Research : Wood Flooring

I admit to being a purist when it comes to materials. So naturally, I entered into defense mode when the subject of wood look alternatives came up during a design meeting for the Family Home project. In my opinion, nothing beats the authenticity of a real wood floor. It might not remain spotless and perfect over its lifetime, but I love how the appearance of the floor reflects the story of the space and the events that took place there. Particularly in low traffic residential applications, you can’t go wrong with solid hardwood. Regardless, I set out to do some research to gain a better understanding of what the options are. 


Solid Hardwood

What is it?

Solid hardwood flooring is milled from a single piece of lumber; typically maple, oak, birch or beech. Hardness of the species and choice of surface finishing determines the floors resistance to denting and scratching.


Where can I use it?

Solid hardwood floors are prone to shrinking and expanding based on humidity levels. It is not recommended to install solid hardwood floors below grade or above a concrete subfloor.


How long will it last?

50-100+ years. Solid hardwood can be refinished up to 10 times during its lifetime.


Is it sustainable?

Solid hardwood is considered sustainable if the wood comes from a responsibly managed forest. Keep an eye out for products certified by the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council). Bamboo and palm are fast growing grasses that are earth friendly alternatives to solid hardwood.



Composite Flooring

What is it?

Laminate. Vinyl. Luxury Vinyl. All of these composite materials can fake a wood floor. Each manufacturer has their own secret recipe but all of these products are made up of layers; typically some sort of backing, a printed design layer and a protective top layer. Sometimes a surface embossing is added to give the product a more realistic texture.


Where can I use it?

Composite flooring can be installed either above or below grade.


How long will it last?

10-20 years depending on the quality of the product. Unlike real wood, it can not be refinished but is typically more resistant to wear, scratching and staining.


Is it sustainable?

Composite flooring is made from non-renewable resources and usually goes straight to the landfill at the end of its lifetime. That said, there are some products on the market which are made from high levels of recycled material.


Engineered Hardwood

What is it?

Engineered hardwood is composed of a plywood core topped with a hardwood veneer. The lamination process used to make the product increases the stability of the floor and reduces the amount it shrinks and expands.


Where can I use it?

One of the main advantages of engineered hardwood over solid wood is the ability to install it below grade or over a concrete subfloor. Engineered hardwood is typically thinner than solid hardwood, making it a better choice to install over radiant heating systems.


How long will it last?

The thickness of this veneer determines how many times the product can be refinished and the lifespan of the floor. A high quality engineered wood floor with a thick veneer may last as long as solid hardwood.


Is it sustainable?

Engineered hardwood is a sustainable option if the wood comes from a responsibly managed forest.


Wood Look Tile

What is it?

Similar to composite flooring, a wood look design is printed onto ceramic or porcelain tile. The tiles are often embossed to give the product a realistic texture.


Where can I use it?

Wood look tile can be installed either above or below grade. Tile is also suitable for wet areas such as kitchens, baths, basements and outdoor spaces.


How long will it last?

The lifespan of porcelain tile can be up to 50 years depending on the quality of installation.


Is it sustainable?

Places which recycle ceramic tile are few and far between. Oftentimes, used product ends up in a landfill.

Monthly Musings : June

“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” – St. Augustine


I remember clearly the feeling I had when I boarded the flight for my first trip outside of North America. Along with the excitement and anticipation, I felt uneasy knowing that I would soon find myself in a place that was totally foreign. What if no one spoke English? What if I got separated from my friends and couldn’t find my way back to the hostel? Is pickpocketing a thing in Vienna? These worries seemed trivial once I arrived and realized that traveling is so much easier than I had expected. Six years after that first trip abroad, I have had the pleasure of visiting numerous countries all over the world. It doesn’t get much better than waking up somewhere new, the whole day ahead to explore, eat local and become part of that place, even if just for a short time. I have learned that things aren’t always as they seem. I have met innumerable kind, helpful and fascinating people. I have been inspired by things that I didn’t even know existed. And I can’t wait for the journey to continue. 


The picture below is from last weeks trip to Stockholm, where Noel went to a conference and I had the city to myself for five glorious days.


Monthly Musings : May

Up until now, my hiking experience can be described as a few day trips here and there followed by complete body exhaustion. This is partly due to apathy and partly because living in the midwest offers few opportunities for mountain adventures. Now that I find myself in outdoorsy VT, incredibly close to some of the best hiking in the country, there is no excuse and I am IN TO IT. This weekend, I tackled my first White mountain, Mt. Moosilauke with Noel and one of my best friends, Lisa who was visiting from Brooklyn. We trudged up an endless rocky incline, laughed at summit bros and slid down still icy terrain because according to EMS, “micro spike season is over”. It was the best day and I’m so excited to keep exploring the gorgeous part of the country. 


Tech Office : Cafe Seating

I recently started working on an office renovation project. The scope includes designing a new addition to the existing office building and revamping the social spaces. Last week, we presented our design ideas for the new kitchen and seating area. Happily, our ideas were well received and we’re moving forward with the design! 


Below, you can see the proposed floorplan. By providing many different types of seating options we hope to craft a space that will be used throughout the entire day, not just during mealtimes. A long bar height table is shown next to a window looking out onto the patio. I saw this type of seating everywhere when I was living in Chicago and it was a great place to sit and watch the activity unfold on the sidewalk. Next, a communal table for lunch as a large group. Many employees stick around during lunchtime and like to eat together at the large table in their current kitchen. Below that, a flexible seating area is shown. Cafe tables can be pushed together and pulled apart as needed. This area is intended to be constantly moving and changing, even pushed to the side at times to make room for foldable game tables. Lastly, a grouping of individual soft chairs is a place where you can go to focus, read a paper, work on your laptop or take a phone call. The mesh panels on three sides of the chair provide even more privacy for the user. 

