Category Archives: Reader Polls

Reader poll: To ply, or not to ply?

More and more in design magazines I’ve been seeing designs that incorporate the look of unpainted plywood.  I think this started mostly as a low-budget wall covering, but now it’s become a trend.  I’ve seen it in kitchens, like these:


Scandinavian cottage like kitchen with plywood

Like how this one makes it look more upscale with the metal strips between the planks.

Have also seen it in living areas:




And in an office or home office setting….



And of course there are some great-looking plywood shelves:



So…. what do you think?  Do you like this look?  Vote now!

[BTW if you are looking at this on your mobile device and can’t see the poll, it’s because you need to download the PollDaddy app which you can do for free in your app store!]


Reader poll: Exposed beams… what do you prefer?

I am just obsessed with exposed beams!  So beautiful.  There is something about seeing the structure of a building that is so appealing to me, whether it be beams, columns, trusses… even pipes and ductwork can look great if handled correctly. It’s like the watches with clear glass faces that expose the mechanisms inside… all those cogs and working parts are almost an art form.

Other advantages of exposed beam ceilings are:
1) height!  depending on how low the ceiling is dropped, exposing the beams could provide you with an additional foot or more.
2) regular geometry.  Our brains are wired to love repetition and rhythm.  Ceiling beams are a regular line that recedes into the distance and enhances a viewer’s sense of perspective.  Can be a great juxtaposition to a more motley assortment of furnishings below.
3) beauty of material.  Ceiling beams of reclaimed wood come to mind here…

but other materials, such as metals, can look great as well.
steel beam

While on the subject, I should note that there are some great new products on the market!  If you don’t have beams exposed, and don’t want to pay to demo your ceiling, you can fake it with faux beams.  These are essentially hollow structures, so they are lightweight and easy to attach, and much, much more cost-effective than the real thing.  They come in all sorts of finishes, like this:

See FauxWoodBeams for this and more options.

If you google “faux wood beams,” a ton of options come up in terms of colors, finishes, and materials. (Of course I recommend never using PVC in your home, this is an extremely toxic product!)

NOW, the part where I need your input…. I’m having a little debate with myself and am hoping my readers can help me settle it.  I always thought that an entirely white ceiling was best… a white ceiling with beams painted white.  I think it is just a fantastic look, light and airy but visually interesting.  It is the most subtle option because the wood beams don’t have as much contrast, but there are still interesting angles and shadows.

A friend of mine prefers to keep the wood beams in their natural state or just a coat of polyurethane.  Here, the beams become much more accentuated and might even be the first thing you notice in the room, especially if they are contrasted against a white ceiling.  If you want to really call attention to your beams, or just love the look of natural wood, this option might appeal more to you.

Then we have the gorgeous metal options shown above.

Tell me, which look do you prefer?  I’ve put a bunch of images for you to review before making your final choice!

From Atlanta Home.

From Elle Decor

Up for debate: Are coffee table books mandatory?

I’ve been having a kind of internal debate recently about coffee table books… mostly, whether they’re almost mandatory because there’s hardly any substitute for them. Given the fact that most coffee table books are basically overpriced coasters and that technologically we’ve progressed far beyond the paper book (and also because no one actually reads them) I’m kind of hoping the answer would be no… but aesthetically it’s kind of hard to come up with alternatives. I’ll lay out the evidence here, let me know what you think. Here are rooms with books on the coffee table:

Yup, that’s home. I’m ready to curl up and pretend to read one of my coffee table books. From decorpad.

Here the books serve to reinforce the rectilinear geometry of the room. From eclectic revisited.

This room feels cozier with a pile of magazines on the coffee table and a stack of books as an end table.

An orange coffee table book provides a splash of color in a sea of neutral.

A modern space made more accessible and personal through its coffee table books, from Tumidei.

Even the most modern living room is displayed with coffee table books.

AND NOW, here are some living rooms sans coffee table books

How about coral and candles, does that do it for you? From HomePortfolio.

How about vases and bowls? From HomePortfolio.

A tray of pretty things that are all perishable doesn’t count, regardless of how cute they are.

Great midcentury room with a practically bare coffee table. Awwwwwww. (Pitying sigh.)

Beautiful room again compensating with perishables.

Without coffee table books to personalize the space, this room ends up feeling a little hotel-ish.

So what do you think? Does every living room need coffee table books? If not, what else could you use on the coffee table instead? Roomology wants your opinion!

