Pretty Houses

Are everywhere in this beautiful city by the bay.


As I move forward with creating this blog and taking pictures of houses I like, I’m struck by the colors and designs that attract me the most.

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As you, my dear reader, has already figured out, I am attracted to bold colors. I don’t mind subtle colors but like a funky beat, I move to a visual palette that makes me jump.

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I also like smaller, cottages and craftsman houses. My house looks big on the outside but inside, its pretty modest. When I look at some of the huge homes here, I imagine what it must be like to have to clean them! I suppose if you can afford a big home, you can probably also afford to pay someone else to clean it so that really isn’t a problem for the folks who live in them. And being unemployed, I’m all for spreading the wealth around and creating jobs.

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An added benefit to living in a smaller home is having to interact with the other people who live in the home with you.

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My sister once owned a huge home with her second husband in Pasadena, Calif. It was a old craftsman with beautiful, dark wood floors, grand staircase, built-in shelves and lots of bedrooms for the four kids who lived with them.

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The crazy thing about that house was that no matter how many people were inside, it always seemed empty. Granted, that has a lot to do with what the inhabitants were doing at the time, but frequently, I would go inside, knowing everyone who lived there was home, and yet, no one was around. The house was full and empty because everyone was in their bedroom, watching TV or working on their computer and I was downstairs alone. It was really weird and I have to say, I didn’t like it. And I doubt the family living there did either. In my mind, families need a place where everyone can be together, not just for dinner, but watching TV, cooking, playing games and interacting. I’m a strong believer in not giving kids their own televisions and computers should be in common places where the content their viewing can be seen by anyone. Until a child has moved away from home, or is in college, they still need parental guidance, even if they don’t want it. Kids don’t get to make the rules in a family. I have strong opinions on the subject and this isn’t exactly the right forum for them but it’s all about being together under one roof and that’s what matters to me and is partly why I created this blog.

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I don’t blame the house for my sister’s eventual divorce, but I’m sure it didn’t help the marriage either. Houses have a power over us that can heal us or make us sick; they can foster good times and relationships or they can create a bad environment that can be fatal.

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Imagine you’re a potted plant, what sort of container would you want to live in? Something too small will stunt your growth, force you to expose your roots, for you to seek more space, more food, more shelter so you can thrive and grow.

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Imagine if that container were in a warm sunny place where you received a full dose of sunshine everyday. Now imagine your container in a dark, dusty, drafty environment. Too much water? Rotting roots. Not enough water; starvation. Too much sun, you’re going to burn, not enough, you’re going to wither.

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We are, after all, a lot like plants but unlike plants, we have choices we can make to help us grow.

That’s all for now. I hope you have a satisfying Saturday night and until tomorrow, I remain your design detective,


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Haight Street, USA

This gallery contains 17 photos.

World famous, Haight Street, is in my backyard. Well practically, a short bus ride over the hill and I’m there. Unlike my neighborhood, homes in the Haight come straight out of the collective imaginations of everyone who thinks about what a … Continue reading

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Today the Sun is Shinning

Which is a great reminder that no matter how hard the wind blows and the rain comes down, the sun always, always comes out eventually.


Yesterday was a tough day for me. I’m not sure why exactly but I just couldn’t get my head out from under a rock. I’m so glad I have this blog to keep me going and focused on something other than myself.


I want to send out a special thanks to everyone who likes my blog and are finding my posts interesting to read.

Today’s focus is on nature, specifically trees. I mentioned in an earlier post how some trees are pruned to look like  balloons or other shapes and today, I want to make a case for leaving well enough alone.

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This is an example of two trees, exactly the same species, next door to each other, one has been pruned to look like a gum drop and the other left to its own, natural devices.

Is it just me or does the gum drop tree look rather silly? Do we really need to make trees look like candy? Or like inverted bowls? I certainly don’t want to put any gardeners out of business but is this practice really necessary? Wouldn’t it be better to leave the tree alone and give the money to a charity that helps feed, clothe and educate people?

What is this need to control nature that is so pervasive in our society? Trees have been growing on this planet a lot longer than humans, and unless they are presenting or causing a danger, leave them alone. Observe and enjoy the organic way they spread their branches, its a language we don’t speak but we can try to understand or at least become inspired by the turn of a limb and the shadows they cast on sunny days, like today.

