ASID Interviews Sabrina Alfin on Green Design

Blog, Construction, Green design, Kitchen design, Materials, Residential interior designon March 20th, 2015No Comments

Sustainability should be a given, without making clients feel they have to take political sides.

The Case for a Sustainable FFE Database for the Design Trade

Blog, Green design, Materials, Residential interior designon March 11th, 2015No Comments

As an independent designer, tools that make my job easier and more efficient are always welcome.  I love that QuickBooks Online allows me to record my time via any device so I can make sure that time gets billed out.  I think it’s great that most major to-the-trade manufacturers of furniture, lighting, and appliances have pdf tear sheets and spec sheets that I can access for client spec books and proposals.  It’s terrific that many trade sources have CAD blocks for their products so we don’t have to spend time re-drawing refrigerators and faucets on floorplans and elevations. And, I love having apps on my phone that track mileage on my car for tax purposes, for example.  All of these things are time saving, helpful, and keep my business running smoothly.


Apps make it easy to enter client project time.


But you know what would really REALLY make my business run like a top? A single to-the-trade online database for sustainable finishes, fabrics, flooring, furniture, tile, fixtures, lighting, and appliances.  A multi-manufacturer repository that can be cross-referenced by item, color, style, and composition.  For example, if I wanted to search for 3″ x 6″ subway tile made with recycled materials, spit me out a list of all the vendors who make such a product, the percentage of recycled content, the colorways in comes in, the order lead time, and the nearest trade showroom where I can get it.  Or, if I want to specify an upholstered bench with a button-tufted seat, show me all the possibilities by manufacturers who use FSC frames and/or sustainable fiber stuffing.  And what about textiles?  Of all the major vendors of drapery, upholstery, and multi-purpose textiles (think Kravet, Osbourne & Little, Pollack, Duralee, Schumacher, et al), which items in their lines are either (a) made with recycled content, (b) made with organic or rapidly renewable fibers, or (c) produced in a sustainable/socially responsible manner?

Right now the process is incredibly time-consuming, particularly for a one-woman show like me.  Let’s pick on the textile manufacturers for a moment.  Pollack Associates and Brentano, for example, are about the only manufacturers who have a search feature for green fabrics. And this makes some sense since they do a big contract business in addition to residential.

Pollack's site sorts by sustainability.

Pollack’s site sorts by sustainability.

But what about the residential vendors?  If I go to —this is the trade site for Kravet, Lee Jofa, Brunschwig & Fil, among others—I can sort by color, by price, by brand, or by application, but there isn’t an option for sustainability.  Now, I know for a fact that Kravet has some green options, because if I go to the Kravet web site I can find them.  But I shouldn’t have to go to multiple sites to get the info, especially if I’m searching for stock and pricing.

The point is, even if every vendor I use for my business had a green search option, that alone would save me oodles of time.  But what I really want is an aggregator–a site that pulls all the content together in one place and is easily sorted into categories, colors, and pricing.  Obviously, looking at colorways online has much to be desired, but if I knew ahead of time which fabric groupings I want to stay within, I can spend far less time at the showroom getting what I need.

And here’s what I think will be the biggest benefit to the trade:  eliminating the excuse that going green is too difficult. There are umpteen zillion different sites like SCSGlobal Services, GreenGuard, EnergyStar, etc., etc. but the vast majority of them are either geared toward commercial projects or consumer products.  There seems to be a gaping hole when it comes to the residential design trade, and unless you have someone on staff to dedicate their jobs to finding these items, the burden on individual designers to re-invent the wheel seems much too great.

We all know it’s the right thing to do.  We all know that eventually, much of this will be government mandated.  In the meantime, however, couldn’t our trade associations like ASID, NKBA, AIA, and others band together to jointly fund a project for information their members so desperately need?


