Monday, December 12, 2011

Supermarket Gifts and Fruitcake

In some countries, a Fruitcake is given with pride - a dense, rich, time-consuming cake, made lovingly, months in advance, and enjoyed as a special treat on Christmas day. However, where I live, it is a metaphor for something vile; given to people you really don't like, and then passed on again - a gift that is perceived as old, inexpensive and filled with unidentified fruity objects.
My point being, that we are all different. If you spend a bit of time thinking before you buy, you will be less stressed, your gifts will be appropriate and the money you spend becomes more manageable.
Some people don't celebrate the Holidays, and some just don't like to give gifts, but sometimes you just need to do it...Call it whatever you like (obligation?) but at this time of year you will probably be invited somewhere where you need to take a gift.
If you are not going to drive to the mall, or bake a batch of your famous, best-ever cookies, then my solution is to hit the supermarket. The only caveat with this type of shopping is to wrap it with care; don't take it in the plastic supermarket bag, with the receipt and price tag still attached. And, buy imported things if you can - the packaging is different, and it can make an ordinary item feel a bit more special.
With that out of the way, here are some good gifts that can be picked up on your way home for about $20.

Hostess Gift:
(tasteful, edible, re-giftable)
Sparkling, non-alcoholic, wine or cider and a box of truffles.
A Christmas plant (poinsettia etc).
If you know someone likes wine, find a bottle with an unusual, seasonal or funny label.
Specialty Christmas blend of Organic Coffee, or gift box of Teas (Twinings, Bigelow etc).

(personal, useful, indulgent)
Warm, fuzzy socks, cocoa and shortbread cookies (Walkers).
Moisturizer, lip balm, cuticle cream etc in a decorative tin/package that is more of a splurge than a regular buy (Burts Bees etc).
Nice gloves and a scarf.
Good quality scented candles in a jar (gingerbread, vanilla, apple etc) Soy candles are gentler, if you can find them.
Several large bars of Chocolate tied up with a big ribbon.

(fun/funny, colorful, creative)
Drawing pad, stickers and pencils/markers/crayons.
Brownie mix, bowl, toppings and mixing spoons.
Deck of cards/UNO and mini games from the stationery aisle.
A funny calendar or book.
Old fashioned Silly (or fart) putty.
Their favorite food, or candy.

No matter what you buy for people, it needn't be expensive or stressful. Write some ideas before you go, allow yourself time to look around and buy something that you really think they would like (fruitcake optional...)

Monday, November 28, 2011

Have you ever......(staged your own home?)

Even though it is the Holiday season, many people are still trying to sell their homes. Always a daunting process, I thought I would share some ideas, hopefully made easier from a more personal perspective.

Several years ago, I was faced with the possibility of selling my own home. During the process, I had to get several Realtors in for assessments. One of them told me that it was a wonderful old house, and would appeal to a quirky owner (the thought of 10 cats and a cupboard filled with an infamous canned food, beloved by Monty Python, came to mind) and the other, was not shy in saying that my house was cozy (small) and shabby (without the chic).

What was good, is that it gave me the chance to see my home through the eyes of someone who saw it from a very different perspective. Some of it seemed quite harsh, but truly, they were giving me the reality of the housing market, and I learned a lot from talking to them:

The first thing I learned, was that selling a house is about filling the needs of as many people as possible, not about how much you love the crooked staircase and your quirky gargoyle collection. It is no longer about you, it is about a commodity.

The second thing I learned was to be realistic. eg. A mansion, in a not-so-good neighborhood, no matter how much money you put into it, will probably never get you the return that you hope for. Likewise, a small home will always appeal more to couples or young families looking for a “starter” home.

Depersonalizing was the next lesson. Not a bad word, it just means that you have to edit what you have, so that the house is the main event. Family photos and “stuff” are a distraction. At the very least, keep mementos corralled in one area, not spread all over the place.

Clean it up - the outside and the inside. Buyers are fickle; first impressions can prevent someone from even wanting to look inside (put garbage cans, broken Halloween decorations and green hosepipes in the garage).

Also, a house that is tidy looks bigger, welcomes you in and makes you want to see more.

Make your home feel cared for. Open the curtains, fluff up the pillows and let in the light. Water your plants, and get rid of ones that are past their prime.

Every room should have a purpose. Spend some time making sure your rooms look like what they are supposed to be (computers in the office, baskets of clothes in the laundry room, television and photos in the family room etc). A spare room that is filled with “leftovers” puts people off – it needs an identity.

If you want to fix things prior to the sale, be wise in your choices. Many states have mandatory inspections, and you may have other things to repair that are far more important (and expensive).

Finally, your home should smell good. At the absolute least, change the kitty litter, empty the garbage and open the windows (no air-freshener please!). If you can, bake something in the stove or light a natural scented candle. Make people feel at home with these favorite, comforting scents: Apple pie, cinnamon, coffee, vanilla, chocolate chip cookies….

Lovely, airy photograph from: http://www.softlineonline.com/blog/?m=201104

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

100th post!

It seems like a special kind of wonderful, that on my 100th blog posting day I got a nomination for the Versatile Blogger Award! I was asked to share seven things about myself, and then nominate others as well.
So, without further ado, here are seven things that you may, or may not, know about me:

- My upstairs bathroom is painted entirely in chalkboard paint (my daughter and her friend's draw and write on it all of the time). I also have a wall in my TV room that is entirely covered in chalkboard paint.
- My toaster says "TOAST" on the front of it (I have had it for over 10 years, and it still makes me smile every morning).
- I worked at the United Nations, in NYC, for three years.
- I cut and color my own hair all of the time; sometimes it is quite disasterous, but I do it anyway :-)
- Pencils are one of my favorite things (hate pens).
- I own a black jeep (it makes me think of New Zealand, where I grew up - the above composite photograph, called "Sheepsail" is by Ted Scott, it is one of my favorites).
- I am a ridiculous romantic; constantly dreaming, planning new things, head in the clouds...

Here are a few of the blogs that I read, and would nominate:

Beautiful Living Style (observations on life, style and the bits in between)
The Lettered Cottage (interior design - pretty and practical)
Rooms Reborn (interior redesign - more great ideas from Ann Anderson!)
The Happiness Project (no explanation needed - always a good dose of happiness when you need it)
Mind the Beginner (thoughts on life, and being better...)
Pink Miles (pink observations on running a family and a marathon)
New Light Redesign (interior redesign, decoratively speaking)
Jane Pollak (entrepreneurial inspiration, and a mental kick in the bum when you need it)

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Warming up!

