The Art of French Kitchen Design

Philip and I just returned from a “fabuleux” two-week vacation in Paris.  In order to have a richer and more varied experience, we rented an apartment near the Eiffel Tower for the first week and then moved to an apartment in Le Marais for the second week.   This strategy was a great way to experience two distinct neighborhoods in Paris and it also gave me the opportunity to try out two European-style kitchens in person.

First off, let me clarify what is unique about European kitchens.  Anyone that has traveled abroad knows that European hotel rooms tend to be smaller than those in the U.S.   The same is true for residential spaces and kitchens, especially in urban centers like Paris.   Most of the existing residential buildings in Paris were built in the late 19th century as part of the Haussmann renovation plan commissioned by Napoleon III.   Fortunately, the city planners of Paris were not influenced by the urban renewal craze that swept most American cities in the 50’s and 60’s. As a result, kitchens in Europe are designed for smaller, more compact 19th century spaces versus the larger spaces that have become the norm in the U.S.

There are several specific qualities that European designed kitchens share:

Boldly efficient kitchen design

Boldly efficient kitchen design

Ease of accessibility-The main premise of European design is to bring the kitchen to the user as opposed to the user having to visit multiple work stations to prepare a meal.  A floor plan that positions the most often used items within easy reach is the primary aim.

Effective use of space-Since space is at a premium, European kitchens are designed to be highly efficient.   Parisians shop more often and buy locally from the plethora of markets that are scattered about the city.  Kitchens are not designed for the bulk shopping that is prevalent in the U.S.

Integrated, small-scale refrigerator

Integrated, small-scale refrigerator

Compact appliances-One of the most noticeable differences in European kitchens is the use 24” wide appliances versus the 30-36” appliances used in America.   I did most of the cooking in Paris and was pleasantly surprised by the comfort of using a 24” cooktop, refrigerator and oven.    Another key difference is the lack of a garbage disposal which opens up a host of possibilities for optimizing the space under the sink.  Europeans have also embraced the use of a combination washer/dryer which eliminates one appliance from the mix.

Energy efficiency-The cost of electricity in Europe is between 50% and 300% higher than the cost of electricity in the United States.   Europeans are accustomed to using highly efficient appliances that take longer to complete their tasks.  This is especially true for dishwashers, washers and dryers that are used frequently.

Cost efficiency-Because the physical space is smaller, the cost of a kitchen renovation is less in Europe than in the U.S.   Europeans tend to invest in better quality fixtures and finishes to create a visually striking space that is also designed for optimal convenience, accessibility and efficiency, a strategy that would benefit many American homes as well.

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The Legacy of Morgan and Mizner

I have long been fascinated by the work of Julia Morgan and Addison Mizner, two Bay Area architects who made an indelible mark on the architecture of California and Florida in the early twentieth century.   Although there is no record that these two iconic architects ever met, they share a legacy of startling similarities (and some distinct differences).

Julia Morgan and Addison Mizner were both born in the Bay Area in 1872 and spent their formative years in Oakland and Benicia respectively.   They both came from highly respected families of substantial means and social standing.


Julia Morgan was a feminist trailblazer who was the first woman to receive a degree in architecture at l’Ecole Beaux-Arts in Paris and the first woman architect to be licensed in the state of California.  Julia Morgan’s design aesthetic was greatly influenced by her mentor, Bernard Maybeck, and by her exposure to European architecture as a student in Paris.


Addison Mizner, on the other hand, did not receive a formal education in architecture but became an apprentice and eventually a partner with a successful San Francisco architecture firm.    Mizner traveled extensively in Europe, South America and the South Pacific during the early part of his career and incorporated these international influences into his designs.  


1919 was a milestone year for both Julia Morgan and Addison Mizner.  That was the year that Julia Morgan was introduced to William Randolph Hearst and began work on La Cuesta Encantada, better known as Hearst Castle, and Addison Mizner was introduced to Edward T. Stotesbury and began work on El Mirasol, a 37-room mansion in Palm Beach, Florida.


