The Differences Between Marble, Granite, Travertine and Limestone
Jacuzzi vs Whirlpool vs Air-Jet Bathtubs
Solar Light Tube
Bay Area Home Styles: French Normandy
Terms of the Trade: Duotone
Bay Area Home Styles: Craftsman
Kitchen Cabinetry 101
Chair Rail Molding
More on The Wonderful World of Windows: The Clerestory
More on the Wonderful World of Windows: The Palladian
The Imperial Staircase
What is wainscot?
The many windows of today’s homes…
Neoclassical vs. Colonial Revival
Bay Area Home Styles: Eichler
The Pinnacle of Luxury and Comfort
Health-Smart + Retro-Chic = Linoleum
Garden Follies Make a Comeback
If you've ever seen a window that turned out to be a wall, you were more than likely deceived by a trompe l'oeil. Pronounced with a French accent (like "Trump-Louie") the term literally means "trick the eye," which is exactly what it is intended to do. Essentially an art technique that uses realistic imagery to create an optical illusion, this clever addition to an otherwise boring wall brings a three-dimensional scene out of nowhere. Take for instance this trompe l'oeil of a window overlooking a lovely vineyard, which we came across in a delightful custom Menlo Park house built by O'Brien Homes. The perspective painting expands the formal powder room, suggesting that the space is larger than it really is by playfully exploring the boundary between image and reality. Don't let these realistic renderings fool you!
For many people, wood is the best material to line a floor with because it provides long-lasting durability and can even increase the value of your home. But before laying down planks of wood on your floor, you need to decide on what type you want because the possibilities are endless. One question to ask yourself is whether you want domestic or exotic wood (domestic is usually cheaper). A few domestic options include oak, maple, mahogany, cherry, or Douglas fir, while Brazilian cherrywood, leopardwood, and teak make up a few selections in the exotic variety. Next, residential home builders and home owners who are remodeling need to pick a flooring grade and cut – which refers to the angle the woodgrain points as the log goes through the saw. The three cuts of hardwood flooring that are standard in many homes are plain, quartered, and riftsawn, while harder cut (quarter-sawn) boards have close-together pores. Reclaimed wood floors are growing in popularity and refer to re-milled beams often taken from dilapidated barns or recovered from floors in old homes. An elaborate border is also often used on the outside edges of hardwood floors. Developed during the middle ages in Europe, this border is commonly known as a feature strip, and can be as small as a quarter-of-an-inch wide, offering a wonderful color contrast to the main floor color. The feature strip shown here was part of a sweeping oak floor in a new Menlo Park home.
When conducting market research for our professional real estate brochures, we here at Marketing Designs see many different building materials. Some of the hardest to distinguish between are tiles and countertops made from stone – specifically marble, granite, travertine, and limestone. To help realtors and residential home buyers alike, we’ve put together a quick guide to these common, and similar, designer stones often found in kitchens and bathrooms.
Granite is a very hard stone made of crystallized minerals. Characterized by its iridescent shine and a flaky, “granulated” appearance, it comes in exotic varieties such as Juparana Dream and UbaTuba, and is ideal for kitchen countertops since it is resistant to household acids such as citrus and vinegar. But don’t do any chopping on granite because it is harder than your average blade and doings so can ruin a good knife.
On the other side of the geologic coin is marble, which is easy to spot due to the many veins running through it. Marble comes in many different types, but the most popular varieties in today’s custom home designs are Calcutta and Carerra, which feature attractive patterns of gray veins. Unfortunately, since marble contains a lot of calcium and can easily be affected by cooking acids, it isn’t the best material to use in a custom kitchen.
Limestone and travertine – both part of the marble family – are different in appearance. Limestone has a rough, gritty surface, while travertine is dotted with holes that are often filled with cement and smoothed over. As home marketing experts, we do not recommend using limestone in food prep areas since it is extremely porous and difficult to keep clean.
All four of these stones can be “honed” and/or “polished,” wherein a reflective, shiny surface or softer, matted face is achieved through manufacturing. The stunning marble tile shower showcased in this newly built Atherton home is finished with mosaic designs of both Carrera marble and limestone.
