Your Countertop Guide: Stone



If you’re thinking about building a kitchen in a new home, or renovating a kitchen in an existing home, there is one question that is sure to come up: what countertops should you get? There are plenty of options out there, from tried-and-true marble to high-tech quartz, each type with its own pros and cons. If you don’t want to sweat the small stuff (and who does?), it’s best to compare all three before making a decision. Here’s a breakdown of the three most popular stone countertop materials.

What are Quartz, Marble, and Granite?

Quartz, marble, and granite are all stone materials that are often used to make kitchen countertops. Marble and granite are natural stone – these are mined from a quarry, where huge pieces of stone are cut into manageable slabs, which are then further cut to fit on your kitchen countertop. Marble and granite both have beautiful, natural patterns that are unique to each piece. 
These marble countertops are unlike any other.

Quartz isn’t technically a pure stone, at least not in the form you will use for a countertop. It is mined like marble and granite, but the raw stone is they crushed into a powder then mixed with resin and pigment to create a single, smooth surface. Sometimes, it is referred to as an “engineered stone.” 

These lovely quartz countertops were the centerpiece in a recent renovation. 


Quartz vs. Marble vs. Granite

Durability

Quartz, marble, and granite are all extremely durable materials. There’s a reason stone is so often used to construct monuments and statues! They’re also all heat-resistant, which makes them great for baking. 
These marble countertops are beautiful AND perfect for breadmaking! 

Scratch Resistance


Marble is, by far, the softest of all three materials, which means that it can be scratched or chipped the most easily. Granite is the much harder than marble, but it doesn’t hold a candle to the durability and scratch-resistance of quartz. Quartz’ added resin makes it extremely hard to scratch or nick.

Natural 

To some, an engineered product like quartz is a plus – the added processes involved in creating the stone in turn makes it more durable than natural stone. But, to others, “natural” can be a sticking point. Ask yourself if you would choose laminate floors over hardwood floors. If the answer is no, marble or quartz might be the better option.
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Stains & Hygiene


Granite and marble are both porous materials. This means that spilled liquids can potentially seep into the countertops, causing stains. Marble countertops are especially susceptible to stains from acidic liquids, like orange juice, coffee, or wine. Their porous nature also makes these stones more difficult to clean, which can lead to harmful bacteria and germs staying on your counters long after you want them to.  
Engineered quartz, though, is not porous. It is extremely difficult to stain, and bacteria have a much more difficult time adhering to the material’s smooth surface.

Maintenance


If you’re set on having granite or marble in your kitchen, prepare for the maintenance. Both stones need to be sealed at installation, which helps prevent stains, and about once every year for the life of the countertops. They also need to be cleaned regularly with soap and water. Beware chemical cleaning products – some can cause stains. 
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These quartz countertops lend natural elegance to this modern kitchen. 

Because quartz isn’t porous, it doesn’t need nearly as much maintenance. Most quartz blends can be safely cleaned with most household cleaning products.

Unique Look


Because marble and granite are natural stone, mined from deposits around the world, every slab is unique. You’ll never have to worry about walking into a friend’s kitchen and seeing the same countertops on their island.
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These black granite countertops give this kitchen a very modern feel. 
Quartz, on the other hand, is engineered. Although most manufacturers work hard to have a great deal of variety in quartz slabs, inevitably, some slabs will look similar. Quartz also doesn’t have quite the “natural” look that granite or marble has.

Options


While every granite and marble slab is unique, they often have a similar feel because they’re formed in a certain way and mined from only a few places in the world. And while there are many different colors and types of granite and marble available, the variety isn’t endless.

Quartz, on the other hand, can be mixed with a huge variety of pigments, giving you an endless selection of colors, hues, and vein patterns.

Value


Costs for stone materials can vary wildly from place to place and can even vary based on the time of year. However, if you want quality counters, do not cut corners.  Stone countertops aren’t inexpensive, but they are worth the investment.
On the low end of the spectrum is granite. Where the granite is sourced from, or highly-prized patterns or colors, will make this stone a little more expensive.