Both of these palatial and over-the-top homes combine Spanish, Italian, Mediterranean and Gothic influences in a manner that didn’t exist in American residential architecture at that time.  It is remarkable that these two Bay Area architects, working on projects at opposite sides of the continent, came up with very similar design solutions that would change the face of high-end residential architecture for years to come.    Morgan would develop and evolve this style throughout her career and Mizner would become famous for the Palm Beach style of architecture that he introduced with El Mirasol. 

The other similarity between Julia Morgan and Addison Mizner is that they are both assumed to be gay.    Both of them had same-sex “companions” who played an important and yet discreet role in their lives.  Neither of them opted to hide behind a marriage of convenience which was a courageous life choice for two such sought-after architects.

Julia Morgan would go on to have a prolific and successful career, leaving behind a rich legacy of buildings that have survived to the present.   Addison Mizner reached incredible career heights but ultimately died broke and disgraced because of his involvement in the Boca Raton development scandal.   He is remembered for the Palm Beach style he created even though there are very few of his buildings still standing. Those of you who saw the recent production of Stephen Sondheim’s “Road Show” at Theatre Rhinoceros got an entertaining introduction to Addison Mizner and his notorious brother, Wilson, who are the protagonists of the show.

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Remodeling Trends for 2014

Have you noticed all of the construction sites popping up around the Bay Area these days? The pent-up demand from the recession has resulted in a building boom that is projected to continue through 2014. These are some of the other key trends that will be impacting the market in the coming year.

Prices are going UP↑

As the demand for remodeling and new construction increases so does the cost of labor and materials.   The recession drove prices down in most major categories, especially labor.  The resurgence in demand is reversing that trend and driving construction costs up by 10-20% in the coming year.     If you are considering a home improvement project, you will be better off financially to do it sooner versus later.  The project that you postpone will definitely cost you more a year from now.

Water Conservation

Water-conserving Vanity Faucets

Water-conserving Vanity Faucets

As most of you know, we are heading into a serious drought so water conservation is going to be a hot topic in the Bay Area.   A new California Green Building Code went into effect on January 1, 2014 that sets a new standard of compliance for residential water conservation.   The prior code required that you update the plumbing fixtures in any room that was being remodeled.  Now you have to update all non-compliant fixtures throughout the house when making permit-related improvements. Noncompliant plumbing fixtures include:

  1. Toilets that use more than 1.6 gallons of water per flush
  2. Showerheads with a flow of more than 2.5 gallons per minute
  3. Faucets that emit more than 2.2 gallons per minute

The implementation of this new code will undoubtedly vary from city to city.  I recommend that you leave an allowance for these plumbing updates in your remodeling budget until you find out otherwise.

Water-conserving shower fixtures

Water-conserving shower fixtures

Smart Home Systems


The integration of home systems and our hand-held devices is another trend that is really gaining momentum.    This is not just for tech-savvy, early adopters but for anyone who is interested in using technology to help simplify their lives.

At least-expensive end of the spectrum is the U-socket wall plug that has two- built-in USB ports to power devices such as iPhones, iPads, gaming devices, digital cameras and Kindles. The U-Socket also has a smart sensor that allows it to shut off when the device is fully charged.


There is a broad range of smart home systems that provide you with remote access from the touch screen of your phone or tablet and range in cost from about $5,000 to over $100,000 depending on the complexity of the system.   These are the most common features available today.

  • Programmable lighting systems that allow you control the lighting throughout your house from your hand-held device.
  • Computerized thermostats that let you adjust the temperature setting remotely when you are leaving or heading home.

Security systems that call your smartphone if there’s an intruder and allow you to view the images from your security cameras remotely.

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Gifts and Gadgets for the Home Remodeler

I am always on the lookout for ways to simplify and streamline the design and remodeling process.   The technology and information age has come to the rescue with a plethora of apps, websites, books and gadgets that make the task an easier one.  This is an edited list of my favorites, many of which make great gifts for anyone who is into home design and remodeling on a small or large scale.

