WARNING: This is a long post. Thank you, in advance, if you make it to the end. 🙂
“Arrival is such a definite thing; it is hard to live up to it.” –Peter Mayne, A Year in Marrakesh.
Kai turned one at the end of November which means we made it to the other side of a year, for the most part unscathed considering our lives turned upside down by their pant legs, shaken until their pockets fell out; our house is now sprinkled with “charming” children’s toys, the de rigueur decor of new parents, we go to bed a full two hours earlier than pre-parenthood, and our social lives, as a result, are but a distant memory. By now Kai usually sleeps through the night which means we are fairly well-rested with only the occasional sleepy day after a hard night–although, look closely, and we’re still a little foggy in the eyes as life now seems a constant study in, “And what is in store for today?” But mostly, we are fine, better than fine–ecstatic even–because we have Kai.
Last New Year’s Eve. Kai crashed out at 10:00 pm so we followed suit and never saw midnight.
I told JB, having a baby is like inviting someone you have never met to live with you for eighteen years. First it’s just you and your partner. You establish a routine, you find your groove. Someone is assigned taker-outer of the trash; the other person does dishes; sometimes one person is pregnant so the other person does both duties. 🙂 Then you bring a stranger (your new baby) home and, unlike most roommates, this one will take rather than contribute to the household income. He’ll eat a lot and then fart and burp like no one else is in the room. He will come with a whole lot of paraphernalia and require frequent baths as though we’re not in a severe drought and dictate when, and if, we sleep. You can only hope he’ll grow up to have similar interests and taste as you, laugh at your jokes, make some of his own, and, eventually register as a Democrat. The rest we just have to leave up to nature and nurture and cross our fingers that when eighteen rolls around, he will leave the nest (and head to college), but call and visit often.
Or, as a client and friend said, “Having a baby is like dropping a bomb on a marriage. Having two babies is like dropping two bombs.” (It’s kinda making us want to stick to having just one, but you never know.)
The morning after Kai turned one, I said to JB, “It’s so much nicer waking up to a one-year old than a one-day old.” Mostly because when you wake, it will likely be after you had six, eight–maybe more–consecutive hours of sleep. And sleep is a marvelous thing. A thing so great that you never knew you loved, treasured, and so desperately needed in order to speak or think in anything other than an unintelligible mumble of jumble–until it was gone. I remember watching people on commercials during the early days (Kai didn’t let us focus on actual shows for a very long time, even now we only process about a third of what’s on the screen, the rest obscured by the noises and interruptions of our dear pre-toddler) and the actors would snuggle into their Sleep Number Beds or rest soundly because they took NyQuil and could finally stop sneezing and fall asleep and I’d think, “Oh lucky you. You bastard. You don’t know how good you’ve got it heading to bed like you don’t even appreciate it. Man I’d love to appreciate it for you.” Thoughts were like that. Weird and disjointed, often centered around, and due-to-the-lack-of, the precious commodity that was in low supply and high demand: at least five consecutive hours (the minimum it takes, they say, to avoid clinical sleep deprivation) of, blessed, sleep.
Another noteworthy thing that happens when your baby grows older is you get to switch from counting in weeks like you do when pregnant or with a newborn, to months which is nice since any time computation is involved (“How many months is fifteen weeks? How pregnant is that person? How old is that baby? How old is my baby?”) my head hurts–especially when under the influence of clinical sleep deprivation. And so began the great recounting of what we were doing at this time last year.
Oh it is so much better now than say Kai’s third day on the planet. That third day, but his first day home, we returned to our very new-feeling house that we had remodeled 3/4 of and just moved back into the weekend before I popped out (or rather, “labored out”) a baby. Everything was in place, devoid of dust and it all looked so pretty, if a bit foreign in its newness; it was still a surprise to walk into a freshly decorated room, “Oh, what is this? How nice!” I remember thinking what a double-whammy of excitement it was: moving back into our “new” house with a new baby. Our house had changed, and bringing a baby over its threshold, so had life as we knew it.
We had placed the antique bassinet, which would serve as Kai’s bed until he was old enough to transfer to the crib in his nursery, in our master bedroom. The bassinet was a gift from a close friend and design mentor, outfitted with a skirt of ivory-colored linen, draped with an antique lace receiving blanket and accessorized with a vintage teddy bear with moveable arms and legs. I’d styled the items just-so and parked the bassinet on an angle so everything looked magazine-ready–or at least Instagram-worthy. We had just come home from the hospital and JB was on a Trader Joe’s run stocking up on prefab meals. I sat on our bed nursing Kai while talking on the phone with another new mom. I chatted as Kai contentedly nursed and thought, “This is not so hard!” When he began to look a little sleepy, I got off the phone and arranged him in his new bassinet. Brimming with pride over the picturesque scene and the ease with which I was apparently navigating the learning curve of this motherhood thing, I snapped a photo of Kai looking very much like a catalog baby and texted it to JB along with, “He’s sleeping!”–the subtext being, “We got this!” Moments later, Kai erupted in a howl that lasted and lasted. And lasted. Except for the moments when he was eating, or very briefly sleeping (ten minutes here or there), there was no respite.
By 4 am, I desperately wanted to call my mom and ask her what to do but realized she shouldn’t have to suffer just because we were. She had done her duty as a parent, now it was our turn to figure it out. Kai screamed if we set him in the bassinet and walked more than a couple of steps away so the beatific vision of him sleeping there was short-lived (although the bassinet did serve another purpose as a very mobile changing table). Instead JB pulled the back cushions off the sofas to make a pillow fortress so Kai and I could sleep on one sofa (JB on the other) and in case, God forbid, Kai slipped during the night, the drop would only be a few inches and the landing would be cushioned. We “slept” like that, JB continually checking on us from his sofa, and me waking up to make sure that Kai was still safely tucked next to me–and, more importantly, still breathing! Those first few nights were the scariest where the fear of smothering was constant. I’d wake up every couple of hours so tired, but so relieved Kai was still alive!
Our real estate agent had said the first three months of having a baby feels like three years and now I understood. The lactation consultant told us that the parents who were the most pleased with themselves were those of five-month-olds so I held out for that milestone and was happy to discover that by four months it became, if not easy, than easier. Then actually fun. Kai smiled and laughed and seemed to recognize who we were and maybe even like us.
But before that, when Kai was six weeks old, I took a walk with the same new mom friend I’d called on Kai’s first day home. Her second son was two months older than Kai and when I expressed how difficult I was finding being a new parent (lack of sleep, lack of free time, lack of recognizing your former life in your new childcare-filled one where you, as the mom, have the starring role of childcare provider), she chided, “Oh you are going to miss this stage and want another soon!” I stared down at Kai who was looking very serious, grimacing even, but otherwise being perfectly well behaved. And thought, “Really?”
I realized some of my favorite moments were when I was either walking Kai in a stroller or driving with him in the car because I could go at the same pace as I had in my PK (Pre Kai) life, so I was feeling the thrill of power-walking like a non-mom, but I knew as soon as we were home, we’d be back to the strict regimen of nursing/burping/changing/repeat in between bouts of crying. We weren’t quite to the fun, giving back (smiles, giggles, dancing together) stage and I thought, “What exactly am I going to miss about this?” And I still wonder.
I have never felt so dragged down and unhealthy as after having a baby. For a while I was obsessed that I might not live to see Kai grow up to be a man because I felt so unusually achy and mortal (feeling back to normal now, thankfully). I was in awe of all parents. “You did this? You survived this? Your kid(s) survived this?” I felt like something was wrong with me because even though he was small and snugly and cute, it didn’t seem like such a good trade-off for giving up sleeping and getting any work done. Heck, if all I wanted was something warm and little to wrap in a blanket, I would have been satisfied raising my Chiweenie whom I can leave unattended for hours and is fully potty trained.
I think this means I am someone who the Baby stage was a little lost on. I definitely prefer the baby/toddler period to the baby/infant period which is probably for the best since, in retrospect, the infant stage lasted all of a nanosecond (even though if you had asked me back then, I would’ve said time was standing still and I was in a sleepless purgatory) so I figure it’s a good thing I’m super keen on the kid stage since we have years more of that to come whereas the baby part was but a blip on the ol’ childhood trajectory.
I think it was a friend who wisely said, “Being a parent is the best worst job.” Or maybe I said it—I can’t remember; former sleep deprivation has wiped away parts of my memory. I haven’t watched children since I was a child and babysitting other people’s children for money so, at times, it has been hard to change gears from doing my design work to essentially babysitting. (Funny story: One day when JB told a coworker he had to hurry home because I had to be somewhere and he had to babysit Kai, the coworker, also a father, said, “When it’s your own kid, it’s not called ‘babysitting’, it’s called ‘parenting’.” Ahem.) I have female friends who took the first year of their child’s life off from work so they could exclusively watch their kid. I think it is wonderful that they report back, “I love staying home! We make cookies and dance around and go to the park.” In contrast, I see myself enjoying that for the first four hours and then sinking into a cavernous pit of depression.
Don’t worry, I didn’t/won’t go all Brooke Shields (sorry, Brooke); however, I freely admit I didn’t find the transition to parenting to be as seamless as I had hoped. It wasn’t until I realized I needed to hire someone to come in so I could keep up with my work and have some balance in my life which had suddenly shifted to all childcare all the time, that the clouds lifted. Otherwise, a storm was probably imminent.
