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

It’s a Dog’s Life

Back in 2009, a couple who were frustrated with cutting and managing photo clippings for their home remodeling project came up with the idea of an on-line photo database for homeowners. They created the website In just four years, the site has taken off and grown to the point that it now houses over two million photographs that have been downloaded into peoples’ ideabooks over 280 million times! There are over 2 million professionals from the home construction and remodeling trades who have their portfolios on Houzz. Since early 2012, I have been one of those design professionals. I have roughly 175 photos from my portfolio showing my work in 51 homes over the years.

I find it both informative and interesting to go through my on-line photos from time to time to see which ones get frequently downloaded and, based on peoples’ comments, see why they were downloaded. In this way, I learn and continue to grow as a designer. Reading comments in English, French, Dutch, Russian and more, I also find it fascinating how good design ideas translate. A good design idea is a good design idea the world over.

BrookhavenRecently I took a gander through my on-line photos and found it interesting that my number-one all-time most-downloaded photo is from a laundry room that I designed back in 2010. While there are lots of folks who like the folding area with open space below or the functionality of the room as a laundry and mud room space, a huge number of people have shared that photo because of what I did to incorporate the dog’s cage into the space. Comments show me that people have taken this idea and shared it to create special places not only for their own dog but also for their kitties and their litter boxes and even for their children with a secret play cubbie.

This makes me smile. While I know I have designed thousands of spaces that have made families happy over the years, I find it pretty rewarding to know that I have also brought comfort and happiness to their four-legged family members. Let’s keep those tails a-waggin’. ;-)

Beauty is Only Skin Deep

How many times have you heard that old adage? While I rarely use these exact words in day-to-day conversation, I often find myself explaining to clients that my goal in any kitchen or bath design project is to not only make it look good in the short term but to have it last a lifetime. I don’t want the beauty in my designs to only be skin-deep; I want it to be built by people who do quality work on a foundation of fine craftsmanship that will last until they are ready for something different.

Recently, I completed remodeling a powder room in my own home. While we were at it, we made sure everything was up to code. So, it came as a great surprise when we started having a sewer issue a few weeks ago. It wasn’t pretty. What went down in the toilet came up in the garage stationary tub. How could that be? I called the plumber out to rod the line and when he tried he couldn’t do it. The snake went in but just hit a muddy dead end about 40 feet out. Hmmm.

Now a neighbor had told me that the previous owner had the sewer lines all replaced a few years before we bought the place so there really shouldn’t be any reason why they would be clogged. We put the camera down the line figuring we would identify where the powder room line joined up and see if we could see any problem. We all watched that camera go through the main line and I was pleased to see that the pipe was spotless…no sludge, no cracks, no roots. Exactly what you want to see in your sewer main EXCEPT we didn’t see any pipe that connected in from the powder room. Hmmm.

This meant it was time to do a little digging. We dug down at the point where the joint should have been only to find this…

Improperly Replaced Sewer Lines

Improperly Replaced Sewer Lines

Whoever had done the work for the previous owner only did half the job! They pulled new pipe through the main line but completely missed the secondary line. Whether this was accidental or intentional, I will never know. I don’t even know who did the work in order to make sure I avoid this contractor in the future.

All I can say is I have yet another demonstration of why you want to hire quality contractors and use quality materials. My powder room still has it’s beautiful new skin but, as you can see, it was only skin deep!

Two Lloyd Wrights

Frank Lloyd Wright has always been one of my all-time favorite architects. Having lived in the Chicago area, I certainly saw my fair share of Frank Lloyd Wright homes and have even toured a few over the years.  Last night though, while reading the November issue of Sunset magazine, I learned that I was influenced by another Lloyd Wright in my design career and didn’t even know it!

