Sorry, my blog posts in this category, Living in the Now, are very repetitive and quite mundane. Like a broken record, I am humming about just one simple thing: how important it is to acknowledge and appreciate every moment, to live in the present. Read More
A potential DIY Ally client asked me if I enjoy working out little details. She wrote: “Hello, I am remodeling a 1938 bath in Washington DC. Have worked with architects previously, so attempting this without an architect, with a very trustworthy contractor. But he’s not a designer, and I want to do something unconventional (from a standard builder point of view) with a long narrow shelf across the width of the room.” Read More
I am helping my DIY Ally clients Bob and Karol with their master bedroom & bathroom renovation in Rhode Island. Bob is a retired mechanical engineer/naval architect. Karol is a retired software engineer. Read More
My friend called to discuss his DIY project. They recently bought a property in Palm Springs and he said that the house itself is in a pretty good shape, but the backyard is begging for a makeover. He shared his initial sketches. Intuitively, he started designing with a site plan — arranging a pool, a pergola, and a hot tub using an aerial view. Read More
Architects are always integrating. Synthesizing man-made structures with a landscape, unifying functional requirements with a building envelope, fusing family needs with a space they will inhabit. But how does one accomplish said design integration? I find clues and inspiration in movies that spotlight Rome. Read More
My DIY Ally clients look to me for guidance, expertise, and design advice — I take their questions to heart. One writes: “I suddenly have the option of buying the apartment adjoining my own in NYC but the apartments are awkwardly connected at the kitchens!! I’m hoping for some advice about how we would join these two places and am concerned whether the transitional space would be so awkward that it wouldn’t be worth it.” Read More
A DIY Ally client wrote: “Alla, I have another project for you. We need a defined entryway. Not a grand foyer but something fitting of the inside of the house and the beautiful location. Can you give me a few tips?” Read More
A DIY Ally client wrote: “We are currently in the process of completely remodeling our master bedroom and master bath. Please see the attached drawings for the existing bath layout, a couple of proposed layouts that we have considered (we have the Chief Architect Software), and a blank template if you want to make sketches of what you think would work for us.” Read More
My DIY Ally client emailed: “They have hooked us up with a contractor to do our kitchen remodel, which includes ‘design’ services. We have been underwhelmed by their cabinet layout designs, so we were wondering what you might charge to look at their proposal. Can you show us how to streamline our kitchen elevations?” Read More
On the one hand, I love being my own client. On the other, the experience of building for myself (my family’s own use) is quite unnerving. I live for it, but as soon as I embark on the actual construction of a project, I get anxious. It happens every single time. Read More
Whether you are building from scratch or remodeling, good craftsmanship makes a world of difference. Especially if you lean toward minimal aesthetic, like me. I recently had to fire a construction worker who just did not put his heart into what he was doing. He was rushing too much, making one mistake after another. The result was unacceptable. Read More
As DIY Ally, I’ve been asked to help with a design of a reflected ceiling plan (RCP). Nothing technical, just a drawing, which shows the lighting scheme of a space. A client’s email stated: “So we are adding a room to our house, it will be 16′ x 20′ with a single pitch ceiling from 12′ to 8.5′ high. We would like to get some input on ceiling and lighting design.” Read More
I was very fortunate to interview Mrs. Sterna Citron, the wife of our rabbi, Rabbi Chaim Citron of Los Angeles, about her kosher kitchen. Mrs. Citron approached our talk as an opportunity to teach and reflect, as she said: “It’s something I’ve done all my life. So I don’t think much about it. In order to explain it to you, I’ve had to do some thinking about it, which is good.” Read More
Thinking of the Pantheon while engaging the architect within helps me begin, despite of uncertainty. Not knowing the outcome before embarking on something is really hard, but even if there are no guarantees, I can’t just sit around and wait for something benevolent to happen. Nervous or not, wrong or right — life cannot be avoided and I might as well plan for my thoughts to support, not undermine my efforts. Read More
Everyone advises you to step out of your comfort zone and take risks. Even when consulting a horoscope, you read: “Now is the time to be a little fearless and go after the unknown.” Read More
