Category Archives: Blog

Window Boxes

Window Boxes

A Year Round Gardening Affair

Few features impact a home’s curb appeal like beautiful window boxes overflowing with vibrant, seasonal colors. For centuries, window boxes have been ubiquitous in European villages, adding exterior charm and warmth to all forms of architecture. Window boxes eventually traveled to America with Colonial settlers, and today we add them to our homes as exterior adornments and added layers of information on our primary facades.

To successfully complement the architecture and complete the look of home, it is important that the window box is scaled properly. For visual appeal, we recommend that the box extends the full length of the window from the outer edge of the casing. This effectively “anchors” the window. A window box that is too short will look awkward and out of place with the home’s aesthetic. Another important consideration is the material from which the casing is made. We typically use Azek, which looks and feels like real wood, but is weather resistant and will not peel or rot in the elements. Additionally, it can easily withstand the weight of heavy potting soil so will not sag or bend and is essentially maintenance free.

Window boxes soften a home’s hard architectural edges and help celebrate each season with splashes of color. We encourage homeowners to update planting material every few months to highlight the changing moods and temperatures of the year. There are several excellent landscape design companies with whom we partner and Donaroma’s on Martha’s Vineyard is our favorite island resource. We recently talked with Donaroma’s designer Cammie Naylor about window box ideas for clients on the island. Ms. Naylor describes window boxes as “a constant theater,” and an opportunity to add bright punctuation points to a home’s exterior throughout the year. She and the designers at Donaroma’s take several factors into consideration when creating a homeowner’s window box design. Among others, these factor including season, sun exposure, and the homeowner’s personal taste.

As we welcome spring, flowers like daffodils, tulips and pansies are favorites – their bright, recognizable forms and colors instantly announce the season’s arrival. In the warmer days of summer – roughly Memorial Day through Labor Day – classic, crimson geraniums are an island favorite as they love the heat and are relatively drought tolerant. The seasons of fall and winter offer additional opportunities to freshen and update window boxes with mums and kale in the fall and small evergreens and pine bows during the holidays. No matter what time of year, Ms. Naylor recommends keeping the planting elements from 3-4 to ensure visual balance of the window box, stating, “it calms the eye to see symmetry and repetition.”

We all appreciate viewing a home with stunning window box displays, but the fact is, it takes care and consistent watering to keep them beautiful. Many of our homes feature both first and second floor window boxes, so we recommend our clients consider adding an automatic “drip” watering system (pictured below). Water ascends from a hidden, clear tube (or copper covered) that snakes up the side of the house and works on a timer from the home’s irrigation system. Using a self water system effectively ensures the window boxes are watered consistently during the busy days of spring and summer.

Hats off to the glorious window box, which provides year-round curb appeal, creative expression and architectural enhancement.

Happy planting!

Spring (Cleaning) is in the Air Part 2

Spring (Cleaning) is in the Air Part 2

A Streamlined Refresh for Exteriors

Last week, we shared strategies for making interior spring cleaning tasks a bit less daunting. Today, we continue the theme of manageable cleaning tactics – this time for the home’s exterior. As mentioned, most people feel happier and more balanced when living in organized, clean spaces and this idea extends to a home’s exterior. During the winter months, many outside areas of a home are neglected or inaccessible. Understandably, no one wants to clean window screens or gutters in the freezing cold. So, now is the time to take on these projects and create an outdoor living space that feels refreshed, inspired and organized. This will not only increase your home’s curb appeal, it will provide an inviting environment for your family to enjoy in the months ahead.

