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PostHeaderIcon Design Tips

PostHeaderIcon My Favorite Things - December Designers Log

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Oprah's got nothing on The Designer's Log.  It's time to take a look at our favorites of 2010 and check out what's going to be hot in interior design for the New Year.

Favorite individual piece - This 54" Braziliance Commode is a two door cabinet designed by Dorothy Draper, one of the most iconic interior designers of the 20th century.  Originally created in 1939 for the Quitandinha Resort in Sao Paulo, Brazil, the styling captures the South American craze that swept the USA in the 30's and 40's.  With classic oversized acanthus leaves, carved serpentine moldings and a shell carving in the center, it exudes class and sophistication.  Approximately $7000. through your design professional.

Favorite fabric - After more than a few years of Earth tones, I'm seeing the re-emergence of stripes, plaids and paisleys in vivid colors.  And not a moment too soon.  Mixing a bright, fun palette in unusual combinations, these patterns are bringing life and excitement back to interior design.  Whether it's a sign of our improved emotional state after the last couple of tough years or just imagination gone wild, it's great to see their return.  Use these colorful, fresh fabrics everywhere , from bedding to throw pillows or even wallpaper your powder room for that WOW factor.

Favorite new look - Although the avocado green appliances of my childhood still haunt me to this day, I'm crazy about the new color options being shown on washers and dryers.  Bright reds, navy blues and soft grays allow us to bring the utilitarian laundry room into the new century.  Just like flat screens have taken the television out of armoires and cabinets and put them on display, now you can be proud to show even this rooom to your friends and not have to hide it behind bi-fold doors.  When people tour your home, you won't have to stand in front of the door and say "oh that's just the laundry room".

Favorite comeback look - Michael Taylor single handedly turned the design community on it's ear in the late 1970's and 80's with his organic, beachy southern California look.  Michael died of AIDS in 1986, but his signature style is back with a bang, starting with his famous basketball shaped sofa pillows.  No other style from that era is more au courant than the Taylor aesthetic: interiors of textural fabrics, sinewy curves and casual comfort.  Other designers, such as Donghia, that were big at the same time are also experiencing a resurgence of interest.  Can disco be far behind?

Favorite color - No doubt about it, there is nothing that can beat basic black.  This one color goes with every design style and brings out the best in any  fabric or finish.  Use it in high gloss for the dining room, paired with a funky silver chandelier; in a soft gray tint for that sexy, stylish bedroom or upholster a slick mid century chair in plush black velvet.  This is the hottest color for an all around perfect accent in your home.

Favorite design era - The 1930's have always fascinated me.  It was a period of incredible wealth as well as a time of belt tightening. Simple living was balanced with opulent design.  People gravitated to the movies to escape and the movie sets were over the top.  You cannot watch a Busby Berkeley musical without being amazed at the creativity and fantasy that burst forth in those years.  The extensive use of metallics, mirrors and glass in the home brought a new brilliance to design.  Throw into the mix Art Deco, the peak of Frank Lloyd Wright and The Bauhaus.  What more could you ask for?

Favorite place for inspiration - PARIS.  What more can I say?  Not only does the city of lights spark romance, it's also the catalyst for design inspiration.  The history, architecture, furniture shops and the famous flea markets all add up to the best place in the world to feel creative.  Only the French can make design look so effortless.  Whether you purchase a trinket or ship home a container of French antiques, anyone can feel special with a bit of Paris in their home.  There are numerous, beautiful coffee table books on the French style.  Check them out.

Looking forward to 2011, embrace the things that are your personal favorites.  Make your house fun, the place you love to come home to and most of all your inspiration for the New  Year.  Take the time to explore and learn the new concepts, ideas and trends.  You'll be glad you did.

Happy New Year - SEW

Steve Wallace lives in Danville, California.  An Interior Designer for 25 years, his work has appeared in Palm Springs Life and he is the author of a soon to be published book about design and the way we live.  You can reach him at Design and Interiors in Lafayette, California or at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Last Updated (Thursday, 27 January 2011 04:15)


PostHeaderIcon Chase Away Winter Blues -November Designers Log

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Now that leaves are changing and nights are cooler, it's time to move indoors and enjoy your home more than ever.  Growing up in northern Michigan, fall and winter was always my favorite time of year.  It was a time for eggnog and Pendleton blankets, the chance to really embrace being inside and feel the warmth and comfort it brings.

