Outdoor Rooms

 

Many of us choose to live in the Lowcountry because of the natural beauty of our great trees, salt marshes, and beaches. The health benefits of spending time outdoors has been documented by many studies including a 2015 Stanford University study that found that mental health is improved by being outdoors. So it is not surprising that The American Institute of Architects most recent Home Design Trends survey reported that requests for outdoor living spaces have increased for the 8th consecutive year.

With Fall’s gorgeous weather approaching, it is the perfect time to spruce up or create your outdoor living space. When planning your outdoor living, establish zones or rooms for different activities such as cooking, dining al fresco, relaxing, entertaining, swimming, backyard games and sunset or sunrise viewing. The rooms can be defined by structures including porches, pergolas, and gazeboes; different paving materials; plants; and fences. A sense of discovery and surprise adds interest to the garden.

Essential components for sensory richness are light, sound, smell, colors, movement, textures, and patterns. These can be created using fire, water, plants, shade, paving, and light. Start by anticipating the experience you want to achieve. For example, a fire allows you to linger outside a bit longer on a cool evening. This can be something as simple as a fire pit or chiminea or as elaborate as an outdoor masonry fireplace.

The landscape architect Robert Marvin often included a “sun pocket” in his designs.  A sun pocket is a south facing sitting area with a masonry wall behind the seat. The masonry wall soaks up the sun’s warmth and blocks the cold north wind and creates a warm micro-climate which is a perfect place to sit on a cool afternoon.

Bird baths are an easy way to add water to your landscape. Their benefits are not just for the birds. It is delightful to watch the birds preen when they bathe. Fountains add interest both visually and through sound. Devise an element of surprise by placing the fountain where it is not immediately seen but can be heard. The Japanese Shishi-odoshi or “Scare the Deer” is something we all might want to add to our lowcountry gardens. The bamboo fountain is on an off center pivot. The open end of the bamboo fills with water. When full, it tilts to empty the water and makes a loud thud against a rock when the bamboo returns to its original position. It repeats about every five minutes.

The final components for your outdoor living is the furniture, lighting and accessories. Comfort and durability are key. One reason while fall is a good time for sprucing up your outdoor space is many outdoor furniture companies have their products discounted now.


Designing for Hurricanes

 

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association’s Climate Prediction Center (NOAA’s CPC) is predicting an “above normal” hurricane season with 11 to 17 named storms, 5 to 9 hurricanes and 2 to 4 major hurricanes over category three. The historic method of learning about building performance is through experiencing hurricanes such as Matthew and Irma in 2016 and 2017, respectively.  The better, less risky way is through research.

The nonprofit Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS) has a research center in Chester County, South Carolina.  The building performance testing is done on full-scale 2- story models in a 21,000 square foot, 6 stories tall building. They can create a broad spectrum of weather – ranging from hurricane conditions, windstorms, wildfires, and hailstorms. They use the data to develop best practices in building construction.

The research center also has a “roof farm” which is an exterior installation to test decay and deterioration caused by severe weather. This allows them to conduct long-term evaluations of new materials and systems.

Recently, a contractor said to me that impact windows were a waste of money because they still can crack and the insurance will pay for any damage anyway. This is false logic. The IBHS research shows that a key mitigation step is protecting the windows and doors with either impact rated windows and doors, shutters, or plywood. When the openings are not protected, wind pressure can build up inside the house. Then, when a door or window is forced open, the roof blows off and the walls can collapse.

Their research also shows that roof cover damage is the most frequent source of hurricane-related insurance claims. Metal roofs tend to perform better than asphalt shingles but it is essential for the roofing material to be rated for high wind speeds. The roof assembly, deck, flashing, and the approved roof cover all must be installed to be the current building code.

Fortunately, here in South Carolina, we have stringent building codes. The IBHS rates the 18 hurricane-prone states on the quality of their building codes. Of the 18 states, South Carolina is third with a score of 92. Florida (95) and Virginia (94) are first and second, respectively.

Julie Rochman, the former IBHS CEO, said “ States with strong, updated codes saw stunning proof this year that updated, well-enforced building codes have led to the construction of homes and buildings that can stand up to fierce hurricane winds. It can’t be any clearer: these codes work.”


Material Science

 

As we work to make our buildings more sustainable, selecting environmentally responsible building products and materials is critical to reducing the carbon footprint and building healthy buildings.  To select materials wisely, we have to understand what is in them, how they were made, and if they can be recycled at the end of their usefulness.

There are over 60,000 synthetic chemicals that were grandfathered when the first chemical regulatory system was adopted in the 1976 Toxic Substance Control Act. These materials are considered innocent until proven guilty and the burden is on the public to prove they are unsafe.

