Sunday, March 31, 2013

Keeping Up With The Trends: Don't Get Caught With Your Pants On The Ground!

The Story:

I have always hated those icebreaker games that are often played at parties to facilitate mingling. You know, those silly diversions where guests are forced to go around in a circle and tell everyone their name and what animal they would be, if they were an animal. Or worse yet, the one where a partygoer is compelled to introduce himself by relating his most embarrassing moment to a room full of barely acquainted people.  

I usually find a convenient excuse to refresh my drink or hide in the bathroom to avoid being drawn into these types of festivities. A party is definitely not the place for such intimate details of one’s personal life to be revealed to strangers. Lucky for you, that sort of story is much better suited to a blog post.

My most embarrassing moment occurred over twenty-six years ago. I was a young nursing student at the Christ Hospital School of Nursing in Cincinnati, Ohio. One morning my alarm failed to go off and I awoke in a panic because I had a big test that day in my nutrition class. Fortunately, I had woken up on my own and if I hurried I could make it to class on time, take the test, and save my GPA. I quickly rolled out of bed but soon realized that almost all of my clothes were in the laundry.  Just like most college students, I had procrastinated to the point that I didn’t have anything left hanging in my closet to wear. Luckily, some of the pile had made it into the dryer. I ran to the basement laundry room stripped down right there and flung the dryer door open. The first two items I could get my hands on were a t-shirt and a pair of my favorite parachute pants. I hastily put them on right there standing in front of the washing machine, then ran out the door barefoot with my shoes in hand.

For those of you who are too young to remember, parachute pants were one of the huge fashion trends of the 1980’s. They where usually made of nylon fabric and had large roomy pants legs that ballooned at the narrow ankle.  All the rock stars and cool kids were wearing the unisex fashion statement and I had to have a pair too.

I made it to my class in the nick of time and slid into my seat as the instructor was passing out the exam. Quickly, I got out my pencil and dived into the many pages of thought provoking questions. I have a nervous habit of crossing my legs and bobbing my foot when I am in deep thought. As I sat there over the next thirty minutes trying to answer one hard question after another, my foot was bobbing furiously. I had made it through about two thirds of the questions, when I suddenly thought I saw something fall out of my pants leg onto the floor. When I looked down to see what the object could be, I was mortified to realize that it was a pair of my own bikini underwear!

I quickly swooped down and grabbed the panties stuffing them in my pocket and scanned the room with a red face to see if anyone else had just seen my unmentionables. Fortunately, everyone was struggling with the difficult test and had their heads buried in their papers. I could hardly finish the remaining questions as I was too worried about whom might have seen my briefs and how I might be the subject of panty jokes and/or snickers about my knickers! When the test concluded I darted out of the room, hoping to avoid contact with my fellow students, and headed straight for the bathroom to hide.

 When I arrived at the restroom, I dashed into a stall and pulled down my parachute pants to make sure that there was nothing else that might fall out and embarrass me at an inopportune moment. Much to my surprise and horror, I not only found another pair of underpants but two t-shirts, a pair of tights, and three socks, all contained in the voluminous pants legs. I had just unknowingly brought half of the contents of my dyer with me to school in the wide-open spaces of my trendy parachute pants. It was at this point in my life when the hidden challenges of managing open spaces became blatantly apparent to me.

The Design Topic of the Week:
Wide Open Spaces: Creating Interesting Harmony

Just as parachute pants were a popular trend in the 1980’s, open concept floor plans are a popular trend today. Currently, one can’t watch a television home renovation show with out hearing the words ”Open Concept “. Show after show depicts clever contractors and designers suggesting the removal of walls to their doubting, squabbling clients.  And although I am a great deal older, I have to admit that I still like new trends and I have thrown myself willingly onto the open floor plan bandwagon.  I love the free feeling that comes from living in a wide-open space and I especially enjoy the way the spaces flow together when entertaining.  The open concept allows everyone in the family to interact with one another while performing a variety of activities. However, it is important to note that just as my fashion forward, roomy trousers had hidden problems; open floor plans come with their own set concealed design challenges.

When we moved out of our first compartmentalized home and moved into our next custom built, open concept home, I thought that the transition would be a piece of cake. After all, the new home would have much more square footage; surely it would eat up all the furniture contained in the old house with room to spare. However, as the drywall went up in the new home and I started to try and plan out where my existing furniture would go, I realized that open space meant less walls. This would definitely be a challenge because I already owned many pieces of furniture that needed to sit against a wall. Although the square footage in the old house was less, the compartmentalized rooms had each offered four walls on which to place cabinets, sofas, and artwork.

I knew that it wouldn't be a good idea to have five movers with two large trucks of furniture standing around waiting on me to decide where things should be placed. So I devised a plan to determine, in advance, where specific items would be used in the house and where unused items would be stored.

