Food for Thought

    September 25, 2011

    Psychology Today on ‘How the American Dream undermines us’ – April 2011

    Spending a quiet Sunday on the couch today with a bunch of magazines, I came across the above mentioned article, and I thought an excerpt would be quite suitable for my blog, as it relates to our work.

    I am quoting Andres Duany, coauthor of ‘Suburban Nation: The Rise of the Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream’, from an article written by Lauren Sandler


    ‘Today’s houses are’ fully equipped to compensate and mitigate the loss of the public realm’, Duany says. Fifty years ago homes averaged 1,700 square feet. Now that figure is up to 2,700, and interior architecture, in Duany’s mind, exists to mimic an urban world where few Americans dwell today. The double-height entry hall is the surrogate of the town square, the media room supplants the theater, the master suite practically exists as its own townhouse. Multiple dining areas further service our separation from the outside world: The breakfast nook is the diner, the formal dining room is the special-occasion white-tablecloth restaurant, even the kitchen island functions like a European tabac. ‘If you had a public realm’, Duany says, ‘you wouldn’t have to buy more house.’


    Your thoughts??

    Shawnigan Lake – Client Feedback

    September 12, 2011

    Today’s blog has been made easy for me ( I really like getting submissions from my ‘partners in crime’ - as much as I enjoy it, but not being ’forced’ to spend long hours scanning and wordsmithing once in a while is very convenient  – yeay…) – a big THANK YOU to very wonderful clients for their beautiful letter to us!

    I thought it might be great idea to share their sentiments, as they were total newcomers to working with a designer – and of course we are proud to share their praise with our readers….

    The project will get photographed professionally soon, however, at this point I can only add snapshots. In my mind this project was always the sexy, dark and handsome sibling of our very calm and sensual Kitsilano job…





    the sleek curved island with the stainless steel post/ electrical chase


    Hi, Ines,

    When Naz and I first decided to reno our kitchen we called my cabinet maker friend.  He came over with his designer and we chatted for a while.  I guess you know that originally I had intended for a more traditional Greene and Greene style hardwood kitchen.  The conversation we had with them was brief and the designer didn’t actually speak. 

    After they left Naz and I had a conversation about how it had gone with them.  We realized that all we were going to end up with was our same kitchen with new boxes.

    We’ve done a lot of renovations since we bought this house in 1993.  Each one was done as we could afford it and in a rather haphazard fashion.  We didn’t really have a long-term plan as we were never sure how each room was going to be used.  In the first few years we lived here we moved our furniture around so much from room to room that we should have put wheels on it.  The office space was in 3 different spots, the master bedroom in 2, we had a dining room then no dining room, the pinball machines were downstairs then upstairs, we had a piano then no piano and so on.  We went from the original carpet in the kitchen to lino to tile and from carpet throughout the house to hardwood and cork and even some laminate. 

    Anyways, as we realized that we were heading for new boxes in the kitchen we decided that perhaps it was time to do something with more of a plan – something to tie it all together.  That’s when we went googling and looking at portfolios and found you.

    When you first came up we didn’t know what to expect.  We’d never worked with a designer and, frankly, we used to laugh at people who did.  We’d always done our own thing and – for the most part – it always turned out to our satisfaction.  The first thing you did when you came in was admire the view out the window and point out that the spindle handrail made it look a bit like a jail.  We’d been looking at it so long we never really thought about it anymore.  But when you pointed that out we realized that you were right.  You walked around for a while listening and swapping ideas and, despite the fact that you had only agreed to come up for a couple of hours you were here for closer to 3 1/2.  You weren’t watching the clock and you seemed genuinely interested.  After you left Naz and I talked about our meeting and we were both very impressed with you.

    Since then we’ve not been disappointed.  You’ve got a special gift for visualizing spaces and materials.  You’ve also got an obvious passion for what you do.  It’s not often you meet someone who is both good at what they do and obviously loves to do it but you are one of those people.  At every step you’ve taken whatever time and measures it took to make sure that each and every detail was correct – there were no surprises – no ‘gotcha’s.  Where one material ended you made sure that it transitioned into the next appropriately both in size, space, and material.  You communicated with Bert and Jivko behind the scenes to ensure that everything went according to plan and you communicated with us to make sure that we got what we wanted.


    Anyhow, the purpose of this email is to thank you for all your hard work.  Naz and I are very happy with the way things turned out.  The whole ground floor is now one continuous area that we’re proud of.  Honestly when we look in the kitchen from above it’s hard to believe it’s ours – it looks like something out of a magazine.  I don’t think there’s any designer that could have done a better job with this space.

    Thanks, Ines!

