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

Friday, July 11, 2014

The Joy of Moving!

I know lots of people who are moving house at the moment. Whether they are moving for work, or changing towns to be nearer to family, it can be overwhelming trying to remember everything.
With the amount of stuff in my home, I know, that if it was me, I would probably fall into either denial (or panic) mode. Neither of which is good, but, I do have a few ideas that would also make it a whole lot easier on myself: 
  • Look at it as the perfect opportunity to get rid of as much as I can. If I don't love it, or have to live with it, I will donate, sell or throw it away. 
  • Have fun with my (slightly) obsessive tendencies, and write as much information as possible on those cardboard packing boxes. (It's about priorities; I know I will be so grateful when I can find my favorite spoon for the mocha chocolate chip ice cream at 2am).
  • Make a list of what I have to do when I first move in (contact utility companies, buy ice cream etc) along with a list of any important phone numbers.
  • Charge all electronics the day before, just in case. 
  • Check my calendar for the next week or two, and keep it nearby (it's easy to be distracted, and forget to pay a bill or keep an appointment).
  • Be nice to the moving men, and ask for as much help as possible. Write down ahead of time where the big and heavy items need to go, and post it for everyone to see (in case I'm not there when they try to park my baby grand piano in the middle of the worlds tiniest kitchen).  
  • Have a first and second day plan. Know where I will sleep, what I will eat (we know that already), where the shampoo and toothpaste is, and where my clothes are.  
  • Embrace my inner teenager, and accept that I might be living in chaos for longer than I would like. 
  • Play with the placement of my old furniture before I rush out and buy something new. (It will look different in a new house, and we both need time to adjust).
  • Try to have at least one room that feels almost "done" to me. A room where I can take a break, sit with my ice cream, and remember what I forgot to do....
                                         
p.s. The photograph of Audrey Hepburn is a publicity shot from the movie, Sabrina, taken in her home by Mark Shaw in 1953.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Summer Classes


Sometimes, it's good to go back to the basics...

I find, that when I organize the everyday things, it makes the rest of my life so much easier. So, I decided to do a few classes on saving time, getting organized, and how to tackle those chores that we may not like, but still have to deal with.  
             
Join me at home, for a couple of hours, some iced tea, and lots of great ideas.
                                                                                                       
p.s. I will be adding more dates, and some afternoon times through August.
For any questions, and to register, please email me at: wendy@thebluegiraffe.com

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Porcelain, Plastic and Picnics


Years ago, we had a St Patrick's Day party. Up until then, our parties had always been built around plastic; it was easy to buy, disposable, and who didn't love writing their name and drawing funny faces on a Red Solo Cup?

But, this time, I wanted to serve Irish Stew, and it was March. So, I decided to forgo the picnic attire, and buy large soup bowls from a real, proper kitchen shop. I spent a fortune; I bought 20 of them, as well as beer glasses (I didn't even know you could get beer glasses) and an assortment of bright green decorations. I dreaded having to wash all the dishes, but I knew it was better than having our friends stabbing at their polystyrene, trying to eat meat and potatoes with a plastic fork.

That day, I became a convert, and it had absolutely nothing to do with the environment; it was just easier. Already a collector of dishes and silverware, I realized afterwards that I actually had enough of everything to use for almost any occasion.
From then on, I decided to let go of my party "must-have's", and really see what I had in my home. I began to mix the plain with the fancy, and just added a steady supply of white napkins. Strangely enough, it was less expensive, and less stressful; the dishwasher did more work than me, and I avoided those last minute runs to buy a packet of something that was only sold in sets of eight.

With picnics on the calendar, and 4th of July almost here, I think we should make our days as easy as possible. Whether you entertain a lot, or a little, why not try shopping around your home before you buy...

p.s. I still love writing on a plastic cup with a sharpie (and thank you to Toby Keith for making us smile with the song - Red Solo Cup). 
Vintage picnic photograph borrowed from www.4thofjulyimages.com

Friday, June 27, 2014

Not Just For Books


Growing up, we all had bookshelves...with books on them. That was what they were for; a practical way to keep books from sitting in a higgledy-piggledy pile on the table. Books were part of our everyday life; to look up information, learn how to spell a word, and to imagine adventures before we went to sleep.
Now, we have the Internet, and books don't take up quite as much household space as they used to.

But, we still have the shelves. And, while some people throw them out with their television stands, I want to roam the world, and rescue every single one of them. All I see are magical opportunities; the perfect solution to almost every design problem.

Sometimes, we get hung up on the name. For example, thinking that a dining room table can only go in the dining room. Umm, no, it can go anywhere you want; an alarm won't sound, and the dining room police won't tell you off for moving it. Just because something can't be used for exactly what it was made for, doesn't mean it becomes useless.

