Wednesday, October 29, 2008

"Building for Dummies" Part Deux

One of my best buddies is out there maneuvering through the house planning pre-building stage right now. In some ways I envy her fresh start. But in other ways, I'm not so sure when I would choose to do this all again. In her honor and anyone else who's interested, here are a few more tips we picked up along the way.

1. Don't be too worried about matching wood stains. Seriously, don't do it. When we started out, I was really concerned about doing exactly this. The floors had to be the same color as the cabinets which were to be the same color as the windows, etc...all through different if. As soon as I let go of my obsession, it became apparent that slightly different wood tones actually added character and depth. Oh and by the way, white baseboards do work with dark wood doors.

2. Consider automatic lights in your closets. This is the best. It costs about $50 per closet and it makes a huge difference. Open up those doors and everything is well lit for your browsing pleasure. (If you can do it, try out-swing closet doors...we love them compared to sliders or bi-folds). And the same automatic light is worth considering in your garage as well. You'll be thankful when you've got your hands full of dirty building materials.

3. Get an "All Off" button. If you plan for any type of lighting control system, an "All Off" button at your beside is perfection. (Except when you forget that you have guests and you shut the house down on them...not that we would have done this...multiple times!) We also have a security button at our bedside for those scary evenings when Mr. Big isn't home. The only time that I used this, I later came to find out that these strange noises were coming from a random land crab scratching around in our second story gutter. I'm sure that the outdoor and indoor flashing lights kept me from his harm. :)

4. Don't forget your security system. It's simplest to meet with a security company to design your system as you are building, rather than retrofitting later. It may feel like one-thing-too-many at the planning stage, but you'll be pleased later.

5. Be picky about your grout color. Picking wall/floor/shower/whatever tiles is so exciting. If you're like me, you'll have visions about what it will look like finished. They put down most everything in our house in a light grey "bleh" color before we realized that grout comes in about eighteen hundred different colors. The areas where we matched the grout to the tile certainly seem more finished.

6. Visit your construction site regularly. We spent hours, days, what feels like a lifetime designing our house. And the actual guy reading the plans spent about two milliseconds interpreting our dreams. Things will inevitably get misinterpreted...and it's simplest to correct mistakes quickly. In the first 4 months, we probably visited 2-3 times a week. After that, we were on site daily. (Oh and on that note, be careful about giving your all your phone # to your contractor...I got pulled out of a few pretty important meetings only to deal with the placement of doorstops. Wow.)

7. Order your windows the day you break ground (or before). This was our major delay and it was painful to see the house s-i-t without any activity while we waited for windows. Unfortunately, our future neighbors across the canal are facing the same dilemma (and yes, they are using the same manufacturer). Not a lot can happen inside until those windows get in...and who are we kidding...the inside is where it's all at!

So how are those thoughts? Useful? Unimaginative? Basic? Are there other areas that would be helpful? We'll get some more thoughts posted, but honestly, you may not want to learn our lessons. :)

Miss you Mrs. E!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

General decor

Given that there is an entire industry built around styling photos, I suppose we shouldn't feel too terrible if our homes don't look magazine-worthy. However, it is useful to pick up the subtleties of decor that they share with us.

Stunning lettering on the wall. I refuse to believe that this actually is a garage. Photographed by Jeltje Janmaat as featured on Desire to Inspire.

Love the vases repeated in the tray. And I really like the arm of the sofa. Photo from Alexander van Berge via Desire to Inspire.

Lovely how the pods catch the light against a dark backdrop. Photo by Rachel Whiting via Desire to Inspire.

Not fussing over artwork. Out to enjoy, but not to intimidate. Photographed by Birgitta Wolfgang Drejer via Decor8.

Still loving dark wood accents on lighter walls. And those glass vases with delicate flowers are stunning. Again, artwork placed in a manner that is not "fussy". Image from House Beautiful via Desire to Inspire.

Mr. Big often looks baffled when I show him what I pick out of photos. "How did you see that?" What are other tidbits that you pick up from sifting through images?

Lovely kitchens

We are well past needing inspiration for the bones of our house, but I just couldn't resist sharing these few.

How cool is that built in burner? And the sinks? Photos rom Alexander van Berge via Desire to Inspire.

Swoon over that ceiling and high windows. Home featured on Bo Biedre. So much to love there. Thanks to Style*Files for the links.

Lovely color choice for cabinets. Love the hidden down draft and wall cut outs. Photographed by Hotze Eisma.

Lots of light and "built in cabinets" that give a tailored look. No need for fake plants here. Designed by Andi Pepper Interior Group.

Beautiful natural colors on a lovely monotone floor. And what a great down range (or whatever it's called...oops). Photographed by Carlos Domenech.

