How an Online Interior Design Consultation Helped a Client Living 1,500 Miles Away
Last week, I concluded an online interior design consultation with a client living in Houston. They are designing a new home and the online consultation addressed their concerns about the 24′ wide x 50′ long room running across the back of the house. The room consisted of a kitchen, dining area and family room area. They had reached out to Wilson Kelsey Design for an online interior design consultation to discuss the following:
- Room ceiling height: 10′ or 11′ high?
- How to minimize the “bowling alley effect”. Boxed beams, yes or no? Their location and sizes?
- Other trim size questions such as window trim, door trim and baseboard sizes.
- Window openings – locations and sizes.
- Drapery options for the windows.
- How to integrate upper kitchen cabinets with crown molding at the ceiling.
- Does WKD see any other design issues in the room?
the ground rules for an online interior Design CONSULTATIon
Of course, we said we’d be delighted to help out. But first, we needed to agree on the Scope of Work and Fee in writing.
At the conclusion of our initial phone conversation, we asked the prospect to email their list of questions that needed to be addressed during the online meeting. I explained we would prepare an estimate of hours and email a description of the Scope of Work and Fixed Fee covering our preparation time and one review meeting. To indicate their acceptance of the Proposed Scope of Work and an Authorization to Proceed, they would either issue a check to WKD or wire transfer or Zelle funds to WKD’s account. In the case of a check, we would wait until the check cleared prior to proceeding with the work. We quickly agreed on the Scope and Fee. Funds were transferred. I began sketching. Let’s take a look at what transpired.
(Two items of note. First, everything is in writing. Second, we state very clearly that any design recommendations are concept only. There simply is not enough time to develop final solutions without in depth programming, detailed conversations about budget, schedule, etc. as we would do with full service clients. )
What was discussed in the online interior Design Consultation
Their first question about ceiling height was easy. The 11′ high ceiling was far better, as I could quickly tell with one elevation. I told our client the room’s overall proportion and feel would be so much better. The room would be brighter and feel more open. As drawn, the home’s exterior had coherent order and organization. An 11′ ceiling creates the opportunity for taller windows, making the first floor the “important” floor.
In new construction, most homes’ exteriors are designed first. In the sketch below, note how the main floor’s windows are taller than the second floor or lower level . These basic building blocks of design and classical proportion are still in use today. Through changing floor to floor heights, window heights and proportion, human scale is added to the design and detail of a home’s exterior (and interior).
Ceiling treatment is often an afterthought – if considered at all. In a room of this size and scale, I told our client the addition of boxed beams would be the perfect solution for breaking the room down to avoid the “bowling alley effect”. My caveat being the beams needed to be arranged to work in concert with the windows and porch columns. I explained the combination of patterning of the windows and beams would create “implied rooms” within the larger room. Strategically placed chandeliers could complete the ensemble. As an aside, the axis that is created between the front door through the foyer to the back door is classical architecture at its best.
Their next question was what might the beams look like?
First, we looked at how a room might look and feel with rough hewn beams in the ceiling. With the right furniture, fabrics and accessories, the room becomes warm and casual.
Second was a room designed by Belgian interior designer, Greet Lefevre. The rough hewn beams are painted or stained to match the color of the ceiling. Very elegant. Very chic. I pointed out how soft paint colors and wood tones create a very warm and cozy room.
Third, I showed how adding moulding at the ceiling can dress up a room with exposed beams. Because the photo showed untrimmed beams in the adjacent room, it created an opportunity to discuss the need to be thinking about creating a hierarchy of trim throughout the home.
Fourth, we talked about if you really want that “formal” looking ceiling, the best solution is a fully trimmed out boxed beam. What then pushes the room’s feel one way or the other is how the room is furnished. In this project Sally worked with our client to create a home that said, “Vacation!!!”
This was the option they preferred, with very simple profiles for cornice and boxed beam.
They next asked, “How big should we make the beams, cornice, crown, baseboard, window and door trim?” In a previous blog post, I show basic dimensions for trim in rooms with 8′ – 10′ high ceilings. Fortunately, the proportions are linear and it had been easy to calculate trim dimensions for a room with an 11′ high ceiling.
- Cornice: +/- 10 ½” height. Width: +/- 9″.
- Crown: +/- 4 ½”.
- Baseboard: +/- 7″.
- Window and door trim: +/- 6″.
Within these parameters, much depends on the final selection of the trim.
(Note: These dimensions are based on Doric Proportions. I felt a room of this size could easily handle the weight of these proportions. In a small room, I would have suggested using Ionic Proportions, which are lighter in scale.)
