Thursday, December 2, 2010

Setting up The Perfect Guest Room

It's the time of year when guest rooms tend to get the most use. (Unless of course you live ocean front, in which case I suspect company comes calling during the summer.) Guest rooms can tend to be somewhat forgotten spaces, particularly if they are not called upon to serve some other function when they aren't being used by visitors. Over the years of playing both guest and host, I've come up with a few tips to make guests feel right at home.

1. Invest in quality bedding. A good set of high-thread count sheets is essential. Thanks to stores like TJ Maxx, Tuesday Morning, and Marshall's, great sheets and bedding can be had at minimal cost. Have a variety of pillows. Some people (like myself) prefer a stack of big, fluffy ones, while others (like my better half) are only comfortable on flatter pillows. Have an extra blanket on hand in the closet for people who are more cold natured.

2. Give guests access to a well-stocked bathroom. Of course, ideally, each guest room should have a private bath, but that's a luxury few of us can afford. However, having  a stack of good towels and washcloths, a variety of personal hygiene items (I keep a stash of hotel-sized products on hand), a hairdryer, extra toilet tissue, and a handful of unused toothbrushes, razors, and the like, will make your guest's stay all the more pleasant.

3. Guests won't typically need much closet space, but do free up an area where they can hang a few days worth of clothing. (A set of nice wood hangers is a good touch.) A small ironing board and iron in the closet will allow them to touch up their clothes without having to hunt down your laundry room in their robe.

4. One thing I try to do is to give the guest room a personal touch in some way. I frequently swap around my framed photos when guests come--placing a photo from your previous visit together, an old family picture, etc. will make them feel at home. New magazines on a topic you know they enjoy is another good idea.

5. Setting up a small "goody basket" for your guests is another thoughtful idea. An early-rising guest or one who yearns for a midnight snack may not want to head for the kitchen when the rest of the house is asleep--so a few bottles of water, some fresh fruit, or cookies will make them feel at home.

6. Install good drapes or blinds that will control the light. It won't matter  how comfortable the bed is if the sun wakes them up too early!

7. If your guests will be on their own at all, a list of local "must-sees", recommended restaurants, and other activities they may want to do on their own will be helpful. All the better if you have a portable GPS device they can use to help them find them!

8. Consider typing up a "how-to" list that you can keep in a guest room nightstand. This might include instructions on how to access your home's wi-fi network (all the better if you have an old laptop or a "netbook" they can use to keep up with emails, etc. while they visit), how to work the television, etc.

9. Having an alarm clock, a few books (short stories are great!), and even a couple of nice robes for company is a great way to make sure their stay is a memorable one.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Small Space Living

The question of how much space do we really need has been on my mind lately. (Not "we" in a personal sense, but the collective "we".) Over my lifespan, the average American house has nearly doubled in size while the number of people occupying it has decreased. My grandparents raised four children in a house that would almost fit in my current master suite. Homes that might have been luxurious 30 years ago now "lack" adequate closet space, bathroom space, and kitchen space.

Even thinking of my own homes, I could live quite comfortably with less.  We have three guest rooms that are unlikely to ever be filled at the same time, a formal dining room that has been used, literally, twice, a morning room that I don't think I've ever sat down for a meal in. The first house I ever owned, though smaller, also had a guest room that was used a handful of times a year (and never by guests who would have been put out to sleep on a pull-out sofa) and a dining room used just as often.

Several times, I've put pen to paper (or mouse to autoCAD) trying to design a space that does exactly what it needs to do, and does it well, but no more. I'm not alone. Professionally, more and more clients are seeking quality versus quantity in their spaces. Part of this change has been driven by the challenging economy of the past few years. But, more than that, I think it's a desire for more intimate spaces, homes that are easier to keep, places where the owner can just enjoy being "home" and not spend all their time cleaning and maintaining spaces they don't need.

There are some extreme examples. CNN recently featured the story of a Japanese house that was built on a plot of land that had been sold as a parking space! There are a number of companies that specialize in tiny homes--some as small as 100 square feet.

For my own exercise, I designed a house that would suit a single person, or perhaps a couple. At just 680 square feet, it's one of the smallest houses I've ever designed. It's fully functional in a footprint scarcely larger than a two-car garage. A fully equipped kitchen (no designated dining area, but the island serves a dual function for prep and dining), a single bath, space for linens and laundry, and a comfortable bedroom with a generous closet. A wall of built-ins in the bedroom allows it to double as a home office. Vaulted ceilings in the main spaces make the house feel larger than it is, and a fireplace flanked by built-ins brings a level of detail to the great room.

