Thursday, December 27, 2012

Last Minute Luxuries

Barred-Rocks-in-Snow-1023x682 (1)
One of my favorite books is about a businessman who buys an entire country on a whim (out of a catalog). Okay, so I admit it isn’t a real country, and there are a few strange creatures that complicate his purchase, but for some reason I just never tire of reading it.
With Christmas just over, there are still lots of excuses to buy last minute gifts. So, I wondered what sort of weird, expensive and unusual gifts I could find, in a catalog, if money was not even a consideration. And, lucky for you, most of these can still be ordered in time for New Year!
  • Complete with a library (books included), a customized herb garden, and an elegant chandelier, this very posh Chicken Coop comes with your own, personally selected, heritage hens. ($100,000.)
  • I love this Written Word Clock that tells me the time, simply and kindly, in words that require almost no brain power on my behalf.  eg. 4:21pm = Twenty-one minutes past four p.m. ($219.95)
  • An umbrella with an honest to goodness, lifetime guarantee (really). At $200. it will pay for itself (eventually). In the interest of staying dry, I will cautiously trade practicality for good-looks, and ignore the fact that it is quite boring to look at.
  • If I had my own private plane, then of course this would be my suitcaseof choice ($87,000. does seem like a lot, but at least it is real leather). I tried to find out how much my plane would cost, but apparently that is a negotiable issue.  I did, however, find out that you can get a used one for as little as 2 million, but would I really want a used, inexpensive private plane? Hmm….probably not.
  • In a slightly (not much) generous moment, I would also buy thesesterling silver condiment lids for all my friends who love Marmite, Jam and Ketchup. Fortunately, they do come with a full jar, but it does make you wonder what happens when they’ve finished the contents. Do I keep them supplied with Ketchup, month after month, or do I give them strict instructions to wash and re-use? (which seems a bit gauche for $150.).
  • Finally, just because I can, I would have to have this miniature, signed, original illustration by Garth Williams, that was done for the book “Little Fur Family” in 1946. ($7,500.)
Why not spend some time coming up with your own luxury list; it is a lot of fun imagining what you could get, and you will be a amazed at what is out there! Why not dream a little, and begin with the Neiman Marcus Fantasy Gift List for 2012.….
Photograph of Chickens, from, where else, but “Better Hens and Gardens!”

Monday, December 17, 2012

Our December Magazine Page

This week, I thought I would post my Monthly Magazine Page instead of a regular blog post. Just click on the link below to read lots of fun and interesting things about the cold.
For archived pages, and to sign up for next month's issue, check out the left side of the page.
Thanks so much for reading!

- Wendy

p.s. Click here to read.

a blue giraffe publication


 designed to enjoy the.....COLD

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Seasons Cheating's!

I know we have a month or so until Christmas, but why does everyone seem so busy and worried? Maybe it's because of all that has happened over the last month, or maybe it is just that normal insanity that seems to take over at this time of year. We want to buy the newest, favorite thing, and we have to try and create the perfect memory (again). We all know that it won't be perfect - we'll stand on line for the one thing we can't find, the dog will throw up from eating something he shouldn't have, and the children will be so exhausted they'll just play with the wrapping paper.

And, that is what the Holidays should be about (mistakes always make for a better story). So, while we strive to get it all done, I thought I could suggest some easy ways to cheat during the Holidays, and perhaps let you enjoy a little bit of peace and joy in-between.  

Make a great, (semi) homemade dessert: Buy good quality cookie dough and vanilla ice cream from the supermarket. Bake the cookies (takes about 15 minutes). Sprinkle some sugar, chocolate chips, crushed candy canes or edible glitter on the top before baking. When ready for dessert, assemble the most delicious ice cream sandwiches. 

Plan at least one occasion that includes all the people you like: We all know that this is a time of obligation, but don't forget to spend time with your friends and family that you really cherish. Knowing you have this to look forward to, will help you get through the other stuff. Plan a time, and invite them asap.

Schedule a half day, or evening, to write lists, cards and plan your present buying: Being organized will save you a ton of time and stress in the long run. Pajamas and a glass of egg-nog optional.     

Expect to forget: Buy a couple of nice, generic gifts now, or, put some money aside for last minute purchases. My go-to is always something edible (of course). Buy striped candy canes and white chocolate at the supermarket (and containers). White chocolate peppermint bark is easy, tastes delicious (even if you don't like white chocolate and peppermint), inexpensive, and looks really pretty and festive! 

Write down a couple of outfits that you know are perfect for an occasion, and post the list inside your closet: No more last minute frustration staring in the mirror, wondering what to wear. 

Challenge yourself to stop and think before you go out and buy more stuff: Do you really want to take the time to buy more nodding reindeer for the garden, another scented candle and 27 types of wrapping paper? 

Be flexible, and don't be store/brand loyal: If you see something just as good (or different) somewhere else, get it.