As we began discussing window sizes during our consultation, I first showed this sight line study to our client. I explained how I used the sketch to set window sill and top of window height limits. The intent was to give them context as we moved on to review the window size studies.
window elevations 1 and 2
With the sight line study under their belts, we tackled window sizes. I had prepared 8 studies.
Interior Elevation 1 showed what the windows would look like based on their current drawings. Their architect had done a wonderful job of drawing the exterior elevation, but had not drawn an interior elevation. I understand that to price and build the home, the interior elevation was not needed. But to my way of thinking, windows need to look good and function equally as well, both outside and inside a home. Both inside and outside, this window layout felt like a large picture window. Not at all “maintaining a level of traditional styling” as they described their wishes in their email. I drew Elevation 2 to see if eliminating a window on either side of the porch door might help. The answer was no. Although the smaller pair of windows to the right of the door offered a clue. See how nicely they fit between the boxed beams and the porch columns?
window elevations 3 and 4
A huge component of any online interior design consultation is education. I used interior elevations 3 and 4 to begin educating. I started with the simple building block of the exterior columns supporting the farmer’s porch. Their rhythm and pattern suggest how windows should be placed in the large kitchen/dining/family room. Picking up on that suggestion, windows in elevations 3 & 4 fall centered on the porch’s 11′ – 8″ column module, as does the porch door. Now there is rhythm, pattern, and texture, the basic building blocks of design. Other benefit? Window treatment options open up. Sconces can be placed on the walls between the windows.
What does placing sconces on the wall between the windows do, you ask? Two things. First, in rooms with tall ceilings, its critical to find ways to bring the room down to human scale. Sconces are mounted at heights that relate to the eye and human body. Second, their quality of light is so much better than a field of down lights. That’s not to say this room won’t need down lights, but their presence and use will soften the effect of a field of down light. (I suggested a few strategically located floor outlets for floor and table lamps, which will do wonders, too.)
Getting back to the elevations. Elevation 3, centers a pair of 3′ x 7′ windows on the porch column grid and maintains the drawing’s current 2′ off the floor window sill height. Elevation 4 asks the question, “What if we brought the windows to the floor?” and raises the possibility of triple hung windows. With small children, our client wasn’t sure about windows going to the floor.
Window elevations 5 and 6
There are times in the design process that you have to try something to prove to yourself and the client that the idea won’t work. We want to maximize view, but when does the window assembly become too large or is inappropriate for the design of the house? That’s’ what elevations 5 and 6 are about. We’ve gone three wide and really pushed whether there’s room for drapery and sconces in the interior. Looking at the exterior, the shape of the windows no longer give the elevation any lift. They are too square. Nor do they relate to the window shapes on the second floor. To my delight, our client picked up on these points right away! Education was working!
Window elevations 7 and 8
After looking through Patrick Ahearn’s book, TIMELESS, I realized I needed to look at one more option – windows with clerestory above. (I am not receiving a commission if you order this beautiful book.) I presented two possibilities to our client.
Adding the clerestories increased the overall height of the window assembly to 9′ – 6″. At this height, if one chooses a full cornice moulding detail, the assembly “kisses” the bottom of the cornice moulding assembly. In elevation 7, the window sill is reduced to 1” – 0″ off the floor. We’re squeezing every inch of glass out of the available height in the room. (Remember the sightline study?) Elevation 8, takes the assembly to its logical conclusion, by starting the windows at the floor. Initially, our client really liked this line of thinking. But after discussing costs, decided to go with a final design based on elevation 3. (Can you see how much more rhythm there is in elevation 8?)
The basic building blocks of the room were now thought through. It was time to put the icing on the cake – the drapery. I chose each image to illustrate a specific point.
In order to properly design and select drapery, you need to figure out what is the drapery’s intended function. Is it purely cosmetic? Privacy? Sunlight protection? Blackout? Not knowing the client’s needs, I presented options that could fulfill any of those functional needs. Potentially several of them. In addition, these photos allowed me to emphasize how a room needs to be designed as a whole. Not a kit of parts.
First, we talked about full height drapery that could draw across the windows, offering sun control and/or privacy.
Second, for a more tailored look, roman shades could be installed inside the window opening, leaving the window trim exposed.
Thirdly, a combination of the above. Perhaps the roman shades function for light control, the drapery for privacy. Alternatively, the drapery could be fixed panels, and the roman shades address sun control and/or privacy.
ONline INterior Design Consultation: to be continued…
We went on to discuss the challenges of designing a kitchen in a room with 11 ‘ – 0″ high ceilings. Such a room presents unique requirements and challenges for accessing upper cabinets and lighting. It’s easy to make your cabinetry look like it is working too hard when your ceiling is so high. I’ll save my conversation with our client about their kitchen for my next post. Stay tuned…
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