Thursday, January 29, 2009

Pet Furniture - It's Part of Your Home Too

I no longer have a cat, but when I did, I struggled with how to create a comfortable space for a cat that didn't scream "hideous", "Crazy Cat Lady", or "I give up." When I did come across something I liked the looks of, the uncertainty of whether or not my cat would ignore it left me unwilling to pay anything for it, so ultimately I bought a little cat nest-type bed from Target and called it a day.

Now there are so many cute things out there, I wish I had another chance to create a comfy nook for a little fur-person in my house. Check these out:

!!! Domino Magazine Folding !!!

I can't believe it - I just read that Domino, my favorite shelter mag, is closing down due to lack of advertising and budget cuts at Conde Nast.

Read the full article here.

Domino has been a wonderful resource for designers and the public, providing a unique design aesthetic that does not exist anywhere else in the magazine world. That's not to say I loved every project they showcased, but I appreciated their point of view and breadth of resources that I couldn't find in other publications. I think this is going to leave a big void in the shelter-mag-osphere and I wonder what will come in to fill it.

Retail Haggling - Does it Work?

The NY Times Home and Garden section has an article today about trying to haggle in retail stores, specifically for furniture. As a member of the trade, I am often in a position to get a discount anyway, but apparently now some stores are extending that trade discount to the masses as well as offering further discounting if you just ask for it.

However, not all stores are willing do do this. I felt the article seemed to conclude by seeing the glass half full since several of the stores the author approached were willing to negotiate somewhat, but I came away from it with a more half-empty feeling - the discounts the author seemed to get were around 10% or less, and seemed piddling as a percentage of the cost of most of the items.

They ran a companion article with more comments from the vendors' point of view, and it became clear that stores have vastly different attitudes towards discounting. ABC Carpet sounds like they want the merch to move at virtually any cost, but the Conran Shop is insulted that people want any wiggle room at all on pricing.

My hunch would be that the potential for a deep discount on some products might bring more bodies into the store and move more product at both sale and discounted prices for ABC, while the "thumb up your nose at cost-conscious shoppers" attitude from Conran would annoy shoppers and push them to other, friendlier outlets.

Finally, a second companion article about the general downturn in home furnishings describes the generally sad state of the industry and the massive 180 it has done from a relatively strong position it held a few years ago when the housing market was also flourishing and people needed to fill up all those new homes. It mentions that Pottery Barn is struggling, which I hadn't realized.

Have you ever successfully haggled at a retail establishment without an advertised sale on something?

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Drool-worthy French Vacation Home Alert

(Click on photos for larger view)

This summer, we traveled to London and spent some time on Pimlico Road where there are several antiques and interiors vendors. One I particularly liked was Appley Hoare, a vendor of rustic antiques. The dealer really has a great eye.

I get emails from them periodically with stock updates, and today I received an unusual one - apparently the store has restored and furnished its own vacation home in France, and now it is finished and available for rent. There is a lot of detail on the website for the home, so rather than paraphrasing, I will copy a bit of it here:

Appley Hoare, London based antique dealer, has just completed the restoration of a house in the Gard in south west France – it is situated on the outskirts of a village between the towns of Montpellier and Nimes – 25 minutes from either airport or the TGV. It is close to the Camargue which is a very interesting part of France and only 30 minutes from some wonderful sandy beaches. There are many interesting historic sights and towns to visit in the surrounding area also many good restaurants. Local towns have regular street markets and fairs where the famous Camargue bulls and white horses are run through the streets...

Go to the website to see more photos, more info and rates.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Random Health Post: The Dirt on Dirt

Wow, "dirt" is one of those words that sounds really weird after you say/write it multiple times.

Love this article in the NY Times Health section today. It reiterates the new thinking that dirt is good for a developing immune system and gives specifics about types of worms that are especially helpful in arming us against autoimmune diseases.

Hopefully you and your children won't take to ingesting worms visible to the naked eye, but count yourself lucky if you live on a farm or with a household pet or two - the dirt/waste on farms and animals regularly contains intestinal worms that can spur our bodies to action in developing immunities.

Coffee Table Argument

The husband and I had an argument about coffee tables before I bought this one from Restoration Hardware, which we both like. We needed something light in our room so that it wouldn't be like a big black hole on our light jute rug, surrounded by our chocolate brown sofas, so the brass and glass idea was perfect. Plus it's on casters so it can be moved easily to accommodate sitting on either sofa.

However, he had been lobbying for a table he had seen once somewhere with an extendable top that would raise up on some type of hinge to pull forward and be at regular table height, so you could eat or do work at it while you sit at the couch. I kept blowing him off, telling him I had never seen such a thing. Basically, I wanted something more traditional in our space and I couldn't imagine something like that fitting in with the design aesthetic.

