Photo from Elysian Home Designs

Photo from Elysian Home Designs
Elysian Home Designs

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Modern or Contemporary Style: Is it the Same?

Webster defines modern as of, relating to or typical of the present or recent times as well as of or relating to advanced style, technique, or technology.  The definition of contemporary, according to Webster is modern, current, or belonging to the same time period.  No wonder that people use these terms interchangeably in terms of design styles.


Modern" design is really short for Modernism.  To explain Modernism, I have to
take you on a brief historical tour, because this style goes back about 60 years:
World War II limited design activity throughout the world, particularly in Europe.  The War ended and our soldiers came home in 1945.  

As the many countries involved in the War recovered from its economic impact, there was a slow return to affluence.  In the United States, financial health stimulated new building in the fifties and sixties to supplement its suspension during the war years.  New businesses required new offices, and the expansion of programs in colleges, hospitals and such created an extensive need for architects, engineers and interior designers. 

Housing developments, usually the work of speculative builders, occupied increasing areas of land in the suburbs fed by networks of highways.  While residential design remained a bit stagnant, and attached to “traditional” style, changes were occurring to change that.  

Eero Saarinen Tulip Table
Many technical improvements led to changes in the nature of interior spaces.  Synthetic resources became available: plastics replaced older, natural materials.  Textiles and carpets using synthetic fibers came into general use.  

Vinyl Floor- whew!
Eero Saarinen Tulip Chair
Vinyl became the flooring rather than “natural” floors made of asphalt or asbestos. Melamine plastic was widely used for furniture, countertops, and accessories such as dishes.  
Plaster gave way to factory- produced boards known as “sheet-rock” or “dry-wall,” for ceilings and walls.  Lighting and air circulation grilles could be integrated into ceiling design. 

Modernism was truly an international movement, with famous designers and architects from Italy, Scandinavian countries, France, Germany, The Netherlands, and Britain joining with the United States.  Check out my blog written July 10, 2012 entitled,  I Love Modern Interiors for some of those designs and names.
Characteristics of Modernism include the use of natural materials such as wood, leather, cotton and linen.  Polished metal, molded plywood and plastic are also important to the mix, however.  Floors were occasionally adorned with area rugs of synthetic & natural blends, but hardwood was more the norm with vinyl being used in kitchens and eating areas.   Furniture, even the upholstered variety uses straight, clean lines and narrow legs raising it off the floor.  Walls are generally white, and the overall look is one of neutrals, with pops of color used only on accessories such as throw pillows.







Contemporary Style

Canadian House Magazine
Contemporary Style is a term that means that you are utilizing the most up-to-date materials, techniques, and concepts.  To an extent, it’s also what is popular at this moment in time.  It can include the user’s preferences when it comes to interior design, so just about any style (or a combination of styles) can be considered Contemporary.  Examples for today’s home designs include:

1.   We can “afford” to have larger windows that ever before because we’ve learned so much about effective insulation.  These windows aren’t always rectilinear in form either: curves can be placed in window design.  We’ve also advanced in the engineering of these shapes to support more weight with less framework.

Univ. of Cincinnati building skylight

2.   Spaces tend to have an open concept design, providing areas within a home, rather than individual rooms.

Green Tea Design 

3.   Lighting is making such amazing strides forward that one can control every light in a home with a control panel, or with an electric eye that communicates with a system so that lights come on and/or go off depending on the amount of sunlight available, or your schedule, or any number of possible options.

4.   Climate within a home, including temperature and humidity can be controlled efficiently and effectively just as lighting is controlled.

5.   Security systems have improved immensely for the home owner.  Forgot to turn off the tea pot on the range?  No worries- you can control that!

6.   Sound (music) or silence can also be controlled room by room or area by area. 

Source: Avenue Calgary Magazine

7.   Window coverings can also control light and privacy with a control panel or a remote. 
Hunter Douglas Window Coverings

8.   Finishes on homes tend to utilize natural elements such as stone and wood, and there’s attention given to details such as moldings and millwork.