 

Surrounding Property

  • Inspect driveway and walking areas for freezing/thawing damage
  • Check pergolas and fences for needed repairs
  • Clean and fill flowerboxes
  • Add potted plants to entry and outdoor living spaces
  • Add new candles to hurricanes and lanterns
  • Make a list of anything you need additional help with

Home’s Exterior

  • Remove window screens and clean with vacuum brush (alternately, spray down with garden hose)
  • Clean windows inside and out; best to do on a cloudy day
  • Clean gutters and downspouts as the first defense against costly water damage (may require professional help)
  • Clean exterior woodwork and make any paint/stain touch ups
  • Clean accumulated grime from outside of garage doors
  • Clean outdoor lighting; replace bulbs if needed
  • Schedule roof maintenance

Deck, Porch, & Patio Areas

  • Clear away cobwebs from corners and ceilings
  • Inspect wood for signs of decay and make any needed repairs
  • Power wash deck and porch
  • Apply a coat of sealer to deck
  • Wash bluestone to remove debris or mold
  • Clean outdoor furniture (if stored, brush away dust and cobwebs; if left outside, spray down with garden hose)
  • Clean or replace furniture cushions
  • Wash grill grates (be aware of the dangers of wire grill brushes! Here is a link to other options); if gas, refill propane
Once you feel satisfied, sit down and admire the day(s)’s accomplishments. Before long, it will be warm enough to entertain outside and enjoy your home’s beautiful outdoor living spaces. You are ready.

Spring (Cleaning) is in the Air

Spring (Cleaning) is in the Air

A Streamlined Refresh for Interiors

Yesterday marked the first, official day of spring. Longer days and melting ice spark joyful anticipation here in New England. The change of seasons also means it is time to think about spring cleaning. People feel happier and more balanced when living in clean, organized space. But, we know for many, spring cleaning can be a daunting task. To make it less formidable, we will break it down into manageable steps. This week, we’ll focus on your home’s interior and provide a specific list of areas on which to focus. First we’ll include tasks for refreshing the home overall, and then we’ll break it down further by rooms. So don’t feel overwhelmed- you’ve got this. Put on your favorite music and before you know it, the yard will be blooming, windows will be open and your home will be sparkling.

Refresh throughout the home

  • Wipe down doors and trim work
  • Clean interior and exterior windows – let the light in
  • Spot clean walls and touch up any scuffed paint
  • Clean and treat floorboards- especially if you’ve had wet pets in and out all winter
  • Clean ceiling fans and light fixtures

Entryway and mudroom closet

  • Store your winter gear including snow boots, heavy jackets, hats and gloves – if it wasn’t worn this winter, consider donating
  • Thoroughly vacuum closet floor and re-organize any storage bins
  • Corral small items into baskets

Kitchen

  • Empty the refrigerator and throw out expired food. Wash drawers and shelving with warm, soapy water
  • Purge the pantry and clean all shelves and drawers. Forgotten crumbs can attract unwelcome visitors like ants and pantry moths
  • Remove all appliances from counter and clean behind each one
  • Remove build-up on kitchen cabinets – try Parker & Bailey Cabinet Cream or something similar
  • Polish stainless steel appliances – always with the grain
  • Deep clean microwave and dishwasher; be sure there is no trapped food
  • Check countertops to see if they need of sealer (stone) or catalytic finish (wood)

Living room and dining area

  • Deep clean rugs and upholstered seating
  • Remove all books and displays from shelving and clean
  • Polish silver
  • Add fresh flowers to dining table

Bedrooms

  • Purge closets of winter clothes, shoes and accessories – consider donating items not worn by family members
  • Remove heavy winter blankets from bed and change to lighter linens
  • Flip all mattresses

Bathrooms

  • Change shower curtains
  • Purge worn towels or bath mats
  • Organize vanity – dispose of expired medications and cosmetics
  • Clean tiled areas and check grout for discoloration
  • Clean mirror thoroughly
When you have finished, sit down and relax. You’re almost there. Next week we will focus on spring cleaning for outdoor living spaces. Soon you and your family will be enjoying a streamlined, sparkling, clutter-free season.

Go Green

Go Green

Three Ways to Cut Cost & Help the Environment

In our book, Timeless, Patrick shares his core belief that good design has the innate power to improve people’s lives and the lives of those around them. For the last four decades, this principle has guided and inspired our approach to historic building and restoration. This concept also applies to something quite fundamental to all homeowners: energy efficiency. After all, utilizing new design technology to reduce energy costs and help the environment improves all of our lives.

