To Spend or Not To Spend?

We all know the adage “You Get What You Pay For.” Well, these words hold SO true especially when you’re buying things for your home. When designing, particularly when you’re on a budget, there are things you splurge on and things you save on.

So, what to choose?

If, and this is a big IF you are very handy, you may want to do certain things yourself: painting, floor re-finishing, sewing simple curtains and pillows and things like that. I love DIY-ers, and there is something rewarding about knowing you accomplished something in your home. If this is not your cup of cappuccino, consider hiring someone as somewhere to spend money. Quality labor and craftsmanship TOTALLY shows! Get a few bids from people (3 is a good number) to make sure nobody is price gouging you, and weigh the options. Shoddy workmanship is evident, and you really can tell a half-assed job from a good one.

In terms of furniture, if you’re going with a more classic or timeless style, you may want to invest a bit more in the pieces, as you can keep them around a while. Great Living Room, Dining Room and Bedroom furniture can last 40-50 years or more, if taken care of properly. (People getting married: excellent stuff for your registry!!) Upholstered pieces should have the fabric changed every 10 years or so, but if you’re buying quality frames, they will last. If you’re getting something more contemporary, you can spend a bit less, as the piece will probably last about 8-10 years (depending) and by that time, the styles will have changed, and you’ll probably be tired of it and want something new anyway.

Another place to invest a bit more are for pieces or accessories that will become the focal point of a room. I had a client who purchased a FANTASTIC chandelier that he loved and cost quite a bit of money. This ended up being the centerpiece and focal point of the whole space, and we decided, why not? It was completely worth it! Then, to make up for it, we spent a little less on other items, as they were of lower importance in the overall scheme. Check it out:

In the Living Room, I say splurge on the couch and spend less on the pillows – you’ll want change the pillows every couple of years. Oh, and if you’re on a budget, get a couch in a neutral fabric, to make pillow changes easy to coordinate. In the Dining Room, better to splurge on the table and chairs and spend less on the linens – if you spill red wine on a lesser-expensive tablecloth, you won’t freak out. In the Bedroom, go for a splurge on the sheets and spend less on the bed frame – thread count is what matters, you’ll probably never see the frame except when you vacuum. In the Kitchen, good idea to splurge on good cabinet doors & hardware and spend less on frames – don’t get the crappy ones, you just don’t need top-of-the-line.

My point is, there is a balance in where to allocate your budget. And there should be a reason why you spend what you spend on a particular item. If you need any more help, call me, we’ll figure it out. :-)

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How to Hang Art

Here is one I get asked all the time. Displaying artwork in a way that is pleasing to the eye is one of those things that takes a little time to do, and once you get it right – you got it!

First, look at the area you’ll be hanging in. If there is furniture on the same wall, you’re going to want to hang at a height that is proportional to the leftover wall space. Check out this foyer:

They took into account the height of the bench as well as the thickness of the crown molding when hanging this group of prints. Or have a look at this grouping in relation to the sofa:

If the space is a little more bare, your job is easier. You probably want the center of the image at just under eye level (usually 5 feel high.)

So, what I’m sure we’re all wondering, is how do they find the spot where to drive the nail? It’s easy: Templates.

Head on down to an office supply store and get a roll of brown paper for 3 bucks and use some blue tape left over from when you painted your walls.

1. Trace each framed image onto the paper and cut it out.
2. Find the spot on each frame where the nail would be driven and correspond that onto the paper.
3. Mark the spot on the paper.
4. Hang the paper template on the wall and move accordingly.
5. Use a level or if you’re good, just eyeball the position of the templates.
6. Use the hanging hardware appropriate to the weight of your artwork, and you’re good to go!

For smaller frames, you can trace them on one large piece of paper and hang the whole thing on the wall.

Here’s a little trick: to make sure the art doesn’t get crooked, add a piece of double sided tape in one of the corners after you hang it!
If you don’t have double-sided tape, Fun-tack works just as well.

Have fun with this. Once you get the basic steps, let your creativity run with the idea!

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Ode to the Ottoman

It has become one of my favorite pieces of furniture. In larger rooms, I use a few different ones in contrasting materials. Whether rectangular, round, oval or free-form, the ottoman (cue choir of angels here) is the item I recommend most for living rooms and dens. It is also the one that ends up getting used most frequently.

The obvious first use of this wonderful piece of upholstery sent from Heaven would be the footstool (with shoes off, please.) I hate recliners, so including an ottoman in front of your favorite easy chair or sofa allows you to literally kick your feet up and relax as you watch a movie, read the paper, or cuddle under a blanket.

