Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Tuesday Tip

Last minute gifts.  Many people keep items on hand for last minute gifts. I rarely seem to have more than two or three things I would consider gifting. Often, I have nothing.  I love giving gifts, but tend to shop in the moment specifically for the person/occasion. Unless, I find myself in that lucky and somewhat rare situation that I know I've found something that's just perfect for someone special. Then I buy and save it for an opportunity to surprise them. I've heard of people having entire closets of gifts! Do you?

Today, I needed to figure out a gift for a friend. The fact I have been under the weather is not an excuse. I won't be able give it to her in person. Even though it will be my husband or daughter dropping it by, I want her to know I'm thinking of her on her special day. I avoid doing anything belated because I think it's sends a message that I'm too busy or don't care enough to be on time.

Pepper jar, glass tube leftover from a school project, and vanilla bottle with stopper.
All saved to be repurposed.

I buy bath salts from time to time. Usually, for myself to try or maybe for use in a client's bathroom. I've accumulated a few different varieties and scents that are unopened.

I don't like giving things in plastic containers and screw caps are ugly!

I love freshly ground pepper. The mill is always close at hand when I cook and during dinner for salad or vegetables. I try to always have an extra supply on hand. My plan was to save enough jars to sort and store all the random buttons that accumulate at the A&A house...by color.

This one will eventually be used to store buttons, paperclips, rubberbands, etc....

So what do you get when you combine a pepper jar and bath salts? The perfect gift last minute gift!

My friend loves to soak in her big bath tub...so I think she will enjoy this little gift.

In addition to birthdays, I think this would make a great Mother's Day, hostess or teacher's gift too. It also occurred to me that they would make great party favors for a bridal shower or luncheon for friends, especially if you're looking to do something nice on a tight budget!

I am loving the combination of aubergine and blue right now. The ribbon and metal heart I had with my wrapping supplies. I have a few miscellaneous charms that I saved from things like candles and cards that make the perfect little embellishments, although beautiful ribbon is really all that's needed.

So next time you get ready to toss or recycle that glass jar or bottle, instead wash it out and save it to reuse for the perfect last minute gift...or to contain something that's creating clutter or just needs to look better!

Tiny Tip: To refresh the cork, I took a scented dryer sheet, wrapped the cork in it and secured it with a rubber band so it wouldn't smell like pepper. Leave it that way until you're ready to use it. Works like a charm! 

Monday, March 28, 2011

Fabulous Ferns

After an unwelcome dusting of snow and this equally unwelcome and lingering cough and cold, my thoughts turn to anticipation of warmer weather and bright greens.

This would go in my fantasy conservatory or sun room.

I can't think of an easier and better way to add green than with ferns. They are great indoors, especially when rooms need a little lift or a dull corner could use some life! I honestly can't remember a summer without Boston Ferns hanging from the porch or deck. Ferns love humid climates and plenty of shade which makes them perfect for southern gardens.

Antique print

A combination of art and plants.

Perfect paperweight.

If you want something smaller, Maidenhair Ferns are so charming and perfect for any table surface. I also love them in a bathroom for a more casual alternative to an orchid.

Maidenhair fern.

A super simple and fresh centerpiece.

Need something really low maintenance, how about a fern fabric? It will breath life into the dullest piece or give a favorite piece a fresh crisp look!

A very clever execution of twin headboards! Design by Tom Scheerer. 

Images courtesy of Country Living, House Beautiful, Google,Schumacher, John Derian

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Feng Shui Or No Way?

Let me start by saying that I know virtually nothing about Feng Shui. I only know that it's an ancient Chinese philosophy based on wind and water...that's it. I hear it mentioned from time to time and once had someone tell me that my preference of  raised furniture has to do with the wind principle. I have no clue. I just know I have a preference for furniture with casters and upholstered pieces without skirts. I always just assumed it had something to do with a combination of appreciating the flexibility of pieces that can move easily for entertaining and that they generally have a lighter presence in a room. Oh, and the Felix in me loves how easily they can be cleaned under! But like many topics I am unfamiliar with, I am always game to learn something new.

