Preparing Your Home for Natural Disasters and Dealing with the Aftermath

Hurricane damage to house in Florida, 2004.  This Tree may not look like much, but it actually did major damage to this house: the entire interior ceiling and insulation was knocked down and laying on the floor; the doors and windows did not shut properly - Even the cabinet and shower doors did not close properly. These are the classic signs of the house being knocked off its foundation by the force of the tree falling onto the house.  ©2004 Caryn Menches.

Hurricane damage to house in Florida, 2004. This Tree may not look like much, but it actually did major damage to this house: the entire interior ceiling and insulation was knocked down and laying on the floor; the doors and windows did not shut properly - Even the cabinet and shower doors did not close properly. These are the classic signs of the house being knocked off its foundation by the force of the tree falling onto the house. ©2004 Caryn Menches.

As hurricane season heats up (September is prime Hurricane month!!), please be as prepared as possible for the safety of yourself and your property. As a former Catastrophe Adjuster, I have been through numerous natural disasters throughout the country, first as someone working in the affected areas, and secondly, as an emergency responder, helping others to recover their residential properties and possessions. While people were trying to get out of town, we were driving INTO town to prepare for AFTER these storms. It is a very chaotic time and stressors are running HIGH for all involved. Know that recovery efforts can take from a few weeks to YEARS, depending on the seriousness and destruction from the storms. The immediate availability of contractors, supplies, terrain and navigable routes to safely get the needed supplies into affected areas become choked up from storm debris, or worse, blocked/damaged/washed out roads, etc. 

MAP OF Tropical developments, SEPT 8, 2018 : The Weather Channel was constantly on everywhere we went. It also let us know where we were more than likely going to go to prepare for storms.

MAP OF Tropical developments, SEPT 8, 2018: The Weather Channel was constantly on everywhere we went. It also let us know where we were more than likely going to go to prepare for storms.

Also know that many emergency responders are working 12+ hours away from their families to make sure things are safe for the public, as well as their coworkers that are also helping the public. This is paramount to everyone's safety. Some areas will be cordoned off to prevent looters, or to simply make sure the terrain is safe enough for people to pass (flooded out roadways, exposed electrical lines, etc). My very first storm I worked was in North Carolina. It took over 10 hours to go from Charlotte to Raleigh just because of the roads being impassable and trying to find ones that were drivable. THAT was my introduction to hurricanes and their aftermath. 

If you are able to evacuate, please do. Yes, your house is your castle, but it can also be rebuilt, you can't. You cannot escape your house during the storms. In my mind, I can still hear the screeching, howling winds and see things flying through the air, and wish I wasn't in the path of some of these storms. Sometimes just making it through these monsters was the easy part. The aftermath, not so much fun. Trying to find a hotel or a place with water, much less food or gasoline, will become a real challenge. If you can drive somewhere, there is no guarantee of the road being passable (Think: flooded out, trees and electric poles being down, dealing with snakes and other animals that are also displaced and in a daze)

What can you do to prepare yourself and your home for a major catastrophe?

Considering that storms knock out power and water, sometimes for weeks at a time, be prepared to live 'off the grid' for a while, sometimes up to weeks at a time.

  • Take pictures and/or video of EVERYTHING and upload these to a secure location (Exterior and Interior of Home). Better yet, prepare these things before a storm hits and give a copy to your insurance agent. The agent, and adjuster, will thank you!!
  • Make a list of all the furnishings in the house. To make it easier, take a picture of each room and list out these items rather than to try to remember after a damaging storm. Include where you got it, how old it is and the approximate amount you paid for the item. Keep it all organized in a notebook and on a computer, if possible. People in shock will not remember as much, if at all.
  • Put important documents such as licenses, insurance papers, medical items, certificates, etc., into a waterproof bag/container and keep in a safe place so you can get to it easily
  • Gather any prescriptions or medical items you need
  • I cannot emphasize this enough: Stock up on water, batteries, flashlights, food, matches/fire-starters, gasoline, ice, canned goods/non-perishable items, walkie-talkies, etc. - your life could depend on these simple items. Gas up any cars, RV's or boats if you can. If you have any camping equipment, know where it is and have it available to use. 

What can you expect after a major storm??

Be prepared to have no electricity, available food or viable water for a minimum of two weeks. 

  • If you have any generators or BBQ's, especially with liquid propane tanks, triple chain and lock them up to something sturdy/secure so people do not steal them. (It is very common and I have seen this happen!!)

