Five of my Favorite Myths or Secrets about Decorating your Home with Paint

Photo courtesy of Country Living 

  1. Dark paint colors make a room look smaller - wrong! Dark paint colors give a small space the oomph it needs to look important. There is a warm and enveloping feeling that you can't always get from a pale shade of paint. 
  2. Trim has to be either stained or painted white. Please give this one myth up ASAP! In our own home we used a medium shade of gray on our formerly lackluster white interior doors. 
  3. Gray paint is not a warm color. Wrong again! Yes, some grays are cooler grays, but there's a warm gray for everybody. We used Benjamin Moore's Edgecomb Gray on our hallways and Foyer. It's a beigy/soft/greige that changes throughout the day. It's perfect if you want to be 'engaged' but not commit to gray. 
  4. Everyone in the house has to love the color I choose. Trust me, not everyone has the faintest idea of what paint can do for a house. For instance, if your toddler craves purple, would you respect her choice and paint your home purple? If you're unsure on what color to select, look into hiring an interior designer to help make the best choice of color. 
  5. All paints are the same, so buy less expensive paint. After twenty years in the business of interior design, I can speak as an expert. Do buy good paint, it will look and last better than cheaper paints. 
Lastly, (as much as I love my painters) let them do their work but save the color selection to you or your designer. Not every color looks the same in every house. I've seen paint colors in my clients homes that I would have loved in my home. But, we have different light, floor color, furnishings and all that can change how a color looks. 

Mary Alice Smith of M. A. Smith Interior Design - an interior designer serving New Jersey, Ocean and Monmouth County, the Jersey Shore and metropolitan New York, CT 
To schedule an appointment call: 732 690-2030

Puzzled about designing your Home?

Today is like any other day as as interior designer. With a variety of projects to work on, it can feel overwhelming every once in awhile. It's like working with a puzzle. You have the finished work in mind, but it takes patience and concentration to pull it all together. 

I found this quote that explains the 'puzzle phenomenon' that can apply when decorating your home or to life in general. 

"Life isn't 
about finding pieces 
of a puzzle. 
It's about
and putting
 those exceptional
Glenn van Dekken 

So it's a good thing that I love puzzles! I love finding the pieces that bring my clients' vision together. And like working on a puzzle, it takes time and thought, patience and courage to finish the project. 

It's not any one piece of the 'puzzle' that is important. Every piece is important. For instance, it's not just a sofa that will transform a room. It's a medley of a number of things orchestrated together to give a room life, that will give it its soul. 

So, be patient with yourself (or your designer). The best things in life take time!

An Architect's Best Advice If You Are Buying, Renovating or Rebuilding a Coastal Home

Note: The article below is published by permission of Jim O'Brien for the purpose of sharing vital information to Jersey Shore homeowners,builders and real estate companies.
"Major Considerations Buying, Renovating and Rebuilding a Shore Home"

"As Architects we work with homeowners to select properties, buy, redesign, or rebuild homes at the Jersey Shore. The shore today is a new world with many factors driving its evolution in flux. Many local, state and federal decisions that will regulate our built environment are being made quickly, being revised and reconsidered (or delayed), or are simply in the offing out to the years of 2014, 2015 and beyond. 

When consulting on buying, renovating or rebuilding a shore home in this environment we focus on three major categories where we are experiencing major changes.  

First there are the financial aspects of buying, building/rebuilding, financing and insuring a home. Decisions there now have bigger ripple effects, many yet without precedence here, on the real value of these properties in the real estate market, both while one owns a property and when it comes time to sell.  

Secondly, the techniques of building at the Jersey Shore have evolved almost overnight. Newly widespread at the shore are previously uncommon factors now common to every structure’s permanence, storm-resistance, allowable height and allowable renovation or new construction techniques.  

Thirdly, we see the changing considerations for our sense of aesthetics & lifestyle at the shore. With many parts of the shore having been wiped away or drastically damaged, we know they will come back in a different fashion. The look and feel of our shore communities is about to change.   

From the experience of the rebuilt and modified boardwalks, to the replenished and relocated dunes we see as early as now and this summer, to the changes in home styles and ground floor uses we’ll see in rebuilding in every community each year to come, our choices are new once again for how to make things beautiful and how we want to live.

