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Exquisite shadows play across the exterior facade of this newly painted home in the late afternoon sun on an October day.
January and February saw a flurry of in-home design consultations. It seems as though the homeowners who called me had a new year’s resolution to tackle the design problems that had been annoying them! One common thread was that most of these homeowners had not worked with a professional designer before and were not quite sure what to expect. It may even be said that some of them were a bit self-conscious about contacting a design professional—like they should just know how to solve confusing design issues on their own or, that their homes should be ‘perfect’ already! That is never my feeling—for most of us, our homes are a work-in-progress and I am always eager to assist.
So what should you expect from an In-home Design Consultation? Well, the answer lies in the question—what would you like it to be? Generally, folks are bringing me in because they know something is wrong but are not sure what to do about it. Not to worry, this challenge always brings out the designer in me. With years of experience, it is second nature for me to look at a space and know quite immediately where the problem lies and how to address it. Rarely—though sometimes it happens—the space was so badly conceived or has been badly altered that it requires more sustained study to make order out of chaos. Yet, even this does not preclude having an insightful conversation about the design problem in great detail while approaching the situation from various angles. A lot of insight and even breakthroughs can be gained in doing this.
The exterior color scheme of this house was chosen to make the house look attractive to be sure but it was as much chosen as a backdrop for the lovely plant materials in the surrounding landscape.
More often than not, I feel that my clients are consulting me because they want to see their space in a new way—in a way they are incapable of envisioning. I use my communication skills to talk with them about this aspect or that aspect in order to help them to understand what exactly is going on with their space. I will doggedly pursue this problem solving with them until I hear them say, ‘O.K.—now. . . I get it!’ Once that is achieved, we can then talk possibilities for how things might be different. Of course, this will be in more general terms but what is crucial is that there has been a shift away from a very stuck place to new creative possibilities which moments ago seemed impossible.
Depending on the client, the nature of the project and the length of time that the client has budgeted for the consultation, many different aspects can be discussed. In an in-home consultation, the client hires the designer at an hourly rate (including travel time to and from the project) which allows the client to ask whatever questions they want. Some recent questions have been . . . ‘should we move the kitchen into the garage’, ‘what color should I paint this room with this tile floor, which I love’, ‘what can we possibly do with that fireplace—I just can’t look at it another day’, or ‘I can’t figure out how to furnish this space with a door there and the fireplace over there’. Any and all questions are valid questions to ask. I arrive at your house ready to respond to your questions while lending whatever support I can to assist you in developing solutions to the most vexing of design problems.
Special care was taken in selecting the exterior paint colors for this house; especially to lighten the visual weight of the imposing double car garage and the darkly prominent concrete driveway.
Rarely do I leave a client’s home scratching my head; but if I should, my immediate desire is to get to my desk to work out a solution that will delight my client and . . . my designer within. Solving design problems is the first order of what I do as a professional; then, and only then, is it on to making the space comfortable and warmly beautiful!
The burnt orange-red color of the exterior doors is a fitting compliment to the lovely rose bush which lounges in the flower bed just outside the kitchen door.
I select paint colors all the time for projects in the office as well as numerous in-home paint consultations per month. And for years, I taught a class called ‘The Importance of Color’ which addressed selecting and using the right paint in residential interiors. I love color—beautiful color—and most of the time I enjoy making these paint selections but it is never a straight forward task.
There are many tasks that I do in the office—some fun, some not so fun; some easy, some much more difficult. However, none of these tasks is quite like selecting a paint palette—either for the interior or the exterior of a house. I don’t how other designers go about it, but selecting paint is one of the more strange things that I do [at least my version of it].
Bedroom wall color selection from the new paint collection called Williamsburg by Benjamin Moore. [Photo credit: Benjamin Moore].
First of all, I have to be in the right mood and I have to feel emotionally balanced.That may seem odd but color is the language of emotion. Color bypasses the intellect and speaks directly to your emotional center. Only if you are in an emotionally neutral place will you be able to really see and rightfully assess the hues before you. It is also important that I know my client’s likes and dislikes, as well as I can; and be familiar with the house that I am selecting the colors for. And it is equally important that I be well acquainted with the paint lines of the major paint manufacturers and know which company has hues and finishes which will support my design direction.
