Thursday, August 29, 2013

First-Day Jitters

This week is a busy one for our family.  School is starting back up and everyone is trying to adjust to the new schedule.  In anticipation of a little craziness, I choose to "not work" on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.  I've been catching up on emails, giving the house a thorough clean, and trying to strategize my work load for the next few months.  Last night, as I laid down in bed, my head was spinning and sleep was eluding me.  In exasperation, I got up several times, trying work on things around the house while my husband and boys lay snug in their beds, contentedly sawing logs.  How ironic I thought: "I'm not the one starting school tomorrow and here I am, showing signs of first-day jitters!"  (Confession time: I'm the worrier in the family.)

This morning, my husband's alarm rang bright and early.  He's a high-school English teacher and today was his first day back in the classroom with students.  When the alarm went off, I must have finally been tired enough to sleep because I only vaguely remember feeling mild levels of irritation as he turned on lights, started the shower and rummaged around in the closet for clothes. I fell back asleep before I got a chance to say good-bye, so I hope he had a great first day and found his new students fun and interesting.  I know he loves his job and will probably come home tonight with great stories to share.

My alarm went off an hour and a half later.  Feeling horribly groggy, I stumbled my way to the kitchen and started to make a coffee.  I had barely settled down in my comfy chair, when who should come strolling out of his room, but Jasper, my eldest.  (Apparently kids at his age don't need alarm clocks.  I swear mine have mommy-radar. As soon as I'm up and moving around, they wake up too.)  Today was also Jasper's first day of school. He's starting 1st grade and excited to see his friends again.  Excited--but not so brave that he didn't timidly ask if I could drive him to school and walk him to his classroom.  Of course I obliged.  Can you blame me?  Look at this cute grin!

 Karsten, my youngest, got to spend the day hanging out with me.  It's been pretty chill around here and the house seems eerily quiet with half the family gone.  So quiet that Karsten fell asleep next to me, despite the fact that he hasn't been a regular napper in over a year. His "first day" is coming next week, when he starts preschool for the first time.  He's my introvert--quieter than his older brother and much more independent. This independence means he's not the clingy type, so (thankfully), I don't anticipate tears on his big day next week.

What a cutie!  I can't believe my baby is growing up.

Then there's me.  Today isn't my first day of school, but it is the start of a big "first."  Today I said "yes" to a new gig--something I never in my life thought I'd be doing.  I'm going to give teaching a try.  Green River Community College contacted me to ask if I'd be willing to teach a one-night-a-week continuing ed class on the basics of interior design.  It was out of the blue and completely caught me off guard.  However, I always love a challenge and couldn't resist the opportunity to try something new.  I've been working in my profession now for over 15 years, and running my own business for over 9, so sharing what I know shouldn't be too difficult.  I do this with my clients on a daily basis and this type of "teaching" seems like second nature at this point.  However, sitting down one-on-one with a client is a little different than standing in front of a classroom. I know for a fact I will be having MAJOR first-day jitters three months from now when the class starts, and probably feeling the effects of not much sleep the night before.  But hey, nothing ventured, nothing gained! You only live once and I hope I never stop trying new things.  I'm also extremely grateful for a family and husband who support me in my pursuit of new experiences and business ventures.  I am blessed.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Insider Tips: Crown Molding

Architectural moldings are something a lot of us love, but know little about.  Selecting the right style for your home can sometimes be an intimidating task.  There are tons of profiles to choose from and looking through supply catalogs is like trying to understand a foreign language.  There are lots of pieces that even I, as an experienced designer, can't quite figure out how to use.  It takes years of practice to be well versed in the language of architectural moldings and oftentimes, being able to image how pieces will fit together is like trying to solve a puzzle.

I recently did a house with a 5-piece crown assembly.  That was a first for me!  Most homes don't call for that degree of complexity, but this particular design was for a formal, two-story foyer with 20 ft ceilings and full-height wainscoting.  If I had used a single piece of crown to cap off the top of the wainscot, it would have been lost to the eye.  Instead, I had to build up several pieces to get the proper visual weight.

