Sunday, March 29, 2015

Just add plants

My friend Gill rented a simple student apartment on Northwestern's campus and transformed it with restraint and thoughtful accessories. I love how it is serene, filled with light, and decorated with vibrant green plants - not just flowers, but living, air-cleaning trees, shrubs and other greens that need love, care, attention and regular watering. 


It's inspired me to add a few plants to my apartment, despite my past track record of killing them off (there's a trail of orchid bodies in my wake of plant failures). I'm now the proud owner of a hydrangea bush and a new orchid that make me feel like it's springtime in Chicago even though it was 29 degrees today... 

Monday, March 9, 2015

What to do with unused, empty space in a room

This is a new problem for me: my previous rentals were all pretty tiny, and required me to be creative about storage and furniture placement. My current apartment is the opposite - when everything was moved in and arranged how I wanted it, there were these cavernous empty spaces of beige walls.
...and I decided to fill them with collections of artwork and arrangements of chairs (you can never have too many of either, in my opinion). Above is a snapshot of how I filled in the blank space next to my armoire using an old womb chair that my dad let me rescue from his workshop, and a really cool (wood with leather and brass grommets) midcentury office chair that I found at a thrift store... for $5. For some reason, I think arrangements of furniture and accessories should be in odd numbers - two chairs plus a big basket of throws looks thoughtful. Two chairs on their own look a little off, like I forgot to move them back to their rightful spots after being displaced at a party.
Café chairs are scattered all over our apartment, as side tables and corner-fillers. We had an awkward, cold space next to the fireplace warmed up (and also became a great storage spot) once I added a café chair with stacks of games topped with a candelabra, a basket, and an assortment of prints and canvases.

 This trick also worked for the other lonely blank space next to my armoire and enabled me to display an old print and show off my chandelier that I have no intention of hanging up but couldn't bear to store it.

Monday, January 19, 2015

How to makeover an old canvas print in five minutes

This idea is originally from DC-based interior designer Barbara Franceski, and I've been waiting for a rainy day to apply it to a pile of old canvas paintings from my prolific middle school days when I cranked out a painting per week (thanks, Mom, for saving them)!
It's a pretty simple concept: remove the old canvas, salvage the frame, and recover it with a beautiful fabric of your choice. I set up an eBay search for a yard of Marrimekko cotton fabric and snagged a great multi-tone yellow swatch for under $10. You don't need much - I bought a yard and have plenty left over.
In addition to an old frame canvas and a yard of the fabric of your choice, you'll need an Xacto knife, scissors, a staple gun, and a canvas stretcher (I ended up not using this, but if you have a thick fabric a la canvas you'll need it).
Start by slicing the canvas off of the frame with an Xacto knife. I didn't even bother to pull out the staples, so I sliced just along the edge of the frame with the canvas facing down. (This also lets you save the print for sentimental purposes - in my case, to put back into my parent's basement.)

Next, you'll need to line up the now-empty frame to the fabric. I played around until I got the layout just right and cut around the frame leaving ~2" excess for folding over the frame. Next, line up the base of the frame with the straight manufacturer's edge of the fabric to keep it even, and put a staple in the middle and on both corners. Then, staple the opposite side after pulling the fabric taut (don't stretch it!) in the middle and both corners. Repeat for both sides, and then fill in the remainder of the perimeter with staples paying extra attention to the corners.

Voila! Now hang it to a wall and enjoy your handiwork.

Monday, December 29, 2014

How to create a monotone living room on a budget

Monotone because I need calm and simplicity in life, but mostly because I don't have the energy to paint...and on a budget because we moved again (that's the third time in eighteen months, but who's counting?).
In September, we packed up our old, dinged-up-yet-charming Charlotte bungalow that I spent a chunk of my summer painting and loving. We moved to Chicago into a pristine, modern third floor apartment that sold me with it's French doors and huge front porch. It's been almost three months since the movers arrived, and I finally unpacked our last box today, gave the place a good cleaning, and dusted off my Nikon to share some photos.




This rental didn't come with a backlog of projects like the last one (the lease forbids me from my favorite hobbies - painting, electrical work, etc.) and desperately needed some character. I didn't buy anything new for this place except for four packs of $10 canvas drop cloths and some drapery clips to create 9' window treatments that perfectly matched the sofa and works well with the standard eggshell walls and white trim that seems to come with all rentals. 
These cheap drapes keep the whole room light and don't detract from those amazing French doors. They're a perfect balance to the mismatched vintage wood tones and make me seem like a minimalist despite all of my clutter.

All this room needs now are family photos and a few animal heads on the walls! 


Sunday, October 5, 2014

How to style an antique bedroom set

This bedroom set was a gift from my mother-in-law (and by gift, I mean that I may have coerced her into parting with it by explaining how it would get much more face time in my house than hers... and the rest is history). She bought it for $25 in the 1970s and I'm so glad she hung on to it for all of these years. It's simple, but beautiful and fits our house perfectly. We put it in the sunny front bedroom of the house and decided to resist the urge to buy new things and instead dressed it up with our old favorites: a big horse blanket from Wes's grandma on top of a (very) distressed cream coverlet, a Southwestern rug that I picked up at Eastern market, curtains and rods that I've carried around with me since my first place in Georgetown, and pairs of metal plant stands that work great next to a little wooden bed.
The result is a room that makes me feel at home. I love coming in here to read or talk on the phone, surrounded by a collection of things that have been through it all, survived U-Haul trips across the country and never made it to the Goodwill bag.
This is the room where Wes keeps his stuff, and the simple styling makes it possible for an Ikea clothes rack and a framed photo of the first president of the USA work. Note that these were not my first-choice accessories, but I'm learning to compromise...