Up for debate: hardwood floors v. tiles that look like wood

OK, so I was shopping for countertops with a friend, while we did choose a gorgeous granite for her kitchen, what stood out most in my mind from that trip was the gorgeous ceramic tiles I saw that look like wood. If you don’t believe me, see if you can tell the real wood floors from the faux tiles below….

Allright, so it’s a trick question… these lovely photos are all tiles. Were you fooled?

Now, now, before you get all, “Well that’s all nice and good, but I’d never go for it because I want/need/love real wood,” allow me to expound upon a few of the advantages of ceramic/porcelain over hardwood floors

  1. Avoid the anathema of all hardwood owners… the dreaded chips, nicks, and scratches. Anyone who has paid for hardwood and then cringed when their friends arrive for a party wearing high heels knows the dangers here.
  2. While wood can expand or crack in wet environments, tile resists moisture, allowing a wood look on decks, around pools, or in baths or kitchens.
  3. You can make those planks as wide and/or long as you want without paying out the wazoo. Modern looks call for wide planks, but let’s face it, those wide planks don’t fit within every budget. With tiles you can easily get widths of 8″, 12″, 16″, or even 20″.
  4. With tiles you can have radiant heating… and as it was so well put in Dwell, anything else is just blowing warm dust around your house.
  5. Tile is supereasy to clean and maintain.
  6. Tiles stay cool, which is a blessing over summer months or for those who live in warm climates.

On the downside… well, tiles provide for less noise insulation (although cork underlayments and other under-tile insulators are available), less comfort for those who are standing for long periods of time, and may have less appeal for homebuyers who are not in the know. It’s also recommended that you keep a few extra tiles just in case you need to replace a chipped tile and the line of tiles you’ve bought is discontinued.  I’d also advise being supercareful about your grout color… if the color is off, it will make it obvious that it’s tile right away.

So, having said all that… here’s a roundup of the coolest wood tiles I’ve seen.

Love the varying widths of the Xilema porcelain tiles (shown here in Ciliego).

The hyperrealistic porcelain tiles from Sant’Agostino Ceramica come in 16 colors.

The clever W-Age ceramic tiles from Provenza provide look you could never achieve with real wood: crosscut to show the rings. Downright cheeky if you ask me.

I like the contemporary look of these Timber Glen tiles from daltile (shown in Cocoa).

Halcon Ceramica’s Forest line (shown here in Caoba) looks nicely weathered.

The Fondovalle Ironwood line comes in 4 colors, including awesomely modern Nero Bruciato, shown here.

Novabell Ceramiche has three lines of wood look tiles, including the above-pictured herringbone pattern.

So… what do you think? Would YOU trade in your hardwood?

On the Prowl: Alternatives to White Marble Countertops

A friend of mine who is redoing her kitchen is obsessed with the look of white marble countertops.  But, considering how high maintenance they are (staining, chipping, and resealing every 3-4 months!), she wants to know if there are any alternatives to achieve the same look.  Sure, there are, I said, there are plenty of engineered stones and the like that look like marble.  WHERE? she demanded.  Where indeed?  So now I’m putting my statement to the test, to find out if there really is anything that can match the beauty of white marble.





4.   Quartzite in Luce di Luna, Super White, or Biancaquartzite that look like white marble PROS: Quartzite is a natural stone, very resilient, and stain-proof. As a natural stone, we get that great veiny look we’re searching for. The Bianca is the only material I found that imitates the Calacatta Gold’s warmer, beige veins rather than gray/black.
CONS: While the pictures I’ve chosen is fairly light, as a natural stone there will, of course, be variation in the coloring, so you might have to look around for a slab that is whitish rather than gray.  When I went to see the Luce di Luna in real life, I will say that I was disappointed by the darker appearance of the slab I saw.  If you’re going from one stoneyard to another looking for the right coloring, that can mean significant time shopping around.  Also, as a natural stone, quartzite can be superduper expensive… I’ve seen it quoted at $130+.


5.   White Granites: Bethel White, Casa Blanca and Beola Ghiandonatagranite-look-white-marble
PROS: We all know the pros of granites: hard, durable, and a magnet for future homebuyers.  The other upside is that granite’s popularity has lead to an abundant supply and some very, very affordable granite options… I’ve seen it quoted for as little as $29-49 sq ft installed.
CONS: Granite is just never white.  It can be light grey, but it will still be grey.  Period.  It is also not usually veiny.  It can be swirly, like the impossible to spell Beola Ghiandoata, but most of the time it will disappoint marble-seekers because it is typically dotty and splotchy. 