Contemporary design, above all supports the umbrella of sustainability in all materials, techniques, and concepts.  As we move forward, Contemporary Design will change as we adapt to our environment and find new means of achieving energy efficiency.  Personally, I can’t wait to see what’s next!  How about you?

Need help in deciding what works best in your interiors? Write back and we’ll “talk” online, or give me a call and we’ll discuss your challenges as well as your design needs and desires. Check out my website, or check out my Pinterest collections for more inspiration.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Bi-cast or Bonded Leather: Is it Real?

I'm re-publishing this article, as it was a favorite and I'm crazy busy having just finished the Seattle Home Show, and have a boat load of new clients.  Learn a little more about bonded or bi-cast leather while I determine my next entry on 3/2.  Enjoy!

I recently had a younger relative ask me what was up with their couch and loveseat.  I took one look and asked, “How old is it?”  Not even three years old.  They scarcely sit in it, as it’s in their formal living room and they mostly reside in their family room/kitchen area of the house.  I had the chore of telling them that their couch isn’t really leather.  It’s made of either bi-cast or bonded “leather” usually made in China and sold throughout the world.  They’re lucky it lasted almost three years before starting to split and peel.
Bi-cast products are manufactured by bonding a thick polyurethane coating to a split-hide leather or composite leather substrate.  This Bi-cast “leather” is considerably lower quality when compared to top grain leather.  It’s basically a man-made synthetic upholstery product. This product doesn’t have the strength or durability associated with natural top grain leather.  The strength of leather comes from the epidermis (outer layer) of the hide.  Bi-cast “leather” is a polyurethane-coated inner layer, so it does not have the strength or durability people normally associate with leather. The polyurethane coating either peels, or the outer material splits and tears in as little as 3 months.

Bonded “leather” is another man-made material composed of 51-98% leather fibers (usually scraps from leather tanneries) fused together with liquid binders (can you say “chemicals”?) to create a look and feel similar to leather at a fraction of the cost. Bonded leather is not durable, and is recommended for use only if the product will be used infrequently. Examples of products most commonly constructed with bonded leather are: bibles, diaries, art books, desk accessories, hymnals, bags, belts, chairs and sofas!!  

I read a great analogy when I researched for this entry: particle board is to hardwood what bi-cast or bonded is to natural leather. Both bi-cast and bonded products initially have the visual aesthetics of expensive, natural top-grain leather, but at substantially less cost; so it appears very attractive to the unsuspecting buyer.  Much like particle board, when the bi-cast or bonded product's integral faults appear, it’s time to replace the furniture (as repair or restoration are not feasible alternatives.)  Bi-cast or bonded upholstered furniture should be considered a throw-away item.  You can’t even sell it on Craigslist- who’d want it?

Bonded leather pub chairs initially look great!
Real leather will improve with age!
So, you don’t have a boat-load to spend, and your furniture has to go through a lot day in and day out.  Maybe your older family members tend to spill their red wine, or your two year old nephew throws food like he’s in a college cafeteria food fight. There are plenty of beautiful and near bullet-proof products out there on the market.  You can find textiles out there that will be durable enough, cleanable enough, or just plain tough enough to last for years to come. 
It takes at least 20 yards of 60” wide fabric to upholster a couch.  That means up to 6 cow hides, according to expert upholsterer Rodney Wisehart.  (No wonder top grain leather couches cost so much!)  Still, you’re dying for that look, you say.  The good news is that even though you might have to re-mortgage the house to make that purchase, it will grow more beautiful, developing a patina and become more supple with age.  It will last so long you can pass it down to your children… or even that nephew when he grows up.

Need help selecting the perfect piece or pieces?  I’m here to help and always have time to assist you!  With your aesthetic and needs in mind, we can find the perfect, quality piece or pieces.  I have resources to which the public doesn’t have access.  Call me, text me, or email me and we’ll set up a meeting.  Would you buy a home without the help of a real estate agent?  Would you diagnose your child’s serious illness without the help of a medical professional?  I can steer you toward products that will meet your needs and make your life better for years to come.  Check my company out at and contact me through that means.
I'd love to know your design (or even just decorating) dilemmas.  I need fodder for my blog- I'd love to hear from you!