Quartz tends to be in the middle, price wise. For quartz, part of the cost comes down to the manufacturing process. Adding unique colors or asking for specialty veining can drive the price up even more.

But, the king of stone countertop materials is marble. Marble has long been prized for its beauty, enhanced by the subtle veining. Marble is mined at several places around the world, but Italian marble, particularly Carrara, is considered the finest. Expect to pay top dollar for marble pieces from  Italy.


So what’s the best material for your countertops?

There’s no one stone countertop material that works for all clients. What your decision often comes down to is what material works best for your major concerns.

In most markets, quartz is the most affordable option. Other perks of this engineered stone are its ease of maintenance and durability.  But it simply does not have the natural beauty and high-end look that marble, or even granite, has.

Granite is usually more expensive than quartz but less expensive than marble. It’s also more durable than marble. But the coloration might not be as consistent, and it can’t match the luxurious look of a marble slab.
In the end, marble is marble, and if you’re set on the look of marble, there’s no substitute. It might be a bit more expensive, but if you’re set on marble and it matches your kitchen or bathroom, it’s worth it for your countertop.

The Olde Mill’s Engineered Beams

The floor at the GHBA Product Expo. 

This week has been a busy week for me and my team. Yesterday, I attended the Greater Houston Builders Association Product Expo, where I met some really outstanding builders, contractors and designers. It was such a great experience for me and a great way to expand my network in Texas. I’m really looking forward to working with some of my new contacts on some future projects. 

Today, I’m on my way back to Louisiana!

For this month’s post, I thought I’d take a moment to share my latest video. If you’re not familiar with the pieces that I make through my company, The Olde Mill, then this is a great introduction.

If you are familiar, I’d appreciate it if you shared it with others in the industry who might be able to use a product like our engineered beams. The light weight of these beams makes them easy to install at any stage in the construction process.

Thanks for your continued support!

Let Some Light In: Floor Lamps That Will Floor You

No room is complete without a good lamp. Even if you have floor-to-ceiling windows, that let in all of the natural light, your space needs a lamp. Give yourself some light once the sun has gone down AND add a little of your personality. With the huge range of lamps available, from companies all over the world, you can find the one that casts the right light and says something about you.

Floor lamps can be divided into three main types: arc lamps, stand lamps, and tripod lamps. Each type comes with its own pros and cons. Choose based on the needs, and style, you have in mind for your space.

Stand Lamps 

This is the most common type of floor lamp – a lamp that stands on it’s own, straight and proud. Because it is the most common, it comes in a range of styles, color, and finishes. You can get interesting, and whimsical, pieces that have the ability to bring a lot of life to your space. Let your personality shine!
This stand lamp gives off a clean, mid-century vibe. Source
This gorgeous art nouveau stand lamp would be the star of any room. Source
Whimsical bird-perch stand lamp. Source

This stand lamp doubles as a table or shelving. Source. 

This pencil stand lamp would be a great accent in a children’s – or writer’s – room. Source

This stand lamp offers a little storage. Source

This rocket ship stand lamp is both modern and fun. Source

The fun lines of this stand lamp contrast the modern lines of the wall decor. Source.

Arc Lamp

Arc lamps come with a stand or pedestal that is curved or bent. This is a great option for someone wh
o wants the drama of a chandelier or hanging pendant but can’t make it work in the space. The curve of the lamp’s stand allows the light to hang.

An arc lamp will also provide a little more direct light for people sitting on the sofa or at a dining table than a stand lamp – keep that in mind if you are an avid reader. 
Because these lamps take up more space than stand lamps, you need to think about furniture in the room. These lamps look big. You want the ensure the lamp is proportional for the space and doesn’t overwhelm other furniture. 

