Tick Tock: Decorating by Deadline

I don't know about you, but I always seem to have a long decorating to do list.  With my decorating ADD, the wear and tear of a house filled with mammals, and tastes that far exceed my non-existent design budget, I"m always a couple of steps from completing a space.  The only thing that seems to spur me into action is a deadline, specifically a party date.  Once I know other people are on the way over, I'm motivated to tackle my to-do list.
In the past, Christmas company motivated me to finish my master bedroom, a Mardi Gras party forced me to pull the backyard together in time for a parade celebration, and a dinner party led me to make some changes I had been contemplating in the dining room:

Anyway, I recently reviewed my list, and realized that there were only a couple of major items on it, and even those were in the realm of doable.  So I've decided to start planning a party so I'll get to work.  I'm thinking of a bloggers lunch.  Sometime in early Septemeber.  I figure that's enough time to finish, but not so far away I'll just keep procrastinating.

First biggish issue:  slipcovering a pair of chairs for the living room.

My inspiration is the Bloomsbury house, Charleston, home to artists Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant.  It's every thing I love:  original art, "tired" colours, slouchy clipcovered upholstery, and lots of pattern and colour without being overwhelming.

The problem:  the chairs are "dog-eared", so slipping is a necessity, not a luxury.  I'd love to reupholster them, but I can't afford it.  And with the menagerie in the house (4 adults, 1 100lb dog, 2 cats), I need the cleanability of slips anyway.
I was originally planning to cover the chairs in slips made from these coverlets from Urban Outfitters,, which you can see under cleo.  However, when they came in, the colours weren't true to the on-line pics, and even with a friend tea-staining them, I never really liked them.  However, they were cheap (discontinued), and I've been using them as throws:
I've been trying to convince myself they give off the cool BOHO chic vibe of the Buckingham sofa from Elle Decor, but I never really could bring myself to believe it:
However, the point is now moot.  After a year, I finally got around to turning them from throws to fitted slips and realized that constant washing had already worn-out the fabric (they weren't heavyweight), so now I need to find a cheap alternative.  And by the way, Cleopatra Schwartz, the cutest sweetest dog in the world did not chew the chairs.  It was this stray below during his foster stay, but who could get mad at a face like that?:

I could use the washed canvas in off-white I've used for other slips in the adjoining living room/office:

But I'm afraid that much solid cream is a bit bland.  I've found some inexpensive altneratives from fabric.com,  (thanks Visual Vamp for the heads up)

There's classic ticking in black and ivory, which I've always loved, I know is durable, and would tie in the black and white art in the room.  I also found a couple of prints I liked.  I'm going to have to test those, though.  They're printed on cotton duck, but weren't listed as washable.  I've ordered samples, will wash on hot and see how they turn out.  I don't mind a faded time worn look as long as they don't run.
Wish me luck.


5 Tips to Creating Flexible Interiors

First, let me start again by apologiving for the crappy pics, but it was at night, and I was bone tired.  And, a long time ago, I read an article on blogging where the author made a compelling argument that flawed content was better than no content--in other words, if it's a choice between crappy, grainy photos and perfectly lit and styled photos I'll never get around to going back and taking, you're stuck with the former.

One thing is certain in these uncertain times:  adaptability is the key to survival.  That's true in careers, relationships, and decor.  We continue to be a mobile society, up sizing (not so much anymore), downsizing, moving for work, moving back in with parents, moving in with siblings, moving in with our adult children, joining forces with friends to cut costs.  But even if I'm adapting to change, I'd prefer to do it in attractive surroundings.  And it can be done with minimal effort and costs, if you've
invested in  adaptable design resources. 

In any case, the pics are good enough to illustrate my point:  with the right foundation, you can have incredibly flexible interiors.  The guest room shown above is in a client's new home and is furnished entirely (except for the orchid) in cast offs from former residences, including pieces salvaged from their flooded home, as well as pieces purchsed to furnish a coupld of different apartments lived in during the 5 years from flooding to rebuilding.  None of the items, from furnitures to linens to draperies originally lived in the same room.  But it all managed to look pulled together and reasonably polished.  How?  By following some basic ideas:

1.  Classics, basics, standards, (whatever you want to call them) will never let you down.  When you start building your decor, you need a good furniture foundation.  And that foundation is classic pieces in traditional finishes and standard sizes. They are like a good quality pair of black leather pumps--maybe not the most exciting shoes you own, but ones that are the real workhorses of your wardrobe.   Above, they include a clean-lined Empire styled dayded, two small square tables, a french-styled pull-up chair in a neutral fabric, and a single dresser (it's extreme height is not standard, but it's footprint is).  And the reason these kinds of pieces are key is because of their versatility:

    A clean lined daybed can double as a sofa, especially in an office, library, or as seating and a bed for visiting grandchildren in a large master bedroom.  If it's a classic daybed with no back and equal sized foot and head boards, it can even float in the middle of a room.  It can start out in the living room of a first apartment and quietly (maybe with a little paint) move into a nursery or child's room.  It's something I think every home should have.

A small pull-up chair can always be useful--here in a bedroom as a place for clothes or to put on shoes, as a desk chair, as additional seating in a dining area.  They can also be great side tables, stacked with a couple of large books to make a flat surface or used as an easel for art (ala Vincente Wolfe).

2. Avoid too many room or theme specific items.  There are some chairs and chaises that scream "bedroom."  If you have to make a change from one home to another, however, there may not be room in a bedroom for a sitting area.  I prefer to have more room neutral chairs that can work in bedrooms, but also living rooms.  What makes an item too "bedroom"?  Scale--bedroom seating tends to be a little smaller than usual.  Also bedroom furniture tends to be more femine.  And I hope you don't have any prints that actually have bathroom fixtures or food sayings on them.  If you do, you know that you can really only hang them in those rooms.  Flower and friut prints, are much more versatile.

3.  Develop Design Signatures.  The easiest projects to work on, whether or not it's a new build, a renovation, or simply a "fluff" of existing decor are the ones where clients have settled early on a palette, style, or type of item they love and they've stuck with it.  Above, Fran loves earth tones:  spicy reds, coppers, bronzes, ochres, deep golds, browns, yellowy greens--the autumnal shades.  Now the exact same tones weren't in every room of her former homes, but they did flow from room to room with similiar shades.  So now, that means draperies from a master bedroom, pillows from a den, a rug intended for a home office, and curtains from another bedroom that were turned into the bedcovering all work well enough together that they can live in the same room.  Another element she loves is Chinoiserie--so she had several Asian wall panels, painted chests, and faux bamboo.  Again, the overriding similarity-they all originate from the same asthetic- mean different pieces can work together.

What is difficult, however, is working with clients where one room was done during the height of the Tuscan craze, one was done during the reign of Shabby Chic, while the dining room is filled with Chippendale reproductions in dark mahogany.  This happens a lot more than you think.  It's the equivalent of closets filled with clothes and accessories,  but where they don't go together to make actual outfits.  In a case like this, it's almost impossible to take the items from one home and reinvent cohesvie interiors in another without major work and major new purchases.       

4.  Don't develop arbitrary labels on furnishings.  Keep in mind that just because you've always used a certain item in one room, it may be great in a different use entirely.  Dressers and chests can be great storage units in dens and living rooms to hold throws, board games, and extra pillows.  A large armoire can provide all the storage and drama of a china cabinet in a dining room without having to worry about keeping the display intact ( that's always the problem--if you diplay your best china, the cabinet will look naked if you use it, so you end up diplaying or using something you don't like as much).  Small desks make excellent beside tables, especially in guest rooms where they can provide a place for the use of laptops or to apply make up.  Stainless steel shelving works great in baths, kitchens, and some teen rooms, as well as utility rooms and garages.  Dining height (28-30 inches) console table with open legs can make excellent narrow desks.

5.  Edit, edit, edit.  Self-esplanatory..  Periodically get rid of your crap.  Especially once trendy items that don't work now.  I'm not saying throw away everything you ever owned that you're not using, but before hanging on to it, ask "Is this something I still love, just don't have the perfect space for it right now?" or "Am I keeping this because it's too (good or expensive or a present, etc.) to give away?"


Works In Progress: How I spent the first part of the summer

A bedroom installation. Waiting on the custom draperies, the most beautiful broad horizonatal silk stripes in pale gold, champagne and pewter. The pics are dark as photos were taken at night, but I thought you might like to see it in progress, bags and all.
*NOTE*  In the comments section, Marlo mentioned the great headboard.  It's a vintage piece, I'm not sure what era.  If you live in the New Orleans area, the shop had a full size one available.  e-mail me for details.*

Here's a sampling of what I've been working on the past few weeks.  They're photos of works in progress, so they're not polished, and a couple are downright fuzzy (like my brain lately), but they'll keep you in the design loop.  I'll publish some better photos when everything is finished.

