Saturday, May 27, 2006

Handcrafted Textiles in Philadelphia...

Recently brought to my attention were the stunning and lovely handcrafted wares from local designers Galbraith & Paul. They offer everything from hand-tufted rugs (such as the Ivy rug, left), to hand-blocked lighting and textiles, all in a collection of prints that cull references from Marimekko to William Morris while maintaining an original, signature style. While their textiles (which can be customized) are available through the trade, pillows and lighting can be purchased through

Monday, May 22, 2006

Keeping Your Backyard Safe From Stiltwalkers...

Did you know that the most common garden pest this year isn't the mosquito, but the ladies (myself included) who can't leave the house without their high heels? It's true. As the heat pushes us out of our apartments and in to our outdoor spaces- however microscopic they are- for entertaining, chances are that you'll have at least two guests who are slowly sinking in to the lawn.

Those with patios aren't really safe either- a short while ago, I got a heel stuck in between both a boardwalk-like walkway and in the mossy stuff in between bricks on a sidewalk. Since most of us stiltwalkers aren't ready to give up our heels, you can keep your garden, and your guests safe by using an outdoor rug.

Why an outdoor rug? An outdoor rug, such as this rainbow Plynyl Shag from Foster's Urban Homeware (124 N. 3rd) is usually made from weather-safe materials that'll keep mold and mildew away, while acting as a protective barrier between high heels and lawsuits. You can leave it outside for weeks on end and the only thing you'll have to worry about is a sudden wind blowing it away, Aladdin-like. Outdoor rugs can also look like your indoor rugs if you buy carefully: at left, is a polypropylene blend that mimics sisal, from Pottery Barn (4230 Main St. Manayunk; King of Prussia Mall; Market Square, Marlton). See other outdoor rugs from Pottery Barn.

But why can't I just use my indoor rug, outside? Personally, I'm all for using indoor things as outdoor decor- such as a (non-wired) decorative chandelier hung from a tree, a la Versailles- and I've been tempted to further the faux-aristocratic vibe by rolling out the Medici Rug from Scarlett Alley (241 Race St.) myself. HOWEVER. Natural, non-treated fibers can soak up the darndest things, even on a very nice day. Until I get a Dyson vacuum, I will keep my indoor rugs, indoors.

But that doesn't work both ways- outdoor rugs, since they are treated, can keep the allergens (there I go with the allergens again), small bugs and stubborn dirt away, making it perfectly fine to drag in to your apartment.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Modular Wallcovering.

One of the biggest trends last year was the InterfaceFlor Modular Carpet Tile System- with good reason, since it eliminated the circle of hell that is measuring for area carpeting. The customizable tiles made perfect sense for renters who wanted to add cheer to their apartments without incurring the wrath of a landlord, pet owners (each tile could be replaced easily) and those of us who can't commit to just one color of carpet.

Philadelphia-based MIO takes the modular concept one step further with their 3D wallcovering system. Each 12"x12" tile, made from recycled materials, is cut to produce a 3D effect. Mix and match the tiles (available in two styles: V2, left; and Flow) to create your own pattern.

Most use the tiles on just one area of a wall, but try tiling an entire room in one color. An entryway/foyer is an excellent place to start- just eliminate extraneous decorative accents. Juxtapose a traditional dining room set with walls covered in white V2 tiles. Keep the lighting low to soften the geometric effect.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Have a Tea Party

Did you know that Philadelphians prefer tea over coffee, while New York prefers coffee over tea? I didn't either, until I heard a podcast from KYW on the subject of best places to get coffee and tea in the city. There was a nice gentleman from the Equal sweetener company who also insisted we mix Red Zinger (hibiscus) tea with Southern Comfort. Not really a morning person, I'd think.

Most of us are used to consuming bagged tea, mostly because loose tea is messy and we're not sure what to do with it. If you're thinking of making the fancy switch, you will need to start with a tea infuser of some sort. A tea ball (available from Remedy Tea Bar, 1628 Sansom St.), is very handy and easy to use, even if it does look like a microphone. I should also note that the people at Remedy take very kindly to people who are very new to the world of tea balls.

