In The Symmetry Of Geometrics, Asheville Artist Kenn Kotara Reveals A Bold, Fresh Style And A Distinctive Voice

August 27, 2015

Art and mathematics are not disciplines people readily associate with one another. That is, of course, unless those people are familiar with the works of noted Asheville artist Kenn Kotara. With his grid based abstracts, Kenn deftly bridges the gap between the fluid and visceral expressiveness of art and the order and tidy symmetry of geometrics. Whether he is using acrylics on paper or hand punching Braille onto metal, Kenn’s work is always bold, always fresh and always reflective of his distinctive voice. North Carolina Design sat down with the artist to peek inside Kotara Studio and find out what Kenn’s been up to lately.

Images Courtesy of Kotara Studio ©

Kenn’s passion for art is longstanding. “I’ve drawn and painted since I can remember,” he recalls. “I’ve had no tutoring or mentoring, and there are no artists in my family. I just have an internal drive to communicate through art. It’s really about being a creator – about creating a visual landscape from my own thoughts, and my tiny kingdom.”

Kenn is a versatile artist who lets the soul of each individual piece drive its own creation. He works with everything from canvas to wood to metal, and he uses a wide range of media – sometimes even within the same piece. “I might start in oil and move to acrylic, or something else entirely,” he says. “I base my choices on what a piece needs, as opposed to sticking to one medium.”

Ken presents his view of the world through the abstract, rather than literal representation. He seeks to capture the chaotic and visceral nature of life, while at the same time revealing the intrinsic underlying order that governs all things. “I have always had an interest in geology mathematics and geometry,” he confides. “I try to pare things down to their basic composition, which is always based in fractals and geometrics. For example, we are made up of cells, which are essentially a recurring pattern of circles.”

Ken particularly enjoys working with circles. “I never get bored with them,” he notes. “Circles are a truly democratic shape – in a perfect circle the radius is equal all the way around.” Kenn’s inclination toward grids, geometric patterns and circles made his work with Braille in particular a natural fit. “Braille works in relation to grid and uses a circular pattern. It’s a bas relief code, so it’s tactile and textural. It also conveys literal words, so my work can become a forum for stories, poetry and sociopolitical messages.”

One of Kenn’s most brilliant pieces is a Braille depiction of “The River,” a poem by Nobel Prize winner Octavio Paz. The poem is hand punched in copper in both Spanish and English, with a winding blank space in between the translations. “The piece is about a communication gap,” Kenn explains. “A gulf between ideologies and cultures and languages. It’s also an exploration of the idea of impairment. We consider the blind to be impaired, but a sighted person can’t read the poem without assistance.”

Kenn enjoys working with copper, for many reasons. “It has this warmth and sexiness to it,” he reflects. “But it also has a softness. Copper also evolves and changes. Given time, it will darken and develop a patina. It may go through multiple colors, layer upon layer. I think that’s reflective of us – we change, and our memories change. Our stories change, and we change how we view our stories. As time goes on, we will always find new layers of depth and meaning in everything.”

One of Kenn’s copper pieces will soon be installed at the Piedmont Triad International Airport in Greensboro. While Kenn welcomes the appreciation he has earned from art enthusiasts around the world, acclaim is not what drives him. “I love coming to work,” he says. “This is an outlet for me. This is how I work out the questions I have about the world, and my existence. It’s therapy. It’s cathartic.” And clearly, it’s what he was born to do.

Raleigh Remodeler Complements The Charm And Grace Of This Home In A Historic Neighborhood With Modern Living

August 25, 2015

No one who loves design has driven through the Historic Oakwood district of Raleigh without a small covetous sigh. The area’s homes date back to the 19th century, and they still have all of the charm, grace and beauty that they were crafted with so many years ago. Today, we’re pleased to feature a Historic Oakwood home, adapted for modern living through a whole house renovation done by the experts at Sigmon Construction.

Sigmon Construction of Sigmon Construction ©

Known for quality work and exceptional attention to detail, Sigmon has been delighting clients with new builds and renovations for more than 30 years. North Carolina Design sat down with project estimator Harry Marks to find out more about their process, and to chat about how one renovates a historic home to meet modern needs.