Here is my process:

  1.  The first thing I did was to sit down with graph paper and blue prints and make a scale floor plan of the new space. When creating a scale layout the process is much easier if you make one foot equal one block on the graph paper. My space was large, so it was necessary for me to tape together four pieces of graph paper to construct one large sheet.  If you are not building the home, you may not have access to the blue prints. In this case,  I recommend buying a good tape measure and recording exact measurements of each wall in every room when you go onsite for the home inspection. My husband and I did this when we purchased our current home and it was very helpful.
  2. Next, I went around my home with a measuring tape and recorded the width and depth of every piece of furniture I owned. Once I had the list of pieces and measurements, I used graph paper and cut out scale representations of each my furniture pieces. Again one block equaled one foot. I labeled each representation with initials as I cut them out. It was then easy to lay out the small  furniture renderings on my graph paper floor plan to see what would fit and where it should be placed.

  3. One thing to note when working with scale representations: a comfortable walk way is three feet wide (three graph paper blocks).  You must allow at least three feet distance between objects that sit in an area that will be the main traffic pattern through the room. A distance of 18” (1.5 graph paper blocks) is standard minimum distance between seating and a coffee table.
  4. Once I had moved my paper representations around several times and found the right placement for my things, I copied the names or initials of those objects directly onto the graph paper floor plan. This became my guide on moving day. As the movers brought pieces into the house, I referred to my homemade floor plan and could tell them exactly in which room and on which wall to place the furniture. This process takes a bit of time and preparation, but in the long run, moving paper blocks around in a paper room is much easier than moving around hundreds of pounds of furniture.
Another challenge when designing the interior of an open concept home is harmonizing the color palettes of individual defined areas with each other. And by “harmonizing” I don’t mean matching. There is nothing more boring than touring a home where every room in the house has the exact same color scheme. Just as different notes come together to make a beautiful cord, defined areas should have their own interesting, distinct look and palette but all should work together and have an easy visual transition from area to area. 

My new home in Pittsburgh was especially troublesome as far as blending diverse color palettes. The living room, dining room, and entry hall are all one, giant, open space with only two columns that divide the areas. My great room also opens onto this space with the view only partially obstructed by the staircase.  I decorated my new great room from scratch and desperately wanted a fresh color palette. The adjacent areas were comprised mostly of furnishings that I already owned and I was locked for the most part into the existing colors of furniture and rugs. My dilemma was, "How do I design a brand new room utilizing a new color palette when it is clearly visible from three other areas that already have an established color scheme?"

The color palette of the front areas is a sophisticated spectrum of neutral shades from white to cream to beige to tan to brown. In addition, there are a variety of green hues, punches of dark rusty reds, and black accents. The great room, on the other hand, has a palette comprised of cream and charcoal neutrals, teals, aquas, and a pop of apple green. 

I found my solution for the seemingly opposing color schemes in the transitional area between the two spaces. Although the entry, living room, and dining room are one big open concept, the columns that divide the space are positioned in a way that they create a defined open hallway between the living/dining area and the staircase.

The hallway and staircase areas predominantly share the color palette of the front of house spaces, so I deliberately peppered in a few aqua and teal elements to reference the hues in the great room . The pencil drawings of my three children are matted in a pale aqua and can be seen from both spaces.

The hand embroidered picture that hangs in the transitional hallway was made by my mother.  The intricately beaded cross-stitch is a glorious combination of all the colors from both schemes and a key component in pulling the two spaces together. When you have two opposing palettes, a colorful piece of artwork that contains the whole spectrum of hues can be helpful in harmonizing the spaces.

For an additional color nod to the great room palette, I have subtly added shades of blue into the dining room by displaying my Grandmother's "Blue Onion" china behind the glass doors of the secretary. 

When designing an open concept space it is important to make sure that the areas are well defined. The best way to do this is by giving each area its own focal point. The dining room seen above draws attention with the lighted secretary which is surrounded by an artful collage of antique mirrors and filled with blue china. The living room space pictured below captures the eye with it's massive antique cabinet that displays my old world Santa Claus collection. The Santa's live behind the glass doors throughout the year and come out to play during the holidays.

One of the main reason's my husband and I bought this house was because it had the perfect place for my Santa cabinet. The antique European bookcase is almost nine feet high and nine feet wide. We had searched for years to find an antique cabinet that would be large enough to hold my precious Elaine Roesle Santa Claus collection and there was no way that this prized possession wasn't coming with me from Cincinnati.  Our real estate agent was, at times, a little taken aback with us when we would walk into perfectly lovely houses, take one quick look, and walk out noting that there wasn't a wall large enough to hold the cabinet.

The twelve foot ceilings and the large blank wall worked very well as far as Santa was concerned, but the area itself isn't particularly large. In addition, I didn't have a separate living room in the old Cincinnati house and didn't own any sofa or chairs that would work in this room. The cabinet itself was taking up so much of the area and there wasn't really going to be ton's of space left over. The position of the dividing column was also restricting the furniture placement. I had never imaged that the large open floor plan could actually have space constraints and I wasn't totally sure at first how to furnish this area. 

