How To Make Life Easy At Home: Useful Tips For Any Age

How To Make Life Easy At Home: Useful Tips For Any Age

The place we call home can come in all shapes and sizes.  Some are clean and simple, while others are filled with things we love.  When we’re young and active, we never give a second thought about the need to feel confident and safe doing everyday basic things at home.  It’s a given…right?  We’ve set it up and decorated it exactly the way we love, and we should be good to go.   So, how do you know when your home isn’t serving your needs? 

How do we know when it’s time to  make life easier at home for our future self?  I’m here to tell you that it happens when you least expect it, and not always when you’re ready.

Several years ago I became a Certified Aging In Place Specialist (CAPS).  During the two day course we learned how to modify homes so that clients can live there as long as they choose.  Basically, we learned how to make life easier in our homes as we age.  Little did I know, how several years later, we’d be needing these design tweaks in our own home!

Since helping clients remodel their kitchens and baths is my all-time favorite thing to do, I always recommend putting these Universal Design principals into place in these rooms.  But I also know that when we’re in our 40’s,50’s,and even 60’s we think we don’t need them.  There is always the image of an institutional bathroom in our minds, and can’t face the thought of installing grab bars just yet. 

curbless shower with grab bar

Sometimes life throws us unexpected curves that send plans out the window.  When my husband had his knee replaced a few years ago, we discovered all kinds of design issues with our three story townhouse.  This was certainly something we never considered when we bought it. The doorways were only 28” wide when a walker is 30”.  There were no grab bars in the bathroom, and too many stairs to maneuver that required him to stay in the lower level for weeks. Check out my blog post to learn more about it.

The next house would be correct all of these issues with a much better design.  Every shower wall and toilet area was prepped for grab bars.  No need to actually install them now.  We’re healthy and active.  Doorways are 36”…check.  Plenty of good lighting…check.  Wide open walkways…check.  Appliances at a user friendly level…check.  We are good to go!

Or so we thought.  Until my own foot issues required surgery!

I learned that, to move around easily, a knee scooter and crutches were needed.  To maneuver the stairs, sometimes you just have to sit down and scoot.  Crazy, I know.  But sometimes you’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do to make it all work.

What no one mentioned were some Basic Useful Tips For Any Age that we all know and just don’t think about.

  • A curb-less shower would have made entering the shower so much easier, and I would have felt more confident. No problem with the actual showering, because a bench seat and hand held shower have made it so easy.
  • The beautiful accent rugs gracing our floors had to go. Yes, they were rolled up and sitting on the sidelines waiting for full recovery day.  Again, safety and confidence is an issue.
  • Grab bars in the shower would help the fear of losing balance and falling.
  • Grab bars next to the toilet, or even a temporary raised toilet seat with built in grab bars, would make life easier.
  • Lever handles on all doors are easier to manipulate when you’re carrying groceries or a toddler…or on crutches
  • And this one thing, that has nothing to do with your home but everything to do with your physical body, is to exercise. For me it’s yoga…a strength building intense yoga…at least two days a week.  Had it not been for my yoga instructors Karen, Nancy, and Caren always stressing the need for balance and strong bodies as we get older, this journey would have been be a struggle.

As recovery continued, life at home got a little easier each day.  My “recliner office” was all set up, and I was plugged in to all my devices trying to get work done.  Life’s an adventure, I always say.  And now I know how to be prepared for “the next time.” 

Your Design Homework: 

  • Take a walk around your home. Check the doorways, the bathrooms, the floors.

  • Now make a list of the little things you can put in place that will make your life easier if you need to have an unplanned surgery…or an accident. Can you add grab bars to you shower or toilet areas?  Are your doorways at least 32” wide?  Do you have rugs that might cause you to trip if you were on crutches?


