Friday, April 17, 2015

Find the Funny

Yesterday afternoon found me balancing precariously on a stool, skirt tucked into my undies (my outfit of choice when I have to immediately repair, paint or make a mess in my house) trying to spackle some holes in the ceiling; bits of old plaster were falling into my eyes, the new spackle plopped onto my hair, and the neighbor drove by and waved at me through the front window. The cat had just stuck his paw into the spackle (which was very nicely pink), and the dog had decided it was time to lick the plaster dust off my toes.

It was at this moment that I rolled my eyes, looked over, and saw the fork in my geranium. It made me smile to see the gorgeous salmon pink geranium with its vintage fork sitting in the dirt. I had curled the silver tines with a pair of pliers, and intended it to hold up the geranium, but instead it had just become a decoration that I move from plant to plant. Last month it was sitting in the rosemary, and today it was sharing space with the geranium (looking far more clean and organized than I was).

Whether it is a fork in a plant, or a book that makes us laugh out loud, we should always make room for less serious things amidst the decorated pillows and the careful placed sofa's. I love placing (and discovering) unexpected things in a home that makes us smile; it doesn't have to be a rubber chicken hidden in a cupboard, but we should always design some laughter into our house.   

I have a book called Zombies have Issues that sits next to my favorite inspirational books; I did it on purpose, just because the title (and the entire book) makes me laugh. Whenever I reach for inspiration, I can guarantee you that I will always pick up the zombie book first.

It doesn't have to make sense, but adding a touch of humor to your home is always a good thing.

Photograph of mice on stairs from: http://www.homedit.com/halloween-decorating-tips-that-you-can-enjoy-with-kids/

Friday, April 10, 2015

Notes on a Shelf


When I moved into my house, I knew immediately that I wanted open shelves on either side of the kitchen sink. Instead, I had lovely (new) oak cabinets.

Not wanting to be ungrateful, I accepted the cabinets for years, because that seemed like the right thing to do; they were good quality, and they showed absolutely no sign of growing old. But, I never stopped wanting shelves; my kitchen is very small, so I knew that shelves would make it look larger, and I wanted to add some character to the well-used, but slightly neglected space. 

At the mere mention of open shelves, the first word I get from anyone is a very adamant no. It is the sudden fear of having to be neat and tidy. It's true; it does mean that our dishes have to be stacked, and cups need to be sitting on something, but don't we do that anyway? Most people don't shove their plates into a cupboard, slam the door, and hope that nothing falls out when they open it again. I really don't think we are all as messy as we think.

The next protest comes from the worry that our dishes might not be pretty enough, or as luxurious as the ones we see in the magazines. I don't agree with this at all, because even if we live on paper plates and little packets of stolen ketchup, they can still be stacked neatly or put in a decorative container. 

Lastly, the other open shelf worry is that things will get dusty, which leads to more cleaning. The funny thing is, when we have things out, we tend to use them more, which means they have to be cleaned. And, if we don't use them, they will probably get dusty and dirty anyway, so either way they will have to be cleaned at some point.

I am embarrassed to say that this assorted jumble of thoughts sat in my own head for nearly ten years, until one afternoon when I really hated my kitchen, and decided it was time to stop worrying about the oak cabinets. Last I checked, they didn't worry at all about me, and I knew I had been taking good care of them for a very long time.
Ripping them out was my first instinct, but as that was more than I was willing to tackle, I settled for taking the doors off and pretending to myself that I had just discovered shelves. Within minutes the doors were off, and it turns out that I was never that messy after all. An hour later I was organized, and my kitchen looked twice the size, and so much more interesting than it had before I had eaten my lunch (and, the dishes that I have aren't fancy or remotely coordinated).

The next day I spackled the holes, and decided to paint the cabinet frames cream. Why this all took so long is beyond me, but my (new) pretend shelves were definitely worth the wait.

Sadly, the beautiful photograph at the top is not of my kitchen - it is from www.bhg.com via Pinterest.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

How to Stage your Home to Sell your House

 
Classes are being held next Tuesday, April 14th, and Tuesday May 5th, from 7 - 9pm.
To register, click here on the Roxbury Community School link, or email me at wendy@thebluegiraffe.com if you have any questions.
 
 
 
 


 

Friday, April 3, 2015

A Desert Island List


You know when people ask what three things you couldn't live without if you were stranded on a desert island? I am embarrassed to say that my list has always been the same; an oversized white shirt, a never ending supply of matches, and toilet paper. I figure I can wear the shirt to stop getting burned to a crisp, it will dry quickly when it rains, and I can use it as a distress flag if I ever see a ship and manage to climb the highest peak. The matches would be helpful until I finally learn how to light a fire with the sun, some twigs, and a shard of something shiny, and, the toilet paper, is, well, just because I like toilet paper in my life.

Thinking of desert islands got me wondering about what we really need, and was there anything, decoratively, that I could label as a must-have. We are pretty spoiled in the d├ęcor department, but I would say that there may be some things that I would not want to live without.

CHALKBOARD PAINT

I like knowing that the opportunity to express ourselves is always there. Anyone is welcome to pick up the chalk and draw whatever they want; certain pictures and words are treasured and revered, yet I gain immeasurable comfort in knowing that there is always room for more.

A TABLE

What is on a table tells a short story about who we are, and is also an invitation for other people to share who they are; it kind of says to come in, bring what you want, put it down, and make yourself comfortable.