This arc lamp provides a great alternative to a hanging pendant lamp or chandelier. Source

The wire cafe of this arc lamp gives it an industrial feel. Source

This arc lamp provides a little bit better reading light than your average floor lamp. Source

This arc lamp can be adjusted to fit the height of surrounding furniture. Source

A rose gold arc lamp lends a very modern feel to this space. Source
The paper shade of this arc lamp lends a soft light to this bright space. Source

The added texture on this arc lamp’s light shade adds some interest to this clean space. Source
This arc lamp adds big visual interest. Source

Tripod Lamps

With the rise in popularity of mid-century modernism, tripod lamps themselves are increasing in popularity. These lamps have three legs, usually made of a wood, and a top-mounted light source. They’re often shorter than stand lamps, and the light they cast is more angled downward; that is, unless you get a la
mp with a more novel light source. These lamps work best in corners of rooms, or out of the way of foot traffic. You don’t want to trip over one of the lamp’s legs.

This tripod lamp draws the eye when displayed against the space’s monochromatic palette. Source. 

This tripod lamp makes clever use of a vintage Cadillac head lamp. Source. 

The added swing element of this tripod lamp makes it feel more industrial. Source. 

Reclaimed objects, like this vintage tripod lamp, work well with a rustic look. Source. 

With a globe shade, this tripod lamp casts light in every direction. Source

This simple tripod lamp complements the existing furniture. Source. 

Home of the Future: These Designers are Revolutionizing Home Decor with 3D Printing

At one point, it sounded like something out of a sci-fi movie: push a button and “print” a sofa for your home in minutes. Thanks to new technology in the field of additive manufacturing, or 3D printing, we’re not too far from that reality.

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With 3D printing, manufacturers use advanced machines to “print” either entire pieces or parts for pieces. Usually, extremely hard plastic or silicone builds up the piece, but some makers are branching out to metals and even wood. 3D printing can be much faster, and much more affordable, than traditional furniture making methods. These machines work more quickly than people and can produce furniture around the clock. And the materials they use are readily available, cheap, and durable.

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Additive manufacturing also allows manufacturers to produce pieces that would be extremely difficult or even impossible with traditional furniture-making methods: 3D printers can make full use of 3D space and aren’t hindered by the effects of gravity. Furniture makers are no longer bound by the limitations of furniture-making methods like inject-molding or routing. They are free to make incredibly complex pieces that are beautiful in their intricacy.

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The latest designs from the world’s top brands are both functional and pleasing to the eye. And, combined with traditionally-manufactured or natural pieces, such as fabric, cushions, wood legs and platforms, and more, these 3D pieces are becoming a comfortable staple in homes and offices everywhere.

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Most 3D printed pieces have an organic, natural look to them; some go as far as to appear “futuristic.” Manufacturers take advantage of these design features to minimize the amount of plastic used in the piece, which lessens the weight.

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Many of these pieces, especially those with an emphasis on natural forms, would be right at home in a mid-century modern space. Those with eclectic tastes shouldn’t have any problem incorporating them, either.

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For more traditional spaces, you will need to add additional pieces made from similar textures and colors, to further incorporate your 3D printed piece.

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If your space has modern feel, try to choose pieces in the same color scheme as your home. Softer, ombre or pastel pieces will look jarring in a space that is clean and minimalist.

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With further advances happening in 3D printing everyday, we might not be too far away from printing a sofa in our living room at the press of a button.

40 Years: A Look Back

This month, I am celebrating forty years in the industry. I thought that this anniversary provided a great opportunity to reflect on my time in the business. A lot has changed in the past four decades – both for me and the industry.
An article from 1981 featuring a young me.  

I started working in a cabinet shop in September of 1978 – Highland Construction & Manufacturing. I started out as a floor sweeper. Within two years, I was promoted to a full-time cabinet maker. I quickly learned the trade.

At the time, stain-grade wood was really popular. Sometimes, I miss the natural depth of stained wood. Today, painted woods – painted cabinets – are much more common. People today prefer the brightness of painted wood. 

My business card with Highland Cabinets. 

