Lessons from Experience - Design Mistakes to Avoid in 2018

Remodel with confidence in 2018! (Photo courtesy of Getty Images)

Remodel with confidence in 2018! (Photo courtesy of Getty Images)

At a recent peer gathering I threw out the question “what are some lessons learned and project stories you can share”, and the answers were wild! They included strange pet mishaps, a veggie stocked fridge that stunk up a remodel, and a glass chandelier that almost came crashing down during a simple furniture install. In 14 years of being a designer I've had my fair share of "learning experiences" as well. I’m all about learning from my mistakes, but what better than to learn from OTHER people’s mistakes?  Now take this knowledge and tackle your next remodel with confidence. You're welcome blog followers!

The list is based on stories from clients, peers, and a few first-hand situations. Here goes:

1) Check all dimensions closely when ordering anything, but especially furniture. That includes wall dimensions, ceiling heights, even door widths! I have a designer friend who once ordered sofas for a commercial space and they were too big to get through the doors! She now has some fabulous large sofas in her living room...

2) Read the fine print when placing orders, and document decisions clearly. An associate of mine once selected a sectional fabric, and gave the swatch to the vendor without writing the item number down. When it arrived weeks later, it was the wrong color. She had approved the order trusting that the vendor had documented it properly. It was an expensive assumption!

3) Always do a large paint sample before painting the entire area. Review it in the exact environment where it will be, and document your choices clearly. The first time I ever cried on a job site was when I arrived to see a sample of my sassy green accent paint, only to discover it was almost neon and they had painted it on EVERY WALL!

4) Inspect materials before they get installed. For example – open boxes of tile to make sure what is in the box is what you expected. Natural materials in particular (travertine, marble, etc.) can vary greatly from the sample.

5) On that same note, evaluate multiple samples of natural materials. For example, when ordering tile, make sure you examine at least 4 or 5 different tiles, and try to see a picture of the material installed. I had a client who carried one piece of travertine to every showroom for months. She compared everything to it, only to discover it represented only the very lightest of the color range. Variation is to be expected – be prepared to embrace it.

6) Review large swatches of all fabrics, finishes, and rugs before placing orders. A client told me of a time (she was working with a previous designer - thank goodness) when she had ordered fabric for drapes from a small swatch, only to realize after the drapes were installed that there were little monkeys on the print! Yes, that’s right - MONKEYS!

7) Make sure you see plumbing & light fixtures in person before ordering. I’ve seen sneaky details show up in person that were not visible in online pictures.

8) Inspect items when they are received and don’t sign off without noting even the smallest issues. If an item is delivered to you with a defect, you’ll have very little recourse if you don’t note it upon receipt.

9) Scale is important in general, but especially with regards to lighting. This includes everything from bedside lamps to sconces and chandeliers. If in question, create mock ups of the size with boxes or cardboard to get a better feel for it. I've had pretend fixtures hung with string for weeks while we evaluate if we like it from every angle (keepin' it classy Austin!)

10) Grout color is surprisingly important, and not easily changed. I typically choose a color that will either disappear or contrast to accentuate the pattern. Either way, I’m intentional about it. If there’s any question, have the tile installer make a sample board showing the tile with the grout.

These are just a few tips toward smarter design in 2018. I have often said "can just ONE day go by where I don't have to learn something?". Well maybe now you'll have 10 days.

Happy New Year everyone!




The Pursuit of Timeless Design

This project of ours was completed in 2009 and is still one of our favorites!  Photo by Chip Pankey.

This project of ours was completed in 2009 and is still one of our favorites!  Photo by Chip Pankey.

If you follow style trends you know the routine: concepts enter the scene, there are early adopters, and over time they become mainstream. Soon anyone who is building, remodeling, or decorating is selecting similar items (after all, it's the products and colors being offered by all the vendors!). Recently I've noticed the curve is even more aggressive. Social media propagates style tendencies at a fast and furious pace. As a designer, I see trends early and I tire of them fast. For this reason, I am on a mission to provide timeless design; to find unique solutions that feel current, but also elevated. There is no off-the-shelf recipe for how to accomplish this. If there were it would be achieved more frequently. It's a skill that separates great design from good design. It's a subtlety recognized by mature design lovers and achieved by only the most talented. It's a quality that is not easily described with words, but when it's right, you just know it.

Having said that, there are certainly some strategies you can follow in pursuit of a timeless interior. Here are a few of them:

1.Take your time. Ever bought a whole room all at once? Yah, me too – in college. It's a surefire way to a one-dimensional space, and you’ll tire of it fast. The idea is propagated by stores like Rooms to Go and IKEA, who advertise ‘easy design’. Don't get me wrong – these stores have their market. They simplify the process of buying furniture for people who want to get it over with fast or economically, but this is not a path to an elevated space. Fine design is curated and takes time.

