Thursday, May 28, 2015

A Change of Plans




Over ten years ago we had a sun-room added to the back of our house. I was lucky enough to be able to design it, and it instantly became my most favorite room. Whether it was pouring with rain, covered in snow, or just too hot to think, I could sit in that room and the world instantly became a better place. With windows all around and skylights up above, it was a small piece of paradise leading from my back door.

Then, one day, the air hockey table arrived, and my dream was gone. No matter how much I decorated around it, I could still see it; it ruined my view, and the flowered tablecloth and comfy sofa looked so uncomfortable with the intrusion of the noisy, plastic, over-sized toy. I briefly considered moving it into the dining room, but in reality the logistics of eating at an air hockey table was a bit odd, so I wondered if I could put a plant on it, or disguise it with some books and a blanket.

After a while I gave up, and accepted the room with the new addition, but I didn't like it, and what had seemed cozy and eclectic, now seemed cluttered and dismal. I liked to play air hockey, but curling up with a book was never quite the same when I had to stare at the sea of plastic, and check for flying discs before I walked in the room.

So, I did the crazy thing that some of us do; I moved everything around and around, like a ridiculous Rubik's cube that I couldn't solve, refusing to accept the 4 foot by 8 foot toy that took up half of the room. I was reluctant to take anything out, because it was my room, and I wanted that sofa and chair in there. It was my room, and I knew how I wanted it to look.

But whatever I did didn't make it look better, so I gave the room over to the cat and the dog. I gave up because I was annoyed, in denial, and letting go of my idyllic room was still not on my agenda. Now and again I would walk in, frown, and leave, until this past week.

During the Winter I had decided to store the wood for the stove in the entrance of the sun-room. (A well learned lesson from the previous year, when we got wood delivered, threw a tarpaulin over it, and promptly had a snow and ice storm. The next day we lost power, so you would have seen us standing on the ice, chipping away with shovels until one of us (me) fell through the wood pile and gashed her leg open). Anyway, bringing the wood inside before the snow meant that we always had wood for the fire, and no-one got damaged in the process.

So, last week I was stacking the leftover wood into neat piles, frowning at the sun-room, when I finally realized that it was just too crowded, and the air hockey table wasn't going anywhere anytime soon. I needed to let go of my old ideas, and I could make it just as nice if I tweaked it a bit.

As soon as I took out a few pieces of furniture I could see what I was dealing with, but before that I couldn't see the reality because of the fog and clutter of my own thoughts. It's funny, because it was so easy to change, and took no time at all, but I had become so emotionally invested in that room; I felt like I had been told to give up something important, and my stubbornness stopped me from actually adjusting and enjoying the room.

Now, I am happy to go back in. And while it is different than before, the differences have merged, and it has become a usable, lovable space again.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

How to Find your Decorating Style



Sometimes, we don't know what we like until we like it, but, if we don't know what we like, then how do we know what we like?

We are all indecisive (and decisive) in different areas of our life. It's a strength that I have with decorating, but am woefully lacking in almost every other department. Ask me what I want to eat at a diner, and I will always choose one of three things; the choice is overwhelming, and asking me to decide from more than two hundred items on a menu will have me quickly ordering the grilled cheese before you have even turned the page.

Finding our decorating style is a bit like reading the diner menu; we can't decide, then, when we finally do, we wish we had what the other person was having. But, if we had just ordered what we wanted instinctively, without too much thought, we might really like our choice, and we probably wouldn't be drooling over the other person's spanakopita (well, we might, but I am sure if we asked nicely they would share a piece with us).

So, if you're not sure what your decorating style is (and, like me, diner menu's make you close your eyes and order the grilled cheese) here is a great little quiz from Houzz that might just help. Unfortunately, you do have to make a few decisions here as well, but I promise you, it isn't hard at all, and no-one is holding a pen and a notepad over your head waiting for you to finish.

Honestly, I was going to make up my own quiz, but I found this, and it seemed pretty fun and accurate when I took it (it labeled my style as Eclectic), so I thought you might enjoy taking it too.

Just click on the picture at the top, and it will take you right there.

