Making Sound Decisions

It is strangely satisfying to be served a sandwich on a slab of stone. A chunk of slate. The nature-lover in me rejoices!

Friends were in from out of town and I met them at Blue Dahlia Bistro in Westlake. I did enjoy my egg salad tartine on homemade bread served on a rock, but this is not going to be a post about food. This is a post about the features of designing a room with conversation in mind.

Here is the owner of Blue Dahlia, Amy, who was serving customers alongside a multitude of completely professional waitstaff and a trainee.

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You see those brown cushions hanging from the ceiling above Amy’s head? Those baffles are for sound absorption. She said that before those were installed and the art canvases hung, you couldn’t carry on a conversation across the table, because of the noise.

How does this relate to your home? Popcorn ceilings.

Did you know that the main reason popcorn ceilings were invented in the 40’s was because of their sound-absorptive qualities? Because echoes get trapped in the lumps and bumps of the ceiling surface, they don’t get reflected back down to the original source; YOU. The more sound-absorptive surfaces there are in a room, including a lumpy-bumpy ceiling, heavy draperies, upholstered furniture, paintings, books, and shaggy carpets, the more muted is the ambient noise level. And the easier it is to carry on conversation without shouting.

Now, in a restaurant, it is important for patrons to be able to converse with their companions, but it is also important to have enough noise in the room so that eaves-dropping becomes more difficult. Think about how creepy it is to carry on a conversation with your table mates, yet realize that every stranger in the room can hear what you say. Yeah, that’s the environment restauranteurs like to avoid creating.

You have a similar challenge in your own home. Clean lines and hard surfaces are stylish for a variety of reasons, including cleanliness and its close relative, allergy-avoidance, but the homeowner has to solve the problem of overly-live rooms in which echoes prevail, making normal conversation a trial. Also, when you have a party in your home, your guests really don’t want to feel that everyone in the room can hear everything they say at all times, so you want just the right amount of ambient noise to make conversation more private.

Some solutions are using window draperies, embracing upholstery, or at least, lots of sofa cushions, and putting area rugs on the floor. Of course, if you have pets like we do, the area rugs can get dirty quickly, so maybe that’s out of the question for you. We are starting to solve our own domestic echo-chamber problem by planning lots of built-in bookshelves and open cabinets to break up the hard walls into lots of little sound-trapping cubbyholes of space.

I am even starting to see drapery walls come back in bedrooms, if you can believe Pinterest. You know those walls that are hung ceiling-to-floor in a curtain for coziness and elegance? That would make a quiet room, for sure.

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View from Westbank Drive

Thanks for the great lunch and the amazing service, Blue Dahlia Bistro, and a big thanks for the lesson in sound planning!

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It snowed overnight in Texas! Here is my back yard view at dawn’s early light.

You need me to help you sell your home? I am at 512-970-9121. You have a real estate question? I am at 512-970-9121. Also, if you want my search app for your phone which updates from the local multiple listing service every 12 minutes, you can download it: Lynn’s mobile search app

Glass ‘n’ Me

Did NOT think I could get excited about a pane of window glass. Wrong, wrong, wrong! We have started replacing double-paned window glass at our house and got the first set installed yesterday. I keep staring out the windows in complete appreciation and awe of what just happened!!! It is the difference between squinting through dirty eyeglasses at the sunny landscape and looking boldly through expensive sunglasses- suddenly the view is clear and crisp, yet not glare-y.

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Before

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After

So here’s the deal about double-pane glass: the less reliable the glue between the layers and the less careful the process, the faster that factory seal will fail, ruining the vacuum between the panes. How do you know a seal has failed? You start seeing moisture between the panes of glass; moisture that cannot be removed from inside the house or from the outside. Or, you start seeing a whitish film on the window that cannot be removed because it is between the panes. Or, you see dirt between the panes.

We compared some prices, then called in Fair and Square Glass Repair, a local business that travels widely in the Austin/San Antonio area. They came out and we talked about the situation, and Trey Doran, the owner of the business, educated me on the type of window frames we have and the type of glass we have. He gave me a tutorial on how our particular windows function and on how I can best care for them. Then, I made a spot decision which windows I wanted to change out first. This is not a cheap project, but we had moved into this house with some milky panes, and I knew that it was a repair/update that I wanted to accomplish and enjoy. We decided to do it a little bit at a time. We are also replacing torn and damaged screens with Fair and Square, upgrading the glass panes and the type of screen while doing it.

About a week after Trey took the measurements, he and his son returned with glass and new screens in hand. I am sorry to say that I had to leave during a lot of the procedure, but I took a few pictures at the beginning.

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He popped out these strips that hold the panes from the inside.

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Using a strong suction device to hold the old glass in order to remove it to the outside.

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I don’t know about you, but I’m seeing a torch and a scraper sitting on the outside ledge. Missed this part, but it must have been exciting.

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Oooooo, cleaning up those beautiful new panes!

Aside from the tremendous pleasure that looking through clean glass brings, these panes are highly energy-efficient and they block 95% of the sun’s ultraviolet rays. You know how your fabrics, paintings, and furniture fade near windows? Yeah, well, not with this glass. Not in my lifetime, anyway.

