Saturday, September 20, 2014

Easy Organizing


Did you know that my birthday is almost the same day as Martha Stewart's? Hmmm....maybe that is why I label everything in my freezer, and have a cracked flowerpot in my fridge to hold the garlic.

To me, being organized sounds like a lot of work, and it gives off an expectation of being perfect, so, I prefer to call it something else. Not sure what, but I will let you know when I think of it. Anyway, the more I can do ahead of time, the better I feel, and the more time I have to spend doing the most important (and fun) things that I actually want to do.

If you come to my house unexpectedly, it is never super clean, but it is tidy. Perhaps that is a bit backwards, but it just has to please me and my daughter, not the dust and vacuum inspector. And, I always have fresh flowers, and a geranium or herb growing in the front window, which hopefully will distract you from the dog hair twirling in the corners, and the sofa that the cat has scratched.

But, late at night, or early in the morning, I will multitask like a crazy woman; doing things in my pajamas that will ease the monotony of every day chores. Maybe this is where the Martha in me comes out; I will label things, sort them into categories, and find all sorts of containers for all sorts of weird and wonderful things. Not because I want to impress someone who opens my cupboard, but because I want to be able to bake a cake at 6am, or write a letter without searching through a pile of debris on my kitchen table.    

Everyone seems very busy right now, and work is overwhelming for so many, that I think we shouldn't be afraid to use the shortcuts that make life easier. Here are just a few of mine....

- Run as many hot-water things together as you can. I will often take a shower while I run the washing machine and the dishwasher. (This saves so much time and money).
- If you see something that needs doing, and you have a few moments, do it without perfection. (A five minute vacuum is better than waiting for the stars to align, and the "right" time to present itself).
- Transfer pantry food (rice, pasta, flour etc) to see-through container's when you can. (It makes it easy to see how much you have left, and the contents will keep much longer).  
-  Clean as you go. (Whether it's Thanksgiving Dinner dishes, or a pile of Take Out containers, they don't get better with age; no matter how tired you are, get it done, and you'll be so grateful in the morning).
-  Ask your children to help you with something, and set the timer for a ridiculously short amount of time (eg. ten minutes). Do this often, and they might still complain, but they will get used to helping out.
-  Take food for the entire week out of the freezer on Sunday - it will take a day or so to defrost, and will be fine in the fridge for several days.

Well, I still can't think of a better word for organized, but I do know that whatever it is, it is worth doing...

Photograph from www.whydidyouwearthat.com

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Spider Webs and Fading Sunlight

I was wiping the spider web off the front door again today, when I thought about how much that first impression counts. I'm not talking about grand gestures of statues and manicured lawns, but those few minutes when you're standing, waiting for the door to open. The moments where you notice the cobweb, and the pink geranium that needs some water.

Those are the parts of a home that I find most interesting. The tiniest of details that go unnoticed, but are seen by people every single day. No-one knows that I wipe off the spider web every morning, and that my geranium doesn't like a lot of water, all they see is what is there.

Don't worry, I am going somewhere with this. I promise. What I mean is, that taking a few minutes to stand at your front door may be a good idea now and again. It says a lot about who we are, and even in the worst of times, it should feel cared for.

Like I said, it isn't about fancy, or even decorating, but it is a little about making an effort. Even if your paint is chipped (me), and the walkway has seen better days (also me), you can still put a cheery plant on the step, or a welcome sign out front.

This time of year, I always think the front door needs a little extra help; the flowers are on their last legs, and with daylight fading early, nothing seems to look as bright as it did last month. Sometimes, I start to panic a bit, worrying more about the upcoming snow than what is happening right in front of me.
When this happens, I take an hour or so to hurry around and keep up appearances. I'll prune the plants, wipe off the cobweb (again), grab a pile of empty terracotta flower pots (one of my favorite things in the entire world) and hang an old chandelier or birdcage from my trusty cup hook.

It doesn't take much, and it won't win any design competitions, but it will look cared for, and my friends will always feel welcome...

Photograph from: www.wyevalleyholidaycottages.co.uk.

Friday, September 5, 2014

The Egg Cup


I never had Egg Cups in my house until I had my daughter. To me, soft boiled eggs were a memory from childhood, and definitely not part of my grown up life. Trying to coax the perfect egg yolk from a pan of scalding water was far too complicated for my decaffeinated, morning brain; I considered breakfast a success if the coffee was hot, and I could catch my toast before it jumped onto the less-than-clean kitchen floor. But, when my daughter came along, food became more important, and I knew it was time to tackle the nostalgic, runny egg.

