January 29, 2011


If you dont have some good quality recessed light in your spaces I think your totally doing your interiors a disservice.
Some people think of recessed lighting as ruining the ceilings and making it look like 'Swiss cheese.'  That can actually be true if your thinking of the recessed lighting from a commercial installation or the way builders install them in rows of 8" wide recessed lights every couple of feet as shown below.
What are you doing in this bedroom that needs that much light?
This is just bad

You really think this room looks warm and cozy? I think you could get a suntan in there with all that light

I HATE recessed light in rooms other than  kitchens or dressing rooms for 'general illumination' like above!!  Its not a freeking Buick dealership, it's your home - modern or traditional, it should be done properly with thought.

Im gonna show you how by giving you the tools to do it yourself, properly.

First, If you want a perfect lighting plan you'll need to know what will be going on in the space. Consider the design of your space as far as paintings, furniture and traffic patterns.

If you like to rearrange stuff often and youre not sure 'exactly' what pieces youre going to be using then I'll show you how to light your room beautifully a basic 'lighting' plan.

The Furniture Plan

The BASIC No-Frills Lighting Plan

The Custom Lighting Plan - Designed for our specific furniture layout


I'm not a fan of 'general' lighting. Rooms do not need to be so bright that you can read the newspaper anywhere in it. Target special features, reading areas or architectural elements. Rooms that are too bright in the evening will always look commercial, like a hotel lobby. Using that metaphor - think about it, the places you are attracted to and want to hang out are the hotels lounges where it's cozier and intimate...yet, someone has designed the lighting in order to read a menu by or see around the room.
A room can have abundant light even if only the perimter is lit, which is easily done by lighting the paintings and a few specific areas. Task lighting (reading) can be provided by lamp-light. 


1. ARTWORK: Art needs to be lit well

2. FLOORS: If you have an awkward transition, or step(s).

3. PIANO: Instead of a tacky clip-on light above the bookrest or a floor lamp pointed at the music a single recessed above the keyboard (not bench) is perfect

4. COCKTAIL TABLE: I always like some dimmable light on the cocktail table. I like the flowers, hors d'oeuvres or accessories to have a slightly higher visibility.   

5. BOOKSHELVES: This is subjective as some people are 'all about their books' and others, myself included, like the look of books in a room as part of the decor making us look all smart an' stuff. A soft wash of low light is often good for both types.

6. BAR, OR SERVING TABLE: Those tired-ass candlestick lamps that came into vogue in the 80's and are still being used on bars and foyer tables are just plain tired... A recessed can above the bar on a dimmer is perfect.

7. DINING ROOM TABLE: The perfect way to light a table....
Hang the chandelier in the center of the table (oblong or round) and have it flanked by two small 3"or 4" recessed halogen cans. The recessed lights should be placed far enough outside the chandeliers radius that it doesnt create shadows on the table (30-36" from chandliers ceiling box) and yet close enough in that it can subliminally light the surface of the table. This makes the table sparkle and the food look delicious. You can keep the chandelier lights dimmed down to be romantic (or use a chandelier with candles) and then the table top is still lit beautifully.

8. HALLWAYS: Typical ceiling mounted fixtures look like shit. A huge glaring hot spot of light. Small recessed cans can be focused on a series of artwork on a sidewall, or they can be spots that light up the floor with an interesting carpet. You dont need to read the newspaper in the hall.

9. KITCHENS: General illunimination is fine for the serious cook. However, if you use good quality Xenon dimmable undercounter lighting and suppliment that with a simpler plan of recessed cans. Highlight the island, sink and breakfast counter, etc.

10. BATHS: Overhead light in a bathroom is unflattering. Lighting that flanks the side of the mirror is best. For general illumination a few 4" halogen low-voltage lights are great.

When laying out recessed fixtures, heres a few guidelines to follow

  (4" Recessed Halogen fixtures)

8' ceiling - 18" off the wall (not moulding)
9' ceiling - 24" off the wall
10' ceiling - 30" off the wall

8' ceiling - 24" off the wall
9' ceiling - 30" off the wall
10' ceiling - 30" off the wall

8' ceiling - 36" off the wall
9' ceiling - 36" off the wall
10 ceiling - 42" off the wall


MAJOR ROOMS: I prefer all recessed lighitng to be 4" low-voltage halogen; the light remains white when dimmed. They're more expensive to buy but less money to operate. By changing the bulbs you have extraordinary diversity from wattage, beam spread, and the bulbs last approx. 4-5 years!
My favorite fixture is HALO 1499 it has many trim options and it's easy to change the bulbs.