The excitement of the holidays and decorating your house is always fun and creative.  But, think beyond Christmas and look to settle in for the long haul, because as the new year arrives, we still have a lot of winter to look forward to.  We don't want winter blues to bring us down.

Here are seven ways to keep the spirit as the year ends and the long winter solstice sets in.

Maximize the natural light.  Scandinavians learned centuries ago that as the days grew short, capturing the limited natural light was essential.  The white painted furniture of Swedish design helped cheer rooms during the winter.  Keep a reading chair near windows and natural light.  At this time of year, the sun is lower in the sky and streams into rooms at a horizontal level.  Be aware of the suns location.  Turn your breakfast room into a seasonal sunroom.  During the bright winter days you need to absorb as much vitamin D as possible.

Winter White is Essential.  As you bring out the winter white sweater for the season, you should also accessorize your rooms with the same color.  Right now, I have a shaggy white pillow on the sofa.  I find myself drawn to it as I watch TV.  A winter white throw or blanket is an amazing asset to your living room.  Not only does it brighten up your current upholstery, it is the most functional thing you can have as the temperature drops.  Add a soft white duvet cover to your bed, it's inviting and bright.

Embrace Flannel.  We all know there is nothing more comforting and warm as flannel sheets on your bed in the winter.  But, take it one step further.  Flannel pillows are a great way to warm up the sofa and a chair.  Think Ralph Lauren plaids, soft grays and even black and pink, to capture the essence of a cozy place to watch an old movie.  As an alternative to the traditional holiday colors, blue and white flannel is classic and timeless.  Invest in removable, zippered pillow covers, so that you can change them seasonally.

Use What You Have.  Your fireplace is very lonely during the summer months, but this time of year, it can be the focal point of your home.  Building a roaring fire can't be beat for atmosphere, but in many areas it's not environmentally appropriate.  I line up votives.  They give a warm, comforting light.  You can also use a mixed assortment of candlesticks and mismatched pillar candles to warm the room and give the ambience you need.  Instead of having to re-build a fire every time you entertain, candles can last the entire season.

Silver and Gold.  This is not only a holiday song, but a great way to brighten up any room from the dining room to your bath.  Metallics are really hot this year, and these two colors not only conjure up the season, but add warmth and shine to a room.  Whether you fill a glass bowl with ornaments or place silver chargers under your New Years dinner plates, there is nothing like the richness of silver and gold to make any Scrooge smile.  My Grandmother would set her holiday table the day before, so she could enjoy the sparkle of the silver and crystal longer.  Even after the holidays, well into February and March, silver and gold can remain your theme.

Color Your Way Home.  Don't be drawn down by the convention of dark colors in the winter.  Bring a bit of spring home early.  Paint an accent wall lilac or leaf  green.  Throw a Hawaiian print blanket on the bed and keep plenty of colorful vases of flowers around the house.  Orchids last for weeks and come in a huge variety.  Every time you see a bright color, the drabness and chill of winter will seem far away.  We always keep fruit, like oranges, lemons and limes in a bowl in the kitchen.  No matter how gray the day, the promise of tropical breezes remains.

Have a Green Winter.  Remember, there is more waste and land fill from holiday trash than any other time of year.  Re-use whatever you can.  Encourage your children to make ornaments from recycled materials  What is more sentimental than bringing out the ornaments you have collected over a lifetime, and not buying new ones?  Today's outdoor lights are more energy efficient than ever.  You can leave your outdoor lights on day and night and still use less energy than it costs to run your refrigerator. Don't overheat your home, open windows whenever the outside temperature allows.  Dry heat can ruin furniture and wood floors.

So, just say no to winter blues.  Remember a few simple rules.  Bring light into your home to feel the warmth, enjoy the color palette available to you, embrace this chance to nest and most of all, add inspiration to get you through the months ahead. - SEW

 Steve Wallace lives in Danville, California.  An Interior Designer for 25 years, his work has appeared in Palm Springs Life and he is currently working on a book about design and the way we live.  You can reach him at Design and Interiors in Walnut Creek (and in Lafayette in 2011) or at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .




Last Updated (Sunday, 19 December 2010 18:12)


PostHeaderIcon Interior Design As Seen on TV

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Did you ever look at a house on TV and wish it was yours?  How we see others live on television has shaped how we decorate our own living homes, what we aspire to and offers a possible blueprint for perfect living.  Often, it has given us a few unreal expectations.

In the 1950s, television started giving us an eye into other homes.  No longer did we have to leave the comfort of our living room to get a peek at the neighbors.  We could compare and contrast our spaces with other families, from Ozzie and Harriet to Leave it to Beaver.  Post WW II, ostentatious wealth was out.  Manufactured furniture, Lucy and Desi and the middle class was in.  The rich were not like us and simple, clean living was desired.  We moved from formal rooms to tract homes and twin beds.  Television not only gave us the nuclear family, but the nuclear home.

On 60s TV, programs like The Dick Van Dyke Show brought us black and white suburban living and a concept of what the home of the time needed to look like.  Bewitched also depicted a version of suburban homes and neighborhoods.  Husbands came home from the city to a wife with dinner ready.  Not only was Samantha dressed perfectly, but the house never needed cleaning.  (Of course, she WAS a witch.)  Darrin Stevens gave us the first "man cave", his paneled den.  As Gladys Kravitz peeked through the blinds, it was the beginning of keeping up with the Joneses.

Television has given us such iconic rooms as The Mary Tyler Moore Show single woman apartment with the big M on the wall and Rhoda's hip attic pad.  The joke of The Beverly Hillbillies was how they decorated and used their mansion, having come from a log cabin.  Who can forget Granny washing clothes in the cement pond to the horror of their snooty neighbors?

Recently I worked with a couple in their 40s.  Their number one concern was not to get a Brady Bunch house.  For people of that generation, the decor of the 1970s is their parents era.  Ironically, at the time the show aired, it was considered the epitome of upscale California suburban living.  Their combined family resided in arguably the most recognizable house on TV.  The stone planter, the open stairway, the orange laminate counters and the Jack and Jill bathroom were mimicked by builders and designers for years as the way a family lived.

By the 80s, shows like Dallas, Falcon Crest and Dynasty were the poster interiors for opulence.  Bigger was better, rich was back in vogue and the over the top furnishings held their own with the big shoulders of Linda Evans and Joan Collins.  Hart to Hart showcased wealthy Los Angeles living, while The Golden Girls put the Florida look on the map.  Sometimes if seems it hasn't gone away.

We have also been shown how the working class lives.  Roseanne had a run down house with a washer on the front porch and recliners in the living room (Egads!).  Married with Children depicted a dysfuntional family, living in a not so happy suburb, posters on the bedroom walls and the father slouched on the sofa, remote in hand.  All in the Family brought us the concept of the "dad" chair and people who didn't give a hoot about decorating.  This was a long way from the Upper East Side coziness of The Cosby Show.

Mad Men, about the advertising industry in the early 1960s, has renewed interest in mid century modern decor.  The hipness of the martini crowd has made this look very trendy.  Mad Men attempts to mimic the era, right down to the smallest detail.  They do a remarkable job of re-creating the time and romanticizing days gone by.  By enjoying the modern feel of the interiors, the clean lines and the minimalism, we are seeing a strong example of how styles and trends recycle.

Currently, TV allows us to peek into a Santa Barbara family compound on Brothers and Sisters, see a real modern family on Modern Family and the single girl lifestyle of Sex and the City.  We see how real celebrities live on reality shows.

Over the years, interiors on TV have shown us glamour, style and reality as well as trends and design disasters.  We have been given rooms to admire, color palettes to stagger the senses and the diversity of our lives.  Our own homes and lifestyle has been reflected through the lense in a subliminal messages of how we should live.  From stage sets to filming in real homes, we have come a long way.

So whether you are a Don Draper, miss your Brady Bunch childhood or still like to fantasize about the homes of the uber-rich, the line between real life and the media has shrunken.  Life imitates art as well as art imitates our life.

So, tell us.  What is your favorite television home and why?  - SEW

Steve Wallace lives in Danville, California.  An Interior Designer for 25 years, his work has appeared in Palm Springs Life and he is currently writing a book on design and the way we live.  You can reach him at Design and Interiors in Walnut Creek, California or at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Last Updated (Tuesday, 23 November 2010 01:57)


PostHeaderIcon Design Challenges (and the solutions!)

