Ceiling the deal: Coffers or Vault?

Here’s a design trick to file away in your brains: Never ever ignore the ceiling.  It’s often why tract houses can feel boring. It’s why many historic houses are so off-the-charts charming. And it’s something my clients and I spend a lot of time figuring out when building their homes. In each room — what are we doing to the ceiling?

When Tyson and I bought Camp Sterling, we had planned to raise the ceiling up a foot or two, but upon meeting with inspectors and contractors, we learned that we’ll need a new roof in 3-5 years. And by the time we’ve raised all the ceilings, it could be just as cost effective to take the whole roof off — so that’s what we will do.

Our ceiling plan is now wide open, and I’m of two minds.

The trend in Arcadia these days is the modern farmhouse – complete with beams and vaulted ceilings. Tyson and I have walked through some gorgeous remodels with peaks soaring high, like these:

Above: Clements Design

Above: Arcanum Architecture

Above: J. Banks Design Group

And I love to do the Arcadia farmhouse look for clients. But I’m more of a  modern traditional girl who wants to wake up in Paris in the 1940s, with no agriculture in sight. (Except perhaps for a country weekend – with lemonade and a picnic.)

Which brings me to my second idea – the coffered ceiling. We’d raise the ceiling height to 11′ and the coffers drop down from there. There are a couple of cool ways to do this — with MDF, with traditional framing, or with actual millwork. Either way, just add trim. Lots and lots of trim.

Which would you do?



Or coffered?

By |2015-04-13T03:01:52-07:00February 26th, 2015|Jaimee's Home Renovation|5 Comments

Warm thoughts on a cold morning

On this cold morning, Camp Sterling feels distinctly like my grandparents’ house. There is far-flung family here, which means bacon crisping in the kitchen, and orange juice and tulips on the table. The halls are filled with the sound of long, hot showers being taken ward off the chill. Beds are deep with blankets and loosely made. Hair at the breakfast table resembles the crumpled sheets.

I have a glimpse of what this house was meant for, and the lives this house has held.

And this morning, I only feel joy. Our house is going to have another beautiful life.



By |2015-04-13T03:02:07-07:00February 25th, 2015|Jaimee's Home Renovation|0 Comments

A guest comes to Camp Sterling

When we moved into our previous house, I was thrilled to have my first guest room (pictured below). I had visions of friends coming for long weekends to discover chocolates on their pillows, piles of white towels in the bathroom, and breakfast tacos and fresh juice in the morning.

I hung a canopy, bought new towels and kept the sheets bleached and crisp, but no one ever came to stay in our guest room — except my mom, who lives in Gilbert. (She is such a nice mom.)

Tonight, we are having our first proper out-of-town guest. And, of course, our guest will be coming to stay at Camp. In a room with faux wood paneling over one window and drapes hung with string over another. The hostessing gods really have it out for me.

(Dear Kip, we are still totally excited that you’re coming.)

Our former guest room – photo by Isaac Bailey

Our guest is Tyson’s brother Kip, and last night – Tyson pulled up all the remaining carpet tack strips in his honor.

I set about pulling together the perfect guest room — and oh, the dichotomies. Kip and Tyson will tease me about this for years to come. These are my requirements:

1. Chocolates on the pillow. Tyson’s mom does this for me, and it always makes me feel like she was excited that we were coming. Tyson plans to tell Kip that it’s his dinner.

2. Fresh flowers on the nightstand — and in the bathroom, and on the dining room table. May our guest not notice the garden of weeds in the backyard.

3. An extra blanket folded at the end of the bed. May our guest be protected against our 55-year-old windows that happen to let in as much cold air as a screen door.

4. A stack of fluffy white towels  – always white. They feel more fresh and clean. (These are my favorite.)  May our guest not notice the linoleum, which seems to have been stained in one corner with purple hair dye.

5. Mini toiletries in the bathroom. Ours are from the Ritz Carlton. Howl.

6. Quick and delicious breakfast provisions in the fridge — bacon, scrambled eggs, orange juice, and avocado toast. (Cook the bacon and whisk the eggs the night before to make the morning prep go extra fast.)

7. On the nightstand: a card with the wifi password, along with an extra house key on a large and distinctive key ring. (This one is cute.) The key ring ensures your key will come back.

8. Also, there’s a water bottle — a helpful gesture in any space and particularly at Camp – where the hall lights don’t work and our guest could get lost trying to find the kitchen in the night.

9. That reminds me. I should probably leave him a flashlight.

By |2015-04-13T03:02:23-07:00February 24th, 2015|Jaimee's Home Renovation|1 Comment

There is no way to say this nicely

With our house, we inherited two 30-foot palm trees that stand sentry on the edge of our front lawn. They look like medieval guards at the gate. I love them.