Schedule time for things that will make you feel good: Go to a community Tree-lighting, a Christmas Concert, Holiday fair or Bake sale. Volunteer or Donate to something that you really believe in. Watch cartoons on the television, or rent a favorite family movie.

Follow your instincts as much as you can: If you want to, do it, if you don't....don't.

p.s. By the way, did you know that you could even make your own candy canes? Would that be cheating?

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Thanksgiving Made Easy

I spent some time researching beautiful Thanksgiving photographs, then I came across this one. Of course, we all strive to have the beautifully set table, with the perfect family, but rarely does that happen. Now and again, the stars are aligned, and the day may go exactly how you dreamed it would, but usually it looks a little bit like the one above - mis-matched casserole dishes, warm bread from the supermarket, and football on the television.

Have to be honest, I never understood why people stressed over it so much (until I did it myself, and dropped the entire, over-cooked turkey on the floor). Once I recovered from the embarrassment (yes, we still ate it), I learned that it really is best to keep it simple. So, even if you don't like to cook (or bake, or entertain) there are still a lot of ways to serve a lovely dinner to those people who you truly want to spend time with:
  • Make a list of what you would like to serve ahead of time. Then, when people offer to bring something, you can say "Yes, please, could you bring the pickled, jellied, pineapple Ambrosia?".
  • Consider making new traditions, that are easier, but still festive (eg. a Pumpkin Cheesecake is easier than baking an Apple Pie, feeds more people, and can be made a couple of days in advance. Or, buy a frozen Apple Pie and sprinkle sugar and/or caramel on the top before baking). 
  • For a large group, make hot cider, mulled wine or punch in a crock pot. Your guests can help themselves, it can sit all day, and it makes the house smell really good.
  • For appetizers, keep everything cold, or at room temperature (cheese, crackers, fruit, nuts etc). No need to fight for oven space. 
  • If you've never cooked a turkey, get easy directions from a reputable food website. Check the inside, and neck of the turkey, for miscellaneous bags of gizzards, plastic etc before cooking (trust me on this - apart from the embarrassment, they can make the whole turkey smell, and taste, kind of strange). 
  • Don't be intimidated by making the perfect stuffing and gravy -  *Make stuffing in a casserole dish (reheat slowly, the day of, covered, with extra chicken broth added) -  *Buy a really good gravy from a local farm market, make your own ahead of time (and freeze it) or buy a low salt, home-style one at the Supermarket. Add some of your turkey drippings, and a bit of butter to it at the last minute.
  • Plan what serving dishes and utensils you will be using for each item. (Write it down on a sticky note, and put it in that dish, so that you don't forget - and your guests can help you serve the food).
  • Think about where people can sit, before and after dinner. Do you need to move some furniture around? 
  • Okay, I know this seems weird, but put a new toilet roll (and plunger's, if possible) in all the bathrooms. Saves your guests from being stranded and embarrassed. 
Be prepared (and don't panic) if something goes wrong: 
Over-cooked turkey?  Slice it up, put it in a large casserole dish, pour hot gravy over it (or chicken broth) cover in foil and let it sit for a while.
Under-cooked turkey? Take a deep breath, cut it off the bone, and microwave it (horrible, I know, but you can't serve raw turkey).
Overcooked veggies? Pan fry for a moment, to get rid of some of the water, then stir in some butter. (If they are really awful, admit defeat, and throw them out).
Not enough serving dishes? It is much easier to have several small dishes, instead of one or two gigantic ones. Just use your everyday dishes to fill in the gaps - bowls, cups, extra plates etc. Use plastic and glass bowls as well. Nothing has to match.
Not enough dining chairs? First, check the rest of the house for stools and desk chairs etc. If still not enough, set up a picnic, and have the children eat in the kitchen or family room. Or, make it a buffet, and let everyone fight for their seats at the table.
Forget to buy drinks? Oops. Hope someone brings a bottle. Be grateful your water is nice to drink!
I could go on and on, but then that means less time to plan your Holiday dinner, and definitely less time to enjoy this lovely weekend!

Friday, November 9, 2012

Why Not?

I confess, I can be a bit stubborn, and, sometimes, when someone says that it can’t be done, I ask “Why not?”.  To me, decorating belongs in the Land of “Why not’s?” - a place where rules are simply things that other people made up.

Don’t get me wrong, when I started out on my decorating  journey, I also followed the guidelines about what I should (and shouldn’t do). Because, that’s what you do when you don’t know. I put up flowery curtains, painted all of my rooms cream, and bought a platter that said “Turkey” on it. (For my first Thanksgiving dinner, of course. I wouldn’t have dreamed of serving turkey, unless I had the appropriate platter to put it on).

Fortunately, after a while, we all decide that we really do (or do not) like flowery curtains, and we start to sift through our own style. We may, or may not, keep the Turkey platter, and we decide to paint the walls a darker shade of cream. We watch design shows, and pour over paint samples, but now and again we hesitate, and we wonder if what we want to do is really okay. Here is a list of some design things that really are okay (despite what you may have heard).