If you plan on having frequent tea parties, or just require more to your mornings, you should upgrade to a teapot with an infuser built in. The Bodum Tea Pot at Williams-Sonoma (200 S. Broad St.) is very basic, has a pleasing shape and a plunger that allows you to control the strength of the brew. The Flowering Tea Pot, also from Williams-Sonoma, is the Cirque du Soleil of tea- the included "tea flowers" bloom as they brew. The downside: The teapot is only 14-oz.

When you think of teacups, you normally think of porcelain. That's very nice, but I'm told it's not the most efficient material for consuming hot tea. Glass is the best, as it retains heat better than all other materials. Remedy has a selection of efficient tea-specific glassware, if you're so inclined.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Eschewing Velvet Ropes, but Keeping Style Intact.

Walking around Old City on Friday night- and I use the verb loosely, as crowds were so thick that I could've easily just allowed myself to be carried off to places unknown- I unofficially retired from going out on weekends in town. As the weather proceeds to get better, more and more people are coming out of their caves to come stand behind the increasing amount of velvet ropes, while wearing frightening amounts of synthetic material (disclosure: saw a girl in an 80's style neon dress, made entirely of nylon. Hope the bar was non-smoking).

Not only that, but it's getting pricier to go out, as the cost of living- and cocktails- steadily rises with rents. Though it pales in comparison to Manhattan, I have my reservations about sitting in an overcrowded faux-Irish pub sipping on an $11 concoction served in a plastic martini glass facsimile.

Unless you can afford to host a casual get-together at The Philadelphia Museum of Art, entertaining at home is the natural, lower-cost choice. Home entertaining is a trend on the rise, not only because of above financial/mental costs, but also because you can easily get all your friends in one place, without hassle.

But the thought of entertaining makes most people anxious. One minute you're planning a menu, the next, you're in near tears over the cleanliness of the bathroom. I say this because I felt the same way- and then I found the Purcell Sisters. Where most entertaining books either get too focused on fantasy (cashmere napkins and 30-year-old Balsamic Vinegar), or etiquette lessons, they constructed their book (Cocktail Parties, Straight Up!) based on entertaining with confidence, i.e. how not to have a melt down while figuring out drink menus. City dwellers themselves, they also take small spaces in to consideration, along with time constraints. A highly recommended read.

Friday, May 12, 2006

With holders like these, you'll never lose your keys again.

Sure, a keyhook lodged on the side of a cabinet is one way to keep track of your keys, but why settle for such a non-glamorous solution? These mountable Ghost antlers (left) from vintage/new clothing retailer Sugarcube (48 S. 3rd) were made for coats, but could be a stately keyholder- not to mention a cruelty-free way to bring a touch of the wild to your studio apartment (disclosure: would also like to use the antlers as a towel rack). Unless deer, like the new "wicker" line from Restoration Hardware, have evolved to be made from resin.
TIP: Allergy-free centerpieces, inspired by Positano Coast.

Did an interview at Positano Coast (212 Walnut St.) in March and was bowled over by the abundance of lemons- they were in centerpieces, on the walls, in lucite columns, on the bar (left, below) etc. Lemons everywhere. While it was part of the theme of the restaurant- Positano Coast makes its own Limoncello- the lemons-lemons-everywhere theme warmed up the room considerably, no small feat on that drizzly March day.

I've kept this memory in the recesses of my brain until today, when allergies struck again, aided by the mother's day flowers displays everywhere. Wrote a note to self: Flowers are a BAD idea in allergy-filled Philadelphia. Judging by the swollen eyes and constant sneezing of passersby, Philadelphia attracts the sort of allergans that Dyson vacuum cleaners can't handle. We could turn 1 Liberty Place in to a Dyson vacuum cleaner, and we'd all still have the punched-in-the-face look of the allergy sufferer.

