Wednesday, October 30, 2013

A Scaled Down Thanksgiving

Typically, I head down to Southern California to spend the Thanksgiving holiday with friends as most of our families are back east. This year has posed a dilemma for our annual crew of Dusty, J.D. Glen, Kat and me. Dusty is unable to host at his house this year, so we've been searching for a space that can accommodate the preparation of our overly-abundant, grotesquely-portioned Thanksgiving dinner. So far, we've toyed with the possibilities of hosting at my home in Sacramento, a friend's house in Venice and a rental property near Long Beach. One way or another, it will happen. While we have yet to determine when and how all of this will go down, we've already decided that we will scale back the festivities this year.

One of our ridiculous spreads from 2011.
Note: There was no room for turkey on the table.
As I waited for the group's decision this afternoon, I felt an intense urge to scale back Thanksgiving in my own way by building a miniature set. Nevermind the other 8 projects I'm juggling right now. Full-on crazy mode was calling, and I answered with enthusiasm.

I used to build sets and cities for my action figures all the time when I was growing up. Finding an unused cardboard box was like discovering gold to me. Within minutes, I would be on the floor with construction paper, scissors, tape and markers making some kind of elaborate building with my newfound treasure.

For this project, I knew I wanted to build a traditional tablescape, but the scene would definitely need some people in it, too. I called upon my favorite toys -- the only toys that survived my childhood -- Dick Tracy action figures, circa 1990. I chose the 5 that best represented our Thanksgiving crew with the exception of Kat. Unfortunately, I have no female action figures, so one of the gangsters got a speedy makeover with a snippet of hair from a Halloween wig wrapped around his head. Sorry, Kat. I was on a mission, and I figure we can blame the intense volume of your hairdo on the humidity.

With the scale of the figures in mind, I went on a scavenger hunt through the house, finding anything that could be used or transformed for the scene I had in my head. This is what I came up with.

The Thanksgiving crew shown here (l to r): Kat, Glen, Robert, J.D. and Dusty.
Also known as Influence, Sam Catchem, Itchy, Mumbles and Shoulders.
The scene was set up on the secretary in the foyer. I thought the wood surround would provide warmth to the shot that also looked like paneling or a vintage grasscloth wallpaper. I brought the table and figures to the edge of the desktop, giving the shot some depth and a slightly blurred background (see photos below).

Here's a list of some items I found and how they were used:

  • Coaster holders = Table base
  • Brown cardstock = Table top
  • Cocktail napkin corners = Napkins
  • Foam earplugs = Pilar candles
  • Electrical caps = Cups
  • Spray bottle cap = Flower vase
  • Potpourri = Food elements
  • Necco wafers = Plates
  • Metal brads = Utensils
  • Fabric scraps = Table runner and Rug

I also used a few paper scraps to craft items such as casserole dishes, the lampshade and the red planter in the background. The lamp base was taken from a wooden artist mannequin.

For 2 hours of time and a total cost of $0, I think I tuned-in to the scaled down concept pretty well. Now, if I can just find a way to apply that same amount of time and cost to our Thanksgiving dinner, I will really be onto something.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Come On-A My House

There's no denying that owning a home is a big undertaking. Payments, maintenance and a whole lot of cleaning can quickly consume your life. However, when you're a homeowner and a designer, it's less of an undertaking and more of an obsession.

Creating a harmonious space that offers comfort, style and personality is one of my most sincere passions. Since purchasing my home, I have tirelessly worked to customize every room, eliminating flat white walls and builder-grade fixtures along the way. From the living room to the linen closet, every square foot has been given purpose, functionality and spirit...right down to the house numbers.

 As many of you know, I'm a mid-century design enthusiast. Naturally, this is the style I wanted for my home, but turning new construction into a mid-century marvel is no small task. The bones of an MCM home just aren't present in most modern day structures, so you have to find other ways to bring that spirit to the space. By way of sketch pad, hammer, power tools and paintbrush, I achieved this look, one room at a time.

You're invited to take a tour of my home and find out a little more about my methods along the way. 

I started by drawing a complete digital floor plan of the home to scale in Illustrator. This is a somewhat time-consuming task, but I believe it's a tool every home owner should have. With this file, I was able to measure furniture and configure it in the space without any strenuous activity or lifting. By shopping online, I was able to get furniture measurements, which I applied to vector shapes in the file. This saved a lot of time and eliminated the need for merchandise returns.

Variegated shag carpeting and a palette of gray tones were selected throughout the house, harkening back to the mid-century era. Accents of deep turquoise and gold are seen from room to room, tying the theme together.

