Monday, May 3, 2021

Ding Dong, Luxury Vinyl Flooring Is Here...

...and it looks great.

In the "old days," vinyl flooring was horrible. It looked like stamped plastic and the colors were all wrong. But in the last few years, there have been great advances in the technology and fabrication of both Luxury Vinyl Plank flooring (vinyl "planks" or strips that replicate wood planks) and Luxury Vinyl Tile (vinyl pieces in various sizes and shapes that replicate stone or even cement).

The LVP and LVT manufacturer Amtico just came out with a new collection called Form that offers some wonderful choices of wood-look and stone-look vinyl that people are choosing not only for commercial applications in high traffic areas like stores, restaurants, and lobbies, but also for residential applications in homes that have kids and pets, homes that need a flooring that can stand up to use and abuse.

The wood-look tiles can come in parquet or basketweave style in a myriad of wood species.

And the stone comes in a hex or paverstone configuration in 6 stone-like colorways.

And these products can combined in exciting ways. I like how the promo pictures show a parquet with a straight plank lay, and even a mix of stone and wood!

Happy designing!

Monday, April 19, 2021

Is The Future Of Cooking Induction?

A very interesting thing happened with building codes in California at the beginning of this year--nearly every city or county quietly adopted a ban on natural gas in any new-build project. This means no gas water heaters, no gas fireplaces (I still have to check into that one as it seems ay too restrictive), and no gas cooktops or stoves. I have heard that the thinking behind this ban has to do with sustainability and cleaner air quality. But I seem to recall the natural gas industry assuring us that natural gas is a clean-burning fuel. Apparently that is not the case at all. It has since been revealed to be quite a "dirty" it looks like we were lied to. It isn't the first time an industry has lied to the public to sell a product and it won't be the last.

So what are people expected to cook with if they can't use gas? Well, old-style electric burners, whether exposed or under a glass top, are pretty universally hated. So no gas, no electric. That leaves one choice: induction.

But what is induction? It has actually been around since the early 1900s, was used widely on submarines in the US Navy during World War II (can't have an open flame on a submarine!), and was heavily developed in the 70s. Now there are many models on the market from a wide variety of manufacturers to choose from. Instead of an external heat source like a gas flame or a heated electric coil to heat up everything on/above it, induction cooking uses a magnetic module and a magnetic eddy current to heat up the actual metal in the pan. The cooktop remains relatively cool since there is no actual heat source (residual heat from a hot pan itself may be felt).

Because of the magnetic field, this means that the cookware used must be "ferromagnetic." In other words, it must be made of iron (like black, cast-iron skillets and pans) or magnetic-grade stainless steel. If a magnet sticks to it, it will be induction-compatible.

Clearly glass or ceramic cookware will not work, but enameled cookware such as Le Creuset will work as the material under the enamel is iron.

Copper and aluminum cookware will not work since they are not magnetic...and the irony here is that copper and aluminum are the best metals at conducting heat! But some cookware companies make pots and pans that are layered with iron or steel at the base but sandwiched in aluminum or copper, which makes the temperature more uniform across the pan. Additionally, such cookware can have aluminum or copper sides since the heat will transfer upwards to the rest of the pan better that way. Look for a symbol or notice on the label of the piece of cookware indicating that it is induction-rated.

However, many people do not want to invest in an entirely new set of pots, pans, and skillets just to accommodate an induction cooktop. A recent development in induction cooking is the idea of an "all-metal" cooktop which uses a higher-frequency magnetic field and a different oscillator circuit design to allow use with non-magnetic metals like copper and aluminum.

Because the control of the magnetic field is not heat-centric, changes are immediate and greater accuracy and precision can be obtained with cooking things like delicate sauces. However, many cooks and chefs say they like natural gas precisely for that reason, that they have great control over what they are cooking and how they cook it.

Another factor to consider is the price. While many models can be costly at the outset, users will save money over time as the unit simply uses less energy to do the same thing, with much less energy lost to heat. But back to the idea of induction being "clean" and replacing a "dirty" fuel like natural gas: the electricity it takes to activate the magnetic coil has to come from somewhere too...and we know electricity is generally coal powered. Even more reason to invest in an infrastructure that is going to make a truly clean energy.

Happy designing!

Monday, April 5, 2021

Know Your Chairs: The Transat Chair by Eileen Gray

The fauteuil transatlantique, or in English The Transatlantic Chair--Transat Chair for short--was designed between 1925 and 1927 by Irish furniture designer and architect Eileen Gray for use on the terrace at her Villa E.1027 house at Cap Martin, Roquebrune between Monaco and Menton.