Below are the important issues in these three categories we are commonly seeing and discussing at this time: 

1. Financial Aspects

The financial aspects of the fact that we now coexist with higher flood levels at the shore. The Jersey Shore’s new Base Flood Elevations (adopted by Gov. Christie) don’t just add cost - they do save the value of Jersey Shore homes. 

·         Base Flood Elevations, recommended by FEMA, are put down onto Flood Insurance Rate Maps that determine your flood insurance premium. If you have a property with flood insurance and at anytime it suffers damages totaling 50 percent or more of its market value, you are required in your rebuild to elevate your home to the base flood elevation, if you wish to continue having flood insurance. In so rebuilding and elevating a home flood insurance offers up to $30,000 for that work under what’s called Increased Cost of Compliance coverage.
·         If you are with a mortgage, your bank will require that flood insurance, so this rebuild and elevation described above is required.
·         If you are with no mortgage, you are the owner in full of your property, you can opt not to comply with any raising requirements, even if your home’s storm damage is more than 50% of its value. You will pay more in flood insurance. But until new rates go into effect, possibly in early 2015, insurance premiums will not be affected. When that time comes, according to FEMA, a property that’s four feet below the advisory elevation in a high-hazard area could cost the owner roughly $31,000 a year for flood insurance. The premium drops to $7,000 if the home is at the new standard, and falls to $3,500 if the house is built two feet higher.

·         The financial aspects include consideration of these questions: What is the market value of a well built home if it is for sale, and is not compliant with the base flood elevation? Are there many buyers for this home? Are cash buyers motivated to buy such a home because they do not have a mortgage bank requiring them to buy flood insurance on such a home? Are higher flood insurance premiums for non-compliant homes affecting the sale price of that home, etc.?

2. Techniques of Building

Shore homes most vulnerable to storm damage and flooding lie in what flood maps have labeled the “V” and “A” zones. The most vulnerable homes are in the "V" zones, which are waterfront areas at the highest risk for flooding and likely to have up to 3-foot breaking waves coming through land areas during a storm. These “V” zones require costly pile foundations be used in any building/rebuilding. The "A" zones covers much of the Jersey Shore just next to the “V” zones. The “A” zones aren’t as vulnerable as the "V" zones but are still subject to major storm damage. 

To withstand “V” and “A” zone-strength storm, wind and flood surges without damage to the house’s structure itself, we use all the engineering principles we know; from pre-planned concealed openings throughout the ground level for flood water passage, to hurricane-rated windows, doors and shutters, to internal wall bracing and structural ties from roofs to footings, elevated mechanical systems, and deep pile foundations (of wood, helical steel, and hydrojet-installed reinforced concrete). 

“Lifting” an existing house is a major preoccupation for many homeowners now. A house lifting association of contractors doing this work suggests the range of $14 per square foot for a simple and small house to $22 per square foot for larger and more complex homes as an estimate of the cost of raising a house up to 6 feet. The cost of raising a foundation and exterior stairs to meet the new raised house floor, and of utilities re-connections, and of any other incidental work needs to be figured in addition to that. 

The Allowable Building Height in each municipality is also a major preoccupation for many homeowners now. Some municipalities have raised theirs 2 to 3 feet. Many are considering that, to facilitate lifting homes and building new ones reasonably similarly proportioned to the 2-1/2 story configuration we are accustomed to seeing. 

3. Aesthetics & Lifestyle

Homeowners look to maximize their livable space within the allowable building heights. This can change the architecture and appearance of many Jersey Shore communities by creating homes with parking or storage on the ground floor, living areas on the second & third floors, and several options for the design treatment and use of the roof level. 

Contemporary and Traditional Designs: PROS/CONS: 

The use of roof levels. On roofs: pitched roofs (traditional) with half-hidden terraces, vs. flat (contemporary), walkable roof terraces or “green roof” surfaces. In either case roofs capture access to the sun, breeze and wonderful views. If some choose a contemporary flat roof style, we will see that approach replace some of the pitched roof cottage styles so common at the Jersey Shore. (See image of a contemporary design.)  

The Ground floor use: parking, storage, low-capital-investment living spaces, due to higher base flood elevations and likelihood of flood and storm damage here.  The Ground floor look: breakaway vs. permanent. You do have a choice. Ground levels below a base flood elevation present a fork in the road for the design of a home.
Do we accept the look of impermanence with breakaway walls of cement panels or plywood (see FEMA image attached), and/or the look of piling as “stilts” with no walls around them and a “home” placed above them? Does that drive a contemporary design solution? Or a podium for an awkward- or challenged-traditional home placed above it?  