Some hotel dining chairs in the midst of a makeover.  The one in front is primed with tinted primer.  The ones in back are waiting their turn.

Painted, distressed and antiqued waiting for fabric, a fabu faux croc.

After a couple of  days with the upholsterer.

Some commissioned drawings for a client:  abstract studies of the water and greenspaces of New Orelans neighbor hoods in vintage frames.

In place, waiting for hanging
Two abstracts painted on wine crates flanking a door way.  in the bottom, you can just catch a glimpse of another painting I did.


The Reason

Why have I been working like a dog lately to bring home the bacon?  Because this dog, Ms. Cleopatra Abigal Schwartz loves and deserves bacon, and she prefers premium brands.

And yes, I did match the throw to the dog.  I think rooms should flatter their owners, and belief me, she owns this house.


Breathe, damn you, breathe.....

Sorry for the lack of posting, but it's been hetic.  I've freelanced as a decorator/decorative painter for the last 4 years, and one thing I've learned is that it's either feast or famine as far as work goes.  Unfortunately, since we had back to back hurricane scares and an economic fallout in the summer of '08, I've been doing a lot less eating lately.  It hasn't been all bad...I've taken care of projects around the house, including making slipcovers and gardening, but it has been scary slow as far as income during that period.  However, in the past month or so, things have taken off.  First, I accepted a part time job at an interior design studio/design boutique---20 or so hours a week.  It was nice to settle back into a regular routine, and one thing I've missed about a traditional work environment is the camraderie.  Besides, at around 20-25 hours a week, I'd have plenty of time for the limited and small projects I've gotten lately.

Was I wrong!  First, after starting work, the other shop person left, a huge project geared up, and we had to consolidate storage overflow and new merchandise on the floor, plus they wanted me to help develop marketing and e-advertising (A million years ago I went to business school before switching to design), so the 25 hours stretched to more than 30.  Then a project I was proposing with a partner (and thought was dead in the water) actually went through, and demanded immediate action as the clients wanted the bulk of the work done while on vacation.  Then, a faux finish project I had to halt because of construction delays got put on the front burner.  Then, a client called desperate because she had a party approaching.  THEN, another client finally moved into her home after a two year building ordeal and SHE was having a party...a week after the first party...the same week that the kitchen needs finishing and the clients are on vacation.....OMG!!!!!!

I'm not complaining because I certainly need the income boost after the past slow 18 months, but I'm about to die juggling all of this.  The good news is that I've sold quite bit of art to one of the clients, and I'll soon have some pretty pictures to share.

The 10-16 hour days have taught me one humiliating fact, though.  Over the past couple of months, I've ranted about housework, and how I'm the person stuck doing the bulk of it.  Since I've been working so much, I haven't been home during the day or cooking.  And the house is, while not spotless---the dog and cats make sure there's always something to vacuum---it's stayed clean and neat.  That means only one thing....I'M the culprit.  I've been causing the miss with my unfinished projects, stacks of books, and elaborate meal preparation.  In other words, I should have been doing the cleaning since I've been making the mess.  Please don't mention these findings to Thomas....


Clutter: The Silent Killer

Okay, clutter doesn't USUALLY kill people, though it actually did in the case of the infamous Collyer brothers, whose home is featured above.  One reclusive brother died when he was buried under piles of debris, his invalid brother then starved to death.  What clutter can kill, though, is peace of mind, well designed rooms, and a hefty chunk of change--one client recently completed her new home after losing her house during Katrina.  She's had things in storage for the past five years while waiting for this moment; however, she just realized she doesn't even remember (or now want) most of the things in the storage unit---items she's paid over $11,000 to store.  And that doesn't include the additional moving costs associated with bringing that stuff to the new house.

