Friday, September 30, 2011

Designing, Florida Style - Guest Post

Ask anyone north of the Florida border what they think about first when our state is mentioned and usually you will get sunshine and beaches (unless they mention that rodent with the big ears). So it’s not surprising that a good portion of my clients request a “Florida Style” design for their kitchen or bathroom. Other than contemporary or modern this is my one of my favorites to work with and of course I’ve got opinions and pointers for you.
For starters this is NOT Florida style… Matter a fact I don’t know if it’s any style… except may be Motel 6 in 1986!

Now that I got that off my chest, let’s start with my favorite the cabinets. Most commonly used are shakers. Either flat panel or bead board will work well and adding a glaze and a distressed finish can give it that worn beach feel. Adding louvered doors to accent the kitchen can really set it apart.

When choosing the bathroom cabinets, you can get a little more creative. Because there are far less cabinets than in a kitchen, you can pick something with more character and even a piece that wasn’t intended to be a bathroom cabinet. One of my clients fell in love with this piece when she found it at a furniture store so we had a countertop made for it and turned it into a sink base.

Speaking of countertops, you can’t go wrong if you are choosing something that compliments the area. When using granite find something with movement. Waves, sand, and coastlines have long flowing curves similar to this slab of colonial gold. Shell stone, travertine, and wood tops are options that bring natural elements of the beach in to the space.

Most of the color pallets you see will be greens and blues but don’t be afraid to mix in yellows, oranges and shades of white, all will compliment the design.

Everything we have discussed will set the stage for these spaces to be your beach getaway; however they aren’t complete without the proper d├ęcor. I am not an interior designer or decorator but I think that less can be more here. A little foliage and some nautical pieces can go a long way to adding that tropical feel. Roll up shades and louvered window shutters can round it off nicely.

When designing a “Florida” style I try to avoid anything too trendy here since a beach style has its own casual feel and not all trends will compliment the room. Set out with a plan and stick to but don’t be afraid to make it a little playful. After all, isn’t that what you do in the vacation capital of the US?

Hello faithful Useful Spaces readers, my name is Jeremy Parcels and I am a kitchen and bathroom designer for a remodelling contractor in Bradenton, Florida. I grew up in the construction industry and began working with cabinets and carpentry at a young age I have been designing for the last five years. Designing rooms that are both functional and beautiful is my passion. You can follow me on twitter @rjmcontractors and read my blog here.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Time For Some R&R;

I've not had a vacation in almost two years ... and before somebody points out that I was away in New York, Las Vegas and Louisville this year, those were work.  Time away?  Yes.  Vacations? No.

I've not taken a 2 week vacation since 2008.  I strongly believe that a vacation of two weeks or more is required to truly unwind.  The first week gets you out of "work" mode; the second is when you truly begin to relax.

Starting this weekend I will be taking a two week break ... from work and from Useful Spaces.  But fear not faithful reader.  I've gathered a stellar group of bloggers that I've had the great pleasure of meeting over the course of the past year.  Some you've been introduced to in previous posts, some will be new.  But they're all amazing people and write blogs that I visit on an almost daily basis.

I'm extremely grateful to these folk.  They've enriched my lives professionally and personally.  To help me show my gratitude I'm encouraging everyone to visit their blogs and websites.  Click their names and get set for some great reading!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Kitchen of the Year: Hoping for Better

When I first saw House Beautiful Magazine’s Kitchen of the Year promotion for 2011, I got my designer back up. I’m not so simple that I don’t understand the project was about marketing. What I don’t understand are the gushing accolades that came from the design community.

For those who didn’t follow the buzz, Kitchen of the Year (KOTY) was a collaboration between House Beautiful Magazine, Kraftmaid Cabinetry, KitchenAid appliances and FoodTV chef Tyler Florence. The kitchen was designed and housed at Rockefeller Centre in New York City over the summer, and served as the home for Bar 30 until the end of August.