Considering that Gray designed her villa to resemble a Transatlantic ship, it takes as its starting point transatlantic steamship travel and the deckchairs used on such ships. It was also chosen by Ekart Muthesius to furnish the palace of the Maharajah of Indore during the same period. The wooden side frames are designed with rigorous geometry, tenon joints and chromed brackets. The seat is reminiscent of a deckchair's sling with a pivoting head section. I will be featuring Gray's villa in upcoming installation of Famous Houses but for now, let's relax in this sumptuous modernist deckchair.

Here it is in situ at the villa.

It pops up in some very high end modernist homes, like this one by Lebanese designer Claude Missir (seen with a De Sede Terrazza sofa in the background, previously here)...

...and this lovely streamlined Belgian chalet by architect Maarten Van Severen.

In the UK, the chair can be purchased in leather or hair-on-hide through ARAM. Licensed versions of the chair are available world-wide through Ralph Pucci.

Happy designing!

Monday, March 22, 2021

Fiorito Interior Deign Press Update, March 2021

I was interviewed for a story on the Bed, Bath and Beyond website a while ago and realized I never posted it here. It covers the basics of living room design, but the advice can be tailored for many spaces in your home. Read on...

How to Design a Comfortable, Stylish Living Room

It’s where you sit, relax, entertain, catch up, hang out — you know, live.

Whether you’re crashing on the couch after a long day or chatting with friends over cocktails, the living room is the center of your home and theplace to be. And of all the rooms in your new house, living rooms can be the most fun to decorate. “You can [experiment] with scale, textures, patterns and colors,” says Alice Chiu, a San Francisco interior designer and owner of Miss Alice Designs.

But the living room is also the first place your guests see, so it needs to be comfortable and inviting, whether for tête-à-têtes with your BFFs or weekend movie marathons.

No pressure on decorating it, though. Take your time perfecting the space through these three stages.

Stage 1: Build Out the Basics

Start by getting the room’s essential elements in place.

Start with the primary necessity: a sofa. The couch’s main role is a place to sit, but it’s also a hefty piece of furniture that will help define the room’s style—a sleek leather sofa sends a more modern message than a quilted floral one. Be sure there’s enough seating for the whole family plus a few guests; introduce a loveseat, recliner or club chairs if the couch alone isn’t enough.

Have a small space? You’re not limited to elf-sized furniture. “Don’t be afraid of larger pieces,” says Jeff Fiorito, a Northern California interior designer. “A complete sectional may be a better use of the floor space.”

Then, add a coffee table (one with a shelf or built-in storage keeps magazines and remotes organized!), and an end table or two. If your TV is mounted on the wall, you’ll need a small credenza to house your cable box and other electronics; if not, you’ll need a sturdy TV stand. Your coffee table, TV stand and end tables don’t have to match, but it’s smart to purchase them at the same time to be sure they look cohesive.

Play around with the pieces before settling on a layout. “Arrange furnishings in a way that allows for intimate conversations,” says Choo. And don’t let your couch become a wallflower: “Pull furniture away from walls and float pieces in arrangements,” Fiorito says. “Play with composition.”

Stage 2: Add Embellishments

Layer in a little something extra.

The living room’s lighting has to be flexible — after all, you’ll want it bright as can be for game night, and nice and dim for Netflix marathons. So think of lighting in layers: You probably already have overhead lighting, but layer in lamps for reading and ambient light. “Switch out your table lamps for ones that have a pattern or a pop of color,” suggests Fiorito. “And make sure lighting can be dimmed when you need a softer mood or for movie watching.”

Then, add in additional furniture that further defines the room’s purpose and adds a bit of height; the tallest thing in the room shouldn’t be the couch. If you have collectibles to display, purchase a curio cabinet to show them off; if your book hoard is reaching library status, bring in a tall bookshelf.

Draw the eye up even further (and keep a glare off the TV!) with window treatments that fit the room’s style. Think in layers: For large or floor-to-ceiling windows, consider a combination of sheer and heavier drapes; for smaller windows, a Roman shade and valance combo makes for simple style.

Stage 3: Give It the Wow Factor

Load the living room with items that take it to the next level.

Invest in a beautiful, well-made area rug. A large rug or two not only adds a layer of texture and pattern into your design, but it anchors furniture and defines smaller seating areas within larger rooms, Fiorito says.

Then, turn your attention to the walls. If the space is small, consider hanging an oversize wall mirror; it’ll trick the eye and make the room feel more spacious. “Turn a wall into a gallery with framed photographic prints and/or canvas paintings,” Chiu says. “[Or] hang floating shelves and display your collectibles, kids’ artwork, travel souvenirs and books.”

