Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Lighten Up

That's it.

My one and only, multi-purpose,
New Year's resolution.

Lighten up.

Allow me to elaborate: in 2010, I resolve to. . .

1) Lighten up my attitude. 2009 was a very serious year. Serious lifestyle changes took place that I wasn't entirely happy about—although it all worked out well in the end. Serious news about our bad economy was on the air and in the newspapers every day. Ugh. Some seriously dull work was done—not design work, but the other work I do that gets my bills paid til the decor biz gets "bizzier"—but it's my own fault that I didn't balance it better. In this new year, I resolve to have more fun. Live life lightly. Look on the bright side (which I really am pretty good at). Play more music. Eat pancakes for dinner. Or maybe a banana split! Make and paint and build and craft things just because I can. Reacquaint myself with my garden. I have a ping pong table. What's more fun than ping pong?

2) Lighten my load. (No, I don't mean lose weight. #4 will take care of that.) What I mean is clear out the clutter that's been weighing down the progress of my projects whether personal, professional or home related. After fifteen years in this house, there is just too much accumulated, unnecessary "stuff". My College Girl was happy to benefit from some of our redundancies and we have plans to continue in that vein—starting with a big ol' yard sale at her house with the cast-offs from mine. She does all the grunt work and gets to keep the proceeds; I get de-cluttered. Win-win.

3) Light up my interiors. Literally. I have plans for new, much needed lighting in both the kitchen and living room. The colored walls that I've loved for so long are crying out to be white. Art in dark frames wants to be replaced with glinting, gilt-y frames or none at all... as in unframed canvases or found objects. And... anything that's begun to look more like clutter and less like decor, no matter how sentimentally attached I am, is being retired or repurposed (or yard-saled, see #2) in favor of light and space. My home wants to breeeathe.

4) Get light on my feet. Move more, sit less. (Easier said than done with both a job and a hobby that require hours at a time in front of a computer.) Take a walk, with or without the dog—but mostly with. I know he'd appreciate it. Do some actual heavy lifting (as opposed to the existential kind—there was enough of that nonsense in 2009). Garden. Hammer. Install. Paint. Move. Improve myself as I improve my home. Even an impromptu living room dance party does wonders for my attitude and, done more often, would surely work those same wonders on my waistline.

5) Bring more light to the blog. Were you wondering why it looks better—brighter— today? (please say yes) No more yellow background. Crisp, clean, light and bright white. Took a little more effort than you'd imagine as some of my sidebar images had drop shadows on a yellow ground blah, blah, whatever. It looks better and I'm happy with it. I hope my lighter attitude comes through in my posts too—not that I've ever been morose or dark here—what's dark about decorating? (well, yes, I know there's a trend toward black walls and dark rooms, but that's for another post—and, no, I'm obviously not embracing that trend). It's just that, if I'm writing this blog because it's fun for me, well, then, shouldn't it be fun for you too?

The rooms pictured here are some that have inspired me toward my decision to whiten the rest of my walls. I painted out the golden yellow accent wall in my living room about a year ago and have been very happy with all white. Next to go will be the yellow in my dining room, which opens onto my already-white kitchen. I'll continue to use my favorite bright, happy colors and patterned fabrics as accents, as did the designers of these rooms—Kathryn Ireland in the top three photos and Windsor Smith in this last one, above. (The four in between were not identified in my photo files. Irresponsible, I know, but still inspirational.) And I promise, any of my own lighter, brighter work deemed "blog-worthy", will appear here for your perusal.

Do you have a resolution (or several) for yourself
or your home?
Whatever they may be, I wish you luck and light and love.
Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

A Lovely Post-Christmas Gift

Sitting here on my sofa, the hazy blur of Christmas (barely) Past still all around me (or maybe it's the NyQuil kicking in... I have a terrible cold), I received a wonderful, completely unexpected gift when I peeked into one of my must-read blogs. Maria Killam of the always educational, always entertaining, always stylish Colour Me Happy has published a list of her favorite posts of the past six months and one of mine is on her list!

My post titled "Collections, Part One: On The Wall" (as well as its follow-up post on how to hang a collection on your wall ) found its way into her favorites folder and reappeared among the most flattering company imaginable: posts on Cote de Texas, Design Ties, The Lisa Porter Collection, Pure Style Home, Things That Inspire, Velvet & Linen, La Dolce Vita, Belgian Pearls and Discover: Interior Design were the others in Maria's top ten. (click on the blog names to go to the posts Maria features) To say I'm blown away by being included among these talents is a crazy huge, can't-even-tell-you-how-enormous understatement.

