Designing for Art: A Picture-Perfect Bathroom



Sometimes designing a room will build upon one inspiration as the room begins to take shape. That is how this particular bathroom came to be.



The new owners of this home in Freeland, Washington had a master bathroom with a lot of funky angles and only 2 feet between the shower/bath and the vanity. Although they are currently in good health, they wanted to make the bathroom more handicap accessible to be able to age in place. They wanted to enlarge the bathroom by relocating the small walk-in closet and combine the two rooms into one large master suite.

There were a few things to keep in mind while laying out the new bathroom.

1.     The attic access in the closet needed to remain where it was and we needed it to remain easily accessible.

2.     There was a skylight in the bathroom that was located over the existing shower/tub combination. This needed to remain where it was.

3.     The water closet housing the toilet was to remain where it was as it was accessible, functional, and to move it would cost more money.

Once I entered all the measurements into the computer and started constructing a new layout a few different elements came into play.

1.     Double Sink Vanity:  I wanted the couple to still have a double vanity and it was not going to be possible with the existing angles if we put it on the north/entry wall of the bathroom. The double sinks either needed to stay where they were on the east wall of the bathroom, or they needed to move over to the west wall of the bathroom.

2.     Handicap Accessible Shower: This also needed to be located on the east wall or the west wall. There simply wasn’t enough room to put this on the north wall without making the bathroom seem a lot smaller and chopped up.

3.     If the east wall and west wall were taken up with the usual focal points of the bathroom (shower & vanity), what would we do with the north wall, which was what you see when you enter the space?

It became apparent that the best place for the double vanity would be underneath the attic access. This way a door could still be pulled down and clear the countertop. I also liked the idea of centering the new walk-in shower on the skylight. The only remaining question was what to do with the big, angled north entry wall.

I always try to design a room based on what a person sees when they first enter a space. In this case, the client would see a large, blank wall with an angle in it. We needed to add something to enhance the wall. I asked them if they had a piece of art they would like to showcase and it turns out, they did!

They walked me into a room and showed me a piece that they were trying to figure out where to place in their new home. It was perfect for the new bathroom. Looking at it I was reminded of a tile I had seen a few months previous in Bellevue at Dwellings Tile & Stone. It was a large format called Mojave Blue by Artistic Tile. The homeowners loved the tile and it worked perfectly with the painting. Now this is a tile that is a focal point all on its own and we didn’t want to go overboard with it. We placed it on the east wall behind the vanity and the west wall where you enter into the shower. The rest of the bathroom walls and floor were tiled in soft, neutral colors that subtly compliment the Mojave Blue and showcases the painting, bringing a visual balance to the bathroom. What do you think?





How Much Does a Kitchen Remodel Really Cost? A Cost Analysis:

Part of my job as a designer is helping people sort out their budget, verifying costs and thinking of ways to get the best value you can get on your investment in a remodel. It’s one of the first questions I ask, “What is your budget?” I don’t ask this because I want to spend your entire budget (my services are actually a flat fee so it’s a moot point). I ask this because I am trying to figure out if you can proceed with your remodel with realistic expectations. It’s a completely free conversation that takes place before a homeowner decides to hire me.

Quite often I am told someone doesn’t really know what their budget is and that they need some guidance. A prospective client may be in the beginning phases of thinking about a remodel and collecting some figures or doing some research. In order to give people a ballpark budget I usually advise that a kitchen remodel will run about 10-15% of the house value. Now, that doesn’t mean that your kitchen remodel will even cost 10%. It also doesn’t mean you will stay under 15%, but it does give a person a realistic budget to work with.

About 50% of the budget goes to the labor. That means your general contractor, electrician, plumber, painter, tile setter, flooring installer… The other 50% goes towards materials (cabinets, countertops, backsplash, light fixtures, hardware, appliances, flooring, plumbing fixtures…). I am not sure this figure carries across all over the country, but in the greater Seattle area (where I work) it holds pretty true.

I decided to break down the costs on this “budget” remodel to give people a better understanding of where their money goes in a kitchen renovation and this kitchen in Coupeville is a great example.

The homeowners came to me and asked if I could design a kitchen for them for a $35,000 budget. Although $35,000 is a lot of money, for a kitchen remodel it is a tight fit. In my head, the first thing I thought of was, “that leaves me with $17,500 for all the materials… Can I do it”? Appliances alone can cost $7,000 and any countertop but laminate was going to require a slab. The flooring also needed to be replaced and they wanted to enlarge the scope of the kitchen. The range was crammed up against the wall by the garage and there was only 12” on either side of the range to pull off pots and pans. Could I do this?