Monday, February 16, 2015

Enlightening News on Home Lighting

There’s new information out there on new lighting options for your building or remodel enlightening. It was 134 years ago that the first light bulb was lit by Thomas Edison! There are big and exciting changes coming to the lighting industry. Currently there are just three types of lighting available to us:
  • Incandescent (halogen and Xenon)
  • Flourescent (tube type, compact/CFL, screw base and GU24 base)

  • LEDs 
Incandescent lighting’s biggest problems were energy efficiency and heat generation. Period.

Fluorescent lighting: The worst case scenario is that mercury from the many bulbs of which you and I have improperly disposed are leaching into our water systems. Hmm…I guess we don’t have to worry as much about the mercury found in our tuna when we drinking it daily.

Flourescent lighting’s biggest problem is the disposal of any lamp because of its mercury content, which is approximately 4-5 mg. per bulb. Mercury can cause many problems when inhaled, and can affect our brains, spinal cords, kidneys and livers. Read more at

Also, if you break a fluorescent light bulb, instructions are to immediately open the windows in the room, and exit, shutting the door behind you for at least 15 minutes. Then go in and sweep it up, but do not vacuum as the mercury will then stay in your vacuum cleaner, affecting you continually. Place the pieces into a disposable plastic container and take it to a recycling center. In the Seattle area, Bartell Drugs takes CFLs. Check online for your area’s centers.

LEDs have improved tremendously and are far less expensive than they once were.

The Good News:
There are big and exciting changes coming to the lighting industry. Many of them are so new that their patents are pending, so I'll write about those in a future blog. LEDs have been improved on a regular basis, which is at least the 10th generation of this most exciting development in lighting. These new editions are:
  • Energy efficient
  • Able to last 50,000 hours
  • Small in size as needed
  • Easy to install
  • Used in under cabinet fixtures, interior cabinet fixtures, toe kick / soffit lighting, pendants
  • Able to be combined with angle power strips to avoid unsightly placement on walls/backsplashes.
  • Able to work with dimmers, GFCI, Maestro IR, Maestro RA, Radio RA
  • Able to be used in a damp location in some fixtures

Give me a call if your built/remodel needs include lighting (and it should)- I’d love to illuminate you as to the newest possibilities!  will get you my contact info.


Monday, February 9, 2015

Selecting Kitchen Countertops

Countertops are an important part of the new look in your kitchen, whether it’s one your building from scratch, remodeling, or just giving a face-lift to your home.  It can be a daunting task to select one, even if you know you really want a particular material.  I’ve selected a few about which to write that I’ve used in client’s kitchens that have worked out really well. Read on to learn the one that’s “just right” for you.


My sister watches a lot of HGTV, and says that almost every twenty or thirty-something wants it, and that’s it’s often a deal breaker when they're looking for a new home.  Granite is a very hard stone with a coarse, granular appearance.  Many colors occur naturally, and it’s mined at many places throughout the world, although much of it comes from India, South America, and Europe. You can get it in polished, satin or honed finishes, although the polished variety is by far the most plentiful.

Pros:  Granite holds up well to splashes, knife nicks, heat and other wear and tear that a kitchen gets.  Granite's beautiful variations and veining, and the host of colors and patterns found in nature make each piece one of a kind. It stands up well to splashes, knife nicks, heat and other wear and tear. Granite is a long-lasting, completely natural material.

Cons:  Like most stone finishes, granite must be resealed every 6-12 months to avoid stains.  Cabinet boxes must be sturdy to support its weight, which is daunting.  It can dull knives, so you’ll want to use a cutting board for slicing and chopping.

Cost: $40 to $120 per square foot installed

Solid Surface 

It is composed of acrylic polymer and alumina trihydrate (ATH), a material derived from bauxite ore. Corian is a brand name for the first solid surface material created by E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company (DuPont) in 1964. Today, it's made by a host of manufacturers and has enjoyed steady sandingpopularity over the years. Other brands include CMMA Solid Surface, Livingstone, Avonite, Meganite, Wilsonart, Visioneer, Formica, Mystera, Karadon, and Swanstone.