As DIY Ally, I’ll gladly delve into the issue of moving kitchen plumbing. The other day, I received an email with the subject line “dumbfounded duplex in Minneapolis.” Having signed up for the initial consultation, a client was asking for “help with generating ideas.” Read More
My living room and adjoining dining room are abundant with the artwork by our daughters. But there’s nothing random about what I’m displaying. There’s a sense of continuity, a cohesive connection between all of the pieces. The organizing element, the theme of this curated installation is Human Beings. On view, there are sculptures, drawings, paintings, even painted textiles. Read More
As a DIY Ally, I am always on hand to help with a layout for an upcoming project. This particular kitchen remodel is no exception. A couple came to me with the following request: “Our main goal is to open up the kitchen to the adjoining dining/living room area in order to take advantage of the view through the living room to the 12-foot sliding patio door that looks out onto our backyard and pond.” Read More
The importance of starting with a floor plan cannot be emphasized enough. A new client writes: “Hello Alla. We have been renovating a house we bought last year, and our next project will be the front porch. The basic concept is to turn the current sunroom into 2/3 open porch and 1/3 mudroom/entry way. We would also like to move the stairs to the left, closer to the driveway.” Read More
Over the last 30 years, I’ve been making furniture that doubles as art for my own consumption. In college, I built it myself, but after practically cutting off a tip of my thumb, I started to rely on fabricators. That’s how I met David Gale; it was in 1989, right after I moved to LA from NY and was in the process of furnishing a new apartment. Meeting him inspired a wave of experimentation with metal. Read More
Last weekend was spent with the family. It’s been a long time since we were all together — in one place. Long anticipated, finally a blissful opportunity of revisiting favorite spots and living in the moment, without any concern for the past or the future. It’s up to us to bask in the glory of it, to savor every second while practicing mindfulness — concentrating on each other. Read More
Architect Richard Meier says: “If you’re ever seriously depressed, just get out of bed and go to the Getty.” Depressed or not, it’s a marvelous place to soak in beauty as it is expressed in every single detail, down to handrails and guardrails. Read More
This week’s blog post falls into the category of “keeping it organized.” So, I feel perfectly justified talking about space planning. Creating a functional foyer is the first step in organizing space thoughtfully. Read More
IKEA’s new Sunnersta free-standing mini-kitchen is ideal for my garden room. Maybe to someone, it’s “the no-commitment kitchen,” but I love it. It was just unveiled as one of the brand new designs in IKEA’s 2017 catalog, which claims that this tiny thing offers “all the function of a full-sized kitchen with just a fraction of the assembly and installation effort.” Read More
Establishing Children’s Architecture Workshop in 1995 meant embarking on a journey that shaped the course of my life as well as career. A young mother and a newly licensed architect, I aspired to make an impact and become a better parent in the process. Years of hands-on teaching architecture experience enabled me to invent the 11-step method supporting anyone tackling a building project from scratch. Read More
Since college, the work of architect Louis Kahn has been a constant source of inspiration. Recently, I came across a letter of recommendation my professor at USC School of Architecture Roger Sherwood crafted on my behalf. He wrote: “I was impressed by a passion for books as something more than a usual search for the latest classical detail.” Read More
Imagine being in a glorious garden. Dazzled, you are focusing on the landscaped grounds. The fascination and excitement you feel remind you of being a small child. You are not worried about the past or the future. Mindfully affecting the present, you are completely engaged and involved with life as it happens. Read More
I’ve been working on an overhaul project in Jersey City and writing about its various aspects that fit within this blog’s categories. This week’s theme “passion for details” lends itself to a discussion on skylights. All along, they’ve been a “suggested” on the plans with a dotted line. Today, I want to concentrate on defining what they are and consider them in section. Read More
Today, still working on the project in Jersey City, I am focusing on a layout for a modular reach-in closet. At this point, all four of them are drawn diagrammatically, as identical blocks. So far, I’ve assumed that 5 linear feet is enough per bedroom. If that’s wrong, the entire floor plan will have to be reconsidered. Read More