Today’s designer home builders are often faced with a tough decision when constructing a lavish bathroom: Jacuzzi, whirlpool, or air-jet bathtub? Each option offers a comfortable spot to relax after a long day, but the differences between these bubbly tubs are significant. A Jacuzzi bathtub is made specifically by the Jacuzzi company, which began in 1955 when an Italian immigrant named Candido Jacuzzi developed the J-300 submersible bathtub pump to help his ailing son. In 1968, Candido’s brother, Roy Jacuzzi, introduced the world to the “Roman Bathtub,” the first integrated whirlpool tub. Frequently, bathtubs with any type of water jet are mistakenly referred to as ‘Jacuzzis’ even though they are actually made by other brands.
Adding to the confusion is the whirlpool tub (not to be mixed up with the brand Whirlpool), which refers to a bathtub with “whirlpool jets” – large round jets that produce strong bursts of water for massage, ideal for people with special therapy needs.
Air-jet bathtubs, on the other hand, propel air bubbles through dozens of tiny holes for a gentle, soothing sensation. There are two main manufacturers of air-jet tubs – Ultra and Americh – and the main benefits of air-jets are their quiet motors; also, with an air-jet tub you can add bath oils or salts without worrying about clogging!
The whirlpool tub shown in this photo was installed in the bathroom of a brand-new Menlo Park home.
Every so often when conducting research for real estate pamphlets, we’ll stumble upon a solar light tube. Like the clerestory window, the concept of the solar light tube was originally developed by the ancient Egyptians to bring natural light into cavernous rooms. If a space in your home feels a bit dank and dark, you might consider installing a solar light tube, also known as a “tubular skylight,” “sunscoop,” or “tubular daylighting device.” What looks like a concealed circular skylight on the interior is actually a long tube lined with highly reflective material designed to capture light rays and bring them from an entrance-point on the roof into the home. Ideal for small windowless spaces like closets, hallways, laundry rooms, and second baths, a solar tube can illuminate areas you thought were impossible to light. In an office that is used eight hours per day, studies have shown that a solar light tube can save up to $30 or $40 per year on your energy bill! To further optimize the use of solar light, a heliostat can be installed, which tracks the movement of the sun and directs sunlight into the light tube at all times of the day. The heliostat can even be set to capture moonlight at night. A great alternative to a skylight, the solar light tube provides ample natural illumination while not causing much of a change in the aesthetic of a room. The installation of one of these energy-saving sun-makers will undoubtedly brighten your life for years to come.
There’s just something special about a great apron sink. Also known as a “farmhouse sink,” this traditional kitchen element can bring Old World charm to any modern cooking space. Since it is not often seen in Bay Area architecture, the Marketing Designs team seldom writes about the apron sink, so we thought we’d take a moment to do so. Unlike most sinks, which are set within the countertop, an apron sink comes out from the counter all the way to the front of the chef’s apron—hence the name! With its deep utilitarian basin ideal for party-size pots and large cookie sheets, the apron sink evokes the worn-in look of a bustling rural kitchen in the countryside while presenting a wonderful central focal point. Vintage apron sinks are definitely out there (try visiting your local flea market or salvage store) but connecting an antique sink to a modern water line may add some extra cost to the final price. Try looking into one made by today’s sink manufacturers, who produce contemporary versions of this old-school appliance using various materials such as porous fireclay, vitreous china, stainless steel, marble, copper, or stone. We came across this porcelain apron sink in the updated kitchen of a fabulous San Mateo Craftsman home.
A pilaster, as used in home architecture, is a slightly projecting, flat rectangular column built into or onto a wall, reproducing the details and proportions of a classical column. Its purpose is ornamental, giving the appearance of a supporting column, but its effect is elegant, and it can add definition to a room. In our real estate marketing endeavors, we come across pilasters every so often, but most commonly when we visit homes built in the architectural style known as Greek Revival. Pilasters are used on the corners of frame houses but can also be found across an entire façade in lieu of free-standing columns. A pilaster projects only slightly from the wall, and has a foot, a shaft, and a capital (a small crown at the top of column). More elaborate pilasters feature fluting or paneling and can even showcase an entablature – a detailed series of carved moldings and bands on the capital. In residential home building, pilasters are also found on the sides of doors or windows. These days, high-end construction companies and Bay Area architects alike utilize decorative pilasters on furniture – as seen in this photo of a fluted pilaster, taken in a fabulous Los Altos home. Furniture pilasters were a popular custom design element of the late-16th and early-17th centuries. Here at Marketing Designs, we feel that the time-honored tradition of the pilaster has translated well into today’s new home.
