Author Archives: Jane Dagmi

Jane Dagmi

About Jane Dagmi

Jane Dagmi is a freelance writer, style voyeur, and curious observer of the way people live, shop and decorate. After a gratifying tenure at Country Living, she now blogs for Benjamin Moore, Designing Spaces and others, and shares her contemplations at WANTNEEDXOXO. Jane lives in the Ft. Lauderdale area with her two daughters, and when not on deadline, takes on decorating projects, substitute teaching, and searches for good in the world and the people who make it so. Check her out on Google+!

Timothy Dahl: Making It Outside in LA

In his backyard workshop, blog star Timothy Dahl earns home improvement wisdom that he shares with DIYers of all ages.

Timothy Dahl

Photo: Timothydahl.com

Timothy DahlTimothy Dahl is impressively disciplined. His work week is structured; his workshop is neat. Scheduling keeps Timothy moving forward, and an uncluttered working environment keeps the path free.

The passionate creator behind the websites Charles & Hudson and Built by Kids has the happy, healthy, and productive working life thing figured out pretty well, and he wants to share it with inspired makers of all ages.

When he set up his workshop, Dahl took full advantage of the Southern Cali climate. The main studio area where Dahl cuts, paints, and builds is outdoors in the backyard. It occupies 200 square feet and is partially shaded by magnolia and bougainvillea. While Dahl had the original 5’H cement block wall heightened for security reasons, the 2’ increase also affords privacy and a bit of a sound barrier. Whether it’s the drone of a drill or the velvety voice of George Strait wafting through an outdoor speaker hooked up to his iPhone, Dahl is fortunate to have great easygoing neighbors. He says, “Sometimes we do tend to make some noise, but it’s never for prolonged periods.”

His understated workspace had even humbler beginnings. Dahl says, “As soon as I built the table, which is simply a large wood door with legs added, I had my workshop.” Then he got some sawhorses and eventually invested in some studio staples, such as the Rockwell Lumber storage system, which enabled him to gain more space by organizing his wood scraps up and out of the way. Dahl also bought the Craftsmen tool chest he had coveted for a long time. “It was life changing to finally organize my tools and gear in a sharp looking chest,” he says.

T Dahl Blog Star Craftsman Tool ChestTimothy recalls his father’s workshop; it was always kept tidy. “He set a great example for how a workshop should look and what can be accomplished in a small space,” he says. To manage his own potential mess, Timothy tries to budget time for putting things back. And he does not believe in wasting storage on seldom-used tools. So he keeps the tools he uses most frequently—cordless drill, powered screwdriver, jigsaw—within easy reach.

Though Timothy says he could spend all day and night in his shop, his demanding multi-blog platform and the desire to grow his brands requires an alternative, more official, work place—and a different set of tools, including a 27” iMac, Nikon D3000, and Sony Bloggie. “Blogging takes discipline,” he says, “but when it’s your job that you run like a business, then the motivation to put food on the table keeps you going.”

T Dahl Blog Star Knife CaseTimothy is thankful that his dad taught him how to use tools. He recalls following him all around the house as he worked on repairs. Timothy would hold one end of a tape measure, climb ladders, and clean out gutters. He still has the Swiss Army knife that his parents gave to him, when Timothy was in Boy Scouts. “My dad taught me how to whittle with this knife, and I took it with me everywhere. I will definitely pass this on to my son.”

It’s this invaluable multigenerational hands-on, honest work that inspired Timothy and his wife Laura to start Built by Kids, a site that empowers families to tackle DIY projects together. Timothy and Laura believe that making stuff breeds connection. They write, “It doesn’t take a lot of money or a contractor’s license to connect with our children and make lifelong memories together.” Live from bustling Los Angeles, Timothy Dahl is disseminating useful home improvement-themed information that he hopes can benefit people’s lives and bring them together.


Hanging with Kinetic Sculptor Elayna Toby Singer

Elayna Toby Singer

Artist Elayna Toby Singer next to her larger-than-life kinetic sculpture, "Re-tooled"

JDagmi-ElaynaTobySinge-ReTooled-Mobile-Detail-IMG_9499

Detail from "Re-Tooled". Photo: Jane Dagmi

When artist Elayna Toby Singer contemplates a new mixed media assemblage, she pieces together objects from both natural and manmade worlds, re-imagining them in a fresh context.

“A single object’s shape, color, and texture can instantly rouse my artistic vision,” says Elayna, whose first found-object kinetic sculpture was inspired by a crushed and discarded pair of eyeglasses.

