Rebekah Zaveloff is currently the principle designer of Kitchenlab, as well as the co-founder of Design in a Bag.com, but the path she followed to wind up where she is today was a bit of a fun zig-zagged one. Similarly, a serendipitous missed turn and a U-turn led her and her husband to their beloved weekend retreat, a farmhouse in Michigan. In both her career and finding this home, timing, experiences along the way and a convergence of circumstances have all been key to where they have landed. You can find out more about Rebekah on her profile on Houzz
and on her site
Please tell us about how you found your lovely farmhouse. What was your first meeting with the house like?
This is a hilarious marriage story! So my husband, who NEVER gets lost…if he’s been to any city once, he knows his way around. Columbus where I grew up. NY, London, many towns in France, Seattle, does not matter – it’s beyond annoying for someone to be right this much! So that said, we’re on our way to a friend a of friend’s house for dinner out in Michigan…and he’s been there only once, years ago. He drives past their road and hits a T at another road and decides to turn around, figuring we passed the turnoff. We pass a “for sale by owner” sign – I freak out, never one for subtlety…and write down the number. Mind you, we’ve looked at about 50 houses this summer alone, most of which we expected by first sight to be close to our price range and are frighteningly NOT. I call the next day, and I swoon when I hear the owner state a price that’s actually within our range of ‘hopeful.’ We go meet her that day, spend 6 seconds in the house and both knew, it was the one.
What was able to impress you so much in those 6 seconds?
The floor plan was amazingly modern for a farmhouse over 100 years old. Amazingly it has 2 bathrooms, but oddly, both were on the first floor…not that unusual for this era. The house was surrounded by grapevines on all 4 sides, belying the fact that it was only 1 acre but felt like a hundred! There were no neighbors, which was my husband’s only real requirement. We were sold. That said, it was in need of some serious love, which we have documented in our “This Old Farmhouse” blog series.
How does it differ from your home in the city? How is it different working from the farmhouse and working in the city? Is there a change in your attitude or work?
I take a big, deep sigh in order to answer this question…it’s so funny, the minute we cross hit this one exit, Lake Station, off of 90 and back onto 94, I feel myself just exhale and release all this city stress! Everyone I know that lives in both places feels this way, and it never gets old. I can focus in a different way in the country than I can in the city. In the city it’s all cliché hustle and bustle – back to back meetings, planning my day based on neighborhood, traffic, client schedules, client’s kid’s naps, client’s kid’s carpools, sports, etc. I’m so busy bouncing around the city that I don’t sit down for long – the pace is kind of nuts, but I love it.
The minute I get to the farmhouse it’s a different kind of focused intensity. I know I have a whole day in front of me without going to jobsites - to focus on drawings, phone calls, orders. I definitely can’t get that kind of work done when I’m in the city, I’m too tempted to jump in my car and put out the fire du jour, or du minute. Having high speed internet access (even in my backyard!), a fax machine, scanner, and all my books and magazines make working at the farmhouse dreamy and easy. I can have un-interrupted calls with clients, and uninterrupted time to draw and design. I’ve made it so Fridays are my ‘office’ day – even if that means my ‘office’ is sitting in my back yard working on my laptop with the crickets chirping.
What's your favorite spot in the house?
The back patio is first – I see this as an extension of the house. But if I had to pick a second – it’s the kitchen of course! I love being in the kitchen in Michigan because it’s the place I have time to cook and hang out with my husband and friends. During the week he does all the cooking. I’m a lucky girl.
What was the very first step of your remodeling/decorating process? How did this apply at the farmhouse?
Measuring and putting everything into Autocad is always first. I won’t even discuss details of ideas with a client on site until I get everything in the computer and start space planning. This design phase is different for me than the decorating phase. Finishes for me come later, even though I have an idea in my head, I find most clients, and myself, find it overwhelming to try and do space planning and picking finishes all at the same time. Too much! A good, clean, functional space that addresses the client’s needs and the challenges of the space always comes first. Once I’m confident with those decisions and the drawings are done, we start looking at hard surfaces such as tile, countertops and cabinets, then we move to the finishes like lighting, furniture, rugs, wall colors.
For our farmhouse…it was the space planning and layout as well. I measured the whole house before we closed and had everything drawn. Enlarged openings, adding windows, relocating doors, and adding the French doors, and designing the kitchen. As chronicled in our blog, our decorating changed and evolved as we moved along.
What was the biggest renovation/decoration challenge you faced?
It’s cliché, but doing your own space is the hardest. I tell my clients this to help quell their anxiety, and I wonder if they think it’s me just talking them off the cliff, but I really mean it! It’s hard! I have fun and I’m confident in my choices for clients…I agonize over the right mix and the right balance, but in the end I know that I’ve put in the time and I’m usually really pleased. For my own spaces there’s no boundaries on the criticism…it’s like an continually unfinished painting. When I have the time, I always think about things like ‘we should paint the walls in the living room x’ , or ‘we should change the pendants in the kitchen, sconce in the bathroom, rug in the living room, etc.’ – it never ends. I have a feeling of closure and fulfillment with client’s projects that I’ll never have the luxury of feeling with my own home. I pretend so my husband doesn’t divorce me. Most of these thoughts I keep to myself, except for the few that leak out from time to time.
Besides pets and photos, what would you grab in a fire?
