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History Lesson: I.M. Pei

Ieoh Ming Pei, more commonly known as I.M. Pei, was a Chinese-American architect who moved to the United States in 1935 to study architecture at the University of Pennsylvania. Once arriving Pei was so discouraged by the teaching style of his professors and intimidated by the skill levels of his peers that he decided to transfer to MIT and changed his major to engineering. However, not long after arriving, the dean of MIT’s architecture school noticed his eye for design and encouraged Pei to switch back to architecture.

Pei was most inspired by Swiss architect, Le Corbusier and had the opportunity to meet him when he visited MIT. Pei referred to the time Corbusier visited MIT as “the most important day in my architectural education.” Pei graduated from MIT with a bachelor’s degree in architecture.

After graduating, he joined the Harvard Graduate School of Design and befriended architects Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer. In 1948, Pei was recruited by William Zeckendorf and worked for seven years before establishing his own independent design firm, I. M. Pei & Associates, in 1955 which later became Pei Cobb Freed & Partners. Pei retired from full-time practice in 1990.

Check out a few of his most popular works below:

Louvre Pyramid

Pei was the first foreigner to work on the Louvre. He proposal included a central entrance to link the three museum buildings. At the center of his design was a large pyramid made of glass and steel. At the time, there was large opposition from the Louvre director and even the majority of the citizens of Paris. As a response to his, Pei placed a full-size model of pyramid in the courtyard. Almost 60,000 people visited the Louvre to see it and Pei gained enough support to go ahead with his plans. The courtyard was opened to the public in 1988 and the pyramid entrance opened a few months later. The Louvre Pyramid is considered Pei’s most famous structure.

John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum

One project Pei considered his “most important commission” was the John F. Kennedy Library. This library was built as a memorial after the President’s assassination in 1963. Jackie Kennedy picked Pei to complete the project. Pei had to submit multiple designs and site locations before the project was moved to Columbia Point. The new design included a large glass-enclosed atrium and a circular walkway. The Library was dedicated in October 1979.

National Gallery East Building

In the 1960s, directors of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. offered Pei the commission on a new building.

Pei took to the project and his first obstacle was the unusual shape of the site. Inspiration struck Pei in 1968, when he scrawled a rough diagram of two triangles on a scrap of paper. The larger building would be the public gallery; the smaller would house offices and archives. This triangular shape became a singular vision for the architect.

Pei expected large crowds of people to visit the new building, so he planned accordingly. He designed a large lobby roofed with skylights. Individual galleries are located along the sides, which allowed visitors to return after viewing each exhibit to the main room.

The East Building was unveiled to the public in June 1978. Large crowds visited the new museum, and critics generally voiced their approval. Fellow architect Allan Greenberg called the building a “masterpiece.”

Trend Alert: Succulents

We’ve seen this one coming for a while: Succulents. All the beauty of a bonsai tree with almost none of the upkeep. With no pruning or picking, and less frequent watering, sales of these prickly plants have grown steadily since 2012.

“Succulent” is an umbrella term for plants with thick, rigid fronds or stems meant to store water in climates with little rainfall. Most of us think “succulent,” and immediately think “cactus,” but there is a wide range of species that fall into this category. Large to small, simple to complex, there is a succulent out there for everyone.

This versatility is probably why so many people keep succulents at home or at work. Successfully growing a houseplant can show that you are a responsible adult, but in today’s fast-paced and mobile society, we might not have the time to care for traditional shrubbery. With water shortages and drought, you might want to be more conscious of your use of h2o. Succulents offer a solution. They require less frequent watering than most houseplants, but about as much light. As long as you’re careful about placement, these prickly plants are pretty easy to please.

In fact they’re trendy to the point that they started a new art form. Succulent sculptures are becoming popular among hobbyists, creatives, and collectors.

Wait back up… was that a tiny cactus? Yes “micro cacti” are quite possibly the cutest creation to come out of this cactus trend.

Venturing just beyond our world of interior design, landscape design is also seeing an increase in succulent use. Less fertilizing, watering, and pruning means more time spent designing and expanding.