We’re also entering an era of simplicity. Corbels, pilasters, and heavy trim and carvings were in fashion when I first started at the cabinet shop. Now, most of my clients prefer a simpler, more minimalistic design. To a certain degree, this change is a good thing. It was very easy for designers to overdo intricate millwork, ending up with a design that was gaudy and ugly. Minimalist looks are hard to mess up.

Mid-century-inspired designs are popular with today’s clients. 

And 7-foot tall cabinets used to be it. Can you imagine? Now, so many homes have 8-, 9-, even 10-foot tall ceilings, with tall cabinets to match. 

After working as cabinetmaker, I started thinking about the next stage in my career. I enjoyed working with my hands and being creative. I also found that I had a knack for looking at a piece of wood and seeing its entire life – what it would like in a cabinet, what the cabinet would look like in a home, how it would function in a kitchen while the owners were cooking. This led me to seriously consider design, and I started taking design jobs part-time.


Two business cards I used when Richard Ourso Kitchen Designs had just opened. 
I eventually opened up my first business, Richard Ourso Kitchen Design. I liked kitchen design because it allowed me to focus on the details of the space. Whole-home designers and architects simply don’t have the time to look at the particulars of a space and make it function. I wanted to focus on how the space flowed – something that is still important in my designs today.

That’s another that has changed – there are more specialty designers than there were four decades ago. When I started my design firm, there were hardly any kitchen and bath designers in the area. Even my second job – a new build – was a whole home design. It took a while for the Baton Rouge market to adjust to kitchen and bath designers.  

My first beam job after opening The Olde Mill.
Over the years, tastes have changed. Baton Rouge used to be a very traditional market. In the last 8 – 10 years, I’ve noticed more and more homeowners requesting transitional designs. These new spaces lack the bulkiness and gaudiness of what was popular in the 1980s and 1990s.

And galley kitchens used to be the most requested kitchen layout. Today’s clients would find this design inefficient. L- and U-shaped kitchens with large center islands are now the norm. 

An L-shaped kitchen with island I designed recently for a local home. 

As a whole, home design used to be much more segmented. You had a dining room and a kitchen as completely separate spaces. Most modern clients want a home with an open floorplan. I myself prefer the more open concept because it allows the space to flow with the family.


Both my Ourso Designs and my manufacturing company, The Olde Mill, continue to grow and change. I’m excited to see what the next few years have to offer. 


Dining In: Choosing the Right Size Dining Table for your Space

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The dining table is arguably the most important piece of furniture in a home. It’s where your family gathers for dinner, where breakfast is served. It’s where kids do homework or Mom and Dad catch up on work they didn’t finish at the office. Friends and family gather around it for Thanksgiving dinner or a party on the weekend. A lot happens on single piece of furniture.

The importance of the dining table demands a certain amount of gravitas in it’s selection. A simple mistake – too large of a table for the room, for instance – can have a rippling effect on your family’s home life.

Consider: Use

Every family is different. Some families eat every meal at the dining table. Some only only use it for more formal occasions, such as holiday dinners or extravagant parties.

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And the use should dictate the style of dining table. You want to get the most use possible out of your dining table. Pick something that meets the needs of you and your family. If you eat in often, pick a table that will sit the whole family, plus a few extra. If you rarely sit down together, get something cozier.

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Consider: Space

Of course, you can’t fit a conference-length table in a cozy, 8′ x 10′ dining space. You know that. But there are also some other hard rules when it comes to considering your table’s fit.

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When shopping, don’t just think about the footprint of the table – think about the space the dining table AND guests will take up. You need at least 3 feet of clearance between the wall and the table on all sides.

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And don’t forget chairs. They contribute to the size of the table. Your guests will more than likely sit with the seat partially, if not all the way, out from the table. That 3 feet of clearance will give you and guests plenty of room to move about the dining table. Really, the more space, the better.

If you simply can’t give up that much space to your table, a pedestal table is the way to go. A single, center base leaves lots of room under the table for everyone’s legs.

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Consider: Shape 

The two most common dining table shapes are rectangular and circular. Both shapes have their benefits, as well as drawbacks.

