Saturday, June 30, 2012

Celebrating Outdoor Living

Here are a few recent articles I've written over at Networx to help jump start your outdoor celebrations:

Enjoy your weekend plans!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

::Surroundings:: Guide to Decorative Living - Summer 2012

I hope you enjoy my latest issue of ::Surroundings:: I can't believe this is my eleventh issue! Thanks as always to Michael J. Lee for his beautiful photography and to my generous clients who allowed me to profile their project on my pages.

If you would like my help on your design project, I would love to chat with you! Please email me. Thanks! Subscribe to ::Surroundings::

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Design Biz: What is a "reasonable and modest" rate?

A couple of weeks ago, I received a Google alert ("Boston Interior Design") that had a link to the following post on Yelp:

I am seeking an interior designer, but have not had much success googling or searching yelp.  I am seeking a designer willing to take on a 700 s.f. space with a modest budget. My taste is relentlessly Modern (aesthetically, not chronologically, of course).  Lots of clean straight lines, few embellishments, minimalist.  West Elm comes close, but I think they are overpriced for the quality they offer. So I need someone who has expertise and can truly execute this style.  Any recommendations or ideas as to where to start my search? Thanks.

My initial thought was, hmm, potential client? Then I focused in on the words "modest budget" and how the writer deemed West Elm overpriced for the quality. As anyone in the Boston area knows, finding modern furniture is not easy, particularly on a tight budget. At the retail level, we have Ikea, West Elm, Crate and Barrel, Design Within Reach and Montage, each successively more pricey (or as RO might put it "less reasonable") than the last. Webster & Co. at the design center carries Dakota Jackson, which is certainly not in the "modest" category.

But, I was intrigued, dismayed and a bit shocked by the succession of followup comments and the writer's responses. Several people commented, rightly, that the writer needed to do it themselves and others suggested he (a little sleuthing through his reviews indicates that the writer is a he, let's call him RO) was looking for free services and might try to find a design student looking for portfolio work. Their response:

No, modest budget means I do not plan to spend $20,000 or $30,000 to furnish and decorate a 700 s.f. apartment that I lease, although one could easily do so.  I'll pay a designer a reasonable and fair market rate for services. 

 So again, what does he mean by "reasonable and fair market"?  Again, some pushback:

Just look on Apartment Therapy and do it yourself. Sounds like you can't afford what you want if you're going to have it done professionally and you're not ready to admit that so you think there's some freelance designer out there charging 60% of what the others are asking.

RO's response:
There seems to be a bit of confusion. "Modest budget" means we're not talking about a 5000 s.f. McMansion with a $500,000 furniture budget and a $100,000 fee to the designer.  I'm not seeking cheap or nearly free services.  I don't work for free, so why would expect someone to work for me for free?  I am aware that some businesses, including my own, choose not to serve clients below a certain threshold, because it's not profitable. Thus I am seeking a professional decorator (there's not much design as the space is fixed and cannot be altered (no tearing down walls, remodeling kitchen, etc.) who can execute the project on a turnkey basis. I'm not a DYI type, so I'm will to pay a reasonable fee for the service. The other thing that's really important is that I need a modern/minimalist/zen decor, no clutter, totally soothing. The project is pretty simple, just need someone to execute it.
Oh. I see. Seeking Professional Decorator (not designer, decorator) to do a "simple project" on a "turnkey basis".  My ears pricked up at the term "turnkey" - which means he wants to sit back and do nothing while he pays someone a modest fee to do everything for him. And "simple" is merely code for - it's not hard to do what you do, Miss/Mr. Decorator, so I'll expect you to do it for little money.

Finally, other commenter's simply asked directly what he was talking about, in real dollars. And the response:
Thanks for the questions and comments. Clearly, it is not possible to fully negotiate or even describe precisely what I am seeking in a yelf [sic] forum, but I'll try to provide more info.  The budget would be in the $7,000-$8,000 range, all-in including fees. Total turnkey, the designer will do everything right down to selling my used furniture on craigslist (probably split the proceeds). On installation day I will leave a nearly unfurnished space in the morning and come home at night to heaven, a heaven all ready for its AD photoshoot (exaggerating of course, but not by much). With the budget we'er probably in the West Elmish, CB2ish, C&Bish, price point.  The project will start with the bedroom, bathroom and kitchen. Not much if any furniture needed, mainly accessorizing. About $1,500 would take care of that piece.  All goes well, we do the living - I need everything. You have 3 zones, work, dining, and lounge/relaxing area.  Not too complicated, right?

