The Power of Paint

Kyle, the other half of New Minimalism is here to welcome you to the Chill Zen Room.  Take off your shoes, kick back and stay awhile.  This is now clearly a room to relax and unwind, but it hasn't always been this way...

When Cary and Cam moved into their apartment, they knew that the small room connecting the kitchen to the living room had great potential.  Cam dubbed it The Chill Zen Room early on, but in practice, it was serving more as a glorified hallway.  Cary asked me what we could do to  define the room from the rest of the home, to make it a stopping point, rather than a thoroughfare.  After some thought, I determined it just needed a little extra pizzazz and some key furniture replaced.  Enter, painting project! 

Changing the paint color is a tried and true strategy to completely transform a space.  If executed correctly, it has a relatively low investment for a high reward. 

Above are before and after shots of the Chill Zen Room, as viewed from the kitchen doorway.  Looking through the space and into the living room beyond, you can see how the room integrates with the rest of the apartment.   By choosing a high-contrast color, you can't help but stop and linger in the room for a bit. 

Notice in the after photo, we chose two different paint finishes in the same color.  We painted the walls a flat finish and the trim a glossy finish to emphasis the difference in depth.

The dark, earthy color creates the perfect backdrop to display Cam's incredible photography. You can view more of Cam's work at his online gallery: Steep Ravine.  The brown leather and wood tones of the furniture strengthen the ode to mother nature.

 We all agreed it was time to replace the overstuffed, circa '94 cream armchair that had followed Cam from apartment to apartment.  After a few weeks of searching, we scored this super high-quality leather loveseat on Craigslist for less than $200!   We anchored the reading corner with the wool rug, and intentionally placed it on an angle for a causal air.

Remember when starting a painting project on your own: it is all about PREPARATION.  Have patience, as this takes some time.  But once you prepare well, then painting is a breeze.  (Tip: for the most eco-friendly waste, opt for old newspaper rather than plastic drop-cloths).

So go forth, readers, and embark on those bite-sized design projects that make a huge difference in your space.  

Even if you don't choose a completely dramatic color, paint has a freeing power, symbolic with a fresh start.  And we could all use a little refresh, now and then.


BTR: An Adorable Hayes Valley Studio

Hooray, another Behind the Redesign!  Thank you for being so patient, dear readers.  We had a BTR hiatus this past season due to a series of confidential projects.  We are excited to kick-off 2015 with some new content and, of course, tips for you to use at home.

Room: Bedroom/Living Room

Hours to Complete: 8.5 (Day 1)

Main Objective:  Transform the layout of the room to establish distinct and optimized areas for sleep, entertaining, and creating art.

The Details: Our lovely client, “M”, landed in this charming Hayes Valley studio by way of karma-heritance (that's our way of saying this positive karma-related inheritance).  Wanting to adopt a simpler lifestyle, M decided to downsize from her large loft in SOMA.  Coincidentally at the same time, one of M's co-workers was relocating to New York, leaving his perfectly-sized apartment.  With this transaction, M inherited several pieces of furniture, but she also inherited a less-than-optimized furniture layout.  A small space with too much stuff and an awkward furniture layout?  New Minimalism to the rescue!

Over 2 day-long sessions (18 hours total), we worked swiftly to create a serene and comfortable home, one that reflected M’s dynamic personality: creative, open, approachable and intellectual.  Session 1 focused on the bedroom/living room, and Session 2 tackled the large walk-in closet, as well as a utility closet.  Today's Behind the Redesign will focus on Session 1, the bedroom/living room.

Windows: Before // After 

We knew right away that we wanted to move the bed away from the windows.  Resting your head against a solid surface is important for deep sleep.  When you sleep with your head against a window it is almost like sleeping against a door, the reptilian (think Neanderthal) part of your brain subconsciously stays alert to outside noises so that you will be prepared to defend yourself.  So, first order of business was swapping the bed and the couch.

Tip: Is the head of your bed against a window or a non-functioning door? Look around your room and reevaluate the position of your furniture. Is your desk, which actually only functions as a drop-all space, taking up the best wall in your room? Or perhaps you can condense your clothing into a capsule wardrobe so that it fits entirely in your closet and you can donate your dresser? Whatever you decide, make sure that your bedroom functions firstly as that, a BEDroom. And give that bed the best wall in the room. To get extra fancy, Feng Sui recommends that you are able to view the entrance of your room while lying in bed.

