Value Is Not a Dirty Word!

I participated in my first Master Session last month at IBS. We spoke at 8 am on the morning on the last day and were all convinced that no one would want to get to the convention center early after a fun evening in Las Vegas. Well, we were right and wrong. Attendees were lined up before 7:30. The only one who slept in was the guy with the key to open the door. Oops.

I was tasked with talking about the design trends in budget-friendly designs – a subject near and dear to my heart because I feel everyone should have the opportunity to live in a house that meets their needs, regardless of price point. It also seems to be a topic of great interest as more folks are struggling to find affordable housing.

But I won’t bog you down on the entire speech. This week’s blog is only focusing on adding value.

Add Value from a Consumer’s Point of View

This is the first step in value engineering and how a design should start. Unfortunately, this critical first step is often skipped. Then, when the house is over-budget, some unlucky purchasing agent is left with the agonizing task of figuring out how to cut costs at the eleventh hour.

The result? All of those must-have features on the buyer’s list mysteriously go missing – that is not delivering “value” and it is something that could have been avoided if the inefficiencies were tackled at the start.

*This is where I shamelessly-but-appropriately plug the benefits of hiring a good architect*

Add Value: Casual Lifestyle Living

Buyers are no longer willing to pay for rooms they don’t use just because their realtor tells them they need that room for resale. The phantom formal living room buyer vanished after the housing recession. Instead, focus that square footage and dollars on the rooms our buyers do use; the family room and the casual dining area. Avoid floating furniture so the room “lives” larger. In the example below, the great room furniture nestles into the corner of the room allowing for two full size sofas.

Add Value: Kitchen-Centric Plans

The island has become the greatest thing in the kitchen since sliced bread. It becomes the place where friends and family gather to converse, dine or do homework. It also allows the cook(s) to participate in the activities of the adjacent family room. Make the island memorable! But since the island has no overhead cabinets, incorporate a large walk-in pantry to add needed storage. Large pantries make an even larger impact on home buyers and, when using wire shelves, they cost less than cabinets.

Of course, now that the kitchen is front and center as the go-to gathering space, we have to remember that homeowners might actually use them to cook! I love the concept of the Messy Kitchen to hide the normal counter clutter like toasters, coffee makers, juicers, etc.

Add Value: Rejuvenating Baths

The reality for today’s buyer is that the shower is the most rejuvenating fixture in their bathroom. Why do I still see giant soaking tubs next to 3x3’ showers in new homes? Even bath connoisseurs rarely find the time to soak. If you can fit a giant tub in the master bath, imagine the shower possibilities! Drop the tub and give them a beautiful shower. Even if you start with a shower pan, add a seat and lots of glass to make the room feel larger.

Then, even in the smallest square footage, buyers appreciate the privacy of an enclosed toilet room. I'm just going to say it: No one looks great sitting on the toilet.

Add Value: Focus on Flexibility

Adding flexibility in your floor plans not only adds value to your buyers, but it also saves you money by minimizing the number of plans you need to create to maximize your buyer appeal. You may already be doing this in your plan line up with dens that can become bedrooms and vice-a-versa. But in our Starbuck’s ultimate customization generation, can you truly add flexibility but offering a space that can be a pet room, pocket office, messy kitchen or power pantry. With pre-design and pricing, you can personalize your homes without being a custom builder.

Add Value: Dual Use Rooms

The last topic for adding value is the idea of dual-use rooms. Keep down the square footage of the home by offering rooms that can function as both a study and a guest bedroom. Our urban friends in New York City have known this trick for years, utilizing wall beds to full effect. This is perfect for millennials and boomers alike who at least want the possibility of having overnight guests over - even if it only happens a few times a year.

So, no. Value is not a dirty word. It is the key word in giving homeowners what they're looking for while keeping the project viable for builders. Next week we will focus the balance of the presentation starting with cutting hidden costs. Until then, have an amazing week and thanks for letting me be a part of your day!

"What Color Are These Pants?"