While she selects twigs, pods, gemstones, beads and shells from relegated jars, bowls, and pots in her studio, no creative gestation is quite complete without a visit to the rust farm.

The rust farm is a 50 sq. ft. patch of backyard where assorted metal objects—found, bought at flea markets, and dropped off by friends—are laid out on wire mesh shelves and left to weather in the tropical South Florida climate.

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Fresh Pastry Stand: New Business from Old Housewares

Whether making cake stands or candles, Fresh Pastry Stand’s Deva Mirel finds inspiration in the vintage kitchen and its contents.

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Fresh Pastry Stand's Deva Mirel holding a vintage Rosenthal "Coins" plate

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Lamon Luther: Reclaiming Lumber… and Lives

LamonLuther-inez-table

The Inez Chevron table, totally on-trend, comes in a variety of sizes.

Compassion, faith, and hope are not intrinsically wired into the furniture business, but Lamon Luther, a fledgling manufacturer based in Douglasville, GA, might just set a new precedent for the industry.

Brian Preston, the company’s founder, is not only committed to designing super cool hand-crafted tables, benches, and bookcases from beautifully patinated reclaimed wood, he is dedicated to salvaging lives in the process. Preston hires homeless carpenters, building hope through employment.

Brian Preston of Lamon Luther

Brian Preston, founder of Lamon Luther, is already inspiring others with his business model.

When Brian Preston first visited a tent village occupied by homeless men and rumored to be dangerous, he did not go with the expectation of recruiting talent for a start-up furniture company. Rather Preston, who had just turned 30, was beginning to question his purpose in life. He thought a new adventure that would test his personal comfort zone and contribute to humanity was a good idea, and that’s when he discovered a pool of jobless and skilled carpenters eager for an opportunity to work.

Lamon Luther, TC, CNN filming

CNN film crew interviewing TC, the company's first hire.

Preston could totally relate to these men. Four years ago his construction and remodeling business, which had served Atlanta’s most affluent suburbs, tumbled along with the economy. He and his wife, April Lee, lost everything. “I know what it feels like to be broke and have nothing. I’ve been there,” he says.

Lamon Luther Headquarters

Lamon Luther is currently headquartered in an old 3,500-square-foot landscape nursery in Douglasville, GA.

Ideas started to click and all signs pointed to building a mindful furniture brand, but the proposition was only feasible in the first place, because Preston himself has a talent for designing and build furniture. His wife attests, “Brian has always been extremely creative and talented when it came to building things with his hands. We actually began our marriage by remodeling a 1927 farmhouse! I enjoy showing him a picture of something and then have him make it.”

With a solid source for beautiful reclaimed wood and a staff of capable, hardworking carpenters, it didn’t take long for the company to find its groove.

Lamon Luther pays homage to the American craftsman. The company is named after Preston’s grandfather, an exceptional carpenter who built the house where Preston spent much of his boyhood. Preston says, “He used to say things like, ‘Come here. Let me show you what a tool can do.’”

The honest wood furniture that Preston designs today could have been made by his grandfather’s hand. It is mostly made with basic tools of the trade using time-tested practices and techniques.

For more on the company, check out the video below, and visit Lamon Luther:


The Biltmore Estate: A Brief Architectural Tour

Biltmore Estate Tour

The Biltmore Estate, Ashville, NC. Photo: Jane Dagmi

I recently toured The Biltmore in Asheville, NC—a 250-room estate on 8,000 acres, the largest private home built in America. It is architecturally splendid, wildly romantic, and absurdly luxurious.

Inspired by chateaux in France, George Vanderbilt hired architect Richard Morris Hunt to interpret his vision and Frederick Law Olmsted to landscape it.

Over six years, 1,000 men worked six days a week to complete the estate, with George Vanderbilt and his guests christening Biltmore on Christmas Eve 1895.

Related: 10 National Trust Properties You Can Visit

This was my first visit to the estate, and from the moment I glimpsed it, my heartbeat seriously raced. I was in awe of the scale, the scenery, and the lifestyle that it must have supported.

Here are six of the Biltmore’s most memorable architectural features:

Biltmore Estate Architectural Tour

The Grand Staircase at Biltmore Estate. Photo: Biltmore Estate

The Cantilevered Staircase.
Inspired by the staircase at the Chateau de Blois in the Loire Valley, Biltmore’s grand staircase is a marvel of physics built using counterbalance. The weight of each of the solid limestone slab steps is offset by the weight of the wall bearing down.

