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Remodeling Truth #1: It’s All in the Details

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By Virginia Bauer |

“What we’d like is a convivial space,” said my husband. Charles, the architect, looked up from his early sketches for the proposed addition to our house and nodded politely. But I knew what he was thinking: “Convivial space? What does that mean? Sounds like the name of one of Frank Zappa’s kids.”

Our two-story addition included a new kitchen, master bath and dressing rooms, family room, powder room, and a covered porch. Over the next few months, I would deal with every kind of fixture, knob, switch, trim detail, paint swatch, and stone slab known to man. The lesson I learned was that the success of the project would depend much less on the “concept” and much more on the nitty-gritty details. My husband is a concept person; I’m a detail person. Charles spent most of the next six months with me, hammering out the details.

Our original plan called for standard, galvanized gutters, but before the roofers came in, our contractor asked if we had considered copper gutters. The more we discussed it, the more obvious it was that, though the cost was considerable, it was the right thing to do. At times I just stand in the yard and watch happily as the copper tarnishes to that sweet blue-green. I get that same sense of satisfaction when I gaze upon the fireplace surround, now surfaced in Uba Tuba granite. Ah, don’t you love it when you get it right? (Caveat emptor: do not fall in love with Uba Tuba unless you can afford it.) 

Then there’s the pantry. I visited a glass fabricator and importer to select the glass for the pantry cabinets. (Be sure to visit your specialty suppliers; I guarantee that you’ll fall for styles and patterns you never knew existed and end up checking your original intentions at the door.) I went with an unusual, handmade glass from Germany, and I get compliments on it all the time.

And I really wonder how I lived this long without an appliance garage. You know what I mean, a cute little cubbyhole situated at the end of the kitchen counter with an old-fashioned, garage-style door where the coffee maker, blender, and toaster live—blessedly out of sight until called into service.

One decision that did keep me up nights was choosing drawer pulls and doorknobs. The options are overwhelming. After much time in countless hardware departments, showrooms, and online, I settled on  matte nickel knobs from Omnia in the kitchen, Emtek’s cut-glass doorknobs for interior doors, and Valli et Valli’s brightly colored glass knobs in the hall bath. But I know that my time was well spent because each style helps define the room’s personality. 

While I was obsessing about doorknobs, my husband came up with a good (okay, great) idea: why not split the large island in the kitchen into two smaller ones to open up the traffic flow? When I took it up with Charles, he understood the practicality of it but wasn’t sure it would work as a matter of design. After a lot of conversations and layouts, we went ahead; it looks fabulous and really helps the kitchen function more efficiently.

Since we were going all out with this remodel, I decided that the new powder room was to be its own separate creation. I looked to Casablanca—sans Bogie and Bergman—for inspiration. Our powder room now has honey-colored onyx mosaic floor tile, gold tumbled Jerusalem limestone walls, onyx chair rail and vanity, a pendant light, an oversized antique mirror, and a gold-leaf ceiling. Waterworks’ antiqued copper sink and bronze aero faucet fixtures look dreamy in there.

One of the little details most people will never notice are the dimmer switches on every light. Why not? It gives you unlimited lighting options in every room. I also put them on the ceiling fans—sometimes you want them to be somewhere between medium and low.

In yet another moment of inspiration, my husband chose to install Nile stereo speakers on the new back porch. It sounded like an unnecessary extravagance at the time, but I must admit that I spent much of the summer out there sipping iced tea and listening to my Pink Martini CD. Outdoor speakers are better than you might think. They make our back porch a very convivial space. Did I just write that?