Friday, April 21, 2017

Destination Dallas: Designing My Dream Home (Part 1)

The yellow areas are the spaces covered in this post!
Our builder’s design center was a Pinterest dream come true. A model home with a beautiful kitchen and gorgeous furnishings, it also had a work space full of every tile and countertop imaginable. I met with the in-house designer, who, as much as I’d like to think I could do this thing on my own, was a valuable sounding board as I brought my visions to life in, oh, about four hours. (Normally, clients take two trips to the design center, but because of our schedule, I had to settle for one.) 

One of the builder's design centers
Even though I had less than 24 hours to plan for my appointment—I spent pretty much the entire night before lying in bed visualizing my designs—I already had a strong sense of the look I wanted: gray, glam (but not gaudy), with, of course, a white kitchen (think Hollywood Regency meets transitional style). That helped eliminate more than half of the options in design center right off the bat (I rejected anything cream-colored or beige), which made my job a little easier. 

We started from the front door and worked our way back. I opted for the builder-grade door—a six-panel mahogany one—but you don’t have to wait long for my first big design moment. It happens literally as soon as you walk inside: Our house has an octagonal, rotunda-style foyer, so to highlight this unique feature, the wood flooring will be laid in a herringbone pattern (with a 12” mitered-edge border). I haven’t met with the lighting specialist yet, but I’m envisioning an orb chandelier hanging overhead, with a pretty foyer table (and fresh flowers!) underneath.  

Herringbone wood floor (my stain is a bit darker)
The walls throughout the whole house will be painted Sherwin Williams On the Rocks, with white ceilings (apparently, in Texas, it’s standard to paint ceilings the same color as the walls, so we had to pay a hefty upgrade fee just for white ceilings!). 

Next: the kitchen! 

Kitchen inspiration! I'm a sucker for subtle Asian design elements (think pagoda lights and Chippendale chairs), paired with glam finishings. (Photo:
This part of the project was high stakes for me. I’ve never had an amazing kitchen—in our first home, a ho-hum 1970s rancher, I refinished the dated oak cabinets and installed granite, but it was more of a “make this work until we move out” scenario. Our current home’s kitchen is pretty, but small—the house was built in the early 1900s when kitchens were strictly functional—and the cabinets are cream-colored, rather than white. So this was my chance to go all out! 

For the cabinet doors, I chose...can you guess it...white, with rectangular insets. Then I selected a quartz countertop, Carrara Gioia, that (as the name suggests) looks very similar to Carrara marble but without the maintenance concerns (no staining!). 

Samples of our flooring, backsplash tile, and countertop.
My husband, ever the engineer, can’t stand the wasted space above cabinets, so we upgraded to ceiling-height, glass-front, upper-upper cabinets, where we’ll store pretty bowls and other things we rarely use but want to display. Sort of like this (but in white):


We also added a decorative vent hood cover over the stove, and chose these legs for the island (they'll be painted white):

To echo the front foyer flooring, we're going with a herringbone backsplash, in matte gray subway tile with white grout. Sort of like this, but lighter:


For the most part, the design center had the materials I’d hoped for—except for brushed gold hardware. So I’m waiting until after the house is finished to install my cabinet handles. I’m still deciding between these options (each only about $6 each at Lowe's):

We’ll have two pendant lights over the island. I’m leaning toward a pagoda-style lantern…sort of like this:; $250
I’m still deciding on the fixture for the eat-in area next to the kitchen, but I do have a few leading contenders:

Too much Asian influence with the pagoda lanterns? I still have to decide.

I love the style of this, but don't like the $1,000 price tag! 

At $275, this one's much more reasonably priced, but not as beautiful.

Next post: the master bath and Asa’s bath! 

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Destination Dallas: House Hunting!

A rancher shouldn't be that pricey, right? Nope: This white-brick Dallas beauty was $750K.
Talk about a real-estate wake-up call.
I never thought I’d be a Texan—I don’t like crazy-hot weather, flat land, or McMansions, which were pretty much the only things I knew about Texas a few months ago. I don't even particularly care for shiplap. But then Frank got offered a job we simply couldn’t pass up, so here we are, on our way to the Lone Star state.

