Monday, August 31, 2009

Inspirational Design: an Interview with James Michael Howard

My favorite stores in Atlanta are Mrs. Howard and Max & Company. The Atlanta stores are situated in a high end retail area designed to have the look and feel of classic city townhouses; both Mrs. Howard and Max & Company are three levels, finished to feel like luxurious homes. Of course I love the furniture and accessories in the store, but truthfully I get just as much inspiration from the beautiful architectural details in both spaces. I have never seen a store before with such exquisite attention to architectural detail, and the design of architectural detail in the stores were the sole domain of the talented designer James Michael Howard.

Jim graciously agreed to answer some questions for me, as part of my inspirational architecture and design series. Interspersed with the questions are examples of Jim's work in both architectural and interior design.


Designer Jim Howard chats with a guest at the opening of the Charlotte 'Mrs. Howard' store. Image via Charlotte Observer, photo by Photo by Olivia Fortson.

Q: How did you decide to pursue a career in architectural and interior design?

A: Actually, I fell into it by accident. In high school I worked after school for a furniture store doing deliveries and odd jobs. My only goal after high school was to move to New York and see the big city. I heard about Parsons School of Design and enrolled in what I thought that 'furniture school'.


The foyer of Atlanta's Max & Company store. Customers enter through an octagonal shaped space, with a beautiful patterned wood floor. This really sets the tone for the experience at Max& Company. Jim is responsible for the architectural design of all of the Mrs. Howard and Max&Co stores.

Q: Where do you draw inspiration from? Particular architects, designers, things, places?

A: Good design is everywhere! My office makes fun of me because I'm always saying that good things can be found in carefully concealed places called...books! I travel a good bit and always carry a sketchbook. It helps me record information about a useful detail, or resource.


The hexagon floor tiles, carefully chosen by Jim Howard, at Max & Company Atlanta. They truly take the space from good to great. There are so many variations in color in the tiles, making it the perfect grounding for the ever changing furniture scenes in this room.

Q: Do you have a particular style you favor (French, English, Belgian, etc)?

A: I am easily satisfied with the best of anything! Being an American, I like the mixture. Americans want it all. When planning any house, however, I usually take design references from the architectural language established by the architect. The most exciting houses have done have a mixture of design references including Irish, Belgian, Dutch, etc. The clients set our the agenda, but recognizing the styles, knowing the guidelines, the do's and the don'ts and managing them is my job.


This room, designed by Jim Howard, is so balanced and pleasing to me. Nothing seems heavy in here, and the curtains are beautiful - they provide a softening effect for the room, yet they also let a lot of light into the room.

Q: What are your favorite exposures for quality of light (N, E, S, W, or any variation)?

A: I inherit the house, its location on the site, and work from there. Light is your friend, but it is not the exposure. It is managing that exposure and the view that comes with it. I care more about what you see with that exposure. Sometimes the windows are beautifully placed in a room with wonderful light and views and sometimes they are not. Windows are a design element and one of the backdrops for your room. I am fortunate enough to work on some projects with pretty good views, but that is not always the case. Never let the window treatment compete with the view, and ALWAYS let the light in!


I love this detail around a round window on the third floor the Max & Company Atlanta store. It is sculptural and adds a nice third dimension to the window.

Q: What type of projects do you work on (i.e. size of home, renovations, new construction)?

A: Size does not matter; I do both residential new construction and renovations. Projects vary widely from a house we just completed on the island of Bermuda, a recent house in the mountains of Montana, a Cape Cod renovation, to a hybrid in Jacksonville Beach. When I am hired by the client I immerse myself in books and design resources to develop the best design features for that particular style. I begin with the interior architecture and fold the client's existing things into that envelope and fill in the blanks. I will take any project where the client is open-minded, and kind never hurts.


Here is a room that was a recent Jim Howard project; he was responsible for both the decor and the architectural details. There is a richness and layered effect to this room that I love. There is symmetry, but also individual elements that keep the eye moving around the space.


This picture, of the same room, shows the beauty of the wood floors.


A detail shot highlighting the intricate carvings on the mantle.

Q: What projects are you working on now?

A: Fortunately in this economy we have quite a few projects! Our newest Mrs. Howard/Max & Company is complete and opened in Charlotte, North Carolina on August 5th. It is a two story Regency building built in 1925 and is a treasure trove of design experiences. Max & Company is getting a more modern perspective, but still maintains a relaxed and casual look. My design influences were more Frank, Giacometti, and Eileen Gray. That look is timeless and edgy at the same time. Mrs. Howard (in Charlotte) has 12 to 15 foot ceilings and huge windows. The building was formerly the Charlotte Women's Club, but one of the rooms is a huge paneled room that Phoebe (Jim's wife) dubbed 'Men's Club'. There is a sepia and grisaille mural in one of the bedrooms, an Etruscan room, a free floating stone staincase with a skylight as big as Texas. If you have been in one of our stores the message is the same, but bigger. It is by far our biggest store to date.

