Friday, July 31, 2009

Comfort Food Friday

Ever go through the drive-thru just to order fries and a Coke? At some random time in the middle of the day when you're out running errands? Because it sounds yummy and, more importantly, because you know it will make you sooo happy? Mm hmm. Me too.

And look what I found while searching for an image of french fries... a device that turns your car cup holder into a fries holder! So bad and wrong that I'm not even going to tell you where to get one. (but I'll let you know how mine works out!)

Now, before you all gang up on me for promoting stress eating, let me say that it didn't even occur to me that that's what I was doing... either which way you want to understand that. So here, to provide some balance, is a story I saw in my local newspaper that you might want to take a look at.
Just don't ask me whether I'm giving this to you as a warning or as a show of solidarity. Ok... maybe both.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Color and Pattern by the Barnload

In my post last week about color and pattern, I mentioned that I was scheduled to attend a class on just those subjects over the weekend. And so I did. I showed up at 10:00 am this past Sunday and sat in on the "Decorating with Color and Pattern" class at my local Pottery Barn store. Now, before you other designer-types get all skeptical and cynical, let me tell you right up front that I really didn't learn anything new. And I totally get that a class like this is, above all, a brilliant marketing tool.

But I can really appreciate how the average home decorator, who doesn't have a formal or even self-taught education in design, could be helped by the tips and rules presented. After all, as a non-gourmet cook, I have been drawn into the cooking demos at Williams-Sonoma countless times and picked up a couple of good ideas that my super-chef friends would sniff at. So it's the same concept, right? (Same company too! No surprise there.) And besides all the pretty merchandise and the review of design fundamentals, it was a lot of fun!

Our class was led by sales associate Briggett. She was funny and personable and really knows her way around a pile of pillows. She gladly answered questions and deftly demonstrated all the design concepts she presented--with new fall season Pottery Barn merchandise, of course! At presentation's end, several attendees followed Briggett around as she broke down the demo area asking her advice about their particular situation. She was happy to give them as much time as they needed. And I saw several classmates standing there with me at the cash wrap counter taking advantage of the 10% discount coupons we received (another genius idea from the PB Marketing Dept!)
All things considered, it was a fun experience and a nice way to start my Sunday, followed by more shopping and lunch with my husband (who did not attend the class but milled around for an hour enjoying the scenery and a Jamba Juice smoothie... he'd want me to make that clear!). Decorating, shopping, good food and great company... a pretty perfect day actually!

I know you're wondering, so here, in no particular order, are the "rules" of decorating with pattern and color the "Pottery Barn way" (and, truth be told, the PB way turned out to be basically the same as everybody else's way):

Refresh with Color
Updating with color is an easy way to change the mood of your rooms whether you do it to match the season or the latest trend. By switching out such things as pillows, throws, area rugs, and decorative accessories, you can get a whole new look quickly and easily.

Begin with a Neutral Palette
The neutrals in your spaces are typically the larger areas that can't be changed without major effort or expense. Wall colors, permanent floor coverings, primary furnishings and window coverings can be considered "neutrals". Not neutral in color, mind you; they can be whatever colors you decide to make them. What's neutral about them is that they form a dominant base, the backdrop, upon which to add other colors and patterns. So you'll probably want your neutrals to be solids. That beautiful floral sofa you had to have fifteen years ago or the highly patterned wallpapers you filled your home with, aren't as easy to redecorate around and are likely to date themselves long before they wear out.

Find Inspiration for Your Color Choices
Collect tear sheets--pages from magazines with images of spaces that appeal to you. Mark pages in any design books you have. After a time, you'll begin to notice repeating elements in your preferences. Look closely at favorite fabrics or a rug or artwork already in your home. What is it you like so much about them? Color combinations and patterns you like will reveal themselves. Take note and move on to making choices for your home.

Paint Colors Should be Personal
Ignore trends. Yes, they'll help you find your way but if the trend is toward chocolate brown walls and you don't think you can live with that much color in one large space, don't. Use a color for your walls that comes from your tear sheet file (light aqua and pale grassy greens are popular right now in combination with brown), then use chocolate tones in pillows and accessories.