My rationale for hiring babysitters so I could get some work done, as first told to JB: “I love Kai more than anything, but imagine something else lovable such as ice cream. We’ve all know people who loved ice cream and then got a summer job working in an ice cream store where they could eat as much as they wanted and the next thing you know they hated ice cream. This is why I need to hire babysitters so I can still work. Too much of even a great thing is a bad thing and I want to still love ice cream*.”
*Kai is Haagen Dazs’s Rum Raisin, my all-time favorite flavor of ice cream, in this analogy.
Okay, more truth serum. Sometimes I feel guilty that I enjoy when Kai is napping because that means I enjoy time away from him. Then I remind myself of my ice cream analogy and realize that it’s similar to the sage words of that country lyric, “How can I miss you if you won’t go away?” If you know another mom who feels like this, or you yourself feel like this, I think it’s important that you know you are not alone and it is okay to want to get things done. That doesn’t make us bad moms, it makes us complex people who like to get a lot done. Plus, that little break can make you come back refreshed, and ready to do things like make cookies, dance around the house, and go to the park. 🙂
I’m not sure why I felt so stressed out and in a giant hurry for about the first ten months, but it was like there was a giant ticking clock in my ear (not my biological clock this time, but the “alarm” of baby Kai waking from a nap with a shrill cry which is how he would awaken, 9 times out of 10). I’d be so grateful for the moments that I could move around with my arms free, at my naturally accelerated speed, that I’d speed up even more. I’d race around going back and forth between work stuff and cleaning and work stuff again. If I was calling a client, I’d be thinking about all the dishes that were still in the sink. But if I was cleaning the counters, I’d be thinking about the client I hadn’t emailed back. Always a sense of needing to do more, faster. Of course, not everyone gets to work at home, so I’d count my blessings, but I noticed I was often having to remind myself how lucky I was, which was kind of telling unto itself and told me it was time to have someone watch Kai during the hours I needed to focus on work and the counters and dirty dishes could wait.
Trip to Home Depot. Kai “telling us” how it is.
When I see other new parents with babies, I think, “Ah, that looks so quaint. Romantic even. What a cute and cozy family.” I visited my niece-in-law when her twins were a few weeks old and they mostly slept and made occasional gurgling noises. I thought, “Well, that looks quite easy!” (Note: I know it is NOT. I since found out that while the twins did sleep through the day, they did not do much sleeping at night. So, sometimes what looks so easy is “smoke and mirrors” which actually applies to many aspects of life.) So why, why, why, did I find it hard with only one sweet baby?
Perhaps it’s the game of Perfection. And I don’t mean metaphorically; it’s an actual game. I had to look up the name because I had forgotten it, but it’s a game I had growing up where you have to fit plastic pieces into their plastic slots while a timer loudly ticks and if you don’t finish in time, the buzzer sounds and all your work is undone as the pieces fly into the air and scatter. Having a baby is a lot like this. I’d hear a loud imaginary buzzer (in reality: Kai screaming when he awoke) that announced: “Put your work down and walk away. Your time is up!” Being a mom you learn to be so fast, so efficient, go as quickly as you can until the baby goes pop (cries). After a while I could feel the stress like a physical toxic goo, running from my shoulders down into my arms and hands. I had to learn stop and breathe and think, “So I may not finish. Oh well.”
When Kai was ten-months-old, we took a trip to Hawaii. It was his first time on a plane and he did very well, but was extremely fidgety if we stayed seated and only happy if I stood up and bounced him. As a result, I spent much of the flight standing and swaying and bouncing baby Kai at the back of the plane by the bathroom. At one point a woman stood in line with her five-year-old daughter and told me, “It doesn’t get any easier. I thought it would, but it doesn’t. The challenges just change as they get older.” Hmm. That was probably the last thing I needed to hear. I was already a little nervous about how this vacation-with-child was going to play out and while I smiled and thanked her, I thought, “Thanks for the parental buzzkill, lady.” Personally, I like to think that it does get easier because it already has. I get that the issues will morph, but that also means that we get to leave some of the stages that aren’t so pleasant (diaper changes, the freakiness of watching your child learn to walk and not being able to stop every fall, sucking the snot out of your baby’s nose) behind. So there!
I know it gets easier because even the crying isn’t as hard to hear as it once was. I often wonder if that is in part why having a newborn, at least your first newborn, seemed like such an endurance test. It only makes sense that instinctively crying makes us tense up and go out of our minds because crying is cause for alarm: someone (your precious, vulnerable, helpless baby) is in need and needs YOU to fix it. Once you learn a cry can mean, “I want another chip and I want it NOW!” you learn every cry is not an occasion to jump…or freak out.
However, JB does not seem to be bothered by the cries as much as I am. This must be something built in: the mom gene? To me, the cries are like nails on a chalkboard or any other metaphor for extremely hard to hear and verging on a form of torture. For JB, I think it’s just background noise. For me, the sound is almost physically painful.
For precisely that reason, I wanted to enact a firm “You wake him, you watch him” policy, but, alas, I am the owner of the mammary glands and therefore the great soother. At least I was. Without warning, Kai went from being an A-plus nurser to going on a nursing strike the night of the election (perhaps he could sense my stress). Our pediatrician said he had never heard of a baby stopping so suddenly, but to consider myself lucky since we were only a couple of weeks from the one-year mark anyway and this meant I’d get to avoid having an eighteen-month-old trying to lift my shirt in public.
Here is how it went down: The first time, I thought, “How unusual. You are always such a good nurser,” or something to that effect. It was only the next day, when each attempt was met with a funny “Pffbt” laugh from Kai, a look like, “You have got to be kidding me!” and him trying to scramble off my lap in the opposite direction of my chest, that I knew something was up. So I moved on, grateful for breast pumps. Sappy commercials would make me cry, JB accidentally putting a beloved dessert plate with a gold rim in the microwave where the gold burned off made me yell more than I should have and for the next few days I was probably very hard to live with as I rode the hormonal wave of weepy to tantrum to back to before my body was responsible for someone’s sustenance. It did suck that I didn’t know the last time was the last time so with no fanfare, or gradual weaning to prevent my chest from filling up with what felt like rocks, my magical powers of being able to instantly soothe Kai in general, and soothe him back to sleep, in particular, were gone. My reign as a super hero was over. Darn it, I’m like a normal person again, but I think that gives JB a feeling of equal parental footing (he can now soothe as well as I can) so that’s good. 🙂
I do actually have another latent super power. Even when Kai is sleeping in the next room, with his door closed, the heater blowing, the dishwasher creating its soothing white noise, if he makes the tiniest noise, the most muffled peep is magnified in my eardrum like a large conch shell blowing to say, “Wake up, mom. You’re on!” Funny how what to me is a blaring cry for help, fails to wake JB up and he lies beside me, breathing softly, contentedly a sleeping dad.
One of the best parts about having a baby has been the Christmas-morning feeling of “Oh my gosh, you’re finally here!” I wonder if/when it will wear off. I’m pretty sure it isn’t the first thing my mom thinks when she wakes up, although I have been meaning to ask her, “Do you wake up and the first thing you think of is how lucky you are that I’m alive?” As close as we are, I’m guessing the answer is a definitive, “No.”
At times when I feel like I will never get anything done or do it when I want to or for as long as I want, it will suddenly dawn on me that JB’s mom and my mom are not having to worry about when we are hungry or tired or need to go to the bathroom and that they (for the most part) do as they please, which means this is just a stage. I figure I better get that concept soon so I can enjoy this as a transitory period, not a sentence, so when Kai is a tween and wipes our kisses off and wants us to drop him off a block from the school or the skate park and rolls his eyes behind our backs (Kai, please don’t turn into “that” kid), that I will think we sucked everything out of this stage like it was a bone and we got down to the marrow and that we were really present, enjoying it as much as possible. So when my selfish self surfaces and I get frustrated that my time is no longer my own and when I fear that all the one-way conversations with Kai may make my mind turn to mush, or at least make it 50% more likely that I might start talking to myself in public, and, during the other times, when it is just plain lonely, I try to remember that, just like the breastfeeding, when it suddenly stops, I very likely will be startled into saying, “Wait, slow down! Can we just freeze time?”
We are in a super cute stage now. There are the bobbing dance moves (his and ours) any time music comes on–even when I “sing” (in quotes because it’s not that musical) and his trick of holding things in his mouth hands-free (cute things like his rubber ducky, his sippy cup, and less cute things like his dirty socks) while making a noise that says, “Look, Ma! No hands!” There’s what I call “the ET finger” where he points at everything he wants and says, “Doh” like he’s Homer Simpson. The sort of screechy “pterodactyl speak” has turned into a heart-warming “Minion babble” although Kai seems to think the word for almost everything (besides “Mamamama” for me and “Dah” for JB) is, strangely enough, “Dog”. And the other day he held the remote control to his ear like it was a phone and said, “Ello,” like he was Oliver Twist and the parental, “Aww!” was probably audible even next door.
The other day, I started to tell a pregnant acquaintance about how hard the early days were and I saw her face begin to fall so I quickly swerved the story from drama to comedy and made sure to give it a happy ending. She didn’t need to hear me complain. She’ll have her own sleepless nights. Like the woman on the plane, I didn’t want to be her buzzkill.
