Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Gallery: False Creek Remodel - COMPLETE

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Over the summer,  I spent a lot of time blogging about a remodel project I was doing in False Creek. I've been promising final pictures for a while ... and today I actually deliver!

I've detailed the process extensively (click HERE for all 10 posts!) so I won't go into too much detail here.  Essentially we gutted and reconfigured almost all of the suite, taking 3 rooms and turning them into one open living space. The biggest transformation was the kitchen ... from a tiny box into a chef's dream. Cabinetry throughout the kitchen is engineered veneer and the countertops are Caesarstone quartz.

Even the foyer was remodelled, taking 3 poorly configured closets and creating a large concealed space for laundry and linen storage, as well as convenient coat and shoe storage at the entrance. The tile floors in the foyer protect this more heavily used space, while the engineered flooring in the rest of the suite make for a more warm and inviting living space.

Monday, November 28, 2011

NIM: Solar Powered Kitchen

The Lapin Kulta Solar Kitchen Restaurant fits with Useful Spaces in so many ways.  First, it's a kitchen.  True a professional kitchen, but the concepts are the same.  Second, it's about food and how we think about the relationship between food, the kitchen and our environment.  And third it features the work of Catalan designer Mart穩 Guix矇 (I just returned from Barcelona) and Finnish food visionary Antto Melasniemi (Scandinavian like me!).

The Solar Kitchen Restaurant employs a solar kitchen; food is cooked using only solar energy, collected using large reflectors.  According to chef Melasniemi, the use of solar energy truly affects the taste and texture of the food.  The kitchen opened during Milan Design Week 2011 in April, and followed the sun throughout Europe.

More on the Solar Kitchen HERE.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Black Friday: What Happened to Quality?

I've always been fascinated by Black Friday. Like Boxing Day in Canada and other Commonwealth countries, Black Friday is focussed completely on consumption. We as consumers are told the deals we see on these days will never be seen again, so BUY BUY BUY.

In addition to the concerns of over-consumption, these types of events beg the question: When did price become more important than quality? I understand that the economy is difficult, and that our buying power is not what it once was. But when I see someone buying a pair of shoes because they were “cheap” it makes me wonder how long those shoes will last, and how much they’d save in the long term buy simply buying quality in the first place. Kitchen and bathroom remodels aren’t exempt from this either. I have clients chosing materials for their kitchen or bathroom project based primarily on price, I can’t help but feeling they’re delaying disappointment.

In my experience, the most common example of quality falling prey to price can be found with granite countertops. There are only 2 or 3 fabricators I will work with. I know they are a bit more expensive than others. I also know the quality of the stone they use and the professionalism of their installations more than justify the price. Yet time and time again I’ve had clients chose to source their own countertops because they’ve found someone who is “significantly less expensive”. And time and time again these same clients end up with inferior stone, inferior installation, or both.

It’s like the guy in the old Fram commercial said … (the last part, not the part about the engines)

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

What Appliance Manufacturers Owe Their Customers

A former client of mine called me the other day to let me know that she'd received a call from Liebherr informing her that her fridge (model CI1601, pictured above) was part of a safety recall.  From the Liebherr recall notice:
Some of the units contain screw locking devices which can malfunction in a way that the door hinge pin can become loose. In the situation where an appliance is equipped with a door stopper device, the door may remain attached to the appliance despite the loosening door hinge pin.

However, continued use of the door can result in separation of the door from the appliance with resulting potential injury to users.
So far no injuries have been reported, although 10 doors have fallen off refrigerators.

From Liebherr Installation Manual
My client was also told this issue is exacerbated when overlay door panels are used, as they were in my client's kitchen.  In fairness, the installation manual clearly states that each door panel should not exceed 25 pounds.  But the manual also states "To match your kitchen's design, use custom finish panels, overlay or framed."  The images from the manual are shown on the left.  The top panel on this refrigerator is very large; 26 1/4" wide x 46 5/16" high.  I don't have to weigh the panel to tell you that even a Shaker door of that size is going to come close to exceeding 25 lbs.  A raised panel or slab door most certainly would.

