Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Year-Round Valentine's Day

I've been struggling for the right words for Valentine's Day decorating, but am in a bit of a sugar cookie-induced haze. I had a speaking engagement today, and the lovely audience thanked me with a big tray of sugar cookies with inch-thick icing. I can barely move, much less form a coherant thought.

Instead of pontificating, here is a breakdown of some things that COULD be considered Valentine's Day specific, but are actually sold year-round. Therefore, you don't have to feel self-conscious displaying these wonderful things past Feb. 14th.

The Max Litterbox by Cats Rule, at Petco. I saw this over the weekend and really couldn't stop thinking about how this company managed to make a cat toilet so lovely and whimsical. See website for store locations.

The Fleur-de-lys drinking glass at Anthropologie (Rittenhouse Square) transforms simple tap water in to ambrosia. All for $8 a pop. I've been meaning to buy a set of these for a while, but have previously been put off by the somewhat hard edges and the teeming mass of humanity that descends on the store on Saturdays, my preferred shopping day. But someday, these will be mine.

But nothing says romance quite like this sexy tiger rug. All kidding aside, a tiger rug is great for breaking up the monotony of both your marriage and a monochromatic decorating scheme. Really. Everybody becomes much more interesting when a sassy rug is in a room. Head straight to Matthew Izzo to buy one.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Green with Envy: Go MIO

February is bringing about a ton of stories about eco-friendly home design. Natural Home magazine announced that they are building the first ever "green home" in NYC (converting a 90-year-old brownstone in Brooklyn--my late grandmother, who grew up in Brooklyn, would be amused), the Inquirer lead their Home & Design coverage with a story on putting sod on one's roof, while the New York Times is advocating dirt flooring. Did I mention that House and Garden magazine dedicated their February issue to eco-design?

The surge of coverage both highlights the obvious appeal of eco-friendly design (efficient energy bills, decent design quality and general good karma), but doesn't tend to be forthright about the downfalls (products can be prohibatively expensive, time consuming and, in the case of dirt flooring, requires a bit of education before a homeowner is okay with the idea).

Yes, we want to reduce the environmental impacts of our lifestyle without sacrificing style, but generally the costs scare us off. BusinessWeek summed this up nicely. If faced with deciding to purchase a snazzy new granite countertop versus a very efficient furnace, most of us will pick the countertop.

Eco-friendly MIO Culture, based here in Philadelphia, has a bunch of home decor stuff that is a more realistic alternative to sodding up the roofs and floors. As said before, I'm primarily a big fan of their 3-D wallpaper, specifically for long-ignored entry hallways. But the company earns points for their design consideration, but also for addressing affordability.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Noted: The Fancier Side of MGBW

So I was browsing through the headlines this morning when I saw that Mitchell Gold Bob Williams is in the midst of their sample sale (get their quick, because it ends on Thursday). It's not a huge discount--basically, buy three reduced items, get another 10% off.

I was more preoccupied with the new spring stock at MGBW, which includes this fancy chest of drawers (left). MGBW designs generally had a more pared down aesthetic, so it's surprising to see more romantic forms that you'd normally see at retailers like anthropologie. Really, you should take a look.

Thoughts: Does this mean that the so-called "modern" look is pretty much over and done with, or are we heading in to a more juxtaposed aesthetic?

Photo from mitchellgold.com

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Adventures in Craigslist Furniture Ads

In the spirit of yesterday's guide to furnishing your first home on the cheap (without loss of style or comfort), I've plunged in to the world of the Philadelphia section of Craigslist to dig up some examples.

Here are this week's great finds, along with tips on updating.

1. 1890's Sofa Table. This sofa table is a (relative) bargain at $125, looks very sturdy and could be used as a makeshift dining area, bed stand or side table. The leather upholstery (on the table top) seems to be well-weathered and doesn't require any updating. The finish itself isn't terrible, but I would personally spray paint the entire piece in a cream color. Maybe robin's egg blue. As you can see, the beauty of the piece is in the shape of the legs and the general proportion. A solid paint color will highlight those aspects.

2. Chaise Lounge, $375 A bit pricey for our general purposes (furnishing a home for not a lot of money), but not so bad when you consider that Baker is selling a similar one for $2,000+. I personally find chaise lounges to be entirely necessary to my very being, so if I were so inclined, I'd buy this, then re-upholster in a turquoise or raspberry linen, then painting over the wood in gold, white or black (if with raspberry).

