Arranging Furniture Around A Fireplace Made Easy

Armchairs instead of Sofas or Loveseats

How Successful Rooms Are Created

This photo reminds me of a successful outcome for a client who had a space problem in an open floorplan room.

On one end of the room we chose a large sectional for watching their TV. At the other end of the room we decided to place a lovely bleached oak dining table with French blue dining chairs.

The problem was what to do with an off-center fireplace wall that was somewhere in between the seating and dining areas of the room.

Since there was ample space in front of the fireplace, we decided to create a special and intimate seating area - Four upholstered chairs with swivels surrounding a round table for drinks or coffee.

However, early in the design phase it looked like only a loveseat or two armchairs facing the fireplace would work. Yet once I had the floorplan drawn to scale, I determined that the fireplace 'nook' had the capacity to become a very special space for entertaining friends by using four armchairs instead of the usual loveseat.

Answering this challenge reminds me of Steve Jobs who once said "Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works."

For my clients, this was a solution that looked great and worked for years to come.

Lesson: Never underestimate the power of taking the time to draw a floorplan to scale and to open your mind to more than either or solutions.

Problem Solved: A Great Window Treatment For A Bathroom

Photo courtesy of Hunter Douglas

One thing I love about design for the home is that there is always a challenge (some people call them 'problems') to solve.

One of my clients is looking for a solution for their bathroom window. The window faces a boardwalk, so the window treatment needs to provide for privacy.

But, since the window doesn't need to be closed to views from outside all the time, it needs to have a quick and easy way to adjust light coming into the room.

Lastly,  because the bathroom has various degrees of humidity during the seasons, it should be a window treatment that can hold up to the wettest of conditions.

Problem solved: Since I recently attended a seminar featuring Hunter Douglas products I recalled that their Palm Beach Shutters might answer all the challenges on our list.

With a guarantee to "never warp, crackle, fade, chip, peel or discolor" I think we may have an answer that not only works well, but looks great for years to come!

Discover a Designer's Secret to Creating the Best Dining Room

William Sonoma Heritage Dining Room Table - large but 'airy'

What are the Biggest Mistakes in Selecting Dining Room Tables?

Make no mistake, you have company coming to your home soon! You have visions of friends and family gathered around the holiday, birthday, anniversary, or graduation themed table. But the vision quickly turns into a nightmare! Once again you are faced with one or all of the three biggest problems most have with dining rooms.
  • You realize your room size was designed for tiny people - not for seating eight to ten comfortably. Or, it's so large you feel like your in an airplane hanger. 
  • Your chandelier never was in style. (By the way, it's probably installed either too high or too low and doesn't go with anything else in the room.)
  • Your chairs all match (boring).They may be uncomfortable and the fabric was out of style twenty years ago.

Dining Table Ideas 101

Many of the dining rooms I see are often too small or too large for typical family gatherings. Maybe the room can only handle a 36" deep table and no sideboard or buffet. Or the room is too large, so the space makes dining for four look like the rest of the company never showed up.

Wherever you are in your dilemma, keep these basic rules in mind when buying a new dining table so you actually will enjoy and want to use this room for upcoming festivities.

  1. Allow at least 24" of table space for each diner's place setting and room for candles, centerpieces or if you still use them - a salt and pepper set.
  2. Make sure people can get to their seats! Around a table there should be a minimum of 36" from edge of the table to the wall - so you and others can get to their chairs before the food gets cold.
  3. Whenever possible, look for tables that have pedestals so that you and your guests have ample leg room. This way they won't damage the table legs that you won't notice till they have left the scene! 
  4. Be realistic in choosing the finish of the table. If your entertaining is casual, look for a distressed finish that will hold up to all those people (small and large, young and old) who will accidentally find some way to scratch the table top, legs or the table apron.
  5. If your dining preferences lean toward the aristocratic vibe - make sure your cleaning staff use the correct furniture polish on your table and chairs.

For professional help, for a nudge to get started, for the best year ever,
 call Mary Alice at:

                            732 690-2030

1288 Beauchamps Place, Toms River, NJ 08753
Allied Member ASID

The Best Way To Light Up Your Rooms

Add Texture and Sparkle with a Lamp

Last week, when I entered the room, I noticed not only that it was so dark (even during the day) but that there were no lamps to be seen. Are they just moving into this home or are they getting ready to move out of the house?

Where were the lamps? Were they on order, stolen from the house, in a repair shop?

No, the homeowner never thought that they were needed since there were numerous recessed lights in the ceiling.