ROSEMARY AND A GERANIUM

A geranium is not a very exciting plant, but it is reliable, and will live happily all year in my Living Room. And, in the dead of Winter it will give me flowers to brighten up my day when I least expect it (and, it thrives on neglect, which is lucky for us both).
Rosemary is one of my favorite herbs; the smell reminds me of my favorite kitchen's, of slow roasted chicken and potatoes for dinner, and that when I grow up I want to be just like Juliette Binoche in the movie Chocolat.

A SOFA AND A BLANKET

Whether I am reading a magazine by the fire, listening to music, or watching television, every sofa feels better with a nearby blanket. I may not always use it, but just knowing it is there makes me feel warm and reassured.

Have you ever thought about your favorite things in your home, and why you wouldn't want to be without them? In hindsight, almost everything that I want is about emotional comfort; in some ways they all seem quite simple, but then again, if I was that simple I should be able to live on a desert island without toilet paper....

(p.s. If I was being indulgent, I would definitely add one of these breathtakingly beautiful photograph's by the very talented Karen Knorr to my list. I couldn't decide which one to use, so the giraffe seemed like the obvious choice, but please check out her website to see more of her amazing work).

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Pretty without Apology


In an ideal world, we want our home to be beautiful and practical all the time, but life is never ideal, and when we have to choose we tend to focus on the practical part first (because it seems like the right thing to do) then we decorate (leaving the fun stuff until the very end (or never). Unfortunately, once we grow up we become more sensible, and we want to get everything right, without being frivolous or wasting too much time; it's a bit like forcing ourselves to eat all of our broccoli before we're allowed to taste the ice cream, when sometimes, just sometimes, we really should have the ice cream first (with sprinkles).

Right now, I am a little overwhelmed by my Living Room. It looks like Winter; like I am settling in for a long nap with a cozy fire, warm plaid blankets, and lots of art and books. With daffodils starting to peek through the ground it feels wrong, and I am also feeling incredibly impatient. I don't want to  neatly label boxes and take my time trying to decide what to donate, keep and trash, I want to move things around and make it look pretty. I want instant gratification, and I want it now.

So, that's what I am going to do as soon as I finish this blog. I am going to ignore the rules (well, most of them) and take out what I don't like in the room anymore; a picture that has faded, a few too many rocks that I can't remember where I got them from, and a candle that I keep moving around (constantly hoping that one day I will learn to like the person who gave it to me). I don't mean to sound harsh, but I don't like to look at things that bother me (this could be open to interpretation I know, but that is the beauty of decorating. It is one of the easiest things to control in our lives, so why should we look at things that don't give us joy?)

In a couple of hours I know that I can pack up what I don't like, take the pictures off the walls, pile all my knick-knacks and books on the table, and move the furniture to one side. Then, I will spackle and paint the nail holes (most important, because otherwise I will just plonk it all back up in the same spot again, which defeats the whole process). And, if I am rushed and have to spackle with toothpaste, and the paint doesn't match exactly when I get up close without my glasses, that's okay. I am looking for something fresh and pretty in an afternoon, not perfection.

When I put it all back, it might not be a candidate for HouseBeautiful, but I make no apologies, and it will be just right for me...

Homemade Ice cream from Glamorous Glutton, and chairs from Lucy Merchant via Fresh Home.

Friday, March 20, 2015

I Heart Street Art


Do you remember when graffiti used to be the bad boy of art? The illegitimate way of expressing yourself in a place where no-one else could reach; spray cans shoved in coat pockets, and friends keeping watch as you leaned precariously over a bridge or ducked behind a newly built fence.

At first, my rebellious streak felt sad when graffiti started to cross over, but these artists were so talented that I couldn't help but admire what they had done. Painting gigantic pictures with a spray can on the side of a building is something I cannot even comprehend (I can barely spray a metal chair without clogging the nozzle, and I am sure the insect population has suffered because of my overzealous misting).   

I have always loved street art, and I think part of it might be because it seems impossible to me that someone could create something so amazing on such a ridiculous scale (never mind a surface that is far from perfect) and still have it make sense from the perspective of us mere, tiny mortals. (Good grief, I just realized there is probably math involved, which definitely rules me out).

Often commissioned, street art is emerging into the mainstream, but still finding its voice in the competitive, commercial world. It tends to be appreciated by companies who are not afraid to make a  statement. Boldness does speak, but it isn't always about shock value.
Some artists create work in areas where it often goes unnoticed; a time-consuming expression of who they are, or who they wish they could be. A quiet, forgotten place where they can paint for free; a poignant reflection of something inside them that is often thought-provoking, sometimes beautiful and always unexpected.

I don't quite understand why we don't use this type of advertising more often to get our point across; what could be better than hiring creative people to produce an original piece of art that is taller than any billboard and can happily navigate itself around windows and doors? So much more than a political statement or a clever advertisement, street art can be a reflection of where we are in the world, an archived moment in time, and an incredible source of inspiration.

We can go a lifetime without ever knowing what we are capable of, and drawing on any wall used to be frowned upon, but this is a new way of expressing ourselves, and I think we should celebrate it.

The street art above is in Rome, Italy, and was created by the artistic duo, Etam Cru.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Take Me With You!

One of the most favorite questions I get asked is, "How do I choose a _________? There are too many, and I don't know what I like, or where to start". It can be anything from a sofa to a cup hook, but instead of making life easier, having the luxury of choice has made decorating appear to be more complicated.

