Sized Just Right: The Small Luxury Home

As a seasoned designer with diverse clients, I am often either helping a family decide how much to add to a home they are outgrowing or I am figuring out how to put unused rooms to work in a house that is a little too big for its owner.

Generally my opinion is that less house is better than too much house, but my skills and vision afford me the opportunity to create impactful designs no matter the scale of the project. For the homeowner who is trying to decide the size of their next home investment, there are a number of ways to evaluate what will be the perfect fit.

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An In-House Chat with Our Designer on Commercial Design

We recommend looking at the business from two perspectives: inside out and outside in. How staff experience it inwardly and how customers and clients perceive it outwardly. By sharpening the image of a business through interior design, clients and patrons feel more confident in their choice and more apt to refer the business to friends and colleagues.

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Design 101: Perfect Drapery

One of the most impactful features of a room can be window treatments.  The most classically appealing of these is drapery.  Whether fully operating or stationary, drapery adds pleasing vertical lines while providing additional expression to the design through textiles. 

To help demystify these treatments, here are the factors I keep in mind as I design drapery for my projects.

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Design Solutions: Warming Up Office Spaces

Much like business dress, the design in an office suite should elicit confidence from clients. This makes the typical default one that in the world of fashion is the equivalent of a two piece grey suit: a classic choice, but one that needs a little help from a necktie, jewelry, or a great pair of shoes. 

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A Look Back on 2016

"The use of a rich plum on the walls serves up a warm and cool helping of wow factor" - PM 

"The use of a rich plum on the walls serves up a warm and cool helping of wow factor" - PM 

A client's gathering room in their historic home in Winchester VA. We furnished this space with a combination of American made and vintage goods. Built-ins provide a clean space to showcase our client's collection of art and artifacts. We visually merchandised the collection so that each vignette is a punctuation of beauty making up the canvas of the entire wall display.

Moody and sultry, Benjamin Moore's Vintage Claret comes to life in the lamp-lit corners of the room. We chose the palette to compliment our client's collection of Asian art.

We sourced the furnishings from our favorite North Carolina makers. Just out of the frame, the client's own lamp and artifact perch on a vintage Brandt octagon table we picked up in western Maryland - not far from its original manufacture location. 

"This cheerful floral felt well suited to all seasons in this sunny oasis." - PM

"This cheerful floral felt well suited to all seasons in this sunny oasis." - PM

In this happy gathering room on a creek side property, one can experience the joys of each season through large wood framed windows. A pair of American made swivel rockers from our maker out of High Point, North Carolina wear a vibrant, meandering (and sun-safe!) print.

On the American made sectional and ottoman, we selected our fabrics for a posh pairing of hardworking velvet and a colorful woven. We made our overall choices light, bright, and colorful for this room, bringing out stunning contrast in the architecture of the space.

As a whole, the room has the play of masculine and feminine, light and dark, textured and smooth, effectively balancing the design.

"A massive custom shadow box was key to transforming the dense collection of small treasures into a single graphic monolith. " -PM

Welcome to Ed's Heads Hair Salon on historic Main Street in Stephens City. The dapper collector's look was largely inspired by the owner of the salon. Perfection is found when the large comercial-friendly Spicher Co. vinyl rug, American made sofa, and a pair of fabulous vintage redux chairs make friends.

We played boldly with pattern at Ed's Heads. The vinyl rug is custom made to order in Pennsylvania and we paired it with a Californian sofa frame upholstered in a soft plaid flannel to make the lively combination.

We got our hands dirty making this custom shadow box for the waiting area. A classic green off sets the glazed walnut stain for a been-there-forever look that is perfect for the salon's quirky collections. Just out of view, are spectacular felted light fixtures dotting the high ceilings over the workstations. 

Hospitality accents like flowers and mementos add personal flair to this locally owned salon.

We chose joyful and expressive fabrics to keep this classic design upbeat.

A traditional project in Lake Frederic called for fresh fabric choices, highlighting the rich wooden pieces in the space. Crisp contrast welting in a dark teal outlines these custom made cushions. A perfect pair for cozy reading in the sunniest room of our client's home.

