A Blogger in Need

I haven't been blogging much lately....in fact, I've been in one of those moods where I'm just kind of over blogging and blogs, for that matter.  What I'm not over, though, are bloggers.

And one of my favorite bloggers, Valorie of Visual Vamp has recently suffered a tragedy (read about it in her words at Visual Vamp);  her beloved husband Alberto suffered a massive heart attack in the airport upon their arrival in Canada to teach a tango workshop.
valorie and alberto doing what they love best
 Laura at the blog Decor to Adore is hosting a bloggers' auction to raise money for valerie and alberto:  his condition is so serious that it is going to require a medevac (translation: really expensive medically supervised trip) for Alberto to return to New Orleans to be cared for by his primary physician.  Go here to see the items that have been donated so for.  You can also contribute directly to Valorie and Alberto's paypal account at boutique@planet-tango.com.

I'm auctioning off an original mixed media painting, Two at Daybreak.  It's approximately 8x11", and is gallery wrapped so framing is unnecessary.  The colours in the photo are fairly accurate, however, I will be happy to do a custom version if this colour scheme does not work for you.  All money raised will be donated to Valorie and Alberto.  The opening bid is $50.  You can leave your bid in the comments, or e-mail them to me at hms70119@live.com.

I will  be out of town from today until wed., so bidding will go on until Nov. 11 at 9 a.m.

Thank you for helping out a blogger in need.


Better to Receive?

Why are flowers always prettier when some else gives them to you?  There's nothing like a partner who remembers you like roses.  Anyway, save your jars---they make the best vases for casual, cottage style arrangements.  And don't forget to cut the stems to fit the height of the container.


I Want One

When you work in the design business, you tend to get a little jaded about objects and structures.  You learn early on (or risk becoming a guest star on "Hoarders") that there's no need to purchase every incredible thing you come across...next season, or next year, or at least the year after, there will be another chair, sofa, house, etc. just as fabulous as this one.  But every now and then you see something that strikes a lust in your heart that will never be extinquished.  I didn't even know I wanted a playhouse/blogging paradise, but now I do...

I don't speak Spainish, but the architect's (I'm assuming its the architect) website has more photos, here: http://www.manuelvillaarq.com/index.php?/project/poliedro-habitable/ .


Recipe for a Dining Room: How to decorate a room from inspiration to (almost) finished

I have some better pictures from the dining room shown in my last post.  Unfortunately, my professional photographer (aka my partner's twin's girlfriend) wasn't able to come with me to the client's home today, but I did manage to find a decent camera.

For those who are interested in the design process, I thought I'd share the steps taken on this room for it to come together.

1.  Inspiration/brainstorming/fact finding.  This dining is room is in new construction, and I started working with the client early in the process, which made a lot of things easier.  One first consideration is that the client prefers a very simple, clean look, natural materials, a monochromatic colour scheme, and dark hardware.  That meant that the dining room would have to have the same dark stained concrete floors and neutral wall color (Manchester Tan from Benjamin Moore) as the rest of the open floor plan ground floor.  These preferences also gave direction to the choices of rug, upholstery fabric, and window treatment.  She also knew that she wanted slipcovered side chairs in a light fabric (two young boys meant that she couldn't have the light sofa she prefered, so she wanted the cream somewhere), contrasting host/hostess chairs, and a natural wood table.

2.  Find a starting point.  These great Chinese chairs in a dark teal blue were our very first purchases for the room.  I don't know if they are actually vintage or are reproductions, but they have a great patina and distressed character.  And, quite frankly, they're not that comfortable.  But the client loved them, kept turning back to them despite hesitations, and finally broke down and bought them.  I think they make the room.  In fact, the colour is so beautiful that we pulled the wall color for the nearby powder room from them.

3.  Fill in the other major players.  In a dining room, it's usually the chairs and table that are the pieces that really set the tone of the room.  Once we had such striking host chairs, I knew we needed to keep the side chairs simple, so I found some inexpensive leather parson's chairs (I prefer for slipcovered chairs to be upholstered in complementary fabric so the room looks good even when they are being laundered...you never know who might drop by on wash day) and had them slipcovered in a simple washed natural cotton.  I kept the skirts short because it's not a big room--it's rather narrow, and I wanted the eye to pass through the legs and not be stopped short by floor length skirts. 

