Friday, May 28, 2010

May Flowers, Green Weekend

The delicate, sweetly-fragranced lily of the valley is the traditional birthday flower for those of us born in the month of May. Its botanical name, majalis, even means "that which belongs to May". A symbol of spring and rebirth, bunches of these tiny flowers are sold in the streets of France on May Day (May 1st). In the language of flowers used by florists and wedding planners, common meanings for this lily include "return to happiness", "purity of heart", "sweetness" and "you've made my life complete". I have a card hanging in my office that my husband gave me years ago. On the cover is a beautiful bouquet of lilies of the valley. I think he was telling me—however unwittingly—that I make his life complete! (Right, Honey?)

The legend of the lily of the valley's origins is that it sprang from Eve's tears when she was sent out of the Garden of Eden. It is in some places believed that this flower protects gardens from evil spirits, and in Ireland, the plant is known as "fairy ladders" because of the way the bell-shaped flowers hang down from the stem like stair steps. I also think the flowers would make excellent fairy hats. This particular lily is a woodland plant native throughout the cool temperature regions of the Northern Hemisphere in Asia, Europe and the Eastern US. They would never survive here in the arid foothills of Southern California. I wouldn't be surprised though if some intrepid botanist has designed a hybrid I don't know about. If so, even I could have my very own fairy garden. Do you have these little pretties in your garden?

While writing this post, the white flowers and green foliage in the pics above reminded me of the following scenes from the latest Design Within Reach catalog. . .

. . .white lawn chairs on cool green grass, dockside Adirondacks, crisp green upholstery on a patio overlooking the ocean, grassy green tableware under a wide white umbrella. . . all images of terrific ways to spend any part of this long holiday weekend—a "return to happiness" for those who've waited patiently for summer to officially begin.

Happy Birthday to all of you May babies out there!
And Happy Weekend to us all!!

This post marks the last in my "flower of the month" series—which means I've been writing this blog for an entire year now! They've been fun for me and I hope you've enjoyed them too. To review the entire year in flowers, click here.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

This Woman's Day

I wish I was having this woman's day. Warmed by the sun, cooled by the ocean breeze. Deeply engrossed in a compelling story. Free to put the book down and simply sit and watch the sailboats dance by. Secure in the knowledge that my ample thighs have been given a makeover of such artful, glowing brushstrokes that I am beautiful to behold. These thoughts confirmed by my companion as he returns from the cabana bar with tall drinks for two and a wink just for me.

I wish I was having this woman's day. While strolling down this lakeside path, having all the time I could possibly need to enjoy the beauty all around me, I decide to take a nap on the cool, lush grass. Wouldn't you? I shade my porcelain skin with my parasol and listen to the leaves rustle, the birds sing. I think deep thoughts like "hey, that cloud looks like an adorable baby bunny" until I drift off to sleep the sleep of a carefree child. Blissfully unaware that there is anything wrong in my world.

I wish I was having this woman's day. Or, perhaps, the day she has already had. For hours, she busied herself with creative pursuits and was satisfyingly rewarded for her efforts. Now, it is evening and she is simply waiting. For her love. For her children. For whomever it is that pleases her most to come into her beautiful room and share with her the stories of their own productive day. With nothing pressing weighing on her mind, she will give them her full attention and thoroughly enjoy their company.

Instead, I am having this woman's day. A very long string of them actually. Fragmented. Disjointed. Pulled in several directions, not sure which way to turn first. Trying to get too many unpleasant things done from a very uncomfortable chair. I really wish I had paid more attention to my hair and wardrobe just in case someone sees me here, shoulder-deep in paperwork and unexpected complications. It wouldn't have made any difference though because, look, someone has made me wear a hat. I hate hats.

Lots going on right now, Friends. Some of it pleasant and welcome, much of it disconcerting and chaotic. Daughter is home for a few months til she heads up north to a new college, a household's-worth of stuff and one naughty cat in tow. New projects in various stages of incomplete, both for our own home and a client's. The middle of a project—the part where everything's undone and messy—always makes me feel unsettled. And yet, I have no time to finish what I've started in my own house because of client work (good) and changes in my "day job" (not so good). The day job is more demanding than usual right now because the contract I've worked under for fifteen years has come to an end. Much longer work hours are required from me each week until all accounts have been audited and closed. How long will that take? 30 days? Sixty? More? And then what? Tracy needs a new job, that's what. I'd love to leave the world of claims and codes and insurance companies behind and move forward into something creative again. That's been the plan all along—work at home til daughter grows up and out then find a home and design related job that allows for part-time decorating work. Great plan, bad timing. Our current economy might make this process more difficult than I imagined but still, I'm looking forward to seeing what's out there for me. Stepping into the unknown is scary for sure, but exhilarating at the same time, right? That's what I keep telling myself anyway—"This is so exciting, isn't it?!"—a big hopeful grin masking my inner terror.
To my readers who are bloggers, if I've been absent from your comments box recently, this is why. I've been visiting you, but my brain is simply too overloaded to form thoughtful, witty remarks. To everyone reading, at the risk of seeming selfish, I'd like to instead ask for your comments. Thoughts. Advice. Direction. Help! Where, in Southern California, on the eastern edge of LA County, can a 40-something woman with loads of professionalism, design acumen and an obsession with furnishings, fabrics and finishing touches earn a regular paycheck helping people turn their houses into homes during a shaky-but-slowly-recovering economy? Any suggestions? All are welcome.

Three lovely ladies by Marie Fox, Edward Cucuel, John Maler Collier, and one amazingly accurate portrait of me by Pablo Picassso.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Books and Chairs : Two Great Things that Look Great Together

Chairs. Love them.