To me, questions like this are so much fun; an instant challenge that makes my heart beat faster, and my creativity push into high gear. Whether it is haggled for at a garage sale, bought on a lazy  afternoon, or saved up for over many months, it is all about making us feel happy and comfortable.

So, where do you begin if you want to go out and make a purchase for your home? I think it depends first on what it is; if it's decorative, the only rule is really whether you can afford it (and can it fit through your front door) but a practical purchase sometimes need a bit more thought. So, I thought it would be fun to make a check list that you could print out and take with you; just start in the middle, and see what you need. Hope this helps!


 
 
 

 
 
 
 

Saturday, March 7, 2015

The Pleasure (and Perils) of Shopping Online


After a week with lots of weather (yes, that is what I have decided to call it now; not bad weather, a Winter Storm, or the worst February ever, just lots of weather) I found myself wandering through shops online, and trying to remember outfits that didn't require a scarf and boots (usually my favorite thing to wear, but I think I am actually starting to scowl at them now when I see them waiting by my front door).
 
Internet shopping is so much easier than it used to be, and I am sure it is a favorite Winter activity for many of us, but in spite of its ease, large purchases should probably still be approached with a small level of caution. 
 
I wrote a while ago about redecorating my daughter’s room, and buying her a new bed, but what I didn’t mention was that the bed that she wanted (a low, black platform bed) had to be ordered online. It was a lesson that made me both appreciate, and fear, online shopping. I had never bought anything like that, sight unseen, but I feel fairly confident with a few tools, and the process seemed to be as simple as ordering a pizza with a few extra toppings.

Unfortunately, it wasn't like ordering a pizza at all; a couple of weeks later it arrived in a box that was about 1 x 8 feet, and weighed almost 300 lbs. We had to pay extra to get them to bring it into the house (thank you very much), and an additional charge if we wanted it carried upstairs. Needless to say, the box sat in the Living Room for a week while I unpacked it and took the pieces up to her room a few at a time.
 
When I had got over my shock, I started to lay out the pieces according to numbers and letters. Of course, some of the numbers were missing, and I seemed to have 27 screws instead of 22, but I still knew that it wasn't going to be that complicated. Daylight came and went, and I started to curse the reviews that said it was quick to assemble, and the instructions were easy to follow.
 
Umm, no, they weren’t. It took me almost two days, and a tube of extra strong wood glue, to get it to look like the picture. Maybe I didn’t need the glue, but by the end of the second day I wanted to take the entire thing and fling it out of the window, so the glue was definitely the way to go. The bed actually turned out great, but I would not recommend it to anyone with limited patience, limited time and a bad back.
 
In spite of my experience, I do still shop online, and I will recommend it, but I now have a check list before I click that final button.
 
  • I try to read as many customer reviews as I can.
  • Check measurements and shipping box sizes, to see if they will fit through my door, up the stairs, and around the corner.
  • Look at the shipping charges; especially if the item is particularly heavy, or a funny shape. If they are unclear, I call the company and ask. 
  • What is the return policy? Is there a time limit, a fee, refund or exchange only?
  • Do they have a “Ship-to-Store” option? Would this be easier, or more difficult (it is usually free, but can also be more inconvenient as well).
  • If it is an upholstered or decorative accessory, can I see the colors and patterns clearly? Will they send me a sample before I order?
  • Will it be a lot of assembly? Do I have someone who will help me, and will I need special tools? Do they offer online assistance if I have a problem putting it together?
  • If it is a large item, ask what happens if I am not home to accept delivery. Do they leave it at the curb, or return it to the truck? Will there be an additional fee? (Sounds crazy, but I was honestly told that if we weren’t home, they didn’t need a signature and they would leave the 300lb box at the end of my driveway).
  • With case goods (chairs, tables etc) I read the description, and make a decision based on my budget, what I really need, and how long I would like the item to last. (Try to find out if they use glue, veneer, paper-clips, hardwood, pine, bubble gum or screws to hold it together).
  • If I shop late at night, or the wee hours of the morning, I save the item in my shopping cart until daylight. Then, I check it all again, take a sip of coffee and click “Pay Now”….
 
Delightfully Crooked Lamp by Andrew Oliver 

Friday, February 27, 2015

Home = Past + Present + Future



I read something the other day, and it became one of those Ah-ha moments; not exactly Oprah-worthy, but it definitely made me pause and wonder if it was really true. I decided that it was.
I can't remember where I read it, but I think it might have been in my Dentist's waiting room, so it was probably Good Housekeeping or something like that (so nice to be in a waiting room that had magazines for absolutely everyone - Popular Mechanics was sitting quite happily next to In Style and National Geographic. I liked that; he struck me as a very thoughtful Dentist).

So, what I read was that when we are decorating our homes, we should always try to have something from our past, present and future. Ideally, they should be where we can see them (a kind of effortless, subconscious nudge that appears when we least expect it).

I always knew that these were the necessary parts that made up the whole, but to hear it put so simply was a good reminder, and had more of an impact than I thought it would.
It actually makes so much sense. The theory being that we should be remembering, experiencing and dreaming all the time; that we can use our homes to help us fully participate and enjoy our lives, without becoming stagnant, or accidentally stuck in one spot.

I am not one for making up rules (especially when it comes to our homes) but I think I like this one the best.
 
Home scrabble from www.etsy.com

Friday, February 20, 2015

Don't Declutter (yet)



 
He said that you should have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful. This was very sound advice from William Morris, a talented man and a wonderful poet; from what I have read, he could quote exquisite words of wisdom faster than I can swipe on cherry lip balm at a quick-changing traffic light.

