Tuesday, August 27, 2013

A New Job: Week One

The lunch you see set out on the island of the Varenna "Twelve" kitchen at 50 Water Street (second floor) is the product of yours truly.  It's indicative of an attitude that is very prevalent at Inform; you do what needs doing.

So today, because the showroom was quite busy and because we were a little short staffed, I took the leftovers from last weeks anniversary party (50 years for Inform & the owners' birthday parties) and put together lunch.  I'm not up to speed on the couches, so my culinary skills were more helpful at the time.

If you follow me on Twitter (@ArneSalvesen) you've had a bit of an idea of what my first week has been like.  If I told you I have been learning to design with two of the best lines of European cabinetry, that would sound pretty amazing.  The reality is I've been reading endlessly dull catalogues in PDF form.  Okay, it's not dull to me but it's sure not glamourous.  The reality of how much I have to learn is really starting to settle in.  I fluctuate between panic (usually when someone asks me what other fabrics a chair comes in) and excitement (when I realize what I'm going to be able to create with Boffi & Varenna).

I've also been able to start putting my stamp on the showrooms.  Last week, I did two site visits and was able to chat with two of the installers we use at Inform.  Today the owner and I were looking at the Varenna display and discussing how to stage it better.  "So do it!" she said.  And so I did.  Last week we received an electric grill from Gaggeneau that I was able to install.  No wiring mind you, but assembly was required.

What's been great about this sort of work is that I've been able to feel like I'm able to use the knowledge I've spent 20 years accumulating and contribute (and EARN my salary).  I know I'll get there ...

One last thing about the new job, the commute has taken some getting used to.  For years I've typically set my own hours, but also needed to be on job sites quite regularly.  A car was essential.  So far I've been able to be a happy commuter.  Well perhaps "happy" is a bit strong, but I'm really enjoying not having to deal with rush hour.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Three Minutes With - Tips From Cabinet Installer, Steve Begg

This is NOT Steve.  Steve is camera shy.
"Three Minutes With" returns to Useful Spaces this week with cabinet installer Steve Begg.

Steve and I have been working together for almost 10 years now, and if there's one trade that can make or break a kitchen project, it's the cabinet installer.  The installer is, in many cases, one of the last trades in and it's his/her work that will catch the eye of everyone who walks into the room.

In this interview, Steve talks about what he needs from the customer and from the designer in order to achieve the perfect installation

If the audio controller doesn't work, you can download the audio file here.

If you have any suggestions for upcoming episodes of Three Minutes With, drop me a line either in the comments below or on the "About" page.

Monday, August 19, 2013

LEGO Architecture Studio - Best Toy Ever

The LEGO Architecture series has typically featured recreations of notable examples of great architecture:  Falling Water, Sydney Opera House, Empire State Building.  They're beautiful models, but they go against the spirit of what LEGO is all about.  Creativity.  My favourite moments playing with LEGO involved sitting on the rec-room floor in the middle of thousands of the little plastic bricks and just building.  It didn't matter what I built, I just made it up as I went along.

So I was really excited when I heard about the new Architecture Studio set; and even more excited when my wife gave it to me as a birthday present.

The Architecture Studio features over 1200 pieces of white LEGO bricks, and a beautiful 272 page book containing insights from some of the top architecture firms in the world: REX architecture, Sou Fujimoto Architects, SOM, MAD Architects, Tham & Videgård Arkitekter, and Safdie Architects.

And that's it.  Go play.  Go create.  

It's beautifully simple and returns LEGO to it's roots, albeit in a somewhat haughty designer-y kind of way.  But I'm okay with that.  If you need a little bit of structure the book also features a series of exercises to help you explore the concepts being discussed.  The first exercise deals with abstraction - using various sources as inspiration for the design process.

Using the image of a bird as inspiration I first created a "sketch-model."  That's my bird above.  It seems my LEGO skills, although rusty, are still in tact.

Next, I imagined it as an architectural object.  It could be part of a bigger object, perhaps part of a city-scape.  Again, there were no rules.  My bird morphed into my plan for a new Coast Guard station in Vancouver (we just lost ours to government cut-backs).  There's a fenced in area for staging supplies, a landing area for the helicopter, and the glass areas are the observation tower.

All in all I spent about an hour working through the exercise, and it left me feeling a) like I was 10 years old again, and b) amazed at how similar the process I had just gone through with the bird was with the process I go through designing kitchens.  That's not to say I'm inspired by birds when I design a kitchen (although I could be I suppose) but I often use a design element in the room our house I'm working in to start on my kitchen design.

The Architecture Studio retails for about $150, which I am told is very close to the $0.10/brick rule of thumb employed by many LEGO fanatics.  Add the book and this set, while not inexpensive, is very good value.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

A New Job: Like "Back to School" for Grownups

A couple weeks ago I announced that I was leaving the company I had been working for for 16 years to start a new job, but decided to wait before revealing my new opportunity.  The delay was perhaps a bit dramatic, but I had a couple jobs I wanted to complete and thought it was the most respectful way to handle things.  And so, today I am pleased to reveal I will be joining the team at Inform Interiors as one of their kitchen designers.

To say I'm thrilled to be working with Inform Interiors is a bit of an understatement.  They've been in business in Vancouver for over 50 years, and their new showroom (opened in 2006) has long been one of my favourite places to walk through and soak up some design karma, or soak up the sun on their rooftop deck.  In addition to being a leader in modern home furnishings, Inform Interiors also takes their kitchen design seriously.  This is quite evident when you cross over to their original showroom at 97 Water Street and visit their kitchen design studio.

