Favorite Things

5 of my favorite everyday household items

The other night while chopping vegetables on a new cutting board, I realized how perfect this small item was. Design so good on an object so simple is not as common as we might think. It made me ponder what other items I use regularly that are exceptional in their own quiet ways for their perfect balance of function and design while being very affordable. Here are some of my favorites.

1. Epicurean cutting board

It’s smaller than our wood cutting boards, so it doesn’t work for everything. But it’s become my go to if size isn’t an issue. I love the thinness, it’s lightweight, easy to clean, and has a beautiful matte black finish. (It also comes in some other natural tones.) The material (Richlite) is sustainably made from resin-infused and FSC certified or recycled paper. It’s easy on knives, dishwasher safe, durable, and certified for use in commercial kitchens. You can get countertops made from this material. Maybe in my next house.

2. T2 Teapot

We have several teapots in our house, different sizes and shapes, and we always use loose tea. While the others are all mostly white, this matte black porcelain pot is my favorite. (The matte black finish again, clearly this appeals to me.) This pot has a simple classic yet contemporary shape and everything about it works perfectly. It’s well balanced and pours drip free and smoothly. Surprising how many pots don’t have a steady drip- free pour.  The gold colored strainer that fits inside is just right as a complement to the black pot and allows the top to sit snug while brewing.

3. Braun Alarm Clock

I’ve always loved the pure, simple design of Braun clocks, but my latest has a feature the others didn’t: a small button on the front that illuminates the clock with a soft yellow light; perfect for a quick early-hour time check. The alarm starts very quietly with a simple beeping sound. I’m a pretty light sleeper so I get it quickly — but the sound gets gradually louder if you don’t turn it off. This clock is a classic of modernist design.

4. Artisanal Broom

I found this broom in a shop in Provincetown and was quickly charmed by the colorful broom head, sturdy handle and the backstory. Handmade in Vermont traditional hand weaving techniques, these traditional brooms are made of soft broom corn. They have a unique ability to easily get into corners and tight spots, and lift up dirt and dog hair easily. I never would have thought there would be much difference in broom performance, but this one sweeps up like nothing else.

5. Fiskars pruner

Our garden has many shrubs, vines and perennials that need regular pruning. We’ve had a few pruners over the years, but this one does the best job of getting a clean cut with minimal effort. The grip is comfortable and the cutting motion smooth. And it looks

As you go about your daily routines, take a moment to notice the objects you most love using, and putting aside any sentimental attachment, think about their design, function, and what makes them special for you. In these days of spending so much time at home, it’s a nice way to appreciate the small things that enrich our home lives.

See more on the products:

Epicurean cutting board

T2 Teapot

Braun Alarm Clock


Fiskars pruner

I sometimes refer to split levels and ranches as “The Other Mid Century style”. They may not quite call to mind the classic mid century modern houses that have become so desirable, but with a little imagination, they do offer a great opportunity to create a modern home for this century.

I grew up in a 1958 split level house in suburban Philadelphia, and I remember even as a child recognizing the distinctively different feel from my friends’ traditional colonial houses. The more open plan, cathedral ceiling in the living room, and the 50’s decor seemed so cool by comparison. And the half flight up to the bedrooms and half flight down to the playroom seemed so easy compared to the conventional three level configuration.

Split levels and ranches became popular during the post WWII suburban expansion and reflected a desire for a more modern style home. The splits worked well on sloped or smaller sites, offering an open layout, yet more compact than a spread out ranch. In some homes, the arrangement allowed for cathedral ceilings in the living room since there was not a second floor above.

Somewhere along the way, split levels became something of a pariah. These houses generally lack both the design sophistication of a classic mid-century modern house from the same period or the character and charm of a traditional Colonial or Tudor. When found in neighborhoods with high land values, they often become tear downs that make way for more conventional Colonial style mansions. But from my experience and what I hear from local realtors, there is a growing demand for more modern homes, and these splits and ranches may be the best bet short of building a new house from scratch.

The split level modernization projects I’ve done have mostly included additions and exterior “curb appeal” makeovers. A common addition is adding a level above the one story portion, usually for a master suite and other related spaces. Addition on the back can create a larger kitchen or family room space. One project completely re-conceived the idea of a split level, and resulted in a dramatic home with the different levels intertwining in unexpected ways.




Englewood Cliffs, NJ

This client had hired an architect who completed the plans for a second floor addition. However, the client wasn’t happy with how the outside was looking, and asked us to re-design the exterior without making any big changes to the plans. The biggest design change we made was to change the gabled roofs to hip roofs, which immediately created a better resolution between the two wings of the house, and established consistent horizontal lines to the wall surfaces. The entry was given a cantilevered canopy, the bay window squared off, and the break up of materials further accented the horizontal connection between the volumes.

Tenafly, NJ

In this project, the client wanted to add a larger kitchen and family room to the back of the house, along with a new deck. This freed up space for a powder room and large pantry area at the living level. At the upper level, the space was reconfigured to provide a more generous master suite, eliminating one bedroom. A new bedroom and bathroom was added to the lower level in the area that had good window exposure. The existing entry sequence from driveway to front door was unwelcoming and included an un-needed circular driveway that was too close to the front door. Our design included a re-working of the front landscape.

This house already had hipped roofs, and our window and material choices helped to further modernize the overall look of the house.

These elevations show a different approach to material choices that I had presented, but the client opted for the black and white approach. 

Summit, NJ

The owners of this house had outgrown the space and embarked on an ambitious plan to enlarge the home and create a more modern expression. The neighborhood was full of these same style homes, but one by one, they were being torn down and replaced by the traditional style homes that developers were putting up around the state. For this project, we kept the original foundation and basic premise of the split level, and proceeded to create a modern home more in keeping with the mid-century spirit of the original. We had to submit for a variance to move the garage entry to the front of the house, and among the comments from various township departments was this very gratifying observation.

“The Historic Preservation Commission commends the owner and Architect for their proposed transformative design of one of the tract mid-century split-level homes- typical of the neighborhood- into a modern home in keeping with it’s mid-century influence. As an expression of its own time, the diagnosis is properly scaled to the neighborhood, and successfully addresses the site conditions, and utilizes material appropriate to their proposed use. We also like that the proposed design resists the common ersatz new-traditional inclinations that are becoming common in this neighborhood. No objections.”

The stair down was reconfigured to make a better flow from the new mudroom off the garage as well as new basement space under the rear addition. Setting the master suite second floor addition back from the front allowed a high ceiling area in the living room.

Scotch Plains, NJ

These owners lived in the neighborhood and were looking for an opportunity to create a modern, larger home nearby. This property met their need in terms of the location and the property size and character, and included a forlorn split level house that could easily have been a candidate for a tear down. Instead, we decided to retain some of the basic structure and proceeded to make additions and reconfigure space to create a home that took advantage of the various levels in ways that added to the interest of the architecture- resulting in a design that couldn’t have been achieved if a new two level house had been built instead of retaining the split level structure.

The two patios at the back also reflect the split-level nature of the house. The connecting stair follow the interior stair form the kitchen to the lower level dining/ living/ guest room spaces.

The lower level now has two stairs down, one from the entry foyer, one directly from the kitchen. The balcony space above acts as a private congregating space for the family, with a piano tucked in.

See this full project here.