This nonporous surface is almost maintenance free- no special cleaning or sealing is required.  Scratches and burns can be sanded out with some time and effort.  A seamless installation means that you don’t trap dirt/debris in cracks.  Colors and pattern options are extensive, though it doesn’t begin to approach the look of solid stone.

Cons: Solid surfacing can have a patently artificial look and feel, yet can approach the price of natural stone. As mentioned above, it doesn't stand up to hot pans or sharp knives as well as other materials. After a few years, it can loose it’s sparkle and appear dull, even with professional sanding.

Cost: $35 to $100 per square foot, installed

Quartz (also called Engineered Quartz or Engineered Stone)

Crafted of resin and quartz chips tinted with color, quartz surfacing is an excellent compromise between the beauty of stone and the easy care of solid surfacing. 

Pros: Quartz surfacing has the same advantages as solid surfacing with regard to maintenance. It's available in a large range of colors and patterns. It resists heat, stains and knives all equally as well as granite, plus it has the added benefit of never needing to be sealed. 

Cons: This material doesn't have the natural variegation of granite, so it may be evident that it's an engineered product. It's relatively pricey, although its durability can make it a worthwhile investment. 

Cost: $40 to $90 per square foot, installed


I think marble represents the high-end of glamorous countertops.  It fits beautifully in traditional settings, but can also work with modern styles as long as you let it be the focal point of the room.  Marble is a sparkling white form of limestone known for its beautiful veining that runs through it.  Marble is more delicate, more easily worked stone than others, hence why it was used in sculpture and buildings of ancient times. A calcium carbonite stone is formed when calcium from shells and bones combines with carbon dioxide.

Pros: It’s beauty is completely natural, and is in general long lasting. It stands up to heat well, and because it remains cool, it's a traditional choice for pastry and baking stations because your dough won't get too soft. 

Cons:  Marble must be sealed every year to maintain its water-proof qualities, as it otherwise breaks down when exposed to a wet environment for a length of time. Marble is very susceptible to stains, which can be prevented with sealing.  Etching can occur when it comes into contact with acids, which are in some foods.  For that reason, it's not often used throughout an entire kitchen.

Cost: $50 to $120 per square foot, installed


This countertop has come into its own, offering subtle, nuanced beauty while feeling less ostentatious than granite or marble. They almost all look light gray when first installed, but once they are oiled or waxed the color of the stone ranges from almost black to medium gray to a dark blue-green, most with beautiful creamy veining.

Pros: Soapstone has a natural softness and depth that fits very well with older and cottage-style homes. It is impervious to both heat and chemical or other staining and doesn't need to be sealed like granite. Although it can be scratched, like butcher block it is extremely easy to sand out a scratch and then just put a little oil on it to make it disappear. Soapstone has a matte finish, rather than the shiny, polished finish of most granites.

Cons:  It comes in an extremely limited range of colors. Soapstone needs polishing with oil to keep it in top shape. It can crack over time, and it can't handle knife scratches and nicks as well as some other types of stone. The natural roughness of its surface can scuff glassware and china. 

Cost: $70 to $100 per square foot, installed

Butcher Block

Butcher block has a classic appeal and always looks warm and welcoming.  Many homeowners like butcher block's natural appearance and variegated wood tones.

Pros: Although knives scratch it, many people like the look it develops — after all, it's what chopping blocks have been made of for years. But you can also sand scratches down with ease. There is good data out there demonstrating anti-bacterial properties of wood surfaces.  If you're cutting chicken on them, then you should disinfect, but generally it's not a concern. NSF certifies wood counters, and when was the last time you went into a butcher shop that didn't have wooden blocks?

Cons: Wood can swell and contract with moisture exposure, and butcher block is no exception. Oiling is a must to fill in scratches and protect the surface.

Cost: $35 to $70 per square foot, installed

Stainless Steel

In the past two decades, stainless steel countertops have become as popular in home kitchens as they have been in commercial ones.  Custom fit to your home’s dimensions, they guarantee a clean contemporary look.

Pros: Stainless steel is nearly indestructible, and it resists heat and bacteria. It also provides a very distinctive look that feels appropriate in contemporary and industrial-style kitchens. 