Hmmm ... I thought. But what about task lighting when you're reading? What about creating mood from the glow of a lampshade. Or, adding a neat little accent light on the mantel?

As Clodagh says "In a bedroom, you need what I call a 'love light' - a lamp you can dim..." Or perhaps you might agree with James Huniford and I - "A room should have multiple kinds of light to balance it and give it interest."

Every evening after a full day of work, I love to turn on the 'black frog' lamps on our sideboard and light the alabaster lamp on our foyer cabinet. Truly, the chandelier in the Foyer's ceiling does not warm up the space quite like that alabaster lamp.

If you want to make your home dazzle, sparkle or just look great, make sure you include lamps, chandeliers, candles or floor lamps to your design repertoire.

Here are some Lighting 101 suggestions to get you 'lit' :

  • Dimmer switches - no dimmer switches?  Use low watt (15 watt) bulbs instead
  • In a lamp with 2 sockets - use one pink bulb and one white bulb
  • Leave the Swiss cheese look on your sandwich, less is more with recessed lights in a ceiling
  • Go BIG in size with at least one lamp on a table - go ahead, make a statement!

A Designer's Review of Three of HGTV's Top Kitchen Design Trends

Is Gray really the new 'White'?

Photo courtesy of  HGTV
While I have to admit, the color gray has taken front row in paint colors for rooms, I'm not so sure about kitchen cabinets in gray for traditional kitchens. However, for a more contemporary kitchen design, I believe it would look smart, fresh and clean-lined.

Some other ideas to consider with gray cabinets:
  • Gray cabinets would flow beautifully alongside stainless steel appliances.
  • Looks great with brushed nickel and especially chrome faucets, cabinet hardware.
  • It's a nice departure from the ever popular white, without going to an extreme color choice (that will go out of style before you can say 'gray'!)
Up, up and away Upper Cabinet doors - yay or nay?

Blum hardware for upper cabinets

Again, I see a neat, crisp contemporary kitchen making great use of the Blum lift system for kitchen cabinets. For traditional kitchens, I have to say, I love the trend of incorporating open shelves vs. walls and walls of cabinets with doors.

I still love Kermit the frog, but I can't jump on the color 'green' for a Kitchen Sink

Photo courtesy of HGTV and Kohler

For any of you who grew up in my era, we have a distinct memory of a certain shade of avocado green, that we swear we never want to see again. Surely, the sink above is not that shade of green, but I suggest only the most daring should choose the Jonathan Adler sink from Kohler. It's not for everybody, but if you must have it, by all means - go for it!

I was wondering.... what trends are you thinking of and what are your thoughts about trying something you've never tried before?

Today, call for professional help, for a nudge to get started and for the best year ever:
732 690-2030

M. A. Smith, Ltd. Interior Design
1288 Beauchamps Place, Toms River, NJ 08753
Allied Member ASID
Blog: HouseZenGarden
Serving New Jersey and Metropolitan New York City

A Little Known Way To Re-Vamp Your Home

What grounds you,
or inspires you?
Is it a view of the water or garden,
is it symmetry or
the color blue?

If today you feel overwhelmed by the process of decorating, planning a renovation or new construction project and you hear yourself saying -
  • I'm not creative
  • I can't make decisions easily
  • I'm afraid to make the wrong choices
  • I don't know where to start
  • I just need someone to bounce off ideas, but I don't know where to turn

If that sounds like you, you are actually going in the right direction. Any change starts with understanding where you are now. Once you know you need help, the next step is easy.

One of my client's problems was selecting a lighting fixture that would give her home (that hadn't seen good light or a change in years) a new look, a look that said she was ready for change, ready for a new beginning.

We started with sizing up the correct size of the chandelier for the table and then determined what finish would work (based on finishes used elsewhere in her home). 

We talked about what she doesn't like and what she'd seen that captured her interest. Before long, she had her new chandelier and a new attitude that she could have what she desired and deserved.

Today is a great day to get going in the direction you want. Whether it's lighting, room layout, or color - you've got what it takes to make the difference. It doesn't matter if you need another 'eye' to help you decide. What matters is that you are saying yes to a better home, a happier life and a new you.

Today, call for professional help, for a nudge to get started and for the best year ever:
732 690-2030

M. A. Smith, Ltd. Interior Design
1288 Beauchamps Place, Toms River, NJ 08753
Allied Member ASID
Blog: HouseZenGarden
Serving New Jersey and Metropolitan New York City

Great DecoratingTrends to Change the way You Feel in a Room

The best Trends for a New Look in Your Home this Spring
Yes, the wind may be howling outside, the temperature's not a perfect 70 degrees but it's for sure that Spring is heading your way. You may be like my clients who suddenly have the desire to change things up a bit at home. Let me open the door to a new look with a few ideas to get you going today.