Biltmore Estate

The chandelier in the Grand Staircase at Biltmore Estate. Photo: Biltmore Estate

The Massive Chandelier
There is a 1,700-pound electric light fixture suspended from the middle of the grand staircase. It hangs from a single bolt that runs through steel girders under the dome roof. The bolt has been replaced only once since the house was built. Wisely designed, the copper dome opens for easier access to the fixture.

Biltmore Tour

The Biltmore's slate roof tiles and copper flashing. Photo: Jane Dagmi

Roof Tiles and Copper Flashing
The slate roof tiles were affixed one by one. Each piece was drilled at the corners and subsequently wired onto the attic’s steel infrastructure. Copper flashing was then installed at the junctions to prevent water from penetrating. The fanciful flashing on the ridge of the roof was embossed with George Vanderbilt’s initials and other natural motifs from his family crest. The original gold leaf no longer survives.

Architecture Biltmore Estate

A gargoyle perched atop The Biltmore Estate. Photo: Jane Dagmi

Grotesques vs. Gargoyles
Originally found in 16th century Italian grottoes, grotesques are stone-carved fantasy figures that often appear intertwined with floral ornament, either on the capitals of pillars or at the base of a truss. At Biltmore, they appear in abundance.

Gargoyles are bigger and project outwards from a wall. Though the Biltmore’s gargoyles are purely decorative, the usual purpose is to direct water away from a building. Thought to ward off evil spirits, they are strategically placed at lookout points around the exterior

Biltmore Tour

Biltmore Estate's ornate limestone columns. Photo: Biltmore Estate

Patterned and Textured Limestone
Immense quantities of limestone were hauled in from The Hallowell Stone Company in Indiana, stored in sheds, and then cut into blocks. While some was left smooth, other surfaces were textured and carved. Vanderbilt wanted the sunlight to reflect off of his house in aesthetically pleasing and varied ways. Beyond striations, symbols from the family crests are also carved into the columns providing contrast, definition, and design value.

Biltmore Gustavino Tile Ceiling

Guastavino vaulted tile ceiling at Biltmore Estate. Photo courtesy: Biltmore Estate

Guastavino Tile
Spanish architect and engineer Rafael Guastavino patented a self-supporting ceramic tile vault and arch system in the late 19th century. The system—used extensively inside and outside at Biltmore—consists of layers of terracotta tiles set in a herringbone pattern into Portland cement. The tile master Gustavino personally supervised the work.

Biltmore Roof

Rooftop view of Biltmore Estate. Photo: Jane Dagmi

If I could go back in time to spend just a few late-summer weeks in the North Carolina mountains, partying in the banquet room and pouring through some of the 10,000 books in Vanderbilt’s library; or creating flower arrangements from the gardens; or maybe even painting landscapes from a perch in the observatory, I most certainly would. But if visiting the past isn’t possible, I can always make a return trip to Biltmore in the near future.

For more on historic architectural style, consider:

Tour of Olana (VIDEO)
10 Ways to Bring Historic Style Home
Bob Vila’s Guide to Historic House Styles


Fireclay Tile: An Inventive Company Flush with Green Ideas

Fireclay Tile recycled "Debris Series"

For Paul Burns, Founder and Chief Ceramicist at Fireclay Tile, the deafening sound of crushing porcelain toilets is strangely melodious. The deconstruction of old and inefficient toilets gives Burns the strong stabilizer he needs to create Debris Series Recycled Tile, made from over 70% post- and pre-consumer waste. In finding a purpose for outdated plumbing fixtures, Fireclay Tile has diverted 150 tons of porcelain waste from landfill so far.

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Design Manifest: A Father’s Day Tribute

Design Manifest's Naomi and Andrew Stein

Design Manifest's Naomi and Andrew Stein

I love the concept of “the family business.” It has that old-world feeling of apprenticeship, with one generation picking up skills from another. But the family business is one built on trust and unconditional love. I am sure maintaining a family business is a supreme challenge at times, yet from my off-and-on research, I know that a family business can also deepen and strengthen bonds.

Meet Andrew and Naomi Stein—the father and daughter team at Design Manifest, a full service design firm with a top-notch construction and installation team, based just outside of Philadelphia. Andrew loves to build. He has been building things for 40 years. “Swinging the hammer is what I like best,” he says. Naomi, who studied marketing at Penn State and then got her interior decorating certification from Moore College of Art in Philadelphia, has an adventurous spirit with a passion for design, decorating, and blogging. While she gets the relevance of function and durability, aesthetics are what truly fire her up.

