The Challenge – Preserve The History Of A Century Old Farmhouse While Bringing It Into Modern Times

June 13, 2017

Across the country, homeowners are choosing to revisit a simpler time by adding classic farmhouse elements to their homes. In North Carolina, our agricultural roots run deep, and actual century-old farmhouses are in every town. The challenge with these homes is to preserve their history, while bringing them into modern times. Today’s featured home is an example of how superbly this feat can be accomplished in the right hands. Sean Sullivan, owner of Asheville’s celebrated design build firm Living Stone Construction, explained to North Carolina Design how he gave the homeowners the fairy tale renovation they were long awaiting.

Images Courtesy of Living Stone Construction ©

The homeowners loved the home, and for good reason. “It was a Farmhouse style home, which is the most popular style in the country right now,” says Sean. “The house was 110 years old, and it had an incredible amount of character and charm. It’s in a spectacular location. There’s a farm across the street, and you can see the Seven Sisters range from one angle, and the Craggy Mountains from another angle.”

“The homeowners had lived in the house for years. They raised their three kids there. The husband, David, spent years dreaming of more space. When he contacted me about this project I was surprised. I said, ‘you’re pretty much empty nesters – now you decide to expand?’ David had this really great vision of a home with three separate, yet connected spaces. His wife, Berdjette, who is of Swiss descent, had a vision of a home with elements of Old World European farm life.”

“The house had all kinds of structural issues,” observes Sean. “It was leaning, and needed reinforcing. The roof was leaking, and had to be reframed from the inside out.” To add space, Sean built new additions, which he incorporated directly into the old house. Following David’s vision, the home now has three sections: the left section is the old house; the right section features a detached garage, an office, and an apartment; and the middle section, which connects the left and right, features a sitting room.

The home offers an abundance of classic Old World delights. The cantilevered Juliet balcony off the master suite is a perfect spot to enjoy the view. The screened-in sleeping porch – complete with a hanging bed – is an ideal place for an outdoor nap.  The patio, which features rustic stone steps and walls and includes an old Swiss pizza oven, is a charming and tranquil place to relax outdoors. The homeowners’ goats and chickens do their part to add a true sense of pastoral Europe.

Small details throughout the home add to its charm and reflect its history. “You have some industrial elements, like the steel Juliet balcony,”  explains Sean. “Then, you have the abundance of wood and exposed brick. The master bath has shiplap on the ceiling, and has ceramic tile planks that look like whitewashed wood. The kitchen has shiplap everywhere, including the peninsula. The door to the laundry room is an old barn door.  We kept the brick from the old chimney, and used it as a kitchen accent wall.”

Sean also relied on details to bridge the old space and the new spaces. “In any project, the key to pulling everything together is to repeat elements just often enough, and in just the right way. In this house, we kept the old brick chimneys and then incorporated some new brick that’s slightly different, but complements the old brick. Laura Sullivan, from ID.ology Interior Design, did an exceptional job finding materials that were similar enough to provide continuity, but different enough to add interest.”

Of course, there are wholly new elements to the home that make it comfortable for modern living. “The home is fully insulated, and it’s built to Energy Star specifications and green build specifications,” says Sean. “The windows match the old windows, but they’re are all new. This was a really fun project to work on. It was like taking a step back in time, while still staying firmly in this century. And it was a dream realized, in many ways.”

With Proper Planning And A Good Designer, A Kitchen Remodel Isn’t The Big Green Eyed Monster You Feared It Would Be

May 30, 2017

Homeowners will often live too long with a kitchen that no longer suit their needs, simply because they are afraid of the unknown. Kitchen remodels can seem very overwhelming, but they aren’t necessarily the big green monster people imagine them to be. Gina Arledge, owner and principal designer at the premier Greensboro design firm, The Kitchen Studio, has coached many a homeowner through  a successful remodel. She spoke with North Carolina Design about demystifying and de-stressing the kitchen remodeling process.

