Master Bathroom Reveal

Designing a bathroom is a little more complex than installing a closet - as I found out first hand! The room isn’t a blank canvas of a neat box, but instead more of a puzzle of plumbing, structural issues, and of course, organizing needs.

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Before we started the design, I knew exactly how I wanted to organize the space. We wanted a separate tub and shower, as well as a water closet with a door, and double sinks. I have found that double sinks are one of those little luxuries that really cut down on minor spousal squabbles! And I wanted both individual and shared storage areas, since many toiletries are person specific but you also need a spot for medication, first aid supplies, and other things everyone uses.

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I worked closely with both my architect, Stuart Hills of Apparatus Architecture, and my contractor (no website, booked for the next 3 years, that’s life in San Francisco) to create the design. I picked out the herringbone floor tile and marble counter top, and suggested the black on white tile frames on the opposing walls. It was my contractor who suggested turning a negative (an extremely thick foundation that runs along the back wall of the entire room) into a positive (the continuous counter top that gives us an extra deep sink area and provides a shelf in both the shower and tub areas). And it was Stuart who steered me away from a tile backsplash (too dated) and suggested instead that we mount the medicine cabinets and light fixtures on a mirrored surface.

There are, as ever, trade offs whenever you design a space. In order to get the aforementioned double sinks, we had to sacrifice vanity storage space. So, we went with medicine cabinets for our individual toiletry needs, and use the drawers in the middle of the vanity for shared products. The under sink areas each have pull out drawers where we store backup and travel sized products. 

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I’m really big into uncluttered surfaces in my own home. So, everything that you can see out on the countertop has a purpose and was specifically selected. In the shower, that means only the products we use daily are there. It’s aesthetically pleasing, but totally unnecessary, to pick a single brand for your shower - hey Kiehl’s, if you were to make a shaving cream for ladies, that would really completely my picture here - it’s just important to edit down to what you really need. I’m also a fan of buying larger containers where possible to cut down on the amount of plastic you use overall.

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Clutter free living in a bathroom also means that my medicine cabinet has to hold all my skincare and hair products. Since this photo was taken, I have actually also moved all my makeup here as well - the mirrored storage unit on the counter by the tub was bugging me! I manage this by maintaining a high quality, tightly edited collection. Although I’m actually quite a product junkie, following new releases and keeping a list of things I’d like to try, I follow a hard and fast rule: I can only have one of each type of product open and in use at any one time, with no more than one backup stored for when it runs out. No, I can’t buy everything shiny, new, and pretty to hit the market. But, what I do have is everything I need at my fingertips and a truly enjoyable primping experience because I love each and every product (well, maybe not the zit cream…).

I’m so happy with how our master bathroom turned out, and I feel like I’ve settled into a nice groove of being able to get ready efficiently every day. Because that’s what organizing is all about in the end - making life easier!


My Shot at "Project Pan"

I’m a quality over quantity kind of girl. Whether we’re talking about clothes/shoes/accessories or kitchen appliances, I’d rather spend a little more time and money on the right thing than go through multiple iterations of the wrong thing.

This extends to makeup and toiletries. For skin care, I trust the expert advice of my dermatologist, but when it comes to bath, body, hair, and makeup products I don’t have that one resource who will tell me exactly what I need and nothing more.

So it was that I started reading beauty product reviews online. And if you spend much time doing that at all, you inevitably start wading into the vast online beauty community, filled with jargon and acronyms and interest subgroups. That’s where I ran across the phenomenon known as “panning.”

The term comes from the fact that when you’ve used a lot of a powder makeup product, you will eventually see the bottom of the container, or pan. When you are doing a "project pan," you’re trying to use up one or more products.  That’s something I can get behind!

Just like with my closet, my goal for makeup is to have a tightly edited, high quality collection that I really enjoy using. On a daily basis, I wear very little: nothing if I’m doing organizing appointments or working from home, a basic five-step face if I’m going to meetings or a daytime event. However, I do have fun with more dramatic colors and styles for parties and dinners out!

Please excuse any yuckiness, NARS packaging is notoriously sticky and difficult to clean!

Please excuse any yuckiness, NARS packaging is notoriously sticky and difficult to clean!