Seriously? And do I really get to "split the proceeds" from selling your used crap on Craigslist?? Ah gee, thanks!  I can't even tell if this person is genuinely in the dark, or just has low regard for the role of the decorator. But, because I always want to weigh in on an issue, here was my very polite and detailed response:
Hi - Interesting conversation. I thought I would be a good idea for a professional decorator to weigh in.  You seem to want a lot of service plus design skill, plus furnishings, for a relatively little amount of money. First let me say that I am not a designer who holds her nose at those on a budget. On the contrary, I offer a design-only service just for those who want design help but have a limited budget and are willing to implement it themselves. I myself did my kitchen over on less than $500 (not including appliances which were I got as part of a trade of services) because I did everything myself from repainting cabinets, installing lighting and scraping popcorn off the ceiling. And I agree, if you're in a rental apartment, there is no point on spending $ to renovate unless you were planning on being there for years.

But, let me share some actual details: Decorators in the Boston market range between $75 - $250 per hour. $75 is rock bottom, assistant/entry level. It's possible to find a professional organizer for less and they could certainly arrange deliveries, set ups and sale of existing furnishings, but they likely won't have the design skill to pull off the minimalist look you want. So, starting with a base of $100 per hour for the decorator's time, your dream of having a heavenly single install day will cost $800 for the designers time alone =10% of your budget. This doesn't include the design phase at all. Additionally, the only way you can have a turn-key project is if your designer/decorator can warehouse, insure and re-deliver all the ordered merchandise on a single day - which takes facilities costs, personnel and move management and movers. (Note: only higher-end designers are really set up to do this level of service). Roughly, this would be a couple of thousand dollars. Since your budget is for modest retail furnishings (nothing wrong with that), you should be aware that the service end of those stores is typically very lacking and they will deliver on their own schedule. So, either you accept the deliveries at your apartment as they come in, or pay the warehousing charges I outlined above.  The design phase for a 700 sq. ft. space could easily be $5,000, but certainly will be no less than $1500  - not including any logistics, only for design & specifying. And so you've already spent 30-50% or more of your budget on personnel & logistics, BEFORE  furnishings.

Those above who suggested you do it yourself are correct. You cannot get a full service decorator who will do an entire plan plus fully implement it up to turn-key levels AND the cost of furnishings, for the price you've stated. Store delivery and state sales taxes alone with be $1000-$2000 when all is said and done. As someone noted, many stores have in-house decorators who can assist you and they are free. I think even IKEA has that. You could  hire a designer who will do a design plan only for you for a flat fee, but you are full in charge of all ordering and logistics. You could also probably hire an assistant/organizer at maybe $35-50 an hour to keep track of the orders, receive deliveries at your home and followup on the inevitable issues that will arise.

I hope this information helps. Unfortunately, shows on HGTV and the like completely mislead viewers as to what it takes to have a fabulous one-day reveal. We never see the hordes of production and design assistants who never make it on screen.  Definitely check out Apartment Therapy on line, or HGTV for ideas on budget decorating you may find you'll come to love doing it yourself! 
 I thought that was a nice response, when I had much stronger language happening in my head! There was no followup from RO, but this was the final comment:

shet I do it. for you. I can decorates. not hard. I do it al for 5 g's.
 That amused me.

 Love to hear your thoughts...

Images via Pinterest: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6,

If you would like my help on your design project, I would love to chat with you! Please email me. Thanks! Subscribe to ::Surroundings::

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Inspiration Board: Mary Douglas Drysdale is da bomb!


