Thursday, March 29, 2012

My hatred for "Garage Neighborhoods"

Most of my posts concern what to do (and not do) with older houses.  Today we're going to talk about what to do (and not do) with newer builds.

In the 1950's & 1960's affordable housing meant a small ranch style house with a nice size yard.  These days it means the about same thing only with a modern twist.  I call them garage neighborhoods because when you drive through them all you really notice are the garages (or parking pads).  The builders have made the garages or the parking pads the focal point of the entire neighborhood.

While the inside of these homes have all the modern amenities that one would need, they are still small ranch houses.  Most of the time the garage is larger than the actual living space and there is little or no yard.  I think the term the builders use is "Zero lot" houses.

Sometimes, we find a house in a location we desire, for the price we can afford and when we view the house, we overlook some potential issues.  Then once we've bought it and moved into it, we are at a loss as to how to make those issues livable for the life of the mortgage.  I have included a few pictures of "what not to do".

When these builders slap these houses together, they obviously (1) don't cook (2) don't clean and (3) don't have children.  I say that because if they did any of the above, the houses would be designed entirely differently.  For example the kitchens would have more storage and counter space with more plug-ins for small appliances. The dining room which leads out onto the deck or backyard would NEVER be carpeted and the bathrooms would hold more than 1/2 a person at a time.

The other thing that annoys me about these houses is the fact that they have lent an entirely new meaning to the term "builders grade".  When I view these houses and I see the $10 faucets and the $15 countertops and the $20 cabinets coupled with the plastic bathtubs and the $.25 a square foot carpet/tile, I always wonder where else they scrimped.  While the house may have a jetted tub, 2 bath rooms, a huge garage.....they just look cheaply built.

Here's that 1/2 person bathroom I mentioned.  Notice the plastic tub takes up the majority of the space.  While this tub annoys me for several reasons, painting a windowless bathroom that is already the size of a normal closet, a dark color is just not a good idea.  That monstrosity of a plastic tub with its plastic surround should NEVER be the focal point of a room.

Anyone who knows me knows that above all else I loath white walls especially in a bathroom.  Let me reiterate my reasoning.  There are as many shades of white as there are of any other single color.  Maybe even more.  White is a very reflective color.  I would venture to say white is the most reflective color.  So what happens when you put one shade of white up against another shade (or two) of white?  It changes all the shades of white and they each morph into a duller and dirtier shade of white.  I don't care if your tub and your toilet are made by the very same manufacturer, the chance of them being the exact shade of white are slim to none.

The homeowner had the right idea in not painting the walls white.  She just went a bit too far in her color choice.

Here's what she should have done.  Find a vein of color in the tile or the base color in the counter tops.  In this particular room, it would be gray.  Then paint the walls a LIGHT gray.  To coin an 80's phrase - a "pastel" gray.  A barely there gray.  That will pull out the gray in the tile and counter top and it will tone down the whites and make them look clean.  Then put up a graphic shower curtain.  Going for a country feel?  Then do a gingham design with tones of gray and blue.  More modern feel?  Circles in various shades of gray and blue.  On the subject of shower curtains, never ever use just one.  The whole idea of putting a shower curtain isn't just to keep the water off the floor, it's to hide the plastic tub and surround and add some visual and textural interest to the room.  If you use just one curtain, when you pull it closed, it gives the appearance and feel of a wall thus closing off the space and making it appear even smaller.  Use 2 or 3 curtains and then when you close them, they will still have gathers in them which will give an illusion of a window rather than a wall.  Windows denote space - walls denote dead end.

All that's left to do is add a towel or two and perhaps some interesting bath accessories like a textured rectangular basket on the back of the toilet to hold a couple of rolls of toilet paper and a pretty water glass or toothbrush holder on the sink area.

Let's move on............

Builders grade kitchen (in the same house).

BORING!  Cheap laminate counter tops.  Cheap sink and faucet.  Low quality appliances.  Cheap tile on floor. Stock cabinets - and not many of them.

Notice they tiled the back of the pony wall/breakfast bar?  Not attractive.  They also painted an already small kitchen red.  Another thing that annoys me is the fact that the floor (and pony wall) are tiled in beige.  The stock cabinets have a beige undertone but the appliances are white.  For some reason builders think that everything should be either beige or white.  Ugh.

Here's how I would "fix" this kitchen.  I would invest a little money on new facets.  I'd get an oil rubbed bronze faucet which would really dress up that cheap sink.  By the way, studies have determined that oil rubbed bronze, and also brass, repel germs so they are the best selections for your kitchen and bathroom fixtures.  They can look amazing as well.

Counter tops can be pricey so I'm not against leaving the laminate for another day.  However, you can tone them down and make them disappear (well, almost disappear) by changing the things that surround them like the cabinets and walls.

The walls in this one window tiny kitchen should be light in color - not white - just light.  Since this kitchen opens up into the dining room, living room and hallway, it should be either the same color as those areas or just a shade away from it.  No dramatic colors!  People who love dramatic colors need to be living in large houses with lots of windows.  Those of us who don't, need to stick with light bouncing colors and that means light and bright.  I would go with a very light color that combines blue with green.  Just be careful not to get a color that is too saturated.  Pastel is the key word for small spaces.  Not your parents version of pastel - just a white that is tinted to give you the feeling of the color - not an in your face shock of color such as the red on these walls.  Hints of color leave you feeling the room is clean, bright and larger than it actually is.

On to the cabinets.  Stock cabinets are inexpensive and surprisingly sturdy.  They can last just as long as custom cabinetry.  However, they usually aren't attractive.  My solution?  Take the doors and drawer fronts down, go outside, sand them until all the poly and/or varnish is gone and you have a smooth surface.  Then prime them, lightly sand and prime them again giving a good 8 hours between coats to allow the primer to cure and tightly grip the wood.