Millwork nearly complete...prepping for paint.

Most of us are not blessed with ceilings that high.  Depending on the year your house was built, your ceiling is probably in the 8-10 ft range.  In these cases, a single piece crown will usually do the trick. All you have to do is select the proper profile, size and wood type.  Sounds easy enough, right?  :-) Well, here are few criteria you might use in trying to make your selection: 
1) How high are my ceilings?
2) What is the overall style of my home? (formal, casual, or of a particular style period?)
3) Do I intend to paint or stain the crown?
4) Is moisture sometimes present in the room, i.e. in a bathroom?
5) Are all the walls straight or will I need the crown molding to follow a curve?
6) Will the crown molding need to intersect with a different material and/or profile, say where a wall crown meets up with a cabinetry crown?

Breaking it down:
1) If your ceilings are 8 ft, I would usually recommend a crown that is in the 4-1/2" to 5-1/2" range. For each extra foot of ceiling height, add an additional 1"of crown height.  (There are always exceptions, but this is a good rule of thumb.)

2A) If your style is contemporary, you usually don't require crown molding.  See below--lovely and simple, right?
desire to inspire

 2B) There are a lot of variations on Craftsman style molding, but the example shown below illustrates some common trademarks:
a) A two-part crown, separated by several inches of wall space--seen here painted in a uniform color to appear as a single unit.
b) A three-part door and window cap assembly made up of a parting bead, a horizontal piece of flatstock and small crown-cap.
c) A two or three-piece window sill/apron assembly.
d) Tall, flatstock base moldings (5-6"high), often with a small piece of shoe-mold added at the bottom.  

WindsorONE - Windsor Mill
Images found on  
2C) A Shingle-style home or beach-style traditional will look lovely with simple cove molding.  This is my personal favorite.  I never get tired of it--it's elegant but doesn't feel overly fussy.  

Smooth Cove 4.1-inch Crown Molding
Sample Cove Profile

Coved molding painted wall color
Looks gorgeous in Transitional style rooms too!
2D) If your home is Traditional or one of the many Revival styles, look online for selection tips.  There are oodles to choose from.  Here are just a few:

One of the most common profiles--works well with most traditional architectural styles.

Art Deco Style

Egg and Dart--one of the Greek Revival Styles

I don't know what this style is called, but I can picture it in a Pre-War apartment in NYC or Paris.
3) Crown moldings come in both paint and stain grades, depending on your desired finish.  Paint grades are often made out of MDF (medium density fiberboard), which is cheap and easy to work with.  Stain-grade moldings come in many different wood species and are primarily used when a natural or stained wood look is desired. (Solid wood molding can be painted too--it just costs more.)  If you look back at the "pre-paint" photo of the foyer I did, you'll notice many different types of molding used in conjunction: solid wood, MDF and Flex Mold (see topic #5 below).  We choose the molding that best fit the application/location and then painted it all for a uniform look.

Here's what it looked like after paint--quite a transformation.  (sorry, crown not visible)
4) If moisture is sometimes present in the room, as in a bathroom, it's usually preferable to go with a solid wood product vs MDF, which can swell and fall apart if it comes in contact with water.  (MDF is basically made up of compressed sawdust and glue.)

5) If you have curved walls, there are also "Flex Moldings" available.  These are molded, solid-filled polyester resins and are available in several different formulas for various needs and applications.  These resin-based moldings always need to be painted.  It is also possible to special order solid-wood crown moldings that have been carved to follow a radius, but be warned: these don't come cheap!