“A lot of people who come to me are very nervous about the process,” she concedes. “Remodels are daunting. It’s challenging to have people in your sanctuary, bringing in their big boots and a lot of dust. Remodels can take 2 to 3 months to finish or even longer in some cases. They’re not fun and we don’t pretend they’re fun. But they are absolutely worth it, and we help remind the client of that fact.”

“We do a lot of hand-holding and cheerleading. We talk about what the finished product will look like. I always like to say that when we’re done, their house will have the kitchen it should have had in the first place. We help them keep their eye on that prize, and we reassure them that there’s an end in sight. We help them make all of the big decisions. We let them know that we care, and we’re paying attention.”

Gina notes that one of the best ways to alleviate the stress of remodeling is to get help very early on. “It’s always so smart to consult a designer from the very beginning,” she affirms, “Builders are going to say, ‘well, what do you want to do?’ They’re going to follow your lead. If you don’t have a plan, you can’t get accurate estimates. A designer can help you create a really solid plan, with feasible, accurate numbers, that you can then bring forward with your builder and subcontractors.”

“Designers also act as project coordinators. They know what needs to be done, and when. They can help you pick out everything and have it ordered in a timely manner.” But, Gina notes, they can’t do it alone. “If you want the best outcome, you have to be involved. If you have large dishes, you’ll want to take two of them with you during selections to make sure they fit in the cabinet.”

To fully flesh out her client’s needs, Gina goes on a fact-finding mission. “We always start at their house,” she says. “We measure the walls, and the adjacent rooms we might be going into. We talk about how they cook, how they function, what works now, and what doesn’t work. We create idea books that give me insight into their minds. Even if they pull 1,000 kitchens, I can usually find a pattern that helps me understand who they are and what they want.”

“From that meeting, we set up a second meeting at my studio. Between those two meetings, I create a design, print line drawings, do full color renderings, create a 3D internet model – I use any tool I need to show the client what the finished product is going to look like. Then I ask for their feedback. Feedback is so important – these are preliminary, conceptual designs, and we can make any change at this stage. They can’t be afraid of hurting my feelings.”

According to Gina, hiring a designer isn’t enough – to help the process go smoothly, it’s important to find the right designer. “Of course, you want someone who’s knowledgeable and experienced,” she observes. “But it’s also really important to work with someone who makes you feel comfortable and confident. Not every designer is going to be a good fit for you, just like every client isn’t going to be a good fit for me. Find that person who ‘gets’ you. It really makes all the difference.”

Interior Designer’s Dream Project, Dream Process and Dream Clients Combine To Produce Incredible & Beautiful Results

May 16, 2017

Most people have an idea of a  dream home – homes perfectly tailored to their needs and aesthetic desires. And most designers have an idea of a dream project – projects tailored to their strengths, connected to their passions, and challenging in all the best ways. Asheville interior designer Kathryn Long, owner of Ambiance Interiors, had the pleasure of such a project – a new build vacation home for a couple looking to escape the summer heat – and the summer pollen – in Texas. Kathryn spoke to North Carolina Design about the project, and told us what made it so incredible.

Images courtesy of Ambiance Interiors Photography by Jerry Markatos

One thing Kathryn greatly appreciated was the collaborating with great professionals. “This is a Platt Architecture signature home,” she notes. “I love working with Al Platt. We’ve collaborated on close to 20 projects together. These clients became our clients with his recommendation. And then, of course I enjoyed working with Tessa Eaton, my project manager and design associate. She was a big part of this project’s success.”

Kathryn also appreciated being involved from the very beginning. “I came in very early in the process,” she recounts. “Al Platt prefers the involvement of an interior designer very early on – that’s one of the reasons I enjoy working with him. I like to come in before every little thing has been decided. After the architectural details have been worked out, I like to work together with clients on material selections, finishes, floors, window treatments – things that should be decided early in the process.”

Then, there were the clients. “They were very communicative and participatory,” she observes. “They had worked with other designers, and they knew what to expect. Things are always easier when clients understand the process and know what a designer can do for them. They trusted my judgment. They shared photos of their home in Texas with me. They wanted to bring pieces from that home into the design, and they wanted specifically to know what I thought of each one.”