When restoring an older home – or designing a historically motivated one – we are often asked for energy efficient recommendations. Some people mistakenly think that a home must be modern to go green. This is not the case: traditional architecture can be energy efficient as well. While there are myriad ways to improve a home’s overall efficiency, here we will share three ways we recommend cutting energy costs and improving comfort for our clients.

First, focus on the home’s biggest energy expense: the HVAC system (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning). This typically accounts for half of a home’s annual energy cost and environmental footprint. Not to mention how much floor space it has traditionally consumed. But today’s homeowners now have the option of installing a boiler that is so efficient and compact it can be hung on the wall. We typically recommend Buderus or Viessmann units that measure roughly 3’ x 3’ x 1’ and run on propane or gas. Described as “one of the most economical and clean ways to heat your home and reduce your monthly heating bill,” the gas or propane fuel used to power these units are both characterized as environmentally friendly – but propane has the edge with zero environmental footprint. And, because these units are wall mounted, they do not take up valuable floor space in your home. Additionally, these units will not flood or rust, a big homeowner advantage, as rust is what often causes system breakdowns. While these furnaces require an initial investment, their superior energy, space and environmental efficiency are an excellent payoff.

A home’s second largest energy expenditure is the water heater. Luckily, there are now are excellent options for clients looking for energy and environmentally efficient alternatives. One of our favorites is a tank-less style water heater, which is lightweight, compact, has low gas emissions and is also wall mounted. It runs on an eco-friendly gas burner, which supplies on demand, fresh hot water. This type of water heater is great for larger homes with high water demand. We all know how it feels to be late in the shower line, only to find there is no hot water left. That problem is now solved. Unlike older, space-eating heaters that store water in large quantities, these units heat water only when needed and deliver fast, unlimited hot water. That means significantly reduced water consumption. So, go ahead, shower while washing a load of laundry – and run the dishwasher while you’re at it. This is a game changer.

Another key consideration when building or restoring a home is selecting appropriate windows that are also energy efficient. Older windows were typically singled paned and therefore, were not very energy efficient. Now windows are typically double or triple paned with argon gas which provides better insulation value and overall performance; combining traditional style with functionality. Typically, we prefer either Marvin or Pella Windows in our homes as they offer historically accurate and exceptional cost-saving functionality.

While greener, energy efficient living is a highly relevant, in vogue topic for homeowners, it can sometimes be difficult to navigate. If you’re struggling to make these decisions, we hope this post is a helpful tool. Choosing design options that reduce energy costs and help the environment will improve your life – and your neighbor’s.

Snow Day

Snow Day

In Like a Lion

You know the saying: in like a lion and out like a lamb. That is the unpredictable, unmistakable nature of March. As New Englanders, we are living through this first hand. And while many of us long for the warm, sun-drenched days of summer, there is something truly magical about a newly fallen blanket of snow. Our yards take on a sublime serenity. The trees that looked gray and barren days ago now possess a beautiful depth and texture. So this week, let’s take a moment to appreciate the grace and beauty our homes take on in the winter season. Let’s recognize what our own backyards can offer during this special time of year – and the ways in which we can prepare for Mother Nature’s surprises.

We talk to our clients a lot about the importance of indoor-outdoor living spaces. Understandably, most people associate this with warm weather living. But that’s not necessarily true. For example, some of our homeowners believe there is nothing better than heading out into the brisk, winter air to lace up a pair of ice skates. If property allows, some may even design a skating rink in their own back yard to enjoy throughout the season.

Some clients who have a pool and outdoor cabana may choose to use the cabana as a cozy warming hut for adventurous skaters. What better place to enjoy a cup of steaming hot cocoa? The very bold may even light the outdoor grill or fire pit. Just grab some chairs and heavy blankets and voila – an outdoor living space with multiple, season-round uses.