Harry notes that remodeling projects are different from new builds, and they present different challenges. “You have to work with the structure at hand to give the clients what they want, while respecting the budget and getting them the most bang for their buck,” he explains. “You also want to do something that’s in keeping with what’s already there. Your goal is to enrich the property, not to impose a style on it that doesn’t belong.”

To get a great result, Sigmon Construction works hard to understand their clients’ needs. “First, we meet with the client onsite so we can see the structure and find out what kind of bones it has,” Harry notes. “Next, we listen carefully to find out what the client wants and what they’re bringing to the table. Some people come to us with a fully drawn out plan, and we love that. But we also love it when people come in with just an idea and want our help to create a plan.”

The owners of this home were an active, sociable couple set to begin a new phase in their lives. “They were both about to retire from high ranking government jobs in Washington DC,” Harry recalls. “They chose Raleigh for their retirement because they loved the community and the culture – especially in Historic Oakwood. They really wanted to preserve that City of Oaks style and feel in their home, while adding some flair and a fresh new look to an older part of Raleigh.”

The house had to be adapted to fit the couple’s lifestyle, which included lots of visits from grandkids. “They were proud grandparents, and they wanted a larger space that would flow well and be a good, safe environment for their grandchildren,” says Harry. “We added square footage toward the rear, to the first floor and the basement. We also created a kitchen with good, usable open space. The kitchen ties in to the living area so that everyone can gather in the different spaces and still feel connected.”

Of course, the couple wanted some creature comforts tailor-made for themselves. “They really loved the downstairs basement area,” Harry observes. “The husband has a place to sit back and relax, and the wife has a Pilates studio. They both really enjoy wine, so we added a large wine cellar to house their collection. The main entrance to the house is in the basement, so we added in a dumbwaiter that the homeowners could use to send groceries and wine to the main level without having to lug everything upstairs.”

The homeowners also got the bathroom of their dreams. “It’s luxurious – it has marble countertops and marble tile,” Harry recounts. “However, it has a natural feel, and it’s the simple, clean and refreshing space they wanted. It even has some modern comforts like heated floors and a towel warmer.”

The project, while rewarding, was not without its challenges. “We had to preserve the home’s history and ensure that it fit in organically with the neighborhood,” Harry says. “For example, we couldn’t add a second story, and external siding had to be made from natural wood products. But it was fun to take this home built decades ago and make it suited for a modern couple. And now they can look forward to retirement in their dream home, in their dream neighborhood. It doesn’t get better than that.”

“There’s No Place Like Home” – Chapel Hill Based Builder / Residential Designer Personalizes Homes Through Finer Details

August 18, 2015

There are some designs that, while beautiful, have a sameness to them. And then there are designs that are taken to a wonderful new level – they simply look and feel special and distinctive. We wondered – what is it that takes a design beyond the ordinary? To find out, North Carolina Design spoke with experts from Will Johnson Building Company. The Chapel Hill based custom home building, remodeling and residential design firm is known for its core values of excellence and integrity, faith and family – and for their exceptional and truly distinctive new builds and renovations.

Images Courtesy of Will Johnson Building Company ©

Family is the heart and soul of this business. We chatted with Will Johnson, who serves as president and operations manager, his son, Ben Johnson, the company’s onboard residential designer, and his daughter-in-law Rebecca Johnson, who manages product selections for each home.

Ben notes that a large part of creating an exceptional design is managing the space well. “It all starts with the client’s needs,” he explains. “You have to have the right amount of space to accommodate the function they require. And you have to look for opportunities to create purposeful spaces, rather than just large quantities of square footage. A smaller space that is designed well is better than a large, cavernous space that isn’t.”

Rebecca asserts that function is the most essential component of each design. “You can make anything look pretty, but form has to follow function,” she says. Ben agrees, saying “We consider every aspect of how the homeowners live, and create a design that facilitates their day-to-day lives. We need to know – how does Sally come into the house? Where does she place her keys? What does she do next? The details really matter.”

