Monday, June 3, 2013

Stages of Changes

Change is a complex process. And, it begins well before we implement new behaviors.

“I think we have moved from the pre-contemplative to the contemplative stage in our remodel,” Miriam casually mentioned to me. Her comment caught me off guard. I did not know she was considering design work and I did not know to what stages she was referring.

As a family physician, Miriam employs the Stages of Change Model to identify her patients’
readiness for change and to help them build realistic and achievable health goals.

Now, she was applying that methodology to her readiness to undertake a big change in her home.

At the Pre-Contemplative Stage, the patient, or homeowner as it were, is either uninterested in or unaware of the need to change. Experiencing previous failures also contributes to an unwillingness to try again. Good listening, empathy and hopeful advice can help move you into the Contemplative Stage where you begin to consider the benefits of change.

This is where Miriam brought me into the conversation: knowing change was necessary and weighing the pros and cons. There is still a lot of ambivalence and doubt. My job is to validate these concerns, encourage her while honestly confirming the risks.

With this, we move into the Preparation Stage. This is where Miriam will go next, when she is ready. And, this is where I meet most of my clients. Having decided that change is necessary, we will begin with small, decisive steps. An easy start is to engage sub contractors to assess the feasibility of the project and give a broad sense of the budget. We will also need to find time in a family’s busy schedule to determine when work can begin. And, when it needs to end.

In Design/Build, we move as smoothly as possible into the Action Stage. Design schematics are developed with input from the contractor and a team of tradespeople that can include plumbers, electricians, HVAC, structural engineers, etc. Finish materials can be selected early to firm up allowances and determine interior details as soon as possible.

In the Action Stage, our determined efforts are built on a solid foundation of these earlier stages and with a shared team vision.

For the physician, the final, Maintenance Stage has a built in correction. Inevitably, relapses occur, and accepting this as part of the process of change, allows the patient to incorporate new behaviors over time and without the fear of failure.

Achieving an ideal design is a similarly long term process. A good plan builds in flexibility for aging in place, the growing needs of family members, and evolving tastes. Even seasonal design and hosting special events can be incorporated into a vibrant design. The goal: a healthy, long and active life at home.

Monday, April 8, 2013


My childhood home was all 1970's wallpaper and carpeting. Dorm life was cinderblock and vinyl tile except for a few semesters of thin drywall separating me from a suite mate.

The requisite early-income rentals were thickly painted white: all the trim and details disappearing under their layers. With luck, we had nice floors.

There is a science to color; but best to go with your gut.

The 1890 Victorian townhouse we eventually bought for our family was a delightful change. The previous owner played with pink and peach tones in different rooms, painted the floors on the attic level in yellow and the kids room trim in cobalt blue.

On a limited budget, mechanical repairs were a priority. After that, we could only afford to customize through color. And, it was an opportunity to experiment.

Bold color blocking highlight the steep ceilings of this attic bedroom 

Rich colors on the walls and ceilings make this large 
bedroom cozier.
The palette was inspired by magazine images that I had collected over the years. I limited the range to five colors to manage cost. And, to stretch it, I painted every ceiling in a tint from the palette choices. I also mixed glazes blended from leftover paint and brushed that over the painted surface to get a cloudy, softer tone.

With continuity and repetition, color envelopes you. And, the focus moves to the experience of color instead of the color itself. You can make this happen with white, too, but with less personality.

Chalkboard paint adds a whimsical dimension to the color 

The experience of color happens on a grand scale in nature. The forest canopy. The sunset. A canyon surrounded by mountains. A midwinter, snowy field.

Use color to create a mood that is bigger than four walls.

At the Saguaro Palm Springs Hotel,  natural and manmade 
color gleefully coexist.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Personalize Space

Some of my favorite blogs are virtual tours of private spaces:

The Selby profiles the audacious and eccentric. 



Apartment Therapy studies the familiar and accessible.


Glossy design magazines feature celebrities in their staged and exotic homes.


In Menno Aden’s portraits, the unfamiliar angle transforms the effects of everyday life into art.


This modern voyeurism is big business. We are compelled to see how people live in their space.

In my work, I am graciously invited into people’s homes to help reshape their spaces. There is a lot of sharing that is vital to building both our relationship and the project. I am thankful for the opportunity to work creatively and collaboratively with homeowners. But, more than that, I am respectful of their home life and personal habits even if I have to look in people’s closets and drawers, and talk about bathrooms and bedtimes.

My goal in the design process is to plan space for the specific needs of each individual and family. To highlight what is uniquely their own lifestyle and taste.

A large family kitchen needs to accommodate everyone, including pets. And specialized cooking appliances for particular cooking habits should be included early on in the space program.


A bathroom space may be sectioned to provide privacy for more than one user and
showers can be built to suit in custom dimensions.


Personalizing improves both construction and ornamentation. A cultivated collection reflects the homeowners life experiences and adventures. And, with room, these collections grow over time. A personal library is a good example of a vibrant and affordable collection. Books add texture and focus to a room and tell the story of what interests and inspires their owner. 