This weekend, up in Andersonville at Cassona, we stumbled on the type of table he had been pining for. I have to admit, it's not that bad looking (but nowhere near as appropriate as the one we got for our space,) and it's priced well at $445.

Coffee table closed

Husband pouting over extended position of coffee table

It's very contemporary, but everyone in our group agreed that it is truly functional and unlike any coffee table we've ever seen. Here's hoping that more companies copy this technology so there are more styles to choose from next time we're in the market for a coffee table.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Cool Earthy Rugs

My in-laws were in town and we went wandering around on Lincoln up in Lakeview yesterday in search of home furnishings finds. We found a few antique shops and a few furniture shops with a lot of contemporary pieces.

My favorite discovery though were these rugs - the company is called "Mat - The Basics" and it is sold at Rubin's furniture .

I was first intrigued by this flatwoven wool rug with strips of felt woven in. The whole feel is very handmade and earthy. Rubin's furniture had the red and orange colorway hanging in the shop, which I liked, but after seeing the other colors in the catalog I'm drawn to the brown version, which also has orange felt strips woven through.
I asked if I could see the catalog for the manufacturer, which is always a good idea if you like something at a furniture showroom. They can almost never display an entire collection on their floor and if you like one piece, it's probable that there are others you'll like as well and the store can order them for you. This was certainly the case here, because I fell in love with this primitive looking flatwoven wool rug called "Valparaiso".

You can't see the detail as well on the website as you can in the catalog, which is unfortunate. If you want to see the catalog, go to Rubin's!

Finally, there is a rug I saw on the website that is handtufted, not flatwoven, and the pattern is great. I am a sucker for these ambiguously-ethnic-type things. I worry they're getting a little played out, but in moderation I still think they're just objectively pleasing.

This one's called "Alhambra."

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Rooting through the frou-frou

Horchow can be a great resource if you really dig, but the majority of the site is somewhat pricey, fussy and overly ornamented. My parents used to get the catalog and I remember it from my childhood, but we never ordered anything from them to my knowledge. In any case, it popped into my mind recently and I ventured over to the site to see what they had to offer.

Lo and behold, I ended up finding ridiculously inexpensive dining chairs from them for our dining room. These Sheraton dining chairs are sold as a pair and are now $380 for two, but I got them at 30% off that price during a promotion a week or so ago. I have ordered four pairs.

Now, I know they may look traditional and stuffy to some people, but I think the shape of the back is attractive if you forget about that shiny fabric on them. I plan on dressing them down by recovering them. On the outside backs, I will use a punchy paisley or stripe and perhaps nailhead trim or a flat braid or twill trim around the border. On the inside backs and seats, I plan to use a solid plain woven of some sort. Velvet would go well on these, but I already have velvet sofas in the adjacent living area so we've got to mix it up.

I don't even know what fabric they will show up in, given it is described as "toffee" but the photo clearly shows something that is ivory or white and by no stretch could be described as "toffee." I'm not even harboring any hope that it might be something I actually like. For $133 per chair, I'm just happy to get the frames.

Entertaining at Home

I came across a reference to this helpful household post by Maggie Mason on the Real Simple blog.

Basically, Maggie has come up with a foolproof way to be ready in an instant, should an unexpected guest drop by. She stores non-perishable cheese plate items in a jar in the cupboard so they will be at the ready on a moment's notice. Nobody in the household is allowed to raid that jar unless guests are over.

She recommends stocking dark chocolate, an assortment of nuts suitable for guests, some dried fruit, some crystallized ginger... All great ideas.

To that list, I might add:
  • Candied nuts (which I am now only allowing myself to eat among guests, because if I opened the floodgates and let myself eat them alone, it could get dangerous.)
  • A tin of smoked oysters
  • Popcorn (unpopped, to be made on the stove)
  • Peanut m&m's

What else would you keep in your entertaining jar? Post your comment!

As an aside, I was inspired to read the Real Simple blog in the first place because I had interpreted the title of the post as involving keeping your house tidy so that you'd always be ready for guests. I guess it was referring not to being tidy, but rather to being prepared with the correct supplies. I could use a little more encouragement in the "always keeping tidy" arena, so I'm hoping there is some future post on that topic!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Strange Animal Thingies

So I wandered over to the Z Gallerie site, which holds fun surprises sometimes. I generally like their decorative accessories and wall decor.

I was looking for some alterna-antler type things - maybe antlers made out of plaster or resin or some such. Instead, I found a slew of random animal-themed accessories which, when artfully edited and displayed, could be quite striking. It's just so hard to pick one, but you have to or else they turn tchotchke-ish.

If you're in a parrot mood:

Or maybe more of a "wacky shell" place:

Perhaps a mountain goat footrest? (These would be WAY cooler if they had leather legs and heads instead of whatever fabric it is.)

