Saturday, June 30, 2012


Many individuals will see a piece of wood that is reddish in tone, and assume it is Cherry wood.  This is one of the biggest misunderstandings that I have come across as a designer.  "Cherry" is not a color of wood.  Cherry is an actual species of hardwood.  Color is dependent on stain chosen.  However, one characteristic of Cherry is that over time, it will redden and darken dramatically from its original color.  If you are shopping for cabinets or flooring, and ask for "Cherry" wood, be aware that this particular species is one of the more expensive.  Furthermore, the color you see on the sample will likely not be the color you get, nor will it be the same 10 years down the road.  Clients that need to color match would be advised to select a different wood.  My advice is to select a quality hardwood in your price range, and then worry about color.  Woods and stains CAN be mixed in a room, but it can be a bit of an art, so call me if you get stuck!

When a homeowner is shopping for casegoods (wood furniture/cabinets) and is concerned with quality, one of the top questions is "Is this solid wood"?  In the case of cabinets and large furniture pieces, "solid" wood is hardly used anymore.  That is the reality.  This is partly because of cost, but mostly because of DURABILITY.  "Solid" wood is wood that has been cut from a tree, but not synthetically altered (with the exception of kiln drying, staining and finishing).  What you will find are "wood substrates", which fall into 3 basic categories:  particle board, MDF (medium density fiberboard), and plywood.  Particle board is the least expensive and will be used with either a veneer or laminate.  MDF is also cheap, but a little stronger.  The downside is largely the weight (very heavy), and it is extremely vulnerable to moisture, as are particle board and solid wood.  "Plywood" is composed of layers of solid wood stacked at 90 degree angles, glued together, and then compressed.  This causes the wood to remain stable and not warp.  With solid wood, it is not a question of WHETHER it will warp, but WHEN.  It is a natural characteristic, to expand and contract, to bend and split when exposed to heat, cold, wet and dry.  Today, solid wood is utilized in smaller pieces such as dining chairs, drawers, raised panel cabinet doors, and moldings--- pieces that are non-structural.  When it comes to structural integrity in a furniture piece or cabinet, "plywood" is your friend, not your enemy!

When shopping for quality wood products, homeowners often confuse "Veneer" with "Laminate" or "Melamine".  They are very different materials.  To start off with, "Veneer" is a thin layer of solid wood that is overlaid on top of a substrate such as "plywood".  It is REAL wood, not fake wood.  Veneer is mostly on good quality furniture, unless the substrate is particle board.  MDF may be appropriate depending on the type of piece.  "Laminate" and "Melamine" are two materials that are utilized in the same way as veneer, but are composed of synthetic elements.  They are mostly found in lesser quality furniture and countertops.  Melamine is a very thin synthetic coating that is used on particle board or MDF, and printed on using digital imagery to appear like real wood.  Laminate, AKA Formica and Wilsonart, is similar, but consists of many more layers and elements, making it more durable than Melamine.  It is commonly used in commercial design because it is tough, and easy to clean.  Given today's major concern with the environment, green designers tend to frown upon Melamine and Laminate versus wood veneer.  They carry more synthetic and plastic elements, often resulting in CFC's and other toxins which are very threatening to the environment and general air quality becoming a health hazard.  That is not to say that wood veneer cannot be coated with harmful chemical agents, but that is something that is easy to overcome with the progress that has been made in the industry in recent years.  Be sure to ask your designer/sales rep about available "Green" wood products.

In the woodworking industry, "hardwoods" and "softwoods" are not literally hard or soft, but rather a reference to the species of wood.  Softwoods are from coniferous (evergreen) trees, and Hardwoods are from deciduous trees.  For example, Alder wood is technically a deciduous tree, hence a hardwood, but is definitely one of the softer woods available.  Its density is similar to birch and pine.  Do not assume that a "hardwood" will be hard when selecting flooring and doors.  It varies widely by species.

           In conclusion, there are many details involved with quality wood and casegood selection.  I have a lot of experience with wood, and have seen the pros and cons of different wood types and substrates.  I am pleased to share the most common misconceptions and actualities that I have come across.  These are just to name a few, so if you have any other questions about wood or are starting a large project involving cabinets and/or flooring, let me know and I will be glad to assist you.  925-895-1336

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Is "Free Design Service" really free?