  • Hang artwork at whatever height you like, wherever you want to. (And, use the smallest, most effective hook you can. Art weighs a heck of a lot less than you think).
  • Go ahead, use dark paint in a small room, and add big furniture (but less of it). Makes it cozy and dramatic at the same time.
  • When buying/remodelling a home, consider whether or not you want a formal Dining Room. Many people don’t use it, and it can become a clutter collector. Don’t have one “just because”.
  • Not every room has to have a “pop of color”. Really. There are lots of neutral rooms that are truly beautiful.
  • It’s okay, put a bed in front of your window if you want to.
  • Give the Master Bedroom to your children, or use it as an office space. Do you really need a gigantic bedroom?
As you can see, the point is that design rules are just guidelines to get you started, or, as the late, great Katherine Hepburn said  “If you obey all the rules, you miss all the fun!”

Gorgeous bedroom from Bungalow at Home

Monday, November 5, 2012

After the Hurricane

I know that many of you are inundated with Hurricane information; the photographs, the news updates, and the information on what to do, and what not to do.....But, as I live in New Jersey, I decided I had to write something.
First of all, I just want to thank people for their concern and offers of help. We are so lucky to have only lost power and a handful of trees, but I admit that the night it happened was one of the scariest I have had in a long time. The noise of branches falling onto our roof became so loud that we actually slept downstairs; once there, we lay on the sofas and watched the sky constantly light up as the transformers exploded all over the county. We were afraid, and we talked about where we would go if we needed to leave the house. 
After barely sleeping, we woke to a day that was eerily silent, and we thought for a while that maybe it hadn't been as bad as it seemed. We got ready, and drove to a nearby friend's house for coffee. There was another family there, and we all huddled in front of the television, not quite believing that what they were showing was within miles of where we lived. The towns they were naming were all familiar, and we watched for hours, trying to accept the largeness of what had happened, seemingly overnight. Quickly, we heard that areas would be rebuilt, everyone would be taken care of, and it would eventually be okay. I silently wondered if maybe the absence of what we were doing was actually what makes us so resilient in a disaster. If we don't have time to watch television, or read the newspapers, maybe we don't know it is quite so bad, and we just move forward, our optimism motivated by a cloud of ignorance.
Trees are down everywhere, and we know that it is just a matter of time before they will be moved, and our electricity is restored. For so many others it isn't so easy; lines can't be repaired, and homes may never be replaced. Yes, I am lucky (a nearby friend has loaned us her home to warm up, shower and share meals), but I admit it is also driving me a little crazy. Now that it has been six days, the town is a strange mix of compassion and crankiness - everyone wants to help who they can, but many are tired, and just want things to go back to normal. Once again, we are forced to realize how much we rely on technology, and we are almost embarrassed to admit the comforts that we miss the most (a hot shower and a cup of tea).
I have learned some things over the last week, so I thought I would share them with you:
- I can boil water for a cup of tea with 3 votive candles, a metal trivet and a very posh china cup! Put a lid on top, and it heats even quicker.
- My street is black as pitch after dark. (No flashlight, no way to find the front door).
- My daughter is one of the best people on the planet (maybe I needed a little bit of silence for me to hear that).
- The people who are back at work, doing all kinds of Customer Service, should get an award (especially Dana, my Orthodontist's Receptionist). These people also have no power, and gas restrictions, but they still have to get dressed, look presentable, and put a smile on their face.
- Thank goodness for cell phones. Many of my friends and family are far away, so to be able to text has been a godsend for all of us.

With that, I will sign off, and thank my friend for letting me use her laptop (for which I am woefully incompetent at) knowing that I am one of the very lucky one's who only has to worry about heating up her cup of tea.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Refrigerator Redo

I don’t really like my refrigerator.  In fact, I admit that I sometimes watch cooking shows, just because I like to see their appliances. Never, ever do I see one that has a refrigerator like mine; their’s are always saturated with color, vintage, or lusciously new in stainless steel. Which leads me to think that most people  secretly crave a beautiful refrigerator, we just can’t justify the expense.
Personally, I believe that there are good, logical reasons for me to be slightly fridge obsessed, and I choose to ignore the fact that my mom once had to physically restrain me from buying a 1950′s yellow refrigerator at the local thrift store. Honestly, I still don’t understand why she wouldn’t let me buy it; when you opened it, it was a designer’s dream – chrome baskets that begged to be filled, and all sorts of levers that twisted and turned to open the drawers. So what if it needed to be re-wired, and would cost insane amounts of money to keep my food cold, we were talking about instant happiness.
After being denied the yellow refrigerator, I forgave my mom, and decided that the least I could do was to make mine look better. Now, I justify my slight obsession with my own version of common sense.
- I decant my milk into glass bottles. (It stays cooler, and has no plastic taste).
- My eggs sit in a metal basket, on the counter. (I can bake at a moments notice, and they are always at the right temperature).
- Mushrooms are kept in labelled, brown paper bags. (They can breathe, don’t get soggy, and last longer).
- Vegetables are placed in vintage mixing bowls and dishes. (I can see them, and therefore I will eat more of them?).
-  I line up yogurt’s in a square container. (Easy to grab, and don’t fall over).
- Orange juice is in a clear jug. (I can see when it is time to buy more).
See, to some people, it is just a way to keep food, but to others it is a reason to decorate. Right now, I don’t have my favorite refrigerator, but there is no harm in dreaming, and adapting what I already have.  One day, I will have a wonderful, vintage inspired refrigerator, and it will be pale green (or blue, or maybe yellow… or pink).
Photograph borrowed, with envy, from the Big Chill website.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Coffee and Chenille