Okay, I made my point and if I see more examples of silly trees, I’ll post them but for now, I’d like to share with you pictures of trees that have been left alone.

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Lovely, aren’t they? You may however, be asking yourself, but what has this got to do with design? A question that is constantly on my mind as I stretch my design detective’s net and find in it, nature. What does nature have to do with design? The best answer I can come up with is, nature is the seed from which good design sprouts. So the take-away from these pictures hopefully will inspire design creators to look more at nature to create homes that are in harmony with their environment. And when I say harmony, I don’t necessarily mean without contrast.


Contrast is a wonderful tool for bringing out the best, and perhaps at times, least noticed, elements in the environment. Like the bare tree above left. It’s random, wildly searching branches, are a nice contrast to the structured, angular building rising up behind it. Had either element been photographed without the other, not only with the result have been be dull but the starkness of each would go unnoticed. I also like the curving road that echoes the curving hilltop and the path that curves off to the right of the photo. All of these elements, organic, structured, angular, curves can be incorporated harmoniously into good design.

Well, I’ve run out of things to say, possibly because I have to pay bills and that task has a way of numbing my senses.

Until tomorrow, I remain your design detective,


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It’s Raining Outside

The sky is dark, the streets are wet and the end of 2012 is just around the corner.


This is my least favorite time of year when all the worn out jingles are heard and frantic messages consumerism get shoved into everyone’s faces. This year its particularly bad because Thanksgiving was so early but even before Thanksgiving, xmas decorations and music could be heard inside my local Sfway. I guess the marketing execs know what their doing because consumerism is already up and from the stories I heard on NPR, shoppers really liked leaving their Thanksgiving tables to run around cold box stores to snap up TVs. I don’t understand the madness of it all. Maybe if I had a job, (the 17th will be my 2 year anniversary of joining the ranks of the unemployed), I would feel differently. As fate would have it, I have learned instead the valuable lesson of getting by with less, much less.


For the past 15 years, I’ve been a proud car-free, SF family. People ask me how I do it. With two kids, a husband, a house and a dog, how do I manage not having a car? It’s been a challenge at times and we’ve rented cars to go to LA and Yosemite, but my favorite moment when renting a car is when I return it. Driving is really stressful in this city, at least for me it is. The independence of mind and body expressed in San Francisco is also frequently expressed in how people here drive. If you don’t want to wait for a red light to turn green, don’t. Just blast through it. Or if you don’t have the patience to wait for the car ahead of you to turn left, blast past them. Pedestrians? They better watch out.

When I owned a car in the City, I never disliked San Francisco more. It’s not just the lack of parking but the way people drive here that’s so unnerving. Especially for someone like me who learned to drive in LA when it was less congested and a bit more civilized. Whenever I’m on public transit, I feel a strong connection to the real ideals of a civilized society. Public institutions like libraries, schools, fire and police departments, mass transit, free concerts and events, all show me the best face humanity has to offer. We are a collective being. Each one of us was created by a union of two unique individuals that came together in a fleeting moment of great passion (hopefully anyway). We are meant to share and give and take, not to be isolated in a metal box acting like assholes to one another.

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Life is stressful for most people the great question is, how do we deal with that stress? Individually and collectively. Would we all not benefit if it were much easier to get where we wanted/needed to go without the stress of driving? I know, a lot of people like to drive. I like to drive too, not in San Francisco, but other places. I like sitting on a couch, music playing, the heat or air conditioning set at my perfectly desired temperature and going wherever I please. I get that but there is a big price to pay for that freedom and in my mind, it isn’t worth the price of war, death and destruction of our planet.

I love being a tiny part of something much bigger, much better than myself. I want to contribute, in a small way, to making the world a better place to live in. The way I do that is by walking everywhere, riding buses and trains. I believe that when people see me walking, they might think twice about getting in their car. Why not walk? Why not spend the extra time it takes to get somewhere and experience the journey rather than just the destination? And its from my walks that I’ve come to understand my interest in houses; the way they’re painted, the variety of weather vanes mounted on rooftops, the window treatments, gates, doors, driveways, entryways, gardens, mailboxes, everything that belongs to a house catches my eye because I am walking.