Kitchen Ventilation 101: The Basics

Kitchen Ventilation 101: The Basics

As a homeowner I never gave much thought to kitchen ventilation.  I’ll admit that like most people, I thought it was noisy, and so rarely used it.  But as a kitchen designer, I know the importance a beautiful vent hood plays in the kitchen.  It’s necessary not only for how good it looks but also for the health and safety of you and your family.   In a room where the wonderful aroma of delicious food surrounds us, there are also bad odors, grease, and steam that needs to escape.  

Each home we’ve lived in over the years has had some type of kitchen ventilation.  Some were efficient, and others were not.  Some added to the custom design of the kitchen, and others were simply there to do a job, with no exciting design details.  But we always knew that a home needs to have ventilation in the kitchen.

It wasn’t until we were relocating to a new city that I discovered every house doesn’t always have a vent hood, or a downdraft.  They might have a microwave over the cook top or range.  Worse yet, they might have absolutely no ventilation which leads to poor indoor air quality! 

You know the saying, “once you see something you can’t un-see it?”  Well, that is me!  What began as a pet peeve has morphed into a mission to teach homeowners the importance of proper kitchen ventilation, how it impacts the health and safety of your kitchen, and the best type of product for your cooking needs and available space.

Wall Mounted Updraft Hood

wall mounted chimney hood

  • The cooking odors, fumes, and grease exhaust to the outside via ducting
  • This type of hood requires either an external blower or an internal blower.  An internal blower is directly inside your vent hood.  Because it’s close to your filters and cooking space, it will pull more unwanted contaminants from your kitchen.  The downside to this is that it is loud, and often the reason that most homeowners don’t like to use it.
  • An external blower is a box containing the ventilator, filter and motor.  Because it can be placed either on the roof or on an outside wall, it isn’t as noisy.

Telescoping Downdraft Ventilation

telescoping downdraft

  • Telescoping downdraft can be installed behind a cook top that is placed in an island, a peninsula, or against a wall
  • Ducting is installed inside the cook top cabinet and there is usually very little room left for storage
  • Ducting is then either vented through the wall, or below the kitchen, ultimately venting air outside

Downdraft Ventilation

downdraft in cooktop

  • The downdraft is an integral part of the cooktop
  • Ducting is housed inside the base cabinet leaving very little room for storage
  • It is also vented outside but through a crawl space or basement ceiling. 

Under Cabinet Hood

wall mounted under cabinet hood

  • Mounted under a wall cabinet.  The wall cabinet houses the ducting.
  • Ducting either goes straight up, or has an elbow turn to go out the side of the house.
  • The hood should be mounted 30″-36″ above the cooking surface


Re-Circulating Hood

recirculating hood

  • This hood is also mounted to the bottom of a cabinet.
  • There is not ducting, no ventilation to the outside.  The air is simply being filtered and re-circulated into the room
  • It is used primarily in apartments, town homes and condos where there is no way to vent to the outside
  • A charcoal filter is used to purify the air and filter the grease
  • This is not an ideal situation because most odors remain, steam still escapes into the room, and grease will scatter

Over the Cook Top Microwave

over the cook top microwave

  • Last resort “ventilation”
  • The microwave is usually placed too close to the cooking surface.  It should be no lower than 20″ above the cook top.  But even then, it is too high to easily reach inside the microwave to remove a piping hot dish.
  • This is also re-circulating the air and not eliminating much odor, grease or steam
  • A charcoal filter is used

Island Vent Hood

island hood

  • Ducting goes through the ceiling. 
  • Must be no lower than 30″-36″ above the cook top
  • Internal and external blower options are available

The Craziest Hood and Ventilation System I’ve Seen

poor use of hood and ventilation

I have to share this, because it’s so crazy!  A renovation client purchased a home that had a cook top with a downdraft.  Above it was hood with a light that worked, and a wall that could house the ducting.  But the previous homeowner chose to not connect the wiring so that the hood would work.

Sadly, in our search for a new home, I discovered so many houses with this same situation.  A cook top with a downdraft taking up precious kitchen storage space.  And a decorative wood hood that was simply there for as a light source.