Reading a recent post about One Day Makeover's, reminded me of my Salvation Army sofa. Bought for $30 several years ago, it is sturdy, comfortable and, oh yes, it is covered in shiny, worn gold chenille.
Far from perfect, I still can’t bring myself to get rid of it. The dog sleeps on it, jumps over it, and suffocates the cushions with his fur. My daughter often sprawls across the back, haphazardly doing gymnastics, knowing it will never creak, break or bend. It is the place I sit to drink coffee and read a book, talk to my mom on the phone, and listen to music on rainy days.
And, sometimes it makes me cringe. I know what people think – Isn’t she supposed to be some kind of Designer? Why does she have that dated, faded sofa in her living room?
I have it because I still love it; it’s hard to find sofas that will fit through my small front door, and many of the newer ones are not as comfortable as the old. I like the way it envelopes you when you need to hide from questioning teenagers (a strategically placed plant also helps), and I love that I can redesign it when I get bored.
Sometimes, I can’t take the chenille, and I search my house for a blanket or quilt to throw over the back. I pile it with cushions, frown at the tufted gold, and threaten to replace it with a newer model. I become my own annoying client, frustrated with what I own, but not wanting to buy something new.
This week, it competed with the Autumn light, and I swear the sofa almost glowed.  I became distracted by its brightness, moving it around the room and throwing different colors on it like a crazy person. Maybe I had had too much coffee, but I just needed to get it right. And I did……for now.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Lives Well Lived

I used to date someone who would recite Shakespeare to me during dinner. It sounds silly now, but what I loved was that he was so passionate in his telling. He loved to say the words out-loud, and he never tired of sharing them. Of course, I didn't always want sonnets with my chicken, but that didn't  seem to bother me at the time. Apparently, as someone who is not very bold, I sometimes lean towards people who are. Maybe they say what I am thinking, or maybe they give me the opportunity to hear Macbeth when I least expect it, whatever the reason, I know that I am drawn towards expressive people.

Rosa Maria Thummel was an expressive artist. A couple of months ago, her son, whom I had spoken with before, very kindly, wrote to let me know that she had passed away. Although I had never met her, I was sad to hear of her death. One of her paintings had come into my life many years ago; a woman in red who looks solemn, ladylike and brave (a pretty accurate representation of how I was feeling at the time). After I bought it, I wrote to thank Rosa, and although she was no longer painting, I was glad to learn that she was still happy and enjoying life with her family. Vibrant until the end, I loved that she did not bow to convention and compromise her style; her soulful portraits were unique, colorful and bold, the dark lines filled with personality.

On the other side of the artistic scale was Edward Gorey; known for his quirky, macabre sketches, most people probably know his work more than they do his name. Although his art was lacking in color, and his detailed drawings often very small, his life was filled with bold eccentricities.

Recently, I was delighted to find that his former home had been turned into a Museum. Set in a picturesque town on Cape Cod, I have to admit, that from the road the home appeared very underwhelming. Until I stepped inside. Words cannot describe the creativity that consumed this man's life. He was unstoppable in his expression, and I don't even know how he had the time to do as much as he did; envelopes were painstakingly decorated with complicated scenes before sending, bizarre creatures were twisted out of wire and clothed in household debris, body parts were sewn (stuffed) and sculpted, and creepy alphabet poems were written on his porch, at night, with a gigantic stuffed bear sitting by his side. His art may not have been for everyone, and he never tried to impress, all he did was create.

When I see people like these three, I ache with admiration. To know your passion, and follow it loudly, regardless, is a gift (and a lesson). We say we don't know what we love, what makes us tick, or incites rebellion, but I think we do really. Sometimes, what we know is as tiny as an appreciation of a Fall day;  we fail to recognize it as being important enough, when really it might be all that we need. It doesn't matter who listens to our stories, or how many awards we get, as long as we understand what makes us truly happy. If we celebrate what we love, unapologetically, we will win, and our lives will be well-lived.

p.s. I preferred my chicken without Macbeth :-)

Edward Gorey Photo: http://www.flavorwire.com/288826/extremely-silly-photos-of-extremely-serious-writers?all=1
Rosa Thummel Painting: http://www.rosathummel.com/

Saturday, September 29, 2012

The End of Summer

I know I was watching, but it still feels as though Summer ended when I wasn't looking in the right direction....

