Monthly Archives

September 2012

karen vision house

Save Some Green by Going Green at Home

By | Building Green, Custom Home Construction, Custom Home Design | 4 Comments

Blogger Karen LeBlanc hosting VIP Tours of the Vision House at Epcot, photo by HowieSpace Photography

Recently, I had the opportunity to host VIP tours of Green Builder Media’s VISION House® at Disney’s Epcot Theme Park in Orlando, Florida. The idea behind this exhibit, created in collaboration with Disney Imagineers, is to showcase the latest innovations in green design and sustainable living. I discovered a few money-saving and environmentally friendly features that anyone can add affordably to Save Some Green by Living Green.

Blogger Karen LeBlanc points out energy-saving brick, a sustainable material on the exterior of Vision House, HowieSpace Photography

Brick on the Exterior Saves Energy Bucks

Brick is a sustainable material that helps lower the utility bill because it holds in temperatures. Brick is made of clay and water so it’s environmentally safe, free of chemicals and pollutants. It’s durable, can carry heavy weight loads, fire resistant, and recyclable. As a bonus, old bricks make great architectural features when they are salvaged and reused in structures to add character.

Blogger Karen LeBlanc points out smog-eating tile and Hanwha Solar panels on the roof of Vision House, HowieSpace Photography

Smog Eating Tiles Keep Us Healthy

I was surprised to discover that roof tile can actually cut down on air pollution. Boral manufactures the BoralPure Smog Eating Tile that reduces the formation of smog. According to Boral, the roof tiles “eat” smog when exposed to sunlight by oxidizing pollutants and converting them into inert calcium nitrates that wash away with the next rainfall.

LED fixtures in the Dining Room of the Vision House, HowieSpace Photography

LED fixtures Use 75 Percent Less Energy

According to U.S. Energy Department, ENERGY STAR-qualified LEDs (light-emitting diodes) use 75 percent less energy and last up to 25 times longer than other light bulbs. The movement of electrons through a semiconductor material illuminates LEDs. They can be integrated into all sorts of products to provide white and colored light, such as flashlights, light bulbs, and integrated light fixtures. Unlike incandescent or fluorescent bulbs, LEDs emit light in a specific direction, reducing the need for reflectors and diffusers that can trap light; they are ideal for recessed downlights and task lighting. Another cost-saving advantage, LEDs emit almost no heat whereas incandescent bulbs release 90% of their energy as heat and CFLs release about 80% of their energy as heat. The Vision House features LED lighting by Sylvania.

Low VOC cabinets by Armstrong Worldwide in the ktichen of the Vision House, photo by HowieSpace Photography

Low-VOC Household Features Improve Air Quality

VOC” stands for Volatile Organic Compounds, which are chemical fumes released into the air. A common carrier of VOCs is the kitchen cabinet, which can contain formaldehyde used to bind the particleboard in cabinet’s interior boxes. The toxic chemical also shows up  in cabinet stains and finishes. No or Low-VOC cabinets improve indoor air quality and reduce toxins because they don’t contain formaldehyde and other chemicals.The Vision House kitchen features Low-VOC cabinets from Armstrong World Industries.

Home insulation made of cotton natural fiber for Low VOCs, photo by HowieSpace Photography

Home insulation is another potential source of VOCs. The insulation in Vision House is made of natural cotton fiber including denim clothing. The natural cotton fiber insulation has no VOCs, it’s mold and mildew resistant as well as fire retardant and completely safe to touch. A picture window into the wall in the family area provides a close up view of the insulation.

Three-layer windows with argon gas between the layers for greater energy efficiency in the masterbedroom of the Vision House, photo by HowieSpace Photography

Energy efficient Windows Shave 15 Percent off Heating and Cooling Costs

Energy Star Qualified windows filter out damaging ultraviolet light and save on heating and cooling costs. The U.S. Energy Department estimates that upgrading to Energy Star Qualified windows can save approximately seven to 15 percent on a home’s energy bill. The windows in Vision House are by Pella and have three layers of glass with argon gas between the layers. Argon gas is denser than air and enhances insulation.

Grow a Wall Garden

Blogger Karen LeBlanc points out the Green Wall Garden in the backyard of the Vision House. A wall garden improves air quality and energy efficiency, photo by HowieSpace Photography

Another creative idea that adds ambiance and enhances air quality and energy efficiency in a home is a green wall made of living, breathing plants. The Vision House features a green wall in the backyard that helps to regulate temperature, clean the air, and filter the water. It’s also a lush focal point in this backyard retreat.