Then, there is the mystical part! I find that ‘my process’ is to slip into a kind-of-trance [years of meditation helps with this] which allows me to be led to the color families and collections which will work best for each room and which will work together as a whole house palette. What does this process look like? Well I start by pulling out all the fan decks and the paint brochures and piling them on the desk before me in full natural light so that I can ‘read’ the color before me. Over the years, I have also discovered the manufacturers I want to use and which companies produce the best hues of a particular color. The manufacturers that I prefer to work with these days are Benjamin Moore, Pittsburgh and Ralph Lauren Paints.
A wall color selection from the Williamsburg paint collection by Benjamin Moore Paints. [Photo credit: Benjamin Moore].
Then I just open myself to my design muse, staying in the moment with the colors and set off on a magical journey; really not knowing where I will end up. Invariably, it will be someplace much different, more nuanced, or more deeply developed than my initial concept. While I am looking at the various colors and chips, I repeatedly test each color selection with my sense of the client and the spirit of the house—the quality of the rooms, the quality of light, and the relationship of rooms to one another and, of course, the architectural style and the finish materials which want to be enhanced in one way or another by the paint selection. Only when I look back at the desk and all the materials strewn across the room could I possibly retrace the circuitous journey that led to the final paint selection.
On a recent project, I was asked to select paint colors for the major rooms of an oceanfront property on the north coast of Washington state with a spectacular view of the Salish Sea and British Columbia. My client and I had talked over the phone about a design direction for these rooms but in a loose way. So it was an utter surprise and a delight to me that I found myself delving into a new collection of paint from Benjamin Moore called Williamsburg. This is an intriguing paint collection which is inspired by the historic structures of Colonial Williamsburg. These colors while an obvious choice in an historical context have been updated and developed to please our contemporary taste as well. ‘Trend meets tradition’ is the tag line that Benjamin Moore developed for this collection.
A beautiful wall color and trim selection from the Williamsburg collection. [Photo credit: Benjamin Moore].
It was in the Willamsburg collection that I found the soft, dreamy sand color that is perfect for the walls of the vaulted living room. A tint of the wall color is perfect for the exposed rafters. And a warm, creamy off-white color for the ceiling is the perfect companion that sets these colors off while tying them all together.
This is a great collection that is worth checking out. And despite the fact that they were inspired by historic American structures in the old South, these colors are beautiful, classic and immensely suitable to the coast of the Pacific Northwest. They are very at home at the beach. Some of these colors are the colors of drift wood, beach grass and seashells on a warm, sun-drenched day! What could be more perfect on a looming, gray winter day?
Paint colors from the Williamsburg collection. [Photo credit: Benjamin Moore].
Dear readers of this blog,
I am delighted to announce that Houzz has selected Austin-Murphy Design for Best of Houzz Award for 2014. It was announced this month on February 4th.
We would like to thank all of our clients and supporters who have worked with us and who have encouraged us through the years . You know who you are. Thank you! You are the reason we have received this.
Cheers to you,
AUSTIN-MURPHY DESIGN of BELLINGHAM, WA Receives
Best Of Houzz 2014 Award
Annual Survey and Analysis of 16 Million Monthly Users
Reveals Top-Rated Building, Remodeling and Design Professionals
BELLINGHAM, WA, February 4, 2014 – AUSTIN-MURPHY DESIGN has been awarded “Best Of Houzz” by Houzz, the leading platform for home remodeling and design. The 30-year old interior and home remodel design studio was chosen by the more than 16 million monthly users that comprise the Houzz community.
The Best Of Houzz award is given in two categories: Customer Satisfaction and Design. Customer Satisfaction honors are determined by a variety of factors, including the number and quality of client reviews a professional received in 2013. Design award winners’ work was the most popular among the more than 16 million monthly users on Houzz, known as “Houzzers,” who saved more than 230 million professional images of home interiors and exteriors to their personal ideabooks via the Houzz site. Winners will receive a “Best Of Houzz 2014” badge on their profiles, showing the Houzz community their commitment to excellence. These badges help homeowners identify popular and top-rated home professionals in every metro area on Houzz.
“Austin-Murphy Design begins each project by resolving the inherent design challenges while carefully listening to the individual desires of each client and then adding just the right measure of design savvy, style, and comfort to satisfy the most discerning of clients.”