At ten months my mind seemed to reawaken and it felt like most of the cobwebs cleared out. Prior to that, thoughts would wriggle away like slippery fish before I could catch them. Free time was non-existent so reflection was out of reach. Even writing in Kai’s baby book seemed almost impossible. Now when I look at it, I notice my handwriting was very near illegible in the early months as I raced through getting the words down. As time went on, my penmanship became almost comically clearer. So maybe it was just this sense of not having the time, and cognizance, to process the biggest (and greatest) thing that has ever happened to us that made it hard to “go with the flow” as much as I wanted to. I wanted to be a Superstar Mom, a mom who was loving every minute of it. At least we weren’t in Syria (my go to aphorism for cheer)–or worse. We were blessed so what was I complaining about? I guess there was still an “elephant on our foot” even if the elephant was darn cute and didn’t even weigh ten pounds yet.
I remember when Kai was one week old, I went to the weekly hospital weigh-in where a lactation nurse would make sure you were feeding your baby correctly. One I liked in particular said she would watch the new moms pour in the door, stunned with the “Thousand-yard stare”. She used phrases like “shell-shocked” and being “still in the trenches” to describe new motherhood. I think this says it all. There’s a sense of having been to war. We have come back to civilian life, but we’re different now. I am still fascinated by this parenthood thing and can’t entirely grasp that we are actually living it. I have spent most of my life as a non-parent so it’s rather radical to suddenly be one forevermore. The closest thing I can compare it to is we opened the treasure box, the white light poured out, and we saw what was inside. We are forever changed because we saw something special and now it is time for us to raise someone special. And for that I am eternally, blissfully grateful.
If you made it this far, thank you. Stay tuned for the next blog post as we will be back to our regular programing of all things to do with design.
Lastly, this week we lost a great talent, the actress, and amazing author, Carrie Fisher. From one “over-sharer” (she used that term to describe her writing) to another, if they read blogs in heaven, this one’s for you. 🙂
You’ve heard of sisal. You’ve heard of seagrass. So what’s the difference between the two?
People often use these terms interchangeably–and even more frequently mispronounce “sisal”. (Say “sigh-zhel” quickly and with a slight slur and you’ve got it right.) The confusion is understandable as the two do have quite a bit in common. Both are natural, renewable fibers used to create rugs and wall-to-wall flooring. They are somewhat similar in appearance with their woven texture and natural hues and look strikingly rich–although each generally costs less than most nylon carpets and certainly less than wool. But perhaps their greatest asset is their stylistic versatility. Sisal and seagrass are idea candidates for nearly any design direction from chic to shabby, modern to traditional.
However, as someone who has lived with both, I can tell you these two are not the same, nor do they wear the same. They’re not even made from the same plant! And that’s just the beginning of their differences. Here are the rest, including pros and cons.
Memorize this: this is sisal.
Agave Sisalana: Sisal fibers are extracted from the crushed leaves of the agave plant. (Nope, not the one used to make tequila.) The telltale look of sisal flooring is tight, neatly woven rows that are natural in color; however the absorbent fibers can also be dyed and/or woven into patterns such as a chevron pattern. These same fibers are used to make rope and scratching posts for cats which gives you an idea of how soft it’s going to be: not very. So maybe not ideal for still-crawling children, but the problem isn’t lack-of-softness as much as it is sisal’s sensitivity to stains.
You spill, you stain: Sisal and seagrass both start out as beauties, but, unlike seagrass, sisal is so absorbent that it can soon turn beastly with blemishes. If you spill wine on sisal, you have two options: learn to live with the stain or throw the flooring out. If you think the third option should be clean with water or carpet cleaner, think again. Most cleansers will discolor the sisal, and water, as odd as it sounds, may stain sisal, leaving a watermark behind. The one way to “fix” a watermark is to wet the entire surface which is not, of course, a great option for wall-to-wall installation (as moisture can be trapped below the flooring leading to mold, mildew and/or subfloor damage). For rugs, make sure the rug has an arid, sunny spot to dry or a mold/mildew problem may trump any stain issue you were originally trying to ameliorate.
The splendor of seagrass: Like sisal, seagrass also comes in a chevron pattern, but its classic and most common look is a basket weave (although the spacing and thickness of the weave will vary). Unlike the crushed fibers that comprise sisal, seagrass is a marsh-growing weed and no stranger to water. During production, the slick skin of the reed is kept intact making it somewhat impervious to stains. Seagrass is also inherently static-free and therefore dust and dirt repellent. A clean, damp cloth can be used to blot away most spills if you catch them right away. Note: I have used 5 parts water to one part bleach to remove stains of the potty-training-a-dog-variety. 🙂
Memorize this: this is seagrass in its most common, classic form.
Seagrass woven into a chevron pattern.
Soak it up: Seagrass’s resistance to moisture makes it equally resistant to dye. This is why you will almost always see it in its natural state which is slightly green when first unrolled; in a week or so, after interior exposure to light and air, it will dry and turn a shade of wheat. Note: When sisal or seagrass are insalled wall-to-wall, they can be treated as a hard surface with rugs thrown atop them; however, seagrass, more than sisal, needs to breathe. Any areas you cover with a rug will stay green longer. You will also want to avoid placing plastic mats, like the ones used to protect a floor from rolling office chairs, on top of seagrsass, as you risk trapping moisture (again with that pesky potential for mold and mildew!).
Sticky situation: Both sisal and seagrass can be cut and bound into custom-sized rugs (have the edges bound or they will fray and unravel) or installed wall-to-wall. The edges can be bound in anything from plain cotton to a leather that has been tooled to resemble alligator skin. If you choose cotton, select something in the dust color family which will show dirty footprints less than darker shades–even if that sounds totally counter-intuitive! it is important to note that sisal and seagrass come with a latex backing that helps hold the rug together and provides a built-in cushion. If you have hardwood floors, do not lay your rug directly on them since over time the latex back may stick to the hardwood. Note: when selecting a rug pad, use one that is rated to go over hardwood floors as some of the perforated rug pads have been known to (gulp!) adhere to hardwood floors, as well.
Seagrass rug. Photo source: unknown.
Wall to wall: Unlike regular carpet, instead of resting atop a pad and being stretched in place with tackstrip, the latex backing of sisal oar seagrass is glued directly to the subfloor. If a spongier surface is desired–after all, this tightly woven floor is less cushy than regular carpet to begin with–a urethane pad can be added. This is a special pad is made specifically for use with natural fiber flooring. One side will be glued to the seagrass with a permanent adhesive and the other side, the one that will rest on your subfloor, must be glued with a pressure-sensitive adhesive. This step is crucial so if you ever decide to remove the pad and flooring you can, without pulling up part of your subfloor (whether wood or concrete) with it. A notable benefit of wall-to-wall sisal and seagrass is that they are so tightly woven that dirt is less likely to penetrate through to the backing, which means dirt and debris are kept mostly on the surface where they can easily be swept or vacuumed.
Shrinkage: The fact is, natural fibers shrink. While they are stored on a roll, moisture is retained, but once the material is unrolled and exposed to light and air, seagrass can shrink up to 3″ on each side. It is imperative that not only is shrinkage accounted for when your rooms are measured but that the installer who cuts your flooring waits at least 24 hours for the material to shrink to size before the final trimming and gluing commences. Any sooner and your carpet will gap at the walls!
Natural fiber rugs (likely sisal or jute). Source: Eric Olsen Design.
Hold it down!: Even well-installed sisal or seagrass needs something to keep its raw edges from fraying at the walls. If you already have baseboard, shoe molding can be installed to the base of the baseboard or, for a touch of whimsy, natural rope, 1/2″ or thicker, can be hot glued in place.
Seagrass runner in chevron pattern bound with light colored cotton binding tape. Photo source: Shine Your Light.
So-so seams: While most nylon carpet is 12′ wide, sisal and seagrass generally span 13′ 2″. This is a big plus as many bedrooms are 12′ or narrower, meaning no seams are necessary. (As with any woven or looped flooring, seams on sisal or seagrass are harder to hide than on thick, cut-pile carpet.) However, if your rooms are wide, don’t worry. A good installer can work wonders with side seams. Cross or T-seams are another story, though, and should be entirely avoided to prevent an obvious split or frayed seam later on.
What’s that smell?: Unlike sisal, seagrass has a strong, basket-like smell that becomes especially pungent in humid weather or when a house has been sealed up for a while. This is a natural smell that is pleasing to many, but make sure you can include yourself in that bunch before you have it installed in your home. Take a close whiff of the sample and then imagine that smell concentrated and hitting your nose like a wall when you open your front door after an extended vacation.
The finicky foot: Whether you choose sisal or seagrass, understand that both are highly textured and thus very bumpy underfoot. The texture falls under the “love it or hate it” category. Before purchasing either, walk on a sample barefoot. This is especially important if you don’t wear shoes at home. Some will find the nubby texture like a massage (interestingly, usually women); others may actually find it painful (men).
Personally, I love seagrass and I love sisal, but I love seagrass a bit more for its stain-resistant properties. It’s a great compromise between carpet and a hard surface flooring (such as wood or tile). I am fairly anti-carpet so whenever I can talk a client out of installing carpet in a bedroom or living room I feel I have done a public service (carpet holds dirt, dust mites, and is, in general, just very unhygienic), but when there isn’t enough money in the budget to replace carpet with a hard surface like wood, stone, or tile, seagrass is a great alternative as it is stain-resistant, natural, classic, and just so good to look at!
