How has it been over a year since we “EHD-alumns, turned-sister-team” reported back?! Today, Julie and I, along with Grace (our other EHD-found-friend who supported this project while juggling many others) are happy to say it’s been for good reason. We have a couple of large projects that will be INCREDIBLY fun to share when they are installed this/next year. We also aim to revisit some more E Design reveals (of which, we’ve nearly reached 300!) soon. (Shameless self-endorsement: you don’t have to be in Los Angeles to work with our team! Join us through E-Design!!!!)
For today’s reveal, we’re rewinding time… Back to the days of wiping down apples and oreo packages before bringing them into our homes, back to when wood prices were sky high and sofas were taking 9+ months to deliver instead of the “currently-impressive” four months… yes, I’m sorry, we’re going back to 2020… to the Days of Quarantine… the “DQ”. During the DQ, VHD (Velinda Hellen Design) was a months-old team and were lucky enough to have a still-to-this-day-favorite client reach out with this proposal: “Is Ojai too far??? I promise it’s a nice break from LA!”. Alongside this client, during a crazy time, we found a new appreciation that “small improvements” really do matter! Changes don’t always need to be big, to be high-impact. Great news for most of us “human-projects-in-works”! I can speak for myself, despite all the therapy, there’s still clearly some sorta “mold or asbestos-like” infestation up in these “studs”. It’s probably safest to just keep some wonky drywall in place and look the other way, am I right?! (Legal Disclaimer: this is not home advice. If you fear spores below surfaces, call remediation asap. If you’re personally a little “wonky,” join the rest of us!).
Back in the DQ, Julie, who was the lead designer on this project, was new to the VHD team and we hadn’t-yet ventured outside of our own city for “Full Service” projects. Although, thanks to remote projects as a part of the EHD team, we already had tools for that type of experience. Our client’s promise of being merely a fun road trip away, nearby orchards, and a tour of a newly-attained Airstream had us nature-needing designers trekking. When we arrived, the space looked like this:
Upon meeting our client, we discovered that during a time of absolute unease, she was, well… an ease and a delight! Frankly, we had forgotten anything in the world could possibly be so. She and her husband are smart, have great taste, communicated well, already had a contractor that they trusted, and the capacity to serve as their own project manager. This is something we never really encourage, but in a household of multiple lawyers, we didn’t doubt that every “T” would be crossed. We felt lucky to get to help (and eventually camp with???) this client.
Appreciating simplicity, they wanted a clean look with a natural coziness that didn’t pull the eye from the surrounding views of nature. I’m SURE their THREE boys UNDER the age of 10 never distracted from this Zenful setting. But juuuust in case they ever did introduce chaos (doubtful) we all agreed some hidden storage and a better “running through and out of the house flow” might prove beneficial.
While the location and home were a dream, the allocations of some pretty unimportant walls were not. The dated, pass-through wall, half-heartedly divided the kitchen from the rest of the space unnecessarily. Meanwhile, the entry seemed to be missing part of a wall that would transform the function and visual impact of the home’s first impression.
By client-request, we originally explored additional footprints. For fun, here’s a quick look at a variation; the “what could have been”.
We love the puzzle-solving nature of the design process and appreciated a client who wanted to see varying project scopes in order to fully compare, but in the end, this was the simplified design we landed on! Notice that the “befores” shown above and the “afters” to follow are the results of changing only TWO, ITTY-BITTY PARTIAL WALLS. The major footprint, plumbing, and windows were left alone.
The aim was to solve the following dilemmas:
- A dated kitchen & dark, divided space
- The lack of an entry/landing space for the kid’s school bags/dog supplies & an awkward opening into the living room
- Missing kitchen functionality (for their needs), a want for updated appliances and ease for multiple cooks
- An overall lack of storage and visual “anchors”
So, onto the solve:
The first thing to note is that the layout of the major plumbing and appliances remained the same. To do this we simply combined the stovetop and oven into an induction range (which is environmentally friendly!). At first, we encouraged moving the sink from the diagonal, but it was important to our client to keep it there for easy surveillance of backyard activities, which I assume means watching her boys garden and meditate. 😉
We put a huge emphasis on seamlessness within this design in an attempt to keep the eye flowing throughout the zones of the home. Where it was previously unnecessarily divided, a few tricks helped hide functionality within visual unity! An obvious help was panel-ready appliances, which we love for their ability to contribute to a clean, unobstructed look. When it came to cost, this was a priority more so than shifting appliance locations. So, leaning toward accepting existing plumbing provided extra funds for added panels and panel-ready machines.