Beautiful Fort Worth bungalow, with a not-so-stunning neighborhood.
His office is just outside of Dallas, so I initially focused my search on historic homes in Dallas or Fort Worth. After living in a 100-year-old home with close proximity to a downtown—albeit a one-street downtown—I was determined to replicate the lifestyle I love in the big city. But on our first house-hunting trip, I came back to Maryland discouraged: Every old home I looked at, no matter how tastefully done, was smack dab in the middle of a bad neighborhood. With a toddler in tow, that wasn’t going to work—so I did what I said I’d never do: shifted my search to the suburbs. 

I had a lengthy list of must-haves: a white kitchen, four bedrooms, a fenced yard, a short drive to amenities and Frank’s office, and a good-sized garage. (Basically, everything the unreasonable buyers on House Hunters demand!)  After weeks of scouring Zillow, I wasn’t feeling optimistic. Despite what everyone says about Texas real estate (“You can get so much house for your money!”), the homes were high-priced and short on style: a whole lot of brick behemoths, with hyper-vaulted ceilings (which I hate), tile living rooms, and textured walls. I couldn’t fathom spending so much money on so ugly a house.

I don't want to house-shame any of the actual properties we perused. So here's a nice visual summary of Texas living. (Photo: McMansion Hell)
With so little inventory I actually liked, I sent my poor realtor a list of 31 homes—all of which we needed to see in one weekend. I figured if I saw enough of ‘em, one was bound to stick. And one did…but unbeknownst to us, the owners were already in talks with another buyer. I woke up Sunday morning prepared to make an offer after walking through the house a second time—and as I stood in the home’s foyer, my realtor informed me the place was already under contract. It’s no wonder I developed shingles that weekend. The stress was awful!

I trudged through the remaining homes on my list, and every last one fell short. Doggy stench, outdated kitchens, vaulted foyers—they all seemed to be reminding me that I’d lost the only house I could love in the entire DFW metro-area. But then my realtor suggested meeting with builders, an idea I’d resisted, since I didn’t wanted a postage-stamp yard or a treeless neighborhood. 

The first builder was a flop: The houses were already framed, which meant it was too late to select my own finishings—and the salesman couldn't show me what, exactly, had been selected for the home. I wasn’t willing to buy a house without seeing what it would look like. Pass.

The second builder was a totally different story. I was told I could pick everything—from the countertops to the flooring to the faucets, and I knew this was a good fit. We walked around a few framed-out two-story homes, but they all had vaulted living rooms and corner fireplaces—total turn-offs to me. The salesperson mentioned they had one single-story home in the works with cathedral ceilings (A-shaped, instead of vaulted). We currently live in a three-story home, and I’ve fallen down nearly every set of stairs. So I liked the idea.

Exterior rendering of our new home

Long story short, we fell in love with the home (well, the floor plan—the foundation hadn’t even been poured) and rescheduled our flights so I could spend the next day in the design center choosing all of my finishes. Although I’d never suggest doing this in a few hours—talk about stress!—it was also a blast. And I got to choose all the little details I’ve dreamed about—hex tiles, white kitchen cabinets, herringbone wood flooring. But more on that next time!

Monday, April 10, 2017

From FDR to Trump: How the Oval Office Decor Has Changed

President Obama's office on the left, President Trump's on the right. (Photo: Getty/Facebook)
Donald Trump is breaking pretty much every Presidential precedent, but in one way, at least, he's like (almost) all the others: He's owning the Oval Office, redecorating it within days of moving into the White House. 

But for a man who never does anything modestly, his Oval House makeover is, so far, surprisingly l0w-key: Trump has kept President Obama's striped wallpaper (it's gold, so that may explain why he's allowed it to stay), and simply swapped out the furniture and curtains (he ditched Obama's crimson ones for, wait for it, gold ones). He did choose a flashier rug, with a sunburst-like design around the Presidential seal, but it's not actually new: It was originally used during the Reagan era (and briefly in the Bush Oval Office).