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Rectangular dining tables are the easiest to fit in a dining room, for one simple fact – most dining rooms are also rectangular. This also makes it easy to size the dining table. Most rectangular dining tables are between 36″ and 42″ across, which provides ample room for two place settings and a center piece. The length of the shouldn’t be more than 6 feet shorter than the length of the room.

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One major drawback of rectangular tables come with the corners. If space in the dining room is tight, it is difficult to navigate around the corners when the table is full. Also, no one wants to sit at a corner seat.

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If you’re planning on a smaller dining table, a circular or round table is preferred. It allows everyone at the table to see each other equally. There’s no yelled conversations down a long table like you see in movies.

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Of course, a round table offers less surface area for eating than a rectangular table with a similar footprint. When the table is crowded, this will limit both serving space and elbow room.

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You can find a compromise of the two shapes in the oval table. The oval table will give you a little more space to squeeze around in a rectangular dining room, since the corners are cut off. You can still get the length that you would want with a rectangular table, but without sacrificing the equanimity of the round table. 

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The Chesterfield

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Opulent. Luxurious. Plush. There are many words to describe the Chesterfield, the majestic tufted sofa that is both timeless-ly trendy and undeniably comfortable. 
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The first Chesterfield sofa was commissioned by one Lord Phillip Stanhope, the 4th Earl of Chesterfield and mid-1700s style maven; he requested a couch that looked good AND didn’t wrinkle his trouser pants. Emerging techniques in leather smithing created a soft, supple leather, that could be molded, tucked, and pinched into intricate designs. This made the fabric an obvious choice for Stanhope’s sofa. 

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Like any good design, the Chesterfield’s popularity has had its peaks and valleys – as of this moment, it’s popularity is on the rise. You have a great opportunity to get ahead of the curve!

If you’re thinking about adding one of these posh pieces to your own design, fabric and color are key. Leather is always an option, but a huge range of fabrics – linen, canvas, suede – as well as a rainbow of colors make this great design more versatile than ever. Pink velvet will take this Old World classic to a modern and fun place.

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The sofa is the most traditional offering, but it is far from the only one. Many designers today are selling Chesterfield chairs and loungers. This is a great way to incorporate the look in an existing room, without drastically changing the style. Tufted ottomans and headboards also offer a way to get the Chesterfield feel. 

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There’s a whole world of possibilities out there and nothing to hold your style back!

Industry Ed with Richard: Pre-Finished Cabinets

Prefinished cabinets used in a recent job. See more pictures here
After the flood two years ago, prefinished cabinets were almost a necessity in the Baton Rouge area. Many people simply did not have the time to wait for custom cabinets to be created for their homes. The disaster gave locals a new respect for prefinished cabinets. 

Prefinished cabinets used in a recent job. See more pictures here
For a long time, pre-finished cabinets have had a bad rap. “Particle board” construction has long scared away homeowners – as a material, it can be difficult to work with, and it does not always age well.  But today’s prefinished cabinets are far more sophisticated, both in material and construction. New construction techniques mean they can be customized to a greater degree than ever before. These cabinets can be a welcome addition to your next project, if you know how to work with them.  

If you’re planning on using them in a job, there are a few things you should consider. 

Prefinished cabinets used in recent mid-century modern remodel. See more pictures here

For Builders and Contractors

  • Come to jobsite finished; some brands have automotive-quality finishes 
  • Can be installed at any point in the job, which makes them less likely to get beaten up or scratched during the rest of the job
  • Interiors come finished as well   
  • Don’t have to worry about overspray on your hardware        
  • Once installed, they are completely done 

Prefinished cabinets used to remodel a bathroom. See more pictures here

For Homeowners

  • Nearly unlimited options for colors and finishes
  • Come with a high quality finish
  • Easy to match colors or hardware when something needs to be replaced
  • Endless options for customization (add wine racks, slide out drawers, under cabinet lighting, etc.) 
  • Reflect popular and modern styles, including slab doors and frameless styles 
    Prefinished cabinets used to top off a bathroom remodel. See more pictures here
    If you’re planning on incorporating prefinished cabinets into your next project, be sure to work with a reputable dealer. This will help you avoid getting products that are made from low-grade particle board or that have variances in hardware. Look for the The Kitchen Cabinet Manufacturers Association, or KCMA, certification to ensure that your cabinet manufacturer is using high-quality materials.

