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August 26, 2017 |

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Living With Style: Common Design Mistakes & How To Avoid Them

Over the past couple of decades working as a designer, I have observed there are a few common mistakes that are often made that cause an interior space to not have as much harmony and balance as would be possible.

Here are a few that I’ve seen along with some tips on how to avoid them.

Scale Proportion


Consider scale and proportion, including the consideration of taller counter heights for comfort.

—Gazette photo by Sasha Witte

Or rather, the lack of good scale and proportion!   

This element of design applies to all aspects of a project, whether it is with scale and proportions of furnishings fitting together, kitchen details or even accessories.

Without considering human scale, our daily activities would be more difficult.

There is a reason there are standardized heights that have been created for counter tops, chair seats, etc.  It’s so that they will be scaled well to fit our bodies.

So, it’s important to consider scale, but also consider your personal experience. For instance – over the past few years we’ve begun raising counter heights in both kitchens and baths by a few inches – due to it being preferred by our customers.  Even when you are a shorty, like me, sometimes that slightly higher counter top takes pressure off your back as you avoid needing to lean over as much to wash your face, etc.

Proportion has more to do with “an eye for design” – the scale of objects placed near one another that looks best.

You can use proportion to draw attention to an area – for instance a bold and larger pendant hanging above a table that you want to be a focal point in a room.

There are fewer “rules” about proportion – just analyze the way objects fit together in a space until it feels “right” to you!  😀

Having Plain White Walls 

Unless you are creating a white background purposefully as a background to a certain type of architecture or to show off a certain collection of art.


Use color on your walls to create visual interest.

—Gazette photo by Sasha Witte

Otherwise, white walls make everything against the wall visually float and often lack the visual interest that color would create as a backdrop.

Furniture and art is often better unified by using a mid-tone wall color or a neutral.

Consider using color, even bold color, as a way of creating a focal point in a room.  Our eyes are naturally drawn to the brightest or darkest colors in a space.

To create a colorful focal point, keep the general color scheme of the room in a neutral palette. 

Use soft brown or gray on the walls, sofa and rugs.  Then use a bold pop of color like tangerine or turquoise on your focal point – whether it is a chair, wall or piece of art.

Tie the color into the rest of the room by using small accents of your chosen color in throw pillows or small accessories.

Being Afraid to Ask for Help 

Whether it’s with color, room use, scale or placement of furnishings and fixtures.  Getting another opinion can give you peace of mind and help you avoid costly purchases or the repainting of rooms.

Whether it’s the help of a designer, architect, builder or talented friend, another person with experience in remodeling and design will bring another perspective to assist you with seeing your opportunities more completely.

Working Without A Budget 

One of the biggest design mistakes home enthusiasts make, at times, is working without a budget, or without a realistic idea of what it takes to create a good-looking interior.

It’s important to educate yourself about costs and the internet can help to make that a little easier.

Make sure, as you create a budget to consider all the layers that go into a space – what will be inside the walls (plumbing, electrical, insulation…), what will be on the walls, ceilings and floors (tile, wood…) and then the furniture and lighting and fixtures that will layer inside the space.  And, of course, the labor to do the work!

Remember that often redoing your interiors won’t always happen in one fell swoop.  Many of us have to break the process down into chapters – both for financial reasons and also just for sanity sake.

Not Carefully Pre-Planning Before Making Purchases


Carry swatches of fabrics and paint colors when shopping.

—Gazette photo by Sasha Witte

This is probably the mistake I’ve seen made the most over the past two decades.  And sometimes I’ve been able to get involved and find a way to make the purchased items work, but other times clients decide to just sell off or return the item and start fresh.

It’s quite common for people to purchase furnishings because they love it – like sofas, tables and wall units – but then realize once the piece gets home that it’ too large and overly dominates the space.

It’s not always a problem to be impulsive and bring home one of a kind items that sing to us – but do it with smaller items you can layer in, or have a plan with preferred dimensions for the pieces you are looking for in your wallet – so you can double check the item to the reality of what will work in the room!


