Author Archives: deborah

Beautiful Cause, Beautiful Design

My daughters and I are fluttering the month of September.  We move around fluttering dragonflies and a sign on pediatric cancer, to yards of neighbors interested in this cause, and collect donations.  It’s been a great way for my daughters to help with a meaningful cause and get involved, along with making more ties with our local community.  I found this infographic on the donation site (, which is testament to the effectiveness of good design.  While my work centers on residential design, I am passionate about good design everywhere — in experiences, media, software, cars.  What a perfect way to inform and express and inspire awareness and participation in such a worthy cause.

Unravel Pediatric Cancer

Unravel Pediatric Cancer

Balancing Bolds

I’ve fallen for a stunning hand-me-down dress gathering dust in my five year old’s closet.  Whether I doubt it will ever be worn before it too gets passed along, due to her very particular fashion and texture sensibilities, I’ve begun daydreaming about its colors defining a space.  A pumpkin orange, teal, and olive brown.

First, some field rules to help any bold color mix succeed:

  1. Balance the color mix.  When using a big color, like red or orange, find an equally powerful color for balance.  In this case, the teal contends against the orange, as it’s a near inversion on the color wheel.  This is also known as a complementary color scheme.  Yellow and purple, and green and red are other popular examples.
  2. Ground the big colors.  Olive is an earthy, warm hue, but a rich chocolate or a pale linen could provide calm and support the loud dynamics.
  3. Watch the noise.  Dive in, and go big — but mind the chaos.  In other words, it’s best to use a bold color on a big surface, rather than lots of busy, chaotic bits of color.  Think confetti wallpapers or circus stripes.  Paint the wall(s), stain a piece of furniture, choose that rug.  Use decorative accents – curtains, pillows, decor – to coordinate it all.

Here’s a take on this mix, applied to a living room:

A pumpkin, tufted chaise, natural fiber rug and basket, fun star pedestal table, and sky blue walls and throw.

Here, the turquoise pop of the chair upholstery is as saturated as the bright orange table, but neutrals surround and support these contrasting stars.

Everything about this picture makes me want to drink a sangria and enjoy some tapas bars with friends…  The wispy, sheer curtain diffusing light, the hexagonal tile, lovely light fixture, and last and most — the brilliant intensity of color.

Improving Education with Environmental Design

I recently toured a public school that I am considering for my daughter next year.  I was impressed by the principal, many of the teachers I observed, and the overall philosophy of education and instruction.  However, my impression was derailed by the physical learning environment.  Despite being situated against a wooded hillside, the border of a lovely park with hiking trails and such, the interior classrooms were dark and dingy.  Lit with sallow, flickering fluorescents, the ceiling appeared to be popcorned over and over again, with many depressing layers, with some dark, concerning spots in places.  Natural light was very limited, as the rooms are all edged with a deep overhang, that deprives the classrooms of the sun, though practical for rainy days.  In all the rooms I toured, the edges and corners of the space were stuffed chaotically with materials and supplies.

It surprises me that with all the attention to curriculum and philosophy, the basics of a healthy, positive interior space has been denied these children and their teachers.  Upgrading the rooms with improved lighting and some basic, built-in cabinetry would alone make an enormous impact on the aesthetics of the rooms, freeing up more floorspace, and improving the instructor’s organization, allowing more time and focus to be spent where it matters, on the kids.  I strongly believe an improved interior will support the kids’ comfort and focus in the classroom.

Next stop: connecting with the principal to volunteer some pro-bono hours to help make this happen!  I don’t think I could allow my children to attend this school unless there was at least willingness and interest to make a change!  The requisite funding could follow, but the administrative support is necessary.  If I gain traction and am permitted to specify and oversee improvements, I’ll look into establishing metrics to measure and assess the types of changes.  Empirically, I feel confident there would be a noticeable change, but it will be interesting to try and get some data!

Fun Kids Furniture

I recently was introduced to Magis Me Too, an imaginative Italian children’s brand (of larger Magis producer), through this wonderful piece:

Le Chien Savant, by Philippe Starck

Any small child would have a blast coloring or reading at that station. Some products are available through online retailers, but still looking for that puppy.

Another favorite is this modular shelving system, that creates castle towers for toy storage. What a fresh approach to the toy storage cubby and shelf options out there!

Eur -- by Magis Metoo

Finds at EQ3, Nido, and HD Buttercup

With my talented and fabulous designer pal Mari Ines Woodsome, I enjoyed a lovely visit to several perimeter posts near the SF Design Center: the new EQ3 showroom, Nido, and HD Buttercup (across from Caltrain).  Here are a few lovely finds — mostly lights.