I invite you to experience the joy of discovery on this cold, wet, dark December day.


With my nose pressed up against my window, I remain steadfast as your design detective,


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Bold, Unthinkable Colors

Bold, unthinkable colors is what started me on this snowball blog in the first place. And the more I look, the more I see, and the more I see the more I want to share my discoveries with you.


I discovered this  bright, boldly painted door, one day as I was passing a restaurant in the Mission. Its bright colors and the green wall behind it made me want to go inside and find out what sort of restaurant is was. It turned out to be a Korean restaurant and I ended up having a delicious lunch there even though I had not intended to take myself out to lunch when I set out on my walk.

Colors do amazing things to our psyche, our stomachs and our hearts in ways we cannot anticipate in the moment. You may have a color you love, or despise, but the reason for your reaction is purely emotional. The vibration of the color waves affect your brain in a positive or negative way and hence, you react either positively or negatively to that particular color. However, if that same color was to appear to you within a greater context, you may find yourself changing your tune about whether or not you actually like or dislike it.

After I graduated college, my first job was as a production artist for a business card company that specialized in die-cuts. The owner of the company had a large, spacious office with one wall, behind his desk, painted a deep, rich red. He told me that the color red made people want to give him money, which was why he was in business in the first place. The business was doing very well so maybe there is some truth to his claim. Perhaps that’s why children are given red envelopes with money inside at Chinese New Year. Its a topic to research and would probably make an interesting blog post. For the moment, I’ll keep my observations theoretical and personal to my opinions but have made a note for future investigation.

This house has always appealed to me.

2012-11-27 10.16.05I met the owner by chance one day and she affirmed the obvious fact that she is a great admirer of the Mexican, surrealist painter, Frida Kahlo.

Frida-Kahlo-9359496-1-402[1]Over the years, Kahlo has gained a huge following all over the world and particularly here, in San Francisco, where her husband, Diego Rivera, painted a few amazing murals that can be seen in the theater at SF City College and at the Art Institute.

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Kahlo’s image can be seen all over the Mission district and her honesty of subject matter, the boldness of her lines and truth of her pain serve as an inspiration to all who see her work. A reflection of which is visible in the unapologetic use of multiple colors and imagery painted on this house.

This is another door I love that inspires me every time I walk by this house.

2012-11-28 15.24.16The colors make me think anything is possible when it comes to color combinations for I would never, in a million years, thought of painting my house these colors but they work together beautifully especially, this time of year when the sky is so dark with heavy, gray clouds. A cranberry colored house with persimmon colored accents and smooth, cream colored trim, makes for a deliciously painted home that speaks directly to my heart. And though I’ve never ventured inside, I imagine it full of warm, welcoming colors that soothe my soul and whet my appetite. Wouldn’t it be funny if I was completely wrong and inside it was cold, dark and musty!

Like our wardrobe, how we show ourselves to the world is a reflection of how we see ourselves within. And though we may change our attitudes from day to day, deep inside, the values we hold sacred, the vision of the world we see through the windows to our brains, are, voluntarily or not, consciously or not, expressed by the clothes we dress ourselves when we leave the safety and shelter of our homes. So if you are feeling sunny, warm and happy, you’re going to show a bit of skin because you know the world is on your side and nothing bad is going to happen. And if you believe that, then that’s probably what your day will be like. Just like this house. It’s bold, cheery colors tell the world that it’s unafraid to be different and that its good to be alive.

Here is another example of happy boldness.

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And to be honest, its not a favorite of mine. I think its the two contrasting shades of blue that just don’t strikd a chord with me but maybe you love it which is why I’m sharing it with you today.

This house is definitely not one that I like and yet, it has all the characteristics of a home that I would think I would like. Again, the colors seem too chaotic and rather than making a harmonious ring, the overall sound is loud, pounding and unpleasant, to my eye.

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You may love it and if so, I’m happy you do. The goal is not for me to make converts to my way of seeing the world, but to help you, should you need help, see what’s possible and to discover your own taste in color. Like I said before, the more you look, the more you see and the more you will understand your own likes and dislikes when it comes to home design.

Here are a couple more examples of color choices that rub me the wrong way.