The existing couch was extra-long, so when we moved the couch into bay window, we placed it on a slant in order to decrease the amount of dead space between the window and the back of the couch.  This, we surmised would be a temporary solution, recommending that our client replace the couch with one that would better fit into the window alcove. 

However as we worked within the space, we realized there were a lot of benefits to placing the couch on a slant.  By angling the couch towards the bedroom, we drew the couch-sitter’s attention away from the entry hall and the kitchen, creating a conversation area with the base of the bed and the new-and-improved music corner.  Other benefits of the current couch:  the extra-long couch worked great for our extra tall client, structurally, it was super solid and in great shape, and we all agreed that the draped fabric lent positively to a casual, comfortable vibe. 

Tip: Add texture and warmth to a minimally-decorated space using fabric, blankets and pillows. Here, a drapey fabric covering contrasts well with the bare hardwood floors. If you are working with a textured rug, balance it with clean lines with the furniture.

Accent Wall: Before // After

With this redesign we were lucky that M already had these perfectly proportioned and matching side tables, adding some nice symmetry to the general eclectic vibe.  We also scored with the charcoal accent wall.  This wall helps to define the sleeping area, signifying that it is separate from the rest of the space.  With the two table lamps, the contrasting shapes add interest, while unified color keeps it, well, unified. 

As an artist who gets fully-absorbed into projects and then moves on to the next, M did not want to adorn her walls with art.  Over the bed we chose to hang a series of simple line drawings to stand out against the charcoal, neutral enough that M would not tire of looking at it. 

Music Nook: Before // After 

Music is an important part of M’s routine.  Whenever she is home she is sure to have some pleasant tunes playing the background (M even introduced us to FIP, our new favorite radio station out of Paris).  So with this design, we wanted to ensure that she had easy access to her speakers.  We also wanted to make order out of a mess of cables. 

Enter, amazing large leaning mirror that was karma-herited.  If you don’t already know, we are quite fond of large mirrors.  When positioned strategically, they reflect light and can feel like another window.  Added benefit: when placed on the floor to lean, they can hide those unsightly cords and cables.  So that is exactly what we did here.  And I think it is worth noting that opposite there was a wall that was perfectly sized to fit the mirror, but if placed there, the mirror would reflect the white wall - booooring.  By placing the mirror on the wall opposite the light and bright kitchen, you extend the eye and draw some of the brightness into the bedroom.

Tip: When using a large mirror in your space, make sure to consider what is in the reflection. Are you opening the space by reflecting other bright, airy spaces? Play around with placement. As the sun light changes throughout the day, maybe you will discover something new about your space that you would like to highlight. Not into the idea of always seeing your own reflection? Look for a distressed mirror with a patina over the glass so obscure the reflection.

Overall we were quite thrilled with the results of this decluttering and redesign.  We donated two carloads of items to the Goodwill and local library, in the meantime creating a calm, inspiring sanctuary for M to enjoy. 

Up next on BTR:  The fancy closet system we custom designed and installed to house M’s clothing and art archives.

BTR: Downsizing from 3,200 to 800 Sqft.

Room:  Kitchen

Hours to Complete:  7.5

Main Objective:  Coming to terms with the size of the new space and simplifying our client's personal list of hobbies and specialty crafts. 

The Details:  Oh yes, we're back with some seriously gorgeous photos of our most recent client, N.  We had the pleasure of giving a major NM overhaul to most of her sunny one bedroom Marina apartment.

While the apartment itself was beautifully updated and has plenty of built-in storage, our client had recently downsized from a 3,200 square-foot home to an 800 square-foot apartment.  Like many people making big moves, work and life responsibilities seemed to take over and she never had the time fully purged her belongings to match her accommodations. 

Over the course of three days we tackled the Office Nook, the Bathroom, the Kitchen and even had a little extra time to tackle the petite Entryway. To date these were some of our most ambitious and exciting projects, primarily due to the  sheer number of items we processed. 

A note on downsizing + self-love:

Though there is room for N to continue releasing items, we know that Space Clearing is a deeply emotional process.  For anyone going through a large downsizing, it can be helpful to process items in stages.  This is so you don't get too worn down and so you don't feel like you are suddenly letting go of everything you own!  