Recently, I was a guest blogger for a friend, Sue West (an Organizer and Life Coach) I talked about the changing seasons, and what they meant to me...

Growing up in a warmer climate, I never understood what seasonal decorating was. We didn’t even own coats, so to change our surroundings to suit the weather, was not something I could relate to. Now, I live in a four season world, and as well as the constant excuse to go shopping, I look forward to the surprises that each month can bring.

Soon, it will be Fall, and after the brutally hot Summer we have had, I find myself craving the cold nights and the warmer colors. A quick look outside will tell you that Mother Nature is starting to adjust her settings; the lush greens of Spring are giving way to fallen leaves, and the flowers are taller, their colors more saturated and bold. Always a good teacher, I take my cue from her, and I start to go through my own transformation.
  • I tidy up the garden, and bring in plants that I want to nurture through till next year. I stop at farm markets to buy pumpkins and gourds; arranging them onto my front step, and piling them into the gaps of my faded windowbox.
  • Inside my home, I start to look through my linen closet for blankets to toss on the sofa and chairs. I am already anticipating the first cold night, and the mis-matched textures make me feel warmer already. A bowl of seashells is put away, and I bring out a large collection of buttons instead – collected over many years, they make me think of late night sewing and heavy, woolen coats that need to be repaired.
  • I also put away some decorative glass pieces, and replace them with accessories that feel less harsh, and more organic. A wooden bowl is filled with pinecones, a bunch of twigs is arranged on the table and a favorite photograph (sans frame) leans against a pile of books.

Whenever you want to decorate, think of the four seasons as a wonderful game of opposites. If it is cold outside, make your home warm by using soft edges, organic elements and saturated colors. Conversely, when it is hot, cool down with simple shapes, lighter colors and fewer layers.

Thanks to Vicki Horton for the gorgeous Volkswagen bug photograph.

For more information on Sue West, go to: http://organizenh.com/

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Luxury Living (at Home)

I think I need to get out more. A recent design conference had me staying in a hotel that I absolutely fell in love with. From the minute I walked through the door, I didn't want to leave. The lobby felt like an entrance to one of those lovely, old fashioned department stores; a warm type of quiet that felt elegant without being stuffy, and a feeling that it had been designed but not overdone. I (almost) tip-toed over to the front desk.

Once inside, my beautiful room made me hesitate to throw down my well-worn suitcase. But that didn't last for long; within minutes, I had plopped onto the squishy pillows, kicked off my shoes, and dreamed of ordering cake for dinner - it felt like I was on vacation.

Hotels always used to be a luxury, somewhere that you stayed for a special occasion. Now, we visit them more often, and most of them, quite frankly, have become a necessary, money-draining, evil part of our lives. (OK, so maybe that is a slight exaggeration, but you know what I mean). We pay a couple of hundred dollars for a bad night's sleep, and are ridiculously grateful if we have a new roll of toilet paper and a television that actually works.

So, it was with a welcome surprise that I stayed in a place that really did care about the happiness of their  customer. They actually wanted us to have a nice time, not just provide an old bed and ask us for our credit card on the way out. What they did, was remind me that luxury is not always about the amount of money that we spend, but the feeling that can be created with a few, well-chosen ideas:

Bed Linens and Towels:  If in doubt, buy white (clean and classic).
Color:  Add warm, saturated colors (dark red, navy, gold, green, purple) to your walls, floors and accessories for a more opulent feel.
Real Materials:  Use wood (preferably dark), metal and glass instead of plastic.
Lighting:  Vary the style, shape and height of light fixtures. Use dimmers as much as possible.
Pillows:  Buy the pillow that will give you the best nights sleep (then buy a couple more...).

A luxurious life is not such a bad thing, so go ahead, spoil yourself!

Thanks to Gaynor Alder for the fun photograph, the Renaissance Providence for the squishy pillows, and the amazing ADE (Association of Design Education) for the wonderful women.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Thinking Outside the (Money) Box

