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Design Smith Interiors

Dreaming about your new room is your job. Making it happen is ours.

Please click on an article link in the left column to read the article. This section is updated frequently, so please visit again soon.

Pam Smith, owner of DesignSmith Interiors is a featured columnist in the Westmore News.

Barbara Parisi asks:

I have a large number of windows to cover in my home to control sunlight and privacy. I love the look of the natural fibers in matchstick and bamboo shades but am concerned that the room may get too dark. Any suggestions on how to choose colors and styles? Also, since you have to custom order each shade, any tips on getting the measurements right?

Window treatments are an essential part of your home's décor. But choosing the right ones can be tricky, not to mention expensive. Natural texture blinds are a great alternative to wooden blinds or other soft blind treatments. They also make a good foundation under other types of treatment such as drapery panels and valances.

Older matchstick blinds worked on a pulley system that was cumbersome and difficult to manage. The newer blinds are made with a roller system which allows them to be easily operated with less obvious hardware.

Color. Well, color is a very personal thing. To choose a color for your blinds, take a look at the other furniture in your room. Do you want to complement or contrast with the woods tones in your furniture and floors? As a rule, bamboo and other a natural fibers have natural variations in color which work with a variety of woods tones. The major blind manufacturers offer many options of weave, color and even decorative trims to help unify your new blinds with the other colors in your home. HunterDouglas offers a very nice line of natural fiber blinds called Woven Woods.

Generally speaking, the darker the color of the blind, the darker your room will tend to be. Don't panic. Dark doesn't mean bad. It can be quite beautiful and dramatic. To lighten the effect, try adding more lighting to your room. Every room can benefit from good, varied lighting. Try to add new lighting around the room, using floor lamps, table lamps, sconces and up lights (especially around plants) as well as overhead lighting. I think bad lighting is an American epidemic!

To get a perfect fit for your new blinds, good measuring is essential. There are two basic types of installation: inside mount and outside mount. The inside mount is a good option if you are planning to add other layers to your window such as drapery panels or valances. For this type, start at the top of the window and take the width inside the window molding. Then measure the middle and the bottom. Which ever number is largest is the width. Now, do the same for the height. Your largest number is the height. Never trust that your window is perfectly square. Most windows are wider or longer at one point. For an outside mount, the order of measuring is the same but the measurements are taken over the window moldings.

If you don't feel comfortable with your measuring ability, many retailers and designers offer measuring and installation services. If you need help finding a source for your blinds, log on to my website for some helpful advice and a list of local sources.

Pamela Smith-DesignSmith Interiors 917.952.6572

Jeaninne Comstock-JMC Creative Concepts 914.874.4387

Major Retailers such as Wallauer's In Port Chester

Measurement and Installation available.

The Dog Ate My Sofa and Other Horror Stories

By Pamela Smith, Creative Director, DesignSmith Interiors

We all love our dogs, kitty cats and kids but they can be hard on the upholstery. Lets say your sofa has seen better days. What now? The sofa is comfy and the size is perfect. Reupholster?

Well, I'm sorry to say there is no easy answer. I have had many clients who shrink in horror when I tell them how much it's going to cost to reupholster their favorite couch. So to help with one of life's little dilemmas, please consider the following:

  1. Is your sofa an antique?
  2. Does it have sentimental value?
  3. Was your sofa custom made for your space?
  4. Is it an investment quality piece? Designer frame with down cushions,
    for example?

If you answered no to any or all of the above, chances are it is more cost effective to buy new. My heartfelt apology to all my friends at the upholstery shop.

It really is a matter of simple math. If a sofa needs to be reupholstered, it usually takes from 20-25 yds. of fabric. A good quality upholstery fabric starts at approximately $40.00 per yard. You have just spent a minimum of $800.00 on fabric and chances are it will cost more than that. Now you have to find someone to do the labor. You should plan on labor costs of $900-$1500.00+ depending on the size, number of cushions and complexity of the skirt, trims, etc.