An Awards-Filled Month

Bath design, Blog, Green design, Kitchen designon January 26th, 2015No Comments

We are delighted to share with you three honors bestowed upon Sabrina Alfin Interiors, Inc. this month:

  • Best Of Houzz 2015 for Design
  • Northern California Chapter NKBA Design Compeition 2015: 3rd place, Medium Kitchen
  • Northern California Chapter NKBA Design Compeition 2015: 3rd place, Small to Medium Bath

The Houzz award recognizes the popularity of portfolio images saved to ideabooks by the Houzz community and a Best of Houzz badge now appears on SAI’s professional profile page. Images of our work were collectively saved well over 3000 times!

The NKBA Awards were earned in a judged competition that awarded points for projects entered that best embody NKBA standards for design aesthetics and guidelines.

In both cases, SAI competes in a crowded field of worthy designers.  We are proud to be in their company.

Thanks to our clients, design partners, and friends for getting the word out about our studio. We are taking on new projects and would be thrilled to collaborate with you on your next design challenge.

Resale, Schmesale: A Designer Perspective

Home automation, Residential interior designon October 7th, 2014No Comments

A common question I get asked a lot when it comes to designing and remodeling a client’s home is, “But how will it affect the resale value?”

Before I give you my thoughts on this, let me clarify that I am not a real estate agent or a financial advisor.  And anything having to do with what is, for most people, their largest financial asset might benefit from a weigh-in from one or both of those advisors.

So, with that out of the way, my response back to that question is this:  how long will you be in your home?  If it’s more than five years, then I say your design choices are of little consequence in a geography like the Bay Area where real estate is always appreciating over time.  It’s your house and YOU live here, not some future yet-to-be-identified buyer.  Your home should be a reflection of your needs and your family’s needs.  And let’s be honest:  people around here are buying $1 million dollar tear-downs (insane, I realize), so whether or not you forego a bathtub in the master bath, for example, will be of little consequence ten years or more hence.  Most people like to put their own stamp on their living spaces to reflect their own lifestyles, and to take advantage of innovative new materials and technologies. So by the time you’re ready to sell, the chances are pretty good your buyer was already intending to make changes to fit their own needs.

As a designer, while I always strive to provide my clients with timeless interiors that will last a good long time, what is considered beautiful and tasteful today might be considered very dated tomorrow. Just take a look at any given issue of Architectural Digest from the 80s, and you’ll see what I mean…;-)

“But Sabrina,” I hear you ask, “what types of things should I invest in that will make my home more desirable down the road, as well as meet my family’s needs?”

Good question.  Here are a few things I think make a great deal of sense and that will absolutely add value over time:

Built-ins:  provide architectural interest and a focal point for any room.

built-in entertainment

Custom built-in entertainment units, for example, are attractive and space-saving. And when outfitted with LED lighting, they provide a great opportunity to display art objects or photographs.


Home automation systems: help regulate the home’s temperature, lighting, and other power sources to save energy (and money!). Can also control entertainment and security systems.


Lots of choices available for home automation systems, many of which can be controlled by apps on a tablet or other device.

Lots of choices available for home automation systems, many of which can be controlled by apps on a tablet or other device.

Universal design: make design choices that will allow you (or a future buyer) to age in place.

Curbless showers are both beautiful and functional!  Add a built-in bench, a grab bar, and a handshower and accessibility is no problem as you get older.

Curbless showers are both beautiful and functional! Add a built-in bench, a grab bar, and a handshower and accessibility is no problem as you get older.

So to sum up:  don’t be afraid to design around your own needs if you plan to be in your home for many years.  The resale will take care of itself as long as the remodeling you undertake has all the appropriate city permits, is done by a licensed general contractor, and uses good quality materials that will last.

Guest Bath Makeover: From ’80s Excess to Zen-like Calm

Blog, Recent Workon August 20th, 20142 Comments

My client in the SF Bay Area is smitten with Chinoiserie and Asian artifacts.  Her entire house is filled to the brim with beautiful objects and art she’s collected over the years.  But her guest bath was stuck in the ’80s with bold floral wallpaper and gold accented plumbing fixtures and trim.  She attended a decorator showcase house located in Woodside, CA in which I was a participating designer last year, and loved my pan-Asian influenced design for the home’s sunroom.

