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How Does Light in the Bedroom Change The Way You Sleep?


JWH Master Bedroom

Creating the right atmosphere for day and night.

Good sleep depends on many factors, not the least of which is exposure to light. When your bedroom is too bright, you may struggle to fall asleep or even be disturbed in your sleep at night. Understanding how your circadian rhythm responds to light and learning how to manage light in your bedroom can help you sleep better at night.

How Light Influences Your Circadian Rhythm

Your circadian rhythm tells your body and brain when it’s time to start feeling tired and fall asleep, and likewise, when it’s time to wake up and be alert. This rhythm isn’t arbitrary; it depends on cues from your environment and behaviors, including light, sound, and when you eat.

When you’re exposed to light, your circadian rhythm gets the signal that it’s daytime. And during daytime, you should be awake. Although sunlight may more or less follow when you should be sleeping, artificial light can throw a wrench into sending the proper signal. Exposure to artificial light at night can tell your circadian rhythm that it’s daytime, even when it’s night.

Artificial light can come in the form of overhead lights or lamps, your television, or mobile phone. It can even be street lights or car headlights shining through your window. Moonlight, though natural light, can also send a confusing signal to your circadian rhythm if it’s particularly bright.

Any kind of light exposure at night can have a negative influence on your circadian rhythm. Light exposure may make you feel too alert to go to sleep, especially if you’re exposed to bright light just before bed. And yes, that does include your mobile phone screen or TV. Bright lights that are on while you’re sleeping may even be disruptive enough to wake you up while you’re sleeping.

How You Can Manage Light in Your Bedroom

Ideally, your bedroom should be as dark as possible at night. Of course, that’s not quite practical, because you can’t get ready for bed and lay down on your mattress in pitch black darkness. After all, an injury from falling over furniture on your way to bed might disturb your sleep more than exposure to light would. But you can limit your exposure to light at night, and especially in your bedroom. Here are a few ways to do it effectively:

  • Design bedroom lighting with sleep in mind. Bright, overhead lights are common in bedrooms, and while they can be helpful during the day or early evening, they’re bad news for sleep at night. Turn off the overhead lights at night and instead use lamps pointed down below eye level to light the way once the sun goes down.
  • Use dimmers. If you still want to use an overhead light, but want to turn it down, consider installing a dimmer switch. That way, you can avoid bright light and just have a lower level of brightness at night.
  • Block out window light. Moonlight, street lamps, headlights and other outdoor light sources can come in through your window and disturb your sleep. Consider using blackout curtains so you can effectively block out light at night, then open them up during the day to get light exposure.
  • Limit or eliminate electronics in your bedroom. Your mobile phone, TV, or laptop can be especially problematic for sleep when you use them at night. Checking your phone, watching TV, or even worse, working in bed – can keep you up at night. The blue wave light emitted from electronic screens is particularly stimulating and confusing for your circadian rhythm. Watch TV or work at night away from your bedroom, and never bring your mobile phone to bed. It’s best to put an end to screen time at least one hour before bed.
  • Make sure you’re exposed to daytime light. Exposure to light at the right time of day is just as important as avoiding it at night. Daytime light exposure can reinforce the timing of daytime alertness so your time to be sleepy at night is on track, too. Open your window coverings in the morning for exposure to bright light and make sure you spend some time outdoors during the daytime every day.

Though it can sometimes be difficult to avoid light exposure at night, managing light in your bedroom typically has simple solutions. Do your best to avoid bright lights at night and shut down electronics well before bedtime to reinforce the right cues for your circadian rhythm and natural sleep schedule.

Amy Highland is a sleep expert at She loves taking naps during thunderstorms and cuddling up with a blanket, book, and cats.

NBC features a Howard family tradition for Christmas


By Nicole Spector
Family Tradition

NBC quotes Jennifer Howard about their Christmas tradition!

Christmas family traditions, a little out of the ordinary?  Jennifer Howard was one of the quotes included in this fun article by Nicole Spector for NBC News


“We have always included an outdoor ‘toy’ or activity for the family to get everyone moving on Christmas morning and can enjoy throughout the year,” says Jennifer Howard, owner of JWH Designs & Cabinetry. “One year it was a simple $65 trolley that spanned between two trees across the backyard.