Last week, in this blog’s Design Ideas installment, I discussed one of my projects. It’s a two-story building renovation in Jersey City. I outlined my thought process while coming up with four versions for a loft kitchen plan. This week, let’s take it further and apply the concept of the kitchen work triangle to all of the alternative layouts. Read More
A relative is a New York City developer. Last time I was visiting, he showed me a building he purchased and plans to retrofit. The project intrigued me. On the airplane back, I was working on the layout for the loft — sketching, brainstorming, and breathing life into the space in my mind’s eye. Read More
If being a minimalist is knowing what’s important and treasuring it (instead of loosing sight and taking for granted), count me in! And if a minimalist way of thinking can improve the quality of life, I am willing to question all previous assumptions. Read More
Sitting still at the beach is not an option. Instead, I walk along the water’s edge and gather pebbles. That’s my way of connecting to the energy of the ocean while getting enriched with sentimental collectibles. Read More
A friend emailed asking if I would design a DIY balcony canopy kit for a condo complex. Its function would be to provide sun protection and improve curb appeal. It would bring uniformity to the exterior façade, as all of the residents would be asked to adopt the system or use nothing at all. Read More
Integration is inclusion or unification of opposites. It lets you make room for the messiness of life by acknowledging both your fragility and strength. Integration is seeking creative control of an authentic, well-designed life through orchestration of thought. Read More
When it comes to selecting bathroom fixtures, the toilet is one of the essential components. Frankly, its appearance has to be taken very seriously — it can ruin or enhance the over-all look as well as functionality of a bathroom. It’s critical to pick a model that is pleasing to the eye, easy to clean, and sustainable. Read More
As Alla DIY Ally, an online architectural services provider, I am frequently asked to help with space planning. DIY home improvement enthusiasts can benefit a great deal by turning to an architect in the effort to make the most of the space available. In this post I’d like to discuss a couple of examples that demonstrate the aforementioned benefits. Read More
I am perusing various booths exhibiting at the New York’s ICFF (International Contemporary Furniture Fair). Strikingly sculptural custom panels of a display catch my attention. Their abstract beauty stops me in my tracks. Design ideas and various possibilities come to mind right away. Read More
This week I am going to be in NYC, my home away from home, for a memorial, dubbed as a “Celebration of Life.” If asked to speak, I will talk about celebrating beauty of life every day while we are alive, not just when a life is commemorated. Read More
Our “Garden Room” has a built-in 11-inch-deep bookcase comprised of predominantly open shelves and some closed storage. Even though minimum reach-in closet depth is two feet, I planned to use a portion of the unit as a closet. Read More
I converted two-thirds of a detached 3-car garage into a studio; it’s my “Garden Room.” It would be great to take over the rest. I could set up a tiny kitchen and a bathroom with a sauna in the remaining area. As I imagine it, I define its guidelines. Read More
I call myself DIY Ally because I help DIYers with their building projects online. I get a lot of questions about simplifying circulation, a way people move through spaces and rooms. Last month, I received a contact request from Trinidad asking for advice on a “residential concept” that had major circulation issues. Read More
The work of architect Carlo Scarpa has been an inspiration and a point of reference in building a life that reveals who I am without pretenses. Read More
Daughter Nastasya interviewed me for a class assignment. She wanted to hear about the day I left The Soviet Union, my place of origin, as a political refugee. Read More
Last year, in addition to being under a tight deadline, I was working with a very tight budget. Consequently, I compromised on stone walkways, opting for “pool sand,” which turned out to be a mistake (soft underfoot and sticks to shoes). A year later, I am ready to fix it and am trying to decide between dry or wet construction. Read More
Yesterday, I went to LACMA (Los Angeles County Museum of Art) with the sole purpose of collecting tips on displaying objects. I wanted to see what can anyone learn from a museum to apply at home. Read More
In my previous post I wrote about nature-inspired design and my visit to a construction site four months ago. This week I was fortunate to come back and see the progress. My fellow DIY-er, who is too private and wishes to remain anonymous, is building a series of structures among the existing trees in his garden. I am in for another treat! Read More