She hired me immediately afterwards, knowing that I “got” her aesthetic. We worked hard to make the guest bath a calm, inviting space using a soothing color palette–soft grays, browns, bronze, and a hint of blue–and great texture.  The porcelain 12×24 tiles in the shower have almost a textile quality to them with a “woven” pattern etched into the surface; the glass mosaic backsplash/border adds both color and a tactile quality to the look;  the sculptural lines of the Santec Ava faucet and shower set bring in a modern twist that still feels warm and spa-like.  Lastly, we used a pearlescent faux-finish paint in an ecru tone for the walls, giving it subtle shine to lighten the space and balance out the gray hues.

Here are the “Befores”:



And here are the “afters”:




Needless to say, she loves the results!  And we finished just in time before her guests arrived for her son’s impending wedding!

A big thank you to Dean J. Biryini Photography for the great “after” images.

Dorm Room Design: The Essentials

Blogon July 20th, 2014No Comments

Those of you with kids heading off to college in a month’s time are probably stressing out about the shopping list for dorm room essentials.  Fear not.  The days of boring, solid XL Twin sheets are long gone, and the array of well-designed options for bedding, towels, and storage solutions are practically limitless.  Well, not exactly limitless:  this stuff goes fast so if you haven’t yet started, I thought I’d show you a bunch of great options I’ve found that won’t break your already tuition-taxed bank.  Target, PB Teen, Land’s End, Dormco, and the Container Store are great go-tos for well-designed options. But here are several suggestions to get you started.


My recommendation is to buy a solid comforter (or quilt with a duvet cover; IKEA is great for those) that will go with your student from dorm room to college apartment, and then have fun with decorative and inexpensive XL Twin sheet sets–two–which will likely not be needed after Freshman year. Here are a few solid quilt options:

Target's Room Essentials Jersey Knit Quilt

Target’s Room Essentials Jersey Knit Quilt

IKEA ALVINE STRA duvet cover set

IKEA ALVINE STRA duvet cover set

PB Teen Crinkle Puff Quilt

PB Teen Crinkle Puff Quilt

Target Xhilaration Ruffle Comforter

Target Xhilaration Ruffle Comforter

And here are some colorful patterned sheet sets that are available in XL Twin:

PB Teen Cascade plaid sheets

PB Teen Cascade plaid sheets

PB Teen's Chloe shet set in organic cotton

PB Teen’s Chloe sheet set in organic cotton

Lands End Percale Dot Sheet Set

Lands End Percale Dot Sheet Set

Body Pillows

As everyone knows, college kids use their dorm room beds as multi-purpose furniture; they’re not just for sleeping, they’re for lounging and studying, too. (For that same reason, you might want to send junior off with two regular pillows, not just one, since headboards are non-existent.) So having something soft to lean up against on those cinderblock or otherwise institutional-looking walls will be a welcome addition to the basics.  Pro-tip:  get the kind of body pillow that is comprised of an insert and a removable cover, so when it inevitably gets dirty, the cover can be washed.

Fun animal print body pillow covers by Dormco

Fun animal print body pillow covers by Dormco

Soft and fuzzy Sherpa body pillow from PB Teen

Soft and fuzzy Sherpa body pillow from PB Teen

Room Essentials Heather Gray body pillow, at Target

Room Essentials Heather Gray body pillow, at Target

Towels and Wraps

Don’t go crazy buying towels.  There simply isn’t enough space in the average dorm room to have lots of extra stuff.  Two Bath sheets and two hand towels ought to do it.  And for getting from the communal bathroom at the end of the hall to one’s room, having a bath wrap  is probably not a bad idea. Takes up less space than a bathrobe.  Target and PB Teen have a slew of fun designs in their collections, like these:

Room Essentials Vine Towel in gray and yellow

Target Room Essentials Vine Towel in gray and yellow

Room Essentials Floral Towel

Target Room Essentials Floral Towel

Room Essentials Stripe towel sets

Target Room Essentials Stripe towel sets

PB Teen Classic Organic bath towels

PB Teen Classic Organic bath towels

Room Essentials Floral body wrap

Target Room Essentials Floral body wrap

Room Essentials Vine bodywrap

Target Room Essentials Vine bodywrap

PB Teen Greek Striped Bath Wraps

PB Teen Greek Striped Bath Wraps

Laundry and Storage

Saving space is critical.  If your student’s dorm gives them the option of lofting their bed before they move in, by all means do it.  Then get some good-looking but functional pieces for extra clothing storage and/or putting away seasonal items that are not in use underneath the bed.  Unless your kid’s school has very detailed drawings and dimensions of the space online, I would advise holding off on these purchases until you drop him/her off.  Bring a tape measure and then go get what fits.  As for dirty laundry storage, buy a bag, not a basket.  Easier to fit in a closet and/or hang off the end of a bed.  (Plus, they hold more stuff; kids will wait forever before they do a wash!) The Container Store is terrific for this sort of stuff; here are a few of my favorites from their collection:

So versatile! These Container Store milk crates can store files, books, computer games, etc.

So versatile! These Container Store milk crates can store files, books, computer games, etc. Stackable on both the top and the sides

Elfa Stacking Drawers at the Container Store.  See-through material means stuff is easy to find.

Elfa Stacking Drawers at the Container Store. See-through material means stuff is easy to find.

Large Rugby Stripe Bin from the Container Store

Large Rugby Stripe Bin from the Container Store

Mesh laundry bags in an array of colors, at the Container Store.  Lots of room!

Mesh laundry bags in an array of colors, at the Container Store. Lots of room!

Desk lamps

Multi-tasking desk lamps are a plus for space-saving reasons.  Here are a couple that look great and kill two birds with one stone:

iHome desk lamp with a built-in phone charger.  Available at PB Teen.

iHome desk lamp with a built-in phone charger. Available at PB Teen.

Target's RE desk lamp with pen compartments and a slot to prop up your iPad

Target’s RE desk lamp with pen compartments and a slot to prop up your iPad. Comes in multiple colors.

Fellow parents who have already sent one or more children off to college, what items have you found to be must-haves?


Sustainable Design: Going Backwards to Move Forwards?

Green designon April 29th, 2014No Comments

I ran across this gizmo for fuel-efficient low-tech cooking called a Wonderbag Slow Cooker.  In essence, it takes the ancient technique of wrapping or burying containers of food so they will continue to cook even after the container has been removed from the heat source.  Ingenious in its simplicity, I admire the founder of this company, Sarah Collins, who took a humble design idea to global attention.  And for every Wonderbag sold, they donate another to a family in Africa.


Wonderbags come in two colors and they’re made by artisans in Rwanda, Mexico and Turkey with launches in Kenya, Nigeria and Somaliland.

As someone who has a keen interest in green design and sustainability, this discovery had me wondering:  do we have to turn back the clock on technology in order to make significant reductions in our carbon footprint?  The convenience genie has already been let out of the bottle after 100 or so years of American consumer mass production.  How can we be both good global citizens and still maintain a lifestyle to which we’ve become accustomed?

Certainly companies like Tesla Motors have the right idea:  luxury design with a sustainable power source.  Who wouldn’t want to own one of these babies?


Tesla Model S in Cherry Red. Zoom!

And  if you must have that Sub-Zero refrigerator, this beautiful high Energy Star-rated bottom freezer model is as efficient as they come:

Sub-Zero Fridge

Sub-Zero panel front refrigerator with bottom freezer. Takes less energy to run bottom freezer models.

Nest, too, has taken the lowly mechanical home thermostat to new sustainably designed heights.  This “smart” control system helps homeowners save energy.  In fact, they claim their customer can get to carbon neutrality in as little as eight weeks!  Pretty impressive.  And frankly, just plain pretty, don’t you agree?