Enjoy the rest of your week!

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Fun with Chips and Dip


If you've been to my house before, you have probably had food served on something that wasn't meant to have that particular food on it. It's not that I am trying to impress, but if I like you, and you stop by, I have found that even the most simple food will feel far more special if I plonk it down on something pretty and give you a cloth napkin.

When I first started to entertain, I bought all the correct dishes, including a turkey platter to put the turkey on at Thanksgiving. I was convinced that nothing else would hold my turkey, except the platter that was about two feet long and had a picture of a turkey on it. The same with chips and dip; I had to buy a chip and dip bowl combination before I could serve anyone chips and dip. It never occurred to me to just grab two bowls that I already had in the cupboard. Never once.

Over time, I noticed that other people had the exact same chip and dip bowl that I had, that the turkey platter was not really my favorite, and that it was far too big and heavy to pass across a crowded table. So I decided to rebel (okay, so my rebellious streaks are often giant hurdles for me, but smaller than most children's tantrums) and I got rid of most of my dishes, and decided that I didn't want to be told what to do anymore.

I started to look for things that were more interesting to me and my kitchen; whether I was at a garden center, a flea market, or at a home store, I tried to imagine the less obvious choice. My one rule was that if I couldn't use it, and I didn't love it, I wouldn't buy it. I found that I loved the adventure of mismatching everything, and over time, this conglomeration of seemingly erratic purchases turned into my own beloved haphazard collection.

Now, I have pieces that are so different, but they all go together. None of them are food specific, and if I am not sure about their age, or what they are actually made from, then I just pop a napkin or extra dish inside them.

I couldn't tell you my favorite piece, because I love them all, but my most unusual one is a distressed copper planter tray that came with a clear plastic liner (actually, I think the liner was just meant to separate the trays, but I asked if I could keep it anyway). Originally intended for plants, I bought it new and would never dream of putting a plant in it. I guard the plastic liner as if it were pure gold, because it sits so nicely inside, and protects food from touching the questionably aged copper.

My most used piece has to be a simple, glass pedestal trifle bowl. It was inexpensive, and as boring as they come, but you can fill it with absolutely anything and it just looks good (watermelon wedges, fresh vegetables, muffins, a giant pile of french fries - yum - chocolate mousse with a giant spoon, clementine's, pretzels, wrapped candy, nuts still in their shell, utensils, fried chicken etc). I bet you could even put kale in that bowl and it would look appetizing.

With picnics and parties in full swing, why not look outside your normal entertaining standbys? Blend the old with the new, and search your home for unexpected (and more fun) ways to present what you have. Even if you are serving the most mundane of foods, if you serve them in a different way, it will look more interesting, and make you and your guests feel just a little bit more special...

p.s. The only dip I ever make is the one I learned at school (a packet of Onion soup mixed into Sour cream or creme fraiche), otherwise I buy a store bought one, and pop it in a nice bowl. 

The photograph of the artfully displayed potato chips is from Pinterest via For The Love of the South

Thursday, May 7, 2015

If You Give A Mom A Minute......



 Once upon a time, when my daughter was little
someone asked me what the heck I did all day.
These are just the bits I could remember...


If you give a Mom a minute,she'll want a cup of tea and a magazine.Reaches for her favorite mug,but starts to unload the dishwasher instead.

While putting away the dishes,
she rearranges the cupboards.
Decides to put some dishes aside for a garage sale.
Calls her friend for advice,
but forgets to ask about garage sales.

Goes to the toilet, and notices the shower is dirty.
Sprays and scrubs the shower stall,
while she reorganizes the body scrubs and shampoos.
Throws away expired medicines,
and cleans the bathroom cabinet.

This reminds her to call the Doctor for a check up.
On the way downstairs to get the telephone number,
she notices the floor needs vacuuming.
Gets the vacuum cleaner,
and sees all of her handbags.

Distracted, she starts to look inside them.
Throws out a a pile of old lists,
seventeen hair ties and a melted lollipop.
A dirty cigarette packet,
but knows she doesn't smoke.
Puzzled, and embarrassed,
she remembers picking it up off the lawn months ago.