Monday, June 25, 2012

Rose Tarlow and The Websters walked into a hotel

A few weeks ago, I was invited to a cocktail party at the W Hotel in Boston. The top several floors of the building are private residences with condos ranging from tiny studios to 2+ bedroom size. Last year, several of Boston's most accomplished designers and design/build firms decorated several condos on the 20th floor to create a social/entertaining space that is part designer showhouse, part model-units. Given the unique shape and configurations of these units, fully furnishing the spaces truly helps potential buyers see the possibilities. I'd seen all the units last year a couple of times (you can view them all here) and definitely appreciated all the creativity and hard work that went into designing these spaces. The latest party was hosted by David Webster of Webster & Co., one of the flagship showrooms at The Boston Design Center and Meg Touborg, CEO of Rose Tarlow Melrose House, one of the most gorgeous furniture brands in the design industry. When one of the decorated units needed to be re-decorated, Webster and Tarlow partnered to create a beautiful, luxurious and feminine space that made me want to move right in. I was going to snap a few pictures to share,  but luckily I found out that the space has been well-documented and I was especially pleased when I learned that my regular photographer Michael J. Lee had photographed the space.

This is a two bedroom condo (see map below) and this is the view from the front door looking into the living room. The space is bright with beautiful views of Boston Common and the State House. The decoration is a mix of Rose Tarlow furnishings with upholstered pieces and accents from Webster & Co.'s wide variety of brands. At the bottom of this post, you will find a link to all the Rose Tarlow furnishings seen here. There's a wonderful mix of art and accessories throughout.


I love the combination of the gilded Rose Tarlow Kent Arm chair along side the modern sculpture on the right.

A beautiful city view with the Bullfinch State House in the background. Love the RT Viola Table, which certainly epitomizes the feminine feeling of the space.

Modern technology (provided by Elite Media Solutions) over a burled wood console.

Loved, loved the dining area, which is opposite the living room space. The antiqued mirrored wall does its duty by visually expanding the relatively small space and adds a lot of sparkle. RT's Hatfield Cabinet anchors the mirrored wall as a server.

And the view looking out. The pillows, covered in gorgeous pink and gray mohair were so touchable  - too bad I'm allergic! I wanted to ask if I could take the pink one home with me. I always love a sofa or settee pulled up to a table - so cozy!

And the dramatic evening view.

There is a small study off the front hall that was decked out in beautiful cabinetry (Holland Construction did the build-out) and a cozy reading nook. This was a little more masculine a space than the living room and dining room, but still exuded comfort and elegance.

The smaller of the two bedrooms was turned into a more casual family room anchored by RT's Reeded Bois Coffee table - a gently modern touch that is quite eye-catching. RT's Bronze Crows are flocking as well.

I love this wall and shower curtain treatment with the color blocking carried from one to the other. Such a simple - and easy - idea that could be done on literally any design budget.

This is the hall that leads to the master suite, looking back to the front hall and study. Note the touch of de Gournay "Earlham" wallpaper on the right.

Love this little niche between a set of built-in glass front cabinets. The ballet art work is by Wu Jian who specializes in ballerinas. As an aside, a client of mine selected two of his pieces in giclee for her daughter's room when we did it last year. One of these days I'll get it photographed!  So, I was happy to see his work here as well.

The soft and pretty master bathroom.

And the master bedroom, which I really loved. The combination of the silk bedding with the grass cloth wallpaper was really wonderful.

RT's Montpelier chair is a simple touch for a small space. The curves of the back and legs continue the feminine aura while the highboy chest adds weight.

Address: The Residences at W Boston, 110 Stuart St., Midtown
Studios: Starting at $470,000 and 512 square feet
One-bedrooms: Starting at $765,000 and 857 square feet
Two-bedrooms: Starting at $1.265 million and 1,286 square feet
Two-plus-bedrooms: Starting at $1.695 million and 1,715 square feet
Contact: Dinny Herron or Lara Rosenburgh, Otis & Ahearn Real Estate welcome center, 110 Stuart St., Boston, MA 02116. Phone: 617-267-2228.

Here is my Pinterest board with all the Rose Tarlow Melrose House furnishings used in this beautiful space. Click here to go to Pinterest, where each piece is linked to its product page on Rose Tarlow's website.

All items are to the trade only, if you see anything you are interested in purchasing, please let me know and I can provide details.