Apparently. I don't handle the cold very well. During the recent 5 days without heat we became nomads, eating at friends homes and roaming the town to buy large cups of hot chocolate. By the end of day five, me, and my disposition, were not at their prettiest!

When the electricity finally came back on, I knew that I needed to create an emergency plan, and, far more importantly, redecorate my home for Winter!

So, with a blissful weekend all to myself, in my warm home, this is what I plan to do:

Bring in the Red: Psychologically, it reminds us of fire, so I will add a few red things. A blanket is perfect, it will keep me warm and look warm when I'm not using it.

Create layers: Give myself license to add (even more) accessories. Add extra pictures on the wall, pillows on the sofa and cram books into any bare shelves that need to be filled up. More things will absorb the cold, and make it feel cozier. (I will declutter in the Spring).

Rearrange my Furniture: Any excuse to move my furniture is a good one. I will create closer, more intimate groupings where I can. Making sure there are tables for drinks, and lamps to read by. Think comfort - would I want to sit in that space, curl my feet up and read a book? Why, why not?

Add plaid, of course: Love it or hate it, it will always evokes a feeling of log cabins and warm days by the fire.

Find more lamps: Will go to second hand shops, looking for lamps (checking that they are safe to use, of course) or, might even buy a couple of inexpensive ones from discount stores. Change the shades if I need to, or re-paint the bases. Don't underestimate the impact of a lot more lighting, especially in Winter when the days are shorter.

Put my glass away: I love glass, but it is cold. I will minimize the amount of glass in the house, and replace it with pottery, children's art, books or something more substantial and dense.

Light candles: Seems obvious, but these are not just for decoration; the flame emotionally warms us up, and gives off a tiny bit of heat. I love to put small, metal-cup votives into my best china cups (especially good when you have a power outage) and scatter them around the house. Those delicate little cups have a translucency that will make the entire cup glow when you put a small candle in them, plus, they are safe and easy to carry around because of the handle. Buy some at a thrift store for a couple of dollars.

Well, with my weekend planned, I will sign off, and get started. Maybe you will be inspired to do the same...

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Curtains 101

Do you ever gasp at things that make you happy? An image, or a color, that is so perfect you can't believe it existed without you knowing about it?

The other day I fell in love with a curtain. Yes, a curtain! For those of you who know me well, you know that the curtains in my living room are, in fact, cream blankets from Walmart; a solution that happened on a cold February day, after weeks of looking for the "perfect' curtain. Not my first option, they ended up being what I love the most; hanging casually from old, copper pipes with distressed curtain hooks. In fact, the process was so time consuming that I had no option but to write about it. http://wendyandthebluegiraffe.blogspot.com/2009/05/cautionary-tale-of-curtains.html Anyway, I recently saw some curtains that I loved, and it reminded me once again how difficult it can be to choose them.

I think, the first thought should be whether your need is driven by beauty or function? Of course, ideally, everything in life should be a combination of both, but in reality that rarely happens; to get there can take far more time than any of us have. Regardless of why you need them, spend a little bit of time wondering about your curtains before you buy.

In my living room, for example, I have three very large windows, each over 10 feet wide. I wanted a curtain that insulated the room in the Winter, but was not so decorative that it conflicted with my need to scatter random pieces of art onto the walls. Hence the cream blankets; they are simple, but warm, and I love the thick texture against the painted walls.

Like most things, we can get bogged down in the thought process, but going forward is always easier than we think. Decorating your windows should be fun, just ask yourself a few easy questions before you begin:

- Do you want the curtains to be purely decorative - a statement of color or pattern? Then choose with no restrictions. Buy what you love. Remember to open the packet, and hang them up (or lay them out on the floor) before you throw away the receipt. Any curtain will look totally different when it is opened up into a 4 foot by 7 foot panel.
- Are they something that you are buying because you "have to"? Be understated/neutral/classic in your decision. For total anonymity, try to match, or use a shade similar to the wall color.
- Is keeping in warmth, or shutting out sunlight, important? Spent extra time researching speciality curtains. They may cost a bit more, but will definitely solve your problem.
- How much do you want to spend?Be realistic with your budget. Don't be lured into things you cannot afford. Find your favorite, then see if there is a less expensive option available.
- Is your room large or small, ceilings high or low? If it is small, then choose curtains that are similar (or complimentary) to the wall color. Hang them above the window for extra height. Too much pattern, or opposing colors, will break up a room, making it appear smaller. If ceilings are very tall, check the length before you buy.

The gorgeous photograph above is from http://searchingforstyle.blogspot.com/2009_01_01_archive.html A lovely blend of pinks that are elegant and feminine, without being too "precious". The curtain is crushed silk.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Formal Living in a Casual World

I went to an event the other weekend, and they were handing out magazines and supplements. One of them, which I had not read before, was "T", from the NY Times Magazine. It was their Fall Design issue. As I flicked through it, I fell in love. Yes, it was filled with over-priced art and fancy furniture (many of them labelled, price upon request - which means, if you have to call you can't afford it), but it was beautifully done. Luxury was definitely the theme, but it's accessibility made me want to pour myself inside and roll around the pages...

For someone like me, who thrives on budgets and spray paint, this magazine was not my usual read. Often, formal rooms go too far, and I (we?) are scared to go inside, worried we may crease the pillow or ruin the design. But, done right, it can be a wonderful, comfortable option.

One article in particular really struck me. The home was based on an 18th Century design, complete with spindly chair legs, gilded mirrors and original artwork from hundreds of years ago, but it was livable.
As I looked at the pictures, I could see how cleverly this couple had worked to create a home, not just an elegant showpiece. My favorite photograph is the one of the bookshelves, deliberately built with bowed wood, to make them look older than they were.