“Black and blue.” “You're crazy – It's white and gold!” Four years ago, the internet lost its collective cool over "The Dress". Arguments quickly escalated around the globe about whether the dress was black and blue or white and gold. To this day, our office is still divided on what color we see. We don’t need to relive the pandemonium, but looking at the photo, lighting definitely played a role in what people saw.

“Are these pants black or navy blue?” This is a question I get asked frequently by my husband. No, he’s not colorblind. The lighting in our closets isn’t bright enough to easily distinguish between dark colors. Then my husband Guy had a great idea. After washing his pants, we put the black pants on black hangers and the navy pants on the other colored hangers. Brilliant solution to our inadequate closet lighting.

So, there I am in the laundry room, which is brighter than the closet, armed with appropriate colored hangers asking myself, are these pants black or navy blue? It was that moment when I looked up to at the fluorescent fixture in my laundry room. While there is more illumination, it is not full spectrum light. My only fail-safe option would be to step outside and judge the colors under the bright, full spectrum light of the sun (something we always do when selecting exterior colors). All this over a pair of pants.

Many people don’t realize that lighting affects how we perceive color. The fluorescents of old were infamous for their sickly greenish glow. Lovely. Incandescent lights, while full spectrum, cast an amber glow. This means it would be hard to tell white from off white under these lights.

Color Rendering Index - CRI

“Color rendering” describes how a light source makes the color of an object appear to human eyes and how well subtle variations in color shades are revealed. The Color Rendering Index (CRI) is a scale from 0 to 100 percent indicating how accurate a “given light source” is at rendering color when compared to a "reference light source” according to Semmer Lighting Company Inc. For reference - museums strive for a CRI around 97 or 98. If you select a “daylight” fluorescent lamp, you’re close to 80 on the CRI scale.

I can’t tell you what kind of fluorescent lamp is in my laundry room or the lamps in our closets. I can confidently say, however, that they are NOT museum quality.

The Overlooked Selection

I’ve often said, the way to a woman’s heart is through the size of her closet. Indeed, the size of closets is a big focus when it comes to the design of a home. As the size of the home grows, so should its closet. Let’s take a moment to appreciate a few dream closets (also notice the lighting used!).

Back in the real world, when it comes to selecting lighting for our closets, this important selection is often overlooked, except for perhaps model homes. “Non-decorative and inexpensive” seems to be the status quo. Yet this is a room that is used daily and great lighting plays an important role here.

Poor closet lighting can lead to embarrassing moments. Yes, I went to work one day with one navy blue shoe and one black shoe. That was the last time I bought the same shoe in several colors. If I had a closet like the one below, I wouldn’t have made such an error. It’s only practical!

Double Trouble

Double hanging means double trouble when it comes to closet lighting. The top row of hanging may be well illuminated by the ceiling lights, but it casts a shadow on the second row of hanging. Now, only half of your wardrobe is lit properly. Clever closet system designers have now incorporated LED lighting strips into their setups. Suffice to say, my closet is in desperate need of an upgrade.

Whether its hangers or shoe shopping, poor closet lighting can force us to adjust the way we live. Shouldn’t our houses be working for us instead of against us? I hope you will give your closet lights the attention it needs and your client’s deserve.

And for the record, I saw white and gold all day long.

Design Resolutions for 2019

Along with every new year comes a bunch of new year resolutions like exercising more or quitting smoking. We decided to add a few “No More Bad Design” resolutions.

This list comes from years of observing bad or dated floor plans that won’t seem to go away. We've touched on some of these and have even gone over current design trends to avoid.

This list is geared towards the numerous design faux-pas that aren’t even trends anymore (if they ever were to begin with). *Of course* no one in our audience has ever committed these design faux-pas - but perhaps your competition has… Let's jump right in.

Entering the home through the laundry room:

It’s simple. Women do not want guests walking through hanging lingerie!

Viewing the toilet from the front door: 

Don't let the half bath become an afterthought!