  • Keep the windows and/or doors open for ventilation after the storm, if possible. Because many of these places are so hot and humid, DO NOT turn your A/C on if you can!! I know this is tempting, but this is for health reasons. This will release more mold spores into the building through the duct work. If you are prone to allergic reactions from mold spores, you may start to develop symptoms, like asthma, or worse, pneumonia (ask me how I know this)  

  • Insurance Agents and their Adjusters are typically already in the area, or on their way into the area, and are aware of the dangers. BE PATIENT. They are being updated on critical situations, such as dangerous areas to avoid, police/fire activity and rules and local codes that must be followed within a certain timeframe to help you out. Their workloads alone may be doubled or tripled. Phone lines may be down and communication with your insurance company may be slowed down due to the volume of calls. I promise, they will get back to you. If it is an extreme emergency, there should be a mobile claims center near your agents office to go to for help. These mobile sites are usually RV's or motorhomes set up as remote offices, and have satellite phones and communications. They will try to help as many people as humanly possible. Remember, these people have also been through the storm with you and are there to help you. 

  • Many contractors watch the news and converge on areas hit by these storms. We called them Storm chasers, because, well, they chased all the storms. Some of these people are NOT legitimate building contractors!!! They come into a disaster area and start telling everyone they have damage, even if they don't. Please be careful of anyone knocking on your door telling you that you have damage. Roofers are notorious for doing this. Ask if they climbed the roof to see damage. This is a multi-point challenge: Did you give them permission to climb your roof? And if you did not, how do they know there is damage up there? Did they have a ladder with them, or on a truck? A roofing company was caught (on the homeowners video) tearing a roof off THE WRONG HOUSE in Texas last year. The kicker? The roofing company was not licensed and the workers ran off as soon as they realized they had torn off the incorrect roof, leaving the homeowner without a ROOF. Nice, huh?? Check their license to see if they are legitimate. DO NOT give anyone money without checking on them FIRST!! Many states have laws that make it illegal for an out-of-state contractor to start working without an in-state license!! (California is one state that makes it a felony for someone to do this once a disaster is declared!!)

  • Realize that, by law, most insurance companies cannot make any recommendations for contractors, especially during catastrophes. Too many variables and the legitimate contractors will be overwhelmed with work.

  • Utility companies are already on standby just outside the impacted areas. Many are from out of state to help with the infrastructure that has been damaged. They will typically be lined up alongside the interstate with their work trucks, waiting. With storm debris sometimes piled higher than the buildings themselves, it will be a challenge to see damages. This is where patience is a must.

  • There are many, many challenges that come with huge, destructive forces, such as hurricanes, tornadoes, firestorms, earthquakes, etc. This is serious business. If you have trusted family, friends and neighbors, consider yourself lucky. If possible, try to contact your tribe at least once each day. Hearing someone's familiar voice, or better yet, seeing them, makes a difficult situation just a little bit better and bearable. 

Once the Dust Settles

There are many people in the area to help you, but also note that these same people are dealing with the same things as you are. Contractors will be overwhelmed, and in many cases, materials will not be able to get into the area fast enough, effectively making a serious backlog of needed items, like drywall, lumber, roofing and other necessary supplies. Insurance companies are triaging the most serious needs first, just like hospitals do for patients. Heart attacks take priority over broken pinkie fingers, as painful as it is. Houses with roofs blown off take priority over a blown over fence. Mitigate as much damage as you can, yourself. Take pictures of all the damages and save them. Tarp the roof/window/door properly, so as not to create more damage before someone can come out and inspect. (By the way, tarping a roof properly DOES NOT include nailing down every available surface with furring strips every 12 inches over the entire roof for a patch that has been blown off - that is lazy and ultimately costs YOU more money!!) Keep any and all receipts. Keep all estimates in one place and realize it will take many weeks, months, or years, to get your place back to where it was before a storm damaged it. And most importantly, just take a few deep're still alive!


What Exactly IS Holistic Design??

Plants + Lights.jpg

What is Holistic Design?

I get asked this question A LOT...and it is one of the most viewed pages on my website, so I wanted to introduce the subject to others who aren't familiar with this subject. I was introduced to a 'holistic health' lifestyle about 6 or 7 years ago. This was a very trying time in my life while I dealt with an extremely debilitating disease. It has made a tremendous impact on my life and has ultimately changed the way I think of things in this world. It has also made me much more aware of the world around me. The world is a beautiful planet and full of wonderful, healing things meant for humans to have and to use. We just have to understand that the Earth has provided us with things to help us live a healthy and vibrant life.

