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Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial Day 2011

                                    Remembering and honoring all who have served.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Happy Holiday Weekend!

This weekend may be the unofficial start to summer, but at the A&A house,


and this:

make it official! We'll be kicking off Mojito season, how about you?

Also, the favorite drink of Ernest Hemingway!


Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Tuesday Tip

DIY Laundry Fragrance.

Yesterday, I saw these in a shop:

They retailed for $20 each. A bit high, but at least the bottle is glass and can be reused. A better option? Make your own for less than $5 in about 5 minutes! It reminded me of this post from last year, when I showed how I contain my laundry products. Try this at home for a little spruce up in your laundry room. I always think it's worth a few minutes to elevate things we use everyday into more attractive displays. 

I see both types of bottles all the time at discount stores, such as Home Goods, Pier I and World Market. You may find them already in your pantry currently filled with a favorite product. Just wash, dry, fill and then add an embellishment. Maybe when I have some extra time, I will get crafty and figure out how to make a fun label? Instead, I quickly plucked the metal star and suede cord from my gift wrap supplies. If you happen to be visiting someone who owns a cottage or beach house this summer, make an extra one for them too. Just remember to call it laundry fragrance and not fabric softener!

The contents in this jug just happen to be the same color as the expensive stuff....hmmm, I wonder?

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Switch Plates and Vents

It may not be close to my hardware obsession, but I do spend time thinking about things like floor vents, switch plates and outlet covers. Or maybe I should say I spend time thinking about how these things bother me because they are mostly so unattractive.

In my powder room.

Switch plates: I try to gang plate switches whenever possible. Not only does it look better, it keeps you from running around the room trying to remember which switch turns on which light source. Generally, I go with plain white unless the room is wallpapered, then I have the plates covered and love how they disappear.

Gang plate that controls all the family room lights. I prefer the screws to all be vertical.
Men don't seem to notice such details. Guess I'll be the one to fix it!

The  switch plates of my dreams! Clear with a toggle switch, made by a British company.
The perfect solution for both painted and papered surfaces as well as panelled walls.

I am usually not a fan of decorative or painted switch plates. Here's why: painted plates always scratch and end up looking dirty and covered in fingerprints. Try scrubbing them and the paint will come off over time. Decorative plates just become a big distraction on the wall. Something that is necessary and utilitarian becomes a feature instead of blending into the background. Especially avoid decorative plates if the walls have paneled molding or wainscoting. Nothing worse than having a beautiful architectural element ruined with a  blemish that your eye will automatically rest on!  And, decorative plates (specifically outlets) are really not a good idea for kids rooms. Putting something colorful, that may also look like a toy, on the wall provides an invitation for a toddler to play with the object or at least investigate it. Scary, considering it has the potential to harm. Same with kitchy night lights, better just to avoid them, especially in kids rooms.

I have two friends that have faux finished switch plates in their kitchens. One space does present "the look" better since the walls are rich tan and the room has a nod towards Tuscan design. However, in my other friends kitchen, they just look dirty on her light colored walls. Don't worry, I am smart enough to keep such observations to myself! But, if either were to ask my opinion, I'd be honest and suggest plain ol' white.

Outlet covers: No question they are ugly. All I can say is that if you have the opportunity during construction to select  locations that are as convenient and unobtrusive as possible, do it! And, consider yourself very, very lucky to have had a say! I prefer to have them low. I would love to have them all close to the floor, because it cuts down on dangling cords. Electricians hate doing this because it's a pain and depending on where you live, not to code. I recently learned the codes in my state for new construction are changing for switch plate heights to conform to handicap standards. And, that the outlet which is controlled by the wall switch will now be installed upside down. In other words, it won't smile!

Floor Vents & Wall Vents: If your lucky enough to live in an old or historic house, chances are your vents are beautiful.  I just love the artistry and design that once went into creating them and will be forever sad that home builders don't see the value in incorporating such details into newer construction. I for one would pay extra for a beautiful option. A lot extra! I've collected a few vents from salvage yards and one in particular may one day be the template to have my wall vents re-designed.

Your basic white vent wallpapered.

My favorite pattern from the vintage vents I have collected. I would love to have this copied for all my wall vents. Growing up, my grandmother had a big old house in upstate NY. During summer visits, I would sneak out of bed
and lay on the cool wood floor of the guest bedroom peering through an open vent much like this...
 listening to the conversations in the kitchen below and spying on the grown-ups! 
 One of things that was at the top of my list when we refinished the hardwood floors was incorporating flush mount vents.  Most floor vents in the US are drop in and have a raised edge whether they are metal or wood. In Europe you see generally see flush mount applications.