For the most used room in the house, I wanted a space that was inviting and relaxing with a few playful accents. I worked with a cabinet maker to construct a built-in L-shaped banquette, which creates an intimate conversation pit with maximum seating. It also doubles as storage for movies, blankets, games and stereo components. I installed a surround sound system in the ceiling, which also connects to the RCA phonograph for a vintage sound experience.

The focal point in the room is a plywood facade, which I covered in mini glass subway tile and framed with wood. The gel fuel fireplace adds warmth and sparkle to the feature wall. I also built a cornice with recessed lighting that extends around the room. This architectural element houses the chocolate brown velvet curtains, giving a hotel-like feel that enhances the height of the room.

A collection of mid-century furniture pieces ground the space. As you may read in my other blog posts, many of these pieces were scouted out, refurbished and transformed. Original artwork and handmade pillows bring a vibrant pop of vintage playfulness.

Rich elements of hardwood, granite and stainless steel fill the kitchen and dining areas, brining a sense of modern elegance. The deep turquoise color is repeated on the back wall of the kitchen, linking it to the adjoining great room. Vintage cans and colorful accessories help to carry the retro theme. The bar is a 1950s piece by Virtue Bros. of Hollywood, and the dining set is a refurbished mid-century collection by Broyhill from the early '60s.

The tonal gray palette is carried throughout the second floor. In the master suite, the vintage vibe continues with a nod to old Hollywood. Warm, muted tones mixed with rich woods, glass and metals bring a feeling of luxury to the space. The room is accessorized with vintage projectors, cameras, movie posters and photographs of famous Los Angeles theaters. The cornice featured in the great room was also added to the master suite, bringing continuity through the house.

The adjoining master bath is open and airy, giving the space a hotel-like quality. Vintage maps adorn the walls, and lush plants soften the architectural lines. Large circle mirrors were added to evoke the feel of a deco style vanity.

Just down the hall is the guest room and nearby bath. The goal was to make these two rooms feel like one -- an alternative master suite at the front of the house. In order to achieve this, both rooms were painted the same color. the curtains used in the bedroom are repeated outside the shower/bathtub, creating a layer of depth and interest. Stripe patterns and accents of orange, lime and turquoise help to unify the two spaces.

At 9' x 10', the third bedroom/office room required some strategic planning in furniture size and placement.  A 1950s steel tanker desk was restored and painted in a two-tone greige scheme. The desk provides ample storage and a large work surface for creative projects. In Mad Men style, the desk faces two executive chairs (also refurbished), providing a place to meet with clients and guests. Of course, it's a great spot to enjoy a cocktail, too.

As I see it, no office would be complete without a vintage candy machine, just like the one at Sterling Cooper & Partners. This rare gem was fully restored and painted a vibrant yellow, complimenting the vibrant character art and accessories throughout the room. Read more about how I acquired the 1964 National Vending Machine here.

Taking on the redesign of an entire house can be a lot of fun. It's your chance to really get creative and be inventive, but it also requires some careful planning, research and saving. If you're looking to bring a fresh look to your own home, I encourage you to keep these pointers in mind:
  • Practice safe design by starting with a concept.
  • Know what you're getting into before you get started. 
  • Develop a budget (and try to stick to it).
  • Be bold! Find what inspires you and embrace it.
  • End it with editing. There's nothing worse than an over-accessorized, crowded room.
You will find that a little planning can save a lot of time and money, allowing for a smooth workflow throughout the design process. With that, I bid you happy designing. May you be inspired to create a space you're proud to come home to! 

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Mission to Mod

As I sit here today listening to the playlist created for the 2012 Halloween party, I've been inspired to get a recap of the party on the blog. It's been a whirlwind of work for the past 8 months at Creative RAM, and while we're busier than ever, the Mission to Mod party was far too epic to keep to myself.

They said the Carniv├ále d’Abnorm├ále party couldn't be outdone, but anyone who attended Mission to Mod will tell you, it was out of this world (pun completely intended).

The Theme: 1960s outer space exploration
As with most of my parties, the theme was very specific. The goal was to create a minimalistic and futuristic scene with British mod influences. Invitations were mailed in silver vacuum envelopes and included a save-the-date magnet as well as a boarding pass.

Guests were also directed to the website, offering a costume inspiration gallery and other activities to get the ideas flowing. 

Turning a residence into a spaceship is no small task. Construction began in early September, and never ceased up to the day of the party. When it came time to cover the walls, I recalled using sintra from my trade show and exhibit days. Sintra is a thin substrate made of compressed pvc. It's a cost-effective material that comes in a variety of thicknesses and colors. It can be wrapped around curved surfaces, and cut easily with an x-acto knifetruly, an outstanding material that's perfect for temporary construction.