    Mark and Naz





    Kitsilano Project

    September 6, 2011

    The interior photos are courtesy of Elizabeth FitzZaland from Green City Builders in Vancouver. Many thanks to Sam FitzZaland and Owen Crane from Green City Builders for the exceptional work on this project!

     Sam, Owen and Ines celebrating the 'Almost-there' stage...



    Client and Agenda


    The client, a watercolour artist of Dutch descent, saw photos of our contemporary Landsend Project in a magazine, and asked us to assist her in the renovation of the kitchen, dining area and powder room in her Kitsilano home.

    She was looking for a contemporary design, a calm and uplifting environment with casual seating for 2 people. Due to the radiant heat in the existing floor we tried to avoid more than necessary disruption of the concrete slab in regards to changes to plumbing or electrical work.


    Creating a space concept


    The existing footprint divided the space into a small U-shaped kitchen and a small nook with a bay window.

     Main floor footprint

    We created variations around the theme of an L-shaped perimeter, with an extension of lower cabinetry along the bay window wall, seating for 2, and an island. The shorter leg of the ‘L’ was the perfect location for the tall cabinetry, the window area along the long wall was perfect to be the clean up area, and the remainder of that outside wall was destined to be the right location for the stove and hoodfan, as this made venting the hood one easy task.


    Option 1                              Option 2


    Option 3                         Option 4

    Although this seemed to be a rather straightforward concept it took us a while to settle on the right solution for the informal seating and the island design.

    As is typical for our approach here at THE SKY IS THE LIMIT we played with a number of different approaches ( 6, to be precise), and ended up with a 7th final version.

     Final Footprint

    This final version sports a floating rectangular countertop that shoots out from the bay window, and a corresponding 4′x4′ island, which sits on metal furniture legs on a ‘sea’ of white pebbles submerged in resin.


     Selection of finishes


    Working with artists is always very rewarding. The way they express themselves in their artwork already gives a lot of clues about their preferences in terms of hues, texture and composition.

    Claudia’s atmosperic naturalistic watercolours exude a sense of energetic calm, and seeing them I knew we would be looking at a combination of tone on tone materials and a mix of soft textures.

    The energy of the space itself seemed to ask for light colours, but in the midst of my mix of materials that I brought on site in order to play with them together with the client, both of us felt the need for an energizing element. Playing upon the clients Dutch heritage we found this super-juicy high gloss mango foil, which we decided to integrate into the cabinet fronts amidst the quiet cream faux wood and textured white laminates we selected first.

     glossy foil in mango





    Close up on the Faux Wood laminate


    My approach to space organization and millwork design seems to lend itself for a deliberate mix of finishes and materials – in most of my projects it is always fairly easy to suggest a combination of finishes, which in my opinion helps to achieve a balance both in colour and texture. I admit I am influenced by the Chinese philosophy of Feng Shui when it comes to balancing ‘elements’, and although I am by no means an expert in this ancient art I refer to Feng Shui’s cycles of elements when combining finishes.

    Granted, one could just go for one finish alone ( and –honestly– THAT is easy…), and I will certainly recommend that route should the overall ‘look’ require a more uniform feel. Depending on the size of a space this could however create an overly stark looking environment. This look is often sought out for features in high end contemporary design and architecture publications, but it might not satisfy the need for the nurturing home environment many of us are looking for in reality.


    Where or how do you start with the selection of finishes?


    Well, that ALWAYS differs, so there is no one-size-fits-all answer to this.

    There will be a starting point somewhere – you might fall in love with a particular product, be that what it may – flooring, backsplash material, a certain type of wood, a funky laminate, an area rug, a piece of art… The list is endless.


    In this case we started with the cabinet fronts, and once we had those it became clear that we were looking at a Cape Cod/ Beach inspired palette with a blend of soft tones like dried grass and sand, white pebbles and clouds, light grey stones and some very soft shades of green.


    I happened to have a beautiful soft grey commercial vinyl in my stack of products, which had an elegant shimmer to it, while also being reminiscent of a well done concrete finish – it just turned out to be the perfect choice for the floor throughout the area, and I didn’t even have to look far. This product is very soft to stand on, which is important if you plan on doing more in your kitchen than making coffee and toast, and super easy to maintain.

    I also had a little darling sample ( I have those – little treasures that I just keep around in case I ever find the right home for them) of small white pebbles submerged in resin with me. It’s a product from an Italian company which ‘buries’ all kinds of stuff in resin – tiny shells and starfish for shower pans for example, or coffeebeans, which would make a beautiful choice for – yeah, how creative – a coffeeshop countertop!


    pebbles in resin tile

      Close up on the pebbles...