Throughout Twitter, Facebook and blogs too numerous to mention, KOTY received accolades a-plenty. From it’s opening in July I kept reading about this “ground-breaking” project, how Chef Florence had brought his “A-game” to the design and had created a kitchen that would encourage “your man would spend more time in the kitchen with you.” But it left me wondering if we were all looking at the same kitchen.

But let’s let Tyler tell us his thoughts …

TF - I’m not really into cabinets that close because I think dishes look beautiful. I think when they’re set up in a sense of style it really kinda tells a story about who you are.

What it tells that Tyler can afford beautiful dishes and that he's got people to come in and clean up him. The truth is most of my clients can’t afford that many beautiful dishes, nor have the time to keep that much open display clean. This is why doors were invented.

TF - Cutting boards are big & bulky. So are sheet pans. I use them all the time and I need to store them vertically. So if you’re going to put together a space that thinks about using space wisely you should really develop cabinets that are set up vertically.

If this is Tyler's "A-Game" I think he needs to go back to practice. Again, I realize KOTY is about creating a beautiful space to promote products, but generic design statements are not very helpful to anyone thinking about designing a kitchen of their own.  Presenting them as being truly useful is even worse.

For example, KOTY’s designer Lori Yeomans claims “this is a cook’s kitchen.”  It may have been designed WITH a chef, but if you really have a look at the layout this kitchen was designed primarily to show off the cabinetry and appliances. A kitchen designed FOR a chef would spend more time focussing on work flow and counter space.  Lori may have done this, but outside of a poorly presented floorplan on the House Beautiful website, we have no idea if that is the case.

For the sponsors, this was a very well executed promotion. I’d have been proud to have been involved with it on that level.  I will also admit it is a stunning kitchen. The materials selected and that very cool island on wheels make for some beautiful promotional shots.

But as a kitchen designer I'm thinking about much more than “beautiful”? Given over 800 square feet of space to work with (not including the admittedly very cool outdoor kitchen) I would hope for a lot more than a galley kitchen with a leg of pata negra on the island and a hideaway desk. (Desks are so 1990's!)

Monday, September 26, 2011

NIM: Virtual Shopping in Korea

Sometimes a task is made more complicated by the introduction of technology; taking notes is a great example.  My kids laugh at me when I pull out a pen and paper to take write my grocery list, but they aren't laughing when my note is completed long before they've even turned on their iPhone.  Now, if I could somehow use a grocery list on my iPhone to make my shopping experience better, you might have won me over to battling that silly keyboard.  

Commuters in South Korea are a step closer to exactly that thanks to grocery store chain Tesco.  Faced with the problem of trying to expand without actually adding physical stores, they've created several "virtual stores" in subway stations.  By using smart phones and QR code technology Korean commuters are able to use their commute time to take care of some of their daily shopping.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Get the Complete Picture

One of the most important parts of the design process is the site measure.  Measuring the space you're about to re-design tells you how much room you have to work with, and it also gets you into the space which tells you how the room feels.  However, the site measure often takes place several days before I actually sit down to design, and that feeling of being in the space can't be replicated with photographs.

I've recently run across a new iPhone app that will help in these situations called 360 Panorama. It works just like a camera, but instead of taking stills you pan the camera and capture a panorama shot.  The app is being promoted as a way to capture the world around us ... in fact several panoramas are available to view on the 360 Verse website.  Pretty impressive.

I've started using the app to capture panoramas of rooms I've measure.  Have a look:

Use your mouse to navigate the panorama, and you'll see how this could be a useful tool to help you remember what it felt like to be in the room. The 360Panorama works much better in larger rooms as you could make one single 360 view of the room. Smaller rooms work best if you break them up into smaller views.

360Panorama is available at the iTunes store.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Help Me Help You: The Ideas File

Last week I met with a new client to discuss some initial concepts for their kitchen project. As the meeting progressed I could see in one of the client’s eyes that she was beginning to feel like there were too many choices, that there was no possible way they were ever going to get through all of this.

A couple days after the meeting she sent me an email:

Thanks for spending time with us today Arne! It really is quite an overwhelming process. 