“Houzz provides homeowners with the most comprehensive view of home building, remodeling and design professionals, empowering them to find and hire the right professional to execute their vision,” said Liza Hausman, vice president of community for Houzz. “We’re delighted to recognize AUSTIN-MURPHY DESIGN among our “Best Of” professionals for customer satisfaction as judged by our community of homeowners and design enthusiasts who are actively remodeling and decorating their homes.”
With Houzz, homeowners can identify not only the top-rated professionals like AUSTIN-MURPHY DESIGN, but also those whose work matches their own aspirations for their home. Homeowners can also evaluate professionals by contacting them directly on the Houzz platform, asking questions about their work and reviewing their responses to questions from others in the Houzz community.
Follow AUSTIN-MURPHY DESIGN on Houzz http://www.houzz.com/pro/robam/austinmurphy-design
About AUSTIN-MURPHY DESIGN
Austin-Murphy Design is a small, design-driven studio dedicated to the very best in home remodeling and fine interior design. The company prides itself on its collaborative approach with its clients and the inspired designs that result. Warm, inviting and stylish—are the descriptive words that come to mind when you view one of their designs. But it is not until you sink into one of their rooms that you understand how truly comfortable and satisfying they really are.
Houzz is the leading platform for home remodeling and design, providing people with everything they need to improve their homes from start to finish – online or from a mobile device. From decorating a room to building a custom home, Houzz connects millions of homeowners, home design enthusiasts and home improvement professionals across the country and around the world. With the largest residential design database in the world and a vibrant community powered by social tools, Houzz is the easiest way for people to get the design inspiration, project advice, product information and professional reviews they need to help turn ideas into reality. For more information, visitwww.houzz.com
Last month I had the special opportunity to consult with a string of clients who contacted me after embarking on a home remodel project only to realize that they didn’t know how to proceed. One client told me forthrightly that they had built a house and remodeled another but they just didn’t know what to do with this house. Where should the refrigerator go; I want to move the pantry, where can it go; what are we going to do with that huge window, board it up? It was quite disconcerting to them that they didn’t know how to re-design their kitchen. Another couple told me that they thought that they would ‘wing it’ like they had in the past until they realized that they were over their heads with this one and might need a designer. I was glad to consult with all of them and offer them encouragement and creative ways to work with their spaces.
What this experience brought home for me is the realization that the average home owner is not adept at seeing and imagining their space differently. Many of these people had the idea that pulling this wall down or that wall down would be the trick, often irrespective of the structural implications of doing so. Or, they thought that a skylight here or there would be the answer to this or that when the quality of light wasn’t really why the space wasn’t working for them.
A new plan for this kitchen in a 1970’s ranch style house.
In the old kitchen the family could not turn around in it. By incorporating the former breakfast area, the kitchen could expand into the entire space and a large, new work table could be added to work as a much needed island.
This also underscored for me that most people in this situation don’t quite understand the importance of the floor plan. For me, the floor plan in a remodel or a new house is everything. It is the foundation on which the entire experience of the house is built. Most homeowners prefer to skip over the floor plan and get on with the fun stuff— picking the cabinets, beautiful paint colors, new appliances and yes, the perfect stone slab for the new counters. Regrettably, the floor plan is rarely the focus that it should be.
Why is this so? The simple answer, of course, is that reworking the plan is difficult for most people to conceive of. For this requires problem solving in three dimensions and deft spatial manipulation. It requires that you imagine how you want to live in your house, prioritize the activities that will occur there, and decide how to direct the traffic flow through and within the space. It means deciding how best to utilize the space you have and where to steal an inch or two here so that you can put it over there where it is most needed. And, this is just the beginning of the list of things that a skillful designer is going to look at and evaluate before incorporating it into the ‘final’ plan.