Which begs the question:  Why would a manufacturer suggest an installation of their product that clearly cannot work?  Passing the buck to the consumer by publishing an unreasonable weight limit per panel (Sub Zero for example has a weight limit of 50lbs on their BI30OU model) is not acceptable.  Further to this, a factory representative from Liebherr even went so far as to suggest to my client that the weight requirement was easily achievable by employing a specific construction technique (not described in the manual), or by using a specific brand of MDF (not applicable in my client's situation because her doors were white oak).

I'd like to state right now that I have had no issues with Liebherr appliances in the past.  I have them in my showroom and I've specified them for many clients.  They've been very proactive with this recall, and for that I applaud them.

What concerns me is what appears to be a systemic policy of avoiding responsibility for what in all intents and purposes is a typical installation.  I'd feel the same regardless of the company or the appliances, and have said as much when meeting with appliance manufacturers.  If an appliance cannot be installed in a specific manner because of a limitation in the product, say so in the installation literature or fix the problem.  I think that's a fair expectation from the companies that install these appliances, and the consumers who use them.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Brizo and Jason Wu Go Nordic

As Brizo's guest during New York's Design Week last February I was shown a number of prototype faucet designs ... ideas they were percolating for future products.  Some were "okay", some were just too bizarre to work, and others were the sort that I couldn't wait to see put into production.

Last week, Brizo introduced Odin, the result of their collaboration with fashion designer Jason Wu.  I was very pleased to see that my favourite innovation, the clever little 45° lever, was part of the new design.  Watch the video to see how it works ... and the proximity sensor too!  But as you'll see, the Odin is more than just a technologically advanced faucet.  As you'd expect with Jason Wu in the picture, there's a lot of design in the Odin as well.

Jason wanted to create a complete powder room suite, a vision which led to the addition of several pieces not typically found in Brizo collections, including a wastebasket, free-standing soap pump, soap dish, and drawer knobs and pulls. The silhouette of a Baroque-inspired flower is subtly woven throughout, providing a sense of cohesive integrity.

“Much like fashion accessories help pull together an outfit, these added pieces complete the look of the home bathroom, allowing homeowners to infuse the collection’s style throughout the space to create one seamless, integrated design,” said Judd Lord, director of industrial design for Brizo products.
The complete suite is stunning, especially in the Matte Black finish.  There`s a continuation of Brizo's affinity towards a Scandinavian aesthetic, but with Jason's influence you'll also notice a bit of Baroque in the accessories ... a residual influence from his Versailles inspired line we saw in New York.  What I really appreciate about what Brizo and Jason have done with the new line is how they've introduced some cutting edge technology into the Odin faucet but acknowledge the importance of design in the home.

The Odin will be available in the Spring of 2012, but pre-orders are being taken until February 20, 2012.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Power Up Your Kitchen Island

There's nothing particularly amazing about this island, but it illustrates one of my biggest pet peeves today; installing outlets into the side of island or peninsula cabinetry.  To be honest, this is not a particularly heinous example.  The outlet is on an end that's not immediately visible to the rest of the room, and the colour of the outlet is very close to the colour of the cabinets.  But wouldn't this look so much better if there wasn't an outlet in the middle of the door-design panel?

I'm completely sympathetic to the dilemma that leads to this design conundrum.  If the island is going to be one of the major work centres, you're going to want to have power nearby.  How else will you run your blender during those epic Margarita parties?  Of course a raised "pony-wall" running behind the cabinets (for a raised eating area for example) solves this issue.  But the majority of the islands I'm seeing these days are single level.  What then?

There are a couple sneaky little devices I've run into lately that may just fit the bill here.  I say "may" because depending on where you live, your local electrical codes may or may not allow the use of such devices.  You've been warned.

From Lew Electric comes the PUFP series.  A 4" electrical box is mounted in your countertop (a model is available for tile countertops) and the trim, with GFCI outlets of course, is mounted into it.  The outlet is sprung loaded; touch it and it pops up, touch it again and it's hidden.