“They were well-traveled, and very sophisticated. The husband loves architecture, and he can think spatially, so he had great input and ideas. They both liked to collect good antiques. They both loved nice fabrics, as do I, and they were familiar with the fabric houses, which we have in our resource library here at Ambiance. They really were my idea of the ideal clients.”

Kathryn also got to work in the way that she most prefers. “The first thing we do after material selections is furniture planning,” she explains. “One of the main reasons we do this is to choose the rugs. I can’t start every project with the rugs, but it is an ideal way to work. Rugs provide a color scheme and set a tone, and that helps a lot of other decisions fall into place.”

“I went with the clients several times to Togar Rugs to make selections. We chose Oushak rugs – peaceful, quiet rugs without a lot of contrast, in light blues and taupes. They look very simple at first glance, but when you look more closely, there’s a lot of subtle detail. And that’s the approach we took with the whole house. The feel is very peaceful, and things appear simple, but when you look around you notice things like the different leg styles and wonderful tassels on the chairs.”

“You see all of the texture in the stone, and the character in the reclaimed wood floors. You see that the walls are painted to give the illusion of everything being wood. It was a challenge to create a tranquil, comfortable space this rich in detail, and it was so satisfying to see it come together so well. One more reason why this was this was truly a dream project.”

The Surging Popularity Of Transitional Kitchen Design – The Middle Ground Between Traditional And Modern Styles

May 2, 2017

More and more homeowners are opting for a transitional style in their kitchens. This fresh, clean approach to design holds a lot of appeal as a middle ground between traditional and modern styles. To delve further into this newer, yet significant shift in design preferences, we reached out to Raleigh kitchen designer, Desi McAlister, at Kitchen & Bath Galleries. The senior designer has been a go-to expert on kitchens for years, and Desi shared with North Carolina Design some keen insights into the rise of transitional style, and the very different forms it can take.

Images Courtesy of Kitchen &Bath Galleries ©

Desi tells us that before transitional style came into play, there were only two real style preferences. “You were either traditional or modern – that was it,” she says. “I personally would get one request a year for a modern kitchen, if that. Now I do a number of fully contemporary kitchens, and I very seldom have anyone tell me they are purely traditional. Almost everyone is transitional in some way, shape or form.”

Desi traces the transitional trend to the end of the recession. “Things just started getting simpler,” she observes. “People just weren’t putting as much pizazz into the cabinetry – you didn’t see as much ornamental moulding or detailed doors. I felt like it was falling in line with people’s changing lifestyles – a new ‘less is more’ philosophy. Transitional cabinetry isn’t as heavy, and it isn’t as busy. There aren’t as many grooves to clean.”

The shift has been dramatic. “With traditional kitchens, you had heavy trim moulding and detailed doors,” Desi reflects. “The cabinets had a lot of detail in general. The cabinets were the ‘wow’ in the room, so people added all of these elements to make them pop. Now, because they’re so clean and simple, they act as a backdrop that helps other elements of the kitchen stand out, like the hardware, backsplash and countertop color.”

Desi has found that, within the scope of transitional design, homeowners still tend to fall into two general style groups. “You have what I call the ‘classic transitional’ style group,” she explains. “These are people who have perhaps had a traditional style all their lives. It’s what they prefer. But now, they’re looking in magazines, and they’re seeing their friends’ homes. They really like the simple, streamlined designs they’re seeing. So they want something that’s a little cleaner and simpler, but still has classic elements and details.”

“People in this group tend to love symmetry. They want things to match, and they want to see balance on both sides of the window, or the range hood. They like subtle embellishment. They’re not going to have a flat slab cabinet door – they’re going to have a recessed panel with edge detail. They’re going to have detail on the hardware. Their cabinets are going to be cream or white. They’re going to choose quartz countertops that mimic Carrera marble. They’re going to choose classic subway tiles.”