Even the cold and wet weather in NY [does not] deter the kids, grandparents and aunts and uncles from heading outside in PJs and bathrobes to give it a try. That particular year my sister, Molly, (age 35 at the time) wanted to try the trolley first, on the premise of making sure it was safe for the kids. Big smile and acting like a kid herself, she climbed into the little triangle to sit for her flight across the yard. She soared easily for the first few feet until the wire started to sag, not quite adjusted for her adult weight. She proceeded to be dragged directly into the mud. The laughs alone were worth everything, and we still talk about it almost 15 years later!”

Our biggest Christmas gathering yet in 2018 (missing 3 people, including myself, in the above): 8 kids, 7 adults, 4 nights, LOTS of laughs… and a partridge in a pear tree!  Jennifer

914INC Women in Business Awards


What an honor:  to receive the 2018 Women in Business Award.  After 20 years of bringing JWH Design & Cabinetry from concept to a reality that supports our great JWH Team and their families, the recognition by the Westchester business community is much appreciated.  I’m proud to be named among my fellow nominees who represented a wide range of talents and expertise.  What an amazing group of hard working women!

As featured in 914INC:

“Award-winning designer Jennifer Howard has had her projects featured in leading shelter magazines, including House Beautiful. Having renovated and changed homes 26 times in 29 years, she knows a thing or two about form and function. Focusing primarily on kitchen design and custom cabinetry, Howard’s expertise has led her firm, JWH Design & Cabinetry, to receive a “Best of Houzz” award for six consecutive years. JWH was also selected to supply all of the custom cabinetry for the prestigious 10th Annual House Beautiful Kitchen of the Year project in San Francisco in 2017. Currently, the firm is designing and supplying custom cabinetry for the Bedford Playhouse’s VIP screening lounge and private bar, as part of a multimillion-dollar historic renovation project.”

The awards luncheon honored all 19 women, and was a well-attended event with over 400 people.  Fortunately the snowstorm held off for a few more hours!

Au revoir, Paris and Sancerre!



All good things must come to an end

Departing Sancerre on Friday came too quickly, and only my excitement about seeing my daughter Caroline,  offset my disappointment in leaving this amazing little town.  The incredible landscape of Sancerre, set high on a hill, looked like the setting from Beauty and the Beast.   I kept expecting Belle to stroll thru the streets singing!  Each morning I took a different route to class, turning up and down angled roads, getting happily lost on most days, only to discover the most direct route on my last day.

Finding a new route

Wandering the many streets of Sancerre on the way to school!

My quirky apartment with the low antique beams, and my warm hosts,  Philippe and Giselle,  encouraged me speak French during our homemade breakfast together, made my stay feel very welcoming.  The rigorous classes at Coeur de France threw me back into conjugating verbs again, but more importantly, allowed us to work on our fluency in small class settings and outdoor excursions.  The improvement in my French over these 5 days was one plus, another was making new friends from around the world!

Making friends at Coeur de France

Never to old to make new friends (from left to right): San Francisco, Australia, Vancouver, Alaska, and NY. 

Life is too short

Spending my last weekend in Paris with Caroline was a last minute plan, and totally worth the extra 2 days!  One evening with her Georgetown friends at a street-side cafe where the rose flowed along with the laughs.  And the second night dinner with 2 Tulane friends at Chez Janou sharing an enormous bowl of their famous mousse au chocolat, and then taking in the midnight views from the rooftop of the BHV.  The sparkling lights from the Eiffel Tower during “nuit blanche”, an annual celebration where Paris stays up ALL NIGHT, created a memorable atmosphere.  Neither able or willing to stay up all night with the partying Parisians, Caroline and I were ready to make the most of a full Sunday together.  Not the ideal weather, but the hike up Montmartre gave her a gorgeous view of Sacre Coeur and a cozy brunch spot with amazing crepes!

Shop ’til you drop

Renewed energy (and the desire to get out of the rain) motivated us to explore the inside of the BHV.  Two attentive assistants at Maje were able to whip me in and out of options until we found the right pieces needed for a photo shoot immediately upon my return.  This impending deadline was the perfect excuse to have my fashion-oriented daughter supervising this wardrobe make-over.

Caroline, of course, found herself happily exploring the wide selection of amazing accessories from native French designers of Chanel, Givenchy, and Hermes!

Au revoir!