Not all of the décor has to be framed: Use an oversized wall clock as a decorative element, or position a clock in a focal point, like a mantel. Candles or a centerpiece bowl add style to a coffee table. Chiu suggests accessorizing with plants, vases and small sculptures, and crowning furniture with accent pillows or throws in bold, colorful designs that be swapped out as your tastes change.

Of course, the living room needn’t be all practical: Bring in an element (or two) of luxury. “Replace the hanging light fixture with a trendy chandelier,” suggests Chiu, or hang a textured or patterned wallpaper to add richness. Even little luxuries — a cashmere blanket, a sweet-smelling candle — go a long way.

If you'd like some guidance with a living room of your own, let me know--I'd be happy to help.

Happy designing!

Monday, March 8, 2021

Famous Homes: The Round House

Greetings readers! If you've been following this blog and my Famous Houses series over the years, you will see that there is always something unique that makes a house a Famous House. And this installment's house is maybe one of the most unique you will find.

Sometime around 1966, modernist architect and Philip Johnson-collaborator Richard Foster (Foster worked with Johnson on the iconic New York State Pavilion for the 1964 World's Fair as well as Johnson's famed Glass House previously here) was driving on Olmstead Hill, Road near Wilton, Connecticut and came upon a green dip in the landscape which he referred to as "a perfect amphitheater." Shortly thereafter this four acre plot would become the site of his "Circambulant House" or as it is also known: The Round House.

Over the next two years he worked with various contractors and craftsman to construct a unique home for his family, one that could rotate 360 degrees and provide any room in the house a picturesque vantage point of the landscape. The house combines engineering from Germany, local Connecticut Steel and stone from the Dolemites. Foster went through 5 design concepts before arriving on the circular home. He felt that such a house would compliment the landscape by giving the inhabitants unfettered views from any room at any time.

The Fosters made the Round House their home for 35 years. The mechanisms that rotate the house have required little maintenance over the years. Features such as the corten steel circular porch, wood shingles, stone pavers have given the home a well worn patina while also connecting it to the local surroundings. When Richard Foster died in 2002 the home passed out of the family’s hands and eventually arrived into new ownership.

Thankfully, in 2012 the home underwent a deep restoration. Mack Scogin Merrill Elam Architects re-envisioned the interior of the space along with a renovation of the exterior garage and driveway. Home systems that were cutting edge in the late sixties were upgraded for the day and the exterior of the house was restored very much to its original finish.

But its most unique feature remains intact: at the flip of a switch, the house slowly spins--clockwise or counterclockwise--up to 5 feet per minute and takes 45 minutes to make a full rotation.

Happy designing!

Monday, February 22, 2021

History of Furniture: Adam Style

When a twenty-six year old Robert Adam left his home in Scotland in 1754 for his Grand Tour of the continent, he actually spent nearly five years studying architecture under Charles-Louis Clérisseau and Giovanni Battista Piranesi. When he returned home to take over the family business from his architect father, he along with his brother John ushered in a style boom that is known as Adam Style.

The Adam brothers advocated an integrated style for architecture and interiors, with walls, ceilings, fireplaces, furniture, fixtures, fittings and carpets all being designed by the Adams as a single uniform scheme. And while the Neoclassical style was already very much in vogue at the time, this was mainly seen in architecture and the envelopes of buildings. Robert and John Adam brought the principles of Neoclassical architecture and design into a residential setting, taking into consideration all of the interiors of a home. Classical Roman decorative motifs, such as framed medallions, vases, urns and tripods, arabesque vine scrolls, sphinxes, griffins, and dancing nymphs, pilasters, painted ornaments, such as swags and ribbons, and complex pastel colour schemes are all hallmarks of the Adam style, which moved away from the strict mathematical proportions previously found in Georgian rooms, and introduced curved walls and domes, decorated with elaborate plasterwork and striking mixed color schemes using newly affordable paints in pea green, sky blue, lemon, lilac, bright pink, and red-brown terracotta. These colors mimicked the fresco colors one sees on the walls of the famous ruins of places such as Pompeii. One of the most famous Adam rooms is the Etruscan dressing room at Osterley Park.

The Adam Brothers introduced a striking idea of mirroring a ceiling design with a floor or rug design below. Take for example this image of the Music Room at Harewood House, with its circular ceiling design reflected in the rug pattern beneath.

Or this Tapestry Room at Croome House.

Aside from designing rugs, Robert Adam also designed many furniture pieces in this same style direction. He is known for shield and round back chairs in particular...

Happy designing!