I am also working on a stone house in Little Rock, Arkansas in a beautiful setting designed by P. Allen Smith. The house is lovely and folded perfectly into the neighborhood. Sveral beach houses, of course, one of them in Sea Island and a pseudo modern Greek house in Atlanta. We just wrapped up a house in East Hampton, New York, with six bedrooms. The house was designed and completed in nine months! Whew!


The entry of Max & Company Charlotte creates another spectacular first impression. I love the shape of this room, but I think it is the floor that steals the show.


I have not yet visited the newly opened Max & Company Charlotte store, but it looks like the architectural details designed by Jim for this space are just as spectacular. The floor is is like a piece of art, definitely the star of this space.


A room on the second floor of Max & Company Atlanta. The composition of this scene has always been very pleasing to me, but look beyond to the architectural details in the room - the dentil molding and the square panels are spectacular.


A detail shot of the mantle on the second floor of Max & Company Atlanta. Have you ever seen a store with such magnificent architectural details?

Q: What is something you should not skimp on when designing your home?

A: Enthusiasm, dreams, passion, and of course...me! Don't be afraid to take chances and don't be lazy! Every angle must be considered, reconsidered, and considered some more. Think of yourself as a designer in an upcoming showhouse. You only get one shot to make that room the best. Take it piece by piece, one room at a time.


This is perhaps my favorite image from Jim Howard's design portfolio. Every touch is just right, from the shape and lines of the furnishings to the little touches like the height of the painting - the eye travels from one side of the room to the other, taking in every single component.

Q: What trends are you seeing in your projects? Smaller, larger, green? Classical, modern, the blending of the two?

A: I am working on my first green house. The client is from Houston and formerly in the energy business, so he knows all of the tricks. It will be LEED certified. The industry is catching on and more and more products and green.

Obviously people are embracing a more modern aesthetic lately, and it is exciting! We are seeing some really talented artisans that are emerging with fresh new perspectives on existing ideas. We have worked very closely with our design partners to develop new products that are extraordinary and affordable. After all, it is not just what you know but who you know. The trends now are that good design has become far more affordable.


One of my favorite pictures of the beautiful architectural details that Jim designed in Mrs. Howard, Atlanta. The pattern in the marble floor is a great balance for the gently curbe of the stairs. These are details that are not seen in many new homes these days, so to find them in a store is remarkable.

Q: Is there a fad you hope to never seen again?

A: I wouldn't call it a fad, but can we PLEASE get past mid-century!

I hope you enjoyed this interview with designer Jim Howard. For more information on Jim, (as well as dozens of inspiring pictures from his portfolio) please visit his web site.

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Monday, August 24, 2009

A Bungalow Transformation

One of the most beautiful neighborhoods in the Buckhead area of Atlanta is called 'Haynes Manor'. The neighborhood was developed between the late 1920s and the 1940s; most of the homes are charming bungalows, cottages, and small manor style homes influenced by French and English style. I have shown quite a few pictures of homes from Haynes Manor on my blog through the years, and this is the area that design luminaries Dan Carithers and Suzanne Kasler call home.

When walking through the area, it is remarkable to see how few homes have been torn down and replaced with new homes. The majority of homeowners instead choose to carefully renovate the original homes, and love the quirky charm and unique features characteristic to older homes. I pass by one such home on one of my favorite dog walking routes, and was amazed to see pictures of its transformation on the Land Plus facebook page. This home, which is owned by the founders of Land Plus Associates, one of the premiere land planning and landscape architecture firms in Atlanta, was featured in Southern Living in 2007.


Here is a picture of the Buckhead bungalow as it looks today. This looks exactly like the storybook style house I used to draw as a child, complete with a welcoming path from the sidewalk, a big bay window, and an American flag waving by an arched entry covered with vines.


A close-up of the front door. I love the shutters on the door - it looks like they can actually be closed should the owners decide that they want a bit more privacy. My favorite doors have windows in them, but sometimes it can be a bit much to have so much of a view into a home. The shutters are the perfect solution!


Off the driveway, there is an arbor gate entry into the rear yard.


A view of the back yard and the rear elevation of the home. If I had a back yard like this, I'm not sure I would ever want to go on vacation - what a beautiful oasis in the middle of a busy city.


A grouping of container gardens bring some color into the backyard.


This is one of my favorite features - a charming guest house over the two car garage. I love the entrance to the house, which is focused on the backyard. The owners say that their guests love the privacy and beauty of the guest house.