Photo courtesy of Benjamin Moore

Change can be big or little. It can be a change in color for a space, or texture for a sofa, or new window treatments that are on your to-do list. Whatever the case, think about what you can do this month, to add that pizazz you've been needing and wanting for awhile.

Photo courtesy of Benjamin Moore
Photo courtesy of Benjamin Moore

 Color can be a simple quick change that you can do with flowers. Or maybe it's change in wall color like the one above from Benjamin Moore. Doesn't it look like a soft blue? Well, it's actually Wickham Gray HC171. Look again at this photo. See the chandelier, maybe all you need is a new chandelier to add a sparkle to your room. Or...
 Texture! Yes, texture can add so much to a room. Truly wallcovering is totally in style for today's homes. With all the interest in more linear sofas, wood and iron cocktail tables and more, you want to keep your home from looking sterile and blah.
The way to do that, to make your rooms stand out can be adding textural wallcovering like the one shown in the photo.
In other words, if the walls were only painted it would look 'nice'. Who wants just 'nice'?
And by the way, you may have noticed that the vase contrasts so well with the wallcovering.
(Don't tell anyone, but that's a designer's best kept secret - using contrast, as shown in this photos by Hartmann & Forbes Inc. )
But wait, there's more...

Pattern Baby!
Photo courtesy of Garnet Hill
Pattern. Yes, adding pattern to a room of solids will most definitely change the look of a room.
Now don't get too crazy with this, just a little goes a long way.

 Photo courtesy of Pottery Barn

 Ok, so you have my best advice for today, for this season. Mix things up a bit. Try color, texture or pattern and put that pizazz back into your life!

Your updated Design Awards Announcement

My A-list 'Design Stars' Receive a Blue Ribbon For Their Sandy Recovery Efforts

Congratulations to the 'Design Star' winners!

The morning after Sandy hit was an end and a beginning for many of my clients or friends in New Jersey. It was an end to the homes they knew, but it was the beginning of their courage to make repairs, rebuild and to say yes to a better day.

These are the real 'Design Stars'. These are people you and I know, neighbors, sisters, friends and clients. 'Design Stars' like Joe and Dee, Joyce and John, Steven and Christine, Jim and Kathy, Michael and Deb, Terry and Billy, Stan and Debbie, Barbara and Mike, Herbie and Linda, Michelle and Gary - all forged ahead and brought back or are presently working on rebuilding their homes.

Let's all congratulate these 'Design Stars' and all who have the courage to take one day at a time and succeed through their own efforts to rebuild the most important place for their families - their home. 

Let's also not forget to remember that while they restore their homes, they are the ones who are restoring our shore, your shore, the Jersey shore that we know and love.

Mary Alice Smith of M. A. Smith, Ltd. - an interior designer serving New Jersey, Ocean and Monmouth County, the Jersey Shore and metropolitan New York areas.
To schedule an appointment call: 732 690-2030 or email me:
M. A. Smith, Ltd.
Interior Design
732 690-2030
Allied Member ASID
Blog: HouseZenGarden and Best Design Coach
Serving New Jersey and Metropolitan New York

Wouldn't It Be Great To Have The Perfect Home?

Wouldn't it be great to live in a Perfect Home like this one below?

Beach House Living

What's your idea of the perfect home? When my husband sent me a link to view the house above I expected the home of my dreams to appear before my very eyes. In some ways it did, but on second thought - it was not what I expected.

True, the house above has a lot of what I love - porches, peaks, a Nantucket location and lots of great views. But inside the floorplan was different than what I expected to see.

What one person sees as perfect may be seen by others as problematic. That's why when I meet with clients and ask a lot of questions (before I start designing) it's the most important part of my service as an interior designer. To get the best value from your investment with an interior designer, it's so important to share everything you like, need and just as important - what you don't like in home design, furniture and décor.

Excellent interior design can make the difference in how you feel when you are in your home, or in a particular room. It should reflect your unique lifestyle and create the home that is everything you expected it could be.

Mary Alice Smith of M. A. Smith, Ltd. - an interior designer serving New Jersey, Ocean and Monmouth County, the Jersey Shore and metropolitan New York areas.
To schedule an appointment call: 732 690-2030 or email me:
M. A. Smith, Ltd.
Interior Design
732 690-2030
Allied Member ASID
Blog: HouseZenGarden and Best Design Coach
Serving New Jersey and Metropolitan New York