The Kombucha Report

Several months ago, I started a series on ‘An Edible Quest’ called the Fermentation Bandwagon. At the time, it seemed like a perfect fit to talk about things I made in my own kitchen but, in hind sight, it was probably a little off topic for a travel blog focused on good food and drink. As a result, I am redirecting those posts to ‘Partners in the Kitchen’ going forward. I explained my rationale in the last post so if you really need to know, check it out. If not, just enjoy the broader content on this blog going forward as we talk not only about good kitchen design but also good things that come from a well-designed kitchen!


About a month ago, I wrote about our attempt to establish our very own kombucha scoby. My expectation at the time was that we would wait about four weeks for the scoby to develop and right about now it would be ready to make the first batch of kombucha. Well, reality has turned out to be significantly different from expectations….and in a good way. I am now on batch four and all have been consistent and good! This could not have been simpler.

Kombucha Scoby is Doing Well

Kombucha Scoby is Doing Well

According to directions I followed on-line (and provided in the original post), I was supposed to pour out the first batch because it would be flat (no carbonation) but it had a bit of effervescence. Not being a big fan of carbonation anyway, on day 12, I decided to drink the first batch rather than waste it. It yielded six bottles of nice tasting kombucha…tasted as good as the store-bought variety, just not as bubbly. At this point, the scoby was thin (between 1/16″ and 1/8″) but it was formed into a circle and held together as I poured off batch one and added the cooled sweet tea for batch two.

The only difference between making the initial batch and the second batch was that rather than adding a bottle of store-bought kombucha as starter, I merely had to retain two cups of my first batch as starter for batch two. No problem. Within eight or nine days, the scoby was getting thicker and batch two was ready to bottle.

This same cycle repeated for batch three.

The fourth batch is now sitting on the kitchen counter and the scoby looks perfect. It is 1/4″ thick or so and looks like the gel pancake that it is supposed to resemble. In a few more days, I will bottle this latest batch and then start on the next experiment – making flavors.

For this next phase, I will turn to the advice offered by Emma Christensen in her book, “True Brews”. I plan to dial back the black tea and incorporate some green tea to see what happens. Supposedly, the black tea has more nutrients to feed the scoby than the green tea so balance is key. If that goes well, I’ll start playing with flavors from the garden.

Emma provides a recipe for  blackberry sage kombucha in her book and I have both growing in the garden at the moment so that seems like a logical next try. Stay tuned. In another month, I’ll report back with more progress. So far, so good. The scoby looks shaggy but the results taste great!

Avoiding the Biggest Mistake

What is the single biggest mistake made in kitchen design? From my point of view, it isn’t going too trendy with the choice of materials or color. It isn’t using too big or too small of an island or mis-calculating the storage space or the countertop area required. It isn’t spending all of your budget on appliances such that there is nothing left to do the other important components of the design. While all of these can be poor decisions that I prefer to avoid, in my book, the single biggest faux pas is not designing the kitchen to be in keeping with the rest of the home.

You know it when you see it. You walk into a beautiful traditional home; possibly brick on the outside, shuttered windows, six-panel doors, hardwood floors, and crown in each room. It all flows wonderfully as you move from room to room and then you enter the kitchen. There before your eyes is an ultra-modern kitchen inspired by the latest in commercial, restaurant spaces. They spent a small fortune on the stainless appliances and the euro-cabinets and the glass tiles and the streamlined fixtures, but something is just not like the other rooms and not in a good way. It just doesn’t feel like it belongs with the rest of the home.

Now, I am not saying you can’t put modern elements in the kitchen of a traditional home nor am I saying that traditional elements can’t go in a contemporary dwelling. Absolutely it can be done but there needs to be some degree of transition to make it all work as a cohesive whole.

Kitchen Before M1_Project Partners DesignSeveral years ago, I worked with a client who understood this completely. I entered her home and she gave me a tour…ending with the kitchen. At which point she turned to me and said, “Which room here is not like the others?”. The obvious answer was the kitchen. She had remodeled and decorated every other room in the house with a comfortable, transitional vibe but the kitchen was still “builder traditional” – the arched-door cabinets with no trim details, no eye candy in the form of a nice backsplash, no attractive focal point (the white microwave is not my definition of pleasing to the eye), and the island achieved on the cheap by the builder simply installing an over-sized piece of stone atop a cabinet to yield an overhang and a knee space. It functions but that’s about all it has going for it.

M1 KitchenBy stealing about two feet of space from an office behind the kitchen, I rearranged this kitchen to function, make a statement and be consistent with the decor of the other rooms in the home. Now when you enter the room from the front of the house, the custom hood stands out and in a pleasing way! The touches of frosted glass lighten the look of the dark wood and add visual interest as your eye moves around the room. The wet bar hides beautifully behind the big doors with the circular handles yet seems to belong next to the large, circular wall art of the family room off to the right. And, while the kitchen certainly has a contemporary flavor, the use of crown and other traditional details allows it to work in a traditional home.McGrory Kitchen

The result is that the kitchen now looks to be part of the design of the rest of the home rather than the odd man out. Quite a change from where we started!