On the other hand, likely at greater expense, do we design the ground level with a sense of and with materials of permanence? (See images attached of 3 design versions of this approach.) In this approach even a base flood elevation a full story above grade results in a house design rooted to the earth, as we use good design plus all the engineering principles we know (from pre-planned concealed openings throughout the ground level for flood water passage, to hurricane-rated windows, doors and shutters, to structural ties from roof to footings, and elevated mechanical systems,) to withstand possible storm surges thorough the ground floor with no damage to the structure itself."
For further information or to inquire about architectural design contact:

Mary Alice Smith - 732 608-7583

M. A. Smith Interior Design 
Residential and Commercial Interior Design


Allied Member ASID

Serving Coastal New Jersey homeowners and businesses for twenty years

Need a 'Brush-up on selecting the perfect Paint Color?

Photo courtesy of Coastal Living Magazine
Color is a hot topic nowadays. From Pinterest to Houzz and HGTV to Facebook, everyone is talking about a particular room they saw and loved  - and the color that was used on the walls.

It sounds so easy. Just point and click. Use that blue that a designer chose at a designer showhouse featured in Traditional Home magazine. Or, follow the lead and paint your walls that 'shade of gray' you loved in Elle Décor.

The problem is that it doesn't translate as well in real life. Your home has different light than the home you saw in House Beautiful. Maybe your floors are dark and your wood furniture has a different stain color than the picture you so want to replicate.

What do you do? Put down that color chip and go to your nearest paint store or call your favorite designer and choose a variety of tones in that shade of blue, for instance. You may need a warmer, grayer blue than the one in the magazine.

Some colors appear reflective. Other shades may be more recessive. You may need a contrast in your room rather than a basketfull of neutrals that will put you to sleep.

It will be trial and error. Sometimes it's easy and sometimes it takes a few go-arounds till you settle on the color of your dreams.

Whatever you do, take your time. Understand that there is a color for you. It's just waiting for you to discover it and love it!

5 Tips to the Best Decorated Room in Town

Benjamin Moore colors with an accent color for the chairs 

How To Have The Home You Love

If you're like me, you are often (or always) thinking about updating your home.
Whether planning on a change in a room or an entire home, follow these important concepts, so your end result looks like your home and is reflective of your lifestyle:

1. Have a clear idea of how the space will be used.
For instance, if you plan on entertaining more than before in a dining room, decide on the total number of dining chairs and table length you need. 

2. Create a budget for the new furnishings.
Dining tables can be anywhere from 'free' (used) to thousands of dollars. What your budget allows will be the starting point for where to source your new table.

3. Understand the elements of great design.
When you see beautiful rooms in Pinterest or Houzz, they were created with the concepts of balance, proportion and scale. They were most likely created through a well-trained eye and/or a professional interior designer

4. Know what decorating style suits your lifestyle best. 
Are you a traditionalist, a minimalist or a lover of mid-century design. There is much to choose from today in the furniture world. In the 'before' it was expected that if you were into a more traditional look, you would avoid contemporary furnishings. However, today it's acceptable to have a mix of traditional with contemporary furnishings.

5. Plan a color scheme for your home. 
Try the idea of connecting rooms with one color that is repeated in the other rooms of your home. For instance, one room could have a blue-green color on the walls and the adjacent room could have a blue-green rug with soft white walls. 
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

What My Best Clients Do To Avoid Stress and Get Their Projects Done (So They Can Enjoy Their Homes)

Is Decorating Your Home Scary?

If the idea of a home renovation leaves you at a loss for where to start -   
Surprise! - you're in the right place! I know you have decisions to make, people to contact and budgets to stick to. Yes, all of that takes time.

It will take time to meet with architects, contractors and interior designers to help you decide what to keep in your home and what will change.

But, remember, if you take the time, you can eventually enjoy the good things in life - like your home! But you say "I hardly have time now!" Yes, that's true.

It's all about small wins.

Every small win makes my successful clients want to get to their next small win.

And so it is with home renovations or decorating. You schedule meetings with your contractor and interior designer, the first important win.

You discuss the project, another small win. Each day is a day to enjoy the feeling of getting your project off to a great start. Each day you will enjoy a small win or even many small wins.

What a great perspective and a great way to view change! Now, go click your heels and repeat:

"Today I will have small wins, one or many" - it's your mantra, your day to get your project off to a great start!