Pick Your Patterns
Back to your tear sheets again. Notice which pattern combinations strike you. A large floral paired with a stripe and a couple of solids? Mixed up plaids and prints? Notice the placement of patterns in the rooms you like. Is the pattern on the floor? At the windows? All over the place or even nonexistent? Combining patterns is all about color and scale. Follow the example of an appealing room.

Mix and Match with Care
In the fall, home accessory colors will be darker, richer and follow the tones of the natural settings changing all around us. Likewise, in the spring, stores will feature colors that are lighter, brighter, fresher. If your home is designed in colors that relate more to one season than another, take care when buying new items in the opposite season. Lemony spring yellows will probably look out of place next to the golds and ambers more common in the fall.

Pay Attention to Textures
In the absence of multiple colors and patterns, textures will take on a starring role. Yes, they're important in every room, but a simple, monochromatic color scheme practically requires them. Smooth, tightly-woven cottons, natural linens and nubby silks each bring their own personality to upholstery, pillows or drapes. Then, of course, there are leathers, flat-woven, hooked and fluffy wool rugs, chunky knits and rough natural wovens like raffia and burlap. And those are just the textiles. Stone, wood, metal, glass... these all add their own unique textures to your space as well.

And So Much More Of course, if you want to really get into the details and nuance of choosing color and pattern, there is so much more to know and I could discuss this with anyone willing to listen all day long. But just so neither one of us has to endure that, here are a few book suggestions for you. Each contains enough basic information to get you started in the right direction.

HOUSE BEAUTIFUL'S THE HOME BOOK Lots of good basic information and inspiration presented in the same stylish manner as the magazine's editorial features. Beautiful photos and step-by-step guidelines illustrate the design process from start to finish including expert Q&A-style advice on the development of a color scheme.

BETTER HOMES AND GARDENS NEW DECORATING BOOK Again, more basic decorating lessons and advice in a friendly, colorful format. Designs and ideas for real people with real budgets. Color, pattern and texture are each given their own chapters with easy to read lessons and more than enough photo examples.

WAVERLY INSPIRATIONS The fabric and home decor company famous for mixing and matching patterns shows you how they do it. This book is ten years old, so some of the patterns and colorways may be dated, but the information is solid and visual examples are still very helpful. Fun quizzes help you determine your own decorating style.

POTTERY BARN LIBRARY There is a whole series of books available, most focused on a particular space in the home: Living Rooms, Bedrooms, Work Spaces, etc. There is also the newer Pottery Barn Home which I understand is a compilation of info from the other books. I know for certain that the Living Rooms version offers good color and texture advice. You might want to take a look at the whole library to see which book best suits your situation.

For obvious reasons, I've used interior images from Pottery Barn's catalog and website. Outdoor images of Victoria Gardens are by La Citta Vita via Flickr. There's been a lot of talk around the blogs about Pottery Barn lately. So clearly they're doing something right... or wrong?... or controversial? In any case, I'll be on to different things next post. Yay!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Let me tell you what I think...

I realized recently that there are three objects in my home either imprinted or embroidered with the saying you see on this cute notepad, above. Three that come immediately to mind anyway.

There could be more.

They were all gifts.

Each from a different person.

What would you make of that?

I've decided to take it as a compliment.

And you should too if this has happened to you. (But I don't mean to tell you what to do.)

Image via Go there to see cute gifts for all your bossy (and not-so-bossy) friends. But none for me, thanks. I mean it.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Color and Pattern Palooza

When I opened the September issue of Traditional Home, my heart did a little happy dance. I make no secret of my love for color and pattern in interiors. It's also no secret that decorating with loads of color and pattern is not always in style. So I can get a bit of a complex when everyone else is using monochromatics and neutrals while my house still looks like gypsies live here. But these days I'm seeing color and pattern galore and loving it!

