Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Are Pine Boughs Christian?

I recently posted a query on my Facebook status regarding whether or not there is any holiday decor that doesn't give off a "Christmas" vibe. As a non-Christian, I've always felt a disconnect between the actual purpose of Christmas and the beautiful winter decorations that all the Christian people use to decorate their homes. Is there something that makes a pine wreath or garland inherently Christian? Answer: no.

As one friend helpfully pointed out, a lot of traditions that we now associate with Christmas actually grew out of Pagan rituals. Some quick googling led me to this informative site, eSsortment, which addresses this exact issue.

Let me summarize their excellent explanation detailing the origins of many "Christmas" rituals with origins in pre-Christian festivals.

Carolling began during the Romans' winter solstice celebebration with the Mummers, "costumed singers and dancers who traveled from house to house performing for their neighbors."

In northern Europe, the winter solstice celebration was called "Yule" (which literally meant "wheel", symbolizing the sun) and was celebrated to honor the birth of the pagan sun god on the shortest day of the year. The celebration included mistletoe, then considered a sacred plant, and kissing under it was a fertility ritual. Holly berries were considered "food of the gods."

Evergreens were common to virtually all European winter solstice celebrations, being brought into the home as a hopeful reminder that the growing season would return. Druids worshipped large trees in their religious ceremonies, often held in a circle around them.

While the date of Christ's actual birth is unknown, many historians place it in September, six months after the Jewish Passover. It is nearly universally agreed that it did not actually occur in December, as shepherds would be unlikely to have been tending their flocks outside at that time (as they did according to the bible on the night of Jesus' birth.)

When Pope Julius I declared in 350 AD that Christmas would be celebrated on December 25th, everyone gradually integrated their traditional seasonal celebrations with the Christian holiday. And this is why all of these winter rituals became intertwined with Christmas.

Next, stay tuned for some drool-worthy holiday decor that doesn't scream "Jesus" - for those of us who just want to celebrate the season...

Monday, November 9, 2009

Sweep it Under the Counter

Thanks to my sister-in-law for sharing this one: A company called DrawerVac's come up with a very cool and unique new kitchen gadget. It's an under-counter dustpan that pulls out like a drawer or tray and allows you to sweep all kinds of debris off the counter into the tray - and that gets sucked straight into your central vac system.

Now granted, you have to have central vac for this to work, so it has a somewhat limited clientele, but good for them for developing this super-utilitarian feature that is bound to keep crumbs off your floor and save on overall clean-up time.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Jayson Home & Garden Warehouse Sale!

Attention Chicago Shoppers: The Jayson Home & Garden Warehouse Sale is this weekend, and it opened about 45 minutes ago. I'd say I arrived about 3 minutes after it opened, and there were already approximately 500 people inside. Conservatively.

For those of you in Chicago, you probably know of Jayson as one of our city's coolest purveyors of home furnishings and accents. They have a wonderfully cultivated collection of new case goods, upholstered pieces, accessories, and lighting as well as an interesting assortment of "flea market find" type pieces that they get lord knows where. It all comes together into an ecclectic mix that manages to be sophisticated and exotic while still remaining accessible and warm.

Anyhow, the warehouse sale is this weekend at their warehouse on Webster just west of Elston by the Green Dolphin. In fact, you can park there or across the street at the kind of deserted looking warehouse (you'll probably see about 1000 other cars parked there - don't worry about finding it.) Even though the goods will likely be very picked over within the hour, I would still recommend going because I noticed that there were a number of items they have back stock in. For example, I bought a bed at the sale last year and was pleased to see that they delivered a newly wrapped one to me, not the floor model I had seen.

Tips (some echoed on Jayson's own site): Bring your measurements as well as a tape measure! Don't bring any large bags, carts, or strollers. Utilize your camera phone if you need to confirm with a significant other or roommate. Think about what you can spend in advance and be prepared to make a quick decision. And don't just buy a soap or candle because you feel like it's a waste to come all that way and not walk out with anything. Even though I was thrilled with what I got last year, I didn't find anything perfectly suited to my needs this year and I felt a real sense of pride when I walked away empty-handed rather than with an odd assortment of tabletop accessories.

Happy shopping!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Zucchini Muffins Make Your Home Smell Sweet!

Okay - well, I had to tie it into the home somehow, since that is the focus of my blog. But seriously, if you make these muffins, you can unplug the Glade for a day and enjoy the smell of major home-baked goodness.

This recipe evolved from a basic zucchini bread recipe my sister and I found online this summer. First, we realized we didn't have any oil after we had already shredded all the zucchini and begun making the recipe, so I suggested we substitute mayo. I recalled reading somewhere that some cake mixes work well with mayo and I thought, hey, why not give it a try? It worked wonderfully, adding a springiness to the texture and also, probably due to the egg protein in mayo, making the resulting bread extra-filling.