If you lean towards the elegant, and want to live with formality, here are some easy ideas on how to do it:

- Paint the walls a warm color (a bit darker than you dare).
- Use "real" things; wood, artwork, floors and light-fixtures shouldn't be fake (or plastic). Be authentic.
- Furniture should be comfortable to sit on, and not flimsy. Even if you are inclined towards very formal, classic pieces, consider adding a modern, bulkier chair or sofa to bring some weight to the room.
- Group your accessories very tightly together (closer than you would think). This is a clever way to show off your collections, but make the room feel comfortable at the same time. Scattering them around just leaves them looking homeless and confused.
- Keep curtains simple and classic (avoid trends, and too many doo-dads).
- Make furniture groupings deliberate. Use a rug and coffee table as your centerpiece, and bring sofa and chairs up close to them. (Think about a doctors waiting room - if it looks like that, change it).
- Layer non-matching pillows and blankets on the sofas for added softness.

Remember, you have all these beautiful things, enjoy them!


Thursday, September 22, 2011

Color Wheels and Rainbows

When a client asked me to help her choose colors based on the Color Wheel, I was a little unsure. Yes, I have an Interior Design Color Wheel, but, personally, I sometimes dig my heels in when I am told what I am "supposed" to do. I guess the Color Wheel falls into that category - being told what to do...

So, we sat down, looked at the front, chose our color, spun the wheel, then started to read the back of the card. We both burst out laughing, neither one of us understanding what to do next. We put it away, and chose the colors based on her favorite things instead. If nothing else, it was a lesson; it gave me something to write about, and left me wondering if I could explain it to my readers (just in case you're curious).

Did you know that the Color Wheel was invented in the 1600's by Sir Isaac Newton? It was originally based on sunlight - he separated the sunbeams with a prism, which created different colors (just like a rainbow), then joined them back together to show the natural progression. So, does that mean that if I look at the color sequence of a rainbow, and turn it into a circle, it will look like the color wheel? Well, I just tried it, and it does! The colors of the rainbow are red, orange, yellow, green. blue, indigo and violet ...

Now that I know where it came from, I understand it even less. Why are we basing our judgement on a rainbow? Does that mean that we should decorate according to all natural combinations? If I wear green and brown together, won't I just look like a tree?

Anyway, back to the story. The premise is that by spinning a wheel you will be told which colors go together, therefore, you will know exactly how to decorate your home. It begins with you highlighting the main color that you want to use. Once you do this, it will automatically bring you to the coordinating set of colors, based on a few guidelines. Complimentary (the color opposite the main color), Monochromatic (any shade of your main color) Split Complimentary (the two colors either side of your Complimentary) and Related (any shade that is either side of your main color). Confused? Don't be. If you are a bit cautious, maybe tones of the same shade would be a good beginning. More adventurous, choose the complimentary or split-complimentary colors.

If you buy an Interior Design Color Wheel, my advice is to read the directions, let it guide you, but most of all have fun playing with the spinning circle.
After all, it is just a round rainbow...

Friday, September 16, 2011

Stories and Words

Once upon a time, many years ago.........our words were written on pieces of paper.

I thought of this line yesterday, as I was reading a magazine. My mind drifted to a time when words would become artifacts in a museum. I imagined we would all walk around with little hand-held electronic pads, tapping away; reading page after page by scrolling around, quietly, with our fingertips. I wondered if our hands would evolve into different shapes, to compensate for our new, technological habits?

Of course, I know that we can't stop our world from changing, but what I will miss is the process of "doing". We learn by doing. By making mistakes, and figuring things out. By touching things, and seeing how they feel. It makes us think as we go along. If we take that away, what do we lose?

Will we have no public libraries? A comforting, communal space for those of us who don't want to own every book we read. Who don't mind sticky fingers, and a story that goes along with each book; corners folded, crumbs caught in the middle of the pages, and the mild smell of paper, cigarette smoke and dust...

I go to the library because I want to go. I know the people who work there. They tell me if they have read the book that I am checking out, or who their favorite author is. They look questioningly at me if I have a pile that seems far too serious, and they stared at my stomach when I (unsuccessfully) tried to distract them from all of the baby books. They have become a part of my life.

Magazines, though different, are just as important to me. Yes, they could be deemed a waste of time, and I know that they are filled with advertisements for things that I don't need, but I love to turn the shiny pages. I always read them from the beginning to the end, no flipping ahead to find something interesting that caught my eye on the front cover. I patiently wade my way through, never knowing what I will find. Even though I will never buy a perfume that is hidden inside a page, I will always try it, just so I can wrinkle up my nose and go "peeuuw!" To me, they are like presents; I never know what is inside, but I appreciate the gift.

If I was reading a magazine, electronically, I know that I would check the index and scroll forward to whatever caught my eye. There would be no slow pleasure, as I waited to see what the next best thing would be. I would never see the shoes that cost as much as my mortgage, or the environmental car made out of grass. My needs would be impatient, and I would never enjoy it quite as much.

I worry, that in our search for instant gratification, we will lose the art of taking our time. That efficiency will be valued over humanity, and happiness will be something we download...

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Budgeting for a Quick Fix

Driving around my town the other day, I noticed a lot of houses needed painting.With the price of everything going up, many people are putting home improvements to the bottom of the list. Of course, some are still doing repairs, but many are waiting until they can afford to replace the item, or get it fixed perfectly.

Right now, perfect may not be an option. Gas and groceries are taking up the main bulk of our budget, and buying new "stuff" makes us pause far more than it used to. I, also need my house painted, but knowing that I want to go beyond the traditional white, I am waiting until the Spring, because I know that the cost will be far more than normal.

However, I still want the front to look nice, in the meantime. So, armed with a small paintbrush, duct-taped to a really long stick (yes, really) I touched up the little bit where the paint had peeled off. No, it wasn't perfect, but it was just enough to hide (and protect) the wood underneath. This got me thinking, were there other short cuts that we could take, while we waited for the perfect solution?

- Peeling or chipped Paint: If you don't think you have enough paint to touch up the front of the house, add a tiny bit of water to the can to stretch it. Or, paint a bit of the color onto a paper plate, let it dry and take it to the hardware/paint store to get it copied. Buy a sample pot (less than $5-). It might be all you need.
- Linoleum Tiles lifting up: An all purpose epoxy, or floor adhesive, will stick it down. Clean the area under the tile as best as you can. Smoosh the glue underneath (be liberal), wipe away the excess, tape down the tile with painters tape, and cover with a brick for 24 hours.
- Cracked Ceramic tiles: Buy some tile filler. Either mix some matching paint into it, or, fill in the crack and paint it afterwards. If the tile needs to be replaced, see if you have an extra one. Chip out the old, clean up and replace with a new one. Not for the faint hearted, but easier than it sounds!

