Before Pics.

I'm busy with a project, but wanted to go ahead and post the before pictures of a client's dining room and foyer that I'm working on. Hopefully, I'll have some after pics by the end of the week (It's a good thing, because the family is returning from vacation on Friday). It's an interesting project, because we are trying to combine transitional architecture and very traditional inherited furniture, while keeping a fresh, modern feeling for the young family that lives here. Wish us luck.


Sunny side up: A sunroom makeover on a budget

Recently, on the fabulous internet radio show, The Skirted Roundtable (here) Linda, Megan, and Joni discussed the true cost of decorating, and whether it's possible to achieve a high-end look on a budget. And the short answer is a qualified "yes." The qualification is because in decorating, as in life, there is no free lunch. You can get the look, but what you save in money will be made up in time spent. My friend Leah was able to achieve a very polished look for her sunroom on a small budget by doing all the work herself, from sewing a custom window seat cushion to sanding and painting the porch itself. It took her months, but the results were well worth it. d Below is a view of my friend Leah's gorgeous sunporch which opens off the living room of her 1930s bungalow.
Here is the room before.

The assets included the built in window seat, the vintage spanish style table, and the weathered antique wicker table (Katrina floodwaters added a gorgeous weathered patina to this piece that I could never replicate), tons of natural light, and the original terracotta tiles that she painstakingly stripped, resealed, and polished herself .

Here is another shot of the entrance, showcasing the crisp graphic lines of the original french doors against the fresh green living room walls. Leah loves citrus hues, crisp whites, dreamy creams, and watery blues, and used them throughout her home for a unified feel.
Here is a shot of the co-ordinating lime paint on the original grooved ceiling. *note-a key to achieving a highend look is through great architectural features--this room would not have the same impact with sheetrocked walls and without the french doors.
A view of the sunroom, including the window seat, now dressed with a plump cushion in cream canvas and co-ordinating pillows. Leah added a distressed white finish to her vintage coffee table. The wicker side table has been topped with a piece of glass. The faux bamboo frames hanging against the windows are a thrift store find, and the lamp shade is actually a woven hat from the Vietnamese market. Leah's green thumb is evident in the luxuriant foliage.

Here is a closer look at the windowseat. Leah made the cushion and pillows herself. She transformed 3 free sofa cushions into one large bench cushion.
To give the window seat a more polished look, she applied a box pleated skirt to the window seat.
We searched high and low to find an affordable accent chair for the space. Luckily, we found an incredible faux bamboo (do you sense a theme) chair at a local hotel liquidator's.
Here is the same chair before:
An after shot. Leah stripped the upholstery, applied a faux bamboo finish over the dark stain, and reupholstered the chair herself. Since she had leftover fabric from the window seat cushion and leftover paint, the only money spent was on the chair. And at $35, it was a major bargain.
To sum up: a space can be beautiful and budget friendly, but if that's what you want, you need to be prepared to follow the advice of Rupaul, "You better work!"


Alternative Art

Selecting the final art pieces and accessories is one of the most important parts of the decorating process. These choices are what personalize one's home and add beauty, warmth, and excitement. Unfortunately, the selection of most art and accessories (except for any inspiration pieces one may have found early in the design process) usually comes at the end of a project, where budgetary restrictions are really becoming an issue. Thus, this is the time to start thinking outside of the box...in this case a shadow box. A client received these four corner blocks as a lagniappe (a louisiana term that means a little something extra) when she purchased some reclaimed cypress boards for a framing project. We had no immediate use for them, but they had so much interest (and were free), that I convinced her to hold on to them for future use. Then, one day when I was looking at the naked, narrow wall in the foyer between two doors--I had a vision...the corner blocks mounted in linen backed shadow boxes and mounted in a column. This is a technique that could be used for any architectural fragment---just adjust the size of the shadow box. Keep in mind, however, that for these to be a budget friendly project, you need to select a pre-made shadow box--custom ones are available in any size, but are very expensive.

The blocks before:
Even though they were cut from old beams, the center detailing was new, raw, and did not match the exterior wood. There were also pen lines left from the sawing. So, first step, sanding with a coarse steel wool. Steel wool works better on this kind of project than sand paper, because it is malleable and can adapt to small, curved grooves. It is also less harsh on soft woods.
Next step, glazing in order to match the raw center to the exterior patina and to bring out details. I used acrylic craft paint in burnt umber diluted with water to "stain" the center, and then highlighted the grooves with Modern Masters English Brown. I like to use a very dark brown instead of black, because it brings out the same defintion without the harshness. When used on wood projects, it has a more natural feel:

This photo shows the difference glazing made. Notice how much older and more interesting the blocks in the background appear: To seal, polish, finish, and further antique the blocks, after they dried from the glazing, I applied several coats of brown wax with ultra fine steel wool, buffing between coats with more steel wool. And yes, all that sanding matters. Skipping the sanding step between coats of paint, wax, and polyurethane is one reason that amatuer projects look so homemade.