The answer to making sure you have the best air quality in your kitchen is to provide adequate ventilation.

  • Take into consideration the size of your cook top, and install a hood that is at least 3″ wider so that it has more area to capture the steam. 
  • Know how many BTU’s your cook top provides because this determines the amount of CFM’s are needed for the best ventilation
  • Vent hoods can be found at many different price points.  Don’t let cost determine what type of hood you buy.
  • Choose your ventilation system based on your needs, your cooking patterns, and where your cook top or range will be placed in your kitchen
  • Turn on the ventilation at least 5 minutes before you begin cooking to give the air in the room time to circulate.


The most important take-away is to understand that a home ventilation system, involves two related functions: removing unhealthy vapors and fumes from the home and also to introduce fresh air to replace what has been removed.

If you’re thinking about a home renovation or building a new home, please contact me, Randi@RandiDestefano.com, with any questions you might have.


Kitchen Reveal:  A Modern Kitchen With Two-Toned Cabinets

Kitchen Reveal: A Modern Kitchen With Two-Toned Cabinets

All-white kitchens have certainly been popular for a while, and homeowners still love the crisp look it brings to their home, especially Farmhouse Style.  But for the last several years the kitchen with two-toned cabinets has been increasing in popularity.  And I love it! 

What started out as a tip toe into the “world of two colors” has morphed into multiple ways to bring your favorite colors into the kitchen in a way that works for you.

A lot of color makes me happy!  But since we tend to move a lot, my first thoughts are to go neutral with most improvements so that they’re something a future buyer would like.  Even before we sold our last home, I remember thinking, “you love bright color, so why aren’t you using it?”  And so I did! 

With our new 18 year old fixer upper, I stepped totally out of the box (in the end).  The entire time I was designing the kitchen I visualized white cabinets around the room with a dark navy blue island.  Clean, simple, and uncluttered was the plan for this kitchen.  It would still be a kitchen with two-toned cabinets, just a little ordinary.  And I needed to have it finished ASAP! 

You see, when we moved into our new home, the kitchen was very outdated with a lot of wasted space cabinets.  Storage was minimal.  The gold cabinets had so much glazing in the corners that they looked dirty.  We were anxious to make a change.

MLS image of our original kitchen

But good design needs a well thought out plan, not one that’s rushed.  And that’s what we were able to create..once I took a step back and slowed down.  Remember, I love color and being a little bit different than everyone else.  On my first trip to the cabinet showroom I found exactly what I was looking for, and it wasn’t white and navy blue!  This meant taking a leap of faith and stepping out of my “play it safe” comfort zone.  I had my happy colors at last!!!

two toned cabinet samples

Shiloh Cabinetry: taupe stain on alder and aqua stain on alder

Ta-Da!  Here is the big reveal of our new kitchen, which we love.  Even though the footprint is basically the same, the amount of storage space we gained is amazing.  Work areas were arranged to suit the way we like to work in our kitchens.  A vent hood was added where a downdraft had been.  And a fun backsplash was added in my favorite shades of blues and turquoise.

Destefano full view kitchen


Destefano kitchen refrigerator wall

Destefano island

Are YOU ready for a kitchen renovation?  Remember that it doesn’t always need to be a full reno to make a big impact.  Making simple changes like painting your island to create your own two-toned cabinet look and installing new cabinet “jewelry” can be a big improvement to a dated kitchen. 

And when you’re finished, you might need a break to focus your time, energy, and money on another big project. It’s OK if your kitchen becomes a work in progress as you add the Finishing Touches like window treatments, counter stools, or rugs.

I’m here to help!  Email me here: AskADesigner@randidestefano.com  

Time For a Countertop Makeover?  Follow These Top 10 Designer Do’s and Don’ts For A Stress-Free Project

Time For a Countertop Makeover? Follow These Top 10 Designer Do’s and Don’ts For A Stress-Free Project

When you’re dreaming of a beautiful kitchen, and know that buying new cabinets is more than your budget will allow, maybe it’s time to consider a makeover that includes new countertops.  If your cabinets are in good condition and the the space plan works well for you this might be your perfect solution!