2. Incorporate one or two unique pieces. Include something special that speaks to you, like an old family chair, or an antique rug or mirror. Yes – even in a contemporary space. You just have to go about it carefully and selectively. Doing so will add richness and keep it personal and interesting. It’s a direct expression of you and your family, and no one else will have your exact solution.

This antique rug in our Spicewood Contemporary project adds warmth and character in an otherwise stark white kitchen. Photo by An Indoor Lady.

This antique rug in our Spicewood Contemporary project adds warmth and character in an otherwise stark white kitchen. Photo by An Indoor Lady.

3. Selectively Splurge. Whether you are building, remodeling, or just refining your home over time, choose an area to stretch your budget and introduce a high-end element. It can be a lamp, a sculpture, anything. I have a thing for tile, and when remodeling our kitchen awhile back I fell in love with a beautiful backsplash tile from Walker Zanger. It seemed like a hefty price tag at the time, but I only needed 18 sqft.! And the results were well worth it. Now it adds a special touch to our kitchen, and each morning when I’m sipping my coffee it makes me smile. Priceless!

This is my Walker Zanger backsplash. I love it so much! Photo by An Indoor Lady.

This is my Walker Zanger backsplash. I love it so much! Photo by An Indoor Lady.

4. Learn from history. In particular I like to look back to classic interiors from design icons, furniture designers, and legendary architects. Here’s an example: recently I was discussing the use of marble and brass with a client. She said to me "I think of the federal buildings - if it was good enough for past presidents it is good enough for me!". Shortly after that I was in D.C. and paid special attention to the details in those buildings. She was right! Materials and finishes will go through cycles of popularity, but if a strategy has been used for many years it is likely a timeless one. Finding inspiration from historically good design is a way to avoid short term trends. 

This marble and brass staircase in the Supreme Court Building is a stunning example of timeless design. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

This marble and brass staircase in the Supreme Court Building is a stunning example of timeless design. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

5. Faux is just that : false. Ever seen something fake that you liked as good as the original? Me neither. Good design is real and purposeful, and it doesn’t have to pretend to be something it’s not. The “architecture snob” in me comes out when I see a column supporting nothing, or a painted sheetrock wall pretending to be plaster. Please don’t do it! I had an old friend from architecture school who would cringe at this stuff. He would joke about fake shutters tacked on suburban homes, and corbels that were purely for decoration. Whenever I comment on such things my husband says “you sound like Andy”, and I say “well… he was right”.

6. Nature never goes out of style - incorporating natural textures such as wood and stone adds richness to an interior. For a timeless approach, try finding slabs and materials that are less commonly used. Also, anywhere a view can be appreciated - play that up. A touch of nature elevates any space.

These slabs of Red Onyx, used by architect Mies Van Der Rohe in the Barcelona Pavilion in 1929, are a gorgeous example of nature in design.

These slabs of Red Onyx, used by architect Mies Van Der Rohe in the Barcelona Pavilion in 1929, are a gorgeous example of nature in design.

7. If everyone has it maybe you shouldn't. Enough said.

8. A little goes a long way when it comes to color. The color fad cycle is even tighter than that of materials, finishes, and furniture. I’ll admit that if you look at our LBI interiors you might conclude we’re pretty neutral. It’s not out of fear to be bold – it’s an awareness that in pursuit of timeless design it’s a decision you’ll regret faster than any other. Tile, cabinets, expensive furnishings – these features have a cost attached that make them less inclined to be swapped out often, so you’d better like them for the long haul. Paint, pillows, art – these are much easier to change, and for that reason I am more inclined to embrace color in these areas.

9. Most importantly - choose things because YOU love them, not because they are in style. Let's remember that the ultimate goal of "timelessness" is having a home you will love for years to come. If you stay true to who you are, then your choices will continue to reflect your personality regardless of what everyone else is doing.

In summary, style trends will come and go. When it comes to your home, pursue quality first, then lean toward personal expression rather than popular fads for an interior that will stand the test of time.

Hardwood Flooring 101

When it comes to flooring selections for your new home or remodel, there is nothing more timeless than hardwood. These days there are many varieties of wood, and even tile made to look like wood. Whether it’s engineered wood, traditional solid hardwood, laminate, or tile, each material has its benefits. Here are things I consider when guiding a client through the decision process:

Wood Speak: Engineered, Solid, and Manufactured/ Laminate:

So, there many types of “wood looks” out there these days, and I’m noticing clients are feeling confused. Here are some common types of “wood” flooring with a brief description:

  • Engineered – this is indeed REAL wood – NOT laminate (a common misperception). Engineered is one of the most durable and stable kinds of wood floors, and it’s what I use most. It has a solid natural wood layer on top (called the “wear layer”) and it comes in different species, thicknesses, etc. Engineered wood is constructed with criss-crossed sub layers of plywood below that give it stability to prevent expansion and contraction with changes in humidity.
  • Solid Wood – this is what you’ll find in old homes in central Austin and elsewhere, and that’s what people like about it. This isn’t as easy to use in a remodel because it’s thicker and less likely to work for transitions to other materials. It is also more prone to warping, cracking, etc. than an engineered wood, although sanding and refinishing is easier than with other materials.
  • Manufactured “Wood”– there are many laminates and vinyls out there made to look like wood, and the patterns and colors are becoming more and more realistic. These materials are very durable and most often used in commercial settings. Because it’s not real wood, it’s less expensive and also not sensitive to moisture like real wood. I’ll admit I don’t tend recommend it for most residential clients, because to me it doesn’t indicate the quality I like to see in a residential setting. You’ll also see tile made to look like wood. I have used this a few times with great success (especially in laundry rooms and bathrooms). I lean toward a tile that doesn’t completely try to mimic wood, but instead just has an organic quality about it…
This "wood" tile is a beautiful example of a durable and low maintenance wood look

This "wood" tile is a beautiful example of a durable and low maintenance wood look


The cost of wood floors varies greatly by type and then by manufacturer and species. Generally speaking, in Texas you can usually get quality wood floors, either engineered or solid hardwood, for anywhere between $10 - $20 per square foot installed. The cost of vinyl planks is about half of that, and tile falls somewhere between the two.

Unfinished vs. Prefinished:

A prefinished product is quick, easy to install, and a bit more “predictable” in color if you find one you like. It is ready-made and factory finished and technicians can install it within a day or two. I recommend buying an extra box so that if planks get damaged they can be replaced. This flooring is not really one you can sand and refinish easily (you can with some choices, but don’t assume that without asking first!). Unfinished flooring takes a little more time. The planks are laid, stain samples are made, and then the entire floor is stained and finished. These floors are easier to sand and refinish down the road if issues arise, but they also tend to be a little more expensive, and it takes time to work out the “perfect stain color”. Clients of mine who choose this method like the fact that the end result feels a bit more like “natural wood” and less like a manufactured product than pre-finished material.

Installation: Floating vs Glue Down:

There are a few different methods of installing engineered wood floors. Click locking engineered planks have special tongue and groove systems that simply lock together. They don’t involve glue during installation and just lay over a foam or cork underlayment. Glue down floors glue directly to the concrete subfloor. There are benefits and drawbacks of each, so without spending too much time on this topic I recommend you talk to a flooring expert to understand the trade-offs for your specific situation.


We all know that real wood is not a friend to water. Exposure to moisture is the primary cause of damage to wood floors. Having said that, clients are using wood more often these days in kitchens, utility rooms, and powder baths without a problem. Methods of waxing and sealing have improved, but no real wood floor is going to hold up to prolonged water exposure such as that from a flood or a busted pipe. Many clients who love wood are willing to take that risk, knowing that if an incident occurs they’ll have to replace some amount of flooring. On the other hand, if you know in advance that your floor is in a high traffic area and prone to standing water, but you really like the look of wood, it’s a perfect opportunity for vinyl planks or tile made to look like wood.

Color and Grain:

Color is an important factor, as it drives a style direction and needs to work with furniture, cabinets, etc. Grain is a similar consideration. Some woods have a light or barely visible grain (best for contemporary environments) and others have knots and more deeply grained or rugged planks (better for rustic interiors). Here are descriptions of the most common types of trees that I tend to use:

  • Maple – reddish brown or yellowish tan. Typically lighter grain.
  • Oak – often white, honey, or reddish. Can be heavy grain, or rift cut offers a linear grain that’s nice in contemporary design. I use this often.
  • Walnut – dark chocolate brown. Usually lots of variation and flowing grain. I use this in both contemporary and traditional interiors.
  • Hickory – light or reddish brown. Often has knots and distressing. I use this in more rustic environments.
  • Acacia – deep brown with LOTS of variation! I have used this in both contemporary and traditional environments. It’s best for someone who appreciates movement and color variation.

Surfaces: Textured, Smooth, Hand-scraped:

For a floor that is less slippery, choose a textured surface. There are slip-resistant hardwoods that can prevent falls and are especially valuable for senior citizens. Other than that you’ll see floors that are hand-scraped, which tends to be a traditional or rustic strategy, or those that are smooth, which is what I lean toward in contemporary design. Pay attention to whether the finish is glossy versus matte. These considerations are primarily personal preference, but your designer and/ or flooring expert can provide guidance on what’s best for your specific situation.

Recycled/ Reclaimed Hardwoods:

Lately, both for the look and the benefit of the environment, I have used vintage hardwood products that have been removed and reclaimed from old structures. These hardwoods have been cleaned and treated and have fabulous character! I can't wait to get professional photos of this remodel below where I used reclaimed planks. In the meantime – please enjoy these amateur photos courtesy of my iphone…

Hope this has been helpful. In the meantime... best of luck on your flooring journey, and a big thank you to  Jessica Kane, a writer for GoHardwoodwho collaborated with me on this article.