The transitional frames of the artisan made sofas in this room wear a practical upholstery that will be loved for years to come. Bright custom pillows and warm brass and wood tones provide an ambiance of coziness to the space. Mirrored tray tables work double duty to reflect light in the space, and to hold our client's treasures. 

"The serene turquoise grasscloth brought out the warm tones in the mid-century dining set. Suddenly everything clicked." -PM

"The serene turquoise grasscloth brought out the warm tones in the mid-century dining set. Suddenly everything clicked." -PM

For this project, we took design inspiration from our client's heirloom mid-century dining set. From color palette to accessories and material choices, we love how this space came together around a treasured piece. We used a combination of our client's keepsakes and accessories from our sources to round out the design.

In the same home, the breakfast room carries on the mid-century thread with a vintage hutch. We painted the find in a Benjamin Moore color to freshen the look. 

A sunshine colored Company C wool rug anchors the room and provides a point of dramatic lightness on the dark floors.

Here's to many more delightful projects in 2017!

Five Designer Favorites Vol.1

Hello, Nesters!

There has been a lot to inspire me this year - from finding new innovative makers to rediscovering classics that had fallen off my radar.  Not too long ago I would have been steeped in roughened woods with a grayish wash.  Today we have rediscovered the quiet elegance of walnut and cherry woods. After many long seasons of linens that pretended to be burlap, we see the uprising of lux velvets and graphic prints.  Even rusty finishes are ceding the way for a tsunami of molten gold faucets and fixtures.  Design is always changing, always expressive of something about the moment.  Perhaps our economy picking up has whetted appetites for things that lean toward the refined.  Here are just a few of my current delights.   

Sap Cherry Wood

I find the lighter sapwood from the outer portions of the cherry tree so engaging.  When selected artfully, the result is a striking hi-low pattern that adds immeasurably to the impact of understated furniture like our Heartland Table. For many years Queen Anne-inspired furniture cloaked the warm and deep grain of cherry in dark stains that essentially masked the wood's characteristic cathedrals.  Makers now are drawing influences from Arts and Crafts and especially from Mid-Century design, so the grain is left visible by the use of light clear finishes.  This is the way sap cherry is meant to be dressed.

Photo: MakeNest

Photo: MakeNest

Graphic Pillows

Our collection of pillows from Arnge embody everything there is to love about mid-century design.  The bold retro graphics make me want to binge watch The Dick Van Dyke Show for hours, while the kaleidoscope of colors are a study in harmony with just a skosh of friction.  Having been schooled in the finer points of sewing, I was pleased to see that the patterns match from front to back so that the design moves fluidly around the pillow.  Each one is made to order in the USA without the use of sweatshop labor, which is another reason to tip our hats to this maker.

Wool & Silk Carpets

When I was apprenticing in design back at the turn of the last century, my mentor was a dealer in fine hand-made carpets.  Helping to show her selections to her clients was an education. Peeling back dozens of beautiful carpets was good exercise, but it was also like peering into the pages of a journal from an ancient people.  Combining forms from nature and architecture, the patterns and colors - as well as the art of weaving itself - are part of a cherished tradition.  While wool is still the most common material in a hand-knotted carpets, the addition of silk adds highlights that outline the design and glimmer magically.  

Vinyl Rugs

I discovered the designs of Spicher & Co. a couple of years ago and am still finding new uses for these fabulous designs.  Not surprisingly, these graphics are created by artist designers and not fabricated from a short list of popular motifs.  Drawing inspiration from vintage linoleum rugs that were popular well into the first half of the 20th century, there is something about these rugs that feels simultaneously fresh and nostalgic.  I like using them because they add a strong graphic to a room and because they can exist in spaces where sometimes other rugs aren't ideal.  And these are printed in house in Pennsylvania, so we feel like they come to us from just over the mountain, as they say.

Deco Influences

When I first spotted this chair at market, I knew I wanted to put a whimsical and magical fabric on the frame.  With its graceful arms and deeply scooped back profile, I was reminded of chairs from my favorite 1930s black and white films.  This piece would have existed in a screwball comedy - in the country house of the haughty old aunt who wears a lorgnette, winds up getting a little tipsy on dandelion wine, and eventually comes around to like the mustachioed anti-hero her wide-eyed niece wants to marry.  Her house would have gilded things but also ruffles. For me those Hollywood sets are an escape into unabashed style.  So we outfitted this chair in a colorful Asian toile, trimmed her skirt in velvet, and the rest is history.