Travel : Iceland

This past summer, Noel and I visited Iceland on a 7 day stopover through Iceland Air. I have to admit that Iceland wasn’t originally on the top of my travel list. However, the more I researched the country, the more excited I became to see its many dramatic natural features and differing landscapes. Iceland is the most sparsely populated country in Europe and is located at the juncture of the North Atlantic and Arctic ocean. The majority of the population live on the Southern part of the island near the capital, Reykjavik. During our weeklong tour of the country, we drove along the whole of Route 1 (the ring road) which connects all of the inhabited parts of the island. It didn’t take long after leaving Reykjavik to feel like you were alone in a strange and beautiful land, with not a store or gas station or other car in sight for miles and miles. 


The original settlers of Iceland often covered their homes and churches with grass and turf, a technique known as earth sheltering. This protects the structure from a harsh climate and takes advantage of the inherent heat of the earth, regulating the interior temperature. This building type was largely abandoned in the early 1900’s in favor of a more modern approach. Scandinavian influences can be seen in much of the architecture which is overwhelmingly simple in form and constructed out of natural, functional materials. The most popular exterior cladding was corrugated metal or concrete, both of which were often painted bright colors. It was surprising how such utilitarian materials could be manipulated in so many ways through color and detail and produce such an inviting atmosphere. 

Research : Radiant Floor Heating

Do you ever wonder why warming up by the fire on a chilly winter evening is so comforting? Or why we can always find our pets positioning themselves in the precise location of the sunbeam streaming in through our windows? These are examples of heat transferred by radiation. Heat from a source, in this case the fire or the sun, is transferred to the surrounding surfaces and objects by means of electromagnetic waves. By heating a surface directly, the user feels warmth and comfort immediately upon contact.


Radiant heating is one of the oldest and most efficient ways to heat a space. It’s history dates as far back as the Roman Empire, with the use of the hypocaust. In those times, the floor would be raised above the ground with tiled pillars and space would be left between the walls. Hot air and smoke from a wood furnace would be directed to these enclosed areas, heating the interior space but not polluting it. The warm air was then released outside through flues in the roof.


Today there are two main types of radiant heating systems, electric and hydronic


In an electric system, thin cables or mats are built into the floor or laid in-between the subfloor and the finished floor. An electric system can be made even more efficient by including a thermal mass such as a thick concrete slab which can be heated at night when electricity is cheaper and slowly release the stored heat throughout the day. This system is best for smaller renovation projects or additions where it is impractical to extend the existing heating system into the new space. 


Hydronic systems work by pumping hot water from a boiler or water heater through a network of tubes under the subfloor. This system is best for new construction or if the radiant heat system is the primary heat source for the building. 


Any type of flooring can be used over a radiant heating system, although hard surfaces such as ceramic tile, wood or stone are preferable over carpet because the insulating qualities of the carpet may reduce heat flow. Radiant heating is often more efficient than other types of heating systems. Since the occupants are warmed directly by the floor and objects on the floor, it is possible to feel comfortable at a lower temperature. The system is easily zoned to avoid wasting energy on rooms that are not in use. Overall, it seems that radiant heating systems are a worthwhile and earth friendly investment. Or you could just put on a sweater

Travel : Lisbon

Last week, I had the opportunity to get out of cold, wintry Vermont and spend some time in Portugal with friends from college. Of the five girls, four of us are designers and we were loving the gorgeous, colorful city of Lisbon. The city has such an intriguing mix of architectural styles and influences. Unlike most of Europe, Portugal was a neutral country during WWII and escaped the sweeping destruction that most countries endured. Portugal is located on the Iberian peninsula bordering the Atlantic Ocean and Spain. It feels like a Mediterranean country with white washed exteriors painted vibrant colors and clay tile roofs but at the same time you can see many examples of Moorish and Islamic influences. Everywhere you turn, buildings and sidewalks are clad in thousands of stone and ceramic tiles in all shades and patterns. Lisbon is very supportive of street artists and graffiti can be found often, giving the city a gritty and lived in feel. As for interiors, we were struck by the amount of respect Portuguese designers give to the existing structures. The new blends seamlessly with the old and the result is bursting with history and character.


Not only is the city an architectural gem, the culture is hard to beat as well. We visited during Carnavale celebrations so people were especially festive. Carnavale is a celebration similar to Mardis Gras and people go all out with costumes, parades and the atmosphere is electric. Children dress up for school and we saw many lines of little ducklings marching through the streets in their adorable costumes. The food was simply prepared but beyond delicious and the wine was bright and cheap. Best of all, the time spent with friends was the most memorable part of the vacation. What could be better than abundant wine, marvelous company and an unforgettable city?

Family Home : Mood Board

One of my favorite ways to begin thinking about a project is by creating a mood board. The purpose of this exercise isn’t to select specific products or design strategies but rather to compile a group of images which convey a feeling for the space. The mood board becomes a tool that I can turn to again and again throughout the project. Every decision should support the feeling of the mood board.


This project is all about creating a sense of warmth and congeniality. A new dining space connected to the updated kitchen will be a place to hold much anticipated events for friends and family. Anchored by the glow of the fire, the new space will also offer expansive views of the Adirondack mountains. I envision the materials to have a well worn quality to them, whether it be a broken in leather lounge chair, natural slate flooring or cabinetry made from reclaimed wood. This is a space for settling in. For spreading out during baking marathons. For lingering into the night with a bottle of velvety red.