           Many businesses in the home construction and furnishing industry are struggling to stay afloat.  New marketing strategies and approaches are being executed in order to generate business.   Several companies that were surviving purely on referrals, and even turning away jobs, are going out of business because people just can't afford to invest in their homes the way they used to.  Home improvement efforts implemented to increase property value do not have the impact they used to, at least not enough impact to make a reasonable profit.  Reputable companies that were once forced to turn down jobs are now cutting prices by 50% just to beat competitors.

           Businesses need to offer everything their competitors do, and more.  One service that is popping up in ads for general contractors, cabinet makers, and home furnishing companies is "Free Design Service", or other similar phrases like "Free In Home Design Consultation".  But is "Free design service" really free?  The short answer would be "No".  Any business that goes around handing out free merchandise and service to the public would likely go bankrupt in a year.  With the cost of gas, rent, advertising, and anything involved in the manufacturing of goods in the U.S., giving things away for free is just not feasible if one wants to stay in business.  To explain, "Free design service" is a business tool to help generate traffic.  When consumers today see something advertised as "Free" they are very quick to pick up the phone and inquire.  Metaphorically speaking, if someone receives a coupon for a "Free Oil Change" and they take their car in to be serviced, chances are that the mechanic assisting them will find something wrong with their car--- an air filter in need of replacement, worn wiper-blades, and the like.  This costs the customer money that they otherwise might not have spent if they did not go in for the "free" oil change.  The "free" tool is very common in all trades, especially in this economy.

           If one were to do an online search for "Free design service", they would see advertisements from multiple companies with this offer.  However, taking a closer look, one will find that these particular companies are SALES based.  Companies that offer "free" design services will almost always (if not always) be sales/product based, not service based.  Their staying in business is DEPENDENT on selling the product they offer, whether it be wood siding, vinyl windows, window treatments, kitchen cabinets, etc.  The alleged "free" design is shared only on the condition that you commit to purchasing their product (at least when the free technique is used correctly).

           Unfortunately, I speak from experience when I say that this is not a hugely effective business strategy.  Statistically, if the salesperson consults with a client for an hour putting together the perfect design, then leaves the client to "think it over", the client will most likely take the floor plan and price shop with other companies.  That is the reality in today's economy.  Having worked in sales for years, I can say that in order for the "free design service" strategy to work, one needs to basically become a hard-seller.  "Get the sale, no matter what".  I have always had very strong ethics, and do genuinely care about my clients, which made me very bad at my sales job.  I was not a hard-seller, and that was what you had to be to make it in the sales game.  These days, it is very difficult to find a job in sales that is not purely commission based.  No hourly wage, no salary, no benefits.  It comes down to survival of the fittest.  Those who make the sales will put food on their table.  Commissioned sales-people are just like anyone else, they need to keep a roof over their head and feed themselves and their family.

           As a professional interior designer, I am not sales based, and do not require my clients to buy products from me.  Granted, I do have accounts with many high end furniture manufacturers and window covering companies, and am ABLE to sell the client products for their space if necessary.  However, that is purely up to the client.  My business will not suffer if they choose not to buy through me.  Offering product through my company is another way to make a project easier for the client so they don't have to go around to numerous stores shopping for something that matches my design.  Clients pay me to consult with them about their home, and give them guidance on how to arrange their space, how to decorate it, and in the case of remodels, how to re-arrange walls, built-ins, etc.  I can help homeowners with something as minor as selecting a paint color for their hallway, or as major as an entire home remodel.  I charge design fees, hourly on minor projects, and on larger projects I create a design package.

          The advantage of hiring an interior designer instead of using "Free" design services is that the designer will be non-biased.  They have no obligation to sell a product, so they remain focused on your needs and budget.  They will know which companies to refer you to if you are in need of a custom sofa under $2,500.  If you want some nice heavy drapes for your living room, but want a material that is lower maintenance, an educated interior designer will be able to direct you to the right material and design.  Service based designers help avoid stress because there is no ulterior motive, and their top priority is YOU.  As opposed to a salesperson that is acting on behalf on their company, an interior designer is acting on behalf of YOU.  I act on behalf of my customers, and go above and beyond to provide them with the best design for their needs.  I love my work because it is not a game or conspiracy.  It is helping people make their lives better.  The client's happiness is the greatest reward a designer can ask for.


