Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Anyone Feeling Stressed Yet?

I didn't think so . . . why at this time of year would anyone feel stressed?

Of course, stress seems to be behind every bell ringing and ho, ho, ho. There's a frantic need to get it all done, and done perfectly. The perfect gifts, the perfect decorations, the perfect parties. And as one who's been-there-done-that, I no longer believe it's worth it.

And after reaching that decision, I've grown to absolutely LOVE holiday decorating - in a way I never did when I surrounded myself with boxes and boxes of "stuff" to put out. I still do the wreaths, the mantels, the trees. But in a much simpler way than before. And I've found it works very well for me.

Now I do without the handmade wreaths covered in glitz and glitter. I love the simplicity of evergreen, perhaps with a pretty bow as the only decoration. If I'm feeling the need for a little more, a wreath of herbs to be used long after the holiday ends is both beautiful and useful.

Boxwood has become a favorite in wreaths and small trees. Whether real or fake, the shape and deep green/blue of the leaves adds a unique take on a traditional idea. Add a few pretty ornaments on a bookshelf or mantel and you're done!

If you want to kick it up just a notch, a string of white lights may be just the kick you need. Battery powered lights now give the option of adding them to displays wherever they may be.

Don't get me wrong/ Our main tree is covered with lots of colored lights and ornaments we've collected through the years, as well as one or two new ones that just speak to me. And there are a couple of smaller trees in other areas of the house, and both mantels are a little unique and . . . you get my meaning. But it really is much easier than before. And much more fun!

Here's wishing you and yours a relaxing, FUN holiday season, whatever holiday you're celebrating!

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Make It Easy on Yourself

We are starting what for many of us is a stressful time of year. First comes Thanksgiving, a time of gratitude, sharing our bounty in the spirit of giving. And preparing a perfect meal with perfect decorations  . . . and having it with people we may love, but may not always get along with, particularly under stressful circumstances.

And that's just the start of the season!

Country Living
So I say do what you can to make it easy on yourself. Keep decorations simple. Do a little foraging for the perfect autumn look and feel. There are plenty of leaves available which will last well past the holiday with just a little pressing. Branches with or without berries look fabulous in simple vases. Purchase Pumpkins on a Stick from Trader Joe's for a real showstopper.

Elle Decor
Use your everyday dishes. Just do something a little different with them. Instead of napkins use dishtowels. Nicer than paper but without the worry of the "nice" napkins. Add a simple centerpiece of pumpkins and natural elements, with perhaps a candle or two.

And instead of the formal sit-down meal, serve buffet-style. No need to do anything fancy. Use the kitchen island and a couple of candles for the buffet. Let the meal take center stage.

And most importantly, remember what matters. Spend time with those you love. That's what everyone will remember long after the last of the turkey is gone.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

What Happens in Paris . . .

Actually didn't stay in Paris, but came  home with me in a surprising way.

We had the wonderful opportunity to spend a week in Paris recently. We stayed at a beautiful apartment in a neighborhood just as you imagine Paris neighborhoods to be, lined with outdoor cafes and shops selling fresh vegetables, flowers, bread, wine, and cheese (among many other enticing treats). We spent our days wandering museums, visiting beautiful cathedrals, and even managed a trip to Versailles. Our evenings were spent on one of our two balconies overlooking either the Eiffel Tower or Sacré-Cœur, eating our fresh market purchases and drinking wine.

When we returned  home, we walked into our by now unfamiliar home and were immediately struck by . . . the colors! Our home does not have vivid colors but I do like color. Color is on the walls, in the rugs, and in accent pieces to bring it all together. Our apartment in Paris was pretty devoid of color. The sofa was black, the chairs gray, the bedding white with gray, the stonework in the kitchens and baths gray - even the photos were black and white. We spent our days saturated with the colors (not to mention the sounds and smells) of Paris, then our evenings enjoying the beautiful colors of the views from our balconies. 

And what I realized in a very profound way is that the colors we live with inside our homes are very reflective of what goes on in our lives outside our homes. I find color inspirational, so having a home with colors that work for me but aren't overwhelming not only makes me happy but also helps me bring color inspiration to my clients. But in Paris, the color-less apartment was a respite from our very colorful days. So if our lives outside our homes are chaotic and "colorful", then less color may be much better inside our homes.  

