Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Secret Garage Door - Part 2 (aka Re-Open Sesame)

Not to be outdone by the home in San Francisco, this home in Lake Harney, Florida, uses the entire front facade of their home to hide a secret.


 Just make sure nobody's napping on the patio when you go and get the lawnmover!

Monday, August 29, 2011

NIM: The W+W - Good Design & Environmentally Savy

For me, good design is not just about aesthetics.  It's also about good functionality.  With Roca's new W+W (Washbasin and Watercloset) we get both.  The shape of the fixture is simple yet elegant (I assume one could get a model with the WC on the left) and it's size makes it suitable for even the smallest bathroom.

But the attention to detail doesn't stop there.  The water that is used in the sink serves double duty.  Once it drains from the sink it is treated and then stored for use the next time the WC is flushed, saving water consumption.  In addition, the faucet that comes with the W+W is designed to open in the "cold" position preventing unnecessary hot water usage.   

Friday, August 26, 2011

Keep the Home Fires Burning

It may seem a bit odd to be thinking about fires and wood-burning ovens this time of year, but late August is exactly when we start heating our family cabin (in the Coquihala Valley of British Columbia).  A late night fire in the oven is required to take the chill out of the morning air ... or night air for those midnight visits to the "facilities".

The oven we use is a relic ... circa 1950 ... but it does the job.  And when we're just heating the room, we have a smaller pot-bellied stove (seen to the left of the white cook stove) that heats the room in a heartbeat and burns for hours on a single piece of alder.  The side benefit is being able to cook up breakfast on the wood stove in the morning.  Overly nostalgic?  Perhaps.  But I maintain that there's nothing better than a cup of coffee perked on a wood burning stove.

As a designer, my only complaint about the oven is that it's kinda ... well ... ugly.  Not that the rest of the room is a designer's dream mind you, but a little bit of style wouldn't hurt would it?  A little bit of research unearthed a number of much better looking options that would do the trick.

This is the most ridiculously modern version of the same type of stove we have in our cabin.  It's called the CookCook and it combines the benefits of heating with wood with the benefits of cooking over a wood burning fire.   The stove uses a ceramic cooktop to harness the heat from the fire and create a uniform heat source.  Or for those who like to cook cowboy style, a simple grate is available.
Iron Dog from Germany has a beautifully rugged series of wood burning stoves that would fit into any ski chalet or summer cottage.  They're cast iron so they'll last forever ... proven by the fact that the same family has been making them for 3 generations.  And they're not just attractive, these stoves are engineered to throw a lot of heat from a very small fire.
The Stack stove is almost to cute to be thought of as a stove.  They're available in square or round models, and can burn either wood or pellets.  Their ceramic construction means they're terrific conductors of heat, but also that you can find them in a wide variety of colour.

As with any appliance, be sure to check with the manufacturer for installation specifications, and with your local building code to determine how and if these wood burning ovens are suitable for you.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

WIP - False Creek Remodel - Part 10

I started this WIP feature with a pile of rubbish.  It only seams fitting that I end it the same way.  The False Creek remodel began at the end of May and wrapped up 11 weeks later.  A few minor items remain, and the client has also asked me to replace a couple of closet doors, but he's moving back home this weekend!  In my books, that means the job is complete (almost).

In that time, we've completely reconfigured the suite, relocating the kitchen from a small room to a large open space, the bathroom has been gutted and re-fitted (with new plumbing and electrical services for botht e kitchen and bathroom), there was a flood (and patience was tested),  new tile and engineered floors were installed, track lighting (gasp!) was added, the whole suite was repainted ... and then I spent the better part of a beautiful Friday morning rolling up the Ram Board floor covering, picking up bits and pieces, sweeping the floors, and creating the pile of rubbish you see now.

Now I'm sure you're all wanting to see the finished suite.  It's amazing.  The client and I both agree the biggest impact is the way the rooms have been reconfigured, but the new materials and the (vastly) improved kitchen are what will draw the acclaim.  But you can`t see it yet.  I promise I`ll have a gallery up soon, but until the furniture is moved back in you`ll just have to wait.

