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.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Keeping (and Changing) Traditions


This week is Thanksgiving, and it is a holiday that everyone can celebrate.

It isn't about religion, and it isn't exclusive to family; it's about spending time with people because we want to, and being grateful for how much we have. Yes, that part often gets lost in the shuffle, but whether we announce it at the dinner table, or whisper it to someone after a glass of wine, we all know that we are lucky to have people to care for, and who care about us.  

Our family spends Thanksgiving with dear friends, and that has become a new tradition; they are our other family - our new normal. It is warm, welcoming and comfortable; I could wear my pajamas at the dinner table, paint my toes (not at the dinner table), and they wouldn't mind in the least. I like that.

Lives change, and as much as we want our traditions to stay the same, they can't. We are allowed to feel sad when we can't do them anymore, but we can always make room for new ones, which is kind of exciting when you think about it.

It gives us an opportunity to try something else, to find out all over again what we do (and don't) like. And, they don't even have to be big, gigantic, extravagant traditions, they can be small, dollar-store ones, that are imperfect, and not quite thought out until we decide they should be. There is no limit to how many we are allowed to have, and we can change our mind whenever we want.

I remember trying to uphold the tradition of going to a Christmas Tree Farm every year. It was fun driving through the countryside (well, sort of, I think it was New Jersey), sipping hot apple cider with our frozen, mittened fingers, and trying to find the most perfect tree in the forest. But, as time went on, it felt more like something we had to do, instead of a nice day out; we would rush out of the house early, the drive seemed to take forever, they would run out of cider, and someone always complained about lying on the ground trying to cut down the too-big tree with the world's smallest saw.

Then, one year I realized we didn't have to do that anymore; our new tradition became a trip to the local hardware store, a tree tied onto the roof of my car by a very nice person, and a cup of hot chocolate at the local cafĂ©. It isn't a picture storybook afternoon, but it is a tradition, it makes us happy, and it is a far more peaceful way to start off our December.

Why not spend some time thinking up new traditions? One's that suit you, your friends and family now. Have them at random times during the year, not just around the Holidays. Ask everyone what they would like to do, or what they wish you did more of together. You might be surprised, and it might be simpler than you thought......

                      Have a lovely Thanksgiving!

Photograph borrowed from www.decoradventures.com

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Coloring Your Winter


A friend is coming over to my house to gather some pine branches from the trees in the yard; an easy decoration to share when your garden thrives on random acts of pruning, and the occasional dose of neglect. We will probably have a cup of tea, I will bake something yummy, and, if it stays this cold, I will definitely warm the house up with the wood stove.

When I read this back, it sounds very idyllic, when really, neither of our lives are, but we are easily pleased, and we like spending time outside. She said, it's more fun doing it together, and she is right; even if it is below freezing, and the pine trees are much less than perfect, it will be a happy few hours. 

I never understood seasonal decorating until I came to New Jersey, and I realize now, that aside from it being a way to celebrate the holidays, it is a way of cheering us up when the days get really gray. Nothing grows, and by January, the color green feels like a distant memory that may, or may not have ever been true.

So, we decorate the outside, and we smile at the sparkly lights and the giant candy canes. We wait for the inflatable snowmen to pop up, and we find ourselves watching for the next burst of color down the street; perhaps judging just a little, but being secretly grateful for the distraction.
I am always amazed at how much work goes on to getting it just right; seemingly ordinary people spending weeks creating the most extravagant of displays, and coordinating lights in a way that would prevent me from ever flipping the on-switch. (I suspect there may be some math and technical skill involved, which could be why the whole process eludes me).

I love to see these homes, but my favorites are the more subdued displays; porches filled with red plaid, a wreath on the door, and oversized presents piled into an old sleigh. It feels like home to me (not that we ever had a sleigh on our front porch) but it looks comforting and warm, and when the day is so cold and gray, it makes you feel that you would always be welcome to stop in.

Decorating in the Winter isn't about whether you choose to have a dancing Santa Claus on your roof, knit a scarf for your tree, or hang a wreath on your front door, it's about adding a bit of color to the outside world, and putting smiles on the people driving by.

The gorgeous Knitted Tree photograph is from: www.superforest.org

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Creating Your Own Vision

 
One day, I saw a picture in a magazine of an old movie being shown on the side of a building. I wanted to believe that the photographer had captured a sentimental moment; that the family often decided to spend their nights outside on the hill, drinking hot chocolate, and keeping warm under the most scrumptious of plaid, wool blankets. That the grass was never damp, and that there was always a heroine swooning over her latest leading man.

So, I pinned the picture to my office wall, and I looked at it every day, because I found it truly beautiful (and, I hope one day to watch a movie outside, on a hill, with hot chocolate and a blanket).

Turns out, it is actually a photograph by Tim Walker, an Englishman who is known for his extravagant staging and quirky, romantic sense of style; the children don't even live in the house, and I bet they weren't drinking hot chocolate. The entire scene was manufactured for British Vogue in 2007.

Yes I was disappointed, and for a few moments I wanted to take the magazine page off my wall, but it is still a beautifully composed photograph, and without it I would never have found a new artist to admire.