If you are interested in the selections and the names of the other trade partners on this job, refer to the project on my portfolio. Any of the details that I have on record are recorded there.





The Overhaul

Almost two years ago I started this blog for my design business – Project Partners Design. As I wrote at the time, I had no clue what blogging was, what it entailed, how to go about it or what to expect. Since then, I have learned a lot!

I have had posts that didn’t get a single reader and I have had posts that hit a chord on the other side of the globe with lots of hits in places like Australia, Dubai, Indonesia, England and others. I have learned that there is a lot more interest for the things that I and my clients make in our kitchens rather than how we went about creating the well-designed spaces….although it is nice to get that insight from time to time.

Also in this two year span, I set up a second blog (unrelated to my design business) called An Edible Quest. This second blog was created with a couple of foodie friends to focus on travel – local or long-distance; on-the-cheap or luxurious – that leads to something good to eat or drink. As I looked at it at the time, I included posts about kitchens (because a well-designed kitchen that turns out a great meal is an edible quest of sorts), about gardens (because all that good food has to grow somewhere),  about recipes (because who doesn’t like a little insight into something good they can make themselves), about restaurants, trips, destinations and more. It was easy to rationalize that almost everything in life can lead to something good to eat or drink because most of the time I find that it does. However, the down-side of this approach is that it can be confusing to the reader and make it difficult for me to decide if my post belongs on ‘Partners in the Kitchen’ or ‘An Edible Quest’.

As a result of all of this learning, I spent the last couple of days doing a bit of housekeeping. I cleaned up some graphics. I added a policy statement so those looking to garner an endorsement or use my photos would know where I stood on those subjects. I also made a fundamental decision on how to differentiate where things will get posted going forward. Here is the inside scoop….

  • If it relates to kitchen design (good, bad or indifferent), it goes on ‘Partners in the Kitchen’.
  • If it is a recipe or a story about something I made in my kitchen, it goes on ‘Partners in the Kitchen’.
  • If it is an anecdote from a design client, it goes on ‘Partners in the Kitchen’.
  • If it speaks about kitchen products, appliances or other supplier-related topics, it goes on ‘Partners in the Kitchen’.
  • If it relates to culinary travel (of any type or distance), it goes on ‘An Edible Quest’.

In keeping with this new approach, I will be moving some of the content that I previously posted on ‘An Edible Quest’ over to ‘Partners in the Kitchen’ so that I can continue adding content going forward. For some of you who read both blogs, pardon the housekeeping. For those of you who don’t, I hope you enjoy the change in format going forward. What this should do for you (the reader) and me (the blogger) is create a more focused and enjoyable experience for both of us.

I welcome feedback so please let me know what is (or isn’t) working! It takes a lot of time and energy to maintain a good blog so please help me to make the best of what I have to offer.

Thanks to all my readers, clients, suppliers and contractors. I couldn’t do this without you!


~ Theresa




A Pleasant Surprise

Generally, I am not a big fan of surprises. I am just too much of an organized planner to go with the flow unless it is part of my PLAN to go with the flow! ;-)

Summer, 2014 Issue

Summer, 2014 Issue

Recently, though, a pleasant surprise showed up in the form of the latest issue of Better Homes and Gardens Special Interest Publication, “Beautiful Kitchens & Baths”, summer 2014. The magazine arrived inside a white envelope from Meredith Publishing rather than just a loose issue in my mail box. I wasn’t at all sure why I was receiving this special issue but I am a sucker for a good kitchen and bath magazine so I started flipping through. When I got to page 92, it all became clear! There was a beautiful full-page photo of a master bathroom I designed for a Chicago-based client a few years back. Over the next six pages was a nice article complete with quotes and designer insights I had given the field editor shortly after we completed the job.

How nice of the publisher to send me a copy. Otherwise, I never would have known.

As my thank you to them, go pick up a copy for yourself. The issue is on newsstands through July 21st and is filled with great insights from many good designers. Or, here is a link to purchase a digital copy.

The article about 20 design trends that will stand the test of time is spot on in  my opinion!


Finding Inspiration in the Strangest Places

A couple of weekends ago, I excitedly looked forward to attending an Edible Art exhibit in Oakland, California. Before you make the same assumption that Keystone did, this show was not about art you can eat but rather art about things that are edible.

I read a local magazine entitled ‘Edible East Bay‘ and it always includes such beautiful drawings to accompany their food-related stories – stylized mushrooms in intricate watercolor detail, linoleum block prints of vegetables, pencil sketches of seeds and sprouts and the like. This show was promoted as an opportunity to meet the artists and see some of their work. In my mind’s eye, I expected a large show with lots of art to look at and perhaps even a chance to spot the perfect piece or two for a client’s kitchen.

When we pulled up in front of the venue and it was a small, one story office building, I began to suspect this event wasn’t going to be as I had anticipated. Unfortunately, the show was a lot smaller than I was envisioning and the art itself was on the small side too (postcards and 8 x 10’s) so I came away with nothing except dashed hopes.

