Monday, December 9, 2013

designing the dining room for entertaining

The dining room plays host to the finer things in life. It offers a place for friends and family to dine and divulge in complete comfort. With the holiday season upon us, we turn our attention to designing the ideal formal dining room to toast family and friends.

Because a dining room is typically not an everyday space, make it stand out from the crowd. A dining room should feel special. It shouldn't feel the same as the place you have cereal in the morning. Here are some tips for creating distinctive dining room decor.

no. 1 Put up some pattern
Apply patterned wall paper. It works well in a dining room because it's interesting and stimulates conversation.

no. 2 Add some sparkle
Add a little bling (something that sparkles), like a crystal chandelier.

no. 3  Design in some breathing room

Scale chairs to fit the table so you and your guests can eat comfortably.

no. 4 Don't skimp on the rug size

Select a dining table that is 30 inches high and a rug that's wide enough to fit under the chairs. 

no. 5 Add a mirror

Hang an appropriately sized mirror. When a mirror catches the reflection of a chandelier, the entire room feels special. 

Do's and Don't's for formal dining room design

no. 1 Light it up
If there is one room in the house that needs lighting options, it's the dining room. Sometimes you need the room to be brightly lit so you can set the table or prep the food. Other times, you need it to be dimmed down.  Mix sconces, chandeliers, buffet lamps, and recessed lights to suit your needs.

no. 2 Dial it down
If a formal dining room is too stuffy or serious, it may go unused. Make the room feel welcoming by mixing rustic pieces with refined wood and glass, and case goods with upholstered finishes. An eclectic look makes the room feel more accessible and less like a showroom.
no. 3 Leave some elbow room
Don't make your guests feel like canned sardines. Leave ample space for chairs, tables, and traffic paths. 
no. 4 Soften the edges
Few rooms contain more hard surfaces and edges than a dining room. When possible use window treatments, and upholstered dining chairs to add softness.
Tips for making room at the table this holiday season

Ensure that your friends and family can enjoy an entire evening by providing a foundation of well-appointed dining room seating.

When selecting seating for your dining room, consider how the chairs fit in your room, how they fit with your table, and how comfortable they are. Then, assess your style. Select a set of traditional Queen Anne, Windsor, or Ladderback chairs, or mix and match for a collected look. Modernize these styles by painting them a neutral color like, white, black, or gray. Alternatively, opt for ultra-modern acrylic chairs and add some pillows for comfort.

If you have a rectangular table, you can breakup the monotony of a matching set by adding a bench or featuring host and hostess chairs at either end of the table; wingback chairs work well and are nicely complemented by low profile Louis-style chairs.

Decide whether you want arm or armless chairs. If you opt for upholstered seating, select a durable material with subtle pattern so it will hide stains. If you already have chairs and just need an update, simply recover the seat fabric or add cushions for a quick and colorful revamp.

Until next time,

bon noel et joyeux fetes

Saturday, September 7, 2013

practically perfect in every way....

I am currently working with a European family with four young children. Their nanny, Charlotte, will be living with them so during our tours, we keep a keen eye out for rooms and areas within each property that will suit Charlotte and their needs.

While certainly not common, searching for homes that meet the needs of a live-in nanny is something I come across every once in a while. When I do, we end up guessing about what it is exactly that their nanny may need. I found that families want to do their best to make their live-in as comfortable as possible but are not sure exactly what that entails.

General guidelines can be found on the Internet, but no real specifics are offered up, so I reached out to a national nanny agency with top marks and here's what they recommend:

no. 1  Private bedroom and bathroom. Be sure to provide a space that is separate from the rest of the family.

no. 2 Furnishings. Provide a comfortable bed, reading chair, desk, lamps, dresser and television. It is a good idea to decide up from if the nanny can personalize the space (paint, art, accessories) to his/her style.

no. 3 Location.  Some nanny quarters are located away from the main residence (in a room above the garage or in a guest house on the property) but most will be a bedroom on the second floor, in a converted attic or in the lower level of the home. Providing a separate entrance, if possible, is ideal. Privacy is key!

no. 4 Temperature Control. Make sure your nanny can control the temperature in their own space. Adding a ceiling fan to a top floor room is ideal for the warmer months. Check into certified wall heaters for zone heating in the cooler months.

no. 5 Storage. Make sure to provide plenty of room for your nanny to store their personal items. A closet and dresser are a great start. Trunks and under-the-bed storage containers go a long way for storing off-season clothing and other less used personal items.

no. 6 Linens. Be sure to provide two sets of bed linens and enough towels to make life comfortable.

