Cool desks for back-to-school—and ideas for where to put them

Posted by Lauran

Whether you’re looking at third grade, 12th grade or the last year of college, let’s face it: homework is just around the corner. Before you know it there will be books, folders and laptops all around your home. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a cool spot designated just for studying? Even if you don’t have a separate home office or library per se (and many of us don’t), you can still set up desk space in a corner of a dining room, family room or bedroom. Here’s some inspiration for you.


A desk tucked into a bedroom corner, via DIY Playbook

closet office

Make a small homework station inside of a closet! via beneathmyheart

desk in LR

A homework station fits perfectly on the side of a fireplace in this living room; via Apartment Therapy, via Rebecca Hayes on Houzz

desk teen room

In this teen’s room, the desk sits right in front of a window; via Meme Hill

office in LR2

The corner of the living room is also a homework space! via Apartment Therapy

Once you find the perfect spot, you’ll need a cool desk on the smaller side to fit just right. We’ve rounded up some of the best small desks out there, in a broad range of prices. And hurry–because most of them are on sale right now!


target storage shelf desk

Room Essentials Storage Shelf desk, $62.99 on sale

TARGET porter desk

Porter Mid-Century Modern Writing Desk, $161.49 on sale

target desk

Writing Desk by Techni Mobili, $142.49 on sale

Land of Nod


New School Table with Bench, $249.97 on sale


Modern Schoolhouse Desk, $249.97 on sale


Metalwork Desk, $299.97 on sale

Pottery Barn Teen

PBT locker-desk-

Locker Desk, $719 on sale

PBT dover-desk-o

Kelly Slater Dover desk, $639 on sale



Lillasen desk, $149


Lisabo desk, $149


Kullaberg desk, $139

OK, what are you waiting for? Ready, set, go sharpen those pencils!

Book review: Dream Home by the Property Brothers

Posted by Lauran

It’s impossible not to love the Property Brothers. Jonathan and Drew Scott seem like the nicest, smartest, most personable guys around. I have spent many a rainy day watching Property Brothers and Buying & Selling marathons. These guys know what they are doing. So it makes total sense that they would wrap up all that knowledge—buying, selling, and renovating—into one book: Dream Home.

dream home cover & page-1

This handy guide starts with the story of Drew and Jonathan: their early days of modest house flipping, their real estate and design/construction careers, and finally how they created their own entertainment company. It’s pretty inspiring.

The first section of Dream Home focuses on that age-old question: should I stay or should I go?  The Scott Brothers help you define what your version of a “dream home” is by having you create a “must have”, “nice to have”, and “doesn’t matter” checklist. Then the book helps you decide if that dream home could be the one you already live in (after a few improvements), or if you need to move to find your ideal home. It includes a very clear checklist that walks you through all the scenarios to consider, and also spells out how much it costs to move vs. remodel.

If you decide to go (i.e. sell your house and buy a new one), you’ll find tons of essential information about how to find a real estate agent, how to prep your home for sale, and even how to set the price for your home. It includes great cleaning and repair task lists to help sellers focus on the most important things.

The section about buying a new home is very thorough, including information about making a strong offer and common buying blunders. My favorite part is their definition of real estate “code words”, which they claim agents use to mask flaws in a home. For example, “artistic” means weird paint colors, “new roof” means everything else is old, and “natural landscaping” means no landscaping. I’m not sure if all of these are true, but they are amusing.

(Note to Bay Area readers: A lot of the buying and selling information in Dream Home does not apply to the Bay Area market. Yes, in order to sell your home you need to clean it and make repairs, but you don’t need to add a walk-in master closet or master bathroom. In a hot market like Oakland and Berkeley, demand greatly outweighs supply so the standards that apply elsewhere are different. Similarly, buyers here simply cannot afford to be picky about location and getting everything they want in a home. And most homes sell significantly above asking, so there’s not a lot of strategy involved in making an offer—you offer as much as you possibly can, the first time.)

The second half of the book moves into remodeling your home: how and when to work with pros vs. trying to DIY your home upgrades, common floor plan fixes, and what it’s really like to live in your home during a reno (check out the makeshift kitchen below).

living in reno

Their checklist of renovations that give you the best return on investment and the most enjoyment is extremely helpful in helping you prioritize the changes you want to make.

reno with jonathan-1

There is a chapter that addresses choosing the right materials for your reno, including flooring, tile and cabinets. The design portion of the book is helpful as well, but you can find more in-depth advice and a wider range of ideas in other books that focus only on interior decorating/design (such as Styled by Emily Henderson or Decorate by Holly Becker).