Thanks for indulging me on a journey through some of the things that have been in my look book and on my mind this season.

Cheers!

PM

Behind the Scenes

For our autumn home furnishings collection we drew inspiration from some of our favorite design projects.  The coastal oases of Martha's Vineyard and Rehoboth Beach offered us soft colors and buoyant graphics.  The smart simplicity of our urban homes guided us toward mid-century modern forms and artisan details.  And the elegance of the old homes we've designed in our native Virginia reminded us that antique wood and romantic silhouettes never lose their allure.  Creating a collection of American-made and sustainable furnishings was an ambitious undertaking; here are the mood boards we used to define our vision.

The Oasis.  Here not everything has to be 'just so' - this is a home that makes the hours after work and school feel like vacation.  Sturdy iron tables plant themselves where they're needed and the soft linen slipcover on the sofa looks its best when a little rumpled.  Shoes come off the moment you walk through the door and the piece of modern art everyone compliments is the doodle your daughter brought home in third grade.  Here you don't cry over spilled milk; you wanted a cocktail anyway. 

The Modern. This house isn't frilly or lacy or precious.  It is a thoughtfully composed design that favors simplicity.  The chill of minimalism is chased off by rugged textures and natural elements.  Each piece of furniture serves a purpose and everywhere you look there are testaments to artisan craft.  The sap cherry dining table is as smart as a suspension bridge and the custom sofa as handsome as it is comfortable.  This is the home of someone who doesn't believe in filler. Here thoughtful intention reigns.

The Estate.  You may or may not have grown up in this house, but you love that guests feel transported to an earlier era the moment they broach the porch steps.  This home isn't shy about embellishments; the moldings are elaborate and the walls are papered in garden scenes.  This is where emerald velvet doesn't feel too fancy and brass never went out of style because this is the good stuff. And while there may be the occasional new acquisition to add a spark of funk, the table at Thanksgiving is always set with antique china and Irish crystal.

Our design style is to mix more than match.  We use color, texture, and scale to make spaces pleasing, but a close inspection reveals that we don't play by the book when we're pairing objects.  When it comes to composing stylish design, we've thrown most of the rules to the wayside.  While we crafted our collection of American-made and sustainable furnishings with some specific inspirations in mind, we're sure each piece will shine when it finds new interpretations in rooms waiting to unfold.  Visit our boutique to explore the collection.

Surreal Journey

One of our many short summer trips took us to the gorgeously curated Hi-Fructose art exhibit at MOCA in Virginia Beach. Each artist tells a different story - from nightmare scape to upside down fairy tale - with refinement and stunning potency.  This art merges our ideas of the sweetly precious with the murkier matters of the human inner world. Here are a few among many at the exhibit that roused our curiosity and fed our visual appetite.  

Mark Ryden,  Rosie's Tea Party  

Mark Ryden, Rosie's Tea Party 

Mark Dean Veca,  Madder Hatter

Mark Dean Veca, Madder Hatter

Tim Biskup,  Asylum #1  

Tim Biskup, Asylum #1 

Kris Kuksi,  Eros at Play  

Kris Kuksi, Eros at Play 

Martin Wittfooth,  Incantation  

Martin Wittfooth, Incantation 

What to Expect When You're Expecting [Your Designer]

There is something wonderful about the first time you ring the doorbell or lift the knocker at your first house call with a new client.  The front garden and the decor on the porch tell you a little bit about them, but when the door glides back to reveal the entry, the picture begins to clarify.

We have developed a practice of meeting with prospective clients at our office before the house call.  It is a half hour get-to-know at no charge: the client shares the big picture reasons behind seeking design help and we discuss our process and fee structure.  When we get to the site the first time, we already know whether the whole house is being remodeled or if we're tackling a few specific areas.

Despite having already met one another, on the first site meeting the client is sometimes a shade nervous.  They might say, "Here it is. Don't judge."