- Scratched, wooden furniture: Blend scratch by using shoe polish, crayon, strong coffee or markers. Then polish.
- Dirty, tattered, old sofas and chairs: Clean them with a can of foam upholstery cleaner, if needed. Turn cushions over, to get the nicer, less squashed side. Add (complimentary) throws, quilts or pillows to distract from the ugliness. Make it look deliberate, don't just put a horrible blanket on the sofa. Safety-pin it over the areas that annoy you. Move the furniture around, and put a nicer piece as the focal point.
- Cracks or holes in the wall: If you want to fix these yourself, there are so many easy, instructional videos that will show you exactly what to buy, and how to do it. It isn't hard, but it can be time consuming and messy; best for patient, neat people who are also organized enough to have plenty of leftover paint. If you don't have any paint, consider diverting the attention away from the crack with a nearby piece of art. Cover a hole with a picture. If you have a small amount of paint, try just taking a small brush and painting in/over the crack - it may be just enough!
- Small cracks in windows: Clear, large packing tape, applied neatly, should stop the crack from spreading, and will almost be invisible.
- Ripped screen in door: Not as hard as it may seem. There are actual screen repair kits, but I found them harder than replacing the whole thing (but, that's just me. ). The easiest suggestion, is to take the whole thing to the hardware store and look very helpless! They may, kindly, do it for you, or, at the least show you what you need, and how to do it. If you do want to do it yourself, first remove the rubber "spline", or whatever is holding it in place. Buy a new piece of screen and just put it back in the exact same way. Replace the "spline" by pushing down with a blunt knife. Trim the excess screen afterwards.
- Squeaky, loose or jammed door: Check all the screws and bolts to make sure they are tight, and lined up. Drip a tiny bit of vegetable oil down onto the hinges (wipe away excess).

Well, the list goes on, but I will stop here. Fixing (or hiding) a few things yourself, will make you feel more connected to your home, as well as give you a boost of confidence.
Your home will never be perfect, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't find ways to take care of it.
Photograph from http://www.goodhousekeeping.com/

Friday, August 19, 2011

Nautical and (very) Nice!

A lovely Inn that sits on the sand, overlooking the ocean. For me, this is what dreams are made of; the sound of the waves, salty wet bathing suits, fresh seafood, and no computer or make-up. The only schedule is the time of the next fishing boat. An easy life, that makes me forget about what I "should" be doing.

I fell in love with this place when we visited last year, and, I confess, that I think one of the reasons was the way it was decorated (or, undecorated?). It merges into the landscape in a, seemingly, effortless way.

As simple as it sounds, creating a wonderful seaside home takes some editing. Too much, and it's nautical predictability becomes silly and boring - a caricature, that mocks the beauty that surrounds it. Too little, and the potential magic is ignored.

For me, a beach home should be comfortable. The furniture and floor should be practical and solid, ignorant of fussiness - sand, water and bare feet can be cleaned up easily. No tip-toeing through, fearful that you may scratch the expensive finish, or get sand on the bed.

Lots of white, of course, is a natural choice. Add in a few old tables and dressers to enhance the character, and prevent it from becoming too pristine. Art and accessories are easy; black and white photographs, paintings (prints?) from a local artist, or a shadow box filled with souvenirs from your last walk on the beach. Don't get stuck on the details, any bowl can be filled with things that you have found on your travels (postcards, rocks, pieces of fabric...). Warm up your home with blankets and piles of books. Keep old-fashioned games out for people to see, reminding them to play when the evenings turn cold.

Living (or being inspired) by the ocean gives us a feeling of calm, with the thought of an adventure never too far away. Don't lose that thought, just let your home be the accessory.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Easy Dorm Style !

Beige corridors, led to beige doors, that opened unceremoniously into a beige (non air-conditioned) room. Optimistically ready for two, new students, a thin piece of cork lined the room, a plastic mirror hung from a piece of string and two curtain rods hung, crookedly, inside two small closets (without doors).
This was my first look at a College Dorm room.

It's August, and plenty of students are beginning to plan their time in college. Finally allowed to leave home, the promise of freedom is a teenage vacation just waiting to begin. The reality, is a full class schedule and twenty eight people sharing three bathrooms - a complex life, crammed into a generic 12 foot square room.

With costs being what they are, parents are limited in what they can provide for the college-bound. Admittedly, it takes a bit of planning, but creating a Dorm Room that reflects who they are, and functions at the same time, is not as difficult as you may think.

Rooms may vary between schools, but decorating guidelines are usually similar - minimal (or no) holes in the walls, and no paint. Here are some items to make it fun and personal:

Eraseable, compact refigerator - share the cost with your room-mate - write notes, and store late night snacks at the same time.

Bamboo curtains - for those pesky, no-door closets.

Removable, adhesive hangers - maximum weight 5 pounds (not for mirrors or heavy breakables, but great for pictures and hanging bags, light coats etc).

Over-the-door mirror - saves time and space.

Mirrored decals - a useful, decorative, option.

Cork or fabric boards - should be used in abundance for notes, appointment cards, photos and any miscellaneous pieces of paper.

Over-the-door hooks - perfect for everything!

Desk fan - a lot of air, for a small price!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A McQueen State of Mind