The table was more of a problem:  we wanted a farm table, but since this is the "formal" dining room, the client didn't want it too rustic.  We also had to find a narrow table--the standard 48" would be too wide for the room, especially after adding a buffet which the client (let's call her "Babs"...I'm sick of typing "the client") needed for storage.  Babs is also a fiend for beautiful natural wood and hated all of the veneering that is commonly available.  Therefore, we had the table custom made (by Wilkerson Row on Magazine St. for anyone local who needs some beautiful custom furniture) out of cypress with a natural finish.   I made sure the wood colour co-ordinated with the wood exposed by the distressed Asian chairs' finish. We were able to pick our own dimension, a lithe 96X40, graceful cabriolet legs, and minimum detailing.  Babs was thrilled by the beautiful planks selected for the top.
  At that point,  we selected very simple window treatments (creamy linen panel) and a plain rug (sisal), to let the beautiful grain pattern of the table stand out. 

4.  Pull it together.  At this point, the major elements were in place:  flooring, wall colour, rug, window treatments, dining table and chairs.  Time to tackle the back wall.  All along, we planned on a buffet and art for that wall.  A buffet  because the client needed storage and dislikes china cabinets, and art because, while I love a monochromatic palette with a soothing lack of pattern, you need something with movement, live, and a mix of colours. 

The art actually came first.  I painted the two canvases as a housewarming present, and used the soft blues, greys, greens, and tobacco browns that the client loves.  The colours in the art pull from the accent colours used (sparingly) in the adjoining spaces. 

The buffet was a more difficult task.  It needed to include storage, so an open console was out.  It had to be on the shallow side (no more than 18"), it needed to be quite long (around 90"), it couldn't be too high (the ceilings are 10", so a too-high piece would have killed the spacious look of the light filled space, it couldn't be too heavy in feeling (it's not a large room and the client hates overdone, over-carved pieces), it had to play second fiddle to the heavily grained table, and it had to be in a finish that co-ordinated with the natural cyrpess and the Asian chairs.  We found a close contender at Restoration Hardware, but the finish wasn't right, and the homeowner hesitated at painting a brand new relatively expensive piece of furniture (not to mention the cost a good decorative finish would add).  Again, a custom piece by Wilkerson Rowe was the answer.  Again we could choose our own, difficult to find dimensions, we could choose our finish colour, and we knew it would be beautifully crafted locally of solid wood. 

In the comments section of the last post, Marlo asked about the hardware.  I found it on-line at House of Antique Hardware.  I chose this particular hardware for a couple of reasons.  1.  My client likes simplicity and clean lines; therefore, I knew the buffet would have little detailing, but it needed SOME interest.  I thought prominent hardware would add some punch, but since it's actually useful, Babs wouldn't consider it unnecessary.  I also like the matt black finish because it co-ordinates with the oil-rubbed bronze finishes throughout the house.  I don't mind mixing finishes, but when you're going for a simple look, co-ordinating them does add polish.  And a dark finish always looks striking when the paint colours used for walls, trim, and doors is light.  2. Because I wanted a vintage feel reminiscent of the beautiful bookcases by BoBo intriguing objects, I thought using traditional H-L hinges and latches instead of pulls would give that feeling of age.   3.  I liked the hardware, and I'm the decorator, and what I say goes (sometimes...actually not that often, but sometimes).  The details didn't photograph, but are really nice in person..the backing of the cabinets is beadboard, the sides are planked, and we specificed thin, thin, thin layers of paint so that you can still make out the graining.

5.  Finish up.  Actually....that I haven't done yet.  We need something permanent for the table, candle sconce to flank the art and something for the side wall.  But, this has been a project I've loved working on, and I couldn't wait to share it.


After a Sleepless Night

Interior Designer/Decorator is one of those professions that seems very glamorous and fun.  Inspired by series like "Designing Women" and movies like "Pillow Talk," where decorator Doris Day can afford a Manhattan apartment, a daily maid, and enough jewels and furs that her jeweler and furrier both carry screen credits,
a lot of people think design mainly involving lunching with clients at expensive restaurants, jetting off to NYC and Europe for shopping sprees, and waving your hands at contractors and subs, saying, "Just make it happen, darlings."
A lonely room.

And it can be a fun job.  Occasionally (very occasionally except for the exalted few at the top of the profession), there is glamour.  But there is a lot of headache.  And worry. And sleepless nights.  And nothing can cause a sleepless night like waiting for the arrival of a custom piece.  Today was the day that a client's buffet was going to be delivered.  A completely custom piece that I designed, including paint color, dimensions, and hardware selection.  And I did not sleep a wink last night.

Today, though went very smoothly.  It can, the delivery men where delightful, and the colour was perfect.

