Thursday, December 10, 2009

Believe in yourself.

I am very distracted by the trees outside my window. It is brittle and cold; the tops of the trees are clattering against each other in the wind. The ground is covered in white snow and the sky is as blue as can be. It is too beautiful to be working. How did this happen? When did I start allowing myself to be so captivated by such a simple thing?

At some time in our lives we will all experience a disruption, something that forces us to make decisions and choose to either go forward or stay where we are. Even if we choose to stay where we are the world continues to move around us, making it almost impossible to keep still. Over time we have to move, whether we like it or not.

How we move is up to us. No-one can do it for us and no-one else is responsible. For myself, I have found that I began to believe in the magic of the most simplest of things. A twig, holding fast onto the ice that fell the night before, glistens more than any diamond I have ever seen (maybe I need to see a few more diamonds just to be sure :-) I love to look at sharpened pencils, sitting in a cup (I have never liked pens, so am constantly buying pencils, both mechanical and old-fashioned ones. To me there is beauty whenever I use one, the lead giving slightly with a softness as it writes (or draws) on a piece of paper.

I know I am a dreamer, and this often creates problems when I am faced with technology or an over scheduled lifestyle (occasionally I have to schedule time alone, to be silent). But I also know that when I recognize this part of me it becomes a strength that allows me to enjoy the more mundane aspects of my life.

To tie this into my decorating life is a bit of a stretch, I know, but I will try. At the moment there are a million things to be done, it's the Christmas season and I am going on vacation next week. My house is in desperate need of a cleaning, but if I am honest, it is not important to me. My priority is to decorate the house, buy presents, pay attention to the people that I love and keep the ice off the driveway. Cleaning the house is irrelevant. I know that when the other things are done I will clean the house - maybe not perfectly, but it will be enough for me.

Ask yourself what you would really like to do right now. Whether it is cleaning the house, reading a magazine, decorating the outside with moving reindeer, checking homework, baking, buying a new moisturizer or watering your plants, then that is what you should do right now. If you do what is important to you first, then you will have the peace of mind, and the motivation, to get the other things done.

Stop fighting against who you are. Find what your strength is and use that to deal with your life. I know I seem to be advocating taking the easy way out, but I have found that if we find as much pleasure as we can in our everyday life then it makes dealing with the other stuff so much easier.

I met someone recently who wanted advice. As I got to know her I realized that my life and my opinions were nothing more (or less) than what worked for me. To gather ideas and opinions is always one of the best ways to go forward, but in the end we have to sift through what we are given and accept who we are. We are far more likeable when we are ourselves and, believe it or not, it is easier.

As grown-ups we still fall prey to peer pressure, especially around the Holiday season, but if our heart is not in it then it is nothing more than an illusion. An exhausting exercise in trying to please others. Try to stay focused on what is important to you. Your family and friends will notice the difference, and you may just feel a little happier inside.

Believe it or not, I had originally drafted a gigantic article on decorating, but I think you've probably heard the ideas all before (pinecones, bulbs, berries, wreaths, ornaments in bowls etc) so I won't print it. Who needs to be told more things that they "should" be doing by someone who has time to write a blog?

I would, however, always recommend making wishes.

Get some plain, round glass ornaments. Get little strips of paper (1/2 inch by 3 inches) and ask friends and family to write a wish on the paper. Roll it up tightly, carefully take the cap off the ornament and put it inside.
Each year you can add another wish (or, you could ceremoniously smash them open and see if they have come true).

See you all in the New Year.
With love

Monday, November 23, 2009

Is Clutter a dirty word?

With the Holidays fast approaching I have noticed my home has become to sprout little piles of miscellany, carefully covering any flat surface they can inhabit. As I came upstairs with my cup of tea I smiled to myself; my dining room table reminded me of a friend's house which is constantly filled with little piles of books. Dozens of them; all neat, waiting to be read, in categories that are the constant decoration in his home. My dining room table has now become the same way; we are eating breakfast in puzzle formation, moving each pile around to make room for another.

I aspire to be a minimalist, a person who has very little clutter and is organized, but it doesn't seem to happen. I wish I knew where other people put their bills and library books. Scraps of paper with phone numbers, DVDs to be returned and receipts to take to the dry cleaners. Where do they all go? Are they piled in an office and dealt with once a week, accompanied by a glass of wine and an aspirin? Are people so efficient that they have baskets by the door for things that need to be returned? Are bills highlighted, pre-stamped and filed according to date?

For me, I am a bit inbetween. I don't want my clutter to become decoration, but I convince myself that as long as it is in neat piles, and the bills are paid on time, I am organized.

One thing I have realized is that my clutter stems from a need to be able to see things. If I can't see what I have then I tend to forget. I need visual reminders of things I need to do, and as I am inspired by what I see, I seem to be predisposed to live in a loosely haphazard, decorative way.

With Thanksgiving and Christmas almost here I thought I would write a few of my own ideas on how I try to keep ahead of the clutter and staying organized without making myself crazy.

- Spend a few minutes each night writing out what you need to do the next day. It will help you sleep better.
- If you send out a lot of cards at this time of year, keep them in a box with a pen, your address book, stamps and labels, ready to work on when you have time. Make a note on your calendar to remind you to write them. Allocate enough time, over several days if needed. Send them off as soon as they are done.
- Plan who you need to buy for and write a list of ideas (make a budget). If you are buying online try to consolidate as much as possible. Many places offer free shipping if you spend over a certain amount, plus it's easier to keep track of your orders if you just use one or two places.
(www.amazon.com and www.anthropologie.com are very good for inexpensive and unique gifts)
- Go through the mail when it arrives and discard what you don't want immediately. Especially at this time of year; don't keep catalogs and "free offer" coupons unless you were planning on buying from them anyway.
- Pay bills early if you are going to be away over the Holidays. Don't be caught by bank closings and late fees.
- Hang a sturdy bag on the door handle and put in it anything that needs to be returned or dropped off. Take it with you each time you leave the house.
- Keep pens, pencils and a good supply of paper by the telephone, computer and in the car.
- Clean out your car each week. Or, put a medium sized container in the trunk and throw absolutely everything in there (get the kids to pitch it over the back seat). When it gets filled with too much stuff, take it into the house and go through it.

Finally, if it all gets too much, go to bed with a book and a bar of chocolate.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Italy, or somewhere else.

I am having a Sophia Loren moment. It is 40 degrees Fahrenheit outside (4 Celsius) but I am waltzing around the house in a long skirt and a small cardigan, barefoot, pretending I am in Italy. In my head it is 1968, a more elegant time, and I am about to sit down at an old typewriter to finish my manuscript. For me, this counteracts the dull, coldness of the outside and helps me to focus. It makes me smile as I work. As I begin, I contemplate how pretending to be something we are not can transform us, in our minds, into something else. By deliberately capturing a specific notion in our head we can influence our emotions, and therefore change the way we feel. This logically (or illogically) tells me that I can do the same thing in my house.

Using the transformation idea I am thinking about changing my living room. It is looking a bit stale. It has been the same way for several months now, and although I like the eclectic feel, and the colors, I think it looks a bit too composed. If we leave our homes and accessories the same way for too long it becomes like wallpaper, we don't see what we have anymore and even the most arresting design will become boring.

I have decided to decorate the room around an idea, my focus is on the end result, not the process. My first thought is that I want to defy the weather outside and make the room appear warmer, like my sunny, Italian daydream. However, my visions of sandstone steps and blue oceans are abruptly shattered by the harsh reality of at least five months of Winter. I save Italy for another day, because I know that when it is freezing cold what I really need is to feel warm and comfortable. Maybe more English cottage (or pub) than Italian villa.