I knew I would have to move the refrigerator. The range was already venting out of the ceiling, and in their case, it would cost more money to move the range that the fridge. There was no way around that decision if they were going to gain ample space to cook. The homeowners had already expressed that they wanted to move the glass slider down to get a little more cabinet space and they also wanted an eating bar. The countertops were being used to hold the appliances like the microwave instead of being able to be used as work surfaces. If they were going to go through the expense of a kitchen remodel, these were all issues that needed to be addressed.

Background on the homeowners:

·         They were young (in their 20’s) so I didn’t have to worry about arthritis, or bad backs or mobility issues I may have needed to address if they were older.

·         This wasn’t going to be their forever home. They had just bought the home and needed it to be functional, but they would need to recoup any remodeling costs in the resell of the house. They were probably looking at moving in the next 3 years.

·         The husband was in the navy and they had learned to “travel light”. There wasn’t 20 years of kitchen gadgets, dishes and glasses they had to plan for. These two kept it simple.

·         They planned to reuse all their appliances since they were all new to the home.

I thought that I could give them a kitchen design and remodel based on their budget knowing what I knew about them. I explained the pros and cons about every decision along the way. The decisions we made to keep costs down were as follows:

·         Full height doors everywhere except for 1 drawer bank. Drawers and roll out shelves are double the cost of a cabinet with full height doors and adjustable shelving. I would never suggest to someone that was going to be in their house long term, or who was over the age of 35 to go this route because drawers are much more functional in a kitchen. However, this couple was young, fit, didn’t have a ton of pots and pans and they would probably move within 3 years. The decision kept costs down on the cabinets. Down the road if a new homeowner buys the house, they can install roll out shelves if they want the convenience of drawers.

·         Builder grade cabinets. This particular line is Bellmont’s 1600 line. It is the only builder grade cabinet that I would actually put in my own house (because I am a fancy pants kitchen designer). Bellmont has a wonderful selection of textured melamine cabinets that are very contemporary in style and fit into the budget perfectly.

·         Countertops were a quartz manufactured for the fabricator that was priced by the square foot.

·         Wall cabinets flank the range, but we cut down on cabinet costs by installing floating shelves by Whidbey Millhouse on the sink wall. These shelves are made from reclaimed wood beams.

·         We used a vinyl floor in the kitchen.

·         All the appliances were reused, nothing new needed to be repurchased.

·         The sink and dishwasher stayed in the same location.

More expensive decisions we made that added to the design and function of the kitchen were as follows:

·         We added an extra window for light. There was already a window over the sink. The homeowners installed a new slider further over on the wall so it gave them an opportunity to put in another window to match the first.

·         The first thing you see when you enter the home used to be the sliding door and the deck. Since they were moving the slider, I wanted to first impression upon entering the home to still bring you into the outdoors. That’s why I suggested adding another window.

·         There were only 3 places for the fridge to live.

1.      Option 1- the same place next to the range. That wasn’t working for the cook.

2.      Option 2- next to the run of cabinets where the trash bin used to sit. Since the sliding door was moving down, we could have moved the fridge to that wall. I didn’t like this solution for two reasons. I didn’t want the refrigerator to be the first thing you see when you entered the house and I didn’t want the fridge to separate off the eating bar. It made sense to keep the countertop continuous.

3.      Option 3- was the winner. We recessed the fridge into the garage wall and replaced the door to the garage with a more attractive one.

Here is how the materials budget broke down:

·         Cabinets $7550.

·         Countertops $4150 (material, fabrication and installation)

·         Appliances $0 (All reused)

·         Tile & Grout $1300

·         Vinyl Flooring $300

·         Lighting $200

·          Pulls $80

·         Plumbing Fixtures $200

$13,780 approximately for materials on this kitchen remodel.

$22,000 approximately for labor on this kitchen remodel. This including plumbing, electrical, flooring and tile installation, window and door installations, recessing the fridge into the garage, appliance installation, drywall repair and paint, cabinet and shelving installation, moving the slider…


$35,780 was the approximate cost on the entire kitchen. The house is valued at $315,816 (according to Redfin). The kitchen remodel was just over 11% of the value of the home. How did we do?















Cabinets are Like Burgers

Fast food, an upscale chain, or your local Bistro? Wait… What? Yep, think of it this way, you drive through your local fast food restaurant. You are hungry and you know what you are getting. The pros are fast services (they are premade) & inexpensive prices. The cons are a limited menu, questionable nutrition and (many would say) palatability. You can ask for a burger without the pickle, but in the end you are going to have to remove the pickle yourself.