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5 Great Backsplash Ideas

Prior to April, I was a “tile virgin.” But then I went to Coverings, the tile and stone industry trade show. With over 800 exhibitors in 300,000 square feet of space, I was over-stimulated, overwhelmed, and amazed at the size, innovation, and passion of this high-performance industry. Of course, any time you gather a lot of Italians under one roof, there’s gonna be passion!

Related: 11 Backsplashes for a Unique Kitchen

There’s a lot of product news to relay from Coverings, and I am going to start with a few spotlight-stealers that would make beautiful backsplashes. Gale Steves, author and trend spotter, believes the backsplash is often an afterthought for kitchen remodelers. I venture to say that the tiles below might actually drive the design and mood of the entire kitchen.

Backsplash Ideas

The Patchwork Backsplash
The tiles at Oscar & Izzy are exciting and unique, fun and folksy. The designer is Amy Mescia, a brand specialist who turned her talents from advertising to tile after being randomly invited to participate in an “Extreme Home Makeover.” Amy created this patchwork backsplash, which combines a love of modern and retro patterning with bright, happy color. Her simple and bold designs are printed atop Daltile solid ceramic tiles and are for indoor wall applications. A 4.25” square graphic tile is $20.00. Oscar & Izzy is named for her great grandfather and his wife.

Backsplash Ideas

Mirrored Backsplash
Artistic Tile’s Charleston Collection takes basic classic subway tile to a new level of glam. Each glass tile is hand-silvered in a meticulous way that gives the mirror an antique appearance. The 3″ x 6″ beveled tile is $91/sq. ft. Straight-edge tiles, 9″ x 18″, are also available for $70/sq. ft. Both styles are 3/16″ thick.

Three-Dimensional Backsplash
Remember when the world was flat? Well, the world of tile was flat once too, but companies are now manipulating materials to bend, twist, and curve. In collaboration with Giugiaro Design of Volkswagen fame, Mosaico+ launched Pulsar, a rounded and sintered glass tile that is ultra-slick and color-rich. There are four layouts and ten colors available for this extremely durable tile made from recycled glass.

Backsplash Ideas

Matte & Shiny Backsplash
The juxtaposition of satin and gloss-finish tiles creates an interesting optical effect; shiny tile pops as the matte ones appear to recede. Red Rock Tileworks explores this combination of sheens in the Tuxedo Zig Zag pattern, featuring a new parallelogram-shape ceramic tile that comes in 48 colors and costs $24 per linear foot.

Backsplash Ideas

It’s Hip to Be Square
Squares-within-squares were a dominant geometric theme at the show. The sculptural “Syncopation” motif at Lowitz & Company calls to mind mid-century Miami architecture. Under the direction of painter/designer Ted Lowitz, tile makers manipulate clay purely with their fingertips, pushing, pulling, and defining the design. Two white, matte glazes are offered with this collection and were especially developed to complement stone and marble.

Backsplash Ideas

Backsplash Designing Tool
Aside from the selection of stone, ceramic, porcelain and glass, make sure to check out Crossville’s interactive online backsplash design tool. Backsplash Builder allows the user to key in most of Crossville’s porcelain or glass tile designs, trying different patterns and colors. The user puts in project dimensions and then starts selecting tile and grout color.

For more on tile and kitchen backsplashes, consider:

DIY Network Backsplash Kit
Backsplash Idea: Faux Stone Re-Finish
The Backsplash: A Kitchen’s Most Underutilized Real Estate


2020 Alton Road: Anatomy of a LEED Home

2020 Alton

2020 Alton inspires major drive-by gawking. Photo: John Patron

The luxurious super-green house underway at 2020 Alton Road in Miami Beach is moving right along on its way toward LEED Platinum certification. Outfitted with top-of-the-line, energy-efficient products and systems, this project—from the Florida Green Home Design Group—strives for superlative indoor air quality and net-zero energy use.

The current asking price for the two-story five-bedroom, solar- and wind-fueled, rainwater-harvesting, totally iPad-automated house is $2.2 million. Even now, before the decorative details and finishing touches have been completed, it’s easy to appreciate 2020 Alton Road, on track to become the smartest, safest, and most energy-efficient residence in town.

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How To: Make Kids Eco-Aware

The way to a young person’s conservation-conscious heart is through active learning—and maybe some candy.

Monarch Hill Landfill, Florida, Eco-Conservation Kids

A view of the Monarch Hill landfill.

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