“Then you have the ‘modern transitional’ group. These are people who are open to trying new trends. They want something that’s bolder and edgier. They’re going to choose an eclectic light fixture. They are okay with having asymmetrical, off-balance elements in the room. They’re going to choose slab doors and longer, more modern bar pulls. They are more likely to choose gray for their cabinetry color. They like glass and metal accents, and they prefer elongated, more narrow tiles.”

Desi believes that the appeal of transitional style is in its versatility. “It’s a mesh between traditional and contemporary, so people have the freedom to combine elements they like from either style,” she says. “It really does give people more options, and a greater opportunity to tailor their kitchen to their liking. Plus, it fits today’s lifestyles very well.”

Take A Peek At What’s Trending In 2017 Kitchen Design

April 18, 2017

The kitchen has never been more important than it is today, as this coveted space shifts continuously away from a single function room to the heart and hub of the home. As lifestyles shift, so do homeowners’ wants and needs. Thankfully, we have experts like Tim Nichols, who owns Cabinet Studio in Winston Salem, and top-notch Cabinet Studio designers Melissa Jessup and Jennifer Willard to help keep us up to date. They were kind enough to apprise North Carolina Design of some of the latest and greatest trends for today’s kitchens.

Images Courtesy of Cabinet Studio ©

The team notes that one of the biggest changes in kitchen design is a shift from granite to quartz countertops. “It follows along with a change in lifestyle,” observes Tim. “The kitchen isn’t just for cooking anymore. It’s a central location where families do a lot of different activities. Countertops endure a lot of wear and tear. Quartz stands up to all kinds of lifestyles – kids, projects, cutlery, trivets, etc.”

While quartz is known for its exceptional durability, heat and stain resistance, and range of unique color options, it has traditionally lacked the organic artistry and rich detail of natural stone. Not so anymore, says Tim. “The variety of quartz options has greatly improved,” he remarks. “You can get everything from solids to patterns, in a lot of different textures and colors. There are options now that very closely resemble the natural look and feel of stone.”

“If you’re trying to match granite, you can find quartz that’s comparable in color,” adds Jennifer. “For those clients who like a really classic, elegant look, there are quartz options that imitate Carrera marble. In some ways, quartz can actually look better than Carrera – all of the whitest Carrera marble has already been mined, so Carrera is darker now, with more gray and brown in it. Quartz can mimic that authentic, white Carrera look that has become difficult to achieve with the natural product.”

Melissa notes that there are additional reasons for the increasing popularity of quartz. “Quartz is a much stronger and sturdier product,” she explains. “You don’t have to be as concerned about support. It’s also antimicrobial, which creates a healthier work surface.  Also, a lot of quartz manufacturers are very ‘green.’ Cambria, for example, recycles jet cutting water. So, quartz can be a great choice from an environmental standpoint.”

The change in direction in kitchens does extend beyond countertops. “People are still interested in a timeless design,” Tim notes. “They want to be able to sell their house.” That said, Tim believes that the prevalent desire for clean designs with simple lines is shifting. “People get tired of simplicity. They want more detail, more character, and more embellishment.” Melissa agrees, adding “I find that people are either going in a slightly more traditional direction, or they are going in a distinctive, super modern direction.”

“I think white kitchens have hit their peak,” says Tim. “People are starting to look at colors again. They’re becoming a bit bolder in their color choices. They’re also showing interest in wood stains again. Sometimes it’s color stains like grays, soft mossy colors, or muted blue tones.”

Homeowners are also opting for open kitchen floor plans that flow with the rest of the house, and larger islands that serve as work spaces and gathering places. “It’s a natural progression, and it’s interesting to watch,” Tim tells us. “People don’t want to be separated by walls anymore. They want to spend time together, in the same space. So, there’s an emphasis on making the kitchen a hub and making it a pretty room that complements the home. Finding that balance leads to really great results.”

2017 Trends In Carpet & Flooring -A Guide To What’s Happening Underfoot

April 4, 2017

Flooring has to be highly functional, beautiful, and perpetually appealing to the ever-shifting tastes of homeowners. It’s a tall order, and the flooring industry constantly works to find better ways to address all of these important factors. Barbara Leininger, owner of Charlotte’s Floor Coverings International, is a bona fide expert in floor coverings. She brings her expertise straight into her clients’ homes, where she counsels them one on one about their individual flooring needs. Now she brings it to North Carolina Design, as she tells us what’s exciting and new about flooring these days.