I was sad to pack up on Monday morning after sending Caroline on an early flight back to Madrid.  I had some quiet time to reflect on the previous 17 days and how this might impact my future.  This trip was 100% out of my comfort zone when I planned it,  200% by the time I departed, and 1000 times better than I ever expected.  Fumbling to communicate in a foreign language,  lugging heavy suitcases thru tiny streets and curved stairs (yes, I over packed!),  navigating flights, taxis, trains and the metro system,  and feeling relaxed when eating alone, were all completely new to me.  When I realized that I was enjoying these challenges, and found myself looking for the next opportunity to explore something new, I knew I had accomplished the goal I set for myself.  I can honestly say that I’m proud of myself, and that is not something I say lightly.

The wonderful part of ending a trip like this is returning to my family and friends.  I knew that my grandson, Christian, was eagerly awaiting a snuggle and a present.

From City to Countryside


The view from my room

Beautiful Sancerre as viewed from my room

Switching cities is a major shift of gears– from one extreme to the other, and equally wonderful!

Leaving from Paris-Bercy train station, in the midst of the Fashion Week arena, I felt the pulse of Paris all the way to Nevers for the transfer.  The train was fully equipped with wifi and charging ports, seats were assigned and far nicer than trains at home (and I was in second class!) When they announced my transfer in French, and only French, I realized that I had reached the countryside.  No escalators or elevators to change between tracks so it’s best not to need assistance.  The train to Cosne sur Loire was 1/4 the length and virtually empty.  I was the last stop with 5 other people at this tiny town station.  I had practiced my question:  “ou sont les taxis?” but the signs were easy to follow.  It was more concerning that there was not a taxi in sight.  The Uber app gave me slight hope that this service might exist in this town, but it only served to indicate that my hotel was 24 miles away and a driver couldn’t be located.  I don’t know why my heart didn’t start to race, and those general feelings of anxiety did not start to creep in, but I was calm.  It wasn’t dark yet.

Th beams are not much taller than I.

High ceilings and low beams above my head

I do believe I have a guardian angel that steps in at times, and she sent me a lovely French couple, with whom I could NOT communicate, who used her phone to call me a taxi.  “Bien, bien” she assured me as they loaded me into the front seat with a young driver, also non-English speaking.  We didn’t have much natural communication during the 40 minute drive, but I google-translated sentences including “that nice woman helped me” and “I’m going to French school.”  These practiced lines help to pass a little time, until I blurted out “je t’adore.”  I meant to say “j’adore Paris” but he smiled at my exclamation that I was in love with him. We parted ways after 46 euros, a few mercis, and “I’ll call you for my ride on Friday!”  The proprietor of my hotel will need to call him to make this reservation, unless my French is dramatically improved.

Through the double carriage doors, painted bright red, but not an obvious sign that read “Le Cep en Sancerrois,” I quickly realized that my “hotel” was actually a Bed & Breakfast and I am the only guest.  In this large antique home, I was guided through several living spaces to reach my private room up the tricky winding stairs.  With high ceilings reflecting the steeply pitched roof, the amazing exposed beams dating back to the 18th century, and views out both sides over the Sancerre countryside, it is definitely a unique and special space.  And the proprietors, Giselle and Phillipe could not have been more welcoming.  As I was given the quick tour of the bedroom space behind the curtain, the desk area to set up my laptop, and the little kitchen (I will never use), I quickly appreciated my short stature of 5’3″.   My head barely clears the dropped beams in the main room and the height at the end of the tub is even lower!

JWH in Sancerre

Peaking through the wall over the vineyards

Ready to take advantage of the remaining daylight hours, and locate my school for the morning, Philippe sent me out with a local map and instructions to follow the red line on the streets.  I really wanted to cover as much territory as possible, as well as stretch my legs after the 3 hour train ride, so I wondered up and down every main and side street.  Amazing views over the Sancerre vineyards, and the charming old buildings lining the narrow streets, gave me lots of great photo ops along the way.   The end of the red line landed at a gorgeous sunset spot for a glass of Sancerre blanc overlooking the countryside.

As dusk settled on this quiet Sunday night, and my morning yogurt was no longer holding off my appetite, I entered the empty restaurant on the corner of my block.  Totally empty.  I waited a few minutes to inquire about a table, without a soul in sight, and decided this was not a good choice for my first night.  Fortunately, my guardian angel directed my through a few more winding streets and a livelier tavern caught my eye.  I was seated next to a table for 3 speaking 1/2 French and 1/2 English, a felt a little relief.  They turned to introduce themselves and turned out to be 3 of my new classmates who were already finished their first week and were starting second week of classes.  “Courage” was the word of advice they offered for the start of my French immersion!

