Friday, December 26, 2008

Merry Christmas

Well, I would have written more recently, but the last couple days have been taken up with travel. More travel than we had planned on.

Apparently, a pipe burst in our living room while we were in Baltimore, and our neighbors fortunately were able to get into our place. They discovered 3"-ish of water in our entire first floor. Of course, this was at about 3am on Christmas morning, so most plumbers were not available to come out. The ones that actually were working were so overwhelmed by calls that they couldn't make it to our place. Our neighbors shut off the water supply to the whole complex since they couldn't locate the shutoff to that particular pipe, and everyone had to go without water until about 4pm when a plumber finally arrived and fixed the pipe.

Meanwhile, we caught the first flight home and arrived right after the repairs had been done, but there was still water on the floor and we set to removing all the soaked items including our new rug, which probably weighed around 150 lbs. or so when saturated with water. And given it is natural fiber, it was giving off an interesting odor.

We now have some water remediation specialists here working on removing baseboards and drying out the floors and the walls. They have this super-cool vacuum equipment that sucks the water out of the floor. It's a real mess, but we should be able to begin getting back to normal on Tuesday - we hope.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

You Go, Overstock!

I was inspired to visit for furnishings after seeing their ad in the recent Domino, which offered a 10% off coupon. I had visited at various points in the past but had never found much beyond your standard assortment of nouveau craftsman, bad leather, and contemporary mishmosh.

I was pleasantly surprised this time, though. I found these lamps, which I wish I had a place for:

Or these... Seriously - $99 for two of them??? This type of lamp can go for $1,500 each (at least) from Christopher Spitzmiller, whose quality I'm sure is superior but still, same look.
Overstock Version

Spitzmiller Version

They also have this bed. I'm not sure I love how low it is because if you don't have a super-thick mattress, you'd probably only be like 14" off the floor, but I find the high headboard with wings intriguing. I am on the lookout for an upholstered bed like this with a very high headboard, but would ideally prefer something tufted.

How Does This Compare to Your Dining Room?

Photos: Wikipedia (Top), New York Times

This fun article in the New York Times Home and Garden section today details some of the history of decorating in the White House. Of course there is a lot of attention paid to the changes the first family makes in redecorating, in particular to the expense involved but also to the actual selection of furnishings.

Both photos above show the White House dining room. The second photo above shows the Nixons enjoying a meal - or at least, anticipating enjoying a meal - there is no food on their plates yet. What I love about this photo is:

A) the Zuber wallpaper, and

B) that the mirror above the mantle is a more refined version of the one we have in our living room.

Zuber is a French wallpaper company that specializes in hand block-printed wallpapers in their own proprietary designs that have not changed in hundreds of years. (For some reason their site is dead right now but hopefully the link will begin working again.)
It is so old-world looking and works particularly well in dining rooms or other large, simple spaces with little complex geometry to their walls (i.e., places with big, blank walls you would otherwise need to add interest to with artwork, mirrors, etc.) It should be hung over a layer of canvas so that it can be removed and reused in future homes, should the need occur, due to its extremely high value.

This Wikipedia entry on the President's Dining Room describes the installation, removal, reinstallation, and careful preservation of its Zuber wallpaper:

When the room was created as the President's Dining Room in 1961 the walls were covered in an early nineteenth century woodblock-printed scenic wallpaper, manufactured in France by Zuber et Cie, depicting views of North America. It is similar to the wallpaper installed in the Diplomatic Reception Room but instead of early citizens, European tourists, and Native Americans, it depicts imagined battles of the American Revolution.

During the Ford administration, First Lady
Betty Ford had the wallpaper removed and the walls painted a soft yellow. Rosalyn Carter had the scenic wallpaper reinstalled. In 1996, during the Clinton administration, the room was redecorated. The woodblock wallpaper was carefully covered with fabric covered wooden baffles and the walls were then hung with a pale green Italian watered silk moiré fabric. During the second term of George W. Bush, the walls were recovered in an off white color of silk lampas selected by interior decorator Ken Blasingame.

Here is a photo I pulled off another blog post about Zuber, showing the wood blocks dating back to the company's founding in 1797. These same blocks are still in use. I know from trying to order certain patterns that they only print each one once every few years, and when that batch runs out, you're out of luck until it gets back onto the production schedule.