So do your guests a favor, and replace your centerpieces with fruit. A bowl of lemons, with a few votives scattered about, gives you the color and warmth of a floral display. A tall glass vase, such as this one from P.A.D. Home Furnishings (804 N. 2nd), filled with kumquats, limes or other small citrus, would complete a mini-bar setup (next to differing sizes of pitchers, glasses and bottles).

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Taking the Terror out of Guest Soaps.

Is there anything as precious as The Guest Soap? They're always the prettiest and nicest smelling, to the point where they become off limits to everyone- even guests. My grandmother had a lovely set of hand-carved rose shaped guest soaps, which we were all terrified to use. For more than a decade, these beautiful creations sat untouched, the home decor equivalent of a museum exhibit, until a fine layer of dust relegated them to the trashbin.

That memory came to mind when I saw the collection of soaps at Town Home (126 S. 19th). In addition to the darling set of "see no evil/hear no evil/speak no evil" monkey soaps (left), there are pigs, frogs, poodles and chickens. Not keen on animals in the bathroom? Then take a peek at pears, rose petals and robins eggs.

Though lovely, these soaps are deliciously scented and adorable enough to make people want to use them. Encourage use by breaking up sets, setting one by the kitchen sink, another by the tub and the last on the bathroom sink. Guests will get the message that these soaps are, in fact, there to be used. Lightly suds them up beforehand to drive home the message.
What on earth can you do with an egg cup?

Was poking about Manor Home and Gifts (210 S. 17th) when I came across a collection of egg cups. Initially, I was delighted by the range of styles- pewter colonial chic, modern, french country and this curious one shaped like a head (left). But then the big question: What can you possibly use an egg cup for these days?

Since I'm merely domestically inclined, as opposed to domestic (can set a proper table, but haven't the time to cook a proper course), the obvious answer- for a soft-boiled egg- does not apply. And when was the last time someone ate a soft-boiled egg anyway?

So leaving out eggs, you can do the following with an egg cup, depending on the size and materials: You can use it as a small candle holder (indeed, one of the egg cups at Manor Home doubles as a votive holder); to hold a serving of sauce for something dippable; as a single-serving sugar bowl with coffee; filled with a bit of water and holding a single large-head flower, snipped just below the bud; or as a makeshift, yet tasteful, shot glass.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Mood Lighting with the Help of Outer Space.

Moonlight is praised for its romance-enhancing abilities- the subtle, clear, overhead lighting works wonders for one's mood. When you don't have a skylight or a balcony, remind yourself of the great outdoors with a light source that mimics the illumination of a celestial body.

The Globe lamp from Float, looks like a lovely harvest moon and can be purchased at Philadelphia-based non-profit arts organization It's quite a large piece-28 inch diameter- working best with those with high ceilings or very grand sensibilities. Definitely not a bathroom light fixture. Float also sells a similar model that is placed on the floor, for those without children or pets.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Decorating with Candles, without a Grandma result.

I admit that I do have a very small bias against candle-related decor. Just too many of those Yankee candles floating about, I'm afraid. But as the unseasonably warm weather continues with the requisite al fresco dinners, the lure of a well-placed votive candle is hard to resist.

Beeswax vs. Paraffin vs. Soy vs. Everything Else: As the candle market grows exponentially (really, it seems like everyone has a different sort of candle to peddle), manufacturers will surely find a way to make a candle out of dryer lint. Some say that soy candles last longer, while beeswax is more environmentally friendly and then there's that rumor about paraffin generating more soot than in Dickens-era London...well, I say just stick to a basic paraffin candle for an outdoor area. Some people can be quite sensitive to the scent of citronella, and I'm sure that bugs are evolving to be resistant to the smell of it anyway.

