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HIGH POINT — The American Home Furnishings Alliance is launching a program called Eco3Home that will allow consumers to research information on AHFA members and their products regarding safety, health and environmental stewardship.

It will be anchored by a consumer website, www.eco3home.com, where shoppers will be able to find out about AHFA manufacturer or importer members participating in the program, and also can research a particular piece of furniture in detail.

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So far, very few manufacturers have signed on to this program, but perhaps more will with time, as it becomes known.  The idea is certainly an excellent one, and I hope this program really takes off.

I sure hope that the high end companies like Dessin Fournir, Holly Hunt, and others that I am accustomed to using most frequently will get onto this sort of bandwagon.  There is progress happening in the industry, with more and more attractive furniture being made in green ways, so that environmental responsibility need not mean sacrificing style, but it still hasn’t hit the really top quality goods.

 

A beautiful example of a stylish and fully accessible bathroom, complete with curbless shower/wet room, handheld showerhead, accessible sink, and well-placed grab bars. Notice how spacious this room feels without the tub or traditional shower one would normally have expected to find here, with the flooring continuous right into the shower. I'm pretty sure there's a seat just out of sight. This was designed by a professional who really fully understands accessible bathroom design.

“Despite the effect on resale value, replacing a tub with a shower is increasingly popular as aging-in-place remodeling gains interest. According to a National Association of Home Builders Remodelers survey, 70% of remodelers now report making universal-design home modifications, compared with 60% in 2006. Additionally, 60% of remodelers say these projects include adding a curbless shower, as well as grab bars, higher toilets, and wider doorways. Though most requests come from clients over age 55, more consumers are making the requests on behalf of aging or disabled family members.”

— Lauren Hunter, associate editor, REMODELING

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This makes all the sense in the world for me, on several levels.

For starters, it reflects a greater focus on creating a home that is what people want for themselves, not viewing the place as an investment they are just parking in. Yes, it’s wonderful when you sell to make money, and to get the price you are hoping for or more, but what good is it, really, if you aren’t comfortable and don’t enjoy living in it yourself? Value is not necessarily measured in dollars, but in getting the biggest bang for your buck – and making sure you get what you need to support your own health and lifestyle before you try to worry about some hypothetical later buyer. Surround yourself with beautiful things and colors that you love, and the greatest (and longest lasting) reward you will reap will be your own delight and joy while you yourself live there.

Second, the reality is that our population is aging, and a far higher percentage of us are going to have to age in place whether we want to or not, just because the Baby Boomer generation is going to overwhelm our existing elder care options. Nobody really wants to leave the home that they love, but more savvy people are realizing that it makes sense to plan ahead for as many potential change scenarios as they can, while they are still able-bodied enough to do so, taking the time to do it right.

By middle age, too, the body starts breaking down, of course, and none of us can do all of what we could do when we were younger, or at least very few, and this process just accelerates as we get older. People are starting to face these realities, particularly as they see their parents and friends running into problems staying in their homes because of design that interferes with being able to do so safely and easily.  Particularly if people still love their homes and neighborhoods, remodeling to ease the transitions of getting older makes a lot of sense – and planning for it in advance of actually needing the modifications makes even more sense.

Curbless showers are particularly nice, because people in wheelchairs can just roll right in with no obstacles to overcome, there’s nothing for anyone else to trip over, either, and they make cleaning the floor a breeze, because there are fewer nooks and crannies for dirt to hide in, as with a traditional shower, and the entire floor has a tiny, imperceptible slope that prevents water from pooling anywhere.  They also make a smaller bathroom look a lot bigger because the continuous floor visually expands space, while anything that interrupts that span, like a shower curb, makes it look smaller.  It’s easier to get both kids and dogs in than to try to get them into a tub and keep them there, and controls placed low enough to be reachable by a seated user are also easier for children to reach.  The advantages go on and on.  And with today’s vast range of materials and finishes, your bathroom can still look every bit as stunning when accessible to everyone, regardless of whether you prefer a contemporary or a traditional look.

If you’ve got enough space for both a tub and a freestanding shower, you’ve got many more options, but if you can only fit one in, the shower offers more option for ease of use combined with beautiful aesthetics.

Many times these modifications are surprisingly easy and economical to do, especially if you are planning ahead and not under the gun of dealing with an emergency situation.  If you are already planning a remodel, make sure you include as many accessibility features as possible, particularly if you already have a medical condition that you know will eventually cause you to need to make changes to the house.  An interior designer who is a Certified Aging in Place Specialist to help you get the most bang for your buck (and time invested) in terms of both function and aesthetics, and integration with the rest of your home.

If you want to be sure you can stay in your home as you age, or as you move in elderly parents, or to enable disabled friends or other relatives to visit, contact Hoechstetter Interiors for anything from an evaluation of your current situation and recommendations to complete remodeling or new construction assistance to ensure accessibility, ease of use, and beauty for YOUR lifestyle.

Following are a few other images of beautiful bathrooms with roll-in (or near roll-in) showers and other accessibility features.  Future posts will look at accessibility issues and features in other rooms of the house.

This is a very tiny and narrow bathroom, but look how big it looks because of the open shower, continuous flooring, suspended vanity, and that marvelous huge mirror.  This stunning shower might be a little difficult for a wheelchair user to use in its present form because there’s no room to turn around, and hard to get assistance in if needed, but either a roll-in shower chair or the addition of a pull-down bench would allow for comfortable seating and easy transfer to the bench.  If this is all the space you’ve got, though, it’s definitely still workable even if a bit cramped – and without architectural changes.  Of course, grab bars would need to be added as well.  However, the handheld shower and controls are at a good height for a seated user (or children!), and you can see how well the shower integrates into the room without curbs, and how it visually expands the limited space.  The sink and vanity are already fully accessible because of the open space underneath, and placement at a height and with a depth that everyone in the family can use easily.

 

Even grab bars don’t have to be dull and institutional-looking.  Here is only one example of a growing number of beautifully designed styles of bathroom hardware that are designed to integrate beautifully with – or completely match – the rest of your fixtures and fittings, even in a more traditionally designed bathroom like this one.  The translucent fold-down shower seat nearly disappears visually.  I can’t tell if this is actually a roll-in shower or not, but it certainly could be.  The only thing noticeably missing here is a handheld showerhead and shower controls reachable from the seat.  It’s really a shame when a room is this attractively designed with such obvious intent to make it accessible, and such major elements are left out.  It’s on the right track, though, and shows how style and beauty simply need not be sacrificed even in a more traditional design.  If the necessary plumbing changes simply aren’t in the budget, there are add-on handheld showers that can be purchased separately and attached to the main showerhead that can bring additional functionality to a situation like this if need be.

 

This lovely “room within a room” shower still has a curb, but it’s low enough that most people would be able to navigate it with much less difficulty than with a standard curb (or tub edge!), and with help, a wheelchair could be gotten over it if necessary.  If designing this room from scratch, though, or remodeling it, it would be easy to eliminate it altogether with a little more attention paid to the way the floor slopes to the drain, with or without the contrasting flooring inside the shower and out.  The window ledge doubles as a seat (although perhaps a little low here) – totally functional, and totally unobtrusive as to purpose.  Add grab bars and a handheld showerhead, and this is another stunning example of how a shower can be accessible to all without sacrificing one iota of style.

 

This prefabricated showerpan is a lower cost way to achieve full accessibility in the shower.  That lip holds the water in, but is compressible, so that a wheelchair will just roll right over it, or you can step right on it if you can’t pick up your feet very far.  Add a drop down bench, and be sure there’s a handheld showerhead, and this is yet another well-designed accessible shower that integrates well into an attractive bathroom.  Horizontal grab bars are generally more useful and safer than slanted ones, but every little bit helps.  The sink, however, is not accessible as is, but could easily be made so by replacing the cabinet base with something that allows seated access as in some of the other images shown here, or by installing a cabinet base that can have doors while people are still all mobile, but which are designed to be easily removable later if wheelchair accessibility becomes necessary.

Many times, aging-in-place design allows for changes like this with flexible base cabinets when they become necessary, while retaining more “traditional” features until such time as they are needed.

Other options are installing backing in the shower in anticipation of adding grab bars later.  I’ve learned from hard personal experience, though, that you should buy the grab bars when you buy the rest of your fittings, and just store them away if you don’t want to install them right away.  It can take weeks or months to order something you’d really like to live with, and if you are injured (as I was last year, with a broken foot), even if you’ve already got the backing in place and every other accessibility feature set to go, you’ll get stuck with ugly hardware store special grab bars if you need them suddenly, or with finding a way to do without, which defeats the whole point.

(If anyone knows the photo credits for these images, please let me know and I will be happy to add the attributions.  My new software on my new Mac has eaten all the credits I had stored in the prior version on my PC <sigh>.)

For designers and clients alike.

