Thursday, April 17, 2014


It seems kitchens are our inroad to the design market in Madison. Madisonians seem to understand the value of kitchen renovation and updating. Kitchen renovation is the number one bang for your buck toward increased value in the resale market for homes. They may not want to redo their living rooms or see the benefit of using an interior designer to help them out, but when it comes to the kitchen the task seems daunting enough to give us a whirl.
We met our kitchen client through an intern we worked with for a short time in Madison. Ji was an interior design graduate from Madison College who was well connected with the Madison Asian community. She introduced us to this kitchen client and worked with us on the initial design.
Here's how it works. Normal procedure for us is to present two to three layouts for a design project. We formulate the layouts based on a couple of input meetings with the client to understand their needs and aesthetic. After we've presented our initial designs we offer up to two revisions that reflect changes the client sees after they have had time to digest the original schemes. Once that approval has happened we move into construction drawings that are then bid out to contractors. Once a contractor has been selected the renovation begins.
It sometimes requires that we fudge a little on the design phase, always in the client's favor. This particular design took so many twists and turns we kinda lost count of the number of permutations we went through before we actually got to the final layout, but in the end the client was happy and so were we.
From the floor up the clients wanted a sleek, clean, contemporary look that incorporated the feel of the geographic area, the Northern plains, tied into their own cultural background.
The original kitchen centered around a cumbersome octagonal island that stood in the way of the refrigerator, cooking area and sink. To accomplish any meal preparation you had to walk around the island in circles like "Hands on a Hard Body" retrieving perishables from the frig, then do your disposal and prep by the sink and then move over to cooking at the stove. It was not very efficient. Fortunately, they had cut all the corners off the island so that as you swung around you at least weren't going to gouge yourself on a ninety-degree spike.
The look of the kitchen dated back to seventies suburbia with the arched cabinetry panels, the under-scaled moldings and casings, the mismatched appliances, and the linoleum floor all pointing toward a very needed facelift.
We transformed the island from the bulky octagon into a more functional L-shape and then we moved the refrigerator to the sink wall so all the cooking, prep and cleanup could take place on one side of the island.
To increase prep space for when there was more than one cook in the kitchen we added a pullout workspace on the opposite side of the island.
We added a pull out storage shelf for their very heavy Kitchenaid mixer. This way they didn't have to tote that heavy piece of cooking equipment out from underneath a cabinet and struggle to try and get it up on a counter.
One design element the client requested from our very first input session was a more simplified and contemporary door and drawer profile. We decided on a rail and stile profile that fit their prairie connection and gave the kitchen the contemporary upgrade they wanted. We also chose a light finish on both the cabinets and wood floor to brighten up the space Then added a tumbled travertine backsplash with a glass tile border.
One of elements I had to fight for was the window treatment. The original kitchen had metal vertical blinds over the sliding glass door leading to the deck. I wanted to add drapery to soften the area. They were concerned with that much fabric in the kitchen area thinking it would get grease stained and dirty even though the sliding door was located by the breakfast/dining area and nowhere near the cooking area. We went back and forth over this. I finally won out and once installed they came around.
The breakfast area had been their informal dining area with a colonial table and chairs. It was separated from the open plan family area by a railing and a faux soffit that ran across the ceiling.
We convinced them to move the dividing line between the family room and breakfast area a bit further into the family room giving the breakfast area a little more space. We then changed out the puny railing with a cabinet unit that helped better define the area and also added more storage for both the adjoining areas. We added a built-in bench and a custom table that could seat six when needed but still work well when it was only the two of them sitting down for dinner.
Another big concern of the clients was the entry from the garage into the kitchen. In Wisconsin you have to deal with a mix of snowy, muddy or wet weather a good deal of the time. They wanted a mudroom. They also wanted to open up the entry that had seemed tight and uninviting.
We were able to knock out the existing closet and convert it into a nook with a bench, drawers for shoe storage and hooks for winter coats and hats. We did all of this without having to carve into the laundry room on the opposite side. This gave the allusion of a much broader space.
The sink area gave us one of our biggest problems. We wanted a larger window so we could get more light into the kitchen but there were some mechanical issues on the outside we had to work around.
We finally figured out a way to accomplish this, the window went in and we add a pair of sconces.
Lighting is always an issue in any interior design. We used a zone system of recessed task lighting all on dimmers along with decorative fixtures, stained glass lightboxes and undercounter lighting. All this added to the bright airy feeling of the kitchen.
We went over budget but not by an excessive amount and as is frequently the case we took longer than expected. I always tell a client that doing a renovation is much like birthing a child. When you are going through the process the agony can seem unbearable but once the job is done the pain is forgotten and the result is, in this case, a beautiful kitchen.