Laundry Rooms: Efficient AND Pretty

The laundry room is easily the most forgettable room in the house, but definitely one of the most important. Readily, the design of your laundry room becomes an afterthought, out of site is out of mind. Anything can be thrown in there and forgotten behind closed doors. But in actuality, it really is a room that gets used more than regularly. So the question arises, “Why don’t we care more about the aesthetic and function of our laundry room?” Well, according to the NAHB (National Association of Home Builders), who conducted a national poll of home buyers to see what new trends and preferences are in the housing market, the second time home buyers find the laundry room to be the most essential feature when shopping for a house.
In this Ourso Designs project, she wanted a large laundry room that the kids could use for storage, to do homework, and to work on fun projects.
We may not be getting it right the first time, be we darn sure are getting it right the second! This may be attributed to the fact, that most second time home buyers are looking for a new home because they are growing out of their first.
This is a room that we spend a great amount of time in, and we want to enjoy that time. Having a space that feels comfortable and is also functional is the key to a great laundry room!
Not every laundry room has a lot of space to work with, so functionality is the most important. The 2 most important features in a laundry room are having a surface to set or fold items on, and storage.
In this Ourso Design remodel of a smaller laundry room, we utilized the space by putting in a stack-able washer and dryer. This allowed for more surface area. We also added a slat walls, so that she could hang baskets and hooks for more storage.
If your space allows, other bonus features that are a great addition, but not necessary, include a sink, laundry basket storage, and hanging and drying space, craft areas, and ample counter top.
In conclusion, because we spend so much time in our laundry rooms after all, we want them to be efficient AND pretty!
In this Ourso Designs remodel of a laundry room we were able to take in some space from an adjoining room to expand the size of the room. Even in within a smaller footprint, we were able to include all the necessary features PLUS the bonus features!

Trend Alert: Smart Sleep

If you’re having problems getting to sleep, staying asleep, or waking up in the morning, this article is for you. 

Two months ago we talked about “Smart Lights,” an easy way to “smarten” up your home without taking any drastic steps. One improvement we mentioned but didn’t go into detail on was a light that replicates the natural progression of the sun, allowing for more comfort and better sleep.

Following up on that, we have this month’s topic: “Smart Sleep,” or ways you can use technology to improve your sleep quality. Installing smart lights in your bedroom is one way to achieve this.

Our bodies operate on a circadian rhythm, meaning pretty much everything we do is according to the sun (or light that our bodies think is sunlight). Every single one of us will sleep, eat, work, and sleep again depending on the time of day. Poor sleep leads to poor feelings the next day, then to health issues if the problem continues. If you’re having problems getting to sleep, staying asleep, or waking up in the morning, this article is for you.

Everyone sleeps and wakes according to different factors. Some might prefer silence, some might prefer noise, some complete darkness, some light. That being said, sleep solutions have to be adjustable in order to work. Pretty much every sleep-related product we’ve seen recently can be adjusted.

Take blackout shades, for example. Traditional blackout curtains were “one-size-fits-all,” bulky and unattractive. Modern ones can be thin, lightweight and nearly unnoticable, able to be used in combination with any style of curtain or shade you choose. This gives you complete control of your look and lighting simultaneously.

Next is noise. Most people can achieve sleep despite natural, chaotic sound, but a large percentage of people need some sort of white noise or noise-cancelling effect in order to sleep restfully. Thankfully modern technology has brought us noise-cancelling headphones and white noise generators. You can find efficient white noise generators online or purchase a standalone device to keep near your bedside. Most higher-end wireless headphones are now also outfitted with a noise-cancelling feature, meaning you can have quiet wherever and whenever you need.

It may not seem like it but aroma plays a huge part in our mood and physiology. Certain aromas can induce feelings of relaxation or stress. Lavender, vanilla, valerian, and jasmine have all proven to be effective in helping people sleep. An aroma diffuser is an easy and affordable way to maintain this control.

Finally we have the covers. Your choice in sheets and blankets will directly impact your bedtime comfort. Breathable, high-thread-count sheets are a must for those who possess a tendency to overheat in their sleep, while weighted blankets can influence your nervous system into a more relaxed and restful state.

All-in-all there are many factors that affect our sleep. Finding your personal preference is a process that can take a very long time, but restful is sleep is absolutely worth it. Not everyone needs blackout curtains and fancy noise machines to sleep well, but most everyone could use a higher quality of sleep. For more tips on healthy living, check out this blog post, the first in a series by our founder and principal designer, Richard L. Ourso, CKD, CAPS.