As soon as I have the idea, my writing becomes distracted. I want to move the sofa and I am doing a mental inventory of all the other furniture that I have around the house. I need some unexpected pieces, maybe an old wooden bench from outside, or some bricks? Don't ask me what I would do with the bricks, but they are lovely, hand-cast and full of character (a dear friend found them years ago, by a dumpster. We carried them away a few at a time when no-one was looking). I will find a place for the bricks.

I might have to add some woollen plaid blankets somewhere. When I say "somewhere", what I kindly mean is to cover the part of the sofa that the cat has shredded. Unfortunately, I always have to drape a blanket over that corner, but fortunately for me the sofa is quite ugly so any distraction is always a good one.

In my head my cottage idea cannot have too much pattern. I want it to look ridiculously cluttered, without being messy. A place where you know you can curl up for hours; tucked away amidst the pattern and the organized chaos, sneaking little pockets of time protecting yourself from the nasty cold outside.

I know this is one of my wandering-off-on-a-tangent posts, but truly, sometimes, we should let our imagination do the decorating for us. We don't need to spend hundreds of dollars to create a new look in our home. What we do need, however, is a positive thought, an inspiration or an idea. We need a direction. Instead of focusing on what we don't have, or what we think we need, think about what we want and then figure out how to get there. If I just said that I hated my living room I would be instantly creating a dead end for myself, it is a negative thought that will put me at a standstill. But, if I think about what I want my living room to be eg. warm, cozy, cluttered (I know, go figure!) then I am putting a positive idea into my head. A positive idea that makes me think of the possibilities instead of the limitations.

So, next time you want to redecorate, work backwards, think about the end result. Go barefoot if it helps....

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Gift giving - naturally.

It’s Friday. It’s raining. I have good hair. I am meeting my dear friend for lunch today, at her house, and I want to take her a present. I don’t have to. I’ve reached that strangely grown-up time in my life where I don’t take a present to somebody’s home unless I really want to (and I truly enjoy being with that person). This does beg the question, why do we go to someones home if we don't like them? But that's another story.
But it’s raining. And, much as I love her, I don’t want to go out into the rain, to the shops, because I am not even sure what I want to take.

As I got ready I thought about the whole idea of giving presents; for some people it is an obligation, a nuisance, and for others it is a joy and a demonstration of their feelings. My theory is that if we want to do things that make people happy then it shouldn't be complicated (and it should make us happy too).

So, with that in mind I started to think about what to take to my friend. Hydrangeas are my first thought. My garden is filled with Hydrangeas of all colors and sizes but, aside from the fact that they are laden with rain, they take up a lot of space on a table and would need a large vase to hold them. I decide to wander around my garden for inspiration (in the aforementioned drizzly rain). I have a Thyme plant on the back step. With frost looming I thought that would be a good gift. My friend loves to cook and eat fresh, organic produce. Perfect. I bring it inside, pick out the dead leaves that had taken residence, washed the excess dirt off and prune it so that it looks cared for.

Turns out it looked so happy in my kitchen that I put it on my windowsill, and decided not to give it away afterall.

I then remembered I had some more herbs, which I had planted in a half-barrel, in a rather dismal attempt to try and grow a Mediterranean garden. How ironic, it looked like rubbish all year and now, as Winter approaches, it decides to take on some form of fabulousness! I dug up the large, fluffy Oregano and went to look for one of my favorite terracotta pots (I found a pile of old, odd shaped pots just lying on the side of the road years ago, abandoned. I like to imagine they have lived a long, interesting life, squirreled away in some secret garden – maybe even a castle courtyyard overlooking a cliff). I planted the Oregano in one of these pots and put a rock on the side for decoration (in reality it was to stop the plant from tipping out). Found a small china saucer to put underneath it and I was done. It would look at home in anyone’s kitchen.

Anyway, after potting my herb plant I wanted to share my ideas for gift-giving (not the Wedding sort, just the everyday, I’m happy to see you, sort).

- My first idea is to always shop at home first. I know as I write this that it does take a bit of forethought, but overtime it will become a habit, and you will be surprised at how much you can improvise with what you have around you. I love to bake, but I also know that when I don’t have all the ingredients there are some delicious box/refrigerator items. Brownie mixes (Ghirardelli) and sweet Bread mixes (Krusteaz) are always very good (you can easily add extra chocolate, nuts or dried fruit to these too without changing the cooking time). Don’t mean to be rude, but steer clear of the cut and slice cookies in the refrigerator section, buy a box of pre-made cookies instead.
- Check your pantry cupboards. Do you have something delicious that hasn’t expired? (e.g. imported box of tea, cookies, specialty jam, hot-chocolate and marshmallows). Unopened of course.
- Flowers or plants from the garden that you can pick (or dig up)?
- If I have nothing at home then I do head to the shops, but admittedly I usually spend a few moments before I go, thinking about my budget and planning what I would like to buy. This saves time and stress.
- Don’t overlook the beauty of seasonal fruit and vegetables. Find the absolute best you can, put them in a clear cellophane bag and tie with a ribbon (grapes, peaches, asparagus, tomatoes on the vine, fresh cranberries). Miniature fruit is another one of my favorites, especially in the Fall (e.g. lady apples, clementines, forelle pears).
- Bottle of wine from your home town (or country) or one that has a particularly funny label on it (Australian ones especially, have a lot of funny names and pictures and are often around $10).
- Flowers or plants from the supermarket. Find the most natural looking bunch of flowers there (gerberas, sunflowers, chrysanthemums, tulips etc). Ask for a cellophane floral sleeve to put them in. These keep them fresh, and always make your gift look a bit nicer without being too fussy. Remove any baby’s breathe, ferns, rubber bands, labels or price tags. Cut the stems all the same length. Place back inside the cellophane bag and either take as is, wrap in gift wrap or tie a ribbon around the middle. Fold down or cut the cellophane neatly if it is too high.
- Plants. Same idea. Go to the supermarket and pick something natural. Remove any garish decorations, price tags etc (if you need the care label try to hide it, or just give it to them later).If the plastic pot is covered in a foil or paper sleeve that you don’t like, change it. Take it off, put a piece of plastic (or a plastic bag) over the holes then cover with a square of your own wrapping paper. Tie with a ribbon, or, for a quieter look, just carefully tape the wrapping paper to itself so that it doesn’t fall off. Even easier, just take all the extras off, put some tissue in a bag and put the “nude” plant in the bag, letting it peek out the top.
- Inexpensive book that you know pertains to that person’s life at the moment (e.g. the funny side of parenting for a mother raising teenagers).
- Chocolate, a really delicious bar. Wrap it as if it is the most precious thing in the world.
- Daily desk calendar of their favorite indulgence (travel, shoes, handbags…)
- Anything that they love (favorite candy bar, shampoo, soap, beer, lip-gloss, Twinkies etc)
- A balloon. Who doesn’t love a balloon?

Well, you get the idea, the list could go on; but the point is that with just a little time and thought (and not a lot of money) it is very easy to give gifts to people that we care about.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Decorating with Children - Part 2

I love my daughter dearly, I must do, because I promised not to disclose the contents of the debris that lurked in her room. Things that had not seen the light of day since George W. Bush first entered the White House, and many things that, if offered, would be happily accepted by any of the CSI franchise.

It took four days to finish her room. Painting was the least of it. I took as much out of the room as I could, but the rest I had to move from wall to wall as I painted. Some things were put back while the paint was still wet, and I know there are smudges of purple in areas that there shouldn't be. Decorating is never a perfect process, but like any room, once it's re-loaded the imperfections disappear, and, if we are lucky, we see it as a whole, not just a single piece.

The end result is better than I had hoped. I finished about 10 minutes before she came home from school yesterday. I turned on all the lights, made the bed and fussed with the curtains. Just like a makeover show on HGTV I made her close her eyes while I opened the door. When she opened them she squealed. She loved it so much.