All around lovely by Kelly Hoppen Design.

Another by Kelly Hoppen.

Love the dark wood (very similar to ours) and the mix with white stays refreshing. And the downdraft does not become an obstacle. Designed by Kristine Woolsey.

I notice that a lot of kitchen designs are moving away from upper cabinets. Is this because we are making kitchen spaces larger (and what was previously in the uppers can be stored below)? Is anyone living with an "upper-free" design? They look great, but I wonder how functional they are...?

The perfect make-over

My grandfather has a houseful of absolutely stunning furniture that I would love to eventually refurbish (he is all for it as well). Last year, Mr. Big and I went up to get some creative ideas, but I was falling flat on coming up with the right solutions.

Design*Sponge featured a before/after makeover on an Eames chair that exactly captures what I have been looking to do. There are loads of spots in the house for sitting chairs, small desks, etc. Didn't Non-Fiction Design Collective do a fantastic job on this chair?

The neutral fabric with a bit of texture is playful, but a tad elegant at the same time. Mom, we're going to have to put our thinking caps back on again...

Garden shots...side yard

My mom is probably out there swearing at her Iphone. "She promised that she would post pictures of the garden!" I've been working off the wrong computer, so they're only coming now (someday I will learn how to set up these mac networks...).

Some of you might remember that we had a wee storm the day after our garden went in...

...but fortunately, we've recovered pretty well. Excuse the ugly chain link fence (the oleanders should cover it by next year), but we've actually got some green in the side yard. If you were to look closely, you might see that there are more weeds that proper tufts of grass. But hey, they're green and why split hairs. :)

View from the side street

There is a fair bit of growing to be done yet, but I'm loving the Queen Palms around our outdoor cabana. (And yes, those are unpainted walls that you are seeing. But of course, they can't be painted done we receive the doors, and ...well... we don't want to go all dark in this post. We've got unfinished walls.)

This is the view looking from the side of the cabana back to the house. We were fortunate to get two beautiful pale lavender bougainvillea for either side of the kitchen window (check out all the blossoms on those puppies). The long term objective is to install a lattice system and grow them up the wall.

This is the area behind the garage. Ironically, it's developing really beautifully. Bummer that we can't see it all that well from the house. And yes, the painter will finish those faux windows when he comes back for the bare walls. (Deep breaths in).

Because we used gas water heaters, we needed a tank somewhere in our yard. The landscaper came up with this rock garden to cover the tank. It's unusual and I suppose that it will work. For the life of me, I can't recall why we decided to put the tank in the middle of the yard. I'm just hoping that we might be able to find something a bit more attractive than the yellow-spider-looking plants for the rock garden.

And to finish on a fun note, Mr. Big loves cooking with fresh herbs, which we've been growing in pots over the past few months. The herb garden's final home is now in tact. This little area outside the dining room doors should make for a fragrant little garden for us.

Well, that is if we can convince Jordan that we didn't build this as a special sleeping spot for him. He loves curling up in here. Hopefully he'll learn once it's planted, but we're being realistic...maybe it wouldn't be a bad sleeping spot for him after all.

Inspiration vs reality: Garage doors

Choosing garage doors actually were not as easy as I originally figured. We were keen for wood, but our builder warned that they would warp (and warp badly). We were excited about staining them dark, and he warned us about how often they would would fade. And boy, did I ever underestimate what the cost of a wood garage door would be.

At the end of the day, we went with an hybrid option through IDC Doors in Minneapolis that are actually an aluminum frame with a wood overlay. They are also hurricane rated, which sort of helps out in this area of the world. The hybrid should allow for reliability and looks. Here was the inspiration image:

We skipped on the grommets and windows to save $$. And here's the finished/installed product:

We're really happy with them. I won't scare you with the plethora of building materials that are behind them (it's a rather frightening sight). It will certainly be a happy day when these babies open to great our cars home...

Saturday, October 25, 2008

I shouldn't read other blogs

because I won't find things like these fun bags from Etsy seller DrikaB. Thanks Danielle from the style files.

Budget busters

Last weekend, we had the fortunate opportunity to attend a family wedding in Jacksonville, Florida. Before we left, I found Nest Living's website and arranged for a visit to see the Amenity Home line. We had placed a previous order for the Willow flat print (below), but it was oddly canceled without notice by an Amazon vendor. Hopefully we could purchase it from a bricks and mortar store without trouble.

Nest Living is run by an Australian by the name of Shaan and it literally glows from the road. The minute we drove up, Mr. Big knew we were in big trouble. Shaan has a great philosophy and he's executed it flawlessly:

First things first, I wanted to create a retail environment that I’d want to shop in. A place that has a definite style but one that could be tailored to suit a variety of personal tastes. I surrounded myself with what I think are some of the greatest products on the market at the moment. With so many brand stores showing off their “one” look, I wanted to “marry” my favorite manufacturers and display them, together in a design studio that feels modern, relaxed and inspiring.