In this initial stage we were able to downsize to the point that every item had a place to call home.  Our goal for the next stage is to even create greater organization and spaciousness by releasing items that are out-of-date for N's current lifestyle (foods from out-of-date eating routines and large, unfinished projects and crafts) and letting go of items that simply do not fit in her reduced living space.

Overall, N's home is a huge success.  It's a seriously big deal to part with several truckloads of items all within a few days.  What impressed me most about N was her willingness to release old items from her space so that she could make room for some new (BIG) relationships and opportunities to enter her life.

If I could sum up our biggest lessons from N's home it would be this:

  1. Moving is an amazing chance at a fresh start -- but that doesn't mean it's easy.  Whether downsizing, moving across the country for work, or just across town to be with your partner it's a big step.  Allowing your new home's size, inhabitants, and personality to dictate what stays and goes will keep you feeling light and fresh.  Prevent overwhelm by enlisting the help of friends and professionals.
  2. Clearing off counter tops and visible surfaces can change the entire feel of a home AND the way you feel in it.  Take a few minutes every evening to remove items from your counters and tables.  It's surprising how different it feels to wake up in a home that is clean and light versus one that is cluttered and unfinished. 
  3. Give it time.  Throughout this process N did a great job of giving herself room for her feelings "percolate."  After a few days away from the process N was always able to release more and feel better while Clearing.  If you're facing a big project like downsizing or moving in with a partner, be sure to give yourself plenty of time away from the project to keep your perspective and attitude fresh and optimistic!

BTR: Duboce Park Entrepreneur's Kitchen

Room:  Kitchen

Complete: 6

Main Objective:  Removing unused appliances and optimizing the layout for creative and consistent cooking. Also creating space for others to be in the kitchen with the cook.

The Details:  This is the 3rd of a 3-part series. Check Part 1: Bedroom and Part 2: Livingroom.

While C is an amazing cook with an even better selection of whiskey, his kitchen was not living up to its potential. You can see that the counters were crowded with everyday items, because the cupboards were filled with many items he no longer used. 

Before:  Cluttered counters make both prep and cleaning a struggle.

After: Counters are reserved for only the most used items, making prep and cleanup a breeze.

Decluttering Tip: As any seasoned chef will attest, counter space is pivotal to a well-functioning kitchen. After going through hundreds of items in the kitchen, we donated over 50% of the cupboard contents. That freed up space so that the counters could serve as prep space. 

In the corner he had a bar hutch that was devoted to his whiskey collection. And while inside it was brimming with some of the finest selections, the top was cluttered with everyday kitchen items. 

Before:  The surface of the bar is covered in excess kitchen tools, making C's favorite spread of whiskey's challenging to access.

Before:  The surface of the bar is covered in excess kitchen tools, making C's favorite spread of whiskey's challenging to access.

We cleared the top and removed the bar and brought it to the living room. With the desire to have others in the kitchen while he cooked, we suggested C fill the empty corner with a small round table and chairs, at counter height. 

Redesign Tip: Whenever you have seating in the kitchen, it usually feels more comfortable to have seating at a similar height to those standing in the kitchen, otherwise it feels as if those standing are towering over those sitting. 

Before: Cluttered counters...

After: C's kitchen is transformed into an airy, spacious and highly cooking-friendly space.

While we couldn’t do anything about the water heater, we could clean up that corner so that the counters were clear of oils and vinegars. 

We kept C’s most-used oils near the stove, and edited the rest to fit into the spice cabinet that was previously overflowing with spices that were past their prime. We removed the microwave and toaster from the counter by the oven to let more natural light in towards the stove. C said he rarely used his microwave, so we decided to test how important it actually was by stashing it in the closet. 

Before:  The little prep space there was next to stove is dominated by rarely used appliances.

After: The stove now has it's own prep area, holding only C's most used tools and oils.

BTR: Duboce Park Entrepreneur's Living Room

Room:  Living Room

Hours to Complete:  7

Main Objective:  Making the space more grown up and more suited for short-term rentals.

The Details:  On day two of C's we tackled the living room & its enviably deep closet. 

While the layout of the room only required a few essential tweaks: center the couch on the wall, flank the extra bar stools on the wall opposite the windows, and some major cord management -- it was the wall-to-wall closet that required a major clear-out.

