a quick sampler of holiday gift ideas for you – all under $100, all designed and crafted with love right here in the Bay Area.

Handmade or vintage not quite the right direction for someone on your list? Another easy way to keep your money local (from the comfort of your home) is to purchase a gift certificate for a local restaurant, dance class, full-body massage, hot air balloon ride, or tickets to iFly. Many of these things can be purchased online or over the phone so you won’t have to brave the crowds. Wishing you a truly joyous and peaceful holiday season!

Posted in design ideas, San Francisco Bay Area | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

living walls

Living walls are cropping up all over the Bay Area! Vertical expanses of greenery provide a restful connection to nature without taking up too much space. They also require less water than horizontal gardens.

The living wall at left serves as a lush backdrop for an intimate outdoor dining area in Willow Glen. The installation is by Habitat Horticulture, the same company that built the impressive vertical garden at the California Academy of Sciences (below right).

The technology behind living walls was invented by French botanist Patrick Blanc, who has done many spectacular installations all over the world. Perhaps his most famous piece was at the Caixa Forum in Madrid.

A couple of years ago, Drew High School raised funds to bring the legendary Mr. Blanc to San Francisco to design an exterior wall for the school’s new assembly wing.  The installation was completed this spring, though it will still take awhile for the plants to fill in completely. Blanc predicts that the wall will reach the full expression of his vision by fall of this year if you’d like to drive by and take a look then (corner of California and Broderick).

Interested in creating a living wall of your own? There are some wonderful “do-it-yourself” kits available now from Flora Grubb and Plants on Walls. Flora Grubb is the mastermind behind the elegant installation at the Bardessono Resort and Spa in Napa (left). Reminiscent of twinkling lights, the panels are quite unusual and have garnered a fair amount of national attention. Grubb has other photos on her website and tips for creating your own living wall here. For some specific plant suggestions, see this article by Laurie Keit for Coastviews Magazine.

Posted in design ideas, feng shui, health & wellness, San Francisco Bay Area, water efficiency | Tagged , , , , , ,