A similar thing happened at the design studio/boutique where I've recently started working part-time---they've had to move items from their storage utility to a smaller one.  Now, the design world is one where you can expect a certain amount of clutter---samples (fabric, wallpaper, furniture finishes, etc.) start to add up, and in a smallish boutique setting, you don't have a large stockroom to store items, but when I saw the things they were paying to move and store, I was shocked---it included large sample board of (admittedly beautiful) hardware from a now-defunct manufacturer because it was too good-looking to part with, boxes of damaged accessories (from several years ago) that "could be fixed one day,"  paperwork and receipts from the 1990s, etc.  I was just amazed at the fact that they didn't really seem to grasp how much holding one to so much useless junk was costing them--having to have a larger rental unit than would be necessary from normal operations, the cost of the movers having to do it over two days because there was so much stuff, and the fact that I had to spend 3 days working on the move instead of client related activities.

All this has made me  more fired up than ever on purging my house of even more clutter.  In fact, I want to start a movement for a clutter-free world.  So begins the first post in an expose of , "Clutter:  The silent killer." 

The lifecycle of a household item goes something like this:  Purchase-store while using-dispose of.  There are basically three kinds of household items:  Consumables, things like toiletries and food--things you plan on using up quickly and are usually stored for small amounts of time--they don't tend to be the major clutter problem, at least not in and of themselves.  They usally cause problems when storage of other types of items prevent them from being placed in an appropriate place.  The second type is what I think of as Usables--things like clothes and some electronics--their span of usefullness varies and we may have to consider long term storage solutions.  And finally, Real Property--large scale, expensive items like major appliances,furniture, lawn mowers, etc.  These are things we plan on having and storing for years.  In all cases, though, we should follow the basic model--purchase something we need, use it until it's utility is done and then dispose of it properly.  Clutter issues occur when this process breaks down at some point.  Therefore, the was to control clutter is a three pronged attack:  bring less into your home, organize what you do have most efficiently, and cycle things out (and don't give me the stink eye---I don't mean you have to stick it into a landfill...a lot of items can be donated to charity, sold on craigslist or ebay, given to friends and reatives, recycled, refashioned into something that you can actually use etc.)

In this post, I want to focus on the first place the cycle breaks down:   acquisition.  Basically, we buy too much crap.  Stop doing that.  Next step....Okay, stop buying stuff is easier said than done, but it's an important way to control your clutter.  Some tips.
Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.

William Morris

1.  Obey the dictum of Victorian wallpaper designer and artist William Morris, "Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful." 

2.  Before you shop, make sure you really grasp this idea:  If you have "x" amount of closet space, you can only fit "x" amount of clothes in that closet.  No organizational system in the world exists that allows you to hang 15 linear feet of clothing in a closet that is 4 feet wide, 3 feet deep, and 8 feet tall.  This also applies to book shelves and kitchen cabinets.

3. While I admit that there can be exceptions, if the item really was that great:  1. it wouldn't be marked down, and 2.  you would have probably been willing to pay full price.

4.  Buy for the life you actually have, not your imaginary one.  I'm not saying you can't grow and blossum, but if your idea of home cooking is to open a box of Kraft mac 'n cheese,  you don't need a kitchen aid stand mixer and food processor.

5.  Shopping should be a search for a product needed to fulfill an actual, timely need--not a recreational activity---you need something to do on a saturday afternoon?  ride a bike.

6.  Avoid impulse buying.  If you didn't plan to buy something, but it calls to you:  calm down, walk out of the store, go home and really think about it.  If it's meant to be, it will be there if you return.

7.  Before you buy something, ask your self if you're really willing to take the trouble to unpack it, store it, maintain it, use it, move it, and pay the square footage price it takes to keep it.  Play this game:  When you get home from the store, someone calls offering you your dream job in your dream city---do you want to go to the trouble of packing this item and paying to bring it with you? 

8.  And on a morbid note, do you want your loved ones to have to deal with this crap when you're gone?

So in conclusion, join me in buying less crap, and stemming the flow of clutter into our homes.  Come on, let's make it a clutter free world!


Reclaimed Heart

I love mixing reclaimed architectural pieces such as doors, wood panels, and cabinet doors in my art.  I recently completed a piece as a donation to an Americna Heart Association gala, using a reclaimed cabinet door fauxed finished to mimc layers of peeling painting, as well as a piece of salvaged hardware.

I'm planning to open an etsy store within the next month as a place to sell my art.  I'll keep you posted.

And sorry about the lack of posting, but I've been so distraught over the oil spill in the gulf, that I'm finding it hard to be witty and optimistic about crafting and decor.

*Update:  I'm really exicted.  I found out that my painting sold for close to $400.  I'm so glad I could contribute to the American Heart Association.