Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Portable Glamour.

Space-conscious furniture has always been the L.L. Bean of the home design world- functional, yes. But pretty, stylish or fashionable? No.

But as our rooms and apartments get smaller while the home entertaining trend grows, the benefits of stackable, stowable or hideable furniture is obvious. So it's with this mindset that I set out to prove that foldability and good design aren't mutually exclusive ideas.

First, the folding chair. Folding chairs make sense because they solve the problem of having to force guests to sprawl out on the floor, and they can be easily be hidden away when not in use. Neiman Marcus (The Plaza at King of Prussia Mall) has an authentic antique folding chair, originally used at opera performances. Its curved lines and woven seat would be best highlighted in a white room.

Next, was Target. They're in a fit of pseudo-ethnic style at Target (Southeast Philadelphia, Cherry Hill, etc.), which gave me the feeling I was at Pier 1, right down to the potpourri. While I believe that style can be had at all price points, I don't see why "affordable" always has to go hand in hand with "Anonymous Eastern Country." The best option was the classic Director's Chair. It will juxtapose nicely in those pricey, library-esque living rooms. Word of warning: Director's Chairs are notoriously wobbly, so lower the gin content in that batch of Tom Collins.

The stackable chair is more abundant and quite often, better designed. The best place in Philadelphia is, hands down, Minima (118 N. 3rd). The Panton chair's curves and color options are cheery, while the Gigi Stacking, .03, and Fpe chairs have aerodynamic sleekness. Studio apartment dwellers take note- these options, especially the Panton chairs, don't look awful when stacked out in the open.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

The quest for a better vase.

Most of us own exactly one vase. Perhaps it was an ill-fated wedding gift, or a leftover from Valentine's Days gone by. Wherever it came from, the vase is gathering dust in some undisclosed corner of your house. Which is where it will stay when you finally have a floral arrangement to display.

Moments like that pushed me over the edge, in regards to vases. Not only does it make me anxious trying to determine the right pronunciation, but vases don't seem to be relevant to modern life as we know it, unless your lifestyle dictates the obsessive purchase of fresh blooms. But for most of us, re-purposing other things will do. Besides, it's much more charming and fresh to use something ordinary in an unexpected way.

My favorite non-vase is an empty bottle of fancy booze, particularly Lindeman's Lambic Ale. The wine bottle-like shape is made of a heavy green glass, with an old-fashioned, yet distinctly European label. Use a Lindeman's bottle to display a single daffodill, tulip, or lily. Most larger area liquor stores (like Canal's in Marlton) carry Lindeman's Lambic Ale for around $7.99-8.99.

This isn't going to win me points in the creativity category, but pottery also functions well as a vase (imagine that). Just think of this double-use when trying to justify the cost of a much-needed Jonathan Adler pottery piece.

For those with a minimalistic bent, put something sparse in one of these skinny zombie tumblers from CB2 (which is owned by Crate and Barrel). Group them, single-file, down the length of a rectangular dining room table, or across a mantle.

Domino Magazine suggests using tomato cans, a practice I support, even if I have no use for canned tomatoes in my daily life. It's an adorable look that doesn't appear as if you're trying too hard, and would make a pleasant display along a windowsill. Carnations would look darling. You're not limited to tomato cans, either- I think both the miniature and quart-sized milk cartons, opened as if you were using them, stuffed with flowers, would be very endearing.

Floating just the heads of roses in a teacup is a bit twee, but seems to be popular. I think the way to make this combination more glamorous would be to use plain white teacups, and to group them in a square formation on a low-set coffee table.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Utensil Liberation

The arrival of unseasonably lovely weather has driven all but myself to the outdoors. I've unceremoniously acquired seasonal allergies with the quickness normally reserved for acquiring the latest Marc Jacobs. Graced with a massive headache, I soothed my broken soul with a proper dinner of grilled cheese and tomato soup.

And then there was a regrettably Carrie Bradshaw-like thought: Are bowls really necessary for the single, metropolitan girl? Or dinner plates? Or tablespoons?