Beware: what suppliers are typically calling “white” granite probably looks something like this (an actual photo from a recent trip to a stoneyard):

white-graniteThis piece was priced at $40 sq ft.

6.   Caesarstone Misty Carrera:caesarstone-misty-carrera
PROS: Misty Carrera is 93% natural quartz, so it’s it’s stain, chip, and crack resistant, and extremely low maintenance.
CONS: I’ve seen this in real life, and I have to say that this is absolutely not white.  It is grey.  I’ve also heard rumors of a problem with the resin in Caesarstone that there was some yellowing after exposure to sunlight.  Unconfirmed, but scary nonetheless.

UPDATE: I didn’t get to all the products the first time! Please read on to see my second look at great substitutes for marble: Countertops that look like white marble (take two)

So what do you think? Which do you like the best?

7 Reasons to Dump Your Bookshelves

UGGGHHHH. (Shudder). The dreaded bookshelf! How many of you have something like the above in your place?

I’m throwing this out there for debate… Please comment below and let me know what you think! Throughout the centuries, there have been many pieces of furniture that, having ceased to serve a useful function, have been abandoned in most modern homes. The flat screen TV rendered full-scale entertainment units a thing of the past. Large scale dining tables have been replaced by more comfortable, casual sets. Yes, I am saying that the bookshelf fits into this category, along with the tea table and the fainting sofa. Bookshelves in the living area are, in my opinion, rapidly becoming, if not already, obsolete, and I’ll give you 7 reasons why.

1) We don’t use the books we own. You got it, my number one reason we don’t need bookshelves is because the majority of us don’t need the very things they were meant to house. We have kindles, nooks, iPads, audiobooks, and every other device out there to replace our old paperbacks.  Now I recognize that there are some holdouts who want their real paper copies.  For those people, we have libraries. Unless you have space enough to have your own library, the bare fact is that most people don’t have the square footage to devote to something they’ll likely read only once.

2) Bookshelves are magnets for clutter. Let’s think of what people typically house on their bookshelves. Books that they read in college, maybe with bent spines in random colors. Assorted photos in non-matching frames. Random travel souvenirs. And around, on top, and in between all of this, clutter. Bookshelves are hideaways for all kinds of sins, except they’re not actually hidden away. They’re on display for everyone to see.

3) Bookshelves create shadows and darkness. Unless you’re lighting them (inside the shelves as well as out), bookshelves have the potential to create patches of darkness throughout your space. And, Without under lighting on the shelves themselves,  the objects that you display, which theoretically are meant to be set forth for guests to admire, can be sunk into shadow, and might actually be harder to view than if they are simply hung on the wall.

4) Books are dust magnets. Unless you’re a scholar using your books on a daily basis, or you’re a collector with rare first editions, a book you’ve read that you’re never going to read again is no better than keeping a pile of rags in display space in your living room.

5) The spines of your books are not attractive. Period. Let’s think of your favorite work of art of all time. There might be a million different answers for a million different people, but I’d be willing to bet that not one person answered that question with, “the spines of the assorted books on my bookshelf.”.  Unless you’ve artfully selected books for your shelves, in which case this article does not apply to you, your books are going to be randomly colored, the fonts may be strange, the spines may be bent repeatedly.  If they are not attractive to you, why would you possibly subject your guests to them?  The real world decision you have to make is between those books and that most favorite art print or photograph.

6) We have other alternatives to bookshelves to create height. Traditionally designers have used bookshelves to create tall elements in a room.  However, draperies, tall plants, wall art, millwork, or closed cabinetry may also serve this purpose.

7) The alternative is 1,000 times better.Let’s see.  On the one hand, we have our bookshelves with our leftover textbooks, dog-eared copy of the davinci code, random photos that are sunk in shadow, and random, indiscernible tchotckes, let’s consider the alternative.  Suppose instead you use a low sideboard with doors to provide storage, allowing for light, breathing room, and wall space to mount a favorite print, or several prints leaning against the wall.  You still have a surface for display to set out a plant, a vase, a few photos (in coordinated frames), a clever arrangement of tchotchkes, and ( dare I say it?) even a book or two if you like.   There, that’s better! So what do you think? Are you ready to throw away your bookshelves, or do you still think they have a place in the typical living room?

Mid-Centry Credenza with art work – Killer!

A rustic sideboard with a fresh, natural display and vintage print, courtesy of Southern Living

For those of you who prefer a more traditional look, here is a delightful vignette featuring a Barbara Barry for Baker console. Closed storage – Check! Various vases and other display pieces – Check! Eye-catching art – Check!