Tuesday, April 24, 2012

A New Hook for My Colorful Animal Print Swirls

Felted leopard handbag hook holding
a leather bag I hand-painted with a
leopard print after accidentally
splattering it with nail polish.
One of my pet peeves is restaurants that have rounded back chairs.  You can't hang your handbag on the back of those chairs! Where am I supposed to put my purse?  I'm not putting it on a dirty restaurant floor, if I can help it.  If possible I use an extra chair; otherwise, I end up keeping my bag on my lap, which is not comfortable.  Then I discovered these great little purse hooks or hangers that you can carry around in case of such an "emergency."  It has a magnet that keeps in flat in your handbag, and then it opens up into a hook.  You place the flat round part on the table, and voila -- you can hang your bag.  

The problem was, I couldn't really find one I liked.  The solution:  I decided to make some, of course.  So here are my latest felted purse hangers.  My  favorite designs are the ones that look like the swirled branches of the animal print trees I'm so fond of painting.  It's really fun to take a design from one medium and translate it into another. I love combining bold beautiful colors with leopard, giraffe, tiger, and ocelot patterns.  It's a lot of work to needle-felt these intricate little animal prints and swirls, but I think they're worth it.  I also made some purse hooks with yin yang and peacock motifs that I'll be adding to my shop soon.  Next, I think I'll try making some of these designs into rings and pendants too.

Zazzy Peacock purse hooks with colorful swirls and animal prints, available in my Etsy shop
Thanks for looking at my latest creations!

Related posts:  Loving the Swirl of Life  (to learn more about my swirl tree paintings and the universal meaning of swirls).
So I Have a Thing for Peacocks

View of the handbag hooks in the closed position
Visit my Zazzy Peacock Etsy shop to see these and lots more!
My painting, "Peacock Ocelot Tree," shows the origins of my animal print swirl designs

Thursday, April 19, 2012

My Modern Mondrian Kitchen -- Part 2: Appliances

So now that you’ve heard all about the design of my kitchen cabinetry, here’s a little (or a lot) about my appliances.  Like the cabinetry, I chose appliances to maximize form and function.  They needed to look sleek and modern (or disappear behind panels) and help make my cooking better and easier.  I know from experience that choosing appliances can be the most agonizing part of doing a kitchen remodel.  Here's what I chose – the good, the bad, and the don’t bother.  (It mostly turned out good-- phew!)

Induction cooktop:     First of all, I love my Thermador 36” induction cooktop.  This is truly one of the best decisions I made during the remodel.  We don’t have a natural gas line to our house, but I was leaning toward installing a propane tank so that we could get a big professional style 48” oven range.  But then I realized that while those are really beautiful, they’re not so modern or sleek. Once I learned about induction technology, I knew that it was for me.  The induction works by magnetic energy, so it is more efficient than gas or electric.  It heats faster on high settings, maintains a very low simmer, and you can adjust heat settings instantaneously.  Best of all, the burners themselves never really get burning hot, and they go off as soon as the pot is removed – making it much less likely for a clumsy cook like myself to burn herself.   Seriously, with gas cooktops, I’ve been known to set fire to my robe sleeves, and I’ve melted a couple of spatulas and plastic containers on electric cooktops in my day. The only downsides of the induction were expense and needing all new -- magnetic --  pots and pans (i.e., true stainless steel or cast iron pots work). For me, it was a wash because it would have been expensive (not to mention unsightly) to install a propane gas tank in the backyard, and frankly, I wasn’t really willing to consider electric.  As a bonus, I don’t have to worry about my pyromaniac cat setting himself on fire.  (We have to watch him like a hawk when we light candles, and he still managed to singe the fur off the tip of his tail last Chanukah.)

Twin ovens:  Once I ruled out the big range, I realized I wanted two ovens for entertaining.  The dilemma was that I don’t like double ovens.  Because I’m petite, I can’t even reach the upper oven without burning my arm.  Plus, they use up valuable counter space.  It was my kitchen designer, Fred Grenfell’s idea to place twin ovens symmetrically to either side of the cooktop. I went with the 30” GE Monogram convection ovens mostly because I liked their sleek styling with the stainless steel t-bars to match my hardware, but they have so many other great features.  I especially appreciate the full extension locking racks -- that you can’t accidentally drop on your foot.  ;-)

Range hood:  While we’re in the cooking area, I’ll just mention that I really like my Thermador hood.  I wanted something modern but with some soft curves, that would fit snugly between the cabinets.  This was trickier to find than you would think.