Lunchroom-Buddies, NYC, 1931
Walker Evans, photographer
Represented by The Halsted Gallery, Bloomfield Hills, MI

Thursday, April 10, 2014


The place you lay your head should have luxurious comfort, it needs to envelop you in a net of safety, and at its best it will possess the serenity of a Zen garden. Of course that's my opinion. For some it needs lots of red velvet, mirrors on the ceiling, a heart shaped Jacuzzi and if your Kim Kardashian a video camera aimed at the bed.
In the continuing saga of the Madison suburban cottage tour it's time to tour our version of a sleeping paradise that is much closer to my first version of a place to lay your head then to the second. There was very little we wanted to keep in the original room. After all it had been my parents bedroom for over twenty-five years. Our mission was to take it as far away from what it had been as we possibly could. The thought of sleeping with my partner while the scent of my parents still lingered in the room was not part of the serenity I was looking for.
After having stripped the room of any stick of furniture belonging to my mother we started with ripping out the decades old carpeting that had turned a dull grey several dirty shades from its original white. Once removed, we added new wood floors that ran the entire house.
The next things we tackled were the closets. As my mom became less able to navigate the stairs while she was still living in the house we decided it best to contain all her activity to one floor. Our way of helping was to convert her walk-in closet to a laundry room. She no longer had to negotiate the stairs to do one of the chores she could still manage. Now that we are occupying the house we decided a laundry in the bedroom with its constant tumbling wasn't what we wanted to lull us to sleep so we reconverted the walk-in back into a closet and immediately filled with a wardrobe no sane men would admit to.
And as if that wasn't enough we refitted the two additional closets in the room to more hanger space housing sweaters, pants and starched shirts. We still haven't found an adequate solution for shoe storage.
Once the closet interiors had been set it was time to direct our attention to upgrading all the hollow core doors and skimpy moldings into three panel  solid doors, new door and window casings and six-inch baseboards.
The wainscot had been added when we redid the room for my mom after my dad died in the mid-eighties. It had been painted a pale blue with a rag paint treatment on the upper half of the wall. We decided to keep the wainscot but the color and the paint treatment had to go. We picked a neutral grey painting the upper wall flat and the wainscot with a high gloss finish.
We were almost ready to decorate. The one remaining eyesore was the ceiling fan, a cheap white thing with four lights with those scalloped flared edge milk-glass shades. We chose a more contemporary metal version that still fit with our cottage approach and eliminated the overhead lighting. We opted for pools of light from table lamps.
The first thing to go down was the rug we purchased online from Home Decorators. It's braided eco-wool in a warm grey.
Firm believers in the feng shui of a room we decided to place the bed, a queen-size version bought from Crate & Barrel along with the headboard, against the window wall opposite the entrance to the bedroom. One way to dress-up a bed is with pillows, lots of pillows. We tend toward the bigger the better. They're a lot easier to throw off at night and much less complicated to replace in the morning. One of my many superstitions is making the bed in the morning. Bed not made - day not good. I've never tracked the efficacy of this theory but I do know it gets the bed made and the room looking clean every single day.
Since we're furniture designers it's no coincidence that a lot of our furniture makes it into our own home. The bedside tables are from the Lee line. The table between the closets is the one way my mother has managed to sneak back into the room. It's the Florence table, named after my mother that still holds her to the room. I really hadn't thought about that until now. It's getting a little creepy
The dresser is one of Rick's favorite designs from our Shaver/Melahn Collection. It's the nine-drawer Emmy version in chocolate walnut still available through Black Wolf Designs for anyone interested. All the drawers are beveled so that no end pieces are visible. It's a classic.
The window treatments are result of a trip to Menard's and a walk through the hardware aisles where I found what I think are gate latches. We suspended them from the ceiling, ran electrical conduit as curtain rods and hung the drapes from there.
This was a true DIY. The shades are from Home Depot.
Since the third window was behind the dresser and since we hadn't purchased an additional set of drapes we had Carla at Creative Energy Designs make a complimentary roman shade for the window. Take a long look at those mitered corners. Carla's a master at window treatments.
Opposite the bed is a metal bookcase we've schlepped from apartment to apartment. I can no longer remember where we purchased it.