Form may follow function, but it’s still very important. “As far as the aesthetic, I ask clients for pictures from magazines and online sources to try to get an idea of their style,” says Rebecca. “We balance the aesthetic with the functionality, then we individualize it to each homeowner. The design has to be something that integrates perfectly with the house, functions well and defines their style. And each room needs to tie into the next in some way so that there’s a continuous flow.”

“From my end, I do a series of meetings with clients, where I sketch out ideas for their project,” says Ben. “I like the face to face interaction and the real time feedback. It allows us to create a vision together. A picture really is worth 1000 words.”

The team agrees that it’s the details that truly make a design shine and give it a distinctive look. “One or two big elements aren’t going to elevate a design to a standout,” concedes Ben. “You have to take a holistic approach. There’s a thousand little things that go into creating something that just intuitively feels special.”

“There are so many details that people sense as a whole, but don’t necessarily see right away,” adds Will. “Like recessed floor vents made with the same wood as the floor. Special niches for artwork. Custom spice racks, drop zones, or pullouts for trash or dog food. One thing we really like to do is pay special attention to highlighting coffers and trim – it’s amazing how a shadow line can add a good, rich sense of dimension to any design.”

Will notes that there are a couple of main secrets to the team’s success. “We have extraordinary tradespeople who we work closely with as a team,” he shares. “Their talent allows us to offer a high level of detail to our clients. But I think the most important thing is listening. No two clients are alike. The more carefully you listen, the more exceptional and original your result will be.”

Charlotte Interior Designer Details How Color Is The Powerful Element That Transforms The Feel & Look Of A Room

August 13, 2015

Color is a powerful design element – it can change the feel, mood and look of a space in an instant. However, color can be a tricky thing to get exactly right. To get some fresh insight on color, and to learn a bit about what’s popular today, North Carolina Design talked to Charlotte interior designer Penny Porter, owner of Visual Concepts Interior Design. From the kitchen, to the bathroom, to main living spaces throughout the house, Penny is known for her creativity and her keen eye for detail. With more than 15 years experience transforming spaces for clients across the Carolinas, we were delighted to listen as she detailed what’s involved in creating the perfect custom color palette for her clients.

Images Courtesy of Visual Concepts Interior Design ©

“Everybody sees color differently and every designer uses color differently,” Penny says. “As a general rule, in main living spaces, I like to use a neutral as an overall backdrop. Neutrals are easy to live with. They also give a design longevity, which is especially important when you’re talking about things that are hard to change, like tile. Gray is a popular neutral right now – I frequently do all gray designs, from lighter shades to really deep shades – including some gray furniture.”

Penny notes that even neutral colors are complex and have a wide range of different undertones. “Grays can vary from warmer to cooler. Beiges may have pink or yellow in them. Different lighting can bring out or subdue a color’s undertones, so a specific shade of gray can look neutral in one client’s house, but in another client’s house it can appear to be a pale blue. It’s important to look at a color in the existing light of a space, both during the day and at night.”

Penny isn’t just about neutrals. “Color is my favorite aspect of design,” she offers. “It has an amazing ability to affect how people feel in a space. When I’m working in my studio, I’m placing different fabrics and samples with neutrals, and just intuitively searching around for colors and textures that will all work together. I especially love adding in bright pops of color here and there. That’s the great thing about starting with a neutral background – you can change things up with bold colorful accessories.”

When it comes to color in the kitchen, less is often more. “I see a trend toward simple lines and cleaner colors,” Penny explains. “People are keeping things pretty neutral, but they do add in color here and there. They often use their islands to provide color – I am especially seeing a lot of blue and green islands. I do also have clients that want all white kitchens. White looks fresh and clean, and it can be very, very pretty.”

Bedrooms are the most personal of spaces and people are using color to create a relaxing environment where they can escape from the world. “People are so stressed and busy nowadays – I think the bedroom is one place where they really want something calming – neutral tones work well in helping to achieve that,” Penny tells us.

While neutrals wind their way throughout most of the house, Penny concedes there are some rooms that can handle a bit of extra personality. “Guest rooms are a great place to play with color,” she advises. “You don’t have to live in them all the time, so you can add bolder elements that you might not use in your own room. It’s also fun to give powder rooms a little bit of a dramatic atmosphere, and add in some strong colors.”