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Loved the dazzle of the tensioned wire mesh against the bulb’s glow — a perfect light for a more contemporary space, maybe juxtaposed against a rustic dining table, or above a simple upholstered bed. [HD Buttercup]
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Love the texture of this metal, and the three different pendant shapes.  Any, or a combination, would work well over an island, or in an entryway. [HD Buttercup]
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I am smitten with this desklamp — I think it may be the curve of its arm, the finish of its metal, its simple shape…  I don’t know, but would love to have it on my desk this very moment. [HD Buttercup]  
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Love these oblong mirrors with thick bases, that come in white and grey toned sides. [Nido]

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Just stunning, beautiful pendants to make a striking focal point for a high vaulted entry. Especially drawn to the silver and rose gold. [Nido]
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Plush underfoot, a tailored rug with neutral palette. [EQ3]
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An Eames design, like the lollypop colors on this entryway hook rack. Would liven up a neutral palette. [EQ3]
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Such a comfy chair, and love the marled fabric — very practical for covering up spills&stains over time. Clean chrome legs adds visual space to a room. [EQ3]
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Like the marble base, simple curves of this lamp. [EQ3]
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Nice entryway/mudroom storage series. Like the shallow 14″ bench, good for tight spaces. [EQ3]

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Love this expandable wall organization system, that’s a series of simple white magnetic bases, and containers that magnetically adhere. Think incoming/outgoing mail, catalogs, some plants or flowers, pens. All set! [EQ3]

Review: Decorist

This Sunday’s SF Chronicle mentioned a new site,, that has an interior design profiling quiz… I gave it a try tonight, and was impressed by the quiz design.  The quiz has you visually select from the classic elements of a living room: couch, coffee table, side table, lamp, mirror, rug, and wall color.  As you browse through all the options, those selected are added to a pretend room.  It’s fun, although I can’t say I chose my ‘favorite’ pieces, but rather had a good time choosing different options to see how they’d work together.

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When I was done trying stuff out, the site generated a ‘profile’ as follows, which impressed me as an accurate read on my selections.

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From there, you are directed to your dashboard, where you can see a list of items filtered to your tastes — which in my case, wasn’t exactly accurate due to my design play during the quiz, but I was happy enough with its determination, and was certainly intrigued by what items would be suggested.  You also were asked to specify your price range for a sofa, which presumably is used to then filter recommendations by cost as well — interesting idea.  This page was a huge scroll, but had a nice layout and form, and could be filtered by category.  I like that it pulls from a broad resource set, including flash sites like OneKingsLane and unique stuff selling on EBay, and it did have a great range of interesting pieces, along with some weird stuff that if nothing else was fun to see.  Sort of pinterest-style eye candy.

For folks looking for small, targeted help with a specific room in their home, their ‘mini-makeover’ option seems like a good deal.  You get several room boards and a shopping list, in response to uploaded pictures and your notes on challenges and hopes for the space.  I think this would be perfect for a home shopper that needs a little aesthetic push in the right direction.

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Filling the Soil

To me, the landscape is an extension of a home, and seasonally, particularly Spring, my mind starts overflowing with dreams and hopes for my garden.  My thumb is far from green, but the architecture of plants, foliage, and blooms, and the added challenge of their response to seasons and time, interests and has been known to completely consume me.  At this point in time, with the extended drought moving into its third year in the Bay Area, I feel guilty to desire more that requires water, but that guilt is somewhat assuaged by my intent to be mindful of water use, exchanging interior use (longer showers, running water during dishes) for pointed watering of new plants, permitting established plants to endure the drought (we stopped our irrigation months ago), and planning to produce more food along with beauty.  UPDATE: The morning after my shopping spree, the rain began to pour.  This is the longest soak we’ve had in a few months!  I’ll take this as a sign.  😉

Justifications aside, I am filled with renewed peace and joy for our new yard additions:

Lenten rose…. We have a few lenten roses, and over time, I dream of a small woodland garden of lentens, heucheras, bleeding hearts, astilbes, and hostas, shaded by japanese maples and our black acacia, joined eventually by boulders and a bench…


My latest addition, Helleborus lividue ‘Pink Marble’ has dusty pink, petite blooms, that gracefully stand on thin stems, with humble nods, blooming through winter’s dreary (ahem, unfortunately gorgeous and sunny of late) days.  The ‘Pink Marble’ cultivar I’ve added to the garden has smooth, oval leaves, in an unusual blue-green tone with lovely gray veining.

