Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Home & Garden Renovation Sees the Light

I saw my first robin of the season a few weeks ago.  
I saw tulip and daffodil green shoots coming up in my design clients’ garden beds.

With spring peeking and winking from just around the corner in the Northeast, thoughts naturally turn to Nature and getting ready to wake up the garden beds and get planting,  too. 
While it’s been an eerily warm and snow-free winter, the calendar will soon confirm that most homeowners can now collectively exhale. 
“We made it all the way!” will echo triumphantly throughout the landscape by next month. 

A too-warm winter wreaks havoc on the ecosystem – and that is an important story for another post.  For now, be mindful that insects and pollinators will be abundant this summer as there was no hard cold to work its predatory and healing Health Maintenance.

Seeds for Spring

Now is the time to order seeds if you haven’t already.
I love, love, love Kitazawa www.kitazawseed.com
and their Asian vegetable seeds.  
The seeds possess outstanding integrity and provenance. We enjoyed great success with their shishito peppers, and luscious, lipstick-red watermelon radish and eggplants – that produced purple beauties right through fall -- along with bok choy (that we would’ve savored even more if that rotten groundhog/woodchuck hadn’t also enjoyed the bounty)

Renee’s Garden Seeds www.reneesgarden.com offer superlative variety – with heirloom edibles and ornamentals.  I love their lettuces and vines like the red scarlet runner beans (that I affectionately refer to as “Magic Beans!)

The Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds catalog is another winner – with great stories too.  www.rareseeds.com  They offer non hybrid and non GMO seeds.  Wish we didn’t have to even make that distinction.  Sigh…
Who doesn't love Comstock Seeds and their catalogs?!  

Must do now?  Order those peas!  And hope for snow right after St. Patrick’s Day.

My garden friend, Irene Varig produces a top-notch “In the Garden” monthly calendar Irene@irenevarig.com and blog for Lowe’s: http://tinyurl/yeb8wt7
Check it out. 

Irene points out that now is the time for a few garden checks off the “To-Do” list including, checking your soil pH.  Most vegetables like slightly acidic soil in the 6.0 to 6.9 range.  Rejuvenate lilacs, removing one-third of the oldest branches. Finish pruning fruit trees and grapevines.

While I’m itching to get to our home garden makeover, there is still time, especially because we need to complete the first part of the house renovation for the kitchen and garden dining room. 
And I have a good plan in place J

Home Renovation Update: The Kitchen

The marble in the kitchen is just too dreamy.
Earlier I wrote how the Italian marble made me hug it the first time I laid eyes on it.  It looks like the Caribbean or Mediterranean Sea from above.
Or the sky if you were lying on the grass (or a water float) looking up. 
It’s blue and white and yellow and is positively transporting. 

I shared how we chose the areas to be cut for the kitchen island and the counter tops.  That was challenging episode to find the “best” area to feature -- It all looked so good.

We foraged for this marble over many months and in far-flung locales in places you don’t want to even know about…
So the memory of the hunt, the discovery, and seeing it all come together – was not unlike a Greek tragedy.  Or a lovely romance – in full blossom.

To watch the craftsmen bring in the newly beveled marble slabs, position on what will be its new home on the cooking island and the kitchen counter is astonishing. 


There is a lot of glass dust from the drilling to cut the marble for the cook top, sink, and cabinets. (Why don’t these guys wear face masks? I opened all the windows for them at the very least.)
It’s the precision and the confidence they display that is most impressive. 

The marble color gradations and the modest, seductive sparkle of the stone glamourize the kitchen area as it contrasts against the mahogany Thomasville brown cabinets and the almond color island. 

sparks & smoke were flying cutting the marble

Dining Garden Room

It’s no secret I always adored dining IN a garden.  So the plan always was to fashion a dining room accessorized and adorned with plants – dripping, climbing, and stalwart plants. All green, some fragrant, all happy in their ability to lend to a homegrown dining experience.

The porcelain tile in the floor was chosen for its mushroom grey and green coloring with a dash of brownish. The decorative copper tiles we selected were to be random – just a nice accent.

And the transition tiles – from the kitchen to the dining garden room are sexy glass—with alternating squares of tile, brown sparkly glass, and copper…
Porcelain tile delivery direct to door
This tile install took approximately a week.  