Vision House by Green Builder Media and Disney at Epcot’s Innoventions Exhibit, photo by HowieSpace Photography

The entire Vision House is powered by Hanwha Solar photovoltaic modules on the house’s rooftop and a whole-home automation system (The Home Intelligence system) that can adjust the lighting and temperature in each separate zone throughout the house. If you would like to check it out, Vision House is located in Epcot’s Innoventions Exhibit area. What are your money-saving and environmentally safe ideas for going green at home? Share your comments with our readers. I would love to hear from you.

interior luxury home entry

Making a Grand Entrance

By | Custom Home Design | No Comments

Deciding on Your Grand Entrance

Choosing the front door for your new home is a key design decision that dramatically influences the home’s curb appeal. Of course the door should be in sync with the home’s architectural style but here are few guidelines.

Decide on a Door Early

Florida Custom Home Builder Jorge Ulibarri  says the front door decision comes early in the construction process, especially if it is custom-made. There needs to be time allotted for the design, manufacture, and shipping of the door (if the door is coming from Mexico or China, it will have to go through customs, sometimes that can add days to the process). Keep in mind that you will need the front door installed for the framing inspection, so you don’t want to hold up the construction process waiting on your door. Jorge says that it can take approximately two to three months to order and receive a custom-made front door.

Research Your Door Design Options

A good start is to go online for design inspiration. If you are looking for wrought-iron doors, Jorge recommends checking out the website  The site has a wide selection of door designs and clear images. (Please note, this is not an endorsement of Cantera Doors and the author of the blog has not been paid to mention their products).

Jorge saves his clients significant cash on the purchase of a custom-made wrought iron door by having it manufactured in Mexico. He works with  MetaloStudio out of Monterrey, Mexico where craftsmen hand forge doors created from designs that Jorge and his clients create together. These doors make unique signature statements for the owners because oftentimes, they will include their family name initials or other meaningful design elements to personalize their entrance. To see some of  his client’s designs on homes designed and built by Jorge Ulibarri,  check out the Pinterest board “Making a Grand Entrance” and feel free to repin any doors that you like.

Order Your Custom Door from a Reputable Company

Don’t let price alone drive your decision in the purchase of a custom-made front door. Make sure you are dealing with a reputable company. Get references, go look at the company’s doors and inspect the quality of workmanship and material.  Check out the work and references of the door’s installer.

In a remodel project where you want to replace your front door, research your options carefully. Retrofits aren’t easy. Never order a door without having a professional come and inspect the entryway to see if it can accommodate a custom-door. Also, price compare for the door’s installation because sometimes the installation can rival the price of the door itself. For more design ideas and money-saving tips, subscribe to the Trade Secrets web series available on YouTube.

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The Mod-Mediterranean Home

By | Custom Home Construction, Custom Home Design, Kitchen Design | No Comments


Tips To Blend Old World and Contemporary Styles

Mediterranean architecture endures in Florida as a style perfectly in sync with its surroundings and history, but exterior curb appeal doesn’t have to dictate interior decor. Florida Custom Builder Jorge Ulibarri says most of his clients prefer some variation of Mediterranean architecture but their interior preferences often merge Old World and 21st Century styles.  “I have clients who want a home that looks from the outside like it has endured for generations, yet on the inside, the style is sleek and modern-a look commonly defined as contemporary.”

Jorge is building several homes featuring Tuscan architecture with contemporary interiors. It’s a trend that Wolfe-Rizor Interiors, based in Winter Park, Florida,  is seeing as well. Design Principals Hattie Wolfe and Abigail Rizor say clients no longer want heavy furniture, fabrics and decor. “There is a formality to that look and the younger generations are very informal. Mediterranean is here to stay but clients now want contemporary interiors,” explains Hattie, who co-founded the interior design firm with Abigail 17 years ago.   The mother-daughter design team of Wolfe-Rizor says interiors are becoming more casual in feel. “People want less fuss, a sleeker, easier look to match their lifestyle,” says Abigail.