Now, I'm extra-inspired to continue the series on collections I began before the holidays took over my life (and all the design blogs). The photo above is a sneak peek into the next one. Knowing that Maria may be watching, I'll be re-reading and rewriting and editing like mad hoping to continue to meet her high standards.

To read Maria's entire post, click here. While you're at it, if you're not already familiar with her fabulous blog all about color (or colour as she writes it... don't you love that?... she's Canadian), take some time to look around. You'll be glad you did, and I'm sure you'll learn a thing or two... I always do. Thank you so much, Maria!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Poinsettias in Paradise

Back momentarily from my brief blogging break, I'm here to share with you Southern California's paradise for poinsettias, Paul Ecke Ranch in Encinitas. . .

Known as "The Poinsettia Capitol of the World", Paul Ecke Ranch has been in operation for over 80 years. Run in succession by three generations of the Ecke family, the ranch provides 75% of poinsettias sold in the US and 50% worldwide. The coastal location and mild year-round temperatures in this area of my state provide the perfect growing environment for this exotic flower from Mexico.

In the early years, the business focused on field-grown poinsettia plants, but for more than 40 years now, the 25-acre ranch consists largely of greenhouses used for growing poinsettia cultivars and developing new varieties. Most recently, the ranch has been concentrating even more on scientific research and development.

Ecke poinsettias of all colors and shapes, get their start at the ranch after which cuttings are shipped to growers throughout the world. Poinsettia plants can then be grown to maturity in greenhouse environments and sold locally to retailers. In this way, the poinsettias arrive on store shelves and eventually to people's homes as fresh as possible and with a minimal amount of damage in transport.

Poinsettias were first discovered growing wild in Mexico and Central America and are named after Dr. Joel R. Poinsett, a US ambassador to Mexico who introduced the plant to the United States. The bright petals of poinsettias are actually leaves or bracts, and the flowers themselves are very small and yellow. The Mexican poinsettia is bright red, but poinsettias have been bred and cultivated to include many other colors and with bracts in a surprising variety of shapes and formations—as you see here in the photos from Ecke Ranch.

If you were born in December, the poinsettia is your birth flower. Also known as the Christmas flower, legend has it that poinsettias began as a humble weed. When a little girl—with no means for a grander gift—placed weeds on a church alter, they turned into brilliant red blooms. Symbolizing good cheer and merriment, this December birth flower is a fitting tribute to this month's joyful celebrations. The ancient Aztecs considered the poinsettia to be a symbol of purity. Other names for the poinsettia include Noche Buena, the Winter Rose, the Christmas Star, the Flame Leaf and the Stelle di Natalle. Recent research has shown that poinsettias are not poisonous, as they were long believed to be.

Better Homes & Gardens, in the December issue and on their website, would like us to "think outside the pot" when using poinsettias to decorate our homes for the holidays. Their ideas take the typical plant in a pot plopped onto the center of your table or lined up on your porch and elevate it to something much more.

Clipping individual stems from the plants and placing them one or two at a time in water-filled vases is perhaps the most simple idea. You might then group the vases together, on tiered pedestals as seen above, or spread them out along your mantel, below.

Slip a few of the stems into a collection of whiteware pitchers and vases. This idea would be pretty in your kitchen if you collect and display white china. Here's an important tip: when you cut a stem from a poinsettia plant, its milky sap will leak out. To stop it, seal the cut surface by quickly dipping the end into simmering water. You can also sear the cut end with the flame of a candle.

Turn a poinsettia plant into a topiary! From your original potted plant, cut away all but two or three of the tallest stems in the center. Set the plant into an attractive pot that matches your decor and top the soil surface with moss. Then gently gather the plants stems together, use a twist tie to secure them, and cover the tie with a pretty ribbon.

If you're feeling more ambitious, create your own poinsettia tree. Using branches from your yard, form a "tree" in the container of your choice—you may need to use floral foam or balled chicken wire to keep them in place. Glass ornaments become hanging "vases" for individual poinsettia flowers, the stems of which have been cut short to fit. It's a little tricky, but creates a beautiful effect and you can go here to get helpful instructions.

Have fun with your poinsettias! Now, I'm off again to shop and decorate and ready my house for our holiday party. . . Merry Christmas!