Clients, if you’ve ever wondered why designers sometimes tell you they can’t tell you what they charge when you ask that early on, this is at least part of the answer.  You don’t want a one-size-fits-all answer anyways.  The designer you’re thinking of hiring absolutely must spend enough time getting to know you and what your needs, wishes, budget, etc. are to be able to give you a fully informed answer.  Most designers are willing to tailor a plan to meet your needs and budget, so don’t shop just on price.  The designer/client relationship is a very intimate and complex one that offers tremendous value, and that can’t be easily reduced to a simple, pat answer to “How much do you charge?”, just as Fabienne explains below.
-Wendy

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NEVER Answer The ONE Question Prospects Always Ask (If You Want Clients)

One of the best things to do to quickly establish credibility, get massive exposure, and attract new clients, is speaking. Hands down. Whether you organize your own seminars on a regular basis to continually fill the pipeline (the way I did for years), or get booked for talks to “pre-formed” groups like associations, it works like a charm?provided you give very good info.

If you deliver the talk properly, there is always a group of people at the end of your talk who rush up to the podium to chat with you. Some will tell you how much they enjoyed the talk, some will be e-zine readers who have wanted to meet you for years, some will want free advice or to “pick your brain.” But, there is one question you will almost always get and it comes in two parts. The first part is the good part; “I am interested in working with you.” The second one is the tricky part; “What do you charge?”

There is ONE fundamental problem with answering the second part of that question. If you answer it right there on the spot, you will most always lose that client on the spot. Here is why.

When making a purchasing decision, if they are only focused on price, there is not any room for VALUE or RESULTS. And I believe people buy in three ways: by emotion, by results, and by value (what they are paying for what they are getting). If you do not get the value part right, you might as well not even bother. They will always go into sticker shock.

The solution? Do not give them your rates on the spot. Instead, invite them for a conversation to be held at a later date where you can fully describe the value they will be getting from working with you. I call mine the “get-acquainted session,” you may call yours a free-consultation, whatever. The important thing is that is where the magic happens. That is where you can find out more about them, get to the root of their problems, describe solutions, and they sell themselves into your services, based on value.

Now, by the way, this situation does not just happen at the end of a speaking gig. If you have got a kick-butt elevator speech that makes them say, “Wow, that is exactly what I need, I want to work with you,” then you will also get the question at networking events, at the cocktail hour of your friend’s wedding, or simply when someone contacts you by email or phone. The answer is always the same though. Invite them for a get-acquainted session.

Your Assignment:

Never give your rates cold. You will almost always lose the sale right there on the spot. Instead, invite them for a conversation. Here is what I recommend that my clients say to their own prospects:

“I actually offer several different programs, depending on how quickly you want to get results, and of course, on your budget level. What I usually recommend is that we set up a get-acquainted session. Not only do you want to find out more about me, my programs, etc., but I want to find out more about you and your situation to see if you are going to be the right fit for my programs as well. Shall we set that up?”

Done. The prospect almost always lets out a sigh of relief (it is almost as though they did not REALLY want your rates after all) and then you are all set. Now, you are ready to close the sale. Easy.

Now, if closing the sale 97-98% of the time is not a reality for you yet, then we have got to change that ASAP. My own formula, step-by-step process AND closing the sale script is all laid out and available to you, in a turnkey, easy to implement one foot in front of the other process. The Client Attraction Home Study System includes everything you need to know to fill your practice quickly and close the sale consistently; no matter how long you have been in business. All the tools, scripts, templates, and examples are handed to you on a silver platter. So, you do step one of the system, and when you are done with that, you move on to step two, and so on. So easy. That is why my customers have gotten such great results from it. You can get yours at www.TheClientAttractionSystem.com.

© 2010 Client Attraction LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Want to use this article on your website or your own ezine?
No problem! But here is what you MUST include:Fabienne Fredrickson, The Client Attraction Mentor, is founder of the Client Attraction System , the proven step-by-step program that shows you exactly how to attract more clients, in record time…guaranteed. To get your F.R.E.E. Audio CD by mail and receive her weekly marketing & success mindset articles on attracting more high-paying clients and dramatically increasing your income, visit www.ClientAttraction.com.

WOOL FOR ALL SEASONS

by Wools of New Zealand (photo credits as indicated)

Summertime - and Wool! Photo credit: Wools of New Zealand

What’s the very first thing that comes to mind when you think about wool? I bet it’s not the summer! Wool is known for protecting people from freezing temperatures, yet for over 12,000 years wool has also played an important role in protecting people from heat.

The natural qualities of wool make it more suitable for carpet in climatic extremes than synthetic fibers. In Florida and other regions with both high humidity and temperatures, the

Photo credit: Toxy's Jamstation

advantages of wool’s complex physical structure work as an atmospheric buffer. At times of high humidity, wool fiber can absorb up to 30 percent of its weight in moisture—without feeling damp—then release this moisture when the atmosphere becomes dry again. And when wool fibers are easily spread, as in carpets, they can respond in minutes to changes in ambient humidity. In this way, wool acts as a buffer to reduce peak humidity levels and make those hot summer months more comfortable.

Summer is meant to be enjoyed. It’s the time of year we throw open our windows, fill our vases with fresh flowers, and walk around barefoot. And why shouldn’t we?  There’s nothing like the beauty of the great outdoors. And one of the best ways to capture that “outdoor” feeling is with furnishings and floorcoverings made from natural materials, like wool.

Few floorcoverings are associated as closely with the land as wool. The wool from New Zealand is an environmentally friendly, sustainable fiber that is grown naturally.

Photo credit: joe-ks.com

Because wool is produced from a totally renewable resource—grass—the earth’s natural resources, which are becoming more precious every day, are preserved; unlike synthetics which require energy, and in many cases petroleum, for production.

Photo credit: Canada-photos.com

Another environmental benefit of wool is that it is biodegradable. In soil, wool readily biodegrades to produce nitrogen, sulfur, carbon dioxide and

Photo credit: Brookside Woolen Mill

water, which support the growth of plants and flowers.

Thoughts of blooming flowers also bring to mind the topic of allergies. Wool can help allergy sufferers by absorbing common contaminants and eliminating them from the air. Wool also reacts with harmful gases such as formaldehyde (a common pollutant emitted by building materials), nitrogen dioxide, and sulfur dioxide by neutralizing and binding the gases irreversibly in its structure, so everyone…even people with asthma…can breathe a little easier.

Photo credit: Carpet and Rug Institute

In addition to livin’ well, wool makes livin’ easy.  Wool is naturally superior because it has built-in stain resistant features. The scaly structure of the wool fibers holds dirt high on the pile where it can be easily vacuumed. Wet spills can be blotted up quickly as well, leaving more time to enjoy summer activities.

Wool is a fiber for all reasons and all seasons. The many benefits of this amazing fiber help make your world healthier, comfortable, beautiful and more relaxing…all months of the year.

How would you like to save money (as much as 60%!) and even get paid for purchasing goods and services you already use?  Paid for by the advertising budgets of all of the companies involved?

These days, many people want to save as much money as possible, and are often also looking for extra income, as business in so many industries is down and life certainly isn’t getting any less expensive.  I’ve come across an amazing opportunity that I’d love for you to take a look at that I think is a complete no brainer.

Do you use a cell phone?  Watch TV?  Eat out?  Go to movies or amusement parks?  Use high speed Internet?  Travel?  Take vitamins and nutritional supplements?  Shop at physical stores like Home Depot, Kohl’s, Macy’s, Saks, Best Buy, Borders, Blockbuster (either online or physically), or online at virtual-only sites like NewEgg, Amazon.com, the Apple iTunes Store, Magazines.com, Overstock.com, all major US cell phone carriers, and even Travelocity?  What about checking out some 900 other well-known businesses – including Fortune 500 companies, major restaurant chains, hot local restaurants, and much more?  Most are brand names you already know, use, and trust.

Please check this out and let me know what you think – http://www.fhtmus.com/wendyhoechstetter.

Not only are there amazing discounts up front, but you can even be paid a percentage of whatever you and any of your loyal customers purchase!  Without changing your buying habits.

Look through all the products and see what you might use, or are already using.  Pay particular attention to the Amusement Pack and Rewards Mall, since those little buttons hide a lot behind them.  All are great, but these two have far and away the most options.  Just take a look at how amazingly much is already offered – and they’re adding new companies continually.

If prompted by some of these links for a representative ID, just enter 3529650 and you’ll be able to look around.  It won’t commit you to a thing.

And definitely click on the “Watch an FHTM Overview” button to find out how all this works and where the money comes from, whether you want to sign on as a rep or just want to purchase products for your own use.  I particularly like Todd Rowland’s presentation followed by Chris Doyle’s, as they spell out everything about how all of this works, but they’re all good.

You can either become a rep and start producing income for yourself, or just purchase products through my site that will still save you a lot of money – and purchasing them directly from the vendor in question – all of their regular products, on their own websites.

Either way, you’ll help me out in the process if you will just go through my portal to access these vendors – which I’d really appreciate ;->  It will all be  pretty much completely transparent to you – and cost you the same or less than you’re already been paying anyways for the same things.  Plus, with so many vendors under one roof, you can save a lot of time vs going to each store or website individually.

I know, I know; this sounds like an ad, and too good to be true, and you come to this blog to read about interior design-related topics.  But this company is so exciting and unlike any other that I just want to share it with everyone.  I’ve checked out this company six ways to Sunday, as has the highly credible person who introduced me to it, and am actually working with a number of my interior design colleagues.  It’s such a great way to expand your options that can allow you to do whatever it is you like to do (like pick only the design projects you want to do) just for fun, and get the monkey off your back.  The training and support provided are incredible.