It took me a long time (and a number of my own home projects) to realize what this first moment must feel like on the other end.  The moment the homeowner lets you into their personal haven is a vulnerable one for them.  For some the uncertainty comes from imagining their own design attempts are under the microscope (a good designer doesn't judge, he assesses).  For others, the biggest question is how does this appointment work.

The most important thing to note is that the house call is simply a fact-finding experience.  The designer is there to gather notes relative to the project.  Rooms will be measured as well as heirlooms that aren't going anywhere.  Notations on existing materials and architectural details are gathered.  Photographs are taken.  There is additional discussion about the project and some of the challenges to overcome.

The house call isn't complete until the client points to something about the space (or to a piece of furniture their spouse has lobbied to keep) and says gravely, "This is what I was telling you about."  There is further discussion.

What your designer isn't very likely to do on the first house call is make a lot of suggestions right off the bat.  Until the floor plans have been rendered and the site notes unpacked, it can be an exercise in fruitlessness to make too many promises.  However, there are occasions when the best fix is immediately obvious to a professional eye and while he will likely reserve judgment until his homework is done, he may float out a tentative suggestion. 

The best way to be prepared for the house call if you are a client is to make sure the rooms haven't been cleared of signs of life.  If magazines usually pile up near a favorite chair in a sunny spot, that tells your designer a lot.  You like to bask in a particular corner; you're an avid reader of periodicals; you have a lot of issues of Cat Fancy for a self-described dog lover.  The clutter and the crushed cushions tell us where and how you spend time at home.

The house call is intriguing for the designer and can be fun for the client once the ice is broken. Hopefully knowing a little bit more about what the designer is hoping to glean will make it easier to relax into the visit.  

And cookies. Most designers will not turn down cookies.

[PM]

Still digging into your research about how this whole design thing works?  Check out our guide, 5 Tips for Working with a Designer!

Brand-Supportive Design

Every space tells a story.  We tell the story of the families who dwell within our projects by allowing their interests and patterns to read in the flow and aesthetic details of their homes.  When our job is to design restaurants, lounges, and lobbies, we aim to tell a different narrative: brand story.

At the bare minimum, the task of a marketing agency is to help a company refine and present its message to the appropriate audience.  In the hands of the extraordinarily thoughtful and creative marketer, a company can even develop a stronger sense of its core identity - sometimes learning that it has yet to establish one. 

Many brands are not a physical location to the public as much as a sense of place.  Coca-Cola isn’t a plant with offices and conveyer belts to the average soda lover.  It’s a twist of white on a field of red or a half time ad that draws a chuckle.   Deeper still in our consciousness, it’s the sweet, fizzy burn in a childhood memory, as fleeting a pleasure as fireflies lighting a meadow.

Yet for restauranteurs and many experience-based enterprises, the location of their business is as strong a sense of place as the food the chef creates, the drinks the bartender crafts or the way in which staff engages them during their visit.  In the lobby of a service provider, the stability of the business is suggested by the weight of the actual furnishings.  One hesitates to invest money with a firm that lines up folding chairs in the front room and perches a fax machine on a moving box tagged: Ship Next Tuesday.

We believe the designer working on a commercial project must understand the brand identity of the business.  Knowing who the audience for the business is and determining what they will want out of the experience drives every detail of the outcome.  In the best case scenario, the design blows out past what the brand audience could have imagined, providing a memorable journey that sets a business in a class by itself.

We have helped determine the aesthetic and functional details of restaurants, salons, lounges, professional office lobbies,  as well as public spaces in university housing and learning facilities. Without exception, the best outcomes were always arrived at when the brand story of the client was clearly understood and integrated in the design process.

As it heads into its twelfth year in business, MakeNest is positioning itself to capture more commercial and hospitality projects.  Part of our goal is to underscore our unique sensitivity to branding through design.  The procedure for our commercial projects is to dig deep to discover the intentions, the audience, the narrative, and the brand standard of the company.   In this way,  MakeNest can not only impact the function and beauty of professional and hospitality spaces, but help businesses to edit and project their own brand story.

- PM

Design is so Manipulative

choosing_color_design_tips

One of a designer's tasks is aligning the physicality of a space to the principles of good aesthetics.  At times, creativity and skill can make the space as pleasing as architectural changes.  What follows are a few general insights to alter the perception of space.  