Saturday, June 23, 2012

Concept Design

            I have recently come out with a new service I will offer clients.  Its called "Concept Design".  This involves translating the clients' expressed wishes and personality into a room rendering/image.  I interview the client, look at their home and discuss their goals.  Once that is complete, I further assess the space in question, and create a design that I believe defines the client's vision.  Most clients have an idea of what they want, but don't have a clue as to how to visualize it or actually bring it to life.  Presenting a visual is intended to give them direction on their project, and show them the different elements to attain--- for example they might need to select a paint that matches the red in the picture, or find a chair that looks like the one shown in the concept design.  For most clients, this is a weight lifted and gives them a clear view of what they want.

            Whether they pursue the project immediately, postpone it, or do it a little at a time, they will have a map to show them the way.  If the client loves it, and immediately wants to make it happen, they have the option to initiate the project themselves, or have JOI coordinate the entire project, specifying all pieces and finishes as well as seeing to the details of enlisting any necessary contractors, tracking orders, coordinating delivery, and room staging.  "Concept Design" is just another way that do-it-yourselfers and clients with smaller budgets can have the assistance of a professional and create a "Design to fit their lifestyle".  If you are interested and would like a consultation just email me, or call my cell 925-895-1336.

Friday, June 22, 2012

My Design Bio

           For as long as I can remember, I have been artistic. It started with your basic rainbow and flower drawings in crayon. Around age 8 I transitioned to fashion design. Did hundreds of those... beautiful wedding and formal gowns. I can't tell you how many of Vera Wang's gowns I designed when I was no older than 13. Around age14, I started to do drawings of interiors/houses, expressing visions of my perfect room and house. High school I focused mostly on my oil and acrylic paintings. I also learned to use Adobe Photoshop. Portraits were my biggest pursuits. By the time I was out of high school, I had a huge passion for interior design. The combination of beauty and livable function in a space is what made it so enjoyable. I remember helping my parents stage the house they were selling before open houses. Adjusting the lighting, configuring decor, even adding subtle soft background music to add to the ambiance of the house.

           My major passion since then has been interior design. I enrolled in the program at Las Positas College, which is where I met my husband.  My major was residential interior design. The program covered space planning, color theory, lighting design, textiles, art & interior design history, ADA compliance/universal design, and business practices. I gained a lot from my 2 years at Las Positas.

            Even with all the hard work, I was still very excited and passionate about interior design. I decided to apply to one of the top design schools in the country: The Design Institute of San Diego. The program was created to train students on Interior Design--- not a combination of design types like so many art schools where you learn a little about many things instead of refining your knowledge on your specific major. DISD focused primarily on commercial design, which was sort of a drag for me, but I appreciate the fact that this has prepared me for almost anything. Residential design is cake compared to commercial design. With commercial, there are so many rules-- so many laws and standards to memorize. I was trained on how to create actual construction documents that I can submit to architects, and the city building department for permits. I have ADA code compliance now built into my brain which is fabulous for creating a comfortable environment for well, anyone. From the door swing/clearance, to the lever handle, to the countertop height, and more.

            The program at DISD was formatted to give me thorough knowledge about details that would not typically be considered by your average citizen: green design, lighting design, universal design, environmental psychology, ergonomics, and beyond.  Even during my education I worked a number of different jobs in the interior design field, learning about window coverings, custom furniture, custom cabinets, as well as general home decor.

            When I graduated, I moved back to the bay area to be with my family and friends, which was a relief.  I had lived in San Diego, one of the biggest attractions in the country, for four years, but I do not remember enjoying it that much.  I was basically alone, constantly missing my husband (then my fiance') and my family.  Outside my time in class and at work, I was depressed.  However, I feel that the experience has helped me grow and strengthen as a person, and as an entrepreneur.  I learned patience, independence, and ultimately how to survive.  That you cannot put a price on.