Holistic Interior Design is a relatively unknown segment in the Interior Design industry. As for my own definition of Holistic Design, I think of it as this: it takes into account the people and the environment, and finds the most energetic and natural healing solutions in every design project. I eventually found a holistic health practitioner that explained what true health was and that also emphasized the healing solutions of nature - and what it takes for the human body to heal. It perfectly combines my two passions: my background and training in the Interior Design and Construction fields with my education and experience in holistic health. I strive to find items that are healthy for both people and the buildings where we live, work and play in. It is essentially a lifestyle, the true essence of what design is.

According to the Dictionary of Construction (yes, there really is one!), Holistic Design is defined as: 

An approach that emphasizes the functional relationship between the various building parts and the facility as a whole. May include protection of the Earth's resources, as well as an element of spirituality, aiming to create spaces that enrich the quality of the environment and the lives of those who use the building

Why is Holistic Design Important?

Residential Construction Framing  - Can you see the  "bones"  of this building??

Residential Construction Framing - Can you see the "bones" of this building??

To put it in perspective, we are a microcosm of the universe— you can see this in the way our buildings feature similar structures as the human body: each entity having systems, such as plumbing, electrical components, "bones", and ventilation, for example. Remember the saying, the eyes are the windows to the soul?? Yep, same kind of premise! What we put into, and onto, our bodies is just as important as to what we put into our interior environments. 

Many ancient and indigenous cultures, such as the Incas, Moors, Vikings, Egyptians, Native Americans, Asians and Aborigines recognized the power of energy, or energies. There are many different types of energy that affect all things on earth: vibrational, electro-magnetic, hydraulic, solar, just to name a few. Not only do these energies effect all humans and animals, but also the environment: the oceans, rivers, winds, foods, air quality, etc. which are all affected by the thoughts, sounds, and colors of energies. 

It is my hope that I encourage others to think about what is healthy and to question things, for themselves and their interior surroundings. For example, I no longer eat specific foods, that I used to LOVE, knowing that it is unnatural for the body to process certain ingredients to function properly. Just like we know that lead, asbestos and formaldehyde isn't healthy, why do we allow these things into our interiors? (Yes, these are still in our buildings!) If we apply these same principles to our buildings, think of how much healthier we can be! 

Going forward, Modern Lotus Interiors will be focusing on the three main elements of what makes a healthy, healing environment for both humans and the buildings we live in: Healing Energies, Nutrition and Interior Elements. Some of the concepts that will be presented may be foreign or make one feel uncomfortable by entertaining new ideas, BUT, isn’t this how one grows and learns? Remember...everything in the world is connected to each other in one way or another. And know that our Wealth is Our Health!!




Interior Designers are just BADASSES…and We Don’t Work for Free!!


My take on drawing from the masters: The Smoker by Paul Cezanne. Pencil on Paper - Caryn Menches. © 2006 Caryn Menches.

I never set out to be an Interior Designer…I originally went back to school to find my talents and passions and figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up!! I learned how to draw (MAJOR stress reliever and who doesn’t like to bring a doodle to life??), took art and photography classes and learned more about Construction Technology because it fascinated me, especially after inspecting hundreds, if not thousands, of houses over the years. (I used to inspect houses after catastrophes, like hurricanes, tornados and hailstorms) A classmate tried to get me to just try an interior design class, I think you’d be really good at it, she said, and no, it isn’t putting pillows on sofas and stuff…so I thought about it a bit and the next semester I took a class and I was HOOKED. I have always LOVED learning. And learn I did!

My hand-drafted floor plan of a college president's office. a school assignment that emphasized eye-hand coordination with space planning principles and estimating measurements. this was later rendered with colors that represented actual materials.

Just to put it into perspective, think about how many hats interior designers, which are realistically 3D artisans, bring to the table for helping you solve spatial, design and construction problems: psychologist, mediator, investigator, estimator, 3D developer, detailer, writer, mathematician, magician, counselor, educator, negotiator, researcher, part architect, part contractor, part building official, part of a whole bunch of things…and the list keeps going. And to top it all off, the education we go through is also extensive: an entire year of art and architectural history, local and national building codes, project management, sustainability and ecology, space planning, materials, design law, color theory, graphics, model building, computer aided drafting programs, hand drafting, construction drawings, architectural detailing, lighting, construction technology, and, of course, business. In addition to all those studio classes, we then apply all of these courses into projects...and those are just to name a few courses we are required to take. And don’t forget...In some jurisdictions, it actually takes LONGER for a Designer to be able to call themselves a Designer than an Architect!! Yes, you read that correctly. (Just to be clear, each state dictates these professions and each state is different) It is akin to a doctor or lawyer: many, MANY years and funds have gone into the journey to become a dedicated professional. 

"Interior Designers sell their expertise, knowledge and experience. Along with these sellable “ideas” is a long, thought-out process and system to bring your project to life. This is what you are essentially buying from an Interior Designer." 