There are quite a few ready made and semi-custom sofas to be had for less. Be warned, not all sofas are created equal. Do your homework and buy the best piece that your budget allows.

If you answered yes to the questions above, you should probably consider reupholstering your piece. Here are some guidelines:

Buy good quality upholstery fabric . I can't stress this enough. If you going to the trouble (and expense); do it right. If you are having trouble finding a fabric that you like, you can hire a designer on an hourly basis to help you with this decision.

  1. Get an estimate in writing. There are many reputable workrooms in the area but it is best to ask for a referral from your friends.
  2. Have the springs and padding repaired when your piece is done. Don't try to skimp on this step or you'll find yourself back at the shop having this done and then paying double for the labor to upholster your piece. This also applies to woodwork on the legs and arms. If they are damaged, have them repaired now. Nothing ruins the look of a freshly upholstered piece like shabby looking woodwork.
  3. Get creative. You don't have to settle for the shape of your old piece. Consider adding piping. If the arms are flat, consider having them stuffed for a rounder appearance. Have fun with a new design for the skirt. Add trim. The possibilities are endless.
  4. When your piece is delivered from the upholstery shop-give it a good once over and for heavens sake, sit on it. If any of the seams don't look perfect, the cushions are too hard or a pattern doesn't match- speak up

If you have kids or pets (I'm not sure which one is worse) look for fabrics made to withstand a lot of abuse. A company called Crypton manufactures fabrics specifically designed to shed pet hair and stains. You should also consider an indoor/outdoor fabric such as Sunbrella. These fabrics are used on patio furniture and with good reason. They can take a lot. Sunbrella has several advantages- it retains color very well (even with sun exposure), it repels water and stains and is easy to spot clean.

And finally, don't forget slipcovers. The same rules apply but instead of reupholstering in an expensive fabric, have the body of the sofa done in muslin and then have a slipcover made in a low maintenance fabric. This really gives you a lot of flexibility. It allows for easy cleaning and if your dog (or cat or kid) ruins it, you can replace the cover for a lot less than having your sofa reupholstered.

Living Large in a Small Space

I recently received this email from a couple: "My wife and I have a small home and we want to make the most it. HELP!!!!" No problem, I live for a challenge. I met with the clients at their home to find them living with one sofa, one table, one lamp and virtually nothing else. You might think that their living room was the size of a postage stamp but in fact it was 15'x 18', a good size room with nice proportions, a lovely fireplace and a beautiful bay window. My client's problem wasn't a lack of space but fear; fear of putting furniture in the space because they felt that furniture would clutter the space and make it feel small.

The secret to furnishing their space, as with any space, is using furniture that is beautiful as well as functional. Because this is the homeowner's primary living space, we chose items that are family friendly and where possible, multi-purpose. Multitasking furniture is a dominant trend in home design. Tables that can be used as extra seating, ottomans tucked under console tables that can be pulled out when needed, benches used for coffee tables, or day beds used for sofas. In my client's home, we were able to create two seating areas and take advantage of both focal points by using the space wisely and multi-tasking the furniture.

Another strong consideration is the scale of every piece that goes into a room. Large or small, the size of a room dictates the size of the furniture. This does not mean that you have to teeter on tiny chairs. This simply means that if you choose smaller scale, clean lined furniture, your space will appear larger. Choosing furniture with legs instead of skirts will make your furniture appear lighter and therefore, it will appear to take up less visual space. Accessories should make a statement. Lots of little knick-knacks create visual clutter. Add drama by using larger, bolder items.
This may also include bold scale prints used on throw pillows,
throws or lampshades.

Don't forget to think vertically. By using the vertical space in your room, you can create valuable storage and display space. Get things off the floor when possible. Install wall shelves or ledges to provide eye catching display areas. This will bring the eye up and away from the visual heaviness in the room.

Illuminate your space. I've said it before- Bad lighting is an American epidemic. If you want to make your space feel larger, then add lighting. One overhead light in a room is inadequate. There are so many lighting options available today; sconces, table lamps, floor lamps, plant lights, picture lights, track lighting, monorail lighting, soffit lighting and recessed lighting.