Images Courtesy of Floor Coverings International ©

“We are still an area that absolutely adores hardwood floors – they’re still the absolute #1 choice,” she tells us. “However, style and color preferences have changed. As far as style, homeowners are looking for a wider plank. When it comes to color, they’re looking for neutral brown floors – often with gray in them. Over the last 10 years, the preference was toward red floors. Before that, it was blonde floors. Now, a lot of my job involves changing red floors into brown floors.”

Carpeting is still a very popular North Carolina flooring choice. “It’s the softest and warmest flooring option, so it’s great for bedrooms and bonus rooms,” Barbara offers. “It’s also the most economical flooring option, so it fits well into any budget.”

One of carpet’s drawbacks is the perception that it’s difficult to keep clean. “Today’s homeowners want something that’s soft and comfortable, but very functional,” observes Barbara. “The trend currently is toward stain resistance, more than anything else. Fortunately, the industry has made a lot of technological advances, and today’s carpeting is much more stain resistant, and much easier to clean and care for than in the past.”

“One of the best new carpeting options available is made from recycled plastic bottles. As we know, it’s almost impossible to stain plastic! This carpeting is almost completely stain-resistant, even against pets. It’s also really soft and attractive. Not surprisingly, it sells like hotcakes. There aren’t a whole lot of choices in patterns available with this product right now, but that will definitely change in the near future.”

In bathrooms, the shift is more stylistic than practical. “Basically, tile color, size and layout preferences have changed,” Barbara tells us. “Homeowners prefer white and gray coloring in their tile. Stone, porcelain, ceramic and Carrera marble are all popular choices. Homeowners are choosing wider tiles for their bathrooms – I’ve seen tiles all the way up to 12 by 24 inches. There’s an overall emphasis on creating visual interest with tile, like laying it out in herringbone, hopscotch, or brick patterns, or using accent tiles in showers like jewelry.”

Of all the new trends in floor coverings, Barbara is most excited about home luxury plank flooring. “This is a hot off the presses new trend,” she explains. “It’s made from 100 percent PVC material, so it’s very scratch resistant, and 100 percent waterproof. And, it’s beautiful. I know what you’re thinking – there’s no way something made out of plumbing material can look good. But it really does! It’s richly detailed and very design-oriented. It can look just like hardwood, at a lower cost, with added durability.

“Luxury plank flooring is another fantastic example of how the flooring industry is constantly innovating to meet homeowner’s needs. Wood floors are warm and beautiful, but they’re expensive, and they scratch and dent. Laminate floors are affordable and scratch-resistant, but getting them wet ruins them. So, they have come up with this new product. It’s really exciting to be able to give time-starved homeowners options that offer a great balance of beauty and practicality.”

The Beauty, Comfort and Functionality of Today’s Contemporary Kitchen

March 21, 2017

When we think of contemporary kitchens, do you envision crisp, white, light-filled spaces that are simple and streamlined? The fact is, creating a contemporary kitchen is a complex art – one which Mary Liebhold of The Kitchen Specialist has truly mastered. A veteran of her craft, Mary is a Durham kitchen designer who has been designing exceptional kitchens of all styles for decades. Her ability, however, to streamline function and add depth, detail and interest to contemporary spaces has made her a sought after expert on this style of kitchen. Mary filled North Carolina Design in on the layered details of today’s contemporary kitchens.

Images Courtesy of The Kitchen Specialist ©

Contemporary kitchens have clean lines,” Mary says. “They’re more linear in general. They tend to have minimal moulding and trim – you won’t see three piece crown moulding or curved corners. That doesn’t mean they can’t be detailed and nuanced. When it comes to cabinets, for example, contemporary doesn’t always mean a flat slab – it could just mean an elegantly detailed flat panel”

Mary notes that contemporary design has evolved along with technology. “We’re not bound by natural materials anymore. We can create an innovative look with glass, leather, porcelain, or laminate. Laminate isn’t bound by nature; you can have very linear grains with horizontal or vertical lines. You can have a beautiful high-gloss laminate that adds elegance and shine. There are a lot of possibilities – laminate has dramatically improved in terms of quality, style, pattern, and color. This is not your mother’s Formica.”