Large spaces lacking intimacy can become more welcoming when the furnishings are arranged in a central, conversation nest with space all around, rather than spread out merely because footage allows.  In such rooms, medium color values are often the most satisfying, as light, mild tones recede from the eye, implying vastness, while dark, shadowy tones suggest greater depth.  A medium shade pulls the walls in without fooling the eye into thinking the corners are farther away than they are.  Remember that artists use deeper values in landscape painting to create depth and know that this effect is equally true in real space.

One persistent myth about small spaces is that the walls must be pale for the room to feel larger.  In truth, the space feels larger when the eye can pan over it without jumping from dark to light values too often.  A small space painted even a rather deep tone will feel more open if the strongest elements, such as window treatments and large furnishings, contrast only minimally with the wall color.  A narrow hall with numerous doors becomes a messy jumble of forms when the walls are dark and the trim white.  Resist the craving for color in such an area and tone it down- another opportunity for splash will present itself.  

It is true that a quantity of objets d'art can make a room feel small, but this can also add a lot of character and story.  The trick is to display art and accents in tight, visually harmonious compositions with open, uncluttered spaces between to give the eye rest. As with so much in life, success in design is less about what we do and more about how we do it

-PM

Order

There are many simple methods for creating memorable and pleasing areas of focus within your spaces.  Here are some principles to follow for great results...

Bring together objects of like purpose, such as small clocks or boxes, to make a collection.  It takes three or more to look like a grouping and not an accident. As in planning a garden, think in layers of height and fearlessly experiment with creating variation.  When many objects of like color are grouped which can be lovely, mix it up by alternating shape or texture.

Look to nature for simple objects that add spontaneity to a vignette.  An orphaned branch or a handful of cleaned oyster shells make great friends with even the loftiest accents.

Peek into your cupboards for forgotten objects.  Pieces deemed unworkable in the past may now have a new chance due to subsequent changes. Relax and enjoy- all can be arranged and re-arranged infinitely.

-PM

Sustainability

Obilisk Detail.jpg

Some companies have practiced responsible forestry for years, harvesting and replanting in turn to provide resources for future production, but now there are more offerings made of salvaged wood.  This practice not only cuts down on waste that burdens landfills but it also lessens deforestation.  Old wood has characteristics difficult to reproduce in virgin wood, such as raised grain and general weathering, so for those who love a lot of texture and a sense of age in their pieces, the benefits are obvious.  Knowing you tread a little lighter on the planet feels nice, too.

One furniture designer I met with at market some years past opts to produce her line of rubberwood, a trend out of Asia. Rubber trees too mature for latex production used to be thrown on burn piles.  To my understanding, an English furniture manufacturer a few decades ago began to experiment with this 'waste wood' and discovered that it was not only useful in furniture making, but took both painted and stained finishes beautifully.  This extremely heavy species has a dense, attractive grain, and, once properly kiln-dried, is very consistent, meaning that splitting and warping are not an issue.  The furnishings my new acquaintance designs and manufactures are not only stylish and durable, they follow this direction of taking some responsibility for our planetary health by reducing the rate of deforestation.

-PM

 

Warm & Cool

In recent design projects, we have been put to the task of infusing warmth into our clients homes. Traditionally, either warm or cool neutrals predominate a space. Cool tones like grays, silver, and washed wood tones still find favor with many homeowners due to their modern and understated sensibilities. Even so, warm neutral tones are making a comeback from their several year hiatus.  

We remember looking through resources during this peak in cool tones and wondering if everything warmer than taupe had  become extinct. Embracing warm tones comes naturally to us as they add a wonderful comfort and richness to a space. We love encouraging a mix of neutrals as we have found that it creates a sophisticated and unexpected palette that our clients love.

One of our favorite examples of a piece that brings in warm wood tones while still being harmonious with predominantly grey toned elements is this beautiful tusk table. Don’t underestimate the power of accessorizing to enforce the striking balance of warm and cool as well. From rugs and gimp tapes to wallpaper, we find that this trend is really taking off within the design community. 

Here at MakeNest, we love a confident mix. Just like wood tones and upholstery, try mixing neutrals in other materials too! We are looking at you, gold and silver.

-PM