What makes this book a winner is the depth and breadth of knowledge it presents about the entire buying, selling and renovating process. There are plenty of beautiful photos, and lots of fun brotherly banter between Jonathan and Drew. I loved the easy checklists and real-life stories included throughout. Overall, it’s an entertaining and informative book that sums up the best of everything the Property Brothers have taught us during their television shows.

All images from Dream Home: The Property Brothers’ Ultimate Guide to Finding & Fixing Your Perfect House, Jonathan and Drew Scott, photography by David Tsay

A modern kitchen remodel in the wine country

We are in the process of helping our lovely clients Lyle and Karen update and remodel their entire Santa Rosa home. The couple moved up to this “wine country gateway” city from LA late last year, buying a house with the intention of remodeling to fit their modern style.

Our first big project to tackle was the kitchen. Here’s what we started with . . .




Working with general contractor Sandy Caughey, we opened up the wall into their living room so they can have bar seating across from the cooktop.


Visual Jill designer Lauren’s elevation drawing

IMG_4149 lightened

We also transformed a simple pocket door leading to the dining room into a wider doorway with open shelving on either side to display Karen’s great teapot collection.

On the other side of the kitchen, Lauren designed the upper cabinets to feature a milky film pressed between two thin pieces of glass so that they highlight the shapes within, without showing clutter.


IMG_4146 lightened

Here are the upper cabinets before the special film and glass were inserted.

IMG_4508 lightened

This photo shows the finished cabinets lit from within.

Lighting was a key consideration in our design, since we had specific areas we wanted to highlight for aesthetic purposes (the glass-front cabinets, the display shelves, and the mosaic tile), in addition to providing ample functional lighting (pendants and inset lights).

IMG_4151 cropped

The cabinetry left of the sink under the glass cabinets hides our clients’ most-used kitchen appliances, yet keeps them easily accessible.

IMG_4510 lightened

KITCHEN DESIGN & FUNCTIONALITYAn overview of the overall kitchen layout.

Now that Lyle and Karen are enjoying their new kitchen, we’re moving on to the rest of the house!

Please note: these are “in progress” photos, not styled or shot professionally.

Resource list:

  • Floor tile: Porcelain Volcano Grigio 9 x 36″ gray tile (from Import Tile in Berkeley)
  • Glass mosaic tile: Wall Glass Tile from Tileshop in Berkeley (product #VOTOB3/sm)
  • Countertops: Caesarstone Pure White
  • Cabinetry: custom-made maple (created by Sandy Caughey’s in-house cabinetmaker)
  • Pendants: Sky Pendants from Room & Board



Give your home a Design Boost!

At Visual Jill, we believe that everyone deserves good design, regardless of budget. Sometimes you can make a big impact with just the right small tweaks, and it doesn’t have to cost a lot. With this in mind, we are proud to introduce our new 3-hour Design Boost service.

For just $390, Visual Jill will spend three hours helping you refresh your home. We can do a lot in three hours! Here are some ideas.

Color consultation

Do your walls need a redo? We can choose paint colors for every room in your house.

paint example

Room re-invention

Ever tried your sofa on the other side of the room? We can help you re-arrange your furniture and use what you already have in a new way.


On-site styling

Maybe you need a little help with your accessories. Let us come to your home and hang your artwork and style the things you love!


Furniture finds

Tell us what you need and give us your budget. We’ll create a custom Pinterest board and find lots of options you’ll love from different retailers and etsy sellers.

pinterest screen copy

Remodeling help

Are you exploring options for a new bathroom or kitchen? You can get our input on the right countertops, tile or floors for your project.

materials example

How would you use your Design Boost?

Flexible furniture: modern puzzle pieces

Posted by Lauran

This week Jill and Lauren visited the Arkitektura showroom in San Francisco, and were struck by the many examples of flexible, modular furniture pieces.

mod 2

These pieces blur the lines between tables and seating, and sofas and lounges.

mod 4

The large flat ottoman shown here can be used alone as a table, or it can be tucked under the smaller metal table to offer different levels and textures. And the sectional itself is completely flexible—the pieces can be taken apart and put back together to form just the right configuration for each use or space.

mod 5

Here again, a smaller ottoman is partnered with a round glass table. The ottoman can be pulled up to the table as extra seating, or moved closer to the sofa for a footrest (and the two together just look cool!). Note also the different levels of side tables next to the sectional.

mod 1

Another example of the ottoman/table combo, with a small, moveable and useful side table perfect for holding a snack or a laptop!

