An addition should not feel like someone took part of another home and just stuck it on.  But too often, that is exactly what happens.  Inside and outside the home – roof lines, walls, floors, ceilings – everything should line up and make sense.  But contractors who rush often ignore subtile details.

We all are familiar with the saying “God is in the details.”  Regardless of whether you are religious or not, I think we all can agree that it is the details that make the difference.

We recently completed work on a Berwyn Bungalow where the client is a stained glass artisan.  The details of this project were not to be overlooked.

Larry Rych designed the space to open up to the dining room and also incorporate the back porch.  The new space had to made sense with the rest of the home.  The cabinetry, tile and counter have an understated elegance with simple craftsman style.  Crown molding around the ceiling elevates the stature of the room.  Our client then added his personal touch, and the focal point of the room, with his own custom stained glass.

While traditionally, a home of this vintage would not have the kitchen open to the rest of the home (nor would it have a kitchen of such magnitude), the new kitchen feels appropriate because many design elements of the period were recreated and the new construction was seamlessly integrated with the old.

When you are shopping for a remodeling contractor, ask to see their portfolio; if you can visit a site, all the better.  At first glance, you should see any glaring issues, then look closer.  These details will make the difference, not in just how you feel about your home when the project is complete but also its resale value if you ever decide to move.

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Sometimes when I walk into a home, I really wonder what the architect was thinking.  I would take a guess that at least 30% of American homes have the awkward situation of a hall that ends with a bathroom.  If you’re fortunate, the view is of a towel bar or blank wall.  If you are unfortunate, the view is of a toilet.  Many of us choose to ignore and accept this vision, or we leave the door closed.

 I remember one home we worked on about ten years ago, as you walked up the stairs to the second floor the first thing that welcomed you was the commode in the bathroom across from the landing.  When we remodeled that bathroom, one of the things we did was move the toilet across the room to a more private location.  Suddenly the view of the trees through the window took precedence.

 Not everyone has the option to move a toilet.  It can be very expensive or even architecturally impossible to relocate a toilet.  So what other alternatives are available besides closing the door?

 First off, think of the doorway as a frame.  What are you framing?  Many times, towels and towel bars are a part of the picture.  While we try to make them look as pretty as we can, towels are just not interesting.  Something needs to pull focus.

 If you aren’t dealing with a view of the commode, place art work within the space – preferably something long and narrow that will fill the door frame.  Since the doorway is your “frame,” I recommend something on canvas without a frame.  The surrounding wall area becomes your “matting.”  If you want to draw attention to this space, then paint the wall a dynamic color that contrasts the walls of the hallway.  If you want this space to blend with the surrounding hall, then paint the wall a color similar to hall color.  I would not recommend wallpapering this wall, most “mattes” around paintings and photos are solid colors, not patterns.

 Take this a step further by adding an “Art light” to showcase the artwork.  (This is great if you entertain and you find people asking where your powder room is.)  A low-voltage MR-11 or MR-16 placed in the ceiling typically works best.  Housings with an adjustable socket allow for maximum control in illuminating the artwork.  For added drama, put the light on a dimmer instead of a switch.

 The same applies, if you have a view of the toilet through the doorway.  This time, hang a framed piece of art above the commode.  The “Art light” should be aimed so that no light spills on the toilet.  The sought-over effect is to draw attention away from the fixture.

 You may be tempted to install the lighting yourself.  However, I would recommend you find a contractor or electrician who has a history of installing these lights.  The size of your artwork and the angle of light along with its beam spread will determine the type and placement of the housing.  An incorrect housing and/or placement could result in a less than desirable result.

Written by Imperial Kitchens and Baths, Inc. designer, Stephanie Bullwinkel, CBD.

Angie’s List has one, Service Magic has one, even the online YellowPages has one – it’s a rating system representing consumer confidence.  From low to high, how does this company treat their clients? 

The Better Business Bureau is now applying the same thought to their rating system.  The old ratings were based on how a company resolved its complaints.  But the limited information provided often left consumers in the dark and reputatble companies were misrepresented.  Replacing “satisfactory” and “unsatisfactory”, are insightful ratings shown as letter grades A+ thru F.  The new system provides more specific information.  Where Imperial Kitchens and Baths, Inc. once had a “satisfactory” rating we now have a more meaningful “A+.”

“In today’s tight economic times, these ratings not only spotlight the honest and ethical companies customers look for, but the ratings components also assist companies to see where their operations may be improved.” Says Steve J. Bernas, president and CEO of the BBB of Chicago and Northern Illinois.

The new ratings take into account 17 weighted factors, using objective information and actual incidences concerning the business.  For more information about the BBB’s new rating system and specific rating factors, visit www.bbb.org.

Many of us are strapped for cash, but we just can’t live with our bathrooms they way they are.   So here are a few ways that you can update your bathroom now and buy yourself a little more time before you remodel.

1. Fresh Paint. Giving the walls and ceiling a fresh coat of paint is fast, cheap and virtually mess free. A gloss finish works well in bathrooms, but beware if you have any defects in your walls the gloss will accentuate the negative. Matte finishes have a tendency to mildew and show humidity streaks; however, several paint manufacturers have been working to solve this concern. Eggshell is a nice middle ground. It will give you a soft sheen that will not readily absorb moisture and will not draw so much attention to flaws in your walls.

2. Update and replace lighting fixtures. If your bathroom lighting is not flattering your face, it is doing you no favors. Applying makeup, shaving, etc. in poor light will not give you the look you are going for. When shopping for a new fixture remember that is the quality and amount of light that is most important, style is second… how many people are going to see your face today vs. how many people are going to see your bathroom?