There was a time, in my old EXPO Design Center days, when I was known as the Queen of Countertop Remodels because I helped so many clients with them. And because of that, I learned exactly what to do, so that stress was kept to a minimum.

Let’s take a look at my list of Designer do’s and don’ts that will help you with your own countertop remodel.

Do:  One of your first decisions to make is what material do you want to use, because you have a few options.  There are natural stone products (granite, marble, quartzite) and there are quartz composite products (Cambria, Caesarstone, Silestone, etc.)

Do: Know what “look” you want to achieve in the space. The material you choose will help you get there.

Do: Decide if you want a lot of movement (veining) in your countertop material.


quartzite mont blanc

Quartzite Mont Blanc

Don’t buy a slab that has a lot of movement and imperfections if you think it will drive you crazy. Stone is a gift of nature, and definitely not perfect.  Also, if you need to have a seam because of a large area to be covered, the veins will not match.  If that is a problem for you, then choose a slab/pattern that has less movement and a quiet pattern.

Do: Decide on your fabricator (the person who will template, cut and install). They often display granite, marble, and quartzite slabs in their warehouse. But sometimes they’ll send you to look at a larger showroom that has more to offer.  These showrooms typically do not sell directly to you, the consumer.  So this means they won’t be able to quote you a price.  They’ll give the price to your fabricator who will then factor in the additional labor costs before giving you a quote.

Granite Colonial White

Granite Colonial White

Don’t visit a granite showroom without a designer, contractor, or fabricator name. They can call ahead to let the showroom know you’re coming, or they can go with you to help you select. Sometimes a showroom will recommend a fabricator if you don’t know who to use.  A few showrooms/warehouses will let consumers come in to look without an appointment.  Your fabricator will contact them for pricing.

Do: Find out your fabricator’s price levels before you visit a granite showroom. Since most of them don’t sell directly to the consumer, they won’t give you a price. But they can point you to the slabs that will be in your approximate price point.  Many large fabrication companies have enough space to have countertop slabs on display.  In that instance, they’ll be able to give you a quote.

Don’t:  Assume that the initial quote is the final one.  Your fabricator will send someone to make a template, and that will determine the final cost.  But before they schedule you, they will need a countertop plan with the shape of all your counters, and the dimensions.

Do: Make sure that you have your sink, and sometimes faucet, when they come to make your template. They will take it with them back to their shop.

Do: Know that some fabricators require you to purchase an entire slab, and some will only charge you for what you use.  Be sure to check this out in advance.  Quartz composite products seem to require purchase of an entire slab.  But this is also at the discretion of the fabricator.

Don’t: Ordering less than 25 square feet is not acceptable to most fabricators. Sometimes they have a scrap yard to choose those pieces.  If they do, it’s your luck day!!!

Don’t: Order countertops when you’re in a rush to have it installed. From the time they make the template, until the time it is installed could take anywhere from 5-15 business days.

Don’t: Have your heart set on a slab too early in the process unless you’re prepared to make a deposit so they will hold it.  Also, make sure that your fabricator is going to hold onto the unused part of your slab.  I have had slab “scraps” sold before projects were installed, only to be upset when they made a mistake cutting.  Time was lost while they waited to find another slab to match.

Don’t hang on to a sample that you love and expect it to look the same in 6 months.  The look of natural stone is determined by where it’s mined in a mountain.  Even though it has the same color name, it can look completely different in pattern and color. 

