Tuesday, September 28, 2010

"Move That Bus!": My Bit On A Habitat for Humanity Project

There was no big bus, but there was certainly just as much happiness and success. This is the story behind the living room project featured in the previous post.

I have watched several HGTV shows and Ty Pennington's Extreme Makeover Home Edition and am familiar with the looks of surprise and awe that homeowners have during the 'big reveal.' They all say the same things like, "Oh my gosh, it's beautiful!" and "It's more than I expected!" and "I would never . . ." and "Thank you so much!" There's almost always tears of joy involved too, during the much awaited, very emotional moment. As much drama as a reality TV show can have. I have always suspected that some part of these reality shows are scripted in some way, but for now I can say that these familiar reactions of awe are very genuine. I remember having seen Ty Pennington cry at least once, and that too I know now, is real.

Last September 24, 2010, Nina Hernandez and her 2-year old daughter Victoria viewed their newly-built, fully-furnished home for the first time. She walked in, took it all in, and did not know what to say for the first several seconds. She cried tears of joy, and I suspect some of sadness, because her husband, who had just been deployed, could not be there to share in this momentous event. I kept taking pictures, but I was crying too. This is her first home.
Left: The homeowner, Nina Hernandez with designers Martha McGowen (left) and Jamie Namanny (right).  Below, right: Not a very good shot, but I tried to capture her first expression.

The Hernandez family joins 17 other families of active military, military veterans and other local civilians who purchased homes in what is now the first neighborhood of Habitat for Humanity homes sold to active military and veteran families. This is part of Habitat's push to reach out to militaries and their families so that they can be able to afford a home in a great community like San Juan Capistrano.

Partnering with Furnishing Hope of Orange County, a bunch of interior designers volunteered their time and their skills to design and furnish these 18 homes. All of the things that went into each home are donated or purchased from funds donated by generous sponsors. Living Spaces was a major sponsor, providing up to $2,500 worth of furniture for each home. The rest of the items, down to the last picture frame, are either donated in kind, or purchased from solicited funds. UNITS Moving and Portable Storage, stored and delivered the furniture for free, and about 45 Marines and sailors from Camp Pendleton  helped moved the furniture into the homes. A group of employees from Hyundai also came to help with the important tasks of cleaning and getting the community ready for the big reveal and dedication.

It was a very special project indeed. I spoke with a couple of the military wives, and they said that most of them had been living on base prior to this home. With their husbands gone most of the time, they also never had the luxury of time to put a lot of effort into decorating their homes. 

I worked on the Hernandez home with two other designers, Jamie Namanny and Martha McGowen. Theirs is a three-bedroom, two-story home. Our job was to raise funds, design and furnish a home for this young family.

Design notes and some photos of the home, up next. Keep posted!

Left: Jamie Namanny, Martha McGowen, Nina Hernandez, myself and little Victoria.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Layers of Design: Putting A Room Together

I just finished designing a house with two other designers. The homeowner absolutely loves her new place, we had done a great job of capturing her tastes and personality (she prefers a more classic, traditional style in rich, earthy colors) and making it resonate throughout the space. However, what I loved most about the design is the restraint that our design team put into the selection of things that went into each room. In this design, there is plenty of room for the homeowner to put her own stamp on the room, to make it her own. The rooms will have the ability to look like they just simply look great, put-together yet not contrived, and not looking like 'a designer had just been there.'

 Before: Am average, 350 sq. ft. living room with east-facing windows. 

 After: Subdued colors and classic, simple lines on furniture make for a timeless, welcoming appeal.

Interior Design: Jamie Namanny, Martha McGowen & Aura Garcia 
Project: Hernandez Residence -- Furnishing Hope/Habitat for Humanity 

Here's a thought: In my mind, it's much better to live with a blank wall or a table with nothing on it rather than have walls and surfaces overflowing with things that don't have much meaning or significance, or worse, ill-fitting. There is nothing wrong with waiting patiently for that perfect piece, the one that truly resonates with you and just absolutely looks smashingly perfect for that space. There is beauty in tables and shelves filled not with hasty purchases, but with a few or several things carefully selected, received and collected over time.

"So, do you see it all in your head before it turns to this?!" was one of the nicest comments we got. The truth about that is yes and no. You do have to be able to select things that look good together, and envision these elements actually coming together. Yet apart from a general knack, there are principles and techniques that can be used as a guide.

Color will be present in everything that goes into a room. It is also the most personal, subjective and mood-inducing elements in a space. It sets the tone for the room, and is the biggest decorating decision you will make. It is the ground; the connection between what's on the walls and what's in the room. How to select a ground color? A foolproof way to is to paint an overall canvas in a neutral. Neutrals created an enduring, consistent theme that is soothing and very easy to live with. This is like the little black dress, that basic element that can be dressed up or down and accessorized in a million different ways.

Against this neutral backdrop, we can add the layers of things that will go into the room. Start with the largest furniture items. For a living room, a couch is obviously the most important piece. There are many things to consider when selecting a couch, but the most important one in my book is scale. The worst thing you can do is pick a couch that is too big and over scaled for a room. It is easily the biggest piece that goes into a living room, and it surely does not help if it's too big. 'Big' does not just mean length and depth, but over all scale. For example, a small 12 x 12 room cannot dimensionally and visually accommodate an overstuffed, 8-foot sectional! 

The Extras
When the basics are properly covered, you can then add the little things like pillows, lamps and other accessories. Have around things that are significant to you, such as things bought from trips to memorable places. These are the items that you will never get tired of. To these you can then add tidbits of trendy things that can easily and inexpensively changed.


Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Fall Outside: Autumn Decor

Season-less decorating, or at least the kind that does not require major transformation from season to season is always, in my book, more desirable. An environment that easily switches with a few quick changes here and there easily moves from spring, to summer, to fall and winter. 

Nevertheless, like snagging a few key wardrobe pieces to welcome the new season, some fresh changes are sometimes inevitable. However, in this new global economy, more thought must come into every purchase. Even in decor, financial and ecological factors must be considered.

Although fall is about harvest, there are fresher ways to decorate that do not include turkeys and gourds. Still taking cues from nature, my prescription for Fall 2010 is inspired by the still ongoing flirty floral fashion trend embodied by this Vivienne Westwood Fall 2010 floral dress, worn by Sarah Jessica Parker.
Botanicals--leaves and flowers, in subdued colors set against a palette of earthy neutrals are a refreshing and more modern alternative to the predictable and tired orange and red hues.

Target on cue: On September 5, New York designer John Derian's collection premiers at Target. This collection of housewares and home decor will include pieces accented with vintage botanical prints.

Above: Melamine ware by John Derian for Target, www.target.com

Quiet down your color palette. Try colors of straw, hay, oat, and wheat as a variation to the usual jewel tones. Pillows is an easy and inexpensive way to add or change color in a room. The on trend yet timeless way to go? Opt for stylized flowers executed in a painterly fashion.

Below: Lavender pillow cover, www.potterybarn.com, Carafe pillow, www.pier1.com, Boho pillow, www.westelm.com

Botanical art and prints are seasonless. The modern way to do this is to select subtle interpretations that go outside the box. 

Below: Shades of Green print, www.zgallerie.com, Bronze Bird  wall art, www.potterybarn.com, Manzanita wall art, www.westelm.com, Patch NYC print, www.westelm.com