We’ve all done it; needed a repair, or wanted to make a small improvement, then, before we know it we are surrounded by contractors and applying for another line of credit. The possibility of what we could have, has steamrollered over what we originally needed, and our heads are filled with dizzying thoughts of how we can finally create the home of our dreams.
Lucky for me, this is often where my job begins; another opinion is needed, and the homeowner wants to talk through all of the options before they go ahead. I would never tell anyone not to spend their money, but I do believe in considering every possibility before going ahead with a project.
Recently, I was asked about a Bathroom; it was leaking into the room underneath, and the tiled shower floor needed to be replaced. The discussion quickly went from repairing the floor (which was over 20 years old, and would be difficult to match) to redoing most of the bathroom.
The quotes started to come in, and, like many of us, the thought of a new bathroom suddenly sounded better and better. But, as the changes started to add up, it became clear that it would cost far more than anyone anticipated.
After a lot of consideration, the homeowner decided to go ahead with the repair, and asked me if I could help her choose some new tiles to coordinate with the old. Adding to the challenge was that the shower also had a stone bench, and the bottom eight inches of the wall had to be replaced. I knew I couldn’t match the tile, but my goal was to make it look like it was deliberately designed that way, instead of a quick repair to a leaky shower floor.
So, armed with some colored photographs of her the shower, we met at the tile store on a Saturday morning. Still not sure how, but within forty-five minutes I had found a subway tile that was almost the same color as the existing wall, and a multicolored one for the floor that coordinated with the wall and the bench. A week or two later I got this email:  “It’s done, Wendy. I can’t use it till next weekend. Nonetheless it is done and looks beautiful.  Thank you Wendy”.
What I love about this story is, unless we had told you, you would never even know that this shower had been repaired...
Before                                                                       After 

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Design Lazies

Well, vacation time is over, and my 69 year old Mum has just left. After spending three wonderful weeks together, I have concluded that either I am one of the laziest people I know, or, she is a super-human alien from another planet. Unfortunately, I have documented proof that she is not an alien, which I guess means I can be a wee bit lazy. So, on behalf of all the lazies, I thought I would offer up some design ideas that are quick and (almost) effortless:
  • If you do nothing else, make a good impression. Paint, stain, or at least, de-cobweb and clean your front entrance. Throw away any dead plants, and fix anything that is broken. If you can be bothered, add a colorful plant.
  • Remove the pillows that came with your sofa, and replace them with ones that you really like. (They don't have to "go" or match).
  • Have some fun, and display a collection that you had forgotten about. Or, store away some things that you don't love quite as much as you used to. Keep your collections, together, in one spot. (Plastic Trolls on a shelf will say that you are quirky and love Trolls, but scattering hundreds of them all over the house might say that you have 37 ferrets and knit sweaters out of dryer-lint).
  • Use an over-sized, real rug in the bathroom. It gives more personality to the space, and it won't get damaged from a few wet feet.
  • Buy a lamp that is a different size and shape from one that you already have. Every home needs more light; they add instant architecture, and are, of course, practical.
  • Change the lampshades that you have. If they are plain, then buy a patterned one, and vice versa. 
  • Be mindful of your furniture legs. Too many "legs" showing in a single room make it feel uncomfortable. Mix your skirted pieces with exposed legs.
  • Always have a real plant, or a bunch of flowers (twigs) in your main living area. It will make you happy, and people will assume that your house is cared for and, therefore, "decorated".
And, finally, being lazy doesn't mean that you can't be creative. Forget about what you "should" do, and consider these ideas for your more traditional pieces:
        - If your dining room table has begun to feel too formal, use kitchen chairs instead. (Check out bulk stores, flea-markets and garage sales for inexpensive options).
        - Bring an outdoor bench inside. Use it in any room for extra seating. (Add pillows or paint, if needed).
        - Hang your chandelier in your foyer, kitchen, bathroom, office or bedroom, and put something more unexpected over your dining table.
         - Move your china cabinet into your living room. Accessorize it as if it was a bookshelf. (This is one of my favorite things to do). Take the doors off if you like.
         - Place a bedroom dresser by the front door to store your gloves, keys and any last minute things that you might need. Or, take inspiration from the main photograph above; removing the drawer makes it far more useful (the open space could also store books or games) and it would be perfect in a large bathroom or cozy guestroom.

Thanks to Sacramento Street for the lovely photograph.

Friday, August 10, 2012

What's your Style?

Have you seen the recent decorating shows that try to define a homeowner's style? Apparently, we crave a label, and it is their job to come up with fancy names that tell us who we are, and how we should decorate. I was watching one the other day; after several minutes of very intense questions, the designer declared loudly (with a triumphant flourish) that the style was "Bohemian Classic Traditional with a hint of Asia". Really? What they ended up with was a lovely room, but I am not quite sure if it will ever live up to its rather grand and obscure title.

Maybe we think that it makes decorating easier, and giving it a name helps us know where to begin when we are feeling a little lost. Whatever the reason, I think that style is a very elusive entity, something that can take a lifetime to grow. But, for those days when we just can't wait, there are a few easy ways to figure it all out.

One of the simplest, is to take a look at your favorite clothes and accessories. Write down some words that  truly describe your personal style, and use the exact same words to find items for your home. eg. classic, eclectic, polished, comfortable, modern, simple, bright/shiny, fitted, vintage etc.

Another idea is to look around your home at what you already have; what do you enjoy, and what do you wish you didn't have? Do you prefer easy-to-clean surfaces, copious collections, a large or small television, squishy or straight-backed sofa's, familiar or original art, rustic or modern, carpets, tile, linoleum or hardwood, chandeliers, lamps or recessed lights. Be honest with yourself, keep what you love, and don't worry about what other people may think.