While there is something quintessentially New England about a home newly blanketed with snow, there are some practical considerations for winter storms as well. Snow and ice can make getting in and out of your house difficult – even dangerous. For that reason, when our clients are designing (or renovating) their driveways and walkways, we often recommend adding a heated walkway. Typically, this is a heating system embedded into the walking area with tubing that runs under the surface. Glycol runs through the tubing causing heat to radiate up to the pavement. This prevents snow and ice from accumulating and ensures safe passage after a storm. A heated walkway is a great alternative to heavy shoveling or plowing and eliminates the worry of slippery accidents. Alternately, having a reliable property management team to help clear the way is another meaningful option. One company we recommend for our Cape and South Shore clients is E.J. Jaxtimer Builder, who has excellent, dependable landscape and property management teams.

Another snowstorm essential is having an emergency generator on hand. The downside to a beautiful snowstorm is a potential power outage and a generator can provide temporary power – and peace of mind – in this circumstance. Typically, generators run on natural gas or propane and can either be small and portable, or large and permanent, remaining on standby in the event of a storm. Depending on our homeowner’s needs, we always recommend having a backup generator, particularly in rural areas.

Right now, many of our yards are covered in a sea of pristine white; the composition of our hedges and rooflines has transformed. Take it in – embrace the lighting and outdoor textures of your home on this winter day. Before you know it, March will be out like a lamb.

“Ahearn White”

“Ahearn White”

Paint Secrets Revealed

Today we are going to tell you a secret. It’s something people ask us all of the time – and we understand why. Choosing the perfect paint color is hard, especially if – like us – you love the look and timeless sophistication of white interiors. But white color choices can be positively daunting. With literally hundreds of white paints and finishes to choose from, what, we are asked, is our signature, “Ahearn White?”

Let’s first consider why white paint can be so tricky. The lighter the paint color, the more affected it is by light. White is highly reflective and can take on endless characteristics based on the time of day. For example, depending on a room’s lighting, a shade of white with no apparent sign of pink or yellow in the paint sample can suddenly take on those color hues during the day. And, with its high reflectivity, some whites can read as stark or institutional, while others can feel too neutral, lacking in depth. So, the question then becomes, what white is just right?

The paint color we use on every house interior, coined “Ahearn White” by our countless clients, is a shade that reads beautifully throughout the home’s changing light. We want our rooms to exude the feeling of antique white during the daytime without appearing overly yellow when transitioning to the evening. And, we long for a white that feels neither too warm nor too cool. So, through endless trial and error, we found a color that meets or even exceeds our client’s expectations for the perfect white.

Are you ready?

Our signature white is a combination of two colors from Benjamin Moore’s off-white color collection: 50% China White and 50% Linen White. Believe it or not, Linen White itself is a compilation of 152 white and off white colors! And, China White, described as having “the soft, subtle patina of fine china,” is decidedly sophisticated on its own. The combination of these two colors results in a gorgeous and highly versatile shade of white we use in all of our homes.

To create a seamless flow throughout the house, we paint all of the larger main rooms in this color using flat latex on the walls and ceilings and Satin Impervo on the trim and millwork. The color provides a gorgeous foundation from which to layer furniture, texture and color – and to highlight interesting architectural details.

People often joke that if they win the lottery, we will be their first call. In the meantime, we thought sharing our signature “Ahearn White” would make the overwhelming choices in paint colors a bit less daunting. It’s our secret to you.

Kitchen Strategy

Kitchen Strategy

Designing Your Kitchen to Work Hard So You Don’t Have To

Some say that life is lived in the kitchen. After all, the kitchen is the heart of most homes today. While the space was once considered purely utilitarian and frequently closed off from the rest of the house, the kitchen has evolved into the family epicenter, consciously integrated into the overall flow and character of the home.

