Friday, March 29, 2013

Woman of Steele

Yet another post under the heading "one-of-a-kind home design solutions" here.  This will be some fun eyeball-surfing because I can trace the development of this design element literally from our house in stick-stage to final result three years later. 

First, a little background. 

I mentioned previously that my husband and I were intimately involved in the finish design and construction of our house.  The builder's architects and engineers were responsible for the structural design, but I believe we had sixty-eight extra fee items in our contract for options and modifications.  And that barely scratches the surface of the changes we made to our property.  That's not counting the customizations we did after closing on the house. 

And of the one hundred or so days it took to build this place, I showed up on site for approximately ninety-seven of those days.  I got to know every nail and splinter.  I was sick when they did the electrical wiring and I missed much of that, which I regret to this day.  There's a gaping hole in my photo library. 

Because of that unusually-intense involvement, we got to know the tradesmen.   Our constantly-smiling lead framer in particular was not shy about approaching us and asking how we wanted things done, in those cases where there was room for interpretation on what the engineers had specified.

One day, he came up to my husband and I and asked if we wanted a completely-vaulted north wall, or only a partial vault? 

It was the home-building equivalent of asking, "Do you want fries with that?!"  My husband and I scratched our heads for a few minutes, and then logically concluded that we could close up the space later if we wanted to, but we couldn't open it up later, because the frame would have been set by then.  Therefore, we told him to leave it open and do only a partial vault.
The right side of this eight-foot stud wall has an obligatory vault up to the ten-foot ceiling because of the roof line. 

But the left side, above the door and left-most window, could have either continued that same slope straight across, or have instead been squared off as a purely-vertical wall (i.e., left open), as was done here. 

For all of you reading from points north, those many grey strips you see are hurricane straps. 
Here it is after drywalling.  The resulting configuration was a little bit unusual.  Like, where's the other half of our ceiling pitch?! 
Most of the other builds of this same architectural model have one continuous vault all the way across, but with our intentionally-smaller-than-average house, we were interested in developing as much non-square-footage storage space as possible, so we figured we could make use of that extra space. 

To start with, I knew I was going to finish this resulting vault-gap with an Elfa Platinum shelf, especially because I have Elfa Platinum in the open space above our refrigerator on the kitchen wall opposite this one.  Therefore the two shelf units would cross-reference and balance each other out. 
Container Store's Elfa Platinum page had a five-star rating on one hundred product reviews.  You don't see that every day.  People who like Elfa like it a lot.   
So the shelf I installed fit the space perfectly, but then the difficulty started:  I needed really large storage bins to put on top of that shelf, because it was a two-foot-high space.  And what I initially found in the consumer market was not good, my friend.
Oh no, no, no, no no.  This is what the consumer market conceives of as "large storage bins".  Ugh.  This isn't suitable for contemporary open-shelf storage.  This stuff belongs in the closet, garage, or the attic. 
I did a whole lot of footwork trying to solve this predicament, both brick-and-mortar shopping and online shopping.  Everybody had the same plastic stuff.  And nothing but plastic stuff. 
Seriously - if you search for 'large storage bin' or any related terms, virtually all of what you find is either (a) plastic or (b) not larger than a letter-sized file box!  A file box isn't large!!
I can't even re-create the convoluted search pathway that finally, mercifully, led me to this site:
Steele Canvas Basket in Chelsea Massachusetts. 

As soon as I saw this marketing image on their homepage, I was sold.  (A few of you are snickering right now, but I swear, all I was looking for was a decent large basket.) 
I use the design word "contemporary" a lot, but my style actually leans organic industrial.  Here's how this product works in the space:

Do you see how the balance and cross-referencing now make sense?  I have three white squares on the right (the windows) and three white squares on the left (the Steele Canvas baskets).  Furthermore, they jointly suggest an artistic diagonal of the type that I talked about in this post

FINALLY, three years after we ordered this structural configuration along this roof-line, I have THE product that completes the space.  The exact product that the space called for.  This space now looks like it was always meant to be that way, rather than looking like a half-done vault. 

That's the Death Star hanging in the middle.  In Morse Code, the resulting shapes array spells "OJ", but we'll ignore that part. 
You may be wondering what on earth I would put in those storage baskets shelved way up high.  Answer:  All kinds of annoying-but-necessary loose crap that doesn't sit very well on shelves and that doesn't need to be accessed very often (I use a kitchen step-stool to get up there). 
Vacuum cleaner parts.  Vacuum cleaners are like newborn babies - they come into your house with a lot of attachments and accessories. 
Disposable party serving ware.  Paper plates, cups, forks, knives, spoons, bowls, etc. 
Gift bags and papers, bubble wrap, and mailing supplies. 
I've basically got six bushels of storage, the size of a small closet, in a space that otherwise would have been forfeited to a framing facade. 

Here's a close-up that shows how well Steele Canvas products go with Elfa Platinum:
Now you can immediately see why I chose the Steele two-bushel carry baskets that have these wooden runners on the bottom:  I plan to stain those runners the same color as my two-inch wooden blinds on the window immediately below.  They don't look bad here but they'll look even better after they are color-matched.  Again, cross-referencing: repetition of elements (long narrow strips of the same colored wood) convinces your subconscious mind that the whole thing is one tightly-designed unit, no matter how non-traditional it is. 

Notice also how the metal frame and grey trim pieces on the baskets echo the top track, the shelving, the brackets, and standard elements of the Elfa Platinum.  These two products look like they were intentionally made for each other, in my opinion. 

It also doesn't hurt that the basket canvas is virtually the same shade of cream as the wood trim in the house.  It stands out from the light taupe wall color just as the trim does. 
So there's the long story of an unusual but successful design solution and how one southern suburban woman came to be won over by a little New England corporation called Steele.  Of course, these baskets are not the only items I've purchased from this company thus far, so you'll have to stay tuned to future posts to hear more. 

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