Once a year, I manage to get sick.  Last year it was around this same time. I do what I always do when I know that faking wellness...smile...wear more make-up...put on a good front...suck it up, is about to end.  I get through necessary commitments...and crash. This is the kind of sick where I lay on the sofa all day, because I can't stop blowing my nose, I sound like I will cough up a lung and everything aches...how long will this take to type? Yesterday, after hours reading, napping and channel surfing, I remembered there were shows on my DVR I could watch. When it looks like the yearly sick thing is going to happen, I try to to stock pile books, magazines and random television shows that I think will be entertaining. I made an observation, or rather confirmed one: there is so little really good television to view. Tonight, I am hoping my husband will pick up a movie on his way home.

I start with The Stagers. I've seen this before and think it's decent....contains a good before and after. This episode was a mother/ daughter team. The daughter was incredibly rude. I wonder what the clients will think of all her face making once the show airs. She insults them and her mother on several occasions. Fortunately, there are other, more likable stagers on this show. Her mother makes one quick comment about Feng Shui. Perplexing, as it didn't seem related to anything on this episode.

Then I move on to Selling New York. There are two "selling" scenarios in one episode and my daughter comes in during the one where a mother has enlisted the help of her realtor friends to find an apartment for her daughter. The group of all women were chatting over lunch. My daughter accuses me of watching Housewives, she doesn't specify which one. This is only the second time I've seen this show, but I chuckle at her observation.

The other scenario is about a really stunning pre-war apartment. I am smitten with all the beautiful details: high ceilings, original plaster mantle and moldings, mahogany doors and abundant light. If I had $7.45 million, even with it's unfortunate suburban kitchen update and outdated bathroom, I'd  move right in. The potential commission is $372,500. The realtor is pulling out all the stops to make it look good to sell to the right client. I would absolutely do the same. He hires a top notch designer to do the staging. He hires a Feng Shui master to move the energy and cleanse the apartment. The master is an attractive, I'd say sixty-ish, woman. Her job is to cleanse and  introduce positive energy into the apartment. Ironically, the only negative energy seems to come from her. She is condescending to the designer and insists on wearing sleeveless black dresses throughout the show. There are few things that promote bad energy more to me than armpits...especially pits of a certain age.

The master and the designer attempt to collaborate on the staging. The realtor states he is a "disciple" of Feng Shui. He is enthusiastic about working with the master. The designer...not so much.  She irritates the designer on more than one occasion. The master chalks it up to his creative ego, and yet he remains calm throughout. She forbids him to use brass lamps by a mirror. She said it creates "metal energy". I guess magnets on the refrigerator will not be part of the staging. Just as well, I am not a fan.  The designer presses on with input from the master.  They end up with furniture placement in the living room that is beyond odd.  There are two coffee tables right next to each other, separated by the all important path the master insisted is critical. The carefully orchestrated path will take you straight into the wall between two windows. I instinctively rub my temples.

One of the coffee tables is a monolithic black beast that partially obstructs the view of the fireplace. Is fire bad? No one says. The master then goes from room to room adding her "boosters.'" First she places a small black stone on the other coffee table, a marbled stone topped rectangle with a metal base. So now there are 3 forms of stone in one room. But, what does it mean? No one says. Next, she heads to the kitchen and places a "crystal" in a small alcove above the stove. It appears to be a compact size mirror from the Dollar store. Last, is the introduction of the turtle. What is it's significance? No one says. The turtle appears to be marble and is placed on one end of the huge foyer with it's stunning marble floors. What does stone on stone, and stone next to stone mean? No one says. This annoys me and once again, I've run out of tissues. I think my energy must be bad. Perhaps I need more Vick's to soothe me. It occurs to me that if I was a potential buyer, and if I didn't trip on the turtle (it blended into the floor) I would pick it up along with the pebble and mirror and hand them to the realtor confident the previous owners forgot to pack the miscellaneous items.

 At the end of the episode the master walks around the apartment spraying something in the air. Is it Glade? No one says. And lastly, in the final act of creating positive energy, the master uses a metal kitchen mixing bowl embellished with a bright yellow enamel band that is the perfect match to her scarf, and goes room to room dipping her fingers into the bowl...flicking water....everywhere.  Past the mirrors, past the silver candlesticks and past the metal based coffee table...ceremoniously with her special bowl in hand.  The apartment did not sell.