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It’s funny how subjective the art of color can be. The house on the left was recently remodeled with the addition of a huge box on its right. Granted, I’m not an architect but to me, this once charming home is now saddled with a huge, boxy addition, painted awful colors and is trying unsuccessfully to recapture a beauty that it no longer possesses. If it were up to me, i would have cut the angle of the addition so it looked less like a box and more like a huge bay window.

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Here are three more houses painted in bold colors that I think work great.


Well, I guess that pretty much covers it for today. Thank you for sticking with me till the end. Until tomorrow, I remain your devoted design detective,



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LA in Conclusion

Once again I want to apologize for the interruption in posting. This time, it was a mechanical failure in hardware. Fortunately, I have a live-in IT expert who got me up and running again.

I would like to share with you today a variety of pictures I took in Arcadia, CA where I was staying with my sister. These primarily have to do with architecture.

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This is Arcadia’s City Hall and what I really like about it is how understated the structure is. Unlike San Francisco’s City Hall, which was thought to become the State’s Capitol, Arcadia’s City Hall is less grand but no less visually appealing. The low construction and incorporation of a park reminds me of the designs from Frank Lloyd Wright. I’m far from an expert on Wright’s designs but I have seen a number of them and this calls to my mind some of his more nature infused work. By which, Wright intends to bring the outside in and is case, the inside out. Creating a civic structure that invites citizens and visitors to Arcadia to come inside City Hall and feel welcome.

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In the park adjacent to City Hall is a lovely gazebo where last summer I sat on the warm grass with a couple hundred other audience members happily entertained by a local Elvis impersonator. Gazebos are a great vehicle for staging all kinds of fun events and rituals.

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This is a house nearly completely obstructed from view by its garden. I love the way nature has taken over the home and created a sense of isolation and seclusion for the inhabitants, however, I’m not sure how much natural light is sacrificed on the inside by this garden.

Below is a picture of a tree whose trimming must have been inspired by the light fixture next to it. I never really paid much attention to the look of trees after they were trimmed until a good friend of mine pointed out how silly they often are afterwards. The wish to constantly control and shape our world and everything in it can at times make a mockery of us, as failed designers, and of nature, which may not need to be trimmed, shaped and controlled, especially if the finished effect is to replicate balloons.

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I know this is a short post. I’m trying to figure out how to move forward with this. Some of the questions popping up for me are: Should I just concentrate on one home at a time and explore all of its features or keep each post focused on a feature with multiple examples? I guess I’ll just keep going and see where we end up.

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Thank you again for reading my posts. Until tomorrow, I remain steadfast as your design detective,


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Back in the Saddle Again!

Hi everyone,

After a long break and delicious Thanksgiving dinner, complete with 3 turkeys, I’m back and raring to go!

Today I want to share with you some of the homes I saw while staying with my sister in Arcadia, California. A suburb 13 miles east of Los Angeles and south of the relatively low rising, San Gabriel Mountains. Having grown up in Monterey Park, also located in the San Gabriel Valley, Arcadia with its ranch style homes, big front lawns and warm weather rings a familiar bell deep inside of me. It’s only when the temperature crosses into triple digits and the smog is so thick it’s hard to breathe, that I’m really happy I don’t live there.

Like almost any neighborhood, Arcadia has its share of gem homes and what I mean by that is a home that doesn’t scream to anyone. It has a quiet, dignified, enchanting appearance. Some of you might not like my choices and some of them could be enhanced by a new coat of paint, but like a true gem, their beauty is much deeper than their surface appearance. The sweet cottage above practically disappears behind a thick coat of leaves and vines. I almost missed it as I was walking down the street but I’m glad I didn’t because I love the way it looks. This house reminds me of a cottage in a fairy tale that one would find in a forest with a thin thread of smoke rising up out of the chimney. It’s charming and quiet, it exudes a sense of comfort and escape from the rush and stress of everyday life. However, my feng shui teachings informs me that houses like this are not wise choices. The reason being, vines that attach themselves to a home or office structure, weaken them. As the vines grow more abundant and heavy, more pressure is put upon the house, slowly sapping away its strength and ability to hold together. Plus, vines make great highways for all types of creatures with a variety of even numbered legs and eyes. Still, it’s a lovely house but if it was mine, those vines would be cut away.