Add character with interesting art and antiques you love.

Another helpful thing is to carry swatches of the paint colors and fabrics you already have in the room – so you can see if that chair you fall in love with even works with the existing materials!

Not Adding Character

It is uninspiring to walk into a space where everything is so new that it lacks the warmth of a room that has been thoughtfully composed with a vintage treasure, prized antique or unique work of art.

Adding just one precious heirloom or funky playful painting or lamp can help a room transcend from the ordinary into greatness – while making it feel more lived in and unique to you!

Artwork Being Hung Improperly

This can throw a space!  A piece too high or too low can be distracting.  

A rule of thumb is to have the center of the art piece be at eye height – of course, like all rules this one doesn’t work in every situation.

Proportion and scale are important to consider for art to work well in a space – a big wall calls for a bigger piece of art, or a collection of many smaller pieces placed closely together creating one beautiful artful conversation.

Not Having Flow 


A color scheme can be built around a favorite piece of art.

—Gazette photo by Sasha Witte

Always use a cohesive design thread through your home or office space. 

You can use color, pattern or other design elements – this thread creates an instant sense of flow, peacefulness and comfort.

Sometimes I’ll use a client’s favorite piece of art that we are placing in a prominent location to decide on accent colors to pull throughout the home.  One room may focus more on the reds, for instance – in drapery and an area rug – while in another room a similar red is picked up in a lamp and a chairs upholstery fabric.  But repeating colors in different ways thru out a space will help to link the rooms together in a harmonious way.

Not Managing The Project

(or assuming your contractors are on the same page)  

It’s always best to have really clear plans laid out ahead of time with drawings and material selections all personally approved and signed off on.

Always check twice and keep up-to-date documents and drawings in everyone’s hand.

Information is power and the key to success in remodeling, like most things!

Keeping An Item For the Wrong Reason 

Don’t live with anything you hate just because someone gave it to you or you inherited it.

Remove it from your home or make it your own!  

A few years ago I had a client with a stained 1970’s buffet that she’d inherited that she just hated.  But once we had it lacquered into a bright color that fit her personality, it became her own!!

I hope these ideas will be helpful as you make your own home the space you most want it to be!!

Sasha Witte can be reached at Sasha Witte Design or (562) 434-8824.

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Harding estate with guest house on 6.5 acres






Sheel Hill and Jockey Hollow are among Morris County’s eclipse-watching hotspots. 8/21/17
Michael Izzo


HARDING – This three-bedroom contemporary home and one-bedroom guest house are tucked away on 6.5 secluded acres abutting protected lands in the township. Highlights include an open floor plan, updated kitchen and baths and over-sized windows. Offered at $1,595,000, this estate is listed by Debbie Rybka, a sales associate affiliated with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Short Hills.

The professionally landscaped grounds include paver walkways combined with pathways of river stone, a bluestone terrace bordered by tall treesr, a stacked fieldstone knee wall, and a lighted, crescent-shaped pergola. Specimen plantings inhabit the gardens with a variety of ferns and mahogany arbors draped by clematis. A babbling stream and a koi pond with waterfall and mahogany decking to the home’s front entrance create a private, natural oasis. Recreational amenities include a heated Pugliese salt water pool that is 9.5-feet deep with a crab-orchard stone patio surround. The maintenance-free Versa Court tennis court is newly surfaced and fully fenced. Offering ample privacy, the property has a gated entry and complete deer fencing. The driveway crosses a brook and offers circular parking in front of the house.