Contemporary kitchens by nature tend to emphasize the functionality of the workspace. However, a shift in lifestyles has changed the focus of homeowners. “We live in the kitchen space now,” Mary reflects. “We have gone back to a communal way of preparing meals – you have family helping, friends helping. The kitchen has become a place to gather and be together. So, rather than being a utilitarian space that we try to make more comfortable, it’s a comfortable living space that just happens to be functional.”

A focus on livability, combined with a preference for open kitchens that flow into other spaces, drives today’s contemporary kitchen designs. “The kitchen has more of a furniture feel,” Mary explains. “You’re also looking at the living area and the kitchen area as a whole. So you’re thinking about tying together furniture, accessories and artwork. You’re balancing a kitchen island with a living room sofa. You’re choosing a color palette that refers to colors in the house – just maybe in a deeper shade or a lighter shade.”

A bolder use of color is gaining popularity in contemporary kitchens. “Honestly, there is no limit on what you can do with color, as long as you keep things balanced. A lot of people play it safer than they need to. But, happily, people are becoming more adventurous with color. They’ll add in color with artwork, or dishes, or they’ll use a bold color on the wall. Or they’ll add color just to the island, but that color will complement a chair in a different room.”

The variety of materials, colors and selections used in contemporary kitchens dispels some existing perceptions about their potential. “Contemporary doesn’t have to mean boring,” Mary affirms. “Also, some people see clean lines as sterile, but they can actually be very soothing. A cleaner, simpler space can give you breathing room. You’re free to add artwork, without fear of making the space too busy. You can make the view out the window a focus of the room and use nature to add color to the space.”

“There’s also a sense of livability. There’s a high priority on function, streamlining, and minimizing unused or unnecessary gadgets. Having a streamlined space, where things are placed exactly where you need them, can give you a real sense of calm and comfort. And you aren’t in any way sacrificing style. Done well, a contemporary kitchen can be a cozy space with a great deal of interest and beauty.”

Mary Liebhold is the founder of The Kitchen Specialist, and has been the principal designer for more than 25 years. Recently,  Leigh and Mehul Patel became the new owners of the Durham kitchen boutique. Along with Mary, Leigh and Mehul, the entire team of talented designers at The Kitchen Specialist continues to delight the culinary sensibilities of homeowners across North Carolina.

Creating The Bed Of Your Dreams – The Haven Where Sleep Is Deliciously Inviting

March 8, 2017

Few furniture pieces are as important as the bed. After all, it’s our beds that reward us with comfort and warmth at the end of each long day. We’d all like to have a dream bed – one that feels like a warm hug, but also looks tasteful and beautiful. To find out how to achieve this lofty goal, we talked to Debbie Huffman, owner of celebrated fine linen store Dolce Dimora in Greensboro. Debbie has been helping people craft the bed of their dream beds for years, and she gave North Carolina Design her best advice.

Images Courtesy of Dolce Dimora ©

“The average person will spend about one third of their lives in bed,” Debbie reflects. “Your bed should be a haven. Rest and relaxation are important to your health, so it should be as welcoming and comfortable as possible. When it comes to aesthetics, the bed is the centerpiece of the bedroom. It weights the room. It sets the mood, and acts as a launching pad for the rest of the design.

Debbie always prefers to start with the sheets. “A lot of people want to start with what looks good – with the outer layers. But I truly believe that being comfortable is the most important thing. And when you crawl into that bed, those sheets are going to be what’s next to your body, touching your skin. The first thing you have to think about is the feel. You have two choices: sateen, which is very smooth, and percale, which is crisp and light.