Starting my second day of classes after a morning tour of a 12th century chateau.  Gotta run or this will never get posted.  Thanks for reading!


A week in review…


It’s hard to believe it’s been a week since leaving JFK.  From my first post feeling lost and homeless, Paris now feels like a different place.

Hard not to smile

It’s easy to smile and enjoy the Parisian lifestyle.  Bonjour!

Location, location, location

Staying in the 5th arrondissement has located me in excellent proximity for walking to everything.  15 minutes to Jardin du Luxembourg and Pont des Artes, 20 minutes to the Louvre and Tuilleries, and 3 minutes to Maubert marche for this weeks’ painting spots with Atelier Alupi. Despite the fact that Google maps has started me in the wrong direction EVERY time I walk out my front door, the extra few blocks help to work off the morning croissant.  Now that I have firmly oriented myself with the Seine River and Notre Dame, I can ignore my phone, look up as I confidently strut down the Paris streets, and smile at strangers.   Bonjour!  This would not be common for a Parisian or a New Yorker, but I just can’t get the happy grin off my face!  (And I like the reaction I get in return.)


Menu du Jour

Paris makes it easy.  There’s no pressure when looking for a great lunch to dine alone– just look for a sunny spot facing a busy street and there are bound to be friendly faces.  Once I translate a few key words on the standing menu board (i.e. gigot d’agneau and salade de maison) 12 euros is a bargain for my main meal of the day.  Being adventurous with the “plat du jour” has consistently been a good choice.  Salmon, veal, lamb and a few mystery ingredients have not disappointed.   The menu today at the local crepe cafe listed “galette with traditional Breton-style with andouille sausage.”  Anything wrapped in a pancake is good– right?  Seriously inaccurate translation.  Fortunately the waiter questioned my choice of ordering “intestines” and directed me to the other special with salmon and spinach.

Maubert Marche inspires paintings and meals

After exploring the beautiful fresh markets on Sunday and Wednesday, overwhelmed by the amazing selection of fruits, cheeses and everything else (that Rob would love to buy),  I had visions of preparing simple, yet gourmet meals, in my apartment when I didn’t feel like eating out.  After spending a painting class morning, perched on an empty vegetable cart for 3 hours, trying to capture the emotion of that produce, while passerby peered over my shoulder to view my painting progress,  I had a realization. Nah, I don’t want to shop or cook.  Instead of adding groceries to my bag full of brushes, paper, paints, and my messy paint apron, it was an easy decision to walk past the luscious strawberries to an quaint bistro on the corner with my new painting friends.

Compact kitchen in Paris

Not a JWH Kitchen

I’m not the cook in the family, even with all the kitchens I’ve designed for our family and others.  Although this Paris Airbnb would not be the key to  my cooking inspiration, I’m  amazed what can be condensed into 8 linear feet!  After figuring out how to turn on the strip of countertop outlets (after 2 days), the electric team kettle and coffee maker were easily put into action.  The undercounter refrigerator nicely holds a bottle of wine and a few yogurts.  The induction cooktop mounted directly above the dishwasher is an interesting design that would allow a quick meal and easy clean up, but I’ve ignored both appliances.  The undercounter washer/dryer combo unit, taking only 24″ of space next to the dishwasher,  was definitely worth trying with a trip this long.  This one-step machine promises to take your clothes from dirty, to clean, and dry– in theory. After identifying which box contained laundry detergent packets versus dishwasher tablets, the 15 minute express cycle was the most clear instruction on the machine.  Attempting to program the load directly thru the dry cycle, I only managed to wash everything again, this time without soap.  Taking my chances again, I pushed the button named “seche” and waited  2 hours and 40 minutes for it to unlock my jeans and pajamas.   While making a ton of noise for the cycle, it literally did nothing.  With clothes now hanging on chairs and door knobs, I won’t be recommending this space-saver to clients.

Train to Sancerre

The painting classes finished today, and now I’m packing up for Sancerre.  The big-ass suitcase which almost killed me on the first day, will not make this train ride to the Loire Valley.  My acrylic supplies that weigh A LOT more than my watercolor palette are staying in Paris, along with the odd assortment of “wrong” items packed for this 2 week trip.   (For example, any shoe with a heel is NOT comfortable in Paris.)  This mega suitcase will be dragged the 6 blocks back to City Locker tomorrow morning, through the same empty Sunday morning streets as last week.  With a lighter load, a lighter mood, and excitement for this next step, the train leaves tomorrow for French classes.