I admire him, and others like him, who can speak meaningful words while subconsciously editing out the frilliness that some of us can't resist; it is a skill that I will probably spend my entire life merely aspiring to achieve.

Editing our homes takes us back to that wonderful quote of his; it is one of the most popular sentences in the design world, because it is so simple and true.

Now is the time of year when we start to feel the conflict of motivation and hibernation. Stuck in the confines of icy paths and nose-freezing temperatures, I really want to follow Mr. Morris' advice and declutter my cellar, but I don't want to get frost-bite in the process. Then, if I actually do it, where do I put all my stuff after I have braved the frost-bite? Will I be able to fit it into the garage? Highly unlikely, considering I almost need a waving flag and an engineering degree to maneuver my car inside.

Just thinking about it is enough to make me put my pajamas back on.

So, for now I will be content to wait for warmer weather, but when I eventually do feel inclined, and my home starts to feel more blah than beautiful, I won't go to the nearest self-help blog, I'll decide on my exit strategy first. Sounds weird, but I need to know where things are going, before I start to sort through them; believe me, there is nothing worse than going to bed at the end of the day with an empty closet and a bedroom that looks like the final hour of a really bad garage sale. It does your head in, and it is a horrible thing to wake up to.

Decluttering can be an exhausting can of worms to open, so deciding (realistically) where your clutter is going before you start, is far more motivating than sorting random things into lots of neat little  piles that have nowhere to go. This is what I do before I do anything......

  • If I think I will be donating items, I choose a cause that I support and believe in. If I am really organized, I will call them ahead of time to see what their requirements are.  
  • I buy heavy duty garbage bags almost before I even think about decluttering; this way, when I am ready to start throwing things away I can do it without hesitating.    
  • If I am honestly not quite ready to get rid of some things, and I don't want them cluttering up a certain room, I don't feel guilty about it, but I do decide on new (hidden) spaces to store them until I am ready to get rid of them (cellar, attic, garage etc).
Photograph from Pinterest

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Excuse Me? Are You Comfortable Yet?


My cat's litter box sits at the bottom of a pantry cupboard near my kitchen; it is the second biggest cupboard in my house, and it is prime cat real estate. My canned tomatoes and pasta have to squish on a small shelf in the other room, obsessively organized, all because my cat uses their cupboard. And, because the dog can't resist eating his food, my cat now eats out of a handmade pottery bowl that blends into the living room, and sits on an old vintage dresser.

We all do strange things to make our pets feel at home, and designing around them, or in spite of them, is always interesting to see. For me, my vanity always wins, and I prefer to disguise their belongings, or hide them away; it doesn't mean I love them any less, it just means that I don't want to trip over a dog bed, or find myself waiting for the cat to finish sweeping up before I can take my turn in the bathroom.

So, with pampering in mind, here are some designs to make your pets life very comfortable....

 
Top Dog and his Fur Bed from http://www.restorationhardware.com/catalog/category/products.jsp?link=LuxeFauxFurPetBeds&categoryId=cat5090015
Fireplace Dog Bed from http://www.ethanolfireplacepros.com
Campbed Dog Bed, Egg Cat Bed and Wool Rock Cat Bed from
http://www.mybutteryfly.com/awesome-furniture-for-pet-functional-and-decorative-items
Retro Cat Litter Cabinet from https://www.etsy.com/listing/92348716
Kitchen Dog Bowl Cabinet from https://www.pinterest.com/explore/dog-food-stations/
Blue Nightstand Dog Bed from http://www.interiordesign2014.com/other-ideas/bedroom-rehab-nightstand-diys-that-will-leave-you-speechless/
Kitchen Dog Bed Cabinet from http://www.drivenbydecor.com/2012/07/stylish-built-in-dog-beds-and-kennels.html
Kitchen Cat Litter Cutout from http://www.atticmag.com/2012/05/built-ins-for-pets-2/

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

The Brown Leather Sofa


I remember sitting curled up on a brown leather sofa by a big, stone fireplace; the leather was so worn and crinkled from the warmth, that it had turned soft and slightly speckled. I couldn't stop running my fingers over it; fascinated by its age, and slowly pulling at the pieces of stuffing that kept poking through the frayed, beige lining. I would try to figure out what it was, then immediately feel guilty and poke the bits back in, wondering if anyone had seen me.

Silly really, because I was the only one in the room, and I don't think I was the first one to amuse themselves by playing with their sofa. The owner had thrown a mess of blankets into a metal box next to the fireplace, so I absently wondered if they would catch, but cared more that the metal was keeping them nice and warm. The wooden coffee table was covered in rings from cups, and slowly sipped glasses of who knows what.

As it got late, the landlord walked by, said hello then came back with a glass of brandy and a few pieces of broken chocolate on a saucer. I remember thinking that he must have felt sorry for me, and had visions of him rummaging around the kitchen for something sweet and comforting.

I don't usually drink brandy, but I took it anyway, and sipped it with the pieces of chocolate; it felt so right, as if I had been transported to some old castle, and was patiently waiting for someone to come home. I had paid for a room, but I asked if I could sleep in front of the fire instead. I can't even remember why, but they just shrugged and said okay.

Since then, I have sat on several leather sofas, and I always compare them (very unfairly) to the memory of that one night. My favorites are always the ones that don't make me feel like I am going to slide off at a moment's notice, that don't attach themselves to the back of my legs when I'm not looking, and the ones that don't make an awful noise when I try to peel myself off in a very unladylike way. And, I don't like them to be cold.