Websites:  Setting up accounts on Pinterest and Houzz for the home design enthusiast in your family is definitely a gift that keeps on giving.   Pinterest is a user-friendly, virtual cork-board site where you can collect images and ideas that you find on the Web.  Houzz is a site with an inspiring collection of interior design ideas that can be organized into Ideabooks to suit your personal taste and project needs.  Both sites have quickly become indispensable to homeowners and home improvement professionals.

ImageGadgets: My starter kit of remodeling gadgets includes a digital camera, iPad or tablet, a standardImage tape measure and a level which are items that most of us already own.  I recommend supplementing the starter kit with a laser “tape measure”  that allows one person to take accurate room dimensions with a handheld laser device and a construction calculator which manages all of the dimension conversions into feet, inches, yards and meters with the touch of a button.  My favorites are the DeWALT Laser Distance Measurer (DW030P) and the Calculated Industries Construction Master Pro Calculator (4065).


Apps: Photo Measures for iPhone and iPad ($5.99) and D-Photo Measures for Android are similar apps that let you take a photograph of a room on your phone or tablet and mark it up with measurements for future reference.  Video Painter for iOS is one of the best virtual wall paint apps available. It lets you take a picture or video of a room and virtually paint it a new color. The colors in the preview image look accurate and the selections include real paints from Behr, Benjamin Moore, and other well-known brands. 



Books: The market has been flooded recently with interior design books that vary in quality and Imageusefulness.  Many of them are overpriced tomes that are more focused on promoting a designer than offering helpful advice.  The books that have become my go-to sources for inspiration are Decorating Master Class by Elissa Cullman and Tracey Pullman, Jeffrey Bilhuber’s Design Basics and Daryl Carter’s The New Traditional.

 Software: Most people hire a designer, architect or contractor to draw the plans for their project but it can be a real money-saver to do some preliminary drawings on your own before hiring a professional.   The Urban Barn Room Planner is a web-based program that allows you to create a furniture plan for every room in your home.  Autodesk Homestyler is a fast and easy way to create 2D and 3D drawings of a single room or your entire house.

Hopefully you will find these remodeling tips and tools extremely helpful but also fun to use.

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Over-the-Tabletop, DINING BY DESIGN 2013, San Francisco

Each year, my partner Philip and I kick off the Holiday Season by attending DINING BY DESIGN, the annual fundraiser sponsored by DIFFA, Design Industries Foundation Fighting AIDS


Over the years, DIFFA events like DINING BY DESIGN have raised more than $40 million for HIV/AIDS care nationwide. Local event proceeds support patients at the city’s largest HIV/AIDS clinic at San Francisco General Hospital also known as Ward 86.


DINING BY DESIGN features awe-inspiring dinner table installations created by leading and emerging designers and underwritten by corporate hosts.  Each designer is assigned a space to create an extraordinary dining installation for 10 guests.  The table themes are left up to the designers and range from urbane to rustic to over-the-top fantasy.    Some of the more memorable installations from recent years include a table setting inspired by the movie the “The Birds”, a tribute to Elizabeth Taylor and a recreation from Snow White complete with dwarves and a costumed model “sleeping” in a glass coffin that doubled as the dining table.

For the last twelve years DINING BY DESIGN San Francisco was held at the San Francisco Design Center and mostly attracted design industry professionals.   This year the event was moved to City View at the Metreon and attracted a younger, hipper and dare I say it, gayer crowd.   There were fewer table installations to admire but the energy in the room made for a better party.   The entry area for this year’s event was anchored by an art installation entitled “Fade to Zero” which visually depicted DIFFA’s goal of wiping out HIV/AIDS in our lifetime.


Attending DINING BY DESIGN always inspires me to create fabulous tablescapes for the Holiday Season.  I learned the art of setting a beautiful table from a dear friend who died in 1992 from HIV/AIDS complications.   And now I pass on some of what I learned from him to you.