Growing up in England, soft boiled eggs with toast soldiers were often on the table; lots of butter, a knife to crack it open yourself, and the smallest of spoons to fit inside. Sometimes, as we got older, we were allowed a sprinkling of salt.
I think it was the ritual that we loved, and perhaps the excitement of opening it up. Not sure why, because we always knew what would be inside, but cracking an egg felt like the beginning of an adventure (just the other day, I got a double yolk when I was baking, and I was so excited that I didn't want to squish them with the whisk. So, I admired them for a while, made a wish, then made my cake).

Anyway, determined to be the perfect Mom, I decided to get a couple of Egg Cups and make the perfect soft boiled eggs. Unfortunately, like most things, the experience wasn't the same as I had remembered; I would make them too hard, or too runny, and what seemed like hours of preparation would end up being thrown into the woods, eaten by some lucky squirrel who didn't care who had made it, or how it had arrived in his home. 

Disappointed, I put the Egg Cups on a shelf, and frowned at them for several months. Eventually, my stubbornness gave way to logic, and I realized it wasn't their fault; they were really just miniature containers, and they didn't care if they ever held an egg again or not.
Now, I use them for all sorts of things; from serving small amounts of ketchup and dip, to mixing a few highlights for my hair (not the same one, of course).
And, lately they have been holding tea lights, which reminds me of a midnight vigil from a Tim Burton movie...

(p.s. I still can't cook the perfect soft-boiled egg).

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

I Want a Tree House


Doesn't everybody want a Tree House at some point in their lives? I'm not talking about one of those fancy, I'm-in-a-tree-but-I-really-am-a-house type, I mean a platform that I have to navigate up to from a wiggly ladder.

It would be very high up, but not too high that I would get scared (or mistaken for a bird).
It would be a place to hide (but you could find me if you really wanted to), and it would have a small roof to stop spiders and snakes from dropping on my head.

I would never mind if it rained, and when it snowed, it would be the best place ever.
I might read, but mainly I would just sit in my tree, and watch everything go on around me. (I would feel like the only object standing still in a frantically shaken snow globe). I would feel very small.

I would like the platform to be big enough that I could lie down on my back and look at the sky. Which means I might need a pillow. The squishiest, biggest, brightest, flowery one I can find (in outdoor, vintage fabric, of course. Just because it's practical, doesn't mean it can't be pretty).
And a blanket. In case it gets cold.

Oh, and a pencil and a notepad would be nice. So that I can jot down things when I think of them, make a list of what to do next, and explain to myself why I haven't done anything but sit in a tree all day.....

Tree house photograph from Gozetta Decor.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

How Warm is your Television?


If you ask any decorator what they find difficult to work around, most of them will say it is the television (and La-Z-Boy recliners, but that's another story). For many homes, it is the focal point of the family room; we watch it often, so it is placed in the spot where we can all see it. Unfortunately, they are also more than twice the size that they used to be, so they can't be squished into a corner, or moved around on wheels when company comes over (did we ever do that, or did I just make that up?).

Anyway, a while ago, new home contractors got creative and came up with the idea of putting televisions above the fireplace. A hole was cut out, and wires left dangling for installation. It made sense from their perspective; the room now had a clear focal point, it saved space, and the flat screens were supposed to mimic the look of art.
I don't know what the repercussions are from having your television above a roaring fire, but I do know that many of them were too high up to be watched in comfort. Good for chiropractors, but not fun when you want to lie on the floor and watch cartoons on a Saturday morning.

That trend is now leaving, and people don't want to see a television above the fireplace. So, we're back to hiding them. The concept is, that we cover the ugly television with something decorative when we're not watching it. But, we end up drawing more attention to it, which kind of defeats the purpose.....Whether it's a piece of art, a map, or a small barn door levitating above the mantle, it looks awkward. We know your television is hiding behind there, and now you have just added more stuff, and some weird railings either side of it all.