We’ve never owned such trees before. We’ve also never lived in a traditional neighborhood before — with joggers, moms with strollers, and couples on bikes.  Also, there is dog walking.

And so I have discovered that if you have large trees on the edge of your lawn, the dogs will stop, with the owners standing by, and “water” them.


I know I’m strange, but it really grosses me out, OK?

Just this week, I’ve noticed three bathroom sessions. I stood inside and watched with horror, wanting to howl “nooooo!” through the open windows.

Except I’m the new girl in the ‘hood, and I can’t be THAT new girl.

So I went and washed my hands instead. I have pulled weeds from those trees, people.

Technically, I believe it exhibits poor manners to let one’s dog to do its thing on someone’s front yard, but if I post a “no dogs” sign on the trees, I might as well also hang a sign on the front door that says “brat.”

In America, it is not OK to dislike dogs.

I know this because I’m not a dog person, and when that tidbit comes out, people are shocked. People judge. People think, “This girl, she needs to be watched. She’s dangerous. She’s unnatural. She’s not like us. We probably shouldn’t hire her. We probably shouldn’t be friends with her. We definitely shouldn’t date her.”

OK, so sometimes I’m a little overdramatic.

But I promise you that upon the above confession, I will now receive surprised and sad emails from my dog-owning clients, all of which will go something like this: “Really?! You’re not a dog person?! But you like my dog, right?”

George is the only one that knows. When I come over, ring the doorbell, and his dog goes insane, he yells, “Shut up, Sparkles, she doesn’t like you.”

God bless George.

So this is a conundrum.

Is there something wrong with me? I mean, not the dog person thing – clearly everyone agrees that such feelings are freakish.

But being so heebie-jeebied out by the dogs doing their thing on my front lawn — is that weird? Is anyone with me?

And what should I do? Put up a sign anyway and pass out cookies to all the neighbors once a week so that I will have friends? Try one of those repellant sprays? Stop looking out the windows? Consider a fence?

And really, I don’t necessarily want an answer, because I likely won’t do anything at all. I’d rather be a nice neighbor. I’d rather have better manners. I’d rather look away.

Like Kathleen Kelly, I just wanted to send these thoughts out into the void.

So happy Monday morning, dear void.

By |2015-04-13T03:02:41-07:00February 23rd, 2015|Jaimee's Home Renovation|5 Comments

The new weekend fun: Manicures and (Fume) Masks

We used to be one of those annoying childless couples who spent weekends going to the movies and to The Parlor for dinner, with Sundays dedicated to lying on the couch.

This weekend, after cleaning out the laundry room and scouring the grill, I plan to paint my yellow kitchen countertops and possibly the yellow linoleum kitchen floor. Again, these are $20 6-month survival tactics.

The DIYers in blogland insist these tasks are easy – although the paint formulas kill brain cells. I’m good with that. Currently, I’d like to think a little bit less.

And yes, both of the above are pretty stringent decorating don’ts, but I’m a desperate “do-it-for-now-er”. Yesterday I hung up draperies from a big box store in our guest room, where Bunny put tinting film on an enormous window to keep out the heat.

The film is peeling around the edges, looks like a B movie, but will not come entirely off.  And of course, we have an actual guest coming (!$%&!).

Here’s the best part: I tied the drapery rod to some mystery leftover brackets with twine. And that’s pretty much how it’s hanging.

Yes, I spend weekdays designing flooring concepts, millwork details and ceiling plans for my clients’ 8000 square-foot multimillion dollar homes. There are gorgeous custom draperies galore.

And I spend weekends tying my own curtain rods up with string.

Please don’t tell.

(In the new house, there will be new windows, with appropriate and worthy draperies that I best start saving for right now.)

Anyway, after I kill my brain cells with truly toxic paint, I am going for a manicure, which sounds like some pinnacle of bliss.

I always choose the same colors. Boring, perhaps, but I’m a classicist.

For a gel manicure on my hands, it’s Essie’s Amusing Bouche (similar to Mademoiselle).

For traditional polish on my hands, it’s OPI Bubble Bath.

For toes in Fall and Winter, OPI Big Apple Red.

For toes in Spring and Summer (it’s time to switch!), OPI Cajun Shrimp.

(P.S. My favorite nail spas are The Nail Spa at Lincoln View, where there’s a masseuse to rub your shoulders during your mani-pedi, and Sundrops, for an experience that’s always a treat.)

Happy weekend! May yours be free of Home Improvement.

By |2015-02-20T07:55:24-07:00February 20th, 2015|House Renovation|2 Comments

A little something new

As of last night, we have a working oven.