In my design experience, we have hung Zuber paper in several clients' dining rooms and it creates such a visually interesting environment, while projecting a sense of dignity and history.

Creepy Cool

Domino featured these unique candlesticks in the magazine this month. I just had to go to Mothology and check them out. I love the organic, gothic feel.

I remember when I worked at Couturier, we had proposed to a client an antique coat rack that looked like a giant version of one of these claws and it became kind of like a knotty, twisty tree as it climbed higher towards the hook area at the top.

There's just something about these talon feet - yes, they look like they could rip your guts out, but they are also very beautiful and, of course, unexpected on a candlestick.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Martha's Prop Wonderland

"Props" to my sister-in-law, Jen, for sending this super-fun link to Martha Stewart's blog post about the prop room for her show.

For anyone with a love of housewares of any sort, this truly is a fantasy-land. I especially love bowls, and am in awe of her collection.

I also want to raid the candlestick stash for my mantle and dining room table. Anyone out there work for NBC?

Pardon Me While I Hang My Scarf on Your Tentacle

I love this - can you even call it a trend, or am I just now becoming aware of it - anyway, I'll say trend, of upscale, attractive kids' stuff that just looks so cool that you can use it whether or not you have any little ones around.

How sweet, and just plain appealing, are these coat hooks from Rose and Radish?

Soup's On

Last night, I made a delicious lentil soup adapted from a recipe my sister makes all the time. Her recipe is from the Moosewood Cookbook but I've made some modifications to suit my taste.

The result is a wonderfully filling stew-like soup that is equally perfect in freezing or balmy weather - you could look at as a warming tool if you're in a cold snap like we Chicagoans are right now, or you could see it as a light alternative to a heavy protein meal if you're somewhere warmer, since no meat is involved (I do use chicken broth, but you could substitute water or vegetable broth to make it vegetarian.)

I just had some for breakfast because it is just so good!

Here's the recipe:

Sweet Curry Lentil Soup

1 bag (2 cups) dried green lentils
4 cups chicken broth
4 cups water

1 diced sweet onion
2 cloves garlic
1 carrot or a handful of baby carrots, finely diced
2 stalks celery, finely diced
28 oz. can diced tomatoes in tomato juice (not drained)
2 tsp Coriander
1 tsp Cumin
2 tsp Curry powder
1.5 tsp salt

Bring lentils to boil in chicken broth and water; simmer until soft (about 20 minutes)

Chop onion and sauté with two cloves garlic

Dice carrot and celery; add to onion once onion is soft and transparent. Sautee until all are soft while lentils are cooking. Add spices to vegetable mixture and mix thoroughly. Remove from heat.

Once lentils are soft, add can of tomatoes with juice. Add sautéed vegetable/spice mixture.

Add salt. Add additional Cumin/Coriander/Curry to taste if necessary.

Simmer until flavors are blended.

This makes a large quantity and would probably serve at least 6-ish people, depending on serving size and whether this is a main course or is being supplemented by something else.

Monday, December 15, 2008

That's My City!

I have been thinking of these cool posters I saw at the Renegade Craft Fair this Fall.

They are by ORK Posters, which I didn't realize was based here in Chicago. The posters show an outline map of your city with the neighborhoods noted in some funky original typeface. There are about 12 versions for various major cities and metropolitan areas so far. Look for your city!

I think these are destined to become classics - they are so iconic and graphically powerful. I can't think of anything I've seen lately that is so simple and universally appealing. Then again, I do love maps of all kinds. But I think most people would find these pretty fun.

Are Parents Too Nutty About Nut Allergies?

Mr. Peanut vintage nightlights from

This column (cited in today's Well blog at by Harvard professor Nicholas A. Christakis, published in the British Medical Journal, takes a hard stance on what he sees as overreaction to nut allergies by the parents and staff of American elementary schools.

My initial reaction was complete agreement with him - I do believe that by limiting exposure, we may be causing more harm than good to the vast majority of children who do not suffer and who may be more likely to develop allergies if not regularly exposed to nuts.

However, I also sympathize with parents wanting to protect their children who aren't old enough to understand how crucial it is that they avoid all contact with nuts. Would a solution be to ban nuts for children in lower grades, with the ban lifted for children capable of understanding the need to avoid them?