This post is an adaptation of my column, Design Intervention, and first appeared in the Santa Barbara News-Press.
I was all set to write a day-after-the-election post. It was going to begin something like this: “Phew!” And then things turned out…as they did…and I have been feeling quite the opposite of “phew!” But through the brow furrowing, stomach dropping, hand wringing and general sense of, “My God, What Have We Done?”* as President Obama cheerfully reminded us–perhaps a wee bit cheerier than our tear stained, swollen-eyed heads were ready to hear–yes, the sun did come up. And so we breathe. And focus. And try to stay calm–or peacefully protest; it’s your prerogative. 🙂
Okay, on to design. Who doesn’t love a good Before and After? I missed the After up until a few weeks ago because much of the installation happened while I was having a baby and taking care of said baby, but I was recently able to see the transformation in person.
And one more..
Ahh…So nice, right?
One detail that, unfortunately, isn’t visible in the Before photos is the ceiling which was formerly smooth. In order to give it some pizazz, the plan was to add tongue and groove boards. There was a bit of a debate about whether to go with the tight wainscotted look associated with country farmhouses (this house is a 1920s colonial-meets-Craftsman) which was already originally used in some areas of the house versus wider (think shiplap) boards. It was a funny moment when the contractor flipped the sample of the skinny version over and we realized if we installed the skinny stuff backwards, we’d get the much wider dimensions that I had visions of dancing in my head. With that visual literally in hand, (and a stack of photos I’d brought to illustrate how much BETTER the wider boards would look), the client was convinced and this beautiful ceiling was born. I now think 2/3 of America’s kitchens need this ceiling. It is that good.
We reserved the furniture foot for the sink area only, which added some mega charm.
It’s hard to see from the photo, but the porcelain tile has this watery gray glaze with tons of subtle crazing (crackles in the glaze) so it becomes even more interesting the closer you get.
In other news, here is a bathroom at a different home that looked like this when I first “met” it…
It’s quickly becoming the zen-like space the clients were after, starting with the shower. More photos to come after the installation is complete and it’s ready for its close-up.
On to another house that is getting the full gut-job (which always leads to some of the most exciting results). Walls were bumped out, footings poured; new windows in different sizes and locations than the previous windows were also installed. Here is the kitchen, looking rather naked.
A little less naked…
Getting dressed in its Limestone (color: Ash) backsplash along with Caesarstone quartz counters (color: Raven). “Jewelry” (hardware, appliances, sink, etc.) to come.
The double-sided fireplace was formerly raw brick on the kitchen side (as seen below) and clad in large 70s style stones on the other.
Kitchen-side view of the double-sided fireplace.
It has now been refreshed with stucco.
The hearth will be made of this very bold cement tile which the flooring installers were figuring out how to picture-frame with the new wood flooring when I took this shot, (dirty footprints, and all!).
Mantels have been chosen…
The master bath has been redesigned to be devoid of shower walls or even a shower curb. Instead there will be one 18″ wide glass fin that goes from floor to almost the ceiling to separate the shower from the rest of the room and the tile floor will gradually slope toward the drain to keep the water headed in that direction. In order to do this, we were limited to a 2″ x 2″ tile size so a white hex it is. A Japanese soaking tub will live in the corner.
All the components of the master bath (floor, walls, tub, toilet, sink, and counter) will be white except for the...dark blue…master vanity.
Master vanity color options. Winner on the right.
New board and batten siding replaced the former siding that had dimensions that just felt off (too bulky).
Sticking with the house “getting dressed” analogy, it now looks a bit like it’s wearing a pin-striped suit, in a handsome-man sort of way. We have since chosen the world’s best shade of exterior white (at least we think so after much agonizing) which definitely tones down the “pin stripes” (aka the battens).
My client mentioned wanting a red door in the very, very beginning and I immediately started showing him alternative colors because I didn’t see this house as having the traditional, done-so-many-times-before red door. But we worked our way back to the red family and finally found a winner with an orange-ish red which I Iove because it takes the drama of a red door and adds a kind of pop art spin. Is it too soon to suggest orange is the new red?
Here is Kai at 10-months-old helping me select a grout color for the backsplash.
He chose wisely!
PS, I had such a nice response to the How To Clean A Sheepskin Rug post (thank you, all!) that I have decided it is time to sift through my old Design Intervention newspaper columns and give them a new lease on life on my blog. For those of you who read them when they were first published, I hope you don’t mind seeing them again. And for those of you who have never read them, I think/hope they will teach you something new and since they will exist here on the blog, they will be easy to reference if/when you need to. Posting them is one of my goals for the New Year, so I figured if I wrote about it here, I might feel compelled to actually make it happen! I know the sun will come out if I do it or don’t, but we might as well all keep doing our best, right? Here’s to fighting the good fight and doing what we can!
Wishing you a peaceful and wonderful Thanksgiving! 🙂
Things change. Just the other day Oxford University Press announced Christopher Marlowe’s name will be cozying up next to Shakespeare’s as co-author of at least three plays in Henry VI. So after years of speculation and fine-tooth word-combing, we discover the Lone Bard wasn’t the sole scribe after all. Similarly, (if you are open to the word “similarly” being used very loosely), furniture made with galvanized metal and rivets and exposed bolts and parts that make it look like it hailed from an industrial center is not the hot commodity it once was. And, in the world of rugs, chevron rugs with all their zigs and zags, which used to seem so charmingly graphic, are now so “yesteryear”.
Sheepskin rugs are today’s underfoot darling with their no-color, all-texture simplicity–and what a texture! You will want to sink your face into the thick fluff and stroke it like you are petting the dear lamb it once was–yet they have been around so long (heck, my grandmother used to decorate with them!) they seem in without risk of ever being out.
And they are lovely.
Add one to a plain chair that is crying out for a little something more and not only have you increased the style quotient, but padding for the tushy (and/or utilized the auxiliary side benefit of camouflaging caning that was badly in need of repair 🙂 ).
Source: Pop Sugar.
Have a crying baby? That wail could mean, “My nursery is missing a sheepskin rug!” Incorporate one and suddenly there is the softest, cloud-like landing for your little one who is just learning to crawl or walk. (Note: Most baby books warn that while the fleecy fluffiness of a sheepskin rug may make a beautiful backdrop for an Anne Geddes-esque photo, DO NOT let your infant sleep on one as there is a risk of resulting suffocation.)
Source: Elle Decor.
Source: Elle Decor.
They seriously up the style ante.
Source: Elle Decor.
Design plan: remove two cushions from sofa. Place on floor. Drape a sheepskin rug on each. Done.
Source: Elle Decor.
They just look so amazing.
Source: Elle Decor.
Until they don’t.
Behold our sheepskin rug, purchased only two years ago, and in a very sullied state. (We have dogs. And apparently very dirty feet.)
Lackluster at best. Disgusting grimy-grossness at worst.
Source: Elle Decor.
While sheepskin rugs are fairly reasonably priced (you can find them at various sources such as Pottery Barn, Serena and Lily and Crate and Barrel; I found mine at Costco for $149), they are not so reasonably priced that you’ll want to replace one very often. So instead of casting mine off to Craigslist and buying a new one, I put two and two together: my hair always looks better when brushed. Let’s see if brushing will revive a sheepskin rug.
First, I shook it to remove loose dirt and debris. Because this was impulsive experiment, I used my actual hairbrush (which you can see–unless you avert your eyes, which I’d totally understand–has my actual hairs still in it!). I have since read that a wire-bristled pet brush is recommended and that certainly eliminates the questionable unhygienic practice of sharing a hairbrush with a surface that rests on the floor and is regularly walked upon. You may want to purchase said brush for this specific purpose because if you use the same brush you use for your dog or cat, you risk transferring dog or cat fur to your rug. (Interestingly, human hair which is much longer, does not present this problem.)
Settle in in front of the TV, turn on some music, or call your chattiest friend. When twenty minutes have passed, you will look down and ask yourself “Am I a magician because I just made magic happen?” The clumps and matted parts will be a thing of the past.
Source: Elle Decor.
My sheepskin could be salvaged with a simple brushing, but in cases where the sheepskin has been soiled by urine or vomit, or worse (I’m thinking about those nursery applications, here) I searched the internet and there were quite a few sites–and videos–that recommend hand-washing in the bathtub. The process is as follows:
Shake out the dirt.
Soak sheepskin in tub filled with COLD water (in case the all-caps were not screaming loudly enough, I’ll reiterate: if your sheepskin is Hillary Clinton, hot water is Donald Trump. As in “sworn enemies”.)
Agitate the rug by hand. Some sites recommend using sheepskin cleaner, others Ivory hand soap or Johnson and Johnson Baby Shampoo. But, contrary to what intuition–and the use of the word “wool” on the label–might lead you to believe, almost every tutorial I read warned against using Woolite. Hmm.
Rinse. Squeeze out the excess water without ringing or you may damage the hide and further matte the wool. Comb with a pet brush (although one site said to not brush while wet). Lay flat to dry or line-dry in enough sun without being in the direct sun. You want just the right amount of sun. (I think Goldilocks was weighing in on this one.)
It can take up to 7 days to dry which might make you want to use the dryer. If you do, some sites recommended using dryer balls or tennis balls to fluff the rug. All sites said use the air setting only–NO HEAT!