no. 7 Laundry. You will most likely share the laundry facilities. If so, be sure to let them know when he/she can use the washer/dryer. If you have a spare closet or extra unused space, you might want to investigate adding a stacked washer and dryer near or in the nanny quarters.

no. 8 Secure. Make sure that you create a private area that will be used only by the live-in nanny. Make sure the doors and windows lock so they may lock up their personal items and feel comfortable creating a secure place for themselves.

no. 9 Parking. If the nanny has her own car be sure and let him/her know where they will be able to park it - in the garage or on the street, either way it will be important to let them know.

no. 10 Kitchen. Some nannies share the family kitchen facilities while others are provided some cooking and refrigeration options inside their own living quarters.  If you aren't able to provide a full kitchen or kitchenette, think about adding a small dorm-like fridge to the nanny's room so he/she may be able to stock it with foods he/she likes. This will cut down on visits to the family kitchen (day and late night).
Some families may want additional privacy and have the room to create a nanny suite. These usually include a bedroom, bathroom, living area and kitchen. With this set up, you don't have to share the common areas with the nanny on their days off.

Well, I am off to pick-up my children from nanny for moi! But as Mary always says, "In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun. You find the fun, and - SNAP - the job is done".

Until next time,

la chasse au bonheur

Friday, August 23, 2013

Why is it so important to use a high-quality real estate agent?

Here are some key reasons.

Professional Buying and selling a house is a complex process with a multiple of steps and paperwork. Your agent should be a trained professional who listens to your needs and understands the market. 

Connections Successful agents have long-term relationships with past clients, prospective clients, vendors, and other agents - all of whom they can call upon when helping you buy or sell.

Pricing skills Top real estate agents have the important marketing and sales data necessary to properly price a home. This also comes in handy for buyers when making an offer.

Marketing savvy A good agent knows the most effective marketing methods to showcase your home in the best light and to elicit the highest level of exposure possible.

Neighborhood knowledge Your real estate agent's extensive knowledge of different neighborhoods helps you find just the kind of neighbors, amenities, and schools you want.

Negotiation skills Successfully negotiating the buying and selling of a home is an art that requires strategy, experience, and training - skills that a high-quality real estate agent has in spades.

The Multiple Listing Service The MLS is the real estate industry's main database (the vast majority of all homes for sale are listed there), and only licensed real estate agents have access to it. 

Until next time,

la chasse au bonheur

Monday, August 12, 2013

getting pre-approved

I'm one of those agents who won't let a buyer in my car unless they are pre-approved. This rule might seem self-serving, but it's not. In fact, I think it's providing clients with the best kind of service. Don't get me wrong, I love looking at houses, but we all know how frustrating it can be to fall in love with a place you just can't afford. Saving my clients from that experience is key to their overall happiness with this process.

The estate I would like to buy

The cottage I can afford to buy

That's why the best place to start when buying a home is to find out how much house you can afford.

Here are the basic steps involved in getting pre-approved by a lender:

no. 1 Meet in-person with a mortgage representative.

no. 2 Complete a loan application. You will need to provide all the particulars regarding your income, assets, and expenses, as well as the estimated purchase price and down-payment.

no. 3 Provide the lender with documents confirming your financial standing, including your most recent bank statement, W-2 form, and employment pay stubs, as well as proof of stock ownership, mutual funds, IRAs, and other investments.

no. 4 The loan agent/officer/broker will spend a few days confirming your financials and employment, which includes no. 5.

no. 5 Your application will undergo "underwriting," which is an internal evaluation by the lender to weigh the risks of making a loan in your situation.

no. 6 Once you are pre-approved for a loan, the lender will provide you with a "good faith estimate", the lender's official estimate of ALL the fees and costs associated with the loan.

If you simply want an estimate of the amount you might be qualified for, consider getting pre-qualified. This process can usually be handled over the phone and typically only takes a few minutes. Keep in mind, however, that most sellers and their agents are looking for buyers who are pre-approved.

While there are many well qualified mortgage brokers and lenders in the greater Seattle area the professional I go to, and refer whenever needed is Eric Freemen of Lakeview Mortgage. Eric has proven to be of exceptional ethics and follow-through with connections to many local and national lenders.

Until next time,

la chasse au bonheur

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

How to avoid the most common home selling mistakes

The process of selling a home can have plenty of twists and turns, but with some smart decision making, you can avoid the most common mistakes and pitfalls of selling your home. An experienced agent can guide you every step of the way, so at the end of the day, you will achieve a satisfying and successful real estate experience.
Clients, Steve and Lisa used smart decision making when readying their home for market. They worked diligently during the months leading up to listing their home, making sure it was in the best condition to get top dollar. Their hard work paid off as we were under contract within seven days.