I needed to move at least some of the furniture in the room to get a better feel for the paint colors and the fabric for the reupholstering.

Completed glass tile transition & porcelain tile with copper inserts (randomly/purposefully placed) 


We changed our idea for the dining room table from a copper-topped 84” table, largely because it would be the two of us – or three of us, counting Mother – who’d be dining at it on a regular basis. And well, that felt a lot more like the Thurston Howell and Lovey looking waaayy down the table at each other on a regular basis just so we’d have a big table for holidays.
That led to the search for an antique table with good wood and bones and a provenance whose story would find resonance with our story.
Mother and I struck pay dirt and a few weeks later Bill and I closed the deal. 
The table is from the 1930’s, it is mahogany (sibling to the kitchen counter woodwork), has lovely marquetry around the edges. And has three leaves! We can go from an intimate dinner for four to eight to a biiigg family holiday meal.  

Moreover, the table can go from a geographic prime spot in the garden dining room in the front, southwest side to the waterside to the living room area off the kitchen in front of the fireplace with a quick move.
Like a ballerina doing a quick change, the table and chairs can move with the seasons and our dining mood.  
There are a few funny stories to go with the lore of the discovery and negotiations for the table and delivery.  Think Russian and let me know if you want to hear more about this J

We love our new – old table and I was thrilled when my design editor friend, Donna Dorian, pronounced the find a good one, after seeing digital images. 
I love the table and the host and hostess chairs, especially.
I love antiques. I don’t like “antiquing.”  My husband thinks all antiques are someone else’s cast offs …

The furniture in situ helped me with the paint colors. 
The sheet rocked walls had taken on so many stripes it coulda been a tiger – or seersucker or – you get the idea.

But ultimately, it came together. 

I think I may have noted that of things curious, I was being seduced by the color and hues of orange.  I do not consider myself an organgey kind of gal, and yet – all those sunrises and sunsets can’t be wrong.
And lo and behold, Pantone chose orange Tangerine as their color of the year. www.pantone.com

How au courant!
I had hoped to refer to it as spice or persimmon or cinnamon or..
But there, right out, there was our color, in all its glory and simplicity from none other than Farrow & Ball.
It is Orangery #70.
I used Farrow & Ball paint in my stopgap kitchen –meaning the kitchen until we did the remodel - -and the blue-black lacquer color was so glamorous that it made the silly little kitchen look great.  And the glass door knobs, er cabinet jewelry, from Restoration Hardware, migrated over to the new kitchen. So good investment. The glass captures the light and spreads rainbows and glamour throughout the room.  

If you haven’t experienced Farrow & Ball – get onto the design resource.
Farrow & Ball Paints produces environmentally friendly paints using “ natural ingredients such as Chalk, Lime Putty and China Clay and does not use harmful ingredients such as APE and Xylene. Farrow & Ball paints have a zero* VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds) content” according to the company. 
Farrow & Ball Wallpapers
The Farrow & Ball range of painted wallpapers is quite unique. All wallpapers are made to order at the company’s factory in Dorset, England, the home of Farrow & Ball since its beginnings. They are crafted using traditional techniques to apply Farrow & Ball zero* VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds) environmentally friendly water based paint to FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) approved paper.
*As tested to US Environmental Protection Agency standards
Another reason to love them.
The renowned British manufacturer of paint and wallpaper opened a showroom on the Upper West Side in November of last year. 
322 Columbus Avenue

Go to experience interior and exterior artisanal paint colors and wallpapers. I love the way they present their color combinations and suggested trends:
Farrow & Ball reveals the colours of 2012
Unexpected colour combinations and colour blocking are the key looks for 2012. Strong greys are accented with warm yellows and clean blues for a really modern, graphic look, while subdued blue-greys and delicate purples remain fresh when paired with brighter colours in dynamic combinations. Farrow & Ball’s PigeonTM, BrassicaTM, RailingsTM and Babouche®, are all rich, nostalgic shades with an underlying quiet intensity that makes them suited to decorating trends in 2012.