As a teaser, I offer a couple photos.  The entry way (notice I've  now removed the carpet covering) gives you a glimpse in to the new foyer and the shoe storage and coat rack area.  Kinda looks like a scene from Heaven Can Wait doesn't it?  It's bright and welcoming and draws you into the rest of the suite.  Much much better than the dark, cramped space we started with.

My favourite material is easily the floor.  The warmth of the Cabreuva is the anchor to the colour scheme.  The client has already selected dining room chairs and bar stools to coordinate with it.  And thanks to the Ram Board floor covering the hardwood survived the remodel unharmed ... you can see the floor covering in the background, all rolled up and ready to be used on another job.

You can also see a small glimpse of the cabinetry and countertops in the photo.  I've already spent a lot of time discussing the kitchen, so I'll spare you the details until the gallery is revealed.  The appliances all managed to get installed and except for the gas hook-up (which the property manager is responsible for) the client will be cooking meals in no time.  I may even ask for a chance to do the same.

Every project I undertake is the result of lots of hard work by many trades and suppliers.  I'd like to take this time to thank the following for everything they contributed to the False Creek Remodel:

... and of course my client!

WIP: False Creek Remodel is an actual remodel project of mine that I'm blogging in real time.  To see all the entries in this series just click the FOLLOW ME buttons at the top right of this page.  If there's any part of the project you're interested in, leave me a note in the comments section.

Monday, August 22, 2011

NIM: Taptile Low Voltage Switching

One of the biggest concerns I have when designing a bathroom is where to locate electrical switches.  They need to be convenient, but take safety into consideration.  As much as installing a dimmer switch within reach of the soaker tub sounds like a nice feature, the possibility of electrocuting my clients is ... ummm ... I definitely wouldn't want to do that.

Taptile is a new product that solves this little dilemma ... the locating a switch near a water source one.  Not the electrocuting clients one.  By using WiFi to control remote switches, Taptile allows you to run all circuits to a central location, and simply place switches where they are needed.  The switches are installed behind tile or other wall surfaces which means that the user never comes into contact with any electricity, low voltage or otherwise.

The Taptile system can also be used to control other electrical systems such as ventilation, jets in a jacuzzi tub or even a sound system.  Taptile is currently only available in the UK but they are working on international distribution.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Designing Kitchens for Cooks

It's not in a kitchen, but just look at me loving to cook!
I love to cook. For me it’s very therapeutic and allows me to share with my family and friends. So when I’m designing a kitchen for a client, cooking is first and foremost in my mind. It’s a rare situation to have a client tell me they don’t plan on actually cooking in their kitchen (it has happened ... and it kind of scared me!) so the functional aspects of a kitchen’s design are a pretty good place to start.

So what sort of things does a food-focussed designer consider when planning a kitchen? As with all projects, the specifics will depend on the individual. However, there are three areas I try to focus on: Social, Equipment and Cleanup.

Social – For me, cooking is first and foremost a social endeavour. It's about sharing food and my time with the people who matter most to me. This translates into kitchen design in many ways; seating in the kitchen, space to plate food for dinner parties, space to present food for buffets (or bars).

When considering the social spaces in the kitchen, I find it helpful to have some of these spaces serves more than one function. So a space that acts as an eating bar can also become a buffet when it’s time to eat.  And don't forget to allow for space to stand around and ... well, socialize.

Equipment – Whether I’m looking at 48” Pro-style ranges, an automatic espresso machine or where to put my knives, making sure all my equipment is conveniently positioned in the kitchen is paramount.

Locating the typical range, sink and fridge in your average kitchen may seem a simple task. But consider what you need when you’re using a specific piece of equipment. Is there a place to dump coffee grounds near the espresso machine? Is there a place to knead your dough near where you keep the KitchenAid mixer?

