Thursday, July 23, 2009

Artwork Fit For A Beggar Or A King

One dilemma I often hear voiced is how to cover bare walls without spending a large fortune on original art or a small fortune on cheap reproductions. One great solution is prints. It's possible to buy originals for as little as twenty-five dollars, and prints have enormous stylistic flexibility.


For those of you who shy away from the stereotypical black and white landscapes, there is a whole world of colored prints with a graphic quality that can read as modern. I have a pair of 19th century seaweed prints in my kitchen which I fell in love with for just this reason. These are from my favorite print souce, Panteek Prints, which has thousands of antique prints online.


Another wonderful aspect of prints is their ability to mix with other pieces of artwork. Because they tend to be subtle, they make wonderful components of a bigger architectural arrangement. You can start with one or two, which look great on their own, and gradually build around them. That is what I've done in my living room, and it's a trick that works well almost anywhere.



Prints are also one of the few types of artwork that can take colored mats. This is a great way to introduce edited punches of color into a room, or even create a dramatic paneled effect by covering an entire wall.



For a more relaxed approach, you can use prints from calendars or postcards and display them as a collection in jars.


Photo credits: 1. Francois Halard 2. & 3. Anne-Marie Maginnis 4. Marie Claire Maison via Apartmenttherapy 5. via Interior Divine 6. Southern Accents via Things That Inspire 7. Martha Stewart Living via Swish and Swanky

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Put On Your Hard Hat - Be Your Own Kitchen Contractor

For being the heart of the home, the kitchen is all to often a cramped space with fixtures that reveal the decade your home was built. And this is understandable given the mind-boggling cost and hassle involved in renovating a kitchen. But there are some ingenious ways to maximize space, efficiency and style in your kitchen, with minimal help and for a fraction of the cost.


One of the biggest and least expensive ways to freshen up your kitchen is to paint your cabinets. Personally, I think there's nothing better than white cabinets to make a kitchen feel bright, clean and happy. Or paint cabinets a great color like turquoise or pear green for a kitchen with personality. And if you want to have your cake and eat it to - paint the outsides white and insides a color. Adding bright nickle hardware while you're at it takes decades off the kitchen and adds an unbeatable sparkle. Martha Stewart has a great tutorial on "How to Paint Cabinets" here.



One enviable perk of newer kitchens are the sleek tile backsplashes that line the counter tops. But for all of us who have old pokey kitchens there is a simple alternative that adds both sparkle and increases the sense of space - mirrored backsplashes. They are inexpensive, and don't require a contractor. Any glass supply company will measure and install it for you.


No matter who you are, everyone needs more counter space. And granite ones sure would be nice. But a great alternative is a marble topped table "island". It adds a real sense of luxury and increases your workspace. And believe it or not, this can cost about the same as most portable islands available through retailers like Crate and Barrel. Just take a narrow table with some character (often available for a steal on Craigslist) and have a local marble supply place measure and install a marble top. And the best thing about it - it comes with you when you move.


Another common item on the kitchen wishlist is added space for a breakfast nook. And while most of us can't spring for an addition, we can make the most of the little space we have. The photo below (while grainy) shows an ingenious use of a small corner by sandwhiching a narrow table between two porch benches. Who would have thought that space could seat four - and look so charming doing it?


And for all you with a less than stellar view from your kitchen window, glass ledges in the window sill add an element of visual interest while storing glasses within easy reach of the sink.


Once the hard labor is done, add personality to your kitchen with details like wine crate drawers complete with nickel pulls:


Picture credits: 1, 2 & 4. House Beautiful, 3, 5 & 8 Helen Norman 6. Domino Magazine 7. House and Home via Desire to Inspire

Friday, July 3, 2009

Getting The Dirt On Rugs

When I moved into my apartment I had only the bare minimum when it came to furniture. But I did have a rug and that made it feel like home. Rugs have an almost magical ability to transform a hodgepodge of furniture into a civilized and welcoming room.


Finding a rug that can take a beating (and not give your wallet one) can be daunting, and getting an attractive one to boot can seem impossible. But thanks to a combination of ingenuity and technology, there are some great options out there.

One of my favorites are cowhide rugs. In their natural coloring they can give an earthy feel and a lot of attitude to a room. Or you can get one that's been dyed to look like a zebra skin, which is an instant recipe for chic. And the best of it is, cowhide is both inexpensive and indestructible (no child has a chance of getting that thing dirtier than the cow). Just vacuum and wipe down with soap and water. I've seen a number of great (new) ones on ebay in the $250.00 price range.




Another classic is the sisal rug. It goes with any decorating style from formal to cottage and always adds a fresh, natural feel to a room. They make great runners on stairs and add a finished note to a hallway. Thinking practically, they are inexpensive and they can take a lot of wear. Impractically, they can only be vacuumed or wiped down with water, so they don't mix well with food. However, now there is a whole breed of polypropylene indoor-outdoor sisal rugs which are attractive and can take anything a messy eater can dish out.



And last but not least, there is the striped cotton rug. These add visual drama without the least bit of stuffiness. Something about them always carries an echo of vacation and the simple life. They are unbeatable when it comes to cost, and can be cleaned in your washing machine or with a steam cleaner (often available for rent for about $20 from your local grocery store). Dash and Albert carries a huge selection of beautiful striped cotton rugs (also indoor-outdoor ones) at very reasonable prices.



