February 16th 2009

Use Every Room Every Day

All my clients know this one!  They have heard me say it a hundred times, are often frustrated when I keep bringing it up, and want to kiss me on the lips when it’s all over.  Whenever I am designing a space for clients, I ask one question over and over….

“What will you do in this room?”

Then I prod some more …

“Will you watch TV in your underwear here?  Read in the morning?  Pay bills?  Eat?  Homework?  Crafts?”

There is a rule in our design meetings…..use every room, every day.  If not, rethink the space.  Why give up real estate when you don’t even use the room?  Why not utilize that space to live in?!!?  There are exceptions to that rule, such as dining rooms.  Some people entertain occasionally and want a formal space.  That is absolutely fine, if you understand that is the purpose of the room.  But if you just want to have a room because you think you should, please reconsider.

I was working with a serial client (this is their second new home with us and several remodels) on a 10,000 square foot new house plus a huge finished lower level.  We went through each room that they originally said they wanted.  Their HOMEWORK (yes, I give you homework) was to go through each room and write down what they would do in that room.  At the next meeting, they gave me a handwritten list of what they would do in each room.

They were thrilled to say, “We don’t need a front library.  We would only use it maybe six times a year.”

Instead of cramming her desk in the Laundry Room, we gave her an office right off of the Master Sitting Room, next to her husband’s office.  After I went through each room in the house and worked on trimming each room to fit the purpose exactly, I looked at hallways and wasted space in the home.  The result was that the house went down to 8000 square feet!  (Do you know any builders that actually talk you down?)  This was a tremendous cost savings to them, plus with careful thought, each room was completely thought out and designed to be exactly what they wanted and needed.

Can you image how important that is in a smaller home?  The smaller the space, the more important careful thought is in the process.  Do you use every room, every day?  If not, call me and I promise that together we will find another use for it!

February 2nd 2009

Remodeling is FUN – No Really, It is!

I was having lunch at my favorite restaurant, Cardwell’s, with a friend of mine. We were polishing off the baked brie, when out of nowhere, a large man ran up behind me and gave me a big bear hug. My friend sat in horror as I jumped up and we swung each other around like kindergarteners. His wife ran up and we hugged, air kissed, and hugged again. We were all taking at once.

“How are they kids?” he asked.

“Great!  Is Scout ok?” I questioned.

“He is better. Did you design the room additions at your house yet?” she asked.

On and on it went. We chattered, they pulled up chairs and we caught up. I hadn’t seen them in almost six months and we had a lot to talk about. My friend chimed in as we talked politics and about the crappy economic. They were called that their table was available and we hugged good bye.

“Who was that?” my friend asked.

“Clients,” I said.

She looked at me like I had a third lip. “Clients? Are you kidding? The only time I saw my contractor after my kitchen remodel was in court!”

I get that a lot. People are amazed when I tell them we have “Sinn Groupies”, better known as “serial clients.” We will do three, four, five jobs. I am working on a bathroom which is the sixth project for a client!

In my initial meeting with people I always tell them, “Remodeling is a little like marriage, it can be really, really good or really, really bad. You have to be on the same page and communicate. At the risk of offending you, I’m gonna use the “f “ word. Remodeling is actually supposed to be FUN!”

Again, I get the third lip look. Most people have horror stories of what went wrong on a renovation. I have story after story of what went right on a renovation. It starts with me having a clear understanding of the client’s wants, needs and budget before designing. When people know that you have their best interest at heart, and that they don’t have to have all the answers (that’s my job), they lighten up and have a good time. Ok, I’m going to say it again. We are all going to have FUN!