Tuesday, September 30, 2014

On being perfect

“... Someday, sometime, you will be sitting somewhere. A berm overlooking a pond in Vermont. The lip of the Grand Canyon at sunset. A seat on the subway. And something bad will have happened: You will have lost someone you loved, or failed at something at which you badly wanted to succeed. And sitting there, you will fall into the center of yourself. You will look for some core to sustain you. And if you have been perfect all your life and have managed to meet all the expectations of your family, your friends, your community, your society, chances are excellent that there will be a black hole where that core ought to be. I don't want anyone I know to take that terrible chance. And the only way to avoid it is to listen to that small voice inside you that tells you to make mischief, to have fun, to be contrarian, to go another way. George Eliot wrote, 'It is never too late to be what you might have been.' It is never too early, either.”
―    Anna Quindlen, Being Perfect

I love this quote so much, and have had the book on my Kindle forever. Buy this book, read it, and thank me. It's refreshing, relieving, and so very true.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Five easy ways to update a bedroom

So, I've been on a roll designing rooms in our new (old) house and wanted to share some ideas that I picked up about creating a cool bedroom and applied to my new space. Read below for five easy tips that I've learned!
1. Create a reading nook. It's simple (and free, if you already have a chair or two handy to introduce to the room). Clear out a corner, add a chair or two plus a small side table, a lamp, and a cozy pillow and blanket (in my case, a soft Turkish towel). I love this little nook in our bedroom. It's where I can find some quiet time to call my mom, enjoy a glass of wine, or read my Kindle. I've been hunting for a small footstool to complete it.

2. Take everything out except the essentials. Trust me, I am the queen of clutter and have a collection of things that would have gravitated into this bedroom had I not made a commitment to myself to keep it minimalistic. The effect is a simple, serene space that helps me to relax and fall asleep. Wes and I love this house particularly because the 'master bedroom' is really two separate rooms: we keep our things (desk, clothing, crazy mannequin, etc.) in the den and front bedroom so that we can preserve this minimalistic corner of our house!

3. Add a rug. It's the easiest way to add some texture and dimension to a room, not to mention warmth if you have hardwoods. I found this cream and navy striped tassel rug at Pier One and have moved it around to a few rooms in this house. When I brought it into this bedroom, it was perfect! It plays well with the bedding and paint, and lightens up the floor. True confession: I have rolls of rugs stored in my house that have no place to lay out, but I keep them around because every once in awhile I like to change it up, introduce a new pattern or color, etc. I'm currently on the hunt for the perfect sisal rug for our dining room, and a red silk Persian rug just because.

4. Paint it in a soft, neutral color. This room was originally a deep maroon with terrible carpet. I talked the landlord into pulling up the carpet and staining the original hardwoods underneath it, and then painted the room a soft blue-gray that makes the room feel calm and comforting. I picked out a few shades and painted test patches on the wall before settling on this one.

If you need help settling on a color, visit a paint store and ask to speak to a color consultant. (There are people who pick out perfect paint color for a living, believe it or not!) I'd bring along pictures of the room in natural light (e.g. mid-day with no lights turned on) along with pictures without natural light, and some of the pieces you plan on including in the room (furniture, artwork, etc.) and an open mind. If you're in the D.C. area, there's a great new resource for expert advice (and, of course, cans of paint) in Friendship Heights: check out Farrow & Ball at 5221 Wisconsin Ave and tour their showroom for all the color inspiration you'll need to get started! (If you're not in D.C., perusing their website will give you some amazing ideas for color and room design anyway.)

5. Stick to simple bedding. No really, cut it back to the basics and you'll be amazed how much prettier the room looks (and how frequently your bed gets made). Clean white bedding is one of those small luxuries that makes a big difference to me and makes the bedroom feel fresh and inviting. I buy nice white sheet sets and snap up high thread count sheets (800 or above) when I find them on sale.

 I wash sheet sets together and keep sets together either on the bed or in the linen closet so that everything always matches. It's simple but makes a noticeable difference in the comfort of your bed! For summer, we've been using our new collection of white Egyptian cotton sheets with a simple cream coverlet from Ralph Lauren. For winter, I've been using the same white cotton duvet and shams for years, and upgraded to a larger down comforter once I got married.

Other ideas that did not make the top five: Add familiar artwork to the walls (like a big Alaska poster that my dad picked up decades ago following a hiking trip to our northernmost state that was hanging on the wall of my parents' living room for my entire life until I convinced them to give it to me.); Add scented candles (no explanation needed here); Remove overhead lighting in favor of accent lighting (no really, I actually take the bulbs out of overhead lights in rentals so they can never go on. Why do you need general lighting in a bedroom? #lampscreateambiance)