This opportunity is definitely not for everyone, there’s no pressure to sign up or purchase anything – and it is definitely not a get rich quick scheme.

Some people will get it right away after watching one or two of the videos, and others won’t.  That’s just fine. I’m not going to  twist anyone’s arm.  I want to help people, and assist the ones who want to do even more to help others accomplish those goals, along with their personal ones.

Just please let me know what you think, and feel free to drop me a line if you’ve got any questions.

Lately I’ve been pondering how to communicate the value of what professional interior designers bring to a design project that no one else can, and like many other designers, coming up a bit short on a good explanation, although it’s something we designers certainly all know intuitively.  Conveying that to the public is a different matter, however.  The following articles explain it better than any I’ve seen elsewhere.  Stanley Abercrombie is one of the most influential design writers of our time, for many years the editor of Interior Design magazine, one of the industry’s most important professional journals.  In a profession sadly lacking in philosphical underpinnings such as architecture has, he’s also written one of the most thoughtful (and indeed only) books on the subject with the appropriate title of  A Philosophy of Interior Design.

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The value of interior design, 1994. (interior design as an artform) (Editorial)

Article from:Interior Design Article date:January 1, 1994 Author: Abercrombie, Stanley

Please don’t think I plan to make a habit of this, but just this once I want to take more than the usual space for an editorial statement. On this page in October, comments titled “It’s the Design” urged designers to value–and to charge for–their design expertise. Some of you agreed with my comments (for example, see Marvin Affrime’s letter in our forum section); some of you didn’t agree; and the following expansion of those thoughts will also, inevitably, be controversial. That’s fine. But I feel passionately about the danger of something important being lost if designers continue disguising their profession as just another business.

Interior design is a business, we recognize, and a demanding one; the forum instituted exactly two years ago and dedicated solely to business and professional news and opinion, demonstrates that recognition. But, for most of us, the business aspect of interior design is not its chief attraction. What drew most designers to their profession is the fact that interior design is an art.

It is not a fine art, but an applied art. It cannot luxuriate in its independence as can painting and sculpture, forming itself without regard to any but aesthetic demands. It is, instead, a hardworking art, with serious and sometimes mundane problems to solve. And just as there are a great many buildings that never achieve the status of architecture, there are a great many interiors that never achieve the level of art. But there are many that do, and, at their best, interior designers are artists. Although the artistic element is difficult to separate from interior design’s more practical elements, it must not be denied that it often exists and can add an important extra value to our work. Granted, a designer who idealistically focuses solely on art may have trouble finding any opportunity to practice the art; still, it seems undeniable that in today’s difficult economy, the art of interior design is undervalued. Talking recently with the impressively articulate principal of one of our Giant firms, I was told that the firm’s emphasis now, in its efforts to get new work, is on economic benefits for clients. Similarly, a fine designer in California told me a couple of months ago that he never mentions appearance or design in making a presentation these days, but that instead he promises to produce a more efficient plan than his competitors. And one firm that used to call itself “architects” is emphasizing its technological savvy by now calling itself “cybertects.” If the work of these firms sometimes transcends problem solving and becomes art, they’re certainly not bragging about it. One likely reason is that in interior design, the element of art is inseparable from more practical elements.

It arises, in fact, from the thoughtful accommodation of very practical needs, not from any impulse or motive that is extraneous to such accommodation. As architect W. R. Lethaby wrote in Form and Civilization, “Art is not a special sauce applied to ordinary cooking; it is the cooking itself if it is good.”

Another reason for ignoring the element of art in interior design is that the value of art is notoriously difficult to measure. The essence of art is intangible. It cannot be quantified as a number of square feet or pounds or yards; consequently, it is difficult to value in terms of dollars. It is true that the number of hours taken to achieve a work of art can be recorded, but such records rarely include the value of previous experience. Whistler, accused of excessive pricing for one of his paintings, was asked, “For two days’ labor, you ask two hundred guineas?” He replied, “No, I ask it for the knowledge of a lifetime.” Which reminds us that, if it is both an art and a business, interior design is also a craft.

Technique and experience count a lot in this field, just as they do in the finest of fine arts. Whistler had more than a painter’s vision; he also had the technical expertise to effectively manifest that vision. Such expertise is not achieved by the novice or the housewife-with-flair or the guy-who-can-get-you-a-good-deal. It is achieved through the increasingly rigorous education that our profession requires and through the subsequent practical application of that education. Like the surgeon or lawyer, the interior designer must be both educated and practiced. Like them, the designer deserves appropriate compensation.

But Whistler’s vision was his main asset. Beyond skill and competence, there remains the special but hard-to-measure value-added element of art, and only the designer’s education, practice and vision can combine to produce that element. The designer does more than plan; the designer designs [emphasis added]. I believe it is the difficulty of determining appropriate compensation that has led to attempts by many interior designers to measure their art in inappropriate ways. Sometimes, by ignoring their art altogether, they underestimate their own value; at other times, by confusing their art with the more mundane functions of their practice from which their art arises, they overestimate that art. Art, for example, does not necessarily solve social problems.

I do not mean that interior design cannot address and sometimes solve such problems; in some cases, it must do so. But the aspect of interior design that is aesthetic does not solve them; it does something quite different.

In the early 1950s, designer George Nelson, speaking to the American Institute of Architects, expressed it this way: “…nothing is less consequential in the creation of a work of art than good intentions.”

And a couple of years later, lecturing in Vienna, Alvar Aalto made a similar point: “Form is a mystery,” he said, “which eludes definition but makes us feel good in a way quite unlike social aid.” [emphasis mine]

If art is amoral, then, and “quite unlike social aid,” what is it that art can do for us? How is it that it “makes us feel good?”

Art heightens the quality of our lives. Walter Pater, in the last paragraph of The Renaissance, his book of just more than a century ago, observed that “Art comes to you proposing frankly to give nothing, except the highest quality to your moments as they pass, and simply for those moments’ sake.” This view has been criticized as proposing “art for art’s sake,” but, at least in this passage, Pater is clearly proposing art for the sake of the quality of our lives and of our clients’ lives. It is this heightened quality that interior designers as artists can offer and that no one in related fields–not space planners, nor realtors, nor developers, nor construction cost analysts, nor facility managers–can. These people perform useful functions; interior designers can perform them too; but interior designers can bring something more to a project. It is this heightened quality, this civilizing of our living places and working places, this art that designers not only must continue to offer but also, I believe, must emphasize. Despite the difficulties in isolating, measuring and evaluating the artistic element of interior design, that element must be recognized [emphasis mine], and even be bragged about, for it cannot be appreciated and will not be properly rewarded unless it is recognized. A question designers should ask their clients and their potential clients to ask themselves is this: What are you going to be seeing in your new space? Assuming that your newly planned environment is going to be efficient, well organized and supportive of increased productivity, is it also going to be interesting, uplifting, enriching–or even bearable–to look at and to be in day after day, year after year?

Art is worth paying for because, in these days of social discontent and random violence, in these days of homelessness, drugs, guns and plaque, when our urban environments are becoming increasingly brutalized, we increasingly need both physical and mental refuge from that brutalization. We need the solace of interiors that are not only intelligently functional but also intelligently artful. In these days more than ever, the art of interior design is worth paying for, because a heightened quality of life is worth paying for.

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It’s the design. (design profession)

Article from:Interior Design Article date: October 1, 1993

Author: Abercrombie, Stanley

It is commonplace these days to hear architects and interior designers describe job meetings at which they are surrounded by various representatives of the client’s interests: lawyers, developers, real estate brokers, strategic planners, programmers, construction managers, project managers, facility managers. Every one of this new crop of experts demands and gets reasonable time for performing a function; every one demands and gets reasonable pay for doing it. Only the designer is expected to turn out overnight miracles, and it naturally follows that work done quickly comes cheap.

Today’s designer, it seems to this former designer, will not be paid what he’s worth without conveying a clear idea of that worth, not by competing with all those lawyers, brokers and managers, but by proudly providing the services the designer alone can provide; not by presenting the profession in some new guise but in the old and honest way; not by pretending to do work that necessarily saves the client money; but by doing work that is worth the client’s money. That client must somehow, gently, tactfully, but firmly be made aware that:

1. The primary function of a designer is to provide design (and that design includes not just decorating but an interrelated network of problem solving) [emphasis added].

2. Good design requires the time and effort of highly educated professionals.

3. Such time and effort deserve fair compensation.

Not every prospective client really needs design services, perhaps, but those who do should be prepared to pay for them. The current abhorrent practice of clients demanding severe cuts in designers’ fees cannot be expected to end until those clients are reminded of what those fees are purchasing. In these economically troubled times, the design profession does not need to be reshaped; it needs to be reasserted.

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Thanks to Vicente Wolf for raising the issue of why designers ourselves tend to undervalue what we do.

Hi, folks.  I know I’ve been kind of AWOL for a while, with life having intervened.  I’m starting to get back on top of the blogging and social media, etc. again, so look for some new posts soon!