#Au revoir!  Jennifer   (Thanks for reading!)


Day 2: Perfection in Paris


Day 2:

It may be hard to call a day “perfect” when it’s only Day 2.  But keeping expectations at a realistic level, it was pretty darn good.

Starting a JWH Day at Notre Dame

Espresso and a view of Notre Dame to start my day!

My body let me sleep a full 13 hours from 8 pm to 9 am, so technically I’m already on Paris time.  A quick espresso gave the necessary boost to hike to the Parthenon.  (It should have been closer, but I walked the wrong way!)

Art Partners:

I liked my classmate instantly, Olivia, a young producer from Vancouver. Our first class was drawing, so I could wear nice pants and my Vince leather jacket without fear of ruining them.  (Caroline will be displeased with the sneakers, but comfort comes first.) The scarf around my neck, a travel gift from Molly, helped the morning chill, but I still should have worn my gloves and wool sweater!  It’s amazing that Paris’ mornings are much colder than NY this time of year.

Perspective drawing in Paris

Sitting in the sun helps the chill but not the accuracy of the drawing!

With white fingers no longer capable of holding the pencil, I moved from the tall shadows of the Parthenon columns to a sunny spot for a clear view of an architecturally challenging building.  The drawings didn’t improve, but the circulation did!  When my solo classmate went off to meet fellow travelers, my teacher recommended  lunch at a great Italian spot around the corner to warm our hands and our insides.  Plat du jour included clams, plus  a pasta with white fish and zucchini, followed by a cafe au lait to start the afternoon program.

Walking off lunch:

As the only tour participant, Nicolas and Florient (art teacher and tour guide, respectively) customized the tour to my interests.  Only 13,000 steps but we covered some amazing ground:  hidden side streets, little known historical facts, and even archaeological treasures!  Who would expect an underground parking garage to include the original Paris city wall?

Paris history in an underground parking lot

History below ground: the original city wall dating back over 800 years

5 pm ended our tour and coincided perfectly with happy hour on Blvd St Germain des Pres.  With side by side seats facing the busy street in a sidewalk cafe, we laughed that this is not a typical NYC scene.  But neither is the Provence rose for 3 euros!  A few quiet moments to capture the thoughts of the day, and then turn on my Google maps on to find my way home.

Tomorrow I paint at the Luxembourg Gardens.  This should be fun (and messy!)  But I’ll have some time to clean up before our evening at Montmartre.  An0ther busy day in PARIS (paradise!)

Thanks for reading and following– I’m feeling very lucky.    Jennifer


21,000 Steps with Hemingway


Enjoying the solitude

A quite Sunday morning in Paris

Day 1:

It feels like 24 hours since I was sitting in JFK working on my laptop before my flight.  The clock confirmed it was 4:30 pm on Saturday, and now it’s 4:30 pm on Sunday, but a couple of big factors had changed.

sunday morning solitude

Walking the artists streets from the 1920’s and 30’s.

I thought that traveling 6 time zones, forgoing a night of sleep upright in coach, and having to wander the streets for 8 hours alone before I could access my AirBNB, would be my first stumbling block.  In reality, the flight landed an hour early (so I actually had a full 9 hours to wander) and I truly didn’t sleep a wink in my airplane seat. Slight panic started rising at the baggage carousel at 6:30 am. I asked a few people for suggestions, including a  mid-30’s group of travelers for Fashion Week, but they’d never faced this particular challenge. I didn’t have the guts to approach Kurt Russell and ask his advice.  (He looked pretty incognito wearing jeans and a scruffy backpack, but it was definitely him.)

It’s not fraud!

To add to the dismay and frustration, after notifying both credit card companies that I was departing for France, only to be assured there would be no problem with my cards, BOTH my Visa and Platinum Am Ex cards were denied for my Uber ride.  I’ve never in my life been grateful for PayPal, but at least they processed the charge.  Hailing a taxi was the back up plan, but typing the destination and knowing the cost are much easier than relying on unpracticed French and unfamiliar bills and coins.