Josh Kuchinsky Photography

The most inviting spaces are authentic and unique: where you learn something, where
you find surprise, where landmarks of unusual and memorable details ground you.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Sharing and Blending Spaces

Good friends moved from Berlin to the Bay Area for work and family. They acclimated to many things American. For them, the most notable and amusing adjustment was to their children's playground culture: parents telling their toddlers to share sand toys, to get off swings and give others a turn, to move quicker down the slide so the next in line have space….
I hadn't thought it should be otherwise.

In their home, a small apartment at the time, their children shared a room along with their nanny. The entire clan all shared a single bathroom. They generously hosted many guests, moving furniture around as needed to accommodate a crowd. In those conditions, maybe you don't need to teach how to share; you live it.



All too often, I see the opposite.  We oversize and underutilize space.  We specialize and limit space to a single function. We risk being wasteful and developing unreasonable expectations of the space we need and what a space can provide.

I find space. I look for ways to Share Space and Blend Space. When a client asks to expand and build out their home, my first instinct is to find areas to reuse or multi-use. We talk about actual space needs and perceived needs. When adding on to a home is necessary, it comes after an honest assessment of the functionality of the existing space. There are always solutions hiding inside the square footage.



I encourage sharing space by sharing functions. Living and dining rooms can share space with home offices. Children can share bedrooms. Or, share play space with adjoining sleeping nooks. Kitchens can be family rooms with soft furnishings and places to relax. A guest room, only rarely used, can share spaces with a family room or office. In our home, after a good attempt at sharing a room for seven years, our sons needed a break. The compromise: our family room/guest room became bedroom/guest room. Occupying this larger space comes with some conditions, including giving it up to guests on an as needed basis.



Always, share luxury with economy.  Ask yourself honestly how many sinks you need in your Master Bathroom? Kitchen?

Blending space is a more dynamic tool to make the most of what you have. And, it requires less of a commitment. Be playful and experiment with how you use your space. Reorient and rearrange as the need arises, or on a whim. Swap a large formal living room with the dining room if your hosting needs require more space for sit down entertaining. Or, just do this for a party. Change with the seasons. Relocate furnishings and accessories from one room to another. Redecorate. Remix. Repaint. Refinish. Swap stuff with friends for short or long term use. Let your space age with you


Credit: Apartment Therapy

Sharing Space and Blending Space creates vibrancy through redesign and experimentation.

P.S. This article in the NY Times points out some unexpected perks of sharing:  

Monday, February 25, 2013

Opening Up Spaces

Here’s a question I ask a lot.
“What’s your house like?”
And here is the lead-in to every response,
“So, you walk in....”

Try it yourself. See if I exaggerate.

Some people answer with the precision of a compass. Others gesture, indicating something this way and that. It’s always about how people live in their space.

This is where I focus: making better spaces for living.

Any design solution worth your time and money should be carefully customized to your lifestyle. There really aren’t any rules. But, there is a general framework I use in space planning. Here it is broken down into five action items:

1. Open Space
2. Share Space
3. Blend Space
4. Personalize Space
5. Color Space

For now, here are a few thoughts on the first item.
Open Space

When I walk in to a home, I see through walls. I look to create views to other spaces, and remove obstacles that are not integral to privacy or function. The goal is not to fashion everything as an open loft, but to improve your experience of the space. Sarah Susanka uses a design rule she calls “Light to Walk Toward” in her Not So Big House series. Her example of adding a window at the end of a hallway alleviates the dead-end effect.


But, imagine an apartment building, or a structural condition where this is not an option. Instead, I often try to redirect circulation through space, connect previously isolated rooms and create views through new openings. These solutions give a sense of depth and movement without changing the footprint or exterior shell of your home. Often, I use color to highlight this movement through space. We’ll talk more on color later.

Josh Kuchinsky Photography

In this home, the entire approach to the living spaces has been redesigned. The original Powder Room of this Masonry Tudor was visible from the Front Entry. As a part of the Kitchen renovation, a series of small rooms were connected to create the new, larger Kitchen.

Credit: J. Abbett

The Powder Room was relocated to an adjacent space. We replaced all the windows but kept their original dimensions and locations. Now, the former Powder Room window is a feature in the new Breakfast Area. 

Altogether, this new view from the front entry is much more appetizing. 

Open Space also allows you to live in square footage that was either underutilized or closed off. Replacing walls with half walls or railings, removing doors to attics or basements and incorporating once closed-off stairways into the living space are all examples of recapturing space for living. 

This 19th century Victorian has been completely updated to suit modern family life. Within a warren of back rooms, the servants’ staircase was steep and dark. Now, open to the Kitchen, the staircase is sleek and sculptural.

Josh Kuchinsky Photography

In my own home, I have taken the doors off linen and pantry closets. Keeping it all tidy is a worthwhile chore. More than being motivated by the fact that everyone can see our stuff we get to live in the found space. In a kitchen, open shelving and glass fronted cabinets similarly create the experience of found space.

Here is a colorful kitchen where the stored items are contained and orderly adding texture and interest without clutter.



Open space transforms your home without adding square footage. It maximizes your
experience of space. It reinvigorates. It simplifies.