Dishwashers:  In the dishwater department, I made both a very good and a very bad decision.  The really good decision was to buy the Miele Optima dishwasher.   The European water and heat efficiency is great.  They say it does a better job when you don’t rinse the dishes, because it has sensors that determine how dirty the load is.  I love that you don’t have to worry about putting plastic in the “top rack only.”  The way the heater works, the whole dishwasher is “top rack” safe.  My favorite feature, however, is the top utensil rack.  Utensils not only come only cleaner, but they are already sorted and ready to put back in the drawer. 

On the other hand, we did NOT need the "extra" Fisher & Paykel single dishwasher drawer.  The thing does a terrible job, we hardly even use it, and really we never need it.  Unlike an extra oven, which you sometimes actually need to get all your food cooked and heated at the same time, you can leave a sink full of dishes for the hour or two it takes to run a load.  Lesson learned.

By the way, I got wood panels for both dishwashers.  I still really like that they just disappear into the cabinetry, but I will say that we’ve had some issues early on with the wood delaminating along the edges.  The cabinet maker was great about coming back to do repairs, and it's fine now, but it’s definitely something to keep in mind when deciding between the integrated panels and stainless.

Refrigerators:  I’m happy with our main refrigerator – a GE Monogram 48” built-in side-by-side with a filtered water dispenser. It has lots of space and keeps veggies fresh longer than anything I’d had before.  It does have the same drawbacks as other built-ins  (not as much depth) and side-by-sides (not enough width in the freezer for an ice cream cake, etc.).  We compensate for this with a standard, extra refrigator in the basement for large items and overflow.   My only real complaint about the GE Monogram is that we have to change the expensive water filters so frequently.  We even got a whole house sediment filter installed recently to see if that would help. The jury’s still out on that. 

I’m also really happy that we opted to get the 24” under-counter refrigerator – another GE Monogram. The top drawer is always loaded with fruit (which leaves both crispers in the big frig for lots of veggies). The  bottom drawer holds snacks for the kids, like cheese sticks, yogurts and apple sauce.  When the kids were younger, it was full of juice boxes too.  And because this little frig drawer was small and low to the ground, they were able to help themselves at a younger age.  It feels good the first time you can answer, “Can I please have a snack?”  (hopefully, they’re this polite) with “Sure, go help yourself.”

Microwave:  Here’s another mistake I made.  We opted to put the microwave under the counter in the island, which I had seen in a couple of magazines, because it seemed like a great way to save counter space.  I didn’t want to put the microwave up high because again, I can’t reach, plus it would have messed with my cabinet design.  But as it turns out, below the counter was a bit uncomfortable for my 6’2” husband. 

Coffee!  Okay, this is not a built-in appliance, so it probably doesn’t belong in this post, but I just couldn't leave it out. My favorite appliance and morning BFF is my DeLonghi Magnifica SAM 3500 Espresso machine.  I probably could write a whole blog about it.  It makes perfect lattes and cappuccinos because you program exactly how much espresso you want, how strong you like it, and steams and/or froths just the right amount of milk from a separate dispenser that you store in the frig. And then it does all that at the touch of a button. This thing has spoiled me rotten.  But it saves so much time (and burned milk) compared with the other machines I’ve had over the years.  And it saves money if you would otherwise be running to the Starbucks every morning.

If you hung in there this long, thanks for reading all about my kitchen appliances. I hope this discussion helps someone with their decisions.  I have more to say about my kitchen, including tidbits on the countertops, backsplash, outlet covers, lighting, sinks, faucets and more, but I think it can wait a little while.  ;-)  

Our Home Remodel: A Modern Take on Frank Lloyd Wright’s Prairie Style

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

My Modern Mondrian Kitchen, Part 1: Geometric Form Meets Gourmet Function

For those of you who have been following along, a few years back, we transformed our 1950’s rambler into a Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired Prairie style house.  Next up on the tour of our remodel is our kitchen addition.  I decided to go with a clean, simple modern design, but with an emphasis on geometric shapes and interesting compositions.  The design was Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired, but the final result reminds me more of Mondrian (despite the lack of punches of primary colors --so not me!).  I have so much to say about my kitchen that this will most likely be a three-part series, starting with the cabinetry. So here are my top 10 favorite things about my kitchen cabinetry, along with some explanations of why I think they work.  