I painted the diptych over the sideboard as a housewarming gift.
I snapped some quick picks to give you an idea of how the room is turning out.  Better pics (from someone else) to follow one we finish styling the room.  Thank God, I will be able to sleep tonight.


The Letter

Dame Barbara Cartland penning one of her early works of literary genius.

I wish I had written this letter to myself in 2007:

Dear 2007 Mitchell (heretofore known as "Dumbass"),

Please don't paint your stair hall deep terracotta orange.

I don't care how much you "love" the colour.  In the near future you will grow to hate it and want it to be painted in one of the only two colours you have used consistently,  liked, lived with, and not regretted since your first apartment in  1995; namely, robin's egg blue or off-white.  Please don't insist that "life is too short for neutrals" or that  you "need a change." 

You, Dumbass, no matter how much you protest otherwise, only really like two kinds of wall colors:  those that run the exciting gambit from creamy off-white to pale golden kakhi or those that range from grey/green/blue to blue/grey/green to green/blue/grey.  No matter how hard you try to convince yourself that you are some sort of  bon vivant BoHo artist, you are only a repressed small town Protestant who can't handle that much excitement in decor.

  Shortly, in order to save your sanity, and only after resorting to emotional blackmail (which will leave you feeling bad--at least until the margaritas kick in---you will need to increase your self-medication from wine to tequila), you will have to convince Thomas of a need to change the paint color that YOU insisted on over his objections.  You will then have to paint layer upon layer of Rainwashed over that orange during Labor Day Weekend while the rest of country cavorts around you, as that will be your only spare time.  And you will grow to hate life,

Mitchell 2010


Favorite Room Ever and an Update

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My dining room/ office switheroo is proceeding, but slowly.  Primarily because the new office area is in a corner of the stairwell and involves repainting that whole area.  And did I mention that I, in a fit of insanity, originally painted that area orange?  Dark orange?  The kind of orange that it takes layer and layer of paint to cover? 
Actually, it's not that bad; we (I've roped Thomas into helping) are using good quality paint (from Sherwin Williams) in flat (the plaster walls aren't in great shape), so it's covering pretty well.  It's just that work commitments have ramped up, and we haven't had that much time to devote to the project--I'm hoping to change that this weekend.

And I've also delayed the project because I have managed to do everything I would never do for a client project:  move furniture without preparing a floor plan, start painting without testing color, begin project without determining installation timeline, and trying to make finishing detail decisions without completing the beginning phases of the project---in fact, I've been impulisive, unorganized, and indecisive----exactly the kind of client that I find a pain in the ass.

Any way,  since I'm painting the walls in one of my favorite colors, Sherwin Williams's Rainwashed, I was reminded of my favorite room ever published in Elle Decor, way back in 2001.  I lost the magazine in post-Katrina flooding, so I don't remember the designer, except that he was an ex-model named Ren who had just moved to L.A..  Luckily, I had removed the cover and it happened to be with some paperwork I took with me one the evacutaion.  You can tell by all the folds and wrinkles in the scan how often I've studied it.

The room just encapsulated everything I personally love in a space:  the blue/gray/green walls, the plain offwhite slipcovers, the touch of asian, the accents of dark brown/black, cream and camel.  It's a palette and look I've loved as long as I remember.  Periodically, I get the urge to try something new and incorporate bolder colour (i'm looking at you orange), more pattern, and different materials into my decor.  But eventually, I always end up back with elements similar to the one in the Elle cover.  After the painting is finished, my living/dining room and office/stairwell will have this same creamy white, pale robin's egg blue palette, with carmel and dark accents---I can hardly wait.

Until then, here are a couple of rooms via Erin at  House of Turquoise featuring Rainwashed (www.houseofturquoise.com :  keyword: rainwashed) :

Abbe at Studio ten 25
Jo Rabuat
FYI.  In my opinion, Sherwin Williams has the best selection of this kind of undefinable green/grey/blue, located on strips 27, 28 and 30-32.  My personal favorites that I have used again and again for clients are Austere Gray, Contented, Oyster Bay--my personal favorite, but unfortunately not quite right for me (boo hoo), Sea Salt,, Rainwashed, Quietude, Tradewind, and Rain.  They are all similiar, but have varying degrees of blue, green, gray, light, and dark, so I always test them.


Sneak Peak

Okay, I didn't get too far in my office/dining switch, but I did get the furniture switched and dragged a desk out of storage.  I'm also going to have to adjust my stripes...I changed the cream to a grey/blue for a subtler tone on tone, but it's so subtle that the contrast is now almost non-existent.  I'd like to be finished by Wed. nite, because I've tentatively scheduled some people over.  Wish me luck.