Our eyes wandered over item after item, some of which we didn't notice at first because their neighbors were such a pleasure. So how did we do? Lots of fun, different pieces made it home with us. My mom was whispering something about a budget in my ear, but like a typical daughter, I paused only for a moment. And then handed over my card...

This beautiful set of canisters from Tonfisk now have a home in the Caribbean. I loved the modern ceramic shape with the rustic tops. I'm not huge for countertop clutter, but these might just find their way out on a more permanent basis.

These two appetizer/dip trays by Skagerak were too much for us to pass up. The teak bases are beautiful and the dish inserts work perfectly.

And just as we were finalizing everything, these stunning Heath Ceramics casserole dishes caught Mr. Big's eye. They are so substantial, but elegant at the same time. We can't wait to serve Mr. Big's mom's delicious perogies in them.

So yes, we busted our budget. No more unnecessary purchases for the next 3 months (don't ask me to define necessary though). In the meantime, Mr. Big has already arranged for a few fun dinners to put the new goods to use. And I've got a great resource in Jacksonville that I know that I can go to if I'm looking for something in the future...well in the future that is.

If you're interested, check out as he's expanded his store to have an online presence.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Towel bar triumphs

In the ten months since we've moved into the house, our poor guests have had to find creative locations for their damp towels. How frustrating! Our builder was worried about drilling into a wall with a pocket door for one towel bar, and somehow, that translated into none of them getting up. And because he made such a fuss about it, I was (probably incorrectly) hesitant to take it into my own hands.

That all changed yesterday when the last towel bars were installed. Yes! Mr. Big was puzzled by how happy I was at this development. I suppose that it just means were getting much closer to done.

So in celebration, here are a few pics of our guest bath, which is virtually complete. (Sorry, the photos aren't great quality...)

Concrete countertops from Art and Maison. Cabinetry and mirror from Artcraft. Hole in the wall from electrician. :)

Can't wait to get some artwork on that big blue wall

After vehemently discouraging Mr. Big and our designer on it originally, I now positively adore this mosiac shower.

If you've visited before, you're going to have to come back to take these towel racks for a whirl. What a great feeling!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Big Ass Fan

My husband needled me into submission. He wanted a Big Ass Fan in our outdoor cabana. Did we need it? No. Are there other alternatives out there? Yes. And are they cheaper? Probably. At the end of the day, I could not overcome the fact that he wanted to tell his buddies that he had a Big Ass Fan. Makes no sense to me, but he absolutely loves it. And I love him, so I suppose it all has some warped logic. And besides, I eventually got my Panton chairs.

The future site of Mr. Big's baby

On Wednesday, I got an email stating that the newest member of our household had arrived. Yes, it was the fan. He rushed out of work so he could go see it...or the boxes actually. They need to anchor it properly so it may take a few weeks for it to be hung (at the rate we are going these days).

So why am I sharing this with you all? The story took a twist recently when it was realized that Mr. Big charged this fan with the wrong credit card...his corporate card. We work together and my assistant came to see me "about a confidential matter". She elaborated. "I'm not certain how to bring this to your attention, but it seems that your husband has run up quite a tab on a questionable internet site". Huh? "Yes, it's not my place to get involved but accounting felt uncomfortable speaking to you. Apparently he's a fan of rather large backsides...".

Hahahaha! We're going to get years of enjoyment out of this one...

They're ours!

The happy dance was broken out this weekend when I won four (yes four!) Panton S chairs on ebay. (Insert exclamation points galore) And Mr. Big even surprised me by saying that we could try them at our dining table mixed with our leather chairs. Aw, I love that guy.
They aren't the glossy version, they'll still be lovely.

My excitement has unfortunately waned just a tad over the past few days. See I bought them through the ebay Live Auction feature. Exactly one minute before the auction ended, I was the leading bidder at $175 (yes, for all four) which was well below my max bid of $400. In the last sixty seconds, a "supposed" Live Auction Floor bidder drove the price up five times, until my max bid was hit. At that point, there were no other bids made by this individual. Just seems fishy to me...

I've lost lots of items on ebay at the last moment when there is a flurry of activity. But I suppose that I am skeptical because this "person" went right to my number, but not over it. Hmmm.... Anyone else out there have experiences with Live Auctions on ebay? Did it go smoothly for you?