So, even with a glass of brandy, I find that most leather sofa's are not that comfortable, but some are definitely worth sleeping on.

Delightful photograph from: http://www.harvestmoon.co.uk/artistic-upholstery-bespoke-furniture.html

Friday, January 30, 2015

Pretend Trends = Yes + No


I remember helping a friend to paint faux marble veins on her countertops with a feather. It was the days where decorating shows were obsessed with Venetian plaster, and we all wanted to create colorful Italian walls in our new 1990's homes; when spackling on random texture was closely rivaled by the irresistible impulse to dab painted sea sponges onto the nearest empty wall. Honestly, we must have all been suffering from bad eyesight, because I think Venetian plaster should stay in Venice, and that sponge painting is far more fun in the bathtub.

Trends are like fashion; some create wonderful memories, and others are truly cringe-worthy, but they all seem like such a great idea at the time.

My least favorite trend is the bad pretend trend; when we want something in our home, and not only does it not suit us and our house, but we opt for the inexpensive version that really looks like the inexpensive version. If we're going faux (I think I just like saying that) then it should look (and feel) close to what it is supposed to be, or, if it is a glaring imposter (and just begs to be prodded, poked or scraped with a curious fingernail) decorate with it discreetly, and place it in a spot where it doesn't scream that it is pretending to be something that it isn't.

I will be the first one to admit that I have linoleum tiles in my kitchen that look like they are slate, but they're not. Do I love them? No, but the original was white, sprinkled with tiny pink and blue flowers that matched the white wallpaper that also had tiny pink and blue flowers. One of them had to go, and as much as I yearned for slate, or a gorgeous, aged brick, my tendency to drop things and my need for warm toes in the morning, made me choose the faux slate instead. Fortunately, my kitchen is the size of a large postage stamp, so if you are in it you are probably covering most of the floor anyway, and you wouldn't notice what you were standing on.

One place where I couldn't do the imitation thing was on my front porch. Again, it is a small space, and I was advised to get it made out of this great new composite material that looks like wood but lasts forever. As my house is basically built out of glue, hope and plywood, I was a little unsure about using such a modern product on it, but I was open minded, and was happy to look at it when the contractor brought over the sample.

From a distance (ie. my neighbor's living room) if you squinted, it looked exactly like wood, but up close it looked too new and plastic-like for my house. Being something that I would walk by every day, I knew it would bother me; I wanted the reassuring tap of wood, and to be able to screw in a cup hook for my hanging baskets wherever I wanted to. It was a very good imposter, but I could still tell the difference. 
The contractor did a wonderful job, and the paint has held up for more years than I could have hoped, but it was truly a design choice to go with the real wood, not a practical one.

They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but I think, that when it comes to most things authenticity usually looks (and feels) better...

Photograph from: www.plentyofcolour.com

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Stuck on Design



"I am so annoying; I sometimes give myself a headache". This is one of my favorite quotes from one of my favorite people in the whole world (the same person who also told me to never, ever write about her in my blog). So, I won't, but I love what she said, and it makes me laugh when I find my brain wheels spinning in pointless details.

Decorating is one of those things that we probably shouldn't over-think, and usually, our first instinct is right; what we like, is plain for us to see, and if we hesitate, it's best to leave it alone. So why do we think so much?

For me, I will not hesitate to do something in my own home, but with a client's, I want them to adore everything about it, and my perfection kicks into overdrive. I don't want their home to be perfect, but I want it to be perfect for them; I think, if I could, I would move in with them, and do all the work myself, just to see the smile on their face!

The comments I hear the most often are, "Why didn't I do this ages ago?" and "I can't believe the difference it made". The answer is simple, it's the same reason that my desk looks like a dog's dinner this morning; I feel short on time, and I imagine it will take me hours to tidy it up properly, but really, if I spent more time doing than imagining, it would be done by now.

We all get stuck, either because we are aiming for perfection, or because we don't know where to start, so here are some ways to get you unstuck.
  • Forget about waiting for the perfect time to begin (it doesn't exist).   
  • Think of something (anything) that you can do now, by yourself, quickly and easily. Crossing things off a list is the best motivation.
  • Do try to do as much research (and measuring) as you can before you make an expensive, important, or gigantic purchase.
  • If you're truly stuck, ask for someone else's opinion. You don't have to take it, but they might give you other ideas that you hadn't thought of.
  • Plan your time if you have to, but, if you don't want to plan the time, accept that it won't get done.
  • Be realistic, and let the worst (and best) case scenario guide you. e.g. If I don't remove the Anteater from my Living Room soon, it might change the channel on the television.

In the world of design and desks, we often imagine their importance to be far more than they really are, so make a plan, take care of a few things, and don't give yourself a headache.....


Photograph from: http://www.varrell.com/fascinating-stylish-scandinavian-living-space-entertainment-arrangement-ideas/stylish-living-room-entertainment-arrangement-ideas-in-scandinavian-image-13-anteater-tech-in-the-cozy-living-room-design/

Thursday, January 15, 2015

5 of the Best Decorating Secrets


Someone asked me the other day if I could just write about design ideas this week, and not go into a long story. Oops. I swear, I honestly do base all of my blogs around a design thought, but sometimes the thought takes a detour, and I find it wandering along the scenic route.
So, as requested by one of my favorite reader's, here are some design ideas....
 






