Digging for Change

Mid-Century Modern style is often characterized by an integration with nature. Most Mid-Century architecture has an open floor plan, with ample windows and the intention of bringing the outdoors in. Our house possess the 'integration with nature' characteristic with its indoor planters that are actually built into the floor. When we purchased the house, the planter by the front entrance was overflowing with sea shells and the planter by the fireplace contained what looked like pieces of purple quartz. Neither area was quite providing the look we were going for, so we decided to start over.
I am not known for my green thumb, so at first the thought of indoor planters terrified me. However, after a trip to a local garden center, Graf Growers, my fears were lessened. We purchased Jade for the front entrance and Snake Plant (also known and Mother in Law's Tongue) for the planter beside the fireplace. Both of these plants require very little watering and are extremely difficult to kill. Perfect!
My mom came down to help me with the overbearing task of actually planting these plants in the dirt inside my house. In both areas, we dug up the existing dirt until we hit concrete and then laid down a layer of gravel. Next we filled the areas with fresh soil and planted the plants in the new soil. Lastly we filled in the remainder of the space with the existing dirt, in order to make the planters level with the floor.
We still have plans to renovate the entry way, but for now, the Jade and the new lighting help to make it a more welcoming entrance to the house.
Before (notice the sea shell pit):
Current State:


Design Challenge

I previously posted that there was a 'secret design detail about the bar top that I was not telling.' Well, I am ready to tell now. During the planning stages of the kitchen, we were challenged with the level change on the main floor of the house. There is a step-up to the right, into the kitchen and another step-up into the back half of the floor that houses the bar area and the dining room. The level changes are perpendicular to each other and where they meet, there is a a small landing. We wanted to extend the cabinets and bar onto the landing, even though it was not easily accessible, due to the level changes on either side of it. To make matters more complicated, there is a column in that area as well that we had to design around. In order to fill in what was once an akward dead space, we designed bookcases to fill in the void.
I loved the idea of creating functional storage while adding an area of visual appeal, but I still was not comfortable with the height change from the top of the lower bookcase (counter height) to the top of the tall bookcase (bar height). Thanks to kitchen inspiration from Eurocucina, I found the solution: a waterfall edge. We selected Glacier White Corian as the material for the bar. Thankfully, this material provides a seamless look across the entire installed surface. Even though they brought it in as three pieces, it looked like one piece when they left! The stark white waterfall edge runs down the side of the taller bookcase, providing a contrast with the shorter bookcase and visually dividing the pieces.
Problem solved! We just have to install the floor in the kitchen and finish the wall under the bar, and the space will be complete.


Ready for Entertaining

Greetings from zombie renovation land. Matt and I knew when we signed up for the 203K Renovation Loan we were signing up for months of very intense work. But I do not think either of us actually realized how many hours and how much effort we were about to invest into this project. The past couple of weeks at the house have felt a lot like the set of a reality renovation show: a short amount of time to finish a project and wow the viewers. That is pretty much how it has worked as we had a wedding shower at the house last weekend. It became our deadline for completing the entire main floor of the house. Even though the last bit of painting was completed only a couple hours before the start of the party, and artwork was hung about twenty minutes before the first guest arrived, we pulled it off!
There have been quite a few developments since the staining of the cabinets from the last post. In fact, the kitchen is now completely finished, with the exception of installing clear maple hardwood floors. After the cabinets were completed, Matt installed concrete counter tops and they turned out great! They did require a lot of careful planning and labor-intensive work, but we were able to achieve the modern look we were going for and save a lot of money. When making your own concrete counter tops, the only costs incurred are materials, renting or purchasing equipment, and a good how-to book. Depending on the size of the kitchen, you are looking at spending $500-$1,000 to make them yourself, versus $4,000-$6,000 to have them professionally made. One thing to remember with concrete counter tops is they are NOT going to be perfect. It is cement; the imperfections give it character and an industrial feel.
One thing that we have learned in designing our kitchen is that the details go a long way. One detail that has made a great impact in the end is the hardware. If you recall, we purchased our oven from IKEA. We really liked the handle that came with it and they actually sold them at the store, so we purchased all of our handles for the kitchen to match the oven handle. We were even able to achieve the same look with the dishwasher by purchasing one that allows you to attach a wooden panel to the front, so it blends in with your cabinet doors. The only challenge with matching all the hardware was with the refrigerator. We knew that we would never be able to find a refrigerator with the exact same handles. Solution to the problem: we bought a refrigerator with hidden pulls in the side of the doors. Now that everything is installed, it is very rewarding to see the consistency in the hardware.
Another detail Matt and I spent much time talking through is the balance between the color white, and our dark stain. From the early planning stages, we said that we wanted to use a combination of finishes with the cabinets. Achieving the perfect balance was tricky, as the darkly stained cabinets seemed to overpower the white doors of the pantry and cabinet above the refrigerator. Solution to the problem: white shelves. There are three areas with open shelving in the kitchen. To complement the white doors, we painted the floating shelves white. We also selected white finishes for the bar and backsplash. This really helped tie the design together.
Another element that contributes to the continuity of the space is brushed metal. Since we selected a stainless refrigerator, this became another element that we wanted to accent in the space. Solution: Lighting. We selected brushed metal track lighting for over the bar area from Whitmer's lighting. We also painted an existing light fixture silver and installed it above the kitchen window.
You may be thinking, "White, wood, metal, concrete--where is the color?" It is in the accents. Furniture, artwork, textiles and accessories are the perfect way to add color to a neutral palette.
The greatest reward for all our hard work was seeing our friends enjoy our newly renovated home last weekend. As a designer, of course I strive to create a beautiful space that people will admire. However, good design ultimately results in a space that is not only aesthetically pleasing, but functional and comfortable as well.