I just read an amazing blog post that sheds a whole lot of light on this subject.  It’s targeted at doctors, but the information contained within, and in the linked articles is extremely interesting, and explains many things that never made sense before, about why smart and successful people in all professions seem to go stupid and not learn from their mistakes.

In a nutshell, “Many professionals like doctors have been almost always successful and so they are not good at learning from failure. When their single loop learning goes wrong, they become defensive, screen out criticism and blame others but not themselves for the failure”.

Learning from failure, it turns out, requires a process dubbed “double loop learning”, which is quite different.

Check out the links below for further information.

Why Smart People Don’t Learn From Failures

Teaching Smart People How to Learn

This information explains a whole lot of things in the world in general, and about a lot of other things I’ve encountered personally…

Have you encountered this phenomenon in your own life, in others around you?  I’d be interested to know your stories.

Photo source: South Okanagan Modular Homes

For those of you who may live in modular or manufactured (mobile) homes, or are in the market for one, you can now get them all with universal/visitable design features such as level entries, wider hallways, lever handles, larger doorways, varying height kitchen counters, curbless showers, knee spaces at vanities, anti-scald controls, handheld showers, grab bars and blocking for them,  extra space to maneuver in kitchens and baths, task lighting for various task including cooking, and easy to reach thermostats.

Who knew?

South Okangan Modular Homes

It doesn’t look as if they offer knee space for  a wheelchair in the kitchen, 48″ electric outlets and light switches, adjustable height cooktops and sinks, pull-down upper shelves, etc., all of which are important for accessible design for someone in a wheelchair, or particularly short, but perhaps they can be added, or are on the drawing board for the future.  This is certainly an excellent start, though, and some of these elements could probably be retrofitted after purchase, if need be.

And yes, the cute little cottage above is actually a mobile home, believe it or not – a double-wide.  The kitchen below is also in one, although it clearly doesn’t show all of the universal design features.  Click on the images to go to their photo gallery if you want to see more examples, or images of their modular homes.

Some  manufacturers also offer high end finishes such as granite and marble, so you don’t necessarily have to sacrifice luxury just because you buy a home at this price point.  I was  in some mobile homes in my paramedic days that were nicer than many regular homes I’ve seen.  Some also offer triple-wide homes, although I have no idea what universal design elements might be available.

Photo source: South Okanagan Modular Homes

Note:  This is not an endorsement for this manufacturer, as I know nothing else about them.  I’m just very interested that universal design features are now available for this kind of housing, and it’s likely that other manufacturers will follow suit, if they haven’t already.

I also don’t know if they offer formaldehyde-free homes, or if any manufacturer does.  Formaldehyde at least used to be a major component in manufactured homes, so this very ungreen element could be an issue for a lot of people, both for those who are chemically sensitive, as well as those for whom green construction is a priority.  Whether or not it would offset the advantages of the more universal design, if this chemical is still prevalent, would have to be an individual decision, although I certainly hope that these manufacturers are moving in this direction, as it’s the environmentally responsible thing to do.

Photo source: South Okanagan Modular Homes

Image from Sparkly Like a Holiday

OK, I admit it.  I’m stealing this topic from Paul Anater, over at Kitchen and Residential Design.  But I’m not going to say the same things.

Yes, I quite agree that chalkboard paint is overdone – and way overdone in several of the images he shows.  It’s old.  It’s boring.  It’s dated.  There are clearly limits to its usefulness, safety, and definitely to its appearance.  Not only can it be toxic when it gets into your food as Paul mentions, but chalk dust can also be a major problem for people who have allergies, asthma, or chemical sensitivities, so it would not foster an accessible design for people who suffer from such afflictions.  It would also violate universal and visitability design principles, as it could create a similar hazard for other users of the space, particularly visitors whose sensitivities might be unknown.  Chalk dust doesn’t do anything for overall air quality, either, so that lowers the green design reusability quotient of the paint, never mind what the VOC content of it might be.

Now that we’ve looked at the potential health hazards, let’s focus more on the visual elements.

Looking at the images Paul posted, the ones that really offend me the most are the refrigerator fully covered in the dreadful green version of the paint, that huge, frightening expanse of black wall and door, and yes, that hideous kitchen. Continue Reading »

(Please note:  This video may not run smoothly for some reason; you may have to restart it several times where it leaves off in order to view the whole thing, but make sure you watch it all, including the testing processes.)

Glass tables can be wonderful additions to many rooms in the house, and are particularly popular as coffee tables, end tables, and dining tables. They are stylish, help small rooms look larger, and can help reflect light that will help brighten any space.

But they do have one major downside, that people should be aware of, and that is that they can also provide a significant hazard for everyone in the house, but particularly for children and the elderly. Sharp edges can cause cuts and bruises when people bump into them, and particularly for the elderly, whose vision is not what it was when they are younger, they can just be more difficult to see, and thus harder to avoid bumping into. As we age, our skin gets thinner, so elderly skin is more likely to tear easily on a squared edge, too, than on one that is more rounded. Much is already made of these particular issues in aging-in-place and universal design circles.

However – and even more importantly – glass tables of all sizes and designs can also shatter, especially if someone falls on them, and severe injuries and even death may result, as the above video shows.

Even young, able-bodied adults are not immune from this risk, as both this video describes and the one blow shows graphically.

Although this second video starts out humorously, and looking like a commercial or a joke, the injuries the woman shown has likely sustained could well threaten her life, as well as disfigure her forever. The chances that the glass may penetrate her abdomen or chest, or sever a carotid artery or femoral artery (among other possibilities) are high, any of which injuries could cause her to bleed to death in a matter of minutes. She may well have also sustained a severe neck and/or back injury from this fall, fractures, and could need reconstructive plastic surgery to repair her face. This sort of trip and fall is not at all an unlikely occurrence in many homes, either, particularly as anyone who has ever had children or pets will attest.

Children are also particularly susceptible to such injuries, when they run around and jump on the furniture. Consumer Reports and the Providence Journal reported on one such tragic case of an 11 year old dying from a severe puncture wound to her leg that caused her to bleed to death.

According to Consumer Reports, “Each year an estimated 20,000 people, most of them children, are treated in emergency rooms for injuries sustained from glass furniture. In an average year, three children die”.

Pets can also cause the same kind of damage to glass furniture, and sustain the same kinds of injuries, especially if they are large and/or rowdy.

So, does this mean you should get rid of all glass tables, or never use them?

No, it just means you have to do a little homework when first buying them, and be sure that the glass is tempered/safety glass, not the more typical annealed glass used in most furniture.

Tempered glass (also known as safety glass), which is what your car windows, shower doors, and storm doors are made of, shatters into many small pebble-like pieces when it breaks, none of which are likely to cause life-threatening injuries, most of which have very few sharp edges. Annealed glass, however (which is what most home windows are made of, and almost all glass furniture parts), breaks into slabs and slices of glass of varying sizes, some quite large, with edges that are as sharp as knives, and which will quickly and easily penetrate all soft tissue, and even bone, if the force applied is sufficient. The first video above shows the difference graphically in a testing situation.

Because there are no safety standards or codes that apply to the type of glass used in tables yet (although they are now under development), it’s up to you the consumer (or your designer) to ensure that safety glass is used or specified, in order to ensure maximum safety, especially in areas of the home that have a lot of traffic, although it’s best to ensure the use of safety glass wherever glass is used in furniture in the home.

Some tables are made entirely of glass, and it may not be possible to get them in tempered glass, or they may be made in a way that makes replacing the glass portions impractical or impossible, so you will then have to decide what’s most important to you, taking into consideration where the piece will live, who will use it, the amount of traffic that will pass near it, etc.

Some manufacturers already use tempered glass as a matter of course, but far from all, so you will have to ask before you buy. If it’s just a glass top or insert, and you cannot custom order the piece with tempered glass (or you already have the piece), you can always have a replacement made of tempered glass yourself by a local glass shop. You could also have a replacement top fabricated from another material, including wood or stone, if that works with the piece and your space, and the look appeals to you, but then you will lose the visual appeal and other qualities of the glass, if that’s what you really want.

It’s also a good idea to ensure that everyone in your home and to whom you entrust the care of your children 0r elderly relatives, including babysitters and other caretakers, is trained in basic first aid, just on general principles. I don’t know enough about the case in Rhode Island, but depending upon the location of the puncture wound that bled uncontrollably as reported, it’s very possible that prompt first aid including direct pressure on the wound, arterial pressure, or even a tourniquet if necessary and possible based on the location of the wound, may have saved her life.

So, don’t let this post scare you out of using glass tables, because they are wonderful in the right settings, and totally appropriate. Just take reasonable precautions to ensure safety when selecting them – and enjoy your furniture for years to come.

Canned Foods (Consumer Reports)

Image courtesy of Consumer Reports

Almost everyone knows by now that many of the refillable water bottles we love are lined with an epoxy-based material that contains carcinogenic chemical called Bisphenol A (BPA). Public outcry has resulted in several manufacturers now offering bottles with alternative, non-epoxy-based linings.