Helleborus lividue ‘Pink Marble’

Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow Plant


An evergreen, with cute, waxy green foliage, that can slowly grow to 5-7′, it blooms summer through winter, with small, pansy-like blooms that continually flower and change color from purple to lavender, and then white, hence the common name ‘yesterday, today, and tomorrow’.  They like partial shade, so I think I’ll site mine at a spot along the eastern side of my home… it will tie in nicely with an adjacent lotus crassifolius (smaller native california shrub with soft grey foliage and smaller, purple-pink pea flowers) and ‘sharks bay’ boronias.  Although it’s a tropical, it’s supposed to be drought tolerant once established, and tolerates nighttime temps into the 20s.

Sweet Pea Shrub

Sweet Pea Shrub

Polygala x dalmaisiana, or sweet pea shrub, is a South African evergreen shrub, that quickly reaches 3-5′ height, 4-6′ spread, and has year-round, sweet-pea shaped blooms (long-lasting in arrangements), is frost-tolerant, with low water needs.  It’s relatively uncommon around here, enjoys sun and part-shade, and will probably be happy breaking up my poppy patch, and tying into the lavender hues of the summer-flowering buddleia and alliums by the sidewalk, and purples of the spring-flowering, ground-covering ceanothus.

Blue Hibiscus

Alyogyne huegelii 

This is my second attempt planting Alyogyne huegelii, or blue hibiscus, and I’m hoping the last. I love its effervescence, its lacy, growth to 6-10 feet tall and wide, with year-round flowers, deeply lobed foliage, and is super drought, soil, and frost tolerant to top.  I can’t quite recall how I did the last one in, but again, I have a talent for pushing the envelope on plant survival.  Notice a pattern on the bloom colors?  I seem to be endlessly drawn to the lavender-purple spectrum of flowers,  but plan to site this beside native grasses, yarrows, and a golden breath of heaven plant, and across the walkway from a similarly-sized buddleia that flowers, of course, in purples.

Roof Guidance

When it comes to residential design, some things have come very naturally to me.  Modeling, layout, colors, textures, and balance, for example.  I love envisioning future spaces, and adjusting current layouts to achieve better flow and support the lives of the inhabitants.  Give me a color — say, orange!  Gray!  And my mind starts filling instinctively with neutrals, patterns, textures, furniture pieces, decor, contrasting pops, to fill a room or home with life.

Not so with roofs.  I enjoy imagining ceiling planes, and the interior experience, but sketching exteriors and roof planes is my least favorite part of residential design.  For now.  I hope someday this will excite and engage me, but I find the mapping of hips into hips, modeling eaves, fascias, and exterior trim, just not fun.  Especially when I have to get the exact roof measurements and angles of an existing structure.  Handiness is not my middle name.  Clumsy is more like it.

Enter my mentor, Uncle Lance, who is a wizard at design and construction, having mastered that impossible point between artistry and pragmatic building.  He has also succeeded in the field for many years.  Here I share his exact guidance.  I hope it helps someone as it has helped me:

  • I always start, when possible, with existing house plans and treat whatever pitch is noted with reserved enthusiasm.  So often, the framers make in-process adjustments that detour from the architect’s specs causing a “5/12” pitch to morph into a 4/12-6/12. ( I’m assuming you’re familiar with the common roof spec that uses 12 as the right triangle base and some value as the triangle’s height….together, setting the pitch of the hypotenuse(the roof).)
  • next, I use gable ends where I can measure the run and rise on a side wall….either using a level to get the triangle’s base and height……….or easier………..using horizontal siding to get a fix on the drop in the roof over some measured distance(horizontal)
  • then, if there are cathedral ceilings on the interior, I would use those.
  • then, I’d crawl into the attic and take rise and run measurements there(that framing is actually a more reliable base for pitch calculations since the finish roof is often subject to multiple re-roofs which can make for somewhat fuzzy pitch measurements.
  • and, yes, I do get up on the roofs when necessary but only for a couple of spot checks using a level and a protractor(the level sets perpendicular and the protractor shows the roof’s angle off perpendicular.

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  • finally, I take a lot of photos………many used for SketchUp photo matching.  With several external photos and the SU matching processes, I can get a fairly accurate model of the structure with only a few known measurements.  And even though the photos are perspectives and subject to the vagaries of vanishing points, the modeling process produces a shape that can be rotated to orthographic views… we get another graphic indication of the roof pitch.
  • Like I said, I feel like a couple of measurements are necessary to get a reliable pitch calculation, so I just use whichever of these approaches are available to me.  Often, the calculated pitch together with the necessary roof frame(width of the rafters) will dictate what is spatially possible.  Time spent getting that correct is very well spent.

Yosemite in November

Captive to her glowing, fall splendor

Love the shaggy trees at left balancing the stately, framing sugar pines.

The solarium at the Ahwahnee. 4 pm., to the accompaniment of Rachmaninoff soaring in its acoustic graces from a grand.


Some of the Wawona Hotel’s rickety, faded yet charming structures.