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.


Is All Fair in Love, War, and Decorating?

Kathleen Turner and Michael Douglas in "The War of the Roses."

I am now of  "a certain age,"  which I don't plan on revealing--let's just say that in a future nearer than I like to contemplate, I will no longer be able to describe myself as "thirty-something."  But it's not aging that so much disturbs me; it's the fact that I am now old enough to realize that many beliefs and ideas I held to in younger years are just not practiable and applicable to the daily life of an adult.  For example, I now know that many people actually do enjoy going to bed at 9:30, and in fact, retreat into that bed with a feeling of relief and actually do not wish they were still out clubbing at 2:00 a.m.

One of the ideas that I am now forced to abandon is the idea of a couple being equal partners in decorating.  As a young designer, just starting out, I quickly noticed a pattern in design jobs featuring couples:  at the first meeting, the wife (I don't want to stereotype this behavior--occasionally it has been the husband that is most interested in the decorating of the home, but it's usually the wife who is most interested) would make it clear that this was "THEIR" home, and that she really wanted her husband to be involved in major decisions.  A few meetings later, not to mention tense words over recliners, stained woodwoork, and leather in the formal living room, and the wife would explain that they had agreed that she would make most of the decisions, but that the husband's office (or study, or media room, etc.) was his domain.  By the end, the husband would often be relegated to picking the flooring for the garage.  As an idealistic (and single)  lad, I used to think these was awful---would it be that hard to compromise your design vision a little?  I remember even recently seeing a house popular on the blogsphere where every surface was draped in white linnen and ruffles, with no accent color except pink, and being very surprised to find that there was a husband and a couple of small boys living there--it looked much more like the house of a single mother with a couple of daughters.

With this ideal in mind--equality---I initially decorated our house in 2006/07 trying to incorporate Thomas's taste as much as possible.  And, to be fair, the house was his before we began dating, and our tastes do overlap in certain areas (we both like color, comfort, mid-century design, found objets, and a touch of kitsch).  Anyway...fast forward 3 years, and I staging a design coup.  I am using every weapon in my arsenal:  debate, passive agressive behavoir, agressive behavior, pouting, pleading, persuasion, and the occasional firearm to have my decorating way.  And is it wrong of me that I now only want the colors, fabric, and window treatment that I want?  And feel absolutely no regret over painting over the orange paint he loves (I admit I did pick it) with the pale blue/grey/green I prefer?  And really, isn't a happy partner (ME!) worth a little sacrifice?  I think so. 

Stay tuned--there are some major design changes ahead at Villa Vortex!*

*Considering the truly bizarre occurrences that go down with regular frequency at our home, we have decided it is the vortex of strangeness, and have thus dubbed it "Villa Vortex."


Can You Design Your Life?

Photo of Natalie Chanin of Alabama  Project and her seamstresses via NY Times.

Sorry for the absence lately.  Between the oppressive heat (yuck) and work (yeah) and uncertainty about how long we may stay in our home (don't worry, it's not a foreclosure issue),  blogging and my personal design projects (I'm lazy enough to use possible impermanance as an excuse to not do certain things like repaint the stair hall) have kind of been pushed to the back burner.  But if I'm honest with myself (and my rule of thumb has always been that lying to others is a bad idea;  lying to yourself is fatal), there's more to it than that.  I'm a late bloomer, and as such, am frequently prone to what I think of as cocoon phases--periods where I feel like I'm stuck in some sort of holding pattern, waiting for nature, life, or fate to run its course.

Lately, I've wondering about how much control do we have over our lives.  Or in other words, am I really at the whim of fate?  I've realized that I have put much more thought in my decor than my life.  I've spent hours agonizing over whether or not to use a rug in my living room, but accepted a part-time job offer on less than an hour's mulling over.  I've often started (but never finished) a blog post on the 5 most common decorating mistakes, and the first one is always not doing enough planning, thinking, and design brain storming.  So I think I'm going to try to put the same time, effort, and skills I put into my design projects into my life.

Can you design your life like you do a room?  Can I come up with a life plan based on "I'd like some BoHo, a touch of cottage, heavy on the entertaining, with a dash of dog-friendly?"  Is it pointless to try to plan a life when so many outside influences come in to play?  Is it an ultimately pointless endeavor, or the only way to succeed at the game of life?  Can I stop typing questions?

I posted the picture of Natalie Chanin, a major inspiration for me,  because she seems to have answered these questions with a definite "yes."  She's managed the difficult feat of combining her love of fashion, hand crafts, small town living, and sustainable living with being a major force in fashion, being a down home girl who is also a darling of Vogue.  I highly recommend her books, "Alabama Stitch Book," and "Alabama Studio Style."

Anyway, I think I'm gonna give it a try.  I've tried Sun-in and self-medicated living;  this HAS to be a better option. 

First step, I need to do some brainstorming and figure out exactly what I do want out of life.