Although we have been pretty prompt on needed repairs to our homes and on decorating to our taste, we have a track record of putting off updating certain features that are still functional until suddenly we decide to put our house on the market. Then, we go into high gear and do all sorts of things to the house that we could have done years before and actually ENJOYED ourselves before we decided to move. We have made a plan for updating and upgrading this house so that we won’t be in a bind, or leave money on the table if we should decide to move, or if some circumstances force a move.

Here’s a question for you: if my house is on the market and my neighbor down the street has her house on the market, which windows are going to give a better impression when  buyers walk in- the milky windows down the street, or my clear, high-definition view of nature?

 

 

Reaching for the Stars (And the Coffee Cups)

Women playing harp and violin

Our family first became aware of which buildings, homes, stages, and other venues are wheelchair accessible when the youngest member took up harp. This is a heavy, delicate, and awkward instrument to move, and it is best done on a specialized dolly. Wheels. You use wheels.

We discovered which routes to take to safely enter a building avoiding stairs, where the elevators are, and which spaces are too tight to turn a harp around. We bought a vehicle based on how well it carried a harp with passengers. Awareness is the first step toward enlightenment. We started to ‘get’ the problems that people with various physical limitations face in public and at home.

By now, Americans have figured out that people in wheelchairs need ramps and sight-impaired people need braille within reach. But there are also circumstances that require less than a full-on home remodel to help an elderly parent age in place, or help a teenager with a broken leg survive for a few months in her two-story home.

Many people consider these possibilities when building a new home, or designing a remodel. It helps if you have planned at least one bedroom/bathroom for the first floor, if you have at least one outside door that does not involve a step down onto a yard or walkway, and if you have enough mid-level storage that someone who is not in a position to reach either high or low can retrieve the necessities. Mentally walk through the home to see if it will accommodate friends in wheelchairs or using walkers.

Turning radius, width of doorways, levelness of floor/ground, and storage/work/bathroom areas that accommodate a seated person are the really big considerations for a wheelchair user. Levelness of floor and storage that can be accessed by a person on crutches or a walker are crucial for someone healing from an accident or surgery. Written characters that are large enough and high-contrast enough for dimming vision, a smoke detector made for hearing impairment, toilet seats on risers, wider doorways, even flooring, and storage accessible from knee level to shoulder height can keep a senior in her home longer than a house that does not have these features.

There are so many sites that will help you understand accessibility considerations at home, and I have pulled up a few to get you started.

The Design Book from Paralyzed Veterans of America

Accessible Home Design

Checklist from ‘Mobility Management’

A Dreamy Wheelchair Accessible Apartment

Women playing harp and violin
Two of the musical residents in our decidedly inaccessible home- we had portable ramps for all the step-ups and step-downs, the front walkway, the front porch, ad infinitum

Some builders will add support inside walls where grab bars can be installed in the future. They will design a bathroom with a roll-in shower and a toilet that has room for a wheelchair to pull up alongside, even if you don’t need these features at this time. When these features are designed in from the beginning they are often not noticeable as special accessibility features, and they have more appealing aesthetics than rooms that have been retrofitted after the need arises. If you are working with a builder to create a new, accessible home, make sure that the builder’s specifications actually meet your needs! A few inches can make the difference between a usable and an unusable space for you.

The New Home and Garden Show

Right here, in Dripping Springs, home to thousands of new homes in the next few years- The First Annual Home and Garden Show today and tomorrow. March 25-26, 10-7 on Saturday and 10-5 on Sunday at the Dripping Springs Ranch Park on Ranch Road 12.

Sponsored by Rotary Club of Dripping Springs, Harvest Rain, and Hill Country View, there is also a kid entertainment zone provided by Costco. They advertise builders, contractors, materials, decks, pools, spas, entertainment systems, storage, plants, landscape displays/materials, and kitchenware information and products on display. With plenty of parking, this sounds like a great day to me!

“What’s in it for ME?”

Functional Friday- a Pop-up Bed

If you have a small home, or you have a double- or even triple-use room, there’s nothing like a drop-down Murphy bed to provide a comfortable mattress and a good night’s sleep for a guest, or yourself. And, it becomes part of the background the rest of the time. In fact, I have one in my home office that has integrated cabinetry and bookshelf.

There are two types of drop-down bed: they both use springs and a counter-balance method to fold a mattress from flat against the wall to horizontal sleeping space. One is a flat-panel look and the flat panel folds forward to support the mattress. The other is a folding-door look; the doors fold open and the bed inside is pulled down from the wall. There are even folding-door styles which have bookshelves integrated into the doors, which either slide or fold out the way of the bed.

We (meaning my handy husband) have built two, and we actually uninstalled them both from one house and transported them and reinstalled them in a new house. Rockler Woodworking has a kit which includes the gas springs, hardware, a plan, and video instructions for building your own, which is what we did AND lived to tell about it.

Here is a photo of one of them when it was in its first location. I, being artsy and all, painted an abstract design on the front for my own entertainment.

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This same pull-down bed now sports attached bookcases on each side.

Before we built our two Murphys, we considered buying from More Space Place in Austin, which has a lot of different styles to blend with various decors.