Mirror, mirror on the wall. Sorry, I couldn't resist. Mirrors are an age old trick to make a small space feel larger. You can use a mirror in any room or hall, to add visual space. Just make sure that your mirror is reflecting something beautiful!

Here's my recipe for living large:

Multitasking furniture

Scale- clean lined furniture with legs and bold accessories

Utilize your vertical space

Good Lighting-Use different types of light in a room for balance

Mirrors (Use good placement)

Get Back to Nature-In Your Kitchen

What's the biggest trend in kitchen design? The use of natural materials, texture and colors. If you are thinking of remodeling your kitchen, here are some tips for you:

Flooring- Think about natural materials like wood. Bamboo and other exotic woods like ipé (a Brazilian hardwood) are becoming more popular. Natural stone tiles such as slate, travertine, or onyx can provide your kitchen with a great natural foundation. Don't overlook cork. Cork is no longer just for bulletin boards. It can be dyed in a rainbow of colors; it's inexpensive and easy on the feet.

Cabinetry - Natural wood cabinets are always a great choice. Glaze finishes have been popular over the last few years but now simpler, cleaner finishes are emerging as the preferred choice. Your choice of wood will certainly affect the overall effect of your cabinets, so don't minimize this crucial decision. Consider more unusual species such as red birch, eucalyptus or sycamore for a unique look.

Countertops - In recent years science has contributed lots of new choices for countertops. Marble and Granite have always been popular but consider the newer option of quartz. Quartz is a natural product that can be mixed with resins to fabricate countertops that are impervious to stains and scratches. Glass countertops are another interesting option. For a very dramatic look, look at Soapstone. It's beautiful but requires lots of maintenance.

Backsplash - The biggest news in backsplash design is solid architectural glass. Thick, solid sheets of glass are applied to the wall between the countertops and the upper cabinets. The glass can be made in many different colors as well as textures. It's easy to clean and has a wonderful reflective quality. Stainless steel is another fabulous choice but may not be practical if you are not willing to clean very frequently.

Appliances - Stainless is here to stay but you do have other choices. Jenn-Air has just released a line of appliances with floating glass fronts. They are currently available in only white or black but I'm sure that other colors won't be far behind.

Lighting - The natural trend has hit the lighting market as well. Paper, spun glass, wood veneer and even semi-precious stones have been formed into beautiful lighting fixtures. Don't forget natural lighting from windows in your kitchen. Nothing can compensate for a lack of natural lighting so include as many windows (or skylights) as possible.

A final thought about kitchen design; most people don't have the ability to design their own kitchen so a good designer is a must. Make sure that you have a nice rapport with your designer so that you can communicate your wants and needs effectively. This will ensure that you are happy with the end result.

Setting the Stage for Profits

You've made the decision; you're selling your house. What can you do to maximize your home's potential in today's tight real estate market?
Stage it.

Giving a home a face lift before it hits the market is certainly not a new idea but staging a home to look "welcoming" and to entice potential homeowners is a relatively new concept. Television shows, such as HGTV's, Designed to Sell , have made the process of staging relatively common in local markets.

Many real estate agents in the Rye / Rye Brook area have begun seeking the advice of designers who come in to work their magic on a home prior to the Open House. I recently worked with one local agent, Julia Brasesco, of Julia B. Fee. The home she called me to see was a wonderful property, it just needed to feel more inviting and put together. Here's what we did:

  1. Declutter-All unnecessary papers, toys, family photos and knick-knacks are packed away. Purge your clutter now and you won't have to pack it during your move. If you're a pack rat, get a dumpster!
  2. Clean it up! Don't forget to give everything a good, old-fashioned cleaning. Windows should be clean and shiny.
  3. Flowers everywhere-every bathroom, every main living area, the kitchen, and the foyer. Dramatic arrangements are a great way to add color and style.
  4. Set the dining room-make it appealing. Your china, crystal and candles set the mood. Set for a dinner or maybe for an afternoon tea.
  5. Accessories- New pillows, potpourri, throws, candles, towels, window treatments and area rugs were added. Remember that larger accessories make a statement. Lots of little things read as clutter.
  6. Scent-Scented candles, potpourri and home fragrance are used to appeal to the sense of smell. Remember to remove any offensive items such as cat boxes, trash cans, diaper pails, ashtrays or pet bedding.
  7. Landscaping- Fresh flowers were added to pots, flower beds clipped, all outdoor toys and tools were stored away. Never underestimate the power of curb appeal.
  8. Lighting-New lighting was added and every light (and every candle) in the house will be on during the Open House.

Overall, we spent about $4800.00 on labor and new items for the home. There's no questions it was a lot of work but it was worth it. The homeowners will certainly recoup their investment many times over.

Bathrooms 101

Think back to your childhood, was your bathroom a Zen like space well suited for personal relaxation? A place to escape the modern world, complete with fireplace, spa, unique tile and beautiful bath furniture? Chances are the answer is NO! I remember back to my childhood bathroom in Atlanta , it had a tub (which I shared with my siblings), one sink, a small vanity, a toilet and the tackiest wallpaper south of the Mason-Dixon Line.

Bathrooms have changed in a big way. We want beautiful relaxing baths; the ultimate space to achieve personal bliss. Strap down your checkbooks, it's gonna be bumpy ride.

We recently completed a beautiful bathroom in Harrison that defines this new sense of personal luxury in the home. This bathroom is the result of combining two rooms, replacing every square inch of tile with beautiful natural slate, glass tile and granite. The vanity was custom made to fit the space and the shower is expansive, complete with a beautiful glass surround. Sounds great, right? Well it is. This type of luxury may not be for everyone (or every budget) but there are ways to make even the most modest bathroom feel like your own personal spa.

One of our current projects is the complete remodel of two bathrooms in Hartsdale. One of the bathrooms is used by the homeowners as a master bath and the other by their teenage daughter. . The goal in this remodel: big personal style on a not so big budget.

Here's the plan:

1. GET A PERMIT! (Don't try this without a permit; you'll be in serious hot water)

2. Gut both rooms and divide the space to allow for more space in the master-maintaining a tub in the daughter's bathroom. We used a small tub (54?) to make the most of the space.

3. To make a shower in the master (they had no shower or bath), we framed a new space in the area occupied by the front coat closet. (In our case this works due to good headroom.)

4. New tile in both spaces. We used inexpensive porcelain tile in a larger size (less grout lines) in an interesting pattern on the floors, the bathing areas and on the wet wall (the wall with the sink and the toilet.) To add that touch of glamour we choose one tile for each bathroom to be used as an accent. In this case we picked glass because it reflects light and it has that spa quality the homeowners are looking for. All the fixtures will be replaced. We used one piece toilets which use less floor space than a traditional two piece toilet.

5. A skylight will be added to the master shower. Remember good lighting!

6. Our big splurge? A custom vanity for the master bath. This tiny bathroom (which is only 54? wide) needs some serious storage. There is nothing on the general market that would make sense so I designed a new vanity that allows for maximum storage without overpowering the space. Sometimes it's better to spend more money on something that is crucial to the function of the space. Save your pennies elsewhere.

7. Lighting and Paint. Both bathrooms will get a fresh coat of paint and some beautiful new lighting. In this case, we have recessed lighting as well as pendant lights in both rooms. The pendants are really for accent light and a splash of color. We used blown glass in both rooms to complement our color scheme.

Great Plan+Great Team=Great Results!

Embracing Change- Life and Design

Change is good. I know it's a cliché but it's a cliché because it's the truth. My grandmother used to say “Nothing sweeps cleaner than a new broom.” I love that.

It occurred to me recently how personal change is often reflected in our need for a change in our own living environment. For example, among my current clients: an older woman on her own for the first time, a young man in the throes of divorce, and a terrific couple with a teenager daughter looking forward to college.