If you're looking to have access to more outlets, or perhaps even a phone jack or an Ethernet connection (think home office), then the EVOline Port may be more what you need.  The Port is available is several configurations to meet your need, and simply requires a hole to be drilled into your countertop ... and open space below of course!  The tower recesses flush with the countertop when not in use.

Regular readers of Useful Spaces will know I like to include ideas that are only at the concept stage.  The Rambler Socket is essentially an extension cord that can be hidden in the wall.  While not a perfect fit for our island dilemma, it shows another example of how power supplies are moving away from the ordinary.

Now if we could just find a way to transmit electricity throughout the home without wires ...

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

I Still Remember LEGO - Episode III

It's a crappy rainy day; the kind best spent indoors cleaning up your bookshelves, or in my case the bookmarked items in my RSS reader.  Oddly enough, a large number if the items I starred for reading later concerned LEGO and those who transform it into the most amazing things.  You may want to bookmark this post yourself, and save it for your own rainy day.  It'll cheer you up, I promise!

Is there anything more cheerful than ukulele music?  Comedian Steve Martin's assertion that you can't play something depressing on the banjo can be extended to the ukulele.  So how mind-numbingly cheerful would a LEGO ukulele be?  Well Ross Crawford may be the only person on earth who could give us that answer.

The tuning mechanisms on this instrument are particularly clever.  And to prove the ukulele can actually be played, I present Puff the Magic Dragon.

One of my favourite design blogs is written by the extremely talented Kevin Kidney. Kevin is a former Disney designer, now self-employed. His work is beautiful and fun; just the sort of thing to lift me out of a rainy day funk.

Recently Kevin featured a LEGO model of one of his Disney creations, created by Norwegian artist Henning Birkeland.  Henning is a digital artist who also happens to dabble in LEGO.  Just as impressive as the model, is the process Henning used to create it

And finally, for your viewing pleasure, a feature on LEGO Master (yes, it's a legitimate title) Nathan Sawaya.  As much as I find Nathan's work impressive, the fact that he gave up a career in law to pursue his passion even more so.

Monday, November 14, 2011

NIM: iPads Find a New Home in Restaurants

The iPad is quickly working its way into our lives.  Even while we were away on vacation in Spain, the iPad was everywhere.  Okay, my wife brought hers on the trip, but we saw iPad's being used everywhere.  One of the best uses, and one of those slap-your-forehead-why-didn't-I-think-of-that moments came at a terrific meal at Monvinic in Barcelona.

Monvinic is not unlike many wine bars that we've been to before.  An amazing selection of wine, small plates designed to accompany the wine (there's a full dining room as well) and a knowledgeable staff.  But where Monvinic breaks from the crowd is the way it has embraced technology to enhance the diner's experience.

Monvionic boasts a very large wine cellar.  I've read anywhere from 3000 - 6000 bottles in various reviews.  Rather than present you with a small novel to help you choose a drop, Monvinic presents you with an iPad.  The iPad is linked to their wine-cellar database, allowing you to search based on varietal, region, year, price and other categories. All wines feature tasting notes which really helps in the selection process.  And if you find a wine you really like, there's an option on the iPad application to add a bottle to your bill and take it home with you at the end of the meal.  To be honest, we spent a lot of time just searching the database to see what was available.  Unsurprisingly the only bottle of BC wine was an ice wine from Mission Hill.  Seriously Spain, we have more than that!

But just when I thought I had experienced the latest in restaurant technology, I returned to Vancouver to discover that local restaurant Lift has started using iPads for their menus:


Hopefully diners are given "moist towelettes" to keep the screens clean.  

Friday, November 11, 2011

A Photo Mural in Wallpaper

One of the most popular posts on Useful Spaces was about a tile company in France that created photo murals in ceramic tile.  You simply send them your photo and the size of the tiles you want and voila!  Instant mosaic.

