A few weeks ago, I donned a pair of pink ballet slippers and headed off to my very first ballet class – ever.

In doing so, I crossed the line from an observer of Ballet to a participant.

It was an exciting first step!

Later, it occurred to me that I’d been playing the same side-stepping game around my passion for food – always the observer, never the participant.

Well, all that’s about to change.

I, for one, find it impossible to envision a vibrant, nurturing home without also focusing on food, and the kitchen, thus bringing our range of sensory experiences full circle.

This is, in part, why I’ve introduced a new tagline to my Harmony Design Studio website – “Healthy Home, Healthy Body, Healthy Mind”.

I believe in approaching client projects from every angle, and have long embraced a more holistic approach to interior design.

I also believe in nourishing ourselves in every sense of the word by celebrating beauty and enjoying the bounty on our tables.

And when it comes to nourishing ourselves, I am also an advocate for that segment of our community dealing with food allergies and Celiac Disease.

For this reason, I’m excited to announce my new Blog and website, titled “The Gluten-Free Designer”.

While the new Blog is an off-shoot of my primary business – Harmony Design Studio – it has been established with your health in mind.

For anyone wondering what a Healthy Body and a Healthy Mind have to do with interior design and your home, the answer is simple.



As you probably know by now, I recently upgraded my home office.  

As you may also know, if you follow this blog regularly, I’m a big advocate for protecting the environment and the health of my clients.

My motto is “Healthy Home, Healthy Body, Healthy Mind.”

That means low-VOC paints, eco-friendly fabrics, FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) woods, and water-based finishes – in other words, zero toxins wherever possible.

This remodel was no exception.

For this very reason, I took the extra step of ordering ‘green’ cabinetry – manufactured to my specifications, to ensure a non-toxic environment.


Standard cabinets are made from formaldehyde-containing particle board that typically will off-gas formaldehyde for up to five years.

Needless to say, this can contribute to significant health problems.

(In today’s market, there are a wide variety of sustainable options for cabinetry manufactured with water-based glues and adhesives, and particleboard that does not contain formaldehyde).

Which brings me to the countertop.



On the heels of a recent post titled “Designing Not So Big”, I came across this headline while browsing through a magazine:

‘THINK BIG’                                                                                                    

My first thought was – “Oh no” – they’ve taken a similar message & have turned it around to say the exact opposite.

But then I read the smaller print, which said:



I didn’t need to read any further.

You see, I’d already come up with my own reasons why ‘Thinking Small’ can help you to ‘Live Large’.

Here they are:

1 – Smaller homes are more affordable and require less of everything.

Less maintenance. Less expense.

Need to paint the house top to bottom, or replace the carpet?  What about replacing the windows, in lieu of more energy efficient options?

Less square footage also means lower utility bills. You will even need less furniture!

And because you will need LESS of everything, you can spend MORE on higher quality, and still come out ahead.

Meaning you won’t have to break the budget to achieve an amazing result!



Are you familiar with the term trompe l’oeil, French for ‘fool the eye’?

At some point, you’ve probably seen a painting, or wall finish, such as the one to the right, which looks so realistic you’d swear it was the real thing.

In this case, the life-size statuary and carved moldings, appear to be the classical edifice of a building.

Except that it isn’t.

Paintings such as this can be especially deceiving. You think you are looking at statuary, or a still-life arrangement of books that are so convincingly 3-dimensional you feel you could reach into the painting and pick them up.

It literally fools the eye.



I’ve just learned that a local radio station will be hosting a special holiday talk show titled “12 Days of Green”. I particularly like the ‘green’ twist on the traditional 12 Days of Christmas –it struck me as both clever and timely. After all, Christmas is fast approaching, and every year it seems there are more suggestions on how to make your holidays Green.

Here is a brief summary of the various tips and recommendations I have come across during this holiday season:

TREES & DECORATION                   HolidayLightsiStock_000002392693XSmall

The prevailing wisdom still dictates that a live tree is preferable to an artificial one, since the latter is made almost entirely from plastics, that can’t be recycled. The bottom line is that while it can seem wasteful to have a living tree from one year to the next, it is actually more beneficial to the environment, especially if you support what is grown or manufactured locally.

Other ways to bring the outdoors in are by collecting pine cones and branches of holly berries, or whatever else you might find that suits your holiday decor. If you have children, old standbys like strings of cranberries and popcorn are fun decorations; when the holidays are over you can put them in your yard waste, or give them to the birds.

I literally cringed when I read that we should avoid using tinsel, because it can’t be recycled. In my family, tinsel on the Christmas tree is a tradition that goes as far back as I can remember. When it came to decorating the tree it was always my father’s crowning achievement. He would add the tinsel at the very end, ever so carefully and always very meticulously. Give up tinsel? Me? Maybe next year.


Did you know that LEDs (light-emitting diodes) are at least 90% more energy efficient than regular incandescent bulbs? Cool to the touch, they also pose less of a fire hazard, and will last for thousands of hours longer than incandescent bulbs.

LEDs are widely available in many different colors, and shapes, and can be found at your local retailer. By switching to LED’s you will save electricity and enjoy a lower electrical bill!

Be sure you don’t throw away your old lights; check your local listings to find out how they can be recycled.


The general idea with the giving of gifts, is to tread light and give less by focusing on gifts that are less wasteful, and kinder to the environment. For example, you can give the gardener in your life a sturdy, easy to care for plant which is definitely green any way you look at it. Plus there is zero waste.

Whether purchased or homemade, food gifts can be a great idea. As with any gift just make certain it is something the recipient would like. Studies show that as much as 20% of food gifts get thrown out!