A bookshelf is one of those "something's". For many, it could seem to be a boring (and almost extinct) piece of furniture, but for me, it is one of the best things to have in your home.

If you're considering throwing yours away, why not try to look at it a little differently; forget about the books for a moment, and think of it as extra storage. Contrary to what you may think, it doesn't have to be filled with pretty objects to look good; all you need is what you already have..... 
  • Be creative; maybe you don't need that bookshelf in your family room anymore. Could you use it in your foyer for shoes, your kitchen as a pantry, your garage for tools?
  • Check to see if you can adjust the shelf heights, or remove one; it looks more interesting, and you can often fit more things onto it. 
  • Whatever you are storing on it, place the nicest, neatest (or your favorite) things onto the most noticeable (eye level) shelf first. 
  • Put the most utilitarian (and heavy) pieces on the bottom.
  • Fill in the rest of the spaces with groups of whatever else you have.
  • Use boxes and bowls to organize odd bits and pieces.
Have fun, and enjoy your weekend!  

p.s. What about this idea of using an old book shelf as a headboard? Isn't it clever? The lovely photograph is fromCanadian House and Home, and the paint color is Farrow and Ball's Setting Plaster No. 231.                 
p.p.s. Do I need to mention safety? Check your bookshelf is safe before loading it up, and attach it to the wall if you need too.         

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

cake in a cup = Creative Perfeckshun


Most of the creative people I know think they are perfectionists, but are actually not perfect at all; attention to detail is there, and they don't like to leave a task until it is done to their liking, but they are always open and creative in their approach. Put ten of them in a room, and you will not be able to hear yourself think, as they loudly give you more than ten different solutions to the same problem.

Some people say you are born to be creative, but I wonder if it is also a bit like a muscle; the more you use it, the more it works. Of course, we all have different strengths, and while being artistic might be in someones DNA, creativity might be something we can all learn to embrace, nurture, and have fun with.

Which brings me back to perfection. The other day, I read a really great theory; that creativity begins with letting go of having to do everything perfectly, and the willingness to discover other options.
What they suggested was so simple, that I wanted to share it with you....

Practice making a recipe without having all the ingredients. Whether it is a meal or a cake, go ahead and turn the oven on, knowing full well that you are not prepared.
Don't dismiss Chicken Tarragon because you have no tarragon. (I don't like tarragon anyway). Substitute thyme, or whatever is in your cupboard or your garden. If you don't have any herbs, make it anyway, add whatever you feel like, and see what happens.
The same with a cake. Yes, they say it is a science, but I often use a lot less sugar, and I play with the proportions and flavor, until the raw batter looks (and tastes) good to me. What is the worst that can happen? It's still cake.                   

The joy of this is, playing with a recipe forces you to stretch that creative muscle, and to see that there are always other options around.
After doing this a few times, you will start to look at everything else a little differently; there will automatically be more solutions to your problems, tarragon will disappear from your shopping list, and you will start to see the world in a far more interesting (creative) way....
                                                                   

p.s. Here is the yummy Cake in a Cup recipe.  
p.p.s. Yes, we all have issues; it was not easy for me to press "send" with a deliberate spelling mistake in the title.
                                                       


Wednesday, June 4, 2014

If your Shade could Speak



I don't understand why we have ugly lampshades in this world. Does it really cost more to make a nice one?

Considering many homes don't have ceiling lights, table and floor lamps are often a necessity, not just a pretty thing that helps you read the newspaper, or see what you're having for dinner.

Funny thing is, when you buy a new lamp, there are thousands of perfectly lovely shades just sitting and waiting to be bought; almost touching your elbow, and taunting you for just $39.95 plus tax. And, you can't swap them out (I have tried) because they now have little plastic tabs attached, making sure that you don't accidentally lose the ugly shade that is sadly clinging to your new lamp.

It's a shame, because lampshades are an easy way to change up a room, and it is a complete waste of money to buy another one before the plastic has even been taken off the first (you do remove the plastic, don't you?). And, let's be honest, as busy as most people are, shade shopping is not usually high on the "To Do" list.

So, if I was Queen, I would decree that all lamp stands and shades must be sold separately. That way, we could choose whatever we wanted, it would save us a lot of time (and money) and our rooms would be very grateful.

Until then, try to have fun with your shade; find ones that you really like, play with different shapes, consider decorating the boring ones, and splurge on an extra one when you can.

(p.s. The absolutely delightful photograph above is by Rodney Smith, and I loved it so much that I made it as big as the blog would allow).