6) The tricky part comes when you have a beautiful painted crown molding on your walls, but need to figure out how it's going to intersect with a wood crown cap on a wall-hung cabinet, or vice versa.  Sometimes, if the two crowns are of the same profile and the same size, you can neatly transition from painted to stained at an inside corner.  If not (which is most of the time!), you may need to employ the use of a wood block in the corner which is larger than both of the intersecting crowns. Then decide if the wood block should be stained or painted.  It's a judgement call.

Example of a corner block.  Here the 2 crowns match, but a block can help you transition between two style/finishes.

So enough technical stuff, let's seem some pretty molding!  These are a handful of unique images that inspire me.  (all images taken from Pinterest)

Fabulous Foyers and Entrance Ways
While painted molding is dear to my heart, this limed wood finish makes me drool.
Love painted molding in a color!
Light, airy and oh-so-pretty!  This just goes to show that trim doesn't need to be white.
Not a white kitchen girl but I really like this one
Classic and beautiful.  Why mess with perfection?
Just because a space is rustic and simple, doesn't mean it won't benefit from a little crown molding.  Here it nicely finishes off the shiplap wall paneling.
painting molding and wood trim adds dimension to a room
While this room isn't necessarily "my style", I appreciate that they used a bold color for the trim work, and I especially like how they carried that color through on the walls in the little window nook.  Very clever.
grey and brown kitchen
Dark and rich--this really makes a statement, in what appears to be a butler's pantry.  I love how the cabinets, the walls and all the moldings are the same color.  Way to commit! 
(Image from

I will cut the post short here.  There's SOOO much I left out, but that will have to wait for another day.  I hope you enjoyed the overview and feel inspired!

...and a HUGE thanks to the talented folks that helped create that gorgeous foyer I shared: 
Glenn Carter of Advanced Building Consultants, Inc., 
Paul and the talented crew at PVD Remodel and Construction (wall paneling and moldings),
Medina Painting,
Loren Dugan of Beautiful Custom Stairs,
Walton Custom Tile,
and last but not least, Roger McElroy w/ BMC--you patiently calculated all our millwork quantities and kept the orders straight!

It's such a privilege to work with these guys!  You make perfection look easy.



Friday, August 16, 2013

Humble Beginings

Lately I've been going over old project photos, trying to evaluate what to include in my web portfolio and what to leave on the shelf.  During this process, I've come across photos of my husband and I's first house and have had fun reminiscing.  It was a total fixer-upper when we bought it, but we were young, had no kids and were full of energy and optimism.  We put so much of ourselves into that little house--making it something comfortable and homey.  The funny thing is, that while I loved my cozy little house, I never felt it was worthy of my portfolio and so didn't take many photos of it.  I did a horrible job of documenting the transformation from "yuck" to "sweet," and I'm kicking myself now.
Pre-renovation kitchen: old, but not-so-charming!

This was the house on Inspection Day: bad carpet, falling-apart front door,
 and underwhelming fireplace surround.

Scary basement:  this is what it looked like for the first year we lived there.

When we bought it, we jumped right in fixing it up.  We had the hardwood floors refinished, added new base and crown molding, a new front door, some new windows and painted the whole upstairs.  Then, over time, we spruced up the kitchen, did a full remodel of the upstairs bath and re-landscaped the yard.  Eventually we completely finished the basement, adding a new family room, a 3rd bedroom/office, a full bath and a laundry room. (The house didn't have a dryer when we bought it!)  I produced all the permit drawings and acted as my own general contractor.  It was the largest project we've personally undertaken and while it was exhausting, the finished product doubled our living space and allowed us to stay there as long as we did.

While all the renovations felt satisfactory, I never got around to really "decorating" the house and adding new furniture.  Most of what we had were thrift store pieces, hand-me-downs or things left over from our single days.  Consequently, I never felt like my house looked like a designer lived there.  Silly me.  We were busy being parents, working, and I always assumed there'd be a time for proper decor later.  If there's a lesson I've learned in all of this, it's enjoy what you've got right now and don't live life so focused on what's around the corner.