Here is another example of a modest but lovely home. Simple in design, symmetrical in detail, unimposing, but classy. These simple models from the last century remind me of a simpler, easier life when there was time to relax on the porch with a cold beer and watch the world go by. In the past decade or two, Arcadia has been under siege with McMansions. Hideous, poorly designed and executed monstrosities that stick out like the sore thumbs that they are. It’s unfortunate that the planning commission has allowed these protrusions to spring up like weeds throughout the  community casting shadows, paving over yards, and basically squeezing themselves in neighborhoods where they simply don’t belong. Shame on the people who’ve created and bought them.

You may not think the one pictured here isn’t so bad, and within the context of large houses, it isn’t but the fact that it’s next to these smaller, quainter, less imposing homes, it really does stick out. And I didn’t want to take a lot of pictures of them, though in hind sight, I probably should have, because I think they’re so awful. Plus, they’re almost all pastel!!!

Okay, enough of the bad-mouthing and on to more pictures of small houses that I like.

This house is fairly unremarkable except for the awnings. I have a thing for awnings, which you don’t see very much any more and especially striped awnings. I love stripes and if I had been the color consultant for this home, I would have had a lot of fun playing with the details of the three triangles and the garage in back. A wasted opportunity to show off a ordinary home in an extraordinary way.

Now this house is so adorable, it could easily have been lifted right out of Disneyland. It’s what I believe is called a gingerbread house with the fancy detailing below the roof and the stone chimney. The blooming flower tree makes it a perfect fantasy setting for an older home. I would love to see what the inside is like but for now, I’m just happy to share this picture-sweet abode with you.

I havea lot more pictures I want to share with you about my trip to Arcadia but they will have to wait until tomorrow. However, I’m going to conclude this post with a picture of my dog. I know he has nothing to do with home design except that he makes everyone in my house incredibly happy.

Thank you all for holding out while I come to terms with accepting the fate of a very sick parent whom I love deeply. I’m glad to be back and like I said, I’m re-energized. So much so, that I’m going to start a new website all about green home design copywriting. So if anyone knows of a small business in the industry of green home design, please let me know as I would like to learn more about the subject and offer my writing skills to help promote their products.

So until tomorrow, I remain,

your design detective,


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I’m sorry…

I haven’t been posting lately. I’m going through a lot right now, in my personal life and because of it, I’m just too distracted to give my attention and focus to this blog but I’m not giving up, I love writing about this topic. I’m just in the midst of a huge change in my life and because of it, I need to take little time off.

Right now, I’m at my sister’s house in Arcadia, Calif. I am staying here with my brother and my nephew as well as my sister who has invited 32 people to her house for Thanksgiving, which is partly why I’m here.

I love LA. I know a lot of people, especially those in San Francisco, hate LA, or at least they used to. They hate the smog here and all the cars. I do too but I also love the heat especially at night.

So, again, I’m sorry for my absence. I will check in as often as I can and soon, I will be posting regularly again. In the meantime, please don’t give up. Sign up to follow me so you can get an email whenever there’s a new post from me.

I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving. I’m sure that like me, you have a lot to be thankful for.

Warmest regards,


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Yesterday, I went out for a walk wondering what my next blog post should be about. That is the really challenge here, coming up with new, original content daily and then I saw it, the house that made me cringe.

The color isn’t so awful that neighbors would leave notes at your door demanding you find and paint your house something else, but a color so unremarkable, so lacking in possibility, that I coined the term, melt-in-your-mouth color.

Normally, with regard to food, a melt-in-your-mouth sensation is a good thing. Like a chocolate cake that’s so rich and creamy, is dissolves on your tongue, yummmm. House paint, in my opinion, should be stronger, bolder with a longer lasting impression than one that disappears. Pink is a particularly challenging color for a house. Personally, I don’t think any house should be painted pink unless it’s got stronger red or orange infusions to it. In this case, there are so many missed opportunities to really show off the architectural detailing that are currently lying dead in the road covered with a old baby blanket.