Finding things that make you smile, imagine, or dream, may seem silly or unproductive to some, but it really does help many of us move forward. When we are stuck, we are often advised to make Vision Boards; the theory being that if we can see it, we will strive for it, and it will appear. But sometimes I think that there are too many rules, and we start searching for the exact right way to do it; letting perfection get in the way of what should be fun and inspiring, and turning it into just another project, determined to show off our lofty goals and exceptional paper cutting skills. What if you don't do it properly, and you fail at Vision Board making? How depressing would that be?

I prefer to take a much broader, portable, more simple approach. I have wish-lists and pictures taped to my office wall, folded into a small box, and squirreled away in my handbag. This chaotic collection is my adaptation of a Vision Board. It includes crumpled articles about all sorts of heroes, pictures of places that interest me, words jotted down for a book that I want to write, random wishes, photographs of friends and family, a pile of candy hearts with my favorite words, a list of things to do tomorrow, a childrens book by John Lithgow, a scribbled question about buttons, and a post-it remembering the color of a new lipstick that I want to try.

My vision is simple; by imagining absolutely everything, I am bound to accomplish something.....

The photograph is a piece of the wall in my office (the image by Tim Walker is to the left of the middle, and what looks like the moon is actually a white thumb tack).

Monday, October 27, 2014

A Decorating Poem

 
She wants to move the furniture,
on a Sunday afternoon.
It's always fun to decorate,
but first she empties the room.

The room looks dull, so she gets some paint,
decides to tape off a square.
Big and gorgeous, chalkboard black,
perhaps she'll paint a pair?

The paint is drying, furniture is out,
the rug she brings back in.
It's old, it's small, but has to do,
now for the fun to begin.

She pushes the sofa across the room,
moves the rug at an angle.
Amused, she decides to vacuum the floor,
after finding a fork and a bangle.

Thought she was careful, but not enough,
looks down at the scratched wooden floor.
No need to fix it, just cover it up,
by moving the rug some more.

The sofa sits on the rug, looking big,
she sits on a chair next to it.
The chair is old, the fabric worn,
and now, she's gone straight through it!

She picks it up, and throws it out,
with a strength she never knew.
Another chair is quickly found,
lucky she has quite a few.

Another chair, another side,
the sofa is moved again.
She stops, and moves it back some more,
some more, then more again!

Decides to have a cup of tea,
to think of lots of things.
Looks at the mess, and dreams of poems,
of Cabbages and Kings.

Up she gets, and washes her cup,
determined to finish the room.
She checks the paint, and sees that it's dry,
sweeps the floor with a broom.

Brings in a bookshelf, some lamps and a painting.
pillows, photographs, china and tables.
Arranges flowers and washes the floor,
straightens the curtains, and opens the door.

The afternoon over, she smiles at the end.
Her home is now different, but not a penny did she spend.....

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Fancy Hanging Lights


I don't know if there is a fear of electricians out there right now, but there seems to be an increase in overhead lights that can be plugged in, instead of hard-wired to the ceiling. Of course, it is easier than wiring what you already have (and less expensive) and some homes don't even have ceiling lights to begin with (which I am still not used to, and I don't quite understand why they build them that way).
But, as much as I am all for quick and easy decorating, I wish these had been designed by real people, and not manufacturer's grabbing onto a trend, throwing it into a factory, and spitting it out at the public. 

Lighting a home isn't just about being able to see; if it was, then we would all just have cheap lightbulbs hanging everywhere, or a constant supply of flashlights in our pocket. We want it to look good, and, from a design point it should somehow enhance the room, instead of looking like some temporary solution on our to-do list. 

I love the idea of making decorating easy, but it is the execution and design of these lights that is wrong. They should come with instructions, and a lot more care, so that they really will look like the picture on the front of the box.
Let's be honest, every single one I have seen lately is hanging from a wiggly cord, looped across the ceiling, and dangling awkwardly down the wall, like a really bad Andy Warhol exhibit. 

So, in my effort to save you from the awful, fancy hanging lights, I have a few suggestions....

- Open the box before you buy it. If the cord is white, wrapped tight, and looks bent, don't bother.
- If you know an electrician who can add a chain to it, and/or a thinner/clear cord, then go for it.
- Please don't wrap the cord in fabric, but you can paint it if that makes you feel better.
- Consider where you are going to hang it, and how you will drape/hang/celebrate/disguise the cord. 
- If the photograph shows just a chain, and no cord, they are fibbing. It still needs electricity.
- Most of them do look better draped (in a designery kind of way) instead of pulled taut (like a bad facelift). 

p.s. If you have a fancy hanging light that you really do love, please send me a picture of it, and I will share it on my business Facebook page. 

Photograph was from Amazon but now it has been replaced with another chandelier.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Things in Jars

 
One of the oddest things that I love, and I don't quite understand why, is a jar (preferably with a lid). Yes, I'm inspired by art, nature, and everything else, but a jar to me is like the wardrobe that leads to Narnia; it is so ordinary, but its possibilities are infinite (and unknown). 
 