Then again, some people say that mere inhalation of nut fumes can cause them discomfort. Is that even physically possible or just psychosomatic?

The commenters over at the Well blog are, well, going nuts over this one.

Making an Entrance

Photographer: William Waldron

Elle Decor has a story this month on grand entrances. Granted, not everyone has a huge gallery as their foyer, but the ones in this slide show are meant as inspiration.

My favorite, designed by Brian J. McCarthy for a Manhattan apartment, is shown above. I adore the bold herringbone floor pattern, the subtly reflective gold leaf ceiling, and the warm neutral walls paired with the ebonized floor border and doors and the Chinoiserie furniture.

We may not have always have such a grand space to work with, but we can adapt our favorite elements from interiors like these to work within our means.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Let's Shag

I have always had a soft spot for a good shag rug, maybe because we had one in our living room until I was about 11. If you do one though, it's really got to be wool, because these things tend to get dirty and wool is probably the most forgiving of any fiber.

Wool is naturally springy and retains its shape - if you look at the fibers under a microscope, they look like little coils. That's why wool sweaters don't tend to stretch and get baggy the way cotton ones do. Also, it tends to repel dirt more effectively than synthetic fibers like polyester, because polyester is petroleum-based and if you remember from chemistry, like attracts like - so dirty oils tend to stick to it. The natural lanolin coating on wool helps repel dirt somehow.

I am really taken by the color range available at Home Decorators' Collection, shown in the photo above.

Even though this type of rug is classically seen in white, there's something about the deep mulberry color that I find so inviting. I think it may really work in our bedroom, and I've also been considering a runner for my closet. Luscious!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Powder Room Storage Piece - The Next Frontier

Now that the media cabinet situation is shored up, I am turning my focus to other pieces we still need. One outstanding item is some sort of solution to provide storage in the powder room, where we only have a pedestal sink. We need at minimum somewhere to store a roll or two of TP, plus it's always nice for ladies to have somewhere to set down their purse if they're using the facilities.

I was perusing a blog on the Domino website ( when I came across this diminutive gilt bamboo occasional table with a shelf below. I think it could work with the finish as is, but the blogger suggested that he would consider painting it. We had also considered something more in the direction of a closed cabinet in a more traditional Asian lacquered style, but I think I may take this direction instead unless something else presents itself very soon.

I like the vintage/retro styling and the delicate scale of the framework. And the color appears to be a muted enough gold to be tasteful, not garish. The top is apparently a removeable tray - not something I'm looking for in particular, but who knows - someday if this is used in another room, it may come in handy.

The finishes in the powder room now are more rustic, with pale beige plaster walls and an ivory resin antler-framed mirror, so I think the refined nature of this piece would be a nice counterpoint.

A Stylish Evening

I just got home from a wonderful professional women's event organized by the Jewish United Fund, a charity benfitting people of all faiths throughout Chicago. It was an evening with a wardrobe consultant and personal shopper, Julie Watson.

Julie has worked in the fashion industry for close to two decades with experience at several national retailers whose clothing I have purchased often. She spoke so clearly and directly about how to think about your clothing collection in a structured way in order to ensure that you always have garments appropriate for any occasion.

At least, she didn't use those words, but that's what I got out of it. For example, you should always think about the versatility of an item in addition to how it looks on you. If you go voluminous on top, go small on the bottom. If wearing a roomy bottom, go more form-fitting on top. Build your collection on basic fundamentals with a smattering of printed or otherwise special pieces as the icing. And don't be afraid to wear signature pieces all the time - it helps impress your personal style on those who see you.

A lot of this stuff sounds intuitive, but we all find ourselves falling into repetitive shopping habits that cause us to overbuild parts of our wardrobes while ignoring holes that leave us without enough of something else. I found Julie's talk really thought-provoking and relevant for me, as I'm sure the rest of the audience did too. Check out her website! Don't you wish you had a personal wardrobe consultant?

I also found myself trying to relate her skills to mine in the interiors realm. People need just as much help with their homes if they intend to create spaces that express their personal style and "fit" them in terms of the ways they use their home.

