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5 posts from May 2011

May 25, 2011

A White Kitchen Where Everything Old Is New Again

Lucianna Samu

I hate riddles so I'll make this quick.  What do vintage enamelware, black+white bone cabinet hardware, and reclaimed cherry wainscoting have in common?  They're all old-fashioned, of course!  How do you make a brand spanking new all-white kitchen look and feel like it belongs in a really old farmhouse?  You lavish the space with an abundance of old-fashioned elements and a distressed antique white paint finish.  Problem and riddle solved!


I always knew if I was patient and thought about it long enough I'd come up with a great solution for my kitchen backsplash.  I've been schlepping a pile of solid cherry antique wainscoting around for nearly five years and I have a lot of it.  Rescued from a sweet old house destined to be demolished, I had every single piece of it off the walls before the bulldozer guy finished his morning coffee.  I recall bringing him a few doughnuts, a simple gesture I've learned will buy me a few extra minutes of "rescue time." 

Moving through a house to the tune of a warming diesel engine is for die-hard scavengers only, but the rewards are always worth the trouble.  And although I can never bear the sound of the bucket being lowered onto a house about to be leveled, I regularly attend these unnerving salvage missions just the same.  I'm a very serious repurposer and old stuff I can make new again is getting harder and harder to find.


Doesn't it look like it was here already?

The wainscoting fit perfectly into place with just a quick trim, instantly adding the pattern, rhythm and age I think the kitchen was lacking; instant OLD.  There was a fair amount of debate about painting over the cherry.  Why do you suppose men are always opposed to painting wood?  I believe I've elevated the stuff to a whole new standard of excellence by painting it and all it took was four well chosen and decidedly old fashioned vintage white paint colors.  My three very closely related white color choices are all inspired by my collection of pitchers and creamers, while the creamy, pale, butterscotch (not quite) white, is a link to the color of my range.

Foggy Morning 2106-70, Natural Wicker OC-01, Muslin OC-12, Crisp Straw 2157-50

I'll post the details of how I created the distressed antique white paint finish for you next week.  I'm so thrilled with the results I don't want to get sidetracked with the details of the magic I've made here.  Suffice to say, it is an easy to accomplish technique made all the better by the old fashioned feeling only a matte paint finish can convey.


The technical wizards at Benjamin Moore might question my choice of Aura matte paint for a wood surface and I can't disagree that it is unconventional.  But I'm after a technique that looks as old as it feels, and I'm not at all concerned about the paint or the wood being scratched.  The paint finish will prove perfectly serviceable for this application where it won't be subject to undue wear and tear and the least bit of shine would ruin the effect.


Owing to the body of the paint itself, a quality consistent with the matte finish, each color hangs in the old shellac orange peel just enough, adding another layer interest to the layered paint technique.
There are a number of options to make this finish appear more distressed and aged, or even cleaner and whiter.  I've opted to do nothing more.  The wainscoting looks to me now exactly like a painted mosaic of previously painted vintage wainscoting, salvaged in pieces and reinstalled by a fastidious recycler.  Except it's all essentially new and clean and fresh and durable and perfectly in keeping with a brand new all-white kitchen and an old black+white enamel pot!


If you love the look and don't have friends who knock houses down for a living, this technique could easily be duplicated on new wainscoting, sheet paneling, or bead board fresh from the lumberyard.  For that, all you'll need is an additional quart of dark brown paint.  I love this finish so much, I just might try it in other colorways, on wide paneling, old doors, furniture pieces, and maybe even a floor.


Can you spread the word?  We've got another reliable paint technique to make everything old look new again, or is it the other way around?  Aaah, riddles.  :)

Stay colorful!

May 18, 2011

A New Recipe for Designing an All-White Kitchen

Lucianna Samu

Churning out your grandmother's favorite recipes in an all-white kitchen is considered an especially rewarding proposition.  A dark kitchen is immediately made bright with walls painted a crispy white semi-gloss.  Add in a slab of white Calacatta marble for rolling pie dough, all-white hand-painted cabinets, a simple white subway tile backsplash, and a snappy lighting statement, and the quintessential, picture perfect white kitchen comes to mind.  Yes?  Maybe . . .