Frank’s second son,  John Lloyd Wright, lived much of his life in the shadow of his father yet he was a reputed architect and inventor in his own right. He built quite a portfolio of homes for himself over the years although I don’t believe I have ever seen one. There are a few of his designs in Illinois and another project at the dunes in Indiana but, for the most part, John’s work can be found in Southern California where he had relocated in his teens to be near his older brother, Lloyd, who had turned to landscaping as a career.

So how is it that this second Lloyd Wright came to influence my design view? Back in 1920, John Lloyd Wright was the inventor of the now-classic toy – Lincoln Logs. Now, I was (am) more of a Lego’s gal myself. I even went so far as to construct Frank Lloyd Wright’s ‘Falling Water’ home out of the plastic blocks. [Yet another instance where Frank's architectural influence over-shadowed John's, I guess.] But I do remember pulling out the box of Lincoln Logs in Grandma’s basement closet.

You might say that I showed my design roots at an early age because I did enjoy building with them. Perhaps they even influenced an early desire of mine to build a log home. I never did do that and, at this point, I no longer have that burning desire but I did study up quite a bit on log home construction before I let that dream go. I remember finding it fascinating that it is one type of building where the walls aren’t hollow to hide the mechanicals and you have to plan for it to shrink over time. Since the logs dry out and contract a bit as they age, both designer and architect have to plan for that spacial loss. Imagine having to think through how to install a kitchen so that the pipes don’t burst, the electrical wires don’t get pinched to the point that they crack and the cabinets don’t crush the backsplash causing the tiles to pop as the ceiling slowly gets closer to the floor.  It is a fascinating engineering challenge when you think about it!

So I guess now I know that both Frank Lloyd Wright AND John Lloyd Wright were influencers of my design aesthetic. Just like in John’s lifetime though, Frank just took a bit more of the center stage.

Baseball in the Background

Being the daughter of a baseball groupie, I grew up with baseball in the background. Every Cincinnati Reds game played on Mom’s radio and I could wile away hours flipping through the signed memorabilia from her youth that Mom had tucked away in cabinets in the basement – scorecards, pennants, balls, and even a cracked bat that an usher sanded down for her when she was a teen. [She collected autographs on that bat all season and then that same usher recoated the bat to protect those signatures forever. Pretty cool!]

I never acquired the baseball bug as much as Mom but I do have my own signed memorabilia from the ‘Big Red Machine‘ of the 70s, I do understand the game, and I can still sing most of the beer jingles that played on Mom’s radio so long ago.

AT&T Park in San Francisco, CA

AT&T Park in San Francisco, CA

This being said, it came as a bit of a surprise to me as I walked around San Francisco’s AT&T Park the other day, that I was most impressed by a small sign on the exterior of the building. It wasn’t the plaques on the Wall of Fame showing the many super athletes who played for the Giants over the years. It wasn’t the monument or memorabilia case to the great Willie Mays. It wasn’t the brass markers set into the walkways commemorating the many championship pennants won or the records set by players not yet on the Wall of Fame.

LEED Silver Certification 2010

LEED Silver Certification 2010

Rather, it was a plaque commemorating that AT&T Park was the first major league ball park to earn LEED Silver certification back in 2010. That little plaque caused me to seek out what they did and how they did it. It wasn’t rocket science; it was a bunch of common-sense changes that reduced energy and water consumption and promoted a plethora of public transportation options to get to the park.

Being a designer, I am well aware that earning LEED certification is no simple task, let alone do it with an existing ball park. The whole major league sports experience seems so counter to energy and environmental stewardship when you think about the amount of traffic, electric and water that gets utilized at each contest, as well as all the waste that results from the foods and beverages that we all consume while we take it all in. Don’t get me wrong. I thoroughly enjoy the experience but I do recognize that it comes with a price.

Since 2010, only two other teams have stepped up to the plate and earned certification for their park as well. A standing ovation for the Giants, the Brewers and the Marlins for taking strides to put forth teams that lead on the field as well as fields that ‘LEED’. You’re all champions in my book.


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