The bat wing/boomerang island (and peninsula):

Oh yes, they’re still being built in new homes and it is beyond time to stop this practice.

Lackluster outdoor living:

No longer a bare bones back porch. The space should effortlessly address three functions: cooking, dining, and lounging.

Mini master closets: 

Does Lita Dirks look thrilled with this cramped closet? I would think not. A quick rule of thumb: they should track with the size of the home. (Example: 20’ minimum of linear hanging space for a 2000 sq. ft. home, 30' minimum for 3000 sq ft home and so on.)

Plumbing wall faux-pas:

Backing toilets or laundry rooms against bedroom walls is a no-no for obvious reasons.

Forgetting the dresser wall:

Furniture layout matters in all rooms - even the secondary bedrooms!

Forgetting the linen closet:

While we’re at it, don’t forget the coat closets!

6’ 8” tall French doors next to 8’ tall windows:

Don't let tall windows overshadow the front door! You can either spec a taller door or add a transom above the door.

Creating a collision course:

This is the path to the master and the path the kids take from their bedrooms to the bathroom. Keep them separate and don't cross streams!

Do you have a design pet peeve that needs to be left in 2018? Let's make 2019 great!

Innovation as a Motivational Tool

It was a cold Carolina winter morning. I was taking my husband’s car, which had been parked outside all night, to an early morning appointment. The hotel valet pulled up the car with the heat on full blast trying to thaw a vehicle doing a faithful impersonation of an iceberg.

Okay - it wasn't THAT frozen, but it was certainly cold enough that I was wishing I was wearing gloves for the steering wheel. However, as I pulled away, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the steering wheel was warm! What? A heated steering wheel! All this time, I had no idea his car had the feature (I live in Florida, why would I?). I never thought about a warm steering wheel, but suddenly I found myself yearning for one in my own car.

The automotive industry brilliantly updates their models with innovative features designed to make your life easier and, perhaps most importantly, make you want a new car.

A simpler example? Cup holders! I remember when I was a working mom and was giving a client a ride in my new SUV. He asked me the size of the engine, to which I confidently and enthusiastically replied, “Seven passenger seating and ten cup holders”. Not to toot my own horn or anything, but copious seating and cup holders made me the Carpool Queen while minimizing the in-car arguments.

Of course, we tend to buy cars more frequently than we buy houses, but we can still learn a lesson or two from the automotive industry by constantly evaluating the built environment in which we live and focusing on how to improve. Perhaps it starts with an irritation like a cold steering wheel on a cold morning. Let’s run through a few past “Ah-ha!” moments.

Curved Shower Curtain Rods

The straight curtain rod seemed pretty straight forward at first glance. But as soon as you turned on the shower, the curtain was sucked into the tub and proceeded to stick to the person bathing. Yuck! How long did this to go on before someone finally implemented the curved shower curtain rod? Not only would the curtain not stick to the bather, but it also gave them more space inside the shower.

Kitchen Cabinet Garage Cans

What was the design inspiration behind designing it into our kitchen cabinets? Was it a kitchen designer who felt their beautiful kitchen was ruined by the large, white plastic garage can? Or was it the need to have two trash cans, one for trash and one for recyclables? Perhaps it was because the dog kept getting into the trash can sitting out in the open. All of the above? Whatever the reason, I’m a big fan and it has become a standard in kitchen design.

Dust-pan Central Vacuum

I was never a big proponent of the central vacuum system. That was before I learned that you could get an electronic dust pan in the base board, eliminating bending down to sweep dust and pet hair into a dust pan. Now I’m convinced I can’t live without it.

Today, we’re still innovating. Have you ever tripped on the dog’s water bowl in the middle of the night? This spawned the pet palace. Have you yearned for a place to house our deliveries that’s safe from weather or theft? Bring on the parcel delivery vestibule!

Such simple things can have a big impact on our daily lives. A collection of small but impactful innovations that make used homes obsolete and new homes all that more desirable. But more importantly, we should all raise our awareness of not accepting the status quo just because it’s the way we’ve always done it. Instead, we should be constantly questioning and seeking improvement.