First seen in ancient Greece, the portico has had a lasting impact on classical architecture. If you know what the columns on the Pantheon look like then basically, you know what a portico looks like. It is a covered entry porch leading to the main door of a building and defined by a colonnade (a series of columns) supporting a small roof structure. Sometimes, a portico will extend outward over a walkway and can even be enclosed by walls. And even though today’s common portico isn’t as grandiose as the the Pantheon, it can add elegance and functionality to a home by continuing the roof line to encompass a covered, outdoor living space. The portico entry seen on this residential Atherton home presents wonderful design and top-notch construction. We here at Marketing Designs always look out for porticos, since they can really assist us in marketing a home.
A backsplash is a vertical surface, usually found in a kitchen or bathroom, built to protect the wall. Adding durability, hygiene, and beauty to the room, a half- or full-backsplash can be made out of practically any material—from ceramic tile to marble or granite slab to stainless steel. Since a backsplash is installed behind a cooktop or bathroom sink, stay away from porous or unglazed tile—food, grease, and soap scum can permanently stain or discolor some materials. Glazed tile is ideal since it has a thin coating of glass on the surface, allowing buildup to be easily and completely washed away. For added decorative effect, glass or mosaic tile designs can be inlaid with the backsplash.
After World War I, returning American veterans created a demand for romanticized versions of the traditional French farmhouse. Steeply pitched, hipped roofs are a typical feature, with prominent dormer windows that sometimes showcase leaded glass. Decorative half-timbering and an eclectic mix of building materials, such as stucco combined with brick and stone masonry, help to evoke genteel rural charm. Picturesque details may include an asymmetrical facade, massive chimneys, and a prominent round entry tower with a high, conical roof.
The earliest French-style homes were built for America’s elite and often resembled 16th-century chateaus. A return to this theatrical approach is increasingly popular on the West Coast, where the mild climate is conducive to grandly proportioned living spaces with generous access to the outdoors. Living rooms are often crowned by high ceilings with exposed carved-wood cross-beams, while multiple fireplaces add warmth throughout, including expansive master suites and detached guest cottages. Modern amenities are easily incorporated into both renovated and new French Normandy homes, such as recessed lighting and built-in media, designer stone flooring and countertops, and professionally equipped chef’s kitchens. As in a French country retreat, plenty of wood is also used, and integrated-color plastering often adds a rustic patina that continues to age nicely. The result is a distinguished executive living environment with European flair.
It can be surprisingly difficult to write about simple color schemes, so it’s nice to have some terms stored up our sleeve when we enter a home with a stark palette. A term we’ve utilized in the past is duotone—employed when a home uses only two hues. And it’s rare, but every so often we’ll even enter a home that features a monochromatic scheme—which includes just a single color throughout.
An enduringly popular style found throughout the Bay Area, the classic Craftsman Bungalow was most famously championed by Gustav Stickley’s Craftsman Farms in New Jersey around the turn of the last century.
Born out of a desire to emulate simpler times and balance the increasing availability of low-cost, factory-manufactured goods, the Craftsman put emphasis on humble, natural materials and the visibly hand-made. Based on the Hindi word bungalow, meaning shelter, the cozy-looking Craftsman house celebrated warm woods, rustic stone, and proudly exposed structural elements.
