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Interview with Lynette McCarthy-Aquilina

You would think that from our lack of content in the Kitchen and Bath section that we had completely neglected this area of the site. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Our local kitchen and bath designers/contractors have a phobia about self promoting which in this business climate is strange but true. In my quest to find someone to share their ideas I ran across several kitchen and bath “experts” who had no website therefore no pictures to market themselves to prospective customers and even more bizarre was the company that had a website but zero pictures or testimonials. Businesses based around beautifying two very important and highly visible areas of a home or office with no pictures…..strange.

Kitchen and Bath Ideas with a Pro

So I decided to get creative and call up an old friend who is a certified interior architect and a true expert in the field, she is based out of San Diego. So without further ado let me introduce Lynette-McCarthy Aquilina. In between talking about who our picks are for the upcoming season of American Idol we get around to talking about home design and in particular kitchen and bath design. Let me just say that we’ve both come far in our eye for design, she more than I but I’ve come a ways as well. Let me paint a picture for you, carpet covered finished hardwood floors (let me explain a bit, it was very common in our southside Chicago neighborhood for people to rip up their old carpeting and find beautifully finished hardwood floors), pink and black tiled bathrooms with foil wall paper, self applied

kitchens and baths

Lynette McCarthy-Aquilina in Jenny’s Dining Room

stucco walls and ceilings with a little glitter to give it that extra snap, harvest gold, avocado green, bubble gum pink, throw in linoleum……everywhere and don’t forget the plastic furniture covers and you pretty much sum up our early years of style. It’s a wonder we survived but survive we did. So I have some design questions for my friend and hopefully you’ll take away some ideas for yourself and maybe give her a shout with your next project, she did just finish her little sister Jenny McCarthy’s house. How’s that for a resume’?

Kitchen and Bath Plumbing Mixed with Some Style

TPI : I think my first question has to be, with all the negative design influences we had in our up bringing what caused you to want to get into interior design? Or was it because some of the houses we grew up around were so God awful?

Lynette : Well, as you and I both know, I certainly can’t claim that I picked up any design skills from my southside upbringing.  Also, growing up in a middle-class family meant that my house was more utilitarian, or understated, rather than extravagant.  As a young girl, I don’t think that interior design was ever on my radar as a future career, but I always knew that I would fall into some kind of art-related profession.

TPI : Who are your interior design influences and why?

Lynette : It’s probably cliche to say Kelly Wearstler, but quite honestly, she’s so good, you can’t talk about exceptional interior design without mentioning her.  A lesser known, but equally talented designer that I had the opportunity to work in San Diego with was Erin Bilz.  If I had to call someone my mentor, I would have to say it was Erin. She provided me with invaluable design skills and gave me the opportunity to see first hand what a really good interior designer can (and should) offer clients

TPI : If you were speaking to someone that had a smallish kitchen but wanted to open it up a bit without changing the kitchens current footprint what design ideas would you give them?

Lynette : I think that if the intention was to ‘open it up a bit’, I would suggest that the whole floor plan be considered.  Since renovations are always so costly, I feel that all options should be considered; even if it means altering the original footprint.

TPI : How do you go about the design process?  Do you have a vision or do you get a lot of feedback from the customer?

Lynette : Typically, I meet with a potential client, I explain what it is a designer can offer to a project that a contractor might not.  In many cases, I’m the first interior designer my client has worked with so I like to provide a clear idea as to what should be expected from me. Then I like to get a general scope of the project; this includes the client’s budget and expected timeline. It’s at this time that I take as many notes as I possibly can. Some things may seem insignificant at first, but somehow those small side notes always end up making the project that much better when incorporated into the design.  I take pictures, measurements, and report back about a week later with a proposal that includes a budget, estimated timeline, and a schematic design that includes drawings and considered materials.  It’s at this time that I explain all of my ideas and how I arrived at the design.  I answer any questions and make any adjustments or changes my client and I generate from the  presentation.

TPI : What materials do you find yourself gravitating to with regards to counter tops and cabinetry and why? Are there any new materials or materials that are coming out now that you like to work with?

Lynette : The trend that I see for granite counter tops tends to be that granite is on its way out and is being replaced with more man-made materials like quartz composites and concrete.  Natural stones usually need a lot of care and attention compared to man-made materials and because of this, people are leaning toward surfaces that tend to be less maintenance.

TPI : Do you like to mix and match wood colors and textures?

Lynette : This question really depends on the project.  I’ve mixed wood species before, but it can be tricky.  In most cases, it’s best to have one dominant wood species throughout the home as the flooring choice and perhaps another more refined species as a cabinet choice. Having said that, I also wouldn’t chose the same wood species for the flooring and cabinetry, unless they were stained differently.

