Home improvements

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4 tried and true tips for any kitchen redesign

Tackling a home improvement project can be a really daunting task, whether it’s a simple redecoration or a full kitchen renovation. You may feel like you’re the only homeowner ever to have questions. Renowned designer and LG Studio Artistic Advisor Nate Berkus has answered design questions from homeowners for more than 20 years, and he’s found that the same ones keep cropping up. Nathan Jay “Nate” Berkus is an interior designer, author, and television personality. He runs the Chicago interior design firm Nate Berkus Associates and has been a regularly featured guest on The Oprah Winfrey Show, offering design advice to viewers as well as coordinating surprise make-overs for people’s homes. He has released numerous lines of products and authored several books. “Redesigning your kitchen is a big investment,” says Berkus. “It’s not just about the money; you’re also investing a lot of time and emotion. There are so many decisions to make, and you want them to be the right ones. You also want to create a space that reflects the people who live there. A well-designed kitchen needs to be functional and personalized.” Contacting a kitchen design expert is important. Do your due diligence, scope out the market of excellent contractors that we have here in the Capital Region and come armed with ideas to share. Berkus offers answers to four design questions that commonly confound homeowners:
1. Where do I even begin? Berkus recommends starting with a vision of what kind of kitchen you want to create. “There is so much design inspiration out there—Instagram, Pinterest, design blogs, etc. Find out what you are drawn to and what catches your eye. Ask yourself, ‘how do we want to live in the space, and what’s important to us?’ The design needs to support that.”
2. How do I make the best use of my renovation dollars in the kitchen? The kitchen is the number one room where consumers are most likely to splurge when renovating, according to a nationwide study. So is it really worth it? “Absolutely,” says Berkus. “It’s hands-down the hardest working room in your home, and you need it to stand the test of time. A kitchen is also about bringing people together. We do a lot of living and create a lot of memories in our kitchens.” To make the most of your kitchen renovation dollars, Berkus recommends shopping local vintage shops or multi-dealer antique malls for one-of-a-kind items, such as light fixtures and seating. Even shop your own home for things like trays, bowls and objects that could get new life displayed and used in your kitchen.
3. What’s the most important thing to invest in during a renovation? “If you don’t start with innovative, hard-working appliances, it doesn’t matter what backsplash you are using,” says Berkus. “A kitchen needs to function, and great appliances are at the heart of that. They are 100 percent worth the investment.” Take for example the new 42-inch built-in side-by-side refrigerator from LG Studio, which Berkus helped design. “The stainless steel finish is so handsome and the inside of the refrigerator is huge. It’s perfect for big families and kids. Your appliances need to seamlessly marry design with functionality,” notes Berkus.
4. Tastes change, so how can I be sure I won’t hate all this five years from now? “The biggest thing is not to get sidetracked by trends. I always say if something was considered beautiful 10 years ago, it probably will still be beautiful in 10 years,” says Berkus. When investing money, Berkus recommends always reaching for what is classic and what has stood the test of time—things like subway tile, Carrara marble, butcher block and painted-wood cabinets. “A typical renovation takes several months, but trends change often,” notes Berkus. “If you pick out a backsplash or cabinet color because someone told you that is the hottest thing right now, by the time it’s installed, chances are you’ll have moved on to something else.” Redesigning and renovating a kitchen can be a rewarding, enjoyable experience – especially with some advice from a design professional.


0616 marc-englanderInspired furniture design

By Danielle Pitanello
Marc Englander designs conceptual, functional, and artistically inspired furniture. The idea of art as thought-provoking and viscerally stimulating is the driving force behind Marc’s collection. Born and raised in New York City, he developed an interest in furniture design at a young age. After drafting a sketch for a replacement console, he began finding fun in creating aesthetically and conceptually interesting furniture. Marc attended Brown University to pursue his passion for both history and art. Well-considered painters, sculptors, designers and architects, mostly from the 20th century, inspire Marc’s design aesthetic, to take into account the breadth and context of modern design. The collection is mainly locally produced in Brooklyn, where many of the materials are sustainably sourced. For Marc, each piece, ideally, maintains a high level of integrity to the materials presented. However, in order to avoid taking himself and his designs too seriously, he attempts to inject an element of humor into all of his work. He considers it vital to create livable, multi-purpose art that balances form and function.


5 ways to improve your outdoor space with retaining walls

When you picture a retaining wall, do you imagine it holding back dirt? That’s the most common use for retaining walls—to address elevation changes and prevent erosion. But concrete segmental retaining wall (SRW) units are multi-purpose landscaping tools with many more uses. Site planners, engineers, landscape architects, designers, developers and builders have long relied on SRWs to manage sloping properties, provide more usable space, or create stadium seating. Homeowners, too, have discovered retaining walls can be used for functional outdoor features. Segmental retaining walls are both durable and beautiful. Landscapers and homeowners can use them to create outdoor seating, raised patios and other features. They are the perfect building block to create grill islands, outdoor kitchens and so much more. Most SRWs are easy to install, which is an important consideration for both landscape professionals and do-it-yourselfers, although this do-it-yourself job may be bigger then you expect, so a local professional landscaper would be the best solution. With retaining wall systems, landscapers can create freestanding walls, seat walls, columns, stairs, planters and other features without the need for special units.

0616retaing wallStunning seating
While commercial installers often use SRW units for amphitheater and stadium seating, retaining walls can also be used to create beautiful and durable outdoor seating on a smaller scale, from freestanding walls that double as seating, to two-tiered seat walls. One example is VERSA-LOK SRWs, which can be used to easily create a curved “couch” seating area that works well as a solution around a patio and fire pit for fall evenings.