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For September, the Designers Log tackles questions sent in by our readers.  Special thanks to interior designer Georgina Logan for the collaboration on this column.

My house is a basic tract rancher.  How can I add architectural interest?

Californians have accepted and grown to love the ranch style home.  But it can be more than that.  There are ways to make your rancher special.  First of all, be realistic.  Your home is never going to be an Italian Villa or an English Tudor.  You have to be true to the bones of the house.  That doesn't mean you have to be boring.  Beef up the base and crown mouldings to 6 or 8 inches from the 3 inch standard builder issue.  Add trim molding around doorways, windows, even cased openings between rooms.

Think about color, using tones that evoke a rich and warm palette.   Give the rooms an identity by texturing the walls with striated patterns or glazing.  Replace carpet and vinyl with rough stone or aged marble, even breaking up the standard living room/dining area with a curved hard surface walkway.

When it comes to furnishings, use a few large pieces to make the rooms look bigger and important.  Off white sofas with weathered gray oak tables is a hip look right now.  Throw in an antique chair covered in rich velvet and you'll end up with a room that looks sophisticated, modern and very architectural.  Embrace the mid-century aura of your home and be proud of what it represents.

What can we do to open up our small, dark kitchen?

Interior kitchens are the bane of the designer's existence.  Every kitchen needs a window to allow for natural light, but if you don't have one you can easily give the illusion of natural light.  Replace flourescent ceiling panels with recessed can lights.  Use judiciously so it doesn't look like Swiss cheese up there.  Space them no less than 48 inches apart.  With halogen bulbs, you'll achieve a clean, white light that illuminates the entire room.

If you can spare the storage, remove upper cabinets, as shown in this picture, to add volume to the space and create a spacious visual.  Solid surface countertops will open up the room more than tile with grout lines.  Although dark cabinets are beautiful, if you have a dreary room, opt for light maple or contemporary glass panel doors such as you see in Europe.  Modern European kitchens are often small and interior, but their sleekness allows them to be friendly work environments.

I'm downsizing from a large home to a condo.  HELP!

In this economy, it's becoming more common for people to scale back their lifestyles and for many this means a smaller space.  Empty nesters face the issue of how to adjust from a five bedroom home to a condo.  The first thing to do is be very honest with your self.  What do you have to keep and what can go?  Many of us become pack rats after years of living in a large home.  Do you really need that much stuff?

Measure your existing furniture, using only what you are sure fits the new rooms.  Purchase sofas that are sized for this kind of space.  Many manufacturers make "apartment" or "mid-size" sofas.  Buy uplholstered pieces with a narrower silhouette, not big rolled arms.  You'd be amazed how often people can actually achieve MORE sitting area in the same footprint by using English arm or track arm sofas that have a width of about four inches.

Use less furniture but make it work harder.  Look at drop leaf dining room tables that seat four daily, but can open up to accomodate more on special occasions.  Use the center island as a buffet.  The second bedroom in a condo can do triple duty as a den/guest room/office.  Don't be boxed in by rules.  Rooms don't need labels.  This is where the old adage "less is more" comes in.  Make it your motto.

Is there a way for our family room to be beautiful as well as a place for everyone to hang out?

There is no reason to sacrifice a good looking room for family life.  The challenge here is to offer a space for everyone and everyone a space.  Most of us think that to make a family room work just put in the biggest screen TV we can find and call it a day.  No.

Create specific areas that make the room friendly and functional.  A game table offers a place for family fun.  Add a comfortable leather reading chair and floor lamp for a cozy corner on a rainy day.  For the main part of the room, make it accessible for the entire clan to congregate.  Sectionals are great, but also consider large, deep seating sofas and leather ottomans that do double duty as a place to put your feet up or serve food on a tray.

Look for sturdy fabrics such as chenille's, texturals and cotton prints.  Paint the room a soothing color like mocha brown or taupe grey and consider woven wood blinds that create an architectural element.  Eliminate heavy dark draperies and vertical blinds.

We need to furnish our first home, but have a limited budget.  Any advice?

Everyone has a budget and these days it's more important than ever to stick to it.  The rule to remember here is: you get what you pay for.  Don't be lured into buying "packaged" rooms, where lower end furniture stores put together a sofa/chairs/end tables/lamps grouping for one flat price.  A well designed room is made up of diverse elements and takes time to create properly.  Invest in a few good, well made pieces and they will last for years.  Add as your budget allows.  I've always believed it's better to have one classic, timeless sofa alone in a room, than a space filled with furniture that won't last, just to fill the emptiness.