I will often buy something at the grocery store just because I covet where it lives (we don't really need the imported peaches, but the upturned sides on the small, round jar is hard to resist when the days are short and I need to grow a daffodil). 

Crazy as it sounds, jars trigger my imagination, and I don't even know why anyone would want to throw them away. Maybe if I ate a lot of jarred things I would feel differently, but for now it is a very manageable obsession, and I am always happy when I scrape out the last bit of whatever is stuck to the bottom of the glass.

To me, they are the perfect starting point to giving someone a present; the packaging is there without any effort, and all I have to do is fill them up with lots of goodies. On a practical note, it is also nice because I can put in smaller things that may get lost in a larger, more decorative bag. Somehow, a jar makes everything seem more important, and it is fun to look through the glass and see if there is anything that we didn't notice the first time.

Because I don't eat pickles (which come in really big, useful jars) I often buy new ones (jars, not pickles) at the store. Although they are meant for storing flour and dog treats, it shows that you really do like someone if you are giving them a present that is new, and not an old one that smells like something you ate with yesterday's lunch.

By the way, when I was looking for a photograph, I Googled 'things in jars", which I wouldn't recommend; my jar-filling ideas are definitely less macabre....

  • Winter Spa Jar - Lip-balm, Shea butter lotion, a bar of chocolate, and a body scrub.
  • Get Well Jar - Vitamin C drink sachet's, fuzzy socks,  tissues and a mug.
  • Happy Birthday Jar - Some of their favorite things, plus a balloon and some candles.
  • Housewarming Jar - Things from your pantry, layered like colored sand, to wish them good luck in their new home e.g. Flour - so they may never go hungry, Sugar - so life is always sweet etc. Write a label on the outside to explain what they mean. 
  • Firefly Catching Jar - A great last minute gift for a child (or grown-up) on a Summer's night.
  • Teenage Girl Jar - Fancy spa things, popcorn, diary, sleep socks and nail polish.     
  • Teenage Boy Jar - Lots and lots of snacks. 
  • New Baby Jar - Cute outfit, chocolate for the parents, and a rattle or soft toy. 
  • Gardener's Jar - Flower seeds, trowel, gloves, and plant markers.
  • Just Because Jar - Anything you think someone would like that will fit inside the jar.
p.s. Photograph of Firefly catcher, and instructions on how to make it, are from Southern Living.

Friday, October 3, 2014

A new use for old books ....

 
 
This week I reorganized two home offices; a client's, and my own. He was a businessman who had recently stopped commuting, and I was catapulted into the 21st century with the gift of a new computer and monitor (so fast that it makes me feel like Laura Ingalls being asked to choose what type of coffee she wants at Starbucks. Some days I feel like it is typing the words before I have even thought of what I wanted to say).

Although we are in this world of portable media, some of us still need a place to sit and work in order to stay focused. I am one of those people, and, apparently, so was my client; I can't travel from sofa to sunroom with a laptop, and actually get any work done. It took me years to understand the concept (discipline?) of working from home, and I know it could very easily be undone if I wandered around the house in my fuzzy pajamas, looking for the sunniest, softest, most comfortable place to type.

My client felt the same way; he wanted his job to stay in once place, and not share office time with his family unless it was absolutely necessary. But, he felt disorganized, and although his office had plenty of space, he felt the room was working against him instead of for him. So, this is what I discovered during this last week ....
  • If you have the luxury of working from home, then for goodness sake enjoy it, and make your space as efficient and practical as you can. 
  • Your chair and desk should be comfortable, and your back, neck and head should not ache at the end of the day. This sounds obvious, but if something hurts, you need to figure out why. If you have a bad back, then a new, ergonomic chair may be better than the traditional squishy one, elevate your feet on a stool if you need to, and adjust the size and glare of the text on your monitor if it makes you squint all day. 
  • Have what you need all the time within arms reach, and be flexible until it feels right. Jot down notes about what does and doesn't work for you. (eg. If you have to get up every time you use the printer, and you use it often, then maybe it should be nearer). 
  • Store away as much as possible, and consider the less obvious place for things; can you put your scanner and filing cabinet in the closet, or stack letterhead paper in a drawer?
  • Remove things you don't need, or use very rarely, and keep personal items to a minimum. I know this seems contradictory to what I usually say, but if it is a dedicated office space, then it isn't a place for excessive daydreaming. The idea is to keep it separate from your personal life. 
  • Do have motivating things in your office. Whatever your field of work, surround yourself with things or words that inspire you about your career, or remind you of your goals.
One of my own changes this week was to put my monitor on two books, because the new one that was gifted to me (thank you, you know who you are) was too low for my old desk. The irony of the solution wasn't lost on me; the books are from 1905, gorgeous, heavy and gold bound, but although I thumb through them every now and again, they usually sit with my favorite dishes in a glass cabinet.
Moved to my office for a practical reason, I now get to look at these beautiful pieces of art every single day.

So, whether you are catapulted into a new world, or doing the happy dance because you don't have to commute any more, make the most of it (and don't wear fuzzy pajamas while you type - well, maybe just now and again........)