1.  The Composition:  The Christiana Cabinetry frameless cabinets with full overlay panel slab doors in natural maple are simple, modern and well-made. What I think makes them interesting is the composition of horizontal and vertical rectangles with the occasional square element.  It really does feel reminiscent of a Mondrian or Frank Lloyd Wright design.

2.  Lift-Up Cabinets:  In the upper cabinets, the mix of horizontals and verticals was accomplished with the use of several lift-up cabinets.  These not only added to the visual design, but they also offered better functionality for me than if we’d had all tall vertical cabinets.  At 15” high, these lift-ups only gave us one shelf, but the truth is -- I can’t reach above that without a stepstool anyway!  Plus, with standard cabinet doors, I was constantly bumping my head.  I just love how these lift-up cabinets marry form and function.

3.  Frosted Glass: We used frosted glass inserts in the horizontal lift-ups (except for the appliance garage, of course) to add even more interest to the cabinetry, as well as to tie in with the glass tile accents in the backsplash.  We use the glass lift-ups mostly for glassware or pale dishes so that they look neat and uncluttered.  
4.  Mixed Use Below:  The under-counter cabinets are also a composition of horizontal elements (i.e., drawers) and vertical elements (standard cabinets, as well as verticals pull-outs).  All this variety in form also maximizes function.   I find drawers and pull-outs much more useful than standard cabinets.  I especially love our narrow pull-outs – one is a spice rack and the other holds upright trays.

 5.  Symmetry and Balance:  I think part of what makes the composition work is that we have enough symmetrical elements to look organized, accented with a few asymmetrical components to add interest.  I think if you have no symmetry it looks chaotic, whereas too much symmetry looks stagnant and boring.

6.  Fun Geometric Island:  For the island, I wanted to create an unexpected design. My idea was to have a rectangular counter with a circle at one end (with a prep sink) and a crescent-shaped bar.   My dilemma was that the price of a round cabinet was steep. Then I had an epiphany. I could put a round counter top on a square cabinet and get my round element with even more geometric interest.  I turned the square cabinet on a 45 degree angle at the end of the long rectangular island.  I put a little square prep sink, also on an angle in the round top.  So now I had a square in a circle on another square!  I think this turned out even more interesting than a round cabinet with a round sink, and at a fraction of the cost.  

7. Hardware:  My first instinct was to use long stainless steel t-bars on all the cabinets, but my very wise kitchen designer advised me that it would look too busy to have the long pulls going in both the horizontal and vertical directions.  I could have put long pulls going horizontally on all the cabinets, but I thought that might make it confusing to figure out which direction the standard cabinets should open.  Anyway, we went with long t-bars on the horizontal elements and simple thumb pulls on the standard cabinets, and I’m happy with the look and the functionality.

8.  Unique Refrigerator Door Panels:  I had to do something a little different to break up the large vertical panels on our 48” side-by-side built-in refrigerator.  The solution was pretty simple:  I had the cabinet-makers add grooves to create faux panels with the illusion of a composition of verticals and horizontals.  The hardware is also offset for a more unconventional look.  I probably should have gone with heavier duty appliance handles.  We just used longer versions of the stainless t-bars, and you have to pull REALLY hard to open the frig!   I think it looks cool though.

9. Corner Shelving:  We had a corner in this kitchen where the upper cabinets would have been really tight, so I decided this area would better serve as open shelving for cookbooks and display.  The offset verticals in the shelves continue the geometric theme by creating square spaces at the upper left and lower right.  (This particular composition is repeated in several windows around the house.)

10. Display Space Above: I really like having space above the cabinets to display decorative items.  Originally, we planned for glass cabinets to the ceiling for display, but then I realized this would limit not only what I could put up there, but how well you could see it.  I like having my collection of African baskets, masks and artifacts out in the open.

Thanks for looking! Next up:  My Modern Mondrian Kitchen Part 2 (Appliances)