And finally, mounted in a premade shadow box. To mount, I made a small hole in the center back of the shadow box, and screwed a wood screw through that hole into a predrilled hole in the center back of the wood block:

And a couple of shots of the shadow boxes in place:


A thank you bouquet

My friend Candice and her friend Graham are visting, and Candice noticed this vintage pitcher in my kitchen. While I was meeting clients, she snuck out and bought this beautiful bunch of lilies in purple and yellow as a hostess gift to fill the yellow pitcher (flowers don't always have to go into vases....any container that can contain water or hold another container that can hold water can be a vase).

And here is the completed bouquet. Notice how the yellow, purple, and green match the Mardi Gras sign over the sink. Thanks so much, Candice.


From Curbside to Bedside: How to refurbish a street find

Below is a pic of the great little nightstand I found abadoned on the curb when neighbors down the street moved out: It was a great find, because my guest room presents some difficulties. It's a small room, 12 x 14, made even narrower by a closet that juts out into the room. In it, I have a queen bed, which is too large for the space. However, I already owned the bed when I moved in with Thomas, I love it, it was relatively expensive, I didn't want to get rid of it, and we often have couples staying in the guest room. My intial decision with the bed placement, below, was to shove the bed into the corner to preserve floor space, and I used a small bench as a nightstand, both because of its diminutive size and because I really didn't have another home for it. Neither solution really worked; it was awkward crawling over another person if you shared the bed, and the stool offered no storage.

One day, while walking Cleopatra, the sweetest ,cutest dog ever, I stopped this little cutie on the curb. Sure she was a little battered, but at a little over 12 sq. inches, she was the perfect size, and the deco styling was a sure fit for our 1930s house. Furthermore, It was solid wood construction, and the veneer was intact except for a couple of very small chips around the edges.
The first thing I did was to thoroughly clean the piece with a 0000 steel wool pad soaked in mineral spirits to remove dust, gently sand down imperfections, and give a clean working surface. think of it as a gentle wood exfoliant. In the pic, you can notice the imperfections in the varnish on the top (the lighter patches of wood).

Next, I used a stainable wood filler to fill in the chipped door edges.

After applying, I sanded down the filler.

Next came multiple layers of stain and polish. I planned on keeping the finish in a similar tone to the original finish, but darker. This was for a couple of reasons. One, stain is like haircolor; it's easier to cover variations, mistakes, and inconsistency if you go darker. Second, while I didn't care if the nightstand's finish matched the bed exactly, I did think a darker finish would be a better complement.
First step, after patching, was to spot stain the worn areas in the finish, the stratches, and the putty with sedona red (which I already had left from another project) in order to blend the lighter patches with the rest of the finish.
Second, I lightly sand with superfine steel wool, and then did a couple of coats of a mix of Minwax Polyshade Special walnut mixed with Colonial Maple (the mix was also left from another project). I used the polyurethane with stain because the piece had originally had a laquer layer that had worn through in places. By using a poly, those unprotected areas would be given a layer of protection. I also needed the mixed colors to get exactly the color I wanted: a reddish tone with darker brown undertones. If you are looking for a certain effect or trying to match existing finishes, mixing is the way to go. Just remember to write down proportions as you are experimenting so you can recreate the perfect stain in larger quantities.
Third, because I wanted the piece to have a more authentic finish, I again sanded the entire piece with steel wool, and applied 3 coats of dark wax with a steel wool pad.

The piece in progress, after blending the lighter areas:
In place:
Since the stool was also narrow, I was able to squeeze it between the bed and the window to create a second nightstand. It's a little snug moving between the bed and the closet, but the benefit to having two nightstands is so much greater.

It's the perfect size for an alarm clock, a couple of books, and a small bouquet.
It was missing a pull, so I found a co-ordinating pull, painted it to match the original and added a broken beaded tassel for interest:

And for an extra touch, I lined the bottom drawer with a remnant of a favorite fabric:
Since I already had the stains and other materials needed for the makeover, my total out of pocket cost was $1.57 for the clearanced drawer pull. Considering the fact, I just saw a similar piece for $75 in a consignment store, I think it was a good deal.


Cheap Chic Decorating: AKA I found it on the street, continued.