I replied:

I could sense you were feeling a bit overwhelmed. It’s true, there are many steps to this process … but that’s what I’m here for, to walk you through them. Get started on your “Ideas” file and I’ll check in with you in a week or so. 

It’s true. There ARE a lot of decisions to make. But isn’t that why you come to someone who has been there before and knows how to handle a wide variety of situations? Like an athlete or a musician, a design professional has the experience that allows them to walk you through your project and help you make all the decisions you need to make.

Of course the experience is only going to be as successful as the client allows it to be. There’s nothing as frustrating as meeting with a customer that has no idea what it is they want to accomplish. They have it in their head that the kitchen need’s re-doing, and that’s as far as they get. If the client isn’t  prepared, initial meetings with any designer will be frustrating and quite frankly a waste of everyone’s time.

In other words: "Help Me Help You."

There are many things you can do to prepare for meeting with a kitchen designer, and in this series of posts (filed under “Help Me”) I’ll discuss the things I ask my clients to prepare before our first meeting. 

First up: The Ideas File

I encourage each of my clients to start collecting photographs from magazines, snapshots they have of homes they’ve seen, swatches, etc … anything that indicates their aesthetic preference, and put them into a file. I also suggest they keep some Post-It notes with them to help indicate what exactly they liked about the picture. That note is going to help refresh your memory when you go through the file a week later to purge some of the ideas that don’t resonate with you after some reflection.

There’s no hard and fast rule as to how large or how organized the file should be. Many clients really take their collections to heart, organizing them in 3-ring binders, indexed by category … someone even did a PowerPoint presentation. A bit over the top? Perhaps. But the important thing was they brought a lot of information to the table, and the process of sorting through all the decisions became much easier for all of us.

If the Ideas File seems like too much work, then I'm more than happy to make the decisions for you, provided you agree to live with them. As you can imagine, this situation rarely occurs. Too bad, because I’m really dying to do a kitchen in Whitecaps blue!

Monday, September 19, 2011

NIM: Frothing At the Tub

Last week a friend Tweeted me a question:

"Have you ever heard of a champagne bathtub?"

A number of ideas ran through my head, none of them making me feel very comfortable about where the line of questioning was going.  I mean, whatever floats your boat and al that, but I'm a professional. What you want to bathe in is of no concern to me ... let alone how you plan on filling it.

In addition to making me feel a tad uncomfortable, the champage tub question reminded me of another tub I'd seen recently, that was more latte than champagne.  It's called the Furo (a Japanese term that describes returning to your natural state of being) and it's made by Inax.  Using cosmetic chemicals (the website describes them as being food-safe, leading to further speculation that I'd rather not discuss) the Furo creates a layer of foam that floats on top of the water.  And we're not just talking the thin layer of foam your Mr. Bubbles created when you were a kid (or not) but a layer of luxurious foam that consumes about half the tub's capacity.

The idea here is that the foam insulates the water, keeping it warmer longer, and the use of less water (in addition to being a good practice to begin with) places less stress on the body, allowing for a more relaxing soak.  Another benefit of the foam is that it suppresses steam which, according to the web site, means the Furo could be installed in the living room for example (???).

I have to admit the foam looks pretty interesting, but I'm not to crazy about this trend towards bathing in food.  I mean, I'd be all relaxed in the Furo and then somebody would come along with some chocolate sprinkles.  Trust me, nobody wants that.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Food Friday: La Taqueria

Somebody asked me the other day if I'd stopped writing about food.  The fact is, I haven't had too much to write about in Vancouver.  Not that there aren't exciting things to eat here (a thriving new food culture scene for example) but I've simply not been out to try them.  I've had a couple large projects that have been occupying a lot of my time, and I'm saving my money and calories for an upcoming visit to Barcelona.