Thoughts of smoky handbags remind her to wash the laundry,
and she forgets to call the Doctor.
As the laundry spins,
she begins to tidy the cellar.
Makes another pile of things for the garage sale,
wondering why on earth she agreed to do it in the first place.

The laundry done, she hears a drip,
but decides to ignore it.
Folds the laundry, opens the mail,
and fills the tea kettle with water.

As she waits for it to boil,
she absently wonders why the water is still running.
Perhaps the washing machine has turned back on,
or maybe it is starting to rain.
A lot.

She hears more noises in the cellar.
The cat is crying, and the phone is starting to ring.
So she just stops listening.
Her child is sick, at school,
and must be picked up immediately,
if not sooner.

Before she hangs up,
she is sweetly reminded that she has to bring four decorated cakes,
473 dark blue napkins and 8 dozen bottles of water to school.
Tomorrow. By 7:30am.
It's Children Appreciation Day.
Oh, and don't forget -
no gluten, no sugar, no peanuts, no dairy, no food coloring, and absolutely no mushrooms.

She drives to the school,
brings her child home, and puts her to bed.
With a bucket.
Which reminds her of water, and the crying cat.
Marooned on a shelf,
he is watching as the water steadily laps around the basement floor.

Calling the Plumber reminds her that she never did drink that cup of tea,
so she decides to turn the tea kettle on,
and takes that minute....

Written by Wendy E. Wrzos (Copyright 2012). The photograph is of my daughter, after she had baked her first batch of Butterfly Cakes, and the poem was inspired by Laura Numeroff's wonderful books for children.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

5 Spring Things

I never thought I would be so happy to see a dandelion!


It is so nice to be able to run outside with no shoes on, and grab the mail without getting frostbite and sprinkling ice melt ahead of me. The sunshine is a welcome change, and despite what we might be thinking in the darkness of February, Spring does always manage to find its way back to us.

People are happier, they are shopping, and they are decorating; we are all so grateful to grab onto the feeling of warm, blue skies and fresh, green grass.

Someone asked me the other day what the trends are for the season. It's a question I get asked a lot, and my answer is to often look to the runway; design seems to follow fashion, and in Spring I think the biggest trend anywhere always ends up being a celebration of life.
 I don't mean in the deeply spiritual way, I mean literally. 
After six months of Winter we become nostalgic for what we haven't had; we want to be less restricted in our clothes, we want softness and color around us, lots of warmth, and we want to be surrounded by things that feel more alive and organic.

So if you can't find a dandelion, and you need a little bit of design inspiration, here are five of my favorite Spring trends.


MOROCCAN BLUE

Bohemian fabrics, a relaxed style, and the color blue are here to stay. 
Not too precious, the slightly worn colors are still saturated enough to be our favorites, but comfortable enough for every day. If you're not quite ready for a pile of floor pillows on your Living Room floor, why not update your patio or deck with a more temporary take on this gorgeous global inspiration.
                                                             
                                                             A FLORAL MOMENT

Flowers are dominating the fashion and design houses this year. 
If you don't want a sofa covered in daffodils, or a brightly colored floral dress, buy (or pick) yourself a bunch of roses. A very formal flower, they look their best when they don't look like they are trying too hard; snip them down to a smaller size and pop them into a jar
 (skip the baby's breath).

METAL AND STEAMPUNK

Influenced by the vintage military and automaton trend, steam-punk has gone mainstream; what once used to be on the fringe of the design world is now the perfect way to add a small amount of quirk to your home, without committing to a certain industrial style.
 I think that every home should have some elements of metal in it, so I am happy that our options are endless and pieces of metal can easily be mixed and matched into any room.

LOTS OF SHELVES

Maybe it's baby boom nostalgia, but shelves are back in style.
Whether it's for storing your collection of books, or a place to keep your favorite coffee cup, we now want to see what we have. Of course they are great for organizing, but they are also the simplest way to add personality to your home; why not share your randomly found objects, remember your treasured vacation souvenir, and use your now defunct wedding china.
Enjoy what you have, and if dusting all those open spaces is a worry,
 then don't dust.