This modern twist on the Mediterranean home eschews heavy, ornate detailing popular in the 90s and early 2000s in favor of sleeker, simple flourishes. Custom Builder Jorge Ulibarri been in business for more than a decade and says the dominant style in Florida remains Mediterranean for practical reasons.  “There are many practical reasons for Mediterranean exteriors in Florida. Stucco finishes protect the walls of a home from rain, sunlight and Florida’s hot, humid climate,” explains Jorge. Many of his homes draw inspiration from the Haciendas Jorge grew up with in his native Mexico. “The tile roofs seen on many Florida homes actually help cool the home and protect it from water intrusion and fire,” says Jorge who points to the roof tile’s ancient engineering.  “Spanish and Mexican missions used tile made of out clay pots and bricks to shed water easily. The air pocket in the half tube helped to keep air cool.”

Wolfe-Rizor Interiors terms this style “Italian-Modern,” a popular twist on Old World architecture. “Americans have fallen in love with that Tuscan look, which used to mean heavy ornate detailing. But truthfully, Italians are known for great contemporary. Sleek cabinetry, terrazzo flooring, chrome state-of-the-art faucets, just to name a few elements,” says Abigail.

She cites the kitchen as an example. “Contemporary kitchens are big now and go well with Mediterranean architecture. Instead of heavy stained cabinetry with corbels and mosaics, cabinets are now flat paneled. Countertops are sleeker with contemporary hardware,” says Abigail.

Contemporary style kitchen seamlessly blends with its Old World architecture and exterior

The floor plan of today’s Mediterranean home also has evolved. Jorge says many clients are opting to forgo the formal living room.  “I’m building for two clients who both decided not to have formal living rooms to optimize their square footage. Most people today entertain in the kitchen and family room as a large open, connected social space,” says Jorge.

Contemporary kitchen with off white color palette seamlessly integrates rustic beams to blend modern and old world styles, photo courtesy of Florida Custom Builder Jorge Ulibarri,

Wolfe-Rizor is seeing the same preferences with their clients. “For a while the ceilings couldn’t get high enough and rooms couldn’t get big enough. People didn’t know what to do with all that space. The trend now is to get cozier, more realistic about space and not have all this empty volume you have to fill up,” explains Hattie.

No matter what the architectural style, a home’s interior serves as the palette for self-expression. “It should tell the homeowner’s story, personify their tastes and lifestyle,” says Jorge. Therein lies the challenge of contemporary decor: creating a home that is warm and not cold and impersonal. “Ideally, contemporary decor is counter balanced with personal touches.”

Contemporary interior designed by Wolfe-Rizor Interiors that seamlessly integrates with Old World architecture. Photo courtesy of Wolfe-Rizor Interiors

At Wolfe-Rizor Interiors, the aim is to help clients create a home that looks lived in.  “When you go into a home and everything is new and contemporary, it looks like you don’t have a connection. A lived-in home showcases items that you’ve acquired over the years,” explains Hattie.

With tastes trending towards a mixture of the Old Word and 21st Century styles, how can a homeowner successfully integrate two different looks?

Here are a few tips:

Use color to bring the outside inside even though the styles are different. Abigail cites an example: “Use a strong color accent on the exterior such as painted shutters then integrate that color indoors with decorative accents such as pillows, printed fabrics or painted cabinetry.”

Choose contemporary light fixtures for the interior to mix rustic elements with modern design.

Furnish the room with monochromatic pieces and accent with color. Elements like a traditional velvet sofa and a contemporary coffee table relate to Mediterranean architecture but are more today.

Incorporate stainless steel kitchen appliances to give the kitchen a clean, utilitarian look and instant gourmet status while complimenting more rustic accents.

Accent with personal effects such as a great piece of art, family photos or a family heirloom. Use objects that represent where you have come from, where you have been, and adventures ahead. Those things make a house a home,” explains Abigail.

Contemporary interiors designed by Wolfe-Rizor Interiors that mixes personal effects with sleek furniture and decor to create a room that can successfully compliments the home’s Old World architecture

Mediterranean architecture remains the gold standard of Florida home design. Whether it’s Spanish Mission, Tuscan, Spanish Colonial, Italian Renaissance or another variation, successfully integrating Old World architecture with 21st Century interiors can create a signature style for the homeowner.

For more design tips and ideas to add affordable luxury to your living space, check out the series Trade Secrets by Jorge available on YouTube.