    The client loved it as much as I did, so we decided that we could put the island on legs for a more airy furniture feel, and accentuate that space under the island with that product. That idea again led to the decision to use the mango foil on the island, together with a product, which was the original reason for the client choosing me as her designer – a 1” thick textured glass counter from Thinkglass. The client had called me up after having seen a kitchen of mine in a magazine, that featured one of Thinkglass’ spectacular products prominently.

    This island is a truely poetic statement – it looks like it stands in a lake, with the stainless legs almost creating a wavelike effect due to their design.


    The ‘Pebblo’ texture of the glass intensifies the imagery of water, and the reflection of the potlights above give this glass top a glowing, almost ethereal quality.

    Close-up of the Thinkglass countertop 


    We installed LED lights underneath to accentuate the pebble floor, and one can get almost transfixed staring at the optional colourful lightshow.

    And don’t forget to check out the reflection of the glass on the ceiling!



    The illuminated island at night


    Interstyle’s Icestix glass tile blend, which we used as the backsplash, with it’s glossy, matte and iridescent mix plays up on this effect just beautifully – although it is a mosaic made up of simple rectangular tile sticks it creates an effect like waves, with the iridescence introducing and reinforcing a variety of soft colours.

    Interstyle Icestix iridescent tile blend 

    As for the remainder of the cabinetry – once we decided on using the faux wood laminate for the long wall, and a textured white laminate for the tall units, I knew I wanted to ‘hinge’ those 2 areas together with the mango foil – that way the island was not a total stand-alone, but had a companion which tied it in.



    Another sumptious element which contributes nicely to the mix is the Zebrawood veneer ( the real one, not the manmade substitute) on the floating tabletop. I had used this veneer on a previous project, and we happened to have several strips of the product left over, so it was a perfect coincidence thatwe could use the remainder for this project. I learned to love the subtle yet very determined grainlines in this beautiful natural product – it doesn’t look anywhere close as busy as its manmade substitute…



    There is a challenge combining natural and fake wood products, but I for one am very satisfied with this particular outcome!

     Informal seating with clean up in the background

    Another intriguing choice was the product for the interior door. First I questioned the need for a door, but the client felt that when she was practising one of her many instruments that there would be a need to close the door for privacy.

    We decided to enlarge the door substantially heightwise to correspond with existing structural lines in the house, which also made that door more of an architectural statement instead of just a trhough-way.

    Another one of my little treasures is a translucent panel product, that has Magnolia leaves laminated between 2 layers of resin. That product put into a frame of 2” wide stainless steel made for a sensual yet modern alternative to frosted or clear glass. Clear glass might have been a bit of a safety concern, and frosted glass is always more cool in effect, so I appreciated it very much to have such a narrative product available to me. It was such a subtle, welcome addition to the whole product scheme.




    Magnolia leaves in resin 


     Peek-a-Boo into the kitchen - Magnolia leaves in resin translucent door panel

    A more tricky question was the selection of handles – as soon as you introduce several finishes on cabinetry one has to consider that they will need different hardware as well. The problem with that is that those different handles need to work together stylistically- details like the same type of metal finish or the shapes of corners and edges need to be looked at closely.

    Due to it’s contemporary flavor and the stainless steel accents throughout I wanted to find a collection in stainless steel, and believe it or not – there is not all that much out there right now.

    In addition to that I needed to find a recessed handle for the island ( I didn;t have a countertop overhang on the glass…), that was easy to grab – a lot of those recessed handles have either too small an opening, or are too harsh on the edges and therefore not nice to the touch. Or – if you have long fingernails – you end up scraping either the doors, or breaking your nails or damaging the lacquer all the time…


    Anyway – we did find a line from a European manufacturer, that not only gave me the selection I needed, but also featured a handle just along our theme – one with a wave design! We used that one for the long perimeter wall cabinetry, and I managed to find a long handlebar for the tall appliances including the fridge, as well as a useful recessed pull for the island – yeay! Happy me…

      Conteporary curved handle


    For the powder room we obviously had the vinyl floor as a guidance, and then – along the way – both the client and I really liked a companion of the mango foil – in a light seagreen, which was thematically corresponding, and perfect for its water-themed location. We combined it with a light birch laminate for the tall cabinetry hiding washer and dryer, topped it with a delightful white cement based product with green glass in it ( the product line is called Icestone), and added mother-of-pearl finished glass tile mosaic for the backsplash. 

    sage icestone


    Close up of Icestone counter and Mother of Pearl glass backsplash

    You see – we were totally consistent with our beach theme! But it’s subtle and elegant, quite urbane if you wish.

     Green foil vanity with wavy 2-piece knobs



    The client was very delighted and commented on the fact that she has never experienced a contemporary environment that was at the same time so calm, tactile and visually rewarding.


    overall view



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