Toxic chemicals can be found in many things including paints, flooring, carpeting, PVC pipes, and appliances. One example is Methylene chloride that is found is the paint stripper Goof Off Pro Stripper. Veena Singla, Ph.D Associate Director of Science and Policy at the University of California, San Francisco said, “Methylene chloride is a toxic chemical that can quickly build up to dangerous levels in work spaces. It can cause rapid unconsciousness and death and has killed far too many people already. These tragedies are preventable.” The elimination of toxic materials is most important for interior products where occupant exposure is an issue.

Materials should also be evaluated on their life cycle which includes embodied energy consumed in the raw material extraction, production, transportation, use, and recycling or disposal. This is especially important for large quantities of materials.

A tool that help determine the best materials is an Environmental Product Declaration (EPD)  which is sometimes described as a “nutrition label for products”. The EPD document outlines the sustainability of a product. It includes a list of the basic materials and components, a description of the manufacturing process, the life cycle assessment, the carbon footprint and other environmental impact data such as Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) emissions or third party certifications.

There are two good resources to find sustainable healthy products. One is  The Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute is a non-profit organization that provides independent certification of sustainable products from building materials to cleaning supplies. Their list of certified products are found at www.c2ccertified.org. The other is Building Green found at www.buildinggreen.com


Home Security Systems

 

We decided that it was time to invest in a security system for our house and office after our house was broken into on Christmas Day. As we starting researching, we discovered that the options were almost overwhelming. Did we want to self-monitor the system or have a third party monitor? Did we need cameras? Should every door and window be connected to the system? How many motion detectors? What about smart-house options? Did we want a professionally installed system or do it ourselves?

Contemporary alarm systems are comprised of three basic sub-systems, burglar alarms, smoke and fire alarms, and carbon monoxide alarms. Temperature and water sensors are also available.

The burglar alarm monitors the perimeter of the house with door and window sensors and cameras; the interior is monitored with motion detectors. Select motion detectors that are pet sensitive and will not be set off by your animals.  Most people opt for a combination of the above. Depending on the visibility of your house to your neighbors, second story window sensors may not be needed.

Smoke and fire alarms can be the basic smoke detectors or be upgraded with a heat detector which monitors a sudden rise in temperature. The building code requires a smoke and fire alarm to be located in each bedroom, outside of each bedroom, and on every level. The alarms must be interconnected (either wirelessly or hardwired) so that all the alarms will sound when one is activated.

Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless, poisonous gas. The carbon monoxide alarms are installed on each level of the house and detect when carbon monoxide is present at an unsafe level. The building code requires carbon monoxide alarms in houses with fueled fired appliances and/or houses with attached garages. Most systems offer a combination smoke, fire, and carbon monoxide alarm. This reduces the number of sensor mounted on the walls.

Temperature sensors monitor cold air inside the house to prevent pipe freezing. The water sensor detects water intrusion or a leaking water heater.

Cost can be a determining factor in deciding whether to have a centralized third party monitor or to self- monitor. A self-monitoring system will notify you on your smart phone when the alarm is activated. It is then your responsibility to call 911 or determine if it is a false alarm. One drawback with this system is if your phone is turned off you will not be notified. Centralized third party monitoring has an on-going subscription fee. Many home insurance policies provide a credit for monitored systems so it might be a break even investment. Both professionally installed systems and do-it-yourself systems offer centralized third party monitoring.

Remote access and the integration with a home automation system is available with most security systems. With the remote access you can log on and control your security system, thermostat, lights, locks, and other connected items. Some systems will even notify you when someone rings your doorbell and you can talk to them by video on your phone. Most systems allow you to add additional automation features at a later date.

Online reviews of security systems and meeting with local security specialists can help you determine the best solution for your needs and budget. The system we selected for our house and office was professionally installed and monitored. We chose it because of the ease of use, the ability to add home automation systems later, and the price was reasonable.


What is the right size home for you?

 

The Wall Street journal recently had an article on The Risks of Buying a Home that is Too Big. It elicited a big – DUH – in the comments because their reasons were the obvious ones… more expensive to build, heat, furnish, maintain, and higher property taxes. What they didn’t explore was how to determine what the right size home is for you, your family, location, and budget. There are five major factors to consider in choosing the right sized house.

1.       Who is going to live in the house most of the time? This is one of the key elements, a family of 5 will probably need more room that a family of 2 or 3. The larger family may need more bedrooms, a larger laundry room, and maybe a separate kid friendly space for playing. If the house is for a retired couple who are home most of the day, there might be a call for separate offices or hobby spaces. It is essential to spend time thinking about how the family will live in the house and what spaces are needed to enhance family harmony.

2.       How and how often do you entertain? Houseguests two or three times a month require a different amount of space than a houseguest once or twice a year. Large dinner parties require space for guests to both mingle and sit down to eat.