Once dry, it will still appear matted so you will need to call that friend, turn on the TV, or listen to NPR so you can hear more about Shakespeare being usurped as sole author, and brush until you can’t brush any more and then your rug will look new again. Ancillary upshot: your rug will not only be clean and smooth; your biceps will be bulging like you just lifted weights.
And, once, again, you’ll have a stylish rug that resembles this:
Source: Elle Decor.
And in the spirit of change, some wise words from Andy Warhol:
“They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.” –Andy Warhol
I love words (also known as being a “logophile” from the Greek “logos” meaning “speech”, but since this particular word calls to mind–for me, anyway–logos or strangely logs with little mushrooms on them, and hence log cabins and thus unshaven men in Pendelton attire and/or the word “loco”–which all seem so far removed from the intended meaning–I’ll stick with ‘I love words’).
Favorite words: “crepuscular” (of or relating to twilight); “avuncular” (uncle like); “unctuous” (excessively flattering); crapulous (drunk).
Most charming string of words I may never use for fear of social exile and/or severe eye rolling and subtle throat clearing: “a postprandial confabulation” (an after dinner chat).
But sometimes, when photos say so much, words aren’t necessary. The Before and Afters tell you everything. But just in case this is not one of those times, and you are someone who enjoys a little backstory, I’ll be here, narrating along–you know, in case words are your thing, too! (If not, you have my blessing to scroll at will. 🙂 )
Welcome to the Before of the Santa Barbara Women’s Imaging Center: Santa Barbara’s medical center for mammograms.
Left side Before.
I was asked to create a space that was modern, but still soft and serene. Actually, the first thing I was asked to do was to help pick a paint color for the areas that did not have wainscotting and new fabric to reupholster the existing furniture, but–as often happens on projects–one thing led to another and the next thing I knew, the space looked like this…
Which of course made for a design job that was worlds more interesting; we moved walls and doors, eliminated some soffits that made the ceiling feel far too low, removed an archway that wasn’t working with the modern look we were after, added a clerestory window to one wall to allow more natural light to stream into the waiting room, and moved the reception counter from the far right of the room to directly across from the entry door so it would be the first thing you would seen upon entering.
The former view when you first walked in.
Ta da! The redesigned view when you walk in.
It’s just the timing of this project was also very interesting because I knew I was pregnant, but it was too soon to share. But as more time went on, and it became time to share, my belly wasn’t just full of a growing fetus; it was overrun with butterflies. How does one announce, “I’m so happy you approved that flooring. It will add just the right amount of warmth while still tying in with the wall color. And did you know there’s a human kicking my ribs, from the inside, as we speak?”
It all felt a bit non-sequitur and I was so focused on the design that sometimes I myself forgot I was pregnant, so why remind (or announce it to) anybody? It was only when it got to the point where I was sure the baggy, ill-fitting tops I was wearing were making me look like I was really starting to let myself go and had perhaps shunned all sartorial sophistication, when the words came tumbling out: “I’m not just gaining weight, well, I am–but it’s because I’m going to have a baby!” Thankfully, everyone was extremely understanding and the only reaction appeared to be one of shared excitement.
Right side Before.
My goal was to design a space that not only looked good, but could help a potentially nervous patient who was about to get a mammogram feel good. I wanted the space to be as soothing and spa-like as possible–I know, high hopes for a medical office! 🙂
Right side Before.
My direct contact was very instrumental in the design process and a pleasure to work with. He and the doctors trusted my vision of custom tufted settees and white modern chairs in the waiting room and modern art throughout.
Right side view After.
Detail of right side After. Original diptych painting by Rebecca Claussen. If that painting were a locale, I’d book a trip. It looks so restful!
One of the “details” was a suggestion to replace images of brain and body scans that might induce a few shudders to something happier like…HGTV. During the project I was having many appointments at my OB/GYN’s office and I noticed they always had the TV tuned to HGTV and 1) patients (women, sometimes accompanied by male mates) actually watched the screen and 2) the content was so neutral (isn’t watching someone demolish a kitchen mindless fun for all?) that it felt very calming.
Left side After.
Left side After, up close.
Real greenery was added. What space would be complete without the “It” plant, the Fiddle Leaf Fig, right?
After. Original painting by Rebecca Claussen.
I am crazy for this painting by Rebecca Claussen. She is an artist out of LA and when I saw this piece I knew it would be perfect for the space. It is modern without being harsh or primary-colored modern. The use of light and blending and soft pastels just made me think, “Ahh, breathe,” which was really the gist of the entire design concept.
Dressing room Before.
I subscribe to the “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” design maxim and never encourage clients to get rid of something if I think it has good bones and we can work with it. That was the case with these chairs. While they weren’t as modern as we wanted for the reception room, they had good feminine lines for the dressing rooms and they were well made and just the right size.
Dressing room After.
So with some new fabric (it’s hard to see in the photo, but it’s a Kravet vinyl that is both wipe-able and looks like fancy ostrich skin) and the addition of nail heads, the chairs were completely revamped.
A Lyn Gianni print.
For the dressing rooms, I placed art from Lyn Gianni (hey, mom!). Each dressing room has a print that is similar to the one above, but with a different color combination to make each room have its own individual look.
Dressing rooms After.
Like so. I used Kravet fabric (Bansuri; color: Slate) for the dressing room drapes. I’m so into this fabric, I’d like to wrap my body in it and call it a dress. I really liked how it united the brownish/grey floors with the grey walls and added just enough pattern to hide potential marks from dirty fingers.
ADA dressing room After.
This is the ADA dressing room with a custom upholstered drop-down bench. That little metal and wood-topped side table on the right is actually from Target and is a great little dual-function piece that looks good and added some much-needed storage (the lid is removable).
I refreshed the exterior as much as I could without being able to change the paint color (the shot you see here is part of a two-story building and we were only redoing a portion of the building). We removed the awning, the sign to the left, the suite numerals and word “Suite” to the right which were black plastic, updated the door mat, changed the front door and door handle and added a new plant and bench (which wasn’t in place the day of the photo shoot, darn it!).
I enlisted my mom (Lyn Gianni) to design the new logo and it was used on everything from the signs to the pens and letterhead to the scrubs and dressing gowns. (Go, mom!)
New brushed aluminum suite numbers. So much better than black plastic!
Exterior sign After.
The sign looks even better in real life because each part of the brushed aluminum is laser-cut and projects out from the dark charcoal background so you have a level of depth that you, unfortunately, can’t quite get from the photo.
New interior sign.
The interior sign was also made using laser-cut brushed aluminum, but adhered to a frosted resin background.
I would be remiss if I didn’t shout TAKE NOTE OF THE CARVED STONE TILE ON THE FRONT OF THE RECEPTION DESK. Some have interpreted the pattern as waves, others as leaves. Each piece was very hefty which didn’t make for the easiest installation, but it is the first thing you see when you walk in the door and it is so stunning and worth it!
Counseling Room After.
Cabinet detail After.
One of my favorite details were these photo images we used as lenses for the fluorescent lights. Instead of looking up and seeing the typical rectangular light with a bumpy plastic covering, we used smooth photo lenses of images that you might see if you looked up in nature (blossoms, a canopy of trees, clouds) in each exam room to give the illusion of a skylight.
“Swimmers” print by Lyn Gianni.
This painting is giant and amazing and by the talented Ryan Wells. The more I look at it, the more I see. Right now I’m seeing a horse on the right. The wall behind it (despite the color in these photos) is a light grey, Benjamin Moore’s Gray Owl, which was the winner after I agonized over four other gray paint contenders (all by Benjamin Moore) that were so close in color someone actually asked, “Are those all the same color?” Gray can go gloomy very fast if you don’t cut it with a lot of white (i.e., on baseboard, doors and window casing), but this one didn’t need much white. It was that good and it stayed gray without going brown or green (again, despite the photo–you’ll have to trust me!) or blue.
Original painting by Ryan Wells.
Before all these beautiful finishes were added, there were months of demo and rebuilding and meetings and more meetings and as time went by so did my pregnancy and before I knew it, it was winter and I was having a baby. Thankfully since Kai’s birth coincided with the holidays, construction screeched to a halt which gave me a chance to catch up with myself and figure out this New Mom stuff.
Pairing samples of the flooring in the main areas with a fun tile selected for one of the bathrooms.
The week after Kai was born we needed to take him in for his first checkup which meant JB and I were forced to ditch our pajama attire for something more civilized, shower, comb our hair, and confront the outside world again. After the doctor’s visit, we felt like we were on such a roll and on a high from being out in the fresh air again, we decided to really push it and make a trip to CVS and Trader Joe’s. I ran into CVS (sans baby which, I have to say, was kind of a treat after a week of non-stop baby-holding), which completely tuckered me out and left me out of commission for the Trader Joe’s stop so Kai and I stayed in the car where I tried to ignore my throbbing pain and nurse a crying Kai into submission.
I remember reading an US magazine balanced on my leg, while balancing Kai on my lap, and checking my voicemail–a trifecta of modern mom tasks–ha ha! There was a message about a design decision that I can’t recall now, but at the time it seemed hugely important, and I thought, “If I can’t even go grocery shopping like a normal person, how am I going to pull this project off?”