To reward my hard-working husband, who brought this glorious moment to fruition, I am going to crack open a new cookbook.  I bought it because the Barefoot Contessa said that it was her favorite new cookbook. In the kitchen, I do what she says.  Success inevitably follows.

Huckleberry Cafe is a beloved Los Angeles hotspot, and the new Huckleberry cookbook from owner Zoe Nathan gives up the goods. It’s all fruit-filled crumbles and egg-topped melanges and brioches rolled around oozing blueberries.

Every page looks utterly diabolical. I cannot wait.

I also now require a trip to the Santa Monica bakery itself — a favorite of Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Garner, to boot.

I believe I am going to start with the Blueberry Cornmeal Cake, reputed to be one of Huckleberry Cafe’s best-sellers. Look at this thing.

Recipe here.

And then next week we can discuss the diet and exercise program I will begin, because this stress-eating comfort-food business is going to make for an unhappy summer.

But first, cake.


By |2015-02-19T07:03:58-07:00February 19th, 2015|Recipes|0 Comments

The Bad-On

It has been a wretched 24 hours at Camp Sterling. My charmed “Oh Bunny” sighs have turned to “OH, BUNNY” squalls, and really, Bunny, I would like a word.

In the ’80s, Bunny decided to enclose his patio, turning it into what our Realtor named the “Bad-On,” because it is an add-on, and it is all kinds of wrong. The ceiling slopes so low that my 6’3″ husband skims his head. There is no A/C. The walls are, of course, faux wood paneling. The window goes into the hall bath shower (?!@$%?!).

The Bad-On is coming off.

But in the meantime, Bunny didn’t get a building permit – or build the Bad-On to code,  and that is causing some serious headache and heartache this week at Camp Sterling.

Xanax, anyone?

Last night, in an effort to calm our sad hearts, I thought I’d make dinner. It has been weeks of take-out, and the thought of another paper sack made my stomach turn.

Our stove is still not functioning — and neither is the washing machine — but I was determined.

When I was little and in love with all things Little House on the Prairie, my brother and I liked to play “pioneers.” We’d turn off the lights, get flashlights, and make tents out of sheets. My mom would bring us sandwiches. It was heaven.

Playing pioneers as an adult is, um, different.

I noticed yesterday that our barbecue grill has a burner we have never used, and  thought, “Oh, yes. Laura Ingalls wanted me to notice that.” So I drove to the store, grabbed the groceries, came home, and went to work preparing tacos — the 10-minute classic kind my mom used to make, because yesterday, I really wanted my mom.

I heard my husband in the back of the house, chipping out the last of the carpet tack strips. While dinner cooked, I stood in the spot in our backyard where there is a small view of Camelback Mountain.

The sun was setting, and the mountain was pink. I felt like I’d won the day, just a little.

I came inside and set the table with real dishes, for the first time.

There were even flowers in the center.

On our dining room wall, I’ve hung this framed quote from a Roald Dahl book, and last night, before dinner,  it felt so very apropos.

I called my husband to the table, and he walked into the kitchen.

“I ate dinner before you got home, Jaimee,” he said,  still very, very angry at Bunny, this house, and all parties involved.

So I spent dinner in the company of my phone, looking up prices of fantasy airplane tickets for this weekend.

Later that night, in bed, I paged through my old paperback copy of “Under the Tuscan Sun,” in which author Frances Mayes survives a house renovation in Italy.

These days, I find it very encouraging.

She had scorpions – and we don’t (yet), so at least there’s that.

On Frances Mayes’ worst day, she took a shower, put on a white linen dress and went to town for a shopping spree.

I think I should do that in San Diego.

By |2015-04-13T03:03:09-07:00February 18th, 2015|Jaimee's Home Renovation|3 Comments

The Living Room vs. Great Room Debate

I’m working on our new floor plan.

My mother is convinced that we need a living room separate from the open kitchen/family room area.

Our realtor, Rob Kukla, also remodels Arcadia houses and is convinced that we don’t.


(Design by Myra Hoefer – one of my most favorite living rooms ever)

I’m leaning toward siding with my mother, as all good daughters should. She says that when and if we have children (and that’s still just a dream, friends), I will want a room that’s pretty and presentable at all times.

Toys, she says, will invade our lives. Bouncers. Swings. All manner of red plastic gadgets that will surely drive me to the brink of sanity. (Who wants to let me design pretty baby gear? Who wants to tell me which baby gear is actually necessary?) When I was a kid, we had to keep our small collections of toys in our rooms and there was no such thing as a twilight turtle or a wipe warmer.

