Category Archives: Designer Secrets

Sanded vs. Unsanded Grout

Alright guys, another week of Designer Diaries is on its way to you.  Up this week is “When to Use Sanded vs. Unsanded Grout.” Now I don’t know about you, but the first time I was asked what type of grout I wanted, I stood there like an idiot with a blank look across my face.  So to prevent you all from dummy inducing blank stares, here’s my cheat sheet for you:


I’m a big fan of tiny grout lines, so we find ourselves using unsanded grout frequently.  It also can be a little easier to work with on vertical surfaces (walls), because it’s a little sticker.  However, if you’re used to sanded grout, unsanded does have a weird consistency that takes a little getting used to.  All grout does shrink a little, so the reason you use sanded grout in larger joints is because the sand helps prevent too much shrinkage.

That’s really all there is to it.  Easy peasy.  As simple as that.  If your grout line is under 1/8″, you definitely want to go the unsanded route.  If it’s 1/8″ or greater, get some sand in there stat!


How to Choose the Right Paint Finish

Today is a pretty exciting day.  Not only is it my birthday, but it’s the day I kick off the new blog series I’ve been anxiously awaiting: Designer Diaries.  This has been in the works for quite some time, but I didn’t want to pull the trigger on it until my blog was safe and sound at its new address.

The point of Designer Diaries is to spill all the design secrets that us designers have up our sleeves, because when I first started working in the design industry, I had so many questions. There were so many things that seemed obvious to everyone else, yet I somehow missed the memo.  Over time, I’ve learned a lot of the tricks of the trade, so I’m here to pass them along to you.  This way, you can avoid the “uhhh…what?” moment when person at the hardware store asks you what paint finish you want, or if you want sanded or un-sanded grout with your tile, or…you catch my drift?

Are you ready for all kinds of fun?!

I figured I’d kick off the series with a topic you’ll all encounter at some point, if you haven’t already: selecting the right paint finish.  It’s important to note that nowadays, as the quality and durability of paint has improved, the finish you choose has become more of a personal preference. Regardless, these are the general guidelines I use when I select paint for myself and my clients:


Flat:  Flat paint has little to no sheen to it.  Because of this, it absorbs light, making it great for hiding imperfections on the surface you’re painting.  However, since there isn’t much sheen, it can often be incredibly hard to clean if dirt/grime/fingerprints get on the paint.  Often times, you’ll have to paint over it to fully get rid of any spots.  Since it is so hard to clean, and because it easily hides imperfections, flat paint works great on ceilings.  When you do go buy ceiling paint, a lot of paint companies make special ceiling paint.  This paint usually has the tendency to drip and splatter less, which comes in handy since gravity is not working in your favor.

Eggshell: Eggshell finish is my favorite paint because of its soft texture.  Overall, it appears matte, but there is just a touch of sheen to it.  That extra bit of sheen makes the paint more durable and easier to wipe down.  However, since there isn’t much sheen, it still absorbs more light, helping to hide imperfections on the walls.  This paint is best suited for bedroom, living room, and dining room walls.

Satin: Satin is my other favorite finish.  While it is definitely glossier than an eggshell finish, it isn’t over the top like semi-gloss or gloss.  Satin is best used in kitchens, bathrooms, laundry rooms, and hallways.  It works well in hallways because they are usually high traffic areas, and since it has a substantial amount of gloss, it holds up very well.  Furthermore, since hallways are normally narrow, the gloss reflects light, helping the space feel larger.  In kitchens, bathrooms, and laundry rooms, satin is my finish of choice because it is easily wiped down, and does a great job of resisting moisture (which could otherwise lead to mold & mildew).  Some people prefer to use semi-gloss in kitchens, laundry rooms, and bathrooms, but in my opinion, satin holds up nearly as well, yet looks a lot better since it’s less glossy.

Semi-gloss: Semi-gloss is an extremely durable finish, and because of this, it is suited perfectly for trim, molding, doors, cabinets, and other woodwork around the house.  It’s important to use a very durable finish on these items, as we are in constant contact with them.  Food splatters on cabinets finished in a semi-gloss are easily wiped away, and hand prints on doors and trim come off with minimal effort.

Gloss: Personally, I have never used paint with a gloss finish.  It looks very glossy (nearly mirror like), and because it reflects so much light, and it shows practically every imperfection on the surface its painted on.  The only time I would ever use gloss paint is if I were trying to achieve a lacquered look on a piece of furniture or accessory.  One other time it would be acceptable to use a glossy finish is if you were painting subtle accents on wall by varying the sheen in the same color.

3 tips for decorating with plants

Once upon a time, I had this cute little plant that I kept in my basement bedroom of my college house.  Normally, I am absolutely terrible when it comes to plants, and this was the first one I didn’t kill within a week.  In fact, I think I actually kept it going strong for 6+ months (which is quite an accomplishment for me).  Well, that year I went to Greece for three weeks, and since I was so proud of my plant that I had somehow managed to keep alive, I gave it to Noel for safe keeping while I was away.

And guess what….he killed it.  He loved it, cared for it, watered it, killed it.

Unbeknownst to both of us at the time, I managed to buy a plant that needed minimal watering (which was great because I remembered to water it maybe once a week if I was lucky), and was not supposed to be placed in direct sunlight.  So, my basement bedroom living conditions were perfect for it to thrive.  Well, hand it over to Noel who actually remembers to water it daily, and my poor plant drowned.  It was quite amusing in a tragic sort of way.

By now you’re probably wondering where this story is going.  You see, I felt the need to establish that I in no way, shape, or form have even the slightest bit of a green thumb, so when it comes to decorating with greenery, I steer clear for the poor plants’ sakes.  However, if you are a plant whisperer, A) I envy you, and B) this post is for you, because today we’re going to talk about how to decorate your home with plants.  So without further ado…here are my three bits of advice when it comes to decorating with greenery:

#1) SCALE SCALE SCALE.  I cannot stress this enough.  It is so important that the plant you use is the correct size and proportion for you space.  If the plant is too small, the room will simply drown it out.  If the plant is too large, you room will start to feel like an overgrown forest.  Rather Obvious Tip: large plants are good for large spaces.  For smaller vignettes (like on a bookshelf, coffee table, or something of the like) opt for a smaller plant.  Think this:

Not this:
See how the plant on the left completely takes over the picture?  The plant on the right is scaled correctly, the but plant on the left would be better for a larger space.
2) KEEP COLOR IN MIND.  There are two parts to this tip.  My first suggestion is when you are incorporating plants in your decor, keep the color palette simple, and use neutral and natural colors. Do you see how the plants in the below pictures pop, thanks to their clean and crisp color palette?

Image source: 1 // 2
That’s not to say you can’t use plants in a room with color, just make sure you don’t pair them with a color palette that competes with your plants (also take note of the fact that they are appropriately scaled).  This, on the other hand, would be a no no:
Part two of this tip is to use the color of the plant itself as an accent color in your space.  In the living room below, Bryn used the plant to carry the emerald green of the sofa throughout the space.
3) CONTAIN YOUR PLANTS.  For smaller plants in smaller spaces, free them from their pots and try displaying them in creative ways.  Below are some of my favorite plant holders.
Image sources: 1 // 2 // 3 // 4
How do you decorate with plants in your home?  Do you have a green thumb, or are you like me, and every plant that enters your house is living out a death sentence?
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