My favorite! Chocolate Cake. And it breaks up the post with some drool-worthy yumminess! Image courtesy of Pixabay

Because we do things behind the scenes, much like a pastry chef or baker, doesn’t mean things are not taking shape. (I like cake, so I will use that as a metaphor, plus...who doesn't like cake??) Since we are not actually working in front of people, with immediate tangible results for clients, doesn’t mean we are sitting twiddling our thumbs or taking naps. 

There is a phrase from the Architecture world that says: Form ever follows function. Author Marcus Vitruvius Pollio, who first wrote in his book De Architectura that a structure must exhibit the three qualities of firmitas, utilitas, venustas – in English that means, it must be solid, useful, beautiful. We make sure things work for each client before putting the “frosting” on any project. Before you bake something, you need to make sure you have all of the ingredients on hand. Then you must blend, mix, separate, whatever it is you need to do to make a certain type of cake, but in this case, it is blending all the information taken and putting into a form that clients can understand. Mixing is the first action step, this is a little like the design development phase of a project. This is the origination of the magic happening. You know there is a cake going to be made, you see shapes beginning to form. But you don’t have a finished product yet, but it is coming!

ADA clearances for commercial bathrooms. Yes, Interior Designers need to be aware of these details AND show it on paper! Many people don't take into consideration accessible routes or space clearances when looking for commercial spaces.

ADA clearances for commercial bathrooms. Yes, Interior Designers need to be aware of these details AND show it on paper! Many people don't take into consideration accessible routes or space clearances when looking for commercial spaces.

So when clients focus on the price they are paying for design, they typically are not taking into consideration, or even know of, all of the things an Interior Designer has gone through to get to the place where they can sit down with a client and explain WHY something is specifically selected for them, whether it be a piece of furniture, the layout of the space or some funky building code that dictates the why. Sure, some people think of us as personal shoppers, and some designers are ok with that, but that isn’t why I fell in love with the creative process. Designers are problem solvers, we ask LOTS of questions, research, contact other professionals, take measurements, jot ideas down, make lists, organize, pin or tear out images, make some strange, yet strategic doodles on paper to get our ideas out, go back and put all of the info we have obtained onto paper. This is ALL before we do ANY design work!! There is a method to great badassery, of course!

This is why it is so important to work with clients that know the value of what we bring to the project. If a client doesn’t know how much knowledge is in our head, what skills we possess or what exactly we do, it is up to us, as Designers, to educate them!! You can show them all the beautiful pictures of projects you want, but there needs to be some element of education. I realize some people don’t get it or just don’t care. I understand that. There will always be someone in the world like that. The other day I was perusing through some quotes online and found an excellent perspective: there is something like 8 billion people in the world - SOMEONE will know your worth!

This sad looking 1970's condo clubhouse is in need of a much anticipated refresh.  Don't ask me what is up with those weird pyramid-shaped things in the middle of the room. They're quite useless.

Are there other professions where a client asks to work for free or to lower prices? Yes, it happens…and it happens a lot, actually. I was starting to work with a condo association when the HOA board president walked up to me and asked if I design bathrooms. I answered, yes, of course. She then asked me for my card…and I promptly gave her my business card. As I was handing her my card, she said, its for my friend, she is in desperate need of an update…and, after a long pause, she is cheap. Gee, thanks lady. A couple of days later, her friend calls and asks if I am a designer and if I do free design. Wow, at least she didn’t beat around the bush. I explained my fee for a consultation and why I charge for a consultation. Her response? I just need some tiles and cabinets, and maybe a new bath tub and a few lights. Do you do drawings, too? Yes, I do. But you are getting ahead of yourself, I said. Do you have a contractor lined up? Wait, she asked, you don’t install anything? No, that would be the contractor, I am a designer. I create the space and the contractor executes the design. Oh, she asked, are you sure you don’t work for free?? At this point, all I could do was laugh. I am pretty sure I don’t work for free. Do you work for free?? (Yes, I actually said that to her, my smart ass couldn’t resist) She let out a little hmmph...and then said of course not! Well, I said, if you need free design advice, I would suggest going down to a home improvement store. (I am not knocking Home Improvement stores that offer design services! Either way, design is NOT free and clients will eventually pay for it one way or another) Well, she stated, I really need a new bathroom. Well, maybe, you’d be better off starting there. I explained that I charge for my work, as do most designers. It takes a lot of energy and time to pull everything together, I told her. I wish you luck on your bathroom. Was I too harsh? I don’t think so. If a client doesn’t value your work right off the bat, and ONLY focuses on the price, do you really think they will value anything you do? And doing stuff for free doesn’t pay my bills either. The glorious thing about working for yourself is telling other people about the value you bring to them and THEIR project. And being able to tell people, who obviously don’t value your work, to politely try another avenue for their design project. Was I too blunt? Nope, but I do know this: I am confident in my ability to bring a project to life with my skills, talent, and experience. And I like helping people who want to be helped and know the energy and time that it takes to bring their design dreams to life!

