In the Works: Condo in the Sky Project Design

condo in the skyFor the past couple of weeks, we’ve been deep into the project design phase for our Fairmount penthouse condo project. As you may recall, our clients are downsizing into this 1960s-era condo from a handsome historic brownstone on St. James Place in Center City. They called us to manage the project and get them into their new location as quickly as possible while making good design decisions for their new home.

As with most downsizing project designs, our clients are bringing some great pieces and ideas from their prior home with them. We find that people who have owned a home and renovated in the past know a lot about what makes a house feel like home for them, so we certainly welcome those ideas. But in a case like this one, where the two homes are so very different, and the clients are in a new stage of their lives, we try to help them consider some new options, too. On our Pinterest board, you can see some fun selections we came up with after we saw the condo, along with some things we know these clients will bring with them, including a lovely collection of Russian tea services.

The condo has some very high ceilings, and the electrical runs for lighting these areas are very limited and controlled by the building rules. So we selected some lighting options with these issues in mind. Possibilities include runs of delicate pin spots of track lighting, awesome chandeliers, surface-mounted Italian fixtures, or combinations of all of these options. Designs by Parzinger came to mind, with their combinations of brass, white, and black with chrome. Some fixtures will be features, and some will be invisible, with only their effect on display.

We’re also presenting options for the following:

  • Textured tile and counters that either look like or are stone — white, black, crisp, and natural
  • Chic, new pre-finished wood floors in a warm walnut finish
  • Railings or screens for the mezzanine

During this brainstorming phase of a project design, ideas flow and move quickly. We bring samples on site and take the clients to suppliers to see materials. The “decided” list grows, and soon everything will be selected and placed into the drawings, specifications sheet, and, most importantly, the budget.

Stay tuned for updates on this project, as we hope to move to the construction phase soon.

Lighting: It’s All About the Plan

Lighting: It’s All About the Plan
As is the case with many aspects of our work, if we do our job well when planning the lighting scheme for a project, the solutions become almost transparent to the homeowners and their guests. That’s because they simply blend naturally into the overall landscape of the room, completing the circle of design. For kitchens and dining areas, in particular, we always aim to bring in multiple types of light to allow opportunities to change its effect, depending on the time of day, the task at hand, the number of folks in the kitchen, and, of course, the preferences of the different people in the household.

Behind the scenes, we work with one of the most basic of design principles: the layering of light. There are three layers of light needed for a successful project, and this is one of the things that can really make a professional project stand out.

A quick overview of the three basic layers:

General — Overall, ambient light is very important to set the overall tone and create a safe environment in any home. This can be achieved in lots of ways by using recessed light, chandeliers, and so on, with light that can be soft or strong. We find that creating a room’s character through the use of lighting is a really cool part of our job.

Task — This is critical to make sure homeowners can do their best work in any given space. Whether they are cooking a meal, paying their bills or doing homework with their children, we bring in enough options so that all of these tasks can be achieved without stress.

Accent — Sometimes we call this the “jewelry” in a room. These pieces can sometimes be fabulous objects in and of themselves. We had one project where we used some wonderful handblown glass ceiling lights that appeared to be grouped randomly, but we planned very carefully to achieve the random look. They became a focus for the room, tying the whole design concept together. Accents can have hidden sources, so there are lots of fun ways to approach this.

Need help with your home’s overall lighting scheme? Contact us to set up a consultation. And visit our Facebook page for your chance to enter our George Nelson Bubble Lamp Giveaway!

Different Customers, Different Outcomes: The Value of a Streamlined Process

We recently received a phone call from a returning prospective client who had contacted us several months ago about doing a large kitchen/home remodel for her. At that time, we met with this homeowner and explained our process, presenting her with an example of our project book. This is a crucial tool we create for every home renovation project we undertake. It’s kind of the “bible” of the project, as it contains every drawing, specification, permits, and all of the product information necessary to complete the job. During the time since we last spoke to her, the homeowner had explored doing the same project with a home builder who had turned to remodeling after new construction dried up. She found that the builder didn’t use anything like our project book, and the spaces he created were unstylish, builder-grade solutions. So, seeing the value in our approach and appreciating the results we achieve, our prospect came back to us. The project book stuck with her as a symbol of “something different” she would get with us.