3.       How much stuff do you have? Unless you channel your inner Marie Kondō and get rid all of your possessions, most people have a fair amount of stuff. Categorize like items for storage and determine how they will be stored. We once included 500 square feet of storage just for the Christmas decorations for a client. The size of your furniture, area rugs and artwork will also determine the sizes of the spaces.

4.       What is your budget? If you need more spaces than comfortably fit within your budget, it is best to see if rooms can be multi-functional. A once a year guest room can easily double as an office the other 51 weeks of the year.

5.       What is the average size house in the neighborhood? We occasionally have clients who say “ I will move out of this house feet first and it is up to my heirs to worry about selling it.” That is the rare view; most homeowners do not want their house to be the biggest or most expensive in the neighborhood because of resale.

It is also important to realize that other than the working rooms of kitchens, baths and utility rooms, all other rooms are flexible in their function to fit your needs and lifestyle.


Custom Furniture Design

Did you know that we design custom furniture? We designed this walnut headboard that is book-matched with curly maple insets. It was made by Michael Sanders with Sanders' Woodworks  Below is a close up of the headboard.

We designed this pair of matching foyer tables with scrap slabs of marble.

Sometimes you need a skinny table that is just the right size. This is a steel table we designed that Pender Brothers made for us.

Likewise, a really big table to feed a crowd outdoors is pretty nice, too. Pender Brothers made the base for this granite top table.

This funky corrugated metal coffee table is perfect in a corrugated metal Quonset hut.


Save the trees

Trends and Timeless Design

I recently was at the High Point furniture market and starting chatting with a woman at the shuttle stop. She told me that she is a trend spotter. I asked her what the new trends are. She was very coy and said that she could not tell me. But she said that gray is passé and subway tiles are horribly out of fashion. She expounded by saying that anything that you see a lot of - is already old news.

Maybe being a trend setter is not desirable. A friend of mine is friends with a New York-based trend setter. He describes her as looking completely strange and out of place, because she is wearing a look before anyone else. Think about the first people who wore ripped jeans as a style and we all thought they needed to throw out that pair of worn out jeans.

Hopefully, this isn’t spreading “old news” but I did spot some trends at the High Point market. First was the color blue. It was everywhere and in every shade. Sherwin Williams has announced their 2018 color of the year as “Oceanside,” which they describe as a collision of rich blue with jewel toned green.  The other popular color was a pale pink. Organic shapes and patterns were on everything. Texture was popular on furniture and fabrics. Bright brass hardware is back and furniture pulls are big and flashy.

One of the most innovative products I saw was Crypton fabric. This performance fabric is indestructible, yet looks and feels great. I saw a demonstration where the sales rep poured red wine on a piece of white Crypton fabric and it wiped right off. Residential textile brands that offer Crypton frabics are Thibaut, Kravet and Robert Allen Duralee Group.

I agree with Caroline Herrera who said, “I don’t like trends. They tend to make everyone look the same.” The opposite of trendy is timeless. My discussion with my shuttle companion turned to timeless design. She said that when a house is integrated with the landscape it becomes timeless because it belongs to it’s place. I agreed especially since site specific designs are what we do.

This project in Long Cove on Hilton Head Island was built on the last waterfront lot. It was full of beautiful live oaks and most people thought it was unbuildable because of the trees. We nestled the house among the trees and all the neighbors were amazed that we didn’t remove a single tree from the lot. You can see more photos here.


Help! How do I choose the right paint color?

Painting a room is the cheapest and easiest way to update a space. The most difficult part of the process may be deciding on the paint color. The options seem to be endless and can be overwhelming. For success in choosing the best color follow these seven steps.

1.       Don’t pick the color first. The paint color should be determined by the furnishings in the room. A large piece of art, an oriental rug or a fantastic fabric should be the inspiration for the wall color. Choose a color in the inspiration item that will highlight the piece. The goal is to create a visually harmonious space. The eye blends colors so the color does not need to match exactly but it should coordinate pleasantly.

2.       Think about the 60 -30-10 rule when choosing the wall color. One color should be sixty percent of the room. This is often the walls and rug. Thirty percent is the secondary color and ten percent is an accent color. These colors can be drawn from the inspiration item. Don’t forget to consider all the finishes in the room including the wood in floors and furniture and metals in light fixtures. Rooms with large windows have the landscape as an additional color.

3.       Use the paint manufacturer’s paint color fan deck to narrow down the shade options. Often it is difficult to determine the undertones of lighter colors. Look at the darkest color on the strip to see the undertone color.

4.       Get single color paint color chips to compare with the inspiration item. The hues look different when they are not next to the colors in the fan deck. Also remember that a bright color on a small chip will be intensified as it gets larger.

5.       Paint one or more test colors on large test boards to view in the room. The advantage of test boards is that you can view them on all the walls and one at the time. The quality of the natural light will affect how the paint is perceived. Live with the test samples at least twenty-four hours to see how the paint looks at different times of the day. Warm colors are often used for rooms facing north and cool colors in rooms facing south or west.