Sometimes people furnish a space for one purpose, and discover that they rarely use it for the intended purpose. You might build a desk into your kitchen and then discover it never gets used, or put a chair or loveseat in your child's room because it looks charming, but then discover that your child always lounges in the den and uses the chair only to toss their dirty clothes on. As a designer, it's my job to help you think about the reality of how you live, not just encourage you to buy things that look good in a picture or look like they "should" be there.

Just like with our wardrobes, we may have preconceptions of pieces that "belong" or "should be" in our house or closet, or we may get influenced to buy trendy items based on persuasive merchandising by retailers. We may think we can do it ourselves, but getting professional advice can help define the style we want to communicate to others, avoid costly mistakes, and even repurpose existing items and spaces in ways we may not have thought of.

Candied Pecan Recipe - Warning: Dangerously Addictive!

Okay, since we were on the topic of nuts earlier and there was a request for the delicous candied pecan recipe I got from my mother-in-law, here goes.

I warn you: make these at your own risk. These go counter to the earlier post - I can speak from first-hand experience in saying that these are not a healthy part of any weight loss plan due to their extremely addictive nature!

They are wonderful to give as holiday gifts too. I usually make a double batch and give some away or save them in a ziploc to eat later.

Elaine's Frosted Pecans

1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 egg white
1 tablespoon water
1 lb. raw pecan halves

Preheat oven to 300 degrees

Combine cinamon, sugar, and salt. Set aside.

Beat egg white until frothy. Add water and beat again. Pour over nuts in large bowl and mix with your hands to get all nuts coated. Then pour the sugar mixture over the nuts and mix it all again to coat evenly.

Pour nuts out onto an ungreased nonstick baking pan.

Bake 15 minutes, remove from oven and turn/stir nuts around, and replace in oven for an additional 30 minutes. Remove if they appear to be burning.

Upon removal from oven use a spatula to loosen the nuts from the tray, but leave on the tray to cool. You can also put them onto non-stick foil right away because sometimes they can get stuck to the baking dish, even if it is non-stick.

Enjoy and let me know what you think! Feel free to post additional nut recipes!

Health Post - News about Nuts!

Just saw a post on the NY Times Well blog about nuts based on an article in the Berkeley Wellness Letter. The Well blog post is here:

and the original material from the Wellness Letter is here:

I take this as more backup for my belief that calories in/calories out oversimplifies how the body works. How would it explain why people lose more weight, or at least do not gain weight, when adding calories to the diet from certain foods (like nuts) but not restricting calories to compensate?

Part of my theory is that the body does not fully break down some foods to their smallest components, and thus does not receive the full lab-tested caloric content from them. For example, I think I have read that some proteins or fats can be assimilated and used to build cells in the body, or serve various other biologic purposes, without being fully broken down and thus not releasing all the energy measured as calories in the lab. The article mentions that fats from some nuts can pass through the body undigested, which also reduces the calories absorbed.

Also, some food components require more energy to break down in the body than others, thus offsetting their caloric impact.

Granted, I'm not a scientist and these are just ideas I kick around in my mind, but I love reading about things like this nut study that knock the established nutrition industry off its standard course.

Now, that's a cozy house

The NY Times had a really cute article about a Christmas tree vendor in Manhattan who comes every year from Montreal to sell trees at a particular church parking lot. This year, he has constructed a two-story hut out of found materials that reminds me of a grown-up version of the sofa forts we used to build as kids. How fun does this look?

I was under the impression this was a new article, as I found it on the website today, but I just took a second look and saw that it was actually written in 2004. Nonetheless, it's still a charming story.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Guinea Hens for sale

Courtesy of

I found this awesome post on Craig's List from a guy selling his guinea hens.

I was initially intrigued because I love guinea fowl feathers and folk art depicting guinea fowl, but kept reading because it was just really funny.
Guinea fowl have long, stiff feathers that are typically spotted or striped. They have a vaguely tribal, ethnic look due to their irregular markings, and can really look wonderful in flower arrangements or used as trim on lampshades or other items.

Here are some additional pics of guinea fowl I found on the web.
A particularly football-like guinea hen

Feathers for sale

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The glorious media cabinet, and wires galore

So it turns out it actually takes way longer to relocate a home theater system with 7 speakers, a receiver, a dvd player, a cable box, and a TV than I thought it would. We probably should have started before 11pm, but about 2 hours later, we were done. And starving, but unwilling to eat since it was so late.