The Nest Thermostat interface is part iPhone, part “2001: a Space Odyssey”. Cool!

So there’s no question in my mind that we have to be more mindful of our consumption of energy, water, and materials.  What I love about Tesla, Sub-Zero, and Nest (for some obviously beautiful examples) is that they’ve managed to achieve the design of sustainable products that are still jaw-droppingly gorgeous and covet-worthy, using new technologies for the modern age.

What are some of your favorite energy-efficient products that look great?  Please leave your comments!

Spring 2014 Report: Color, Shine, Texture

Blog, Furniture design, Trendson March 4th, 2014No Comments

Sabrina Alfin Interiors, Inc. is always on the lookout for new goodies to incorporate into our clients’ homes and we’re a little bowled over by how much great stuff is out there, both direct to the consumer and to the trade.  The watchwords for this season?  Color, shine, and texture. So I thought I’d share some recent finds that are new this Spring.  Best of all?  Most are pretty darn affordable.  Let’s get to it! (Click on the photos to see them larger.)

Made Goods.  Clockwise from left:  Gerald bookcase, Doreen side table, Clive coffee table, Angela stool.

Made Goods. Clockwise from left: Gerald bookcase, Doreen side table, Clive coffee table, Angela stool.

I am completely in love with Made Goods’s new Gerald bookcase, in all of its sculptural brass & glass glory.  Love the way the shelves seem to float on the structure!  Similarly, their new Clive coffee table reminds me of a topiary that’s been trained to hold a glass top.  And for side tables, I love the playful Ikat fabric-wrapped Doreern parsons table and the Angela macrame stool, both in a deep Indigo blue to add some great pattern and texture to a space.

2014 HollyHunt

Big Jars, from Holly Hunt.

The colorful simplicity of these Big Jars (yes, that’s really what they’re called) from Holly Hunt are great for multiple grouping and would be beautiful accent pieces to any room.  Would love to see these on underlit glass shelves to make them glow.

2014 Wisteria

Wisteria: clockwise from left: Campbell’s stool, Red Chinese Coffee Table, Laurel Leaf mirror.

Wisteria probably owes Andy Warhol an inpirational nod with their new Campbell’s stool, this time without the label!  A great accent piece that brings some metallic wow to a room.  And I love this Chinese Red coffee table, which is both classic and modern simultaneously.  It’s not fussy, either, so it could work just as easily in a casual family room or a more formal living room.  Need an elegant but understated mirror?  How about the new Laurel Leaf?  Could see this in an entry way, or in a powder room.


Serena & Lily. Clockwise from top left: Devon coffee table, Tucker chair, Nantucket bins, Dip Dyed stools, Cooper leather stool

Leave it to Serena & Lily to bring us more preppy charm with a hint of the British colonies. The chunkiness of the Devon coffee table is great for a rustic family room, and those Tucker windsor chairs are a fun update to a classic design.  In seven different paint colors, it would be fun to mix up a set to put around a white farmhouse table, don’t you agree?  The Dip Dyed stools come in both chair height and counter height in white (shown), yellow, and blue. They’d look great in a rustic modern or industrial kitchen for contrast, or use the smaller ones as plant stands on a covered patio.  The Nantucket baskets are so practical for home office or kids’ room storage, and that Cooper leather stool could be used as an ottoman or end-of-the-bed bench in a guest room with two twin beds.

So much to discover, so little time!  What’s your favorite find from this bunch?  Or have you found something else fabulous you’d like to share?  Post a link in the comments!


FOG Design + Art Show, Ft. Mason

Art, Blog, Furniture design, Lighting designon January 19th, 2014No Comments

If you love design, fine art, and the decorative arts, you might think about changing your plans today to catch the final day of this show at Ft. Mason.  Filled with mid-20th century statement pieces and new objects influenced by that era, this show is as much an education as it is pure eye candy.  And because it’s San Francisco, modern Asian aesthetics abound to beautiful effect.