  1. Setting a beautiful table is a great compliment to your guests and makes the dining experience a memorable one.   Use a framed photo of each guest in lieu of a place card to add a personal touch to the tablescape and provide each guest with a memento to take home.
  2. Candles create an inviting atmosphere for any dinner party, whether casual or formal.   I converted half of the electric candles in my dining room chandelier to real candles to achieve the perfect lighting scheme for every occasion.
  3. Mix and match your dinner ware to create unique combinations of old and new. Use the heirloom china that you have inherited or purchase vintage china on eBay or at local resale shops to add character and charm to your table scape.Image
  4. Use linens from Asia, South America or Europe to introduce an exotic note to the proceedings.  There are wonderful and affordable linens from India, Peru, Italy and Uzbekistan that will create a distinctive look for your holiday dinner parties.
  5. Use multiple flower arrangements that are low to the table and full of fragrant blooms to entice the senses of your holiday guests
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2013 Greater Bay Area Design Awards

On Wednesday, October 16, I had the honor of being one of the hosts and presenters at the design and remodeling awards event known as the REMMIES. The REMMIES are awarded each year by the three local chapters of NARI (National Association of the Remodeling Industry, ) to recognize excellence and leadership in the industry as exemplified by the projects submitted by the participating design professionals and contractors. The local NARI chapters are comprised of companies located in San Francisco, the East Bay, Contra Costa County and the North Bay from Marin to Santa Rosa, a total of 238 companies in all.

The REMMIES are presented to winners in a variety of categories and budget ranges including Kitchen, Bathroom, Home Theatre, Residential Interior, Residential Exterior, Entire House, Green Building and Historical Preservation.

Judging was completed in August by a three-person panel representing the interior design, architecture and construction fields.   The awards were given at a festive event held at the Pavilion at Jack London Square, overlooking the Oakland estuary.

All of the winning projects are worthy of mention but there are three that illustrate the high standards of this prestigious award.

In the category of kitchen design and construction, Building Lab Inc. ( in Oakland transformed the kitchen of a Piedmont home into a light-filled space that is fully integrated with the adjacent family room.  The large island centerpiece straddles and accentuates the transition from the intimate eight foot kitchen ceiling to the airy vaulted height of the family room.  The use of natural wood cabinets with a white quartz counter top and white tile backsplash lends the space a modern look that is warm and inviting.

DP RK-120+ 2013-11 BUILDING LAB INC (706x800)

Leff Construction Design/Build ( in Sonoma County won first prize in the category of Green Building, for a new home that combines lodge-style aesthetics with highly advanced technology to achieve zero net energy consumption and zero carbon fuel usage.  This high-tech house includes a photovoltaic system with battery back-up, hydronic forced air system that heats the house with warm water and an LED interior and exterior lighting system.  All lighting and mechanical systems are monitored and controlled remotely via the owner’s iPad.  This house delivers the perfect combination of rustic charm and modern efficiency to meet the homeowner’s needs.

Residental building project.

The grand prize was awarded to McCutcheon Construction ( in Berkeley for an incredible basement remodel that expanded the space from 175 square feet to 955 square feet.  The newly remodeled basement includes a guest suite and a modern media room with access to the garden outside.  The excavation of the enlarged space extended beyond the original footprint of the home which opened the downstairs spaces to natural light and created a private outdoor living space.   The space was completed with a combination of simple finishes and Asian antiques that create an environment that is casual with an air of sophistication.

GC RI-100+ 2013-12 MCCUTHEON CONST. (800x532)

Learn more about NARI and the REMMIES at San Francisco Bay Area NARI,

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Aging In Place:Bathrooms

A month ago when I was writing the first installment of this article, I was helping my parents explore options for adapting their home to better meet their needs as they get older.  As it turned out, the changes that were needed, especially in the bathrooms, were too costly and too disruptive to be considered as viable solutions.  In a four week period, my siblings and I helped my parents find a universally designed apartment and move out of the house they had lived in for 54 years.   Although I think it is wonderful that our family accomplished this life-changing milestone in record time, I don’t recommend following our example.  Planning in advance is the better way to go. Trust me.

One of the fundamental principles of good interior design is to create living spaces that remain relevant over the life of the room.  This is especially true for bathrooms which are costly to remodel and present a unique set of challenges for aging homeowners.   These are some of the guidelines to follow when planning your next bathroom remodel.