July 14th 2008

Design Intervention

Since I have devoted my life to averting design disasters, I forget how many people really don’t put much planning into design. I recently moved and have spent much of my time de-pinking the house. The previous owner loved pink. Me? Not so much. The entire first floor of the house was a beautiful cream marble but with 2×2 PINK marble insets! So, my tile contractor was in my home with one of his employees digging out the pink marble insets. It was a huge job and the guy working on it was a delight.
On the second day he asked, “Do you mind me asking? Why are taking out this marble?”
I told him that the Liberace’s didn’t live here any more. I was going to put a beautiful marble that was more neutral in their place.
“Do you mind if I keep the marble we are digging out?” he asked.
“Not at all,” I told him.
As I went through my day, I frequently thought of why the tile guy would want the pink marble and thought it might be worth a conversation of what he was going to do with it. Call it design instinct, but it didn’t feel quite right.
When I got home that afternoon, he was cleaning up and I asked him what he was going to do with the pink marble.
“Oh, I’m going to surprise my wife. She is out of town and I want to put in a backsplash over the range like what you did in your kitchen.”
His intentions were very sweet, but my greatest fears were about to be realized. I have a pretty elaborate backsplash with inset tile and a medallion in the middle. It was carefully selected from the finest materials with a medallion I found in an antique shop in Chicago. A far cry from pink marble insets dug out of someone’s floor.
“Really?” I asked. “What does your kitchen look like?”
“It really needs some updating” he admitted. “It has brown or tannish cabinets.”
I really started quizzing. “What color is the floor?”
“Brown or tannish, I think.” He looked confused.
“What is the countertop?” I asked
His voice sort of trailed off…..”Brown or tannish, I think.”
We sort of looked at each other as if we were from different planets. “Sounds lovely,” I said.
“Do you think she will like it?” He sounded a little worried.
“I’m not sure this pink marble will go behind a brown or tannish backsplash, cabinets and floor. Maybe you should ask her first.”
“But I don’t want to spoil the surprise,” he said.
I quickly added that women can be kind of picky when it comes to decorating their kitchen and he should consider spoiling the surprise.
He conceded that he bought her some kitchen towels one Christmas and for some reason she never used them. When I asked him what color they were, he told me they were brown or tannish or something like that.
I told him I would be happy to talk to her when he came back to put the new marble in my floors. Maybe she would like to see my backsplash first and see if she thinks that pink marble would work on her backsplash.
Two days later he called and said he would be there to work on my new marble and asked if he could bring his wife. I told him I would be there to meet her.
She brought a picture of her kitchen. Her cabinets were a pickled wood with green countertops and a gold floor. In 20 minutes, we decided that instead of putting in a pink marble backsplash they could paint the cabinets a golden brown, get new hardware and change out the countertops to a laminate that had a granite look and lay new tile in the kitchen, after all I knew a good tile layer.
“Hey, I think I might have enough left over from another job,” he said.
“NO!” His wife and I said in unison.
“I’ll go pick something out and I’ll run it by you before he installs it,” she said to me. Sounds like a plan!
As they walked out she turned around behind his back and mouthed, thank you, thank you, thank you.
I just smiled. Another design intervention.

June 10th 2008

Trying to Afford Ourselves

Clients come to me to help them with all the decisions, big and small, that go into a custom renovation or build. I always tell clients that we can’t have everything we want, but we can have what is most important to us. Each decision can be a daunting task as there are thousands of choices today. Sometimes several choices, within each decision.

Case in point, in a recent meeting we began discussing countertop choices. Sounds like an easy question and they answered quickly…..granite. May the games begin! What kind of granite (name of the stone)? How does that stone relate to price (each stone is a different price which has WILD variations of price)? What thickness (2 CM, 3 CM, single or double thickness)? What profile edge (ogee, double ogee, bullnose, eased, etc….)? The list goes on and on. So, of course, the clients look at me like a deer in head lights and we begin from the beginning…..what we want, need and CAN AFFORD!

We control costs by controlling our perimeters of what we look for. After design meetings, I send the client to look at our regular vendors show rooms and meet with our regular sales reps with whom I already have negotiated great pricing and have a rapport with. The client knows that if they are unable to make selections or are uncertain, no problem, just bring samples back and we will discuss how the possible selections work with the total design. I let the vendor know the budget before the client ever meets with them. I talk with vendor about the design and what we are trying to accomplish and how. They know they must answer to me if they are trying to sell items outside the budget or re-inventing the wheel of design. Many times, I will go with the client to the vendor or showroom to finalize design choices after their initial meeting. Throughout the design process there are constant checks on where we are in pricing.