Every time I make this recipe, I seem to push the limit of the called-for amount of zucchini. If the recipe calls for 2 cups, I end up with 3 or 4. This last time, I shredded 4 small zucchinis, making about 4.5 cups. But again, the recipe never fails to amaze me. It worked beautifully with all that zucchini, and the more zucchini I use, the better I feel about eating these muffins.

The bread morphed into muffins during my first attempt to do this in my own home. I realized after making the mixture, which is enough to make two loaves of bread, that I only had one loaf pan in my house. But I did have a jumbo muffin tin. So I poured the mixture meant for the second loaf into a few of the jumbo muffins holes and bingo - the perfect take-along breakfast was born. Now I don't even bother with loaves - I make the jumbo muffins plus some extra mini-muffins. Aren't muffins just inherently more fun than bread?

Recipe: Hearty Spiced Zucchini Muffins

3 cups white whole wheat flour (or all purpose flour, or a blend of regular and whole wheat flour)
1 teaspoon Salt
1 teaspoon Baking Soda
1 teaspoon Baking Powder
1 Tblsp Ground Cinnamon
1 Tblsp Ground Ginger
3 Eggs
1 cup Hellmans Mayo
1 2/3 cups Sugar
1 Tblsp Vanilla Extract
2.5-4.5 cups Grated Zucchini (NOT drained like other recipes call for)
(1 cup chopped walnuts - OPTIONAL)

1. Butter and flour 2 8"x4" loaf pans or a combination of two muffin tins (I have one 6-hole jumbo muffin tin and 1 12-hole small muffin tin)

2. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

3. Combine flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and ginger together in a large bowl and whisk thoroughly. (This bowl needs to be big enough for the whole mixture later.)

4. Beat eggs, mayo, vanilla, and sugar together in a smaller bowl.

5. Add wet mixture into dry ingredients and fold together until well combined. It will be very sticky and dry. Add zucchini into this mixture and mix thoroughly. (The moisture of the zucchini will aid in mixing.) Add nuts if desired.

6. Pour into prepared pans.

7. Bake until tester or knife comes out clean.

Loaves: 60-70 minutes at least

Muffins: 45 minutes

Monday, October 26, 2009

Another Beautiful Mural Artist

I was contacted recently by Allison Cosmos, an experienced mural artist whose portfolio is rich in beautiful residential work (her bio says she also works in commercial settings.) With 14 years of experience, Allison brings a wonderful sense of color, taste, and refinement to her projects. I love how she draws inspiration from playful fabric motifs and expands them by adding original animals, scenes, or other ornament where appropriate. Here are just a couple of my favorite images from her portfolio.

This toile-inspired imagery is based on the style of a Scalamandre pattern used elsewhere in the room. How wonderful for a child's room, or even a powder room or dining room!

This elegant scrollwork would look equally suitable in a dressing room or a dining room. (Click any of the photos for enlarged images.)

I absolutely love the stained pattern on this floor. This is something I've always wanted to do for a client but haven't found the right project yet. Now I know who can help when it comes up! I even love the variety of cross forms occupying the centers of the octagons.

Believe it or not, this is an entry door. Damask patterns seem to be everywhere these days, but this is actually one application I haven't come across until now. The contrast of the raspberry and white are so striking against the gray wall and the green daybed. Love!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Shabby Chic - It' Still Here

The NY Times today posted this article about the return of Shabby Chic. After some ups and downs including bankruptcy, it has gotten a new life and is reopening three flagship stores (New York, Santa Monica, and London.)

The company is 20 years old and was born during the last recession, in 1989. It grew in popularity as people reacted against the strong, geometric design of the '80s and began to crave more comforting surroundings at home. I can see how that would be the case now as well, but I think the overscaled, purposefully sloppy slipcover look is a bit outdated.

Also, the article points out that Shabby Chic as a concept became so pervasive that the flea market look is now routinely mixed in throughout a whole host of retailers' lines, no longer being exclusive to this brand. By its very nature, this weathered, antique-y aesthetic doesn't lend itself to exclusive ownership by one retailer as it is supposed to approximate a collected, eclectic look. I hope Shabby Chic has some more design tricks up its sleeve. I look forward to seeing how they perform in this market.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Up in the (Faux) Trees

Here's another item I came across an ad for recently and which sufficiently intrigued me to check out their website: faux trees. Really nice faux trees. No, not an oxymoron. The company that makes them is called NatureMaker.

Turns out the guys who make the trees you would see inside Caesar's Palace or the Paris Casino (shown above) also make them for residential applications as well. I can't say I love every image in their gallery - let's face it, sometimes a tree inside a house is just strange and contrived - but I find them thought-provoking. I like to look at an item like this and think, "how could I make this cool? What could surround this item to make it look authentic and not just theme-y or like a stage set?"