Make no mistake about it...I cannot wait to get our chairs. And in that vein, I'll through another inspiration photo up. Hurry up and get here!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

"Building for Dummies" was written for us

It's amazing how little we understood about the building process when we started our project. (And yes, I actually bought the guide...wonder where it is?) Now that we're getting to the end of the process, it might be worthwhile to share some of our experiences, impressions, joys and disappointments for others that may find it useful. Feel free to do with them as you wish. Here's a start:

1. Be involved in selecting sub-trades. Although our project manager had preferred sub-trades, we took it upon ourselves to meet with 2-3 different companies, including their recomendations, to get their input on our project. It was so insightful and we received loads of additional advice. Most of the time, we ended up going with a different company than recommended (ironically our project manager now regularly uses our choices on their other jobs). While this process took a bit of time, in the end, the sub-trades that we hand selected gave us the best levels of service, without question. The others were certainly more challenging.

2. Seriously consider employing trades that l-o-v-e their job. It was really easy to feel those individuals who loved what they did, from those who were doing their job. (One guy told us that he was keeping his landscaping company until his hot sauce business took, ok?) Not surprisingly, we got the best suggestions and most creative ideas from those with a bit of passion. And when it came to getting the job done, they delivered. Their pride for their work was palpable, and obviously we benefited from that. Plus they were the most fun to work with.

3. Stairs are challenging...don't give up on them. Mr. Big is really tall and we specifically asked for a wide stair tread. When the original plans seemed to have narrow stairs, we were told that they would be fine. When they were constructed, there were a further challenges, and in the end, the stairs are even too narrow for me, let alone Mr. Big. I later learned that stairs are actually one of the most difficult aspects of a house to get right. In retrospect, we both wish that we had listened to our instinct. Narrow stairs are a drag...(and they're killing the tips of my favorite heels!)

4. Consider cabinet pull out drawers everywhere. No joke, everywhere. Our cabinetry designer put under-counter pull out drawers in the kitchen. The problem is that I'm now completely addicted. We don't loose things to the depths of the cabinets any longer. Organization is just so easy! Once we're off this silly budget, these puppies be going in all of our bathrooms as well. If I could go back in time, I would put these sanity-savers everywhere.

Simple Human option from Bed Bath and Beyond

Okay, well there's a start, but there's more to come (I just need to get to work...boring).

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Stylish steps

Do you detest the thousands plastic bags that retailers shove in your direction each year? My poor husband cringes when I put fresh fruit and vegetables straight in the cart (we wash them before use anyway, do they really need their own bag?).

I was absolutely thrilled recently when a good friend left behind an Envirosax for me on a recent visit. I've seen lots of reusable bags, but this one was stylish as well.

These reusable shopping bags come in loads of different colors and prints. And they're waterproof, which is perfect for wet Caribbean summers. I end up taking mine everywhere.

What fun, stylish eco products have you seen? I'd love to hear about more...

It's for the look

Okay so these might not keep me entirely warm at 30 below, but they're so cool. That's what I try to convince my practical husband when I pine over these beautiful scarves by etsy seller Fray.

Hmmm...he's not buying the story.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Lovely large artwork

Could you imagine crashing at the end of a long day, book in hand, in this beautiful room designed by Jiun Ho? If so, count me in as a like-minded friend.

Beautiful artwork. If it were only as easy as it looks.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

I cannot believe that I am writing about doilies...

I'm not usually a fan of lace, but doilies get me every time. I love that they are all slightly different, expressing their individuality in their mamy details. (Yes, this is actually me and no, aliens have not taken over my mind). With this admission, I must admit that I've struggled to figure out how to incorporate them without getting "too sweet".

Eddie Ross from Top Design recently figured it out when he dyed them grey. I'm absolutely giddy over the bottom-left doily. How fab does that look?

This has me thinking that a set of beautiful doilies could also be framed with the backing painted one shade darker. Hmmm... And by the way, look how great his white-painted pumpkins look.

Oh to be creative...and not an accountant.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008


Other than her floral delivery service (which is a-m-a-z-i-n-g), I've never been that interested in the whole Martha Stewart empire or her products. Not sure why, but it felt a bit forced on me. But this weekend, I was in Miami shopping for a day, and it was impossible to deny just how fabulous her Whiteware serveware was.

Yes, you can stop laughing now. I know the thought of me posting a cupcake stand is like a biker bringing home flowers to freshen up his home. Overall, the lines are so simple and pieces could fit with any decor. The quality seemed good and prices reasonable. I had a hard time admitting it, but even the fancy larger shops didn't seem to stand up.

If you're in the market for simple, classic serveware, Macy's just might be worth a peek.

Oh, and while you're at it, if you're in the market for work dresses, don't miss Banana Republic. Totally not design related, but worthy of a tip.

I might have a few of these in my closet now. :) While I've been concerned about the credit markets previously, nothing made me take notice more than all the sales taking place in stores. They were pretty much giving 30% off lowest prices in most shops that I visited. Yikes.