After: A distilled library on a wall-mounted shelf adds visual interest in a highly utilitarian manner.

C had insanely deep closet (14 feet) but only one door at the end to access.  This means that the entire back several feet of the closet turns into a dark, inaccessible, ball of clutter.  And you can just imagine how we feel about clutterballs:)

To make this closet a truly functioning storage area we had to remove everything on the floor or walls that blocked the internal passageway.  After nearly 5 hours of sorting and paring down, C was able to donate 15 bags (or 80 cubic feet) of unneeded items to charities.  

Decluttering Tip:  A closet is only as valuable as it's accessibility.  It might seem wasteful to leave a wall open or a top shelf free, but the true waste comes from storing items you can't access!

The greatest success?  C released so much clutter that his two bikes (formerly blocking the bedroom window) can now easily fit side-by-side inside the closet.  This single change drastically improves the energy and rental appeal of his entire apartment.  

After: Bringing both the kitesurfing board (mounted above the bar) and the bikes (in the closet) out of the bedroom create an entirely new mature and spacious feeling throughout the apartment.

Redesign Tip:  One of our favorite tools for Redesigning client's rooms is to take functional items and turn them into unexpected art.  In C's case we used his stunning new kiteboard as "artwork" above his whiskey bar.  We also hung his beautiful woodgrain ukelele in the corner.  What better way to add visual AND conversational interest to a room!

Lastly, shelving was grouped together to have more impact and show off C’s condensed library that we had removed from this bedroom. We also added the dark bar hutch from the kitchen (which you'll see in Part 3 of this Behind the Redesign series).  This both increases seating and allows C to share his fine collection of whiskey in the living room where he does most of his entertaining. 

BTR: Duboce Park Entrepreneur's Bike in the Bedroom

Room:  Bedroom

Hours to Complete:  6.5

Main Objective:  Removing items unrelated to the bedroom and creating a peaceful place to rest and start your day.

The Details:  We were thrilled to work with a brilliant entrepreneur throughout his charming Duboce Park one bedroom apartment.  Today we showcase the first of his three redesigned rooms: the bedroom.  

Our client, who we will refer to as C, was very ready to take control of his belongings. His motivation for working with us was threefold.  

  • An entrepreneur who frequently works from home, having a harmonious and organized space was of the utmost importance.
  • As a frequent traveler it was also crucial for him to be able to pack up and head out for a variety of international destinations with ease.
  • And finally, while traveling, C oftens offsets his expenses by renting out his apartment on Airbnb. Clutter free rooms with an elevated design sense not only garner higher rents but also make the transition between C and his guests seamless.

BTR: Uncovering the Hidden Style of this Bedroom

Room:  Bedroom

Hours to Complete:  4.5

Main Objective:  To create a personal retreat from roommate living, and reveal our client's style which was hidden in a mish-mash of accessories.

The Details:  Kira is an active, on-the-go San Francisco resident.  As lovely as she is brilliant, Kira's time is full of concerts, camping trips, and potlucks with friends -- leaving little time to do a deep clean  of her space or thoughtfully arrange her belongings.  

Serving as more of a launching pad to her greater social life than an actual bedroom, her space had become cluttered with weekend bags and changes of clothes. 

Before: Always on the go, Kira's belongings and furniture were haphazardly placed in her bedroom, creating a sense of chaos and discord rather than relaxation or intimacy.

Even after a few years of living in the space, it did not feel like home.  Our design challenge was to make the space cozy and inviting; a place where Kira could relax and read when taking a time out from her busy schedule.  

Redesign Tip:  Sometimes we ask too much of our rooms.  We want our bedroom to function as an office, living room and bedroom.  But the fact is, a bedroom is a bedroom and more often than not the bed should be the focal point.  

Simply rearranging the layout was hugely impactful with this redesign.  A common mistake is to push the bed in the corner of the room, as Kira had, with the misconception that this will result in more space.  

After: The bed serves as the focal point of the bedroom, inviting Kira to pause, relax, and rest in her space.

Kira’s bedroom presented some interesting challenges.  A typically “hacked” bedroom located in a San Francisco Edwardian, the space receives little natural night.  Additionally, one wall is dominated by green-tinted soundproofing which covers the sliding double doors leading to another bedroom. 