Photo: Getty/Facebook

Perhaps Melania made the choices? 

Historically, the Oval Office decor has been more a reflection of the First Lady's taste than the President's: Typically, shortly after the inauguration, the new woman of the White House swoops in to make the interior her own (and stake her husband's claim on the place). As a study in the Journal of Interior Design explains, "the [First Lady's] role in overseeing the decor is often cast as preserving history. However, the room is often actually redecorated for aesthetic purposes or to communicate a new message and not because the room is worn or out of style." 

This trend started with perhaps the chicest First Lady in U.S. history: Jackie O. In fact, JFK's Oval Office decorating scheme changed twice—the second time over the weekend he was assassinated. Jacqueline Onassis brought in a celebrity decorator, which set the precedent for Nancy Reagan, Barbara Bush, and Michelle Obama to do the same. 

That said, the Oval Office has been evolving since the 1930s, starting with FDR, according to the Journal of Interior Design study (from which these photos and facts were culled).

Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1934-1945)
Designer: Eric Gugler (architect)

FDR was the first president to occupy the present-day Oval Office. In 1929, the West Wing went up in flames, and FDR's predecessor President Hoover opted to rebuild it exactly as it before. But Roosevelt decided to move the Oval Office to a location with more light and easier access to the residential wing of the White House.

But it was his wife who did the decorating. Eleanor Roosevelt made the new office a little larger (two feet longer and two feet wider) and recruited architect Eric Gugler to design the space, which was inspired by FDR's passion for Georgian architecture. Why the dramatic drapes? The U.S. was in the midst of economic uncertainty, so the President's office needed to convey a strong sense of leadership. The solution: eagle emblems! 

Harry Truman (1945-1953) - Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953-1961)
Designer (Truman era): Charles T. Haight (architect)

Truman lightened things up, trading the dark green of FDR's scheme for a paler green palette. First Lady Elizabeth Truman worked with architect Charles Haight to install the new curtains and rug, later used by Eisenhower, Kennedy (early in his term), and Johnson. In fact, Eisenhower was one of the few 20th-century presidents who didn't redecorate at all. He stuck with the look at the Truman's wife had installed. 

Truman didn't stop with drapes and carpeting: He also outfitted the Oval Office with televisions and new furniture, designed to make him look like a modern president.

John F. Kennedy (1961-1963)
Designer: Sister Parish and Stephane Boudin

At the beginning of his presidency, JFK kept FDR's blue-green rug and drapes. But on the weekend he was killed, he had a red rug installed, a choice that disturbed subsequent president Johnson, since it reminded him of the assassination. 

Jackie Kennedy was the first of the first ladies to choose a celebrity decorator: Sister Parish, a socialite and interior designer known for her country house style (and said, at the time, to be the most famous decorator). 

Lyndon B. Johnson (1963-1969)
Designer: None

At first, Johnson kept Kennedy's red rug, but later reverted to FDR's blue-green carpet, paired with Kennedy's pale curtains. He removed the Resolute Desk, a gift from Queen Victoria during President Hayes' tenure, only because it was too small for his 6-foot-3.5-inch frame. 

Richard Nixon (1969-1974)
Designer: Sarah Doyle Jackson

Would you expect anything other than gold curtains from the first president of the 1970s? 

Gerald Ford (1974-1977) and Jimmy Carter (1977-1981)
Designer (Ford era): Clem Conger (curator) and Edward Jones (architect)
Designer (Carter era): Carleton Varney

Ford installed pumpkin-colored drapes, gold curtains, and a pale gold rug with blue florettes, in an effort to create a "warmer" feeling, after the tumult of Nixon, a decor scheme that Jimmy Carter chose to keep. Ford was the only president who abandoned the presidential emblem altogether, and he did way with all of the room's eagles, except the plaster one on the ceiling. 

Ronald Reagan (1981-1989)
Designer: Ted Graber

During his first term, Ronald Reagan kept the Ford-era decor. But for his second term, he spiced things up with this pale yellow rug with a sunbeam design, made by Stark Carpet Co. at a cost of $49,625. 

