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.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Ladies and Red

My mom has a Red sofa. One of the few things that she has bought, on her own, in over 30 years. It was a transitional time in her life, when she walked through a home furnishings store, and fell in love. Red and gold damask, beautifully upholstered and ridiculously expensive. She had to have it; no planning, no second thoughts, just pure happiness on four wooden legs.

A friend was recently going through a change in her life. She decided to go on a major spending spree - in Red. Small appliances, rugs and pillows were all bought in Red, replacing the traditional yellow and white that had been her norm. Her only explanation was that it made her feel happy, the color of the Red coffee maker made her smile every single morning.

Years ago, I went to an Estate Sale with a good friend of mine. I was going through a difficult time, and shopping was not high on my "to do" list. But, my friend and I both have a love of antiques, so we try to spend a few times a year together, wandering through places that feed that part of our soul. That day, was one of those days. I had never been to an Estate Sale before. It seemed a bit sad wandering through someones home, knowing their belongings were being sold because they were moving on. It felt quite voyeuristic, even though the owner knew we were there.

The lady who owned the home was an artist, and a couple of rooms were filled with her paintings. Not planning to buy anything I came upon a canvas of a woman painted in Red. At the time, my life felt very beige; old furniture, too many antiques, and a certain tiredness had overtaken me and my home. The painting was an unusual pick for me, but I loved the color, and I liked the serenity on her face; she had an old fashioned dignity that was nicely at odds with the abstract pieces of paint. I decided to bid on the painting, and was told I could come back the next day to see if my bid had been accepted, or if she had been sold at full price. The next day I returned, and she was still there. My offer was accepted, and I drove home with her.

I put her on the wall, and she didn't quite match my dull living room, but just looking at her cheered me up. Within a few months I had decorated my living room around her, bringing color and absurdness wherever I thought it should go. I wrote to the artist and thanked her for the painting; I hoped that her move had gone well, and I wanted her to know how much I loved her work.

All of these stories come together with a color and an emotion. Red seems to give a healing energy to many people, unconsciously giving us a strength to move forward when we are emotionally drained. Scientifically, it may not be a proven theory, but from what I am learning there is definitely something that makes us feel better when we are around certain colors. Perhaps, it's the boldness of Red that makes us feel powerful, or maybe it's as simple as embracing a color that is the opposite of what we are used to. Whatever the reason, it is important, because it makes us happy. (Or, maybe, it's the shopping that makes us happy, and not the color after all :-)

With gracious thanks to:  Rosa Maria Thummel  http://www.rosathummel.com/

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

To Dream of Outdoors is a Wonderful Thing

It's barely Spring here in New Jersey, and I am itching to get outside. The ground is still muddy, and the garden still seems so undefined. A mixture of gray and green, Winter is reluctantly giving up control of its  cranky gloom, appearing to hold onto us longer every year. I hope, that soon, the daffodils will be flowering. Never a big fan of yellow, I now crave the clear brightness of them, deliriously happy when I can finally pick some and bring them inside. Every day I look at them, knowing that they will be here soon. They remind me of my Grandad's garden, in England, I don't know why...

As the clouds grow darker outside, my mind wanders to the subject of patio spaces and outdoor rooms. My ideal would be a cobbled patio with moss and thyme sprinkled in between the stones (no weeds). A few chairs facing a round picnic table, and a big fire pit off to the side. We would toast marshmallows and hot-dogs on sticks, late at night, staying warm with checkered blankets and oversized sweaters. Perhaps an old fashioned, charcoal BBQ would look pretty; the men would curse at the inefficiency of it all, as the women relaxed, sipping wine and waiting for the food that will take hours to cook. (Yes, I know that is sexist, but, well, that's how it usually works if we are honest - and lucky :-)

My table would have the biggest market umbrella standing over it. 10 or 12 foot wide, so that no one has to scrunch to fit underneath. It would be a lovely persimmon color, not quite orange or red, but somewhere nicely in between. Or, I may get all sophisticated and choose black, perhaps with lime green peeking from underneath...

Giant games would be scattered on the lawn, and a hammock would lie in a quiet spot.

The trees would be covered in thousands of white, mini Christmas tree lights and large, colorful paper lanterns would hang inbetween. An extravagant candle chandelier (well, maybe one from Ikea) would be hung from the biggest tree. Underneath, there would be chairs and sofas, sitting on an outdoor rug, making it the perfect place to relax and talk (or, take a nap).

So, as my dream continues, I look outside. It is still raining. The picnic table (that I found on the side of the road) needs painting, and the dog has worn a muddy track all through the moss garden. My umbrella was enjoyed by the hungry mice, living in the garage, and my potting table is starting to show loving signs of wear and rot.

Don't worry, I'm not delusional, this is what I do. Each year I plan and fix and wonder about all the amazing things I will do. Rarely are they accomplished, but that is not what I need. I love the planning, the wondering and the creating. Not worrying about the mice needing a Winters snack, I am glad at the excuse to re-cover (or attempt to) the umbrella with a new fabric. The table I can paint, or seal with a wood sealant, and the rest will gradually take care of itself. For me, it is the process that keeps me motivated. The dreaming and the planning.....

And, yes, of course I will buy the candle chandelier (from Ikea, at $29.99 who can resist?), and I will find the perfect tree to hang it from.

Thanks to http://www.housetohome.co.uk/ for the lovely photograph and Ikea for my chandelier http://www.ikea.com/us/en/catalog/products/70018049