Calacatta Marble being polished in the Danby Quarry

I once bought a house with an all white kitchen that was less than awe-inspiring.  The floor tile was installed with the widest grout joint I'd ever seen, the floor was made even more ghastly by the choice of black grout.  The tile was worn to a permanent state of dirty grey haze, but that almost seemed right because it complemented the yellow haze surrounding each and every cabinet door.  The kitchen had endured over twenty years of abuse and neglect, and I couldn't get the paint cans out fast enough.  I managed to stave off the demolition for quite some time, but eventually that kitchen fell victim to my trusty twenty-pound sledgehammer.  Here's a glimpse of my interim fix.


before and after

Three houses and lots of paint later, my best ever all-white kitchen here at the farm is essentially new but in need of an update.  Trust me, there will be no sledgehammers involved!  Still it's another example of an all-white kitchen design gone astray.  The first issue is my lack of discipline about the white.  For an all white kitchen to really look and feel fresh and clean--and all-white--the space needs to be carefully planned and very well edited.  My colorful accessories, Bakelite hardware, dark wood floors, colorful range, and sometimes turquoise backsplash, are each making too big a color statement.  This is an example of how a color-loving accessory hound interprets an all-white kitchen, and I believe it is less than successful.


I plan to remove or replace as much of this existing color as I can, knowing a more balanced all-white palette will get me where I want to go.  To begin, I set up various color options using my collections to help me work though the myriad of white paint options.  Before I get to work with color chips, I'll remove or cover up all the existing color distractions with white sheets or drop cloths, so I can get a truly accurate idea of how many shades of white will look best.  Working out color combinations using "stuff" is a huge help.  Love that black & white corn pot!


The second issue in my kitchen is that it is entirely overpowered by the sunlight.  The kitchen occupies the most beguiling exposure in the house, the southwest corner.  Solar gain is the holy grail of architects seeking to maximize the energy efficiency of a house.  I get that part.  But a super sunny kitchen can appear washed out, and super bright rooms will feel as if the walls rattle when the sunlight is too intense.  A sunny room is rarely something to lament, but super, crazy bright needs to be managed.  I suppose I could resort to preparing dinners in sunglasses, but painting the kitchen in a color that softens the light and enhances the surrounding white cabinets makes more sense.


This phenomenon is troubling in a kitchen, since complicated window treatments aren't as feasible a solution as they could be in a sunny living room or bedroom.  This is where the grey range of color is indispensable, and I've decided a very neutral mid-toned grey will do a nice job of capturing the bright light, while contrasting the white cabinets.  I just need to be sure a color of any sort on the wall won't once again blur the idea that what I'm after is an all-white kitchen.


Too much sun and too many color diversions are easy challenges to remedy--there's a palette for that!  Since the adjoining hall spaces are now freshly painted I have a place to see my palette evolving.  I'll make color changes to the kitchen which add black & white, mixed whites, and neutral grey.


Next time I'll show you how the new cabinet knobs that just arrived from Anthropologie will link my black+white bridge color in the kitchen, and I'll share all my final color picks for the white painted backsplash project I'll be working on.  I'm not sure how many different shades of white I can squeeze into my design plans, but you can be sure there will be more than one!

Stay colorful!

May 13, 2011

Marrying the Best Kitchen Colors to Trendy Updates

Lucianna Samu

I've been fighting a bout of writer's block today, trying to string together a compelling sentence to describe my sort of trendy, color driven, not entirely necessary, but definitely dreamy, kitchen update plans!  Whew.  Thanks to the future King and Queen of England, William and Kate, I'm feeling more confident with my word choice: marriage!

Having dreamed up a design in which style meets practicality, there's simply no better way to describe how I plan to work every mix-and-match design trend, into a few well-conceived color solutions, for the few things my kitchen is lacking.  By all measure, it's looking like a marriage made in design heaven is about to unfold.

My kitchen is not exactly lacking.  I've gloated a bit about my Blue Star range, custom painted to match Benjamin Moore's August Morning.



I have more than enough cabinets, all of which are custom-made solid maple.  Helpers in my kitchen find the full extension self-closing Blum hinges entertaining, while I prefer to dwell on the expert hand painted finish I applied, which is easy to keep clean, and lends a timeless dignity to the kitchen in a manner only white painted kitchen cabinetry can.


But there's still work to be done.  The backsplash has stood naked for over two years.  I've painted it more than once but, while it has held up to the daily wear and tear of kitchen activities perfectly, it lacks enough visual interest to support it's expanse.  It seems an easy fix to tile it, but I've got a better idea and have planned a repurposed and salvaged backsplash.  It's a marriage of color and materials that just might work perfectly in your kitchen, too.


The pantry is roomy, and the salvaged glass door helps blur the fact that it is newly built.  When the glass was mistakenly frosted, by an overzealously sprayed polyurethane finish, I left it alone and considered the resulting obscured glass a happy accident.