Functional design and organizational techniques are essential for all of our kitchens – especially given the significant role the space plays in our client’s lives. The overall flow including workspaces, storage, and shelving options are all essential factors we consider unique for each homeowner to help simplify their lives. And everything has a home with customized drawers dedicated to flatware and cooking utensils, along with pull out drawers for cookware or spices, for example.

Our first recommendation is to incorporate full-height cabinets which visually heighten the ceiling and provide optimized storage options: everyday items can be at hand’s reach, while less frequently used items and appliances can be stored up above. Those with tall ceilings can add upper cabinets for even more storage!

Storage above a refrigerator or oven is another option for less frequently used items while cabinet garage doors or a conveniently located butler’s pantry can be used to store or hide large appliances. A more discreet storage technique – and possibly one of our favorite tricks – is to transform columns and cased openings into usable space. All of these options help reduce clutter but sometimes our clients have meaningful pieces or decorative accessories. In this case, we recommend glass cabinets lit from within or classic open shelving to highlight those pieces.

For many, the island or peninsula is a kitchen’s primary gathering spot – not just for food preparation, but also for social entertaining or eating a meal. The island also serves as a key functional component. Refrigerator drawers and dishwashers can be compartmentalized around an island, while wine coolers and microwaves can be handsomely integrated into the design. Adding a practical work surface, such as wood, helps set the island apart, as does choosing a beautiful, decorative overhead light fixture. If designed properly, the island can be the most functional space in the kitchen.

Acknowledging this is a highly utilitarian space, to create a sense of warmth in the kitchen we use millwork such as beadboard on our walls and beamed ceilings articulated in a beadboard. If a homeowner wants their kitchen to exude a distinctly modern tone, in which case we may choose storage options that feel a bit more tailored. For example, stacking wine elements on either side of an integrated built-in refrigerator can establish a sleek, tailored look. For homeowners looking for a more traditional look, nearly all appliances can be paneled to appear like furniture.

A kitchen’s design and functionality sets the tone for a home by increasing the ease with which a homeowner lives and entertains. Whether it is reclaimed timber beams or sleekly designed storage drawers, it should be an inspiring space that tells the story – welcoming all to the heart of the home.

Romance in Architecture

Romance in Architecture

From Courtships to Courtyards

Today is Valentine’s Day – a date that many celebrate romance and love. The tradition began in the 14th century and flourished throughout the years until in the 18th century lovers began exchanging gifts such as flowers to proclaim their courtship.

Here we will recognize the day of love by sharing some romantic elements in architecture. Design, both inside and outside of the home, can articulate a distinct and timeless feeling of romance.

A home’s arrival sequence is the first opportunity to introduce a romantic tone. Grand, curving covered archways (porte-cochère), intimate portals and pergolas provide an appealing start to a sequence of encounters – and elicit a feeling of anticipation for what is to come. Traversing down a tree-lined, grass strip allée accented with beautiful plantings can frame and enhance the experience, while visual moments such as gardens or elements of surprise can add to the romantic sensibility.

While the approach is an important introduction, other exterior elements can play a meaningful roll in creating romance. A gambrel roof form, charming window boxes or a beautiful wrap around porch all create memorable architectural moments. Lighting is another way to add exterior romance to a home: A warm, layered glow can radiate romance throughout the property with a flick of a switch.

Of course, the inside of a home can exude meaningful of romance as well. These impressions come in varying forms – from arched openings to reclaimed beams to coffered ceilings, to name a few. Sometimes, romance comes in the form of rich wood paneling or a wainscoting. Other times, it can be the intimate design of a sitting area, or a window seat with a stunning view.

The essence of romance can also be a personal experience such as a hidden garden, an intimate dressing or bathroom – or even a private view. As they say, love and romance is in the eye of the beholder. For some, it may be the alluring curve of a Palladian window; for others, a Romeo and Juliet balcony.

Here’s to romance, in all of its many (architectural) shapes and forms. Happy Valentine’s Day!

See more romantic images on our pinterest page here.