After my husband and dog, sadly, my next thought is my laptop. I guess that means I should back up my files more. Next, my paintings. After that…If I could carry our sofas out of the house (purchased off a film set), and our inherited Eames lounge…and the dining table that was a gift from fabulous boss mentioned above also off a film set…coffee table that my husband built out of old ceiling joists….But really, all that can be replaced, even the photos if I manage to grab my laptop. Dog and husband are the only things that matter.
What is your next house project?
Besides the wonderful projects I’m currently working on with Kitchenlab clients, our coach house renovation following a fire we had in April. We’re turning the back attached coach house into a mini urban house. Stay tuned!
What is your favorite source for home decor?
I have to pick one!!!! ? You’re talking to a recovering collagist here! If I have to pick 1, or 2 it would be the last 2 on my list for one stop shopping…. Otherwise, if I can list a few more….Antique stores that are off the beaten path where I can find deals! Antiquing in Michigan’s harbor country – Ipso Facto Antiques, Marco Polo, Alan Robandt, Lakeside Antiques. Rugs from Madeleine Weinrib, textiles from John Robshaw, lighting from Circa Lighting, tile from Ann Sacks tile, and furniture and accessories from Jayson Home and Garden and ABC Carpet and Home.
I made a reference earlier to your zig-zagged career path (or perhaps it's more like a bunch of rivers converging at a delta? Poet I am not!) Anyway, you are a full service designer, but you wound up specializing in kitchens and bathrooms. What fueled your passion for these spaces in particular? How did you wind up here?
Well…truth be told, I think it’s amazingly cool that all my various interests and passions have come to an intersection in what I do today with KitchenLab and Design in a Bag.com because it certainly wasn’t planned that way. I studied fine art throughout high school and college. I actually started working in restaurants in high school and that’s when I became interested in food and cooking as well, but all my interests were compartmentalized at the time. Design, cooking, travel, entertaining, set design, graphic design, fine art, rehabbing old buildings, interior design, psychology…it all connects in everything I do every day. My time waitressing my way through college in LA and Chicago got me more interested in restaurant design, food, wine, and cooking. I worked in set design for film and tv for a while following college, and had the absolute best boss in the world during this time who encouraged my abilities in all their various and unfocused forms. Don’t underestimate the power of a boss or mentor who sees your potential and nurtures it – it’s a beautiful thing...and sadly, the experience was hard to come by again. I became disenchanted with the work. I had this gnawing feeling that I wanted to make ‘real’ rooms…not sets anymore. So back to school I went…and loved it! It was problem solving in a visual and creative way that I found addictive. I immediately gravitated towards hard surfaces, rather than soft goods like fabrics, and landed my first kitchen design job a few weeks into my first semester.
I sort of fell into kitchen design, but I don’t see it as a coincidence at all. I absolutely love the problem solving side of kitchen design in particular, and with my love of cooking, I get really into how each client uses their kitchen – whether it’s as a busy family making sandwiches for 4 kids, or an amateur gourmet. As a designer I’m organic and all about following what I’m attracted to viscerally and cerebrally. I encourage my clients to try and do the same. During my fine art education, I always focused on collage. I dabbled in painting, film, sculpture, but I was always happiest when I was working with found object and materials – making them into something new. This has also found its way into my design sensibility and how I approach projects - layering . After years of nurturing KitchenLab’s growth, my husband and I launched Design in a Bag.com last fall. It’s all about bringing ready-made design recipes for those without access designers or designer products for a fraction of the cost.
Kitchens and bathrooms are tricky, perhaps the rooms where designers are most needed - would you please spill a secret or two for those attempting to plan theirs out on their own? If they are on a budget, where should they splurge and where can they skimp a little.
There’s no doubt that a larger amount of a homeowner’s budget will go to these 2 spaces, so they have to be doubly smart! I always err toward the classic and timeless because the materials I help my clients select are often much more permanent than a sofa, coffee table, throw or pillow, and much more expensive to replace! So, I encourage people to go with classics for the big expensive purchases, and then have fun with the smaller budget items such as lighting (which can be expensive, or not, but can be changed out if you get tired of it), decorative hardware, accessories, and tile being the last. Tile backsplashes make a huge impact, and are messy and expensive to tear out and replace, but it is doable if you really tire of it! Don’t be afraid to invest in this – it will change your whole kitchen! As for bathrooms – avoid moving plumbing if you can help it. Look for creative ways to use inexpensive tile in fun ways - a border of fancier tile to create personality, either on the floor or wall. Don’t skimp on wainscot tile, even if it’s basic white, it makes a statement and you can always paint the wall above a dramatic and interesting color! Think drama and contrast – but be wary of the trendy. You can always change the paint color, but we all know how those shiny brass fixtures and pink tile look to us now – dated!!!!! Think to yourself, what will I like in 5 years or more.
If you have dated cabinets, that are in decent shape structurally, and you can’t afford an all-out remodel, painting your cabinets is big on sweat-equity, low on cost, and will provide a huge change to the space. For some of us, waiting for that day when we can afford the all-out remodel might be years away – do what you can do now to make your space more your own. Our online design company, Design in a Bag.com was created so that we could channel what I do every day for those on a budget or in locations without access to designers and designer resources.
Rebekah, thank you so much for taking the time to share your wonderful weekend home, as well as your story with us! Readers, to keep up with Rebekah and Nick's remodeling adventures, be sure to follow their blog over at Kitchenlab. There are also some great posts with unbelievable before pictures of the farmhouse.
Rebekah is offering a $50 Design in a Bag giftcard to one lucky Houzz reader! Just leave a comment below before Wednesday, September 8 2010 to enter.