Share, Don't Scare

The two story, suburban household with a white-picket fence. We all know of that classic, idyllic trope.  But I am of the opinion that we should move past one certain part of that ideal— and that is the exclusivity of what a fence implies. A fence has always implied security and safety, something we all value in our place of residence.  But it also seals our homes off, shuts us out from the outside world sans any interactivity or recognition that we are part of a larger community.  I was recently blessed with clients brave enough to challenge the norm, and the opportunity to do so.  While helping my clients with the interior design for their new home, I was asked to be their landscape designer as well.  Faced the challenge of integrating modern architecture in a prime neighborhood, instead of a traditional fence, my clients and I arrive to the concept for a community bench.  We later laid out plans for two long concrete benches along the side walk where a fence or a hedge traditionally would be. We painted the body of the structure with a warm, earthy taupe, and lined the top with hard, dark brown, epi wood planks. Finally, we embedded small, unobtrusive LED lights along the length to light the pathways during the evenings for the benefit of our night owl neighbors. The style of the community bench is closely integrated with the existing style of the home, welcoming friendly neighbors to sit down, and rest their weary feet, while clearly setting the boundaries of the property. 

How many times have we been walking, and wished we could quickly tie our loosened shoestrings? Or to comfort a crying baby, or to sit down a bit to catch our breath and enjoy our beautiful city? The idea is instead of fencing ourselves in with high pricket fence, we made the border to be a community bench. While the structure can still define our lot, we do our part to interact with the world around us, instead of sequestering ourselves within our homes. Instead of a moat, we have a bridge. Instead of a wall, we have an open invitation.  And instead of a fence to scare, we have a bench— to share.

Aging In Place and In Style With Universal Design

June is a month of many exciting beginnings. As flocks of graduation caps fly into the sky, brides and grooms join hands to start a new life, and we look to a warm summer ahead, many of us who have seen their fair share of life start thinking about how to plan the coming chapters.

Whether you are inclined to remain in your current home and simply remodel, or have recently purchased a new home, you may want to incorporate what is called Universal Design to your renovation plan. Universal Design is a commitment to accommodate all physical, sensory and psychological abilities and limitations. Universal Design is not perceived as only for the old. It allows you to prepare your home in style for flexibility in the coming years. Think of it as for after a long day of tennis, ,a hot, sunny eighteen holes of golf, or when you feel too beat to bother climbing up the stairs. Flexibility is preparation for the unknown, and Universal Design is the architectural philosophy you need to stretch out and make the most of your golden years.

Universal Design not only allows you the potential of aging in place and in style, but will also help with resale value. As more Baby Boomers approach and enter their later years, the quality of living space becomes more crucial in their decision-making. We are looking at a new “sliver” generation that has redefined every stage of their lives; they are engaged, passionate, and always active. They demand homes that not only look stylish, but can also be flexible to face challenges of mobility, vision and other age related issues later.

With that in mind, here are some tips to fuel these broad ideas.

Attached/Detached “Granny units”

Check with your city for regulations on putting a “granny unit” in the backyard or on expanding your home by adding a Universal Design unit on the ground floor of the current home. The main house can be rented out or offered to the younger generations while you stay in the far more comfortable Universal-Designed unit.

Open Floor Plans and Framing

The stylish trend of the open floor plan and “less is more” concepts not only offer more space and integration of everyday living, but can also be adapted when life challenges us with mobility or age-related barriers.

Even if you choose not to follow a Universal Design, it is a good investment to place additional studs and backings while remodeling to allow for some future Universal Design features. After all, you can never have too many options.

Natural and LED light

Natural lighting has been touted for its many aesthetic and health benefits. It increases productivity and comfort, as well as provides healthy mental and visual stimulation.

Installing skylights and adding windows let the light shine in. Depending on the orientation of the openings, some can provide warmth to the home. Where you cannot bring in natural light, new LED task lights, combined with CFL ambient lighting, provide the extra light that helps prevent accidents and falls while saving lots of energy.

Kitchen and Laundry

Proximity and accessibility are two major elements for some daily chores. Hands-free touch or sensor controlled faucets, induction cooktops, roll-out shelves and front-loading washers and dryers make everyday life chores easier on everyone. That is a Universal Design you would want at any age.


The hottest 2014 bathroom trends include control systems to pre-set water pressure and temperature, stylish walk-in tubs and handgrips, wall-mounted toilets that allow adjustment for height, and door-less and curb-less showers. All these trendy and stylish designs not only add value to your home, but also add accessibility that make it part of Universal Design.


Keep paths as level or as gently inclined as possible. Outdoor kitchen and lighting in the landscape can also be designed to incorporate universal design. Downsizing to smaller yards with lower maintenance requirements can also help with our current water shortage crisis.

Many things grow better with age—cheese, wine, and so too with life. But like all walks of life, it needs to be planned and prepared for the best result.. From good design is born great value, and a little planning can go a long way. As such, the home that you will live in to enjoy your later years should be your first priority. Perhaps soon we will see a new kind of generation of our older, wiser men and women, whose independence and quality of life has only risen with their years, zipping about in convertibles and living the universal life.

