As a real estate broker I often find that clients have problems seeing the potential in homes. Too many times they will have a knee jerk reaction to walk away because the house is in desperate need of a makeover. With my design knowledge and over twenty years of experience as a Realtor, it’s my job to help the clients look past the distractions and realize the potential. With the right vision and team in place, it’s amazing what can be done. Following is an interview with Nat about her personal journey on the makeover of their “dream home”.
1) What’s the biggest tip that you would pass on to someone that is entertaining remodeling their home?
Well, there’s three things I learned: First, it’s important to find a team that understands what you’re trying to achieve, and can stay within the scope of your budgetary limitations, while still shooting for the stars in terms of your wish list. Not as easy as you might think. Ask a lot of questions, be very specific about what you want, and make sure you take the time to get several different bids. This may be a huge generalization, but I think women tend to want to hire contractors who come across as friendly and outgoing, because we feel like, “Hey, I can actually talk to this guy”. Construction is obviously a very male-dominated field, and you can sometimes feel awkward asking questions or discussing issues with some pretty macho guys. But remember, you’re not looking for a buddy; the friendliest contractor isn’t always the best one. Personally, I tend to go for the practical types who “tell it like it is”; it saves me time because I know I can also speak my mind without having to tiptoe.
Second, you may have a very clear idea of what you want, but unless you’re an extraordinary communicator… it’s pretty difficult to accurately describe what you’re seeing to someone else, and have them picture the same thing. So don’t be afraid to use visual aids. If you think something looks odd while it’s in the process of being built, don’t be afraid to point it out. We’ve caught several mistakes that way, where the contractor had one idea about what we wanted, while we had another.
Third, try to be flexible and open-minded, and be ready to let go of some things. When you start living in your finished space, things that seemed like a huge deal at the time will turn into long-forgotten “blips”. I can’t tell you how many times our contractor offered alternatives that were way more practical… and beautiful… things we never would have thought of.
“Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Design is knowing which ones to keep.” – Scott Adams
2) Where did you get your inspiration?
Really, the inspiration was the house itself. I think it’s important when remodeling to make design choices that match (within reason) the era in which your house was built. Each house has an “original intention”, and I think it’s best to try to reclaim that as much as possible instead of fighting against it, or imposing your own tastes on it. For example, the stark modern mid-century look is very hip, and I love it too, but I’ve seen it overused in 1920s or depression-era homes like ours. To me, it never quite fits. Sometimes homeowners fall in love with the latest trends, and don’t really think about what it’s going to look like in five, ten, even twenty years down the road. Some choices can become dated pretty quickly.
In our case, we looked at historical records, other 1920s remodels in the neighborhood and online, and tried to find materials that were similar to what was used back then, like subway and hexagon tile, timeless materials like marble and black granite, old-timey fixtures, crystal knobs, etc.
We also used a warm antique white paint all over, with a stark bright white on the ceilings and moldings, and black or charcoal accents in either the tile, counters or grout. We refinished the original wood floors in a dark flat espresso, which provided warmth and contrast. If it was still in good working order, we tried to re-use anything we could that was original to the house. If we couldn’t, we found something new that looked just like it.
3) What is your most proud accomplishment?
You know, we had a lot of fears about buying this house because although it had great bones and everything looked solid, it was in such a terrible state, cosmetically speaking.
As first time home buyers, it’s difficult to see past the gross carpet that hasn’t been changed since the 80s, or the cavernous 1970s kitchen with cabinet doors hanging off the hinges, cardboard covering up the windows, cracked tile… there’s no question this house needed a huge amount of TLC and we were initially scared off by what we felt would be too much of an undertaking. You hear so many horror stories with remodels, massive problems, costs spinning out of control… but for some reason, we kept coming back to it. After a few visits, we started seeing what it could be. From that point on, it’s like the stars aligned and the universe said, “This is the house for you. You’re going to “man-up”, roll up your sleeves and make it great again.” I’m proud that we were able to get over our fears, and jump right in without looking back. For cautious people like ourselves, it was a leap of faith, and somewhat out of character. But we’re so happy we did it, and the experience was so enriching that we can see ourselves doing this again for our next property.
4) Looking back, is there one thing that you would change in your remodeling process?
The only thing that comes to mind is “claw-footed tub”. Every girl wants one… I don’t know why, but we do. We were hitting a deadline in terms of ordering materials for our master bathroom, and there was some question as to the layout, and whether or not we could fit a tub, a standalone shower with a glass door, plus a substantial vanity, so we kept trying to figure out the best use of space, while trying to preserve the location of the original plumbing.
In the end, we went for a marble-encased tub and got our separate shower, too. But in hindsight, there was plenty of room for a claw-footed tub. We just couldn’t really picture it at the time. So although I absolutely love my beautiful bathroom, I sometimes think… it would be really cool to have a big, old-fashioned claw-footed tub in here. Hey… there’s always next time!
5) Is there a decorating trend that you incorporated in your own home?
I can’t identify a specific trend, but it’s a mix of high and low, while re-using or restoring what’s already there. What I mean by high and low is contrasting luxury materials with used or distressed items, or contrasting a high-end, classic look with industrial elements.
So for instance, Carrara marble and shiny black granite with industrial chrome or wrought-iron pendant lights.
Or a somewhat “fussy” crystal chandelier with a translucent black shade over an old table that’s been in the family for generations, and has never been refinished.
The palette is mostly antique white with touches of black to allow the architectural features to stand on their own, like the high vaulted ceiling in the living room and the beautiful fireplace, while using art, furniture, and fabrics to create focal points.
6) As an artist, did you find that helpful in the process and why?
I think the same skills I use in painting, drawing, or in my curatorial work, can translate to remodeling and decorating. The principles of composition still apply, whether we’re talking about a painting, a photograph, a room, or a house. They can be applied to your design choices, the placement of furniture, the materials and finishes you choose, and how they work together. They can influence your decision to open up a kitchen, or move a wall. You take a step back, and you look at the overall picture. You’re in search of balance, harmony, you’re playing with light, you’re creating focal points… The difference is, design has far stricter rules than the art making process, which is why I feel it’s a little closer to curating. However, you can certainly take in an entire room, just like you take in a painting. And that’s not to say I wouldn’t benefit from the advice of an interior designer, who may have much better ideas than I ever could. But at least I know we’d probably speak a similar language.
Master bedroom before and after.
“We shape our homes and then our homes shape us.” – Winston Churchill
Nat George is a visual artist, curator and art educator in Los Angeles. She currently serves on the board of Twitter Art Exhibit, an arts organization that utilizes social media and public engagement to generate income for charities and nonprofits. Her work has been exhibited at DAC Gallery, The Annex LA, City Market Gallery, Los Angeles Center for Digital Art (LACDA), Katalyst Foundation and Siren Studios (Los Angeles), SCA Project Gallery (Pomona), as well as Arena 1 Gallery (Santa Monica).