A Room of One’s Own

Do you keep a car in your garage? Me neither. In fact, this, my fourth house, is the only one to even have such an outbuilding, long ago turned into a woodworking shop by a previous owner. About 1/3 of the back yard was covered in asphalt leading up to it. Not a thing of beauty.

I am very lucky in my work to explore many different ways of using space, for many different reasons. In the last few years I have renovated 3 garages into a party room, a teenager hangout space, and an artist’s studio. And in two of these we replaced the garage doors with insulated overhead doors, and used a polished concrete floor— in case anyone should ever put aside the pool table and want to pull a car in, they can. To the street view, they look quite the same as they did before. A row of glass doors on the back or side wall (business on the front, party…) leads out to a terrace, allowing the whole structure to be opened up for large gatherings.

So many of us work at home, even part time these days. After years of doing so, I was well aware of the benefits- and many distractions—of having my office and my home be one and the same. No commute, but no real weekends either. So when I saw the former garage at this house I knew exactly what to do. Taking inspiration from Caroline Zoob’s wonderful book “Virginia Woolf’s Garden” I decided to take the previous renovation a bit further, and have a writing room/library. A gas fireplace and walls of bookshelves, a daybed for spreading out design  books, and a large library table; the perfect retreat. The driveway now stops where the cars do, and the backyard is a full garden. The renovation cost about a third of what a 400 sq.ft. addition to the house would have, but the benefits of separation from the house are the real treat. And the garden tools? (of which I have many) In a tool shed on the back of the building, designed specifically for garden tools.


What space does your house lack? Private office? Playroom? Quilting studio? Yoga, meditation space. Maybe what fills the garage now doesn’t really need a whole building of it’s own… Maybe that space could be put to a more creative use, and alleviate some of the multi purposing in the house.  An idea to consider in the dark days of winter!

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Open Shelves vs. Upper Cabinets

Open shelves vs. Upper cabinets

stove-shelves600It seems that every magazine and home design blog is featuring kitchens with few (if any) upper cabinets these days, and yards of open shelves. Sometimes the look is quite modern, with stacks of white plates and simple glassware. And in some kitchens open shelves can look like they belong in Mrs. Patmore’s kitchen; copper pots and creamware pitchers, teapots and bread pans.

So when designing a kitchen, how do you decide which approach is best for your space? There are a few factors to consider here. Open shelves certainly make a small space seem larger, because it is the back wall, not the front of a cabinet that reads as the size of the room. (Our sense of space comes primarily from how we perceive the space at eye level). Closed door cabinets keep things dust free and out of sight. But a room full of either can be impractical and well, just boring. I’m an advocate of using a bit of both.

Upper cabinets, boxes with doors hung on the wall with countertop below, are an invention of the 1930s, and became standard issue in kitchens built in the mid century. This was also the period of time when “time saving” processed food in boxes became the norm. Upper cabinets were the perfect storage for rows of boxes: cake mixes, breakfast cereals, Rice-a-Roni. Closed cabinets also conceal dishes and glasses, a plus when there is a mix of styles and colors. Glass door cabinets are a great way to store tableware. Don’t worry that it will look messy. Arrange it well once, and it will take care of itself. You don’t rearrange every time you unload the dishwasher, right?

Open shelves are great for things used every day, or every week. Cookware, serving bowls, morning coffee mugs and bowls. Things used often enough to not worry about dust. There are so many beautiful things on the market now! It’s not our mother’s kitchen where we have to hide the piles of pastel Tupperware… But walls of nothing but shelves, even with a well edited collection of kitchenware, can look like we are in Pottery Barn instead of a home cook’s space.

If your room allows, a walk-in pantry is the best way to store dry goods, and even small appliances- keeping them convenient while cutting down on counter-clutter. 2’ x 3’ is enough for most kitchens, and much more cost effective than the equivalent amount of storage in cabinets!


A mix of shelves and cabinets, with the addition of a pantry (even the smallest closet will do), is I think the most interesting, practical, and most important, personal use of your space. We have all 3 at our studio on Fairfield street, if you’d like a test drive

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Kitchen Colors

Paint colors seem to be the most vexing of design decisions. You ask your daughter to pick a paint color for her room, and what looks pail pink on the chip looks like Pepto Bismal on the walls. The soft cream for the living room ends up looking like lemonade.
In the kitchen, where there is a lot of activity and heat, I always gravitate towards soothing colors. A calming environment is a great balance to all that activity. Colors that look like nothing on a chip can be so subtle and powerful in a room. Muted taupes, soft greens, buttery creams; colors that always look great. Some of my favorites: Benjamin Moore’s Linen white for trim, and ceilings- Never ceiling white For taupe, 975 or 976- enough green in it to keep from Beige.
As for greens, I love the 2141 series. A lovely grey-green that is soft, but not avocado…
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For blues, I like the 1569 series, a color that looks like nothing on the chip, but is rich and lovely on the walls. Creams, and any warm color, are best done by Farrow and Ball. There is something about their pigments that makes warm colors softer, not harsh (no Pepto!) .
In the end, it is the colors that please you that count. Remember that is the house’s job to take care of us, not the other way around.
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It’s Official: Sally Ross Design Studio Opens

Sally Ross Design Studio Open House invitation Our latest creation isn’t one of your houses at all, but our own new place of residence: the Sally Ross Design Studio at 42 Fairfield Street, Montclair, New Jersey.

We’ve had such fun using all our favorite things to treat ourselves to a new workspace, offices–and for the first time in our 20-plus years in business, a proper showroom for the bespoke fitted and unfitted cupboards and furnishings that are our company signature.

All our little flourishes that add up to a successful space for living and working are in the mix: our favorite Marmoleum floor in the pantry; just the right shade of green paint inside the cupboards; the use of half-walls to define things.

Part of the challenge in designing this commercial space was to take the 10-foot ceiling height and concrete walls and floor it came with and make it seem homey. Solutions: We installed molding at 8-1/2 feet, which when combined with a paint color change at that point helps the scale. Warm wood in the mercantile up front, and seagrass in the office area, soften the once-unforgiving surfaces.

We invite you to visit and see how we’ve done making our new home work. We’re usually open Tuesday through Saturday, and by chance or appointment; call 973-744-3186 to make a specific date, if you prefer. We’re here to show off our cupboards, tables, desks and more–or start a conversation with you about any and all things home, the subject that we never tire of talking about.

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