Floors Come First

After purchasing the house and finding my design inspiration, I was over the moon to get to completely demo the kitchen and make it my own. But where does one begin when she is (almost) starting from scratch with a room? A piece of advice that I truly believe in is to begin at the bottom. You may have a piece of furniture that you’re working around, or an idea that you absolutely have to incorporate, but I honestly believe in an ideal situation, you start with the floors…literally, “from the ground up.”

When we moved into our house one of the first things I noticed was the hardwoods. Like any person with eyes, I love hardwoods. They are so versatile. They are at home in lofts and farmhouses, massive villas and tiny apartments. Though many will disagree, I love hardwoods in a kitchen (water damage, I scoff at you! ) If we were going to rip out the floor in our kitchen, hardwoods would be the obvious choice for a replacement, right?! But to employ my 7-year-old’s current favorite phrase, here’s the thing: I didn’t like these hardwoods. This is clearly on the list of first-world problems, maybe even akin to that time Kanye said, “Fur pillows are actually hard to sleep on.” Now that I’ve acknowledged that, I’ll move on.

The house was full of these beautiful, newish engineered hardwoods that I did not love and would not have chosen if I had my druthers (someone from the south, please speak up and tell me what “druthers” are. I have no idea and yet insist on ignorantly using this phrase.) I had a choice to make. I could put more of a thing I did not love in just because I am a person who thinks you should put hardwoods in the kitchen, or I could break my own design rule and go a completely different route. The magical thing was that in breaking one of my own rules I was actually obeying the ancient design law that supercedes all other design laws. It is the following: “When you have the choice, choose the things you love.”

One of my favorite things about Jessica Helgerson’s kitchen design was those beautiful black and white encaustic tiles she used. I decided that for my kitchen, the floor would be black and white. Funky black and white tiles were popping up everywhere, so I figured finding the ones I loved wouldn’t be too daunting. Here are just a few of the photos that guided my search… Which is your favorite?

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black and white backsplash

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black and white bath

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Finding Your Inspiration

After sealing the deal on our new digs, we had about 6 weeks to our move-in date, which is plenty of time to completely renovate a kitchen…if you want to develop an eye tick, sink into a depression, and allow small animals to nest in your hair. Okay, the animals didn’t actually nest in my hair. It was more like a sleepover. I was incredibly fortunate to have an amazing contractor that I was introduced to by a designer I worked with on another project. Pablo was certain that he could get the kitchen to a livable point by our move-in day. That meant that all I had to do was to come up with a reasonable plan for the new kitchen. Easy! I could just go to Pinterest, find a kitchen I liked, and say to him “Can you please make it look like this? And can you please put that wall thingy beside the cabinet doohickie?” The end.

In all seriousness, Pinterest is an amazing resource. Yes, it can give us incredibly unrealistic standards for just about anything, but when you feel overwhelmed with all of the possible options, it’s a great place to begin to figure out the identity and feel you want your space to have. I find that when I know the general direction I’m heading, it makes the decision making process much easier. A few pictures of rooms you love give you an anchor point when you feel like you’ve lost your way in a sea of possibilities. Your room is not going to be a carbon copy of that pin from your favorite blogger or pinner…and that’s a good thing. Your space, budget, and personality are not their’s, and that’s what makes the design process so much fun. Pick a few things that made you fall in love with that room, and incorporate those elements.  I decided I would let my Spanish roof lead the way. Although my house would never be a true Spanish villa, I knew I could incorporate nods to la casa buried somewhere under that vertical siding.

This kitchen by Jessica Helgerson inspired and yes, haunted me throughout the design process. It had a Spanish feel without the overly ornate elements that can keep a Spanish space from feeling young and fresh. The black, white, and brass color scheme with the splashes of wood for warmth made my heart skip a beat. While I knew I wanted to go in a more modern direction, there were so many things about this kitchen that kept drawing me back in (maybe it’s that incredible loaf of carbohydrates sitting on that gorgeous table, turned island.) I had my jumping off point. Now there were only 563,721 more decisions to go.

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Loving Your Space Whether You Love it or Not

Strong negative feelings make me rejoice. I should rephrase that. Strong negative feelings about design elements that I have some control over, make me rejoice. After renting for 5 years, I learned to not focus on negative feelings about things that I could not change. If you’re renting or it’s not currently in the budget to renovate, look for the best in your current abode. Maybe you hate those windows, but they look out onto the backyard where your kids’ sandbox is. Maybe your kitchen is cramped, but you really love the color you painted the walls. I’m a firm believer in doing what you can where you are. Put lipstick on that pig, baby, and don’t apologize for it. Our homes are our homes because of the people who live in them, not because of the light fixtures or the furniture. Any small change to make your space more welcoming, comfortable, and beautiful to you will have profound effects in your happiness at home. Don’t waste time focusing on what you can’t change.

My kitchen was not horrible by any standards, but I was stoked to be able to, for the first time, demo the whole thing and start from the ground up. Even with a complete renovation, there were plenty of restrictions that would limit us. Mama always says that constraints are a good thing. They not only force you to be creative, they narrow your options, which is incredibly helpful for someone like me who feels compelled to analyze EVERY POSSIBLE OPTION.

The kitchen was divided into 2 parts. The actual kitchen was very small, with an oddly placed wall (where the fridge stood) dividing it from the eat-in area. The ceiling in the kitchen proper was a low tray ceiling that made the whole room feel as if it might close in on you at any moment. The kitchen door opening from the hall felt small (not shown here), and there were 2 pass-throughs going from the kitchen to the den. This is the part where I feel like I need to apologize to someone somewhere for ripping apart this perfectly functional and fine kitchen, but then I have to remind myself that this is sort-of, kind-of, almost a design blog. I also tell myself that if I apologize to you every time I do something that is not the essence of practicality, we might as well pack this puppy up, strap on our velcro orthopedics, and go sit on a log (cause logs are totally practical.) Thanks for working through that with me.