Cons: Fingerprints show and must be wiped off frequently, and stainless steel can also dent. It can be loud as pots, pans and dishes can clang against the surface. Chemicals can affect its color and cause unwanted etching. Stainless steel is expensive due to the custom fabrication.

Cost: $75 to $125 per square foot, installed

In conclusion:

Do you have a countertop you love?  We'd love to hear from you.  Send us a picture of your countertop and let us know how happy you are (or aren’t) with it.  Want to know about Paperstone or Glass or other types of countertop I didn’t mention?  Write back and I’ll do more research on these.  If you need help selecting a countertop or a whole kitchen’s worth of designs and products, please check out my website, and give us a call or send me an email/text.  We’d love to hear from you!

Monday, February 2, 2015

Predictions for Zodiac Animals in 2015

This week, in this final entry in my Mini-Series on the Chinese Zodiac, I share predictions for each of the animals during the Year of the Wood Ram/Goat/Sheep, which begins on February 19, 2015. Two weeks ago I talked about the twelve animals in the Chinese Zodiac and shared not only the legend of how they came to be, but the birthdates each animal represents. 
If you haven't checked yours out, look back to the January 19 entry and find your Zodiac animal. Look up the birthdates of those closest to you, too. You'll probably see some characteristics that you (& your loved ones) have in common with these animals.
On January 26, I shared personality characteristics of each of the twelve Chinese Zodiac animals. Note which famous figures match with the various Chinese Zodiac animals. Try to let go of your Western prejudices (e.g.: that pigs are lazy/sloppy, or that snakes are scary creatures) and read through each animal's characteristics if you haven’t previously done so.
Okay, below are the predictions for each of the twelve animals.

Predictions for the Rat in the Year of the Wood Goat:
Although this is a confrontational year, called the “Tai Sway*,” your fortune will be stable and you’ll have helpful people assist you during the year.  Be careful about untrustworthy people who pretend to be your friend.  To raise your good fortune, try to attend functions that lift your spirits.  Rather than gambling or playing the stock market, this is a good year to buy art, antiques or jewelry, which hold their value and may appreciate over the years.  If your luck was good last year (The Year of the Wood Horse) then it will probably continue.  If it wasn’t, then you probably had many changes during the year.  This year will feel like you’re starting over, and is a great time to take on new projects, ventures or plans.  Learn to be flexible and adapt to whatever situation life presents during this year, and you will come out with a good year. 
*This is because the Rat and the Goat have very different personalities and viewpoints about life.

Predictions for the Ox in the Year of the Wood Goat:
This year, the Ox is in direct conflict with the Ram, and although all seems to be bad in terms of your fortune, try to conserve your energy and fit in with the crowd this year.  Although this will be a challenging year both physically and intellectually, if you experience a marriage, child birth, or buy property during the year, your luck can improve dramatically.  If you can’t foresee any of these three occurrences, then buy new furniture or at least rearrange the furniture you already own to improve the feng shui of your home and/or business.  Rather than keeping a lot of cash around, it’s better to invest it in a valuable asset, such as art or antiques.  You will have some support in your career, but be conservative in your outlay of funds at this time.  Stay humble and help others with many good deeds.
Predictions for the Tiger in the Year of the Wood Goat:
The Tiger’s fortune will flow smoothly during the Year of the Ram.  You will have helpful people assist you, and your career will improve.  If you’re single, there is good luck coming in the form of a partner, but if you’re already involved in a committed relationship, be wary of opportunities to stray.  Use moderation in social opportunities that can encourage you to eat or drink excessively.  Your health will remain stable as long as you balance your behaviors. You may want to adjust what you say around friends and colleagues, and take a “less is more” attitude.
Predictions for the Rabbit in the Year of the Wood Goat:
This year, the Rabbit will experience good fortune, prosperity and longevity.  Career opportunities will provide ample income and more clients or customers than ever before. Your health should remain strong through the year. Helpful people will assist you in your endeavors. Exercise caution when in the presence of impulsive and domineering women.  This is not the year to get involved with a new romance.  Married couples should resist involvement with a third party who would like to break up the partnership if they get a foot in the door.


