Friday, September 24, 2010

It's Greek to me

I live in Montlake, a small neighborhood just south of the University of Washington. A lovely, well-heeled neighborhood that sports rows of Tudor homes nestled together like a hamlet of old. Montlake is a quiet neighborhood except for one weekend in September! Every year, Montlake comes alive for the annual Saint Demetrios Greek Festival. People are bustling by, cars are jocking for spots, and the air is filled with delightful Greek music and the smell of slow roasted lamb.

Saint Demetrios Church in Montlake
It's an annual event for our family. I look forward to it like a kid does to Christmas - not because I am Greek, no, because I don't have to cook from Friday night through the weekend....and living in Montlake, I don't have to circle the neighborhood, waiting for a spot to open up. My girls can just walk down, grab a souvlaki, catch up with friends and come back home...baklava in hand!

It just doesn't get any better than this baklava!

It was over that baklava (ok, it was over a few) and a Greek coffee that I reflected on the value of community events and a strong neighborhood. I love seeing my neighbors in the beer garden, sitting together enjoying the Greek dancers, signing up for a tour of the church, or just out on their front porch watching the buzz!

I believe a sense of community in a neighborhood is all about the little things - like waving to residents, talking over the fences with them, watching out for one another (which requires knowing a little bit more about them than what color car they drive), and even things like saying "hi" at this annual gathering place. Community events provide an atmosphere that foster relationships with your neighbor without having to invite them into your home.

We have moved away from having a sense of connection in out neighborhoods to a pervading sense of isolation. It's as if we bought into the notion that life is better when we keep to ourselves.  But how is our isolation honestly working out for us? Is it better for our families? Have our neighborhoods improved over recent years? Are we safer and more secure? Are we happier?

With a growing sense of disconnection in our society, revitalizing elements of traditional neighborhood events can be very powerful for establishing a deeper sense of community in our neighborhoods. If we have a place to go, an event that pulls us together, it's more likely that connection will emerge.

It's amazing to think that how we construct things (like creating community events) can actually prod us to build relationships with others, and in turn produce a stronger community - one that not only has pretty houses, but has connected residents. The most important thing is to be intentional in small ways about building relationships with people.

If we want to be more connected in our communities and avoid the plague of isolation, then our posture must be to do something and get outside more often. Our community grows stronger when we do practical things like wave to neighbors, let the kids play in the front yard, invite a family over for coffee, meet new residents when they move in, take regular walks around the block, or even do something very easy - attend the Greek Festival this weekend.

I hope to see you there!

In all my postings, my goal is to provide inspiration and insight into home ownership, real estate, and to provide valuable resources.

la chasse au bonheur

Sunday, September 19, 2010


It's crush season here in least in the north central region. I know this because I just returned from a lovely weekend at the Sleeping Lady Resort in Leavenworth. This fine Bavarian town was in full swing.

"Crush", the industry slang for the harvest season, is when the grapes are picked, crushed and stored in barrels and it can be anytime between late August and November, depending on the weather, region, climate and varietal.

The tasting rooms in Leavenworth were buzzing, the local wineries were packed, and cases were being loaded into was a wonderful sight to see. I thought about all those bottles of wine...some would be enjoyed over dinner tonight, but most will be gently placed next to other bottles....where they will stay until their time.

It didn't take long for my mind to drift off to the places these fine bottles will land. I reflected on some of the gorgeous, unique, colorful and, shall I say, "creative" wine cellars I have seen over the years. 

So, for all of you who enjoy wine, enjoy collecting wine, and enjoy designing beautiful spaces, this one's for you!

Many of my clients love wine and they love collecting wine. Some are lucky enough to have the space in their home to create a perfectly appointed wine room to showcase their enviable collection. Space is important for two reason, first because of the size of their collection, but also because they want a room that allows for a table and chairs, or at least a nice counter, so they can sit with friends and enjoy a fine bottle, or two. 