Finally, we also determined the Morgan Gold for the dining garden room because it matched the gold in the huge antique mirror I bought from the Genovese estate sale back in, what was that? November or December?  In any event, this mirror is, pardon the pun for the former owner: a Cosa Nostra kingpin, Drop-Dead gorgeous.  
I love the unique look. I love its history – don’t want to know its story… and its mere color informed the color of the walls and the base molding color: Benjamin Moore Silken Pine that embraces the green of the mirror piece and suggested the gold for the walls.   
I painted the walls and observed their resonance driven by the sun throughout a day or two to feel in simpatico with the paint color choices.
Farrow & Ball have a Pigeon color I am falling for..

In a related stroke of wall design brilliance, I was covering a story – and taking a class at the yoga studio, cum B&B, on the Lower East Side: Stanton Street Yoga urban retreat center, www.stantonstreetyoga.com 
and upon seeing their painted leaves in the wall, knew this was an idea worth stealing. Brilliant.
I will use it to suggest blown leaves coming in through the French doors up to the loft on both sides of the garden dining room.  I tried it with real leaves… 

The kitchen and living room will be a Benjamin Moore Cream Yellow – all the better to mix with that marble, the cabinets and the soon to be recovered furniture.

Up next: molding and railings and spiral staircase. 

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Metro Hort Lecture Shines a Light on Emerging Ecological Design

Billed as a talk about “Relationships of Ecological Design with Landscape Architecture” and featuring the landscape architect and urban ecologist Alexander Felson, the talk was full of anticipation on the subject of the love child of science and design that needs exploration and discussion.
Its moment had arrived.
Unfortunately, the compelling topic’s prime time in the spotlight fell short of expectations.
I can’t quit put my finger on it but as I looked around the PowerPoint-lit room in the Central Park (NYC) Amory where all the Metro Hort lectures are held, there seemed a discernible – and in some cases, audible – tsking or whispers of “where’s the plants?”
You see, horticulture fans want to see pictures of plants, wildlife. “Before” and “After” images are especially well received.

And Alex – while undeniably knowledgeable and informed – he used no notes and was animated in his delivery, conveying his downright passionate about the topic and the issues – couldn’t seem to connect with the attending audience. 
People started to leave at the appointed conclusion time, despite Alex’s getting the OK to continue for another half hour. 
I thought maybe it was me.  I want to be sophisticated about this most important subject and burgeoning field.  But no, the stony silence screamed, “This is not grabbing me. It’s kinda' boring…”

Further, the morning after was a New York Botanical Garden lecture and attendees there were making “Icky” faces when asked about the Metro Hort lecture.  The reviews were in.  It is undoubtedly a compelling, fascinating topic. But the lecture wasn’t interesting, sad to report.
Perhaps if it was more focused…
Or used more vivid images of plants rather than almost exclusively the flat, one-dimensional charts, diagrams, and graphs that were on the screen. (I only shot plant pictures for this news post.)

I’m sure there is a thespian or performer who was quoted as saying, “Know thy audience.”

In all fairness, there were those who said despite the academia-style presentation, we do all need to learn about the reconstructing landscapes and ecosystems using applied ecology.  There needs to be a proactive approach to embedding science into the system of landscape design.  Research needs to be included as part of the design process too. 
There was no argument from any quarter about that. It was just how it was delivered.

Nevertheless, the points are worth repeating here.
The opportunities for restoration and applied ecology will only increase. 
Alex showed more than a few examples of innovative restoration projects including the Presidio Trust in San Francisco, NY’s East River waterfront, the World’s Fair grounds in Queens, NY, and the 200 acres in Queens he’s working on as part of Mayor Bloomberg’s Million Trees Program.
And a cutie pie one using the life cycle of oysters.

The Presidio project brought together a team of landscape architects and designers and ecologists to talk about their broken communications and to determine how to reach consensus. 
This part of the process in creating adaptable landscapes, while a key dynamic, doesn’t make for lecture fodder… Isn’t it true in any business or working dynamic that it’s hard to get things done but discussion and goal setting and compromise work get to the desired outcome? The answer is yes.

So to me, not a huge surprise that one part of the Presidio’s concessions was a winning result.
No one could take issue with how those traditionalist who clung to keeping things the way they were - however ill-informed those decisions may have been - came round to making some changes so that they could replace 40 trees with local genotypes at Inspiration Point, thus insuring a great view.