Of course, if the components had fit into the cabinet and allowed the doors to close, then it would have eliminated the extra step of removing the rear panel of the cabinet by "sawing" part of it off with our drill. We had to kind of make a ton of holes along the line we wanted to cut in order to perforate it, and then snap it apart. The whole time, I was just really glad I was not our neighbors.

We were cracking up as we tried to unplug and lay down the wires in an organized way so that it would be easier to reconnect them once we got the new cabinet into place. We'd unplug a random wire that was in the way and say something to the effect of, "okay, just rememer, this one goes to the receiver," and then we would both lose it as we realized the futility of trying to remember which wire went where. I don't think this photo does justice to the massive tangled web of wires we had to work with.

We have everything set up now but we still have a wire issue since they are now all bunched up on the floor. Container Store, here I come.

Here is one more view of the setup.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Media Cabinet - A Happy Ending!

I found a media cabinet - or I should say, it found me.

I was trolling on Craig's List, perusing the furniture listings as I've been doing incessantly these days.

There it was - a mid-century Danish style cabinet, priced to sell in the West Loop. Not what I had originally had in mind, but upon reflection, I realized I didn't really have anything in mind and this could work. Plus, the seller was very eager and so was I.

It turns out he's a furniture designer and this was a prototype of something that was never produced for a retailer he works for. He also lives in a third-floor walkup with his wife, which made for some prolonged heavy lifting!

We are about to unload it into the house in a few minutes. I'll post a picture once it's set up.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

A transitional space

I helped one client select finishes for his new pad, which he was gutting. He moved in last week and yesterday, I got to see how things turned out. It was like opening an awesome present, I have to say.

This is his powder room vanity. He was concerned about getting something he loved, but that would have equal appeal to women and men when it came to resale. I think we were really successful.

In the master bath, we went from first selecting a dark slate to the final choice of light marble with a gray glass mosaic accent on the bath wall. We used a pale green on the walls to contrast with the warm stone. Again, resale was a concern, and after having seen about 80 condos myself during our home search this summer, I have to say that this combination would be attractive to most buyers.

Media Cabinet Update - Part II

Okay, checked out the lacquer cabinet. Not going to work. The doors only swing 90 degrees. and there's no way to make our media work with that.

On the other hand, there were a couple other items at Baker in their floor model sale that were very tempting. But even at 45-55% off wholesale, I'm not sure we're going to go there.

Here is a desk that I LOVED.

Here is the link to the Baker Furniture website for this desk:

It's not the greatest photo, but this is exactly what we need for our living room - a writing table in dark wood and antique brass. This one has a polished look without being overly refined, not too sleek or too rustic. I'm going to keep my eye on it. It is from Baker's Laura Kirar collection, which it turns out has many great pieces that combine some elements of various early 20th Century periods with a very current-feeling contemporary, clean overall line. Check out the whole collection at

More Palin meat to chew on...

This article in the New York Times

has some juicy new numbers on what was spent on maintaining Sarah Palin's appearance during her run as VP.

The thing is, as fun as it is to read this stuff, it would be a lot more enlightening to see a comparable breakdown on what was spent on Obama and McCain during the same period. I have no doubt the totals would pale in comparison, but I want to know by how much. I know I'm not the only one who has expressed this, so I'm surprised that the article made no mention of anything spent on the other two candidates. It's as if they're saying that the other candidates spent nothing, when I'm sure that isn't the case.

Friday, December 5, 2008

The media cabinet search, part I

One of the items that is requiring more deliberation than others in our new home is the media cabinet. We have a large TV that we would like to stand on the cabinet rather than wall-mounting, because wall-mounting to a brick wall sounds like a scary proposition.

Last night at the ASID holiday party, I was introduced to a new line from Baker, who hosted the party. Baker Studio has some younger-feeling designs and prices that, for the most part, are not as intimidating as their standard line.

This cabinet, style #BST9573, has chic tassel pulls, lacquered doors in white or black, and a cerused/bleached oak finish on the remainder of the cabinet. Could this be the one? Possibly, if the doors hinge in a way that allows us easy access to media components.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

My first post

I'm creating this blog as a bulletin board for things I think about, read, find online, etc. All day I find fun things, email them to friends, and then forget about them. I hope this helps to serve as a catalog for future reference.