Floor Plan

The exterior is a low-maintenance mix of stucco and stone under a standing seam metal roof. Large expanses of glass are seperated by stone piers inside and out, filling the house with light and capturing views.


Monday, November 15, 2010

Today's Find: Pottery Barn Coral Prints

What a great find from Pottery Barn today--a set of five coral prints! Unbelievably priced at $29.99, I had to get them. I've no idea where they will find a home, but I just couldn't pass them up.

They'll make a great little group somewhere!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

On The Market

One of my "hobbies" (read: time-killing strategies) is browsing real estate listings. I typically restrain myself to areas that I have actually lived in, but not always. This morning, while looking through some listings near where I grew up, I came across a house that I had the opportunity to work on as a college intern. My "work" on the house was no more involved than spray painting some temporary window hardware so that the house could be presentable for a party the client was throwing. There was a backorder on some finials or holdbacks, so we made a quick fix for them by spray painting similar items from a discount store. We had to stuff the correct rods with newspaper and bind the finials to them with rubber bands, but the "fix" looked fairly good.

The house always stood out in my mind because it was unusual. Set on a small lot in the South Hills of Charleston, WV, the exterior would have been right at home as a townhouse in a large city. Three floors above grade, and a tall, symmetrical facade.
The main floor was home to the kitchen, formal dining, and perhaps some laundry and utility spaces. I remember thinking at the time that the owners must not be much for cooking, because the kitchen was small and ancient (though well-kept.) That space has obviously been renovated in the years since I was last in the house. I love the black and white stripes they've done in the room:

The second floor was home to a large formal living room that spanned the depth of the house, and if memory serves, the master suite. The third floor housed the family bedrooms. I was delighted to see that the drapes I helped install over a decade ago are still there, and while I notice a few changes in the room, the space is much as it was then, and still has a timeless Dorothy Draper-esque quality to it.

I presume the correct hardware is now holding up those red silk panels.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

A Tudor Flavored Cottage

Here's a Tudor flavored cottage style house clad in stone and brick, with half-timber gable accents and diamond paned windows. While the exterior recalls another era, the interior is updated to reflect how we live today.

A small foyer is flanked by a library with built in bookshelves and the great room. The great room ceiling is vaulted with wooden beams and a cast stone fireplace. While the kitchen and dining room are open to the great room, the different ceiling treatments in each room allow each of them to have it’s own identity. The dining room is anchored by built in china cabinets. A small screened porch opens off of the spaces, and the kitchen opens to the rear yard. (Which I envision as being a walled courtyard with a small pool).
Connecting back to the garage are a hallway lined with built ins, stairs to the second level, and laundry and powder rooms. The remainder of the first floor is home to the master suite–a comfortably sized bedroom with vaulted ceiling, a pair of walk in closets, and a bathroom with walk in multi-head shower. The bedroom accesses a private patio with an outdoor shower.

Upstairs, there is a flexible bonus space. It could be a playroom for the kids, a casual room for watching television, or a home office. Over the garage, a small but functional guest suite, and on the other end of the bonus room, another bedroom and bath. The remainder of the second floor is given over for attic storage or future expansion, bringing the whole house to a comfortable 2700 square feet.

If you're interested in this plan, please contact us!

Friday, October 8, 2010

Floating Homes

The Neiman-Marcus Christmas book has been released. I look forward to seeing this every year, particularly the fantasy gifts, which always include a selection of limited edition cars, exotic trips, and expensive baubles quite out of my budgetary reach. The most expensive item on this year's list is a custom installation by Dale Chihuly--for $1.5 million the legendary glass artist will do an installation at the bottom of your pool. Now, much as I would love to have a Chihuly piece, the fantasy gift that has most captured my attention is available at the relative bargain price of only $250,000. That price will get the lucky buyer a Metroship Luxury Houseboat--a floating retreat whose list of amenities reads like the real estate listing for a luxury condo:

"Open and airy during the day with waterproof hardwood floors and double-glazed windows, at night it truly glows with sophistication thanks to maintenance-free translucent thermal aluminum walls. Inside, it's all about the two of you. Set the remote-control central air conditioning and heating, and put on some music. The living area includes a next-generation media center with Bang & Olufsen stereo, high-definition projector, Nintendo® WiiTM gaming console, and Sony® LCD flat-screen monitor for movies, computer, gaming, and Internet projection. Grab a bottle of wine from the gourmet kitchen island. It features handmade cabinets, a Viking® refrigerator/freezer and dishwasher, and GaggenauTM in-cabinet oven and cooktop.
Slip into something more comfortable in the spa bathroom with an Italian curved-glass vanity, touch-free faucet, and Kohler® frameless full-size shower. The high-capacity tankless water heater and LG steam washer/dryer come in handy–as does the roomy master suite with a luxury W Hotel bed."