Every inch of space was covered with sintra to give that mod spaceship feel. Once the flat sheets were attached to the walls, raised panels were drawn in Illustrator and cut with a water jet, then adhered with foam tape and wood block stand-offs.

At the center of attention was the command center. Framed from 2x4s and plywood, this area was also covered in sintra. A trip to the thrift store was the perfect solution for creating controls and gadgetry. A cartload of miscellaneous toys and housewares for $24 provided a variety of uses. Each piece was disassembled or repurposed in some way, then spray painted and glued to the command center. Gauges and flashing lights were added for more moody effects, as well as laptops and an iPad, which controlled the music for the evening. It was important to keep the minimal, spacey look while still providing plenty of seating. By building a replica of the existing bench on the opposite side of the living room, we maximized seating and created a feeling of symmetry.

A second command center was constructed in the garage as a backdrop for photo ops.

In order to give guests the feeling of being in space, we had to conceal the kitchen. I was very much inspired by the old automats from the '40s and '50s, and found it to be an excellent way to feed guests while hiding cabinetry and appliances. The wall was drawn in illustrator, cut from plywood, framed then covered in sintra. Strings of white Christmas lights were hung inside to give some depth and interest. A black curtain was hung across the back of the structure, which kept eyes off the cooks and the kitchen. Once filled with foil-wrapped food containers, the automat was a highlight of the evening.

On the menu: Lunar noodles, tribble bits, milky way mash, protein cubes, micro harvest, moon rocks, jell-o shots, planet pops and a variety of space-themed cocktails in test tubes.

Games and Such:
When it came to creating activities, the goal was to provide non-stop energy and fun (as any party should)! A go go cage was the ideal solution that not only met the criteria, but also tied into the '60s vibe. Crafted completely from metal, this structure was built off-site, and assembled piece-by-piece in the corner of the living room. The "Gamm-A-Go-Go" featured color-changing LED lights, brushed steel floor and water-filled bubble bars. Yes, I said bubble bars. If there was a way to keep the go go cage in my living room year-round, believe me, I would. A glowing go go cage in the living room...unbelievable!

Another activity was created by using my 1950s bar. This is a prized piece of furniture, so I didn't want to move it if at all possible. Instead, I masked it with sintra, and created new shelves in the upper cabinet to create the Astro Blaster. Guests used ray guns to shoot rubber bands at asteroids crafted from ping pong balls and blacklight paint. Guests saved the world from impending doom and received prizes for their heroic efforts.

Once the main party area was covered, we focused on creating a grand entrance in the foyer. The Saturn V rocket seemed like an appropriate choice, so we started framing it out. The structure measured 23-feet from floor to ceiling, and there were many scary moments for me being up on the extension ladder. "All for the love of the party, Robert." is what I repeated with every rung. Once the framing was in-place, it was covered in sintra, then adorned with vinyl decals and other dimensional pieces. Glowing thrusters were added to the base, and a fog machine completed the look. A star lamp was mounted in the archway to add a mystical effect to the entry as guests passed through.

Also in the foyer was a 1960s candy vending machine. This incredible piece was a Craigslist find that I found in Santa Rosa. It had lived in the local Volkswagen dealership for years, so it was fitting that it ended up in my VW. I made the 2-hour trek and hauled it back to town, top down. It was a scary ride with the machine rattling the entire way, in fear that I may be crushed. I probably shaved a few years off my life just from the stress, but 100% worth it. I thoroughly restored the machine and fully stocked it with candy. I designed custom-themed wrappers for each bar (about 400 wrappers total). Some candies contained mystery prizes and gift cards, too!

It goes without saying, this party would not have happened without the brilliant minds of Zack and Kristine Spencer. Construction, resources and countless hours were put into this event, and they were at the heart of it. Because none of us know when to quit, a series of robots were constructed and placed throughout the space. The Kegbot 2000 was among the most popular. This creation housed a chilled pony keg in its torso, party cup dispenser in one arm, and a tap in the other.

The icing on the cake was a pod door installed on the porch. This incredible addition featured a video screen, instructions from a British lady robot, boarding pass barcode scanner, hydraulic sound effects and fog activation. Upon scanning your boarding pass, the door would slide open, granting entry into the party. If you weren't wishing you were in attendance already, you are now.

Here's a look at the brilliant shots captured by Pacheco Photography.

What's in-store for 2013? Well, I've contemplated taking a year off after this monumental bash. However, as most people have already rolled their eyes at that statement, I have in fact began turning the gears. Time will tell.