3. 1950's Blonde Oak Dresser, $65 Slightly hotel-esque, but sand down that oily sheen, replace the knobs and paint really any color you wish. I'd advise spray paint specifically made for furniture, available at Home Depot/Lowe's. Could also be used as a sideboard.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Starting Out: How to Furnish Your Home, Cheaply and Stylishly

I'm always hesitant to pick up any of the effusive books/magazine articles that promise to let you in on the secrets to decorating your home cheaply and stylishly. Why? Because the tips are usually ridiculous--written by the sort of person who finds bliss in suggesting $300 towels, are far craftier than the general population (Make a lamp out of an old vodka bottle!) or are putting cheapness at a higher priority over quality.

It IS possible to furnish your home on a slight budget without sacrificing quality, style or even comfort. I know because I've managed to do it over the course of a year and a half, right down to the collection of 14 platinum-edged porcelain dinner plates ($3.50-$7.99 a piece) that I bought last week.

So get your piggy banks, here are the secrets to charm on the cheap, even if you're just starting out in your own hovel of an apartment:

1. Develop an eye for quality and style. Browse the high-end magazines for furniture ads or general setting photos. You're not doing this to follow trends, you're just honing your ability to spot high quality and expensive-looking styles. If you study, you'll be able to go to most secondhand stores (read: not vintage, not overpriced nonsense) and come out with something that looks antique. Or will at least know how to re-work a questionable item so it does look special.

2. Start saving--you'll need about $1,500-2,000 at most for this step. Winter (specifically January) and Summer (usually August) are the best times to buy high-ticket furniture for insane discounts. Really. I just bought a $3800 hand-carved table for an insane price. I have bought dresses for more than this table. Waiting for clearance sales=great payoffs.

3. Paint your rooms, if needed. As much as I hate saying this, do a neutral color. I know, I have coral pink walls, but if you're just starting out, it's hard enough buying furniture without having to worry about it matching a silver-and-watermelon-pink wallcovering. Pale buttercream, grey with the slightest twinge of pink, and regular cream are always flattering. Extend the paint on to the ceiling if you can for a more-finished look.

4.. Where to invest. Learn to live with the couch (or upholstered chairs) and dining room table you presently have. These two furniture pieces make a HUGE difference on your overall decor, you have no idea. Even if you fill your home with priceless curiousities, a cheap futon will ruin everything. Same goes for cheap tables with thick layers of plastic-looking veneer. Invest modestly in these two pieces. You will always use a couch and a nice big table. You can even use the table as desk, if you're pressed for space.

If you own a very tiny space--meaning no possible room for a dining room table--replace your counters and/or cabinetry. Huge difference.

In the meantime, get rid of your cheapest-looking, dreary stuff. If it can't be painted to look better, give it away.

5. Almost always, buy these items on sale at high-end places: Plates, drinking glasses and goblets, blankets/bedding, end/accent tables, decorate storage, pillows, drapes, rugs and tablecloths. Buy more plates and glasses than you think you need.

5.a. Usually buy solids, unless you see a pattern you adore. Make sure the curtains you buy aren't see through.

6. Almost always, buy these things second-hand, looking for the highest quality possible: Coffee tables, chairs, bureaus, headboards, mirrors, tall cabinets (instead of bookshelves or wall-mounted cabinets). Look for classic lines, good detailing and convincingly good construction. Don't worry about color or hardware--these can be replaced.

6.a. Don't buy anything with a cheap veneer. You know those cute chain stores that specialize in quasi-contemporary furnishings? Good for accessories, not for furnishings. In the catalogues, the stuff looks adorable, in person, terribly cheap. Save yourself the trouble.

7. Chandeliers and lamps can be bought anywhere, even chain stores. Remember that people will notice them, and that you can also paint these (albeit carefully). Don't buy torchiere lamps.

