Sunday, 27 January 2013

Custom-made or Up-grade. How to make your kitchen work for you.

I have to confess. I had no idea how to cook when I got married. My repertoire consisted of tuna salad and the peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Iconic dishes, true, but only sufficient to satisfy one's palette for SO long. Preparing an entire shabbos felt like an insurmountable task. We moved into our apartment in Israel in the middle of Cheshvan and,lucky for me, our oven was completely treif so we had to wait for someone to blowtorch it.  That followed with a few weeks of (self imposed) family obligations. We had been living in Israel almost six weeks when my husband tentatively suggested that we stay home for shabbos. There were no more excuses. The time had come to face my fears. So there I stood, all alone, in my 4 meter kitchen with its bare fluorescent bulb and tiny cracked counter top attempting to decipher Chinese like "parboil" and "caramelize" and "dredge". Let's just say, I'm thankful that I made it through that first experience without too many scars. 
As a person who loves challenges and new experiences, I often wonder what scared me so much about conquering the cooking monster. My designer self likes to believe that the problem wasn't me but, rather, the uninviting disaster of a space that kept me away. 
I'm not saying that a well designed kitchen will magically transform you into a master chef, but simply that a functional and attractive space will encourage you to spend more time there. 

If you are one of those lucky people who is about to "do a kitchen", I humbly offer one piece of advice - hire a designer. That wasn't a plug, seriously. Hire anyone. Kitchen design is complex. Issues included are functional, technical, personal, aesthetic, spatial, logistical, financial, to name a few. It allows you to get the details sorted out on paper, before things are built incorrectly and then have to be altered or torn out or, worse, left as is.

If you are in a rental or you haven't budgeted for a custom kitchen, there are ways to upgrade your standard kitchen to create a functional and inviting experience. 
  • Give the kitchen a restaurant feel by removing the doors of the cupboards and upper cabinets to expose the shelves. This is a quick and easy way to totally change and expand the look of the kitchen but requires a commitment to stay clutter-free. Do this for cabinets that store china, stemware, and service pieces as apposed to food. Store small items in wicker baskets. 
  • Replace just the cabinet doors. A door made of MDF (Medium Density Fiberboard), covered in Formica (including quality hinges), can cost as little as 100nis per door.
  • Replace just the counters. There are quality attractive counters that cost as low as 800nis per meter.
  • Add Moldings: If your old cabinets don't go to the ceiling, adding a crown molding or soffit around the top will make a room look more elegant.
  • Upgrade Interiors. Slide-out shelves, lazy Susans, drawer dividers, and full-extension drawer glides can be retrofitted to your old cabinet interiors.
  • Add an Island. It can be anything- back to back dressers with a butcher's block or a re purposed file cabinet. Your decor doesn't have to be match-matchy, it just has to go.

via Apartment Therapy
And, if you've done a custom kitchen and you love it, I'm coming for dinner!

Thursday, 17 January 2013

It's All About You!

We recently finished a major renovation to our apartment. We took a 3 room apartment on the top floor of a building and added a 2nd story on the roof. We put the salon and kitchen on the 2nd story and turned the original apartment (2 bedrooms, a salon, and kitchen) into four and a half bedrooms. Its interesting and different and totally consistent with my personality so that I always get a good feeling when I walk in the door.

That is what good interior design is all about. There are principles and rules that help create balance but it is more important that the design and decor in your home reflects your personality and living style rather than any conventional rule. And, you certainly don't have to completely gut your home and start from scratch in order to inject a bit of "YOU" into your space.  

Here are a few stylish ways to personalise your space without knocking down any walls. 


Accessories are a great way to bring your decor together. It's also another way to add a personal touch to your space as they often tell a story of where you have been or where you interests lie. Even if you choose neutral colors for your walls and furniture, you can still create a colorful atmosphere with the accessories you choose. 

Family Art
Take your favorite family photos, blow them up in different sizes, and hang them in similar (or different) picture frames.  Collect old photographs from your parents and grandparents to create a heritage display, or include your own baby photos with the baby photos of your children. ( Incidentally, you may encounter some objections from your bigger children who don't appreciate pictures of their 2 year old selves wrapped in a towel. Every time I hang that picture, it miraculously "disappears" the same day!)