But today I managed to be both hungry and not too busy at the same time, and wandered over to a new taco spot near my office.  La Taqueria has been open in Downtown Vancouver (322 West Hastings @ Hamilton) for a while, and their new location (at Cambie & Broadway) has recently opened its doors.  I was initially somewhat sceptical as to its heritage and authenticity.  If you've never been to Mexico, or even Southern California you could be forgiven for believing that "real" tacos came from a box and use shells hard enough to slice through the roof of your mouth.  The real deal are served on soft corn flour tacos (two at a time to prevent leakage) and use fillings made from the cuts of meat that have to be cooked for a very long time to make them edible ... in other words, the best stuff possible.

Walking into La Taqueria the first thing I noticed were the wonderful aromas of corn tortillas, chillies, simmering meat ... if you could have added the stifling Mexican humidity I'd have almost believed I was back in the Mayan Riviera looking for lunch.  My initial fears about authenticity had been addressed in a single breath.  The menu ... well Lordy!  More items than just chicken and beef!  All the taco "must haves" are there; Langua (tongue), Al Pastore (marinated pork), Carnitas (pork cooked to heavenly oblivion and served with pickled onions), Pescado (fish), Asada (steak), Pollo con Mole ... way too many choices for a single trip.  Oh darn.

For $9.50 you get 4 meat tacos (they're $2.50 each, but seriously, one???) or if you're feeling particularly pathetic there are Vegetarian & Vegan options (which come with a series of prayers from the kitchen staff asking the Allmighty to have mercy on your meat-less soul).  In all seriousness, the veggie options looked very good ... in fact I really like cactus tacos (with a side of meat).  They also have daily features, today's being cochinita pibil and a wide varity of Jarritos and other sodas.

On my plate today ... the aforementioned conchita pibil, langua, pastor y carnitas!  There's an offering of salsas, guacamole (highly recommended) and pickled veggies on a side table to season the tacos how you like them.  All were top notch.  Very fresh, and deep with flavour.  The carnitas were the star, producing one of those moments of culinary nirvana that can only be achieved with pork fat and tortillas.  I've had equally good tacos elsewhere, but none so close to my office, or the Skytrain for that matter.

I think I may be in trouble ...

Extra:  You may notice La Taqueria refers to themselves as a "Pinche Taco Shop."  So what exactly does "pinche" mean?  Well, let's just say you won't be saying it in front of your Mexican grandmother.  Follow THIS LINK and don't say you weren't warned.

La Taqueria
2549 Cambie Street
(SW Corner of Cambie & Broadway)
Vancouver, BC
(604) 558-2549

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Sometimes Too Much Is Just Enough

During the course of a kitchen installation, there are several moments I plan for where the client will be confused or concerned about what is going on in their kitchen, and over the years I've developed a standard set of answers to go along with them.  Most involve pretty mundane things (door adjustments, etc.) but if you don't deal with it on a regular basis (or trust your designer implicitly - my personal favourite) I completely understand why these might be concerns.  

One of the most common questions I hear has to do with the amount of crown moulding, toe kick and filler material that arrives on site.  On any project I'm involved with it's usually a lot ... and by "a lot" I mean much more than we're likely to need.  Over the course of the installation it becomes pretty clear to even the most casual observer that there's going to be a length or two of material left over.

Despite what some may be thinking, this is not the result of sloppy ordering. The amount of material required is never exactly the amount of material that ends up installed on the cabinets.  If a kitchen requires 3 pieces of crown, 8' , 9' and 3' long (20' overall), ordering 2 lengths of 10' crown will mean that the 3' piece will have to be made from the two pieces leftover from cutting the bigger pieces.  Ordering 3 pieces would result in a much better looking finished product.

There are many other reasons to order extra material:  mitre cuts in crown take up extra material, the carpenter may make a mistake (heaven forbid!), material may arrive damaged.  So ordering extra material is actually a good indication that your designer is thinking ahead.

Can you receive a credit for unused crown?  That will depend on the manufacturer.  If you bought a stock crown from a big-box retailer and the crown can be re-sold, then chances are they will take it back for credit (perhaps with a re-stocking fee).  For a custom cabinet manufacturer there will almost undoubtedly be no refund, simply because the extra material cannot be re-sold.  That might sound a bit unfair, but the truth of the matter is that it's better to have the material on site with you than having to wait for something new to be made and shipped.