Avoid becoming emotional or sentimental about the sale
Once you decide to sell your house, it's time to strip out the emotion and look at it as a commodity in a business transaction. If you start reminiscing about all the good times you had and the hard work you invested, it will only make it that much harder to successfully price, prepare, and market the home.

Fix problems (or price accordingly)
Homes with deferred maintenance and repair issues can take far longer to sell and can be subject to last-minute sale-cancellations. These homes also often sell for less than their legitimate market value. If you simply can't afford to address critical issues, be prepared to work with your agent to price and market your home accordingly.

Spruce up the exterior grounds
It is important that your home looks as well cared for as it is. Cleaning up the grounds is key. Start by  trimming and pruning trees and bushes, mowing and edging the lawn, painting the porch and rails, power washing the hardscaping, and adding some warm welcome like a new welcome mat, freshly planted planters and bright pillows on a nearby bench.

Don't overprice your home (and/or refuse to negotiate)
Getting top dollar is the dream of every seller. But it's essential that you let the market dictate that price, not your emotions or financial situation. Allow your agent to research and prepare a solid market analysis that factors in the value of similar homes in the area and trust those results.

Use quality photos
The vast majority of prospective buyers today search for homes online first. In order to make a good first impression, you need a wealth of high-quality photos of your home and surrounding grounds. You may also need to consider professional staging in order to position your home in the best possible light for prospective buyers. There are many ways to approach this and a great agent will be able to provide a variety of budget-friendly options.

Until next time,

la chasse au bonheur

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

How to avoid the most common home buying mistakes

There's nothing more exciting, rewarding, and fulfilling than buying a home. However, it's a complex transaction, and there are a number of steps along the path that can confuse even the most seasoned buyer.
Clients' Adam & Andrea used these guidelines when buying their home in June

How can you avoid potential pitfalls? Keep these guidelines in mind:

Review your credit reports ahead of time
Review your credit report a few months before you begin your house hunt, and you will have time to ensure the facts are correct, and be able to dispute mistakes before a mortgage lender checks your credit. Get a copy of your credit report from Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. Why all three? Because, if the scores differ, the bank will typically use the lowest one. Alert the credit bureaus if you see any mistakes, fix any problems you discover, and don't apply for any new credit until after your home loan closes.

Get pre-approved
Before getting serious about your hunt for a new house, you'll want to choose a lender and get pre-approved for a mortgage (not just pre-qualified-which is a cursory review of your finances-but pre-approved for a loan of a specific amount). Pre-approval lets sellers know you're serious. Most importantly, pre-approval will help you determine exactly how much you can comfortably afford to spend.

Know what you want
You and your real estate agent should both be clear about the house you want to buy. Put it in writing. First, make a list of all the features and amenities you really want. Then, number each item and prioritize them. Now, divide the list into must-haves and really-wants. A good place to start is the HUD Wish List.

Account for hidden costs
In addition to the purchase price of the home, there are additional costs you will need to take into consideration, such as closing costs, appraisal fees, and escrow fees.

Once you find a prospective home you'll want to
Estimate how much it will cost to maintain (gas, electric, utilities, grounds, etc,),
Determine how much you will pay in taxes month and/or annually,
Calculate any homeowner or development dues associated with the property.

Get an inspection
Buying a home is emotionally charged-which can make it difficult for buyers to see the house for what it truly is. That's why you need impartial third parties who can help you logically analyze the condition of the property. Your agent is there to advise you, but you also need a home inspector to assess any hidden flaws, structural damage or faulty systems.

Evaluate the neighborhood and location
When house hunting, it's easy to become overly focused on the number of bedrooms and bathrooms, the condition of the home and its amenities while overlooking the subtleties of the surrounding neighborhood. Take time to check crime reports, school options, transit and walking scores, shopping and restaurants. Talk with neighbors and spend time in the early morning and late afternoon/evening. Online research is good but feet on the ground is the best way to get a feel for any neighborhood.

How to avoid the most common home selling mistakes will be posted next week.

Until then,

la chasse au bonheur

Monday, June 10, 2013

let's take it outside

Back yard entertaining becomes key for us during the summer months. Entertaining larger groups of people can be a challenge in our home. The modest brick Tudor that we live in is square foot challenged. I realized over the years that if I am going to entertain more than eight people at one time I best take it outside! So when the weather warms up - so does our back yard!

Through trial, trial and more trial, I learned a few tricks to make the transition from back yard to delightful al fresco dining a breeze.

