What I Learned on My Summer Vacation Across the Pond

This week, I ran across a wonderful Remodelista article featuring an older Danish home restoration that included a stunning thatched roof. It caught my eye because I had just returned from vacationing in Denmark and was lucky enough to spot a few beautiful thatched roofs in my travels there.

There’s nothing like being in a country that is centuries older than ours to notice the choices that are made for older buildings. Denmark has a culture that values building materials that are sustainable and long lasting, and most of the roofs I saw on both old and new homes were in it for the long haul.

Thatched roofs, when maintained, typically have a lifespan of about 70 years — far exceeding the better go-to roofing materials found in the United States. More common and equally as striking home roofing material is the Spanish or barrel tiles, which have a typical life of around 50 years. Usually the flashings fail first, so the tiles can be removed, the flashing and related materials renewed, and then the tile re-installed. These half-circle overlapping tiles create a beautiful textual pattern and work quite well in protecting the building from water. Traditionally, these were made from local materials, often terra cotta, which is why you will see different color roofs in different countries and regions. These days, there are long-life composite versions that include concrete and plastic. And looking to the next generation, Tesla team is bringing to market a new long-life solar roof tile that will include a warranty of the life of the home.

The practice of using sustainable materials is centuries old, and it’s great to visit other countries and cultures to be reminded of the beauty of older buildings and that building well from the beginning will serve the occupants well. Choosing materials and methods to last for generations is the norm — a philosophy that resonates with our company and our clients.

In Praise of the Frankfurt Kitchen

I came across a recent article about a kitchen exhibit at MoMA in NYC that reminded me how much I have always appreciated the efficiency and clarity of the Frankfurt Kitchen. It’s sanitary, attractive, and makes good design sense. What’s not to like?

This room’s design marked the start of modernized 20th century kitchens, with piped-in water, gas, and electricity, lots of easy-to-clean surfaces, and compact use of space. A huge departure from prior kitchen designs, the Frankfurt Kitchen was centered around easing the burden on housewives, who were now doing the cooking instead of household servants — which mirrored the changes in social structures taking form at the time.

The workflow designs for these tiny spaces, created by trailblazing Austrian architect Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky, were based on intricate time-motion studies and personal interviews conducted with housewives and women’s groups. They were then standardized and mass reproduced across nearly 10,000 new construction homes in Frankfurt, Germany.

When it comes to modern design and construction, we can still learn a lot from the Frankfurt Kitchen. Understandably, homeowners want to see their kitchens as one-of-a-kind personal expressions of who they are, but ultimately the elements of that expression are combinations of standardized parts like cabinets and appliances and standardized codes for building, wiring, and plumbing.

At our company, creating rooms that are customized to the personalities and needs of each individual client using the industry standards, we work to create optimal efficiency — a challenge we embrace. As members of NKBA, Tam and I both constantly study all kinds of kitchens and living spaces, applying what we learn to better help our clients in their endeavor to create personalized expressions of their homes.

What does the Oscar greenroom and our clients kitchen have in common?


Awards for everyone! Check it out, Designer Waldo Fernandez has created some relaxing spaces for all presenters and honorees at this year Oscars. The Architectural Digest Greenroom at the 2012 features quartz counters that we have also used in some of our wonderful kitchens. See the Greenroom and the Casearstone quartz counters here:

How To Find a Great Remodeler

Here is an account I just received from a new prospect when I asked him how he found us;

“Was watching a remodeling show on television and they mentioned that you should deal with people associated with NARI. I went on the internet and looked for Philadelphia companies associated with NARI and found you.”

You can learn more about NARI here: www.nari.org.

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.

Video Clip: Tamara Myers Interview

Tamara, who serves as Chair of the Membership Committee for the DelChester chapter of NARI, recently sat down with NARI’s Morgan Zenner at the National NARI 2012 CotY judging to discuss Myers Constructs, and the role NARI membership and certification plays within the company.

Watch it here.

Myers Constructs: Community Outreach

Most people know Myers Constructs, Inc., as a source for complete design to build services for home projects, such as kitchens, baths, additions and whole-house renovations. But you may be surprised to learn that we also assist several local nonprofit organizations with their older buildings, as well.

We have worked with the following institutions:

The Fleisher Art Memorial — The Fleisher restoration project entailed repairing and replacing 83 wooden windows – most of which were nearly a century old – with the goals of maintaining the historical integrity of the buildings, achieving energy efficiencies, and providing a safer and more secure environment for the 17,000 people who visit the institution throughout the year. Because the building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Board was required to replace their historic windows with similarly styled models. We were able to help them by sourcing locally made, historically styled double-pane windows, in low-maintenance materials that fit their budget. Not only did we complete this project without interrupting normal operations at their facilities; we also received a Grand Jury Award from The Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia for our work.

Calvary Church in Germantown — We are working with this organization to correct some weather-damaged flooring, make some structural repairs, reconfigure some spaces in their buildings for better use by the parish, and attend to some deferred maintenance in their buildings.

We worked with a local homeless shelter to make repairs to several of their dormitory apartments. These rooms are occupied by women and their children who are escaping abusive living situations to start new lives for themselves. In order to protect these families, we don’t disclose the locations of these projects.

We are currently speaking with another church in Chester Springs about how we might be able to help them with an upcoming expansion project.

What we love about these projects is that we can improve the quality of life for many families and communities at once. It’s very satisfying to help build strong community resources that can help so many people.