These areas dont need dimming capability so use less expensive 4" or 6" incandescent fixtures


1. Nursery's, you dont want a baby staring up into a 150 watt spotlight. Use sconces in a nursery that are dimmable and can be the nightlight too.

2. Gym's, no one wants to lay on their back doing bench-presses and look into the light. Try using uplight sconces or a suspended dish-type chandelier.

3. In a kitchen bulkhead directly above the upper cabinet doors, they can catch fire if the door is left open and is a few inches from the top of the door.

4. In an office above the task chair, it should be above the desktop, otherwise you'll have shadows of your head on your work surface

5. In an angled ceiling so the light is angled at an awkward angle. They make adjustable recessed cans for angled ceilings.

6. In a closet with a spotlight bulb in it that is operated on a switch. If the light is left on it could cause a fire if it is too close to the contents

7. Above a soaking tub; again, no one wants to lay in a warm sudsy bath and stare up into a 100 watt bulb. Wash the walls of the room instead. Think ambience.

8. Above a TV on the same switch as the rest of the lighting. You'll need a light to operate the electronics, but it should be off when the TV is being watched. Media rooms are best with dimmable recessed lighting as it doesnt reflect in the screen as a lamp or sconce would.

9. Bright bulbs in a reception area where you greet guests, you'll scare them to death as it's very unflattering and you will look ghoulish (it looks like the flashlight under the chin in a dark room).

10. Outside under the eaves of the house for security, it looks hiddeous and more like an office building.


Definition: The best quality 'white' light operating on a low-voltage system

Definition: The kind of lighting that we've known forever; it has a yellow cast

Definition: The actual housing (or metal box) which is the actual light fixture that goes inside the ceiling and is unseen from the room

Definition: The trim-kit which is sold seperately from the housing. This is the small ring that is installed to cover the opening. They come in many types for many purposes.

Slot Aperture: A flat disc which covers most of the hole with a small opening to allow an internal gimbaled bulb to be directed. My FAVORITE of all apertures; great for artwork, highlighting things and is almost undetectable on the ceiling.

Baffle: (white, black, silver) a slightly stepped cone which surrounds a fixed bulb. The most common of all apertures. Good for kitchens, baths, laundry, etc. White is best on a white ceiling.

Eyeball: An aperture that moves one way to wash a wall, and when rotated exposes a ball shape (very outdated!)

Alzak: (gold, black or silver) A metallic cone which is very 80's

Wet Location Cover:  An aperture for use in a shower 

Wall Washer:  An aperture which is half covered (very 70's looking)

"IC" Rated Housings
Definition: "IC" is short for Insulation Contact. This means that any housing with the "IC" rating can make direct contact with ceiling insulation. Generally these housings can handle up to 100 watts of light output.

NON "IC" Housings
Definition: This means that these housings can NOT make direct contact with insulation.

Air Tight AND "IC" Rated Housings
Definition: This means that this housing is "Air Tight" rated AND is also "IC" rated. Therefore this housing is approved and made to be sealed so as not to allow air to escape through it into your ceiling or attic AND can make direct contact with insulation as well.

Air Tight NON "IC" Housings
Definition: This means that any housing with the "Air Tight" rating is approved and made to be sealed so as not to allow air to escape through it into your ceiling or attic. These housings can NOT make contact with insulation. These housings help compensate for not having insulation in your ceiling and reduce your heating and air conditioning costs and will meet all Air Tight Requirements. 

Question: Do I need Air Tight Fixtures?
Answer: Airtight fixtures are especially good for top-floor rooms so warm or cool air doesnt escape through the fixture into the attic. Theyre not neccessary for ceilings which have a floor above them.

New Work or New Construction Housings
Definition: This means light fixtures that are to be installed (usually in a new home or addition) when there is no existing wallboard or plaster.

Remodel or Old Work Housings
Definition: This means that any housing with the "Remodel" rating is made without a frame and has mounting clips. Its installed through a hole cut into the sheetrock or plaster

Definition: 12v Low Voltage means that that housing has a transformer and steps down the voltage from standard (110/120 Volt).
Low Voltage is an energy efficient lighting and allows the use of halogen bulbs which can offer the largest variety of wattages and beam spreads of any bulb on the market.
That's why you will find these 12v Low Voltage housings used as task lights to highlight pictures, columns, items, etc. in your home or place of business. They can also be used for general lighting.

Definition: 120v High Voltage is the same voltage coming in to your home which is called High Voltage. High Voltage lights are still very popular as theyre great for general or utilitarian lighting (higher wattages than 50 Watts, some go as far as 150 watts).