What is not quite so well known, however, is that the linings of most food and beverage cans are also this same type of epoxy resin that also contain BPA. This is the chemical that is responsible for the vastly longer shelf lives of canned foods in this day and age, which is why it’s become so ubiquitous.

Consumer Reports recently tested a variety of canned foods for its presence, and found that even organic foods, and those made by manufacturers who make a concerted effort to avoid the epoxy resins still have significant levels of BPA in the food samples tested. Only one manufacturer, Eden, has so far managed to find a source of cans that was even willing to address the problem and attempt to make cans without BPA.

Despite being packed in cans made by the Ball Corp. with the oleo-based material previously known as “corn enamel”, which was common in food can linings prior to the 60s, testing still found measurable levels of BPA in Eden’s foods (although vastly below those found in other brands), suggesting that there may be multiple sources of exposure to the chemical in the food chain, not just in the cans.

You can read the rest of the whole article about this, and learn about the FDA’s new assessments of what a safe level of BPA exposure may be on the Consumer Reports blog.

So should you clean out your kitchen cabinets, throw away all of your canned foods, and never buy any more? In the ideal world, perhaps yes, but we all know that we don’t live in one. BPA is one of the highest volume chemicals in the world, though, even found in dust and water samples from all over the world, so at this point, it’s completely unavoidable in the environment, and it would be a reasonable assumption that this is one of the additional sources Consumer Reports speculates about. Eliminating BPA from food can linings may help, but until that happens, you can at least dramatically decrease your exposure to it by avoiding canned food wherever possible.

So what does this have to do with interior design?

Kitchen Storage

Kristi Stratton, CountryLiving.com

Well, clearly kitchens are where food is stored and prepared, and most are now designed with as much storage space as possible for both housewares and packaged foods. You may find, however, that as you reduce your reliance on canned goods and other processed foods, that you may need different types of storage, and it may need to be configured somewhat differently. Many things can be packaged in glass or ceramic containers instead of plastic or cans, but both glass and ceramics tend to be a lot heavier and bulkier than cans and plastic containers, and of course will break if dropped, so you’ll need to pay careful attention to how your storage is laid out so that they are easily – and safely – accessible. Increased refrigeration space may be required as well, in order to accomm0date a wider range of fresh produce and other foods.

It may be that you won’t actually even need as much space, though, because the shorter shelf lives of fresh foods and those that come in jars instead of cans means you’ll probably be shopping more often, but for smaller quantities. Or perhaps you’ll start buying in bulk and doing your own canning and preserving.

Well Stocked Pantry with Preserved Foods

Library of Congress via TheSustainableKitchen.com

You’ll be chopping up more things, so ensuring adequate preparation space that suits your needs and ideally allows you to work while seated as well as standing will be useful.

You may need or want additional cooktop burners or additional and innovative cooking sources like the marvelous new steam or combination steam/convection ovens. Steaming is one of the best possible ways to prepare food, locking in both nutrients and moisture, and these ovens make it so incredibly convenient that you wouldn’t believe it.

Miele Steam Oven

Miele Steam Oven

And because it’s healthier for both you and the environment, avoiding canned foods and learning to make your own fresh, more healthful meals from scratch, you’ll also be being much more green. True sustainable design doesn’t end with the cabinets and other finishes used; it translates through to how the space is used, how waste is removed, and much, much more.

So, if you’re designing a new kitchen, you’ll need to take these changing food preparation habits into account, and communicate your desires to your designer, so that the space can be optimized for food preparation patterns that are less common today than they used to be, and with which you yourself may not yet be as familiar with the requirements of and ways to optimize.

9119_B52_rgb

(ARA) – When you think of the colors associated with fall, green doesn’t necessarily come to mind. Environmentally speaking, however, it should. There’s no better time than now to lessen your home’s impact on the environment and change the way you decorate and live. So, why not go green this fall? It’s not nearly as difficult to become earth-friendly as you might think.

“From products that contribute to good indoor air quality to ones that truly reflect the ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’ mantra, the number of affordable green interior decorating products has literally exploded within the past five years,” says Donna Schroeder, Dutch Boy color marketing and design manager.9119_B53_rgb

These days, you can find stylish, eco-friendly design elements for every room in the house. And, contrary to popular belief, going green doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice style for sustainability. The two can coexist quite effortlessly.

You can start simple by dressing your bed in luxurious sheets, throws and comforters made from fabrics such as rich, renewable bamboo or soft, organic cotton. Cover your floors with formaldehyde-free carpets constructed of recycled fibers or select a natural material, like stone, slate or even concrete. Then, hang energy-efficient window treatments with high insulation and shading properties.

Don’t stop there. Spice up your tired sofa with a design-forward slipcover and throw pillows crafted from 100 percent recycled materials. Add bright recycled glass plates and serving pieces to your china cabinet. Buy furniture made from sustainably harvested wood or, better yet, visit local secondhand shops and repurpose. Or, look around your own home and see what you already have that can be adapted for a new use. You’d be surprised what a little creativity and some good old-fashioned elbow grease can do.

If you’re looking to add bold, fun color, paint fits perfectly into this overall green scheme. It’s an inexpensive, effective and, most importantly, environmentally-minded way to change the look and feel of an entire room. Many paint manufacturers now offer coatings that contain few, if any, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), or vapors that are released from paint as it dries.

Using paints formulated without VOCs, such as Dutch Boy’s new Refresh interior paint with exclusive odor-eliminating Arm & Hammer technology, takes your home one step closer to reducing your environmental impact while leaving your interior looking fresh, modern and filled with personality.

Many home improvement products, including Refresh, are also Indoor Air Quality certified by The GREENGUARD Environmental Institute, a nonprofit, industry-independent organization that certifies indoor products that meet satisfactory indoor air emissions standards.

Keep in mind that greening your home, inside or out, doesn’t happen in a matter of minutes or even overnight. It’s an ongoing process. The limit to how green your home can be is up to how willing you are to adjust your lifestyle. The choice is yours. “It doesn’t take any grand gestures to start going green,” Schroeder says. “Tiny changes add up to make a big overall impact on the environment.”

Courtesy of ARAcontent

I just found out that I was quoted several times earlier this year about high end finishes and luxury amenities in Coldwell Banker’s prestigious “Coldwell Banker Previews International Portfolio: Exceptional Gold Coast Florida Residences”, Volume 2, 2009, in an article entitled “Finishing Touches Tell the Story” by Camilla McLaughlin.

“People just don’t want that run of the mill thing anymore. Everything is custom designed,” says Wendy Hoechstetter, an interior designer in the Bay area [sic]. Fabric that cost $580 a yard, custom furniture, even entire rooms brought over from Europe are not unusual.”

“One of the strongest trends is wallpaper, which is back in vogue. Large punchy patterns, often an up-to-date interpretation of a classic such as paisley, or fabrics such as silk or grass cloth, create dramatic focal points on a single wall. Elsewhere, whimsical patterns or luxurious materials turn small spaces such as powder rooms into jewel boxes.

“We’re seeing wall coverings made out of every material you can imagine—bamboo, mica, all kinds of metals.You name it, they’re putting it in walls,” says Hoechstetter.”

There is a lot of other good information on luxury home materials and designs in this article, as well as in other articles in the publication, so do take a look at the whole thing.

There doesn’t seem to be a way to link directly to the article, which is in PDF format, without linking to the boring, picture-less HTML version, but if you’d like to see it, you can either email me and ask me to send you a copy, or you can go to this Google search page, and click on the middle item, vapidly entitled “Layout1”, as shown below:

Google Listing

If the search page disappears or messes up somehow, just Google “Camilla McLaughlin” and “Wendy Hoechstetter”.

If I can figure out how to post it here on my blog, I’ll eventually get it up.

I am also expecting to be quoted in another article either Monday October 19th or 26th in the New York Times online and likely another website called Cyberhomes.com, about window treatments. Keep an eye out for the piece! I’ll post an alert and links when it comes out.

cooker2 fire

Source: Fireflash.org

There’s a terrific article on kitchen fires and a variety of innovative fire prevention devices that can be used in the kitchen on Laurie Burke’s excellent Kitchen Design Notes blog. It’s a rather comprehensive look at the number one cause of home fires and ways to prevent them, and I highly recommend that everyone read it. Especially look at the first video, which shows very graphically how quickly a fire can spread, and the effects of various methods of attempting to put them out. That video is hands down the best I’ve ever seen for consumers about how to deal with kitchen fires – and how quickly they spread.

Watching the video sent me into flashbacks, though, I have to tell you! I had a kitchen fire myself a few years ago that started when I accidentally turned on the wrong burner when I went to heat water for tea. I had gotten lazy about putting away my pots and pans, so there was one sitting on every burner – and a plastic microwave food cover on top of the one on the burner behind the one I *thought* I was turning on. That, of course, was the burner I actually did turn on – and the whole thing went up in flames when the plastic heated up.

All I can say is thank God for my smoke detector, since I was in another room.

You can’t imagine how terrifying it is to go into your kitchen and see flames reaching to the ceiling, and the room filled with smoke, even when expecting at least some smoke.

Thank God I’ve always kept a fire extinguisher in the kitchen – and for my paramedic background and working so much with fire departments, because I knew to aim it at the base of the flames, not to use water, etc.