Granite sells quickly in certain markets and new shipments aren’t always cut from the same area of a mountain.  Always inspect your slab before purchasing!  If you need more than one slab for your countertop, make sure that there are more in the stack.  Sometimes they’ll be labeled by the order they’ve been cut.

granite slabs in order

Do: Know that there are options to choose from for your countertop edges. Standard edges are included in your quote.  Non-standard edges are sold by the linear foot.

granite edge profiles

There are a lot of things to think about when making your countertop selection.  And it probably seems like a lot to remember.  But Do’s and Don’ts are meant to guide us in the right direction and keep us from making painful or costly mistakes.

If you’re still confused and unsure of what to do next, feel free to leave a comment below, or email me at Randi@RandiDestefano.com with your questions.  I’m here to help!

7 Simple Questions That Make a HUGE Difference In the Outcome Of Your Design Project

7 Simple Questions That Make a HUGE Difference In the Outcome Of Your Design Project

When you first make the decision to start a renovation project, build a new house, or even a simple home makeover, you undoubtedly have a lot of questions.  Maybe you’re overwhelmed with all of the choices out there in the marketplace.  Or maybe you’re not sure about who to hire to do the job.

One of the first things that you absolutely MUST do before your start is “Begin with the end in mind” (to quote Stephen Covey).  Whether you’re planning a counter top remodel or a new house, it’s important to know the outcome and quality you expect.  When you know this, you can now ask the right questions of the people helping you along the way.

If you’re one of the lucky ones who have set up appointments with different contractors, I have 7 questions to ask that can make a HUGE difference in the outcome of your design project.  They’ll make a difference in your peace of mind and in your expectations.  And they’ll also let the prospective contractor know what you expect them to provide for you.  If what you’re asking isn’t part of their business plan, they can tell you the project isn’t a good fit, and you can move on.  Nothing is more maddening than being “ghosted” by an electrician.  Or having a contractor leave a job site for weeks to go work on someone else’s project.  So here goes…

#1 Do you use sub-contractors or have full time employees?

Honestly, it’s rare that a general contractor employees someone in every trade.  If they do, the project usually goes faster…and costs more.  Finding a contractor who has been in the business for a while and has established a longstanding relationship with the trade, is worth it for peace of mind.  Because he provides a lot of consistent work, they tend to be more available when the contractor calls.

#2  When are you available to start? 

Everyone is so busy these days, with wait lists of homeowners who need work done on their homes.  Don’t be surprised if you have to wait a few months before a contractor can begin.  I’ve had several design clients who have waited a year for a highly recommended contractor.

#3  How long will my project take, from demo until you leave?

Supply chain delays are often the reason for project delays.  So no one is willing to give an exact amount of time for your project.  But they can give you an estimated time frame.  If your demo doesn’t start until all of the products have arrived, the construction time will be shorter.  But at least, by asking, you’re opening up a conversation  about time frame.

#4  Do you have a website where I can see samples of your work?  References?  Have you worked on other projects in my price range?

Your idea of excellent workmanship may be completely different than theirs.  Make sure that their sub-contractors have worked on other projects in your price range.

#5  Who is responsible for scheduling, project management and quality control?

Whether it’s the contractor, his project manager, your interior designer…or you, someone needs to be there on a regular schedule to act as your advocate.  There needs to be one person on the team who knows your design plans inside and out.  People mean well, but things slip through the cracks.

#6  How often is the job site cleaned?  Whose responsibility?

On new construction or a renovation project, make sure that your home is protected by plastic.  Not the thin dry cleaner plastic, but one that is more substantial.  Ideally, it will have a zipper for entering and exiting.  This should be applied in all the doorways to prevent dust from entering the rest of the house.

#7  Do you communicate with me on a regular basis?  Give immediate updates on materials delays?

There will be days when no one is working on your project.  In a perfect world, one trade would finish and the next one would start.  But things get in the way and it doesn’t happen like that.  Having a weekly call with your contractor will keep you up to date, let you know which subs will be there for the week, and basically keep the lines of communication open.

We all want to have our design projects turn out exactly the way we’ve dreamed.  And we also want it to happen with the least amount of stress and wasted time as possible.  Asking these 7 questions will leave you peace of mind knowing that everything has been taken care of.