Changes and a Psuedo, Politician-like Apology

Change:  is it always for the better?

Have you ever been at the point when you've realized that your decor has not kept pace with a life change?  When you realized that you're part of a couple still living in a bachelor's pad, or an empty-nester still maintaining a family-style home?  That's the reality I faced this week.  My major design decisions, especially my furniture plan, was developed three years ago when my life was very different.  We were a couple living  together with two cats.   I worked primarily for myself as a free-lance decorator and decorative painter, with clients occasionally stopping by to drop off and pick up samples.  Therefore, I felt I needed a proper office in the public area of the house, even more than a large dining area, so I set up an office/library in the space traditionally used as a dining room in these old New Orleans shotgun style houses, and created a breakfast nook in the stairwell/hall connecting the kitchen, stairs, and public rooms.  The dining area was fine for two, and larger dinners were served buffet style.  It worked fine for us as a couple.

The original office.
The orange dining room.
Now, things have changed.  We've added a large dog, Thomas's brother, his two cats, his often-visiting girlfriend, and frequently visting friends to the house--without me realizing, it's changed from a couple house to a family home.  At the same time, my private work has dwindled (and I never really used the large office as much as I thought), and a larger dining room and smaller, more private office seem like a better idea, so I've spent the last week switching them.  Hopefully, I'll have enough things in place to do a Metamorphisis Monday update.

The dining room as it looked last week, before the switch.
Which leads to my half-assed apology for my last post.  Apology is not quite the right word.  It's just that I do get a little testy (and I ackowledge a little jealous) when I see what is not-great design work praised.  And when I talk about not-great design, I'm not talking so much about things not to my personal taste;  I can appreciate looks that I couldn't personally live with.  What I'm talking about are errors in scale, shoddy craftsmanship, and recreations of catalog rooms.  However, after spending a couple of days trying to move my own crap around in a tiny space without the financial resources to buy the correct pieces, I realized that part of my vitriol is because I've forgotten what I know about these pretty rooms in blogs and magazines.  They are idealized images.  I've gotten so used to seing perfection in so many pictures, I forget that most of these rooms don't really look like that-- at least all of the time.   And the ones that look really good, are really expensive.   And that we should cheer on anybody willing to struggle to improve their spaces, especially with limited means.  With that said, is there a place in blog land for real dialogue about design?  If nobody suggests that your photos are too small for the space over your sofa, will you ever learn about scale?  Or is it better to be happy with what you like, even if it isn't "good" design?



"If you don't have anything nice to say......come sit by me,"  Clarice, Steel Magnolias.

While reading your morning blogs, do you ever turn to one of your favorites (or maybe not so favorite), eager to see an anticipated reveal which is, at least to you, so awful that all you can think is that this must be some kind of joke.  But after reading the post, you realize the blogger is in earnest and is, in fact, being flooded with comments along the lines of "So Great!,"  "So Pretty!"  What do you do?  Do you leave a snarky anon comment?  Do you keep silent, allowing this travesty to be passed off as good design?  Should one even be judging the quality of another blogger's work?  Do you leave something noncommital like "That's really something I would never have thought off,"  or "You really do have a unique vision" ? Or do you join in the praise (esp. if it's a blog friend) while thinking, I'm never letting that person near MY house?  Does it make you question what others think of your own posts?  Enquiring minds want to know.


Frugal Floral: Five Tips on Decorating with Flowers on a Budget

Contemporary or traditional, cottage or castle, casual or formal, there is one characteristic touch in each of the beautiful rooms that grace the glossy magazines we love so much:  floral accents.  Imagine the room above from designer Jill Brinson:  try to picture it without the burst of fushia flowers--wouldn't be the same, would it?  So I guess there's no debate about whether or not flowers finish off the look of a room;  the only question is, how can the average person afford to fill their house with flowers on a budget?  I have a couple of tips.  But first, a couple of provisos:  first, the word frugal---I'm not using it to necessarily mean cheap--I'm using it in the sense of getting the most bang for the buck--the most impact, use, and longevity for the money spent.  Second, some of my suggestions are for creating the impact of flowers (their color, interest, and texture) with substitutes.