3. Replace outlets if the present outlets are not GFCI. This is one of the most important safety issues in a house. Electricity and water should never mix. A ground fault circuit interrupter, commonly known as GFCI, will protect you if your hairdryer, curling iron, etc. fall into a sink full of water. A GFCI outlet is one that has two little buttons in the center of the face. GFCI outlets should be around anywhere you have water.

4. New towels, rugs, accessories. Are your towels miss-matched? Is your bathmat tired? Do the accessories around the room have a pitted or peeling finish? Accessories are generally easy to change with only the need of a screwdriver or Allen wrench. Colors and patterns of towels and bath mats can be the same or mix-and-matched as sets. Fresh towels not only look good but feel good too. To keep you towels at their best, do not wash or dry with fabric softener… the waxy buildup on the material will make them less absorbent.

5. Reglaze the tub. Some tubs cannot be reglazed, but if your tub is looking shabby it is an option worth investigating. Sometimes reglazing can add ten more years to the life of your bathtub.

6. Clean up old caulk and grout. Nothing contributes to the gross-out factor in bathrooms like moldy caulk and grout. More than just aesthetics, mold is unhealthy. Of course in humid areas, like bathrooms, it is a constant battle. Cut out old caulk, clean out the area, LET DRY, then recaulk. Clean grout with vinegar on a regular basis, using a soft small brush in troublesome areas (be careful not to scrub out the grout). Bleach applied with a cotton applicator once or twice a year can be beneficial as well, as long as your grout is color safe (test a small inconspicuous if you are concerned). If all else fails, you can regrout. If you don’t want to try your hand at this project, there are services that do this. Once your grout is clean, seal it with a grout sealer regularly to keep it looking good with minimal effort.

7. Reface the vanity cabinets. A general rule of thumb is that the larger the cabinet is, the more expensive it is going to be to replace. It you have a bathroom with a large vanity area, you may want to consider refacing the vanity cabinet, the cost can be half as much as replacing. Refacing involves replacing the cabinet doors and drawer fronts and then covering the cabinet box in a material that matches the new doors. While the interior of the cabinet looks the same, the exterior will give the whole room an updated look.

8. New solid-surface countertops. The countertop marketplace is flooded with new materials; it can be hard to decipher which material will work best. Laminate and cultured marble is the most inexpensive option, but are not the most durable. Solid-surface materials like Corian and Meganite are renewable, can have the sink bowl fused into the top, are easy to clean and offer a 10-year warrantee. You will pay a little more for these products up front, but the long-term investment will pay for itself over and over again.

9. New faucets. You can buy an inexpensive faucet as long as you realize that you are getting what you are paying for and may have to replace it again in the next few years. If you are looking for a long-term investment you will be looking for ceramic disc-valves, this will guarantee that you are never fiddling with a drippy faucet. You will also want a PVD finish; this insures that your faucet finish will not change color, peel or pit over time. Again, you will pay more for these faucets up front, but over time they end up paying for themselves.

10. Hang framed artwork. You can get “canned” art from almost any hobby or furniture store. But a trip to your community art galley can open your eyes to some local staving artists and you may pay about the same amount for an original as you will for a mass produced print. If you are having artwork framed tell the framer that the piece is going in a bathroom and the amount of light the room gets so they will use the correct materials for protecting your art. A frame boosts the importance of any image, if it is done right, even a child’s handprint can claim Picasso appeal.

Written by Imperial Kitchens and Baths, Inc. designer, Stephanie Bullwinkel, CBD.

LED Lighting

July 15, 2009

The first time I saw real LED lighting for the home, I was in IKEA.  This was about 4 years ago.  I was very impressed.  These small lights meant to be installed under walls cabinets or in display shelving emitted cold, blue light – just like the inside of a refrigerator.  All the same, I was impressed.  I thought to myself that it is just a matter of time, this will either fizzle out  leaving LEDs to flashlights and kids carnival toys… or this will be brought into the mainstream.  The latter is happening.

One of the reasons that LED (Light Emitting Diode) lighting is entering the marketplace so slowly is partly due to our own US government – it can take years for fixtures to become UL approved.  There is however, the ETL certification from Intertek which allows safe products to enter the marketplace quickly and on a global level. 

ETL Safety Mark

ETL Safety Mark

LED lights entering the marketplace now are categorized as low-voltage.  What this means is that the fixtures are not directly connected to your household electricity, but rather “Plug and Play”.   A transformer is necessary to “step-down” the voltage to a lower level like 12-volts.  This transformer is either plugged directly into a switched outlet or hardwired into the home’s electricial system.  Then the individual LED fixtures are plugged into the transformer.

The Low Voltage lighting family includes Xenon and Halogen.  These lights, like LEDs, are very intense; Xenon lighting is often found in jewelry stores where diamonds are made to sparkle as if on fire.  And on fire it could be – these lights are very hot.  But LED lights stay comfortable to the touch for hours on end.

LED Surface Mounted Spot

LED Surface Mounted Spot by Hafele

LED lights are more expensive than traditional lighting.  However, in the long run – they could save you money.  An LED fixture and transformer is expected to give 20,000 to 30,000 hours of light.  If you break this down to 4 hours a night, every night, 365 days a year – you would get approximately 13 years out of your LED lighting system.

LED lights come in 6 colors  – cool white, warm white (like an incandescent bulb), orange, red, green and blue.  For those of us who can’t make up their mind, there is a rotating effect available that slowly fades between colors.  I can only think of commercial applications for this – or if you like to have your Christmas decorations up year round.

While LEDs are still used mainly for decorative and task lighting – general room lighting may be in the future for Americans.  It will just take a little more time as we wait and see.

Written by Imperial Kitchens and Baths Designer, Stephanie Bullwinkel (CBD).