I met with a client yesterday who lost her mind in a stone warehouse the week before (without my knowledge). She immediately called me from the parking lot so excited she could hardly contain herself. She had found the most beautiful stone and decided to use stone on every countertop surface in the house. I immediately called the warehouse, asked for the person she met with and asked that they fax me a bid for the selections. When the fax came over, I knew there would be a problem. Her selections were three times what we budgeted for countertops, over $30,000. At our meeting, I showed her the fax. He eyes welled up with tears and she said, “Now what do I do?” I told her, we would go together to look at the materials and go over all the options.

We met with my normal rep (not the one she hooked up with on the sales floor). As we went over each stone, we talked about edges and thickness and price. We used alternate stone that was far less expensive without compromising the look on some areas and used the expensive ones on smaller areas (the island in the kitchen with less expensive stone on the perimeter cabinets). We put more expensive edging in the formal spaces. It took two hours and we got within our budget. She was thrilled and I was happy that we were back on track.

When there are so many choices, you have to make wise decisions on what to use and where. Unfortunately, most of us do not have unlimited budgets so we have to keep ourselves in check throughout the process. I completely understand because I am always trying to afford myself.

May 15th 2008

Throwing my body in front of the bus

As a design professional, I pride myself in giving great advice on every aspect of the project. I bring elaborate designs with carefully chosen materials for a look to die for. Then, there are those rare moments when I just have to throw my body in front of the bus. A design disaster is eminent and I just have to stop it. Luckily, I use the utmost tact when body throwing, but I just flat out refuse to let someone make a mistake.

In my initial meeting with people, I always tell them that every choice is always theirs to make. My job is to bring creative ideas to the table, share with them “every trick in the book” about how to get a look and not, necessarily, pay the price. I bring options, they make the choice. But I promise them right then and there that if you are going to make a mistake, I will throw my body in front of the bus.

Your home should reflect you and your lifestyle, so what may be good for one person would be the absolute wrong choice for another. That’s where I come in. We talk about what the client wants, needs and can afford. We also talk about what the goal for the house may be. If you plan to live in a house for two years, your decisions would be very different than if you plan on going out of the place feet first.

Recently, I had a client who transferred in from another city. He wanted to build a house and the plan was to live there about five years before he went to the next city. He was single and really only wanted one bedroom, though the house would be about 5000 square feet.

So, could we build a one bedroom house? The good news is yes, you can build a one bedroom house. The bad news you will never sell it to anyone else. So, it would not be a wise decision to build just a one bedroom house when you will be selling in five years. He seemed very disappointed and I told him I would have some options for him in the next meeting.

I designed a plan that had a great Master Bedroom and two other wonderful suites. One he would use as a Study since he worked from home much of the time and other would be an exercise room. When he planned to move, we would stage the rooms as bedrooms. Problem solved. I threw my body in front of the bus and he was grateful.

Not only did he get the perfect floor plan for him, he also would eventually need it. Within a year, he married a woman with a small child he adores. We are now finishing the lower level for a play room, a media room (for Barney videos, I imagine) and an exercise room. He has decided to stay put in St. Louis to be near family and they want to build a new home in two years to house a whole family of kids! Good thing we didn’t build a one bedroom house!

April 15th 2008

More Cuss & Discuss

As the designer of some pretty complicated stuff, it is my job to understand what the client wants, needs and can afford, and then design and build that vision. Sounds easy enough, eh? Well, there are always moments when it is not so easy. There can be very different opinions on what is beautiful from the two different personalities who might be in that design meeting.

For instance, she wants a beautiful, peaceful spa-like bath. He wants a plasma TV in the tub, each vanity and in the water closet (where the toilet is located). She wants a cook’s kitchen with built-in compartments for each conceivable cooking need, pull out cutting boards, a place for the Cuisinart with power in a “secret compartment”, etc. He wants to put the blender on the center island so he doesn’t ever have to find it. Oh yeah, with a plug ON TOP of the countertop. She immediately goes into combat mode and he looks surprised. This is a bonifide hissy fit moment. She digs in her heels and he is trying to run damage control.