On the flip side, we’ve also worked with a handful of clients over the years who do not understand the value of the process and systems we’ve created. At critical periods in our construction schedule, such clients have requested major, project-altering changes in the plans that they had previously approved. When we are beyond the design phase and deep in the throes of construction, it is important for clients to know that products have been purchased, plumbing and electricity have been run, and appliances and cabinetry are ready to be installed – and changes such as these are a very big deal indeed. Of course, we do our best to accommodate such requests, but the results are problematic all around: added expense, delayed completion dates, compromised warranties and so on.

These two very different scenarios highlight the importance of project planning and management systems and finding a contractor with whom you share trust and respect. The process requires a high level of mutual commitment, and that’s why it’s so very important to hire a reputable firm. To read more about this topic, see the Myers Constructs Buyer’s Guide.

Enjoy the holiday weekend,

The Myers Constructs Team

P.S. Spring is just around the corner. The time for planning those warm weather projects is now.

Styling Your Space Like a Pro

Whether you’ve just completed a renovation project or you have an older room that simply needs an aesthetic makeover, if you’re like most homeowners, you may find that you struggle a bit when it comes to furnishing your space and giving it the perfect finishing touches. But make no mistake about it: styling is important. It’s what makes your house feel like a home and what makes guests take notice.

Of course, anyone with the resources can fill a house with a bunch of “stuff.” The difference lies in how the items are arranged. For this reason, even magazines hire stylists to prop rooms to look make them picture perfect. Here, Philadelphia prop stylist Lisa Russell, who helps Myers Constructs make project homes look their best during our photo shoots, shares with us her insights about personal home styling:

Q: How did you get your start in prop styling?

A: After graduating from art school 12 years ago with a degree in photography, I took a job working for an architectural photographer in Philadelphia. After a few days of accompanying him on photo shoots, I learned that even professionally designed spaces had to undergo a transformation process in order to make them “photo worthy.” I also quickly discovered that I was completely addicted to this process. Rugs and furniture would be rearranged, artwork would be moved, and decorative accents would be added or replaced to create just the right balance of size, shape, color and texture. In the photo and film production business, virtually every location undergoes this transformation process.

Q: Why is it important for the average homeowner to understand how to style their homes for everyday use?

A: If our space looks good, we feel good. I’ve encountered many homeowners who believe that it takes an interior designer or high-priced furnishings to make their space beautiful. They feel that if they don’t have the right artwork or the best furniture, then why bother? Whether it’s an entire living room or a shelf on a bookcase, many people struggle with arranging their things in a way that looks pleasing. But what every good prop stylist knows is that you can make anything look good if you simply understand how to arrange it properly.

Q: What are some useful styling tips that most people could easily implement in their own homes?

A: Here are four basic steps to styling any room.

Step 1: Look at the Overall Composition of the Room

This is the “big picture.” When you first glance at a room, what stands out? What seems wrong? You’ll know what it is because your eye will go right to it. It will be the thing that most bothers you. Look at the room from all sides — inside and out — and then arrange furniture so that it’s pleasing from every angle.

Resist the urge to push a sofa or other upholstered pieces up against a wall to get more space. Keeping furniture at least six inches out from the wall will make the room feel bigger. Large cabinets or TV stands, however, should go flush against the wall. The backs of such cabinets are usually not pretty. Now, go out of the room and look back in. Maybe you only see a half of a table when you look in from a hall. Moving it into full view from the hall can give you something interesting to focus on from there.

Next, identify other problem areas, such as a bare bookshelf or console table, or a lifeless sofa. Once you pinpoint the problems, you can start working on solutions. The sofa or chair might benefit from colorful pillows and a throw. Similar colored accents on a side table could also create some interest. A bookshelf may need something mixed in with the books for contrast, such as photos or a vase. This process of analyzing your belongings takes us to Step 2.

Step 2: Learn to Create Vignettes

A vignette is a pleasing display of your belongings that tells a story in the context of a room. Look around your home. Are you telling a story of your collections that is visually pleasing? This is a secret talent and obsession that all stylists share. It’s an understanding of how to create a beautiful “still life” on any available surface. While there is a bit of an art to it, to be sure, the bottom line is it all comes down to composition. There are a few simple styling guidelines that can help anyone transform their space and display their objects like a pro:

  • Tips for Table Surface Displays. Whether it’s a coffee table, bookcase or mantle, it’s a blank canvas for your next vignette. Use these tips and start styling.
  • Group objects together. Instead of placing random items far apart, create small groupings to make your collections look intentional and less cluttered.
  • Odds are always better. Placing similar objects in groups of three or five is always better than groupings of two or four.
  • Don’t straight line it. Placing accents in front of one another adds depth. Your objects will not always be viewed straight on, so create visual interest by overlapping them.
  • Mix it up. Don’t be afraid to make your displays eclectic. Random objects often look great together. Two mismatched candlesticks may look odd, but nine mismatched candlesticks will look fantastic.
  • Create balance. Combine small and large items in your groupings. If you have something short on one side of an arrangement, place something tall on the other.
  • Look at magazines. When trying to do this at home, take a look at some design magazines and photos on the Internet. When it comes to professionally designed photos, it’s guaranteed that every single photo has been styled. Look at the displays and study what the stylist has done. Note how many items are on the table or shelf, how they’re arranged, and what kinds of colors and styles are used together.

Step 3: Your Wall Is a Surface

Don’t limit yourself to table surfaces, look at every surface in your room as a potential place for a vignette. While decorating your walls can also seem like tricky business, with the right approach, it can also be a fun, creative process.

  • Start on the floor. When creating an arrangement, begin by laying the arrangement out on the floor.
  • Treat several objects as one. If you were to hang one frame over your sofa, you would center it and hang it at eye level. Treat your grouping of artwork the same way. Center the middle piece of artwork over the furniture and build outward evenly on both sides and above.
  • Follow the two-inch rule. When hanging several pieces of art together as one unit, place each peace of art approximately two inches away from the others, next to, above and below it.
  • Large and small belong together. If you have several large pieces and several small pieces, don’t divide them by size; arrange them together. If you have one arrangement of small pieces and one arrangement of large pieces, the wall will feel unbalanced.
  • If YOU like it, collect it and hang it. We often think of wall art as photos, paintings, or sculptures, but wall art is really anything you can hang on the wall (safely). This could be a collection of pots and pans (my entire kitchen), masks, baskets, plates, and even toys — you name it. Right now, my dining room wall is covered with giant cutout paper snowflakes made out of old wallpaper. I love them, and I’m keeping them (at least until it gets warm out). This takes us to Step 4.

Step 4: Have Fun!

Despite the fact that I talk about rules, the most important thing to do is to have fun with it and don’t take it too seriously. The reason prop stylists enjoy their work so much is because we get to play around with different items and arrangements until it looks just right. In your home, you should do the same. Keep trying until it looks good to you.

Remember also that nothing is set in stone. If you get bored with a particular vignette, clear the surface and start again. Rearranging your bookcase or mantel is a great way to use some creative energy without spending a dime.

Q: Are there any resources you would recommend for homeowners who want to learn more?

A: There are resources everywhere. There seems to be an online design magazine for every style out there. I literally have hundreds of sites bookmarked on my laptop, but these are my top four for both inspiration and practical application:

  1. www.designsponge.com
  2. www.housetohome.co.uk
  3. www.decor8blog.com
  4. www.anthologymag.com

Lisa Russell is a West Philadelphia-based prop stylist, set decorator, and writer specializing in interiors, still life and food styling for print and television. With a background in photography, graphic design and marketing, she brings the artist’s and the audience’s perspective to every shoot. Some of her clients include IKEA, Benjamin Moore, Hyatt Hotels & Resorts, Brownstein Group, Arm & Hammer, Philadelphia Magazine, Taste of Home Magazine, Wine and Spirits Quarterly, QVC and others. When she’s not working, she can be found indulging in her guilty pleasures, which include flea markets, vintage textiles, clean design, sewing, re-purposing old furniture, and using objects in ways for which they were not intended. Samples of Lisa’s work can be seen at www.stylingbylisa.com.

The Simple Side of Complex Design

Renowned graphic designer Paul Rand once said, “Design is so simple; that’s why it is so complicated.”

That quote was sent to me this morning by Mark Gisi, principal of Tabula Creative, who handles all of our marketing.

We, at Myers Constructs, agree with Rand’s statement. We believe that good design is clean, organic, seamless … and it is always a result of hard practice and discipline. A good designer not only has to “look,” but also to “see” what the proper solutions should be.