My client, Tiffany, who has one of the most beautiful homes ever (and yes, I will show you, but it’s on deck for showcase in a magazine), says that her formal living room has turned out to be an excellent place to sit and talk on the phone  without being interrupted by her children.

“They never think of looking for me there,” she said, giggling.

And that all sounds pretty genius to me.

(Design by Rafterhouse – an Arcadia remodeling company)

However, if I let go of my living room dreams, we won’t have to add on quite as much square footage — thus preserving the budget for other things. Like a back wall built entirely of windows — which we are having either way. Or his-and-her offices. Or a wrapping paper station in the laundry room.

I have always wanted a wrapping paper station.

Design by Urban Grace Interiors

So, let’s hear your vote:

Are you on Team Mom or Team Realtor?

Do I need a separate formal living room or will one great room suffice?

By |2015-04-13T03:03:27-07:00February 17th, 2015|Jaimee's Home Renovation|6 Comments

Part three: Setting up Camp Sterling

“How did Betty blow-dry her hair?” my husband wants to know as we examine the bathrooms, searching in vain for an outlet for my hair dryer.

Again, I think of my Granna, and realize that Betty probably didn’t. She went once a week to the beauty parlor to have it set.

I feel a flash of joy and tell my husband that I could absolutely go to the blow dry bar myself a few times a week.

He cleared his throat.

And the electrician arrived Friday afternoon.

There are now outlets in the bathroom, along with new but inexpensive vanity lights so that I can see to do my makeup, and an improved light fixture in the dining room — at my husband Tyson’s request, because he thought the ceiling fan was ugly.

And for Valentine’s Day, Tyson tore out all of the carpet in the living room, the hallway, and the dining room — “so that we can eat dinner,” he said, “without being grossed out.”

I have named our temporary home “Camp Sterling,” after my husband’s last name.

I’m feeling a little better about things, but I’ve never been any good camping.

My friend George insists we don’t have it that bad. When he moved into his house in the Encanto historic district, he says, there was a toilet in the entry. And it worked.

My friend Rebecca thinks we should have a ’60s-themed party the night before renovation begins — in honor of our retro home. She suggests serving mini gherkins on toothpicks and wearing a floral apron with a beehive hairdo. Also, there must be doilies everywhere.

She said this after I sent her a photo of the pink tile in the bathroom and the wallpaper in the kitchen.

This weekend, I painted over the wallpaper in the kitchen. I couldn’t take it any more.

(And yes, painting over wallpaper is a huge no-no, but in 6 months those walls are coming down.)

I’ve been told that Bunny — our home’s former patriarch — was a bit OCD about home improvements and doing things his way. Bunny also lived through the Great Depression, which means that every penny was probably precious. Bunny sounds like my Grandfather.

I can tell that Bunny installed this wallpaper — which makes much creative use of “patches.” I’m quite certain he installed the lock on the back door — which requires a key inserted on both sides of the lock to function, which means that last week, when my husband took the key, he unwittingly locked me inside the house.

Bunny also put up faux wood paneling in the two back bedrooms — which I also painted over this weekend, and which will also be eventually coming down.

Because Bunny installed the paneling over two windows.

Oh, Bunny.

By |2015-04-13T03:03:41-07:00February 16th, 2015|Jaimee's Home Renovation|1 Comment

Part Two: Betty and Bunny

Sometimes, to cheer myself up, I think about Betty and Bunny.

This was their house.

They bought it in 1961, raised a happy family here, and Betty even rode her bike around the neighborhood until she passed away last year. She was almost 90. Her husband, Harold, a teacher, died in 2003. He went by Bunny — a fact that made me love him immediately. They were married for 53 years. He called her his bride.

We bought the house from their son, a contractor.

“I know I should tear this down and build something great and sell it for a fortune,” he told me. We were standing in the street, looking at the front yard.

“But I can’t tear down my memories,” he said.

I looked up a photo of Betty the other day. She reminded me so much of my Granna — such grace and kindness in her eyes. I told my Mom about Betty and Bunny, and she cried.

From Betty, I inherited this tiny glass hobnail vase. I found it in her medicine cabinet filled with Q-tips, and I am holding it as a treasure and a talisman.

In this house, a family was happy. In this house, a husband and wife were married for 53 years.

In this house, there was always love.

I want that, too.

I want to build upon their memories.

The other night, after my tired husband helped me pull out the carpet in the bedroom (Betty’s son’s idea), and mop the floors, he held me close and talked about his dreams for the house.

“I’m excited,” he said. “We can have a backyard with orange trees and grass and a hammock. We can ride our bikes. We can go on walks.”

Yes, I said, and I thought about Betty and Bunny.

By |2015-04-13T03:03:54-07:00February 13th, 2015|Jaimee's Home Renovation|3 Comments


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