3", 4", 5" & 6" Recessed Lighting
Definition: Very Simple: Diameter Size (in inches) of the housing's opening where the trim/aperture is to be inserted. There is no difference in light output. The only difference is the 3" will just be a smaller looking fixture than the 4", 5" or 6".

The most popular sizes are 4" in 120 Volt or 12 Volt, and 6" in 120 Volt. The 3" housings & trims, which have been on the market since 2000, are popular with designers because the appearance of these 3" trims is slightly smaller than the 4" trims. As for the 5", they are for the people that don't want to be restricted to the 4" housings' bulb limitations but do not want the size of the 6" housings.

Retro-Fit Kits
6" Definition: 6" Retro-Fit Kits are available for when you have existing 6" 120 Volt Standard Housings, and would like to retro-fit some of them without destroying your ceiling or removing the existing housings to achieve an adjustable trim and/or an energy efficient Halogen 12 Volt System.

4" Definition: 4" Retro-Fit Kits are available for when you have existing 4" 120 Volt Standard Housings, and would like to retro-fit some of them without destroying your ceiling or removing the existing housings to achieve a Much More adjustable trim.

Bulbs or Lamps
Definition: The actual light bulb itself

Definition: Outdated 1970's technology for a dimmable switch which used as much power on high as it did when dimmed down.

Definition: A dimmer switch which lowers the wattage of the light fixture it's operating. When lights are lowered the wattage is also lowered saving electrical costs.

You can do it, I'm here to help!

January 14, 2011


 I will help you navigate through styles and their advantages or disadvantages. This weeks missive is more about what NOT to do.

As time goes by I'm less and less into curtains. I do indeed think they're necessary in many ways for many applications. But the overuse of them is nauseating and some of the crap that people hang at the windows is just so exhausting to see...all in the name of "Luxe" or showing off, which is so tired in itself...  

A perfect example is the stunning traditional dining room above.
Twenty years ago some decorator woulda draped 40 yards of schmaltzy fabric on each window with 100 yards of trim, swags, tassels and hooyah's. The simple London shades are perfect. I love no carpet too.

These beautiful rooms above have NO curtains and don't look naked or unfinished. Presumably they have privacy and a decent view

This heinous abortion above is just sooo wrong!
It's like she took them out of the dryer and the dishtowels got in with the curtains. And whats the purpose of those two tassels hanging down?

Now, this one above deserves a second look!
First, the scale is odd, notice how HUGE that window is next to the sofa and lamp table....we're going to leave alone the TV and the ceramic Dalmatian... But, whats that panel of (Bishops Sleeves) shit in the middle?? So, the chintz, swags and jabots and fringe against that wallpaper wasn't enough?
Ironically, there's a lovely garden urn outside which would've been a nice focus for that window instead of the rope ladder in the middle...

Lordy, Lordy, Lordy I don't even know where to start with this....
First of all, never let the builders select the windows and shapes, usually their training is "on the job" not architecture school....that quadrilateral polygon window is just stupid, hence the curtain design.
First of all, the upper window should have been closed over completely with wallboard. There's no use for it and its not aligned with the lower one, so just lose it.  I'm not even going to comment on that curtain or the table lined up with the driveway outside....it gives me agita.

Here are two rooms that appear at first glance to be attractive.
But, there are some basic mistakes made with the curtains.
The room on the left has something different on each section of window which isn't good. First, they have loooong curtains on a door to a patio which are going to blow in and out and get caught in the door. Secondly, there are no curtains on the window...only the door? Looks goofy.

The room on the right has a nice palette, it's well furnished and has a lovely Palladian window. But, that valance smashed up against the ceiling looks dumb and then the side panels are covering the two side windows. The curtains should be on a pole which will look "lighter" above the window trim. If they needed black out capability the curtains can have black-out lining.

For example this bedroom below is in a house I decorated a few years ago. The clients had to have total black out but the window arched and went almost to the barrel-vaulted ceiling which gave us nowhere to put the (straight) rods for curtains to traverse upon (rods don't arch up, duh).
So I had to create a valance to cover the rods which were installed side to side and the middle of it is at the very bottom of the valance.

This room below is a train-wreck... a large room with two large windows at one end and a pretty view and they've almost covered half the window with those tired-ass tie-backs, hung behind 1982 style valances...
This room needs to enhance the light and take advantage of the view.
Curtains are appropriate as a big bedroom feels cozier with panels, just not these. Tiebacks in general are sorta passe'

At first I thought they had been tied up so they can clean the carpet, then I read on...this is the way they wanted them...WTF?