Books. Can't live without them.

Put the two together in a beautifully styled photograph in your glossy book or magazine and you'll stop me in my tracks.

I know. It's weird that I should have such an affinity for these images that I've torn more than a few from magazines and saved so many others to my photo files. I've also made note of several artists, kindred spirits perhaps, who have actually taken the time to paint books on chairs.

Vincent Van Gogh painted his friend Paul Gauguin's chair in 1888 while they stayed together in the yellow house in Arles.

Contemporary artist Maira Kalman painted a chair with books in her uniquely charming fashion. Perhaps this one is in her own book. I would love to get my hands on a copy and find out for sure.

WordWeaverArt, an etsy artist, titled this work "Comfort" because it recalls the feeling aroused by the image on a cherished greeting card. Comfort. I imagine that's exactly what books and chairs are all about for me too.

My freakish obsession led to my own photographic efforts...

What do you think?
Should I see someone about this?

Chair photos culled from unrecorded magazine sources except for the white chair draped in pretty scarves and equally pretty pink phone. That one I found on Flickr, here.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Other Ways to Decorate with Books

In my last post about backing your bookcase, you saw books in their natural environment. Lined up, stacked, contained and confined. That doesn't sound so great though, does it? If you love your books as much as I love mine, spread some of them around. Let them have some fun! These books, above and below, get to welcome your guests and roll around on a tea cart.

[Better Homes & Gardens]

These get to stack up with a bunch of their buddies on a pretty purple table. Notice how some are acting as risers to show off accessories and lend dimension to the tabletop display. Books, like dogs, are happiest when they have a job to do.

[Elle Decor]

Here, a few carefully-coordinated volumes support a beautiful arrangement of flowers so that it's not overshadowed by the drama of the shell-framed mirror.

[Lynn Von Kersting via BH&G]

Also in an important supporting role, the books on the left-hand bedside table lift the lamp to the same height as the one to the right. Think about this next time you use mismatched tables—or mismatched lamps—beside your bed or sofa. Keep your lampshades lined up. Books love to help.

[Southern Living]

When you've run out of conventional storage space, as Joni did, pile your books on a table, stack them in baskets, add a collection of objects and your overflow becomes artful arrangement. No one needs to know that you've simply bought way too many books!

[Cote de Texas]

A single, beautiful book becomes art itself. Albertus Seba's Cabinet of Natural Curiosities, below, has been the center of attention on countless coffee tables. No doubt the other books are jealous, but some are just born to be stars.

[Kendall Wilkinson via OKL]

Other books enjoy being members of the ensemble. In this display, below, colorful books arranged facing forward on ledges take the place of artwork above the sofa.

[Pottery Barn]

High above the sofa—and everything else!—these brave books line up on shelves built over the windows just for them. How will they ever get down? Your guess is as good as mine.

[Apartment Therapy]

At the opposite end of the wall, way down at kid level, the books below are displayed on an old-fashioned plate rack, making them easy for little hands to grab at story time. Plus, their attractive covers make great art in your child's room.

[Martha Stewart Living]

All the way down on the floor now, a graduated stack of books becomes a table. This is the perfect job for those over-sized volumes that don't easily fit into bookcases. A tip: don't put much on top of that stack in the way of accessories. It's not the most stable surface after all. Do leave room for your cup of tea and a small plate so you can have a snack while curled up in the adjacent chair. Reading, of course, yet another book.

[Real Simple]

The ultimate in "books as decor"—a dedicated library. This one was created from an under-used dining room. A terrific idea, I think. On most days this room serves as reading, research and storage space. Then, imagine how cozy it would be to dine by candlelight among the textures and colors and countless stories contained within your collection of books.

[Cottage Living]

If you're interested in learning more about decorating with books, here's a book named just that. I don't have this one myself, surprising considering how much I love both decorating and books. I have peeked into it at the bookstore, however, and it probably will come home with me sometime soon. Because you really can never have too many books. Even books about books.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Behind Your Books Looks

I'm currently working with a client whose built-in, family room bookcases need a makeover. Her exisiting situation is something like the pic you see above. Warm golden wood, closed cabinets on the bottom, open shelves up top. She wishes to play down the large expanse of wood—the floor-to-ceiling bookcases fill more than 20 linear feet of wall space, wrapping from one wall around the corner and onto another. One of the options I suggested is to add color or pattern in the form of paint, fabric or paper to the backs of the cases.

As I began collecting images, I found most examples of this treatment used on white or painted cabinets, far fewer on stained wood cases. Still, there seems to be an endless array of choices, for both contemporary and traditional spaces. From every color of the rainbow in paint...

...including chalkboard paint behind shelves in a kitchen... fabrics and papers ranging from subtle and softspoken... bold and bright.

Some were clad in multiple fabric and paper patterns...

...while others used textural materials like beadboard...

...and brick. I can't say for sure, but what we see here could be that brick-patterned wall paneling that was so popular (but not so attractive) in the 60's and 70's. I think this application is very good-looking, however the designer pulled it off.

Not one of these looks exactly fits the needs of my client, but, as it turns out, we've shifted our thoughts anyway—from simply adding a decorative backing to completely painting the bookcases a color that coordinates with the room's new wall color. A "camouflage" effect if you will.

Have you tried—or would you try—a behind-the-books treatment like this?

Which of these looks is your favorite?

• • •

For a super-sensible tutorial on adding painted panels to the backs of your boodcases, click here. The same technique easily translates to fabric- or paper-wrapped panels too.