NEVER UNDERESTIMATE THE POWER OF A RUG

Rugs give purpose to your furniture
arrangement, and add warmth and character to a room.
By the way, it's okay to have rugs in the kitchen, bathroom and foyer, even if they aren't specifically made for that space.


ADD INTEREST WITHOUT COLOR

If your room seems boring, but you don't want too add a painted "pop of color", make it more interesting with something organic. A live plant, a bowl of rocks or pine cones, a bunch of flowers - even some twigs in a vase perks up a room without almost any effort at all.


















 
 







     
                                            
HANG ART WITH A FRIEND

If you're stuck on knowing exactly where to hang your art, recruit some help - let one person hold it up, and the other step back to see how it will look. Take turns, until you're both sure of where it should go; standing by yourself, with two crooked elbows and your nose glued to the wall, skews your perspective, and isn't nearly as much fun.





PLEASE COORDINATE, INSTEAD OF MATCHING

Once you start matching your chairs to your curtains, and your pillows to your rug, you begin to fall down a designer rabbit hole; it will feel uncomfortable, things will start to blend together, and your home can feel dated very quickly.
Try to coordinate your styles and colors instead (which is actually easier). 



SCUFF UP YOUR SHINY

Homes should look as if they have been collected over time, not as if you bought everything from the shop yesterday. Mix old treasures with new finds, and shiny hardware next to dull.
Don't be afraid to change what you already have; scuff up a metal finish with a piece of fine sandpaper or kitchen scrubby, remove the jackets from all of your books, and dare to paint the inside back wall of your dated china cabinet.

Photographs from:
Yayoi Kasuma http://littleaesthete.com/yayoi-kusama-my-life-is-dot-lost-among-thousands-of-other-dots/
Bathroom -  http://www.popsugar.com/home/Midday-Muse-Bathroom-Rugs-1896372
Living Room - Atlanta Home via http://www.nikiebarfield.com/ 
Bert and Ernie - http://www.kids-coloringpages.com/74/sesame-street/Coloringpages-Bert-And-Ernie.html
Buttons - https://www.pinterest.com/barbiedoll7/buttons-bows/ and http://www.katekessling.co.uk/blog.php

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Just Add Plaid

 
I bought some eggs the other day, and when I went to use one it was frozen solid; just an icy plop into my mixing bowl. It was weird, and apart from the odd sound that it made, I couldn't stop looking at it. There was something very disturbing about starting to bake a cake, only to have a solid mass fall out of my gently cracked shell. Sugar, Butter, Flour, Baking Powder, Plop. Not a happy start to my cake.
 
So, I called the supermarket, and they told me to bring them back. Seemed silly really, because they probably would thaw out during the car ride, and how could they check to see if the other eggs on their shelf were frozen? Not like you can open them up, and put them back together again, but perhaps they had a special supermarket egg thermometer that they kept in a secret vault especially for such occasions. Who knows.
 
Anyway, as I was returning them, the lady at Customer Service said she loved my bag. It's a red plaid, and she said she liked plaid, but it wasn't that easy to find. We chatted about whether or not you could get sick from eating frozen eggs, but in my mind I was really thinking about giving her my plaid bag as a gift. But I loved it too, and I didn't have another, so me and my bag went home again.
 
Always a trend in Scotland (maybe the lady was Scottish?) plaid occasionally has Interior Design moments, and is often teased for being the favorite clothing of lumberjacks and people who can start a camp fire with a piece of tin foil and a sunbeam. But, did you know that plaid is actually the perfect pick-me-up, because you cannot look at it, or say the word, without having at least one of these random, plaid thoughts........
 
  • I wish I was curling up next to a fireplace, with a plaid blanket around my shoulders and a cup of hot chocolate.
  • Are plaid and tartan distant relatives, or the same person?
  • Does everyone who sits in a horse-drawn carriage, riding through Central Park, wrap a red plaid blanket around their knees, or did I just see that in a movie?
  • Alexander McQueen wore a lot of plaid.
  • How cold does a log cabin in Alaska really get? 
  • Why does a Burberry scarf cost a lot more in England than it does in America?
  • How did I miss the worldwide celebration of plaid on October 3, 2014?
  • I wish I was picnicking in a field, sitting on a plaid blanket, with dandelions and a sandwich.
  • Men in kilts.
By the way, do you know that there really is a difference between plaid and tartan? Apparently, all tartans are plaid, but, not all plaids are tartan; it is a geometry, vertical, horizontal thing, which is best explained by Designer, Scot Meacham Wood in this little Q and A from House Beautiful.
 
p.s. The photograph at the top is from my favorite plaid website, www.plaidurday.com

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Splurging and Dreaming

 
There are so many things in this world that don't warrant the price tag, but at this time of year we tend to live a lot on emotion, and, I don't know about you, but regardless of where my budget is, dreaming is always pretty high up there on my to-do list.

If I ignore the necessity of it all, finding ways to save money lets me stretch my imagination; it's another way to make life more interesting, and allows me to challenge the obvious solutions to the most mundane of chores. I think, if we have to do boring things, why not make them as enjoyable as possible.

But, I also love a contradiction, and the annual Neiman Marcus Christmas Book is something that I look forward to every year. A tradition for over 80 years, it is filled with the type of unapologetic extravagance that many of us only dream about; it is known for indulgent, luxury items, and the opportunity to buy once in a lifetime experiences. 

Some years are definitely more creative than others, and I do like the ones that have a more whimsical leaning to them. (Note to interested gift-giver's - I will always prefer an inexpensive castle to a rare diamond that has been mined by miniature, hand-raised elephants, and polished for three years by a cloth woven from an extinct silkworm).

