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Making an Impact

Updated: Feb 11

(Originally published in the Napa Valley Register)


Stunning. Mesmerizing. Wow. The view from my client’s Sausalito window was breathtaking. White sailboats on the sparkling San Francisco Bay, dusty blue skies, and the majestic Golden Gate made an awe-inspiring impression. How could I compete with Mother Nature and create other such impacts in Jim’s home?


Impacts come in all shapes, sizes, costs, and commitments. They can be tackled one at a time or as many as one’s emotional and financial budget allows. Since we had just finished a large and messy kitchen remodel, Jim and I chose a smaller and less invasive area to make our first impact. It was also a logical starting point — the foyer. After all, that is where first impressions are made.


What impression does your foyer make? Does it make an impact? Is it welcoming? Do you even have a foyer? My first house didn’t. Read on, I have ideas for you, too. In order to assess the true potential of your foyer, remove its accessories and small furnishings. This will allow you to see its bare bones with fresh eyes and trigger ideas for the impact you want to make.   


Jim’s home was a Cape Cod-style cottage with a nondescript foyer. It was really just a narrow passageway. This was both challenging and liberating. I had no architectural starting point but also no design limitation. I took inspiration from our location, just a stone’s throw from the Bay. With a seaside-inspired impact in mind, I covered the walls with an updated line of grass wallpaper, paired it with a seagrass rug, and painted the ceiling sky blue. These light and natural tones were grounded by a dark bamboo floor (another large and messy installation we had previously undertaken).


So far, so good, but my design needed reinforcement in order to make a stronger impact. A local artisan came to my rescue with a tall, sculpted heron to grace one corner and an over-sized mirror framed in driftwood to enlarge the space. Caution: When making a “themed” statement, it’s easy to tip the balance from good design to something kitsch. For that reason, I kept my elements to a disciplined few. Jim was happy with the cohesive simplicity of the focused impact and with the calm ambiance appropriate for his quiet little town.


Taking cues from your environment is just one approach in making an impact. In the Napa Valley, we’re surrounded by vineyards and agriculture. We have both indigenous and pioneering histories. Look to Talavera tile, terra cotta pavers, wine barrels, woven rugs and handmade baskets for inspiration. Think of the Gold Rush, silver mines, and of our Victorians, ranch houses, Spanish stuccos, and newer, eco-friendly architecture. Think of your travels, your hobbies and even your heritage. All can strike a creative spark.  


A large foyer can be a mixed blessing. On the one hand, you have a grand and spacious area. On the other, it’s more to think about. How do you take advantage of its size to make a large impact? This question is best answered with another question. What is the view from your foyer? If your eye is drawn to windows with a beautiful landscape beyond, then keep your foyer simple because that view is your core impact. Just support and frame it with targeted enhancements.


If your eye is drawn to a staircase, create a small vignette at its foot. Replace an underwhelming railing with a decorative one when your budget allows, and when you’ve chosen the style you wish to carry throughout your house. If your foyer is lacking architectural interest, bring in large-scaled accessories, paint an accent wall, and if it’s not a modern-styled house, add molding, columns or pilasters.  


What do you do if you don’t have a defined foyer? What if the first impact made is a coat closet door? Defy the odds of needing a coat in sunny California, take the door off, and install a built-in cabinet. Arch the top of the cabinet for a Mediterranean style. Try spliced, kiln-dried log shelving and face frames for a rustic style. If you prefer a modern look, stick with straight lines and glass shelves. No matter the style, include a spotlight for a more dramatic impact.   


Making an impact is fun. It’s a chance to show your personality. By its very definition, it’s meant to be bold so don’t hold back.

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