Thomas and I are engaged in an ongoing project to create a party ready oasis in the backyard. One of the challanges has been to find budget friendly furniture pieces to create an outdoor living area that we don't mind exposing to the harsh Louisiana climate. We were able to get an incredible deal on the basic furniture, but it was time to add extra seating and the personal touches that would further the laid back, New Orleans, Boho, Caribbean flavored backyard we wanted. Luckily, the street curb has been a wonderful resource for doing just that: Above is the bench/low table we created with the paneled doors we found discarded from a house renovation in our neighborhood. I had the metal bases left over from a project where I used the table tops as art (for that project, view provisions interiors blog--the table tops are the series of wooden plaques.) The fabric through is an Echo shower curtain that I found on clearance at linens and things years ago. I usually use it as a table cloth, and its colors helped inspire my backyard palette.
Above are the doors as we found them.
We also found a gorgeous paneled door being discarded from another house. Attaching another pair of leftover legs as well as three coats of marine spar polyurethane resulted in this overscaled beauty (we decided to leave on the door knob for a quirky touch (i.e. it was too hard to remove and we were feeling lazy):

Here is the back of the dooring being prepped for exterior paint (for protection from the elements) and attaching the legs:

Here is the new seating area centered around the mantle we also found on the street (please ignore the ugly concrete that is awaiting staining):

The great thing about the table, is that even though it's smaller than a standard door, it has plenty of room for accessories, snacks, and drinks. It's even sturdy enough to be used as a bench. The low hot pink and turquoise tables just visible between the pairs of chairs are actually kitty litter containers I spray painted pink and left the turquoise tops. They're impervious to the elements, add a great splash of color, make great drinks tables, are a great way to reuse something that would otherwise be trash, and their destruction during a party will not upset me.
So remember, kids, when you are out walking the mutt, keep your eye peeled for usable discards. One man's trash is another man's decor.


What a Concept

I don't do many formal presentations. Most of the time, I can just describe my plans to client, show them samples, and they are fine. Every now and then, especially with new clients who aren't familiar with my work, I do renderings to make sure we are on the same page. Now, these rendereing aren't formal working drawing, and while in perspective, they are not to scale. Furthermore, this is for a presentation to a potential client, so I haven't been precise with the drawing of most of the finishes, keeping to a suggestion, mainly of colour. And after years of trying (and failing) to create crisp, precise, architectural drawings, I've learned to embrace my own loose, improtu style: some call it messy and lazy. I call it neo-Impressionistic. The photos are from work down by my collaborator on this project, Donna Russell of Provisions Interiors.


Cheap Chic 2: a floral centerpiece for $10

I've caught the spring cleaning bug late. But now, that I have it, I've been looking around the house thinking about what I'd like to change (everything), and what I can afford to change (maybe a light bulb). All joking aside, I do intend to make some changes to the house--primarily a purge of extraneous crap (i.e. all of Thomas's things...mine are treasures, I swear), some painting, and some slipcovers. However, after making my intial to do lists (I love to make lists...actually doing the items on said list-not so much), I was so overwhelmed, I decided to smart small by cleaning the dining room, which is the smallest least cluttered room in the house and bringing in some fresh flowers for the table. Since money is tighter around here than last year's girdle, I did it with things I already owned and a couple of supermarket bouquets.
My inspiration: a white bowl (wal mart) filled with some green pears with touches of yellow ( faux, and a gift) that complement the orange stripes in the dining room and echo the pale green of the adjoining kitchen. Plus, light, bright green and white just feel like summer, especially with yellow accents. I wanted a large arrangement, but I don't have a large vase. So in order to create a large scale arrangement, I placed the bowl of pears and two white vases on a small pale green wooded tray to create one large centerpiece.
The materials. Variagated ginger leaves from the garden, yellow aster, lemons to jazz up the friut bowl (key tip for using faux friut and flowers...add some real items and it elevates the fake), and some white flower whose name I don't know but that I've used before and know lasts for a long time in a vase. I purposely kept the palette limited: green and yellow to echo the pears, white to echo the vase and to add freshness. Btw, ginger and split leaf philodendrums are great plants to put in the garden: they are super easy to grow, and their greenery looks great alone or in an arrangement, and they can last for several weeks if you change the water every now and then.

First, I like to start with the greenery, in this case ginger leaves, to give the basic structure to the arrangement. I also usually follow the pyramid rule in arrangeing flowers. In this case, it means the tallest point would be in the taller vase in the back.

Nest, I added the filler flowers, cutting the stems to fit the vase, and removing all greenery and blooms that would be under the level of the rim.
Next, I add the main white flower, again trimming the stem to fit the vase and stripping extra leaves and blooms. After that, I piled the real lemons over the faux pears.

Voila, an arrangement for $10, using what I already owned, that should last for a week to ten days. I will also use the lemons for cooking, lemonade, or a twist in my martini. In fact, my motto is, "If life gives you lemons, make a martini."

This angle shows how the bright green of the arrangement picks up the avacado kitchen.