This is a relatively small house that is only two colors, which, as you already know, I think is a mistake, but what they have done is brought out a small but interesting detail in the architecture that rises the overall appearance of the house from mundane to noticeable. Imagine how less of an impact this house would have if those arch holders were also painted white. Personally, I would have liked to see more use of the brown with a strong black accent around the windows and the garage. Just another color to heighten the overall impression and expression of the home.


This is another example of melt-in-your-mouth (miym?) color. Blue. Blue is a really tough color to make work. There’s nothing like a blue sky or a blue ocean or blue eyes but blue houses? That’s another call altogether, which is funny because my house is painted blue. I could not see it any other color because it is such a tall house, I wanted it to work with the sky, not that it does exactly, but I couldn’t really imagine it painted red.

Maybe it’s because I have an aversion to pastel colors that this house leaves me with nothing to go on except the wish it were a different color. Now, we all know color is subjective and anyone looking at this photograph should know that I completely respect their opinion. And if this happens to be the color of your house (or it is your house) and you love it, then good for you. Happiness in ones dwelling is absolutely essential to one’s happiness in life but for me, this color would make me miserable. Like Gertrude Stein famously said about Oakland, “there’s no there, there.”

Here’s a couple more:

I think you can see where I going with this. If you are going to paint your house, look at it closely and find whatever opportunities there may be for showing off an accent, playing with the architecture. Observe the shadows that move across the face of your house. In the photo below, the house is painted one color but the shadows make it look much more interesting than it actually is because of the slight change it brings to the paint choice.

Choosing the right color isn’t easy. You can hire someone else to do it but I recommend stepping up to the challenge. Look at nature, discover your own opinions of what you like and don’t like. Look around at the things inside your house, what’s there that you like, and what’s there that you don’t. And the things you don’t like, why are you keeping them? Look inside your closet. What colors are you naturally drawn to? What paintings do you like. Get to know yourself and then feel free to express your house the way you would express yourself to the world. Don’t be shy.

Until tomorrow, I remain your design detective, Karen



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Feeling Really Great Today

I don’t know about you (the four or five people who are following this blog) but I feel really, really great about the election outcome.

And, I’m glad it’s all over too. What a long year of campaigning its been but I have to say, it was all worth it in the end because it feels good when things go the way you want them to.

So, since I’ve been writing this blog, I’ve noticed a change in my habits. Instead of taking pictures of every house I see, I’ve become much more selective. I’m attributing this change to the fact that I’ve taken a ton of pictures of my neighborhood and since I live car-free, I tend to be in my neighborhood a lot.

Today I want to share with you some houses that have gone beyond the bold and the pastel to a new, daring place where color sets its own rules. A place that knows know bounds, a place I would like to visit more often, a place I call, PushTown!

Yeah, PushTown, where paint is more than just a color, its a statement of freedom of creativity, a celebration of what a gallon can do in the right hands.

Now I grant you, this isn’t for everyone, for sure but, it does show us the possibilities thinking out of the box can take you and I love it. The color choices aren’t my favorite but it works. It’s simple and bold, tasteful, coordinated and unique. The patter seems at first random and maybe because the horizontal lines aren’t all the same thickness, which I think is a mistake, however, it plays well with the three vertical lines on the right, something I failed to notice when I took this picture. I also really like how the owners decided to continue the long, horizontal line all the way across the width of the garage and the house, including the utility window, effectively underlining an otherwise unremarkable house address. All told, I give this paint job: !!!! (my new rating system).


Again, I’m not loving the color choices here but I can’t help but give thanks to the owners for pushing the envelope. I also happen to be a huge fan of the Dutch painter, Piet Mondrian. In fact, when I was a graphic designer, I used to create all my work with his paintings in mind. So naturally, I would love this design which, intentionally or not, gives a nod to the innovative way of breaking up space that Mondrian so effectively showed the world in his painting. Again, the design is bold without being obnoxious. It invites inspection without asking for ridicule. It pushes the envelope in a direction I want to follow so I’m giving this house a !!!!

That’s all the examples I have to share with you today. I hope you are enjoying my posts. I apologize for missing the past couple of days. Creating this blog is a lot of fun for me and I love to write and take pictures but it is time consuming and some days, I just don’t have the time. Thank you for hanging with me. Until tomorrow (or the day after that), I remain,

your design detective,


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