Monday, September 12, 2011

NIM: Countertop Illumination in Stone

Back-lighting countertops is a trend I have seen developing for a couple years.  Corian solid surface has a series specifically designer for illumination, and at KBIS this year, there were several examples of countertops and even sinks being lit up for extra visual impact.  But I have to give Italian bathroom furniture manufacturer Mastro Fiore full marks for coming up with one of the most visually stunning examples of illumnated surfacing I've ever seen.
The stone is alabaster and is cut into strips to help give the countertops their unique appearance.  The illumination is achieved via LED strips, and when paired with a glass vessel works to create a breathtaking addition to your bathroom project.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Pride, Tradespeople and a New Coach

Whitecap Gershon Koffie wonders what's gone wrong.
Regular readers of Useful Spaces will know of my love for the Vancouver Whitecaps FC. To say our first season in the MLS has been a disappointment would be a major understatement. But even though the team wasn’t getting much in the way of wins, they had always played with a sense of pride.

Pride may be one of the seven deadly sins, but it is something I look for in every trade I hire. There are hundreds of trades-people available for hire at any given time. Of those, perhaps 20% of them could be referred to as skilled … or what I like to call craftsmen (sorry, crafts-people just doesn’t sound right to me). 

So what is it that separates one craftsman from another? For me, it’s the level of pride they take in the work that they do. The craftsman that does a project a specific way not because it’s the cheapest, or the quickest but because it’s the right way to do it, because he’d be proud to have his name associated with the job, that’s the kind of person you want working for you. This type of craftsman may cost a bit more than the others, but I can guarantee you that the cost is warranted, and not just for the quality of work you’ve hired him to do.

 Much like elite athletes, skilled craftsmen like this can be difficult to work with. They’re constantly holding themselves to a set of criteria that comes from years of doing things a certain way. They know what works and what doesn’t. These standards can result in them insisting work is done a certain way … and unfortunately that often impacts on the work of other trades who may or may not share the same set of standards.

At a recent project one of my trades had expressed a concern about some work performed by another trade … directly to the tradesperson in question. It wasn’t anything serious, but egos were bruised and I needed to be the coach for my “athletes” and remind them we were all on the same team working towards a common goal … the finished product and the happiness of the client.

He looks proud, right?
The past few games my Whitecaps seem to have lost their sense of pride.  They seem to have lost their sense of direction and are playing like a team without focus.  Last week the club signed a new coach; a young Scotsman by the name of Martin Rennie. His biggest skill as a coach is motivating players to re-discover their sense of pride. I have great confidence he’ll be very successful next season. The players on the team are all very skilled, they just see to have lost their way.  And if Rennie can't do it, I suppose if I can help focus trades people, soccer players shouldn’t be that much different …

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Back To School Special

It's a brand new school year, and I'm a bit behind as a result.  So today, something on the litsabbur side.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Labour Day: More Than "Just a Mechanic"

There is something very noble about working with your hands.  I have immense admiration for people like my father, a retired heavy-duty mechanic.  He was a mechanic of some sort for his entire working life.  He's not "school-smart" like my mother's family of teachers, professors and professional students.  But he is without a doubt the smartest man I know when it comes to the internal combustion engine.

He was a handy guy to have around when I owned my first car.  It was a piece of junk to say the least, but between the two of us we managed to keep it running while I was going to university.  Whenever there was a problem with the Hallowe'en Machine he'd just have me drive him around the block and simply by listening to the engine or the brakes or the transmission he'd know exactly what was wrong and how to fix it.

And yet, as amazingly skilful as that is, my father always referred to himself as "just a mechanic."

The first Monday in September is Labour Day in Canada and the USA.  While the day originated as a celebration of the labour union movement, today it is more about celebrating the contribution of all workers. So this Labour Day, think about all the workers and the contributions they make to your life, both personal and professional, and be thankful for them.  For me I think about all the terrific trades I have that allow me to bring my designs to life.  But mostly I think of my father who was most definitely not "just" anything.