This reminds me of a thought-provoking article I read recently about Steve Jobs and how Buddhism influenced his products and business approach at Apple. Jobs was very serious about Buddhism. He would go to monasteries for weeks at a time to meditate, which would essentially “reboot” his brain, in order to keep it clear. The author connected how this practice of clearing and uncluttering the mind carried over to Jobs’ approach to running Apple and to the company’s product line itself: clear, simple, unfussy. From the start, Jobs aimed to make the functionality and interface of Apple machines disappear to their users. That, in a nutshell, is what we aim to do at Myers Constructs. We try to make the very complicated elements of good home renovation, design and construction invisible to our customers. We never want them to know or feel the complexities of our process. Instead, we want them to enjoy the experience we mean to deliver. We use great systems to develop and deliver tasteful, stylish projects that are never fussy, dated or complicated looking. We aim to make the process easy and fun, despite what goes on behind the walls or here in the office.

While we are not practicing Buddhists, we are very practiced “lookers” and “seers” of design. And that’s what makes our design solutions so “simple.”

Image: paul-rand.com

My Beef With Bad Home Design

I regularly drive past a 1950s split-level rancher that is being renovated near my home. At this point, I can see that the addition being built is closed in with plywood and the roof is on. But I cringe every time I see this home. It’s not that it’s structurally or technically unsound. It’s just bad overall design.

As you may already know, split-level homes have characteristic low roof lines, a big garage feature, and wide windows that refer back to the low, wide stance of the home. Typically, the private areas of the house are upstairs, and the public family room areas are downstairs. They were invented when people began buying cars and moving from the cities where they worked to the ‘burbs. That’s the culture they refer to, and it’s why they look the way they do.

The remodelers who are putting the addition on the house up the street are doing something “production builders” do. It’s a kind of home design based on Hollywood set designs, where only the part of the house facing the street gets the Palladian windows and lots of dormers, to signify “money spent” or “wealth,” if you will. It doesn’t matter what kind of house they are building; each one gets dormers and Palladian windows — even a 1950s rancher!

Of course, if you know anything about design, you know that multiple dormers on a split-level rancher are silly. The house is developing an identity crisis as the renovations progress because the two very different roof line styles now compete with one another. They also create a hinky roofing detail that is bound to leak in the future … but that’s another story.

When renovating a home, unless you are doing extensive tear down and rebuilding, you need to refer back to the original house with the new additions being built. If you don’t, the two design styles will end up “arguing” and creating confusion. And, at a minimum of $250 per square foot for a new 900-square-foot addition (this price is from the remodeler’s own website), these homeowners are going to end up with a $250,000 carbuncle on their hands.

Here’s one that’s done right! split level rancher

Avoid These Remodeling Mistakes

We all make mistakes in life. Usually, they are minor, and we can move on with little damage to ourselves, our property and our loved ones. But renovation mistakes can harm all three. Let’s take a look at a recent call to our office that raises red flags for renovation mistakes to come.

An e-mail came in to our office from a young couple with a small 3-bedroom, 1-bathroom city house. The homeowners had lived in the house for 3 years and said they were ready to begin gutting and renovating the house. Sounded like it could be an exciting project. I asked some questions to learn some more about what was being planned. Here’s what I found:

1. They intended on living in the home while renovations were underway. (This is a recipe for discomfort, at minimum. In fact, many a marriage has crumbled under this kind of stress. Paying for a short-term rental is much easier and more comfortable for homeowners undertaking a major home renovation.)

2. The scope of renovations would include every room of the house, including the single bathroom and their bedroom. (Where would they sleep or go to use the toilet or shower?)

Read moreAvoid These Remodeling Mistakes

Q&A: Vintage 101 (and a Giveaway!)

In follow up to last week’s newsletter, When Vintage Decor Meets Modern Renovation, we sat down with Natalie Rettinger, owner of Media, PA-based vintage furniture boutique Reconsidered Home, for a primer on antique furnishings and how to incorporate them into your home.

Q: How did you get started in selling vintage furnishings and antiques?

NR: I found my first chair in a thrift shop a few years ago. It was a tufted, armless chair with a dusty mustard yellow fabric. I bought the chair for $15, took it home, and immediately took it apart to see how it got its shape. I learned a lot from that chair and still have it, mostly to remind me to leave reupholstering to the professionals!

Q: What are the advantages of decorating a home with vintage finds?

NR: Vintage furniture, in combination with your existing pieces, allows you to be truly unique and actually helps you to find your style. No one else will have what you have. Of course, the other obvious reason to choose vintage is for its affordability. We have customers that often look to trade in their pieces in order to explore other shapes or styles.

Read moreQ&A: Vintage 101 (and a Giveaway!)