My favorite image from their residential portfolio is shown both at the top of this post and here in another photo. The bleak, twisty Bristlecone Pine is 15' high by 15' in diameter, so you can imagine that the overall room is huge. I think the designer did a really good job. The tree looks like it blends well into this stark interior.

This image is of an exterior residential application - the beautiful faux Cypress columns are 32' high (!) and support the carriageway of a luxury home. The idea of the faux trees here makes sense to me - from an engineering standpoint, you can be sure they're made out of a strong enough material to bear this much weight, and you don't have to figure out where to source two matching real timbers to do the job.

NatureMaker seems to do quite a brisk business in restaurants. This one I found particularly pretty. It's an olive tree at Via Delizia Bistro in Portland, OR. The canopy is 27' wide and the height is 14'.
I had a lot of fun scrolling through NatureMaker's portfolio. What do you think?

Playful Wallcoverings

I came across two fun things in this month's Interior Design magazine.
One is this new wallpaper pattern fom Wolf Gordon. WG is a favorite of mine. They make a lot of contemporary, graphic or textured wallcoverings that are more durable and suited for commercial applications (but of course also work for residential.) Contract/commercial settings have higher performance requirements - think about it - you want to be able to wipe the walls down if stuff gets splashed on them, and you wouldn't want someone in your restaurant damaging the walls by just brushing against them with their studded belt or scratchy jewelry - so you can usually use a commercially intended product in the home, but not all items intended for residential use are durable enough for commercial applications.

Anyway, this new pattern from Wolf Gordon called Irene's Damask is really fun because at first glance, it looks like a traditional damask, but when you look closer, you can see that it is made up of animals. The pattern was just introduced and I couldn't find it on WG's website yet, but I found the image I had seen in the magazine. I hope it is part of a whole collection with a similar feel.

There is another company I've seen do a similar thing with damask. Studio Printworks carries a design by Paul Loebach called "Yee-Ha." It is a composition of cowboys on horseback, oil rigs, football helmets, and more Texas-style imagery, but at a glance, it looks like a perfectly traditional damask pattern. It's available in a whole range of colors.
I've also seen the Scottish company Timorous Beasties create toile patterns with somewhat disturbing contemporary urban street scenes and images of large iguanas Have you come across any other companies that play with traditional concepts of pattern like this?

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Renegade Craft Fair coming up again!

Just a quick post about the upcoming Chicago Renegade Craft Fair. I went to this wonderful street fair for the first time last year and despite the torrential, driving rain, loved it. It's coming up again in a couple weeks and I have my fingers crossed for decent weather this time!

The fair consists of booth after booth of artisans and craftspeople selling a huge assortment of clothing, jewelry, prints, posters, and any other type of handcrafted or handprinted item you could imagine. Check it out!

My favorite purchase from last year's fair: a tee shirt with this design on it from Seibei

Parasol Mag - A Fantastic Discovery!

I came across this very cool online magazine focusing on art, design, lifestyle, and crafting called Parasol. The best part (aside from the original content and lack of advertising): the issues are free to download. The first issue can be viewed as a pdf here and you can find the rest at the magazine's homepage.

In the magazine are profiles of all sorts of cutting edge artists, designers, and crafters, including Alexandra Romano, a photographer and digital print artist. I was really taken with her collection that was inspired by Carneval in Venice. They are available for purchase on Etsy and you can see her full print portfolio here, on her website.

She is just one of the many inspirational talents profiled in Parasol. I am excited to delve further into Parasol to discover more new talent!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

New York Times on Interior Design

In today's Home and Garden section, the New York Times has a couple articles about the changing interior design industry. Many high-end designers are taking on smaller or different types of projects than they typically would, and it's leading to a redefinition of the designer-client interaction.

As an experienced high-end designer, I can identify. With the economy, you have to be flexible in how you offer your services. Instead of my standard full-on design services where I work within the client's budget to select all sorts of furnishings and finishes from trade resources, I've found more clients interested in my consultation services with recommendations on where to purchase products at retail, or a furniture plan service where I help determine layout and let the clients shop for their own furniture, or paint and architectural finish consultations.

I am always on the lookout for new projects, so if you or anyone you know needs some help but have been intimidated by using a designer for something you thought might be too small of a request, drop me a line! I love providing whatever help I can, whether it be a large-scale renovation, selecting window treatments, or even reupholstery of a few chairs.

Monday, August 17, 2009

White Attic - Vintage Chic Bookcases

Just saw over on Chicago Home & Garden's Domestica Blog that local shop White Attic is now making custom glass-front bookcases.
White Attic's stock in trade is refinished vintage modern case goods that they bring new life to by repainting in luxe, muted colors or revarnishing to bring out the beauty of the natural wood. We have a chest from them that works perfectly in our entry and I visit the shop periodically to get inspired for other projects.