Usually defined by a deep, welcoming porch and broad overhanging roof, the bungalow opens to an exceptionally flowing and informal interior highlighted by richly stained wainscoting, custom tiled fireplace surrounds, and art-glass lighting fixtures. Promoted by architectural plans from firms such as Sears, Roebuck and Company, the bungalow was particularly suited to the needs of middle and working-class families. Today, original Craftsman residences dating from the early 1900s through the 1940s are highly prized, and brand-new Craftsman-influenced homes are renewing interest in the style. These newly built homes offer modern amenities such as volume ceilings, well-equipped kitchens, versatile media/family rooms, and expanded floorplans. At the same time, they feature a delightful vintage ambiance with hardwood flooring, beautiful reproduction fixtures, multiple fireplaces, and generous outdoor entertainment areas.
Nothing invites the outdoors inside like a bay window. A mainstay of San Francisco’s signature Victorian architecture, the bay window usually consists of three windows, two of which are set at an angle (usually 30, 45, 60, or 90 degrees) and one that is flat. If you haven’t already guessed, the angled window effect creates a bay in the room. The windows jutting out from the wall at an angle produce the illusion of more space, and the flat center window is usually an operational casement that opens to the elements. You’ll often find a banquette, or “window-seat,” installed into the wall beneath a bay window, which is essentially a bench that makes good use of space while adding comfort and storage opportunities. A bay window can be rectangular, polygonal, or arc-shaped (the latter is called a bow window). Another type of bay window is the oriel window, often used in Victorian Queen Anne architecture, which features a more elaborate design on the exterior with corbels or other embellishments.
One shining feature of a top-quality kitchen is its cabinetry. Granted, when you walk into a nice culinary domain, the first things you probably notice are appliances and countertops. But this’ll change once you know your cabinet types, because nice cabs can really define a kitchen. Custom cabinets come in many shapes and sizes, and can be constructed from myriad materials. A common style is the Shaker cabinet, which has a recessed flat panel on the face of the door and a frame around the flat area. Glass Front cabinets allow for elegant dish display and the glass can be clear, opaque, beveled, reeded, and even etched. Beadboard cabinets are usually found in a “country kitchen.” Raised cabinet doors are popular, as are cabinet panels, which are used to conceal appliances and blend them into their surroundings. The many different wood types used to make cabinets include mahogany, cherry, alder, fir, maple, oak, hickory, pine, and walnut.
And don’t forget about the hardware that appoints your cabinetry. The type of handle used can completely change the look of a cabinet. For instance, stainless steel hardware works well with modern motifs, while brass is best for a more traditional look. And there are even finishes used on the hardware, ranging from rust to polished to black. For a more contemporary streamlined feel, you’ll see chrome and brushed chrome hardware. Replace a polished nickel handle with a brass knob and you can turn a cabinet door from contemporary to time-honored in an instant.
Chair Rail Molding has decorative and practical function. Applied to a wall anywhere from 24 to 48 inches from the floor, Chair Rail Molding offers a wonderful accent to a room, running horizontally to form a wainscot look (for more on wainscot, see our previous listing on this page). Most importantly, Chair Rail Molding protects the wall from scuffs and dents caused by chairbacks.
Baseboard molding is found where the floor meets the wall, finishing the area by covering the joint of the wall and the adjoining floor. It can be found in varying sizes and styles, so select a baseboard that is proportional to the dimensions of the house to ensure that it works in harmony with your casings to tie the room together.
No, we’re not talking about the green, fuzzy kind. We’re referring to moldings—the type you find on the walls and ceilings of nice homes—you know, the stuff made from wood! There are many types of moldings and casings out there, so we’ll focus on the Big Three: Crown Molding, Baseboard Molding, and Chair Rail Molding.
Crown Molding is found where the ceiling meets the wall, softening the transition. It is an elegant piece of carved wood that creates a crown on the surface. There are different degrees of Crown Molding, from double layered to elaborately detailed dentil designs, and it’s notoriously hard to work with (get it professionally installed, for cryin’ out loud!). But any way you look at it, this distinctive embellishment will refine any room.
The clerestory window, compared to the Palladian window, is a bit harder to identify. Named for its place on the “clearstory” of a building—a section that rises higher than the roof height—clerestory windows (notice the difference in spelling) in bygone days of yore were used in Egyptian temples and Roman basilicas to obtain extra light in the cavernous structures. Today, they are utilized not only to brighten up a room, but also to maintain an outside view when climbing a set of stairs that rise above the main level windows. So keep your eyes to the sky, people, maybe you’ll see a clerestory soon!