I know this first hand from my studies, training and years of remodeling experience. I also know it from teaching a course on home remodels for many years at the community college. My students would redesign their spaces with home remodel software and bring to class their redesign. It was truly amazing; they had produced a floor plan! And even though it kind of, sort of worked, these plans invariably lacked the qualities and the finesse that comes from an experienced practitioner who is deeply interested in ‘how we live at home’ and possesses the unique ability to fashion a space around the wants, needs and desires of the future inhabitants. Knowing how to do this is a skill that comes from experience, as well as, dare I say, a compulsion and a confidence to pull old ideas and old spaces apart to be rearranged in new and satisfying ways. If you don’t believe me, do give it a try yourself—it’s like writing a short story which requires a very clever idea, or two; patience, several drafts, and a lot of hard work to successfully complete the task. If you, on the other hand, are stuck or, one of the ones who wants to get on to the fun stuff, you may want to consider hiring a designer to help you through the forest.
An elevation study was developed for the clients because they needed help in understanding how the windows in the room could be arranged in the new design. In an attempt to balance the expanded space, windows were placed on either side of a pair of upper cabinets that frame the stove hood. It all looks obvious and natural in this presentation but in their own words, ‘we would have never come up with this!’
Detail from an arrangement on a sideboard at The Inn at Paradise Farms, the former bed and breakfast.
Over the holidays I picked up a book called Kitchens, Creating a Beautiful Kitchen of your Own by House Beautiful. In this book, there is a section called ‘composed kitchens’ and while there are many interesting designs that are wonderful, after so many designs of white kitchen after white kitchen I became snow blind. I yearned for color and more personal or individualistic kitchens.
This reminded me of a class that I taught at the community college on how to create a personal style at home. It was a great class and the focus was to look at how to create residential spaces from a very personal perspective. What became obvious in looking at these ‘white’ kitchen designs was that they were the result of the style-makers promoting shiny white subway tile and everyone in this section seemed to have jumped on board with the directive resulting in all these kitchens covered in white subway tile. [FYI, I think subway tile is great, I love it; but first ask yourself is that what is right for you and your kitchen?]
A expanded shot of the sideboard and the piano window. In this design, the personal style part, was to design interiors that were historical, romantic and deeply evocative of an earlier time while being contemporary in sensibility.
This led me to think about how I work with my clients. It is very important to me that each design is original and specific to that client, their house and their budget. Perhaps that is not unusual but I know from experience that there needs to be a strong desire from the very beginning, one backed by a certain dedication to the task at hand by all parties, in order for it to succeed. The easiest way for this to happen is if you have a clear idea of what you want [few clients do], or you can hire a designer who will work with you to explore that with you in a design collaboration where the client is an equal partner. This is how those designs which are truly fresh and original were created. It takes time, exploration, and some patience but it is worth it and, in the end, it is truly the only way that designs of this personal nature are created. Just like any other creative project there is an exploration and study phase before the final, mature design emerges.
One of the things that I did in this class was to ask a series of questions to stimulate a more thorough exploration into what they wanted their design to be. I have included some of those questions here that you might use them to explore whatever remodel or interior design project that you are looking at. And, certainly add questions which are specifically tailored to your needs and especially questions which will take you deep into your design exploration and personal style.
The personal style aspect in this design is to celebrate a deep sense of quiet, peace and the simplicity of an era before the electronic age. Natural light is a key player in this very personal design, shadow and reflection animate the rooms and seem to elongate time.
Ask these questions to get started …
- What is the purpose of this space?
- What are the qualities you would like to experience in this room?
- Do you have a vision for this room? What is it?
- What is it that you want to express about yourself/ or your lifestyle through your design choices?
- Are their additional activities that occur in this space/ room?
- How do you want to feel when you walk into your space?
- What are the finish materials that you want—what do you really love and are certain you want to experience in your project?
- What furnishings are required for the room to function which could reinforce the feeling that you want to create?
- What are the colors that would help to set that mood or feeling?
- What are the decorative objects that you would incorporate to further reinforce your design? Do you have a collection that needs to be displayed?
- What is it that you would like to explore about yourself, or your life, or your interests that would be fun to factor into the design of your room?
- What is the architectural style of the home that your room is in—does your room’s interior design direction have continuity with the house style and feel, or not?
- What about art and the importance that art could play in your room?
- What are some words that capture the essence of what you want to create? Choose evocative words that suggest feelings, atmosphere and emotion.
A small Venetian wood lamp and brass colonial candlesticks illuminate a guest bedroom. This guest room retreat is full of a deep quiet and a timelessness as thick as the down comforter.