We've been in the market for a pair of vintage barrister bookcases with glass fronts, but maybe these could be a suitable alternative - given we've had no luck combing antique shops and sales for a matching pair of vintage ones in good condition. Hmm.

Marimekko Fabulosity

After my sister sent me a link to Marimekko's website (to look at an adorable dress), I found their online library of fabric patterns. Listed by designer, Marimekko fabrics are always crisp and refreshingly creative. Here are some of my favorites:

Kevätjuhla by Miina Äkkijyrkkä (not sure how to pronounce that one!)

The site shows numerous fabrics made into duvet sets for the bedroom. It's funny - the way they're all styled and photographed from an aerial perspective, I thought they were all hot water bottles until I enlarged one and realized it was a bed shot from above.

Here are a couple of the patterns I really liked:

The signature Marimekko style lends itself naturally to kids' products.

Check out this adorable bib.

And this twist on the classic game, "Memory." Wouldn't it be more fun with Marimekko patterns involved?

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Newsflash: Non-Cheesy Mural Artist!

I met with the coolest mural artist yesterday to review her portfolio for future use in my projects. Her name is Augustina Droze and she's been working since she was 15 on paid commissions for murals. Clearly she was born to do this.

I am normally not the hugest fan of murals - let's face it, we've all seen murals that just look tacky and don't give off that upscale vibe, rather looking amateurish and too folksy.

But Augustina really gets it - her work is sophisticated and extremely well-rendered. She is not only a gifted artist in her own right, but is capable of replicating the styles of various artists upon request. I've chosen to post some of her residential work, but if you visit her gallery, you'll also see some of her work in restaurants, malls, and civic projects.

Here is one of my favorite pieces she's done - it's in a home in Aspen and depicts the local landscape.
Here is one of a kitchen ceiling - what a great treatment to add interest up above!
A mural is a classic way to enliven a child's room. I love these!
Here, a transporting landscape with some adorable, realistic criters sprinkled throughout.
And in this room, vignettes in the style of Norman Rockwell add old-time appeal.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Lincoln Park Conservatory

Having had a little success with our new garden this summer, I have developed a deeper interest in plants recently. And on one of my frequent running routes, I enter Lincoln Park right by the Lincoln Park Conservatory.

A mysterious, hulking behemoth of a greenhouse, this building has intrigued me for the past several months since I first noticed it during a run. It also has a prominently posted marquee stating that it is open every day of the year for free to the public from 9-5. The problem is that it lies about a third of the way through my run, so it never seems just the right moment to peek in and take a stroll through some exotic plant exhibits.

Today, with my sister in town, we were walking through the park to visit the green market and it struck me that this was the perfect opportunity to check out the Conservatory. It was worth the wait and far exceeded my expectations. The building is divided into several rooms with a logical path running through. First there was the palm room, then the fern room, then the orchid room, and then a seasonal exhibit room, leading back in a loop to the palm room and then out again. Almost every plant is labeled and there are some giant ones that make you feel like you're in Jurassic Park or some prehistoric rainforest.

Here is some history about the building from the Chicago Park District's official website:

The Lincoln Park Commission constructed the Lincoln Park Conservatory in phases between 1890 and 1895, replacing a small greenhouse that dated from the 1870s. Nationally renowned architect Joseph Lyman Silsbee designed the Conservatory in collaboration with architect M.E. Bell. The park includes a second example of the work of each architect. Silsbee designed the Carlson Cottage, a ladies comfort station southeast of Café Brauer, and Bell designed the Rustic Shelter, located west of the North Pond, near Stockton Drive.

During the early nineteenth century developments in iron and glass building technology led to the construction of conservatories in cities throughout Europe and the United States. Later in the century, as people were increasingly concerned about the ill effects of industrialization, they became fascinated with nature and interested in collecting and classifying plants. Large conservatories with display and exhibit rooms gained popularity, and Lincoln Park's small greenhouse no longer seemed sufficient. Architects Silsbee and Bell were commissioned to design a much more substantial building. Rendered in an exotic style, the new structure included palm, fernery, orchid, and show houses. A "paradise under glass," the Conservatory supported "a luxuriant tropical growth, blending the whole into a natural grouping of Nature’s loveliest forms." Historically, aquatic plants propagated in tanks in the Conservatory were planted outside, in artificially-heated lily ponds. The exotic plants were so popular that in 1897 the Egyptian government requested seeds from Lincoln Park's water lilies. The rocky-edged ponds once meandered along what is now the fence line of the Lincoln Park Zoo

It is such a wonderfully pleasant environment to explore the beauty of plants and to learn about various species. I wouldn't say there was an overwhelming amount of information - in fact, there were very few explanatory placards - but just enough to provide some background without overly slowing down your progress through the exhibits. If you are in the area, I highly recommend checking this out - it's a breathtaking facility, it's free, and you just may get some inspiration for your home garden.