I wanted to write about the Color Wheel this week. My idea was to break it down into simple theory, so that we could all understand what the heck it meant, and why we really should combine orange walls with blue furniture.....
But, I got distracted. Yesterday, a stressful morning, just begged to have a happy afternoon. So, I decided to take my daughter to the Alexander McQueen exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. I have loved Alexander McQueen from the very first time he emerged, kilted and chubby, onto the Runway, deciding to shock the fashion industry out of it's classically trained coma.
This year, the McQueen Fashion House came to the Met. For a few months, many of us had the unique opportunity to see the designs that walked, ran and splattered down the Runway. Sometimes, the ability to shock can masquerade as creativity, but McQueen was not one of these people - he was a man who could cleverly channel his feelings into his talent, and tell a story.
I think that this is what made me so in awe of him. He was able to apply himself to his craft, in a way that expressed who he was, while still keeping the public entertained. He saw beauty in everything, especially the unfinished and the questioned. Inspiration was whatever he was experiencing at that moment; be it political or emotional, he managed to express it through his passion, staying true to what he believed in and channeling his energy into his work (art).
When we do things that we love, it shows. We put more effort into it, and we try our hardest to make it better every time. It gives meaning to the everyday, poetry to the ordinary.
I have been to many exhibitions at museums, but this was the first one that provoked so much emotion. Each collection was divided into rooms, all of which were designed to match the theme; slabs of concrete, holographs, words, music, shattered wood, mirrors, glass, wind and water, were all incorporated into a non-stop journey of his life.
The people who created it should be applauded for giving us an experience, not just an exhibition. Almost every piece was close enough to touch; making it easy to see the exquisite details, and allowing us time to decide whether or not we really liked what we were looking at. Although the lines were long, and the crowds heavy, it was possible to take as much time as we needed; wondering whether or not we would prefer to wear the black ostrich feather coat with the teetering armadillo shoes, or the molded, leather dress (I would wear the molded, leather dress - in the burgundy, please!).
My daughter loved all of the asymmetric coats, and the outfits made out of unusual materials (are mussel shells as heavy as they look?), while my favorites changed from one room to the next. I was overwhelmed by many of the pieces, especially the ones that combined hard and soft materials, balancing good and bad, life and death...
One of my favorites was a gold-leafed, duck feather coat combined with a full, white skirt. The photographs do not do it justice - thousands and thousands of feathers were hand painted, then sewn to create a coat that hugged the body like a suit of armor. It molded her hips, then the skirt exploded from underneath into a sea of plain, white tulle and gold thread.
When so much is happening around us, it is easy to overlook the extraordinary, thinking that to take the time would be frivolous or indulgent. But, we are wrong, to appreciate beauty, in any form, is never a waste of time....

Thursday, July 21, 2011

It's 97 degrees outside - now what?

When I first moved to New Jersey, I rented a room in a large family home. When the dog days of Summer began to settle in, the curtains were closed, and the roof was opened! Whoever was upstairs at the time, would turn an old fashioned crank, that would slowly open up a big, square trapdoor, seamlessly fitted inside the roof. Then, we would pull a long, metal chain and a gigantic fan would begin to turn, drawing the hot air back into the universe.

Of course it worked, sometimes the best things are the simplest, but it always reminded me of something that Professor Potts would have built in the Chitty Chitty Bang Bang movie; perhaps the next time it wouldn't close, and suddenly the house would be filled with birds and airplanes, precariously avoiding the fan that was spinning far to fast....

Anyway, all this heat, means that most of us retreat inside; watching the children through the window, as they play in sprinklers and pools, or, simply see who can lift up the heaviest bucket of water before they drop it on someone elses head (praying that no-on gets hurt, and we don't have to run outside, cranky with sweat, to save them). I wish that I still felt that way; loving the playfulness of ice cold water, hopping about on hot concrete, and eating Popsicles that dripped more than I could eat (licking my hands to catch the red, syrupy concoction, not caring that my mother would never be able to get the stain out).

Summer days for grownups can feel like a chore, but, maybe if we can keep our cool (and our home's) we can lower our electric bill, and enjoy ourselves at the same time...

  • Of course, there is the obvious - keep your curtains closed when the sun hits the hottest ( darker colors keep out more light, but lighter colors make you feel cooler - you choose). But, either way, closing the curtains in the heat of the day, will help reduce the temperature. It will also prevent your furniture from fading. If you are inclined towards all natural fabrics, the sun can damage them beyond repair. The fibers can break down, and the color will fade. The next time you buy new furniture, for a sun-filled room, inquire about fade resistance and sun durability.

  • Trees will shade your home and reduce the glare, but no-one can grow a quick tree, so this is a silly suggestion really.

  • Window Fans are a good, temporary solution. They drawing hot air out of the house and can be removed when not needed. Scattered throughout your home, conventional fans will keep the air circulating, giving the illusion of being cooler, even if you're not.

  • A Dehumidifier. If you don't have one built into your home heating/cooling system, then consider buying one for the main area of the house. They can be an expense, but you will be shocked at how reducing the humidity will lower the temperature and make your home more comfortable. Plus, the water it collects can be used to water your plants!

  • Don't run appliances unless it's necessary, they create so much excess heat. Run the dishwasher and washing machine at night, when it is cooler. Cook, or bake, only if you really need to. Use the grill, or make sandwiches and salads.

  • Turn off computers, televisions, stereos, lamps, cell-phone chargers etc when they are not in use.

I hope this helps, but, if not, maybe you should go out for a Popsicle?

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

In the beginning........The Dollar Days of Decorating


Do you remember when you got your first apartment, or the first space that you paid for all by yourself?
No-one to tell you what to do, a decorating nirvana for you to fill with whatever the heck you wanted. Paint colors as limitless as the stars, and dreams as big as the Milky Way. Your head spinning with ideas...

Then, it began. The bills, the decisions and the confusion. If you were lucky, you had a few hand me downs from friends and relatives - a sofa, a coffee table and an old bed that you wish you hadn't taken, but were too polite to give back.

It's tough sometimes, making a place look like a home when you have limited resources and a beginners salary. Often, you are not allowed to paint the walls, and some spaces feel much smaller (and dirtier) once you carry that last box of stuff inside the front door.
Regardless of your new situation, there are ways to brighten it up and make it feel like home, without spending a lot of time or money!

After ( I just drew over the
exact same image to give
you an idea of what I mean)
Here's what I would do........
Make a list (see below) of what I really needed to make my place feel like a home (quickly), then, visit all of the inexpensive chain stores (Walmart, Target, Cosco, Ikea, Warehouse etc). Quality is nice, but not always affordable the first time around; basic, functional items, in classic colors, look more expensive - save the bright colors for accessories. If I had time, I would also go to Thrift stores and garage sales looking for good, old pieces of furniture. Finally, I would ask friends and family if they have any (useful) odds and ends in their home that I could borrow for a while.