And while we’re hiding appliances, let’s talk about the coffee and small appliance “garages”! The desire to hide frequently used, usually countertop-located machines is common, but not all of us have the extra space to lose to added widths required for retractable doors (which has become a popular “appliance garage” solution). Since this was a smaller space and we needed to utilize every inch, the solution became soft-opening cabinet doors that operate on a mechanism to go “up” and get out of the way.
A few additional space-and-clutter-saving solutions we opted for: pull-out drawers to flank the range to eliminate “stuff” on the countertops (spices, oils, cooking utensils, and cutting boards). A small shelf above the range for an easy-to-reach surface space when cooking. Lastly, keep a “ledge” behind the corner sink to display some greenery & bring that Ojai nature feeling indoors.
By losing that unnecessary wall and keeping the sink in the corner, we were able to create a large, seamless island with a wonderfully “unbroken” countertop surface for cooking day prep, homework, crafts, and beyond! (By “unbroken” I mean there isn’t a sink or stovetop). We used the island’s depth to hide even more cabinets for storage on the stool side which is operated by subtle, finger-pull hardware. The design of the doors was meant to be softly disguised as a millwork face.
While on the other side of the island is where we have some necessities that are hidden away from view when you first enter the home. A built-in microwave with a large drawer below, in the middle two large drawers for pots and pans, and last but very necessary the pull-out drawer for trash & recycling, topped off by the staple of everyone’s home, the “junk” drawer.
The other note-worthy cabinets in the space are the full-height, countertop cabinets. We really hate letting vertical space go to waste in a smaller kitchen, but we didn’t want to overpower the eye with heavy/solid floor-to-ceiling cabinets since they were so close to the corner windows. We found a solution that our client could store infrequently-used items up top, while masking plates, bowls, and your favorite mug behind the glass fronts which creates a sense of depth and “airiness”. The MVP for this game: reeded glass. It comes with a lot of the expected perks of a glass cabinet (“visual room” and lightness) but it hides more. If you like to keep your cabinets styled and ready to feature in the next issue of (insert your favorite home magazine here), you may not need this option. If you have three boys, two dogs, and an active cooking life, meet your new best friend!
The dining room was simple, both in style and solution. The idea was to increase the “feel” of the size of the kitchen by confusing the eye as to where it stopped and the dining room began. So, we tied the tone/style of the custom buffet build into the kitchen cabinetry. Aiming again to reduce visual bulk, open shelving was utilized within the overall goal to keep most storage “hidden”. And as an extra, nod to the kitchen, the same wood detail on the sides of the kitchen island was used as the back of the open shelving. This also contributed to added depth and texture in this open dining space helping to define and “anchor” the area a bit more from its before version.
Both of these spaces lived within the eye line of the home’s main door, meaning they contributed to all “first impressions,” but not perhaps not as immediately as the entry itself. Our clients had lived in their house for years prior to renovating, which meant they knew what they needed more and less of within their space… and what they never used. The latter proved to be the under-utilized access between the front door and the living room. We decided to redesign this “zone” for something a bit more craved – a spot to “land,” put on shoes, and hang jackets. So, we turned that “dead zone” into storage, adding a drawer for shoes and hooks to the space above to hide unsightly leashes and doggie bags in baskets.
Then, on the other side of the new wall, we gained shelving in the living room, providing the perfect place to display book collections and family photos. The client loved the new spot for a cozy reading chair by the fire. Bonuses on all sides!
Since we’re in the living room, let’s look at the major impact the custom build had on the space. That’s really the only major change in the room…. Well, it’d be unfair not to emphasize what a MAJOR impact a good vintage rug can have. We actually added one to every room we touched on this project.
We customized a full-height, wall-to-wall storage unit, built around the size of their television and customized it to store large speakers and electronics. The design allowed for unobstructed sound and ventilation as well. We also balanced open shelving for displaying cherished collections and art with hidden storage for lots and lots of legos! Above it all, awning-style cabinets function well for accessing more seasonal items.
Small, careful changes made a big impact for our clients who proved, in the end, to be as delighted as they were delightful. And though we have yet to see them in person without masks, we’ve decided we’re invited along for their next Airstream camping adventure! Should they find themselves asking us for small-design solutions for said camper, SO BE IT! Bring on project #2. Until then, we’ll leave you all with one last, post-COVID thought: you still need to add at least a week or two to listed lead times, but your apples no longer taste like Clorox. Cheers to improvements!