In the course of identifying products that work for me, there are a few things that I used to love, but find that I’m not as excited about anymore. Because I don’t like wasting things, I decided that I would do my very own “project pan” and try harder to use up these items. They are:

  1. Dior Lip Glows in Lilac and Coral. Both skew really bright pink on me, while I would have liked to see more of an actual lilac or coral color.
  2. NARS lip glosses that are now old enough that I can’t read the labels on the bottoms of them! I like the colors, but I these days prefer a sheer lipstick formula to a sticky gloss.
  3. NARS The Multiple in Orgasm - this is a cult favorite makeup product and I used and loved it for so long that this is actually my second tube! These days, I find the glitter to be a bit much.
  4. Lancôme Tient Miracle foundation in Ivoire - the color match and formula are good, but going forward I’ll look for something even lighter weight and more moisturizing for every day.
  5. Lancôme Dual Finish powder foundation in Porcelaine I - again, good color and formula, but I’d like to transition to using a loose translucent powder for a less heavy effect.
FYI, the Dior Lip Glows go pretty fast. Powder foundation... not so much!

FYI, the Dior Lip Glows go pretty fast. Powder foundation... not so much!

The great thing with beauty products is that, unlike clothes, shoes, and accessories, they really can be used up in a reasonable amount of time - and the feeling of accomplishment is awesome! That said, sometimes the value of using something up completely is overtaken by the total drag it is to do so. I’m pretty optimistic about my progress on the lip glows, cheek stick, foundation, and powder - but I’m starting to think that those lip glosses have served me well enough and might have to hit the trash can.

When people think of professional organizers, their thoughts often tend to spaces like closets and home offices. However, I also love to organize bathrooms - there’s nothing more relaxing than getting ready in a pretty, airy space with all the things you need close at hand and nothing you don’t need cluttering everything up. If this sounds good to you, let’s talk!


What I'm Organizing: How to Pick a Bathtub

I've referred before to the fact that we're currently renovating our house.  And after 8 months of construction, we've started to accelerate towards the finish and I'm finding that I need to keep my eye on more moving parts than I did during earlier phases.

Last week, for example, I picked out a bathtub.  My contractor was getting antsy to have specs (can't blame him), my architect was busy with other things (can't blame him either), and I knew the best way to get this done was to do it myself.  So, I drove on down to Excel Plumbing, sat down with consultant Irene Lee, and found the perfect tub in about 10 minutes.

This one: the  Liberty freestanding bathtub  by Hydro Systems

This one: the Liberty freestanding bathtub by Hydro Systems

That might sound like I'm exaggerating, but I promise you I'm not.  Add on about 5-7 minutes waiting for Irene to finish with her previous customer and another 10 minutes to peruse sinks and toilets (since, you know, I was already there), and I was in an out in under half an hour.  How did I do it?

1) I know what I like.  Note that I don't zero in on exactly what I want, because this can lead to a wild goose chase for something that doesn't exist - there is not actually infinite choice in the home decor space!  But I'm confident in our vision of how we want our home to look, and I trust my gut.

2) I'm willing to stop the search once I find something I really like.  This one is tough in our world, since there are so many options in every category of things to consume.  But I find that I can minimize stress and save everyone time by sticking to the first thing that really catches my attention in a unique way.  There's very little to be gained through an absolutely exhaustive search.

I honestly cannot recommend Excel Plumbing, and Irene in particular, more highly.  She is a total pro: she has encyclopedic knowledge about everything she carries (which is a lot), gives great advice, and tells you about potential problems before they even come up.  They carry a wide range of products, all of them mid to high end - think Grohe faucets, Villeroy & Boch sinks, Toto washlets - and give everyone who walks in the door very competitive pricing.

We still have a couple more months to go - all I'm hoping is to have a finished downstairs by the time the holidays roll around!



What I'm Organizing - Everyday Sparkle

I'm into fashion, but to be totally honest with you, I’m not very good at accessories.  Conventional wisdom says that accessories complete an outfit, but somehow when I try to incorporate them creatively I feel like I leap over the line into trying-too-hard territory.

I think part of the issue is that my taste in jewelry runs to the small and simple.  Not TOO small, because I am not a particularly delicately proportioned person, but I’ve just never been a fan of gaudier, bulkier styles.  For example, anything with pavé diamonds is my personal kryptonite.

So, instead of trying to keep up with the latest trends in jewelry on a daily basis, I usually wear a tightly edited set of simple, meaningful pieces.  It's only when I have more time to think things through that I bust into my small collection of inherited treasures and costume jewelry.   

I keep my jewelry in an undisclosed location, and it was becoming a serious pain  to pull out my standby pieces at the beginning and end of every day - because, of course, I am an organizer and I hate leaving things just laying around.  I started keeping them out on the bathroom counter, but that made me nervous - one false move and they'd go sliding down the sink drain, never to be heard from again.  I am, it must be said, a clumsy person.