NATURE

The opposite of so many things, a pile of something natural is often the best trend of all.
When I first saw cotton growing in a field, I had to stop the car.
It was breathtaking to see acres of pods bursting with pure, soft white balls of fluff. To this day, it is still one of my favorite things in the whole world, and I have a small bundle of it in a glass bowl in my Living Room. Whether it is pine cones, twigs, cotton, rocks, or a fallen, abandoned bird’s nest, adding something raw and organic will always be beautiful,
and never go out of style.


Photographs borrowed from: M.inmagine (Dandelion)  Houzz (Moroccan) White Flower Farm (Roses) Restoration Hardware (Steampunk), Bookmania (Bookshelves) and Vertboitex (Cotton).

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Home Staging Class Tuesday May 5th


To register for this, please click here for the Community School link, or if you have a question just email me at wendy@thebluegiraffe.com. Thank you! 
                                                                               - Wendy






Friday, April 24, 2015

Cabinets of Curiosity


Did you know that most people will peek into your bathroom medicine cabinet? Apparently, in a survey by someone, more than 75% of people have opened up someone else's cabinet just to see what is in there.

This has never occurred to me, until I was recently talking to someone and she started complaining about the messy state of a friend's bathroom cabinet. As I listened to her, I was taken aback by what she had discovered in what seemed like just a few minutes. When she paused to take a breath, I asked her why she had opened it in the first place, and she replied, "I always look in them, don't you?"

No, I don't. Because really, I don't want to know what's in there, and, silly me, I always assumed it was private (it took me years before I would even look for a spare toilet roll in my best friend's home). But, I have to admit, that shortly after our talk I did go through all of my cabinets and drawers; unbeknownst to her, she had single-handedly shattered my naive view of snooping, and I will probably never invite her over for a cup of tea on a Sunday afternoon.

People are curious, and whether it is a casual party, or a formal Open House, you should be prepared for unwelcome eyes. I could suggest a trip wire, or a small alarm attached to your medicine cabinet, but that might be a little extreme (and embarrassing for everyone concerned - but funny. A bit like that additive that is supposed to turn blue when you go to the toilet in someone's pool. We're not sure if it really exists, but who wants to take the chance?)

Anyway, it's impossible to hide everything, but a few containers, and a little bit of organization, will probably make you feel better and distract the people who can't resist; wouldn't you rather have them marvel at your neatness than share all of your ailments over the next cup of morning coffee?
So, if you want to divert the curious, here are some quick ways to tidy up your medicine cabinet, and keep the gossip at bay...

  • Consider using your medicine cabinet only for things that you need every day.  
  • Adjust the shelf heights (if possible) for more space and flexibility.
  • Clean it out. Toss any duplicates or expired items, and take out things that are too big, too personal, or rarely used. 
  • Store prescription bottles in a closed container that can be easily lifted in and out.
  • Put generic items in small containers, drinking glasses, tea-cups, decorative tins or jars. This keeps everything neat, more visible, and will save you so much time and space. If you are worried about things breaking, buy acrylic containers. 
  • Separate items according to whom they belong to. 
  • Keep similar things together (e.g. toothpaste, toothbrush and floss).
  • If you want, you could even line the shelves with decorative paper. 
  • Add a picture, decal, chalkboard, or a funny cartoon to the inside of the door. 


Lovely photograph of real cabinet of curiosities is from Homelife Insideout.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

A Home to Love

Buying your first home is a bit like having a baby; you read all the books, ask everyone for advice, decided what you will do, and then it all changes the moment you walk in the door. Suddenly, what seemed important isn't, and what you should have paid attention to is now staring right back at you.

When we first started looking for a home, we had no idea what we wanted, other than a low price and the right neighborhood. It turned out that our favorite neighborhood was not so great, and the low price led us to some less than ideal homes (one time the homeowner answered the door in a towel, and we could see the shower water still running from the front door. Because we had an appointment, the Realtor said we had to go in anyway, so the woman just excused herself, and went back into her shower while we pretended to walk around and look interested).