I think it was stubbornness and an insane passion for what I do, but I somehow rallied and by the time Kai was five-weeks-old I had just enough sleep in me (four hours average per night, ugh!!!) to tuck my still-squishy self into a blazer and meet with the architects and get back to work. I attribute avoiding the dreaded postpartum depression to the magnitude of this project: there wasn’t time to be depressed between taking care of a newborn and selecting things like door styles and cabinet hardware and for that I feel eternally grateful!
Here is the flooring, in situ.
Bathroom tile floor in the second bathroom. (And some cute leopard ballet flats, ha ha 🙂 .)
Some feminine flourishes!
I find most design projects rewarding because I get to improve the spaces people live in and I believe beautiful surroundings can boost your mood. But the best part of this project is when I imagine the patients. I like to think the women are having a relaxing experience, that they are feeling calm and good and if that is the case, it makes me feel one simple word: joy.
When we first moved into our house almost three years ago, our circa 1958 dining room looked like this.
We replaced the existing sliding glass doors with wider, accordion-style doors from LaCANTINA which are essentially three panels of glass that are hinged together so you can either open one of the panels (one is designated for this purpose) as you would a regular swinging door, or push all the panels off to the side, leaving the entire opening free and clear–as opposed to a regular sliding glass door where one panel of glass slides and the other piece is always fixed in place. Boring explanation aside, the door is awesome and when it is fully ajar, suddenly the dining/living room feels that much bigger because the inside and outside read like one continuous space.
I believe our cat thinks it’s awesome, too.
For anyone who is thinking of installing these types of doors, I give a giant thumbs up, but a couple of things to note are if you can possibly keep your inside flooring material (e.g., wood; carpet; tile) in the same color family as any exterior flooring (e.g., wood; stone; concrete) the more seamless the effect is. In our case, we didn’t do this, because we kind of have this somewhat unintentional, but once recognized, appreciated and adhered to, theme of warm wood and concrete going everywhere, but if you HAD the option to stay in one color family, it would make the space seem that much larger.
The LaCANTINA door comes with three options of threshold heights and we found the trades (the salesman and installer and the company that poured our concrete patio) were adamant that we install a tall threshold to prevent rain from entering the interior, but that would have killed the smooth transition we were after. We were temporarily torn about what to do (we certainly didn’t want to welcome water into the house, but we didn’t want to relinquish our goal of creating a patio that was level with the interior floor it abutted). In the end, the solution was to go with the ADA threshold which isn’t completely flush, but close to it, and have the concrete crew cut into the stucco of our exterior walls and lay a waterproof membrane at the new height of the patio (the patio had to be extra thick in order to be flush with the interior floors); grade the patio so water only had one direction to flow–away from the house!–and to install a few French drains at any point we figured water would want to collect. Granted, rain in California is now as rare as unicorns, but we did get a few heavy rains post installation this past winter, and I’m happy to report nary a drop worked its way inside. Should you do this? The answer is consult with your builder or contractor as the slope of your individual property must be factored in and trapping moisture must always be avoided, but, if possible, it’s certainly ideal to avoid two different heights for both aesthetic reasons and to avoid tripping.
We painted the walls Benjamin Moore’s Simply White (in an eggshell sheen), replaced the existing chandelier with pendant lights from RH and added taller (5″ inch tall) baseboard. Side note: tall baseboard is one of those little details that is actually huge! Most builder-grade homes have diminutive baseboard, 3 1/2″ or shorter, as well as slim door and window casing, while higher-end homes and homes that were built prior to the 1950s, tend to have more generous trim. It’s true that many fancier and older homes have 9′ or taller ceilings, whereas builder-grade homes, and–darn it!–our, home has 8′ ceilings, so scale is at play, but there is something about good (and tall) trim that just adds a feeling of solid craftsmanship and tells the eye, “You are looking at quality.” So, whenever possible, I suggest replacing baseboard with something that is at least 4 1/4″ and, yes it depends on the style of your home, but nine times out of ten, I’d suggest avoiding flourishes like ogee detail and stick with the good ol’ clean lines of a straight or eased-edge Craftsman style baseboard.
Ogee detail at top of the baseboard
Plain and simple.
Fast forward to the point where our new floors are installed, we have our fireplace stuccoed to look like concrete (you can read all about that here) and we removed that weird pole that dropped down from the ceiling and died into the top of the pony wall. That left the next step: removing the wood cap from the pony wall.
Once the cap was removed, we were left with something like this…
We capped the pony wall with two pieces of Douglas Fir joined with construction adhesive (and clamped together as tightly as possible while the adhesive dried). We did a test run below.
Because this is only a temporary fix until we can spring for truly gutting and remodeling the kitchen, we attached the stained and finished Douglas Fir top by screwing it into the pony wall from the top down. If you were going to do this somewhat permanently, I’d suggest counter-sinking said screws and covering them with dowels that can be stained to match. We’re calling our exposed screws good enough and declaring them “Industrial Chic”–or the term I’m trying to coin: “Industic”.
Okay, but “The table, the table!” you might be saying. Okay, getting there. We wanted a realllly long (96″) table following the principle that bigger furniture often makes a space look bigger than if you try to stick multiple tiny pieces in a room and your eye just reads the space as so small that it can only accommodate Lilliputian-sized stuff.
So we wanted to go big and what we wanted was this Parson’s table from RH.
RH’s Arles Rectangular Table in Grey Walnut.
But at $3,295, for the 96″ x 39″ x 30″ table, the price was steep, especially when I read the fine print that disclosed it only has veneer of Walnut wood. (Humph!)
We also liked this one.
RH’s Roebling Live-Edge Walnut Table
But at $14,995 for a 96″ x 44″ x 30″ table this was not only a wee bit wider than we wanted, but beyond a wee bit exorbitant and since we had already eaten up nearly the entire budget on five RH Rizzo chairs, we needed a new plan.
RH’s Rizzo chairs
So the plan was hatched to BUILD OUR OWN, from solid planks of wood! It all started with the customizable welded stainless steel legs that JB found from SteelImpression on Etsy. I cannot say enough good things about this company. Not only did the price seem reasonable ($220, including shipping, for the pair), but they had them finished and en route two days after we placed our order. We realized if we made the tabletop with the roughest grade of Redwood Home Depot carried, the boards were only $38 x 4 = $152 plus $220 legs, we were back on budget!
The following picture shows Douglas Fir boards since we started with DF boards which we glued together only to discover they didn’t stay that way (the fourth board, even after a second round of adhesive, refused to stay attached), which is how the pony wall cap project was born (waste not, want not). I am including this photo to show the important first step of using construction adhesive …
And biscuit joints! The combination of the two was the only way we could get four 96″ long boards to work as a team.
I cannot stress enough how crucial it is to keep the boards clamped together while drying.
After the four boards were properly joined, JB sanded them starting with 60 grit then working his way to 100, 150 then 120 grit. We used Minwax stain (color: Provincial) and sealed the top and bottom (to prevent moisture from entering and warping the boards) with Varathane clear water-based Polyurethane in Satin. On that note, if you have room inside (i.e., your garage), let the wood dry there and not outside where it will risk warping due to the elements (a misty morning or dewy evening is enough to cause some warping and create moisture blemishes on your finish).
Next was the bench which was much easier since it was just one piece of wood that needed to be cut and sanded.
We cut the bench to 74″ long to work with the 96″ long table.
Again with the staining and sealing. Once dry, we flipped it over and screwed in the custom legs. Also from SteelImpressions on Etsy.
Here is the bench where we first positioned it, against the wall, so the RH chairs could be more on display.
Once I reversed the chairs and bench for a photo shoot, I realized the dining room appeared much more open and airy–and the good lines of the bench were no longer hidden–when the bench was placed on the open side of table.
There you have it.
Very easy. Fairly inexpensive, certainly loads less than an RH table, and not a veneer, but solid, sandable wood.
And one more time…the Before (in preparation for hardwood floors and from the looks of that stag painting project in the background, Tannenbaum Time).
Wood for table: Four pieces of 2″ x 12” x 96″ rough-hewn Redwood planks from Home Depot at $38 each. We trimmed each board to 10″ wide so with four boards the final width of the table is 40″; the length is 96″ and with the legs it is 30″ tall.
Legs for table: $220, Steel Impressions from Etsy. 29″ tall x 36″ wide–total width, including the opening between the legs.
Wood for bench: One piece of rough-hewn Redwood 2″ x 12″ x 96″ cut to 74″ long, $38.
Legs for bench: $160, Steel Impressions from Etsy. 17″ tall x 10″ wide–total width, including the opening between the legs.
Stain: Minwax in color Provincial $8 per quart
Finish: Varathane Polyurethane, Satin, water-based $17 per quart
This is a strange time isn’t it? First the speeches by the RNC, then the DNC. I find myself longing for anything that will make me LMAO (Laugh My Ass Off), or at least smile. Between the finger pointing and the tongue wagging and headlines that could inspire anything from sighing deeply to curling up into the fetal position and questioning the humanity of humans, I can’t help thinking of that bumper sticker: “If you aren’t pissed off, you aren’t paying attention!”
And sometimes that makes me question what I do for a living. I mean who cares what color is being painted on the walls when there is tundra melting in Siberia and releasing anthrax, when the Zika virus has made its way to Florida, and we found out Bernie never stood a chance. I mean, really.
Before: A few days after we moved in. Note the beige walls, beige carpet (that is, for some reason, reading pink in this photo) and strange pole attaching the pony wall to the ceiling.