Penny has seen her share of color mistakes, and she has a word of advice. “I have come to realize that people don’t all see color the same way,” she says. “It takes some talent and artistic ability to put colors together, and it really is best to hire a design expert if you want to be sure it’s done right. And, while not everyone knows how to create a color palette, everyone can sense when one works. It’s harmonious. It feels right. It’s a space you love being in.”

Charlotte Designer / Fine Linen Boutique Creates The Bed Of Your Dreams – A Luxurious Reward At Day’s End

August 11, 2015

While life today can be stressful and hectic, one of the great joys of a modern homeowner is sinking into a cozy, comfortable, luxurious bed at the end of a long day. But how do you build a bed that looks chic and beautiful, and offers the kind of sublime comfort that you crave? For the answer, North Carolina Design knew just who to turn to – Erin Dougherty, owner of Isabella , a go-to resource in Charlotte for both interior designers and discerning homeowners in search of beautiful bed linens.

Images Courtesy of Isabella ©

While Isabella specializes in fine linens, it is far more than a linen showroom. “We have several different high quality linen lines, and we can special order almost anything,” says Erin. “But it’s not just about linens – we offer pretty much anything you need for the bedroom, from lamps to nightstands to artwork. We also offer our clients design services. We can help them create their dream bedroom.”

“When a client is interested in creating a bed, we ask them a few questions,” Erin explains. “How do they like to sleep? Do they have a king or a queen size bed? Do they use a duvet? Do they have an existing headboard? Are there any fabrics already in the room? Do they want a more formal or relaxed look? Once we have all the answers, we look around the shop and start pulling ideas from our selection.”

Erin notes that there are several “must have” elements to the perfect bed. “It all comes down to having really good staples,” she advises. “Great down pillows, a nice down comforter, a great set of sheets and maybe some cozy cotton blankets. I personally love a nice duvet cover. You can layer it with a quilt or a soft throw, and then add an accent pillow. I believe that everything on your bed should be simple, washable and comfortable, but really luxurious at the same time.”

“When it comes to style, I suggest going more neutral with the main linens and adding pops of color with pillows, or at the end of the bed in a throw. Neutral bedding lasts a lot longer in terms of style – you can always switch out pillows to change the look. There are lots of options for neutral colors – you can do white, gray, cream, or linen color. And you don’t have to stick with just one. You can mix and match neutral colors in layers.”

Today’s homeowners favor an eclectic, layered look over something that’s perfectly put together. “They want something that doesn’t look really predictable,” Erin explains. “We’ll layer colors and textures, and even mix and match products from different lines and companies. This creates a look that’s a little more ‘collected’ and artistic. We can also add interest and color with embroidered or printed sheets or pillowcases. We have great lines from artists that feature things like embroidery, hand-dyed fabric and appliques.”

Erin believes each layer of bedding should be well thought out, and tailored to a homeowner’s preferences. “For sheets, we always ask homeowners if they like percale or sateen,” she recounts. “They’re both made from Egyptian cotton, but percale has a crisp feel, while sateen is silkier. For the top of the bed, the duvet is always popular. But if you don’t like a duvet you can do a quilted coverlet, a throw bed, or textured blankets folded at the bottom of the bed. Or you could do a matelasse for a softer and cozier look.”

In the end, today’s homeowners want bedding that’s simple and easy to care for, but still beautiful and luxurious. “People want a more relaxed, softer look that’s simple and timeless,” Erin affirms. “It makes sense – your bed shouldn’t just be something beautiful to look at. It should be something you can’t wait to get into at the end of the day.”

“Tips Of The Trade” From North Carolina Design Experts

August 6, 2015

Once again, several of our design professionals weigh in, sharing some great tips with readers for all areas of the home. With years of experience creating living spaces that speak to who their cleints are and how they live, these experts from North Carolina Design are definitely qualified to offer insightful “Tips Of The Trade” on a variety of subjects.

On many home renovations, homeowners spend the majority of their time and energy on the inside of the house, often forgetting the outside projects. There are many advantages to focusing on outside projects that can be capitalized on during a home renovation. Here are a few suggestions that can help you seize the moment.