This is one of the most important requirements of my job….marriage counseling. I throw myself right in the middle of the melt down and calmly say, “This is what we call a ‘Cuss and Discuss’. We will table the design for the kitchen at this meeting and move on. But, I want you both to write down what is important to you to include in the room. Then, cuss and discuss, and let me know in the next meeting what you decided.” Both go to their respective corners and we move on.

At the end of the meeting they almost always apologize and I let them know that it wasn’t the first time that has happened (probably not even the first time that day). This is a common occurrence in my world of Designdom.

I would love to be a fly on the wall in some of those “Cuss and Discuss” talks. But, without fail, at the next meeting they proudly come up with a compromise that works. Sometimes the compromise is not in the same room. He concedes to not give his input in the kitchen, but he has full control over the media room. She gets the kitchen of her dreams with thought into every single thing she does in the room, down to the flip down computer with all her recipes, connected to the internet to find even more. He wires the media room for plasmas, surround sound, speakers in every crevice of the room, and every conceivable source of media known to man. The wiring in the place would be the envy of NASA.

There, problem solved and everyone is happy. I always give a very wise piece of advice (when asked). Pick your fight, then fight to win!

April 24th 2007

Who’d Ever Imagine (aka Who’d Have Thunk It?)

Sinn Design Build Renovation Ladue LibraryA few years ago I bought a real fixer upper for my own family.  As my husband lovingly reminded me for the DURATION of the design and build, it was more a tear downer.  Regardless, I loved the house.  It had charm that is difficult to build (and afford)  in today’s terms.  There were alcoves in children’s bedrooms upstairs with sloped ceilings, window seats and built-ins in most rooms.  It was flat out cute.  “Cute” is a chick term, the male term is “way too much work heap of bricks”. 

I literally bought the house on the hood of a car and then called my husband to tell him we were moving.  I was very thoughtful in asking him if he wanted to see it.  He declined, trusting my instincts.  After the deal was done, I walked him through.  We drove up to the house, it had a nice presence and was on a beautiful lot.  So far, so good.  Then we walked inside.  He was strangely quiet.  The house rambled from room to room.  There was a breakfast table in the hall to the Master Bedrooms (yes, rooms) because there was no breakfast room.  The kitchen was the size of a powder room in some of the houses we build and the garage was detached with an open breezeway. 

As we approached two bedrooms on the first floor, he managed to speak.  “Are we really going to live here?” 

“Of course!”  I said indignantly.

“Are we planning on having separate bedrooms?”  He looked a little worried.

“No, silly.  This bedroom is the Library.” 

He looked at the green shag carpet and the green foil wallpaper and the green trim and said, “Really?” 

Now, I have been married to this man for 19 years.  He has seen hundreds of elaborate designs go through our office at Sinn Design•Build and then he builds them.   How could he doubt me now?  But, it is true.  When it is your own home you can’t seem to see through what’s there to see what could be there.  Luckily, I had enough vision for the both of us.  I saw it clearly.  There would be four additions to the house with a fabulous Kitchen, Master Suite, Master Bathroom, another bedroom upstairs (since we were losing one to the new Library) and added a stone turret (in the Master Bedroom) and a new stone front entrance.  I was determined to take this cute house and make it grand!

I would run the designs past my husband on a daily basis.  He always did the same thing………looked at me like I had a third eye.  As I was finishing up the floor plans and exterior elevations, I started on the interior.  The Master Bath was incredible with separate water closets, separate vanity areas, separate dressing rooms, separate linen closets and a  “human carwash” of a shower that could clean an extended family all at the same time, separate jet sprays from every angle (one side for him and one for me) and a seat to soak up the steam.  Did you notice how separate came up a lot?  Most of our bathrooms are designed that way…..STAY ON YOUR OWN SIDE!!!!! 

Now, my husband was perking up a bit.  Then came the Library.  He is a master at trim work and at building difficult designs.  He is always consulted about trim in our design process.  Once I had sketched out something, Mr. Builder Man took over and completely planned out this awesome ceiling detail with an octagon and chandelier, bookcases with trim that we had to buy from out of town to get the look we wanted.  When he finally “saw” it, he was like a horse for the barn.  The entire gut renovation and four additions took only five months to complete.  The guy down the street did a similar scope of work renovation and his took 18 months and litigation with the builder.  When he asked how we were doing this so quickly, I explained that I was sleeping with the Builder.  But, I recommended not doing that since he wasn’t married to his.