If you purchase a tray slightly smaller than the piece itself, you then have a serving area to place drinks, quick bites to eat in front of the TV, and anything else you would normally place on a coffee table. If you have young kids, you won’t really have to worry about them bumping their heads on the corners as they are learning to walk, like you normally would if you had a traditional coffee table. Soft edges=no bruises.

I also love those storage ottomans with lids… perfect for keeping pillows, blankets, books, games, or anything else you can think of!

Having a party? Need extra seating? Boom, there you go! No rusty folding chairs for you! Just move a few ottomans to create and complete small seating areas throughout the room.

Have a very large living room, and need to divide it visually? No need to build a wall or add one of those cheap screens. Two ottomans in a line creates a barrier about 6 feet in length. You now have two distinct areas, and are able to keep the overall large sense of space in the room!

So, do yourself a favor, if you don’t have one yet, make the investment and at least get one or two ottimans for your living room or den. I know you’ll be glad you did… and let me know when you do! I would love to hear what you think! For more great images and info, check out my website!

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DIFFA 2013

DIFFA entry from The New York Times/Frette Design

One of the highlights of the Architectural Digest Home Show each year, DIFFA (Design Industries Foundation Fighting AIDS) “Dining By Design” is a fantastic way for designers to showcase their work in original and artistic ways, while raising money for a wonderful cause. Each designer or team creates a dining environment with furnishings, tabletop items and lots of creativity.

Here are some designs that really caught my eye this year… let me know what you think!

Gensler/Herman Miller


The New York Times/Lady Tina Green & Pietro Mingarelli

Beacon Hill

Pratt Institute

Keogh Design

Michael Amini


New York School of Interior Design

DIFFA is located at the Architectural Digest Home Show, happening right now on Pier 94 in New York City. For more information, check out DIFFA and Architectural Digest Home Show.

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New York Botanical Garden Orchid Show

This is one of those things that as a native New Yorker, I have never done. There is no reason, but everyone here does that kind of thing, and expect only the tourists to go. No idea why. I will never make that mistake again!

I expected to enjoy the orchid show: I go to the Botanic Garden in Brooklyn a lot, have studies Horticulture, love gardening and particularly love orchids, but I was actually blown away. Like out of the water!! The beauty of the orchids themselves, the presentation, the architecture of the greenhouse where they were shown, and the perfume in the air of hundreds of astonishing plants. But, don’t take my word for it:

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Painting Laminate Furniture

OK, so a lot of Do-It-Yourself-ers have been asking about this one. In a time where money can sometimes be tight, especially if you’re just starting out or redecorating on a very tight budget, Laminate Ready-to-Assemble furniture has become an option that appears more and more. However, the limits in color are dictated by the manufacturers of such furniture and a lot of the time, these pieces just don’t fit into the decor of a space, especially if you’re a creative DIY-er.

So, why not make that ubiquitous white Ikea Billy Bookcase an interesting blue? Red? Chocolate brown? Your options are almost endless here. Basically, any color you find at the paint store can be applied to the furniture you just bought. All it takes is a few steps:

1. Assemble the piece. Or, if it’s an existing piece in your home, make sure it is clean.

2. Sand it! The idea is to to rough up the laminate so paint will stick. A pass of 180-220 grit paper should do it. Wipe clean of all dust when you’re done.

3. Prime it! For God’s sake, do not skip this step!!! Invest in a good quality heavy-duty primer for all surfaces. My favorite is Zinsser 1-2-3. Slap on 2 coats (the first should dry in an hour or so.)

4. Paint it! 2 coats of your chosen color over the primer will give a great facelift.

5. (Optional) You can choose to apply 2 coats of polyurethane over the paint for extra durability. This would be a good idea if the piece going to be used a lot, or if it will be placed in a high-traffic area.

That’s it! A lot easier than you thought, huh? Now, if you happen to be limited in budget, you can certainly compensate with your creativity!


For more ideas, check out my website at

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Someone once asked me for a price to cover a set of 6 dining chairs in plastic. I said, “It would cost every ounce of taste in my soul.”

I wish I was making that up. It was pretty much then and there (after practically running away screaming) that I realized not everyone in this world has the same sense of TASTE.