A kooky metallic croc skull (I hope this looks better in person.)

Who wouldn't enjoy these charming glass sea creatures (these are dangerously close to tchotchke-ville though)?

Now this could go just about anywhere.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Wish I Could Have "Stayed in Vegas"

I spent a long weekend in Las Vegas and had such a blast, I wish I could have stayed longer. Granted, I didn't do a lot of the typical partying - I actually spent the most time at the Canyon Ranch spa at the Palazzo where we were staying.

I kind of threw off my schedule the first morning, when I woke up at 6am and couldn't get back to sleep. That set the tone for the rest of the weekend. Since I was falling asleep earlier than everyone else, I woke up earlier and rather than stay in a dark room with three girls sleeping around me, I went to the gym and enjoyed the spa facilities that were included as part of the gym pass.
If I could move into the Canyon Ranch spa, I would. What's not to love about a clean robe waiting for you, showers with delicious smelling toiletries, an endless supply of clean towels of all sizes, rows upon rows of hair styling stations, each with their own hair product selection and sanitized brushes/combs and facial product... Of course, all that is on top of the relaxation room, the jacuzzi, the steam room and sauna, and the "experiential rains" showers that would pelt you with a strange routine of varying water pressures, water temperatures and lights. I could go on and on. It was my home away from home.

A highlight of the trip for me was my private rock-climbing lesson at the Venetian side of the spa (there are branches of the spa at both the Venetian and the Palazzo, connected by a long hallway.) The Venetian side has a two-story rock wall 40' high. I climbed 4 times! By the end, my arms were literally shaking and I couldn't even grip my water bottle when I got down. It was so exhilarating.

The architect did a great job of making the rock wall a decorative element - you can see it when you walk in and are standing at registration - you are almost level with the top, and can look down over a balcony to see the base of the wall on the lower level. This photo shows the view from the balcony level.

It was difficult to take good photos of a lot of the places we saw on the trip due to the dramatic lighting that lent the spaces their wow factor, but unfortunately didn't make it easy to photograph.
One I was able to successfully photograph was the interesting wall of skulls at Dos Caminos in the Palazzo. I guess it's a play on Mexican Day of the Dead decor, and it was a very arresting sight.

Skull wall - view from our table

Skull wall - looking up from the banquette seat

I'll follow up more in the next few days with more Vegas and Vegas-inspired photos.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Wallet-Friendly Art.

And it's nice to be able to call it "art" at these prices - and not just "wall decor", a term you'll find in many catalogs these days.

I came across this cool site called 20x200 that sells original photos and paintings in limited editions of 200 in 3 sizes, 8.5x11", 22x17", or 30x40" at $20, $200, and $2000 each, respectively. The offerings change constantly and once they're sold out, that's it. The site is curated by Jen Bekman and is a virtual gallery of up and coming artists.

The photo at the top above is one I particularly liked by Don Hamerman. He finds baseballs at a field near his house. Sometimes they have been decaying for years like this one, giving them a very rustic, organic feel. This piece is "Untitled (Elephant)".

The one below is titled "Kerry" by Jacob Escobedo. He doesn't share much of the rationale behind the name aside from saying that his work is all named after his loved ones' favorite animals. His personal website shows his portfolio of prints, music posters, logos, websites - all kinds of graphic design projects he's done. He is a programming director for Adult Swim on Cartoon Network.

There are many more intriguing images on the site - go check them out!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Super Sale at Andrew Hollingsworth!

I was perusing the sale section at Andrew Hollingsworth (a Danish Modern gallery in River North) and came across this modern chair for $100. $100!!! They have only four available and if you wanted to order more, they would be around $1000-$1500 each. I've seen good deals, but this takes the cake.

They have an assortment of other pieces worth taking a look at too. Have fun!

New Design Newsletter

Chicago Home Magazine is starting a weekly e-newsletter called Domestica. Based on the first issue, it seems like it's going to be a great source for discovering local boutiques and keeping abreast of all sorts of developments in the design world.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Well-Priced Fabrics

It's always fun when you discover or rediscover a resource for well-priced fabrics outside of the design trade showrooms. I always wrote off JoAnn Fabrics and Calico Corners as outdated, but as this post over at the Material Girls blog shows, CC actually has quite a line of updated selections.

I also visited Fishman's fabrics (not a relative of mine) recently here in Chicago. They have a remarkable selection of remnants in addition to their standard selection which is already pretty wide and well-priced. Anyway, they have remnants of beautiful mohair velvets that normally go for $200/yard, now priced for like $10-15/yard. Can you believe that??? The downside is that they are mostly only a few yards - but if you're just making pillows or upholstering a chair, that could be fine.