I am sitting in that Library at this moment writing.  I work in this room every day and love it as much now as I did when it was first completed.  One night I ran across a picture of the room before, green shag carpet and all.  We even had a TeleTubby bed in there for the little coward that would come down in the middle of the night from upstairs.  I showed it to my husband.  He studied it for a moment and said, “Who would have ever thunk?” 

“Me. It’s my job, remember?” 

March 5th 2007

The World of Tricia

Fabutricious: Fabulous with a Tricia twist

“Pick your fight, and fight to win” – used during the Cuss & Discuss phase

Never cross “the line.”  There is a fine line between ostentatious and opulent.  DO NOT cross it!

Kitchen Crud Niche: A place for crud you don’t know what to do with…rubber bands, phone books, chap stick, pens, paper, etc.

Near Hit (Close to a near miss).  Someone designed it, and someone else built it.  They evidently weren’t talking.  Something is just “off” and you can’t put your finger on it.

Bugly: Butt ugly

Stay tuned.  More to follow …

February 8th 2007

A Real Life “Where are you going to watch TV in your pajamas?” Story


Recently, I got a rather urgent call from a woman wanting to meet with me as soon as possible.  We had designed and built renovations for her parents and her brother with great results and she wanted to get started on a project she had been procrastinating about for months. 


When I got there, she showed me these lavish plans – 14 pages of them – of a room addition called Great Room.  It seemed very straight-forward.  She wanted a price to build it.  She pointed to the plans, referred to the plans but never touched them. She kept calling them the “architect’s plans.”   Since we are normally involved before the architect starts drawing, and since I found the fact that she refused to touch the plans rather curious, I asked if I could ask her a few questions that might clarify some things.


“Sure, no one’s ever asked me any questions though.  I hope I know the answers,” she said. 


“I’m sure you do,” I said.  “It’s your house and, of course, you’ll know all the answers.  What is the purpose of the Great Room?”


“What do you mean?” she asked.


“What are you going to do in the room?”  I asked.


“Well, I don’t know exactly.  I just inherited a lot of my Grandmother’s furniture and we are just out of room,” her voice trailed a little and she seemed a bit embarrassed as she looked around this rather large home.


“OK – So where do you watch TV in your pajamas?” I asked puzzled.


She seemed a little reluctant, not knowing exactly what to do with that question, but I knew she could tell what I was getting at, so she began leading me down the hall. 


We went through the outdated kitchen, through a room with a card table, through a room that looked like shrine to “Grandma-dom”, to a tiny room, not much bigger than a closet.  The room was stuffed full with a sofa, three chairs, wires hanging from the ceiling and across the floor to a TV with three little boys huddled together playing a video game.  Did I mention the vinyl paneling, pea green carpet and a sliding glass door with a baseball imprint? 


“Here is where we spend most of our time,” she said sheepishly.  “So, I guess you could say this is where we watch TV in our pajamas.” 


OK – so now I was getting the drift of what we were looking at.  I asked for a tour of the entire home to get a feel for how much space she had now and how they were using it.  She had grown up in the house and knew it intimately (including windows that kids could sneak out of).  She had recently purchased the home from her parents and the entire house was in need of attention.  It was a beautiful home in a great area, but the Grand Lady definitely needed a facelift, as well as a whole lot of nip and tucking.  The flow of the house rambled and we literally had to go back downstairs to access a kid’s room off the back stair.  It was the maid’s quarters in older days, I’m sure.  But it sure didn’t work for a 9 year old boy who was afraid to be alone!


After the tour, we landed back to the “architect’s plans” on the kitchen table.  I noticed she still never touched them.  We were having a great time chatting about kid’s sports and how we were raising our kids in the back of a car.  Between homework and sports and lessons, it was a fulltime job for her to just keep up with the kids!


I looked her square in the eye and said, “What rooms do you use everyday?”