Living History:

Once my 2 suitcases were stashed at a City Locker location near my AirBNB, the first views of Paris at this hour where calming.  The roads and sidewalks were almost empty, with only the movement and drum beat of the crew teams practicing on the Seine.  Choosing the cutest awning and chairs, as well as the desired street-side view, I enjoyed my first cafe and croissant, and plotted out the next 7.5 hours.  Choosing between group Qigong instruction in the park, or a walking tour of literary and artistic history in Paris, I went for the option requiring less balance. The 20’s and 30’s came alive as our 2-person tour  led by MIT-educated, Olga, guided us along the same steps as Hemingway, Picasso, Gertrude Stein, Matisse, and others from this creative era.  2.5 hours flew by enjoyably with only minor mists of rain and I found myself ready to download The Movable Feast on my Kindle and re-watch Midnight in Paris with Owen Wilson.

When It Rains, It Pours:

Artist spots in Paris

Famous Hemingway Spots

By the time the rain really started to pour, my feet were objecting as loudly as my stomach.  Getting settled into my room was getting critical or the rain drops might have turned into tears.  The 2-stop Uber request was trickier but when the driver saw the size of the larger suitcase in comparison to my height, he understood why I couldn’t walk the remaining 7 blocks.  When he let me off at the wrong end of the one way street, I tried to act confident that I could maneuver the 2 bags along the cobblestones to the front door.  The entry code worked on the first try (which was NOT the experience at City Locker), but this only served to quickly reveal the tiny and steep steps that lay ahead.  I could barely get in the front door with my big bag so I had no choice but to block the entire hallway while I attempted to carry my wheeled carry-on and shoulder bag to the second floor.  Did you know that the French don’t give the ground floor a number?  3 flights up really narrow, steep and winding stairs; I’m sure the sound of baggage wheels smacking against the risers, and a few multilingual curses, was no surprise to the other residents.

A Glass of Rose to End the Day:

The apartment is so awesome my misgivings slowly dissipated and I’m soon ready to head back out for groceries, as soon as I’ve got enough phone charge to keep me from getting lost. After a few attempts to find a gourmet market with fresh cheese and bread,  I decided that a served meal and glass of wine was a fitting reward for this extra long day.   And here I sit—aaahhh!  “Le dejeuner special du jour”: salad, salmon and potatoes and a glass of rose.  Deliciously doused in butter, as only the French can do,  I felt the need to check the number of steps I walked today, before deciding on dessert.  Almost 21,000 steps… that works.

Now if I can just stay awake until 8 pm tonite to get on a normal time zone for painting tomorrow at 10 am.

JWH in France… a creative adventure begins


Creative travel to Paris

This business owner/wife/mother/grandma is starting an adventure.

An adventure in Paris as a full-time business owner, traveling solo, studying painting and language, is not the typical trip for a 52  year old mother of 5 and grandmother of 1.  Mid-life crisis or making up for the missed college year abroad program?  Either one, it is time to regroup and refuel the creative fires. With another 20 years to work, and to continue to LOVE the work I do, I realized it was time to take some time for  myself.

Traveling alone?

Taking a solo trip, anywhere, has never been something I’ve particularly enjoyed.  Business trips that involve a flight alone, hotel room alone, and an occasional meal alone, are relished by some of my business friends.  Mindlessly flipping through magazines on a flight and spreading out in the entire king-size hotel bed don’t do it for me.  I like to fall asleep the minute I board the plane, curled in my window seat.  And I still stay on my side of the hotel bed, leaving the other two-thirds untouched. Add a few meals alone, trying to make conversation without looking like a pick-up move, makes me even more eager to get back to the craziness of work and my family.  So why have I now booked myself to travel 7 hours to France–alone?  And for how long?

It all started in a conversation with my daughter, Caroline, about her upcoming semester abroad in Madrid.  After she had spent a year at Tulane and another year at Georgetown, she was still managing to come home far more often than my older boys ever did– combined.  “Caroline, you don’t even like to be gone from home for long.  How will you make it 4 months in Spain?” I asked.  In her typical confident manner, without a moment’s hesitation, she responded “That’s easy.  You will have an apartment in Paris.”

This quick retort last March quickly germinated into an idea that I couldn’t release from my mind.  As outrageous and ridiculous as that idea sounded, something inside grabbed hold of my daily (and nightly) thoughts for the next 2 weeks.  As the words came out of my mouth to share this plan with my husband, Rob looked at me in a supportive, yet unbelieving way.  Was a full semester a little dramatic?  Maybe 3 months, leaving after the busy work month of September and returning in December.  “2 months?” he countered.  I hesitated and responded,  “Maybe 1 month will be enough?”  Yes, a month I could handle and the planning began.

Work or Pleasure?