The best part for me is that her room now reflects who she is at this exact moment. It is filled with what is important to her. Her hamster and hermit crabs are on the desk by her bed (so that she can watch them as she goes to sleep). The small loveseat has been rediscovered as a place to sit with her friends. Her collection of rocks, shells, bones and claws (!) have been given their own shelf. There is plenty of room to add more, and she can finally see what she has without sorting through worn, paper bags and special, little cardboard containers. I gave her a white board for drawing and a cork board so that she can pin up art work and photographs. Things that she still loves, but doesn't need on a daily basis, were stored away; still accessible but not on display.

Before I began her room I decided to do a consultation with her. I pretended she was a client ; asking what she liked and didn't like,what she wanted and how much leeway I had to use my own ideas. I wrote notes as we talked and I sketched a plan of the room. We discussed the placement of her bed and whether or not she liked to sit by the window. What could I store away and what did she need to have in plain sight. The small amount of time that this took helped me to understand her as a person, not just a girl who recoiled in horror every week when asked to clean her room.

As parents we often ignore what our children want in lieu of what we think is right for them. Decorating a room is an easy opportunity to let them create their perfect world, to show them that we care about what is important to them.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Decorating with Children

I had to write this title. As I did all I could think of were putting hooks all over the wall and attaching my children to them. Of course I never would, but it's a funny visual.

It is time to decorate my daughter's room again. She is 10. Gone are the days of looking at the Disney color charts, and picking out the pinkiest pink in the entire universe. This time she, asked what her budget would be, when could I start and how many friends could she invite over to help. Her budget is $35, excluding paint and of course her friends can help. However, I know who will be doing most of the work. The color she picked is called vintage purple, just the name makes me happy. It conjures up visions of daisies, worn out leather and great guitar rifts played in an open field. But I digress, this is after all her room, not mine.

I never tire of decorating; as soon as she asked for my help, I found myself sketching layouts and writing down ideas. Decorating and design are an inexplicable joy for me, I will never push for a client or ask to redo someones home, but if you ask for my advice I can guarantee you that my head has already started the planning process.

Before I forget, yes, I will post before and afters of her room as soon as it is done.

For most people having a baby is all about the cute clothes and the squidgy, little faces, for me it was also another opportunity to decorate. My inspiration for her room was a wonderful set of curtains that were bright, lime green with abstract yellow blobs on them. I painted two walls yellow and the opposing ones green. The ceiling was painted sky blue with white clouds. Of course we had glow in the dark stars, how could you not? I also found glow in the dark paint at the craft store (which really does work and lasts forever). The accessories and crib were all red, yellow, blue and green. It was an easy palette to decorate with. As she grew up, and started to walk, she loved the colorfulness of it. Add to the room a few hundred toys and it became a kaleidoscope of messy color.

Ever the lazy mother I drew pictures of her clothes and taped them to the outside of the drawers. I was determined that from an early age she could learn to find her clothes and put them away. Little did I know that just because she knew what to do, didn't mean she would actually do it. Apparently I was lazy and naive. But when she was little my theory worked really well. As she figured out the pictures (eg. a t-shirt, pants, dress, underwear) I added the words so that she could learn through recognition. It became a game for her and an artistic outlet for me. I continued the theme and drew things on the walls around the house, writing the name next to them so that she could learn what they were. A word of caution, if you ever do this, do not use a permanent marker, years later I still have the words "Chair" peering through the paint in the living room. I have used every product available and still the words continue to bleed through. I wrote it seven years ago....

When she was five she had to have a pink room. I, foolishly, let her pick the color. It was a bright, fuchsia pink that became quite dark when I began to paint the wall. It looked horrible. I immediately went out and got a new, softer pink, trying to convince my daughter that it was the same color, that it had just faded when it came out of the can. I still feel bad that I lied to her about it.

We (I) decided that the pink room needed fairies. My friend and I found wall stickers of fairies. I painted a tree and the fairies danced around the tree. I painted her lampshades to match and glued the fairies on them (it's ok to do this, it dims the light a bit but it is not hazardous in any way). Her Aunt gave her a lovely canopy for her bed that had flowers around the top, it matched the fairy theme and became a little hideaway for her and her friends to sit in. I found 5 large pink circles of carpet that became lily-pads for them to hop on as they made their way around the room. She still has them and her friends still play with them like giant pieces of hopscotch.

About 2 years later we hit the Pop Star phase. Hannah Montana ruled our universe for approximately 5 months. Everything had to be Hannah. We took down most of the fairies, hung up a Hannah poster and tried to make the room look a little more grown up. I gave my daughter a budget of $25 and we went to Target. She bought a pink and orange beaded curtain for her door, a pink lava lamp, a pink and purple laundry hamper and some other accessories. She was so excited to be able to buy her own things and working within a budget made her feel very grown-up. It was a good lesson for us both. I would really recommend doing this with young children.

As abruptly as it started, the Hannah phase finished. In came the Jonas Brothers and a need for a more sophisticated room. She and her friends were starting to hang out in her room more and she was, I think, a little self-conscious that it was so cluttered and some of the items were a little young. I have always let her keep her room the way she wanted. Now and again I make her clean it up, but as long as her bed is made and there aren't any actual living fungi anywhere I give her carte blanche to do with it whatever she wants.

So now here we are, ready to paint again. It is going to be purple (vintage, of course, which makes me smile - it's kind of a murky, faded purple) less cluttered and a more mature version of a girls room. I broke the bad news to her, it had to be cleaned before we could paint.......She was shocked and told me "But you're a house designer, can't you do it all for me?". So, I asked "Would you like me to clean your room, organize it, paint and redecorate it while you're at school, sweetie?". "Yes please" she said............

Well, after I had stopped laughing, she really did have to tidy her room. Fortunately for her I can't resist a decorating job, and I have been dying to redecorate her room for a while now. The only instructions I have is to not look under the bed or in her desk, that's where her private things are. As bad as I can be, I promise that I won't look. She is at the stage where I am not sure I want to read everything that is going on in her head, some things are better left unsaid. The fact that she told me where not to look made me giggle.

I decided to treat her like a client. I asked her what her requirements were (hamster, hermit crabs, lava lamp, books and cd player by bed) and what she did and didn't like about the room (not enough space, too much clutter, too babyish, loved the windows and the light, still liked her flower canopy and beaded door).

We discussed some options and decided that the bed and sofa would stay where they were, but everything else I could move if I wanted to. After sketching up a plan I told her I would try to start this week.
Darling that she is, she even offered to pay me a fee...

Monday, August 31, 2009

Eat cake

I have just returned from a three day workshop on Sculptural Cake Decorating. It was relaxing, tiring and wonderful all at the same time. The weekend came to an end with ten exhausted women carrying ten beautiful (and completely different) works of art to their cars. Hugs were shared, and some of us promised to keep in touch. Unfortunately for us, the structure of our cakes were made from styrofoam; not the lovely, buttery confection we had imagined, eating it for weeks afterwards until we finally exploded from too much sugary goodness....
We bonded over fake cake.

However, now that I have it home, sitting on the table, in my living room, I no longer want to eat it; I want it to live forever in my house; I will never get tired of it, no matter how dusty and faded it gets. It's a reminder of a pocket in time when I lost sight of who I was supposed to be, I immersed myself into whatever decided to dwell inside my head. For three days I didn't care about the outside world, or if anyone approved of what I was doing.

What made it all so special, for me, was how the center had managed to combine the artistic lifestyle with the classes that they held there. Where we stayed was quite basic; the house was over a hundred and fifty years old, the amenities were minimal, the atmosphere one of simplicity and comfort. We had no choice but to forget the outside world. We were in a very rural area with no televisions, no radio, definitely no internet service and very sporadic cell phone coverage. Everyone at the center was there to study or learn a craft, so the focus was on their art (not the latest debate on Government Healthcare). We had no choice but to be absorbed into our surroundings.