1.  Think high impact.  One of the great uses of flowers is to inject a bright spot of color into a room.  If you look at the two rooms above, the designers have used contrasting flowers that pick up an accent color also used in accessories, creating a win-win situation where the accessories make the flowers pop and vice versa.  They also show an important principle---put your floral money where it will do the most for the room--here, the major arrangements are on the coffee tables, the centers of the space.  The other important factor with these arrangements is the impact of a large number of one flower, without any other foliage or filler to distract.  To keep cost down, use inexpensive and long lasting flowers like chrysanthemums, alstroemerias, and carnations, available at most supermarkets.    Decorate the main areas of your room,  the areas you see --don't worry so  much about the formal living room or dining room if you don't use these areas often--there are others things you can do there.

2. Foliage is your friend.  In the above images, you can see that bringing in a branch or tropical foliage can do the same sort of magic for a room that flowers can--bringing nature inside.  Foliage can be easily gathered from your own back yard, and some leaves, like the split leaf philodendrens in the galvanized tub and  variagated ginger leaves (not shown) can last for weeks if you put a tsp or so of bleach in the water and change it weekly.  Even if you buy it, foliage is usually a cheaper option than flowers.

3.  Grow them yourself.   It can take a while to get into the act of gardening, but if it's a hobby you'd like to develop, you can reap great rewards.  In any case, if there are certain florals you like, go down to your local nursery, talk to someone knowledgable on staff,  see if the plants can work in your area, and then consider planting a fex.  After a few years, that $14 hydrangea bush can yield bouquet after bouquet.  I personally planted the philodendren and ginger mentioned above to pillage their leaves.  This can be a major investment at first, depending on your budget (I spent about $125 on 4 plants), but if you divide the cost by the number of arrangements you get out of them, it's money well spent.  In the past two years, the original plants have grown enough that I can constantly have their foliage indoors.

4.  Don't forget about houseplants.  Great florals don't have to just come in a vase, they can also come in pots.  I think that houseplants have kind of a frumpy image--I have to admit, when I think of the term "houseplants,"  I tend to think of the sad little African violets I used to see on my female relatives' kitchen windowsills growing up, or that equally sad, trailing philodendren that so many apartment dwellers had in the '80s.  But houseplants are  a great budget helper--with a little effort they can last months or even years, and they include orchids, topiaries, indoor trees, and other high-end floral effects.  
True, a mass of orchids like in this Miles Redd entry would be expensive, but at around $20 each, it's still comparable to the cost of a major arrangement, and even without re-blooming, would last for 6 weeks or so, compared to an arrangement's 1 week life-span.
Even without the arrangement on the cocktail ottoman, this room would feel bright and lively because of the long lasting (and inexpensive) fern and palm.  Each cost about $12 and could last years with proper care.
Ignore the large (and incredibly expensive) arrangment to the left, and focus on the topiaries through the arch.

Even the humble ficus can make a statement with a little pruning, a pair of great containers, and a playful sense of scale.

5.  Substitute if needed.  People use flowers in interiors for 2 main reasons.  One is for a love of the flowers themselves (who can resist the first daffodils of spring), the other reason is to add a touch of nature, a touch of color or texture, and a point of interest.  So, in other words, you can substitute other items which are either cheaper or more longer lasting than flowers to do the same job.

One  example is food, usually, but not limited to, fruit.  There is nothing like a bowl of beautiful citrus to add zest (sorry , I couldn't leave the pun just laying there) to a room.  Other decorative foods are apples (I especially love green apples), artichokes, pomegranites, red onions, grapes, pears, pots of rosemary, thyme, basil, and even glass containers of legumes and grains.    I do think that most food items look best in kitchens, casual dens, and dining areas---I've seen bowls of apples in bedrooms, studies, and formal living rooms and I think it looks a little odd.  I prefer bowls of fruit in a setting where they might conceivably be used.  The benefit of decorating with fruits, pots of herbs, and vegetables is threefold--first, their inherent beauty.  Second, they are usually cheaper than flowers and last longer.  And finally, they can be consumed.

Another great substitute (though overused a couple of years ago,it's still viable) is bowls and balls of moss, which are especially well  suited to stone and concrete vessels.  Though long lasting, they will need to be refreshed periodically.

And finally, you can use clusters of  decorative objects ( or "objets d'art" if you want to add a little pretension to your daily design diet) for interest and color.  Here, a collection of glass objects takes  the place of flowers on the dining table and sideboard.

The last two images show a combination approach--the centerpieces of the dining tables are made from food items and decorative items.

So, in conclusion, can you add the brightness and freshness of floral to your home on a regular basis and not break the bank?  The answer is yes, but like all decorating on a dime activities, it  is going to require patience, planning,  time, and ingenuity.

All images from the House Beautiful website.