Now some folks will say "I don't want to fool with taking all the doors off and taking them outside.  I think I'll just leave them up and paint them where they are."  NOT A GOOD IDEA!  That's how you get drips and smears!  The doors need to be flat when they are painted and you need to have them outside in the light so you can see where you might have missed a stroke.  Be sure to number the back of the doors so you can remember exactly where each door goes.  They may all look the exact same - but they probably aren't.

Once you've done that, paint them white, let the paint cure for 8 hours and paint them again.  I recommend at least 3 coats on cabinetry - 5 is optimal.  I know that you can get a gallon of paint for under $20 at some stores and I also know that you can get primer and paint in one.  However, I DO NOT RECOMMEND THIS when you are painting cabinetry.  You want a top shelf primer and an equally top shelf paint otherwise, next year you will be painting your cabinetry again.  Spend a little extra and not be forced to paint them again for years rather than year.  Also, cheap paint tends to dull and by next year, your beautiful clean white is looking dull and dirty.  I don't care what the label says, you can't scrub cheap paint without it coming off and in the kitchen and bathroom, you are going to have to scrub your cabinets from time to time.

Once you've got your drawer and doors painted, move onto the bases.  You only have to sand and paint the parts that show.  I like to paint the insides when I redo cabinetry only because when you open the cabinet door - you can see what it used to be.  I like it all to look new and uniform.  However, you can also use wallpaper on the inside of the cabinets to give it an element of surprise.  The wallpaper can easily be changed out according to your mood and/or changes in taste and/or decorating styles.

It's human nature to want to glob the paint on so you can be done with it.  I say to you - DON'T.  You want to put thin coats on at a time.  This way you don't get bubbles or drips or uneven coats.  All things that will ruin your paint job and cause you to have to start all over which will not only double your time but double your investment.

Now that the cabinets are all painted, drill holes in the doors and drawers and add hardware.  You can buy a handle guide at any DIY store for under $3.  You simple clip it to the door or drawer and drill where the holes are to get the perfect spacing for your handles.  Well worth the investment.

Oil rubbed bronze is my choice for the handles.  Always try to match your pulls to your faucet.  Uniformity is like wearing vertical stripes - it makes you appear taller than you really are.  Uniformity in the kitchen makes it appear larger than it really is.

This particular pull is about $1.50 each.  The beauty of a small kitchen is the fact that you can spend $1.50 on each of the pulls because there's not going to be 50 of them required.  Use them on both the upper and lower cabinets and drawers to keep it uniform.  In a large kitchen having handles below and knobs above (or vice versa) is fine but in a small kitchen you want them all to match to give the illusion of space.  Any time your eyes are interrupted it tricks your mind into thinking something is smaller than it actually is.  The reverse is also true.  That's one reason that you don't wear a checked blue shirt with a striped yellow skirt.  You'd look 25 pounds heavier and 6 inches shorter.  Same thing is true of your kitchen.  Too many colors, too many styles will shrink your kitchen (or any other room) considerably.

Let's put the finishing touches on now!

Another way to expand your space and lend an air of cleanliness is by adding reflective items that will bounce the light around.  While we all love our decorative canisters, these plain glass canisters will visually expand your room and will go with any color choice without competing.

I remember having a white set with mushrooms on them.  That went out of style and a set with frogs took their place.  Then I had to get rid of the frogs because ducks came into style.  The ducks were replaced with another fad.....and on and on.  How much money would I have saved over the years had I just opted for pretty clear glass canisters that go with any style and any color??

Rule of thumb.........add color either in your accessories or your wall - try not to do both if your space is small.

If you noticed, this kitchen had no backsplash.  The area between the cabinets and the counter top was painted red.

Since my idea of fixing this kitchen involved painting the walls a bluish green, how about continuing this onto the back splash?  These glass tiles are reflective and colorful without being overwhelming.  If you're going to do your own installation, the small tiles are the way to go.  There's no cutting required.

What if you're thinking "I don't want bluish gray and I don't want white cabinets"?  Let me show you what a beige kitchen looks like.  You know I'm not a huge beige fan, but beige can be very attractive if done correctly.

This beige kitchen is clean and shiny!  Just as a kitchen should be!  Notice the glass canisters?  They add visual interest in the room while not getting in your face!  Lovely!

Last tip for the kitchen or bathroom - never EVER put borders in either room.  A border attracts your eyes to it.  It interrupts your eyes.  It ALWAYS makes your room appear shorter and smaller than it really is.  Want color?  Get it by putting a red (or any other saturated color) teapot on your stove, colorful kitchen towels, a colorful backsplash.

Next we talk about awkward support walls.

Where to begin with this picture?  The first thing I notice about this picture is the black support wall.  Then I notice the tiny kitchen (painted red) and the sage green walls (which are nice).  I can't begin to imagine what they were thinking when they decided that a single black wall in the middle of the room coupled with the brick red cave kitchen and light sage green walls were a good idea.  I'm all for separation of spaces, but this takes that concept to a new extreme.  And don't even get me started on the carpet in the dining room.

My solution?  Paint, paint and more paint.  Because they painted this black, primer is the key here.  If I were going to go with the bluish green in the kitchen, I would paint these walls to match exactly or at a maximum to be only 1 shade darker than the kitchen.  I would rip off that tile on the back of the pony wall (it's really too narrow to be considered a breakfast bar) and then paint it the same color as the walls.

Once the cabinets are painted white, the walls painted a neutral color and the backsplash is tiled, this entire space will look and feel so much brighter, cleaner and larger.

Long blog today but as you know, I am not a woman of few words when it comes to bad taste and bad design.

Enjoy your day!