I have been working on the ‘restoration’ of a 1920’s bungalow over the last few years with some great clients. Recently we completed the mudroom/laundry room which happens also to be the most used entrance to the house—connecting the garage, the backyard patio and guest suite, the kitchen and the main living areas beyond.
The custom cabinets were made locally and glazed with a soft, understated linear brushstroke.
The original house was built as a bungalow farm house in the 1920’s and was remodeled by the current owner twenty years ago. That remodel included the addition of the mudroom/laundry room, a two car garage, and an attached guest suite consisting of a bedroom and full bath which is accessed from the patio.
The 1993 remodel added the much needed mudroom/ laundry room, however, the room was finished out in a purely utilitarian manner. This included an off-white linoleum tile floor on the concrete slab, white slab panel laminate cabinets with an oak strip, an un-inspired laminate counter top and builder’s white painted walls. Two inexpensive fluorescent fixtures with exposed bulbs illuminated the main space.
This is the most used entrance door to the house that opens directly into the laundry room.
When I was invited to redesign this space, we had already completed the remodel of the main part of the house. So it was natural that we would continue with the updated Craftsman style established in the rest of the house. This includes new metal clad wood cottage windows and doors, custom wood wainscot paneling, custom cabinets, recessed and decorative lighting, and upgraded but budget-conscious finishes.
Upon analyzing the space, the aspect of the room that struck me as the most problematic [and potential] was the tall and narrow 12’-0” high space ascending triumphantly to two exposed fluorescent fixtures! This soaring space, full of potential, had been ignored. This being the most used entrance to the house it seemed that it would be appropriate to treat this room as a proper entrance to the house, which it truly is. I also felt that it needed the addition of some of the architectural elements that had been successfully added to other parts of the remodeled house [see Klein remodel].
It was my desire to add visual interest to the upper regions of the laundry room that became the inspiration for the ceiling design which, it turns out, has became the signature element of the entire space. Three substantial recycled pine beams were sourced from a local supplier to add a touch of historic ‘authenticity’ to the twenty year old space, as well as infuse it with the raw beauty of the reclaimed timbers while at the same time adding spatial dimension to the ceiling plane. Add to this, smaller wood perimeter beams, a two-piece painted perimeter trim board and tongue-and-groove wood ceiling boards to complete the ceiling composition. Four, contemporary black iron light fixtures with cream linen shades cascade from the beams, creating another layer of interest and good ambient illumination.
The reclaimed wood beams had once been structural supports in a vintage Boeing airplane facility. The wood beams and the tongue and groove planks on the ceiling add an authenticity and visual interest to the upper ceiling which the original design sorely lacked.
A detail of the ceiling at the beam where a hardwired pendant fixture with a linen shade articulates the upper regions of the ceiling plane. The black iron adds a nice contrast within the space and reinforces the iron knobs and pulls on the cabinets.
A detail of the crown on the tall storage cabinet as it rises to the beam hovering above it. The reclaimed pine beams were only slightly sanded and finished with a clear sealer so that they would retained their robust natural qualities.
Other features of the room that contribute to and reinforce the craftsman style of the remodel is the tall two-tone painted craftsman paneled wainscot and the custom Shaker style cabinets with inset bead board panels in a hand-brushed cream colored glaze. Rustic cast iron cabinet pulls and knobs add period flavor and an interesting counterpoint to the 1920’s style cabinets. A large format [18”x 18”] porcelain floor tile in shades of brown, tan, gray and gray-blue was carefully chosen for the ground level floor which is but a few muddy steps away from the vegetable garden and the perennial flower border which surrounds this comfortable country bungalow.
This is the tall wainscot panel design that was developed for the laundry room and stair landing off of the kitchen.
This is the pantry area adjacent to the kitchen which supports the kitchen with additional storage, especially the tall pull-out pantry units. The oak floor is new and is employed to visually extend the kitchen into this stair landing.
Finally, I would like to point out that the ‘café-au-lait’ paint selection for the painted wall above the tall wainscot would not be considered an historic Craftsman color. Rather, this color was selected to evoke the Craftsman bungalow style. It is the perfect color for this client and works wonderfully with the other paint colors in this warm and self-assured Pacific Northwest home.
A luscious, sunlit detail of a simple flower arrangement on a Chinese bench in front of an intricate Chinese bamboo settee.