Avoid using foil or plastic-coated gift wraps as they are not recyclable. Instead, look for gift wrap that is either made from recycled paper, or lends itself to being recycled.

If you want to be really creative, try wrapping your gift with something that can be re-purposed, such as a colorful kitchen towel, or cloth shopping bag.


So many things can be recycled – trees (which can be composted), holiday lights, batteries, electronics, wrapping paper and of course, food. For the latter, take advantage of your local yard waste program, and for everything else check out your local listings for various recycle programs.


The newest thing I’m hearing this year, is the emphasis on eating locally grown, seasonal food. In doing so, you will be supporting both the environment and local businesses. Choose organic produce whenever possible, and you will be doing even more for your health and well-being, especially during a season fraught with temptation and unhealthy food choices.

IN SUMMARY As you can see, there’s no need to give up your traditions, it’s simply a matter of tweaking them!

Plus, whether greening your holidays, or greening your home, I always take the approach that it is not necessary to do everything all at once. While every little bit helps, it is more important, in my view, to do what feels most comfortable to you, in the moment. It’s a little bit like being on a diet, because if you start to feel deprived, or that you are sacrificing too much, your efforts simply won’t last.

What To Look For In The Eco-Savvy Kitchen

“There is no love sincerer than food.” George Bernard Shaw

Harwell Kitchen

What could be more appropriate a week before the Thanksgiving holiday, than a discussion of kitchens and food? So, bear with me a moment as we take another look at beautiful Biltmore House, in North Carolina, focusing this time on the Biltmore kitchens. Yes, that’s ‘kitchens’ as in plural; it’s not a typo.

As was typical of the day, the kitchens at Biltmore were located in the mansion’s cavernous basement, and were reached by a separate service entrance reserved for use by household staff. There were a variety of rooms that comprised the kitchen, beginning with a vegetable pantry and large, walk-in refrigerators. Remember, this was in 1895; the mechanical refrigeration system was, of course very different from what we see today, yet highly sophisticated for the time. Continuing on, there was a separate Pastry kitchen, reserved for the pastry chef to produce a bounty of cakes, breads and pastries, and a Rotisserie kitchen – in an effort to keep the roasting smells separate from the main cooking area, this was used strictly for the roasting of meats.

The main kitchen facility was a large, cheerful room ruled by Biltmore’s head chef. There was an enormous iron stove in one corner and a huge work table front and center, for prep work. A variety of pots and pans hung overhead, including some of the original copper pots! There was plenty of room for storage and all the latest in kitchen equipment and utensils, and of course, a separate kitchen pantry for washing up afterwards. The pantry included a dumbwaiter, which would have been a necessity for transporting the carefully prepared meals to the floors above.

Fast forward to the present, and compare this to the typical kitchen of today. While the Biltmore kitchen seemed to have it all, our modern kitchens are equally efficient, yet  modest in scale. No longer relegated to the basement, or a separate room at the back of the house, the modern kitchen is considered the hearth of the home, and is an ideal place to entertain family and friends.

It is not surprising, then, that a kitchen remodel is usually high on the list for home improvement. Yet where does one begin? What should one look for when creating an eco-friendly, ‘green’ kitchen?

The following guidelines are a good place to start:

Think Smaller Scale. Think Local.
Do you really need a grandiose kitchen like Biltmore, or can you get by with less? The illusion is that a larger kitchen will fulfill all your workspace and storage needs. While this may be true on some level, the reality is that you can have a highly efficient, well-designed kitchen in a relatively compact space. Keep in mind that by reducing the scale of your dream kitchen, you can reduce the overall cost, and instead think bigger in terms of the overall design. In other words, you can re-purpose those funds into higher end cabinetry, quality appliances, and clever storage options and still come out ahead without breaking your budget. Should you start to feel overwhelmed at any point in the process, consider hiring a professional designer to help you sort through all your options. Remember to support local businesses and locally manufactured products. In doing so, you will reduce transportation costs and your carbon footprint.

Splurge on Quality Appliances
The biggest, energy efficient change you can make in your kitchen is to install Energy Star appliances. The Energy Star stamp of approval is highly reliable, and can be found on appliances in any price range.

Super-Efficient Storage
Before you can decide on storage options, you will need to inventory what you already have and weed out kitchen equipment that you no longer use. Do you really need three vegetable peelers and a dozen spatulas? What about the fondue pot that hasn’t graced the table in over five years? Be ruthless, and remember:  once you’ve cleared out your cabinets and have clarified your priorities the last thing you need is another shopping trip to your favorite kitchen store. Learn to rein yourself in and get by with less.

Rethink Your Cabinets
In today’s market, there are a large variety of sustainable options for cabinets; whatever brand, or type of material you choose, make sure the manufacturer uses water-based glues and adhesives, and particleboard that does not contain formaldehyde. Alternatively, if your cabinets are in relatively good condition, consider having them refinished, or refaced, or perhaps relocating them to the laundry room or garage. In doing so, you will reduce waste, and protect the landfills.

Counter Intelligence
There are an endless number of choices for countertops and decorative backsplashes, including re-cycled glass, concrete, or composite products made from paper and resin. The sky is really the limit here. This is where you can let your creative juices flow and have fun!

As you prepare for your family’s Thanksgiving feast during the coming week, pay close attention to how well your present kitchen is working for you, and what changes you would make if you were to embark on a remodel. Do your homework. Know what you can’t live without. Compile your Wish List. Be sure to DREAM BIG!