An alternative to a deck
Raised patios built with retaining wall units are a low-maintenance option to replace aging wooden decks that can sometimes require continual maintenance. Landscapers can design a raised deck replacement from ground level to 42 inches or whatever height you and your landscaper decide is best to support a paving stone patio. Stairs also built with SRWs connect the patio to the home and yard. The result is a beautiful, spacious and low-maintenance patio with the added advantage of a clear view of the backyard. In one picture shown, paving stone pavers are used for the patio, surrounded with a contrasting course of river rock that serves as a visual and physical boundary, as well as a space for potted plants.

Create curb appeal
Where the yard meets the driveway is always tricky. Retaining walls can be installed as a barrier to protect the lawn from damage caused by tire tracks, plowing or deicing. A tiered arrangement that addresses a slope in the yard adds space for plants and shrubs. Freestanding walls are often built along property lines on corner lots to prevent unwanted traffic from cutting across the yard. Columns created using retaining wall units can be paired with any style home, from classic to contemporary, to add curb appeal. When the front entryway is freshened up with seat walls and other features, the space functions like an old-fashioned porch for visiting and other outdoor activities.

A place for plants
Tree rings and planters built with retaining wall units create a tidy solution around hard-to-maintain areas, such as shallow-rooted trees and other problem spots. Planters and tree rings (again, consult your landscaping professional) can function as usable space for perennials, annuals, vegetables and herbs. SRWs such as the VERSA-LOK brand can be used to create planter walls up to 4 feet tall without the need for geogrid reinforcement. A wall system providing for planting that mimics a hanging garden creates a stunning living wall solution.

Build a backyard
A homeowner in Apple Valley, Minnesota, nicknamed her unmowable back yard “Billy Goat Hill” because there was no yard space and no safe way to access her garden and fire pit at the top. Plus, erosion was a continual problem. This mimics many scenarios in the Capital Region—wouldn’t you agree? Devine Design Landscapes of Rosemount, Minnesota, solved the problem by excavating for a small back yard and creating tiers of retaining walls with offset stairs, patio landings and seat walls. The result was a small, usable backyard space with safe access to the hilltop and ample planting space for perennials. Consult, investigate your options and enjoy you new landscaping. You and your home deserve it.


Renovate for your style of living and retain the home’s character

By Danielle Pitanello

Not every home renovation is a complete do-over. In fact, it may be anything from a tweak to an addition with your style of living in mind. Some projects, explains Dave Barnacki of Capital District Contractors and Decks, are more about preserving the character and charm of the original structure yet make it more comfortable to your current needs. Bernacki refers to his construction designs for this purpose as “therapy rooms”—everything you need designed into the plans to create a personal therapy room.
A new sunroom built to accept the light and extend the wonderful Northeast climate builds a comfortable environment for that cozy chair and television for an older couple committed to staying in their family home. A deck with the young family’s needs in mind enables the parents to watch the children play from the house, or a favorite tree incorporated into a landscape design around the new deck suddenly becomes the focal point.
On the national scene, self-taught home rehabber and licensed real estate agent and designer Nicole Curtis, star of HGTV’s “Rehab Addict,” has made an art of introducing the comforts and conveniences of modern living while restoring homes to their former glory.
Whether you’re giving new life to a historic treasure or simply sprucing up a more modern home, there are many ways to retain features that keep the integrity of the original design intact while keeping your renovation budget under control.
Approaching your renovation with a mindset of preserving the original elements to the extent possible lets you save money while creating a home with a unique blend of the past and your own modern touches.

Incorporating technology in your designs
The construction is finished, the walls are painted and curtains are hung. But wait—what’s that interrupting your perfect aesthetic? Today’s high-tech homes come with plenty of convenience, but all those gadgets and gizmos can botch your sleek design. The thought of devices such as ductless air-conditioning units on the walls might be intimidating, but remember that microwaves, flat screens and thermostats were all once unfamiliar elements of the home landscape. Today, most homeowners barely notice them. Fortunately, many of these tech devices have been created with aesthetics in mind. For example, Mitsubishi Electric’s systems are available in a wide range of options to blend into the look and feel of your old home—ducted, ceiling-recessed and even cabinet-concealed floor-standing units. Technology also lends a new range of sounds to the household. Look for devices that keep operations whisper-quiet for minimal distractions, but always keep in mind what you use daily and what you enjoy. If you need to have something built in to hide a multiple of remotes or wire, just ask your contractor. He or she should be more than happy to accommodate your needs and help you to keep the clutter down.

Don’t be afraid to tear down or build up
When you have the perfect location and you are comfortable with your house, but you need more space, taking down a wall or two will help. Make certain that a professional is always part of the plan as there are some walls that simply cannot come down easily, so don’t grab a sledge hammer and start banging away. Once a professional has been consulted, draw some images or have them drawn for you to illustrate how much usable space is picked up and changed for livability. Build up. Yes, it is cheaper than buying a new home in many cases. Consider how new space will open up your house and exactly how much space you will need. You still maintain the home, the property, the neighbors and the school district important to you.

Listen and paint mental image
Capital District Contractors’ Dave Bernacki does this and mentions that anyone involved in a renovation/contracting project should do so, as well. When hiring a contractor, ask questions after explaining what you would like done to make certain they are listening to your desires. They should be able to paint close to the same mental picture that you have created in your mind.

Imagery will lead you to the right path in design
Imagery will lead you to your final dream construction. To cut corners on something important to you or to compromise was NOT in your original thought process so don’t do it now. Your heart will guide you and others need to listen!

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