I meet with new clients week in and week out. Some have worked with designers before, but many have not. For those who have not, they often don’t know what they should expect when working with a designer. While this is not surprising, selecting a designer need not be confusing to the perspective client.
Here is a list of questions to ask yourself, or the designer who you are interviewing which should help you to move forward with your selection in confidence.
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What will my remodel cost? Simple enough of a question certainly, but the answer to that question is not so simple. For the remodel contractor or the designer this question is similar to asking a car salesman how much does a car cost without knowing the make, model, or features of that car.
What will it cost to remodel this house? There are many questions that have to be answered before a cost estimate can be achieved. Taking the time to do this upfront will serve you and your project in the end.
Unfortunately, the only way to approach a reasonable answer to this question is to define what the remodel encompasses. The best way to do this is to have a lengthy conversation with your design professional to talk about what you want the remodel to achieve. Once you have a description of the work, then the designer can begin to do some preliminary design work to explore the design possibilities for your specific project.
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I’m working on a house remodel for a couple and their adolescent son. Their house is a rather typical 1950’s rambler with an especially large living room at the front of the house. The dining room is on the back of the house however it is open to the living room—a new concept at the time. The kitchen on the other hand is an enclosed room on the back of the house with an alcove for the washer and dryer.
This is the Original Floor Plan. Notice the large living room with fireplace and the constricted entrance and hall. The dining room is open to the living room but is tight and the kitchen is at the back of the house and closed off from the living room and there is no access to the backyard.
This kitchen certainly needs to be updated—it is the original kitchen which has been left pretty much untouched. It’s not as functional as the wife would like it to be and also lacks the storage areas that the family requires. More importantly she wants the kitchen to be opened to the front of the house living spaces. A second, very important need is to create a new dedicated mudroom/ laundry room.
When analyzing the floor plan and looking at how this family lives in their house it became clear that the large living room square footage was not being used to best advantage and that some of that space could be used to make the rest of the house function and flow better. The real design challenge came when eliminating the wall that separated the kitchen from living room—what could I do to make up for all that counter space and overhead cabinets that would be lost in eliminating this wall?
I studied various kitchen plan options—L-shaped, with or without an island; the L-configuration on this wall or that wall, but none of these designs had enough cabinet storage and the layouts didn’t relate to the living room in the way that I wanted.
It wasn’t until I decided to create a broken u-shaped kitchen and place the dining table in the middle did it all fit into place. The big benefit of this was that we were combining the square footage of the separate kitchen and dining room into one space. This allowed for three long legs of the broken U-shaped kitchen with lots of floor to ceiling cabinets, a pantry area, and a baking area. This also allowed me to create a separate laundry room, to widen the circulation corridor through it, as well as add a much needed long wall of storage cabinets and a laundry sink across from the washer and dryer.
The New Floor Plan opens the kitchen to the rest of the house. The Eat-In kitchen design puts the table in the center of the space and three long legs of counters surround the table. The space is now connected to the living room and to family members using that room.
The hidden benefit of the eat-in kitchen is that the dining table can now serve in many capacities— snacking, dining area, a kitchen work area, a project’s area, and a place for guests to gather around when a meal is being prepared. This eat-in kitchen has become the center of this family remodel while being open to the rest of the living room so that these two spaces function as one. The pleasures of cooking, eating and entertaining all merge into one spacious, family friendly great room.
In addition to all these benefits, the reconfigured living room also allowed for the creation of a generous foyer, which the house lacked, with a bench, a display shelf and a new storage wall which is accessed from the bedroom hallway behind.
This eat-in design satisfies all the client’s needs and so much more than what was on their original wish list!
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The former vanity was made new again with the replacement of new door and drawer fronts, marble slab top and marble tile back splash. The vanity was painted a medium tone color to warm up the marble.
I’ve had the pleasure of working with a wonderful client over the years on her classic craftsman bungalow in Bellingham, WA. Our first project was a major restoration to the front elevation of her house. The exterior porch which ran the length of the front of the house had been badly infilled which thoroughly destroyed the appeal of the home.
When it came time to updating the master bath the client was set upon using white marble which evoked for her the historic period of the house. And even though the house is a fine example of the bungalow style and classic, it was not a grand house and would not have originally had polished marble used as a finish material.
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