We all have our obsessions in the kitchen, and no other room in the house reflects our personal lifestyle more.  Some of us are clean freaks, who prefer empty counter surfaces, and an "all things out of sight" philosophy.  Some of us cook and some of us microwave.  I once designed a six-by-nine foot kitchen for a young couple who happily prepared their every meal in the toaster oven, and decided to forgo an oven entirely in exchange for an under-counter wine cooler.  I've had clients who claim sixty feet of counter surface is their minimum requirement, and outfit every inch of usable space with gadgets and prep stations you'd expect to find in a restaurant.


No matter your lifestyle, the one thing I know for certain about designing a great kitchen is this: it needs to function as beautifully as it looks.  Having stood watch over the demolition of more kitchens than I can count, I can offer up the second thing I know for sure about keeping a kitchen up to date and efficient: it needs to be paid attention to regularly--sounds like a marriage to me!  While other rooms in our homes can be fussed over for a while and then simply lived in, it pays to revisit the needs of your kitchen on a regular basis.  The walls, cabinets, floors, counter surfaces, and even your choice of materials or lighting, can grow worn and tired in no time.  Rather than let it all age gracefully, a systematic sprucing up to keep your kitchen looking fresh and well loved, is the single best way to avoid super expensive renovations and improvements.


I'm ready for sprucing!

Over the next few weeks, I'll share with you the best updates for any and all kitchens, including those like mine, which at most need a little color tweaking, and a few minor updates.  Let me know if you have any unfinished business in your kitchen; I'd especially love to hear from those of you who are convinced it's time to tear it all out!


Hang on to the crow bar for another few weeks and we can get busy problem solving, marrying small changes and simple solutions.

Stay colorful,

May 09, 2011

Stealing a Design Idea from Fashion

Lucianna Samu

On the subject of design inspiration, Picasso had this to say: "Good artists borrow; great artists steal."  While I can't claim a place in either artistic category, my penchant for design larceny is indisputable.  I've been on the hunt for great black+white textured paint technique ideas for a while and when I happened upon this bit of loveliness, I thought about Picasso for a minute, and promptly decided I just had to steal it!


Plaid pants: $56 at Trash & Vaudeville, NYC, 212-982-3590

Once I committed to the out-and-out theft of the plaid, the sample-making dilemma ensued.  Should I bother to make a sample or just get right to it on the wall?  I am firmly positioned in the "hate it" camp when it comes to making painted samples.  That's not to say I would discourage or forgo testing before I commit to painting it onto a wall.  I just don't like making samples, and that's just about all there is to it. :)  I loved these kooky plaid pants so much, I was convinced a similar look would be wonderful below the dado at the staircase.  The color makes quite a statement there already but maybe the stolen plaid would be better?


I use oak tag for my sample making, because it's cheap, easy to find and can be easily taped onto a wall.  Small sheetrock cuts or cardboard are even better options, because you can skip the need for primer before applying a painted base coat, but they don't store or hang as easily.  Once you paint a base coat on your sample board, the fun begins, or in my case, never ends.  Hoping to replicate the wildly textured plaid pants, I fooled around with a graining comb, squeegee, notched cardboard and a wallpaper brush, working to figure out which tool would give me the best result.  This is the why of sample making; each try with the paint and the tool can be manipulated and worked over until you figure out exactly the best way to get the look you're after.  It's always better to keep repainting an oak tag sample board than it is to repaint a wall. My samples are never beautiful, they are informative, that's all!


For any brushed plaid technique, the relationship of the layered colors has as much to do with the result as the tools you use.  For my technique, I worked a haphazardly or "open" horizontal Silver Satin 856 tooled stripe, over a base coat of Stone Cutter 2135-20.  Since I couldn't possibly make it from the top of the staricase to the bottom without stopping, I worked a taped vertical line into the design and simply blended each together as I went along.  I practiced and tested both the color relationship and how to join the lines during my sample escapades so I had a good idea of how much blending and fussing I'd need to do to keep the finish looking even.


I love the texture of this plaid which is almost naive and most definitely random.  To me, the result appears as modern and edgy on the wall as it looks on the pants!  Once the horizontal layer of white is dry, the plaid appears after the vertical layer of glaze is applied on top.  For this layer, I made a mixture of Stone Cutter 2135-20 and latex glazing liquid, which I thinned by half with water.  I applied this watery glaze over the crazy white stripe, and repeatedly dragged a four-inch brush straight down through the glaze to make the vertical lines.  This glaze is very transparent, so it doesn't take much to leave it looking linear and textured.  It's amazing how you can't figure out which layer came first after the technique is dry.


If you also set out to steal (or borrow) this plaid, keep in mind that the high contrast color combination adds a lot of interest to the finish.  A bold red base coat, under a warm creamy beige stripe, followed with a thin red glaze is another alternative that would be equally fabulous.  (As would a rich cobalt blue+white combination).  Were the color combination more closely related, the plaid would look more understated and restrained, as is the case with the strie I have in my entry foyer.


