10286 Rama Ct
Last Modified Jul 3, 2014
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I have three main objectives for the interior of the house.

Timeless, traditional decor

There are many modern decors that I like. It's part of the nature of being an engineer; I have an appreciation for purposeful simplicity. But a typical modern decor can feel cold, and I'm not a big fan of that in my home. More importantly, it's a crapshoot as to whether or not a contemporary theme becomes dated. Most of the time, that's exactly what happens, and there aren't many late 20th century styles that have experienced any sort of widespread resurgence. Yes, I'm ignoring the small contingent with nostalgic memories of the 1970's, and in some areas that includes myself since it was really the last period in my life where a good percentage of homes in the U.S. were built to last from materials that stood the test of time and like any other era, the 1970's produced some design gems. But since that time, most residential homes have migrated to cookie-cutter designs whose primary design contraint is price (and profit for the builder). We didn't have the plethora of 1,000+ look-alike homes in subdivisions that we have today. I'm not knocking them, they're ideal for many people and if they weren't, they wouldn't be so plentiful. They're just not for me.

I want a timeless decor that's stood the test of time. I also want a decor that my sweetie likes as much (if not more) than I do. In the end, I'm not an atypical American male; I could live in a loft in a garage and be perfectly happy.

I also want materials that stand the test of time. Home renovation is highly disruptive, especially when it comes to things like flooring. The good news here is that I love ceramic tile when it's done correctly and tastefully, and I also love hardwood flooring. And the other good news is that a modern hardwood floor from a top-tier brand such as Kahr's is not only beautiful, but highly engineered to produce a dimensionally stable product that's easy to install floating (to avoid issues with long-term joint stress and provide soun dampening) and dead square in every piece including 7" wide planks.

I want to ditch all of the builder-grade trim in the house. Some of it is trashed (by the previous owner's dog?), and none of it is in the style I'd prefer. I like substantial trim, and I like rosetta blocks, plinth blocks, etc. There's one window in the house whose casing I can't easily replace, and that's the giant full-wall window in the family room. There's a large semicircle arch in the center, and two quarter circle arches at the top left and right. It's not that it's not doable, it's that I don't have the tools to do it at this time (band saw, router table, edge sander). But the rest of the trim can be replaced with Federal or Georgian style trim with the tools I already own and a table saw I intend to purchase.

Efficiency

Energy is a precious commodity we should be preserving. It's also expensive on a monthly basis, and the cost grows every year. I am a proponent of conserving energy, especially when there's a long-term impact on my pocketbook as well as my time. For example, I am a big proponent of LED lighting. It's efficient (lumens/watt), generates less heat than incandescent or halogen (lower impact on cooling costs in the summer), and lasts MUCH longer than any other available technology. I hate changing light bulbs, especially those that are hard to reach. I like recessed lighting for its effectiveness and simple out-of-the-way design. But I've never liked the fact that when loaded with incandescent bulbs, an IC-rated housing traps a tremendous amount of heat, shortening bulb life and creating cooling load in the summer. A non-IC rated can causes insulation issues. When loaded with incandescent bulbs, both create insulation headaches in the space above. LED bulbs solve these issues; you can actually go beyond an IC-rated housing to an airtight housing as I've done in the garage, and insulate right to the housing. A typical 9W to 18W LED BR30, PAR30 or PAR38 doesn't generate enough heat to come anywhere near a fire risk. And today's LED bulbs from Cree are almost indistinguishable from an incandescent, and are head and shoulders above any CFL on the market. Their TW line has a high CRI to boot, and I hope they release some BR30 bulbs with a similar CRI. But I have 24 of their 5000K BR30 bulbs in the garage and 15 of their 2700K BR30 bulbs in the living space, and I love them. Instant on, low power consumption, very long life (decades).

Intelligence

I want a smart home. What does this mean? Ultimately, it means saving time and human energy. We lead busy lives these days, and as I get older, I realize that time is more precious than anything. I don't want to spend any time performing mundane tasks that can be accomplished with an intelligent device. For example, I don't want to have to put a laundry basket down to turn on a light, hence the occupancy-sensing light switch in the laundry room. I don't want to fiddle with my thermostat to save energy and keep me comfortable, hence the Nest thermostat. I don't want to get up and walk across the room to dim the lights to watch a movie, hence the infrared remote dimmers in the family room. These are of course simple examples, but they save me time.

I don't want to be chained by technology. If a piece of technology takes more of my time than it's worth, it's junk. Ultimately, I'd like much of the simple things at home to be automatic or voice controlled. I'll get there, but it'll be a long voyage.

I also don't want intrusive technology. This means several things to me. I don't want devices that look like hell (say my existing circa 1995 smoke and carbon monozide detectors). I also don't want devices that present invasions of privacy (Google, if you mess up Nest like I think you're planning, I'll be firewalling my Nest devices and taking my future business elsewhere).

Mixing modern devices in traditional decor

So I want modern amenities, but I don't want a modern looking interior. How do I resolve the issues?

Key to pulling off a traditional design with modern amenities is hiding the technology where possible. For example, my lifestyle dictates that I have entertainment gear in the family room. And I'm a huge fan of music and movies, which means I'm not satisfied with just two channels of audio (I consider 5.1 a bare minimum), and for stereo listening, I need fidelity and respectable power. But I don't want floorstanding speakers that consume floor space and draw attention to themselves (from humans and pets) by being on the floor. Yes, it's easiest to get good sound by being able to move speakers around, but floorstanding speakers don't fit in a traditional decor. The same is true of televisions and audio gear. The solution is a flat screen on the wall and in-wall speakers. It's a compromise for sound quality, and also for aesthetics versus having no audio/video gear in the family room, but the reality is that I don't want to have to visit the basement to enjoy some Miles Davis or the Red Hot Chili Peppers or a movie or the evening news. Paintable in-wall speakers are a compromise, but if done correctly (all wiring concealed, etc.) are a compromise I'm willing to make. The real trick will be concealing a subwoofer in a decor with elegant furnishings, but I'm sure I'll come up with something that works while not being an eyesore.

Another mix is light switches. For me, the easy observation is that homes of the Colonial/Federal/Georgian era had no electricity. Hence there is no light switch on the planet that is period correct. So I take some liberty here, using top-shelf decora style switches with modern features, but surrounded by simple top-shelf wallplates. While there are many decorative wallplates, in public living space I prefer a solid cast or forged brass plate with no decorations, in a nickel or dark bronze finish. They're easy to keep clean (remember they're touched on a regular basis), they don't draw a bunch of attention to themselves, and they have a simple elegance. I want eyes to be drawn to trim, furniture and decorations, not my light switches. At the same time, they shouldn't be eyesores like the builder-grade switches and plates that were in the house when I purchased it. I had originally settled on the Amerelle Madison brass wall plates with a polished nickel finish, but they became unobtainable in several configurations almost as soon as I purchased some. I am now using Baldwin solid brass plates in a satin nickel finish. I have defnitely settled on Lutron Maestro switches and simmers wherever I can use them, since I love the features and the quality and their understated look; all but the occupancy-sensing type are completely flush with the wall plate, they don't have a paddle that protrudes.