Then you have some upscale hamburger chains. These are the places that offer 15 different choices of burgers and you can usually customize your order (I’ll have the California burger without the onions). Here you have to wait because they have to cook your order. The burgers are more expensive but the ingredients are fresh.

The third option is visiting your local Bistro where Chef Raul has agreed to serve hamburgers on his menu. However, he has perfected what is quite possibly the most delicious hamburger you have ever tasted in your life! How did he do that? He’s not telling it’s a secret recipe. You won’t be able to repeat this at home. You also just paid $50.00 for a hamburger.

All 3 versions have their market and most people will visit each establishment at least once in their lives. Some people live on fast food, some prefer upscale chains and some treat themselves to Raul’s special recipe.

Cabinets are the same: Contractor Grade = Fast Food.

 In order the keep costs down on these cabinets sacrifices have to be made. This is easier to do with a limited menu. The wood quality, finishes and hardware will have to be sacrificed too. There are few custom options on a builder grade cabinet and because of this they do not usually stand the test of time and do not always make the most efficient use of the space available. These cabinets aren’t really a good long term investment, but many homeowners choose this route because they are in a starter home or plan on selling or renting in the near future.

  • Faster Service (Many are premade or quickly made).
  • Limited Choices (cabinet sizes, woods, door styles and finishes).
  • Less Expensive (cheaper hardware, lower grade of lumber)
  • Lower Quality of Construction

Custom and Semi-Custom Cabinet Company = Upscale Chain

These are the cabinet companies that are large enough to have a distributorship. Your local kitchen showroom is usually a distributor for 2 or 3 different cabinet companies. This allows them to be able to offer the consumer a full service of design options, wood species, door styles and finishes available. What this means for the homeowner is more options in style and price range and you can usually find what you want.

Custom Cabinet and Furniture Builders = Chef Raul

High end custom cabinet and furniture builders will give you the highest quality of materials and craftsmanship that is available on the market. They have the ability to give you whatever you want in trims, custom finishes, sizes…etc. These kitchens are put together by craftsmen who are the best in their trade. Consequently, the cabinets are more expensive because much more has gone into their construction.

Now that should be some food for thought.

12 Essentials for a Kitchen Remodel

The kitchen is the heart and soul of a home because it serves so many purposes. Think about all the things you do in your kitchen. Not only do people prepare meals in them, but the modern kitchen is a multi- purpose room where people gather, visit, entertain, cook, prep, eat, pay bills, do homework, and so much more. A well planned kitchen will take all of this into consideration plus make it the most functional workspace in the house. What follows is a list of 12 essentials that should be planned for before you move forward with a kitchen remodel:

1.     A quality hood
The sole purpose of a range hood is to improve air quality and rid the space of fumes and smoke. This is done by venting the hood directly outside instead of just recirculating the air around the space. Stay away from ductless and microwave hoods.

  • What are the considerations in a good hood?
    • CFM (how many cubic feet per minute of air can be exhausted). The higher the CFM, the better the hood is at capturing smoke and odors. A good quality hood will have over 400 CFM and preferably at least 600 CFM.
    • Venting. Moving the fumes outside (instead of a ductless hood that just recirculates the odors). Vent it out!
    • Captures the whole cooktop surface instead of just the back two burners.
    • Number of fan speeds (three is good). This allows you to remove quickly at a higher speed and move it to a quieter low speed.
    • Exhaust timer will turn the fan off after a set amount of time.
  • Make sure your hood is installed correctly and is the right height from the cooking surface per the factory suggested specifications (usually 24-30”).              

2. Microwave types & placement

  • Types: How do you use your microwave?
    • Do you like the idea of a second oven, but aren’t sure if you have the space? You can invest in a convection bake microwave that has the option of working as an oven or a microwave. These models will fit in a 27”, 30” or 36” cabinet and have optional trim kits available for a built in look.
    • Do you just need a basic model to reheat your coffee? There are many options available. Consider size and how you would like to use it. A GE Spacesaver is great because it will fit on a 12” deep shelf. All other models currently on the market will need at least 15-16” deep shelf to sit on.
    • Placement: Get it off the countertop. Work surface is a valuable resource in a kitchen and a microwave can take up a lot of it. Just keep your ventilation in mind.
      • Installing it under the countertop or in an oven cabinet is great for a built in look.
      • Placing it on a standard depth wall shelf (12”) works for a GE Spacesaver.
      • Hide it in a pantry cabinet.