READ: Sixteen-room estate in Harding has 7 acres, barn

READ: Owner may demolish Abbey without development

READ: Gentleman’s farm estate borders Natirar in Far Hills

Designed by Milton Klein, AIA and built in approximately 1989, this home was extensively renovated in 2002 and 2012. Double glass-paneled mahogany doors open into the house. The two-story foyer has a custom oak, circular staircase and a pair of skylights. Dark gray, porcelain stoneware floors are found in various rooms throughout the house. Both the dining and living rooms feature oak hardwood flooring. Two walls of casement windows in the dining room overlook Primrose Brook and the pond. A 10-foot ceiling and two walls of oversized windows create a spacious atmosphere in the living room. The living room is warmed by a custom marble wood-burning fireplace. Sliders provide access to patios, the mahogany deck and gardens. The family room is bathed in natural light through a wall of casement windows. Two double sliding glass doors open to the mahogany deck and stairs to the bluestone terrace.

The custom white Poggenpohl kitchen is designed with granite counters, a cherry wood island and cherry table surround. Stainless-steel appliances include a five-burner Dacor cooktop, ventilation hood, SubZero side-by-side refrigerator/freezer, KitchenAid convection, microwave and warming ovens, Asko dishwasher, instant hot water and reverse osmosis water.

There are two first-floor bedrooms, one with a wall of built-ins and desk, a large picture window, and access to a deck. The en suite master bath offers an oversized soaking tub and rain shower head. The other bedroom has casement windows and an en suite bath with oversized tiled shower. The first floor also includes a powder room and laundry room.

Double doors open to the second-floor master bedroom suite. Casement windows look over the front gardens. The suite includes a dressing room with custom cherry built-in drawers and upper cabinets, an exercise/sitting room, a walk-in closet with attic access, and a master bath with custom double-cherry vanity.

The sunlit guest house is situated over the two-car, heated, detached garage. A living room with vaulted ceiling and two walls of casement windows provide scenic views in the guest house. There is also as kitchenette/laundry room and a bedroom with vaulted ceiling, full bath and sitting area. The property also includes an additional two-car garage with four bays.

To learn more about this home or set up a tour, contact Rybka at 908-591-4886 (cell). Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Short Hills is located at 545 Millburn Ave, Short Hills, NJ 07078 and can be contacted at 973-376-5200. Local listings can be viewed online at

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Hopalong Cassidy desktop radio could fetch $250

Alyce Hand Benham is an antiques broker, appraiser and estate-liquidation specialist. Send questions to: Alyce Benham, Living section, The Press of Atlantic City, 1000 W. Washington Ave., Pleasantville, NJ 08232. Email: Letters may be used in future columns but cannot be answered individually, and photos cannot be returned.

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Updated rowhouse fits Philly family’s lifestyle

Ann Vuong Kull and her husband, Matt, had fairly common requirements for an upwardly mobile couple with a small child.

They were looking for a kid-friendly, walkable neighborhood in Philadelphia, a two-car garage, nice but not so pricey that they couldn’t buy it and still have money left over to make it really theirs.

But there was one more must-have: It had to be near a Vietnamese neighborhood so Ann could stay in touch with her heritage.

She’s an American-born, bilingual Rutgers accounting grad who grew up in Bucks County, but her roots mean a lot to her. Her father emigrated in 1975 as the Vietnam War was winding down, and her mother was a boat person, fleeing as American forces left.

The Kulls found their real estate solution in a three-story modern rowhouse near Seger Park in Washington Square West.

“We saw it had the right skeleton,” said Matt, a co-owner of the RevZilla ecommerce motorcycle accessories business in the Navy Yard, “so we knew we could make it our own.”

Structurally, the 11-year-old rowhouse was sound when the couple bought it in January 2015. But “there was no character to it,” Ann said. “It wasn’t a fit for our personality. Everything was yellow and pale and outdated.”

“It was pretty ordinary, a vanilla space,” recalled the Kulls’ interior designer, Susan Gracki of  Gardner/Fox Associates, based in Bryn Mawr.

“There was nothing of interest. I feel we did a really good job of modernizing the house for a younger family. The original floor plan of the kitchen and breakfast area was a small, dark, tight space and was lacking modern features. We successfully opened up the walls to make it a lighter, more open, uncluttered floor plan.”

“Now it has an edgy feeling,” Gracki said. “It looks like a young family home.”