If you are just starting out, you will need the basics of course, but choose well.  Trends are fun to follow, but be careful you don't make a big ticket purchase that will look dated quickly.  Talk to a designer and educate yourself about furniture construction, fabrics and styles.  Explore every option: flea markets, consignment stores, showroom closeouts, even garage sales.  You may find that hidden treasure that everyone else passed by.

If you plan to move in a few years, think about what will travel with you and be usable in new rooms or configurations.  Above all, enjoy the process, love what you buy and have fun with it. - SEW

All design challenges have a solution.  Send your questions to The Designers Log at www.allnewsnoblues.com or to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Steve Wallace lives in Danville, California.  An interior designer for nearly 25 years, his work has been published in Palm Springs Life and he is completing a book on design for publication soon.  Find him at Design and Interiors in Walnut Creek, Calfornia or at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Last Updated (Friday, 29 October 2010 01:10)


PostHeaderIcon Inspired to Design - August Designers Log

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Inspiration.  Where do we find it and how can we bring it home?

It's easy to say that inspiration is all around us, and of course it is.  But often we may find it hard it to translate that into our living environment.  We look at our home and just don't know where to start.  We may be blocked and unable to move on with creating the rooms and home we long for.  So, it's important to find the something that speaks to us and our individual vision and complete the interior we desire.

Everything in your home can be that source of inspiration. The idea for a room often begins with a single object. A family heirloom, a framed photo, a piece of fabric, the merlot in your glass. Take what resonates with you and buld from it.  Start from that single element that you love and watch the space take shape.

When you take the time to look, inspiration really can be realized.  And it's often more obvious than you imagine. That vacation you took last year to the beach or your visit to the local museum. The color in the leaves of a tree or the sunlight on the hills can be the catalyst you need.  Smell and sound can bring an idea to your mind. Music can inspire you visually.  A song has the power to bring you to an energized place or be soothing and peaceful. Your home can reflect this.

Find renewed pleasure in your favorite pillow, the color already on the wall or a pictue from a magazine.  Let it become the blueprint for an entire room. You'll be pleasantly surprised to see how smoothly everything will gel once you've taken that first step.  Your interior designer can also be of invaluable assistance in pulliing it all together.  Introducing you to a wider range of products and new concepts that you may not be familiar with can help you look anew at something you passed over.

I have helped clients create children's rooms inspired by fairy tales and sports teams.  We have painted stars and moons on the ceilings of nurseries, enveloped a master suite in fabric to become a Moroccan fantasy or captured the exact color of the South Seas for a client with a Tahitian fixation.  Anything is possible, and the possiblilities are endless.

Once you have landed on that one item that gives you the inspiration you are seeking, don't feel pressured to move quickly.  Let a room take shape naturally.  It may take time for all the elements to fuse together.  Don't be disallusioned or frustrated just because you now have the perfect red pillow but aren't finding the sofa fabric to go with it.  Keep an open mind and allow the space to speak to you.  Don't be rushed, in time it will.  Once you let go of urgency and anxiety, the pieces of the puzzle can all fall into place.  Interior design often needs to evolve.  Contrary to popular belief, the perfect room does not happen overnight.

Finally, don't be afraid to do the unexpected.  It's OK to take a risk.  Keep an open mind about your room and what it may be saying to you.  Discover the hidden color or texture in your personal inspiration.  Try refreshing the location of pieces in your room.  Don't be boxed in by convention.  Look everywhere for furnishings, from consignment stores to flea markets to custom order pieces.

Some of the most effective rooms are the ones where the designer moves the client out of their safety zone.  Don't be locked into yours.  A home should be a personal statement, so don't always follow the rules.  Your finished space will have sprung from your individual inspiration and may just be the impetus for someone else's imagination.

Steve Wallace lives in Danville.  An interior designer for more than 25 years, his work has been featured in Palm Springs Life and he is completing a book about design for publication soon.  

Find him at Design and Interiors in Walnut Creek, California or at  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or call 925-915-1005.

Last Updated (Friday, 17 September 2010 01:54)

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