Suddenly it hit me that I have based my career upon designing, ordering, placing, adjusting, and “Let’s try moving it once more. Okay, perfect!” THINGS. That my job as an interior designer revolves around MATERIAL OBJECTS!
Through the seasons, I would decorate the table to keep all eyes distracted from that beige carpet and those beige walls. I thought the chandelier was neat in its own way, but all the hanging crystal and faux candles were not working with the modern direction we were taking our house, and that table, from JB’s bachelor life, while a decent Pottery Barn specimen, wasn’t quite hitting the mark, either.
I felt as shallow as an ice cube tray.
This table setting says: “Notice me and not the carpet. Thank you.”
Progress is made! Carpet comes up, the concrete subfloor is exposed and that weird pole atop the pony wall is still hanging out and doing whatever it is it thought it was supposed to be doing (turns out not much; spoiler alert: we remove it!).
I probably spend 80% of my waking hours thinking and talking about design–even when I’m supposed to be thinking about and discussing other things like how JB’s day at work went.
Hardwood floors go in. The modern painting that has been in my family since I was a baby goes up, but that table and those rush seats and Parsons chairs are still not giving the modern vibe we’re going for.
Which seems really ludicrous once you know the tundra in Siberia is melting.
The pole from the pony wall is removed–hurray! For a brief moment, we thought we’d hold off on installing the hardwood floors in the kitchen until we redo the kitchen, then we realized that would mean we’d be seeing that scratched and stained kitchen vinyl for a verrrry long time; hence you’ll see hardwood goes into the kitchen in the next photo. JB created the temporary wood counter on the left with leftover wood flooring to add some much-needed counter space. Note the dome light which we remove the dome of by the next shot.
So I thought and thought and might have even dragged JB into a drawn-out discussion about the meaning of life and why watching the RNC made me feel dispirited whereas watching the DNC unearthed some deeply buried patriotism and that when Michelle Obama said “When they go low, we go high” it resonated so deeply I said, “Yes, yes, yes! Let’s all do that!” to both the TV screen and Baby Kai who looked at me with great bewilderment and I landed on this: so I might not be able to fix the tundra issue, I don’t know how to stop the spread of Zika and I’ve already let Bernie down by declaring, “I’m with Her”, but good design matters, too.
As you can see, much still needs to be done in the kitchen (like a full gut-job and remodel), but, until that day arrives, at least the dining room chandelier is replaced by RH globe pendants (aka: progress!).
Because I know how a poorly designed and/or decorated space can make a mood plummet. 🙁
Here she is: the After featuring a pony-wall-turned-bar which we created by simply removing the existing narrow wood cap on the pony wall and replacing it with two pieces of joined (via construction adhesive and biscuit joints) wood, the new modern dining table that JB designed and built and new RH dining chairs.
And how a beautiful one just seems to lift the spirits of everyone who enters it…
And it gave me permission to remember how important it is to be good and create good.
That it’s okay for pretty things to lift our spirits
The modern bench that JB built from very rustic Redwood!
in these times when we need it most.
We removed the existing sliding door and replaced it with an accordion-folding La Cantina Door that makes the indoor space now flow into the outdoor space.
In our house that meant redoing the dining room with new hardwood flooring, adding pendant lighting and chairs from Restoration Hardware and…a new dining table and bench that JB built out of the roughest, cheapest Redwood Home Depot has to offer and turned it into a thing of modern beauty. He’s good like that.
What centerpiece would be complete without some quirky Ostrich eggs, eh?
Our fireplace has been reincarnated from plain white brick to grey stucco. But before you start imagining a grainy, textured surface–nope, not that kind of stucco. We went with a smooth finish in a color that gives the effect of polished concrete. But more on that later.
In its former life, when we first moved in, it looked like this…
I can’t get enough of this picture. It just sums up the bare essentials so well: chairs, dog bed, a television and, of course, a Fiddle Leaf Fig in a decorative basket.
We wasted no time attaching blue painter’s tape to the wall in an attempt to figure out how to flank both sides with shelving to house my expansive collection of this and that (I call them “objects d’art”; JB says “stuff”; potato; potato) as well as the TV which had no other place to go as our house has an open-concept dining room/living room, but, darn it, no other rooms that weren’t already claimed as bedrooms or office that could serve as a den or family room. In other words, this room had to play double duty as formal living room and casual TV room.
It was a tricky design dilemma because the white brick of the fireplace only projected 2″ out from the wall which meant any adjacent shelves or built-ins (12″ standard depth for bookshelves; base cabinet depth, if custom and not in a kitchen, is a bit more negotiable, but almost all depths just looked too deep) would jut out so far in comparison, they’d only accentuate the existing flatness of the fireplace.
During our first year and a half in our house, I’d hang various paintings to make the fireplace as interesting as possible, but when we had visitors, it was always one of the first spots that I’d point to and explain it needed to be deeper and better but the “how” part hadn’t quite come to me.
This painting is one of my favorite garage sale finds. I bought it about ten years ago from the woman who painted it who was having a garage sale. She was probably in her late 70s and only asking $5 for the painting and I think I might have embarrassed her when I told her how much I loved it and asked if she would sign it (she signed the back with her pink ballpoint pen). It now hangs in my bathroom and it makes me smile every time I look at the brassy expression and akimbo stance of the subject that are so different from the unassuming manner of the actual artist.
Then I saw this photo of a fireplace and thought, “That’s it!”
And, heck, I already owned a “Liberace-called-and-he-wants-his-mirror-back” mirror that I was VERY into. We were almost there! White stucco it would be.
Hair-on-hide just barely visible underneath the chair, but it’s there along with my trusty Fiddle Leaf Fig from Day One. I could just see the inspiration of that other photo coming to life.
But, just to be sure that white stucco would look better than grey, I painted a wash of grey paint on the bricks. And the fireplace immediately felt like it jumped forward a foot! Suddenly it felt much too massive for the room. Just more confirmation that grey was not the way to go.
We added 4″ strips of cardboard to help imagine what bringing the fireplace out 4″ (for a total of 6″ depth) would look like. I was going around measuring the depth of fireplaces at clients’ homes and 8″ was a very common depth but that felt far too deep at our house.
While we were in the process of mocking things up, we experimented with placing a couple of boards of wood on the bottom to see what closing the bottom of the fireplace–turning the opening from a square that dropped to the floor, to a raised rectangle–would look like. We were instantly sold. Not only did the rectangle give the more modern look we were after, but suddenly the raised opening became more of a focal point…and we had plans for that opening. Oh, just you wait!
First the fireplace was clad in an armor of non-combustible (but of course!) metal, to bring it out to a total depth of 6″.
I found it kind of interesting like that–in a modern art sort of way.
And then the scratch coat went on and we both realized we preferred the grey. Lesson? Painted grey bricks look nothing like smooth grey stucco.
Just to make things super complicated, I picked two different colors of pigment from two different stucco companies to make a custom color. What began as a somewhat simple directive of “2/3 Coral Gables from La Habra and 1/3 Titanium from Merlex” devolved into me suggesting, “How about 1/8 cup more Coral Gables? Hmm. A little more. More. Okay, there.” In the end, I’m not exactly sure what the ratio of pigment to pigment was, but we ended up with the color I was after.
Which wasn’t this…
Oh Lordy, the final coat was dark when it first went on. We sat back kind of stunned until we realized it was lightening so quickly we could actually witness the process. When it landed on the color I wanted, I plead with it to stop and what do you know, it listened! I’d say it reached its final color by Day 3, in case you ever find yourself in this situation.
The color became the one you see in the closeup below.
Note: Mottling is important! I probably drove the stucco installers crazy by repeatedly confirming that they would use a metal trowel and burnish the surface for “a lot of mottling” which I would then try to pantomime with my hands, mid air, but I didn’t need to worry. We used Baez Plastering Expression Inc. and they did SUCH a good job!
The bottom of the firebox needed to be raised once we created the bottom exterior lip so we enlisted Tubular George to raise the gas line, pour concrete to raise the bottom, paint the walls with flat black BBQ paint to give a fresh look and…
add a raised gas tray and concrete FireBalls (the 4″ size in color Natural) on a bed of sand and FireGlitter (in color Platinum) in the surrounding area.
The installation of balls.
So we went from this…
This shot was taken eight months ago, the weekend before I had Baby Kai, when JB had just finished painting the formerly BAND-AID-colored walls Benjamin Moore’s Simply White and the floors were being installed (we chose California Classic’s Mediterranean Collection French Oak in the color Aegean) and I was still avoiding the house as it off-gassed except to come inspect the work and say things like, “Gosh, we still need to do something about that fireplace!”
Now that the fireplace is such a feature and 6″ deep, I’m working on figuring out the base cabinets to hold the media components (cable box, etc.). The TV will be mounted to the wall so it won’t project farther than the fireplace, as it does now. If the space calls for a shelf or two above, it will get them, but right now I’m thinking I prefer a cleaner, shelf-less look. And, don’t worry, we realize installing a fireplace full of tempered glass, sand, and concrete balls is not exactly kid-friendly. When Kai is more mobile, the fireplace will either be fitted with a temporary glass insert or JB will whip up an impenetrable barrier out of wood. (He’s handy like that!)
And here she is, our new fireplace, ready for her closeup.