FOG Design + Art program with all galleries showing listed inside.

Here are some of my favorite pieces from the show, with appropriate gallery attribution:

Gallery Seomi


Artist Bae Se Hwa’s unbelievably stunning use of bent walnut, makes this sculptural chair simultaneously curvy, organic, and linear at once. I wouldn’t be surprised to see this in the MOMA Architecture and Design permanent collection in the future.


Soft, knitted sculpture adorns the wall. Fun! Can’t find the artist attribution; sorry!

The Future Perfect


Coining a new design term: industrial organic. Seems to fit these amazing blown glass pendants fused with C-clamps and a hand crafted chain. So unique and eye-catching. By NYC artist Lindsey Adelman.

Edward Cella Art + Architecture


Love this grouping of ceramic plates by artist Brad Miller. The glazes and texture are subtle and tactile.

Blum & Poe


A riot of color and texture in this abstract expressionist work by Chinese artist Zhu Jinshi. Layers and layers of oil paint cover the canvas to gorgeous effect.


Nihlist anime meets ’60s Flower Power? Morbidly fascinated by this one.

The show is open today from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.  But if you can’t get to the exhibit, you can see the work at the galleries represented on Artsy.



SAI’s Year in Review: 2013

Blog, Green design, Kitchen design, Materials, Press, Recent Work, Residential interior designon December 23rd, 2013No Comments

My head is spinning with the thought this year is ending in a week’s time! Goodness, it went shockingly fast, but perhaps that’s because it was so chock full of great projects, new clients, and some pretty darn good press.  And, given that this was only SAI’s 2nd full year of being in business, I’m proud of the fact that we’re in the black and growing.

I think it always helps to stop and take stock, so here’s a quick recap of all SAI accomplished in this calendar year:

1. Successful completion of the Peninsula Volunteers’ Decorator Show House, Woodside, CA.  May 2013


It really was an honor to have shown my work alongside a very talented field of Bay Area designers, some of whom have been in business for decades.  The sustainable sun room I showcased got some tremendously positive feedback and was instrumental in landing me a new client! Featured in Gentry Home (pg.64), The Wall Street Journal, and several notable design blogs, this was a wonderful experience.  And kudos must also be given to all of my design partners who so graciously donated pieces or greatly reduced the price of their goods and services in exchange for promotional consideration.

2.  Completion of a major kitchen remodel, San Carlos, CA


The design phase of this project began in late 2012 in order to explore multiple layout options to get just the right configuration.  Once the final floor plan and look and feel was agreed to, the work went very fast:  13 weeks from demolition to completion, including the fabrication and installation of custom cabinetry.  The results are beautiful, clients are very pleased, and the feedback has been wonderful.

3. Lots of proposals, two new clients

As someone who ran new business pitches in my former life as an ad exec, I’ve learned that not every pitch can be a winner.  So you have to do lots of them to raise your win percentage.  Pleased that two new clients have come into the fold this year for projects in progress:  one is in Foster City for a remodeled guest bath and updated living room furnishings/layouts, and another in San Carlos for building materials and finishes specification on new construction.

4. Press

In addition to the Show House press mentioned above, here’s some other notable mentions:

House of Turquoise

rough luxe

5. Giving back to the design community

I’m a big believer in helping the next generation of designers and so I gave a presentation on starting one’s own design business for the students at Canada College (where I graduated from the program in 2011) back in January.  The feedback was so positive, I gave a reprise presentation to the Intro to Interior Design class just a few weeks ago, and also gave it to the interior design students at West Valley College.  One of my former instructors (and collaborators!) has already asked me to present some tips/tricks on the marketing aspect of design for one of his classes next semester, which I am thrilled to do.

In addition, I served on the Professional Development Committee of the CA Peninsula Chapter of ASID, chairing the Design Awards Gala event in June.

So, all in all, a busy year!  Planning to enter my work into upcoming design competitions and will keep you all posted on the outcome.  My very best wishes to everyone for a happy and successful 2014!