Stick To It

Wall stickers are unique wall art without the large price tag- and they can be changed as often as you like. There are many places (including, you guessed it, Ikea!) that sell a variety of designs from animals to flowers to phrases. The look is a bit modern so if you are traditional in your tastes, this may not be your living room decor of choice, but there are whimsical wall stickers that make a fantastic addition to children's bedrooms. 

Support local artists
And I mean very local! They may not be Picasso's in the making but nothing is more special and personal than your child's artwork. Instead of posting these masterpieces on the fridge, display those brilliant creations more formally. For a unified look, hand each of your kids the same color crayons or markers and ask them to draw something specific. You will most certainly end up with variations on a theme. 

With the business of moving and unpacking behind me, I finally had the time to turn the "room where my girls sleep" into a "girl's room". With the addition of matching duvets and coordinating rug and curtains, the room went from "meh" to "marvellous". I invested less than 500nis and, of course, everything can be easily updated and replaced whenever I choose. 
The Girl's Room

The Boy's Room (formerly the kitchen!)

        How have you personalized your space? 

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

The Rundown Rental- Reasonable Redecoration Recommendations

We moved to Israel on a whim. Well, not a whim, exactly. It was more like a four year aliyah plan that turned, over night, into four weeks. We set off with no kollel (for him), no job prospects (for me), and nowhere to live (for either of us). A wonderful family member offered us her vacant machsan apartment for exactly 2 weeks, until the new tenants were to arrive.

I set out sprightly each morning, armed with my Yisa Bracha listings, and returned each evening with a heavy heart, quickly becoming aware of the alarming reality - there were no apartments in Ramat Eshkol to be had. 

Two weeks became one, seven days became 3, and in the ninth hour (or dare I say the hundredth?), The One Who Can Do Anything, did. 

With boundless joy, we gathered all of our worldly possessions and moved into our tiny, grungy, old, run down, tastelessly decorated, rental.  I don't think there existed a happier couple in all of Ramat Eshkol. 

Thankful, unquestionably, but also a little overwhelmed by the task of turning this less-than-attractive space (I'm being very generous) into a happy, comfortable, livable home. 

Here are a few ideas that I wish I'd known back then:

  • Camouflage unattractive flooring by adding an extra large area rug and bright accents.
  • Think ahead. Use modular furniture, Ivar shelves from IKEA or Cubitec by Doron Lachish, so that you can accommodate a different space when you move to your next home.
  • Your rental apartment may come with some unique colors choices (the back splash in our kitchen was fire-engine red.) Don't fight it! Create a pulled together look by incorporating the color in accents like dish towels, artwork, or a piece of furniture.
  • Good lighting can completely transform a room and it's source doesn't have to be a hardwired ceiling fixture. Use plug-in floor lamps, scones, or under-cabinet lighting in the kitchen to brighten up a room and open up dark corners.
  • You can make bookshelves seem built-in by flanking them on either side of a room entrance or window. You can even add moldings or trimmings to increase the affect. 
  • Invest in inexpensive renovations. Even if the apartment isn't yours, you'll probably live there long enough to benefit from improvements that minimal renovations can offer.
                 -A coat of paint can instantly change the mood of a room.
                 -Change your hardware. Many apartments have plain cabinet pulls that are old                             and boring. You don't have to live with them. Replace them with  something personal and interesting. You can always reinstall the old ones before you leave (and bring yours with you).
                 -Light fixtures can easily be switched and are a quick way to personalize a space. 

  • Furniture in a rental is often a hodgepodge of pieces that you or your landlord picked up. It doesn't always look nice and it doesn't always match. Unify the  motley bunch with slipcovers for your chairs and couches.
There is no official formula for making a rental apartment attractive and more fun to be in. Take a critical look at your space, identify your needs, and shake it up. Don't hesitate to make changes like moving furniture around or replacing blinds. A little effort and creativity can make a meaningful difference. 
(And if you aren't exahusted once you've completed your redecorating efforts, just say the title of this post 5 times fast.)