How expensive to go: Draw the line between dollar store and Alarmingly Expensive. While a $5 bag of 100 votives seems like a good idea, they are probably filled with air pockets and use a lower-quality wax, leaving you to endless candle replacement duty. A good votive candle should be a bit heavier than you expected, with a slight sheen to the surface (indicating a better quality wax).

Scented or not?: Relegate the scented candles to the bathroom or bedroom. Around food, they tend to numb the palate and might attract bees and mosquitoes.

Make it special: One option is to buy a shaped candle. Personally, I've always felt a bit sad burning these-it's a bit like watching a snowman melt. But if you aren't so sensitive, try a starfish shaped candle, such as this one from Bath & Body Works (17th and Walnut). Place on top of a protective surface, such as a tiny platter (such as the small wood square from West Elm)filled with sea glass, small seashells, sand or smooth pebbles, all of which can be bought at a crafts store.

A charming votive holder is a re-usable option, and keep the breeze from putting out the flame. This starfish tealight holder is similar to the aforementioned candle, and comes from Anthropologie (18th and Walnut). Carrying the oceanic theme are the sea urchin tealights, also from Anthropologie. Buy a few of each size and cluster for an interesting display.

Varying candle height adds dimension to a tablescape. These tulip holders from the Philadelphia Museum of Art come in differing heights and colors. The 24" is a dramatic statement, but might obscure the view of others around the table- keep that particular height to a buffet.

Monday, May 01, 2006

The Urban Home Office.

In the space-impaired urban nest, the home office area is a relative term. A small percentage of us have the luxury of a designated home office, while the rest of us make do with a disorganized corner of our sofas, or other inconvenient spot. One man's home office is another man's laundry room, after all.

Should you invest in a desk? If you actually work from home, have a demanding hobby, or are a student, then yes. A desk can be an excellent motivator for the procrastination-inclined. Having that specific spot to write your memoirs, study brain surgery or categorize your seed collection will inspire more productivity than the overstuffed Barcalounger dangerously close to a television.

Unfortunately, desks present a conundrum. You either get a spacious work surface, or you get clever storage, rarely both. Pick work area and watch those square inches pile up with clutter. Pick storage and you won't have enough surface room to sign checks. For the serious home worker, it's a better choice to select the "surface area" option, with a few alterations for the clutter-inclined. Start with a sensible desk, such as the B1 desk from Usona Home Furnishings (113 S. 16th), with drawers for the bare essentials: pencils and paper. Keep your address books, legal pads, calligraphy sets, commemorative inkwells and other items in a stool that doubles as storage, such as this Storage Cube from Pottery Barn (4230 Main St., Manayunk; Route 73, Marlton; King of Prussia Mall). For those who require back support, use the cubes as an ottoman, or stow under the desk.

A desk, no matter how well-designed, eats up precious square footage for the casual home worker. A dining room table can easily be re-purposed using a few techniques. First, find a place to keep your materials (pens, files, postage), such as a little-used nook in your china cabinet or on a bookshelf. A basket, such as this magazine holder from online retailer Hold Everything, keeps everything together and is sturdy enough to stand on its own.

For serious filers, make your own Portable Desk (in the spirit of hanging CD storage curtains). Buy a length of vinyl from the fabric store, and a cheap, cheery vinyl tablecloth from a discount retailer- think Target. Cut the vinyl in to varying sizes of rectangles and squares, and apply a strong-hold glue to three sides, producing a pocket. Drape over your table when it's time to work. The Portable Desk is very handy for filing bills and those other loose pieces of paper that tend to run away easily, and also works well as an outdoor desk- just spread the tablecloth on the grass, patio or table.

If you don't have a dining room table, pull up a bar stool (if you don't have one, visit Mr. Bar Stool, at 167 N. 2nd St.) to the counter. Make an office nook by hanging cork tiles, found at any office supply store, on the wall, or on to the refrigerator. If you own, consider adding a coat of chalk board paint to your refrigerator, wall, or cabinet for a writeable surface. Keep supplies in the closest drawer or cabinet.