The image at the top of this post is from an ad in the issue for Mitchell Gold+Bob Williams' new line. Pretty, juicy colors and fun, ancient-becomes-modern patterns. The image directly above is from the entry hall of a house in Massachusetts. Wow, right? The homeowners collect antiques and folk art and have three teenage children. They hired a fellow folk art lover (and one of my favorite designers), Gary McBournie to turn this formerly grand, formal home into a fun, casual backdrop for their eclectic collections and family gatherings. And while I think the abundance of pattern and color in this particular space might be a bit much even for me, I can't help but be charmed by it. (and I absolutely love everything else in the rest of the photos of this home, by the way)

The photo above is from the master bedroom of another featured residence. It's in the Long Island home of a single mother with a young daughter, four dogs, two cats and a virtual petting zoo of other small animals. The home itself is beautiful and classic with the kind of custom-built detailing that knocks my socks off. The homeowner, an interior designer who had been working professionally in England before her move to the States, collaborated with a local NY architect to design both the home and the interiors. Looking through all the photos, I could imagine myself moving into this one as is.

This weekend, I'll be attending a class of sorts on decorating with color and pattern. I'll let you know next week what these particular experts have to say about mixing it up in your home. As for my own home, it's already pretty mixed up (see the evidence in the photo above) and I will undoubtedly keep it that way, in style or out; adding and subtracting, mixing and matching my happy little heart out.

Do you like this totally mixed-up look or prefer to keep things quiet and monochromatic? I'd love to hear which and why.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Shopping with Kitty

If you were watching HGTV in its early years on the air, you must remember Kitty Bartholomew. Her series "You're Home" was a favorite of mine and it had a very popular eight-year run. On her show, Kitty taught viewers how to update, upgrade or completely re-do from start to finish everything from an entire home to such small details as the finish on a wood curtain rod finial.

Kitty's common sense and hands-on approach to interior design and decoration were right up my alley. In a recent LA Times article*, the writer called her "the original Martha Stewart" and quoted her personal design philosophy: "It's not what you don't have, it's what you do with what you do have".

In her book "Decorating Style", published in 2005, Kitty asks "How do you make your home affordable, beautiful and cozy--in your very real life with your very real budget?" and then proceeds to demonstrate exactly how she does it herself.

For example, the wallpaper she wanted for her small entry hall was discontinued and might have been prohibitively expensive anyway. What did Kitty do? She stencilled and hand-painted a near identical pattern herself. She got exactly the look she wanted for a fraction of the cost of the paper and professional hanging. If you're a regular reader of Mrs. Blandings' blog, you've seen her do the very same thing in her children's play room. Smart--and talented--ladies.

Kitty also demonstrated how she often repurposed existing furnishings by giving them a coat of paint. When this etagere purchased for her daughter's room outlived its usefullness there, Kitty painted it dark green and moved it to a new space (see before and after pics below). This is a technique very familiar to "Nester" who has advocated this idea countless times on her blog. Follow this link to her post "Painting Pine Furniture" and see her before and after of an armoire that lived in her old house as-is but took on a whole new life, and a colorful coat of paint, in her new house.

Another way Kitty was "green" before it was called that: suggesting slip covers as a way to update the look of quality upholstered furniture rather than replacing the entire piece. It's also a clever way to get two distinct looks from a single piece of furniture. Below, you see Kitty, in her own living room, sitting on her blue summer slips that cover the original blue and green striped floral upholstery. Below that are the same pieces slipped in red for fall and winter.

Joni of Cote de Texas showed us a recent example of this type of update by using pieces her client already had. In the Tanglewood House, toile-covered family room chairs, below, were transformed into the creamy, cozy chenille beauties you see in the next photo and moved into the homeowner's redesigned master bedroom.