One of my cousins reminded me that our grandmother used to have these two large crushed velvet club chairs (in Christmas Red and Green) covered with age-yellowed plastic slipcovers. On hot summer days, we would all stick to them and lose a layer of skin, since she refused to purchase an air-conditioner. You gotta wonder about who makes those slipcovers, and I guess you gotta wonder about who buys them. My grandmother’s logic was to keep the chairs looking new as years went by, and I guess they did under those sheaths. But in the process, she prioritized the care of those 1960′s bad-acid-flashback-nightmare-pieces above the epidermal interest of her family.

No. On all counts.

But, I digress. After a few layers of flesh grew back, and I began relating more visually to my surroundings, I realized, “Wait… Those things are not only dangerous, they look absolutely horrible too!!” I cringed a bit when in the same room with them, and got very hot. Maybe some hives. These feelings still come back once in a while, in a semi-Pavlovian manner. I was in a house some years ago and the owners had an amoeba-shaped glass-top coffee table with a ceramic base in the form of a cheetah, perched to prey on their La-Z-Boy recliner. The same place had gold metallic vertical blinds in most of the windows. Seriously, gold. With teal carpet. Another home I visited once (…and only once) had an obscenely large collection of Nutcrackers… covering about 90% of the surfaces. And it wasn’t like they put those bad boys out just at Christmas! This was in the middle of the summer! Can you imagine having all those eyes staring at you and those teeth ready to chomp down on… well, you get the idea.

Completely Terrifying.

Now, I have to qualify a point, here. It’s not that I don’t appreciate irony in design. Or humor. I love a home that is fun. Or tongue-in-cheek. Those are my favorite, actually. I’ve done concepts like “60′s Latin Bordello Bedroom” and “Baller-Superstar Loft” and “Vegas meets Versailles.” I love them, they turned out over-the-top fun, and were for very specific clients. The difference here is that we both knew that taste was being bended (at some points, disregarded) for a sense irony and fun. Know the rules first, then know how to break them. We KNEW about how crazy these ideas were and made choices based on that: a very theatrical presentation of a bold idea.

This is a “Yes.” Fun, Bold, Over-the-Top. KNOWS it’s Ironic!

It’s when someone doesn’t know he/she is being ironic that things go beyond simple mid-century kitsch to downright uncomfortable. We should all take a step back, have a look at our stuff, and ask, “Is this how I want to be represented?” If there is any doubt, or any hint of uncertainty, call a decorator. A plethora of snow-globes, Franklin Mint Collectors Plates, wreaths made of fake flowers, or anything ordered from the TV Guide are just some examples of extreme No-No’s. Framed 3-D Images where the eyes follow you around the room, collections of spoons/thimbles from a variety of souvenir shops across the globe, or any rotating colored fiber-optic lamps with or without musical accompaniment should be burned immediately.

Not that I’m saying that anybody has to spend a whole pile of cash for a great look. My job as a designer is to help clients bring out their personal style in a functional (and yes, tasteful) manner; to help present their homes as the best they can be to the people who live there as well as guests. With a little time and effort, any home can be improved beyond a sofa trapped within a bad plastic slipcover. Taste can be learned, acquired, refined, expressed in different ways, and ultimately doesn’t HAVE to cost a fortune. More than anything, it just takes some time to get the idea, and looking at a variety of Home and Shelter magazines, going to better furniture showrooms and talking with a good decorator are great ways to start. We’ve all heard the saying that “Money doesn’t necessarily buy taste.” It’s true… just look at Trump Tower!

For more images and info, check out my website at

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The Dish on Dishes

This one is for everyone who is buying some new place settings for your table: The first thing we all see is the aesthetic of the dinnerware, but if you take a moment to research what you are actually purchasing, you may be making a very good long-term investment that you can use every day! Here we go:

BONE CHINA is usually the best looking, most durable, and as such, most expensive. This is a type of porcelain, and is called “bone” because it is actually made with about 50% bone ash, along with 25% China Clay (kaolin) and 25% China Stone (which is actually partially decomposed granite.) Because of these properties, it is extremely strong and chip-resistant. These pieces are translucent and look great in a nice table setting.

Bone China

Most bone china is dishwasher safe, but you should hand-wash those pieces with a metal band (many Lenox brand plates.) Avoid microwaving plates with a metal band also. Most all-white bone china is oven and microwave safe. Many people save this china for special occasions, but it really can be used every day. Bone China is an investment, and like everything else, it seems you get what you pay for. If you take care of them properly, these are pieces that can be passed along to the next generation.