If you’ve ever wanted to do that with wallpaper, Germany’s wallunica may have the answer for you.  Simply visit their website ( and select from the hundreds of stock wallpapers available.  Or (as long as you promise not to re-visit the photo-mural fad on the 1970’s) you can upload your own photo or graphic design to wallunica and they’ll turn it into wall paper for you.  
Images should be 10 Megapixel (PDF, JPG, TIFF formats) and at least 190 dpi; easily within the range of most digital cameras and graphic design software available to the average home user.

In addition to the design, you can customize the size of the area covered;  so that tricky area underneath the staircase is no longer a problem.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Kitchen Nightmares - Zaragoza Edition

In my circle of contemporaries, European kitchen design is considered to be some of the best in the world.  The simple lines and clever use of space initiated by manufacturers like Siematic, Snaidero and others is slowly being adapted into kitchens in North America.  But in general, the designers I know still wish more of it was available over here.

However, on my recent trip to Spain, I came across a kitchen in an apartment we rented in Zaragoza that I wouldn't wish upon my worst enemy (you know, LEGO haters, MW/Hoodfan users, etc.).  At first glance, it looks pretty typical.  Space is usually a concern in European urban centres, and many of the kitchens I've experienced have been not much bigger than this one.  Many were smaller.  This one has even managed to fit in a washer/dryer just below the sink.

However, upon closer inspection we see that there has been a severe lack of detail applied to the installation of the cabinetry.  This is a close-up of the extractor fan above the cooktop.  It's one of the slim-line, slide-out variety ... very nice in a tiny kitchen that's open to the rest of the apartment.  Have a look at the way the valance has been installed beneath the upper cabinets.  Unless you plan on removing the valance, there's no way you're removing the extractor fan without destroying the cabinet.  That little ledge that extends beneath the extractor is also going to be a perfect place for grease to sit.  I looked.  It is.

Now this looks like a clever way to deal with people who are too lazy to dry their dishes ... like tourists who rent apartments.  The drying racks have been installed inside a standard wall cabinet that has had the bottom shelf replaced with a square frame.  Essentially the cabinet has no bottom in it to allow the glasses and plates to drip dry into the sink below.  Clever, right?  What this picture doesn't show is how the frame is made from vinyl-clad fibre board and how the water has caused much of the fibre board to swell.  In fairness, this is a really great idea ... it's just that the execution is poor.

In a similar vein to the rack above, I wanted to show how the countertops were addressed in this kitchen.  Stainless steel cove and edging is nothing new.  The kitchen in my house had it before I replaced it.  But like the photo above, this photo doesn't show the grime that has collected beneath the cove, and the way the countertop substrate has swollen because water has leaked in beneath the metal.  This application just seems cheap.

I've saved the best for last.  This is a 60cm wide cabinet with two doors.  The trouble is that the doors are 35cm wide each.  Now I'm no mathematician but it would seem to me that the doors are going to be too wide for that cabinet ... and low and behold they are!  I'd really like to have been in on the discussion that led to this being picked as an acceptable solution.

Installer:  The doors are too wide.  We need new doors.
Hotel:  Let's not be hasty.  Can we still install them?
Installer:  Yeah, but they're too big.  They'll overlap.
Hotel:  Overlap you say?  Then they'll be partially open?
Installer:  Yeah
Hotel:  Great!  Take back two handles.  We don't need them now!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Wood Your Cabinets Make You Happier?

These days we’re hearing a lot about “environmental design” and “healthy homes”. Formaldehydes in board materials, VOC’s in finishes and closer to home mould & mildew found in the walls of improperly built condominiums; all of these can have a physical impact on the inhabitants of a given space. Fortunately we have the ability to choose proper materials to prevent these situations.

But what about the emotional impact of our choice of materials? For example, do the materials used in a kitchen affect the inhabitants emotionally as well as physically? That was the question researchers at the University of British Columbia and FPInnovations set out to answer. In particular they were looking at how the presence of wood in one’s environment impacted their levels of stress.

119 people took part in the study that measured several physiological stress reactions when exposed to environments that contained wood, and those that did not. What they discovered was a significant decrease in the stress-related responses in the “wood environments.” The results of this study can be easily applied to environments like schools and hospitals, but home environments as well.