(photos courtesy of Metro Ship)

A perfect getaway home! Of course, I have a long fascination with houseboats. The idea of living in such a small and efficient space took root when I was in college and had to design a houseboat for full-time living. As I recall, my fictional client had a frequent guest who used a wheelchair, and thus the houseboat needed to be accessible. It was the professor's clever way of having us work an accessible space into the smallest footprint possible. My solution, a two story affair with a small elevator, managed to squeeze two bedrooms, a small home office, and the usual kitchen and living areas into a small, but very functional package:
(my collegiate attempt at a houseboat design)

Seattle, Washington, is home to one of the largest communities of houseboats. The homes there range from small, quirky, shanties to multi-million dollar floating penthouses. The first houseboats in Seattle were constructed as temporary lodging for logging camp workers, and the community evolved to include getaways for the wealthy as well as permanent homes for those who made their living from the water. (a more in-depth history of Seattle's houseboats can be found at The Floating Home Association Website). These homes, made famous in the movie Sleepless in Seattle, have gone from being considered nuisance slums to being some of the most coveted residences in town.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


When I truly love something, I tend to like it just as much five, even ten or twenty, years later as I did when I first obtained it. But as I've moved between homes, or felt the need to give rooms some new life, my treasured things have found themselves repurposed, regrouped, and reused. Of course, such repurposing makes economic sense, but it's amazing how an item can feel casual in one setting and formal in another, fresh and modern in one space and familiar and traditional in another.

Take the things I've pulled together for one of my guest rooms. The accent pillows, a tan and black toile that reverse to a matching stripe, were originally made for the living room of a small townhouse I rented years ago. The larger of the two pillows were, for a time, slipcovered in denim for the sofa in the study of my last house, but then sat unused in a closet for years.

The drapes for this room are repurposed many times over. They were originally paired with a floral valance and roman shades- custom made for a friend's living room. She gifted the panels to me when she redecorated, and they hung in my old dining room for over a year. When I had new drapes made for that room, these moved to a guest room. At one time, the large tassels I will use to accent these panels were used to tie together guest towels.

The coverlet, a housewarming gift when I bought my first home, is Ralph Lauren--the quilted tan fabric and black edge detail pair up very nicely with just about any style. In my old guest room, I had this coverlet paired with an abstract floral print fabric and chocolate sheeting.

Finally, the rug, bought nearly a decade ago at a discount store, will add a splash of pattern to the floor--just as it did in the guest bathroom of my old home and the foyer of the rental it was first displayed in.

For the money I have invested in these pieces, it would be almost impossible to pull together something so cohesive from scratch. But using things that were never intended to be used together--bought for different spaces and at different times, I believe I'll end up with a guest room that works.

A Timely Start...

This blog is starting at an opportune time. I have, as of this writing, exactly two months and five days to get my own home "DONE." Not that any home is ever truly done, but the goal is to have every room presentable and finished looking in time for a large Halloween party. This is no small task, as we have 15 rooms spread over 4,000 square feet. At the beginning of the summer, almost all of those rooms were builder-white and empty. Slowly, paint has gone on the walls, details have been added, and a plan has fallen into place as to what it shall look like in two months.

It's an ambitious plan to have every room painted, new furniture delivered (not to mention packing up and moving everything from the old place), and a short list of carpentry projects done, but I'm confident it will be done. In fact, I predict it will be done early. And some of these projects will unfold here. Stay tuned!


I'd like to welcome everyone to my new online adventure--Southgate Residential, a Place for All Things Home. I've toyed with the idea of creating a blog dedicated to design for a while now, and have finally decided to "bite the bullet." What will be found here? I'm unsure of the answer. It will serve as a home for things that inspire me, intrigue me, and fascinate me (and hopefully inspire, intrigue, and fascinate those who find themselves here.)

As a bit of background, I have a lifelong love of residential design. When other children might have been collecting comic books, I was amassing a library of house plan magazines. I doodled (admittedly crude) floor plans from the time I was in elementary school, and  by high school actually had projects built from my ideas. I studied architecture and interior design in college, and have spent the last decade working for well respected residential architecture firms on everything from modest "stock" plans to multi-million dollar estates and high end renovations.

So, welcome! I hope you will enjoy what you find here.