Looking through the catalog is almost an indulgence in itself. It takes me a while to sink into the mind of the person who might shop from it, but in no time at all I actually find myself understanding the prices, and starting to think that $344,000. for a new Aston Martin, is actually very reasonable. My greed quickly takes over, and I begin to wonder why I am only allowed to have it in Seychelles Blue instead of Apple Tree Green, and who will actually fix my $1,500,000. Ultimate Outdoor Entertainment Center (that pops up from the ground) if it gets stuck halfway, or I press the button too hard and it catapults into the sky. And, why on earth don't I get a free Falcon if I am paying $150,000. for my very own Bespoke Falconry Companion? (I read the description, and I think it is actually just a fancy picnic set for me to take when I go off falconry-ing with my friends).

Regardless of my budget (and my obvious confusion over falconry) I can happily dream through the pages for a good hour; I stop when I have almost lost myself in the rich life of bejeweled chickens and perfectly coiffed, poised models.

I think dreaming and splurging is good for all of us now and again. It stops us from getting stuck, and it is nice to know what else is out there. And, it reminds me that I really do like driving my Jeep, that the pop-up entertainment center will probably look quite silly, and that I think it is far nicer to watch an Eagle in the sky than to try and tie a string to its leg and escort it around the garden....

Have a wonderful Christmas, and we will see you in the New Year!
                                     
p.s. I am sure that all the diamonds are mined responsibly and kindly, with no harm to any animals or insects. And, I would never, ever say no to a castle (especially a sandcastle).

Photograph adapted from The Telegraph UK (secrets to a successful sandcastle = a splash of water).

Friday, December 19, 2014

Quick Sweets for the Busiest of Days


I was in the baking aisle the other day, and I almost expected the shelves to vibrate from the chaos. People were either on the phone asking for instructions, or they were standing, whispering words out loud, almost waiting for the ingredients to hover in front of them as soon as they called their name.

It was like being at the dinner table in a Harry Potter movie; where the noise level gets so loud that you think you might just have to scream, but you know that if you close your eyes for a few moments, the magic will begin, and everyone will eventually get their hungry wish.

But, this was the supermarket, and all the wishing in the world won't get the candied ginger to jump up, introduce itself, and sit politely in your basket. So, I bought what I needed and left; torn between wanting to help everyone find what they were looking for, and the almost uncontrollable urge to drop everything and run as fast as I could to my nice, quiet car.

I think it is really hard if you don't bake all the time, and you are expected to "bring a plate", or provide sweet treat gifts during the Holiday season. Not everyone likes to do this, and there seems to be the added pressure of being expected to show up with something that is both pretty and homemade at the same time. Buying from the store is secretly frowned upon, and often handed over with an apology and a quick hug.

I actually love to bake, but sometimes my thoughts are bigger than my reality, and I can't always spend a long, lazy afternoon with Elvis Presley in the kitchen. So, for those days, I have my go-to, none-thinking, quick-supermarket-visit, semi-homemade, un-apologetic, inexpensive desserts, that I can make in less than half an hour, make in bulk, the children can help, and, they all have three basic ingredients or less....

COOKIES

Ingredients: A roll of frozen, chocolate chip cookie dough (if you can find one that says real chocolate chunks or chips, that is always nicer than chocolate flavored).
Optional - More chocolate chips, dried cherries, raisins, cranberries, nuts, coconut etc.

Things to do with the cookie dough, other than just slice and bake.
  • Tip the dough into a large bowl, squish in the optional ingredients, roll into balls about the size of a small golf ball, flatten slightly with a floured fork, and bake.
  • Make them extra big, flatten a bit with the palm of your hand, and add a few minutes onto the baking time.
  • Roll it into balls and pop in the fridge for about twenty minutes. Coat the raw dough in melted chocolate, and put back in the fridge for a few minutes until set (just warn people that it is raw dough, but I can't imagine it would harm anyone).
  • Add some colored sprinkles, candies, or brown sugar to the top before baking.
  • Slice per instructions on package, roll each slice into a ball, then roll into a bowl of sugar. Place on cookie sheet and flatten with a fork dipped into flour.
  • Squish it all together, add optional ingredients if you want, and pat it into a pie tin. Bake for about 20 - 25 minutes at 350 F. Cut into slices, and serve warm with ice cream.  
PEPPERMINT BARK

Ingredients: Candy Canes (any amount) and Chocolate (white, dark or milk - any amount).
  • Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper, silicone liner or a well-greased piece of foil. 
  • Crush a few candy canes, leaving some chunks..
  • Melt chocolate at 30 second intervals in the microwave until runny. Add  3/4 of the crushed candy canes and stir. 
  • Spread onto cookie sheet and top with last bit of candy canes. Pressing down slightly so it sticks.
  • Refrigerate for about few minutes, then break up into pieces.
* If the chocolate goes grainy when you melt it, just go ahead with the recipe, and spread it as quickly as possible - it will look a little more rustic, but still taste good.