George H.W. Bush (1989-1993)
Designer: Mark Hampton

After years of yellow-and-orange decor, the first Bush president redecorated with cool tones: He installed a light blue rug, at a cost of $28,500, along with light blue drapes. The color scheme was a nod to Bush's alma mater, Yale. 

Bill Clinton (1993-2001)
Designer: Mark Hampton

In a throwback to the Ford era, Clinton opted for yellow drapes and a royal blue rug, a prescient choice considering the color of his mistress's famous dress.

George W. Bush (2001-2009)
Designer: Kenneth Blasingame

George W. Bush kept it classy with neutrals and splashes of blue. Although this sunbeam rug, a symbol of optimism, is similar to the one from the Reagan era, it was actually new; in fact, he removed Clinton's rug on his first day of office, a not-so-subtle promise that his presidency would be different from his predecessor's. The cost of his new rug? $61,000. 

Barack Obama (2009-2015)
Designer: Michael Smith

Even President Obama's Oval Office was in keeping with his agenda: He and the First Lady wanted an eco-friendly design, which is why they chose a rug made of recycled wool (with several quotes from powerful historical U.S. figures woven into the border). As a nod to Michelle Obama's anti-obesity platform, the flower arrangement on the coffee table was replaced with a bowl of red apples.

Although the Obamas chose a well-known decorator, Michael Smith, they waited until late 2010 to make some of the changes, since the economy was suffering when Obama took office. As the study authors note, "The Obamas and Smith selected elements carefully; choosing the new decor that intentionally branded America's first African American president as a modern style-conscios leader without significant cost to the public." 

The office isn't without some elaborate elements though: For the first time in history, the walls were adorned with a hand-painted wall covering, rather than simply being painted.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Learning to Hear the Voice of God

Photo Credit: Daniel Maat (Flickr)

Since the earliest days of my faith, I’ve been blessed to hear God speak to me in a clear, though often quiet, way—sometimes challenging me to take a step of faith, other times correcting me, often just reassuring me, and occasionally prophesying about my future. 

I was recently asked how this works and how I’ve cultivated communication with God—how do you hear and recognize His voice? How do you get Him to talk to you, period? Let me start by clarifying that I am in no way special: God will speak to everyone who believes in him—it’s just a matter of listening. As John 10:27 says, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” As believers in Christ, we have access to God, and therefore access to his commands. (God can also intercede in the lives of non-believers and speak to them, too, as with Saul.)

Still, I know that saying “just listen” isn’t necessarily the best advice, since it assumes we all know what the voice of God sounds like. But if you're a new believer, or have simply never heard God speak to you, it’s hard to listen for a voice you don’t yet know! So first…

Learn what God’s voice sounds like. 
Consider the Bible your manual for communicating with God, and also your litmus test for judging the words you think are coming from Him. Scripture—which is entirely God-breathed, according to 2 Timothy—will help familiarize you with God’s voice and his commands. If you think He is speaking to you, but the words you hear don’t sync with scripture, you can be certain it was not, in fact, God. He will never contradict his Word.

Figure out how God speaks to you.
For me, it’s often through scripture—God will place a verse on my heart—and also through the Holy Spirit, that invisible part of the Trinity that dwells inside all Christians, prompting and whispering. Here’s an example: Several years ago, while I was praying, God led me to Genesis 12:1, the verse where Abraham is told to go out of his country to the land that God would show him. I shared this with a friend—and I was admittedly confused: What was God telling me? Some months later, this same friend was praying about a last-minute mission trip to Haiti, shortly after the earthquake, and God led her to Acts 7:3—a New Testament verse that quotes Genesis 12:1. She took this as confirmation that she was to go on the trip—but also as a prompting to bring me along. When she spoke with the trip coordinator, she found out that two spots remained. A week later, I was on an airplane. 