First practical question:  How could I manage a month away from the office? Well, working on JWH projects is a given.  Skype, email and my remote access computer would let me continue design work from anywhere.  Maybe not as efficient on a small laptop keyboard, as compared to my 2 large side-by-side screens on my desk, but I’ve done it on shorter vacations so I could certainly set up a work routine for this longer trip.   We’ve laughed about setting up a blow up doll in my office chair, and propping a pair of expensive heels on my window sill, and passerbys would believe I am working away in Rye, NY.

cozy spot in Paris

Cozy spot for the solo traveler

A quick post on Facebook asking for recommendations on where to stay helped to focus on the “arrondissements” that would keep me safe and centrally located. Adding “laptop friendly workspace” to the search criteria on Airbnb helped to further narrow down the number of possible flats.  There weren’t a lot of other filters I required.  Blow dryer–optional.  Wifi– critical.  It seemed like 5-story “older” buildings without a lift best fit in my housing budget.

As luck would have it, the perfect studio jumped out at me.  The private courtyard for the building, 2nd floor location, and tiny square footage seemed to guarantee I could make myself feel cozy.  The well-known jazz bar across the street, which closes at the mandatory time of 10 pm, sounds like it was set up for my exciting nightlife.  And the amazing murals on the studio walls would be my inspiration to start every day in a creative mode.  And the bonus:  blow dryer included.

Making the most of each day:

So now that I figured out how I would work efficiently every day from Paris, the question remained, what will I do with the rest of my time?  I will be awake on a different time zone and my office has not yet come to life?  (And then I will be winding down with a glass (or 2) of French chardonnay, and the office will be calling with technical questions.)  Brushing up on my French–of course.  A great way to meet other people while reviving my 5 years of honors French, not-so-eloquently last spoken 34 years ago at Rye High School.  I envisioned ordering my cafe-au-lait with utmost confidence, asking the price on a fashionable outfit and understanding that the answer is not in my price range, and striking up casual conversations with strangers while sitting at the bustling sidewalk cafes.  The reality of the latter part is that native Parisians won’t want to start up random conversations with a solo middle aged mom from NY.   At least I’m pretty sure the waitstaff or other English-speaking tourists won’t snub me.  Fully thinking through this scenario, which is one of my strengths (and weaknesses), reveals that I will STILL have too much time on my hands.  Enter the suggestion from my beloved little sister, Molly.

Painting architecture in Paris

Plein air painting in Paris

Past or present life:

“Jenny, you’ve always fashioned yourself as an artist.  And I know you believe there might have been a previous life as an architect, why don’t you explore this passion in Paris?”  Brilliant Molly, who sometimes knows me better than I know myself.  Now we are adding structure to my day, and filling lots of time in a creative way.   Again, I can picture it clearly: setting up my easel along the Seine, dressed as a Parisian artist with interested onlookers, capturing the architecture on canvas with my paints and brush.  The reality?  First, I have trouble getting my right hand to relay what I see in my mind so the representation of these historical landmarks will be more impressionist, not to insult my beloved Monet.  Second, I’m a messy painter.  A full smock was the recommended protective gear to wear over my clothes, as only a BFF could suggest.  But I can’t resist the challenge or the experience, I sign up for the 6 day outdoor class, and I realize that I will come home with paint on my clothes.

Housing, work and ideal activities for the trip are “planned”, but far from being executed.  Life (and travel planning) always throws some funny curve balls.  Please follow along to see how things develop…

Tips for Working with a Kitchen Designer


appliances and cabinetry decisions

A Kitchen Designer will help “right-size” the appliances as part of the overall cabinet layout.

A kitchen designer can be the most valuable team player in a renovation.  The right person will identify challenges, offer creative solutions, and guide you through the multitude of decisions.  Ready to get started and make the most of your new partnership?

Pick your partner:

Picking the right kitchen designer to bring your vision to reality is the first critical step in the design process.   Maybe a specific kitchen project has caught your attention in a magazine, or you love a friend’s new kitchen.  Or perhaps you find yourself grabbing online images from a particular designer’s social media page.  Once you’ve narrowed down your choices your homework begins: a call to the designer’s office should be met with interest and enthusiasm.  An openness to share basic facts over the phone can make a big difference.  Types of cabinetry, general price points, timeliness of drawings, and estimated lead time for the cabinetry order, are all valid questions.  These are easy opening questions to establish if you’re in the right ballpark for your project.

