Friday, November 22, 2013

How to be a Good (not perfect) Guest

I know there is a deluge of posts right now on how to be the perfect host, make the best gravy, and plan a stress-free Thanksgiving, but what about being a good guest?

For some people, the only time they visit other homes is around the holidays, and while the host is rushing around, it's always nice to know that their guests have arrived, are enjoying themselves (and are behaving). Whether you are staying for dinner, or popping in for dessert, here are some ways to get you invited back again:

  • Let them know you are coming. If they ask you, answer them; don't wait for a better offer, or until you are parked in their driveway.  
  • Always ask what you can bring. If they tell you not to bring anything, ignore them. It's the thought that counts; something they can enjoy/share, but don't have to cherish forever (flowers, plants, wine, pie, cookies, chocolates etc).
  • If you want to bring someone who wasn't invited, just ask. (They will always say yes, but ambushing your host is unfair, and makes everyone feel uncomfortable).
  • Before you leave your home, make sure you have your phone, the address and phone number. (Just in case you get lost, are running late, or there is an emergency).
  • Don't arrive early. Plan on within half an hour after the time they said. (No-one wants the doorbell ringing when they are still in their underwear, trying to baste the turkey).
  • Turn your phone off. (It annoys everyone, and you will be talked about later if you are texting under the tablecloth).
  • Control the gossip. (Large groups mean lots of ears, and big mouths; you can't assume that what you say will be confined to the table).
  • Be aware of how much you drink. It's stressful for everyone if you are arguing with the cat, and trying to unlock the neighbor's lawnmower with your car key. 
  • Offer to help, or, at the very least, stand up and move some dishes around. (It's a lot of work hosting, and even if they say no, a little effort is always appreciated).
  • Know when to leave. If you're hosts are yawning, putting on their fuzzy socks and turning off the lights, you probably should have left an hour ago....

Friday, November 15, 2013

Too Many Legs

The cardinal rule of design is that if we decorate with what we love, it will all somehow meld together into this glorious pile of harmony. Would it be horrible to say that sometimes that can also be our downfall? Not to shoot myself in the foot here, but if we get caught up in a loop, buying the same things over and over, our home can start to look a little like an uncomfortable theme park.

I actually did this a few years ago, and while I knew I was doing it, I didn't think it was a problem. But, apparently, I have a bit of a metal addiction. New, old, worn out, useful or not, I don't really care; I can always find a reason to bring a piece home with me. It can be sanded, painted, lacquered, or just left outside to rust. (I know, I am trying to justify my addiction to you, but there is something about metal that I find very hard to resist).

One day, after I had dragged a rusted garden chair into the Living Room, I went outside (very pleased with myself) to have a cup of coffee. When I came back in, I couldn't believe what I had done; I was surrounded by a sea of iron. The rusted garden chair was the least of it; I also had a rusted coffee table, a rusted end table, a brass daybed, an iron mouse, an iron elf, a terracotta pot filled with old silverware, iron wish stones, and a cast iron lizard. Gulp. There was a lot of metal in that room, and it suddenly felt very cold.

Because the Living Room is my reading/listening-to-music room, I had gradually placed many of my favorite pieces in there, ignoring that they were so similar. I should have known better, but they kind of sneaked up on me when I wasn't looking.

Taken aback by my evolving decorator's junkyard, I reluctantly took out the garden chair (after-all, it could still be very useful in the garden) and replaced it with my favorite 1960's green armchair (gifted to me by my friend, Jenn). I rearranged a few more things, removed the lizard, and made the room feel warm and cozy again.

Usually my home evolves with an idea in mind, but occasionally, like this time, it morphs into something else when I'm not looking. I think it happens to us all, and before we know it we are living with a collection of things that we didn't even know we were collecting.

(p.s. By the way, my addictions are far from over; at the moment, I have three vintage chairs and two stools in my home office, which is far too many legs for a 10 x 10 foot space).

Photograph from Molly-Meg 

Friday, November 8, 2013

TLC for your Plants, Plastics and Gnomes

So, I was washing a big pile of rocks and shells in the sink the other day (as you do) and my mind began to wander to all the other bits and pieces in your home that can (and should) be washed. Whatever your style, from organic to plastic, lots of things in our homes could really benefit from a big bowl of warm, soapy water.
No matter how good a housekeeper you are, dust and grease settle around your home in the most peculiar places; after a while, everything starts to look a little dull, and it is time to give them some love.
Here are a few ideas to get your favorite bits and pieces clean again.....