Now excuse me, I am now on a quest to find some cake. That picture!!



Serendipity at the Design Bloggers Conference


I had the great opportunity to attend the Design Bloggers Conference this weekend in Beverly Hills CA at the Beverly Hilton. OK, I actually won the ticket to this event. How did I win it, you ask?? By grabbing my cup of coffee one morning, sitting down to the computer and then logging onto FB to an announcement from the wonderful Claire Jefford from Interior Design Business Strategies asking, the first one who says they want this ticket gets it…I thought for about 20 seconds before I typed those very words…I WANT IT. It was only then I thought, oh crap, do I have anything on my calendar??…oh well, if I do, then that will have to wait! I was super excited but had no idea what to expect, except that I knew I would be surrounded by others that I knew I could learn from. All I can say is it has blown my mind!! It is the day after the conference and I am still trying to wrap my head around all of the information presented. Not only was there a lot of information presented, but this event also had such dynamic presenters on how they came to be who they are today, such as Interior Designer’s Jamie Drake and Miles Redd, Carolyne Roehm, Michelle Workman and Justina Blakely. The series of speakers certainly did not disappoint!

Chair and Sofa.jpg

     I came to the conference knowing only one other person, a fellow designer, which I had met up with the week before in a coffee shop. She just happened to live right down the road from where I live. To be able to meet people that are interested in the same stuff as you, and only seeing what they look like from a tiny thumbnail picture on Facebook, is a crazy thought, at least to me. I can tell you that all the people I met were genuinely interested in each other and bettering themselves. 

     The topics of social media, marketing, publishing; meeting vendors, seeing demonstrations, interacting with other designers and bloggers, networking with other people I wouldn’t of had the opportunity to meet otherwise was invaluable. In fact, I met one vendor, who was also from Orange County. I asked him what part of the OC he was from and he told me, I said I am from North OC. Then we had a nice conversation…how he coached soccer for high schoolers in North OC, in particular, the very same High School I attended. OMG…SERIOUS??? Then he was like, that was long ago, I did that in the early 90s…I said, try me. (Wait, am I that old already??) Then he mentioned someone I knew since elementary school, who I remembered played soccer. So later that day, I sent this particular person a message on FB asking if she knew this guy…random question, I know. Sure enough, she remembered him…and asked if he had an accent. Yep, that was the same guy. Then she remembered that I had a website and stated that she loved seeing my design work!!! OMG, if you think people and things are not connected in some way, you are wrong!!! Just look for opportunities and they can lead to inspiring things, as well as crazy coincidences!! And now I am off to build my design social media post at a time!



PS:  A special shout out to Claire Jefford, Adam Japko and Liza Jones for this incredible opportunity. Thank you!! 

Las Vegas Winter 2018 Market

Las Vegas World Market

Las Vegas World Market

OMG...I was in one of the Mecca's of the Design World!! Would you believe Las Vegas?? Yes you read that right! Las Vegas Market is one of the most comprehensive furniture, home decor and gift markets in the western US. It also has the largest mattress shop in the country (I didn't know this part!!) Las Vegas Market started in 2005 as a way to showcase all the vendors and goods dedicated to the Home Furnishing segment (which, by the way, is worth something like a whopping $500 Million..WHA??). It has grown steadily ever since, and now boasts over thousands of vendors' new collections to Designers, Architects, Builders, etc. It also has an International segment as well. Like, how cool is THAT?? It has three GINORMOUS buildings to peruse all the newest offerings from vendors. If you are like me, it was like a huge candy store. I got to see, touch, sit in and admire a LOT of cool stuff the few days I was there.  (I didn't taste any furniture tho!)

And the best thing? I can actually see what kind of quality these things are, talk to others about them, speak to reps, etc before bringing these goodies to my clients. Most of these items are NOT in retail stores. So the only way to get your hands on them is through Interior Designers, like me. Which is why I attended! (You're welcome!! haha)

So some of the prevalent things that kept popping up was immediate after visiting just two floors of one building: reclaimed/rustic woods, a lot of different metallics and many gem-toned items. 

Here are just a FRACTION of the pictures I took on my trip to Las Vegas Market. I hope you like the blingy, pretty, beautiful stuff I saw. Let me know what your favorite is and how we can collaborate on your next project!