Ready to Get Your Project Started?

If you’re thinking about a home renovation, whether it’s a small project or tearing down walls, you might be afraid of making mistakes that cost you a lot of extra time and money.  That’s why I’ve created 3 Costly Home Renovation Mistakes and How To Avoid Them.  All you need to do is click on the button below to download your very own copy of this F.R.E.E. guide…easy peasy!


Adventures in Renovating: The “Morning Room” Edition

Adventures in Renovating: The “Morning Room” Edition

What a difference a year makes! We had just moved into our new (18year old) home.  Most people were still avoiding gatherings.  There were no Holiday Fairs, parades, or tree lighting.  And basically, I was overwhelmed with everything that needed to be done to turn this house into a home.  Between planning our renovation and having rooms painted, there wasn’t much enthusiasm for Christmas decorating.  And so began our adventures in renovating! 

I’m sure you’re wondering what is a morning room?  This was the description in the MLS listing for this 10×10 room off the kitchen.  We had never heard that term before.  Some people would call it a keeping room.  Other’s call it a sitting room.  We go back and forth.  And since it’s used all the time, it seems a little silly to call it a morning room.

Like the rest of the house, it needed a lot of updating.  But in the early planning stage, fresh paint and new lights were the only things on the plan.  Unpacking and settling in came first.  And then the interior designer in me took over!

The furnished room shown on the MLS listing.

Stage 1:  Make the room work with what you have.  Live in it a while and get a feel for how you’ll live in the space.  If you have plans for a full renovation in a few months, it’s wise to not make costly changes that will be taken apart later.


Filling the bookshelves with our own accessories and making it work…for now!

Stage 2: When you “can’t take it anymore” and need to do something. Discovering an unused can of paint from the last house.  Anything to get closer to our own colors!  It’s amazing how a little change of color can help you relax and feel happy.


First the back of the cabinets, and then the fireplace was calling out for new color.

Stage 3:  Finding inspiration.  Sometimes projects evolve and change.  What starts out as simple fixes that you can live with for a while, usually end up in major changes that add to your budget.  A girl can dream, right?  In the long run it adds value to your home by updating it.  Since we tend to move every 5-7 years,  re-sale is always top of mind.


This photo was found on the Rustica website and became part of the new vision for the space.

Stage 4:  Getting the dream out of your head and onto paper.  Sometimes those dreams change as you live in the space and see how it can work better for you.  And then you need to have patience while you wait for bids, demo, and construction.

Walls are cut to fit the new windows.

Let there be light!  What started out as a room with no view to the backyard, is now light-filled.

Stage 5:  The excitement of the reveal and seeing your vision become a reality!

We have windows!!!…and storage benches.

money,  be sure to grab a copy of the guide below.

Stage 6:  Highlighting imperfections.  We all love to have as much natural light as possible in our homes.  It brightens the room and lets us see nature all around us.  But sometimes it also shows us the flaws in the room that were never noticed before.  It’s hard to stay calm and take a deep cleansing breath when you’ve just had the room painted, and are now seeing new imperfections. 

There’s an old Amish saying that “only God is perfect”.  And I have to tell you that’s a VERY hard thing to deal with when you’re a perfectionist!  Over time, I’ve learned to let it go…for now.  It’s helped a lot to have a Brain Dump sheet that lists all the “not perfect” things I want to fix over time.  And the funny thing is, after a while you don’t see the “not perfect” things as much because there’s something more pressing to take care of.

Yes, my friend, renovating is an adventure in dreaming, planning, and seeing it through to the end.  It’s a lesson in patience, kindness, tolerance, and faith that it will all come together in the end.

Here’s to your own Adventure in Renovating, big or small, high or low budget, DIY or designer guided.  To help you get on track and avoid making some mistakes that might cost you time or money,  be sure to grab a copy of the guide below.