I'm not sure if it's a habit from the days of dorm living, or because my dishwasher can't accomodate most bowls, but I eat all liquid-based foods from a teacup (soup) or mug (cereal). It's not very glamorous at all, but its an eccentric habit that I'm not sure I'd like to give up. Mugs and teacups allow for instant portion control (really, how much tomato soup does one single person need to ingest), solves the etiquette problem of slurping and seems to be much tidier than eating from a bowl. If you subscribe to the teacup-is-better philosophy, then you also have eliminated the need for tablespoons, which are rather clumsy anyway and are the main reasons for slurping.

I also am enamored with using salad, or dessert plates as dinner plates. If you can't cook, this makes a little bit of good food seem plentiful, and gives you an automatic excuse for not having a full-course dinner party, automatically resulting in a stress-free occasion.

Most kitchen-in-a-box sets favor dinner plates and tablespoons over their more graceful and practical cousins. If you're planning to move in to a new place, or are trying to simplify your life, do yourself a favor and break from the Big Dinnerware reflex. The Gnome Mugs from Sur La Table (The Promenade at Sagemore, Marlton) are a bit pricey, but stylishly stand up to daily wear-and-tear. They're worth the price alone for the whimsical names (a gnome named Lucien!) and will enhance your mornings greatly. The coordinating salad-sized Gnome plates are so charming that guests will forget that "jerk chicken" you're serving is supposed to be merely "roasted." Glass mugs, also from Sur La Table, are the best choice for keeping cold items cold and hot items hot, much longer than standard porcelain, stoneware or plastic. A fancier option is the Midnight Magic Daylily cup and saucer from Manor Home (210 S. 17th St.).

Of course, there is the lingering problem of flatware. I've searched high and low for non-silver everyday stuff in the area that doesn't come in a standard 5-piece place-setting. If you want to permanently solve the problem of having excessive tablespoons and salad forks, your option is to buy some fancy-pants silverware. Having silverware, while high-maintenance, is enormously life-enhancing. Besides, there's that old rule that if you spend a great deal of money, you are no longer 'nuts' but 'lovably eccentric.' Head over to Tiffany's (1414 Walnut St.), and revel in the overdone splendor of the English King silverware, or the more Casual Friday Bamboo set. While you're there, pick up some Monkey straws to keep chocolate milk from staining your tablecloth.
Mother Mirror.

I must admit that I am extremely mirror-phobic. In this case, it's not a self-esteem problem, but a specific, traumatic incident: A run in with the 1980's.

When I moved in to my present bedroom, there was a half a wall of mirror tiles cemented to the wall. The tiles were immune to even the highest concentrations of goop-remover (it effectively erased 1/8th of my mental capacity, I suspect), and had to be taken off with a hammer and chisel, portions of the wall coming down with it.

Who on earth would do such a thing to their unsuspecting walls?

I suspect its another case of Home Cross-Dressing: Trying to pass off a room, home feature or accessory as Something That It Clearly Isn't. In this case, it's trying to pass off an incredibly tiny room (9x12) as a much bigger one. We've all seen those home tips that encourage you to visually extend a room's parameters by the way of mirrors. When read by a normal person, the urge is to procure a clever decorative mirror, displaying it on a wall of your choice.

When the same article is read by someone who is out of their mind, the urge is to haphazardly glue a series of mirrored tile squares halfway down a random wall. After the damage was done, did the person say, "Well now, it's just like having a huge penthouse! You'd never guess that I resided in a shoebox!"

I don't think so.

Repeat after me: You'll never, ever, EVER be able to pass off a miniscule room as a lofty space. You can mirror yourself in to next week, but the only thing your walls will reflect is the pity on your guests' faces.

But while you can't magically lengthen and widen a room, you can give the appearance of spaciousness with a well-chosen mirror.