Cleanup – Nobody likes to think about this, but after you’ve just hosted 40 people for Thanksgiving dinner you’ll be glad you did. Clean-up is not just about where to locate the dishwasher. If you entertain often enough and have the room you may want to consider having a second dishwasher. Consider waste and compost near the clean-up area as well. And finally, I like to make sure there’s something for the person doing the clean up (AKA the dish-pig) to keep themselves entertained. As the person who usually did the clean-up at family functions when I was a kid, I can tell you with certainty, it will be appreciated.

Most of these examples come from personal experience, so the design considerations you’ll have for your own kitchen will be based on how you cook. Before meeting with your kitchen designer, take the time beforehand and make notes about how you use your kitchen and the type of cooking you like to do. Consider the items you’ll need to store and the work spaces you’ll need. That information will go a long way to creating a truly functional kitchen.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Ram Board Has You Covered

If you've been following the False Creek Remodel series here on Useful Spaces and are particularly observant, you'll have noticed I never showed you the completed floor.  Truth is, the installer and I are the only people who have seen it without the tape and swept clean.  The reason for this is simple:  the minute they were finished I was on site covering them up.

There is at least 4 weeks of work left on this project.  That's 4 weeks of painters, tile-setters, finishing carpenters, appliance installers ... a lot of people will be walking on this floor.  As careful as these people will be, the fact is that accidents happen.  Covering the floor is an extra level of protection for the customer's investment, and for my piece of mind!

In the past I've used simple corrugated cardboard (too thin) or 1/8" hardboard (too expensive and bulky) with varied results.  Recently I've been using a product called Ram Board.  It comes in 38" x 10' rolls (46 Mil thickness) , is made from recycled materials, is reusable and recyclable, and it even protects from liquid damage for up to 48 hours.

I rolled out the entire suit and sealed the joints with the Ram Board tape in under an hour.  Simple.  Now my trades can finish up the project, and the customer and I don't need to stress (as much) about the floor.

Monday, August 15, 2011

NIM: A Mouse in the Hand is Worth Three Tools in One

It's not often that I get really excited about a piece of technology.  Yes I am in severe "covet" mode over the iPad, but that's because it would really help me as a designer ... honest!.  Useful technology (like Useful Spaces) is about making a part of your life simpler or more productive, and that is worth getting excited about.

Photo:  Canon
This is the Canon X Mark I Mouse Slim.  It cleverly combines 3 items I use on a regular basis:  a mouse, a calculator and a numeric keyboard.  Switching between the keyboard and calculator functions is as simple as pushing a button ... I'm just hoping you'll be able to do some calculations on the calculator and then enter the result in your spreadsheet automatically.  Canon?  Help a blogger out?

Photo:  Designboom
The X Mark I Mouse Slim is available in black or white, and will be shipping at the end of August, 2011.  Pre-orders are being taken now.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Grohe LadyLux3 - Kitchen Faucet Innovations

I am exposed to many different products during each of the remodelling projects I do every year.  Appliances, countertops materials, hardware ... in fact, it's a lot like having the ultimate try-before-you-buy situation.  If there's a design consideration for a given product, chances are your design professional has seen it and can help you avoid design pitfalls as a result.

Grohe's new Ladylux3 faucet has two great examples of this.  The Ladylux is easily my favourite kitchen faucet.  I use it in the majority of my kitchens, and yet I learned a couple things about it for the first time on a recent project.

Most faucets will provide you with the size of hole required to mount the faucet into the countertop ... typically 1.25".  In most situations, you can safely assume the centre line of the hole and the centre line of the faucet are one and the same.  

The Ladylux3 is different.  It has offset the centre line of the faucet by 17/64" to give all the connection hoses room to fit down the right hand side.  This is not a big issue if you are dealing with an offset (bowl-and-a-half) sink.  But if you have a sink with two equal sized bowls, having the faucet off centre would be quite noticeable.  Grohe has included the instructions for the offset in the box with the faucet.  But if you're not looking for it, it would be easy to miss.

Another unique aspect of the Ladylux3 can be found in the handle.  This video explains how Grohe has addressed a design concern from previous incarnations of the Ladylux series in the Ladylux3.