All images borrowed from Google under the category Feng shui.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Tuesday Tip

These are the mini versions of my favorite scented soap.
 Scented sheets and towels on the cheap! This tip was discovered by accident.  I love to spray my sheets with a  linen spray, especially in the spring and summer. But sometimes I run out or can't find a scent that I want to sleep with!

Currently our main linen closet has that awful vinyl coated stuff that makes everything "ribbed" if you don't put paper down first. It's on the "to do" list that includes installing the same shelving that we've put in some of the other closets. In the meantime, I tolerate the fact I don't have enough room to put things exactly where I want them.

Slip soaps between towels and sheets....especially pillowcases!

In the crowded closet, the pillow cases have found there way on top of the soap basket. And, guess what? They smell so good! Literally everything even close to them smells like fresh laundry! So, I thought if Dove can make the linens smell this good, what about some of my favorite soaps slipped in between towels too? Try it with your favorite soap!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Spring Has Peeped!

I never thought I'd associate the arrival of spring with marshmallow shaped animals. Peeps are weird.  I honestly don't understand the appeal of something that feels like a cats tongue and turns the inside of your mouth a hideously embarrassing color. Of course, that's assuming you can chew and swallow the stretchy goo...without choking. Ah yes, springtime treats meant for children, but loved and obsessed over by adults.

Lilac and green always remind me of Spring's arrival!
 I do however like the "idea" of  Peeps. The colors are great and they sure do look good in an Easter basket!My son and husband are enthusiastic consumers of Peeps. Fortunately, my daughter does care for them either.  Regardless, I buy them every year. Spring tradition at your house too?

Dipped in chocolate....that I can at least see some appeal!
But did you know that Peeps are a growing part of design? Yes, it's true. In case you're like me and are just becoming aware, Peeps diorama's are all the rage this time of year! The Washington Post is having it's 5th annual Peeps Diorama Contest.  Here are some past winners as well as some clever and funny designs I found on Google.

Presidential Peepers

Peeps go UP!

The Birds by Alfred Hitchpeep

Old Masters Peeps

Naughtly little Peeper!
 Note: descriptions of  these diorama's were added for my amusement and hopefully yours! They're not the actual names.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Humorous Decorating!

We all see some pretty strange stuff from time to time in design. Some of it makes no sense and seems far too contrived.  And so often when I see the addition/placement of certain items in a room, my first thought is "c'mon, really?" But, every once in awhile, I see something that makes me laugh. You likely won't see these items make their way into my house, but if they're in yours...I promise we can still be friends!

These two images I found yesterday In Canadian House & Home. I think what made them so amusing is that they seem authentic in these spaces at first glance!

Perhaps this green puppy is the new mod take on the sheep stool?

I wonder if this Gnomeo has a Juliet?

The weather is suppose to be perfect for a walk along the Potomac River today...it's only a few short miles from my house...wanna go?

It's possible I've had too much java pulsing through my veins this morning, please forgive me and...

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Monday, March 14, 2011

Stair Runners: A Review Of Both Types

Last year we continued making progress on our (on-going) whole house renovations. It's been maddening at times and then other times the breaks in "action" have been a welcome respite from all the craziness and construction mess. Mostly, we took care of necessary improvements such as a new roof and gutters, as well as a much needed makeover for the garage and basement storage room. And, the deck spruce up and new furniture did yield prettier outdoor living that we will enjoy again this year!

I think this unique runner is fantastic!
This year, we plan to focus, once again, on the interior. And, after much deliberation about what to do with the hardwood floors in our house, we have decided to refinish, rather than replace. I selected these floors when we bought the house in 1993 (the best choice of the very small upgrade offerings from our builder) and though I would choose something very different now, they are in good shape and refinishing is the best option to allow for an update and put the money saved (which is significant) into the stairs and a custom runner.

I love everything about this foyer! Who says small can't be spectacular!
The black steps, railing and newel post are gorgeous...wonder if there is a runner?
After a four year absence, one of the first things we did upon our return was to remove the builders yellow oak staircase. I had loathed the style and color for years. We had re-stained the railing and newel posts years ago and that definitely helped make it much more attractive. If you find yourself feeling the same way about your builders' special, another option/consideration is to paint it black. A great "fix" that  I have recommended to friends and clients without the budget or interest in a staircase replacement.