Sheers with Panels
These two rooms I did, they both needed a "sheer" type covering for privacy.
The room on the left has linen sheers installed on basic traverse rods directly behind the large wooden poles. The panels also traverse. Notice the "self-valance" which is sewn onto the top of each panel.
The room on the right has a "grass shade" hung behind the pole as above. The stationary side panels installed on wooden poles with gilt rings do not close.

Curtains for a Softening Effect
The two rooms above have extraordinary views and curtains are superfluous. However, the rooms needed some softening.
The room on the left by Jose Solis-Battencourt used grass shades purely to offer texture and softness. The room on the right by Victoria Hagan, who used a simple sheer off-white wool so the views weren't distracted.

Venetian Blinds
Great, if you use them right! In the room on the left I used them as low-budge plantation shutters; the living room was small with long narrow windows, the blinds are matched to the trim color of the room with no tapes.
In the room on the right I also used them as low-budge plantation shutters they have beige tapes and they are matched to the existing stained trim

They're beautiful and always elegant. Sometimes a bit overused, but when they're used properly they are awesome.
Bill Blass' apartment on the left is so tailored and well designed that curtains would have been "gilding the lily."
The contemporary home on the right has plantation shutters which I think are the perfect solution, they blend into the envelope, allow light to be refracted into the room and add to the clean look of the space.

Matchstick, Woven Wood or Grass Blinds
I love these type of blinds, they can go from traditional to contemporary and are available in all materials and qualities.
They can have black-out or just an opaque light filtering lining applied to the back for privacy. You always want the type that Roman-fold!

Vinyl, Clutch-Roller Shades
These are amazing products as well, they are versatile, tailored looking and easy to use. The material comes in many choices of colors, and transparency from sheer to total blackout. Definitely more contemporary.

Fabric Blinds
Are also a wonderful alternative to curtains. Their advantage is they don't take up space in the room, and they can also be behind draperies if you want. There are many ways to fabricate them, look in books and decorating magazines to find a style that will work with your fabric and your room style. One the left is a standard Roman Shade, the one on the right is called a London Shade

Here are some basic curtain pleats.
The "grommet" pleat is the latest thing.
I love the "pinch-pleat, top-only"

OK, so now you have the curtain thing somewhat understood, I hope.
Today curtains are very simple, poles and rings and all that schmancy stuff from the 90's is out, finials the size of cantaloupes and carved and gilded rings that look like a David Webb bracelet are all headed into retirement.

As you think about covering your window think about this:

1.) Don't like black windows at night?
Light up the garden outside, creat a focus

2.) Worried people are looking in?
Don't flatter yourself

3.) Think the room needs color?
Why put color at the windows, then your eye doesnt see beyond the curtains.

4.) But you like fancy curtains?
Make simple panels out of extraordinary or interesting fabrics

5.) Are fabric blinds or matchstick blinds enough?
Often yes, depends on what material they're fabricated from. Don't get blinds that are the same color as the walls then they'll be too boring.

6.) Should I put a fabric valance over my matchstick blind
Hell no

7.) Is a valance by itself enough?
No valances alone...got it?

8.) You have a colonial home and you think swags, valances and lambrequins are appropriate?
They're not. Historically, colonial manor homes had built-in interior shutters (lesser homes had exterior shutters).
Fine textiles were some of the most expensive of all traded goods before the late 19th century. Fancy curtains are a "Colonial Revival" artifact  (The Colonial Revival Period was around the 1876 centennial and all the rage again in 1930's with Rockefellers rebuilding of Colonial Williamsburg)

9.) Which is better, plantation shutters or Venetian blinds?
Each have their place: Plantation shutters are very well made and offer a nice "quality" look. Their downside is you're always looking "through" them as they have to stay in place and can only open the louvers. They are custom made to match exactly the wood or paint trim.
Venetian blinds are much less expensive. Their other advantage is they can be raised and the view is completely unobstructed. However, they have fewer colors and stains to select from. They're also available with or without tapes trim, and in several blade widths.

10.) Should I have electric traverse rods?
Only on windows that are inaccessible, the motors often have problems.

You Can Do It, I'm Here to Help!

January 12, 2011




A beautiful room often contains amazing items that can't be bought at a furniture store or wholesaler.
Curtains, pillows and most "dressmaker" type items are the most difficult for the novice to articulate let alone find someone to fabricate.

There's nothing more elegant on a sofa than a pair of large, sumptuous, down-filled PILLOWS made with a textile that feels good to touch and has a delicious cord inset into the seams. That can be the icing on the cake for a lot of rooms.


Windows are important and pre-fab curtains arent all that....
How gorgeous are a pair of CURTAINS or a SHADE at the windows?