Predictions for the Dragon in the Year of the Wood Goat:
The Dragon may face direct conflict during the Year of the Ram, so fortune may fluctuate throughout the year.  Increase your effort during the year and act with caution.  Rather than putting your money in one place, diversify your investments.  Be especially careful in participating in sports, or if you are in a career that involves physical skill, as you may be more easily distracted, causing yourself injury.  Take time to get any family members experiencing health challenges a check up before the Year of the Ram begins.   Help others through charitable work to make the year progress more smoothly.  You will find helpful people to provide support.


Predictions for the Snake in the Year of the Wood Goat:
Those born under the sign of the Snake will enjoy a stable year.  Look for people born under the sign of the Horse to assist you in your career.  Go out and find opportunities to advance yourself, rather than sitting back and waiting for them to come to you.  Attend as many celebratory events as possible: weddings, parties, christenings, and holiday gatherings. Plan your schedule with the unexpected in mind.  This is a year to be very careful, or your could experience injury, illness, or unexpected financial losses.


Predictions for the Horse in the Year of the Wood Goat:
Since you are best friends with the Ram, you’ll be blessed with good luck, prosperity and happiness.  Your career, finances, partnership, and home life will all be excellent this year. Although you may experience major changes in your life, know that things will improve as the year progresses.  Pressure from work will be significant, so take care of yourself.  Should there be any persistent illness, seek medical advice from a variety of sources.
Predictions for the Ram/Goat/Sheep in the Year of the Wood Goat:
You are sitting in the seat of the “Tai Sui” (the year god) so tradition says that the year will be filled with one challenge after another.  However, this year you will have a better year than is normally expected.  Be cautious, however of unexpected obstacles.  Proceed with caution in any project or endeavor.  You may experience a series of illnesses, so seek medical attention immediately for these. Rams will enjoy success in academic pursuits.
Predictions for the Monkey in the Year of the Wood Goat:
Good fortune is on your side this year.  You will have helpful people in all parts of your life, and people will treat you with more respect than ever before.  There could be financial difficulties early in the year, but things sill straighten themselves out as the year progresses.  The one place where you should exercise caution is in relationships: be careful about arguments and hold your tongue. Do a good deed daily.  This could be the happiest year you’ve ever experienced!

Predictions for the Rooster in the Year of the Wood Goat:
This will be a more challenging year for those born under the sign of the Rooster.  Your luck will be unstable, as will your career.  The latter part of the year will be better than the first half.  Pay particular attention to your home and its feng shui.  Be particularly kind to animals: acts of kindness are particularly important for your good fortune.  Remain calm and handle matters carefully and thoughtfully.

Predictions for the Dog in the Year of the Wood Goat:
Prepare yourself for challenges this year, and pay particular attention to your health, as well as the health of those in your household.  You should receive help from females in your circle. You will need to expect challenges regarding your health, personal relationships, and the feng shui of your home.  Good fortune will come to you if you do good deeds daily and treat others with caring and respect.
Predictions for the Pig in the Year of the Wood Goat:
This is a year when accomplishments will occur easily, and you will have good fortune in almost everything you do.  Although a promotion is indicated this year, you may lack the finances and helpful people, so you will have to be self-motivated and proactive in your endeavors in order to get ahead. Your only weakness is your health, so take care of yourself.  Because your career will flourish, don’t neglect your family and home.

In conclusion:
Using the Chinese Zodiac is one way in which you can utilize feng shui, but there are many other aspects. Feng shui, translated, means wind and water. Throughout its 5,000 year history, the guiding principle remains the same: the pursuit of the most advantageous and harmonious place to live and work.  Your environment shapes you whether you’re conscious of its outcome or not.  One trusted resource that I often use for feng shui advice and adjustments is http://fengshuishopper.comand you might consider taking a look at material provided there for further information.

If you would like to have assistance at improving the feng shui in your home, business or both, please check out my website,
where you can contact me directly.  Now, the beginning of the new year, is a great time to improve your life by improving your environment.


(May everything go as you wish!)