When we first arrived we were given hours of instruction on the art of fondant cakes, and how to decorate them. Then came time to start sketching our designs. I admit I was a little intimidated to have to design and present a cake (albeit styrofoam) to a woman who has singlehandedly taken the dessert world by storm (the delightful and tremendously talented Collette Peters). Fortunately, she made it very easy for us to like her, and I began to sketch my ideas out onto my notepad. I knew almost immediately the pattern and colors that I wanted to use. After she had consulted with each of us we were given the arduous task of carving the cakes out of styrofoam forms. It sounds easy, but honestly, I think it took me about three hours to get the measurements and the shapes right. At the end of day one I had three sawn off pyramids, all of graduating sizes. The following morning the fun part began, we started coloring and shaping the fondant to cover our "cakes".

During the next two days I want to believe that the cake became a reflection of me and my ideas. It is a colorful cake that has symmetry and whimsy, but it is also woefully imperfect. It may be an act of self-preservation, but I firmly believe that beauty and character lie within our imperfections.

As my cake evolved I needed to change a few things. The bottom layer was supposed to be purple but as I mixed the purple food coloring into the white fondant it started to turn blue. I added more and more purple and it just became more and more blue. Collette asked me why I had that puzzled expression on my face (my daughter lovingly calls this my twisty face) and I explained about the color problem. She said that for some reason the purple reacts with that brand of fondant and turns it blue. Adding red only muddied the color, so I had to change direction and redo all of my color schemes throughout the cake. I was happy that I was able to adapt so easily. The more philosophical part of my reminded me that this was perhaps just another teachable moment that can only happen when mistakes are made (but, let's not get too carried away, it was afterall, just a styrofoam cake, not the Mona Lisa).

Last night, after I returned home, I thought of some of the other women who were in the workshop. An architect who spent some time the week before planning her cake; she assembled it beautifully, so quickly and perfectly, with no gaps or structural issues. A young woman did an amazing cake that was a stack of classic horror stories. The top of the cake had a bloodied hand creeping out from the top. Alternately, she also did the sweetest, tiny cake that looked like it had just fallen out of a fairytale. And my dear friend, Debbie, who did a topsy turvy cake that was a glamorous study of pinks and purples with silver pearls in between.

Does this mean that given the freedom to do whatever we want, we begin to embrace who we really are inside? I think it does. All of these women were creative, and yet the cakes could not have been more varied. As we got to know them I could see why they did what they did and the relevance that the cake may have had in their lives.

These women had an opportunity to design whatever they wanted; in an environment with all of the tools that they could possibly need, with a teacher of world-class renown. When given all of these things most of us chose to demonstrate who we were in a very tangible way. All of them beautiful, but all of them different.

I think we should enjoy what makes us different. What makes us think or cry or giggle. Take the time to find out what these things are and make them a part of your life.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Does it count if I'm wearing Pajamas?

I have decided to spend this weekend trying to re-organize my home office. Like most rooms in my house it is small, barely 8 x 8 with a sloping attic ceiling. The size is irrelevant, because this magical room has a view of my garden and at this exact moment a deer and her two fawns are playing in the middle of the lawn. I'm not making it up, they really are; the fawns, still covered in spots, are so small that they can barely run to chase each other.

It never used to be an office; it was a computer room, a beige man-cave filled with old computer equipment and vinyl records. A few years ago I gradually started to reclaim the space. As I tried to figure out what I wanted I realized that my needs had to co-exist with my decorating ideas. I wanted an office, but it must be one that I enjoyed being in, otherwise what was the point?

When you walk into the room you are facing the window that overlooks the garden. The wall that it is on has a sloping ceiling, actually two; the middle of the wall (above the window) has a four foot flat area, that slopes down on either side to walls that are smaller than most, but normal for an old attic space.
I decided to try and make the room appear taller by painting the window wall, the ceiling and the slopes a soft butter cream. The rest is painted in a gorgeous blue/green color that I bought in the discard section of the local hardware store. I would love to say that this was effortless, but it wasn't. It took me several colors of paint, and many painted walls, to find the combination that made the room look as large as possible while also maximizing the natural light coming in from the window.

After I had painted I scrounged the house for things I could use as storage. I already had a filing cabinet and a desk but I knew I needed a place for my decorating supplies, color charts, books etc. I found an old white bookcase, a table lamp and a strange, collapsible shelf from years ago that had been stored in the basement. 

Armed with all this, I knew that my first priority was to put the desk in front of the window. The desk is quite old, laminated in an old fashioned duck egg blue with gold speckles and one of those lovely little shelves that pull out to the side to give you extra space. I rarely use the shelf, but it makes me happy to know that it is there, hidden, just in case. 

Once I had put the desk in front of the window the white bookcase went to the right of the window and the other, smaller one, went to the left hand wall with my printer on it. The metal filing cabinet easily disappeared with just a few magazines stacked on top of it (one day I will paint it, but I can't be bothered right now). The computer chair had to go so I brought up an old, wooden dining chair from the basement. I later decided I needed a chair in the corner of the room. Not quite sure why, as I wasn't expecting anyone, but it turns out to be very useful for when my daughter needs to chat, or my mum comes to visit. I was fortunate to have a wrought iron armchair in the garden that I didn't mind bringing inside. I spray painted the chair white, sanded it a little then recovered the plastic cushions with some vintage tablecloths.

Now, I know that this seems like a very vanity driven room, and I think, in hindsight, it is, but, I know myself well enough to know that how my surroundings look and feel reflects the way I function. I need to be organized, but I also need my home to inspire me, and I have to enjoy what I am looking at. The other side of it is purely practical; if everything is in it's place, and I like where I have put it, I am more likely to be able to find things and therefore stay motivated and on task.

On the mundane side I have tweaked things as I have gone along. I tend to accumulate a lot of coffee cups on my desk, which has led to a designated spot that I had to train myself to use (yes, it sounds daft but if you have ever spilled a cup of coffee on your desk you'll know what I mean). I can't do without coffee, so I had to adapt my work area accordingly to avoid future mishaps. I also decided to screw two vintage cup hooks into the side of the bookcase that faces to the right of my desk. These have binder clips hanging from them which hold bills and anything of importance that I need to attend to. This idea was simple but so successful as they are always in my sight and I can reach them easily. The bookshelf is from Ikea, and is made of melamine, so the hooks screwed in easily but securely. A noticeboard or a taut picture hook wire with clips could also be used.

Anyway, while I am thinking of binder clips, here are some other thoughts that may help anyone else who is lucky enough to be able to work from home:
  • Try and keep your office folders and books all of one type/style. Whether you are a contractor or a writer this will help to keep your work space visually clutter free. If you are not sure what to choose just use all black stationary, it's inexpensive and always looks good.
  • Think of unusual pieces of furniture to store your PC equipment on. Traditional computer tables and desks are often too big and unnecessary, don't overthink your solutions. Many electronic pieces are smaller than they used to be and you can easily store them on a small table or shelf that you may have already.
  • Add artwork to inspire and motivate you. Some people find words and quotes to be helpful.
  • Limit the amount of family photos and belongings that you have in your home office. I know as I write this that it sounds a bit callous,but I think that if you have the luxury of an office at home it is important to try and avoid blurring the lines. You will be less distracted and work more efficiently, if you and your family recognize that this is work and not just a parent playing on the computer.
  • Find your most productive time of day, and let that be your strength. Make phone calls and important decisions during that time.
  • Pretend that you work in a cubicle; at the end of each day tidy your desk and make a list for tomorrow.
  • Anything that you can stick a pin into is a good thing (this sounds funny when I read it back, but you know what I mean). I am a visual person, I need my notes, colors, inspirations out where I can see them. Do the same with lists, phone numbers, anything that you need or want to be reminded of. Hang it in plain sight. Even small sewing pins can attach pieces of paper to a wall with minimal damage.
  • Reorganize often. As your needs change so should your office space. Don't be afraid to admit it is no longer working, get in there and move things around.
  • And finally, put on your pajamas, grab a cup of coffee and get to work!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

My Kitchen - a love story

I have Kitchen Envy. Anyone who knows me knows that I lament my kitchen. Whenever I visit a home for the first time (or second or tenth) I can often be caught hyperventilating in the corner as I gasp in awe at their kitchen. I try to be discreet as I look around; taking in the details, my mind immediately begins to work overtime. I briefly entertain the idea of magically transporting their kitchen into my home. Do you think they would notice? Slightly disillusioned I go home and look around, sadly. If only I could knock down a wall or replace the floor or make it just, well, better. Then (this is the odd part) I immediately fell guilty for inflicting such disdain onto my small, unpretentious 1930's kitchen.