  • Safe and comfortable access is one of the primary goals for a well-designed bathroom.  
    • The entry and shower door openings  should be at least 32” or wider if possible
    • The shower itself should be a minimum of 36” by 36” in size with a low curb to reduce the trip hazard.  If the size of your bathroom permits, a no curb shower is the best option for both safety and aesthetics.


    • The drying area in front of the vanity and toilet should be 48” to 60” wide.
    • Unless it is a bathroom that will be used by young children, a walk-in shower with a bench is usually a better option than a tub/shower combination.      If having a bathtub to soak in is a must then keep the height of the tub at 18” or below.
    • Slipping in the shower or bathtub is the #1 cause of home-related injuries.  For that reason, all showers and bathtubs should have grab bars no matter what the average age of the users.   Grab bar design has come a long way in short time.   There are plenty of very stylish options from which to choose.


    • Most people find a comfort-height (slightly higher) toilet with an elongated bowl the most comfortable option for both sitting and standing.
    • Vanity heights have also increased to help keep things within easy and convenient reach.
    • Lever handles on plumbing fixtures are very attractive and much easier to operate than other types of handles.


    • A good lighting plan is an important finishing touch for any bathroom.   At a minimum you need two ceiling lights over the shower and drying area and a wall sconce (or two) over the sink.

Designing for the comfort and safety of multiple generations does not mean that you have to give up on aesthetics.   A thoughtful design can achieve the ideal balance of form and function to serve your needs for many years to come.

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Aging In Place

I am writing this article from “my old Kentucky home,” the house where my parents have lived for the past 54 years.  My siblings and I are working on a plan for updating the house to meet the changing needs of my parents as they get older. This exercise has prompted me to look at my own house and my own future with a fresh perspective.  My partner, Philip, and I plan to retire in the next 10 years and remain in the Bay Area.   Like many of our contemporaries, especially in the LGBT community, Philip and I are on our own without the support of children or family members who live nearby. This puts even more importance on planning ahead so that we can continue to enjoy our independent lifestyle as we grow older.

The concept of Aging in Place is a major trend in home design and remodeling and addresses the needs of those who want to grow older in the comfort of their own homes. The concept of Aging in Place is not about designing for the geriatric set.  It is about creating living spaces that are comfortable, efficient and attractive for people of all ages.   If you are planning to remodel or refresh your home, it makes sense to incorporate some of these principles into your plans, no matter what your age.  Since this topic is far too broad to cover in a single article, I am going to address the fundamentals of space planning this month and focus on kitchen and bathroom design next month.

Door Openings:  One of the best ways to enhance the accessibility of your home is to widen the door openings.   Exterior door openings should be at least 36” to 42” wide and interior door openings should be 32” to 36” wide.   These dimensions are about 4-6” wider than the average which creates a very comfortable transition from one space to another.

Door Styles:  Look for opportunities to replace hinged, interior doors with pocket or barn doors whenever possible.   The swing of a hinged door takes up valuable space and the door itself impedes movement when it is left open.     Pocket or barn doors are more expensive to install but are well worth it in the long run.   If you want to install a pocket door in the same wall with a light switch you can frame the wall about 2” wider to create the space necessary for both the door and the electrical box.


Traffic Flow:  Every room needs to have a clearly defined and comfortable path for moving through the space.   High traffic walkways should be at least 42” wide to allow two people to pass one another with ease.  A 36” walkway is ideal in more private spaces such as a bedroom or home office.   If you don’t have the budget to widen your hallways you can accomplish a lot by limiting the size and quantity of the furniture in your house. 


Next month we will take on accessible kitchens and bathrooms.

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San Francisco Decorator Showcase

The San Francisco Decorator Showcase is one of the Bay Area’s premier design show house events, featuring the work of top designers and raising funds for the San Francisco University High School Financial Aid Program.   Over its 35 year history, the Showcase has been held in architecturally significant homes throughout San Francisco featuring rooms that range from tastefully elegant to wild, wacky and whimsical.   The designers and artisans who donate their time and resources for this event create fantastic spaces that inspire, seduce, challenge and sometimes confound the senses.  The site for this year’s Showcase was Herbst Manor, an 8,000 square foot, 1906 Georgian mansion, that was transformed and re-imagined by 24 talented design firms from around the Bay Area.