A TV set in a stone fireplace anchors the living room, which opens directly into the modernized kitchen now that a partition wall has been removed. “There was a tunnel effect I didn’t like,” Ann said.

The open feeling was enhanced by the good fortune of sight lines from the living room that look out over open space and trees rather than another house.

Replacing a large water tank with a tankless water heater added more space, and iron stair railings added a contemporary look.

The powder room was updated, and another bathroom added on the second floor.

They also added closet space and a washer/dryer on the second floor,  Ann said, “because we didn’t need a big master bedroom.”

A guest bedroom doubles as Matt’s office.

ELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff photographer

A major focus was creating the space for their 4-year-old son, Kieran. They engaged the design firm Widall Boschetti to create a playroom in what had been a bare first-floor storage room.

“It was an outside-the-box playroom,” said partner Barrett Widall. “They’re such a fun, creative family. We wanted to create a space that was like the client.

“We put little K’s on the wallpaper. There’s a chalkboard wall on one side so he can let his imagination run wild. We created space for him to read books with his mom or dad.”

Perhaps the tour de force of the renovation, though, was the redo of the third-floor deck with artificial grass and an irrigation system for the surrounding plants.

Although she is happy with the renovation, Ann said the biggest source of satisfaction is the location: “It’s just near everything.”

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Still an ongoing battle of the sexes

Hollywood is forever re-visiting history. Next month, a movie release dwells on that timeless fracas between the genders. Battle of the Sexes stars Emma Stone and Steve Carell as top-rated Billy Jean King and former champ, Bobby Riggs and centers on their battle for tennis and gender supremacy.

Thinking of an old acquaintance, I wondered if that ongoing battle of the sexes ever did fade. At the risk of labeling him a chauvinist, Chubney Grutinmeier does seem to be padlocked into the old school debate.

Despite all the advances made toward equality, Chub still believes in differences between the sexes and asks, “Otherwise why do women hear things men never say? Or why do men never hear things women say?” 

Chub thinks it may be the biggest conundrum in the gender battle. “Been never-ending since time begun,” Chub bellows. “All started when Eve uttered those immortal words, ‘Here, Adam, Sweetie, have a bite of this Golden Delicious!’ or something to that affect.”

Poor Chub! He can’t seem to understand how a man can see a woman in a drop-dead gorgeous dress and say she looks better than she did wearing a different one at the same party a year ago; a party he can no longer remember, let alone recall her outfit.

Of course if a woman baits her own fishhook, hunts, rides a Harley, and has ongoing encyclopedic knowledge of every baseball, football, basketball or hockey game played, they’re expected to immediately bond. Even if a guy is unable to recall her birthday, favorite foods or what she wore 37 years ago when they first met. 

“And why do they expect us to like the daintiest wallpaper, the most delicate parlor chairs regardless of comfort, the most perplexing dinnerware patterns ever produced by the most expensive silversmiths in America, or get so flabbergasted whenever we wear briefs for more than a day,” he questions.

“Who knows?” I finally chimed in when he paused long enough to take a breath. I only wanted to let him know I hadn’t dozed off. “Perhaps it’s why mothers insist we wear clean underwear; just in case of accidents.” 

Chub agreed and added, “Yeah, you may be right. I recall an ambulance conversation after a car wreck. ‘Check his underwear, Clyde,’ the head paramedic said to the trainee. ‘Oops, this one stays. Take that one instead!’”

Chub took a breath, calmed down and sipped his sarsaparilla. Immediately, I took advantage of another surprising break. “The only difference I’ve seen, is that women can’t understand why men prefer stuffed animal heads and mounted fish on walls of log cabin vacation homes with outdoor facilities.”

But that only got Chub started again. “Yeah,” he muttered, “’at reminds me of a gal who once accused me of renting a mountain home she claimed was three time zones away from the nearest bus stop.” Then he added, “And why do they get so befuddled if we take out a second mortgage for an 87 inch curved HDTV to watch the big game; one that covers only half the wall?”