I still live in my first home, and while I didn't know what I wanted, I knew the moment we drove up that this was the one. It was obviously love, because when we went inside I wasn't dissuaded at all by the bright blue Formica, the faux paneled walls, and the fact that no-one had changed the cat litter in a very long time.

When we closed on the house, we were happy just to have a larger home; moving from a one bedroom apartment, made a 1500 foot square home feel like a mansion, and we happily lived with the quirky interior for a few months as we settled in. After a while, the quirks outgrew their charm, but I didn't know anything about renovations, so I decided to start by putting up some wallpaper.

Armed with my new flowery wallpaper, I wanted to cover the old flowery wallpaper in the kitchen. Obviously mine was better, but unfortunately, the previous owners (too many to count) had done the same thing, and after I peeked through the seventh layer or wallpaper, I found that I could see right through to the bathroom next door.

So, I patched it back up, added my flowers to the pile, and now the kitchen has eight layers of wallpaper. A few weeks later I found a linoleum that perfectly matched the wallpaper (blue and pink flowers everywhere!) which was not the smartest move I've ever made.

As soon as it was installed, it looked awful, and the following week I bought stick on tiles and covered the offensive linoleum with faux slate squares. It honestly did seem like an improvement at the time, and while sticking down the tiles was ridiculously easy, it made me feel invincible in the DIY department; for the next twenty years I was determined to fix, decorate and repair everything that stood in my way.

I could tell you all of the wonderful things I have done in my home, but it is always more fun to share what went wrong. So, here are some of my favorite mistakes....

  • Applying textured paint to the bedroom. Apparently, years ago, texture meant sharp little pieces of grit were added to the paint can. (Even now, despite sanding and more paint, if you brush against it, it will scratch you). 
  • Painting my sofa with cold coffee to age it. (Not only did it look weird, but it took days to dry and smelled for months). 
  • Buying a sofa without measuring first. (It wouldn't fit through the front door, so we had to lift it through the sunroom window. It then couldn't turn the corner, so it is still in the sunroom). 
  • Finding an old dress mannequin on the side of the road, but when I brought it home a nest of baby mice fell out onto the living room floor. (It pays to check inside anything before you pick it up off the side of the road). 
  • Thinking I could remove all of the living room carpet myself in a day (while I had my one year old daughter toddling and crawling around). 
  • Drawing pictures and words on the walls with a sharpie for my daughter when she was learning to read (I can still see the outline of a chair, and the word "chair" in the living room). 
  • Painting a really gross brown color on the bathroom wall (I couldn't get back to the hardware store quick enough). 
  • Putting my wool rug outside onto the patio seemed like a good idea, until it rained. (It took three people to lift it up and many weeks to dry). 
  • Painting the side of the garage dark green, and drawing silhouettes of trees on it. 

For me, I never thought of this as my starter home; I thought of it as being my permanent home, which I think is a better way to approach buying a home. You never know what will happen, and I think if you go into a home dissatisfied from the beginning, or seeing it as a temporary solution, then you are not even giving it a chance, and you might grow to regret it.

I went with my gut when we bought this house, and while some things weren't exactly what I wanted, it had a good feeling about it. When we bought, there were very few homes online, so we relied on appointments, sheets of facts on paper, and a map. But things are different now, and I love that we can do more research before we buy, and see what neighborhood's are like, and whether or not a certain style of home would really suit us.

Some companies have taken it to an entirely different level, and they want to give potential homeowners as much information as possible before they even step out the door. Such a smart idea; many people are short on time, and it is so easy to be blinded by a pretty home when you really should be checking out the nearest train station, and how far it is to walk to school. I like it when an industry adapts to the needs of its client, and one of my favorite websites to visit (even if you aren't looking for a home) is Compass; they really want to share information, and help people to find homes that they love. Plus, they give you a snapshot of what you should know about each neighborhood (including pros, cons, maps and photographs). They also try to match the client with the agent who best suits their profile (which is a great idea when you think about it).

So whether you are driving around with a crumpled sheet of paper in your hand, or scrolling through pictures of houses on a screen, think about what a home really means to you, and start from there.

p.s. Photograph above is my own.

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