These are two specific examples of the type information your design professional has at their fingertips, not just because of education, but because of experience.  

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

WIP - False Creek Remodel - Part 9

They say that good fences make good neighbours.  Never was this truer than in a condominium complex.  Have a look at the rules and regulations for any strata organization and you'll see a long list of things you can and cannot do to your suite, and most of them have to do with how what you want to do will affect your neighbour.

Flooring materials often top these lists.  Anyone who has ever lived below an apartment with hardwood floors will attest that the sound of high heels on hardwood is not dissimilar to the sound of a jack-hammer at 7am on a Sunday morning. So I'm quite familiar with acoustic insulation for engineered flooring, but this is the first time I've come across the need for it under tile.  But the strata required it, so in it went!

The roll of material in the photo above is called EasyMat.  It's a tile underlay, fracture membrane and acoustic insulator all in one.The Easy may simply rolls out and is cut to fit the room.  Installation couldn't be simpler.  The acoustic membrane just meant the tile installation would be a little thicker than normal, which turned out to a good thing since the tiles would be butting up against the thicker engineered hardwood.

Now, I know what you're thinking.  "Underlay?  Really?  Get to the tile!"  Before I do, remember this:  Any installation is only going to be as good as the preparation that preceded it.  Whether it's cabinetry, paint or tiles, if the foundation is no good the finished product will suffer.  Remember that the next time you're feeling impatient for the finished product.

This is the tile we've specified for the foyer, hallways and bathroom.  Its a 12" x 24" porcelain tile that is a dead ringer for a Classico travertine.  It looks way better installed than it does on its own ... and it looked great on its own!  It's been installed in a "lock" pattern, also known as "brick".  The grout was selected to match the tile as closely as possible which gives the whole area a beautiful continuity.

If you look closely on the right hand side of the photo, you'll also see two grooves running along the face of the closet.  These are for the guide tracks for our bi-pass doors. True, we could have simply screwed the guides to the surface of the tile, but setting them into the tile looks sleeker.

Next up is the tile for the backsplash ... an elongated (2" x 16") matte white subway tile.  Pretty simple, but we wanted to keep the backsplash quiet for a couple reasons.  Because the kitchen is very exposed to the rest of the suite, we want the kitchen to become part of the room, not dominate it.  We've achieved this by controlling which features of the kitchen blend in, and which stand out.  The visually quiet countertops and subway tiles allow two things to take centre stage:  the cabinetry and ...

... the marble tile we're inserting as a border in the splash.  This is just a teaser and I won't show it to you again until the big reveal!

The rest of this week will see base and door trims being installed, along with the carpet in the back bedroom and the bi-pass closet doors.  The dust is beginning to settle!

WIP: False Creek Remodel is an actual remodel project that I'm blogging in real time.  To see all the entries in this series just click the FOLLOW ME buttons at the top right of this page.  If there's any part of the project you're interested in, leave me a note in the comments section.

Monday, August 8, 2011

NIM: Small Bathroom Idea from Ann Porter

Every now and then I run across an idea for New Idea Monday that doesn't come from a manufacturer, but from another designer.  Today's NIM is from fellow designer Ann Porter who writes the excellent blog KitchAnn Style.  She presented an elegantly simple solution to a bathroom design problem I run across far too often.  From Ann's blog:

What do you do when you want to center your bathroom sink on your vanity but there is a window to one side or the other throwing things off?

You could cover the window with drywall or remove the casing and hang an extra-large mirror in front of it. But what if you want to keep the window operable?

Solution: Sliding hardware.
Sliding door hardware, also known as barn door hardware, will allow you to position the mirror where you want it and provide access to the window.
Photo: KitchAnn Style

In almost every case there is a toilet beside the vanity which provides ample wall space for sliding a mirror.
Photo: KitchAnn Style
Another added bonus is the ability to have privacy without needing window treatments. This type of hardware can hold a lot of weight so this solution will work great for large window areas, too.

Even if there wasn't a window to hide, I like the idea of using barn-door hardware for hanging mirrors.  Terrific flexibility in the design, and a bit of "country-kitch".