There are a couple of things the video did not emphasize enough, in my opinion, or even address, so I’m going to mention them here. Following that, I’m going to discuss electric fires in the home. Kitchen fires are the number one cause of housefires, and electric fires are high up the list as well, so it’s useful to discuss both together.

Additional fire safety tips:

1. The one thing the video really does not emphasize enough is not to fool around repeatedly trying to put the fire out if you can’t get it out right away when you discover it, regardless of the cause. Precisely because the flames can spread so quickly, you could easily get trapped and badly burned or killed by flames – and smoke inhalation is actually the most frequent cause of fire fatalities in the home. So get out of the house ASAP, and call for help from outside or a neighbor’s.

Some fires can be fought more readily than others, too, so here are some tips on how to decide whether or not to try to fight it yourself, and more about how to do so safely if you decide to – and when not to even try.

2. And get out even if you think you’ve gotten the fire completely put out, if it’s gone beyond the confines of the actual pan, or if you don’t know the source. Call the fire department anyways, and stay out until they clear you to return.

Once a fire gets going like they showed in the video, it can also damage the wiring to the stove, hood, overhead microwave, etc., and that alone can result in reignition and further fire damage, even once the initial flames are out.

3. Inspect your fire extinguisher at least once a month, according to the manufacturer’s instructions. You can also take it to your local fire station to have it inspected, which is also an excellent idea to ensure that there is no damage such as corrosion that could cause it to fail. Further information on care and maintenance can be found here.

4. Never, ever reuse a fire extinguisher, unless you have it professionally recharged. Even if you haven’t fully used it up, there may not be enough powder or pressure left to put out another fire, and the time you waste in trying to get it to work could cost you your life. You can have some of them recharged, or you can replace it.

They’re inexpensive – don’t stint on this. It’s not worth it – believe me. I was lazy about replacing mine after using it on some burning food in my oven at one point despite knowing better – and it initially failed when my kitchen really caught fire. I was fortunate that it finally worked and did put out the fire, but it was a very close call, and those wasted moments trying to get it to work and the added panic it caused me could have cost me my whole house.

5. Never stand a fire extinguisher up on end. Lay it down on the floor, or attach it to a wall or cabinet. The reason is that the contents are under pressure, and if the cylinder falls over and the valve is damaged, at best it will damage the extinguisher and render it useless, but it could also cause it to actually explode, and at minimum, cause the valve assembly to blow off with great force, which by itself could cause a lot of damage or injury. The article in the link is about a recall for this hazard in 1991, but any tank of pressurized gas or powder that sustains damage to its valve assembly can also go off like a rocket like this. It’s a hazard that is well known to scuba divers, and to anyone who works with any kind of compressed gas. Even if that doesn’t happen, a damaged valve may malfunction and result in the fire extinguisher not working when you need it.

6. Your best bet for most home uses is to have a dry chemical ABC fire extinguisher, which is usable on all types of fires. BC extinguishers like a couple of the ones shown on the video will not work well on paper, wood, and other ordinary combustibles like cardboard and plastics, all of which are often involved in fires in addition to the grease they featured in the video. A complete explanation of different types of fire extinguishers, ratings, and what each of the ABCD categories refer to can be found on the Fire Extinguisher 101 website.

7. Keep the fire extinguisher near a door, where you can reach it easily. Do not keep it on the stovetop, or tucked inside a cabinet, as you will not be able to reach it in the event of a stove fire.

8. Keep fire extinguishers in other rooms in addition to the kitchen, particularly in utility spaces such as laundry rooms and garages which can be sources of high fire danger.

9. Keep combustibles away from sources of heat and flame. That means no curtains next to the stove, or piles of paper, and no lit candles or open fires next to curtains or the like.

10. Don’t leave your cooking unattended, or other sources of flame such as candles and fires in the fireplace.

11. Make sure you also have a fire extinguisher (also ABC) accessible in your car.

12. Make sure you have smoke detectors, and test them regularly. Even if you have a hard-wired alarm system, as I do, you may not be able to rely on that. Call you alarm company periodically and check to be sure that they have the current phone numbers for your local fire dispatch or department.

My company for some reason didn’t have the current number, so when the fire set off my alarm, the company couldn’t reach fire dispatch. They kept calling me instead, which of course was useless. Even though I live directly up the hill from my local station, and it shouldn’t have taken more than 4-6 minutes for them to get to my house, it took 15 minutes to finally get them up here – and I had to call them myself ultimately, once I realized they were not coming as expected. If the house had caught fire, it could have burned to the ground by then, and would have certainly already been fully involved and not salvageable.

ELECTRICAL FIRES

Burned Outlet

Source: Aluminum Wiring Information Website

Now, speaking of the wiring burning, in addition to kitchen fires, electrical fires are among the top causes of housefires. These have a variety of causes including faulty appliances, old, defective wiring, poor maintenance, electrical system failure of various sorts – and overloading the circuits. According to the BSafe Electrix website’s excellent list of facts about electrical fires, some of the issues include:

– Wiring problems in the home result in 67,800 fires, 485 deaths, and $868,000,000 in annual property losses.

– A disproportionate number of electrical fires occurring in structures 40 years old or older.

– Children under 5 are twice as likely to die in house fires as anyone else.

– Dormitory, fraternity and sorority house fires number 1,500 annually, resulting in 75 fatalities and injuries, and causing property losses of $9,100,000.We’ve all been in houses where you can’t run both a hairdryer and the toaster at the same time without blowing the fuses. This sort of thing is an indicator of overloaded circuits, and it is invariably inconvenient.

We’ve all been in houses where you can’t run a hairdryer and a portable electric heater or toaster at the same time, and attempts to do so result in instant blackouts as the fuses blow. Certainly, this sort of thing is inconvenient and annoying.

What most people don’t realize, however, is that it’s also a tremendous fire hazard. Modern building codes require the kitchen to have its own circuits, separate from the rest of the house, which helps prevent these kinds of problems, but there are still a lot of older buildings out there whose electrical systems have not been modernized, so these kinds of things happen much more often in those situations. Older buildings just were not designed to handle the electrical loads we put on them these days, and unless major renovations are done, there is no requirement to bring them up to current code.

Even in a commercial situation, where building codes are even more stringent than they are in a residential setting, fires are often caused because of excess plug load (what gets plugged in) – which is also the number one cause of out of control electric bills in that setting, and excessive energy use. Tenants/employees have an amazing propensity to want to plug in all kinds of extra things like table lamps, portable electric heaters, chargers for handheld electronics, etc. that designers, architects, and engineers typically do not even consider when designing the space and the electrical system. Wise employers will limit or prohibit employees from plugging in all kinds of extraneous equipment, which will decrease both their expenses and their fire risks. A good designer will query you closely about your need for things of this nature and take them into consideration in the design, but particularly in a commercial setting, it’s not always possible to speak to every user of the building, so the electrical system is usually designed to handle what is built in plus the minimum number of required additional outlets and circuits, without regard to individual usage patterns or desires.

Another major cause of electrical fires is that over time, the connections inside the plugs, light switches, and junction boxes can come loose, and the resulting arcing of current when it runs through the wires can cause melting and ignition of the wires themselves, as well as the surrounding building materials. Ideally, wiring should be inspected annually to try to spot these hazards before they cause trouble.

Homes that are built with aluminum wiring are at particularly high risk of fire, as aluminum can’t handle the loads as well as copper can. If the aluminum wiring has copper pigtails, the wirenuts that are used to connect the two materials can come loose over time, and the gel inside them that prevents the aluminum and copper from coming into direct contact with one another can dry up. When that happens, the Al/Cu interaction generates heat – and will cause a fire if not caught quickly. Because these things happen inside the walls, they usually are not discovered until the fire breaks out. The fire/heat/melting can travel through the walls and by the time it breaks through the walls, the whole house can go up in an instant like a fireball.

Again, I learned about Al/Cu wiring and the connectors, as well as the arcing issue, the hard way – through experience. I was lucky, though. The near-fire started in a light switch in the kitchen (just by chance) – and also just by chance, I happened to still be awake, and found it when I went to turn off the light on my way to bed. Thank God I’m a night person, because this was at 1:30 in the morning. If I’d have been asleep, I’d have likely died in my bed.

The cure for this problem is to ideally completely rewire the house with all copper wiring, but given that that is often cost-prohibitive and typically will require tearing out a lot of walls and more, the most practical solution for most people is to replace all of the wirenuts in the entire residence with new ones that meet current code, or ideally to install Copalum crimping. You can find everything you ever wanted or needed to know about aluminum wiring, its hazards, and mitigation of them at the Aluminum Wiring Information Website.

I warned my homeowner’s association about this issue, knowing that it could endanger our entire complex, but they wouldn’t listen. Sure enough, several years later, we had a major fire elsewhere in the complex that destroyed one townhouse and seriously damaged three others. In that case, the fire was caused by arcing due to loose connections – which would have likely been detected had the association required everyone to inspect and repair their wiring as I did following my own near-miss. In that case, the owner of the destroyed home where the fire started told me that her housekeeper was complaining that the vacuum cleaner wasn’t working in any of several outlets. She said that the fire suddenly burst through the walls like an explosion and spread so quickly that from the instant it started, right in front of them, they were barely able to get out of the house.