My kitchen and I first met in 1991. It is very small, about 8 feet by 10 feet with three entrances leading into it. It has one small window over the sink. The refrigerator, when opened, blocks one door, the dishwasher, when opened, blocks another and a cabinet door can easily block the last entrance. The fridge and oven are side by side and the sink is on the opposite wall. The microwave sits by the telephone. It is a maze of disorganization in which I am often spinning from area to area like a confused, plus-sized ballerina.

When I moved in it had yellow, peeling linoleum on the floor and orange and yellow calico wallpaper. The countertops were a bright sky blue and the cabinets were oak with rectangular brass handles. Pretty standard fare for a house that was from the 1930's but was last renovated in the late 70's.

The first thing I did was to try and remove the wallpaper. Unfortunately there were several other layers of wallpaper underneath. As I investigated the last layer I could glimpse the bathroom wall on the other side. I hastily patched the wall and tried to forget what I had seen. My solution was to put up pretty flowered wallpaper that matched (?) the blue countertop. It instantly brightened the room but I tired of the wallpaper almost before I had finished putting it up.

Next I decided to get the floor redone. Peeling yellow vinyl linoleum was replaced with more white vinyl linoleum. Don't ask me what I was thinking; my plan was to lighten it all up, and to have as much white as possible seemed to be the right solution at the time. The white linoleum lasted for about a year, until I decided I wanted slate on the floor. Not being able to afford slate I got slate colored press on tiles instead. To be fair to the tiles I have had them about 15 years and I still quite like the way they look.

Ok, so I have the floor in pretend slate and the walls are still flowery. Time to tackle the countertops. I was watching HGTV one day when I saw Christopher Lowell paint countertops. I had to do it. My countertops were bright blue, I dreamed of a neutral countertop. So, I primed the countertops, painted them cream and applied many layers of polyurethane to them. They looked beautiful (to me). Shortly afterwards I found some decorative vintage tiles at an old farmhouse store in Pennsylvania. I laid the tiles onto the countertop so that I could put hot pans and things onto it. I loved the uniqueness of them. I later went on to attach them directly to the countertop (crumbs were always getting caught inbetween them and we had become home to about 3 million ants). As an afterthought I also bought two large marble tiles and glued them to the little countertop next to the stove - they were great for putting hot pans on and were very easy to clean.

It was during all these exploits that I realized one of my favorite things to do was to decorate as much as I could with as little money as possible. When I added up what I had spent, it was barely anything. Most things just needed a little creativity, some planning and time.

I continued with the kitchen. The wallpaper had to go, I wanted to create a serene kitchen that was functional and pretty but did not draw attention to it's many, obvious flaws. I decided to paint over the flowery wallpaper. I had a small painting in the living room that had a border of dark green paint. I loved that green, and decided that if I hung the tiny painting in the living room it could be a suggestion of the color that was also in the kitchen. I color-matched the paint and began to paint (without primer). Yes, it bubbles up and yes it took a lot of paint. But, if you wait a little bit, or pop it with a pin, the bubbling subsides and you can flatten the paper out. Obviously I would never recommend doing this in a large area or an area with a very bright color on the wall. The dark green covers a lot of flaws and is very forgiving in the kitchen.

When it was done I hung up some old back and white photographs and admired what I was beginning to create. The photographs stood out nicely against the green and the cream countertops balanced well with the cabinets and the floor.

My next adventure with the kitchen was the cabinets. I have two dreams for my kitchen. Well, more than that but I'll tell you the first two. The first one is to remove the cabinets that flank the window and put up open shelves instead. The second idea is to remove the cabinets altogether and to make an entire wall of windows. As I thought about these options I knew that what I could do in the meantime was to remove the cabinet doors to give the illusion of open shelves. So, this is what I did. I lived with this for a while but then I decided it just looked like I had removed the doors on the cabinets. Not exactly what I was looking for.

At this point I needed to stop and think a bit, my kitchen had to remain functional while I experiment with my ideas. What I came up with was to paint all the upper cabinets cream, remove any dated moldings and replace the hardware. I decided I wanted to try and develop a bespoke kitchen, one that looks pieced together over time. I wanted the kitchen to appear as big as possible and I wanted to make the oak cabinets as quiet as I possibly could without actually replacing them.

So what I did was buy (on ebay) glass knobs for the upper cabinets and wooden, unfinished pulls for the bottom ones. I stained the wooden ones to match the cabinets. I went ahead, primed and painted all of the cabinets (note: don't use water based primer on something that you really need to be durable, I had to redo the entire kitchen with an oil-based primer as the water based one could be scraped off easily). I removed several pieces of molding that I didn't like, painted the flowery walls behind them and I put the new hardware on the cabinets.

When it was done I was so pleased with it. The green, cream and wood blend together nicely and the glass knobs on the cabinet give an unexpected lightness to the cabinets.

You may think I am done at the moment, but I'm not. I now have my eye on some original dark red linoleum for the floor, and, despite frowns from some kitchen designers, I am still thinking of marble or stainless steel on the countertops. Not to mention that I want the wall above the stove knocked down and some cabinets removed and a free standing pantry..............

Sunday, July 12, 2009

A few of my favorite things

I love those bits in magazines that tell you the Editor's favorite picks for the months. So, for this week I thought I would list a few of my favorite decorating items and websites. Things that I either covet or already own.

Artichoke Lamp

Created by Danish architect Poul Henningsen, in 1958. I am not sure what it is that I love so much about this lamp (I don't even like artichokes) but the design is one that is also studied and admired world wide. It is truly timeless and would look at home in any setting (modern or traditional).

Photographs by Ted Scott

Ted Scott photographs and digitally enhances the sights and sounds of New Zealand, it's people and landscape. I have several of the 8 x 10 prints in my home. One of my absolute favorites is a composed photograph of Sheep and Sailboats. Ted's photographs can be purchased for a very small amount of money and the quality is exceptional.


Made to order by a company called Cool Sofa's. Fabrics, design and size can all be custom made for a very good price. The website allows you to experiment with your designs on the computer and you can request samples of the fabric for a very nominal fee.

Handmade and Vintage Items

A website devoted totally to entrepreneur's who make or sell handcrafted and vintage items. Everything from handmade stationery to jewelry and clothing. It is all unique and there is the satisfaction of knowing you are supporting a home business. Many things can be custom ordered to your specifications.

Leaf Garland Lamp

The second pendant lamp on my list (I actually had five but narrowed it down fearing a bit of a fetish). This lamp has been on my "to buy" list for about 10 years. In silver, I know that it would probably look a little crazy in my house but I love the ethereal shapes of the leaves, the whimsy of it.

Linens, china, glassware, utensils, furniture, lighting, countertops, flooring

Everything can be found at Ikea, either online or at the store. Items are less expensive and better quality than mid-priced retail stores. The only downside is that the turnover is huge, buy when you see it as it may not be back for a while. All furniture can be tested out at the store and usually ordered in many different styles and colors. If you want style within a budget then this is the place to go.