Most of the items shown here are from European designers, but I’ve noticed this trend of multi-functional furniture from US retailers as well.


The new SAIC Deep Dish Table from CB2 also comes with two cushions that fit under the table. It’s a coffee table, extra seating, and a stand-alone casual dining set all in one!


Lovesac offers what they call “sactionals”, made up of base pieces and side pieces that can be combined into hundreds of different configurations. Not only are they flexible, but convenient—easy to move up stairs or around tight corners, and they require no tools to assemble!

We like this trend of furniture that can change as your life changes, or even as your week changes! What do you think?

Need for speed: decorating an entire house in 8 weeks

Posted by Lauran

Decorating projects often extend over a period of time. People make decisions gradually, changing their minds along the way, trying out new ideas before acting on them. But when clients don’t have the luxury of time, it’s all about clear planning, clever sourcing, and quick decision-making. Such was the case with a recent project. Our clients, a family of four, had purchased a new home and needed it completely furnished from scratch—quickly. We met them in early December, and they moved in last week (the first week of February).

Oh, and did I mention that all the layouts and sourcing happened over the holidays? It required a true team effort from all of us at Visual Jill, along with our clients, to make it happen.

Here’s what the living room looked like when we first saw it. Not horrible, but not exciting either.

LR before

We put together a space layout, then selected the best furniture for the room, budget and timeline.


LivingroomLayoutAnd this is how the room came together (styling was not complete at this point, hence the empty shelves).



The Dining Room presented us with a blank slate, as well.

DR before




The teenage daughter told us she loved lavender, so we took her room from this:

daughters room before

To this . . .

Mindy's Bedroom Design Proposal_Dimensions

Mindy's Bedroom Design Proposal2



Here’s the “before” for the master bedroom . . .

master before

And our recommendations . . .

Master Bedroom Design Proposal2

And the results . .



Luckily this family was up for some color. We had some fun in their family room/gameroom, as you can see here.

Family Room Design Proposal_Dimensions

Family Room Design Proposal2


The clients wanted us to incorporate the sofa and coffee table they already had. Obviously a few pieces are missing (the game table), but it’s pretty close to done.

The lesson here: there are three “must-do’s” for furnishing and decorating a whole house in less than two months:

1. Careful planning. More than ever, we had to measure well, and carefully determine the best size for rugs and furniture. We experimented with different layouts to land on the best set-up for the space. While these are important steps for any decorating project, it is even more critical to be accurate when you don’t have a lot of time for revisions and re-thinking.

2. Clever sourcing. Our goal was to find items that were in stock and affordable. We didn’t have the luxury of falling in love with a piece and waiting 6-8 weeks for it to arrive. It was especially challenging to find artwork that enhanced the space without spending a fortune. We made great use of, minted, West Elm, and Society 6 for accessible artwork that looks and feels custom.

3. Quick decision-making. As usual, we created Pinterest boards for each room. Our clients were great about posting their comments right away, so we knew which items to move forward with quickly.

We love lofts!

Decorating a loft is a bit different than decorating a regular house. The high ceilings and lack of dividing walls typically found in lofts give a great feeling of space and light . . .

haven from above

haven lr2

. . . but to prevent the space from feeling cavernous, it’s important to divide it into zones. In this West Oakland loft, above, we anchored the living room space with a large rug, then created a separate office set-up along the staircase wall.



This next loft near Piedmont Avenue had a much smaller designated living room space, so the scale of the furniture was extremely important. Since our client already had a custom-sized sectional, we supplemented it with smaller round chairs that don’t take up much visual space. Again we carved out an office area along the wall between the living area and dining area.

12th loft LR3

12th loft LR2

Large windows are also usually found in lofts, which can present a challenge in terms of placing furniture. There are different ways we could have laid out this downtown Oakland loft, and after experimenting we chose to place the sofa against the wall and build the conversation area out into the middle of the room, still allowing room for traffic flow. Again, we used a rug to define the space.

10th loft LR

Sometimes the best choice is to place the sofa in front of the windows, as we did in this West Berkeley loft. When you do so be sure to leave a few inches between the window and the sofa so you don’t block the light.

Another thing to consider when decorating a loft is artwork placement. As you can see in these photos, art helps define each zone (entryway, living room, stairwell, etc.). It also helps “ground” the room by keeping the focus mid-wall.

haven lr1

haven lr3