Plastic Plants: 
Fill a sink, or bath, with warm, soapy water (use dish-washing detergent, or shampoo). Swish around in the water. Rinse, and dry.

Real Plants: 
Take them outside, or place them in a large sink. Use a spray attachment, or a small watering can, to wash all the leaves and flowers with cold water.

Silk Plants: 
Find a bag big enough for the plant. Fill the bag with salt, add the plant, and shake it around. The salt will stick to the dirt. Lightly brush the salt off with a paintbrush.

Nature Collections:  
(Pine cones, rocks, shells, twigs, minerals, charcoal, horseshoe crab shells etc) Most can be rinsed gently in cold water, but not for long, and should be dried as quickly as possible (we once washed a dead starfish, didn't dry it, and days later it turned to mush).

For normal stains, dust and mineral build-up, try a mixture of baking soda and vinegar. Let sit for a while, then rinse with warm water. I sometimes use small pebbles with soapy water if the stains are stubborn (raw rice is often recommended, but I find it is not abrasive enough).

Bone China Ornaments: 
Place them on a towel. Take some warm, soapy water and gently wash the ornaments with Q-tips, or a small paintbrush. Pat and air dry.

Cut Glass and Crystal: 
Line the sink with a towel. Wash them one at a time. Scrub with a soft toothbrush to get into the crevices. Rinse in very hot water, then leave to air dry (the hot water makes them dry quickly with (hopefully) no streaks.

Books, Paintings and other things you're not quite sure of:
If in doubt, a dry, soft paintbrush is often the easiest (and safest) way to clean these.

Gnome borrowed (and returned) to http://helpfindmygnome.blogspot.com/

Friday, November 1, 2013

No Peeking in the Windows

So, the house next door to us just sold, after four years of being empty. They appear to be gutting it, and workers are there every day moving and building goodness knows what. I am happy it sold, and glad that the house will be lived in again. It has been neglected for so long, but it has good bones, and is historic; all it needs is a little tender loving care. It will be wonderful for the house to become a home again.

But, I don't have a lot of curtains in my home. I like to see the sky during the day, and am fortunate to have a lot of trees and wildlife where I live. Plus, I tend to have a penchant for hanging other things on the wall, so to add window treatments kind of messes with my design, and can really overwhelm the already existing decorative clutter.

I know window treatments can be beautiful, and are immensely practical, but they are not my favorite thing. For those that remember, when I tried to buy Living Room curtains several years ago, I actually ended up with cream colored blankets and handmade copper curtain rods (which I still have). And, my bedroom has two panels that are too small to close (that was all they had, and they were in the loveliest moss green suede...sigh... Totally ignoring their lack of function, and opting instead for their fickle and pretty looks).

Not that I run around doing rude and unsightly things in my home (well, apart from Naked Tuesday) but now that we have new neighbors, I have to re-think the windows in a couple of my rooms. It actually makes me feel like my own worst client, because I know what I need to do, but I am metaphorically stamping my feet because I don't want to do it. Still, getting changed in the morning, peering across the trees at the contractors, is making me a little unsettled. Realistically, unless they are about 15 feet tall, with the world's largest telescope, they can't see a thing, but it falls into the "If I can see you..." category of thinking.

I think that window treatments are a bit like deciding what clothes to wear:

  • Decide on the occasion (the reason you want/need them). Are you blocking out the light, hiding from the neighbors, or just want something pretty to match the sofa?
  • What is it going to be worn with (other pieces in the room). Is your room minimal, busy, colorful, utilitarian, modern, organic, traditional? 
  • Check the size (length and width of windows and ledges). Do you want the entire window covered all the time? Do you want an abundant look, or for it be more tailored. Higher than the window, or inside the molding? Do you enjoy cleaning blinds, or are you a once-a-year-in-the-washing-machine type of person? 
  • Stick to your budget. If you can splurge on custom window treatments, then do that, but if not, don't be afraid to look at the ready-made items at the larger retails stores. (They have easy return policies, a large selection, and prices are very reasonable).
See, if giraffe's move in next door I'm in trouble....(especially on Tuesday's).

Photograph from The Giraffe Manor in Kenya (definitely adding this place to my bucket list).