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This is the best pic I could find of the kitchen looking in from the breakfast/dine-in area,  pre-renovation.

How Do You Know If This House Is The One?

Buying a home anywhere is scary. Buying a home in Los Angeles is like The Shining, but with earthquakes. Figuring out which area of LA you’re going to settle in is the first hurdle, and let me tell you, it’s a doozy. People are committed to their little slice of LA, and each section truly does have its own personality. Do you love the beach and also love reminding those around you that where you live is the better than where they live? You should move to the West side. Are you too cool to shower? You should move to Silverlake.  Do you like to pretend that a giant is cooking you in his oven? You should move to the valley. We do shower, the beach is too far from my husband’s studio, and giants are just so…big. Despite all this, we found a few areas that would work, and began the search for our home.

You know those HGTV makeover shows where the host brings the potential homeowners into a house that they’re going to completely remodel anyway, but they can’t decide how they feel about a house because of the ugly wallpaper in the dining room?! I am sorry, but I want to physically harm those people. YOU’RE GOING TO SLEDGEHAMMER THAT WHOLE WALL ANYWAY!!  There is actually something so wonderful and comforting about loathing elements of a home when you know you can actually change those elements.  Does the house have good bones? Do you like the location? How’s the yard?

One of the first houses we looked at had piles of dog poop in the back yard. I’m not talking about a week’s worth of poop (that your kids conveniently forget to see/smell/pick up every time they go outside.)  I’m talking about a level of poop that makes you question whether the owners should be guests on “My Strange Addiction.” So we did what most normal people would do in that situation, which was to PUT AN OFFER ON THAT BABY. Our offer was under asking, because piles of animal excrement usually go along with other, less-than-ideal characteristics and it was promptly rejected (poop fumes are bad for the brain.)  I firmly believe that perfectly normal people turn into lunatics when they have to buy or sell their house. Thankfully, our realtor was also one of my besties who kept us from getting bit by the crazy bug in the process and helped us move on. Having a realtor who will keep you sane is key. I have a girlfriend realtor on the West Coast and a brother-in-law realtor on the East Coast, so if I decide to buy a house pretty much anywhere in the country, I’m covered. I highly recommend talking someone you love into getting their real estate license before you buy a home…or I guess you can use Yelp.

When we first toured the house that would become ours, I wasn’t so sure. I like to know what I’m walking into, and from the outside, this house felt a little bit like the casseroles I encountered all my life at church pot lucks, but without the ritz crackers and cheese that let you know whatever is underneath is going to be good (and also contain cream of chicken soup.) My casserole house was a bit of a mystery to me. The Spanish roof, brick foundation, vertical siding, trapezoid front window, and tri-level structure made me wish I could go back to 1975 and have a one-on-one with the architect. But we loved the location, flow, view, and the white brick interior walls. We felt like we could see our family making a home in this mildly confused casa, so we decided to take the plunge and get the house some therapy, later.

It’s All My Mom’s Fault

For several years now I’ve been flirting with the idea of dipping my toe into interior design. I’m not sure it gets more noncommittal than that. What I’m really trying to say is that if you think that my ideas make you want to gag yourself with a hairy spoon, it’s totally cool. I didn’t put my heart and soul into this or anything. I don’t even like design, and actually, I hate interiors. Interiors are the worst.

If I were to (hypothetically) start putting my ideas out there for the world to judge, er, see, I would do that because caring about my surroundings has been in me for a long time. I spent my childhood watching my mom decorate not only our house, but any space that was connected to my parents’ business. I went antique shopping with her, helped her peel wallpaper off walls, and watched as my fearless little mother took on a kitchen redo herself, which  meant buying a tile cutter and learning the back-breaking process of cutting, laying, and grouting tile. She taught me the importance of history in a home, the power of a good DIY project, the satisfaction of getting an amazing deal, and the joy of coming into a house that is warm, comfortable, and a feast for the eyes.

When we redid my room in middle school, the result of our collaboration was a cranberry bedspread with gold moroccan stars (Shout out to Waverly fabric!) on one side and a gold stripe on the reverse. I could change it up depending on my mood, and prepubescent girls have moods. I wanted a room that evoked feelings of faraway lands. I  just recently gave away the gold sunburst mirror that we also bought to go along with that bedspread, because, you know, I figured 20 years is long enough. Mom taught me the importance of the classics.

From my college dorm room (purple walls and leopard everything) to my first house, to my current abode, I have relished the process of giving spaces identity and of letting them say something about the people who call them home. I’ve done a little set decorating/design, worked on a complete production studio renovation,  and spent countless hours scouring Craigslist for that perfect piece of furniture for myself and my friends.  I will happily get on a plane to just about anywhere to bring back things that are native to that place.  I love a collected look. I love things with history and a story. I’m also becoming obsessed with modern design, which is, I’m sure, the result of my move to the west coast.

I currently (as in today – I make no promises about tomorrow) homeschool our 2 boys. My husband works in the entertainment business, and we’ve lived in Los Angeles for 5 years. We finally bought a place here this summer, and I am excited to bring you along as this house and I get to know each other. I also can’t wait to introduce you to to some amazing people I’ve met in my design adventures, and to highlight any other design projects I can get my hands on along the way. I will overshare. I promise. I will probably try to use you to help me make decisions, because making decisions is the bane of my existence. I will overthink just about everything. I will do other things too, but I’m not sure what they are yet…because I don’t have a time machine, OKAY!?! I know, I’m disappointed too.

Thanks for coming along for the ride.