Have A Plan: Every homeowner should have a long-term plan for their property. Proper planning will allow you to capture the vision of future expansion (or removals) for your property. It also allows you to plan for any future amenities when you may need to allocate space, money or resources. A plan will become your blueprint for the phasing of your project in the proper order. This will allow you to maximize your enjoyment and use of your property for years to come.

Keep Your Contractor Working: Installing that new fireplace and patio will always be more cost effective when installed as part of a larger project. The contractor has already navigated access to the site, is working with material vendors, and has a steady pool of labor. With proper planning, you can add that outdoor room for less money now as opposed to hiring a new contractor sometime in the future

Lori Hawkins
Hawkins Landscape Architecture, Greensboro


When considering building a new home or renovating your existing home, make sure to allow plenty of time for design before beginning the construction process. Proper planning is the key to any successful project. When you consider that building or renovating a home is one of the largest financial commitments most of us make, combined with the fact that your home is your most personal and important space, it simply makes sense to consider those decisions thoughtfully. That takes time, and often some soul searching, to reach that perfect balance of aesthetics and practicality.

Balancing a client’s wish list with their budget is one of the most difficult parts of the job for an architect or an interior designer. Understanding how to evaluate and prioritize the wish list and how to creatively capture the most important design aspects to fit within the budget is a skill that seasoned design professionals bring to a project. Making the most of this skill is a wise move on the part of anyone considering a design project.

Amy Conner Murphy, AIA
ACM Design, Asheville


In today’s world with thousands of beautiful kitchens on line and in print that many would like to replicate, it can be hard to remember to keep your kitchen personal. Even when you may be trying to keep a kitchen as neutral or universally appealing for potential re-sale, it’s often the personality that makes it stand out. Here are some things to try: Rather than a cabinet pantry that matches the kitchen, use a family China cabinet or armoire with patina. The interior can be retro fitted for optimal storage. Let the spaces around it breathe.

Consider a glass front cabinet or some open shelves for display, but reduce the contents so the items inside can be appreciated more readily. Rotate favorite items. Heave a sigh and decide to lighten the load! Get rid of rarely used gadgets or dishes and free up a section of wall for art work or photographs instead of another matching cabinet. The open shelves can be cantilevered and open sided to allow the wall color to show and frame the items. Mix textures, materials and colors that please you for a more enjoyable kitchen experience.

Mary Liebhold
The Kitchen Specialist, Durham


I’m not a fan of ideas that are generated by the assumption that homeowners are always looking for fast, cheap fixes. My typical client is a busy person who values quality and wants to return to a warm, comfortable and inviting home at the end of the day. I tell them that the #1 décor element that can take ANY space from good to great is the right pair of drapery panels flanking a window. Lined drapes, hung high on the wall and wide on the window, give the biggest bang for your buck, changing the look and feel of a room in an instant. They may not be cheap, but they are a great value that savvy homeowners recognize quickly.

This type of window treatment serves to frame the view outside the window—it’s the same effect as framing a beautiful piece of art. They soften the edges and make the room feel all polished up and beautiful. As a bonus, drapery panels insulate against high and low temperatures (a money saver) and muffle the echo often caused by high ceilings or hardwood floors.

Anne DeCocco
DeCocco Design, Raleigh


Does the rug make the room or does the room make the rug? As a designer, I think perhaps both are true and both can fall short if certain criteria are not met. Purchasing an area rug for any space in the house requires attention to several elements: the use and style of the room in which it will lay, the fiber and construction of the rug, and the size.

Your designer or a reputable rug dealer will guide you with information about fiber and backing for your rug selection. It is then essential that the rug fit the room. Unfortunately, some rug dealers may sell a fine rug that is too small for a space rather than a larger, appropriate sized rug that would be more expensive. One of my biggest concerns is directing a client to rug sizes that are large enough to completely contain a seating group. If the room is huge, two rugs may be required. The advantages of large-enough rugs are many, including sound absorption, comfort, the appearance of making the room seem larger, and the cohesiveness given to the furniture pieces.