The owners call this area 'the morning courtyard' - a perfect place to drink a cup of coffee and read the paper.


The kitchen was transformed when the owners moved into the home 10 years ago.


My favorite feature in a kitchen - an expanse of windows over the sink.


The dining room in the renovated home; I have the same dining room chairs, and I like how the owners have slipcovered them and use a different chair at the head of the table.


The renovated family room. I love the sidelights on the doors that lead outside to the back.

Now - here are the before and after pictures side by side! This is where the full transformation of the bungalow can really be appreciated.

front_before front_after

On the left, the bungalow before the transformation. The home had been 'updated', but the original charm and character of the 1930s bungalow had been stripped out of the home. The owners' realtor had seen the house and knew that they could do a stunning transformation and restore the home back to its original charm. On the right, the home as it is today. It is fascinating to see the changes - the basic shape of the home is the same, but the details have been improved with a stunning result. All of the windows have been changed, and are much more in line with the feel of the neighborhood and the original age of the home (built in 1930). The front entrance is much more beautiful now with its arch and greenery. I love the dormer window added to the roofline on the right, and the charming gas lamp by the front walk.

back_before2 back_after

On the left, the back of the home before the renovation - a series of small windows with very little relation between the inside and the outside, the house and the yard. On the right, the backyard as it is today - the addition of an arbor and the stone wall softens and beautifies the back, and makes more of a connection between the hardscape and the home.

back_before pool_after

On the left, the back yard before. It looks like the owners kept the same pool, but refurbished the decking and clearly transformed the hardscape and landscape of the back yard.

kitchen_before kitchen2_after

On the left, the kitchen as it was before the transformation. On the right, the kitchen, after. It looks like there were quite a few structural changes to the space, based on this picture.

It is always inspirational to see an older home that is given a new life with an expert renovation by owners with vision and talent. Given that far fewer people are tearing down and building right now, due to the downturn in the economy and the greater awareness of the 'green' aspect of preserving and reusing what is already there, I found this example of a beautifully renovated home to be particularly interesting.

For more information on Land Plus Associates, and examples from their magnificent portfolio, please visit their web page or their newly created Facebook page.

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Saturday, August 22, 2009

NYT Article on Interior Design in the Recession

Armando Bellmas for The New York Times

While checking out the Atlanta Homes & Lifestyles Facebook page, I found a link to this fascinating article in the home section of the New York Times. The subject: interior design during the recession, and how the industry is getting a 'renovation' given the tough times and the changing needs and expectations of consumers. Phoebe Howard (pictured above), a personal favorite as well as the darling of the design blogs, is prominently featured, as is the Mrs. Howard Personal Shopper blog. The Mrs. Howard blog is used as an example of how designers are doing new and different things to adapt to the changes in the profession and the economy.

Click here to read the article. I would love to hear your thoughts - for those of you who are designers or in a design related industry, how has the recession impacted your work? For those of you who are consumers, have you noticed a difference in the design industry over the past year? Email subscribers, click here to comment.

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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Vanishing Threshold

A few months ago, my friend Terry of Architecture Tourist emailed me about a wonderful blog by landscape designer and author Tara Dillard called 'Vanishing Threshold: Home Garden Life'. Since that time, I have become a huge fan of her blog - her posts really cause me to think about the relationship between the home and the garden in a different way. As much as I enjoy Tara's blog, it was one specific post on Coming Home: Vanishing Threshold that really spoke to me. I highly encourage you to go read it for yourself - you will probably think differently about the connection between home and garden after reading it (click here to go read the post). I think about this post often, and come back to re-read it on a regular basis. Have you ever encountered a post like this on a blog or in a magazine? It doesn't happen too often, but when it does - it is truly magical.


The picture above is from Tara's post on vanishing thresholds. As Tara says, 'vanishing threshold begins in thought, then inside your home, then outside in the landscape. In that order'. A vanishing threshold occurs when there is a thoughtful relationship between the inside and the outside, between home and garden; when the outside complements the interior, and the interior complements the outside. It occurs when you are inside and the outside to so well framed, or so seamlessly integrated with the home, that you want to go outside; and when you are outside you get lovely glimpses of what is inside, and want to go in. Home, garden, and life.


I recently profiled a beautiful home on the market in Atlanta; when I saw this view at the end of the hall, I immediately thought about vanishing thresholds. Look how beautifully the inside flows to the outside; the bench is the perfect touch, a welcoming place to rest in the garden. Notice how the wall behind (which is actually part of the family room) is covered with ivy, so it blends in with the greenery in the back of the property.


This picture is from a home designed by John Saladino. The opening of the door is perfectly situated so that it looks across the expanse of the pool into the arch of the pool house. Quite a stunning example of vanishing threshold.