Healthy Living Series: Hydration

A couple of weeks ago we hosted a breakfast event “Self-Defense & Healthy Eating 101,” in the hopes that we could educate community members about two vital components of a healthy lifestyle. I spoke briefly about some basic techniques that might help in volatile situations, and Roy Domangue of Wooden Creations, Inc. was kind enough to share his story.

Roy is battling cancer and is focused on maintaining a healthy diet. The top priority of that diet is proper hydration and maintaining a balanced pH level in the body.

We learn from an early age that our bodies comprise mostly of water.

Staying hydrated should be a priority for everyone. A common question is, “How much water should I drink per day?”. The amount of water in ounces is equal to your weight in pounds divided by two.

Be careful not to exceed 100 ounces unless under intense heat. It’s also important to remember when consuming caffeinated beverages, you should drink more water to help neutralize the acidic effects.

In terms of digestion, try not to drink anything in the minutes leading up to and after a meal. During a meal, drink only four ounces of water. Chew in small bites. To further aid in digestion and hydration, eat unprocessed goods with high water content.

Different food and drink also affect the pH level in your body. Maintaining a balanced pH is vital for your immune and digestive systems to function properly. The next blog post in this series will focus on how healthy eating can help you keep a balanced pH.

This post is the first in the “Healthy Living Series”. Special thanks to Roy Domangue for sharing his story and the information shown here.

Tis the Season: For Outdoor Sittin’

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With this weather, it’s hard to stay indoors. It is essential for our physical and mental well being that we stay connected with the outdoors. And these days, the outdoor living space is becoming just as essential as the indoor living space. An out door living space may be limited to just include a comfortable spot in the back yard with a place to sit and possibly an overhang for cover, but it can also be as inclusive as a full kitchen and living space. There are some things to keep in mind when designing an outdoor space.

Ourso Designs

The first thing is to consider where the sun rises and sets, more importantly where the sun sets, because we tend to spend more time in our outdoor spaces in the evening. Is your overhang low enough to protect from direct sun? Or do you have the proper shading partitions in place?

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Another consideration is the direction of wind and blowing rains. Like, shading from the sun, you must also consider buffering from wind and rain. Closing in one side of your space or the use of shudders can help.

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Materials used in the space are important too. They must be able to hold up to the elements. Some manufactured stones (quartz) will fade in the sun.

Ourso Designs

There are 3 key areas to an inclusive outdoor living space. The cooking area, the dining area, and the seating area. There are many different types of cooking to incorporate into your kitchen; a charcoal grill, a gas grill, an egg, etc. You will also want to incorporate a sink and a fridge.

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There are a few different options for cabinet/storage material. Masonry, stucco, wood, or manufactured cabinet made from a weatherproof resin. With masonry and stucco you can incorporate stainless steel inserts. This is one of your more durable options, but not the most efficient. Wood cabinets are the most efficient, but are not as weather resistant. The resin cabinets, are efficient and durable, but may not have the “natural” look and feel you are looking for.

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Depending on your roof type, you have to consider air circulation. Is the hot air able to escape? Ceiling fans can help. Also a pergola is good way to release trapped hot air as it rises.

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Typically your outdoor space will include a fireplace or some type of fire pit for warmth in the colder months.

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The details are important to make your space the most comfortable and enjoyable it can be!

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Trend Alert: Going Global

Color, decoration, and functionality are all essential aspects of good home design. However lighting might be the most important factor when it comes to home interiors. Lighting can powerfully and immediately impact the way we perceive a space. It can draw attention toward one spot and away from another. It can go from dazzling to dark at the simple flick of a switch. Your lighting fixtures, therefore, are just as important as the light itself.

Lighting fixtures vary depending on their intended purpose. Pendant lights for bars and island tables. Vanity lights for bathrooms, closets and dressing rooms. Under-cabinet lights for kitchen counters and bedside lamps for, well, bedtime. One would expect that the design of these fixtures would vary according to their functions, and in most cases that’s true. However one design that we keep seeing used everywhere is the globe light.

(from one of our recent kitchen remodels)
It’s not hard to see why people love this design. It’s minimalist, somehow modern and retro at the same time. It’s familiar because we see this shape every day in the sun, moon and stars. Our number one favorite thing about this design? It’s versatile. 
Placed alone, the globe light acts as a statement. A single lightbulb. A timeless symbol for inspiration. In pairs and rows, they invoke feelings of harmony and order. In clusters, they resemble atoms or galaxies: chaotic, natural, and full of potential. 
Of course the classic glass orbs can get old, even after you start combining them in new and creative ways. If you want to add a little variety into the mix, add some color. Tinting the glass or bulb unlocks the potential to alter the ambiance or simply add a bit of diversity. 
Beyond that of course, people are always finding new ways to alter and enhance this classic design. Whether by using different materials, patterns or placements, designers are still finding ways to wow us. For that reason, we can expect to see these around for decades to come.

