By Eileen Smith Dallabrida and Drew Limsky
With the pandemic shifting how we balance our work and home life, our living quarters also require some adjustment. From creating a home office that’s both comfortable and inspiring to expanding the spaces where we gather, local designers share how to craft a sanctuary that fits all our modern needs.
You have big ideas for your outdoor space. But what if your piece of the great outdoors is a tiny dot of green or a small balcony? For ideas on how to make the most of a small space, we turned to Mike Dodson, founder of Dodson Design of Delaware and visual merchandise manager at Old Country Gardens in North Wilmington. He’s transformed his own deck in Trolley Square, a mere 8 feet by 8 feet, into a vibrant open-air oasis.
Since the pandemic, there’s a much greater emphasis on spending time outdoors. What are some activities that can be enjoyed al fresco at home?
It’s all about maximizing the precious square footage that you have. Think about what you like to do. Do you enjoy reading? A comfortable chair or a chaise is your priority. I like to cook out and it’s amazing what you can grill on a hibachi. And since I live in Trolley Square, the deck is a great place for people watching.
How can we extend the outdoor season at home?
Outdoor heaters will give you more days in spring and fall. So will a nice firepit. A big waterproof umbrella will protect you from April showers.
Sometimes, the only outdoor space is a balcony. What are some of the options?
Pick a few big pieces that make an impact. If you have too many small pots, people start tripping over them. Balconies can get a little windy, so if you are planting in large containers, put in some ornamental grasses that sway in the breeze. Two chairs and a small table are ideal on a balcony, a place where you and a friend can enjoy the view and have a cocktail at the end of the day.
We don’t have much of a backyard, but our front yard is a good size. How can we make use of that space?
It used to be that the front lawn was just a big green carpet of grass. Now that we’re tired of staying in our bubble, the lawn is more like a front porch, where you can sit on a small patio and wave to neighbors. If you would rather have privacy, build a slatted screen. If you have the gardening bug, you can plant a lot of interesting shrubs and flowers in the front yard. Add some herbs so visitors can enjoy the fragrance. Put in a pathway of decomposed granite, which makes a beautiful crunchy sound when you walk on it.
We would love to have a water feature but don’t have room for a koi pond. Can you recommend some space-saving choices?
Consider a birdbath. It provides a water element, and you will have fun watching the birds. A small fountain is another option. There are lots of options for free-standing fountains, from classic to contemporary. A wall-mounted fountain that you install on the exterior of your home takes up very little room. And many fountains are easy to install, literally plug and play.
Any insider advice?
Think about your style and what makes you feel best. Is it cottage style? Mediterranean? I think of my deck as a beach house, a place for lounging and sunning. Another tip: Don’t leave lightweight objects outside that will blow away in a thunderstorm. Invest in pieces that are substantial. There’s a reason those wrought-iron Victorian benches have stood the test of time.
—Eileen Smith Dallabrida
With so many folks working remotely, the home oﬃce is fast becoming a necessity rather than a luxury. But how to create—or carve out—a space designated for work? We asked Montchanin-based designer Megan Gorelick, who has designed home oﬃces from Manhattan to Miami, for expert advice.
I started working remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic. I just learned I’ll be working from home permanently. How do I go from the dining room table to a true home oﬃce?
If you have the luxury of an extra room—preferably a little more private than the dining room—I would squeeze in a desk there. For example, if you have a guest bedroom, you could have a desk replace a nightstand and possibly use some storage space in the closet for a printer and files.
We’re hearing a lot about stand-up desks, especially since studies have found that too much sitting contributes to obesity and metabolic disorders. How does a standing desk work?
We always joke that “sitting is the new smoking.” I’m not a health expert, but I know that I personally prefer a standing desk. I have more energy and accessibility to grabbing samples etc. when I am working. I just literally think better on my feet. It’s a personal thing and the height is determined by the ideal size for you. Some desks are adjustable. I prefer a stationary height with a counter or barstool that can slip under the desk/table to give the option of sitting down.
My spouse and I both work from home. Any advice for a shared home oﬃce?
My husband and I started out that way when we were first married. We currently share an oﬃce but different workspaces. I like having him around! The biggest challenge is background noise during phone calls. There also are dueling Zoom meetings to contend with. It helps if there is a designated spot in the house where you alternate slipping away to when you take scheduled calls or Zooms. AirPods are lifesavers and should take care of most of the distractions. One of my favorite design elements is a partners’ desk that two people share. Ideally, it would be customized with cord homes in the center going straight down to a floor outlet with the wires concealed by a center panel.
How can I store all my stuff?
We love file bins with handles and use them all the time for files and stuff.
A home oﬃce should look organized and attractive. But there are wires everywhere! How do you tame technology?
It helps if you have a floor outlet. If not, then maybe orient the desk sideways on a wall next to an outlet while hopefully maximizing a window view. Don’t be afraid to cut a hole in a desk and add a grommet and some cord covers.
What about meeting clients in the home oﬃce? How do you make a space feel professional yet inviting?
Treat it just like you would a professional space, with a reception table or console to help the client check in, organize, pay an invoice or other transaction. A comfortable chair—even an extra dining chair—is great. Ideally, the client would have access to a nearby powder room without passing through too many family common areas.
What about lighting?
Task lighting is best, so make sure you have a desk lamp in addition to dimmable overhead lighting.
—Eileen Smith Dallabrida
If money were no object, Katy Wolfington, the president and principal designer of Waterbury Kitchen & Bath, would choose as her favorite tiles the classics, like Calacatta gold and statuary marble—as well as handmade ceramic tile sourced from Walker Zanger and Ann Sacks. And she is in a position to note every consumer preference and trend from her perch in Kennett Square—a felicitous location she calls “so fantastic that all you need are the words ‘kitchen and bath’ up front to draw people in.” Wolfington describes what today’s clients want:
If the price for your favorite marble is out of reach for some clients, what do you recommend?
There is a very high demand for porcelain, and there are a few that look real, but my trick is to always mix some real marble with it. I may put the porcelain on the shower walls, but I’ll trim the edges with a real Carrara pencil.
Is there also a high demand from other top-shelf tiles sourced from Italy?
Yes, because they are the better companies. I use a tile company called Emil. Everything about that tile is a better-made product. They tiles have rectified edges—they’re superclean so the grout lines are really small. People who are willing to spend the money definitely get the better product, which doesn’t mean that a $1.50 subway tile can’t look incredible.
And subway tiles are still very popular, right?
Absolutely, it’s still a go-to and timeless if you do it right. For a backsplash, you can do a subway tile with a beveled edge. I like two companies for that: Sonoma and Adex.
Can you describe a big shift in clients’ taste since you’ve been in the business for 30 years?
Around 2005, all of a sudden everyone wanted white marble. The Hamptons and California drove anything with texture of depth out of the market. Where we are—Chester County and Wilmington—people are a lot more conservative, with older homes, so we held onto that a little longer than most. I find myself having to go to Devon Tile and Petragnani [Brothers Tile & Marble], where they specialize in that.
— Drew Limsky