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