Thrift Stores, Habitat ReStores, Mission Stores, Salvation Army etc

I love wandering around these stores. Several pieces of furniture in my home were bought here, usually the price of delivery was more than the cost of the item. If you are looking for something specific it is best to go often, dealers are always scouting these places for antiques and great bargains they can re-sell at an amazing profit. The best things to buy are sofas and chairs (reupholster or change the pillows if needed or add taller legs if they are too low) dressers, bookshelves, china and vintage kitchenalia.

Lady in Red
by Rose Thummel

I bought this painting several years ago and I never tire of looking at it.
It's never too late to start a wish-list. Keep a website file in your computer (or just cut out pictures from magazines and pin them to the wall). I am almost certain that one day what you want will find it's way into your home...

Monday, July 6, 2009

Flip-flop Decorating.

I grew up in New Zealand. The photograph above is of the beach down the street from my house. I never appreciated it until I moved away. Now I live in New Jersey and when Summer hits I always feel the need for water, sand and sun. Last week I went to the beach twice. I found that once there I never wanted to leave. Both experiences were totally different but equally as much fun.

The first day we went to Coney Island in Brooklyn, New York. If ever there was a place that confronted the senses head on it would be Coney Island and the surrounding area. After visiting the NY Aquarium we walked onto the Boardwalk for lunch. The boardwalk is made of wood and very wide, sand and ocean on the left and the Amusement Park on the right. The original Amusement park was shut down years ago but then reopened with modifications a short time later. There are vestiges of the old amusements; some working and some left to slowly fall apart. I know that eventually the ones that are not being maintained will have to be removed, for safety reasons, but for now they are a fond memory for those of us who visited it years ago.

After lunch we went to the beach. The beach was so crowded that to relax and listen to the ocean was not on the agenda. But people-watching was. There were people there from all walks of life, some were in bathing suits but many were in street clothes with their pants rolled up and their shirts unbuttoned. Many were children straight from school; still carrying backpacks and in school uniforms, their parents yelling at them to hold their shoes up out of their waves. The day was warm and there were street vendors walking the beaches selling homemade jewelry and bottles of water. It reminded me that summer should be what we make of it. Grasp the moments when you can and don't worry if your not exactly prepared for it, just enjoy.

The next day we went to Spring Lake in New Jersey. An area filled with Victorian homes and a small town center with Antique shops and ice cream parlors. The boardwalk is more modern but it is long and welcoming to anyone who wants to walk it or ride their bicycle along it. There aren't rides or amusements but there is a small pavilion and outdoor showers. It is very beautiful, sailboats pass by and you are almost certain to see dolphins and ferries. The ocean was rough that day, to watch it from a distance was relaxing but not very safe for those who wanted to swim or surf. The children played at the very edge while the lifeguards were kept busy curtailing the adults who needed to show off their surfing skills.

On both days I left sunburned, happy and tired. When I got home I realized that my home needed to reflect the summer days a bit more and I wanted that carefree feeling to blend seamlessly from the outside to the inside.

So, after two days at the beach here are my ideas for Summer decorating:

- If you want to create a festive mood use bright colors like reds, greens and blues or,
- Use greys, whites, blues and pale yellows for a more serene feel.

- Pick branches from a tree, buy a bunch of flowers at the farm or supermarket. Try to choose plants that are naturally occurring around your area, this will feel more relaxing than an exotic or artificial plant. If you can't find a bouquet that you like then just buy a plant, in bloom, repot it and put it on your table.

- What does summertime and vacation mean to you? Even if you can't go on vacation scatter things around the house that evoke that feeling for you. (Souvenirs, fabrics, even a bowl full of sand and shells that you collected ages ago or ones that you bought at the craft store recently).

- Enlarge photographs of places you have visited and hang them on the wall in inexpensive frames. Or just put the photographs in a bowl and put them on the coffee table, no-one will be able to resist looking through them.

Vision Boards.
- Cut out pictures of places you would like to visit, or postcards you have received and pin them to a noticeboard. Add words that inspire and relax you.

I know we all work, and that life can be hectic, but try to make your Summer a special time for you and your family. Think of it as an opportunity to enjoy being outdoors; remember that feeling of being a teenager, sunbathing in the backgarden and reading cheap novels that took no effort (other than turning the pages and trying not to spill your iced tea). Go to a farm market and buy fresh fruits and vegetables (only the ones that you truly love). Make homemade guacamole and grill fresh corn alongside your hamburgers. Play music louder than you should. Wear flip-flops to the grocery store and cotton peasant tops that make you feel cool and comfortable. Sit outside and eat. Light candles, listen to what is happening around you and wait as long as you can before you surrender to the mosquitoes.

Whether or not you go on vacation is irrelevant, pretend that you are already there!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Shades of Gray

Yesterday I stopped the car to watch a tree that was covered with blooms. It had rained a few hours earlier and the blooms had held onto the water; every few seconds the bloom gave way and a gigantic drop of water fell, creating a small puddle below it. It was so heavy that it fell quite deeply and rippled outward for a while each time that it happened. I only stopped for a minute or two but it was a lovely thing to watch.

Whenever my life becomes too busy I find myself not seeing what is right in front of me. When I forget to notice the dogwood flowers or the clutter on the table, I know I need to take a deep breath and pay attention. I am happier when I notice, and appreciate, the details.

I mention this because I think most of what we enjoy in life, decorating included, is in the details. Designers that I admire are always the ones that take their time with a design, they allow their own ideas to mesh with the wishes of the client. Attention to detail is what takes an ordinary room and makes it spectacular.

By details I don't mean that we have to inject personality at every turn, that we have to cover every wall with items that declare who we are. What I mean is taking a bit of time to really notice what we already have, to think about what we need and how we plan to make it happen. I know that this is more difficult when we have lived in a home for a while, but one easy way to begin is to write a list of things you like and don't like about your home. Getting it down on paper doesn't mean you have to do anything about it, it just means you have it there for whenever you would like to visit it. Take it a step further and write down your decorating dreams, also any repairs that need to be done. Writing it down may be just the nudge you need to move forward with some of these things.

When I started writing this week my idea was to talk about decorating with a monochromatic scheme. My inspiration was an article written in 2005 about Colin Cowie's home in NYC. I have never quite liked monochromatic rooms, but after seeing the photographs of his home I realised that single color rooms can be beautiful, if you pay attention to the details within them. His home is breathtaking (and it is all one color).

Well, as you can see I got sidetracked with raindrops and lists, and before I knew it I was in the middle of my blog with no mention of Mr. Cowie. Back on track, I decided to leave my poetic raindrops in and went on to finish my story about Mr. Cowie and his use of a single color. In my haste, I pressed a button somewhere and I accidentally deleted the post from this sentence down. So, this is my second writing of this and I do apologize if it seems a bit scattered.

Anyway, what struck me about his home was that the entire place was decorated in gray. He only used two shades throughout the entire home. To use gray seems both unusual and brave. I don't think it would ever be my first color choice for a home. But when you see the pictures (I wish I could show them to you) it is a study in contrast. He has managed to create a beautiful and serene home from what we would normally assume to be a very harsh color to decorate with. What also surprised me was how many things coordinate really well with gray. It is so neutral that it adapts itself quite easily, and the more you look at it the more soothing it becomes.

The living room is gorgeous; soft, comfortable sofas surrounded by lots of windows, mirrors and plexiglas. The contrasting textures balance the room, and the varying heights and scale of the accessories create a place that is both stylish and welcoming.

Each room is slightly different. Because of the clever use of mirrors and plexiglas it is often difficult to see where the boundaries are, the lines are blurred which creates more interest and a curiosity to try and peak through the pages to see what else is there. The mood of a room can be changed quite quickly just by adding a few well chosen accessories. Mr. Cowie likens this to "....having a really well-cut suit along with an assortment of ties and shirts and cuff links".