We placed the dresser in front of the green soundproofing wall and added the mirror.  This turned the soundproofing into a backdrop for Kira’s cherished photos and art.  We moved the rustic shelving to the wall opposite the bed to let in more natural light, as well as provide a place for keys and such to live.

Before: The green double doors draw unwanted attention to the makeshift status of this former living room.

After: By setting the dresser within the door frame, the green doors and molding take on a feeling of an intentional accent wall and architectural framing element.

Decluttering Tip:  Clutter is often the result of things not have a "home."  When an item doesn't have a place where it belongs, a place where it you can always find it and put it away, then it's easy for it to end up on the ground or in the corner.  Take time when you move somewhere new to create homes for all of your most important items.  Hint: if it's not important enough to have a home, it's not important enough to own!

Kira had stashed away an amazing rug that she loved dearly but didn’t know where to put it.  Our solution?  We hung it from the wall to create a faux headboard and add a much-needed pop of color to the wall.

After: A gorgeous rug previous rolled up and collecting dust under the bed serves as a gorgeous focal point, tying together the style of the entire space.

This redesign was especially stunning because it had some unexpected results.  First, the colors from the hanging rug pulled together all the accessories in the room.  It also made the cream-colored walls look intentionally warm, and cozy, rather than drab and dingy. 

Second, Kira had insisted that she did not have a defined sense of style.  But after helping Kira curate her goods down to the most-loved and meaningful, it became clear that all of Kira’s belongings shared a common look and feel, one we would describe as a warm, rustic Bohemian.

Below are a few more before + after sets -- they're too lovely not to share!

BTR: Welcoming Guests into a Marin Cottage

Room: Living + Dining Room

Hours to Complete:  5.5 hours

Main Objective:  Creating space to entertain guests by reducing the amount of souvenirs from this client's past.

The Details:  Greg lives in a bright 2 bedroom cottage in the San Rafael hills.  A world traveler, accomplished athlete and passionate musician, Greg has been in his home for several years.  While he loved the space, Greg also felt that it was under-utilized and not convenient for the activities he values most.  

Before: The living room, while full of windows and natural light, feels dark and heavy due to the oversized furniture and limited pathways.

I won't mince words here: Greg was a fabulous client.  Freshly returned from a transformational trip, he felt a deep desire to create a space that echoed his values.  Though Greg's space was full of windows and natural light, his oversized furniture and packed shelves made his home feel heavy and tight.  

Together, we identified the three main goals of this redesign:

  1. Curate all travel souvenirs to represent the best memories,
  2. Create a space to listen to and place music, and
  3. Maintain a comfortable atmosphere to have friends over. 

Before: The cramped couch blocks access to the sitting area and the upstairs. 

In the original layout the flow of traffic from the stairs was interrupted by one too many couches.  By removing the leather couch and armchair the walkway is relieved. 

For the distilled collection of travel accessories, we placed like with like to create larger impact. We utilized the space under the stairs for his vinyl collection and guitars.

After: The orange chair provides a more proportional seating option, better access to Greg's musical instruments and records, as well as adding a pop of visual interest to the room.

From the garage we found the other half of the modern gray couch and created an L-shaped living space to define that side of the room.  The space has great bones and abundant natural light, so once we pared down the furniture clutter, the room really shined.

After: By removing the oversized black leather couches and shifting the grey sectional to an "L," the living room is optimized for ease of access as well as conversation.  

Redesign Tip:  More seating is not always better.  

Greg's gregarious charm made it no surprise that he enjoys hosting his multitude of friends.  For this purpose, he had accrued an abundance of seating: a large leather sofa, a leather love seat and a multiple piece sectional.  While Greg's goal was to have abundant seating for entertaining, his space ended up feeling cramped and was difficult for more than a few people to navigate.  He now has proportioned, accessible and highly utilized seating for 8 (or up to 13 by moving his kitchen chairs).

After a clearing of unused or out of date technologies, all media and music-related electronics were easily consolidated to fit within the television nook.  (Important note: never underestimate the impact of orderly electric cords!)

The focus of the dining room was largely decluttering as the furniture fit well within the dimensions of the space.  It was simply a matter of clearing the table and windowsills to create a clean, calm space to do work during the day and enjoy the views to the outdoors.  