Currently we have fully carpeted stairs like this.
I still think this is an attractive option with an interesting or textured carpet choice.

After a very long search, I found the ideal parts for our new staircase railing, balusters and newel posts. Then hired an expert in staircase installations to cut and install each part. We mixed a blend of two different stains to get something that resembles mahogany. The 3 newel posts with their acorn finials made me crazy happy. This design is French in origin according to the company who made them.

A little glimpse. Sadly, poor lighting and my mediocre camera doesn't capture the beauty and detail.

We did not have the treads and risers finished because we didn't have the luxury of time (pressing issues such as bathrooms, kids rooms, etc...were the priority) required to sand, stain and dry the wood with two kids in the house. Then we got a dog. The same went for the floors. We pulled up and replaced damaged floor boards(courtesy of our renters), but that's it. Thank goodness for beautiful rugs.

One of the most beautiful staircases and foyers I've seen recently. From designer Barry Dixon.

The entire main floor is hardwood (except the powder room is limestone tile) and we took out the existing broadloom and re-carpeted the upstairs in a Ralph Lauren diamond patterned wool. The staircase currently has this carpet too. Some of you have previously asked for details: the pattern is Clayton and the color is Toffee (very close in color to sisal or older seagrass). It was installed in August of 2005 and has worn well and is so soft and luxurious underfoot.

As much as I love the beauty of wood, I know we are going to want to feel something soft underfoot for the numerous daily trips up and down the stairs. A runner also is good for safety, noise control and a bum knee! So as you might imagine, I've had runners on my mind for quite awhile.

Wood stair treads and black railings.

There are 2 basic types of stair runner installations. The first is waterfall and I would say, the most common. This is where the carpet runner cascades over the stairs and is attached at the base of each riser. Often it is thought to be be more casual, but I think the runner material, pattern and style are a more determinant factor than the layment choice. One drawback:  you can see pockets from the side where the runner doesn't touch the riser. I am also thinking dust and pet hair would find it's way here. Worth Noting: bold patterns and stripes often look best with waterfall runners.

Here is a side view of the "pockets" a waterfall installation creates.

Stripes often look best installed in the waterfall method.
A textured waterfall runner doesn't distract from  X motif detail on the iron railings.

A waterfall runner in charcoal gives depth and interest to a narrow staircase.

Subtle pattern on a waterfall runner.
Bold patterns also look best with a waterfall runner. Designer Eric Cohler's house.
 Monica Rich Kosann's book,  Living With What You Love.

The second is called upholstered or Hollywood. This makes no sense to most people.  I refer to this style as fitted or bull nose because it is fitted/wrapped under the nose of each step. It looks like the bull nose profile edge of natural stone counters or a bull nose brick. In other words, it curves under the lip of the tread. Worth Noting: A fitted stair runner will show wear faster on the nose of the step and does not look  good with certain patterns. 

Designer Barbara Barry sitting on the staircase of her LA home looking chic as always-2004!

Another one of my favorite saved images from 2005. All the details from this private
 little landing to the master bedroom to the curved wall are the sort of things I dream about!

Here is an example of a fitted runner with a small pattern. I think in this case,
a waterfall runner would have been a better choice. 
This vibrant orange looks great as a fitted runner. In lieu of the painted stripe on the wall,
stair rods would look great here.
 The last consideration is stair rods. Many people think you need these to keep the runner in place. That's actually incorrect. Not since the Colonial days has this been the case. Staples are now used for securing the runner. Rods do protect the carpet from wear, specifically from the scuffs of a shoe, but they are primarily for decoration. They add interest, elegance and shine to the runner. Much like a beautiful curtain rod adds glamor to curtains.

Stairs rods always seem appropriate in traditional spaces, but there are now
 modern versions being seen more frequently.

Brass stair rods that compliment the unique and stunning brass newel post and railing.

Another example of stair rods adding a bit of glam.

While I ponder what to do with my own stairs, I'd love to hear your thoughts about stair runner styles and I am also curious how many of you have and like the feel of bare wood steps?

Images courtesy of House Beautiful, Elle Decor, Traditional Home, Martha Stewart, BG&H, Living Etc.  and my miscellaneous(somewhat old) tear sheets!