I am also not sure of the practicality of it all. I wonder if it deter's people from watching? Especially children; if they can't open the decorative thingamajig will they be forced to kick their SpongeBob habit (which doesn't seem quite fair when their life revolves around playtime, what's for lunch, and the adventures of a happy, yellow sponge). And, will the taller people entertain themselves by opening and closing the contraption just because they can? I know I would (just a few times, at least until the novelty wore off). What if one side doesn't slide back as far as the other, what if it doesn't quite stop at the end, falls off, or goes crooked in the middle? What if it hits the television, or it gets stuck halfway? What if someone falls into the fire, or accidentally trips while reaching for it?
That's a lot of questions before you can enjoy a cartoon....

Photograph from: www.centsationalgirl.com

Friday, August 15, 2014

The End of the Bed


Do you sit down quietly to get dressed, or do you rush around the room, trying to wiggle into whatever looks clean, before you pound down the stairs to grab a coffee and head out the door?

I think, that furniture at the end of the bed creates an illusion for many of us. It lets us imagine slow mornings of deciding what to wear, while anticipating a happy end to the day, neatly folded pajamas, and a closing of some very grand curtains.
We often put a comfy chair in our bedroom for the same reason; it makes us think of curling up with a book, and long, cozy nights by a warm fire. Whether or not we sit in it is irrelevant, it's the knowing we always can that makes it so welcome in our small corner of the world.

A vintage wooden trunk, while great for extra storage, is really beloved because of the connection to the past that it gives us; who doesn't want to be reminded of travelling to exotic places, looking for secret treasure, and planning all sorts of childhood adventures before your mom calls you in for dinner?

It might seem frivolous, but some things should be there just because of the way they make us feel. So what, if our mornings are littered with early phone calls, yelling across the hall, and kicking our toe on the sofa at the end of the bed, we should always make room for things that cheer up our day, and give us sweet dreams at night .....

p.s. Photograph borrowed from Liz Marie Blog

Thursday, August 7, 2014

The Teenage Bedroom


One of my favorite rooms to redo, is one for a teen. I love finding out what they want, and what is really important to them.

Their initial response is often "I don't know", which is quickly followed by a flurry of ideas from the parent, and a lot of arm nudging and eye rolling from the teen. After a few moments, it all slows down, and the talking becomes easier. A few questions gets them interested, and they realize that this could almost be fun (and, let's face it, they would rather talk to me than the person who is constantly telling them to brush their teeth and find their pet python).

Teens are all different, yet they are all the same; I won't go on about what they need, and how misunderstood they feel, but I can tell you that their room usually means more to them than they realize. No, it should not become a health and safety hazard, and wearing underwear is always non-negotiable (how clean it is, is their issue) but, after that, it should be a room that is somewhat practical, and comfortable enough for them to want to spend time in.

So, when it no longer serves its purpose, and you are both at your wit's end, here are a few thoughts that might help you navigate through the teenage bedroom....
  • Have a conversation when you are both in a good mood (and you have enough time to talk).  
  • Be nice, and try not to roll your eyes.
  • Ask them what they don't want in their room, and offer to remove it (donate, sell or store somewhere else) as soon as possible. Decide on a day to do it, and write it on your calendar. 
  • Check out the basics that they already have, and talk about anything else that you both think they may need (or want). eg. a desk, a bigger bed, floor seating, space to hang things on the wall, a reading area, more or less storage, better lighting, a docking station etc.
  • Encourage them to be creative, and shop your house before you hit the stores (eg. a table can double as a desk, and a newly painted dresser or filing cabinet, can easily store books, tech gadgets and homework).
  • When buying new things, have a budget in mind before you begin. Let them go shopping with you, or, at the very least, go on-line and give them some options to choose from before you head out.
  • Be as open and lenient as you can be, and follow through with what you promise.  
  • If you have to say no to something, try to offer a compromise (or, tell them the honest reason why you are saying no).   
And, if it doesn't go according to plan, take a deep breath, wade through the debris, ignore the python, quietly close the door .... and still love them.

p.s. The VW Camper in the photograph is from the VW Camper Blog (of course!).

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Finding your Style


We sometimes wonder if we don't have any, or where we can get it, but really, your style is who you are. It's that person sitting in front of the computer, the assortment of things on your kitchen table, and all those weird thoughts bouncing around in your head.

After watching far too many decorating shows, we are told that we should fall into one of four or five design style categories; we want to identify who we are, quickly attach a label to it, and claim it as our own. But, narrowing down a style from a choice of four is about as easy as choosing a shade of white paint for your wall. (I truly believe that there are more shades of white in the color-sphere, than there are blades of grass in my garden).
Despite what they tell us, it isn't that easy, but, it is a lot more fun than you might think...