Alex advised that in these situations no one can have its cake and eat it too.
Compromise is the only solution. 

The Adaptive Management Approach incorporates a few key elements he says will prove valuable in getting to those solutions. They are:

·      What is the value of species richness?
·      What is the value of soil amendments as they will also promote invasives?
·      Determine whether to remove or leave invasive species?

The Cost & Benefits part of the add-on lecture was kind of a non-starter -- a bridge to nowhere… 
In terms of management, costs must be managed. Again, that’s true for any work discipline.
And it’s important, of course, to measure things like the biomass and carbon sequestering.  
He cited the development of the system to measure that an urban tree will take anywhere from 11 to 41 years to pay back its carbon survival.
And yet, he noted there are yet no ways to measure the human cost of interaction. Why not?  How can we overlook this most important element of watching children in nature, developing a relationship with nature?

However, Alex is working very hard to “build a bridge”  – to become part of the landscape architect frontiers of ecology.

One goal he’s got his eyes set on is Parking Lots – those blights on the suburban landscape where once there was probably a farm or meadow, and are now locked into unsustainable asphalt…
He cited the overabundance of “human modification of land that influences the aesthetic.  We need to create water absorption, nearby wetlands, perhaps recirculating water and increase permeable surfaces in the parking lots – and in urban environments in general.

Another very important project is one he’s working on in Bridgeport and Old Saybrook, Connecticut.  Working with the Nature Conservancy they’ve created mapping that surveys the area that that will indicate which neighborhoods and homes will be under water given the expected storm surges as a result of climate change. 
There was already a lot of damage after the summer’s hurricane that left more than $300,000 worth of damage behind and more than a few townspeople feeling like those living on the coast are a tax burden for the rest of the citizens.
It’s so difficult to tell a third generation family there that their home will be under water or that they have to leave and move away, Alex commented.
Alex pointed out how work is being done to use Amtrak train tracks and from there through to the tide gates.
They tried to get the town to raise the utilities from the basement but that suggestion went nowhere.
He proposed they not think of their neighbor as random but rather as a sub basin watershed
And so it goes…

“Restoration ecologists work with designer and other practioners in the development of resilient and adapted landscapes. Traditionally focused on reconstructing ecosystems of historically documented landscapes, this approach is being reassessed in light of changes in site conditions and pressures on ecosystems from global environmental changes

Alex discussed his involvement and work in projects where novel ecosystems that use historical knowledge of restoration and recognize the value of creative environmentally sensitive solutions that are functional and aesthetic.”

Alexander Felson is a landscape architect and urban ecologist, is on the faculty of both the School of Architecture and the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies at Yale University.  His projects include a Harlem community garden, The East River Salt Marsh project with Ken Smith, and a real estate development in the Tuxedo Reserve where he brought a together a multidisciplinary team of academics and practioners to work the developer community planning boards, and regulators to define and encourage responsible management of urban eco

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Home Renovation Didn't See Its Shadow - Work Creeps Along with Style

As I texted yesterday, Puff, Puff – we’re getting there. 

The heavy lifting of the outside work and infrastructure is complete. 
The front and back porch are in.  The columns need to be painted but that will come later.

Amazing how they cut the bluestone amid billows of smoke. Alas, it ends up everywhere...

And how painstakingly the masons lay the stone on diagonal
Yikes!  It went from this to... 

...to this in not too much time
But not before we learned the masons had taken down the drain pipes & gutters to accommodate the bigger-sized porch configuration.  They seemed nonplussed about it and said all would be ok as soon as the gutters were in.  However, the siding hadn't been completed and it rained -  which led to some basement flooding. Could this have contributed to first the washer breaking and then the hot water heater dying??   My garden design expert team had to come in and install a fitted pipe from the house out to the street!

The terrace is re-assembled by the masons.  Actually looks better than it did.  
I had the masons also put in a new step below the new French door.  

I will need to determine the walkway from the terrace garden – which is a charming, diminutive herb potager kind of garden – not too far from the kitchen – out to a new front garden.