A fresh coat of latex glaze ads durability and shine

My foyer strie is what is generally considered a tone on tone technique, which is to say there is little contrast, between the base color and the technique color on top.  Were I of a mind to add an additional horizontal layer of creamy beige over my now vertical strie, I'd have made another kind of brushed plaid, but not nearly as interesting nor as busy, as the high contrast black+white plaid.  So you have a good example here of how one single technique, rendered in a different choice of color and tool and layering, makes for an entirely different look in the end.  Amazing what can be done with one brush, a graining comb, a quart of glazing liquid and a little paint, yes?


If for no other reason than extending the longevity of a painted wall in a super high traffic area, glazing a wall in any technique is well worth the effort.  You can experiment with tools of all kinds; combs, brushes, rags, plastic, cheesecloth, cardboard or my personal favorite, a notched squeegee, which I'll have more to say about in a few weeks when I get to the guest bedroom.  In the meantime, why not have some sample making fun?  You can choose any base color and, once its dry, apply Benjamin Moore latex glazing liquid tinted with any latex paint color you care to try on top.  You'll soon discover that the possibilities are truly endless.  Be sure to make a note of your color and tool choices right on the sample boards, because sometimes even I can't quite figure out what I did to create a particular finish.  Love it or hate it, you'll know your a sample making whiz when you begin to hate making them too, because there simply are never enough walls to fancy up with all our fantastic wall glazing creations.

Hard to say how my black+white inspirations will continue to play out around my house. Meet me in the kitchen next time!

Stay colorful,

May 03, 2011

Ode to Chromatic Dare Devils

Jane Dagmi

I respectfully acknowledge the quiet strength of barely there whispers of color that cast their spell effortlessly without making a ruckus--the muted palette that has no ego and lets all other room elements take the lead.  There is, after all, a certain power in restraint.  This post is not about them.

This post is devoted to color that announces itself boldly, playfully, and undisguised.  Solid saturated fields of it, exciting patterns, unexpected hits that quicken the pulse.  I'm talking about the kind of OMG wow that catches the eye as soon as you enter a room and expresses the sheer joy of decoration.

The overly color cautious, who dwell in a land of same value beige, are starting to feel uncomfortable now.  They're scrolling down this post wondering, "What’s in it for me?"  To that I smile and reply, "If you're open to it . . . a whole new world!"

To work up an appetite for color, flip through magazines, Google your imagination away, and visit lots of shops.  Stores, as you know, use color to capture your attention.  On a recent jaunt to some of my favorite West Palm Beach antique and consignment shops, I was excited by pure lovin' color.  From dabs to gobs, I felt compelled to share.


I started my inspiration trek at Nettie's Thrift & Consignment, just south of Antique Row along Dixie Highway.  This shop always has a good supply of fun and inexpensive painted pieces.  Owner Annette Stephens elevates small, bland wicker and wood pieces to new juicy heights.  For the tonally timid, a quick inexpensive takeaway item--a painted basket or side table, a throw or painting--is an easy way to enter into the relationship with color. If something attracts you, honor your instinct.  Bring the happy piece home, and don't over think it!



More inspiration thanks to Gardenhouse, up in the Northwood section of West Palm.  Prices get a bit more serious here where photographer and furniture re-styler Cheryl Maeder uses fresh coats of paint and zippy upholstery fabrics to reanimate pieces with great bones.  Smitten am I with this funky French fauteuil.  Lucky is the woman who sits upon it in her glamorous gray bedroom as she laces her gladiator sandals or the man who places it in the corner of his tobacco brown dressing room.  Happy furniture deserves a place in your home.


I walk one block north to Circa Who, a resale store packed with 20th century furnishings, lamps and mirrors, where the prices are fair and the stuff moves.  I enter and I want!  It's that simple.  It's that appetizing.  Owner Tracy DeRamus created a juicy backdrop that accentuates the shapely curves and angles of the items she sells.  "I love color," she says, "and could not decide which one would pop best, so I picked them all!"  Random stripes line one accent wall and a brocade stencil motif floats upon the two largest expanses of 18 foot high wall.  Same colors show up in different patterns in one big room.  Applicable in a home?  For sure!  Think entrance foyer graduating into a hallway.  Think bedroom into dressing area.

The shopping tour is over.  After multiple color punches in the course of an hour, my head is spinning.  Saturated with the desire to redecorate, it's time to go home, contemplate, make little sketches, and stare at the walls.  Thinking about change feels hopeful.  Creating it is satisfying!

At Circa Who, Tracy says, "I have been inspired by others to do what I do and I love to inspire others."  With that in mind, I recreated the Circa Who color palette. . . .