Diane Meier

Diane Meier

Welcome to Diane’s Blog!

I’ll use this spot to chart what I enjoy and endorse, as we attempt to live a life of style in a culture of business and writing and art. And I hope you join me; share your own stories, insights and ideas about living a creatively expressive life.

Restoration of Joy #2

Monday, March 14, 2011

Wouldn’t it be great if design projects could come only from a place of creativity, fueled with enough money to make all options possible?

I’ve been around renovation, restoration and decorating since before I could stand up in a crib – and trust me, waiting for the day when this work is nothing but well-funded fun, is like waiting for the tooth fairy. On top of it, far too often these projects start with something close to a disaster. And -- regardless of the nature of the problem, it’s never a good time. All to say, very few of us will ever approach this kind of work with a calm head and ‘extra’ money. I know that we didn’t.

When it was clear that we were going to have to gut most of the house, the options of change were enormous. Where to start? Well, I knew we couldn’t raise the roof, and – at least on this stage of development, we wouldn’t change the footprint. We chose to have plumbing stay where it was, with some minor changes. But interior walls could move. Detailing could be added. Doors and hardware could be upgraded. Bathtubs could be bigger, or they could become showers. We could have storage and closets, insulation and thermopaned windows – the things an 1830’s house (with a hundred years of badly informed and executed accretions) weren’t giving us.

So that’s a good place to start. List the challenges, and embrace your limits: the things you can’t do, won’t do, can’t afford. Talk about them. Negotiate, if you have to, or you’ll be floating free, with no way to frame your choices or your options. Limits are the very thing that begin to give a project shape. They gave us the freedom to create a sliding entrance out of a 19Century door, and to trade a shower for a closet. Because we didn’t want to pay for major moves of plumbing, we knew where we had to steal 6 more inches to enclose a deeper, wider, soaking-tub. These were very practical beginnings. But vital.
As far as aesthetics, we also knew that we didn’t want to lose the quality inherent in the age of the house and its elegant small, square rooms. In fact, we wanted to enhance this authentic quality. We did not want to lose the wonky, tilted floors or the scrambled angles in the upstairs ceilings. Clearly, we would have to do this with a very light hand. And a lot of reference.

I’ve collected design books since I was a teenager. I go through them more than you’d think – and I mark their pages with post-it tags. Just as Joy Harkness does in The Season of Second Chances. Between my books and the stacks of design magazines through which I forage, hunting the thing that makes my heart beat faster, I mark and tag, tear out and note, until I have hundreds of references. Before we did a thing, Frank and I reviewed them, talked about everything, and saw things with new eyes as we did so. I don’t always know what I mean by what I’ve marked until we look at all of the things we like, laid out together for comparison, and then we see it: Ahhhh! Only when we saw them together did we see that most of the floors were painted and light. Or that many of the walls were patterned. A color palette emerges. Another recedes. We thought we wanted color, but the things we liked best had very little, but when it was apparent, color was powerfully used. Most of all, we saw trim detail. Wainscoting, picture rails, floor and ceiling moldings, visible beams in the ceilings. The things we liked looked authentically old and worn, but they also looked polished and loved. And things begin to make sense.

We could see from those pictures that craftsman’s detailing was inherent in the looks that we most liked. It meant that the rooms themselves might stay, for the most part, very much the same in structure, but very different in detail. And that was a major insight. Surface and moldings, hardware and paint were going to be important. And, we agreed that as much of it as possible should be handmade. We were very lucky in that we had the supremely talented craftsman, Jeff Memoli, heading up our team.

So – in approaching design: Limits and inspirational reference. Somewhere between the two you’ll discover your project.

Next, we’ll begin to move inside. Hold on to your hard hats.

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