CHOCOLATE FUDGE

Ingredients:  3 cups (18 oz) Chocolate (white, dark or milk) and 1 can of regular Sweetened Condensed Milk (in the baking aisle)  and a pinch of salt.
Optional - 1 teaspoon of vanilla, 1/2 cup of nuts, crushed cookies, dried cranberries etc.  
  • Grease and line an 8 x 8 pan with foil or parchment, or just grease a piece of foil and put it on a cookie sheet.
  • Melt the chocolate, condensed milk and salt over a low heat. Stirring all the time (easier with a metal spoon).
  • As soon as it is melted (it doesn't take long) add your optional ingredients and pour into the pan, or spread onto the cookie sheet. 
  • When set, cut into shapes.
By the way, don't worry if you don't have fancy cellophane bags, or festive cookie tins to present them in; just put them on a plate, cover with cling-wrap or foil, and ask nicely for your plate back when it's time to leave.

Photograph of cookie tower from: www.framedcooks.com

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

To read, or not to read - My Christmas Tree Story

I am often reluctant to write my blog during the weeks leading up to Christmas; it feels like such a busy, emotional time of year, and I know that so many of you are planning parties and buying presents. I wonder if reading a blog is really high on anyone's list of priorities?

So, let me just tell you what happened with our tree this week. It won't give you lots of time-saving  ideas, but it might make you smile as you write another list and check the cupboard for wrapping paper (don't forget to buy tape and sticky labels as well). Unfortunately, my story isn't very short, so if you want to save time, now would be a good place to stop reading.

Anyway, last year I skipped the day long excursion to the tree farm, and decided to get my tree from the hardware store. It lasted through the beginning of January, and drank so much water that I swear it actually grew during the six weeks that we had it. So, I went back to the same store, and bought one on Saturday. In the rain. It kind of went like this....What type do you want? A Frasier Fir, please. How tall? 6 - 7 foot, please. What about this one? That's fine, thank you! Do you want the end cut off? Yes please. Thank you. You're welcome! Have a Merry Christmas! You too! Bye!

I get home, soaked from the rain, and drag the tree off the top of my car. Pull it up the front path, and leave it for a moment while I open the screen door, and unlock the front door. I prop the screen door open, and start to drag the tree inside. As the cat tries to run out, my boot catches on the netting at the front of the tree, I trip, and the tree catches on the screen door. I try to untangle my boot, and my ring (which is the end of an old fork handle - don't ask) catches on the netting, and I am stuck. The only way I can move is to take off my boot and my ring.

So, I get inside, knock the plant off the wall (why I keep hanging that plant on the wall is beyond me) put the tree in the stand, and start looking for my ring. I find the ring, make a cup of tea, put on my Elvis Presley CD, and start to cut off the netting around the tree.

When I tell you that I have never seen so many pine needles in my house, I am not kidding; I could actually hear them falling to the floor, there were so many. In case you're curious, it sounded as if someone was slowly crinkling a plastic supermarket bag. But, I wasn't worried. I grabbed the tree lights, and started to check them. We've all been there, and you know what happened; out of about a thousand (!) lights, I had maybe 27 that worked. So I sat for a couple of hours wiggling them, and trying to figure out which were broken, until I eventually gave up, and decided to just put the 27 lights on the tree. I put them up, and sat back to admire my very minimal Christmas Tree; telling myself that I was lucky to have one, it was about my intention, and spending time with friends and family that mattered, not how big and beautiful my tree was. I could make it work, no problem.

As I stared at it, 13 of the light's went off.

The next morning (sorry, I meant to keep this brief, as I know you probably have somewhere to go, or someone to visit) the container was still filled with water, and my tree was already drooping. In my pajamas, in full view of everyone driving by my house, I pulled the tree out of the stand (not very kindly, and without unplugging the remaining 14 light's) and proceeded to saw off another three inches of the tree. It sounds easy, but even a less than perfect tree isn't easy to plonk on it's side and cut with a rusty old pruning saw.

I can tell you that it took me over an hour, that at one point I lost my glasses, that I now have jaggedy cuts on my hand, that my 14 remaining lights never flickered, and that my tree is now too short, but I can also tell you that it made no difference at all.

It is still sitting in a gallon of water, and the needles are falling and turning over as I write. It is now crooked, and appears to be leaning, and even though we decorated it last night (with Elvis Presley again) it was precarious, and we could not put anything heavier than a half-eaten gingerbread man on it.

In my deluded Christmas tree state, I actually thought about spraying it with adhesive to make the needles stay on, but then realized that it would become flammable, and heaven forbid my 14 lights caught on fire.

Last night, the dog ate the one armed gingerbread man off the tree, but I am still feeling lucky, because this morning I found an extra string of lights hidden in an old Christmas stocking...

Photograph from www.countrysoldier.org, and originally drawn by John Clemmer

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

I Want it Painted Black

Once upon a time, a teenager wanted her bedroom painted black. Her parents said no, and she asked why not. Because we said so, was their reply. Not black. Anything but black. Well, except for dark purple, navy or red. No, definitely not red either.

So, she sulked, and she pleaded, but they still said no. In their mind, a black room meant that there was something wrong with her; that she was going to be sitting engulfed in darkness, whittling away at evil contraptions, and thinking of dark tasks to fill up her complicated teenage life.

But all she wanted was a black bedroom.

Painting black on the walls has this effect on a lot of people; never mind that it is technically the absence of color, just the suggestion of it often provokes an instant, unhappy response in the world of decorating. But, I think a touch of black is magical, and adds so much depth to a room, that I could never imagine living without it.

So, in defense of the teenager (and my favorite non-color) here are some options for the (sometimes) worried parents.....




 
Photographs borrowed from www.decorpad.com, www.sfgirlbybay.com, www.couldbemetoday.blogspot.com, www.ghoofie.com, and www.belmav.com.