By now he was on a roll. “Before ever tying the knot, they think we need to know their clothing and shoe sizes, favorite perfumes, or whether their pink hair, favorite shade of chartreuse nail polish or blue lipstick looks natural enough. On the other hand,” he added, “they’re always focusing on our manners or whether we’re well groomed. Why?”

Chub then excused himself, saying he didn’t want to be late or else the little woman would have conniption fits. We’re going out for dinner tonight,” he explained, “and she wants my opinion on what to wear.”

Before he left, though, he did ask one last question, “By the way, how do I look?”

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Belmont Shore To Benefit From Passing On Greek Tradition

Baking is a skill passed from father to son in the Pietris family.

Fanis Pietris said his great-grandfather started making breads in Greece in 1930. Fanis’s grandfather and namesake, Fanis Pietris, opened a small village bakery in Korinthia in 1973. Eventually, the Pietris family built 20 different bakery and catering locations across the southern region of Greece.

Pietris Bakery, the Greek Bake Shop, is about to launch its first American venture on Second Street in Belmont Shore. The bakery does not yet have a date for its official opening, but is hoping for a soft open within a week. The owners said they are finishing final installations and training local workers on the intricacies of Greek baking.

Fanis said his grandfather specialized in large sourdough breads with hard, crusty shells.

“Some of his bread weighed nearly five pounds,” Fanis said. “The crust gave the bread a longer shelf life, which was important for Greek villagers.”


George (left) and Fanis Pietris at the new family bakery.

—Gazette photo by Amy Orr

Since the 1970s, the bakery’s offerings have expanded tremendously.

In addition to breads and pastries, Belmont Shore’s Pietris Bakery will serve breakfast, lunc, and dinner. Fanis said food and coffee will be available from 5 a.m. to midnight, seven days a week.

“We will serve everything from egg skillets to salads to spanakopita,” Fanis said. “Lots of casual, healthy food, and very authentic. Most of our suppliers are Greek.”

Fanis spoke about his coffee bar with pride, explaining that traditional Greek coffee is boiled in a briki and served with grounds that settle at the bottom of the cup. Regular lattes, cappuccinos and Americanos also will be available.

In addition, the shop will have a My Vitamin Bar juice extractor, a specially designed Greek device that claims to turn fruit and vegetables into juice in five seconds. Pietris also will offer a selection of homemade Pagoto, which Fanis described as Greek gelato.

The idea for a Southern California location originated in October 2016. Fanis’s father, George Pietris, was vacationing and visiting a friend in Long Beach. George found the climate and culture of Belmont Shore very similar to the feel of a Greek village, Fanis said, noting that Greek neighborhoods often center around a street with small shops and restaurants.

Intrigued by the possibilities, George, who does not speak English, brought Fanis to California for additional research. Ultimately, George decided to rent the space on the corner of Argonne and Second, former home of the Urban Table restaurant. A major remodel began, under the supervision of Greek contractor Jerry Polychrones, a Long Beach native, who oversaw previous rebuilds of the property.


Construction is nearing its end at Pietris Bakery on Second Street.

—Gazette photo by Amy Orr

If all goes well here, Faris said, his family intends to expand their operations in Southern California. He said their five-year plan includes additional locations.

Fanis’s brother, Alex Pietris, hopes to help the family business grow. Alex, who was accepted at several American colleges, has opted to attend California State University, Long Beach. Although he will be a full-time student, Alex said he plans to use the family’s bakery for his marketing module.

“We are all excited,” Fanis said. “There are still some last-minute details, but things are almost ready. People have been knocking on the door, asking when we will be open. We can’t wait to let them in.”

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Fee-free fun in parks

More Free Days


• Sept. 30 — National Public Lands Day

 Nov. 11 — Veterans Day

 Nov. 24 — Autumn free day


 Sept. 30: National Public Lands Day

• Nov. 11-12: Veterans Day Weekend

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