Fortunately, the right answer arrived in the form of a stocking stuffer this past Christmas: a fun little china dish my mom found.  It's just the right size to keep my daily essentials, and looks cute out on my bathroom counter.  After a couple of months of incorporating this jewelry dish into my daily routine, I definitely think it strikes the right balance between a strategy that works and a decorative addition to my space.

Clockwise from top left: pink sapphire and diamond engagement and wedding rings, picked out by my husband; Cartier trinity bracelet, a gift from my husband; diamond solitaire necklace, a gift from my husband; Cartier trinity ring, a gift from my husband; diamond stud earrings, a gift from my parents; Omega Lady Seamaster watch, a gift from my parents

Clockwise from top left: pink sapphire and diamond engagement and wedding rings, picked out by my husband; Cartier trinity bracelet, a gift from my husband; diamond solitaire necklace, a gift from my husband; Cartier trinity ring, a gift from my husband; diamond stud earrings, a gift from my parents; Omega Lady Seamaster watch, a gift from my parents

You can see the theme here: my daily jewelry has been picked for me by the people who love me most, and so these pieces mean even more to me than their aesthetic contribution to an outfit.  When I put them on every morning, I'm reminded that I'm loved and cared for.  Of course, I do love the look of these simple, classic pieces, otherwise I wouldn't be so happy wearing them all the time!

For me, having my skin care, hair care, makeup, and jewelry routines dialed in exactly where I want them means I have more space in my brain to put together the things I have fun with varying, like clothes and shoes.  We all have those things we love doing and the things that stress us out - I recommend making a routine out of the latter so you can fully enjoy the former!


Healthy Hair Habits

My hair is fine, thin, and straight.  I’ve been annoyed with its tendency to flatten to the sides of my head and limply droop into my eyes for my entire life.  Even with a variety of fancy products, it will barely hold a curl or even fluff up off my scalp.  And my decades long habit of creating the same severe side part probably wasn’t helping things. 

My stylist, Jenn, has always gently encouraged me to move my part around, wash my hair less often, and avoid heat styling.  At first, I resisted.  I had been an every other day washer since childhood and even then the second day was borderline greaseball.  Plus, the only thing that seemed to make my hair look soft and fluffy was a good blow dry.

However, I got pretty exasperated with how fried my hair looked, and I started to make some changes.  This past year, I finally committed to a totally new strategy.  And of course, Jenn was right!  I just got a fresh chop, and she was so happy with how healthy my hair is now.

Here’s what I do:

·      Wash and condition with moisturizing shampoo and conditioner every three days.  Conditioner only goes on ends.

·      Wring out and comb hair, then wrap it in a microfiber towel until halfway dry.

·      Remove microfiber towel, lightly finger comb hair straight back from face, and leave it alone until totally dry.

Freshly washed... drowned rat... finished product!

Um, that’s it.  Sometimes I throw a little dry shampoo in there if I have to be acceptable for public viewing on third day hair. 

Of course, there are caveats.  I do have a specific hair type and realize that my strategy probably won’t work for everyone.  I encourage you to consult a stylist you trust to develop your own healthy hair routine!  Also, I have to admit that it took awhile to see a difference with this routine, especially since I made the transition gradually.  This is no overnight fix, but I do think it was worth it for me.

And of course, the best part of this whole thing is that it’s simple, straightforward, and has become an easy habit that doesn’t take up a lot of space in either my bathroom or my brain.  Plus, there's no pressure to research or shop for products, which saves me both time and money.

I do believe that as we get older, natural beauty can appear more youthful, which is why my makeup and hair routines are so simple.  I may change my mind in the future, but for now it’s all about that fresh faced look!


Habit Forming

There’s an important aspect of organizing that I’ve only briefly touched on here: habits.  Being organized on a daily basis is as much about how you use things as it is about where you store them.  Think of forming organized habits as creating life shortcuts: when you make a good habit, it streamlines your day, leaving you more time and energy to address things you really care about.

Where to start?  Think about something you do daily and likely causes you uncertainty: your skincare routine.

There are so many skincare products in the universe, all shouting at you with impossible promises and beautiful packaging, that it’s no wonder our bathroom cabinets and drawers become inundated with countless tubes, bottles, and jars.  And it’s exhausting to live with that kind of clutter, to spend time contemplating the next beauty purchase, to worry about the safety and provenance of ingredients – or to feel like you’re just missing out on all of that because it’s too overwhelming to even think about!