If you dont need curtains, perhaps you have Plantation shutters, but your room still needs some "softness," what about a pee-in-your-pants SKIRTED TABLE in a fabulous silk or simple linen?

Bedrooms with dressmaker details are awesome!
A beautiful upholstered headboard with a matching dustskirt and Pillow-squares are, and will always be classics! It can be contemporary or traditional


Once you decide what fabric you want at the windows, which pillows and all the other things that involve frabrication workrooms how do you "git er dun"?
* my preference
PILLOWS: What kind of pillows do I want?
- CORNERS: Square*, Turkish, knotted(with cord), rounded, tucked
- ZIPPERS: Yes or no*
- FILLER: If used inside - always down*  Fiberfill if used outside.
      no foam, ever.
- EDGES: Self welt, or fringe or cord* inset into seams
- STYLE: Boxed, flat round, ball, knife edge*

CURTAINS: What style is best for my space?
- LENGTH: Full, cafe, partial; depend on your windows and what room
- BREAK: (fabric on the floor) Never more than 1.5"
- LINING: Lined, interlined, unlined (depends on the textile)
- TRIM: Leading edge*, bottom, none, picture framed
- HARDWARE: Poles, iron, brass, wood, hidden
- VALANCE: Boxed, balloon, soft, throw
- WIDTH: Stationary side panels, traverse curtains, wall-to-wall

TABLE SKIRTS: Which is best for my room, if any?
- HEIGHT: 28", 30"* or 32"
- DIAMETER: Never more than 42" for a side table
- LENGTH: ALWAYS to the floor
- BREAK: Never more than 2"
- PLEATS: Boxed, shirred, Austrian
- FRINGE or TAPE: "Fringe" is very 90's lookin, tape is more tailored. A skirted table needs something at the bottom, or it looks like a caterers cloth. NEVER used a jumbo welt - very pedestrian!
- TOPPER: A smaller cloth that drapes over the main cloth, can be square, round or decorative edged in a contrasting fabric.
- SCALE: Dont make a super-large skirted table for the center of a hallway or between chairs, it will look like a buffet table at a wedding

- TYPEx pleated, tailored, shirred
- TRIM: Tape trim is best
- LENGTH: Break on floor 1/2", barely brush floor, NEVER not touching floor


How? Where?

1.) Ask your (good) friends; check on Angie's List; look in theYellow Pages; call a local designer you may know (or not) and ask if they'd share their workrooms number.

2.) Once you find a workroom, go in and look around, touch the upholstery, feel the pillows, look at the way its made very CLOSELY!

3.) Tell them what you want as best you can. If youre not sure, take photos from magazines or use examples in their workroom.

4.) PROPOSAL: Ask for an invoice or proposal for the items to be made before work begins.

Proposals should always contain the following information:
- YARDAGE: Quantity they suggest, dont second guess them.
- SIZE: (Bed - twin or king; Pillows - 20"x20," etc.) 
- TRIM: How is it's to be applied and how much is requested
- FILLER: (down, fiber, cotton batting, etc.)
- HARDWARE: Supplied and installed by workroom? Get specific info; ask for a photocopy of what you have selected from their resources.
- INSTALLATION: By whom? It's best to have the workroom install the curtains.
- COST:  Breakdown for each item on proposal (pillows $30, curtains $40)
- SPECIFIC DETAILS: add all specific details (trim applied along leading edges, or turkish corners)
- FABRIC: Who supplies the fabric, you? them? another supplier? 
- FABRIC ARRIVAL: When do you expect the fabric to arrive if youre supplying it.
- WHAT FABRIC: Make note on the proposal (by name, colors or manufacturer) which are to be used and where and how. It's best to return the proposal to the workroom with a small snip of the fabric attached.
- WHAT TRIM: Make a note on the proposal (by name, colors,or manufacturer) what is to be used and where and how. Attach a small piece of the trim to the proposal.
PRICE: Negotiate, but dont be an obnoxious jerk.
- DEPOSIT: Place a 50% deposit on the entire cost for each item. Dont deposit any more than 50% everrrr!
- FINISH TIME: Ask the workroom to include the ETA on the proposal
- PAY BY CHECK: Write on the proposal your check number, deposit paid, and the date you signed and mailed it back

5.) MEASURING: Let whomever is going to fabricate your curtains, bedskirts, etc. measure them.

This stuff is the fun part and it's also the frustrating part if you dont know the vocabulary or the how-to's, but now you do!

You can do it, I'm here to help!

P: 202.669.8669


THE DECORATING STAPLE THAT'S ALWAYS IN STYLE SISAL!! (Source: Phoebe Howard)    Since sisal's introduction to the interi...