There are existing pea gravel pathways bisecting the four quadrants in the garden.
I could readily extend the pea gravel to make the walkway to the front of the house. 

By the way, I am waiting for a tree expert to come and determine if he will remove/take away the specimen holly that punctuates the front garden.  I hate to lose this wonder – especially during the holidays – however, it will open up the view better for our neighbors and frankly, it doesn’t get us anything in the new, planned garden design.

I also had to laugh about the black silk netting that was put up early on to protect the garden beds. Ha.  Talk about Plant Blindness!  Good thing I moved most everything I could, as the workers just walked right through them so before too long it was a dreary looking sight.  

Back to the terrace garden room walkway and gaining access to the front.
I know my husband is not keen walking on the pea gravel and further, this will probably be a somewhat heavily trafficked walkway. 
I need to think about this later.

I want to capture the sunrise - here over Long Island/Brooklyn -Love the blues & oranges
The focus for the most part now is on the indoors but my eye is constantly observing and noting where the new light is given the new structure, seeing what has opened up or shaded.  We also are trying out different shades of colors to see how the light will hit it and how it will look... 

When it comes to the floor color, we are like CSI agents looking at the body from every angle in order to determine what floor stain works best for the kitchen & living room-that-soon-might-be-an-alternate-dining-room.  Presently, the older part of the floor is red mahogany.
We will redo this to match the newly built floor – and most important to the new kitchen cabinets.

We designed the kitchen cabinet composition and layout with the help of Eileen at Home Depot that is located in an enterprise zone – which means less tax!
The cabinets are Thomasville – in a dark walnut brown.  
The island is almond with eyebrow-thin brownish-gold color in the cabinet grooves.

We are torn between two stains.  I guess we are waiting for the entire kitchen cabinets to be completed and then will choose.
There is the sexy glass tile transition we love that will need to complement the wood floor that makes the leap over to what will be a tiled floor in the new sitting and dining area.  I love those glass tiles! So much depth and texture.  

Here are the stain choices:

What do you think?

Then there are things you never think about – like moldings.  We have to choose the moldings for every door and ceiling area and floor-mounts.   
We continue to hold up samples and ponder the look like we know what we’re doing.
We look closely, then step back and look as if the decorating demi-gods will flit in and point out sweetly, “Choose this one, darling”

We also interviewed three different tile layers, trimmers, installers, and painters.  Always best to secure minimum of three bids. And interview the candidates for more than the price.  Make certain you like their working style – do they do one job at a time; do they work with a team; are they the craftsman; will they work until the job is finished or work you in with other schedules.  How do they expect to be paid - One-third up front?
Ask about problems, successes, what it is they like to do best/best and worst experience
Do you appreciate their look?? Do you find their recommendations and knowledge something you can respect?

Think about the process as if you are interviewing a candidate for your business. You are.
Too often, there is a language barrier – meaning those who work in the service business have no clue about the labor and construction business.
Overcome this communication gap.
Determine what it is you need to get out of the relationship.

We also eagerly revisited our Azul marble this week.  Ahhh – it was good to be back in the embrace of this cosmic beauty.  It is Italian marble with blue in it – which is difficult at best to find – with whitish cloud-like dreams floating the surface and the slightly glittering, island-looking shapes. 
Overall, the drama is one that looks like the Caribbean Sea from the plane gliding above or alternately, it looks like an azure sky adorned with lazy cloud forms.

When I voiced my marble rapture to the man who came to measure the template and Lou, the cabinet install expert, they squinty-eyed challenged me, saying, “Ha. Nothing looks like the Caribbean except the Caribbean.”

“Trust me,” I confidently glared back “This does indeed channel the sea.” 
Seeing it they were chagrined and declared their agreement to its doppelganger provenance!

And the fact that the island – as in the kitchen cabinet that houses the stovetop and is in the middle of the room – faces the water – this Azul Sea Marble is just a heavenly design element… 

Our next step finally was to meet up with that lover, the Azul Marble and determine where to cut based on the template measurements.  

And when Paula from TriState Stone tile triumplantly circled our desired template placement and wrote “Island” on it – I remarked it was very Zen. All the dots were connecting: the marble was marked by word Island on top of the islands in the marble for the island in the kitchen.

Next.  We got a dining room table!