These are the general rules for starting out in style, while not spending too much. If you always buy high-quality in a neutral pattern, you won't have to worry about mixing and matching. You'll look charming, not adrift.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

New Year, New Lighting

Isn't this a marvelous pendant lamp? At first, I thought I was looking a fixture inspired by a fancy seashell (forgive my glaring lack of marine science knowledge--the seashell I'm referring to resembles a puffy round ottoman or floor cushion), but then I saw the chandelier arms poking through the covering. Love that duality, along with the way the covering adds mass without sacrificing light. The pendant is the "Zeppelin" by Flos. It's designed by Marcel Wanders and is available through OLC (152-154 N. Third St).
Sidenote: Maybe it is the new year, but I'm leaning more towards neutrals as of late. Shopping the post-holiday sales, I picked up a set of 10 platinum-edged white china plates along with a few place settings of pearlized-handled silverware.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

But at least I could shop

My apologies about being AWOL for about two weeks. I will spare you the details, but I came down with a severe bronchial infection. It was decidedly not glamorous.

However, there is one good thing about all that bed rest, besides watching a weekend of That Girl...online shopping. I'm one of millions who puts off shopping until the last available moment, which turns out to work in my favor, since retailers start marking things down. Not that I'm cheap, mind you, just exuberant. I like buying lots at a time, in multiples.

As usual, anthropologie has the best home stuff on sale. Here are a few things that I liked:
- Glass Candlesticks (left), about $8/piece. Glass candlesticks are pretty fantastic, because they give you a nice stately tablescape without entirely blocking everyone's view. The light reflects on the glass, which is a pretty effect.
- Lion Workshop Toy, $10. I'm a big advocate of using children's home accessories as legitimate decor. Buy two, use them as accent pillows--works particularly well on "modern" style sofas.
- Fleur de sel lamp, $60 This lamp sort of reminds me of the fantastic Bodo Sperlein collection for Spanish ceramics maker Lladro. The texture is magnificent. Because it's all in white, the overall texture, not necessarily the rosettes, that is noticed. So I wouldn't worry about this being too frou-frou.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The Tasteful Alternative to Inflatable Snowpeople

I will never ever forget the ruffians who didn't let the fact that they lived on the third floor of a charming Federal townhouse stop them from partaking in holiday outdoor decor. They exposed the world to their holiday spirit by strapping a 6-foot-tall inflatable snowman to the exterior of their dingy little walk-up apartment, and then left it there to go flaccid well in to February.

But you wouldn't do that, now would you?

While everyone else is concerning themselves with displaying atrocities, you can reflect your whimsical good taste while still participating in the holiday tradition of putting things on to the lawn. And how do you do that? With a bunch of pink flamingos (from one of my all-time favorite internet retailers, FredFlare.com). I think pink flamingos are holiday appropriate, as they honor the thousands of lovable, spirited senior citizens who make the pilgramage to Florida for the winter months. Buy oodles.
Photo from fredflare.com

Monday, November 27, 2006

Divide and Conquer

As in life, we all might live better with a few boundaries.

Many new construction homes/apartments are of the “loft-inspired” or open floor plan. It’s a no-brainer as to why people like these plans—you get lots of spaciousness, control over where you can arrange your furniture and you don’t have to navigate around doorways when moving in. The issue usually comes up with how to properly define a space when there aren’t any rooms.

I’ve found a solution with the Textile Softwall, available through Design Within Reach (1710 Walnut St.). The Softwall is exactly what it sounds like: a soft wall. It’s made out of environmentally sound materials, portable and soundproof. When standing, the wall’s curvy shape is a more visually interesting alternative to traditional dividers. The Softwall also allows natural light to filter through, no small feat for a partition.

Though it’s a bit pricey for some budgets, I’d say that this was a smart investment for some individuals. You can use it as a general room divider, as a way to section off your home office space, or as an outdoor privacy screen.

Photo from dwr.com

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Party Before the Family Arrives

Fortify yourself with champagne cocktails, goodies and much-needed shopping before having to face endless family gatherings. Scarlett Alley (241 Race St.) is having a Holiday Party tomorrow night from 4-8:30 pm. You can view the invitation here. They'll be having a special on ornaments.
I know, I can't bear to think of tree-decorating either, but when I'm a sucker for animal-shaped ornaments, like the penguin at left by MoMa. Also look at the turkey serveware.
Photo from ScarlettAlley.com
Note: Apparently, I have the IQ of a cupcake at times. This event is this Wednesday, the 29th, not last week. Silly, silly. I'll chalk it up to both holiday and penguin-shaped ornament excitement.