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Question: We are rebuilding our house and at the stage where we’re picking out floors, cabinets ...

Updated: Feb 10, 2020

countertops, and tile. My husband and I know what we like and usually agree. But we don’t know if it is good design and never thought about that before. I read your column and you have me interested in doing a better job than just choosing things we like. Can you give us a synopsis of what good design is? You also sometimes describe things as a “tight” design. Can you explain what that is?

(Originally published in the Napa Valley Register)

Let me start with the last question first. Tight design is good design underscored. It’s executing a design without going off the rails or going rogue even in the slightest of ways. It calls for discipline and restraint. For instance, say you have a certain vision for your kitchen or bath. You’ve chosen the perfect tile and the perfect way to install it. But your eye then lands on an accent tile. A strip of something that you like – at least for the moment. It wasn’t in the original plan and, in fact, adding this shiny new object weakens the original intent. You’ve gone rogue and the design is no longer tight. This is not to say that there aren’t times when adjusting your plan is a better way to go but it’s rarely the case. As an aside, it might be obvious that I am not a fan of accent tile, especially when it’s used as a decorative strip. The strip interrupts the eye’s flow, is distracting and busy, and at some point, becomes tiresome and dated.

Keeping a design tight can be challenging because we all like shiny objects – whether literally shiny or not. The idea is that they can easily get you off track. So, if you stay focused and resolved, you’ll have a tight design. The result will be stronger and noticeably stand out in a favorable way.

Good design is harder to describe. While there are some basic concepts to follow, not all designers do and not all designers agree. My best advice to you at this phase of your rebuild is to be as consistent with the materials you choose as possible. Try to have no more than three types of flooring. For example, the same wood in all the public spaces, all carpet in the bedrooms (although, extending the wood into these rooms would be a better design option), and all tile in the bathrooms. Countertops and tile do not have to be the same but should coordinate or be in the same family - because it’s in the same house. Of course, all baseboards, moldings and casings should be the same and will unite the house. Doors can be different but should have a good reason for being so.

Because my education is in architectural interior design, I tend to look at spaces overall, as one unit, and from afar. Even if I’m designing one room, I have the rest of the house in the back of my mind. I’m constantly checking each step as I go along.

Does this or that need to be included? Does it add or distract? Conversely, I ask what needs to be added in order to elevate the design.

When all is said and done, you know you have a good design if you view the space in three phases and in this order: (1) you first notice the overall space as a whole (and like it) (2) you then notice its larger elements (shapes, sizes, scale, balance, and materials like the floors, cabinets, countertops and tiles you’re about to choose) and (3) you lastly notice the details.

If you notice things in a different order, (like a tiled accent strip) try to correct them. Now that you are aware of these steps, I hope it will be easier for to select your materials and create your own good and tight design.

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