After some thought, I decided that two large chair-and-a-half sized chairs were the best option. They are slightly smaller than love seats but can each comfortably sit two people. I placed a square, glass-top coffee table between the chairs.  Initially, I was concerned because the table is fairly big in size, but after setting it in the room, I realized that the large scale allowed the table to hold its own with the oversized chairs and immense cabinet. A smaller table would have looked dwarfed. The glass top keeps the table light and airy and prevents the space from looking overcrowded. 

There would not be any extra room for end tables and there was no overhead lighting, so the twin stacked-crystal floor lamps seemed to be a good solution in a room that was quickly filling up with furnishings. They added much needed light and their contemporary style keeps the antiques and traditional  pieces looking updated. The have a nice impact in the room but the clear crystal lamp bases, like the glass-top coffee table, take up less visual space.

My husband and children have nicknamed this room "The Conversation Area" because it is a perfect comfortable place to sit and talk in a TV free environment. Our friends and guest have taken to the nickname as well, and often request to sit there and talk when drinking a cup of coffee or glass of wine. At one point, good friends who were visiting for the weekend, were sharing a drink with us in "The Conversation Area" when our kids came over, sat on the floor, and joined in the lively discussion. My friend, in her wisdom, suggested that perhaps I could get two poufs to sit next to the chairs to provide additional seating. I thought it was a brilliant idea and the next week I found these two identical rusty red leather ottomans at Pier 1. They completed my mirrored symmetry design perfectly, were just the right size in the small space, and were comfortable to sit on. They also serve a dual purpose as end tables when extra surface area is needed.

Another way to define spaces within and open concept is to use area rugs. Remember the rugs don't need to match. In fact, I think it is much more interesting if they don't. As long as the rugs share a few common colors within the palette, feel free to mix up the styles and patterns. The carpets in my entry and dining room are hooked rugs with a fruit and flower motif while "The Conversation Area" rug is a tradition-pile Persian carpet. All share accents of black with touches of green and red despite numerous and blatant differences. You don't have to be twins to play nice together in the same sandbox. Unique friends with common interests can easily get along harmoniously.

Close up views of some of the rooms accessories

Antique EAPG covered compote collection placed on top of the dining room secretary
Antique full length mirror passed down from my husband's Grandmother
Antique mirror  collection displayed as an art wall collage in the dinning room area

Antique mirrors in the dinning room create ever changing framed artwork
by reflecting design and architectural elements in the room
Entry hall chandelier 

Collection of Elaine Roesle Old World St. Nicholas's
Antique hump back steamer trunk
Unlike parachute pants, I believe that open concept homes are a trend that is here to stay. They offer an amazing opportunity for better family interaction and endless possibilities for entertaining. If a wide-open floor plan is in your future, whether through a new home purchase or a wall-removing renovation, just remember that there may be a few hidden challenges:
  • Wall space will be at a premium so make sure that you plan well for your most treasured pieces. 
  • Don't let open views keep you from mixing up the color palette. Make sure you subtly pepper in hues from both color schemes in the transitional space between the areas.
  • Define areas within the open space with the use of rugs. They don't have to match, but they do need to share a few common colors with each other in order to work well together.
  • Each defined area should have its own unique and dramatic focal point.
  • And finally, remember that just because a space is open that doesn't mean that there won't be constraints in some of the defined areas. Choose furniture that accommodates seating and functions well, but doesn't visually overcrowd the room.
Keep these tips in mind when designing your wide open spaces and you'll be living large in no time at all!

My parachute pants exploit taught me a few lessons about life that I have applied to home design. I leave you this week with the moral of my story.
  1. The reason I got caught with underwear falling out of my pants was because I was in a big hurry. When planning the design of your open concept floor plan, take your time! Think things out. Prepare a scale floor plan and measure your furniture. Skipping steps and rushing will only cause frustration later.
  2. Good thing I decided to double check my pants or I could have been dropping undergarments behind me, like Hansel and Gretel's bread crumbs, all day long. If you run into a problem or challenge during your design project stop what you are doing and explore your options before moving forward. You'll be much happier in the long run if you correct the mistake now and don't continue down a faulty path.
  3. Don't let a little static cling keep you from being a Rock Star! Sure, I had a little challenge with the wide open legs of my parachute pants, but I didn't let that stop me from wearing them out to a party the next weekend. A little Bounce dryer sheet with a thorough pre-party inspection and I was looking 1980's fabulous without losing my panties. Don't let design challenges bring you down. Set a plan for dealing with them and you will enjoy the results.

Below I have created a collage of products that have similar looks to design elements used in my rooms. If you want to recreate a similar look for your own home, you can click on the collage or the thumbnail links to shop online. Enjoy!


Thanks for stopping by! 

Dont forget to check out my Designerelish Crock Pot and Designerelish Pantry pages for more great design ideas to use in your own home.

Drop in next week when the design topic will be 
Going Under Ground: Elevating Your Lower Level

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