Minta Bell
Minta Bell Design Group, Chapel Hill

Charlotte Kitchen Designer Details How Technology & Function Are Driving The Design Of This Family “Command Center”

August 4, 2015

Today’s kitchen is still the heart of the home, but it’s also the family “command center,” and a central hub of family activity. Technology is increasingly making its presence known in the kitchen, and certainly has its place in reshaping this all important room. To find out more about the technological and functional aspects of today’s kitchens, we talked to Dara Barber, Design Manager at E3 Cabinets and Design in Charlotte. E3 Cabinets is a full service design firm and cabinet provider, known for high quality, beautiful and functional designs. Dara gave North Carolina Design her take on how she puts together a kitchen that meets the varied requirements of modern family life.

Images Courtesy of E3 Cabinets and Design ©

“First, you have to identify the family’s needs,” she says. “How many kids do they have? What ages? Do both parents work? Do they work in the home or out of the home? Who’s in the house during the day? Who does the cooking? What activities go on in the kitchen? Homeowners may need the space to accommodate anything from homework, to hobbies, to a craft station to volunteer work.”

Because kitchens now serve multiple purposes, the kitchen workspace has shifted beyond the classic work triangle. “It’s not just Mom in the kitchen making dinner anymore,” explains Dara. “Oftentimes there is more than one cook in the family, so you may need more than one prep station. You might have a spot where the kids hang out so you can monitor them or help them with homework while you cook. It really ends up being a work square, or even a five-point shape.

“A lot of people are trying to fit two islands in their kitchens – an island for prep work and an island for dining, homework, crafts, etc. They’re trying to keep these activities separate so they can simplify a busy space. If you’re lucky enough to have a big kitchen then it’s a really great option.”

Of course, meeting the kids’ specific needs in the kitchen is essential. “You need a charging station low enough for kids to reach,” advises Dara. “People are choosing single-level islands for lots of reasons, but one significant reason is safety. It can be precarious for little kids to be up on a 42-inch chair. People are also adding lower drawers for their kids’ snack stuff, school stuff, crayons and school supplies, so they can come home and get themselves a snack or do homework or art projects.”

Mobile technology has ushered in the end of the once ubiquitous kitchen desk. “We still do need a spot where everyone can park their electronics, stash important papers and drop the mail, but because we’re so mobile, we don’t necessarily need to sit at that spot,” says Kim. “Instead of putting a big ugly desk in the middle of the kitchen, we can put everything behind closed doors and create a pretty area that can even serve a dual purpose – a butler’s pantry or a laundry room, for example.”

Tucking things away is the key to preserving aesthetics in a tech oriented kitchen. “I hide as much as I can,” Dara concedes. “I use plug bars that go underneath cabinets and tuck charging stations inside of drawers. I make sure all of the wires are hidden away but still easily accessible. Appliance garages were once just for toasters and blenders – now people add an extra one to their command center for their laptops and iPads.”

“I think that in some ways technology drives us apart, but in other ways it brings us together,” reflects Dara. “Because everything is so mobile, families can all be in the same room, talking and interacting and helping one another, even though they’re doing different things. It’s exciting to see how technology has influenced the kitchen. And I look forward to seeing how it will become further integrated in different aspects of the kitchen in the future.”

Raleigh Kitchen Designer Blends Aesthetics And Functionality To Create The Kitchen Of Her Clients’ Dreams

July 30, 2015

There are two essential elements to every design – a good aesthetic and thoughtful function. The two must be carefully balanced and tailored to the people who will live in the space. This is an especially tall order for kitchens, where function is critical to a successful design. Fortunately, homeowners in North Carolina have experts like Ruth Ann Taylor Long of Taylored Spaces to call on. As owner of the notable Raleigh kitchen and bath design firm, she helps homeowners consistently realize their dream kitchens. Today, North Carolina Design is showcasing a beautiful recently completed project and hearing how Ruth Ann was able to blend aesthetics and functionality with her client’s specific tastes.

Images Courtesy of Taylored Spaces . Photography by Stuart Jones, Jr. ©

“The home belongs to a commercial architect, who had decided to redo the kitchen as a gift to his wife,” Ruth Ann explains. “These are homeowners who like to be on the cutting edge of things, and they’ve always preferred a sleek, contemporary look. They actually redid the kitchen in the 80’s, and at that time it was an amazing, forward-thinking space. It was even in the papers. But, after so many years, of course it was in need of an overhaul.”