Call for professional help, for a nudge to get started, for the best year ever:

732 690-2030

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

How to Pick a Paint Color for Your Home

Photo courtesy of Benjamin Moore

Try this Technique to change your ‘Fear of Color’

You probably have a favorite color, one of those colors that you are drawn to for your clothes or your home. You use it often because it makes you feel good and look good.

But there’s a world of color out there and maybe it’s time to try or add a new hue to your repertoire.

For instance, never in my wildest dreams, would I have thought of using gray in my home. I’m a lover of warm colors and even my home office/studio has red walls. Our Foyer and halls had a shade of beige that works well and is timeless.

So, when shades of gray became popular for paint and furnishings, it first seemed to go against my love of warm colors. But since I’ve used gray for a number of my clients, I was open to the idea of using gray tiles in our Master Bath renovation.

It’s been months now since our former tub area became one of my favorite places to start the day. The gray tiles and mosaics in our new shower have that ‘spa’ look that suggests a feeling of tranquility.

Besides tranquility, I’ve found I love gray because it has that fresh, clean and updated look.

Afraid of color? Try a touch of gray or a touch of another color that attracts, yet scares you. Add a touch of color with accessories, lamps, bedding, etc. It doesn't always mean painting walls a new color. Try a new color idea on for size first.

By the way, what paint color have you been thinking of forever for your home?

Photo courtesy of Country Living Magazine 

Call for professional help, for a nudge to get started, for the best year ever:

732 690-2030
M. A. Smith LLC. Interior Design
1288 Beauchamps Place, Toms River, NJ 08753
Allied Member ASID
Blog: HouseZenGarden
Serving New Jersey, Connecticut and Metropolitan New York City

Important Steps To A Successful Renovation

After Construction The Fun Begins!

A story about a successful Home Design

I will always remember the first day I stepped into my client's newly purchased home. It was very different from her home up north. This house was empty and visibly in need of renovation. The kitchen was dark and separated from the living room's view of the water's edge. The question was how could we change the dark rooms, the tattered walls and bring them into the light of day.

To begin the process of renovation, we discussed the what-ifs to get a vision of where to go. After many discussions with the team made up of the client, myself, the contractor  - the project started to come to life.

But like many journeys, there were surprises and disappointments along the way during construction. Yes, the wall could be opened up, but the dining room had no place for a china cabinet. Luckily, we found space behind a wall in the dining room to build a built-in china cabinet.

It took a few months to complete the project. The contractor had other commitments, things slowed down a bit, but all through the days, my client moved through the inevitable upheaval with a 'let's forge ahead' attitude.

Change is hard for some. But, it's those who forge ahead every day and understand that it's a process when you are working on a renovation project. Many steps are needed to go from a dark and dated room to a bright and welcoming home. It's about saying 'yes' to change and yes to better days ahead.

(Give yourself a break! Consider hiring a designer to help you move things along and pull together a look for your home that will leave them speechless.)

Mary Alice Smith of M. A. Smith Interior Design - 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
M. A. Smith Interior Design
732 690-2030
Allied Member ASID
Blog: HouseZenGarden and Best Design Coach
Serving New Jersey, CT and Metropolitan New York

Do You Need Help With Choosing Paint Colors For Your Home?

How do you know if you need help with choosing paint colors for your home? If any of the situations below resonate with your present dilemma, maybe it's time for a little help from the experts.

  • You have a bulging file of paint chips from your neighborhood paint stores that are now weeks, months or even years old.
  • The topic of most of your conversations with friends or family about your home revolves around paint colors.
  • There are enumerable samples painted on your walls and none seem to work just right.
If you nodded your head to any of the above, take heart there is hope! Many of my clients were exactly where you are now. They want so badly to pick just the right color, but cannot find the answer and it's driving them crazy.