Hello, my name is Mia; Alla DIY Ally is my mother and I have been consulting with her recently in the process of moving into a new studio apartment in lower Manhattan. Although some of its aspects were very outdated, as a renter with a budget even smaller than my NYC closet space, remodeling was out of the question. With the help of Home Depot and DIY Ally inspiration I was able to make some affordable and impactful changes. Read More
If you are looking for inspiration, playing tourist might be a fun place to start. Pinterest, Instagram, and blogs are all great sources. However, if you want to stir up some creative juices, a fieldtrip is better. It’s more enjoyable because inspiration flows together with your experience. Read More
Identifying needs is not the same as making to-do lists. Recently, I was asked by a reporter to suggest 5 home decor/design projects that “can make a big impact without much effort.” Read More
It’s pouring outside. Since the roof over your head is the best protection from the elements, I decided to look into what types of roofing materials are commonly used to do the job right. Read More
The other night I went to The Home Depot to challenge IKEA. In the process of setting up a home office, I wanted to see if The Home Depot can serve me better. Read More
Martha’s kitchen cabinets exclusively at The Home Depot are the answer. Edward and Margarita need my advice on updating their condo. It’s easy. It just needs fresh paint and new kitchen cabinets. They can keep the existing boxes, but drawers and cabinet doors should be replaced. Read More
The Home Depot is the largest home improvement store in the world, a creative hub. It is the nerve center of activity involving the imagination or original ideas. That’s how I started thinking of it recently. Would you agree with me if I called it an awesome Temple of Creativity? Read More
Becoming DIY Ally, an online architect, helped me achieve fulfillment through accepting things as they are, without concern where I rank among others. Read More
Tackling a cove lighting project made me realize how competitive The Home Depot prices are. Renovating an apartment 3 years ago, I went to a fancy wholesaler to get “special” fixtures, but it turns out that The Home Depot might have been less hassle and money! Read More
A staircase lets us move up and down between levels. Whether enhancing a two-story volume or creeping through an extremely narrow shaft of space, it is an important element in the overall circulation scheme.
8 Things to Consider while designing the staircase:
1. Logical integration into the structural system at lending points
Stair stringer (tread support that carries the weight) spans between posts and beams or other load bearing elements. The staircase should be designed both in plan and elevation. For additional information, please refer to a downloadable e-book DIY Like an Architect.
Its location in plan needs to correlate with the over-all circulation scheme on all levels. Think three-dimensionally about where the staircase starts and ends up.
3. Dimensional clearances
A person shouldn’t be able to extend and touch the staircase ceiling. It should not be lower than the height of a standard door (6’8”).
Always check applicable building codes for minimum and maximum required dimensions. Make sure that it is well lit from above.
5. Ease of travel
The staircase should be neither too steep or too shallow. For most situations, a riser of 7” (or slightly over) is recommended. All risers must be identical in height. The slightest discrepancy between steps creates a tripping hazard. Intermediate landings can be introduced to lessen the fatigue factor.
6. Approach and departure
The staircase can be approached and departed either directly or perpendicular to a stair run. Landings should equal the width of the stair by a minimum of 3 feet. No doors are allowed to swing over the steps.
When deciding on the type (straight run, “U” return stair, “L,” winder, or spiral) think about function and make sure it fits.
Define your aesthetic with a choice of materials for the structural elements. Whether you opt for ornate or minimalist details, they need to follow safety code requirements. Take a look at these for some good ideas!
I hope this is useful. For additional questions, please do not hesitate to contact me here.
When something is nature-inspired, it has the ability to bring us closer to who we are. It is calming, warm, and refreshing. It is inviting. It is invigorating. It makes use of natural earth-friendly products. Unobtrusive, it blends with the environment. It heals and makes us feel wonderful.
Beginner eye helps us see beyond the surface by feeding our creative impulse. It lets us connect with the world that is hidden from view by mysteriously enhancing our perception. It makes us stay completely present. Read More
It does not matter if I am chatting with a creative teen, a student of mine, or a DIY home improvement enthusiast — being an ally results in a lifestyle of coherence. As DIY architect providing architectural services online, I am supporting those who are combatting self-doubt. Read More