However, many houses in Seattle simply don't have the space for a wine cellar of this magnitude. But dedicated wine enthusiasts are clever homeowners and they are able to find a small room, usually in the basement, that can be transformed into a delightful cellar. 

For this beautiful cellar the owners created a warm feeling by installing a tile floor, racking for 1,800 bottles, and painted the walls to look like stone. The lovely glass door allows the passerby to drink it all in. 

A little bit of Tuscany in such a small space! This mural artist is a doll!

A small area at the base of a staircase was carved out for a few hundred bottles. The addition of a hand forged iron rail, reclaimed terra cotta tile, and layers of apricot venetian plaster brings it to life.

However, there still might not be space for a wine cellar like these. I have one client who found the front hall closet was just perfect for their collection. I quite liked how my coat smelled after it had hung in their for a few hours! So, if you are in this category, check out some of these lovely options.

A coat closet easily becomes a wine cellar - perfect when space is at a premium.
Another example of how a small area can be transformed...warm wood, a glass front door, and the right lighting are key elements to any cellar, big or small. 

But, if you're anything like me, your coat closet is so jam packed with coats that you entertain only during the warm season. Don't despair, I have a solution or two for you!

This homeowner took advantage of unused space for this compact wine cubby - it was perfect as the basement is always cool and dry. 
During a recent kitchen remodel, a lover of white wine installed this vertical wine cooler and made room for some red wine as well. 
At the end of the day, if all you have is a drawer....than the drawer it is!

Whether you're a serious collector of fine wines - or simply an enthusiast, designing the proper environment for a wine cellar is critical.

Wine is a living organism and like all living things, it needs the proper environment in order to thrive, and to age well. As a result, the storage conditions of the wine are crucial. There are four main environmental factors to consider: temperature, humidity, darkness, and stability.

Temperature: The temperature should remain constant and experts recommend staying within the 55-60 F range. The cooler the temperature, the slower the aging process.

Humidity: Refrigeration is necessary to maintain both temperature, and proper humidity level (50-70%). The corks rely on the dampness in order to stay wet, and to keep the wine properly sealed. 

Darkness: Wine should always be kept from direct sunlight because ultraviolet rays will destroy its color and taste. The cellar should be softly lit, and only when occupied. 

Stability: Stability is key when planning your cellar. Not only is it imperative that the temperature and humidity of the cellar remain stable, but also that there is as little vibration as possible. Vibrations can rob many wines of flavor and bouquet.

Remember, wine cellars are no longer strictly confined to the underground or for the extremely wealthy. Most cellars today are converted from existing spaces as varied as sun rooms, basement work rooms, closets, and garages. So open a bottle and start planning. Cheers! Here's to la chasse au bonheur!

In all my postings, my goal is to provide inspiration and insight into home ownership, real estate, and to provide valuable resources.

Wine Cellar Design/Installations/Sources
APEX Wine Cellars and Racking (racking kits in modular designs)

Braveheart Construction & Remodeling

Design Wine Cellars

Pathway Design & Construction

Vintage Solutions

Wine Cellar Innovations
Mike Schoech
1-513-335-5755 or 1-800-229-9813

Mural Artist
Ann Fiser
Fiser Fine Arts

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Letting your personality spill out...

For many of us, Spanx has become the foundation of our wardrobe - it provides the necessary support that holds us together much like the concrete foundation does for our if Spanx is our retaining walls and support beams, than is the front porch our accessories? I think so.

In any given week I see over a 100 homes and when I drive up to a house that has taken their personality and laid it out there for all the world to see, I relish in that moment.

There is a lot to say for "curb appeal" and a lot has been written about it....more from the point of view of increasing the value of your home. As a real estate agent I can't turn my back on this fact, but that's not why we should take some time to "accessorize" our front porch (whether that be a simple stoop, expansive drive, or interior condo door).