William Hefner, an architect out of Los Angeles, is a master of the vanishing threshold. He clearly designs his homes with an eye for the relationship between the home and garden. I think the ideal situation when building a home is to have the architect, landscape designer, and interior designer all on the team at the onset of the project, to maximize the integration of the home, the garden, and the interior.


I've always liked this picture, not because of the decor (which is not really my style) because there is such a good relationship established between the inside and the outside in this home. Looking out the wall of windows makes me want to go out there and sit on the patio.


I always think that a conservatory type space almost becomes part of the garden - a beautiful example of the vanishing threshold. This is the breakfast room of Brooke's home, from Velvet & Linen.


I saw this kitchen on a tour of homes, and the kitchen was specifically designed so that the owner of the home could gaze out at the greenery in her backyard while cooking. I think this is a lovely vanishing threshold, don't you? The expanse of windows are perfectly designed to reveal and highlight the beautiful greenery in the backyard.

2506 Parkside Drive_archtourist

I think there is something about steel windows that automatically create a vanishing threshold. This picture, taken by the Architecture Tourist during a garden tour, beautifully frames the kitchen and makes me want to go inside - a vanishing threshold from the outside. I can just imagine that the owner of this home probably has these doors open all of the time during the spring and fall.


Another picture from William Hefner's portfolio. Again, he uses steel windows to great effect - steel windows really create such a striking indoor/outdoor relationship.


This picture, via House Beautiful and Architect Design, shows how windows can be used as a design element in a home - not only does this space have natural light coming in from two sides, but clearly it has a lush green view that is perfectly framed by the casement windows. The windows can open and close like doors, enabling a indoor/outdoor feel (if this were on an upper level, though, I would want to make sure that they can't open too wide - would not be good for the dogs or the kids!).


I love it when a master on the main opens to the back of the home. This bedroom, from an Atlanta real estate listing, opens to a covered porch off the back of the house - creating a great vanishing threshold.


This home, from an Atlanta real estate listing, has beautiful wooded views (although this picture was taken during the winter - I can only imagine how it looks now that we have had a rainy spring and summer that has made all of the trees leafier than ever). Because Atlanta is very hilly, many homes have terraces or decks across the back instead of a flat walk out back yard, and a full daylight basement. I love an expanse of French doors across the back of a home, particularly for a living room.


My dream study - with casement windows that look out onto a beautiful green view, capable of being opened with the flick of a lever.


I have always found this picture to be fascinating. Yes, there is a beautiful relationship between the indoors and the outdoors from a visual standpoint - how could there not be with huge floor to ceiling windows like this? However, I would have made these doors. The lack of doors makes the windows seem a little like a barrier between the inside and the outside.


I like this arrangement better - two sets of arched French doors, framed with billowing silk, one door cracked open to let in the fresh air. A great realtionship between the architecture, the interior design, and the garden beyond. Image via Elle Decor.


One of my favorite pictures of a casual dining area - in part because of the lantern, but also in part because of the indoor/outdoor connection of the room with the outside. Home and garden are truly in sync at this home. Image via Traditional Home.


This city apartment achieves the vanishing threshold with a rewarding view of the outside at the end of this gallery kitchen. I get the impression that the owners must enjoy sitting out there on nice summer evenings, don't you? Image via Alan Higgs Architects.

English Cottage 4

One of my favorite family rooms has a great connection between the inside and the outside - this room is in a wing, and the other side of the wall with the fireplace is actually a part of the garden landscape, as it is covered with ivy and looks like a garden wall.


This image, from an Atlanta real estate listing, shows how important the outside of a home can be for the vanishing threshold. Vanishing threshold is all about tying the home to the garden. In this case, the home and garden are both of the same French style - and clearly, there is a big connection between the inside and the outside (as the nine sets of French doors are testament to this).

I don't have too many other pictures to illustrate the connection from the outside to the inside - but Tara says a lot of it involves being aware of the view in the windows from the outside. We have all experienced the lovely view, particularly at night, of a glimpse inside a home through a glowing window - perhaps of a pretty lamp, or a curtain that has been finished just as beautifully from the outside view as from the inside. I will never forget passing by a window once, to a child's party that was in the backyard, and catching a glimpse of the back of a dining room chair - the back was a contrasting fabric. I kept that image in my mind, and when I was invited back to the house a few months later, the first thing I did was look into the dining room from the entryway, to see what the front of the chair looked like.

Please visit Tara Dillard's blog for more information on vanishing thresholds, and for landscape design inspiration. Tara is also the author of several books on landscape design, which come highly recommended. I hope this post and Tara's blog will cause you to think about the vanishing threshold in your own home!

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