So when you’re planning your kitchen remodel, consider how stressful you may feel while cooking or cleaning. Perhaps a wood kitchen is the answer.

Source:  "More Wood = Less Stress" by David Fell.  Canadian Woodworking Magazine March/April 2011

Friday, November 4, 2011

Food Fridays: We're in the Alps Baby!

It's not that Spain wasn't wonderful, because it was.  It's not that the food wasn't amazing in Spain, because it was.  It's not that Spain had anything wrong with it, because it didn't.

But truth be told, the part of our trip we were really looking forward too was the 3 days at the end that we would be spending with our friends Lucy & Loic.  For you see, Lucy & Loic had a cabin they promised to take us to, and that cabin was in The Alps.

I can't quite explain the appeal The Alps held for us.  We live in British Columbia, so we have plenty of mountains within minutes of our home.  And we have a family cabin in the mountains about two and a half hours from our home as well, so it's not like their cabin was anything unique.  But there was something definitely magical about the prospect of spending a couple days in the French Alps.

Perhaps we thought a Savoyard version of Maria would greet us with a large Toblerone and a rousing version of Escaladez Chaque Montagne. I still don't know.  But once we were picked up at the Lyon airport and whisked eastward towards the Haute Savoie, we felt like we were home, even though we'd never actually been in this part of France.  Even during a stop for groceries en route, the familiar manner in which the French present their produce, and the ridiculous variety of cheese and charcuterie in even the most simple 矇picerie reminded us why we love this country so much.

Lucy & Loic's cabin is a small three-floored building nestled into a little village in the hills of the Haute Savoie.  It's mountainous in the way that makes you feel like you're climbing a set of stairs whenever you're walking.  Where our mountains are filled with pines, spruce and firs, the hills in this part of France were primarily deciduous:  lots of apple, chestnut and walnut trees, which we made full use of during our stay.  The building itself is somewhere between 200 and 300 years old (lots of local debate on that), and the surrounding village had other buildings at least that old.

Lucy & I met through the food website eGullet, and have continued our friendship through the Internet and our respective blogs. (Lucy's Kitchen Notebook is by far the superior of the two).  Janine & I spent a few days with them three years ago and in that time Lucy & Loic have purchased the "Country House", adopted an amazing little boy and have decided to open a cooking school in Lyon (more on that later).  

Our first evening was spent catching up and consuming raclette and blonde ale in unnatural quantities.  Raclette is so engrained in this part of the world that there's actually cheese ... several cheeses ... called raclette.  And where I was expecting boiled potatoes and pickles, the Savoyard version of raclette apparently uses cured meats ... like bacon!  While shopping I slipped in a small bottle of gherkins ... you really do need the acidity to cut through all that rich cheese.  Conversation flowed as botles of local Chignin were opened, and our sweet tooth was sated by a tarte aux pommes made from apples we had picked with their son earlier in the day.

There's something about mountain air that makes me sleep the sleep of a 200 pound man-child.  Getting up the next day was rough ... and had nothing to do with the beer and wine.  After a typically French breakfast of bread, preserves and coffee we donned our outdoor gear and hiking boots and went for a wander.  Actually it was more like a harvest.  Along the way we gathered wild mushrooms, chestnuts and walnuts, all while taking in the majestic scenery.

The best way I can describe the geography is to compare it to British Columbia.  The mountains are of similar height and ruggedness, but it's as if it's all been squished together.  The villages are nestled in the valleys, and the mountains begin right outside one's back door, not a couple miles away like in B.C.  Then there's the ancient construction that's littered throughout the hills.  In B.C. any abandoned mountain huts slowly rot and return to the soil from whence they came; they're all made of wood.  In the Alps, the majority of construction is of stone.  Stone huts and walls, constructed by settlers hundreds of years ago, remain, reminding passers-by that they are far from the first people to set foot on this hillside.