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Pierre the Squirrel


There are some things that I never imagined would happen in my life, and one of them, was that I would share our home with a one-eyed, one-ear, hat wearing, taxidermy squirrel named Pierre. Always in sympathy for animal rights, the mere thought of a dead one being stuffed, and used as decoration, really turned my stomach. But, as I got older, I realized that, like people, they all have different stories, and not all arrived through improper means.

Years ago, we weren't so concerned with protecting the lives of animals, and they truly were used for sport and food. I won't get into the politics of it, because we all know, but thankfully we have become wiser to the impact that our hunting pleasure had on the world, and there are rules about what can and can not become a trophy or an over-sized ash-tray.

What once seemed like a very macabre hobby to me, is now an art, and has become a powerful way to remember the past, and examine animals that may soon (or already are) almost extinct. However, my experience with taxidermy is less than exotic, and definitely doesn't involve a loved and protected species.

Several years ago, my daughter and I used to watch Oddities, a show about a small shop in New York City called Obscura. Each week, they would introduce a few customers, and take the viewers on a tour of their bizarre collectibles; everything from a shrunken head to a medical device that made you wince just to hear the name. It was an education into the (often) less desirable side of history; a place filled with curiosities and questions.

So, for her birthday one year, I decided to take my daughter to the store, as a surprise. She was thrilled, and, thankfully, the store was exactly how it appeared on television (even the misshapen, wooden mannequin was propped up crookedly outside, sweetly enabling the Obscura sign).

With all her money in her hand, I told her she could buy anything she wanted (while keeping my fingers crossed that it wouldn't be anything too horrible). Not everything was expensive, but condition mattered, and the more unique, pristine pieces were definitely out of her league. Many didn't have prices on them, which made it difficult for a young girl with birthday money. Still, it was a wonderful place to look around, and the questions just poured out of us. The shop was empty, so we spent over an hour in there.

Every now and again, she would go back to the squirrel's on the shelf. There were two; one was very nice looking, with a shiny coat, and the other was very old, and very scraggy. We were told he was from the 1950's, had been used as a teaching aid in schools, and had just returned to the shop recently. I have no idea what they were teaching, but he was obviously well loved. One ear was missing, and a glass eye had popped out, but he was holding a nut, and the wooden mount had a lovely age to it. I wasn't thrilled with the idea of bringing him home, but it could have been something much worse, and I understood why she wanted him.

She felt sorry for him, and hoped he wasn't too much money when she asked for the price. It took every dollar that she had, but she was so happy that she could afford the broken squirrel in her favorite shop. They put him in a paper bag, and she immediately took him out, wandering down the street with a dead, stuffed squirrel in her hands.

I cringed as she carried him through the front door, wondering how on earth he would fit into our home, what type of crazy mother was I, and did it even matter? But, he had a kind face, and his past was unknown. He just needed somewhere to be. So, we found him a shelf to sit on, we gave him a small, blue hat to make him feel less injured, and then, with what seemed like perfect timing, his tail fell off....

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Faking the Ficus


I have a Ficus tree in my Living Room. I bought it a long time ago; unbraided the funky stems, repotted it, and it grows a little every year. It drops leaves in the Fall, and grows new ones in the Spring, but even though it fills the corner very nicely, it is a very uneventful plant at the best of times. (Unfortunately, it resists any type of neglect, and it chooses to ignore my bored looks when I sigh over its predictability). I even put fairy lights on it at Christmas, wanting to like it, but we both know it is not my favorite plant in the house.

At least Fifty percent of the homes I visit have fake Ficus plants. The idea is good; they add height, and a splash of dark green without the maintenance, but they all look exactly the same. I promise, I am not going to diss artificial plants anymore (there are too many of them around for me to keep protesting) but with a small amount of effort, your fake Ficus can become a real, decorative part of your home, instead of some wicker-clad, dusty accessory.

So, for everyone who is holding onto their fake, and telling me they can't grow plants inside, here are some ways to make it look a whole lot better.....

-  Wipe the leaves and stems with a damp cloth to remove dust etc.
-  Treat it like a real plant. Buy a large pot (at least as large as the basket it came in) and a plant saucer for it.
-  Remove it from the basket, and take out as much filler as you can.
-  Re-pot it into the larger pot, with potting soil. (If it feels too light, add some rocks, or a brick, to the bottom so that it doesn't tip over).
-  Put it in a corner, or by a window (somewhere that makes sense for a living tree).
-  Take care of it; wipe it with a cloth now and again, and check the soil.
-  If it starts to fade, and look sad or shabby, take a deep breath, say good-bye and throw it away.

* Photograph from Singapore Florist online shop