Breakfast Nooks

Breakfast Nooks

Not Just for Breakfast

Casual seating areas off of the kitchen, often referred to as “breakfast nooks” are increasingly popular in many of our homes. While traditional dining areas are great for hosting large dinner parties, the breakfast nook can accommodate a range of purposes.

Based on a homeowner’s objectives, a breakfast nook can add informal seating options or provide a solution for unused (or awkward) space that cannot fit a traditional dining table. Maximizing space is important in both large and small kitchens and a breakfast nook is a great way to add functionality. Typically located in close proximity to the kitchen, the area can be fully integrated with the design of the home, or have its own creative identity. The nook can also take advantage of special views and vantage points that are meaningful to the family.

To enhance the informal, cozy feel of the area, clients often mix seating options such as benches, chairs or custom banquettes. Statement lighting, sophisticated or rustic patterns can also provide personal style to the space. Clients also appreciate the ease with which the space can be updated: swap out a traditional rug – or replace chairs with upholstered benches – and voila, a freshened look.

In addition to its design flexibility, a breakfast nook offers homeowners a multitude of popular uses. For some, it is the treasured place to enjoy coffee and the morning paper. For others, it’s the favorite spot to work from home. At holidays, it may be the “kid’s table” or a place for family overflow. Or, it may simply be the essential, casual dining space used night after night: the most comfortable spot in the house.

So whether it’s large or small, rustic or formal, enjoy the many options of your breakfast nook: chances are, it’s not just for breakfast anymore.

Super Bowl Sunday

Super Bowl Sunday

The Best Seat in the House

This Sunday, February 3rd, over 100 million people will tune in to watch Super Bowl LIII. This game may well very break the record for the most viewed show in America’s broadcast history.

While some fans will watch the game in their favorite sports bar, the majority of people still believe the best seat in the house is in their own home. It doesn’t matter if you’re a die hard, never-miss-a-game fan, or a casual fair-weather follower – chances are you will be watching the New England Patriots take on the Rams in a favorite viewing spot. After all, the game is a great excuse to gather with family and friends on a chilly winter evening to eat, drink and socialize.

If you’re entertaining a large group this year, one favorite spot to congregate is the primary gathering space – typically the central sitting area on the main floor of your home. This room can accommodate a crowd and allows for easy access to the kitchen and bar. Once relegated to the basement, many of our clients now have an upstairs bar to assists in the ease and flow of entertaining. Arrange a buffet on your kitchen island or dining table and your guests can help themselves to food and drink. Easy!

Did you know that after Thanksgiving, more food is eaten on Super Bowl Sunday than any other day in the year?

While having the kitchen close by can make hosting tasks easier, some clients prefer to have their kitchen a bit removed from the central entertaining space. However, a nearby bar is always an entertaining bonus.

Some of our clients may also choose to watch the game in their media room or in their downstairs entertaining space. A media room is a great option that provides optimal audio and visual technology (who doesn’t love having a single device to perfectly automate everything!) with the benefit of truly comfortable seating. Additionally, and possibly most importantly, this is where you’ll likely find the biggest TV in the house.

A large downstairs can also offer stellar entertaining space – especially if you have a bar and billiard or game area. With the added bonus a fabulous fireplace and a wine cellar, you may never want to leave.

However, not everyone likes a crowd. Perhaps this year you’re planning a smaller gathering in a more intimate space. Watching the game beside a crackling fire with your family may be just what you’re yearning for. Or, maybe you’re having a boys’ night viewing party in a separate space (or man-cave) where you don’t need the whole house, but you do need a great bar and TV.

So now you’ve found the perfect setting for game action – but what about the halftime show? Some fans can’t wait to watch the iconic halftime musical performances. Others prefer to use this time as a break from viewing to stretch their legs a bit…perhaps a quick game of billiards?

Whether you’re with a big group of friends or your immediate family, you are sure to be entertained this Sunday evening. So have fun, stay warm and celebrate the winning team from the best seat in the house. Go Pats!