Friday, September 2, 2011

PNE 2011 - RibFest!

The last 2 weeks before Labour Day, the city of Vancouver trades in the beaches, the mountains, and all that is good and pure about our city for a big asphalt parking lot in East Vancouver.  The Pacific National Exhibition (PNE for short) something I've never really understood completely.  It's crowded, the amusement rides are expensive and the food is for the most part crap.  Yes there's the Summer Concert Series but even that kinda sucked this year, what with Cheap Trick bailing on us at the last minute and Wilson Phillips being named as their replacement.  I think it's God's way of punishing us for the Stanley Cup riots.

This year however, the PNE is doing something quite exceptional ... sorta.  It's called "Rib Fest", and it combines 5 top BBQ teams from around North America for 2 weeks of the type smoking folks around here (except those that know me) can only dream of.  Ribs, brisket, pulled pork ... it's all there and if the smell of cotton candy and the fried onions at Jimmy's lunch can't clear your head of the barn yard funk from the 4H exhibits the PNE insists on keeping (because after all this is a country fair) then the intoxicating aroma of smoke and meat just may become your new best friend.

In typical meat-geek fashion, I wasn't just going to visit the Rib-Fest and stuff myself silly.  There's voting involved here!  I need to do my due-diligence and inspect the product from each of the 5 teams who entered, and then carefully consider who will earn my vote.  Pigging out is for chumps ... or at least for when the voting's done.  Over 3 different visits my wife J and I tried the ribs from Smoke & Bones (North Vancouver, BC), Gator BBQ (Everglade City, Florida), Crazy Canuck Smokers (London, ON), QN4U (Clovis, CA) and Prairie Smoke & Spice (Pilot Butte, SK).  Each of these teams has serious BBQ pedigree with teams competing ant the Grande Nationals, Jack Daniels, Canadian Championships ... this is serious competitive stuff here folks.

We judged the ribs on appearance, flavour, tenderness and a fourth "overall" experience category;  how did the  vendors engage us as a customer?  Were they just shell shocked after a week under the blazing sun and being asked where the roller coaster was ... or did they look you in the eye, tell you you were about to each the best damn BBQ you've ever eaten and please vote for their team?  In my opinion that is a very important part of BBQ. This is food you have to LOVE to cook, because it's not easy.  It's smelly, and tiring (14 hours to smoke a brisket), but the results are so worth it.

 The results were quite surprising.  I really didn't expect much out of the team from Ontario ... call it my West-coast bias.  Saskatchewan is kinda like Canada's Texas so I thought they might have something worthwhile.  California is better known for tri-tip BBQ, so I wasn't expecting their ribs to be as strong.  Florida was the only real representative from "the South" (although real Southerners will dispute that point) and the team from North Vancouver ... well I've competed against them before, so I was prepared for what they brought, or so I thought.

We took no notes.  It's tough to write with sauce all over your hands, and beside it would have meant I'd have to put down my beer, and that wasn't going to happen.  Beside, certain things stick in my mind when I'm eating BBQ ... texture of the meat, tang of the sauce, and most importantly for me the delicate aroma of smoke.  No need for notes ... I remember where the good stuff is.  Everyone's ribs were excellent, especially considering the rate at which they were churning them out.  Quality often suffers when quantity increases but fortunately the professionalism of all the teams showed.

So, who won?  For me, and for J, the clear winner was ....

Smoke & Bones!  I'm a bit surprised to be honest.  Not because a team from North Vancouver can produce world quality BBQ, but because the competition was so stiff.  The Gator BBQ team took my honourable mention ... and I only say that because they took my razzing about how Auburn was going to run roughshod over whatever football team they supported (that was for you Nick!).

I really hope they do the Rib Fest again next year.  There's precious few great BBQ places out here, and even fewer competitions.  While this wasn't a true competition, it was another opportunity to eat BBQ, drink beer, listen to great music, and watch the summer fade away.
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