And that awareness has helped me fine-tune my skills in working with my clients. So in thinking of colors, what do YOU want and need from the colors in your personal environment?

Do you need calm after your colorful days? A little stimulus to energize you for the evening ahead? Whatever it is, the colors you surround yourself with can bring it to you.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Autumn Inspiration

As a volunteer for the Monroe Farmers' Market, I have the opportunity to spend Friday afternoons  surrounded by luscious colors and textures of the products grown by our local farmers in Connecticut. And last week I realized just how inspiring they are to me not only as delicious foods, but also as decorating ideas.

And that is at no time more true than in the fall. It's amazing to me the colors and textures nature provides as a palette in our produce at this time of year. And it's not just the pumpkins, although I do love to bring orange into my fall decorating. But it's also the rich colors and textures of peppers.

And let's not forget the figs!
The rustic colors and textures of potatoes.
And this is just getting started! Let's not forget the apples, beets, kale . . . you get the idea. And the bottom line for me is, if nature can do it, so can I! That means it's okay to bring in a mix of colors and textures inspired by fall, whether it's in accessories or more permanent. So bring in the artwork, decorate that mantel, or re-do an entire room. 
It's fall - go for it! And if you need inspiration? Try your local farmers' market.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Smaller Can Be Better

Smaller has in many circles become the new "it" thing. Downsizing is big (unintentional play on words) - or at least it is with my generation. But articles and information abound on living smaller at all stages of life. And of course, there's the tiny house movement which, while I do love watching the television show, takes small to a new level. And I'm thrilled there are so many beautiful, smaller spaces and furnishings being featured in design magazines and furniture collections.
Add caption

Having downsized a couple of years ago, I have become a fan. But I have found there are a few things I've learned along the way to make a small space live large. 

The first is the importance of glass. Glass coffee tables, end tables, and even dining tables maintain their usefulness without taking up visual space. And clean-up is really no more difficult than with wood. Just use glass cleaner instead of a traditional wood cleaner. 

Lower profile furniture is available everywhere  now. Look for slim arms, bench cushions on sofas (with a length of 72" rather than the more traditional 86" or larger), and chairs with a depth of 28"-32". All are still very comfortable without being space hogs. And if you would like a little more seat room, add an ottoman, which can double as additional seating for guests.
This chair from Crate and Barrel is surprisingly comfortable.
And finally, don't forgo lamps because of less room. Just get creative with your lighting like the swing arm lamps above. They're not just for bedrooms anymore! Or try floor lamps with narrow bases. 

Bottom line: you don't have to give up comfort and style in a smaller space. You may need some creative storage solutions, but those can be stylish as wee. But that's a topic for another time.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

There's More to Color Than Paint Chips

I fairly frequently get a desperation call from clients saying their painter is coming in a couple of days and they just can't decide on the paint color. Can I help? And my answer is generally "maybe".
But first you have to ask your painter to postpone the work.

Selecting color for a room (or an entire  house) is not just going to the paint store and picking out a few chips you like, then deciding among them. And while I won't go through the process I've outlined in earlier posts (chips on white posterboard in various positions), there are still a few things that you really need to keep in mind when painting.

All the walls and ceiling are the same color.
First, always select paint colors in the room to be painted. While you may be able to go to the store and select chips of colors you like -  and even bring fabric to coordinate -  they will look very, very different in the room to be painted. And the time of day and amount of light (both natural and
artificial) will vary the color as well, which is why it's extremely important to look at preferred colors during different times of day and in different parts of the room. If you've ever (as I  have) lain in bed and marveled at how one wall can't possibly be the same color as the adjacent wall, you know what I mean. To make the correct selection, live the colors for several days. Which means if you really don't want to make a mistake, the painters can't come tomorrow to paint.

Don't try to match colors. Instead, blend. If you have a painting or a piece of fabric that has a gorgeous color  you would love to see on the walls, find a color that blends with it. If you're not sure why, reread the last paragraph. Colors (of paint certainly, but even in fabrics and art) will look very different depending on the light. An exact match will be impossible. See  how the blues in the House Beautiful photo blend rather than match?