If you're still not sure, take a few moments to think about your ideal home, and how you would want it to feel. This isn't a pipe-dream, and it may not be your current reality, but it will help you to create your own design inspiration.

Of course, how could I write about this without mentioning some of the fun on-line quizzes that will tell you your design style. Here are just a few for you to do ...


Thursday, July 26, 2012

Back to Basics


Just when you think we are becoming totally reliant on homogeneous technology, a trend returns that reminds you that people
still crave things that are beautifully designed, original and useful.

A few years ago, most of the children I knew could not tell time (unless it was digital) and anyone who wore a watch was considered old-fashioned. Now, an over-sized watch is the newest, must-have accessory of the season. And, yesterday, my daughter asked me for a camera for Christmas - a new Polaroid Camera ("because they print instant pictures, and are so cool").

So, with dinosaur thoughts on my mind, here are a few basic ideas that may have been forgotten.

Divide your Room:  Everyone wants wide open spaces in their home, but sometimes we are not quite sure what to do with them once we get them. Why not keep the space, but create the illusion of smaller, more intimate areas by using a bookshelf, dresser or wall unit to visually separate the room.  

Add Organic:  Regardless of the style, a home always needs some organic moments to make it feel warm and welcoming. If plants seem like too much work, add a bowl of something that comes from nature (pine cones, shells, twigs, rocks etc).

Use Clocks: With digital time, we are fine until the power goes out. Gone are the days when a clock was a coveted family heirloom sitting on the mantle, now, they are affordable, useful works of art.

Keep the Dining Table:  Busy lives mean that more meals are eaten at the kitchen sink, on the run, or in front of the television. It also means that eating together has become less common. Why not try to reclaim the dining (kitchen) table, keep it clear of household debris and use it more often?

Living a modern life doesn't have to mean abandoning the basics, it just means we may have to tweak them now and again. What about a gorgeous spa bathtub with a rye grass privacy screen?

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Controlling Closet Madness

A big topic among my friends at the moment, seems to be their closets – not enough space, and not enough clothes. Ok, so we all know that isn’t quite true, but  I think most of us can relate to having a lot of things that are hanging up, but still nothing to wear. We go to get dressed, and what we thought we had is suddenly too big, too small or woefully outdated. Somehow, the more room we have, the more clothes we have, but the less clothes we have to wear. Not sure if that last sentence makes sense, but you know what I mean.
Because we have to wear clothes every day, our closets are a constant source of delight and despair. So, for those days when you feel like tackling the confusion, here are a few ideas…
- Schedule a chunk of time to go through your closet. Try things on. (We all know that looking at them isn’t quite the same as wriggling into them).
- If you are not ready to give items away, but know you won’t wear them anytime soon, put them in a secure plastic bin and store them somewhere away from your closet.
- Organize according to your own lifestyle, and what you wear the most. Be honest with yourself; keep clothes that you need all of the time in the middle, right in front of you, and seldom used clothes to the outer edges.
- Use the back of the door for accessories eg. a few hooks will take up no extra room, and will easily hold your belts, scarves, jewelry and handbags.
- Invest in non-slip, slim, strong Huggable Hangers. These hangers are half the size of regular ones, allow you to hang twice as much, and your clothes won’t slip off.   (Generic versions  can be easily found online and at most stores for about 50 cents each). I promise, they will change your closet life.
- Double your space. Hang two railings, one below the other, for your clothes that are not full length, or, just add this Closet Doubler and it will do the work for you.
- If you have a shelf in your closet use Over-the-Shelf dividers for t-shirts, sweaters and cardigans etc. It will keep them neat, and stop things from falling on your head when you least expect it.
Finally, take a look in there every now and again, maybe you will find  something wonderful that you had forgotten about (New York Post, circa 1962)

Monday, July 2, 2012

A Porch (by any other name would be as sweet)

My neighbor is having a new porch built. It is replacing the old one, and not drastically different, but there is something about the actual word that just makes me want to sit outside (maybe with a cup of coffee) and watch it being built.
A porch always looks so optimistic; it welcomes you into a home, and implies that wonderful things could happen on the other side of the door.
My own porch is barely big enough to stand on, but I still love having it. It shelters me in the Winter, when it is snowing and my frozen hands are filled with groceries, and it keeps the entrance cool when it is unbearably hot in July. The rest of the time it is an accessory to my small house, framing my red door, and showing people where to go when they want to visit.
I am trying to grow tomatoes and strawberries on it this year. Usually, the squirrels eat them, so I decided to put them in a hanging basket, and am hoping that they will get enough sun to grow a few pieces of fruit.  I also have petunias in a wrought iron basket, lined with a bit of moss; they are starting to grow, and the flowers are lazily playing hide and seek with the doorbell.
As small as it is, I know the possibilities for my porch are endless. But, even if I do very little, just saying the word makes me very, very happy!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Every Room Should Feel Loved