Our harvest from the walk was whisked into the kitchen and returned to us in the form of lunch.  The walnuts were shelled and roasted and served with a pinch of salt and enjoyed with a fine Spanish sherry; chestnuts and the squash (from the garden) was transformed into a beautiful fall soup; the mushrooms were cleaned and roasted and served as an appetizer on crostini (with some very fine olive oil) and as the main course pizza with some Brie.  Another walk to work off all this food was in order!

It's no accident that our time in the Haute Savoie was so food centric.  As mentioned I met Lucy through a food based web-site, so much of what we have in common is food.  So it's was also of little surprise when Lucy & Loic purchased a boulangerie in the Croix Rousse neighbourhood of Lyon, and announced they were opening a cooking school to compliment the classes and tours Lucy already offered. I've been a participant in those tours, so I know she'll be a huge success with the new endeavour.

When we returned to Lyon we were able to see the boulangerie for ourselves.  There's a lot left to be done.  But the work that has been completed so far looks amazing.  Like the stone buildings in the Haute Savoie, the construction techniques used in Lyon (and Europe for that matter) differ greatly from what we use in B.C.  As a designer and someone who has done more than his fair share of remodels, I felt somewhat over my head as I was looking at stone wall after stone wall.  I know what to do with a timber framed home, but what do you do when you want to cut a hole in a stone wall?  And once you've figured that out, what do you do when there's a block of granite where you want to cut?  You defer to your contractor, and the contractor they're using is more than capable.

I'll be sure to keep you posted when Lucy's school opens, or you can follow her blog and read for yourself. Who knows, maybe we'll return ourselves for a class or two.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Help Me Help You: The 80/20 Rule

You’ve likely heard of the “80:20 rule”, also known as the Pareto principle. For example: 80% of your business comes from 20% of your customers, 80% of the crime coming from 20% of the criminals … and in a remodelling project 80% of the time being spent on 20% of the project.

An exaggeration? Perhaps. But after several weeks of having your kitchen in a state of disarray, contractors walking through your garden and your designer insisting you decide on just one more colour, the time it takes to take care of those little tasks needed to complete your remodel can certainly feel like an eternity.

I understand. You’re at your wit’s end. Why can’t the electrician just install the last cover plate? Why can’t the cabinet installer just come and adjust the doors below the sink? And why on earth is it so difficult to get all cabinet packaging out of your back yard?

The fact is as your designer I am dealing with the same issues … several times over. Yes, from your point of view you are my one and only client. But you’re not. I typically have several clients on the go at the same time. This doesn’t mean that you should have to suffer because I’m busy. What it does mean however is that I have to prioritize and decide how best to allocate the resources I have to the jobs that need doing.

So while that last 20% of your project is of paramount importance to you (and to me too!) the fact is those doors you need adjusted below your sink are just not as important as the cabinet installation that’s taking place on one of my other projects. Notice I didn’t say it wasn't important, just that it wasn't as important. My installer will get to your doors, I promise … just not today.

Here’s a list of some of the best ways I’ve found to help my clients deal with that last 20%.
  1. Keep a list. I communicate with my clients on a regular basis during a project and I ask them to keep a list of things they see that need doing as the project progresses. A lot of that 20% can be addressed while the trades are there the first time. If they can’t then I know they need doing, and they won’t be forgotten the second time.
  2. Do it yourself. I'm not trying to be rude when I say that. But if there’s a box of cover plates on site, and you know one end of a screwdriver from another, have at it! I’m not asking you to hook up your own dishwasher, but I'm pretty sure you can handle taking the cardboard cabinet packaging to the recycling depot.
  3. Ask your designer. Like I said, I'm on the job site frequently. Not only can I adjust cabinet doors, I can show you how to do it for yourself. Imagine how impressed your family will be if they ever need adjusting again!
  4. Be patient. I have your final To-Do list (also known as a “Punch List”) and am working to schedule everything to be done in a quick and efficient manner. So rather than have 3 trades show up on 3 different days, it’s best to have them all show up on a single day. That day might not be today. If you know you have a deadline (e.g. visitors coming to stay) let me know as soon as possible (the beginning of the job for example) and I’ll do my best to accommodate.

This post originally appeared on the FloForm blog on September 15th of 2011.  
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