3.     Trash/recycling placement options

  • Trash/recycling cabinet. These can be attached to the cabinet door for easy access. You will need a minimum of 15” width to accommodate this kind of cabinet.
  • Keep it under the sink. Still a popular option for many homeowners. Small trash bins can usually be found at container stores. Most sink cabinets do not come with an option for pull out trash bins because of space issues with the P-trap and garbage disposals. If this feature is important to you it needs to be planned out in advance with your plumber, contractor or kitchen designer.
  • An old fashioned trash compactor. These have been on the decline in recent years, but still a great option for household garbage. There are many contemporary models on the market now as well as integrated models that will accept a cabinet panel.

4.     A quality undermount sink

  • I am a fan of a quality drop in sink also, but these are easier to replace than an undermount sink.
  • Undermount sinks are great for easy clean up and a little extra countertop space, but it is a lot harder to replace a poor quality sink if it is sandwiched in between your countertop and cabinets.
  • What to look for in a quality stainless sink:
    • The lower the gauge, the thicker the steel. 16-18 gauge is preferred. Why? Strength and noise reduction. Higher gauges sound tinny, noisy and prone to scratches and dents. There is a lot more vibration.
    • Proportion of nickel to stainless steel: 18:8 is preferred. Why? Optimal erosion and stain resistance. Your sink should not hold a magnet
    • Finish–A satin finish will hold up better than a matt finish steel.
    • Insulated undercoatings are also important in keeping the noise level down and reducing moisture condensation on the base cabinet.

5.     An interesting backspash
Whether it’s tile, metal or stone, the backsplash can be the most overlooked area to make your kitchen stand out and give it a “wow” factor.  How many times have you seen a new kitchen and thought, “Yes, that looks nice, but it’s kind of boring”. Take another look at their backsplash. Did they just run their countertop material up 4” on the wall? This is your opportunity to make your kitchen really shine.

6.     Undercabinet lighting

  • Adds extra task lighting while you are cooking
  • Adds a beautiful ambience to the room

7.    A good work triangle
Based on years of practical research, a good work triangle means a more efficient kitchen. In larger kitchens you can bring in second prep sink and effectively set up two work triangles.

8.     Counter space close to the fridge
Makes it easier to load and unload groceries if there is counter space close by. Otherwise, you are in the uncomfortable position of loading and unloading from the floor or walking across the room every few seconds.

9.     Separate workstations (washing, prepping, cooking…)
Your workstations are really what makes your kitchen most functional. In smaller kitchens sometimes a workstation will need to do double duty (washing up and prep), but in larger kitchens they can be separated and give the user a bit more space to cook without clutter.

10.     Soft close hardware
Soft close hardware on your cabinet doors and drawers is a wonderful feature that will preserve the life of your cabinets. So often we unintentionally close a door or drawer harder than we intended to and for those of us with children this feature is wonderful. Most every cabinet line has soft close as an option and some even incorporate it into their entry level cabinet lines as a standard.

10.  Know your countertop options and the pros and cons of each. For a more detailed list of current market selections click here.

  • Stone
  • Engineered Quartz
  • Porcelein Slabs
  • Tile
  • Wood
  • Solid Surface
  • Lamnatee
  • Glass
  • Recycled
  • Metal
  • Concrete

11.  A quality installer with an eye for detail and good references. Look for the following when selecting your contractor:

  • A good finish contractor
    Most important when you are doing construction or remodeling of any kind is the selection of your installer. I cannot stress this enough. There are many contractors out there who are good at the rough in stuff, but lose their attention when it comes to the detail work.
    • Are your cabinet doors hung crooked? Have the drawers been adjusted?
    • Are your tile grout lines evenly spaced and cut? Is there grout or epoxy spilled over onto the tiles?
    • Are there visible gaps in the countertop seams or between the wall and backsplash?
    • Are your cabinets installed level?
  •  Is he licensed, bonded and insured?
    There is a reason for being licensed, bonded and insured and it is to protect you as a homeowner. If you hire someone and the work starts to fail in the first year you need to be covered. Sometimes it isn’t the contractor, but a product they decided to use. If the product was purchased by the installer it falls under their warranty and they need to take care of it. Failure to do so will jeopardize their license. This is a strong incentive to do a good a great job initially and to use quality products.
  • Ask for references and pictures and check those references. Look at those pictures. Can you see any of their detail work?