PORCELAIN or FINE CHINA is a very durable choice in dinnerware that is made of 50% China Clay, 30% China Stone and 20% Flint (a hard-stone quartz.) It is very solid, functions well and some pieces can be translucent. Most porcelain is dishwasher, oven and microwave safe and is a good choice for everyday use. It is a less expensive choice than bone china, and proper care can lead to these pieces lasting a lifetime.

Porcelain or Fine China

STONEWARE is a much heavier choice and gets part of its durability from the thickness and weight of the pieces. It is made of 25% Ball Clay (Kaolinite, or aluminum silicate,) 25% China Clay, 35% Flint and 15% China Stone. The construction of these pieces allows for brightly glazed colors. These can be the true work-horses of your kitchen and are great for everyday use. They are dishwasher, oven and microwave safe and if cared for, will last a while. It’s very fun to mix-and-match different pieces of stoneware from the same pattern for a wide variety of color on your table!


EARTHENWARE is a clay fired into a porous state that is glazed to be impervious to liquid. It is approximately 25% Ball Clay, 28% China Clay, 32%Flint and 15% Feldspar (a rock-forming mineral.) Terracotta and Majolica are types of earthenware, and this type of pottery has been known to show age in cracks, which some consider to be part of the aesthetic. Hand washing is recommended, or in the dishwasher on the gentle cycle. Microwaving should be done on medium or low temperatures only. This is not the most durable choice, but it is less expensive than the other clay-based choices and is maybe best left to decorative pieces or items that do not take heavy wear, like pitchers or serving platters.


Well, those are the 4 big categories of dinnerware that are readily available in most stores. Before your big purchase of 4 or 8 place settings, turn the plate over and see what it is made of, and make sure that it meets your needs and the needs of your family… and once you buy them, make sure to enjoy them!! That’s what they’re there for!

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What the Floor is Going on Here?

Without question, my favorite type of flooring for most areas of the home is wood. It adds warmth, durability and a great classic and finished look to your room.

There are a lot of products on the market that fall into the “Wood Floor” category, but not all are actually 100% wood, sourced from a tree. It’s a little confusing if you don’t actually know what you’re buying. So, here are the main types of products out there, and their properties, that you should know about. A “Wood Flooring 101,” if you will:

Solid Hardwood Flooring
is in my opinion the best, and therefore usually the most expensive. This type of floor exactly what it says it is: a real honest piece of solid wood, all the way through (about 3/4″ thick.) It can be re-sanded and stained multiple times, comes in a variety of widths and patterns as well as pre-finished color options.

Solid Hardwood Flooring

As it is a living thing, solid wood is sensitive to moisture, and will still expand and contract with the moisture in the air as well as with natural temperature changes. This feature makes it important that solid wood is only installed above grade level, not in the basement, because otherwise the excessive moisture would be too much for the wood to handle, and it would probably warp pretty quickly.

These are the marathon runners of the group, though. If installed correctly, solid wood floors can last a lifetime (mine have been in my home over 100 years) which is great if you don’t want to think about ripping up and installing new floors again any time soon.

Engineered Wood Flooring is kind of “Wood-ish.” It is made by adhering layers of plastic laminate with real wood. So, it’s mostly wood, but the bottom layers are plywood. This is a more economical choice than solid wood and has some similar properties. For example, it can be sanded and re-stained, but only 1-3 times, depending on the kind you select.

Engineered Wood Flooring Section

A good thing about these floors is that the better ones can be installed below grade level, as they are more stable and resistant to warping than solid wood. However, poor quality engineered woods can not only unravel in moist conditions, but if low-quality glues were used during manufacturing, lots of VOC’s (Volatile Organic Compounds) will be emitted from the flooring for years, and that is not great, especially if you have kids or pets. Make sure you know what you are buying!

Laminate Flooring is not not do much a wood floor as it is “Wood-looking.” (You may have heard of ‘Pergo’ which is a brand of laminate flooring.) It is made in layers: the bottom resists moisture, the center/substrate is fiberboard and adds its thickness, the third is basically a photograph of wood glued onto the fiberboard with some kind of pattern and/or texture, and the top is a clear (or “wear”) layer that protests the rest.

Laminate Flooring Section

They are manufactured to be scratch, stain, water and sun resistant, and are reasonably durable. They are very easy on the wallet, but as with all things… you get what you pay for! They won’t last forever. I wouldn’t put these in a high-traffic area. Furthermore, they do have a shelf life. I’ve seen lesser grade laminates really show their wear after 5 years or so, and some better ones after 10. Just make sure you know this walking in, and don’t expect them to last nearly as long as solid wood.