Visit the Kitchen Designer Showroom

Visit the Designer’s Showroom

Face to Face:

Although there is heavy reliance on texts, emails, and calls for most communication these days, a face-to-face consultation is the next step.  This is the best way to determine if a working relationship is going to be a good fit.   You’re about to embark on a big project and it has to be a comfortable partnership from the start.  Meeting in the kitchen designer’s office or showroom gives an accurate glimpse into their business model and work style.  How does this meeting flow– from being greeted at the door, to conducting an informative presentation worthy of your time.  Do you feel heard and understood when discussing your vision?  Do you like their examples of other projects that should include a range of style and creative ideas?   The most important question: can you have an honest and open partnership with this professional to achieve the best possible outcome?  If any of the above are “no”—keep looking.

Make your vision clear:

Communicating your overall vision for the project, as well as any must-have wish-list items, is always a fun topic.  Since you might not know the correct terminology to describe your desired features, a picture is worth 1000 words!  Online resources, like Pinterest and Houzz, make it easy to compile images that have caught your eye.   Noting your likes (and dislikes) about each of the photos is an excellent way to convey your aesthetic preferences.  The designer should be able to easily assess common threads, as well as the disparate details.

Don’t hide from the bottom line:

Discussing your investment expectations (aka budget) is not the easiest conversation to start.  If you have done initial appliance shopping, this is the best time to reveal the brands that appeal to you.  Top brands like Sub Zero and Wolf signify the need for a healthy appliance budget.  The remaining budget for cabinets, countertops, other finishes and construction will add up quickly.   It is important to align everyone’s expectations from the start.  If there is a drop-dead project limit, share this fact.  If there is flexibility within your budget range, share this important point too.   There are creative design options at every price range and you want to start exploring the best options right from the start.  Your kitchen designer is key to helping make these critical decisions based on your priorities.

Listen to the Expert:

Creative corner desk solution

Kitchen Designer’s Creative Corner

You’ve made the leap of faith and selected the designer to help bring your renovation dreams to reality.  The next step is to see your transformed spaces conveyed clearly on layouts, elevations, or ideally 3-D perspective views.  Some of the images may look just like you envisioned, while other design options may look like they came out of left field.   Keep an open mind.  Remember, exploring all the options on paper, before the hammer ever hits the nail, keeps later changes (or regrets) to a minimum. Are these unique layout options accompanied by a clear vision and explanation of good logic?  Ask all the questions you need. Your original idea may have needed modification based on structural limitations or maybe it didn’t make sense functionally.   Or even better–perhaps your designer came up with a creative, out-of-the-box solution based on years of practical experience!

No Need to Rush:

As much as you are anxious to get your cabinets designed, “signed off” and scheduled into production, this is the time to make sure you’ve considered all your layout options.  Options 1, 2, and 3 may have turned into Options 4 and 5.  But as long as there is forward progress (and not going in circles), this interactive problem-solving process should be worth it.   Once the interior architectural details, cabinetry, and appliances layouts are set, the rest of the functional and aesthetic cabinetry details follow naturally.  The kitchen designer wants your flow and function to be the best possible, and working with custom cabinetry allows the best utilization of space.

Be Open to Compromise:

Wish as we might, some design ideas are simply not achievable.  The 2-tier cabinetry details you adored in a Houzz photo may not work with your 8’ ceilings. Hopefully you will have discussed these challenges and alternate design direction early in the process.  The designer’s creative interpretation should make YOUR space the best it can be.  Working within the limitations of budget, timing, and/or physical obstructions can require compromise.  But compromise doesn’t not mean “settle.”

Be patient — It will be worth it:

Although the less-than-reality shows show miraculous kitchen transformations within days, real construction is a long process. Custom cabinets have lead times of 8-12 weeks, plus another week to install.  You may be anxious for the delivery of your cabinets, since this generally signals the approaching completion of a project.  But your custom cabinets should be one of the last items to arrive.  Beautifully finished cabinetry should be installed toward the end of the project.  Ideally, most of the major construction work is completed.   You definitely want to avoid trades walking through your kitchen space with tool belts and ladders,  Your kitchen designer knows the value of delaying delivery to protect your cabinets, but your contractor might need a little persuasion.

The end result of your new kitchen is even better than expected?

Congratulations– you made the right choice of kitchen designer!jennifer howard headshot

Thanks for visiting our JWH blog. I hope you learned something new today. Please contact us to discuss your project. We would love to help you achieve your dream kitchen.

— Jennifer Howard, owner & chief designer, JWH Design & Cabinetry