The front porch is an opportunity to let others know a little bit about ourselves. I liken it to men's dressing. Men have the choice of navy, charcoal or black. These suits are their foundation but the tie, cuff links and shirt style give us a hint into who they are.

I like the idea that we give a warm personalized welcome to our guests and show a hint of who we are to the world.

The options for decorating your front porch can be as detailed as following the seasons. For some that means going all out, for others it is a simple nod to the season. Either direction, adding seasonal color, foliage and design elements brings it all together.

A dear friend of mine loves to celebrate every holiday and makes certain it spills out over her threshold, creating a warm welcome to friends and family before they enter her house!

I love following the seasons and I love self-expression but my schedule is daunting at times (much like yours I am certain) so I simplified my life by putting an iron bench and two urns on my front porch. As the seasons change so do the bench pillows and plantings.

But a entryway doesn't have to follow the seasons, in fact, an elegant and sophisticated approach is just as wonderful. The point is "who are you and how are you planning to express yourself to the great outside?" Below is  a beautiful example of this. The owner's love of color and sunny disposition shines through this home's classic front door with her gorgeous yellow screen and fun dog statues!

If all you have to work with is a front door, have at it, I say! That's the best place to start. This simple mirror was embellished with fall color and hangs proudly for all who come knocking.

None of this need be expensive. Taking loved items and repurposing them can be a start. And whether you decide to let the porch be a hint of what's to come inside, or wish to celebrate the seasons, accessorizing can be simple and fun....much like searching for the right earrings, scarf or hand bag.

Case in point, this classic Windsor bench from Target is only $339.99.

Adding color and some of your personality is as simple as adding pillows. They can make a bold, or quiet statement that reflects your style

So wear your style on your sleeve and let the world get a glimpse of who you are by putting some personality into your front porch. Not only will you be sending a warm welcome to all who come to visit, you'll be enhancing the value of your home by adding that simple accessory that just makes the outfit!

In all my posting, my goal is to provide inspiration and insight in to home ownership, real estate, and to provide valuable resources. 

Diana Armitage
HiDi Design

Tammara Stroud
Tammara Stroud Design

Pam Robinson
Red Ticking

Toni Cross
Seasonal Color Spot

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Zeek and Stella!

Growing up we always had a dog...a big fluffy one when I was little, followed by two different basset know the breed - really long ears and sad eyes, always baying at the moon. I have dogs now...two BIG dogs that, I admit, while they drive me crazy (just spent $150 cleaning my sofa after one decided it was more comfortable than his bed), I like having them around.

I get it! Dogs are cool.

So when I have a client that puts "backyard for my puppy (the one I am going to get when I find the right house)" at the top of their priority list, I listen!

Lisa, perhaps one of my dearest clients, was one such gal. For Lisa, taking the plunge into home ownership meant nothing more than a place to have a dog. Kitchen - didn't matter...bedrooms - not so much....bath - not a care...backyard with a fence - absolutely yes! Now don't get me wrong, Lisa made a wise decision on the home she bought, but topping the emotional reasoning for the home was a beautifully fenced in backyard, perfect for a new puppy.

Same for Michelle, a client referred to me a few years later by none other than, you guessed it, Lisa. Amazing how much these two women have in common. Michelle couldn't wait to own her home, a home with a fenced in backyard for a puppy she yet owned. Our search took us all over, but when we opened the gates of her darling bungalow in Green Lake, it was all over. She knew this was the yard!

It's difficult to search online for homes that will make a great home for a future dog. Nothing can replace seeing the homes in person. That meant a lot of homes, and a lot of time spent with each of them, which meant that these two dear friends became dear friends of mine. In the end, Lisa and Michelle found exactly what they were searching for - a lovely home for their new 'best friend'.

I have yet to dismiss the "real" reasons people purchase homes and find it rewarding to deliver what they are truly dreaming of. I relish in the fact that two strong, successful and warm hearted women are realizing their dreams and are creating a life under a roof I helped them backyard at a time!

Lisa with Zeek

Michelle's Stella