TPI : I’m a huge fan of how a kitchen flows, do you take that into consideration when laying out a new kitchen?

Lynette : The flow is one of the biggest considerations when redoing a kitchen. What good is it if it’s beautiful and non-functional?  I wouldn’t feel that I’ve done my job unless it looked great and functioned well.

TPI : What are you recommending with regards to appliance color? Is it still stainless steel?

Lynette : The latest thing in appliances is integration. This is achieved by covering the refrigerator and the dishwasher in the same facade as the cabinet fronts.  This gives the cabinets a seamless, unified look, which in some cases, can make the kitchen appear larger since the eye isn’t interrupted by another material.  If this isn’t something that interests you, then stainless steel is still the way to go.

TPI : How about kitchen sinks? Who are your favorite plumbing fixture manufacturers?

Lynette : Perrin and Rowe, Franke, Hansgrohe, Grohe, and Kohler and all manufacturers that I’ve used in my projects.

TPI : This is a question for both kitchen and bath. Have you tried to look for ways to conserve water with regards to your design choices?

Lynette : Living in Southern California, most people are familiar with water conservation, however, it’s mostly associated with the outside of your home (e.g. lawn irrigation, washing cars, etc). To be quite honest, most of my residential clients haven’t fully invested in the idea of water conservation for the inside of their homes. When discussing the option of something like ‘low flow’ showerheads, I think most people think of a lousy, low-pressure shower. Low flow toilets tend to be more acceptable, but a common complaint is that there tends to be inadequate flushing power.  One item, however, that seems to be on the rise is the tankless water heater.  I’m not an expert on these, but from what I can gather, it completely removes the need for a water heater and replaces it with a phonebook-sized box that’s mounted to the wall. Water filters through this unit and instantaneously heats it.

TPI : Lynette, that doesn’t surprise me that people don’t know about or are misinformed about water saving plumbing fixtures and equipment. It isn’t indicative of Southern California. Not enough real life information is out there informing people of how good some of these Eco friendly fixtures perform. Stay tuned for our Green Shower Head blow-out. There are some surprisingly good Green shower heads, some will make you forget about your old 5 GPM water pig. The new HET toilets are engineered to give you superior flushing performance while saving between 20% and 30% of the water per flush.

With regards to tankless water heaters, it is indeed on demand hot water and the technology is maturing rapidly. Some of the new condensing units are 94% to 96% efficient.

TPI : Moving to the bathroom, what is your favorite look when doing a bathroom? are you traditional, transitional or modern? Do you ever mix them up a bit.

Lynette : Since every project is usually dictated (or at least influenced by) the client, the results are always different.  Personally, I tend to lean toward the transitional or modern categories and have managed to successfully combine them.

TPI : Have you had a chance to see or try out any of the new electronic valves from the likes of Kohler or Hansgrohe. Have you had the chance to design a custom immersion shower?

Lynette : I’ve used Dornbracht’s sensor faucets in a commercial application and have also designed an immersion show using Kohler products.

TPI : With the increased demand for hot water with these new custom showers how do ensure the customer will have enough?

Lynette : Honestly, when it comes to any plumbing questions, I would defer to the plumber, engineer, or contractor on the job.  I usually don’t like to assume and then have it be an issue later.

TPI : Now that is a very good answer Lynette. You have no idea how often the plumbing contractor is left in the dark when specifying these products, so it’s nice to hear that you keep them in the loop.

TPI : What are some tips homeowners could use to redo a kitchen and bath on the cheap?

Lynette : I am all about finding ways to upgrade inexpensively.  The biggest change one can make to a room is paint.  It’s inexpensive and can make a huge impact.  Another slightly inexpensive way to upgrade a bathroom is to change out the shower doors if they’re outdated…..and by outdated, I mean that the doors are framed by aluminum(and if you’re on the southside of Chicago, it would be gold plated). Frameless showers are a great investment as they update the bathroom greatly and are great for resale.  In a kitchen, would suggest replacing cabinet doors instead of tearing out the whole lot or just updating the knobs.

TPI : Any final thoughts other than thinking about how you smoked me in a race in 6th grade? I know I probably remember that more than you but it was a tough day for me getting beat by a girl.

Lynette : I can’t believe you remember that.  If it makes you feel any better, you weren’t the only one. 😉

Lynette’s Contact Info


Lynette Aquilina Interior Design

13590 Hyacinth Hills Way San Diego, CA 92130


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