The Inform Kitchens & Bath team has been creating beautiful spaces since 2006, working together with architects, interior designers, and homeowners. Starting August 19th, 2013, I'll have some of the best products the industry has to offer at my disposal: cabinetry, countertops and hood fans from Boffi and Varenna, plumbing fixtures from Agape and KWC, Sub Zero, Wolf and Gaggenau appliances (woohoo!), and Bisazza mosaic and glass tiles.

These lines of cabinetry are new to me, so I'll be going back to school so-to-speak and learning (in metric ... yay!) about how to fit the new lines into my projects.  I'll be sharing the experience with you here as I go along, but in the meantime, here's an brief summary (from the Inform Interiors website) of the lines I'll be working with:

Boffi’s collections are created in cooperation with leading designers, based on a distinctive company history and philosophy. The end products are state-of-the-art and aesthetically minimal. The result is outstanding design and innovative features.
Known for its purity of design, Varenna Kitchens combines function and originality. Varenna has its own research and design department as well as partners with world renowned architects to produce a range of contemporary kitchens to complement the Poliform lifestyle.

Agape is an industry leader in Italian bathroom design. They invest significant resources to pursue the company mission of making the bath a comfortable and stimulating space.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Vancouver Street Food - A Rant

It's been 3 years since Vancouver started allowing food carts on the streets of our city.  Admittedly I had hoped to enjoy more of them by now, but with the majority of them being downtown and my work not ... well it's not been easy.  And if I'm being honest, those few times I've managed to go have not been the stellar food-loving experiences I've hope for.

I have two simple rules when it comes to street food (yes, I am the almighty creator of the rules for street food ... now you know):

Rule #1:  You should be able to eat it with one hand.  Holding the item (wither wrapped or in a container) with one hand while eating it with the other (wither with the fingers or a utensil) is acceptable.
This seems like a pretty obvious one to me.  It's called "street food" meaning you should be able to eat it while you are standing on the street (or sidewalk as the case may be).  Things like sandwiches, pizza, hot dogs, fish balls on a stick, etc. are perfect.  Boxes of noodles (e.g. mee goreng), fish and chips in a paper cone, also work.

However, a plate of food that requires you to find an outdoor table or sit on the sidewalk and use a knife and fork do not.   I've seen some carts try and circumvent this rule by building a small patio onto their cart complete with tables and chairs.  Nice try, but much like how your elementary school teacher treated chewing gum, unless there's enough for everyone you've got to get rid of it.

Rule #2:  You should be able to order, purchase and receive your food in as short a time as possible.

The majority of food carts in Vancouver are in the downtown core.  It stands to reason.  There are a lot of people looking for lunch in the downtown core, so putting your food cart there makes good sense.  So why do so many many cart owners fail to realize most people only have one hour for lunch?  3 years ago I experienced a 20 minute wait for a dessert crépe.  Yesterday, I waited over 35 minutes for a sandwich.  It was a damn good sandwich, but I was with my wife who needed to get back to work.

Now before you food cart owners start flooding my inbox with hate emails, I understand you have limited space, and limited facilities.  I do not care.  I didn't decide to go into the food cart business; you did.  Besides, there are many other food cart owners who seem to have it figured out.  2 or 3 items on your menu are all you need.  Beverages?  Canned pop, bottled water, and one type of specialty drink (pre-made) will suffice.

My wife and I just spent the BC Day weekend in Portland and marvelled at the variety and quality of food carts in their downtown core.  We stopped at The People's Pig for a quick snack.  They offered 4 sandwiches, and we received our food five minutes after ordering it.  One guy was working the kitchen.  In fairness it was a Sunday so I expect mid week, lunch hour waits would be longer ... but nowhere near what I experienced at lunch yesterday.

What I fear is that Vancouver's food cart scene has become more about coming up with "creative" items than making sure the basics "rules" of food carts are being met.  It's important to remember that food carts are supposed to be filling a niche not filled by conventional restaurants.  If they're not, they're simply  a restaurant without walls, ceiling floor, tables, chairs, lighting, etc ... and for that, I can picnic.

Friday, August 2, 2013

A Modern Take On Wine Storage

In my most recent project, my client asked me to incorporate some wine storage into the kitchen design. I was working in a condominium, so I was faced with the dilemma of not giving up too much cabinet space as storage was at a premium.  We were also trying to keep the design as contemporary as possible, so the typical "criss-cross" wine rack was not the best solution.

Enter Vin de Garde and their Nek-Rite system.  I've written about Vin de Garde before, but had never had the opportunity to use their products.  Nek-Rite is a very simple system they have developed that uses aluminum rods (or black powder-coated) to store bottles parallel to whatever surface you want to use.  They are available in single, two, or three bottle configurations.  Simply decide the number of bottles you want to store and where you want to store them.  No cabinetry is needed; the only consideration is how to attached the rods to the mounting surface.

For this application I had a nook framed into the corner of a wall, and had the framers install 3/4" plywood backing between the studs.  I then had a 3/4" thick panel painted to match the cabinetry and  installed the rods.  The panel is secured into the opening with the top and bottom rods that have a lag bolts attached and are threaded into the 3/4" plywood backer.

Vin de Garde is based in Vancouver, but all of their modular products are available for purchase through their web site.  The systems are all quite customizable but the staff are quite willing to work with you to come up with the solution that works for you.

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