Layered Lighting: Your Competitive Advantage

While at my first architectural job in college, I was given the task of doing an electrical plan. The thinking was that the least experienced drafter could handle the job of adding outlets to the floorplan. I followed the example plan, resulting in an electric plan that was code compliant – and completely unremarkable. What a missed opportunity, especially from the lighting perspective! If only I knew the potential that good lighting can bring out in a space.

Now that I’m older (and hopefully wiser), I’m realizing what a powerful design tool lighting can be. This is especially true for the 55+ buyer who needs 6 times as much light as someone in their 20s.

Lighting in Production Housing

I have found that lighting is underutilized and misunderstood in production housing. Years ago, I remember a builder touting the number of recessed cans he had in the house. While the amount was certainly staggering, it begged the question of whether he was building a home or a surgery center. Granted, this was back in the day when a surface mounted fluorescent fixture was the norm for the kitchen. Yuck!

Fast forward to present day and the sheer number of lighting decisions to be made is mind-numbing. First, we have the different types of bulbs. Then there’s the color (temperature) choices for those bulbs. My daughter works as a lighting consultant in NYC, so walking into any public or commercial space with her is an educational experience for me as she points out that the temperature of the light bulbs are all different. This is something I never paid attention to before – and now can’t stop noticing.

So, as a production builder, how do you start? I don’t need to tell you that light can be expensive – especially decorative pendant fixtures. Many choose to only include the junction box so that the lengthy process of selecting fixtures doesn’t slow the start or closing of the home.

Types of Lighting

I like the layered lighting approach. This gives the lighting and the room a sense of dimension. A room with only recessed cans will appear very flat, so let’s use these four categories as our guide:

1. Ambient Lighting: Soft glow lighting that envelopes the space without any glare or shadows. Also known as Mood Lighting.

2. Task Lighting: For me, this is the light that is attached to my drawing board, illuminating the task of design.

3. Accent Lighting: Either in the form of a decorative fixture – where the fixture itself becomes the accent - or lighting that accentuates a feature like a painting.

4. Wayfinding Light: Lighting that illuminates a path. This is especially helpful along stairs or the path one might take in the middle of the night to use the bathroom.

In bedrooms and family rooms, buyers will bring in lamps, so these rooms have more variables. We’ll leave those alone and focus on the two most important (and expensive) rooms in the house; the Kitchen and the Master Bath, and how layered lighting can be the finishing touch for these spaces.


Consider that giant fluorescent fixture from the 70’s. It added a lot of light to the room, but standing in front of the countertop created shadows on the work surface - not ideal for chopping.

Instead, under-cabinet lights illuminate the countertop without awkward shadows. For ambient lighting, I love the above-cabinet lighting giving the room a beautiful glow. Task lighting should illuminate the cooking surfaces and countertops, like a spot light over the cook-top and kitchen sink.

Be sure to finish off the space with accent pendant fixtures over the island. This has become the most important “statement” light(s) in the entire house, so make it memorable.

Master Bath

I often see a cluster of lights mounted just above the mirror, attempting to be both Task and Accent lighting. However, these overhead lights cast shadows on our faces that exaggerate wrinkles. Lights mounted at eye level are far more flattering because they wash out our wrinkles. Better yet, consider a back-lit mirror. The best of both worlds is the illuminated mirror with lights built in like many new hotel bathrooms.

For Accent Lighting, you might consider a pendant fixture centered in the room – but in many markets, this is not allowed over the tub.

For Wayfinding Light, you might include a couple of step lights in the bath. Don’t forget to include one in the toilet room for midnight trips to the loo.

Lighting is an incredibly powerful tool in design. You can make spaces feel larger, create ambiance and add depth and dimension. If you want to set yourself apart from your competition, consider thoughtful lighting as your competitive edge. Your houses will look and feel better to your buyers. Your buyers themselves will look better. Who knows, that may be just the thing that converts them from idle shoppers to committed buyers.