A friend came over for dinner last night. It had been brutally hot, and although we have air conditioning, the effects of the day had taken its toll and we were all a bit cranky, sweaty and tired.  As we decided where to sit and drink our iced tea, I vetoed each room, saying it was too warm (my house is small, and in the Summer can feel like is has more windows than walls).
She absently suggested we sit in the TV room, which was cooler, and I quickly said “No”, explaining that ” I hate that room. We just watch television in it, nothing else”.
We found a cool spot to sit in, but the thought of what I had said lingered with me through morning. Did I really hate the room? And why? Was it the smallness of it, the distressed seen-better-days sofa, or something else? I couldn’t stop thinking about what I had said, and I felt guilty (yes, really) that I had such awful thoughts about one of my rooms.
Of course, the room isn’t horrible, but it no longer relates to who we are. It feels designed and comfortable, but there is not enough of our personality in it. Because the accessories (ie. board games, crafts, doll house etc)  were always geared towards children, I had deliberately diluted the furnishings to balance the volume of the chaos. But now, many of these things are not used, and the room seems lost, indifferent to who we are.
If you have one of these moments, like I did, then try and take the time to fix it. But, forget lofty, expensive makeovers, think simple and small. What can you do in an afternoon, or a few hours, that will make a difference?
This is what I plan on doing this weekend to perk up my room.
  • Remove any decorations, artwork,  CD’s, Videos and DVD’s that we don’t like or use. Store in the cellar if necessary.
  • Organize my daughters games and craft supplies. Hide as much as possible.
  • Repaint the main cabinet a different color (it is brown at the moment) and see if I can paint, revamp, remove or replace, the dated bookshelf.
  • Find a colorful throw or pillows to put on the quite tired sofa.
If you have a room that bothers you, don’t wait for the perfect moment, and don’t ignore it, just give it a little bit of love.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

My Junk = Your Junk

Someone asked me what was in my Junk Drawer. I told her I didn’t have one, and I could tell right away that she thought I was being a little smug; a ridiculously organized decorator, superior to the rest of the universe in her controlled lack of need to corral her chaos.  

As we chatted about the drawer that everyone has, I realized that I honestly didn’t have a junk drawer, but I had something far worse - Junk Bowls! Almost every room in my house has a decorative bowl filled with miscellaneous things that I don’t know where to put. It is my solution to the drawer, but it is round, decorative, and out for everyone to see; being open about it, doesn’t make it any less junky, I just pretend (in my mind) that it is an accessory.

So, to the person who thought I was superior in my organizing, I do hope that this makes you feel better; in fact, I probably have more junk than most people do. As I waited for my computer to warm up, I grabbed the nearest bowl (I actually have five in my house) and this is just some of what was in it:

An empty roller perfume bottle (to remind me what scent to buy next time, and, I admit, I sometimes hope that the perfume will magically reappear). A watch that doesn’t work. Lip balm that I bought for my car, but forgot to put in it. Eight earrings and three necklaces that need to be repaired. Several assorted nails and screws. An expired dog license tag. An American quarter and an English penny. A hair tie, a rubber band and a button from my jeans. A safety-pin. A ring. A necklace that a boy made for me in 1979…

The list goes on, and we all know I will probably never fix the jewelry (well, I might, someday), or put away the other things, but this is what I keep - just like everyone else.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Summer Solutions

When Summertime hits, we want to be outside; a few minutes of fresh air and sunshine seems to make everyone’s world feel so much brighter. If we’re lucky, our thoughts drift to daydreams, and we remember to look around us a little bit more; absently wondering about the universe, instead of rushing around and complaining about what we should, or shouldn’t, be doing next. I like to believe that Summer is nature’s way of telling us to take a break, and slow down a bit.
Of course, I know that it isn’t all sunshine and daisies, and sometimes our outdoors is not what we would like it to be, but waiting until we have the perfect space is to deny ourselves a whole lot of happy moments. Instead of worrying about what we don’t have, why not adapt what we do, tweak it a bit, and enjoy that extra dose of Vitamin D (see, it’s even healthier to be outside!). Here are my favorite items for getting the most out of any outdoor space.
A round table with a pedestal base – Will comfortably seat four, six at a squish, and takes up very little room.
Mirrors, crystals, wind-chimes etc - Adds energy, and extra space, by creating movement and reflecting light.
A sturdy bench or trunk – Useful as a serving piece, a display area, extra storage, and a place to sit on.
Candles, lanterns and fairy lights - Makes an outdoor room feel warm and cozy (and practical).
Plants - Let these be your go-to item (the garden equivalent of the little black dress); they will soften any corners, add texture, color, and hide the bits you don’t want to see.
Height – Not technically an item, but so necessary to add scale and interest. Use your accessories to go up (hanging baskets, lanterns in trees, tall screens or trellises etc).
Your personality - Probably the most important item of all. Don’t forget to bring some of yourself outside with you. Add a few books, your favorite color, an ornament, or a blanket for when it gets cold…