Decluttering Tip:  Honor negative space.  

If your home feels cluttered even when it's clean there is a good chance you have too many things on your walls.  While artwork and photos might not occupy much physical space, they do take up a great amount of visual and energetic space.  Just as important as what you choose to show are the walls or sections you choose to leave blank.  Negative space serves both as a resting point for the eyes as well as adding drama and importance to the highly selective items you've displayed.

  Greg's open-minded, easy-going spirit are now honored in his flowing, spacious home.

The result of their process: a living room that I am excited to live in, a haven where I can do work or clear my head, and a room that highlights things that are important to me.

Before they visited me, my place felt heavy, dark and frustrating; afterwards it felt airy, light, and calming. Kyle and Cary exceeded my high expectations, and I can’t thank them enough!
— Greg


BTR: Clean Start for a New Chapter

Room:  Living Room

Hours to Complete:  6

Main Objective:  Making space for both partners to be represented in the space, so they are able to honor their past, yet step boldly into their future.

The Details:  Max and Jamie are a gorgeous couple living in San Francisco's Marina District.  Daylighting as a nurse and consultant respectively, Jamie and Max are united in their love of international travel, making and collecting art, and creating a home they feel both relaxed in and inspired by.  

Max has lived in this same space for several years with Jamie moving in to join him after their engagement.  It's a light-filled, hardwood floored, spacious unit -- and on a fun street with rent-control to top it off.  All of these factors made the couple anxious to transform the former bachelor pad into a long-term home that suits them as a couple.

When Max & Jamie approached New Minimalism to redesign the living room of their San Francisco apartment, they were quite nervous about the decluttering process due to the breadth of the unique items in their home.  

With a shared passion for international travel, the couple had acquired a large collection of items in their favorite destinations along the way.  In addition, Max’s mother is an artist and antique collector, many of her created and found items have also made their way into Max + Jamie’s home over the years.

Before: The space feels heavy and dark, cluttered by large furniture and overstuffed shelves.

Both Max + Jamie felt the space was too cluttered and chaotic, but since every item held an emotional memory, they did not know where to begin the downsize process. 

Within the space, we wanted to highlight the natural light from the bay windows, create a space for Max to work during the day and maintain a comfortable place for the couple to relax together in the evenings.  The coffee table is an especially bold and beautiful piece that the couple wanted to focus the space around.

Design Tip:  For those folks lucky enough live in a classic Bay Area Victorian era home, light is both your greatest blessing and most sought after resource.  Since Victorians tend to be long and slender with windows only each narrow end, it's important to maximize and draw attention to natural light wherever it occurs.  Placing a low-profile table and chairs in front of bay windows is a great way of doing both!

Before: The couples favorite architectural element, the lovely bay windows, are block by a large arm chair and an unused desk.

After: The round table draws attention to the bay windows by visually mimicking the curved shape without blocking their precious source of natural light.

We created a music and media nook next to the fireplace to honor the couples' favorite leisure activities.  In general, the room was not large enough to accommodate all the pieces of furniture, so we removed the overstuffed chair and a large trunk by the fireplace.  We relocated the mini bar, which was atop the trunk, to a shelving unit in the kitchen.  

The most decluttering work was done with the items on the couples' large shelving unit.  Together, we worked to curate their travel collection to the items that truly represent their best memories and allow the space for new memories to be formed.

Clearing Tip:  As is true for many travelers, Max + Jamie had dozens of figurines, statues, and pieces of art from around the world.  Our most important work was separating their feelings about the trips they've taken (which they loved) from the objects they purchased (many of which were broken, of poor-quality, or generally not of their taste as a couple).  A great way of remembering these same trips while freeing up the space from chotchkies is to take and save digital photos of the items.  That way you will always have the memory of the trip but can donate the item you no longer love.  

Future Design Recommendations:  Adding two long panel curtains to frame the bay windows, replacing the couch with a longer one that will better balance the size of the coffee table, and acquiring a large butcher block island to replace the lost seating in the kitchen.

As I sit here writing this, I am blown away with my apartment’s transformation. It’s really amazing what a needed purge of clutter and fresh redesign can do for your mood! I’m so much happier hanging out in my home. Thank you, Kyle and Cary!
— Max