Here are the steps I used to create my skincare routine:

  1. get advice from a trusted authority
  2. fully commit to the routine for at least a month before trying something else
  3. once the routine works, get rid of everything else

The authority I trust is Dr. Kathleen Welsh.  She’s one of the most popular dermatologists in San Francisco for a reason: all her clients have amazing skin and look youthful, but none of them look artificial.  

I basically adopted the routine Dr. Welsh prescribed verbatim, a research based strategy that includes growth factors, retinoids, antioxidants, and of course SPF. There are 7 steps, which at first alarmed me – I was always a moisturizer and go kind of girl, applauding myself for adding eye cream and sunscreen in recent years.  But I now have the routine down and I’d estimate it takes me maybe 4 minutes start to finish.  Not a bad price to pay for great skin!

Your skin is obviously different from mine (mostly dry, a bit sensitive, prone to hormonal acne in the chin region, mild rosacea on cheeks, signs of aging to be expected in a 34 year old), so your routine will be different.  But here’s what I do:

  1. Prescription rosacea medication
  2. Skin Medica TNS Essential Serum
  3. Algenist eye cream
  4. Prescription Obagi Tretinoin Gel 
  5. Prescription Obagi Blender 
  6. Topix Fortified Facial Cream
  7. Algenist sunscreen

I was surprised to learn that two of the products I had fretted over most – eye cream and sunscreen – were the least crucial in terms of getting brand and ingredients exactly right.  Per Dr. Welsh, any moisturizing eye cream that doesn’t break you out and any physical sunscreen of SPF 30+ (must contain zinc oxide, titanium dioxide, or both) will work.

You’ll note my brand loyalty to Algenist.  A Sephora associate recommended it to me when I was looking to upgrade my skin care a few years ago, I love the formulas, and Dr. Welsh gave them the thumbs up.  I stock up when Sephora has a sale and store backups as I mentioned in this post.

Also shown: my collection of aluminum-free deodorants (a saga for another day), hair products, and nail products.

I store my skin products in these drawer dividers – love them for their adaptability and the way the bamboo blends into its surroundings.  My bathroom has really deep drawers so it makes sense to stand everything on end, but if I were designing from scratch I’d have shallower drawers and lay products so that labels were visible.

Like any other habit, it does take a little work to find a skincare routine that really works for you.  But I do believe it’s worth it -  I’m now basically immune to the endless stream of skincare advertising that comes my way!


What's In My Shower?

Getting organized is as much about the little spaces as it as about the major storage areas in your home.  When you think about organizing your home, you probably think of rooms to tackle: purge the closet, convert the spare room into a usable home office, make the garage a place for cars to park again.  However, don’t forget about the small things you interact with daily that, if you simplify, will streamline your life.

One example: your shower.

Here’s mine.  I have a total of five products plus two tools: shampoo, conditioner, body wash, face wash, shaving cream, loofah, razor.  I keep a backup stash of each item in a bin under the sink (this post explains my strategy to buy in bulk and decant into appropriate storage), and new items only migrate to the shower when the previous container is empty.

I share my shower with my husband, and like many men he doesn’t have strong preferences about body care products but will use with abandon whatever is placed in his line of sight.  So, I select products I like and that work for my skin and hair, but that aren’t so expensive that I’ll be upset if I find my husband squeezing three or four shampoos’ worth into his hand at once!

Side note: Dollar Shave Club is the best thing ever.  There’s a learning curve to using their razors since the angle is different than the curvy pink and turquoise lady razors you might be used to, but the price and ease of purchase cannot be beat.  Plus, I always enjoy avoiding the Pink Tax whenever possible!

How could you streamline your shower to make getting ready even simpler?


Resources for an Organized Move Part 4

Our last move five years ago still stands out in my mind as an epically uncomfortable time.  Not only did I not get to use my favorite movers, but we were also unprepared for the sheer volume of stuff and didn’t strategize appropriately.  Learn from my mistakes and organize throughout your move so that you can reduce your own pain and suffering!

1)   Pack a suitcase for the week surrounding your move.  Even if you label every box correctly, it’s still going to take you a few days to find and unpack your closet.  Having a reliable stash of the clothes, accessories, and toiletries you need will go a long way towards making the transition more comfortable.