It's the repository for all our photo albums and framed pictures of family and friends.
Rick is a bed person. He's a lot like Hugh Hefner. If given the option he'd conduct his entire life from a sitting position on the bed propped up in front of a plethora of pillows, and wrapped in a comfy quilt. He's found a home in this room, a nest of comfort, security and serenity. Mission accomplished

Poconos Resort, 1971
Life Magazine
Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images

Friday, April 4, 2014


It was through the thoughtfulness of Beth Dempsey at Images and Details that we became connected with the Vision Council, a member driven global organization, promoting the vision industry through consumer outreach, education, advocacy and the overseeing of one of the largest vision events in North America, Vision Expo East.
It has traditionally been held at the Jacob Javits Convention Center in New York City at the end of March/beginning of April. What we do is create the press booth for the Vision Council. They call their event and the booth: Eyecessorize. The purpose of the booth is to provide a mini-look into the trends of the show providing a Cliff Notes look at the retail half of the show.
The set-up of the booth began on the Tuesday before the opening of the event. We take a small crew and begin constructing the space once the Javits union guys have come in and laid our electric and carpeting.
Hacking IKEA would be very proud of the way we've been able to use their Expedit series bookcases to form the enclosure of our space. Using several different configurations of the Expedit line and then creating our own caps, connectors and bonnets we have designed a series of towers linked by poles supporting wooden panels and linen drapes to form our perimeter.
We added a grouping of metal and Saarinen knock-off tables to fill out the room and then topped them with display stands the crew built to compliment the wood of the perimeter.
After that it was a matter of adding flowers to complete the space and give it some color and life.
The booth is only available to the press and then only really used for the first couple of hours of the first day of the event. In addition to trends presentation there is usually a hook involved to lure the press in at the onset of the show.
This year the hook was a book signing by Bobbi Brown connected to the introduction of her new line of eyewear. After that the booth remains open to straggling members of the press to either view the trends displays or come and sit at the provided tables and get a load off their feet.
Bobbi then moved on to one of the larger booths were her crew gave cosmetic makeovers to retailers making hefty purchases of her eyewear.
The show is huge and walking the entire show is time consuming as well as fatiguing. When we began doing this show I had no idea of the enormity of the luxury eyewear industry. It rivals the fashion industry and nowhere is that more evident than at Vision Expo East.
There are massive installations costing in the millions of dollars to build and install.
There are runway shows, bands playing, and bars set up where champagne is poured gratis in settings rivaling the chicest New York hot spots.
You can make a video, win a scooter, or meet a celebrity.
My daughter and a couple of her friends from Wisconsin were visiting for their Spring Break. It happened that one of the celebrity photo ops was with Green Bay Packer defensive linebacker, Clay Matthews. I snuck the girls in line for a signed picture and a photo with the very gracious hunk.
Our booth, by comparison to previous years, had been downsized to half its previous square footage and relegated to the back of the Javits floor. We were so far back and squeezed in and over-shadowed by some of the big boys you needed a search map and a hikers fully stocked backpack to find us. Still we managed to garner compliments on the appearance of our booth.
All this stays for the three days of the show and then either goes back into our crates and out to our Catskill storage unit until next year or ends up dumped in the trash or stolen by the Javits cleanup crew. It is a little like clockwork for us at this point but as long as the Vision Council wants us to continue we are more than happy to oblige.

Edith Head, costume designer, Hollywood
Photographer, unknown