- Buy an inexpensive, colorful rug and a few pillows that don't match my sofa.
- Add art on the wall, above my sofa. About 2/3 of the width of the sofa and almost as high (no wimpy installations please). If possible, make it personal; photographs, prints, postcards, children's art, letters, collections etc. If doing a collage, buy black, plastic frames to make it cohesive. Lay them out on the floor first to see the size etc. (A staggered, layered look is easier to hang than a grid pattern).
- Find at least one side table, dresser or bookshelf with storage. I always check on the side of the road; wooden furniture is the most common item thrown away, and re-cycled. It can be painted, stained, or at the very least, cleaned up and polished.
- Unpack books and photographs, stack my magazines and display all of the things that I love.
- Bring in some plants. They add warmth and energy. Ask friends and family for cuttings of their favorite indoor plants, put them in a glass with some water.
- Get curtains. Go to dollar discount stores and look at their curtains, blankets and single sheets. Be creative, until a more permanent solution comes along. These are also great places for inexpensive curtain rods (or, get copper/steel pipe at the hardware store for a more casual, industrial look).
- If I just want the illusion of curtains, but they don't have to be functional, I would buy a panel (cut it in half) or two, and use the tiniest of nails to (artfully) attach them to the wall, either side of the window. No-one will ever know!
- I never underestimate the potential of a decorative, sturdy, storage box (a trunk, crate, ottoman etc). It can hide anything you don't want to see, be a place for your coffee cup, hold your table lamp and display your favorite photographs.

Finally, don't be put off by waiting for the perfect solutions, they don't really exist. Decorating a home is a process that will constantly change with you. In the beginning, it's about feeling settled in your home, being surrounded by what you love and maybe, "making do"...

Original photograph from www.apartmenttherapy.com

Friday, June 24, 2011

Embrace the Dust-Bunnies?

"You look "very fancy", my daughter said when she came home from school the other day. There I was, dressed in a skirt, top and cardigan, with my hair pulled back. A normal day, where I had gone to the car dealer, the library and the supermarket - nothing particularly exciting, but apparently I looked "very fancy".

Made me wonder, have our expectations become so low that casual is now the norm, and anything that shows effort is labelled as fancy?

I love nothing more than to go into a home that is a little undone; it makes me feel comfortable, and, most of all, it feels as if people live there. But, taken too far, it can appear a little neglected, like our appearance...

Caring about ourselves, and where we live, is a self-taught lesson on the journey to happiness. It takes some effort to keep a home, and dress in a way that won't get you stares from the people at the supermarket. (Maybe you have been ill, but does wearing your manky slippers out in public really make you feel better?).

Everyone wants to be comfortable, but there are times when it is nice to put a bit of effort into where we live. Whether we admit it or not, a cared for home makes everyone in it feel happier. Straightening pillows, putting flowers in a vase, folding laundry (and putting it away) are all signs that we care, and who doesn't want to live in a place that feels cared for?

I admit, I have dust-bunnies almost permanently in my home; with a dog and a cat, vacuuming could become a twice-daily event, but it isn't. Frankly, it is not my main priority. A fact that was lovingly pointed out by a dear friend who recently gave me a lint-roller as a present :-)
She, and I, both know that I justify the dust-bunnies in my home by knowing that my home is, overall, always reasonably tidy. Not perfect, or super-clean, but straightened. Lived in, but cared for.

I know, that life can become overwhelming, and that thinking about housework is one of the most depressing things on the planet, but unfortunately no magic fairy will fly in and do it for you.

Here are some ideas on caring for your home, while making it easy on yourself:
  - Open the windows and doors as often as possible. A closed up home will smell stagnant and lifeless, no matter how clean it is. Spend a few hours just listening to the outdoor noises!
- Integrate laundry into your day, so that it is not such a chore. Most of it can be done while watching TV, sleeping, listening to music, cooking dinner etc.
- Make an effort to keep your main living rooms tidy (not perfect). Straighten them constantly, and remind the rest of your family to do the same. If they don't, just gather all of their debris in a plastic bag and present it to them (nicely, of course).
- Wash floors, vacuum and mow the lawn as late as possible! This way you will be too tired to complain, and will wake up to a nice clean floor etc.
- Add life and energy to your home with flowers, plants and anything organic. Even a pile of (clean) rocks on a table will help.

Remember, it is not about keeping up appearances, it's about showing that we care....

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Finding the "Why?" to get to the "How?"

As most of you know, I have just added a Monthly (email) Magazine Page as an extension of my website and blog. What most of you don't know, was that it almost never happened at all.

My problem began when I knew that I wanted to do one. As soon as I had made that decision, I became stuck. From a logistical point of view, I knew that newsletter programs existed, and that help was always around the corner (thank you, Ladies), but I couldn't figure out how to begin. Every time I sat down, I became more and more confused about what I should be doing. The definition of how it should be done, conflicted with the ideas that were bouncing around in my head. Nothing seemed to click.

At some point, during my dilemma, I was talking to a friend about something great that she had accomplished. When I asked her how she had done it, she said that she had had to figure out the "Why?" before she could move forward - she needed a reason that was meaningful to her.

This got me thinking, did I really know why I wanted to do the newsletter? At that moment "should" was becoming a pretty weak reason for going ahead; let's be honest, no-one wants to read something that was done just because it "should" have been done. The more I thought about what she said, the more it made sense to me. How can you do something, with care and conviction, unless you know why you are doing it?

I decided to really think about why I wanted to do the newsletter. With pencil and paper, I began to write down my reasons for moving forward. As I wrote, my thoughts began to create my decision, and I knew why (and how) I wanted to do the newsletter.

Mostly, we write because we want to share information about things that we are passionate about, but sometimes it's just because we want to share a part of our journey. Whether it is a decorating decision or a heart-wrenching change in your life, maybe it would help to ask "Why?".......

p.s. If you would like to see my Monthly Magazine Page, and subscribe to future ones, the information is on the left hand side of my Blog. 

Saturday, June 4, 2011

The Television, The Room and The Armoire

Do you remember when Televisions started to get bigger?
When we all wanted one, but didn't want to see them when they were turned off? Their size, and bulk, dominating wherever they were placed? Too heavy for a small table, everyone struggled with what to do once they had bought one.

As quickly as they appeared, Furniture manufacturers came up with a solution. The entertainment Armoire; an  even bigger piece of furniture that enclosed our new purchase, and hid it away until we decided to turn it on. Not the best solution really. Yes, it hid the Television, but it created another problem - where to put the new piece of furniture. Entire walls and corners were filled with an often overwhelmingly large, wooden structure.