The Mist Mirror from Foster's Urban Hardware (124 N. 3rd) begs to be hung in multiples, thanks to the art work-like framing. I'd go with six- 2 rows of three, on the horizontal- in a non-descript hall or foyer. I suppose you could hang these above a sofa, as the caption suggests, but make sure you purchase enough to make an emphatic enough statement. Three small mirrors above a large sofa looks skimpy, not minimalistic.

Placing a larger mirror above a mantel is an ideal thing to do. The somewhat unbroken vertical line that results heightens the ceiling. Try the Raleigh Arch Mirror from Restoration Hardware (4130 Main Street, Manayunk; 300 Route 73, Marlton, NJ). The arch nicely complements the horizontal lines of a mantel and the ceiling line.

In a smallish bedroom, I'm mad for this Venetian Beaded Mirror, also from Restoration Hardware. Since it's tilted, it reflects more of the blank ceiling, giving a hint of spaciousness. Be careful, since this is a major statement piece- keep this on a spare wall (meaning no accessories, and especially no messes), and try your best not to place it directly across from your bed, lest you come off as tawdry. I wouldn't encourage putting it, as the company recommends, in the bathroom, since most of us aren't very amused at such a bold, even if nicely framed, image of ourselves emerging from the bath.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Parsons Disease

My dears, I think I've officially seen one too many Parsons tables. The old, visually unassuming table that looks equally appealing with crayons or fine china, has officially run its course. And oddly enough, that course ends in my doctor's office.

My doctor recently overhauled her waiting room, replacing the hard, office carpet-upholstered, scoop-bottom chairs (the sort that come pre-molded to accomodate a behind, and yes, I've also wondered who the manufacturers modeled the hind-part after) with a sterile array of geometric furniture. There was nothing but sharp corners and edges, with nothing to reassure you for the paper-gowned future that awaits. It was as if my doctor imported the most charmless part of a German research facility and plunked it down in her persian-carpeted corner of New Jersey, and the effect was very alarming.

I left with antibiotics and a very strong urge to paint my work desk gold (and I did, using 2.5 canisters of Rust-oleum 7270 from the Home Depot). Not only am I now secure in my writing desk's ability to repel rust, but I have also determined that now is about the time for a Rococo-esque revival. Why? Because the Rococo style, with its more-is-better approach, is very cheerful and a lot more soothing than a loft full of sharp lines and harsh cold tones.

But don't ready yourself to pillage Donatella Versace's humble abode just yet. Ironically, the best way to incorporate Rococo is through moderation: paint an odd piece of furniture (my writing desk used to be a very old vanity with a very old paint job) gold, upgrade your mouldings to a more ornate style. The key is to designate a specific focal point to go to town over.

A slightly less dirt-interactive option is to simply buy a carpet. I just adore the Medici Rug from Scarlett Alley (241 Race Street): Mocha for a statement, Aqua for the more timid.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Bettie, Bettie, Bettie

There is only one thing I need to say in reference to that Bettie Page bio-pic that's coming out soon to three movie theatres in the area. While Ms. Mol looks adorable in the period outfits, and the plot sounds interesting enough, there is just one thing that I feel the need to say: ENOUGH WITH THE BETTIE PAGE.


Bettie Page is to vintage chic, as Monet is to art: meaning accessible, recognizable to even the lowest common denominator and a very easy reference to "get." There's nothing inherently wrong about Page or Monet, but well...let's just say we need to broaden our minds a bit.

There is a lot more to 1940's and 50's style than Bettie Page. How does this relate to furniture/home decor, you ask? Well, think about it. If you're going to commit yourself to a 40's or 50's style, the first instinct is to go for the Bettie Page look- dark hair with blunt bangs, red lips, leopard. But it's done. You can walk down South Street, or hang out in Northern Liberties, and you will see at least 5 girls with that same look. There's even whole brigades of Page worshippers in the form of those Rollergirl teams. It's not fresh, or new, and involves total commitment to the look in order to not look completely silly (Bettie Page, I suspect, never grocery shopped at Superfresh).