As I said earlier, I was never a fan of monochromatic rooms but after seeing how beautifully it can be done I can now understand the appeal. Initially it may take a lot of planning and attention to detail but once done it is actually a simpler way to live.

When I think of these rooms now all I will see are the endless possibilities........gigantic bowls of green apples on a plexiglas table, vintage glass candlesticks on a brushed nickel table, tall, bright sunflowers on the kitchen island........

Thank you Mr. Cowie.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

If your door could speak

It's Summer time here in New Jersey. Suburban weekends are filled with the sound of lawnmowers and the roads are busy with traffic as people head to the local garden center.

I am one of those people. Each Spring I plant coral colored geraniums in my window box at the front of my house. For years I tried to be adventurous with different types of flowers, but lack of water and excessive sunlight soon led me to accept that geraniums were the tried and true flower that would survive in my window box until Fall. Being originally from England I tend to gravitate towards the more haphazard cottage style of gardening. I like things to be unstructured and interesting. Loosely translated it means I can be a lazy gardener, but I prefer to think of it as welcoming and nicely imperfect.

When I first moved into my house the front door was covered by a screen door that is normally found at the back of a house. It was rusty and old and white. The concrete steps were crumbling and the landscaping was very formal. It was totally at odds with the 1930's house that I had bought. The house looked rundown and I was embarrassed when people came up the steps to visit. Over time I replaced the front screen door with a non-traditional one and painted it dark red. Such a small thing immediately directed the focus to the entrance of the house, before the white door had just blended into the white house. The concrete was replaced with limestone, and later on a small overhead porch was added that matched the existing roof line. I dug out the formal conifers and planted perennials instead.

It took me ages to make these decisions; I wanted to reclaim the character of the house and I wanted the improvements to appear seamless. To fight against the bones of my old house would have been exhausting, and would have looked ridiculous.

A lot of houses in my neighborhood are getting makeovers this year. New doors and windows are everywhere and I often stop to wonder about the contractors who install them. Do they (or the owners) try to match the improvement to the integrity of the house? No less than 10 homes in my neighborhood have installed the exact same front door this year. I am sure that the owners saw the door, loved it and bought it right away. I live in a middle class neighborhood with nice homes, but these are not expensive homes. The door in question looks confused by it's new surroundings, and the houses that once had character seem to be struggling to find a new identity.

If you absolutely fall in love with a door that does not suit your home then try to modify some of the other features about the house. Change some of the plants around the doorway or install a different style of house numbers; both ideas are quick and inexpensive but they would begin to create a story around the door that would support your decision. It is similar to decorating inside. When we buy a new sofa that is totally different from the other furniture, we have to integrate it into our home. If we don't rearrange our home around it it looks like we have just dropped a new sofa into an old room, it screams brand-new and everything around it is uncomfortable.

When you are considering purchasing a door the first idea is to look on the Internet. Do a search of houses similar to yours and see what you like the look of. If you have a 1930's home then maybe a wood door in a simple design would work for you rather than a shiny brass one? If the door you like is too formal for your home maybe you can modify it? You could scratch the lacquer off the brass to make it less shiny (!) or order it in a different stain/paint color to make it look more interesting. Alternatively, if you want a more formal look consider the new finishes that are available; matching hardware is always more formal but look beyond the obvious. There are beautiful nickel, copper and iron options too.

Inquire at the Home Improvement store; ask if the doors can be painted to order and the hardware changed before installation. Don't assume that what is in the store is your only option. Be creative. Ask questions. Buying and installing a door can be expensive, take the time to make an informed decision.

Another idea that I use all the time is to take a photograph of the front of the house, then photocopy it about 10 times in black and white. Take markers or crayons and draw in the improvement you are thinking about doing. Play with it - change colors and styles as many times as you need to. This will give you a very good idea of what it would look like. We rarely see our home the way other people do so an actual photograph of the Outside can be a very useful tool when considering changes.

I think we underestimate the impression of the front door. Next time you come home, stand outside for a while, take a good look. Do you like what you see?

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Decorating with Pizza and a Television

When we move into a home with a family room or basement it quickly becomes the room that is the most "lived in". We watch television, play games and eat pizza on the sofa; often the room is furnished with hand-me-downs and pieces that didn't quite match the rest of the house.

As our families change so do the needs of this room. When we have young children it is often decorated with toys and endless piles of laundry. Later on, teenagers tend to gravitate towards it as it is away from their parents; because it is not perfectly clean to begin with they see it as fair game to make it their own, they know that the occasional spill will probably go unnoticed.

Over time, for a lot of us, this room morphs into an embarrassment, the one that is explained away with a wave of the hand as our "everything room". As long as the rest of the house, the part that most people see, is clean and tidy it seems acceptable to have a room that is far from perfect.

But the room begins to take on a life of it's own. It is gradually filled with old furniture, trophy's, DVDs, posters, awards, action figures and a broken pinball machine from a garage sale that we know we'll fix one day. Wrapping paper and birthday presents that we have bought but forgot about because we couldn't find them in time for the party. Add to this a gigantic flat-screen television and the room becomes a place that we start to avoid.

At this point the children and the men take up permanent residence. They love it, they don't have to worry about putting their feet up on things or leaving water stains on the table. Funny smells are the norm, and can we really prove it came from them and not some unidentified pile of junk that was hidden behind the bar two years ago?

On the flip side we have the formal living room. A room where no-one feels comfortable. Visitors wouldn't dare put their feet up, they sit upright and ask hesitantly for a coaster. They worry that the room is so perfectly decorated, that they could not possibly disrupt the placement of the coffee table book (that has a small statue placed at a 90 degree angle on top of it).

I know that even with my own living room I sometimes have to work at toning down the formality. It is eclectic but with old fashioned tufted furniture it can look fussy very quickly. What I do is I soften it by adding things that are deliberately informal. Original pieces of artwork from my daughter (or friends), flowers, plants and lots of texture. I admit this is a strategic move, that I do give some thought to it, but it is a simple idea that can apply to any room, especially the family room.

Because this is a communal room try to involve the family in your decorating decisions. Spend an afternoon going through what's in there and discussing what is important to each person. Decide what is right for you, as a family, at the moment. If your lifestyle does not have time for martini parties and pinball then see if you can store the old antique bar somewhere else. If you absolutely love the pinball machine figure out a good place to put it so that it has some impact in the room. Get it fixed so that you can enjoy it. If you want all of your diplomas up on the wall then group them really tightly together for more impact. Do the same with family photos. Don't scatter them around, make a feature of them.

Decide what you would like to see when you first enter the room. What feeling do you want to convey? Think about what you really want to use the room for and how many people are often in it. Once you have established your goal the task becomes more manageable. If it seems too overwhelming write down your ideas and the steps that you will take to get there.

See if you can bring in some things from other rooms that will make the room more interesting and less predictable. It's the same principle that I mentioned with the formal living room, think of opposites. A handmade pillow or a chair that does not match your squishy brown sofa will add instant character. If the walls are wood paneled try to add some inexpensive artwork or posters to make them less cavernous. Prime and paint them if you dare; most wood panelling is just pressed fiberboard, it is rare that you are painting solid oak panels. Take down the ceiling fan and add a large unexpected, modern light fixture (Ikea has great lights for very little money). Add some live plants. Philodendron and pothos are leafy, green plants that will either climb or drape over anything - they survive with virtually no light and a lot of neglect.

Although the room needs to function in a certain way it does not have to be decorated to match. Treat the family room the same way that you do any other room. Make it work for you, enjoy what you have , sit back and watch that gigantic television in style!

Sunday, May 31, 2009

It's so easy being green....

This week I decided it was time to talk about recycling. Redesign (and any smart interior design really) is all about using as much of what you already have before going to the store. It's about being creative, thinking outside the box and trying to save money. Recycling and redesign are similar concepts; we alter and adapt so that we can reuse items that we already have.