It would be pointless to meditate on today’s window types without discussing the Palladian.
We visit dozens of homes here at Marketing Designs and we’ve got to get our facts straight, always. Lucky for us, Palladian windows pop up frequently during our many home visits and they’re pretty easy to spot. The window type is named after Andrea Palladio, a Renaissance architect who often used arches in his designs and not surprisingly, the Palladian window’s focal point is its arched center section. Often, a Palladian is made up of several portions – the larger arch in the middle that sometimes extends all the way to the floor, and numerous symmetrical pieces that flank the arch. Combining a pleasing round shape with a keen sense of symmetry, this is one window for the ages.
Often referred to as a “double staircase,” this seldom-seen architectural component can be found in homes with European influences. If you want our opinion, the Imperial Staircase isn’t utilized enough.
At its most basic, it is a symmetrical set of stairs that begin as a single straight flight, then divide into two separate flights offering multiple ways to access one level of a home, expanding possibilities and imbuing a sense of grandeur. A classic Baroque feature, the Imperial Staircase was introduced into the Neo-Renaissance and can be seen in such famous buildings as Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle in the United Kingdom and the Palazzo Reale di Caserta in Italy. Take note if you come across one of these magnificent stairways!
For some reason, people often mispronounce this word. Just for the record: “wainscot” is pronounced like a man’s name (i.e. “Wayne Scott”) not like a man’s garment (i.e. “Wayne’s Coat”). By definition, wainscot is a paneling style applied to the lower 3 to 4 feet of an interior wall, below the chair rail molding and above the baseboard.
These days, wainscoting can be constructed from almost any material—wood, stone, beadboard, tile, you name it. So keep your eyes peeled for this decorative design detail.
In our line of work, we visit dozens of homes and they all have their own style and specific features. One design aspect that we need to keep straight is window type. You’ve got Palladian windows, clerestory windows, and bay windows. There are transoms, sidelights, and expansive picture windows. And don’t forget your leaded glass inset panels, double-hung sliders, and true divided lights.
But, our favorite has to be the eyebrow dormer window, one of the coolest looking windows on the face of the planet. The elegant curve above the glass…the way the roofing shingles just flow over the top…its wonderful peek-a-boo effect. Ya gotta love the eyebrow dormer!
It’s easy to get this type of ceiling mixed up with a coffered ceiling. Just remember, a coffered ceiling is open with a soffit on all sides, whereas a box-beam features numerous exposed beams that create a “box effect.”
Basically, if you don’t see boxes, it’s not a box-beam ceiling!
What is the difference between a Neoclassical and Colonial Revival home?
It’s easy to confuse a Neoclassical house with a Colonial Revival, because they are closely related cousins. Both designs were a dominant style for domestic building throughout the United States during the first half of the 20th century, so not surprisingly, the two architectural styles have many similarities. And lucky for you, some of the differences (while subtle) are fairly easy to identify.
The main characteristics that define a Neoclassical (see picture) home are a broken pediment at an entrance or above a window, two-story support columns, and a full-façade porch, often with side decks. Colonial Revival homes typically accentuate the front door with pilasters and a small extended covered entry porch. Colonial Revival doors usually have fanlights or sidelights, while Neoclassical doors usually have inset glass panels. There are a number of more subtle differences between the two styles, but this should help you get a jump on identifying one from the other.
In the early 1890s Americans began to value their own distinctive heritage and architecture, creating a huge wave of interest in what became the “national style” based upon homes built during the Revolutionary War period. Favored for large residences built by wealthy business leaders, the style is distinguished by multiple columned porches and elaborate front door treatments with pediments, fanlights, and sidelights.
Essentially a homegrown version of the British Georgian style, Colonial Revival homes also feature symmetrical facades, windows made taller by transoms or Palladian central arches, and classic detailing such as swags, urns, and dentilled molding. Signature interior elements include a formal center-hall floorplan with a grand staircase, paneled wainscoting, and marble-faced fireplaces. The clapboard or brick facades of particularly grand Colonials sometimes boast a two-story portico with Doric or Ionic columns.