Photo courtesy of

2)   Get an inflatable mattress, and bring that, your packed suitcase, and a full set of towels and bedding (including mattress pad and all your pillows for maximum comfort) to your new place the night before the move.  That way, you’re not trying to make a mad dash to throw everything together in the morning before the movers arrive.  And, if you’re moving more than one or two bedrooms your move will likely take more than one day, so now you have a comfy and free place to sleep in the middle.  We love the queen sized Aerobed sold at Costco because it’s really easy to use and super comfortable – I actually woke up the first morning at our new place dreaming I was in my old bed!

3)   Make sure every box gets labeled with both contents and location.  This way, you only have to move a box into your new place once, instead of having to transport things from a giant pile in one room.

Each box had exactly the same amount of packing paper in it...

4)   As you’re unpacking, take the time to flatten and stack the newsprint that movers use to pad items as they pack them.  You would be amazed at the amount of space that stuff can take up.  Even if you crumple it as tightly as you can, it expands and practically becomes sentient.  Bonus: if you keep your boxes and packing materials neat and tidy as you unpack, they’ll be easier to sell or give away!

5)   Unpack your bedroom and bathroom first.  There’s takeout in the world so dishes can wait, but nothing will make you feel human like a good night’s sleep in your own bed and getting ready in the morning with all your stuff close at hand.

Let me know if you can think of any other must-have tips for moving!


A Pretty Way to Store Makeup

This is a bit embarrassing to admit, but until a couple of months ago I was storing my makeup the same way I had since HIGH SCHOOL.  You guys, I just went to my 15th high school reunion. 

I kept all my makeup in an aluminum train case similar to this one, and usually stashed it on a shelf or under a sink.  Between moving in and out of dorm rooms every year through high school and college, this system worked.  Everything stayed together, it was a reasonable size that discouraged excessive purchasing, and it kept things from rattling around and breaking too much.  If you’re in a mobile phase of life, I do recommend a train case for your beauty products!

However, I have now been living in my very own home for five years, the train case was falling apart, and it was becoming just plain inconvenient to have to dive under my sink for makeup.  I was on the hunt for a new makeup storage method.

 A lot of bloggers love the Muji (and copycat) clear acrylic makeup storage containers.  These are great for visual people, since you can see everything at a glance.  They’re also infinitely customizable for your particular collection, which means you can create a solution that fits all your products but doesn’t waste space.  However, I don’t personally love the look of acrylic, and having all my makeup out in the open feels too cluttered for my aesthetic.

Fortunately, I stumbled across this makeup storage unit from Pottery Barn (I have the small size).  The mirrored outside helps the entire piece blend into its surroundings, but since it’s open on the top I can still see most of my products at a glance.  I also love that it’s the perfect size to have a complete makeup collection with a good variety of options without overbuying. 

The only part I don’t like is that there isn’t a small enough compartment to keep my makeup brushes clustered together and standing up straight.  I’m on the hunt for a small cylindrical container that will fit inside on of the upper compartments to wrangle my brushes.


Decluttering Nail Polish

I started painting my own nails when my husband and I temporarily relocated to London in 2011. I had gotten spoiled with no-frills but effective $20 mani/pedis in SF and was in the habit of getting them once every 2-3 weeks. Imagine my surprise when I went looking for a similar no-frills place in my London neighborhood and discovered I'd have to pay £35 or more - then the equivalent of about $50. Yikes!

At first, my results were pretty rough. But I need to keep my nails painted in order to prevent my nasty habit of destroying my own cuticles, so I kept at it. I'm now very comfortable with painting my own nails regularly and at this point I usually go in for a mani/pedi about every 2 months for maintenance.  Along the way, I've acquired quite a nail polish collection!  

As with most things organization related, if you don't see it, it doesn't exist!  Plus, I think the bright colors of nail polish can add something to an otherwise neutral bathroom.  So, I store the polish bottles in large glass cannisters from Restoration Hardware (now discontinued).  And in keeping with the principle of storing togther the things you use togther, I keep Q-tips and cotton pads accessible in smaller cannisters.  

Butter London full size polishes L-R: Cheeky Chops, Pearly Queen, Fiddlesticks, Sylver Brydells, Pistol Pink, Tart With A Heart

Deborah Lippmann mini polishes L-R: Bring on the Bling, Diamonds and Pearls

OPI polishes L-R: unkown minis, all with liquid sand finish, And This Little Piggy, I Don't Give A Rotterdam

Also in line with my organizational maxim of only keeping the things you use and love, I just went through and edited out quite a few colors I don't wear - some were freebies, or came with a set of other colors I loved.  Let me know if any of these catch your eye - I'd be happy to give them to you rather than consign them to the landfill!