A room from an estate on the Dutch border. The original farmhouse was circa 1876. Veranda-March 2011
This is a very large floor vent.  If it were a raised vent, the sofa and floor lamp would need to come forward
and the curtains would not hang evenly. The flush mount vent solves all these issues. 
In my house, most of the floor vents are between windows or just under windows. It's absolutely maddening as it restricts furniture placement greatly.  I was determined to finally cross this item off the list of house "parts" that irk me! I had a total of 6 vents cut to fit flush on the first floor. They were costly, but not a budget buster, since it was only one floor. I received a few emails inquiring about them from this post, so hopefully this will answer your questions about the process.

Here's how it works:

Before: vent sits on top of the floor with a raised edge.

Next: floors are stipped of old stain and wood is cut to receive the frame and new vent.

After: The frame and vent are stained to match and are now flush with the floor. What a difference!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

How Did I End Up Here: The Barbie Factor

I think at some point everyone in this business of design gets asked how it came about. I was recently asked  by a new acquaintance and a few months ago by a college student studying design and required to interview someone in the design business. Of course in real life, I don't actually say my friend Barbie got me started, but I think my story may sound familiar, even if my point of view is different.

When I was a little girl, I thought I would grow up to be a house builder. At the time, I had never heard the term architect, decorator or interior designer. My mother had very good taste when it came to furniture and accessories and even though we lived in military base housing, I was quite aware our house was "different" than those of my friends and neighbors.
Last year when we re-did the storage room I found my Barbie trunk. Only recently
when I was stuck in the basement during the floor refinishing, did I actually take a peek
inside out of sheer boredom. I found lots of clothes, accessories, dolls, and doll heads.
 My older sister sent just about every Barbie we ever owned to the beauty shop.
Only some didn't come back beautiful. The only solution:  pull their heads off.
 I even found clumps of cut hair in the trunk. EW.

I was also one of those kids who did not dread cleaning my room every weekend. Every Saturday morning I had chores that I was expected to do. I would hurry through them as quickly as possible just to get to the part that involved my room. I enjoyed the domestic ritual of dusting and rearranging things, at least on my side of the small room I shared (with my older sister, who was a total slob) and dreaming about what my own home would look like one day.

In the meantime,  I focused my efforts into implementing all my great ideas into my BF, Barbie's needs. Specifically,  my vision for her dream house. Barbie shared our space and lived in a small, but groovy box that we called her apartment. The inside was void of any detail. No furniture or wallpaper. Clearly the only things a house needed in my emerging decorators mind.
One of the many pairs of Barbie and Ken still in the trunk. This one clearly went to the
"beauty" shop. At least she's wearing a fabulous dress. It was one of my favorites.
I spent hours working on her apartment every chance I could. Barbie had the most exquisitely firm mattress made by Reader's Digest. On it, was a glamorous white satin bedspread donated, without consent. She also had a custom pillow sham cut from the same fabric to make sure nothing happened to her perfectly coiffed head. Even though my creation resulted in extra chores being assigned and time away from BF, it was totally worth it! Oh, did I mention the mid-century modern chairs I designed? They were round and made from teak and cork. Sometimes they would vanish and I would find them during Saturday morning chores in the living room with half consumed drinks on them. It often required cleaning sticky residue from the seat bottoms, before placing them back Barbie's apartment.

My older sister, however, was far more concerned with what Barbie was wearing and making sure she was with Ken. I couldn't understand this.  So while my sister spent her time annoying me with this obsession of dating and wearing just the right outfit, I pondered the disarray of Barbie's wardrobe and lack of stylish furniture. I mean seriously who cares what she's wearing, if there is no where to hang the outfit up? And, more importantly how do you have friends over to your apartment without adequate seating and a pretty room?

I remember the Christmas I got the new "Barbie" version of the plastic hangers.
 Finally a way to hang all those outfits! Only 2 were found in the bottom of the trunk.

Unfortunately, before I ever finished the dream house that would clearly be my masterpiece, Barbie moved to Malibu, got a tan, a ton of flexibility and a pink car. And her parents, who I never met, produced a little sister named Skipper. Then as luck would have, the world's worst architect, named Mattel, beat me to it. He designed a pink and purple plastic nightmare and called it Barbie's Dream House. And of course, she loved it! It was the end of my friendship with Barbie.