The show house was full of beautiful spaces but there was one room that stood out for me as the defining, awe-inspiring moment in tour. The master bathroom created by the design firm Siol (pronounced she-ohl) under the direction of Jessica Weigley and Kevin Hackett offered the perfect balance of innovative design, superb artistry and craftsmanship and natural beauty as a testament to the “sacred ritual of bathing.”


The design team at Siol was inspired by the human need for health, connection, balance and beauty with the goal of creating a modern bathroom that meets the needs of daily use but also provides a vessel for reflection. The team came up with a brilliant floor plan with a central, open shower that is surrounded by zones for bathing, cleansing and drying.  The floor plan include multi-purpose, sliding wall screens that provide privacy for the shower and toilet chamber and are beautiful works of art as well.  The cleansing and drying area in the front of the space takes full advantage of the city-scape view while the rear bathing area is a meditative environment centered in front of a beautiful living wall comprised of baby’s tears, spearmint, woodland fern, French lavender and other plant life.


The fixtures and furnishings throughout the bathroom have simple, sculptural qualities that create the feeling of a private art gallery.   The color scheme contrasts bronze and ebony with a background of white. The vibrant green living wall in the rear of the space is the perfect counter point to the neutral colors used in the rest of the space. The total effect is one that is nurturing and sensual, exactly what a bathroom should be.

These are the design ideas that can be adapted from this Showcase bathroom to your own home. 

  1. Put a fresh, modern spin on the style of your bathroom, even if you live in an older home.
  2. Explore unconventional floor plan options
  3. Design the shower as an integral part of the space  
  4. Choose fixtures with simple, clean lines


   4.   Create an interesting canvas with neutral color scheme in contrasting colors

   5.   Introduce color with plants that thrive in a humid environment

These ideas can be executed at all budget levels and will help to transform your bathroom into a space inspired by health, connection, balance and beauty. 

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What am I marching for?


In honor of San Francisco Pride, I am taking a break from the topic of remodeling and design to write about a topic that is even closer to my heart.  My partner Philip and I have accepted an invitation to ride in the San Francisco Bay Times cable car in the Pride Parade on June 30th.  After living in the Bay Area for 32 years and attending countless Pride events, this is the first time we will be active participants in the Parade versus passive on-lookers.   Both of us are more excited about the opportunity than we expected to be.   The newness of the experience has prompted me to pause and reflect on what I am marching for.

  1. I am marching for the young children who recognize that they are different from their siblings and class mates and need to explore their preferences in a safe and supportive environment.   I am marching to help protect them from the psychological and physical harm that scarred my childhood growing up in a conservative town in Kentucky in the 1960’s and 1970’s.  I want them to feel a deep sense of pride versus the deep sense of shame that so many of us experienced in our youths.
  2. I am marching for the young lovers, who discover the joy and excitement of their first relationship.   I am marching for the rights of teenagers and young adults to fall in love and experiment with sex without being tormented by parents, teachers and pastors who want to run their lives or stand in their way.   I fell in love with another boy from my high school at the age of 15 and briefly experienced the rapture that first love can bring.   Unfortunately, our relationship could not withstand the barrage of threats and lectures that ultimately severed the relationship for good.  I don’t want others to live with the regret of missed opportunities.
  3. Lastly, I am marching for the older lovers who have waited all of their lives to be married.    My partner Philip first asked me to marry him in the fall of 1979.   At the time, I thought it was more of a joke than a serious proposal.   Our relationship was very new and hardly ready for a long-term commitment. The idea that gay marriage would be legal in our lifetime seemed out of the question.   Well, our relationship is still going strong after 34 years and it looks like Marriage Equality will become a reality soon so I think it is time to say yes to his proposal.

There are many compelling reasons to stand and be counted at the San Francisco LGBT Pride event.  For me, it is the desire to make the painful and traumatic experiences that have impacted my life a thing of the past.  It is about replacing feelings of shame and confusion with feelings of Pride in the truest sense of the word.

Take a moment to reflect on what Pride means to you.   What are you marching for?

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