Picture credits: 1. House Beautiful 2. Myer Davis Studio via Desire to Inspire 3. House Beautiful 4. Elle Decor 5. House Beautiful 6. House Beautiful 750 Designer Secrets 7. Elle Decor 8. Better Homes and Gardens via Dash and Albert

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Poor Man's Wallpaper

Stencils used to make me think of grapevines on grubby kitchen walls. But when I wanted to dress up my entryway, wallpaper was out of the question (out of the budget and out of the rules). So I went hunting. And I began to realize that stencils are one of God's greatest gifts to anyone with big taste and a little budget. Here is what I came up with using a $30 stencil and some leftover paint:


There is an updated world of beautiful stencils for all of us who love the drama of crisp contrasts and cool patterns. One of my favorite sources is Sunny's Goodtime Paints:



Another great one is Royal Design Studios:


And then there is always the good old masking tape and ruler for an unbeatable stripe.


Photo credits: 1.Anne-Marie Maginnis 2-3. Sunny's Goodtime Paint 4. via Design Sponge 5. Domino Magazine 6. Miles Redd

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Paint Paradox Resolved

Everyone decorating on a budget knows that paint is your best friend. It's touted as the single most dramatic way to change the feel of a room, and all for the cost of a can of paint. Or two cans of paint.....or three.... depending on how many colors you have to go through to finally hit the right shade. Picking a paint color is one of the more stressful experiences in my life. I have repainted my bathroom four times trying to get it right, which is something I will never live down and vow I will never live over. The only alternatives seem to be spending more on samples than the actual paint - or living with a color that's not quite right.

Well, that job just got a lot easier. Last week at the Barnes & Noble I noticed a small book called House Beautiful Colors for Your Home - 300 Designer Favorites.

At that moment I felt like there was a light streaming down from heaven and angels singing Halleluiah. I know from working for a designer that there are some colors that just work. Once you find these winners you don't let them go. So to have 300 tried and true colors from top designers, with a sample swatch of every color, and pictures of rooms done in these colors is a gold mine. And the book is the same price as one sample can of paint:)

Here are some rooms I've long loved and now know the secret paint ingredients:

Ruthie Sommers Sitting Room
Walls in Benjamin Moore Iceberg 2122-50

Tom Scheerer Dining room
Walls in Benjamin Moore Chocolate Candy Brown 2107-10
Trim in Benjamin Moore Atrium White

Thomas Jayne Loft
Benjamin Moore Blue Belle 782
Benjamin Moore Smashing Pink 1303

And that devil of a color to get right - white!

Barbara Westbrook Bathroom
Donald Kaufman Color Collection DKC-5

Picture credits: All House Beautiful

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Discovering Your Design Style - You May Be In For A Surprise

Have you ever stood in front of a unique flea market find, biting your nail in agonized indecision, wondering if this piece is just the fabulous touch your room needs - or if it will end up collecting dust in the attic? Knowing your design style simplifies your life. It's like deciding to build your wardrobe around black or navy - when you go shopping you know what to look for and what to ignore.

1 2

Most of us have a vague idea of what we want for our homes, and we don't think twice about it. Some of us love red, some of us hate dark wood, some of us would die of boredom if we lived in an all white house. Or so we think.

Several years ago I began subscribing to a couple of interior design magazines. Every now and again I'd turn the page and be faced with an image of heaven. It was a room that took my breath away. We've all had that feeling, when we see a room that makes us want to step inside the picture and live there. I started keeping pictures of those rooms, so that when I had a house I could remember them. And then I started noticing something very strange.....all those rooms were cream and white. And I HATED white. Or so I thought.


That's when I realized that what I thought I liked and what I actually liked were totally unrelated. It was a terrifying realization.

I would have told you I liked very traditional aesthetic, and rooms saturated with color (preferably red and yellow). The look I actually like is French eclectic hits the seaside, lots of white with accents of color (black, pinks and reds).




The point of this story is not to undermine your confidence in your taste! You can pinpoint your own design style in a couple of minutes. My friend Leah who writes for Apartmenttherapy put me on to a great style quiz at Sproost. It's wonderful for a quick diagnostic. Even if you're very attuned to your likes and dislikes, you're bound for some fun surprises. And for a really fascinating experiment - if you're married, have your better half take the quiz too. It's intriguing to discover where your tastes overlap, and where they diverge. And it's a wonderful opportunity to start fashioning a house that you both feel at home in.

Photo credits: 1. The White House Daylesford 2. Country Living 3. Miles Redd 4. Coastal Living via Sproost 5. Jed Johnson 6. Tom Scheerer

Friday, June 5, 2009

Opening The Door

Interior design begins from the moment you open the front door. So I thought I'd write my inaugural post on doors.

To me, a house with a plain door seems like an outfit without jewelry. It doesn't offend, but a great door can give the whole house personality. It's an opportunity to add color, sparkle, even whimsy.

By far the easiest way to give your door distinction is by painting it. Ideally something really great like the one above. For a more traditional setting some good colors are pear green, canary yellow or sky blue. If you're willing to be daring you could try lime, orange, or even pink.


Good hardware will add polish to your door. Something with sparkle will take years off the facade of your home. On a practical note, the knocker and the knob should be in the same finish.


The door to your house can act like a teaser, it piques your guests' curiosity about what's inside. So ideally, the style and color of your door will transition smoothly into the colors and style inside your home.


And there's no need to stop there - you can paint the doors inside your home too! It's a great way to add color to a room when you don't want to go all out and paint the walls. It also gives you the freedom to use stronger paint colors since you're doing just a small patch of color.


Photographs: 1. Kelly Wearstler's Modern Glamour 2. Uppercase via Apartmenttherapy 3. via Foxgloves, Fabric & Folly 4. Domino Magazine 5. Kelly Wearstler's Modern Glamour 6. Domino Magazine