And finally (after saying all of that), don't overthink the process. Focus a bit more on your emotions. How do you feel when you see that color in this room? Are you happy? Does it seem to "work"? Then that's the color for you. After all, it's only paint.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

It's All About You

I'm cheating a little bit . . . when I wrote my newsletter for School of Interior Redesign, I realized it has to do with my beliefs as a decorator. So rather than reinventing the wheel, I decided to share it. Please forgive me (but it is after all summertime) and I'll be back with more pretty soon! 

You know I'm a huge believer in the importance of our surroundings to our emotional health. I believe our homes should be filled with things we love - and only things we love. So it was very exciting . . . Read more

Monday, June 20, 2016

Make It Yours . . .

It's easy to get confused about the "right" way to decorate, especially if you subscribe to a variety of decorating magazines. One will tell you to keep to a simple color and pattern design or the room will be overwhelmed, while another will suggest mixing and matching pretty much anything under the sun. (Have you seen the "exuberant" work of William Diamond?)

So rather than paying attention to what "they" are saying, perhaps you should pay attention to . . . yourself. And rather than looking at the glossy photos and wondering how to do that, start with looking around at your own home and deciding what you really like, and what you really don't.

Then start with getting rid of what you don't like, What you do like can (almost) always be incorporated, even if the color/style/overall design of the room changes.

I'm an excellent example of this. I was a huge lover of antiques, particularly Victorian. (I know, I know, but I used to live in a Victorian house.) When I lost that love (and left the house), I still had a few pieces I wanted to keep, but without keeping the overall Victorian look and feel. So I used a few simple techniques that I now recommend for my clients:

  • Repeat something about the piece(s) you love in other pieces in the room. It could be color, shape, line, fabric . . . something that makes it feel like things "go" together, even if they are from completely different eras. (The 4-poster bed on the right fits right in with modern tables with similar turned legs and contemporary bedding.)
  • Use it in a new way, something perhaps a bit unexpected. (In my case, a dining room buffet became a bedroom dresser, with a few minor alterations.)
  • Pair it with something au courant. (My gorgeous-to-me split-pedestal dining table is now paired with parsons chairs in a lovely soft beige.)
  • Give it an instant upgrade with a coat of paint, modern fabric, a simpler frame, new hardware. (New upholstery give the spindle chairs above an updated look.)
Simple changes like these won't mar the pieces you love, but will help give them a "new" look that will work as your tastes and styles change.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

It's All About the Undertones

In working with clients on color selection, when I ask a client if there is a color they really don't like they may say something like "green". Really? If you've ever looked at a color deck, you'll see there are an awful lot of greens. And my bet is that there are a few of them they really do like.

Because it's not really about the color, but it's about the undertones or the color behind the color. And oh, the places those undertones can take a color!

If this is a bit confusing for you as well, start with whites. In Benjamin Moore's off-white collection (really whites with different undertones), there are 140 tones. That's a lot of shades of white! 
But it's all in the undertones . . . 

Simply White
Let's compare three whites and I think you'll see what I mean. Start with Benjamin Moore's Color of the Year, Simply White. It's close to a pure white, but against the white background of the blog, a bit of a yellow undertone shows through.

Owl Gray
The next white is actually called Owl Gray. Yes, the name gives part of it away, but it's not just gray you see as an undertone but a bit of green as well. 

Chantilly Lace
And the final white is Benjamin Moore's Chantilly Lace. A crisp white with a - can you see it? - touch of an icy blue-green.
It should start to become apparent (yes, I understand monitors may be creating a bit of havoc) that undertones are an important consideration when selecting colors for our homes. Fan decks can be very helpful because they are ordered by undertones. (The greens go to the blue-greens then to the blues for example.) Or just put a color next to another color to see if they "go together". If they do, it's probably because they share undertones. If you begin paying careful attention, before you know it, all of your color choices will be the right ones!

Monday, April 25, 2016

It's a Small World After All

That's not entirely true . . . but how do you explain the interest in the Tiny House Movement? (Yes, there really is a movement.) I think people are fascinated by the idea of living in a very small space, maybe even one you can take with you. While most people I know aren't ready to make that jump yet, I am working with a lot of people who are down-sizing. And that has it's own set of issues.