Recently, it came to my attention that someone else tried to post a message on the blog of another designer friend of mine – using my business name!

Fortunately, my friend noticed the discrepancy between the first name given (not my own) and the odd juxtaposition with my business name, and emailed me to find out if it was, in fact, my post before releasing it.  Needless to say, it was not – and she did not release the post.  Image how stunned I was to see the screenshot she sent me, showing clearly someone else using my business name!

What’s more, the person who attempted this turns out, in fact, to not even be a real person, but a screen name under which multiple people post on behalf of a large conglomerate chain of cheap furniture, which has racked up an impressive list of complaints, according to Google – including an “F” rating with the Better Business Bureau.  We know this about this entity because my friend was told so in a direct communication from the company involved when this issue was raised with them.

Please rest assured, too, that I would never have anything to do with this company, or any other that carried goods of this apparently poor quality, or which has such a terrible reputation for customer service.  I stand for high quality goods and services, and only do business with companies and manufacturers who produce the same – and who stand behind their products in the event of a problem.

Sadly, this entity which attempted to impersonate me, which goes by the various names of “nicolette” and “Nicolette Teek”, has been posting prolifically all over pretty much every other interior design blog and related website out there, including my own, and that of my friend, Nicolette Toussaint, a design student in San Francisco who is also a prolific blogger and gifted artist and writer.  The posts are frequently not even on topic – and always contain links back to the company in question, and the blog that this so-called “Nicolette, the Design Diva” (I kid you not) writes on their behalf.

This entity also has a presence on Facebook, where it has been friended by more than 200 other people, including some very reputable interior designers.

Nicolette Toussaint (the real Nicolette) describes the issue brilliantly on her own blog, including how I was fooled into thinking this entity was actually her, in a post entitled “Of Scruples, Scams, Divas and My Evil Twin“.

Since I was confused and mistook this entity for her, despite knowing her personally, we figured others might be as well.

Which leads me to the substance of this particular post.

If someone has been trying to impersonate me like this, it’s only a matter of time before they attempt to impersonate others – including potentially some of the most popular bloggers out there – or some of the more controversial ones.

If you happen to come across anyone using my own name or business name, and you’ve got any question as to whether or not I actually posted the comment in question, please let me know, including links, screenshots, etc.

Please be aware that impersonations such as this are pretty easy to do in cyberspace, so here are some tips to help you protect yourself, and others.

1.  Make sure to Google your own name, business name, blog name, etc. on a regular and frequent basis, to ensure that only posts that you make are actually being attributed to you.

2.  If you own a blog, try to verify that the name and business names and links given by people who post comments in response to your posts match.  You won’t know everyone, but many major blog platforms give you the IP address from which a post originates, and you can certainly at least check any links posted in the body of the comment.  If the names don’t match – be aware that you’ve got spam.

3.  If the IP address is shown, you can look it up on sites such as Whois to determine who actually owns it, and can often tell if the site is legitimate or not.  In the case of the entity who attempted to impersonate me, the IP address resolves to a communications company, showing that it is an anonymous registration – in Canada.  Discrepancies such as this alone, when you know that the alleged poster lives and works in the US, ought to be a tipoff that something’s wrong.  Most legitimate businesses will also not register their sites anonymously like this, either, as they want people to be able to find them.

4.  Be careful who you give access to your personal information to.  When you friend someone on Facebook, or connect with them on a variety of other social media sites, including LinkedIn, you open the door to scammers of all stripes and offer them access to all of the personal information about you that you may have posted there.  In short, know who you are connecting with before doing so, and be judicious about who you share such information with.

5.  On Facebook, you might also want to protect your profile so that only people in your own immediate friends list can see your personal information.  To do this, go to “Settings” in the upper right hand corner of your homepage screen, then select “Privacy Settings”, then make the appropriate changes.  While you’re at it, tell Facebook not to allow others to use you or your information in other people’s ads.  None of this will help protect you if you’ve allowed spammers access to your profile, though, which is why you need to be careful who you let into these networks.

6.  Be careful who you allow to post links on your sites in comments.  Check the urls (by entering them manually, not clicking on links), particularly if they sound at all suspicious.  If you like the post, but have reservations about the site being linked to, and would not want your name to be associated with that company, or its products or services, you can delete those links before you authorize the post.  If they really sound suspicious, don’t even look at the urls, so as to avoid getting hit with viruses and spyware.

7.  If you’re a blogger, beware of posting pingbacks to what are known as “link farms”.  These are those sites you’ve seen who seem to accumulate a wide variety of posts on all kinds of different topics, yet have no content of their own, and no information about the author of the blog.  Sometimes they relate mostly to a particular subject matter, but even so, these are always spam sites – and Google will penalize you if you link back to them.

Furniture Today reports about a London man who has suffered severe skin rashes and burns shown to result from the anti-mold chemical dimethyl fumarate, or DMF in his Chinese-made sofa, and was awarded a four-figure settlement for his claim.

According to further stories in the London Times, DMF is a common ingredient added to sofas and chairs by Chinese manufacturers Linkwise and Eurosofa, particularly leather ones, to help protect them from humid conditions.  Several other manufacturers are also being investigated.

DMF is packaged in little packets like the silica dessicants you are already familiar with that are often packaged with delicate goods, but these are inserted inside the seat cushions and between the leather and the cushion, so you won’t see any sign of them.

Unfortunately, DMF can evaporate when exposed to warm conditions, and soak through clothing to reach the skin resulting in some potentially very serious reactions.  Because gases are a very rare cause of skin rashes, it took a while to figure out what was going on, but a study in Sweden has  conclusively proven the connection.  Similar problems have also surfaced in France, Finland, Poland, and Sweden.  Apparently there have been thousands of similar injuries.

There have also been reports of similar reactions caused by some shoes as well.

As a result of these problems, the European Commission has now banned DMF and demanded a recall of all products containing DMF by May 1, 2009 and notification of affected consumers.  Unfortunately, not all retailers have complied, so there may still be thousands of these sofas and chairs out there, so please beware if you are purchasing inexpensive furniture, as much of it is made in China and may well contain this chemical.

If you have purchased new upholstered furniture in the past couple of years and have been experiencing any kind of problems with skin or respiratory irritation since then, this may well be the cause of it.

I haven’t been able to find any evidence that DMF been banned in the US, and it’s a good bet it’s present in furnishings sold here as well.  For starters, I’ve located suppliers of it in the US, and I’ve also found websites showing a furniture company by the same name in North Carolina and shipping information to a warehouse in Canada from Link Wise in China.  Because I also know that there’s a ton of Chinese-made furniture in our country, it would be a reasonable conclusion that this same contamination may well be found throughout the United States and Canada.

Please note that this is a chemical added by the furniture manufacturers, and is not used in the leather tanning process itself, so it should not be an issue for the vast majority of leather products, particularly high quality goods.

So how do you protect yourself?

First of all, don’t panic, even if you’ve recently bought leather furniture.  Call the store and ask where it was manufactured, especially if you’re experiencing any new and/or persistent respiratory or skin symptoms you haven’t found any other cause for.

If you’re just now looking to buy, start by asking questions in the stores or of the designer who is showing you the products about where the furniture was manufactured, and about any chemicals used in the process.  You may not be able to get an answer, but it’s worth trying – and if you can’t get an answer, do consider passing on that item, because the odds are high that it will indeed be from China, especially if you’re buying from a lower end store.  Likewise, if you think the furniture seems particularly well-priced or inexpensive, keep a very high index of suspicion, unless the store or your designer can assure you that it was manufactured elsewhere.

If you’re working with a designer, he or she should be willing to ask the showroom for you and get back to you if she doesn’t already know the answer.

If any furniture salesperson asks you about allergies or chemical sensitivities, run like the wind, because there have been reports of unscrupulous salespeople and shops still trying to sell this stuff even where it’s been banned.

And always buy quality goods – the very best you can possibly afford, even if you have to purchase it one item at a time over a period of time in order to be able to afford better quality.  You really do get what you pay for with furniture, in so many ways.  In the end, high quality furnishings will last and look beautiful for decades, while cheaper stuff will fall apart and look shabby quickly and have to be replaced much more frequently, often at greater overall cost in the long run.  In later blog posts, I’ll cover how to tell good furniture from the rest, both upholstered and casegoods.

Also, given all of the reports of various other contaminated products coming out of China these days, including drywall used in many new homes, I hate to say it, but it might be a good idea to be extremely cautious indeed about learning the origins of anything you purchase, and to possibly just say no to Chinese products altogether.  Yes, you can get a lot for your money with cheap, mass-produced Chinese furniture, which accounts for a huge percentage of the mass market furniture sold in the US, but between these kinds of health risks and the negative impact on our own economy, and given that there’s a lot of top quality product out there coming from the US itself and other countries that do not have these problems (and is much, much greener/more sustainable in many ways), are the risks really worth it?