As great as these ideas are--and I've used every one of them myself more than a few times--Kitty's best piece of advice, in my opinion, is this: "SHOP AT THE TOP". By this she means that you should educate yourself in the areas of style and quality before selecting things for your home. Go to the best stores and take a look around. Browse through high-end catalogs, magazines and websites gathering ideas about the things you like from the very best sources. "Then, when you see something similar at a less-expensive or second-hand store," she writes, "you'll recognize the quality." If you've spent time looking at high-end products, you just might find yourself one day, shopping for towels or tablecloths in a store at the mall, standing in front of a lamp thinking "Hey, this lamp looks just like the one I saw at 'Fancy Schmancy' except theirs had a red shade and cost a month's salary!" So you buy the more affordable lamp, pick up a new shade and, for far less money, you've created the luxe look you were after.

The lamp on the left, above, is from Horchow. Its rock crystal base, cut crystal parrot finial and red silk drum shade give you a lot of look. . . if you have $3,995.00 to spend on a lamp. (no, I'm not kidding) The lamp on the right is from JCPenney and is regularly priced at $160.00. At that price, you can afford to buy a fancy silk shade to replace its plain one or even, at someplace like HomeGoods where they always have interesting affordable lighting, you might buy an entire second lamp that has the shade you're looking for and swap. Of course, if your budget allows or you needed a lamp now, you could have purchased a more expensive lamp and been done with it. If you ask me though, the shop at the top way is a lot more fun! And once you've challenged yourself a couple of times, you'll want to play this game again and again.

I've applied the shop at the top concept to purchases made for my own home as well as for clients. On one memorable occasion, I found a woven hyacinth headboard practically identical to the Pottery Barn model my client wanted. (see it directly below)

She was all set to order it when I found the model you see above at It's actually the same color as the lighter version of Pottery Barn's headboard, and if you look closely you might be able to tell that the weave of the PB version is vertical while the JCP model is woven horizontally. Nearly identical for $250.00 less. Another bonus: the PB model was really too tall for the client's space. The shorter JCP headboard worked out perfectly. Unfortunately, it is no longer available. I'd absolutely recommend it and use it again if I could.

Recently, Rhoda of Southern Hospitality, featured a shelf she picked up at a garage sale for $2.00 (!), commenting that its size and shape reminded her of something similar she'd seen in a Ballard Designs catalog. Here's Rhoda's shelf, below, as it hangs now in her dining room with a fresh coat of primer and paint and below that, the Ballard shelves she was inspired by. A Ballard shelf of similar size would have cost Rhoda about $100 plus shipping and an additional 'large item' fee.

Here's another great example of "shop at the top": Erin of Elements of Style has shown pics of her gorgeous Boston-area home many times. And she's not shy about telling her secrets to getting a high-style look for less. In photos of her living room, shot by a pro photographer earlier this year for a feature in Boston Globe Magazine, the white accent table she uses looks remarkably similar to the iconic 1956 Saarinen Pedestal Table. Reproductions by furniture retailer Design Within Reach start at $560.00. Erin's table came from Target and cost about $25.00 (but is no longer available). Yes, she freely admits it's cheap plastic and feels like it but says it will do the job and get her the look she wants until she can afford the real thing. Follow this link and it will take you to her blog post where she has the pics to prove it!

Above, the Target table is on the left and the marble-topped version of the DWR table is on the right.

Back in the early days of HGTV, before the big boom of do-it-yourself home decorating, Kitty Bartholomew's advice to shop at the top may have been more difficult to follow. But with all the outlets we have now for good design at affordable prices, it's much easier to do more than you thought you could with your real-world budget. Target, IKEA, HomeGoods and JC Penney are just four of the retailers I take a close look at when trying to find high style for low cost. And there are flea markets, second-hand stores and all manner of serendipitous ways you might run across something you recognize as good quality or great design if you've been shopping at the top. Of course, you can also choose to rely on a design professional, someone like me, to shop at the top for you as a way to make sure you get the most for your money.

Leave a comment if you've used any of these methods to get or create something great for your home. I'd love to hear your story and see pics if you have them. Thanks!