Today, Colonial Revival homes continue to be extremely popular, offering a refined grace reminiscent of upscale East Coast enclaves and university towns. Typically framed by a manicured garden, the design is well-suited for expansion at the rear, and many Bay Area Colonial homes have been beautifully updated with large family rooms, light-filled eat-in kitchens, expansive entertainment terraces, and spacious upper-level master bedroom suites.
porte cochere (port-ko-sher): French, literally “coach door”; architectural term for a porch-like passageway through a building designed to let a horse or motor vehicle enter from the street; a roofed structure extending from the entrance of a building over an adjacent driveway to shelter those getting in or out.
Do not confuse this with a carport. The porte cochère was featured in many late 18th and 19th-century mansions and public buildings. Today we see the porte cochère in public buildings where people are dropped off by drivers.
Some of the fine homes in our area feature a porte cochère to add splendor and to shield guests from the elements.
What is a parterre garden?
Made up of compartmentalized planting beds edged by tightly clipped hedging, these formal ornamental gardens are constructed on flat surfaces and threaded with paths of gravel, pebble, or stone.
Based on the French term par terre, meaning “on the ground,” the most well-known examples are found at the Chateau of Versailles in France and at Kensington Palace in England, where fountains, trees, and canals further accent the stately gardens. First developed in France by renowned nurseryman Claude Mollet, who took inspiration from the French painter Etienne du Pérac, the parterre garden harkens back to a more formal era and will add elegance to the grounds of any home.
One of Northern California’s predominant home developers during the postwar housing boom of the 1950s and 60s, Joseph Eichler was inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright and wanted his designs to embrace “boldness, change, and optimism through indoor/outdoor living.”
Classic features of Eichler’s madly popular mid-century houses include a discreet single-level façade and a spacious, open floorplan oriented toward the secluded rear grounds. Creating a natural gallery environment, walls of glass celebrate multiple patio, courtyard, and garden scenes while broad expanses of natural wood paneling showcase treasured artworks. Ideally suited for the temperate Bay Area climate, freestanding walls promote circulation of warmth from technologically forward-thinking radiant-heated flooring, as well as flow-through breezes from abundant glass sliding doors. Modern, geometric lines are reinforced by beamed ceilings, either flat or gently vaulted, striking brick or concrete-block fireplace surrounds, and sleekly integrated storage.
These homes, which originally sold for $11,000 to $14,000, were intended as middle-class family units and generally feature three or four bedrooms. Today, entire neighborhoods of Eichler homes still reflect their creator’s dreams for well-planned communities, while his commitment to quality materials ensures welcoming environments that remain largely unchanged more than half a century after they were built.
A painstakingly remodeled 1920s villa in San Anselmo, CA featured many exquisite imported antiques and reclaimed materials. Among the unique items were rusty iron gates from Paris' Les Halles and an indoor/outdoor shower with a mosaic of Byzantian intricacy. Two items in particular really topped the WOW list: underwater pool speakers and an outdoor limestone dining table with a heated surface!
Natural Linoleum – or Marmoleum – has been a mainstay floor covering for over 100 years because of its durability, comfort underfoot, and wide range of colors. Made entirely of natural materials (linseed oil, resins, and wood pulp with jute backing) it is anti-static, anti-bacterial, and easy to keep free of dust and house-mites, a boon for allergy-sufferers.
As shown here, linoleum tile also offers striking visual appeal that boosts vintage authenticity in a kitchen or bath updated with designer stone.
Technically, a folly is a garden ornament or structure that is based upon an illusion of some kind. Extremely popular with great English landowners of the 18th century, follies were inspired by tours of the architectural curiosities of Europe and were intended to “give a livelier consequence to the landscape.” In their heyday, garden follies included gazebos entirely made of seashells, and huge columned amphitheatres built to look like romantically crumbling ruins.
Modern examples recently spotted in Atherton and Palo Alto include a trompe l’oeil dovecote constructed of concrete molded to resemble masonry and thatched roof, complete with artificial doves on their perches. The faux-bois arbor (pictured) is made of reinforced cast concrete, and was artfully used to introduce a secluded shade garden.