We both moved on. I ended up in the corporate world, and eventually design. Barbie went on to live in the dream house with Ken. Although, I heard they broke up in 1999 amidst rumors he was spending too much time surfing and working on his tan.  It would seem the "dream house" did not yield a happily ever after since they never married or produced any little plastic kids. Ken turns 50 this year (according to a recent Parade magazine article) and Barbie is even older, but no doubt, as fashionable as ever. I honestly think it was the awful color palette of the dream house and so much emphasis on looking perfect that were the cause of their relationship woes.

I found several outfit catalogues in the trunk. I wish I could remember why it was decided #1907 was not a contender
 for the birthday or Christmas wish list? It has a purse afterall. I used to hate that shoes shown weren't included!
I also heard those elusive parents of hers had another kid, named Kelly. We lost touch so long ago, I couldn't remember the names of all her old friends and relatives, let alone the numerous new ones, so thankfully someone put it all here. But does it really matter, I am sure she is on Facebook and Twitter.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Where Should A Stair Runner End?

In the next few weeks, I need to give the some some serious thought to choosing a stair runner. In a previous post, I discussed the two different types of  stair runners.  Next, is figuring out the material and design. The choices are endless: sisal, animal prints, wool, seagrass and geometric patterns. I like them all. This is not going to be an easy decision!
This is the most popular style: wood steps, painted risers
 and the runner touching the floor.

My daughter has complained everyday since the new stairs went in. She says they are too hard, too slippery in socks. I am getting used to them, but admit I like the feel of carpet underfoot, especially in the morning. Our dog rarely goes upstairs anyway, but she is completely freaked out by them! I got her to go up when work was being done, then had to hook her up to the leash and coax her down with treats. As beautiful as the wood steps are, everyone seems to be missing the carpet.

Our staircase before the wood steps were added. Carpet by Ralph Lauren.

Most stair runners end on the floor. If it ends on the floor, the runner will protect the bottom step from scuffs, which is especially good if your risers are painted white. And most seem to be. Why is that???

Ending on the floor. The twill banding gives it a finished edge.

If the last step is wood, the runner doesn't need to touch the floor. I love this space, but
 actually find it distracting that the runner ends on the floor with floors this stunning!
 The layout reminds me of my own foyer. It's small and as soon as you walk through the door,
the staircase is just barely to one side leaving space for only a small chest.
Sometimes, you will see them end just under the nose of the bottom step.  I've been collecting images from my magazines of runners installed this way, and where I once considered this to be a more formal approach, it doesn't have to be.  Below are several examples in a vast array of styles.
A striped waterfall runner with a coastal casual look.


Simple sisal.


Another fabulous pattern.

Wool sisal runner with pewter stair rods.
Aesthetically, they are both attractive, but I find myself leaning towards having a runner that doesn't touch the floor.  Do you prefer the runner to end on the floor or end under the nose of the bottom step?

Images courtesy of House Beautiful, House & Home, The Zhush blog, Renovation Style, Traditional Home, 

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Giveaway Winners Announced!!!

Thank you to all the readers, both old and new, who participated in my Linnea Lights giveaway. I decided to give all 5 scents away! I tried to use the site, but couldn't figure out how to get it on my post page. For the future, if anyone can explain it, please send me an email.

So although it was random, my sad little method involved my son, who I drove to pick up yesterday after completing his first year of collage! I told him about my giveaway and asked him to pick 2 numbers between 1 and 58, but not 17. That was a comment from me.

The winning numbers he chose were 34 (Irie Children-Lavender and French Pear) and 48 (Jessabells-Mimosa and Yuza) . And since my bloggy friend Kim sent so many of you to A&A for this giveaway, I am sending one (Ocean) to her. I will be in contact to get your addresses or you can email them to me. I hope to have these packed up and in the mail by early next week.

Happy Hump Day to all the winner's!!!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Tuesday Tip

Testing. Testing. I never leave a paint store without having the paint tested and dried on the paint chip. Contractors often don't see the value in the step. You only need to have been burned once to see just how valuable it is to complete. An extra 5 minute in the paint store vs. an entire day of work blown. My new crew sees the value now. They painted nearly an entire room in a "custom" color, that was somewhere between wheat and yellow. It wasn't remotely close to the intended color. 
This is what my house has looked like since last week!

It's an easy fix, but a very unfortunate waste of time and money spent to re-paint 3 walls. Something that the GC has to deal with on his end. It's quite annoying to me also since it affects my schedule and my family's. It also delays getting to the pretty parts of a project. Always test the paint and make your contractor do it too!