Metalwork Sparrow by Gunter Reimnitz

Metalwork Sparrow by Gunter Reimnitz

This past weekend, at the last minute, we decided to pay a visit to the San Francisco Flower and Garden Show. I went with a mission of figuring out a few native plant options for our front garden and figured that anything else we learned would be gravy. You can probably already guess that I came away unsuccessful on my original mission however at this show I was pleasantly surprised to find wonderful, high-quality art from watercolorists, tile artists, fabric designers and more.

The iron works by Gunter Reimnitz’s Abraxas Crow Company were superb in every detail.

The garden chairs re-purposed from propane tanks in landscape architect Logan Sowers’ vignette were amazingly comfortable. They would make a quirky addition to any contemporary garden.Propane Tank Furniture by PPD

An interesting art piece in one of the urban garden vignettes was made from garden hose set in a pattern and lit from inside. What a clever idea!

A bonsai exhibit that displayed miniaturized coastal redwoods and live oaks also included a section sponsored by the California Suiseki Society displaying a small section of stones from their collection that will be on display in Oakland this June. I learned that Suiseki is the Japanese art of stone appreciation. I always appreciate a beautiful graining pattern, color or sparkle in a stone countertop or backsplash, but this art form looks at stones that have been shaped by water, weather and wind to evoke thoughts of mountains, lakes, waterfalls, animals and more. Fascinating!

Art from a Garden Hose

Art from a Garden Hose

You just never know where you are going to find that next bit of inspiration. Even though I didn’t find that for which  I went looking, this year’s San Francisco Flower and Garden Show was a gold mine of design inspiration for me. I can’t wait until next year’s show!

The Happiness of Being Hand-Picked

It is funny how a little bit of recognition always feels good regardless of what prompted it. This morning I opened my email to find a message that read as follows:

“You were hand-picked by one of our writers to be featured in an editorial ideabook on the homepage of Houzz.
I scratched my head and wondered why one of my design photos would accompany an article about relocating and then I saw what they did. They used that photo that I blogged about a few months back that is my most-popular photo in my portfolio showing a happy chocolate lab hanging out in the combination dog’s room/laundry room that I designed for a client a few years back. The happy dog in his happy home went well with the writer’s advice about handling pets when relocating. I guess free publicity is free publicity so I’ll take it!
And next time I go to photograph a completed design, I think I’ll incorporate more pets and kids in the photos. That seems to appeal! ;-)

You won “Best of Houzz” 2014!

It is always nice to open your email and find a message that makes a nice start to your day. Being a design professional, when I opened my email earlier this week and found this lovely note from, it certainly put a smile on my face!
“Hi Project Partners Design and congratulations,
We’re writing to let you know that you’ve been voted by the Houzz community as a winner of our Best of Houzz 2014 awards! Your work won in the Customer Satisfaction category, which is based on reviews you received on Houzz in 2013, as well as other factors related to your profile. We have already placed a “Best of Houzz 2014″ winner badge on your Houzz profile page. Congratulations and thank you for being part of the Houzz community. “
Thank you, Houzz! I appreciate the positive feedback and am honored to be a winner along with so many other talented professionals in the design field. I was honored to receive a Best of Houzz award in 2013 and continue to be grateful to my happy clients for taking the time to write a review of their positive experiences working with me and my firm. I couldn’t do it without them!
Below is the press release that came with the email. If you would like to know more about Houzz, the press release explains what they do in their own words and provides the links to their site. Thanks again,!

Best Of Houzz 2014 Award 

Annual Survey and Analysis of 16 Million Monthly Users

Reveals Top-Rated Building, Remodeling and Design Professionals 

[FREMONT, CA], February 4, 2014 – Project Partners Design of Fremont, CA has been awarded “Best Of Houzz” by Houzz, the leading platform for home remodeling and design. The 15-year-old kitchen and bath design firm operated by Theresa M Sterbis, AKBD, was chosen by the more than 16 million monthly users that comprise the Houzz community.

The Best Of Houzz award is given in two categories: Customer Satisfaction and Design. Customer Satisfaction honors are determined by a variety of factors, including the number and quality of client reviews a professional received in 2013. Design award winners’ work was the most popular among the more than 16 million monthly users on Houzz, known as “Houzzers,” who saved more than 230 million professional images of home interiors and exteriors to their personal ideabooks via the Houzz site, iPad/iPhoneapp and Androidapp. Winners will receive a “Best Of Houzz 2014” badge on their profiles, showing the Houzz community their commitment to excellence. These badges help homeowners identify popular and top-rated home professionals in every metro area on Houzz.

“Houzz provides homeowners with the most comprehensive view of home building, remodeling and design professionals, empowering them to find and hire the right professional to execute their vision,” said Liza Hausman, vice president of community for Houzz. “We’re delighted to recognize Theresa M Sterbis of Project Partners Design among our “Best Of” professionals for customer satisfaction as judged by our community of homeowners and design enthusiasts who are actively remodeling and decorating their homes.”

With Houzz, homeowners can identify not only the top-rated professionals like Theresa, but also those whose work matches their own aspirations for their home. Homeowners can also evaluate professionals by contacting them directly on the Houzz platform, asking questions about their work and reviewing their responses to questions from others in the Houzz community.

Follow Project Partners Design on Houzz. For more information, visit


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