What we "assumed" was around the corner, was a major house addition.  We always thought that as family grew, we'd add up, creating a new second story.  The house and location had potential for killer views of West Seattle, Elliott Bay, and the Olympic Mountains.  Additionally, we loved our neighbors and the proximity to downtown Seattle.

Instead, just after the birth of our second son in 2010, we decided it was time to sell and get a bigger place.  The whole thing was a whirlwind experience and I was mentally, emotionally and physically exhausted--taking care of an active 2-1/2 year old while tending to a new (fussy) baby, moving out, getting the house cleaned and ready for listing photos, trying to get settled in our new house, etc.  I was so focused on the taking care of the kids, that I feel like I never got to officially say 'good-bye' to the house.  I remember cleaning it on photo day (between baby feedings), doing a quick sweep of the house to make sure things were presentable, then rushing off to be home in time for lunch and naps.   I didn't take any photos of my own and all I have now are photos ordered by the listing agent. They aren't the best, and they definitely look like real estate photos, but I'm thankful I at least have those.  Looking back, I feel silly for not taking pride in my house as it was, wondering why it didn't seem good enough for my attention at the time.  

This is what the living room looked like when we moved out. When we refinished the original oak floors, I had a light stain added to make them more of a Walnut color.  The new base molding was a huge improvement, as was the the new trim added to the fireplace facade.  The living room was a good size for such a tiny house and I remember moving the furniture around a lot to try to figure out the best arrangement for the room--enough space for adults to sit comfortably, but also open area on the floor for kids to play.  

The improved kitchen: new flooring, painted cabinets with new hardware, granite countertops, marble and mosaic tile backsplash, new plumbing (I loved the wall-mount bridge faucet!), and paint.  We switched the locations of the range and fridge and added a custom spice shelf to the left of the range to finish the exposed side of the appliance.  

I had fun with this TINY bathroom.  We splurged on limestone basket-weave floor tile and added a bead-board wainscot to the walls.  I replaced the original (weird) vanity with a petite, period-appropriate pedestal sink and added a vintage cabinet for storage.  The cabinet was a great find!  It was the perfect color when I bought it, nicely distressed, and raised up on legs to keep the room feeling open and airy.  I had my husband cut the back legs off of it and screw it into the wall for a more built-in look.  I hope the new owners of the house love it as much as I did.

No longer the scary basement!  We put in cork floors (love and want to use again), lots of built-ins, a gas fireplace for those cold  NW evenings, period-style wall sconces, wainscotting and crown molding (why NOT make a basement feel pretty?),  and added a window.  My husband got his new TV and we had the room wired for surround sound.

Simple laundry room, but clean with lots of storage.  This is the listing photo--I SO wish that I had styled this room and done my own photo shoot!  My current laundry room doesn't even come close to being this nice!

This is the back yard we worked so hard on.  We had it re-graded, had new sod laid, added the raised, stone patio, and built the low retaining wall.  Fun fact--the retaining wall was built out of broken concrete, left over from the basement remodel job.  The large concrete slab steps were also re-purposed material.  The fence was new and professionally built and helped to screen off the alley-access parking space we added.  The landscaping was done by my husband and I.  

My "new" house is a total fixer too, and when I see the photos of that old house, I think about how much I'd love to have those gorgeous hardwood floors NOW, the beautiful, old solid-wood doors, the plaster walls and the coved ceilings (I'm a sucker for old-house details), the fun crystal knobs on the doors, and the oasis-in-the-city backyard.  Those were the good old days!  Instead, I'm sitting here with shag carpeting that's seen better days, popcorn ceilings that are begging to be scraped, a kitchen that needs a full, gut-job overhaul, and a monsterous backyard that's more than I can handle.  What were we thinking?!?  :-)

Little by little, we're tackling home improvement jobs here, but things move slower with kids underfoot.  In this blog I'll share with you the frustrations and the celebrations, but as I begin, I thought it fitting to start with a nod back to the "good old days!"