“After the feel, you need to think about the fiber. Unfortunately, people get very hung up on thread count, when it’s actually the quality of the cotton that makes the difference. The longer and finer the fiber, the higher the quality, and the better the sheet. The ply of the thread and the way the sheets are woven also make a difference. We have 300 thread count sheets that feel like 1000 thread count sheets, just because they have a thicker ply and a tighter weave.”

Once the sheets are chosen, it’s time to pull the rest of the bed together, keeping aesthetics and warmth in mind. “You’re going to top your bed with either a coverlet, a mattelasse, or a quilt,” Debbie explains. “Then, you’re typically going to have a duvet that you fold at the foot of the bed, which adds texture, color, and extra warmth. Then you have the pillows – first the Euroshams, then the sleeping pillows, and then the accent pillows, which act as accessories.”

There are several popular ways to create a bed. “People still love classic white sheets, and ivory sheets,” Debbie reflects. “A lot of people still monogram their bedding. But there are some new trends: gray has become very popular, and so has a fresh aqua or sea glass color. We display all kinds of beds here, from very traditional to modern and sassy. We have something for everyone”

Sometimes, when it comes to creating a dream bed, a single style, color, or vendor won’t do. “You can absolutely mix and match,” affirms Debbie. “We do it all the time. You can mix stripes or florals with solids. Or you can mix and match vendors – you might buy a duvet from Home Source, a coverlet from Peacock Alley and a sham from Bella Notte. It’s about finding the exact right items that work together for you.”

To find those items, Debbie asks her clients a lot of questions. “I need to know about the color of the walls, the headboard, their taste, and their lifestyle,” she says. “Some people spend a lot of time in their beds. Other people only use theirs to sleep. It all depends on the individual. Trends come and go, but you really should follow your heart and create your own haven, depending on what feels good, and what sets the right look and mood for your room.”

Spring Has Arrived Early, So We’re Already Thinking About What Is Trending In Outdoor Living Spaces

February 28, 2017

A few weeks back, didn’t the groundhog tell us 6 more weeks of winter? Ha! Since these record temperatures across North Carolina have us thinking about outdoor living spaces, this article seems quite appropriate.

Outdoor living has become more popular, and homeowners are increasingly investing their time and money in creating the perfect respite in the outdoors. Jim Benham, of Benham Builders, a lover of the outdoors himself, builds all over the Carolinas, and has helped homeowners create everything from simple covered terraces to outdoor spaces as large as entire homes, complete with pools, waterfalls, kitchens and numerous outdoor rooms. Jim shared with North Carolina Design how outdoor spaces have changed, and what might be driving those changes.

Images Courtesy of Benham Builders ©

Jim is enthusiastic about the new options and innovations in outdoor living. “In the past, your outdoor space was a ground level patio,” he muses. “It wasn’t connected to anything – it just sat out there, all by itself. It had those painted red picnic tables with no umbrellas, and you grilled sitting down. There has been a tremendous metamorphosis in the sorts of creative things people are doing with their outdoor living spaces. To come from that concrete patio to all of the options we have today is truly exciting.”

Gone, along with the lonely patio, are small outdoor decks and screened-in porches. “Today’s homeowners are looking for covered, but primarily open outdoor spaces where they can grill, sit by the fire, and even enjoy the rain, without worrying about their furniture or appliances,” Jim explains.

More and more, homeowners are looking to make full and complete use of their outdoor living spaces. “They want to fit as many rooms and uses as they can into the space, depending on their budget and square footage,” Jim explains. “Most people would ideally like to have conversation areas, entertainment spaces and private places to relax. But I would say the first priority is creating a cozy spot where they can drink in nature and unwind with a cool drink and some conversation.”

Another priority for homeowners: creating outdoor areas that flow harmoniously with their indoor living spaces. “In the past, you might have had a single door that opened up onto a terrace,” Jim notes. “Now you have large expanses of French doors or sliding doors to create more fluid indoor/outdoor spaces. NanaWall systems and bifold doors are becoming more popular, as they are flush with the existing floor level. Walking outdoors is like walking from room to room in your house.”