All of them having very different needs and the greatest part: they all recognize the need for change and they are willing to take a risk. Taking a chance is sometimes hard but the rewards are huge.

Want to feel inspired?

Here's the plan:

Imagine, you are 60 years old, you have never been on your own. There was always someone to help with the decisions and you never had to make decisions on your own. It's time to move on and you buy a new place. This place doesn't meet with your needs so you have to make changes. Renovation of a home is daunting under “normal” circumstances. Every time I see her, I remind her how brave she really is.

What of my young man undergoing divorce? His wife took everything so he's starting over. He's trying to find his own sense of style. When he was married, his wife made all of the design decisions in the home. Now that he has to buy things on his own he has to decide what will really make him comfortable and happy. I think he deserves a lot of credit; most men won't even stop to ask for directions or accept help from their friends. He hired a designer!!

How about my couple with the teenage daughter? Why do I admire them? Their daughter is a great girl, and she'll be off to college in a few years. Her parents decided that before she goes they would spend some time (and money) reinventing their home so that they are all comfortable now but when she's off to college, my empty nesters will be living in a completely redesigned home. They've raised a great girl, they deserve something for themselves. An empty nest was never so stylish.

Embrace change it can be your friend.

Variations on a Theme (Room)!

I was having my nails done on Friday (yes, I do love a manicure) and I was sitting across from a lovely woman. We were both under the dryer so we started talking. She has a Craftsman style house in Rye that needs a little help, like a design direction. She love the Craftsman style and wanted my opinion. Well, here's my opinion: Unless you live in a museum, a little theme goes a long way. That means Victorian, Craftsman, Country, Total Traditional or anything else.

This is not to say that period style rooms are not fabulous. I just think that they are not the most comfortable living spaces, especially if you have children. My grandmother's house is a prime example. She was born in a time that demanded a formal living room. Her style was a little fussy and as a result we weren't allowed in the “no-no” room until we were old enough to pay for anything that we broke.

Recently, I was commissioned to do a nautical theme dining room. On the face of things, this might sound a little strange but the owner had a major collection of model sailboats that I took out of every other room in the house. They needed a home. My goal: A nautical room that didn't look a reject from Gilligan's Island .

I designed the room to have various elements resembling a ship: the walls and ceiling were draped in silk (sails), a feature wall was made with the owner's model boats which were suspended on shelves in front of round mirrors (port holes), the lighting is modern and sculptural (propeller), a side board was tiled with glass tile (beach glass), the chairs were covered in gold textured silk (sand), the chairs also feature nautical flags, custom made with the colors of the room. My favorite thing, however, is the ship's keel. Well not really but we had a huge ref wine cave (think refrigerator) to deal with. The owners wanted it in the dining room so we disguised it with a custom built cabinet to house the wine refrigerator as well their stemware. Very cool.

Theme rooms can be stunning- just don't go overboard. (Sorry, I couldn't resist.)

Inspired House - Q&A | Reader's Questions - Expert Answers

Q: I have a set of four tall windows topped by transoms, which form a dining alcove in my kitchen. Privacy isn't an issue since the alcove faces our backyard, so I bought valances just to SOFTEN THE WINDOWS, but I don't know where to hang them, at the top of the transom or at the top of the window?

- Kim Abrams, Newtone, Mass.

A: Pamela Smith of DesignSmith Interiors, Rye Brook, NY, replies:
What great architectural windows you have. I understand your wanting to cover them as little as possible. It would be criminal to hang heavy window treatments that would hide the windows' charm as well as your beautiful view. However, because of the configuration of the windows, with the transoms above, I don't think a valance would work well.

Since privacy isn't an issue, I would suggest hanging a sheer panel, either plain or softly patterned, on a cafe rod at the top of each of the main windows. Closing the curtains at night will eliminate the "black mirror" effect and provide a sense of enclosure. With the curtains open during the day, you will be able to see out into the yard. Buy panels about twice as wide as each window so you will have enough fullness when the curtains are closed. This simple treatment will soften the windows without restricting your view.