Crazy? Yes. Coincidental? No. Listening—and responding to—God’s voice requires faith. It’s easy to dismiss his commands as coincidence or a product of your imagination. But I firmly believe that God speaks to those who have the faith to listen. Sometimes, that means going out on a limb and choosing to believe, even when you have doubt. Realize that the first time you step out in faith will probably be the hardest. But, for me at least, faith begets faith—I’ve reached a point in my walk where I can hear from God and experience little doubt that it was Him, because I'm so familiar with his voice and how he speaks to me. 

For my sister, God speaks through dreams and patterns—say, seeing the same person over and over in unexpected places. For others, it might be through the words of people: pastors or encouraging friends or family members. And God may speak in different ways in different seasons. Even so, I think it’s helpful to know where to look—if you familiarize yourself with his favored mode of communication with you, it will become easier to recognize his voice. 

So how do you do that? By consistently communing with God, and making him a priority. That means reading your Bible, praying, and going to church, but also finding God in the everyday, whether through music, nature, or time with a friend. For me, a prayer journal and daily Bible reading, even for just a few minutes, is key; I've found that looking back on past prayers, and reflecting on how they've been answered, is a great way to see evidence of God's hand and how he works. For my husband, hearing from God means simply stepping away from the chaos, sitting in silence, and praying/reflecting, a practice that often teaches him new ways of praying that are more in line with God's will. 

Bringing God into your daily life will help you tune into him, so when he does speak, you're prepared to listen, receive, and mentally check what you're hearing against scripture. Bottom line: If you're in His Word, you're better able to receive His Word. 

Ask God to speak to you.
This might sound obvious, but have you prayed and asked God to talk? In Jeremiah 33:3, God promises, “Call to Me and I will answer you and tell you great and incomprehensible things you do not know.” Interestingly, the Hebrew word for incomprehensible is betsuroth, which means “walled up” or “fortified,” used often in the context of cities. Which brings me to my next point, arguably the most important one…

Practice immediate obedience. 
There’s perhaps no better Biblical example of a fortified city than Jericho, which was not only physically walled-off, but was also full of people who were resistant to the will of God. But then the Lord spoke to Joshua, and gave him what probably sounded like a crazy set of instructions for conquering Jericho: March around the city for six days, and then on the seventh day, have the priests blow their trumpets and the people shout, causing the city walls to collapse.

Can you imagine God telling you that this was how you were to win a war? It would be tempting to dismiss him altogether! But Joshua didn’t—in fact, in Joshua 6, after God gives his instructions, Joshua immediately mobilizes his troops, telling them, “Move forward, march around the city, and have the armed troops go ahead of the ark of the Lord.” He didn’t delay his obedience to pray about it more, talk to half a dozen friends, or just sleep on it. He acted. 

Most of us will never face a situation like this. But how about the one described in Matthew 19:21? “Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’” This verse has honestly always terrified me a little bit, because it’s such a drastic command. How would I respond if God told me to sell everything I have and give away the cash? Would I be eager to listen and obey? Or would I decide that surely he didn’t mean everything and just have a quick yard sale and donate the proceeds to my church? If I did, I’d only be deceiving myself, because partial obedience is actually disobedience. 

I can certainly relate to the fear of turning your life over to God, and then having him issue some crazy command: Move across the world. Tithe half your salary. Quit a job you love. But I also have realized, in my own life, that immediate obedience is critical to keeping the lines of communication with God open. Notice that Matthew 19:21 doesn’t say “sell your stuff, then maybe a year or two later, follow me.” Jesus speaks with immediacy. 

If you hear from God, I urge you to act as quickly as possible, doing whatever it takes to set his will in motion, whether that means writing a check, reaching out to a pastor, or making some other move he’s calling you to do. (Notice in John 10:27, mentioned above, that hearing God's voice is paired with an action: following God.) Immediate obedience is often rewarded with clarity of purpose—and the protection and favor of the Father. Take Luke 6:46-48 as proof:

Why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and don’t do the things I say? I will show you what someone is like who comes to Me, hears My words, and acts on them: He is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. When the flood came, the river crashed against that house and couldn’t shake it, because it was well built.