“The homeowners have a good eye and a great feel for what’s new,” says Ruth Ann. “They really love shiny, modern, monochromatic elements, so we went with something sleek and glossy and clean. We gave them Cambria quartz counters and high-gloss Italian laminate cabinets with beautiful striations. The backsplash is a glass and stone mosaic that matches the countertops and creates some visual and physical texture. The light fixtures are really striking – they were inspired by fixtures they had seen in upscale restaurants.”

The homeowners are soon-to-be empty nesters who love the outdoors, and spend most of their time outside. “The wife really enjoys gardening and canning fruits and vegetables, so they were most interested in adding prep space and food storage,” notes Ruth Ann. “They also needed everything to be in good working order. If you can believe it, their oven had actually been broken for two years.”

The couple had gone back and forth about whether to add on to their kitchen, and Ruth Ann found a final winning solution. “When we considered the layout we noted that only about 70 percent of the space was being used,” she recounts. “Most of the kitchen was crammed into one corner, and there was a whole wasted area in front of the doorway to the family room. We thought, why not keep the same footprint and just flip the whole kitchen around?

“By flipping the kitchen, we were able to give the homeowners two or three really good workspaces, as well as the storage they needed. There’s also no wasted space – they’re able to use 100 percent of the kitchen. And, by moving the sink beneath the windows, we were able to give the wife the view to the outdoors she always wanted.”

Ruth Ann also added a number of other details that helped improve the function of the space. “We upgraded all of their appliances – I am happy to say that they now have a fully functioning oven,” she affirms. “We gave them really tall pantry units and a big freezer for food storage. We also gave them these really chic upper cabinets that feature a state-of-the-art liftup mechanism. To keep the space sleek and uncluttered, we added pull-out trash bins, a microwave set in a drawer, and extra base pantry pullouts.”

Project renovation by Stuart Jones Custom Homes

For Ruth Ann, the best part of the project was the creative freedom she was given by the homeowners. “Even though the husband was an architect, he let us do our job and didn’t get overly involved. He left things in our hands, and trusted us to come up with something amazing. And I think we succeeded. He was thrilled with the outcome, which, I think, says a lot.”

Winston-Salem Residential Designer Dispels The 6 Key Myths Of Designing And Building A Custom Home

July 28, 2015

Building a custom home can certainly be a daunting process for homeowners. Sometimes, however, their concerns are rooted more in myth than reality. Today, Barry Wilson of Houck Residential Design dispels the six of the most pervasive myths surrounding custom home building. Since 1986, the Winston-Salem residential design firm has been expertly designing custom homes of all types and sizes, for both remodels and new builds, across the Piedmont Triad and beyond. Barry has worked with a wide variety of homeowners, and when it comes to misgivings and misinformation, he has heard it all. Barry summed up for North Carolina Design the key myths about designing and building a custom home.

Images Courtesy of Houck Residential Designers ©

I have a great design team. I don’t have to be involved in the design process.
Some people say, “This is your job, I’ll come back and see it when you’re done.” They don’t make the building process a priority, so they’re not as invested as they should be. A good home design is based around your desires. If you don’t get involved and voice those desires, there’s no guarantee that you will get what you want, or need. You don’t have to design it yourself, but you do have to give us your ideas and let us know your preferences.

Not much has changed since the last time I built a home. I should just go with what I know.
The fact that you have built before doesn’t mean you know everything that’s possible today. New products and new construction methods come out every day. Beyond that, people get older, and their lives and needs and preferences change. We can address those changes and give you something that’s suited to your life today, with new options to choose from.

Building a house will inevitably end up costing more than I want to spend.
You really can stay on budget, if you make a plan, stay flexible, and design within your boundaries. People will see a kitchen in a multi million dollar home, then get discouraged because they can’t put in a half million dollar house. You have to be realistic. A good team will drive you toward your budget and help you find lower cost solutions, but you have to listen to them and trust them. You also have to assume there will be unexpected expenses, and plan for them.