Friday, August 5, 2011

Give Me Reasons Not Excuses - Example A

I covered handling job-site issues in a post back in March.  Essentially it was a response to some poor customer relations I had experienced with one of my suppliers.  The result of that experience was that I have since changed suppliers and am so far much happier.

Last week a similar situation arose on one of my projects (not False Creek!), this time with much different results.  The photo on the left shows the new quartz countertops recently installed.  The fabricator came in when they said they would, worked quickly and tidily.  The seam was without a doubt the best quartz seam I have ever seen.  Ever. But have a closer look towards the centre of the photo.  Can't see it?  Let's zoom in a bit ...
Now can you see it?  Yep ... that's a blemish.  Quite a big one too.  I hadn't seen it.  Nor had the installers, the fabricators, and even the manufacturer.  With quartz, well, one just doesn't expect to see this sort of thing.  So when then client called me on Friday afternoon I was quite surprised to hear about it.  And when I emailed the fabricator's representative, also Friday, she was surprised by it too. 

This is where the great customer service kicks in.  The rep scheduled a site meeting with the client and I for Monday morning.  She arrived early, and had already set the wheels in motion to have the section of countertop replaced before I had even arrived.  I had prepared the client for a possible delay in the countertops (and the plumbing and tile work as a result) so when I called her and told her when the new tops would be installed (in a shorter time period than we had expected) she was happy to hear that things were proceeding in such an orderly fashion.

By simply facing the issue head on, both the fabricator and I took responsibility for the issue, dealt with it professionally, and came out looking like heroes in the customer's eyes even though something bad had happened on her job.  The fact is, bad stuff always happens.  It's how you deal with it that matters.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

WIP - False Creek Remodel - Part 8

The Sink Run
I've been designing kitchens and bathrooms for over 15 years now, and to this day there's still nothing that makes me happier than the sight of countertops being installed.  A room with finished drywall is a close second, but the installation of the countertops means the project is on the home stretch.  It allows all the other trades to finish; backsplashes can be finished, plumbing hooked up and appliances installed.  This is when the client really starts to see what their finished kitchen will look like.

So where are we at with this project right now?  Steve the cabinet installer has a few small items to finish with the cabinet installation now that the countertops are in (more on that later) and then will become Steve the finishing carpenter and start working on door casings and baseboards.

The Bar and Cooktop Area
The painter has been here this week as well.  He finished the ceiling so the electrician could install the lighting, and then put the first coat on the rest of the suite.  The addition of colour in the room is really starting to make things look "finished".

Now that the countertops are in, the plumber can get in and hook up the fixtures in the kitchen, and a couple in the bathroom.  The remaining bathroom fixtures will have to wait until the tile-setter is in.  Finally, the appliances have been delivered and will be installed soon ... which is good because they're currently occupying a lot of space!

The Bathroom
Next week, the tile floor in the foyer and the bathroom along with the kitchen backsplash will be installed and grouted.  Then plumbing fixtures can go in the bathroom, closet doors can be installed and the shower door and bathroom mirror can be fitted ...

... and the customer can finally move back home!  

WIP: False Creek Remodel is an actual remodel project of mine that I'm blogging in real time.  To see all the entries in this series just click the FOLLOW ME buttons at the top right of this page.  If there's any part of the project you're interested in, leave me a note in the comments section.

Monday, August 1, 2011

NIM: Trimming Recycled Leather Tile

About a year ago I wrote a post on Useful Spaces about leather tile.  Since then I've come across many more examples of the product.  They all look amazing, but I found one thing lacking in each series I saw; none of them had anything in the way of trim pieces.  If you wanted a floor border to run around the perimeter of a room for example you were limited to the tile sizes available for any sort of pattern.
This little dilemma has been solved by EcoDomo, a manufacturer of leather tiles based out of Maryland.  Their leather tiles have the added benefit of being recycled (apparently from old BMW's ... very swish!) and now come with a full compliment of leather mouldings!   The trims come in four foot lengths and are available in either hide or recycled leather options.

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