As someone who did this a couple of years ago, I understand the difficulties of living in a smaller space. There's less storage, less space for furniture, fewer rooms . . . but for me it's been well worth it as I learn that less really is more. I like having less to clean and maintain, less "stuff" around me to worry about, and the new house really does feel cozy rather than small.

But there are a few things I've learned that I thought I would share with those who are going through or are considering going through a similar transition.

First, furnishings need to be flexible. That means the sofa/loveseat combo is probably not a good idea. If  you still want a sofa, go smaller and have chairs instead of a loveseat. Or forego the sofa and simply have chairs surrounding a round coffee table. Two pairs of chairs or all four matching keeps the arrangement from looking too random. (And the mirrors help expand the space.)

Get creative with seating options. Rather than a coffee table, what about an ottoman. Or have poufs or small stools available. A plus is if they can be stored under another piece of furniture (console table? coffee table?) or used in place of a side table until needed.
Midwest Living

Banquettes and benches make great space-saving seating options in the dining room. And if you haven't seen some of the great storage options available under beds, you're missing out! While there are lots of creative ideas for putting things under a bed, there are also some wonderful beds that have built-in storage underneath - and I'm not talking platform beds!

Then keep a few "rules" in mind to make space feel larger. Use one area large area rug (8x10) to ground the seating, and keep all other rugs out. Hang larger artwork pieces rather than groupings, especially of smaller pictures. Keep window treatments minimal. Use one large accessory rather than a few smaller ones. And while you may not be ready for a tiny house, before you know it, you'll be loving living small!

Monday, April 4, 2016

You've Got This

One of the most difficult aspects of working with my clients is seeing how some of them struggle to feel comfortable in their own homes. And the reason is usually because they think they don't know how to "decorate". It seems that with our design "rules" and shelter magazines, we've intimidated people so they are afraid of doing something wrong. So they do nothing at all.

I understand when people have rooms that just don't quite seem right and they can't figure out why not. There are some things that do go a long way towards making rooms warm and inviting. But that's different from not doing anything because you're afraid to do the wrong thing.

So here are a few of my "rules" that anyone can implement. And immediately feel better about their homes.

  1. If you don't love it or use it, lose it. Why keep things around you that aren't useful or don't make you smile when you see them?
  2. If you do love it, showcase it, whatever it is. And no matter what anyone else says. That means putting it on display, hanging it on the wall, using it regularly and not just on special occasions.
  3. Less is generally more, but only because we can really notice our things if there's not too much else around them. That doesn't mean getting rid of anything (unless you don't love it), but perhaps rotating your things. You'll really appreciate them so much more when you do see them. 
  4. Don't pay attention to trends, unless there's one you happen to really love. I can't tell you how
    many times I hear things like "I really love green, but I know it's not a good color for a dining room". There are no decorating police. See Rule #2.
Of course there are tips and tricks that can really work to make our homes look and feel the way we like. And we don't always know what they are or how to use them. But start with these 4 "rules" and you'll be well on your way!

Friday, March 4, 2016

What About That Artwork?

I've been working with a client who wants to fall in love with her home. She and  her family have lived there for many years and she's never really been happy. It's a beautiful home . . . set in a beautiful rural location in southern Connecticut. Sounds like a fun project! But what has been interesting about the 7 hours I spent with her this week is that so far it's been about . . . artwork.

And what has been reinforced to me is . . . this doesn't have to be difficult. With a few "rules" everyone can surround themselves with the art they love - and make a huge change in how they feel about their homes.

Using children's artwork
As an example, one of the rooms we're working on is the basement "rec" room. It now has a pool table, comfortable seating, and will soon have a pub table and chairs. But what to do with all those walls?

We decided on a travel theme. She bought travel posters and artwork of beautiful travel destinations - or even just words. The room is fabulous. And here is "rule" #1: connect the artwork in each room in some way. While maybe a strict theme isn't necessary, the art should be similar in colors, frames, and/or subject matter. Another room we worked on is the entry. The art we hung in the entrance with very high ceilings is all artwork her college-aged daughter had done through the years. With different subject matters, we combined works with similar colors and done in the same medium, creating a unified look that makes the home owner smile every time she walks through the door.

Gallery in a Box from Pottery Barn
Our next room to tackle is the family room, where she wants a wall of family photos. Which brings us to "rule" #2: family photos, like collections of any sort, make a greater impact when displayed together. It doesn't have to be a wall, but consider within a bookcase or on a console table. (Save the mantel for large, eye-catching art.) 