An energy efficient home would be out of my price bracket.
Some things, like geothermal energy or solar paneling, might only be available for the upper echelon. But there are many levels of energy efficiency. It can be as simple as using good construction practices – good weather stripping, good insulation and solid building. Appliances are not that expensive, and you have to make an effort to buy energy inefficient models. Spending more on appliances that suck a lot of energy, like washers, HVACs and water heaters will get you a quicker return on your investment, and you’ll save more in the long run.

I can’t find what I’m looking for, so it must not be possible.
If you could find everything you were looking for, there would be no need for custom, and I would be out of a job! Just tell us what you want. Bring us your napkin sketch. Our whole purpose is to listen to your specific needs and create something new that addresses them. We have the expertise and the knowledge to find solutions beyond what you might imagine.

I see a lot of people in particular who like the layout of a house but not the exterior, so they dismiss the whole plan. They don’t understand that what’s on the outside doesn’t necessarily relate to what’s on the inside. You can do whatever you want on the outside, no matter what the layout looks like. You can even have a completely different style on the inside and the outside.

Custom design is not worth the trouble /expense.
Well, if this is a temporary or investment home, it may not be! But if this is your forever home, and you really care about how you live and want to live, it may definitely be worth it, as it will determine how comfortable and functional your home is for the long haul. There are different levels of custom design, and a custom plan is much more affordable than people think. Do the research – custom design can make all the difference, and it’s not always beyond your reach.

Charlotte Designer Continues To Live Out A Lifelong Dream

July 23, 2015

Few of us can say we have truly had a lifelong passion for our vocation. Charlotte interior designer Kevin Carpenter of Kevin Carpenter Interiors has literally wanted to be an interior designer for as long as he can remember. Kevin’s long-term love for design, combined with his exceptional skill, versatility and sharp intuition, have made him one of Charlotte’s premier designers for over 20 years. North Carolina Design met up with Kevin to find out more about his style, his process, and what makes him tick, design-wise.

Images Courtesy of Kevin Carpenter Interiors ©

Kevin can work with any client’s style preferences, but he does have preferences of his own. “When you spend over 20 years in this business, I don’t know if you can’t help but to develop a style,” he says. “I would say my style is ‘new traditional.’ I like to use traditional pieces with cleaner or bolder lines and a combination of colors and textures that’s more ‘today.’ This style seems to work well with my clients’ needs.”

Kevin’s style speaks to his design philosophy. “When I was younger, I thought everything should be modern, but as you work and you age, you realize that longevity and a sense of history are important,” he reflects. “Traditional doesn’t have to feel old. It can be fresh, and clean, and ‘now.’ It all depends on how you pull it all together.”

“To me, traditional design is more about choosing things that will endure, rather than trendy things that will look dated ten years from now. Interior design is an investment, and it’s expensive. It should stand the test of time. A classic piece will always work – a quality sofa with good lines can last you 30 years. You can reupholster it to update it and give it new life when you need to.”

While Kevin knows his craft inside and out, he does run into his fair share of challenges. “Clients don’t always have a realistic budget,” he explains. “They don’t realize what things cost, and I often have to help them work through sticker shock. Some clients develop a bit of an adversarial relationship with their designer because they have trouble visualizing his or her ideas for their space. If you’ve asked a designer to provide their expertise, you have to be open to what they suggest. You can trust that they have your best interests at heart.”

To give his clients the perfect space, Kevin first has to identify their wants and needs. “I ask a lot of questions, and I look around to see what they have,” he says. “I ask them to show me what they like, so I can get a feel for their taste level. – Do they want casual, formal, rustic, etc. Sometimes an accessory or a piece of art will open up a conversation.”

“Sometimes it’s just as helpful to hear what a client doesn’t like, and why, as it is to hear what they do like. If they say they want something bright, but that they don’t like yellow – that helps me understand their preferences in a more nuanced way, and raises the chances of me getting things exactly right.”

Just as he imagined he would as a small boy, Kevin enjoys every aspect of his job as a designer. “Every project is different, and there’s something to love about each one,” he affirms. “I even enjoy the challenge of project management. If the project runs smoothly and is in good order, the client gets a beautiful room at the end. I have always loved colors, fabrics and textures – what a great thing to get to work with them every day!“

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