I just saw this amazing inspirational video that I had to share.  Whenever you are down in the dumps, feeling sorry for yourself, thinking you can’t go on, or that you’ve got major problems, watch this video and see if it doesn’t change your perspective.  These two young men are completely amazing, and the friendship between them should be an inspiration to all just by itself.  Our lives would all be so much richer – and the world more peaceful – if we had more people sharing the kind of close friendship and caring for each other that they have.

Outside the Lines/Carry On

And, as somewhat of a side note, and just to make this specifically interior design related, look at the living conditions that Leroy has to deal with – a situation that by itself would stop most people in their tracks.

These kinds problems can be averted by good advance planning and application of universal design techniques while you are still healthy, as well as specifically accessible design planning to help someone with particular, known changes in ability.

For that matter, the very fact that Leroy’s buddy has to carry him various places in public could be changed if we focussed on making all public places as accessible to the disabled/differently abled as possible as well.  Accessible/universal design shouldn’t be limited to the few who know about it, or to the wealthy who can afford to hire a designer; it should be just the way that everything is designed.  It should be the norm in our society to build so that everyone can access public places as well as housing, without being made to feel different, and without calling attention to the measures taken to allow this.

It’s a shame that people who are low income as these two are have to put up with the challenges of inaccessible housing in particular.

Fortunately, there are actually funds available from various sources, as well as tax credits, that can help people modify their homes if necessary, particularly low income people, which could make all the difference in their lives and ability to remain in and continue to enjoy their homes. Ramps, lifts, grab bars, etc. don’t have to necessarily cost a fortune, especially with this kind of assistance. In future blog posts, I’ll go a bit more into these options, and the Centers for Independent Living can help, along with knowledgeable interior designers, but you should consult your tax advisor in any event for the specifics and how they might apply to your particular situation.

I’m really appalled, actually, that the occupational therapists who must have worked with Leroy throughout his recovery didn’t find a way to make these arrangements for him.

And Leroy, if you happen to come across this, contact me and I’ll do my best to help you find the assistance you need to give you these options.

There’s a lot of confusion out in the world about what the difference is between interior designers and interior decorators. Although in most states there is no legal distinction, and anyone can call themselves either a decorator or a designer – and practice their craft – within the profession, we do use the terms to mean different things, which amount to a difference in scope of work and expertise. In reality, many people use the terms interchangeably still, though, even in the profession, particularly among older designers, but many younger/newer designers will be very offended if you call them a decorator, because of the difference in scope of work and education.

One of the better, more concise definitions of the distinction I’ve come across yet comes from CCIDC, as follows:

“Interior Decorator

An “Interior Decorator” is someone who primarily deals with colors, finishes, and furniture and typically stays within the residential boundary of interiors. Typically they might charge a fee for their creative services such as laying out the furniture in a room, or putting together different colors and finishes in order to create several palettes from which the client can choose. In most cases a decorator will charge a “mark-up” on all the products they sell to you. This mark-up can vary wildly, anywhere from 20% to 50% in some cases. Most decorators are reluctant to prepare a formal contract or letter of agreement spelling out what the services are that they are going to provide, and how much they are going to charge.

Interior Designer

An “Interior Designer” is someone who can complete an interior design project from start to finish, including preparing construction documents for bidding and permitting, as well as supervising the construction and installation of the work. This person in essence becomes your agent to deal with local building codes and building departments, and licensed contractors. They have the expertise to handle all of these different players, whereas you may not, or may not have the time or inclination.

Interior designers cover all types of projects from commercial (offices, medical facilities, retail shops, restaurants, hotels, retirement and nursing facilities, to name a few) to residential. Typically an interior designer has a lot of education and experience, as well as possibly having sat for one or more examinations in order to test their competency and to attain state recognition of their profession.

Again, just because someone uses the title “Interior Designer”, it doesn’t mean they are any more qualified than an “Interior Decorator”, or any one who chooses to use either title irrespective of their qualifications or experience, which may be none at all.”

Interior designers do it all

I should add that interior designers also do all the same work that decorators do – this is definitely not an “either/or” proposition. Furniture, finishes, etc. are all integral parts of a quality interior design. It’s just that designers can do so much more, including manage the entire project, coordinating the work of all other design and construction professionals such as architects, contractors, lighting designers, landscape designers, and many specialty trades.

The very best interior design jobs happen when the designer is either hired first or at the same time as the architect and contractor, because then you get the input from all sides from the beginning, and you end up with a much more cohesive project than you would if you just hired a designer or decorator once the architect was finished.

What will it cost?

Interior designers typically charge an hourly fee (at least for residential design), often in addition to a product markup, which also varies, but will typically be around 30-35% in most places. Hourly fees will vary more widely, depending on geographical location, the amount of experience a designer has, etc., but you can expect them to start around $125 per hour (at least on the coasts) and go up from there, topping out around $400 per hour or more for some of the most prominent. Prices are probably somewhat less in more inland states. Decorators usually charge much less – and rightly so, since they are also doing much less, and typically know a lot less.

It’s very rare to see a flat fee any more, because every project is so different that it’s very difficult for even the most experienced designers to accurately estimate how long it will take or what will be involved, since there are often unexpected surprises, so the entire industry has moved away from this pricing structure.

(update October 2012)  We are actually now starting to see a move back towards flat fees (often now called “value based fees”), as we learn that this is what many clients prefer.  The hourly and other models still prevail at this time, however.

 

Do they have to be licensed?

CCIDC goes on to claim that the best way to ensure you’re hiring someone competent is to hire a CID, which is a CA certified interior designer, which obviously only applies in CA. Some other states have various different rules, but the majority do not regulate the profession in any way, except at most for restricting the use of a specific title such as *certified* interior designer. (Please see the NoDesignLegislation blog if you want to know more about these issues.)

However, since certification is entirely optional, and the vast majority of designers are not certified, you would be limiting your selection options tremendously to only select from this limited pool.

And since certification has nothing whatsoever to do with creativity in any state at all, and isn’t even tested for anywhere, it’s no gauge at all of the quality of the work a person does – only their ability to pass a test, really.

In fact, many of the nation’s top designers (some of whom call themselves decorators) do not hold any form of certification or any other credential, do not belong to any of the major design organizations, etc. Conversely, some of the absolute worst (or at least mediocre) design work I’ve seen comes from designers who do hold these designations or related credentials from one of a variety of professional organizations.

The reality is that great design knows no educational or legal bounds. Great designers exist across the spectrum, as to poor ones.

So how do I find a good designer?

The very best way to find a decorator or designer is really through word of mouth – and trusting your own eyes as to what you like and don’t like. Ask your friends whose homes and offices you like who they used, then check the designer’s website, call to request an interview and to look at their portfolio if they don’t have a website (and many designers still don’t). Alternatively, you can look through design magazines, find designers through local decorator’s showcases, or just do a Google search for designers in your area. If you know what style you are interested in, that can help narrow your search further.

Make sure this person does work you like, and that you feel comfortable with them, because an interior design project can be a very long and involved affair second only to marriage in intimacy, in some ways. This person is going to end up knowing a whole lot about you in order to do a great job for you and to see it through to completion, and you’re going to be spending a whole lot of time together, so you absolutely must be able to trust them and feel at ease around them. Ask a lot of questions about how they work, what you can expect, how they bill, what their contract terms are, etc.

In your interview, also ask them about their education, experience, and background. Formal training may be an asset – or it may not, but it certainly won’t hurt. Again, many of the world’s top designers have little to no formal training (including the designer tapped to do the Obama White House, Michael S. Smith!), so a degree is simply no guarantee that this person will be any better than anyone else. But this can be a very technical field indeed, so some indication that your prospective designer keeps up on what’s new is important, even if it’s not required for anything – so ask about how they do keep current. You want to know that they at least take some classes to keep up on changes in the building codes, if nothing else, but you also want to know that they know what the latest products and technologies are, and are able to source products that you yourself cannot, since that is a lot of the best reason to hire a designer in the first place.


Hi, friends,

Sorry I’ve been AWOL here on my blog and on Twitter – work, then a nasty car accident, and trying to deal with a sweet new puppy and both of our injuries from the accident have really been keeping me down and out of commission, and pretty wiped out. I’m hoping I’ll be able to get back to blogging more about design soon – and of course I’ll write some about the puppy, whose name is Sprite. Let me tell you, it is a major challenge to deal with a new puppy when you’re recovering from a car accident!

In the meantime, here are some photos of the car, and my new baby:

Accident 2009-07-14 001

Thank you, Saab engineering, for saving my life! I'm going to really miss this car.

Accident 2009-07-14 002

Accident 2009-07-14 003

Another second later and she would have hit me square in my door.

Accident 2009-07-14 004

Accident 2009-07-14 006

It's no fun to get hit with an airbag, but it sure beats the alternative! Glamorous it ain't, but this is definitely the way you want your car's interior if you get into a head-on collision.

The visible bruises are gone, but I'm still sore as heck.

The visible bruises are gone, but I'm still sore as heck.

. Poor pup, I’d only had him 5 days when it happened.”]The sweetest puppy on earth!  Unfortunately, he was hurt, too <sigh>.

Sprite 2009-07-19

Not looking any worse for the wear, at least.

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