*An interesting aside: Kitty's Santa Monica home has been on the market for about five months and was featured in the LA Times back in April. According to my "secret source", it has apparently been listed all this time at $2,195,000. This is a perfect example of location dictating price (1 1/2 miles from the beach and world-famous pier). The house is described as Cape Cod in style, has 3 bedrooms, 2 baths and almost 1600 square feet on an 8900 sq ft lot. MLS info states that there are two outbuildings: a large studio/office and a full guest house with kitchenette, but doesn't make clear whether one of these may be a conversion of the garage on the property. I've posted front and back exterior photos below, and if the pics in Kitty's book are any indication, the interior bones are well-detailed and stylishly tasteful as well. Any takers? I'd be happy to drive over with a nice house-warming gift !

UPDATE: Joni of Cote de Texas has reminded me that IKEA sells a table that is very similar to the Target/DWR Saarinen-style featured above. Their Docksta Table is dining size, 41" in diameter which seats four and, at only $149.00, will get you that great mid-century look without making a great big dent in your wallet. Thanks, Joni!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

A Whole New Deux

Do you know Pierre Deux? The French Country decor stores and catalog? Since 1967, the company has imported, designed and reproduced furniture and accessories inspired by the colors, materials, traditions and culture of the French countryside.

I can't tell you how many hours I have been spent pouring over their catalogs, imagining a life in which my cozy chateau overflows with checked and toile setees, Aubusson pillows and rugs, beautifully detailed desks and chests and hand-painted Faience pottery.

The colors and styles of Provence have been favorite decor elements of mine since way back when in design school and Pierre Deux's retail catalogs and website have been an important source of inspiration. There is a showroom in the Pacific Design Center where exclusive, to-the-trade furnishings and fabrics are offered, but I have not yet had the occasion to visit. Always more popular in the South and East than here on the West Coast, retail stores there outnumber them here 5 to 1. Even so, I think it's safe for me to say that the name Pierre Deux has been synonymous with French Country decorating in America for decades.

Those who don't, shall we say appreciate the French Country look, liken it to stuffy, fluffy, too-traditional, grandma-style decorating. But those of us who love it, LOVE it. The colors, the patterns, the textures, oh my!

But now, there's this:, a brand-new, online-only division of Pierre Deux. I'm not quite sure what to make of it, but it's definitely NOT your grandma's French Country. Oh my, indeed.

On its site, the company calls itself a "home furnishings boutique that combines the periods, patterns and pedigrees of the French design aesthetic... FCL blends the new with the old and the traditional with the modern...". New to the marketplace just a month or so ago, it will be interesting to see what becomes of it. Some of the merchandise bears a definite similarity to other retailers like Anthropologie, Wisteria and Ballard Designs. It's a Bohemian, eclectic look inspired by both found objects and flea markets as well as modern eco-chic.

These two tables, below, caught my eye... the Horn Side Table and Sleigh Tray and Stand. The painting at the top of this post is said to be FCL's homage to Magritte, the Belgian artist known for depicting ordinary objects in surreal context.

Go take a look and let me know... are you traditional French Country or new French Chic? A little bit of both? Neither? I'd really like to hear what you have to say.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

BLUE + GREEN. A Question Asked and Answered.

Among the comments on my last post, The Bluest Blue, was a question regarding accenting blue with green. I asked "Anonymous" to get back to me with more details... how the room is to be used and by whom, is the blue in question the same bright cobalt I was featuring, how should the room feel i.e. calming, energizing, etc. Unfortunately, I didn't get any more information about what 'Anonymous' is really looking for. And since there are so many questions to be asked and answered, it's difficult to make a real recommendation in this format. I can only attempt to answer in a very broad way with a bunch of photo examples. Here is my response. I hope it helps.

Dear Anonymous:
You are in luck! You could not have asked this question at a better time. Right now, the summer issues of shelter magazines are full of images combining all shades and hues of blue and green. I suggest that you run! immediately to your local bookstore or newsstand and buy these three: August House Beautiful, July/August Veranda and July/August Southern Accents. Here's a sampling of what you will find inside each.