First six photos taken at Paul Ecke Ranch by Lisa Hallett Taylor for Read her article and see more photos here. Top to bottom, the poinsettia varieties pictured are Ice Punch, Winter Rose, Orangies, Dulce Rosa, traditional poinsettias in a range of colors, and Strawberries N'Cream. Last five photos of poinsettia arrangements from BH&G magazine and website.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Feeling Kinda Grinch-y

Because Christmas is coming
and there's much left to do
—and I don't want to miss out
like sad Cindy Lou Who—

I'm going to take a break from this blog;
Spend time with my family, my friends, and my dog;
Add sparkle and shine to my home and my tree;
Wrap up the gifts (maybe something for me!)

Before that bad Grinch steals my holiday cheer,
I'm off to find "Merry Christmas" and "Happy New Year".
I'll work hard to bring out my own inner Who
(because in Whoville they seem to know just what to do).

But first I'll wish
Happy Holidays!

to all of you (of course, that means to your families too),
and unless I come up with new things I must say,
I'll be back, right here, after Christmas Day.

Monday, December 7, 2009

If Santa Takes a Break, So Can Mom and Dad... a Mood Board Monday Christmas Story

It's nearing two o'clock on Christmas afternoon. The gifts have been opened, a late breakfast eaten, paper and ribbon and tissue picked up from every corner... and tossed out into the garage to be addressed later. The kids have wandered off to their own corners with new toys and gadgets in hand. The house is quiet and there is just enough time for Mom and Dad to sit for a few minutes with a warm, fortifying cup of coffee. They'll chat about their morning, recalling the joy on their children's faces and the excited commotion that comes with this day. They'll take notice of the wintry landscape outside the window, glad to be in this toasty little nook off the kitchen. They'll congratulate each other for having acquired, after more than ten years' practice, the skills necessary to juggle all the chaos the holidays can bring and still have the ability to sit back and enjoy it.

They'll speak of how thankful they are that their family is happy and healthy and not struggling as much as some in this tough economy. Thankful to have this warm, lovely home they've worked hard to make their own. They're thankful too that dinner this year is close to home, at Grandma and Grandpa's house. Where the usual crowd of aunts and uncles and cousins and friends will gather from near and far to visit and eat and hug and laugh (and eat a little more) and cause even more commotion. But before they round up the kids for baths and party clothes and pack the car with presents, they'll savor these last precious moments of peace and contentment, grateful to be having another happy Christmas.


Today is Mood Board Monday, hosted by Sarah at Pewter+Sage. Of her inspiration pieces, I chose the snowman pillow from Pottery Barn. Hand-painted on linen, I find this pillow charming and whimsical and those are the qualities I wanted to see in the space I designed around it. The room is a sitting area, originally meant to be the breakfast nook, of a farmhouse-style kitchen. Here's how I imagine the kitchen itself might look.

Snowman Linen Pillow Cover, Pottery Barn. $35
Black and White Setee, one of a kind from The Green Plum. $1200
Ivory Curved-back Dining Chair, a pair from Pier 1 Imports. $119x2= $238
Hemnes Table, Ikea. $129
Mini Chandelier, LampsPlus. $129
Lille Clock, Newgate at $58 (US)
Courtly Check Hand-painted Mugs and Sugar Bowl, MacKenzie-Childs. $90x2+$165= $345
Beadboard Wainscot, Home Depot, installed and painted bright white by Dad. Cost?—who knows—did he keep the receipts?
Burlap-wrapped Faux Pine Trees, three lined up on the windowsill, from Mom's bottomless box of Christmas decor. Priceless.

Click on my mood board to open a larger view and get links to sources. Use the button below to go to Pewter+Sage and view the other mood boards. If this MBM is anything like the previous challenges, you'll see some very creative designs.

The black and white settee on my board, appropriately uplostered in hard-wearing, family-friendly Sunbrella fabric, is from The Green Plum in Salida, Colorado. Owned by Love Where You Live blogger Susan, the store is holding a mood board contest—with some really great prizes—asking entrants to design a space using one of four items from their inventory as inspiration. Because I love how the settee works with the pillow I had already chosen for Sarah's challenge, I used both items on the same mood board and it became my contest entry as well.

There's still time to enter! Susan has extended the contest deadline to Friday, December 11. Go to this post for rules and inspiration items. I know everyone's busy with holiday obligations these days, but maybe this is just the kind of "time out" diversion you need. . . like a coffee break on Christmas day.