Mulling over the options for silk curtains as well as seeing how things look with existing fabrics.
Can't wait to show you this rug, she's a beauty!  

Friday, May 6, 2011

My Good Luck Equals A Giveaway!

It's so odd how disconnected I feel lately from blog world and realize how much I miss the dialogue and visiting bloggy friends! The A&A house is under a good bit of interior chaos and the battle to keep and find an Internet connection and not have everyone freaking out because there is no television is on-going!!!

People and things are getting ignored and I am seeing a lot of long faces and a few household occupants don't appear overly excited to hear about the details of the custom mantle I am creating. Instead, there are grumblings about things I am forgetting to do, shortened walks and the lack of "real" food. No one is convinced that Chipotle's Carnitas Salad covers all the major food groups and cereal and yogurt is a meal. Sigh. At least I have my people in blog world who get this obsession with design.

Shoved outside again...alone...for hours. Very sad.
The sound of nail guns and saws has me longing for the serenity of the beach and only the sound of the surf. But until then, I've had candles in the most amazing scents to soothe my senses. I was the lucky winner of two different giveaways. My first wins ever and they came back to back.
A dozen amazing scents!

My first win was from Megan at Beach Bungalow 8. One friend already claimed 2 of the four scents from West Third Brand (W3) candles . I'm keeping the others. Thank you Megan! The other win was from Interior Connector. They have a fantastic newsletter you can sign up for with plenty of news, information and sources on home furnishing and interior design. Just for signing up, I was the random winner of a years supply of Linnea's Lights!!! I was thrilled when I received Natalie's email telling me. Thank you Interior Connector!

Ocean & Mimosa

Yuzu. Such a fun name!

Lavender & French Pear

It just seems selfish to keep all of these. Therefore, I am giving away 2 candles to one lucky reader from the 5 I selected above!!! It was hard to choose scents, so I ended up picking ones that seemed like spring and summer scents.  I am super particular about giveaways. I turn down most because I won't talk up anything I wouldn't use or that fits the style of my blog. My first, and only other, giveaway was from a fellow blogger with a wonderful online store. I loved that format and her things, but sadly the winner didn't leave us a way to get in touch so we could mail the items!

Under each candle lid is a pack of matches! An impressive detail.
Tell me in a comment which two scents (any combination) you would choose, and of course I would love for you to become a follower, but most importantly if you don't have a blogger/google account, be sure to include your email address. I will run this through Monday and a random winner will be announced on Wednesday.

Good luck and have a great weekend!!!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Tuesday Tip

Spring cleaning. The intense version. Since refinishing our floors required us to move everything out and dust  still made it's way into many places, I decided to use this opportunity to clean out every room, drawer, cabinet and closet. I have been busy doing this every chance I've had this past week. I gathered more items to be donated from this exercise and find it so therapeutic to take stock of one's "things" and keep only the most useful and very favorite items. My personal rule is that something has to perform at least 2 duties, preferably 3 and/or have real significance, either monetarily or emotionally to make the cut to keep. Afterall, storage space is often scare and quite valuable for most of us!

Coffee filters are great for so many things....
 Some of you may recall the quote on my old blog format from famed interior designer, Albert Hadley. It said in part,  "good housekeeping is part of the art of living". I fully believe this and feel it goes hand in hand with my philosophy of living beautifully everyday.  I have a fantastic cleaning lady who comes twice a month for the big cleanings. But even without her, it's my nature to keep on top of things.

And yet, despite her efforts and mine, when we moved the furniture to get ready for the floors to be done, ghosts of Christmas past were found under a low table!

Christmas tree bits and dog hair. Lovely. Quite fitting for the old ugly floors.

I still haven't put everything away and that created the perfect hiding place, in the buffet, for my daughter's birthday presents!

My daughter turned 17 today!
 Round two of work starts tomorrow. It involves carpentry and electrical work. Things will have to be moved again!  For the easier spring cleaning, renovations and client projects, I rely on all of these items:

Super slides. I'd be lost without these!!! Tiny tip: when using the soft side take the plastic disk
out, despite what the directions say, it works so much better this way.

No, this is not the tile pattern for a project.
New felt pads in every size went on all the furniture legs to protect the newly finished floors.
Coffee filters are perfect for keeping my antique plates safe while they are removed from the wall.
 Try doing this with any dishware you need to store. Better than papertowels and cheaper than felt!