“The nasty little kitchen and the den (the closet in the back),” she said.


“Well, I’m going to rock your world here, but our company has this philosophy, use every room every day.  And for goodness sakes, watch TV in your pajamas in the best room in the house!”  I told her.


“Can I do that?” she asked.


“Yep, it’s your house!” I said. 


She laughed and said, “I guess you’re right.”


As I asked more questions from our Design Assessment, (yes, there are a lot more questions besides “where do you watch TV in your pajamas”) she started to see the light.  She wanted to be near the boys when she was cooking. She wanted the family to be able to all flop in one place with popcorn and a movie.  She wanted to have a computer and homework area.  She loved the back yard and wanted a pool someday.  She knew the rest of the house had to be renovated but it just wasn’t in the budget with the Great Room addition drawn up in the “architect’s plans”.


After our third cup of coffee, we both had a caffeine buzz going.  But, we were getting somewhere.  She was starting to talk about how she wanted to live in the house, something that wasn’t in the “architect’s plans”.   We scheduled a meeting at our office for a full Design Assessment.   


We met, she and her husband answered question after question such as: Anyone have hobbies?  Where do you work on it?  Anyone play sports?  What’s the thing you dislike most about your home?  Where do your kids flop all their stuff down when they walk in the door? 


They discovered things they didn’t even think of.  She pulled pictures of rooms she loved.  Guess what?  Not one of them was a Great Room.  There were kitchens and baths and hearth rooms and kids rooms and cool TV’s. 


From our Design Assessment we decided this:  Virtually nothing was kept from the “architect’s plans”.  No addition, just renovate the existing space to accommodate all the needs and wants.  After all, their home already had 5000 square feet of space, so it was big definitely big enough. 


We knocked out walls from the Kitchen to the Card Table Room (I’m still not sure what to call that room) to make a beautiful Kitchen (to die for) and a Breakfast Room that looked out over that gorgeous yard of hers.  We made the shrine to “Grandma-dom” the Family Room.  (Yes, the “shrine” became where they really lived!  Why have a room you’re afraid to use, anyway?)  We incorporated that cool TV with an awesome sound package which is great for family movies and watching TV in your pajamas.  We put a beverage bar with a small refrigerator and microwave (for popcorn) tucked in a nook.  We kept an antique secretary with a chair that sits right in the Living Room with all the new, comfy furniture that could be flopped on, slept on and eaten on. 


Other antiques were disbursed throughout the house where the family could USE them.  We put French doors out to the new patio and a newly landscaped yard.  The den?  That battered and beaten room where they hid from the world and used to watch TV in their pajamas?  We blew it up, brought it into the 21st century with bookcases and a window seat, a computer desk and homework desk.


We tore down walls everywhere to make room for how the family really lived.  We made a hall to the land locked kid at the back stair, renovated every bath, added a Master Bath from a weird closet/bath off the main hall.  Coffered ceilings and added walk-in closets.  But, all from the same footprint of the original house. 


Result?  The homeowners got a complete renovation of the entire home for about the same price as the Great Room addition that was drawn up in the “architect’s plans”. 


And, she wasn’t afraid to touch the new plans.  There were full of fingerprints and coffee stains and a little spaghetti sauce.  Now, every room is used every day, except the Dining Room, which is used only on Sunday’s.  (That’s ok though, at least she uses it.)  We’ve since gone back to finish the lower level, providing drapes and furniture and rugs. 


She called me recently to say they have had lots of interest from people wanting to buy the house.  Could we look for land to design and build a new house?  We laughed, three more cups of coffee and we knew we could make them another perfect spot in a new home where they could watch TV in their pajamas! 


February 1st 2007

Where are you going to watch TV in your pajamas?

Admit it.  We all do it.  No matter how fancy or orderly – or disorderly – your house might be, you watch TV in your pajamas.  And that’s OK.  It’s your house.  It might be (should be) the only place where you get to do what you want, right?  That’s why it’s my job to help you create a place in your home where you’re going to watch TV in your pajamas.  It may sound crazy, but trust me, you don’t arrive at the answer until the question is asked – so I ask it.  Every time.

Next Page »