Santa calendar page source unknown. Kitchen photo via

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Silver and Gold Christmas Wishes

As usual, I don't have much of a Christmas list this year. My wishes tend to run toward the practical: I'd really like to get my car detailed, my kitchen needs painting, and my master bathroom needs a fairy godmother to wave her wand on it because I continue to drag my heels on that whole mess. I could definitely use the services of a personal shopper to update my wardrobe. But those are all things that can't be wrapped up in a box. As material goods go, I'm lucky enough to have more than I really need and most of what I want. But it's that time of year, when my mailbox is stuffed with catalogs full of pretty things and I couldn't help but notice a few. Among the things that have caught my eye, a pattern emerged. Silver and gold. Grey and taupe. Call me predictable, but I'm always drawn to these combinations when it comes to clothing and jewelry.

First up, who can resist a snow globe? Especially one as simple and perfect as this one, above. Trouble is, it's the watch inside the jar that's for sale. A one-of-a-kind mix of vintage faces linked together. Very intriguing but if it doesn't come with the snowman, maybe I don't want it after all. (anthropologie)

These I'll take just as they come. Sparkly daisy ear studs. Silver and gold. Better together.(anthropologie)

Less sparkly but just as much fun. A taupey-grey cardigan with appliqued leaves and flowers. Can I pull this off? I suppose I'd have to try it on to know for sure. But I do love it. (anthropolgie)

I also love the look of mixed up charms on a great chain. My favorite kind of necklace from the source of some of my most-worn pieces. (sundance)

Speaking of chains, silver and gold on pleated chocolate leather. The latest discovery in my ongoing search for the new perfect handbag. What do you think? Are chains over? I don't really care about trends but I don't want to look ridiculous either. (nordstrom)

And, finally, here's something I want that, sadly, can't be bought. . .

It's an image I saved from an Anthropologie email ad promoting their Christmas ornaments. I can't tell whether it's an actual shadow box put together to showcase birdies or if it's totally photoshopped. Either way, it's charming. Greys and golds and taupes and silvers plus a bit of color for fun. I just want to look and look and look at it. It makes me happy. And isn't that what the best gifts are meant to do?

Click on the images to go to their source. Except the shadow box. It's mine, all mine.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Apparently, chrysanthemums don't have anything to do with Christmas

Nope. There is no connection whatsoever between these two similar sounding words, as much as I tried to find one to make this post more "seasonally appropriate". The word chrysanthemum was created by the Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus when the flower was first brought to Europe in the 17th century. He simply combined the Greek words chrysous, "golden" (the colour of the original flowers), and -anthemon, meaning "flower". Nothing to do with Christmas at all. But that's okay, because it is still November after all. For a few more hours anyway. And if you were born in the month of November, your birth flower is the chrysanthemum. Which is why we're talking about them in the first place. . .

Blooming in late summer and fall, these flowers, also commonly referred to as "mums", are native to Asia and Europe. Chrysanthemums were important to the ancient civilizations of both China and Japan and many of the attributes and symbolism attached to them remain with us today.
Confucius suggested they be used as an object of meditation, perhaps because of the perfect arrangement and repetition of their many petals. The Chinese also felt that the chrysanthemum promoted longevity and made wines and medicine from infusions of its leaves and petals. The dew collected from mums was supposed to be particularly effective in increasing the lifespan of those who ingested it. Additionally, the chrysanthemum flower is actually a powerful antiseptic and antibiotic and is used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat high blood pressure and angina. As a result of these medicinal applications, the mum was also considered one of the four noble plants in China along with bamboo, plum, and orchid.

The Japanese were first introduced to the chrysanthemum in 400 A.D. by Zen Buddhist monks. It became a symbol of the Mikado and was displayed as a sixteen petaled mum made to look like the Rising Sun. To this day, the Japanese consider the orderly unfolding of a chrysanthemum's petals to represent perfection.
It is the national flower of Japan and symbolizes the Japanese Emperor. In many parts of Asia, the flower's petals are boiled in order to make a sweet drink known as chrysanthemum tea. It is believed that this tea has many medicinal uses including curing influenza.