It doesn't have to be just outside the kitchen door (although that does make setting up a lot easier).  Your perfect spot might be on a second patio, under a favorite tree, on the dock, or in the middle of your lawn. 

If you are lucky enough to have an expansive deck, patio or terrace right outside your kitchen then, as the saying goes, you are lucky enough!

A side terrace makes the perfect spot for entertaining. Think about the sun's location and the views when determining where to place your table.

Creating a 12x12 dining area can be easy! Frame in an area with pavers purchased from  Home Depot and add pea gravel, rock or pavers on top. This makes for a defined dining room area. 

Use a path of lawn or pavers to lead guests to an elevated room.  Adding stone steps and flooring makes this spot extra special. 

Carving out a special dining spot like this can take some time but may be well worth it if you live in an area that allows you to use it year-round!
If all you have is a patch of green then go for it....look how special this simple table, bench and chairs are in the middle of a back yard!

MAKE IT comfortable
Lingering is numero uno in our books and how we gauge if our gatherings are a success. Make sure the chairs you choose are comfortable and durable.
Today's outdoor wicker is designed to withstand the elements.

Add cushions to iron for true comfort.

Teak is an ideal wood for the Northwest and adding simple cushions makes them even more comfortable.
Adding fluffy pillows and cushions go a long way in making a hard chair or bench comfy!

When you're thinking about where to set up your outdoor dining room, think about the natural beauty your yard offers. Is there a special tree that would be ideal to sit under?

An outdoor trellis planted with a shade-creating vine adds drama and creates a lovely cocoon for guests. 

Think about creating some delightful scents, au naturel, to your outdoor experience.  We have two trellises on either side of our back yard. One is planted with a grape vine and the other with a potato vine. Both provide wonderful shade and go a long way in creating a natural room but they don't offer much scent. We planted jasmine on support posts and the scent in the summer evenings is intoxicating.  

If this all seems too much right now, then consider planting some delicious smelling roses in a container (or two) and placing them next to the table!

MAKE IT special
I learned a long time ago that life is too short to not use fine china. I think we can all agree that dining at a table with pressed linens is by far nicer than paper.  Whether you use color or white, wrinkled or pressed, adding linen dresses up the table. During one "budget challenged time" I bought some burlap by the yard ($1.99/yard) at JoAnn's and had them cut it to my table's length. I left the edges raw and the effect was lovely!

Setting this table with china, antique glasses and a pressed cloth brings a richness to the outdoor dining experience. 

It's easy to rent tables, chairs, linens, china and glassware from a local party rental company. My go-to company is AA Party Rental because they have all the basics for a good price. I in-fill with my personal items to create a more individualized and special event.

There are not many expansive covered porches in the Northwest (living in a home with a wrap around porch has always been a dream of mine). 

Clients have created the perfect shelter by adding an overhang to a back yard garage. 

If you don't have a permanent structure that provides coverage, then you may need to get a bit more creative so your guests and you don't get rained out.

Planning to tent an event makes the most sense. Unless you own your own tent, this can get expensive.  
Investing in a 10x10 or a 12x12 canopy might pencil out if you do a lot of outdoor entertaining. 
There are plenty of tent rental companies in the Northwest that will deliver, set-up, tear-down and haul away. Sizes vary as do the prices. Some rental tents (depending on the size) are easy enough for you plus one to install.

If the budget doesn't allow for a tent or you are looking for a more custom look, creating a temporary cover can be easy. Bolts of fabric can be grommeted and tied off to poles, trellises or tree branches adding coverage from the sun and, depending on the material, from the rain.

This bolt of floral fabric tied to poles creates intimacy in this large field.

Billowy chiffon is tied over the beverage table to soften the sun and add drama. 

At minimum, a large market umbrella is key to outdoor dining!

SET UP support stations
To make your life a little easier and allow guests to help themselves, set up a serving table or two to play host to side dishes, beverages and desserts.

There's nothing like music to set the mood. Adding outdoor speakers can be a breeze.   

These are the speakers we have - they have worked great and my husband even installed them.
Speakers housed in rocks seem interesting.

illuminate THE NIGHT
Creating ambiance can be as simple as tea lights in mason jars hanging from branches. Or try buying vintage chandeliers on eBay or etsy and hanging them up for a special event. Make sure you are aware of electrical issues for outdoor wiring. Oil lamps and hurricane glass help keep the light burning even during windy nights. 


When the sun goes down our air gets chilly. Keep the night young by adding outdoor heaters or having blankets and throws readily available for guests to use. 

I hope these few tips help you plan a summer filled with simple and easy outdoor dining! 

Until next time,

la chasse au bonheur