    Pull-out drawers like these are just one of the many customizations that can be added to prefinished cabinets. See more pictures here.
      Some things, like inferior materials or hardware, can be avoided by working with the right company. 

      At Ourso Designs, we are a dealer for Wood-Mode, a high-end prefinished cabinet brand. These cabinets aren’t made from poor particle board; the materials Wood-Mode uses are great, and their range of customizable features means that you can find something to suit any homeowner’s needs. Wood-Mode is one of the founders of the KCMA. I highly recommend working with them for your next project.

      This is not to say that we don’t use custom cabinets in our projects. We have a longstanding relationship with the team at Baton Rouge Custom Cabinets; I cannot recommend those guys enough. They do a great job, from choosing quality materials and hardware to installing at the jobsite. Custom cabinets can be the right choice for the job. 
      Baton Rouge Custom Cabinets made these cabinets for a local kitchen we worked on. See more pictures here

      It’s always a good idea to know your options, so that you and your client can make an informed decision for your project.   

      Divide and Conquer: Partition Walls

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      Partition walls and small spaces suit each other well. Often, when we think of partition walls, we think of small spaces as going hand-in-hand. Partition walls are a great way to divide a space without closing it in. They are also a great way to separate a large space. 
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      It has become quintessential to have an open floor plan… so when every room is opened up to another, how do we separate one area from the other? Of course this can be done in a number of ways, like with a detailed ceiling plan or changes in floor material, but another good way to do this is with partition walls. The foyer seen above is a great example that incorporates all of 3 these ways.
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      This is another great example of a successful partition wall. It allows this house to be more open to the dining room, without having to completely tear out valuable walls for cabinet space.
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      This partition wall opens up the center stair well. It opens up the stair well, so the user does not feel closed in, as well as, provides a fantastic feature for the room.

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      This partition wall separates a back entry from a living space, and like the kitchen example above, it uses a half wall to for a bench and storage space.
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      On to the bathroom. It is very common to use a partition wall to separate the shower space from the rest of the bathroom. We love how this one allows you to walk completely around it, and doesn’t go all the way to the ceiling. It adds a lot of good dimension to the space.
      There are so many useful places for a partition wall and so many ways they can look. Here are few more great examples.
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      La Boheme

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      Amidst the energetic patterns and bright colors of the modern bohemian aesthetic, there is an order. Perhaps the inherent balance – the ying of untamed energy and the yang of symmetry – is what makes this style so popular.

      It could also be the cool rugs.

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      If you love the serenity and naturalness of the mid-century modern look, but you want to mess up its hair, the modern bohemian look might be the way to go. In these pictures, you’ll recognize a couple of mid-century hallmarks: pin leg furniture, neutral walls, and lots of wood. But you’ll also see some unexpected patterns, shapes, textures, and bursts of colors. 

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       The finished space is always fun, yet cool.

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      If you want to replicate this style, be sure to incorporate these key elements:

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      Wood 

      Like mid-century modern style, modern bohemian has lots of wood. If you have existing wood beams or rafters, put those on display. Wooden tables, either in the kitchen or the living room, add natural warmth.

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       Neutral background palette 

      Neutral colors provide a great backdrop for the mix of colors and patterns in the rest of the room.

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      Texture 

      This can be added with patterned throw pillows, different weaves in fabrics, even baskets.

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      A Good Rug 

      The star of any good bohemian space is the rug. As the star, it need to do a lot of talking. Pick a piece that has bold geometric shapes or lots of texture made by an open-weave and natural fabric choices. 

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