In many European countries, Italy among them, the chrysanthemum is a symbol of death and is used for funerals or on graves. However, because the chrysanthemum resembles its close cousin the mugwort weed, which is often called the wild chrysanthemum, many florists do not like to use the flower in arrangements. The opposite seems to be true in America where the chrysanthemum is seen more often as positive and cheerful. They certainly are abundant in florist shops and garden centers this time of year, and undoubtedly graced many a Thanksgiving table and made appearances as innumerable hostess gifts on that day.

Traditional books about the language of flowers include the following meanings for the mum: cheerfulness, you're a wonderful friend, rest; loveliness, abundance, wealth and longevity. At celebrations, according to the website, a single petal of this November birth flower placed at the bottom of a wine glass will encourage a long and healthy life.

Now, back to the Christmas connection I tried so hard to find. A wreath! One lonely wreath decorated with sprigs of berries and dried chrysanthemum blossoms and tied up with a chartreuse satin ribbon. A rare find and an unconventional combination of colors and materials that finds November's birth flower on a symbol of a December holiday more commonly covered in poinsettias and pine cones. What do you think? Is a chrysanthemum wreath for you?

Image sources top to bottom: chinese brush art painting at Rene Moase Art, painting by Pierre Auguste Renoir, photo by keylimepie, painting by Marianne North at, photo by Joe Sala, painting by Vincent VanGogh, wreath photo at

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Mood Boards for Fun and Profit: Sarah's Challenge and Susan's Contest

I interrupt my own series on decorating with collections to bring you news of two fun blogger diversions...

Having taken over the helm of Mood Board Monday with PK's blessing and encouragement, Sarah at Pewter+Sage recently announced the next challenge. All set to host on her beautiful blog, Sarah's inspiration pieces are Christmas pillows, one of which you see above. Take a look at this post, choose a pillow to build a room around and put a board together. Sarah's just-for-fun MckLinky party is scheduled for Monday, December 7th.

Another mood board challenge is being hosted by Susan at Love Where You Live. Not only does Susan write a pretty great blog, she also owns a home furnishings boutique in Colorado called The Green Plum. Susan's challenge is actually a contest! With some really nice prizes from her store. Go to this post to see the inspiration items—including the charming chair, above—she'd like to see incorporated into a mood board room and to read the contest rules. Entries must be received by Saturday, December 5th.

I'll be participating in both mood board challenges. Will you?

To see what Mood Board Monday is all about, go here and here. If you're anywhere near Salida, CO, stop by and say hi to Susan. You'll find info about her shop here.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Hanging Your Collection: A Quick Tip

Consider this post the "Part B" to my last post about arranging a collection on your walls. . .

Whether you're hanging framed art or objects, in sets of two or four or more. . .

. . . horizontally or vertically. . .

. . . following a single line or a grid, the planning and placing is fairly straightforward—if the individual pieces are all the same size and shape. You measure and plot and level and hammer or drill and hang your collection in fairly short order.

Arrangements become more complicated when your collection consists of pieces of varying sizes, shapes and visual weight. For frames, a gallery system like the one below from Pottery Barn can simplify the process. The bonus here is that you can make changes easily should you tire of the order or any individual element.

If you wish to hang a collection of varying shapes and sizes directly on the wall in the salon style, as a vertical collage of sorts, you'll benefit from these tips I found at

Here's how to get a successful arrangement like the one you see above:

1) Trace each frame or object in the group onto brown kraft paper and cut out.
2) Label each cut-out with a description of the picture/object or a corresponding number.
3) Accurately mark on each paper cut-out the location of hanging hardware on the back of each frame or object.
4) Using blue painter's tape (its low-tack adhesive won't pull up wall paint), adhere the papers to the wall. Experiment with arrangements until you have one you like. (Here's an extra tip from me: arrange the actual art pieces on the floor nearby so you can see how each piece relates to the next in the order you have in mind. Paper shapes help you achieve a pleasing layout, but seeing the actual objects in those places gives you a better idea of the final look.)
5) Install picture-hanging hardware directly through the paper on the marks you made. Pull paper away and hang pictures one by one.

Even a very large arrangement can be achieved using this method. . .

. . .as you can see in these pics, above and below.

One more tip, for Melanie, who commented on my last post that she has a high-ceilinged wall to decorate in her new home, and would like to use plates somewhere too. . . the photo below combines these two ideas. A very tall wall decorated with a collection of plates in the same pattern becomes a striking focal point in this home's foyer. The paper cut-out method described here would be very useful in a space like this where avoiding mistakes means fewer climbs up and down the ladder.

Photo sources, top to bottom:,,,,, (x5)