There is a show on television where the designer asks a series of questions, then comes up with a personal name for the style of the homeowners. Honestly, she has great ideas, but the wacky names alone make it worth watching; it is always something weird and interesting, like Urban Industrial Pancake, or Bohemian Rustic Amphibian (which means that you are a little bit of a hippie, who likes being outside, and your favorite color is green).

As funny as it is, she is giving them parameter's to work with, so that instead of floundering in a sea of generic adjectives, they now know that their style is, Urban Industrial Pancake (which means that they like things to be graphic and bold, with a few squidgy, flat surfaces).

Maybe we should all take this approach, and instead of having to choose between Traditional, Classic, and whatever else is thrown out there, we can make up our own label. No two people are alike, which means that our decorating style will always be a little different. Why don't we just string a description together for ourselves, instead of having to decide on just one? I think we should all have at least three words for our style. I think mine, at this moment, would be Eclectic Organized Purple Teacake. What's yours?

p.s. The photograph above is from B&B Italia, and could be called Modern Castle Chic.
p.p.s. The television show is called  Secrets from a Stylist with Emily Henderson. I think she is very talented, and I adore her style, but Urban Industrial Pancake and Bohemian Rustic Amphibian are made up, and were never actually featured on her show. 

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Unexpected Storage


If I had lovely feet, I would display my even more lovely shoes in a glass cabinet! Actually, even with my average feet, I would be very happy to display my average shoes in this gorgeous vintage cabinet.

To me, it is far more sensible to store them this way than cramming my size 11's into those hanging shoe pockets, or balancing my coveted Doc Martin's onto a wobbly wire shelf that is only a few inches deep. And, it is so unexpected, that it would always be a joy to put them away. It would be my own version of art; not quite Alexander McQueen status, but easy art in a tiny house.

Shoe pockets are absolutely great for everything - except shoes. I used them for toys when my daughter was younger, for craft supplies later on, and now, for jewelry, things that smell good, and accessories. Somehow, they never quite worked out for my shoes.

When I need extra storage, I always start with what I need, before going to the store. I wonder about whether or not I want to show the world what I have, or tidy it away somewhere. Do I need it to be perfectly organized, or can I settle for good enough?

Then, I shop my house to find out what I am bored with, and what do I want to see more of. It's like a game to me; last year, my fancy china (never used, and didn't really like) got stored away, and replaced with my crazy doesn't-match-in-any-way dishes. At first glance, it may not be as pretty, but it is definitely more practical. And, more importantly, pulling open a keyed glass door, to get a 25 cent flea market plate, makes me smile every single time.

Using (and enjoying) what we have should be a priority, so why not display your shoes in a glass cabinet, or keep your favorite perfume in a shoe pocket?

Photograph borrowed from I Love Design UK 

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Plain and Fancy


When I was little, all the cookies and cakes were divided into two categories - plain and fancy. The plain were for the everyday kind of eating, and the fancy (usually with chocolate, or a vanilla cream inside) were just for special occasions (when we had guests over, or it was someone's birthday). Packets at the supermarket were often labeled "Plain and Fancy", just in case our parents couldn't make up their mind.

Now that I am older, I find that I am a mixture of plain and fancy. I love to dress up, but I am also a homebody, who wants to lie on the floor and watch old movies in my favorite t-shirt.

Homes are a bit like that as well; we have to have the plain, in order to function, but we need a bit of fancy, just for fun. To have one or the other gets a little mundane, so pairing the two is as comforting as having a cup of tea and a warm slice of cake.
With that in mind, here are some more of my favorite plain and fancy combinations:
  • Leather furniture sitting next to an over-sized, slightly worn, vintage rug.
  • Fresh herbs and flowers floating in a pitcher of store bought iced tea. (Looks ridiculously fancy, and a lot of effort, but it isn't).
  • A simple, bold lampshade almost overwhelming a formal dining room table.
  • Garden's decorated with old mirrors, windows and chandeliers.
  • Using the best china and silver for every meal (especially takeout).
  • Filling a modern kitchen with a big, squishy sofa.
  • Sleeping outside; pretending you are camping, when really you are in a beautiful, breezy, outdoor bed (without the creepy crawlies). 

p.s. The photograph is of a small Summer cottage in the Catskills, originally featured in the NY Times