Kitchen Hoods: Make it a Venti

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Hoods. You gotta’ have it, so you must love it! The kitchen hood does an important job. They should supply the proper ventilation to remove steam, smoke, grease, and more from the air to make your kitchen comfortable and clean. And of course, it has to look good while doing it.

According to Vent-A-Hood, there are three major components to an effective kitchen ventilation system:

a. Hood Canopy

Your holding capacity, overlap, and projection must be considered when sizing your canopy.
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  • Hoods do not pull or draw, they only collect. Holding Capacity is needed to collect cooking vapors so the blower units can exhaust them to the outside.
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  • Whenever possible, the hood should overlap the cooking equipment by 3″ on each side.
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  • The hood should project out to the front edge of the front burners in order to properly capture cooking vapors.

b. Blower System

While the canopy captures the vapors, the blower system moves them out of the house. You must consider what kind of cooking area you have to figure out what kind of blower system you need and the appropriate amount of CFMs you will need. According to Today’s Homeowner, the basic rule of thumb when determining the fan size, is that it should move a minimum of 100 CFM of air for every 12″ of stove width. So if you have a 30″ wide stove, you need a fan that moves at least 250 CFM of air. But, you will need more if it is a gas stove.
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c. Ducting

Never restrict the duct size. A single blower unit requires at least 6″ round duct or equivalent, and a dual blower needs at least 8″ round duct or equivalent. And it is important to make the duct run as short and as straight as possible with as few turns as possible. 
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Now when it comes to the style and design of the hood, you can either have it blend in with the cabinetry or you make it stand out! Here is a great selection of hood styles that are trending today.

a. Blend It With the Cabinets

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b. Make It Stand Alone

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c. Box It In

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d. Put Some Wood On It

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e. Make It All Wood

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f. Just Keep It Simple – Match Your Stainless

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g. Get Custom With The Metal

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Trend Alert: Smart Lights

The “smart home” is a quick term to describe something that’s quite complex. Smart home systems allow you more control, comfort and security from your home appliances. You can see who rang your doorbell, dim your lights, or control the speakers in every room simultaneously.

This is overwhelming at first, and you might be reluctant to allow a phone app complete control over your home’s security functions. It’s a good idea to start small. Super small. Lightbulb small.

Smart lights are a great way to start upgrading your home into a smart home. Most products allow you complete control over the color and intensity of your light fixtures, while more advanced products allow you to sync your lights up with your music or video. 
Perhaps the most advanced smart lights available are from Nanoleaf, who manufacture highly customizable lighting panels, giving you creative freedom over your design. They can also sync up with your music. On the other hand, starter-level bulbs are great if you just want to dim or change colors. Just as an example, these bulbs can be installed in any compatible lamp or hanging light. 
While it may not seem like a big deal at first, control over your lighting is a simple and cheap way to improve your health and comfort significantly. Ketra manufactures lights that can replicate the natural progression of the sun indoors, better for sleep patterns and keeping track of time. 
So if you’re looking to make your home a little more smart, look to the lights. It’s a great first step into the world of smart home technology. Just by changing one lightbulb, you can change the way you live. 

Raising the Bar: Home Bars

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Home design is, firstly, all about how the user operates their space on a daily basis. Secondly, home design is all about how the user operates their space when they entertain. The home bar has steadily become a standard component found in homes today.

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Features often found in a home bar include: an under counter fridge for wine and beverages, an ice maker, a small sink, lockable liquor drawers, and visible shelving.

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Hospitality, especially in the south, is valuable as well as influential. And having a space that caters to this is imperative. Secondary spaces, like the home bar, keeps your kitchen reserved for cooking, while guests can mingle in other areas reserved for drinks and hors d’oeuvres. 

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Home bars don’t have to be very big, and have been known to be retrofitted from closets and even under the stairs. They can always be visible or close off when not in use. They also create more storage for glasses and dishes.

We are raising the bar on home standards everyday!

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