What seemed like a necessity for most homes, became obsolete quite quickly, as Televisions got larger and larger. They also became thinner, and we no longer needed to accommodate their bulk into our decorating plans. Before we knew it, the Television had outgrown the Armoire; it was dismantled, or set aside in a basement, waiting for goodness-knows-what. Many of them were expensive, and still in great condition, so we were reluctant to throw them away.

I really believe that we should re-use things if we can. If not, maybe it can be donated, and someone else would appreciate it all over again? But, until you decide what to do, why not try one of these solutions for that fleeting, but usefully wooden, piece of Television history.

  • A perfect pantry or extra storage in your Kitchen.
  • Small closet for a baby.
  • Take the doors off and use it as a bookshelf. 
  • Remove all of the shelves, add a hanging rod at the top, and use it in a Mudroom or Entrance hall for coats and gloves etc.
  • Easy storage for games and crafts (leave the doors on?)  
  • Put your sewing machine in there, and store all of your threads and fabric.
  • A Home Office. Your computer would easily fit. Cork-board glued to the inside of the doors would be useful, and there would be plenty of space for files etc.

Here are a few photographs to get you inspired...

Sanded and whitewashed, a very elegant solution
for an after dinner drink.
Who doesn't need more room in their Kitchen?
As a pantry, or just to store those extra bits and pieces, this is perfect.
For a baby, or a children's room, this gives you just the
right amount of space.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Industrial Thoughts

Although I live in an old fashioned house, my heart palpitates with the thought of Industrial spaces that have been turned into homes (or, at the very least, spaces that mimic this idea). I think it is my love of opposites that fuels this fascination with hard, factory pieces juxtaposed with warm, organic life.

I still stop the car when I see abandoned factories; their sad history, and complex use of man-made components, makes me wonder about how they were made, and why they are now left alone. Metal, in various forms, has been around for many years, but wasn't used in mass production until the 19th century, when inventors found ways to harness the complicated elements and make them into various materials of strength. I can't pretend to understand the science that goes on behind it, but I did just look it up (am being honest), and, really, it is pretty amazing to know that something so natural can be manipulated into being such a powerful part of our infrastructure.

Once, so expensive, the process is now simple, and most metals are available for everyone to buy. Which makes me wonder about homes that embrace an Industrial influence. Too much metal, and the home will appear to be cold, but, with just a hint, the space will automatically become more interesting. Traditional iron pieces, like birdcages and hooks, are easily added to a home, but what if you want to go a little further?

Designers have fully embraced this trend, and have provided us with many options to bring into our homes. Here are just a few of them to help you bring a little bit of the Industrial look into your life (without feeling as if you need a blow torch or an extra large sewing machine).

Many old factories are being explored, their contents repurposed for household
 use; perfect for books, gloves, or even pantry items in the kitchen (coat in polyurethene, just in case).

Storage and a surface at the same time; this small table, made of a wire basket
 and an old cupboard door, is useful in any room!

Stainless Steel is a practical choice for any style of home. However,
 it is not for the faint-hearted, its beauty grows more with every scratch!

An old file cabinet can become your new file cabinet...

A trough, with a wooden top and a sink added, becomes a
great focal point.
The perfect combination of simplicity - glass, metal and light!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Wallpaper Art

I remember wallpaper, growing up, to be either anaglypta (a thick, embossed wallpaper) large brown and green squares or, sometimes, a very flowery concoction that reminded me of prairie dresses and things that were overly cute. Their role (roll? :-) was to decorate the walls and cover imperfections.

After many years of this, wallpaper was exiled; people were tired of the busyness of it all, they wanted cleaner, more neutral spaces. Thoughts of scraping someone elses glue and paper off the wall sent home owners searching for simpler ways to decorate. Paint became the de rigueur.

Now, like any good fashion trend, wallpaper is back again; gracing the covers of magazines, with the designer elite singing its praises as a beautiful and bold way to accessorize our homes.
It has now become Art.

I am glad; anything that makes decorating easier, and can be put on a wall, makes me very happy. Now, the wallpapers are easier to apply, and, more importantly, easier to remove. As a statement on a wall, or a backdrop for another piece, designs are made to be graphic, but tasteful - adding to what you already have, with just a little bit of star power, rather than stealing the entire spotlight.

Bringing modern freshness to all styles of homes, this old idea may just become your new, favorite piece of paper!

Photograph from http://www.elledecor.com/

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

A Moment in Time...

The "after"
 Last week I hated my Living Room. Truly hated it. When I looked at it, all I saw was a sea of brown, surrounded by some brightly colored artwork that just seemed to show up the dull "brown-ness". I had become my own worst client, I couldn't see past the ugly.

My Living Room has a big window at the front. Most things fade quite quickly; I have the curtains drawn, widely, and I like to have as much light as possible in my home. As a result, everything fades and the fabrics erode quite quickly from the sun (rather odd when you remember that I live in New Jersey, not exactly the sunshine capital of the world).

The furniture had faded over the last year, and as I re-decorated the room for Spring, I took out most of the plants and colorful blankets that had been the accessories for the last few months. I guess, in my haste to remove the Winter, the room was left feeling colorless and boring, lacking in life. The life and color now being outside, instead of inside.

In my head, it became the worst Living Room that anyone had ever seen. A vintage (old?) golden, brown sofa, an old (vintage?) brown chair, an old, collapsible oak table and a vintage (genuinely old), standing radio sitting alongside a nicely rusted, generously sized, wrought iron chair from outside. The entire combination had morphed into a 1940's sitcom, with all the good bits taken out.

As I panicked in my brown-ness, I mentally scanned my house for replacement pieces of furniture. There were none I could use. There was no hope, I decided I MUST drive to the store right that very second before I was swallowed up by the awfulness of it all.

I drove to the store, really fast (but not over the speed limit) and I found a purple sofa and a lovely, oversized slipper chair with an exaggerated pattern of zinnias bursting with orange and dark green....perfect (!?) I looked at the furniture as I took out my credit card, and I walked out of the store.

A cafe mocha, no whipped cream, and a half hour later reality hit. I was calm as I made the list of what I wanted, needed and didn't want in my Living Room. With list in hand, I went home and began to empty the room. The old, brown chair was the first to go....