            Unfortunately, I had returned to San Ramon in the thick of the unemployment crash.  No design firms were hiring.  If anything, they were letting employees go.  Any firm that DID have an available position was requiring 20 years+ experience for an intern's salary.  Like so many people I was thrown into a depressed funk (again).  I had originally pictured myself working for a small firm and eventually 10-15 years down the line becoming independent.  After nearly 6 months of unemployment, I decided it was time to take action and I started my own firm, Judy Olson Interiors.  I threw myself into marketing and networking to build my business, connecting with contractors and vendors all over the bay area.  Eventually I developed an archive of satisfied and loyal customers.  Having my own company, I enjoy making my own rules and taking jobs at my own pace.  I love working with customers and taking them from depressed and frustrated, to excited and relieved.  It has, and continues to be, immensely rewarding.

              In my life, I feel like I have been engulfed in design and yet it is something I continue to be passionate about every day. Every new project is a challenge to overcome and a dream to achieve, and I love every moment.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Stay tuned....

Stay tuned next week for "Free design it really free?"
I will address the increasing availability and popularity of "free" design service from residential design businesses.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

DIY... Not for everyone.

         DIY (Do-It-Yourself) home design projects are not for everyone.  As much as networks like HGTV glamorize home renovations and decorating, often times it is in the home-owner's best interest to hire a professional.  I cringe every time I see a "Feature Wall" gone wrong.  If someone has French-country style furniture and a teal wall, there has been a mistake somewhere along the line. 

         Some individuals have a natural flair for color selection and space planning, but I have seen that these individuals are in the minority.  It saddens me to see a renovated kitchen that has cost the client tens of thousands of dollars, with very obvious and embarrassing mistakes.  One common mistake is the 3x3 island.  Some kitchens are not intended to have islands.  Islands in kitchens are a trend.  They are not ALWAYS the most practical use of space.  Islands should be at LEAST 3x5.  So if your space does not allow for an island, do NOT try to squeeze one in.  Another kitchen design tragedy is the beautiful white marble counter top that is blotched with red in the first 4 months because no one told the client that marble counters should not go in kitchens.  Marble is very sensitive to acids such as those in tomatoes and stains very easily. 

        Do-it-yourselfers, even with the best tastes and intentions, are prone to selecting each item in their room individually (not keeping in mind the big picture) and making uninformed decisions.  A designer's first responsibility to the client is to BE EDUCATED.  There is more to design than color selection and spray paint.  You need to be trained to know the pros and cons of all materials involved in an interior space.  You need to be able to visualize and coordinate dozens of different elements in a room and have them all blend beautifully.  For home-owners that are unsure about how to approach an investment in one (or all) of their rooms, they should consider hiring a designer to at least consult with before committing to purchasing multiple big ticket items (for example, cherry wood flooring).  Even lower cost commitments in a home may be too laborious to change if the client doesn't like it afterward.  For instance, if you select a beautiful rich burgundy for the paint in your bedroom and despise the color as soon as the painting is complete, you will either be living with a displeasing room for a long time, or going through hours/dollars of frustrating time painting the room over. 

        As I have met and assisted home-owners over time I have discovered that about 5 percent of them KNOW what they want.  In this economy it is generally agreed that you must make every investment count, and get the biggest bang for your buck.  As a professional interior designer, I counsel my clients on where to start, what to invest in first, second, etc, and give them neutral non-biased information that will help them make the best decision.  "The best decision" being one that stays in budget, is good quality, and will work for THEM.  I can give advice or manage the whole project.  As fun and easy as magazines and TV make home decor and remodeling look, by the end of a project a client may have put 5,000 miles on their car, spent months sifting through catalogs and visiting showrooms, and still be unsure of whether they are making the right decision. 

         The top 3 advantages when you invest in a designer are first, you avoid stress, second you save time, and third you can have the security of a professionally designed space that you will love, and grow to love even more every day.  I give kudos to the brilliant DIYers out there, but for those who are unsure, don't be afraid to call a well qualified designer and at least get some professional input.