How to Furnish a Great Room

A Great room is a hot new trend in combining multiple functions of other more traditional rooms, such as the family room, the living room, and even the kitchen to one big room. The advantage is openness and flexibility for entertaining and daily family life, but they can be a challenge to furnish.  Here are some key principles to keep in mind:

Furniture defines the functionality of a space

Furniture frames out the activity in that area. For example, for a Great room with a TV in it, decide where you want your TV to be, and then frame it out by placing the side of the sectional facing the TV to define the space. Add a rug underneath to box-in all sides and complete the look.

Reinforce with light fixture

Place a pendant light to define where the dining area is going to be; add floor lamps to host an area that requires more light, like family seating areas or reading nooks.

Virtual Flow

After you decide where all the pieces are going to be, make sure you do a virtual flow run. Tape out the area and/ or put cardboard boxes to simulate furniture and do a test run to see if your daily activities flow the way you want.

Be creative and follow your instincts and most of all, enjoy it! 

A Bright Idea In the Sky

Lighting in a house is quintessential in home buying.  In this competitive seller’s market, buyers can’t always find the ideal home with the lighting they dream of.  Luckily, with today’s technology, home owners are able to bring in more light via different types of renovations.  Adding skylights is the most common and easy way to shower your lifestyle with natural light.  New types of glazing and accessories such as built-in sunshades minimize heat problems.  Factory-supplied flashing also dramatically reduces the risk of leaks.  Venting skylights allows air to flow in and out and can also serve as an emergency exit.   Forget to close a skylight?  Some skylights close automatically at the first drop of rain.  As for the orientations, east-facing skylights bring in the morning glory, west-facing ones invite afternoon warmth, those that are north-facing distribute even light while south-facing ones generate the most heat.  Therefore, a built-in shade is recommended for south facing orientations.  In some places where you cannot install a conventional skylight, a tubular skylight is a great alternative. Electrical bulbs and LED lights can also be installed in the tube to serve as a light fixture at night.  Next time, when you are out hunting for a house, no need to be intimidated by a dark room.  Think bright!  Let the sky bring in fresh air, abundant light, and most of all, a cheerful joy to your home.

Green = Green

Summer is almost here, and this week’s spring rain is too little, too late.  As most know, nearly all of California is in a drought.  San Joaquin farmers must drill over 1,200 feet to tap into underground water, and California is in a mild state of panic.  Shortages of water, energy, and other resources invariably impact our way of living.  Therefore, facing this water shortage, practicing water conservation in homes is essential.  Residents must constantly work hard to address these issues by being green conscious, including changing the way they live and consuming resources in our living spaces.  The silver lining is, with the advanced materials and today’s government incentives, being green conscious has never been easier and can bring in the big bucks.

Going green does not have to be drastic.  Sustainable living can be achieved in different scales.  Some take on massive projects like having a pre-fabricated home.  Many others take a more moderate approach by remodeling strategically to improve energy efficiency.  Even if someone does not have a large budget to go green, they can do smaller improvements like changing light bulbs to reduce energy bills or shop for materials that do not require long distance shipping.

Prefabricated Homes

Instead of suffering through the weather and building a home on site, prefab houses, built off-site and then shipped to the site, are designed to create an energy efficient and healthier living environment for a family.  Innovative designs reduce electricity through an energy-efficient envelope and efficient lighting and appliances throughout the house.  Prefabs are not two-room, identical cottages without indoor plumbing anymore, some are thousands of square feet and have a selection of different styles to choose.  These fabulous prefab houses are climate controlled, greener and energy-efficient, and healthier to live in than a typical home.  Prefab homes also have less turn-around time, which means rental costs are reduced while waiting for a dream home to be built.

Salvaging Materials from Original Homes

There are also ways to go green when building a non-prefab dream home.  Not only can some of the building materials be sold before the original home is torn down, but owners can also incorporate the salvaged materials into the construction or renovation of their home.  Salvaging building materials and reusing them saves energy, as well as reduces greenhouse gas emissions by minimizing the need to harvest raw materials and ship materials long distances.  The beauty is while protecting the economic and environmental impact of our waste management, owners save lots of money in disposal fees as well as recoup funds from reselling the unwanted building materials. Smart

Building Design & Material Choices

Some may want to remodel and be impressively passive.  With improved insulation materials and energy saving appliances, your home can be incredibly efficient using smart passive designs.  New solar panels are getting more affordable and economical, and with enough electricity generated, owners can even become energy independent and obtain credits from local utilities companies.  Passive solar designs do not always need to be photovoltaic cells either.  Smart building design can use the sun’s heat energy and its predictable movements through the seasons to heat a home by placing large windows on the south-facing side to absorb energy in the winter and shade the house in the summer.

There are even things one can do to green a home, such as making smarter material choices.  Small items like furniture, furnishing, flooring and window coverings painted with low or no VOC paint, and other goods all contribute to the health and sustainability of your home.  Owners should focus on rebate-approved brands and styles for appliances.  They may also change out light bulbs to more energy efficient LED lights, as well as install whole-house, intelligent lighting systems.  They allow one to shut off all lights with one single push of a button or control them remotely using a smart phone.  Owners also can pay less by downsizing their garbage can coupled with more recycling.  They should also try to save on their soon-to-be expensive water bills by growing drought resistant plants. 

There are so many ways to save money while simultaneously saving the environment - a win-win situation.  Going green is profitable for owners and highly beneficial to the beautiful state we live in.  Green equals Green.  If going green is the future, making a home green is certainly a rewarding investment.  California citizens can face this drought by being their own rainmaker.  Raining dollar bills, that is.