6.       Remember the ceiling, it does not have to be the standard ceiling white. Painting the ceiling 50% lighter than the wall color is a good rule of thumb.

7.       Finally, do not approach color in a vacuum. Consider the progression through the house and make sure the color changes are coherent.


entry

Lighting Your House

Have you ever had the experience of arriving for a visit at someone’s house and the porch light wasn’t on? We end up wondering, ‘Are they expecting me?’ Let’s say it turns out that they are expecting you and you are ushered into a kitchen to chat under bright lights and then into a dining room that is somewhat dim.

Contrast this to pulling into a well-lit space on the driveway and following a path of attractive footlights up to a front porch that has a welcoming glow. Inside, sofas and chairs bathed in the glow of nearby lamps as well as some ambient lighting from above. When you step into the kitchen to help the chef, task lighting eases your vegetable chopping. Upon being invited into the dining room, the chandelier is the centerpiece over a dining room table on which the crystal and china seem simply lit up. Wondering how this has been accomplished, you notice two spotlights shining down onto the table from the ceiling, adding luster to the scene.

The cues we get from lighting color our experiences. In the first scenario, the impressions are: unclear, harsh, enigmatic. In the second, all seems arranged for your pleasure and comfort.

But let’s say you are working on a task one evening and entertaining the next. We like to use layering of the lights to achieve the desired effect. This way you are able to use ambient lighting so you can see to get through a room, task lighting for just those areas where you need it, ‘jewelry’ lighting like chandeliers for special occasions, and spotlighting to heighten the attention or effect. They can be used separately or in combination, particularly on special occasions.

Now, let’s say you’ve figured out or worked with a lighting designer to determine how to get just the right combination of lighting for a dinner party. That can be programmed into a control panel, as can several other lighting combinations. Then, it’s just the press of a button on a control panel or iPad to get the same arrangement again. Of course, we still like to have traditional switches on the wall so that visitors or grandparents will know how to work the lights.

Most of our local houses have large windows to take advantage of the great views of the Lowcountry landscape. Without the proper landscape lighting the windows become black mirrors at night creating a boxed in feel. Layering light in the garden connects you to the outside even at night by visually expanding the interior space.  It is important to remember that you are not recreating daylight, but a dynamic composition to enliven the outdoor room.

Like interior lighting, you want to use different levels of lighting in your garden.  Task lighting is used for grilling or reading. These lights are typically down lights and should be switched separately from the other exterior lights. Ambient lighting is indirect lighting that softens shadows.  Accent lights provide depth and dimensions and should be used sparingly.  Finally decorative lighting is the finishing touch welcoming you to the house.

Lighting is essential to being able to use your house in multiple ways and create the appropriate atmosphere for the occasion.


Kitchen Trends

Kitchens are trending more contemporary according to the Kitchen & Bath Business (KBB) research. Some of the trends are great looking, but are they practical for your lifestyle? One hot trend is floating shelves instead of wall cabinets. They look cool if you have attractive coordinating dishes, but, not so cool with peanut butter jars and chip bags. Open shelves also collect dust and grease so there is additional cleaning. Another is no wall cabinets, which works if there is a large pantry close by to house the misplaced items.

Kitchen islands are becoming the focal point in the room. Waterfall countertops are stylish and add drama to the island. Dropped island counters for chairs instead of raised for bar stools is on the rise. A combination of counter materials, such as quartz and wood, is chic.

Some trends are driven by the desire for low maintenance such as slab cabinet doors, large format tile backsplashes and engineered quartz countertops. The flat smooth cabinet doors are easy to clean since they do not have anywhere for dust and dirt to accumulate. Likewise, large tiles have less grout for cleaner lines. Engineered quartz has the beauty of natural stone and is almost indestructible. It is also non-absorbent, so there are no worries about stains.

KBB reports that side-by-side refrigerators are on the decline and French door with bottom freezers are the most popular because of the large width for eyelevel refrigeration. Completely separate refrigerators and freezers are gaining popularity. We have also noted a preference for additional point of use undercounter refrigerators next to salad and bar sinks. French door ovens and side opening ovens are new on the market. They can make the kitchen more accessible when mounted at counter height. Many of the appliance companies are now offering a darker stainless steel, often called slate or black stainless steel, which is perfect for the trend in gray colored kitchens.

Trash compactors are almost obsolete, and warming drawers are on the decline. Built-in coffee stations are “meh” for our clients who think it is just one more built-in item that would need repairs. The hot new appliance is a convection steam oven. They can cook in multiple modes, steam only, convection only, or a combination of steam and convention. The steam oven cooks vegetables to be crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside. It is great for defrosting and reheating leftovers. The steam oven cooks more quickly at a lower temperature. The combination setting is perfect for meats by keeping them moist and tender.