Raji Radhakrishnan's tips for adding personality to a home

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Just because the exterior of your house looks like every other place on the block doesn't mean it can't be full of individuality on the inside. Here are some ways Raji Radhakrishnan made her subdivision home more modern and special.

Paint your standard-issue front door in glossy black on both sides. The Radhakrishnan front door was originally brown wood, but she painted it in black semigloss to give it more substance. She also likes a paint color she calls London phone booth red, though it may not fit the style of your house. Other tips for doors: If you can afford it, upgrade a hollow-core door to solid wood. And if your door is stained, give it a spray coat of polyurethane in the spring and fall to protect the finish.

Consider going doorless on your upper kitchen cabinets. Radhakrishnan is a big fan of the "china cabinet" look and thinks open shelving can be less stodgy. She also removed some cabinets and relocated them to the laundry room and garage, giving her valuable wall space for hanging modern art in the kitchen.

Go for millwork. If your house is still being built, work with your builder to get some hefty crown moldings and baseboards installed in proportion to the rooms. Or, she says, check out Home Depot or Lowe's to create your own custom moldings, painting them the same shade as your walls in a satin or semigloss finish for understated architectural elegance. Liberate yourself from rules, says Radhakrishnan, who assembled her molding with four off-the-rack designs to create her own look at an affordable price.

Don't live with blah bathrooms. In her tiny guest bath, Radhakrishnan removed the builder's-grade under-sink cabinet and had a custom steel washstand crafted to make the space seem roomier. She relocated a mirrored medicine cabinet above the sink and framed it using the same steel. Subway tiles laid in a herringbone pattern look more stylish than square tiles, she says.

Dress up your powder room. Instead of living with something boring, transform the littlest room in the house into something special, says Radhakrishnan. She doubled the size of her powder room by carving out space from the living room and moving a wall. She used the top of a wooden bench as a counter and selected a different sink. A long, narrow mirror makes the space look larger. Spend big on a statement light fixture, she says, such as her vintage sconce by French designer Charlotte Perriand.

Upgrade the appliances. Customize the kitchen for the kinds of cooking and entertaining your family does and buy higher-end Energy Star appliances if you can. She chose a Sub-Zero fridge, Fisher & Paykel dishwasher and KitchenAid wall oven and microwave. In the center island she added a Gaggenau cooktop and deep fryer for making samosas (savory Indian turnovers). Make sure you keep the same finishes on everything you add to the kitchen; otherwise it will look like a hodgepodge, she advises. Her kitchen has warm white and stainless steel.

Highlight odd niches instead of trying to hide them. Upstairs in her Brambleton home, the staircase created a small, awkward ledge. She chose to arrange a grouping of vintage white pottery and urns there. Though she wanted to keep the space quiet, the pottery display, she says, tricks the eye to focus on the collection rather than the odd space.

-- Jura Koncius

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