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Pic-nic (pik-nik) – an outing that is shared, outside, with food…

What is nicer than a picnic on a Summer’s day? I imagine sitting in an unmown field filled with daisies, the manicured lawn of a historic castle or a ragged, cliff-top overlooking the Aegean sea. It’s the stuff that dreams are made of; lovingly described in the well-worn pages of my old storybooks.

Picnic's happened a lot when I was little. Mum and Dad would pack sandwiches and drinks, along with old blankets and a few sweet treats for afterwards. We would head to the seaside, a public park or sometimes just to a nearby hill (!) for the afternoon. It always felt like a Holiday – a day off where my sister and I we were playing hookey, allowed to run as far away as we wanted to; coming back when we were tired, for soggy tomato sandwiches and warm fizzy drinks in a shared cup. It was bliss!

Now, as old-fashioned as it may seem, a picnic is still a wonderful way to spend the day together. Go to a local park or beach, and spend the day doing as little as possible! Bring along books, magazines, games and bubbles (leave the technology at home).

Check out the latest picnic accessories that will make your day more comfortable (fully equipped picnic baskets with cutlery, napkins and plates, water-proof blankets to keep your bottoms dry, and even metal spikes to hold your wine glass in between sips!). Pack food that will hold up well and won’t get too soggy – ham, cold fried chicken, cheese, bread, chips and fruit are all easy to pack. Prepare it beforehand, so that you don’t have to worry about knives and forks when you get there – finger food is always best!

Bring lots of napkins,and have fun!

Lovely image from http://www.bluebellsandseashells.co.uk/news/view/2011/05/Picnic_Northamptonshire

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Loving Your Old Kitchen

My kitchen is tiny; I am always dreaming of ways to make it bigger (?) and better. I have done almost everything that a normal person could do to make it what I want it to be, without taking down walls and ripping up floors. I know how I would love it to look, but I am happy to be creative until (if) that time comes.

A kitchen is such a big budget item that many of us wait until we are moving, or get an unexpected windfall, before making changes. In the meantime it sits, getting older and more disappointing as we wait for that elusive, happy day.

I don’t like that idea. While we are waiting to win the lottery our kitchen is still part of our every day life; it has to be used constantly, so why not try to make it better until our package of perfection arrives? All of these things I have done myself, and I know they do make a big difference with very little effort.

  • Of course, I have to mention knobs and draw pulls first. Changing the shape, texture or color will always make your room look refreshed. 
  • Add a decorative mirror to an empty wall (easy to clean, and brings in light and energy). 
  • Paint some of the cabinets. If you have a set of cabinets away from the others, consider painting them a different color and giving them unusual hardware. They will look like a separate piece of furniture. 
  • Talking of separate furniture, what about removing an upper and lower cabinet altogether, and replacing it with a buffet, dresser or desk that is even more useful (and decorative)? If you don’t like your kitchen anyway, be bold and give it a try! 
  • Take down some upper cabinets (not as hard as you think) and install shelves. Or, remove the doors and “pretend” it is open shelving. Your kitchen will look bigger with open shelves.
  • Remove the doors and the central piece of wood off a pair of cabinets to create a nook for cookbooks. I did this, and I know they were oak cabinets, but truly, I love having the books showing and it makes the kitchen far more interesting. (Removing the center piece – with a hacksaw - did not compromise the strength of the cabinet at all). 
  • Bring in things that are “un-kitcheny”. Art, curtains, books, lamps and furniture will give your kitchen a personality; it will feel more like a room than just a place that you cook dinner. 
  • Grout vintage tiles onto your old countertops to make a more interesting surface that is heat-resistant and looks pretty. If you are not keen on it being permanent idea, then buy a really large marble tile, put rubber feet on it, and place that on the counter. This is perfect for large, hot dishes and for baking on. 
  • Remove dated appliques and fancy, wooden doo-dads. Sand and stain (or paint) over any imperfections or, cover it with a picture. 

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Wide Open Spaces (inside)

I once worked with a woman who lived in a renovated, industrial loft. It was everything I dreamed that a loft should be -  huge, tall windows, lots of cozy seating areas, and bookshelves lining an old brick wall.

Her favorite thing to do was to have cooking competitions. She would ask us all to bring a version of one dish, and we would vote, and then eat. The winner could choose a plant or a book off her many shelves, but, obviously, the best prize was serious bragging rights until the next year! Sometimes, she would ask an Australian and a New Zealander to cook the same thing, to see which was better! (She was Scottish, which just made it more fun). One of us would use the kitchen in the loft next door, running back and forth to check on our secret recipes, sipping glasses of wine and listening to half-spoken conversations.

Her home was a wonderful lesson in decorating. She embraced what she had, and she loved it. The style suited who she was, exactly. Sections were not divided by paint or partitions, it was left open; a massive room that she allowed to be just what it was, an open space that cared more about friends than function.

I think that sometimes, newer homes are developed by an impatient need to please, rather than an architectural plan. We want the openness, with high ceilings and large spaces, but we want it to feel comfortable as well. What happens, is that builders respond to this with a composite of what they think we want, which often leaves us with a lot of space and a lot of design dilemmas.

Because I have come across this quite often, I thought I would offer some ideas that may help.
  • Accept the space. Work with it, rather than against it. 
  • If you have an open plan area, treat it that way. Divide living spaces with furniture arrangements, rather than vertical paint lines. This leaves the space visually open, but still creates comfortable areas to live in. 
  • Bounce color and scale around the entire space to create a balanced look. Your eye should move around the room, not stay focused on one particular item.  
  • If your kitchen is part of the space, don’t forget about it, include it in your decorating plan. Maybe a cabinet color can be repeated on the other side, or a color from a painting can be put in the kitchen? They need to feel connected. 
  • Consider your lighting when you have a tall ceiling. Can you change a lightbulb that high up without installing scaffolding? What are the other options available? A large, hanging glass sphere may look pretty or, even, a skylight? Maybe table and floor lamps would be better? Don’t just settle for something that may not suit you.
  • Avoid having one area very formal, and the other too casual. This, almost always looks disconnected. Blend them together.
  • Painting the ceiling the same color as the wall will make it less obvious, whereas different colors will emphasise the height.
  • Artwork should be of a decent size (no floating, tiny pieces on an empty wall). Consider an abstract collage of photographs, a triptych or a wall of words…

 Thanks to http://www.1kindesign.com/ for the photograph.