July 14th 2008

Design Intervention

Since I have devoted my life to averting design disasters, I forget how many people really don’t put much planning into design. I recently moved and have spent much of my time de-pinking the house. The previous owner loved pink. Me? Not so much. The entire first floor of the house was a beautiful cream marble but with 2×2 PINK marble insets! So, my tile contractor was in my home with one of his employees digging out the pink marble insets. It was a huge job and the guy working on it was a delight.
On the second day he asked, “Do you mind me asking? Why are taking out this marble?”
I told him that the Liberace’s didn’t live here any more. I was going to put a beautiful marble that was more neutral in their place.
“Do you mind if I keep the marble we are digging out?” he asked.
“Not at all,” I told him.
As I went through my day, I frequently thought of why the tile guy would want the pink marble and thought it might be worth a conversation of what he was going to do with it. Call it design instinct, but it didn’t feel quite right.
When I got home that afternoon, he was cleaning up and I asked him what he was going to do with the pink marble.
“Oh, I’m going to surprise my wife. She is out of town and I want to put in a backsplash over the range like what you did in your kitchen.”
His intentions were very sweet, but my greatest fears were about to be realized. I have a pretty elaborate backsplash with inset tile and a medallion in the middle. It was carefully selected from the finest materials with a medallion I found in an antique shop in Chicago. A far cry from pink marble insets dug out of someone’s floor.
“Really?” I asked. “What does your kitchen look like?”
“It really needs some updating” he admitted. “It has brown or tannish cabinets.”
I really started quizzing. “What color is the floor?”
“Brown or tannish, I think.” He looked confused.
“What is the countertop?” I asked
His voice sort of trailed off…..”Brown or tannish, I think.”
We sort of looked at each other as if we were from different planets. “Sounds lovely,” I said.
“Do you think she will like it?” He sounded a little worried.
“I’m not sure this pink marble will go behind a brown or tannish backsplash, cabinets and floor. Maybe you should ask her first.”
“But I don’t want to spoil the surprise,” he said.
I quickly added that women can be kind of picky when it comes to decorating their kitchen and he should consider spoiling the surprise.
He conceded that he bought her some kitchen towels one Christmas and for some reason she never used them. When I asked him what color they were, he told me they were brown or tannish or something like that.
I told him I would be happy to talk to her when he came back to put the new marble in my floors. Maybe she would like to see my backsplash first and see if she thinks that pink marble would work on her backsplash.
Two days later he called and said he would be there to work on my new marble and asked if he could bring his wife. I told him I would be there to meet her.
She brought a picture of her kitchen. Her cabinets were a pickled wood with green countertops and a gold floor. In 20 minutes, we decided that instead of putting in a pink marble backsplash they could paint the cabinets a golden brown, get new hardware and change out the countertops to a laminate that had a granite look and lay new tile in the kitchen, after all I knew a good tile layer.
“Hey, I think I might have enough left over from another job,” he said.
“NO!” His wife and I said in unison.
“I’ll go pick something out and I’ll run it by you before he installs it,” she said to me. Sounds like a plan!
As they walked out she turned around behind his back and mouthed, thank you, thank you, thank you.
I just smiled. Another design intervention.

April 15th 2008

More Cuss & Discuss

As the designer of some pretty complicated stuff, it is my job to understand what the client wants, needs and can afford, and then design and build that vision. Sounds easy enough, eh? Well, there are always moments when it is not so easy. There can be very different opinions on what is beautiful from the two different personalities who might be in that design meeting.

For instance, she wants a beautiful, peaceful spa-like bath. He wants a plasma TV in the tub, each vanity and in the water closet (where the toilet is located). She wants a cook’s kitchen with built-in compartments for each conceivable cooking need, pull out cutting boards, a place for the Cuisinart with power in a “secret compartment”, etc. He wants to put the blender on the center island so he doesn’t ever have to find it. Oh yeah, with a plug ON TOP of the countertop. She immediately goes into combat mode and he looks surprised. This is a bonifide hissy fit moment. She digs in her heels and he is trying to run damage control.

This is one of the most important requirements of my job….marriage counseling. I throw myself right in the middle of the melt down and calmly say, “This is what we call a ‘Cuss and Discuss’. We will table the design for the kitchen at this meeting and move on. But, I want you both to write down what is important to you to include in the room. Then, cuss and discuss, and let me know in the next meeting what you decided.” Both go to their respective corners and we move on.

At the end of the meeting they almost always apologize and I let them know that it wasn’t the first time that has happened (probably not even the first time that day). This is a common occurrence in my world of Designdom.

I would love to be a fly on the wall in some of those “Cuss and Discuss” talks. But, without fail, at the next meeting they proudly come up with a compromise that works. Sometimes the compromise is not in the same room. He concedes to not give his input in the kitchen, but he has full control over the media room. She gets the kitchen of her dreams with thought into every single thing she does in the room, down to the flip down computer with all her recipes, connected to the internet to find even more. He wires the media room for plasmas, surround sound, speakers in every crevice of the room, and every conceivable source of media known to man. The wiring in the place would be the envy of NASA.

There, problem solved and everyone is happy. I always give a very wise piece of advice (when asked). Pick your fight, then fight to win!

January 23rd 2007

Cuss & Discuss

Think of all the important decisions you’ve had to make with your spouse, parent, or significant other.  You probably agree on many things.  You probably fight like cats & dogs over others.  I’ve worked through the custom building process with many couples.  And if you haven’t noticed, I ask a LOT of questions to arrive at the right answers.  Questions that perhaps the homeowners themselves haven’t thought to be an issue (see “where are you going to watch TV in your pajamas”).  Well, when you poke around with the questions, you’re bound to see a lot of loving agreement and a hear your fair share of cussing.  Sticky points warrant a “Cuss & Discuss” session between the decision makers.  Lay it all out on the table, go home, fight it out, and come back when you’re at the loving agreement stage – or maybe somewhere in the middle.  It makes for the best designs.