Back to the photo wall - and rule #3: hang groupings close together. A good rule of thumb is 2" or the width of the mats (if there are mats). And if you have a lot of photos to hang (rule #4), use matching frames styles. Sizes can be different, but keep the style simple and the colors the same. 

There are a few more "rules" . . . but this is a good start. And if you make an error in placement? That's what spackle is for!

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Is It Time for It to Go?

I saw a client from years ago at a meeting  yesterday. I didn't recognize her at first, so she reminded me that, when I worked with her on her home, I kept saying to her "Remember, less is more". And although I did remember  her then, that's something I say quite often to clients. It  makes a lot of sense with staging clients but I've found often clients who are staying in their homes have too much stuff. And while every home should reflect the people who live in it, sometimes it's hard to tell just who that is when there's too much going on.

Of course some of us like more things around us than others, which is fine. But I believe William Morris said it best when he said "Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful." And whether this
or this

is your style, that pretty much says it all - although I would like to take it a step further.

First, make sure you find it beautiful or useful now. If the last time you used it was 3 years ago but you might use it again in another 3 years, it's not useful. If you loved the crystal vase when it was given to you at your wedding years ago but now your tastes are different, it's no longer beautiful to you.

Make sure when you look at something, you feel happy. Sentiment is neither useful nor beautiful. Keeping the photos of your  honeymoon hanging on the wall now that you are divorced is not a good idea. Neither is keeping the still-beautiful-to-you lamp given to you by your ex-mother-in-law, who no longer speaks to you now that you're divorced. Unless of course all you see is the beauty of the lamp and feel no other emotions around it. (Be honest!)

And the best news? When you're done with loving it, there are probably plenty of people who will. Sell or give away* those things that still have life in them. Give someone else the opportunity to find them beautiful or useful.

*One of my favorite give-away places is Habitat for Humanity's ReStore. Not only do they take old furniture, accessories, building materials and things like old kitchen cabinets, but they pick up!

Monday, January 25, 2016

What To Do With That Mantel!

Just like the rest of the house, dismantling the mantel after the holidays leaves a big hole in my decorating scheme. I miss the warmth of the greenery, the glow of the lights and candles - and just the general fullness (is that a design term?) they bring to the living and family rooms. So when the decorations go, I'm looking for something that brings in the beauty of the winter without feeling stark or cold.

For me, that means less color but reflective surfaces, something that mimics the light from the sun coming off the snow. While I'm not a great fan of mirrors on the mantels, now might be the time to use one. And perhaps include something reminiscent of the bare tree branches.

I stay away from a lot of color, other than the whites, silvers, grays, and perhaps icy blues of the winter landscape. And that includes any artwork. I'm fortunate to have a beautiful winter photo my husband took that looks stunning against the fieldstone of the of the living room fireplace. Appropriate greenery can be nice, such as evergreens (not the swags or trees of Christmas, but something that doesn't scream "holiday") or perhaps Narcissus or Amaryllis.

And, of course, a lit fire. What brings warmth to the house like the glow of the fireplace on a cold winter's night. Maybe I can wait just a little longer for spring.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Lighting the Darkness

One of the hardest things about the end of the holidays is the lack of light. During the season we have lights everywhere - indoors and out. They are in the front yard, the back yard, on all of the Christmas trees (inside and out), on both mantels, on the staircase roping . . . you get the idea. Several years ago we decided to leave up the back yard lights (that only we can see), calling them winter lights. They stay up through February, when you really can tell the days are longer. But inside has still been a problem - but now I've found solutions!
Apartment Therapy
Lamps Plus
While I will not go the traditional route of putting white lights on a large indoor plant or tree, I do like the idea of white lights on branches. The branches can be large like these and come from the back yard, or smaller, like the kind sold at craft stores for decorating projects. Or use the string lights to create your own wall art tree for a stunning effect.

I like the idea of a curtain of lights. From a few simple strands of star string lights all the way to a puddle-on-the-floor curtain, they certainly keep out the darkness. And the best news? When warm weather comes, hang them on your porch for beautiful summer nights. These beauties are good indoors or out.

Now that's what I call lighting the darkness.