Acrylic Impregnated Wood is a manufactured flooring that is used in commercial applications as well as higher-traffic or moist areas (kitchens, bathrooms, foyers, mud rooms.) The color and sealants are infused throughout the thickness of the wood strip, to ensure consistency, and create an extremely durable product.

Acrylic Impregnated Wood Floor Section

They are pretty expensive, but do make up for it in ease of maintenance. These floors cannot be sanded and re-finished, but they do come in quite a good variety of colors, so there will probably be something that you like. They can also be installed over radiant heat, which is always a nice touch.

Well, I hope this explains wood flooring a little better so that you can make a more informed decision when purchasing. The important thing is to know what you would need from a floor (durability, moisture-resistance, ability to re-sand, longevity) and then purchase the appropriate products for your home.

For more great images and information, check out

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The B Word: “Budget”

Every project should have one, right from the beginning. A clear budget will make your life a lot easier, and save the unpleasant surprise of a huge credit card bill afterward. If you know what you can afford before getting anything, your project will run a LOT smoother!

I always say to think of it in a similar way as when you bought your home. You probably met with a few Realtors, and told them what you could spend to be able to afford the monthly payments. A little research on-line, and you hopefully saw a bunch of places. At some point, there was probably a realization that you could purchase a home for maybe $500,000, or 1 Million, or 10 Million… you’d still get a house for any of those prices, but they would look very different, and be in different areas. Once you knew your comfortable purchase price, you could spend more of the time researching only those homes that you could afford.

It is the same when you are re-designing or re-decorating your existing home.

If you can define your REALISTIC budget, you will know where to shop, and save a lot of time. By “realistic” I mean that you should not go too high or too low based on what you can afford. By no means should you over-extend yourself and spend double what you should just to “keep up with the Joneses” (or, Kardashians, for that matter) nor should you get a lesser quality, just because it’s less money. In other words, if you can afford a mid-range piece, there is no need to get an Antique from Sotheby’s or a press-board piece from Ikea that you have to put together yourself, and will leave you on your floor scratching your head with a screwdriver.

As far as a process, plan to budget for the big work first: contractors and other labor can cost a pretty penny. Get some estimates so you know what you’ll be dealing with. I recommend getting at least three estimates from contractors or any other people who you are considering to hire. Remember: the cheapest is not always the best. On the same token, if one estimate is really high or really low compared to the others, that is something I would question before making a decision.

Then, you may want to make a list on all the furnishings and items you need to get like paint, tile, rugs, etc. Break down the total budget by each piece so you know what you can afford. So, allocate a few thousand for the sofa, the same for the bed, chairs, rugs, lighting etc. Remember to add cost for taxes and shipping costs. These add up quickly.

Stay within the amount you have allotted for each item! If you do happen to go over on one thing, you should spend a bit less on something else to stay within your total budget amount. Yes, you can splurge on something you love here and there, but make up for it somewhere else!

One thing that is important to know is that if your budget is on the lower end, this will demand you put in more time yourself (looking for sales and things that cost less can be very time consuming) and more creativity… maybe re-purposing something you already have in a different way, or trading items with family and friends to give each of your homes a fresh new look.

If your budget is on the higher end, you can, and should, expect a better quality. Everything from fabrics, craftsmanship, hardware, details… if you are choosing to purchase a quality piece of furniture, by all means the piece should reflect that in every way.

As with all things, you get what you pay for.

If you would like to get a quality piece at a bargain price (and honestly, who doesn’t?) remember that the item may not be exactly what you originally wanted. Maybe you found something at a Sample Sale? Or some kind of Clearance? It’s important to note that there has to be a little bit of “give” if you’re getting something at half-off! The wood may not be exactly the right finish, or the upholstery may need changing or the size may be a little different from what you originally had in mind. Think about if (A) you can either live with it, or (B) the cost to make the item the way you want it to look.

As a Designer, I always ask my Clients to define their realistic budget for me very early on. This saves everyone time throughout the process. I always try to save money for each Client, and at the same time, will only show them pieces and make recommendations based on what they can comfortably afford.

If you are working with a Designer, my best piece of advice is to define your budget before you even pick up the phone to schedule an initial consultation. This way, you will both be on exactly the same page, and there won’t be any surprises in the end! Then you can focus on making your home look GREAT!

For more information on budgets and the Design Process, make sure to check out

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