You might just barely be able to make out the flames in the background. It is much more dramatic at night, but nearly impossible to capture in a photograph since flames have this way of never staying still.
There are bloggers who have babies and keep writing blog posts like it ain’t no thang. For me, it was a thang. A big thang.
A thang I couldn’t quite keep up with.
The last time we met here, Kai was seven-weeks-old. I didn’t have the free time to scribe posts, so instead I scribbled notes:
“There are condiments in the fridge that are older than Kai.”
“My dogs know more words than he does.”
I pondered how no one can really prepare you for how your life will change when you have a baby. That I found it like being suddenly shoved on stage, with the expectation of giving the performance of a lifetime, when I’d never even seen the script. So I started moving and scrambling (“Dance, monkey! Dance!”) and ad libbing and hoping my audience wouldn’t throw tomatoes (or, in the case of my infant, a Let’s-hope-the-neighbors-can’t-hear-this! tantrum). To use a different metaphor, I realized I must swim or I would sink. Maybe I wasn’t exactly pulling off the Butterfly Stroke, but I was sure dog-paddling like hell!
I questioned why Home Economics classes would think asking students to carry around an uncooked egg would somehow convey the responsibility of having a baby. Hauling around an alarm clock with an inoperable snooze button would be more like it. Drive around with it, take it on walks, hold it with one hand while you use your free hand to shove food in your face. I dare you to try to sleep in the same room with it. Then imagine feeding, burping, and wiping it (all the while stimulating its brain: It’s never too early to start reading to an infant!; Skin-to-skin contact is essential to instill a sense of security!; Narrating every move you make will jump-start brain activity!, Eye contact will foster bonding, but avoid it at all costs when trying to get your infant to fall asleep!; In between nursing, don’t forget to pump, pump, pump!; Have two hours really passed already?; Feeding time!; Crying, why are you crying when you are fed, warm and clean?; The rest of us really enjoy sleep, I promise, people even pay to go on vacation to sleep and it’s not like you have any other pressing duties!; Are you sure you don’t like naps? I’ve heard other babies love naps!; Do other babies cry this much?) all on those five hours of splintered sleep you were “lucky” enough to have had and then, REPEAT.
Every. Single. Day.
Why, I wondered, does anyone congratulate a pregnant person? I told JB, we need to tattoo our wrists with “Note to selves: This is hard. Don’t try this again!” But then the coos and giggles and belly-shaking laughter came and, for the first time, I thought “Oh come on, it wasn’t that bad!” (Nature, you trickster, you. This is how you keep the population going, isn’t it?) And then, just last week, Kai turned six-months-old and we asked ourselves, how did we get here? How did we do it?
The sleep coma has begun to retreat, Kai has discovered he actually enjoys napping and I remember that no matter how hard it seemed, there was never a morning that I didn’t wrench myself from Dream Land to stare fuzzily over at Kai while it sank in that yes, he was here, he was real, and suddenly I’d go all giddy like it was Christmas morning and Kai was the gift.
See ya, scalloped woodwork. This house is getting a gutting.
Ah, better already. Wait till you see the fireplace transformation we have planned!
Then I ask, what was so hard about the first few months, exactly? Maybe because lucid thoughts seemed out of reach. I felt like an ESL student trying to string words together. Forming sentences took a frightening amount of effort. Forget “Baby on Board” signs suctioned to car windows, they should say “New Mom Driving”; the day I drove a street I’ve driven hundreds of times and entered an oncoming lane, mistaking it for a turn lane, (thankfully no other cars were around, and JB was there to yell, “What are you doing?”), I took up drinking coffee.
Is it wrong that I actually kind of liked that clock? Probably. Well the client didn’t so it’s on its way out.
Along with the ceiling (making room for a tray ceiling) and the flooring.
The other week I heard that my niece-in-law is pregnant with…drum roll…twins! I was shocked to hear myself exclaim, “That is awesome news! I am so happy for you!” And to truly mean it! I didn’t think of the sleepless nights and the shushing and swaddling and missing reading a book before bed instead of turning out the lights and starting the twenty minute routine of “Shh, it’s okay,” over the roar of a crying baby until he falls asleep. Nope, not a thought of former social lives or how easy it used to be to leave the house without a litany of items (Kai developed a Linus-like relationship with his blankie and it cannot be forgotten–or else!) or how once-upon-a-time we could watch a TV show uninterrupted, or the days when duties like steaming and blending veggies for baby food were not on my To Do list. Nope, all I could think of was how much joy those two babies will bring.
You can rest easy, this cabinetry is now gone. Along with that fan, etc.
Walls will soon be bumped out. Yahoo!
On the design front, (I know, that was promised in the title), most of my jobs are either just beginning or in the not-so-beautiful (except to clients and me) stage of demo (we love this stage because it signifies progress!).
A commercial job I’m working on that became mired in the permit process but will be picking up steam soon!
It was with a heavy heart that I resigned from my interior design column, Design Intervention, (this blog’s title is an offshoot) that I’ve written for the Santa Barbara News-Press for the past four years. I loved writing the column and hearing from readers who wrote in, and I had the coolest and kindest (and very patient about my hitting my deadlines at the last minute) editor I could ever ask for, but if I want to give Kai and my clients the attention they deserve, I came to the realization that I had to free up some time somewhere and the time it took to research and write the column was akin to falling down “the rabbit hole”. I plan to reboot some of the best ones into blog posts and give them a new life outside of a recycling center, but that will take some time as well, so we’ll see.
There was a moment when the beautiful rock wall might have been the only thing that was going to be kept on this project due to a nasty case of easement contracts. And then, goodwill, logic, and most likely good karma (this client is a very good human being) came through and things are looking up.
Thank goodness because this new sandstone cobblestone patio and covered roof is going to be a beautiful space when it’s finished!
This week, I was lucky enough to be featured, along with fellow interior designer Michelle Beamer, in the Santa Barbara Independent.
Here is a photo. To read the full article, you can click here.
You can imagine I did the “happy dance” when I read the headline. 🙂
Besides working on projects for clients, I can hardly wait to share the projects we’re working on at home. I’m excited to show you our new office reveal and the Before and Afters of our house that were finished when we first brought Kai home but I never photographed and posted. We (and by “we”, I mean “JB”) and I began a DIY project to build a custom 96″ long dining table out of Douglas Fir last week and as soon as the last coat of stain and sealer go on and we attach the metal band legs from Etsy, I will share it. Yesterday I had my wonderful builder (he has the best can-do attitude of any tradesperson I know) and his stucco guy look at our fireplace (the one shown in the Independent photo above). The plan is to build it out 6″, finish the new structure in white stucco, and add a gas conversion and concrete FireBalls on a bed of either lava rocks or glass. To the left of the fireplace we will add base cabinets, a place for the TV to fit in, and either floating or built-in shelves–depending on whether we want the look to be built-in or more casual, but more on that later.
I’ll keep you posted on all that, Kai permitting.
If you made it to here, thank you for your loyalty and patience. I treasure you as a reader and thank you for reading my blog. You make it all worth it!
PS, If you want to read a good article on old-fashioned niceties that deserve a comeback (I think we could all use a reminder), click here.
You know how people say, “I’d love to write a children’s book”? Well, my mom and I did it! I wrote it, my mom (Lyn Gianni, an artist by trade) illustrated it and it’s now available at Amazon.com and Chaucer’s Bookstore here in Santa Barbara.
The inspiration came from my sister who conjured up the title. We all kind of sat on the idea for years until JB and I got married and I decided now is the time to write a children’s book. I became pregnant soon after so I must have had kids on the brain!
The story is this: We have all seen shapes in the clouds but the young boy looks up and finds a special cloud. He names the cloud Harold and they become inseparable (except when Harold has to go indoors, of course) friends for life.
Harold and the boy play and share adventures and the cloud is a reassuring presence. The boy learns that he can count on Harold for support and even though the cloud may disappear for a little while, as people in our lives sometimes must (whether it’s a parent leaving for work or a date night, or something more serious like a relative or pet passing away) their strong connection ensures that Harold will always be there for him.
Our goal was to create a children’s book that delivered a good message (you are not alone) via a fun concept (a cloud that could be your best buddy).
The world can be a scary place, but it’s a little less scary when you have a pet cloud. What we really loved about the concept of the pet cloud was it was something every child could have access to: no matter how rich or poor, no matter where you live or how you live, every kid can have a pet cloud.
I studied children’s books before writing My Pet Cloud, but it was purely in the context of research (to capture the correct cadence, get a feel for how many words per page, gauge age-appropriate subject matter, etc.) and it was before I had a child of my own. Now that Kai has come along and I’m reading the same books I had previously studied to him over and over (and over and over again!) I’m discovering that some of the ones I once liked, I can now barely stand.
But I’m happy to say, My Pet Cloud is holding up to the “Parent Test”; it’s not only still likable after umpteen-plus readings, but I find more to like about it each time I read it.
But you don’t have to just take my word for it; you can click here for some online reviews.
For local readers, Chaucer’s (at 3321 State Street) is hosting a reading and book signing for my Pet Cloud this Sunday, April 3rd, from 2pm-3pm. I will be there singing copies of the book, with Kai in tow, and we’d love to see a friendly face if you can make it! 🙂
PS, Thank you to Matt Kettman and the Santa Barbara Independent for running a story on My Pet Cloud. The issue hit the stands today, but you can see an online version here.