When people are going for a retro-50's look for their homes, they end up buying loads of mid-century-esque stuff from Ikea or West Elm. There's nothing inherently wrong with Ikea or West Elm, either. But the result doesn't read Retro-Chic: It reads "I got all my stuff from Ikea or West Elm. You might want to keep any open flame away from, well, everything."

Mid-Century modern is easy to achieve at all price ranges. At the smaller budgets, leave the references to paint color and lighting: make your walls your furniture. Pick two colors (Tiffany's-box Blue with Cream contrast works), and do a bold, graphic pattern such as polka dots, or vertical stripes. Spend most of your budget on lighting, which can make even the cheapest table look delightful- even when the lighting itself, is cheap. Go geometric, and leave the paper shades behind. The Fado Lamp (no, not named for the irish-themed hookup spot) at Ikea comes in two sizes at the store- buy a handful of each size and arrange in groupings, chandelier-like. Spray-paint all eyesore hand-me-down furniture gold. It's all very Dorothy Draper, preacheress of the maximalist aesthetic and namesake of this very blog.

Those with bigger pockets should head to Mode Moderne specifically for tables and seating, and Matthew Izzo for the Jonathan Adler collection (the couches are much coveted).

But at all price points, keep the Bettie Page rule in mind: don't commit yourself to the safe, easy- to-conjure, look. Mix everything that strikes your eye, don't be afraid to break out the spray-paint and don't concern yourself to the strictly authentic.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Book Learning

With all the end-of-the-world statistics these days regarding the state of America's rampant illiteracy, you'd think we would all put our books on display in an effort to show that we weren't part of some dreadful statistic.

And then I saw Pottery Barn.

If you notice, there are books displayed behind the unoffensive and neutral sofa, yes. But the books are displayed with the bindings facing IN, which would make finding the book you'd need positively impossible to find. Whatever this fictional Pottery Barn family is doing, it's certainly not tucking in to Nancy Drew novels.

Books can certainly make a nice display, as long as you're not trying to pass them off as something other than what they are: that is, books. And not a neutral backdrop for your sofas. Besides, people will end up hypothesizing that you're really just hiding a massive collection of tawdry titles if you turn the bindings in.

But what if you have nothing but tawdry paperbacks? Well, Philadelphia has more used-book stores than it knows what to do with: Book Trader on N. 2nd is a particularly good choice. Bookhaven (2202 Fairmount Ave) is one of those fabulous old-style bookstores that are practically bursting at the seams with stuff. The AIA bookstore (17th and Samson) is self-explanatory: lots of glossy architecture tomes.

Bookshelves are fine to use, but tread carefully when it comes to the non-traditional. The Chicago Shelves from DWR are modern, but are unobtrusive. Perfect for those with a small collection, or would like to avoid the massive-wall-of-books look. However, the Sapian shelves are a bit reminiscent of sad starting-out days (Ramen noodles anyone?).
Flown the Coop

There's a jewelry store in the Cherry Hill Mall that features these very grand crystal birds in their displays, possibly in the hopes that a large glittering pink parrot would positively compell us to buy a heart-shaped diamond ring. Well, I might have not fit their target demographic, as I left, sans heart-shaped diamond ring. Yet the crystal bird haunted me: Was this objet d'art available for purchase, and if so, where could I incorporate one in my drab daily life?

I immediately thought of the Archer Court salad servers sold by Neiman Marcus-owned Horchow. These overwrought branch-like salad throwers are just begging for a crystal bird of some sort. And behold, Swarovski came to my rescue. They offer not one, but three choices of birds for your very own overwrought utensils and the like. I'd rest my salad servers near the perch, in an unassuming way, in a buffet setting. The site also recommends the birds for your desk too, but unless you had one of those lovely light-filled offices, the birds would seem to be a depressing reminder of your lack of basic freedoms at work.

Swarovski birds are available at the Swarovski retail stores in King of Prussia and Willow Grove.