All photos by Michael J. Lee

If you would like my help on your design project, I would love to chat with you! Please email me. Thanks! Subscribe to ::Surroundings::

Friday, June 22, 2012

Cooking with Gas... Make that Electrons

Last month as part of my trip out to the Bosch Experience and Design Center in Irvine, CA I had the opportunity to learn more about induction cooking and to make a meal using one. And I must say that I am love! My last stove top was a glass top electric and I really liked the shiny, smooth surface which was easy to clean and always looked great. But, you do have to keep in mind that it may be very hot for a while after use and it's easy to forget that. With an induction cooktop, the only actual heat on the surface of the cooktop is the residual heat from the food in the pan, not the surface itself. Here is a video from Bosch explaining how it all works. A really great feature is that induction uses up to 60% less energy than gas and is every bit as adjustable, and cooks food twice as fast as electric.

Here we are having induction cooking demonstrated for us. The water in the sauce pan was at a full rolling boil in seconds, it was amazing.

And here is an egg that will cook only on the area where the pan and cooktop are in contact and how cool the surface is right next to it. Actually, this feature also speaks to how much easier it is to clean these glass tops vs those on electric cooktops. Since the induction cook top never gets very hot, spilled food doesn't bake onto the surface and can be wiped away immediately as if it were on a counter.

The sleek black cooktop which combines European design with German engineering reminds me of an iPhone or iPad surface, especially as the controls are embedded in the glass. It's no surprise though, as Apple's Steve Jobs was very influence by design work of Dieter Rams, whose " 10 principals of good design" are literally etched in the walls of the Bosch Experience center in California.

In full: Dieter Rams 10 Principals of Good Design:

  • Is innovative - The possibilities for innovation are not, by any means, exhausted. Technological development is always offering new opportunities for innovative design. But innovative design always develops in tandem with innovative technology, and can never be an end in itself.
  • Makes a product useful - A product is bought to be used. It has to satisfy certain criteria, not only functional, but also psychological and aesthetic. Good design emphasizes the usefulness of a product whilst disregarding anything that could possibly detract from it.
  • Is aesthetic - The aesthetic quality of a product is integral to its usefulness because products are used every day and have an effect on people and their well-being. Only well-executed objects can be beautiful.
  • Makes a product understandable - It clarifies the product’s structure. Better still, it can make the product clearly express its function by making use of the user's intuition. At best, it is self-explanatory.
  • Is unobtrusive - Products fulfilling a purpose are like tools. They are neither decorative objects nor works of art. Their design should therefore be both neutral and restrained, to leave room for the user's self-expression.
  • Is honest - It does not make a product more innovative, powerful or valuable than it really is. It does not attempt to manipulate the consumer with promises that cannot be kept.
  • Is long-lasting - It avoids being fashionable and therefore never appears antiquated. Unlike fashionable design, it lasts many years – even in today's throwaway society.
  • Is thorough down to the last detail - Nothing must be arbitrary or left to chance. Care and accuracy in the design process show respect towards the consumer.
  • Is environmentally friendly - Design makes an important contribution to the preservation of the environment. It conserves resources and minimizes physical and visual pollution throughout the lifecycle of the product.
  • Is as little design as possible - Less, but better – because it concentrates on the essential aspects, and the products are not burdened with non-essentials. Back to purity, back to simplicity.



Thursday, June 21, 2012

Cool Getaways: Beating the heat edition

It's in the 90's here on Cape Cod and nearing 100 in Boston today. Many of us were caught with out our ac units installed and I'm sweating it out in front of a fan. So, I thought I'd do a little armchair traveling to some very refreshing looking retreats...

 Infinity Pool at Sands Sky Park

Club 50 Viceroy in Miami.

Colonnade Boston Hotel.

Fasano Hotel In Rio de Janeiro.

Fullerton Bay Hotel in Singapore.

Hotel Joule in Dallas.

Hotel Udai Kothi In Udaipur, India.

Intercontinental Hotel in Hong Kong.

Sky bar in Kuala Lampur.

SLS Hotel In Beverly Hills.

Old Sydney Holiday Inn.

Thompson Toronto Hotel.

Vine Hotel In Funchal, Portugal

Thompson LES

 Hotel Indigo, Newton, MA (Last summer, I enjoyed a lovely day in the first cabana on the left - wishing I was there now!)

Feeling cooler?

Because it's hot and I'm lazy - source is here.

If you would like my help on your design project, I would love to chat with you! Please email me. Thanks! Subscribe to ::Surroundings::