Jim doesn’t see the desire for bigger and better outdoor spaces abating anytime soon. “I think outdoor living areas will only get larger, more elaborate and more creative,” he projects. “I see a continuation of opening the indoors to the outdoors, as people seek an unimpeded view and outdoor access that’s not broken up by windows or doors. Eventually mechanical systems will be able to create a heating wall, so that an outdoor space can be used as a year round room.”

Jim gave us his thoughts on what is making outdoor living so popular. “I think the largest driver is the fact that people are finding a new value in their own private outdoor spaces,” he reflects. “They’re not cooping themselves up in air-conditioned houses. They’re out where they can hear birds chirping, frogs croaking and dogs barking in the distance. Rather than joining a country club, homeowners are investing money in their own homes in order to create that special outdoor atmosphere.”

Jim truly enjoys helping homeowners do just that. “Every home and homeowner is different,” he notes. “But in the end it’s all about using exceptional craftsmanship to create an environment where people can’t wait to get home and enjoy their outdoor space.”

A Good Residential Designer Adapts To The Style The Client Prefers – So Each Home Only Whispers Of Who They Are

February 14, 2017

Some residential designers have a passion for a particular home style, and are well known and sought after for their specific expertise. Others take a completely client driven approach. They adapt to any style their client prefers, and the homes they design only whisper of who they are. Barry Wilson, a principal designer at Houck Residential Designers in Winston-Salem has a knack for understanding exactly what his clients want, and deftly handles projects in any style. North Carolina Design asked him how he does it, and he was nice enough to tell us.

Images Courtesy of Houck Residential Designers ©

“To really create something that’s client driven, you have to get in your client’s head,” he begins. “You have to live in their world, and change your thought process to their thought process. In a sense, you have to become the client. The style, the function, and the details of the home all have to be filtered through their lens. People ask me, ‘what’s your favorite house?’ and my answer is always ‘one that works for the clients.’ After all, they’re going to live in it, not me.”

Barry believes there are two key requirements for getting into a client’s head. “First, you have to ask the right questions,” he stresses. “Sometimes this means walking through the house, space by space, asking ‘what do you need in this room?’ Then, if a client says they need an office, what does that mean? To one person an office might mean a 20 by 30 foot room, while to another person, it’s a five-foot desk tucked in somewhere.”

“Second, you have to take your client’s answers, and their wish list, and their pictures, and drill down to find the real purpose behind them. Sometimes it’s obvious, and sometimes it’s not. My clients aren’t going to know how to tell me everything I need to know. They don’t do this for a living; I do. So I do have to read between the lines and draw a lot of conclusions based on my experience.”

Barry also uses his experience and expertise to guide his clients’ decisions. “I am never going to insist that my clients make choices based on the kind of home I want them to have,” he tells us. “What I will do is educate them. They don’t always know about function. They don’t always understand what design aspects they can and can’t manipulate. Something they want may not be structurally feasible, or it might cost more. My job is to give them what they’re looking for, in a way that works.”

“There are a lot of things to consider. You have to think about the function of each space, and its purpose. You also have to think about what’s possible on the property itself, and how far the budget will stretch. If a client has is trying to meet a tight budget but would love to have dining room, I’ll ask: how often will you use a dining room? it is it really necessary, or can we find a better solution?”

Barry is driven by a fundamental desire to help his clients’ visions come alive. But part of his success lies in his inherent ability to see the beauty and value in many different architectural styles. Even his own home is an eclectic mix of traditional furniture pieces and contemporary design elements. “I don’t ever want to be pigeonholed,” he says. “It limits you, especially during a remodel. You don’t know what you’re walking into – it could be a Colonial house, or a modern house, or a complete blank slate.”

“I’ve never thought of myself as someone who’s trying to put a mark on the world. I’m just trying to give my clients what they want, and what makes them happy,” reflects Barry. “But really, it’s win-win. I have a deep curiosity about all architecture. I have every kind of architecture book in my office, and I am always reading and learning. It’s a genuine pleasure for me to work with so many different people, on so many different kinds of homes. It keeps my job fresh and exciting.”

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