This photo from House Beautiful is my favorite image from all three of these issues. It's a painting by Sarah Graham in the room designed for the Kips Bay (NY) Decorator Show House by the incomparable Bunny Williams. The jewel tones of the art and the wall it's hung on could inspire so many beautiful rooms. The thing is though, this room isn't really all blue and green as this photo might suggest.

Here's another view of the same room. Leading me to say that if you love the idea of using blue and green together but not to the exclusion of any other colors, I don't think I've ever seen a prettier, richer example of how to do it. The caramels and browns and bright tangerine balance the intense turquoises and greens on the walls and in the artwork. You really must see all the photos and read the text to even begin to understand how beautifully well this room works. Bunny is the best.

This next series of images show rooms that do use blue and green exclusively. What you should notice is how the use of neutrals around the blues and greens helps set the tone of the room. This summery beach house bedroom, for example, uses bright white to accent the yellow-greens and watery blues which keeps the room bright and happy... perfect for young children.

This more grown up bedroom also uses white as the neutral background and accent but here it's a softer white and there are some creamy off-whites and golden accents on picture frames and such to warm the space. The combination of periwinkle blue and apple green doesn't lose it's fun punch though.

This third blue and green bedroom is more sophisticated. There are fewer and more subtle patterns. The blues and greens are more subdued and far outweigh the white accents thus lending a darker, cozier feel. The golden tones of the carpet have a grounding influence and relate to the brown undertones of the olive green walls.

In other rooms, blue and green are used in ways that might not make them the star of the show, but certainly they play an important role in tying things together. This tiny photo doesn't begin to do justice to this room designed by Joe Nye, also in the current House Beautiful (an outstanding issue this month!). In what initially looks like a jumble of objects and patterns, you'll notice the unifying colors of blue and green: screen, end tables, lamps, lampshade, pillows, and little bits here and there among the books and art.

In Southern Accents, designer Juan Montoya used blues and greens and creams in the upholstery and carpet to great effect. Not only do they accent the fantastic textile art on the wall, I think they also serve to cool down the golds and coppers that, alone, might read a bit too warm in this Florida home.

Artwork is a great place to find color inspiration. And it doesn't have to be art that you actually have in your home. A photo like the one below of the Apalachicola River, found in Southern Accents, might inspire a room like the one that follows.

The variety of blues in the sky and water can all be found in this room designed by Janie Molster, also featured in this month's Southern Accents. The strip of gold/green/brown land between water and sky can be found in the wood paneling and green upholstery and accents. You might also notice that the river photo and the room both feel much more masculine than feminine.

Here's a photo I used in a previous post. It doesn't get more summery than this. Blue skies, sandy whites and the mixed up blue/green/aqua of the ocean.

And here's the room, from Veranda, I think it could inspire. Furniture that looks like driftwood, sandy travertine floor, airy space-expanding white all around and just enough watery seaglass-colored accessories to perfectly mimic your memories of a day at the beach.

Finally, two images from House Beautiful's "The Home Book" that are not for the faint of heart or commitment-phobic. If you really love blue and green and are willing to go all the way in a big way, follow the example set by these two rooms. The first is a super mod living room with a wall mural straight out of a Southern Colonial mansion... if it weren't for the overly vibrant hues. The second is a kitchen... quite probably the biggest remodel investment you might make in your home. This is a blue and green combo you're going to live with for many years and, if it pleases you, I say go for it!

So, Anonymous, there you go! I hope this post at least sets you on your way to discovering which blues and greens you like together and which ones you might want to use in your current decorating project. The only thing I'll add is "keep your eyes open". Look everywhere for inspiration... books and magazines of course, but also notice the artwork you pass in a hallway, the colors in your neighborhood gardens, clothing and window displays at the mall... color inspiration can come from anywhere. Good luck and have fun!

All photos from the three magazines and the book specified in the text with these exceptions: first and third bedrooms are from, second bedroom from House Beautiful April 2009, and beach photo is from an unknown site on Flickr.