So, if you know it's time to call 'in the troops' to win the war on paint color selection, here is what to expect when the designer arrives to help you find the perfect color:
  1. Upon arriving at your home (during daylight is best), the designer will want to see your home to get a feel for the style of décor that you presently have.
  2. The designer will ask you questions and listen to what you have to say about your color preferences or dislikes.
  3. (She will not start suggesting colors yet!)
  4. There will be a discussion about how you want to 'feel' in the space (For instance, relaxed or energized) with the new color.
  5. Concepts about color and the effects of color in a room will be discussed.
  6. The designer will take note of the present furnishings, flooring, lighting, etc. because they all affect how a color will look in a space.
  7. Armed with paint chips and sometimes paint sample boards, the designer will start to show you some sample colors, tints or shades to see your reaction (good or bad) for reference.
  8. After ruling out certain colors, you and the designer will begin to fine tune the selection.
  9. A selection may be made at that point, and the designer will record your selection with suggested finishes (flat, flat matte, satin, etc.) and leave you sample color chips.
  10. If you're still not sure - Your next step is to return to your paint store and order (yes, one more time) a quart or two of sample paint. With paint in hand, you should test the paint either on the wall, or my favorite - on a 20 x 30 piece of foam-core from Michaels, A. C. Moore or other art supply store.
Of course, the designer may do the legwork on #10 and return with the painted sample boards in hand, if that works for you and your busy schedule. The beauty of the sample boards is that you can move them around the room and keep your walls neat and tidy till painting day.

The whole point of working with a designer is to lay your fears, anxiety and worries to rest so you can enjoy your home as soon as possible.

Still on the fence about what all this will cost in time or money? Look for my next blog post where we'll talk about how long it takes to get to the right color and how much it will cost to hire a designer.

In the meantime, if you have a question about paint colors - please leave a comment and I will get back to you before you can say 'paint'!

Analysis Paralysis - Why Your Home Decorating Is Going Nowhere

This could be your bathroom!
(Photo courtesy of
Avalon Flooring )
How to Finally Get Your Home Decorating Done

First of all, the good news is that you are reading this post. You're reading it probably because you have all the intentions of giving your home a new look, but somehow nothing gets done.

Life, home, family - everything is calling for your immediate attention. Plans to paint the rooms, find new sofas, rugs or revamp the 90's kitchen and baths are on hold. Days, weeks and months (maybe years) go by and nothing gets done.

Even though I am an interior designer, I am faced with the same dilemma. Truly my clients projects are my first priority during the workweek. There's little time to spend on the updates that are calling for attention in my own home. 

So, you're wondering, how does this designer get out of the Analysis Paralysis roadblock?

Simple - just start with small decisions then action. For instance, here is a portion of the list I used to get our Master Bath renovation started and done:

  1. Create a floor plan to show if the shower area could replace the tub. 
  2. Determine an approximate budget for the project. 
  3. Go to resources like Artistic Tile or Waterworks or Avalon Tile and review tile selections. Select the tile and furnishings for the floor and walls.  (Ok - I'm used to doing this for my clients, so it's easier for me. But I still had to do this).
  4. Go to my local cabinet shop with the tile sample and select the vanity.
  5. Return to the tile or fixture store and place the order the tile, grout, etc. 
What you may notice above is that I use steps to follow that make sense. First, I had to know that a shower could actually fit in the old tub space, before I got too excited about having a zen-like shower to enjoy at the start of my busy days. 

At some point, things will get done when you start the journey. I worked on the floor plan on one day. Another day, I visited the tile store. The point is that it takes action. Thinking about what you want to do is great, but nothing gets done unless you do something, anything!

So, leave Analysis Paralysis behind - start today with just one small thing. Call a friend, call your Mom or call a designer to get the home you've always wanted, the home you deserve to enjoy. 

Call for professional help, for a nudge to get started, for the best year ever:

732 690-2030

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

Photo courtesy of the Reading Mama 

The Holidays are coming - it's time to get your decorating done!

It's a puzzle. You've gone through this season for a number of years. You'd think by now you've got a system to keep it all in check - the shopping, the decorating. 

But, here you are again with a to-do list as long as a trip to the moon!

I'm with you on that. But, lately I've found that if you just allow yourself to take a moment to think what your really have to do vs. what you think you are expected to do, your list will shrink immensely. 

It' all about mindset. I've discovered this recently when my son suggested a book to read called "A Happy Pocketful of Money" Yes, the book discusses money, but most important it reminds you to keep in mind the following life changing concepts:
  • Stay in the moment -  it will keep you from thinking about the holiday rush. Just concentrate on what's in front of you today. Do what you can do today. 
  • Believe you already have what you want. For instance - you want a new paint color. So, instead of seeing yourself not there, see your room with the color you love.
All in all, sometimes you just need a little help, encouragement and a coach. The favorite part of my job is helping my clients move their project along, giving them the support and encouragement they need. 

Call for professional help, for a nudge to get started, for the best year ever:

732 690-2030

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