To me recycling is a bit like leftovers; I don't want to have the same roast beef dinner two days in a row, but if on the second day it is cubed and stir fried with fresh vegetables it will seem like an entirely new meal. Recycling in your home is the same way. Be innovative when you think about how it could be put to better use. Don't be predictable and just add any old fringe onto the bottom of a lampshade. Take the time to think about what you would really like eg. match the color of the trim to the lampshade, make it look very deliberate and not like you have mottled together a bunch of old junk on a Saturday afternoon. It's the details that make the difference.

With that in mind here are some easy recycling/redesign ideas for you to try:

1. Paint it. If you hate it enough to throw it away then you have nothing to lose by painting it. If it's metal use a can of spray paint, if it has a wood finish sand it down a bit then paint away with whatever is hanging around the house. Remember gloss stands out more than matte. (I use black chalk board spray paint on anything metal - it works like a dream and has a black iron look to it when dry).

2. Bring it inside. If it's an outdoor piece of furniture consider how it would look/function inside.

3. Take it outside. Same idea - maybe it could be waterproofed or polyurethaned and put outside or even used in a covered porch area. If it fades or warps after a few years does it really matter??

4. Replace the knobs on anything. Try to use the opposite texture/element of what you already have. If they are wooden try a metal knob, metal try glass, glass to wood etc......

5. Take off the doors. Remove cabinet doors in the kitchen and you instantly have some open shelving to
display plates and glasses. If you don't like it just put them back on again.

6. Use old chipped china dishes and cups to hold watches, jewelry, pencils, plant pots etc.

7. Recover a pillow (or even a small chair if you're brave) with fabric, hot glue and safety pins.

8. Revamp your sofa. Take the fabric skirt off the bottom to expose the legs. Replace the legs if they are dated (most just screw on underneath and a variety can be found in your local home improvement store). Adding taller legs can also update an old sofa that is too low.

9. Remove the glued on appliques from your dresser or china cabinet. Take a flat head screwdriver or a knife and pry it under the applique. Tap with a hammer and usually the applique will pop off. If necessary patch afterwards with a bit of spackle and paint or stain over it.

10. Paint the inside of any cabinet a contrasting color to the outside. Any type of paint will do, your cabinets will have more depth and the contents will look more cohesive.

Finally, don't be afraid to try anything. If you are considering throwing it away then why not take a little time to try and fall in love with it again?

Sunday, May 24, 2009

If you give a man some paint.......

Many years ago my parents went to the Greek Islands for a holiday. When they returned they decided to paint their newly renovated bathroom a warm shade of terracotta; they were inspired by their trip and wanted to recreate the sunny, Mediterranean feeling back home.

They bought the paint, mum went to work for the day, and dad was left to paint the bathroom.
When she got home that night the bathroom wasn't terracotta - it was a very pale peach. Apparently, when dad opened the can he thought it was too dark, applied to the wall it was even darker, so he took it upon himself to add half a can of white paint. The striking orange had become a pastel. My mum took it in stride (or so I was told), hastily changed plans and turned the bathroom into a relaxing spa-like room instead. 

I think of this story often because putting color on the walls is a daunting task for most of us. The walls take up so much space in our homes that we want to get it right, we don't want our homes to look boring but neither do we want them to look cartoonish.

When I moved into my home I painted every room in the house cream. Because that's what people did. After a few years I got bored and decided to paint my kitchen green. Not just a light green but a dark, mossy green. The minute I painted it I loved it. My kitchen is tiny and dark but it has been green for over 10 years. I have changed the counters and the cupboards many times since then, but I have never tired of the green walls.

After the kitchen I began experimenting in other rooms. I knew that if it didn't work I could always paint over it. Although my living room is still white, several of my other rooms are now quite colorful. All of them are very small rooms (8 x 10 at best) and all of them have colors that we would traditionally shy away from with smaller rooms. Interestingly enough I found that having color on the walls created personality within the room, the shapes became more interesting and the room was easier to decorate.

At the moment I really want to paint my living room. Well, I don't really want to paint it, I want to decide on the color, then pay some nice person to paint it for me! But that's beside the point. As I've mentioned in previous entries, my living room, although edited, is still filled with a lot of stuff and a lot of color. Its the color that is already in the room that keeps tripping me up. It is starting to resemble a Frida Kahlo painting and I think there is a fine line between eccentric and downright strange. I love Frida's work but I don't want to feel that I am living in one.

With that in mind I decided that choosing paint would be an interesting topic for this week.

  • The first and easiest option is to go with your gut, choose a color for no reason other than the fact that you like it and want it in the room. If you are making a drastic color change then I would recommend getting a sample of it to try before you commit to the whole room. I know it seems like a lot of work but it is important to see how the color looks in your home, with your furniture and surroundings. Buy a small sampling of the color. Some paint distributors have testers available in the form of a sachet or a miniature bottle (I saw some the other day for just $2.97 each and they had them in every color). These will usually cover a three foot square area. If you don't want to paint the actual wall with your test color then paint several pieces of paper (even newspaper) and hang them up around the room. While not perfect it will give you a visual reference that no tiny paint card can.
  • Live with the color for a couple of days and then make your decision Also, I hate to say this, but if it is a very dark color you may need to prime the walls first. I did not prime my kitchen and bedroom but I can honestly say I was foolish not to. Both times I had to return to the store to get more paint. To get the true color I had to apply three coats of paint, it took me longer than if I had primed it in the first place.
  • The next color option is always white and cream. Although these are often frowned upon they do have their place (downstairs in my living room apparently). The good thing about these colors is that they are a blank canvas for your home, anything you put against them will stand out. My only caution would be to think carefully before you use bright white paint. The difference between cream and white is subtle but if you use cream (or a light butter color) your home will look warmer. Of course there can always be beautiful white rooms but take extra care in how you decorate them, without the right accessories it can be a bit harsh.
  • My absolute favorite way to pick paint is from something that inspires me. I need to touch or see the color first before I tackle all those tiny paint cards. I need a starting point. My strategy is that when I see a color that I love I will try and do whatever I can to remember that color. I'll rip the page out of the magazine, pick the flower, photograph the window, write a description, anything. Once I have what I need I am ready to go to the store.
  • When I get to the store I head straight to the color matching scanner in the paint department. These are ingenious; take the item that you have and hold it against the screen, it will analyse it and give you the coordinating paint color. Once the formula has been printed out the store will mix up the color for you. You'll be surprised what they can process (fabric, old paint cans, flowers, magazines etc). For my kitchen I matched the inside border of a painting, for the bedroom a piece of suede on a quilt that lay on the bed and for my bathroom I took a photograph of the wallpaper in the hotel that I was staying in and matched that.
  • You can begin with anything you want. Maybe the stitching on a pillow is the perfect shade of green, or maybe when you got a special gift you decided that the silver jewelry and the blue box were exactly what you were looking for. Once you start looking to be inspired you'll be surprised at how much there is right in front of you. The world is filled with color and there is nothing better than something you love to get you motivated.
  • Sometimes you'll find that an item can't be color matched with the scanner (eg. a car, the belt on a strangers dress, clouds) but at least you know what you like and how to find it. Knowing what you want is half the battle. 

I meant to keep this post short but alas I am not very good at editing myself. One thing I forgot to mention was to look outside for inspiration too. Colors from nature always go together and are always, well, natural. Maybe you want some color but are afraid of being too bold. Try shades of green, brown, red or yellow and see if they would fit into your home. Experiment by bringing branches or flowers inside. Anything you can do to create an image will help you make a better decision.

As for me, I think I want to paint my living room a very light yellow. I wonder if I can scan a piece of cheddar cheese.....

(p.s. yes, you can scan a piece of yellow american cheese).