Thursday, April 30, 2009

It's Patio Time!

It came to my attention this year that there's a whole world of patio furniture out there. I never had a reason to look into it for myself, never having had any outdoor space of my own to furnish (not counting the 20 square foot balcony in our last apartment.) Suddenly now that we need some, I realized it's in every store and catalog. I just never noticed it before!
I've shopped at certain very high-end vendors for clients in the past, but for my first foray into my own patio furniture, I wanted to keep it simple. Plus, Chicago winters aren't kind to the stuff and we don't have room to store a lot of cushions. So whatever we have has to either be replaceable or super-sturdy.
After checking out a whole slew of options from Crate and Barrel, Restoration Hardware, Pottery Barn, Home Decorators, Frontgate, Bellacor, CB2, West Elm, and several others I can't even recall right now, I happened upon Grandin Road. They have a pretty tasteful selection overall, and I think the Paxton Collection, which we ended up with for our lounge seating, looks way pricier than it actually is.

We went with both the sofa and chair. The sofa comes with the seat cushion and three throw pillows (already a big advantage over other retailers who charge separately for the frame and the cushions/pillows) in a perfect pale maize color, and delivery is included in their pricing. The chair comes with the seat cushion and one throw pillow. It all comes via UPS and requires some simple assembly with a screwdriver.

I ordered it Monday. It got here today, which kind of caught me off-guard. I got the shipping confirmation email saying it had shipped yesterday a few minutes after it actually got here.
We also ordered a dining set (table and four chairs) from Home Decorators, which is affiliated with Home Depot. However, I later discovered a different set from Frontgate that I think I might get instead because it has a round table and would be easier to pull an additional chair up to (the set I originally ordered has a slightly higher than average table, so you couldn't use standard chairs with it. I guess some people think that a table being high makes it cooler somehow. Not sure why.)
Home Decorators only has like 5 locations nationwide, but one of them happens to be in the Home Depot in our neighborhood. They have a program that allows you to order something to be shipped to the store and only pay $15 shipping, rather than the approximately $145 freight and shipping it would have cost to ship directly to our house. It's a great deal if it works for you. I plan on going to the store to see the set in person before deciding whether to bring it home or return it and get the Frontgate set instead.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Preview - Before and After Pics!

I am working with a client locally who recently purchased a Craftsman style bungalow in the Western Suburbs. These homes typically have a front living room, but their home also has a large family room in back that they use for everyday lounging and informal entertaining.

This left them with a large front room that they weren't sure what to do with. It encompasses an entry area, staircase, and living area. We have worked so far on defining the living area into a semi-formal space suitable for a young family by changing the wall color, adding new furnishings and drapery, and anchoring the living space with an area rug. Previously the room was painted a jarring yellow with puny drapery panels hung bizarrely across the window transoms. Now the walls are a calming beige with striped drapery panels hung to heighten the space and show off the refined furnishings.

This area flows into the dining room, which also needed a pick-me-up. Starting off with a dreary dark blue, the space was drab and depressing. Working with the existing furniture, we lightened the walls, added drapery, artwork, and a mirror, recovered the chair seats, and restyled the interior of the china cabinet. Now the dining room is inviting and refined.

Both areas are still WORKS IN PROGRESS - still missing things like a new chandelier, side tables, a coffee table, lamps, and matching pillows - but the difference so far has nonetheless been dramatic. Take a look at these IN PROGRESS before and after pics!

Living Area BEFORE

Living Area AFTER

Dining Room BEFORE

Dining Room AFTER

Dining to Living BEFORE

Dining to Living AFTER

Dining Room Window Wall BEFORE

Dining Room Window Wall AFTER

Dining Room AFTER

Dining Room Mirror Area BEFORE

Dining Room Mirror Area AFTER

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Pillow Chapter Closed

My handiwork in the back, with a cashmere-covered pillow in front (cashmere cover from The Company Store)

I finished sewing all the pillow covers, finally! It is so nice not having white uncovered down inserts all over the house mocking my procrastination.

For the living room, I used a woven camel hair/wool blend that is super-soft for the backs and a Ralph Lauren houndstooth wool for the fronts with a red brush fringe in the seams. Since wool is a natural fiber (my favorite!), it breathes year-round and I don't feel it's inappropriate even with summer coming up.

For all the pillow covers I made, I went two inches smaller than the inserts (for a 20" insert, I sewed an 18" square cover) so that they would be comfortably plump. I went with 50/50 down fill, but I would advise going up even to 70/30 (70% feathers/30% down) for added firmness. The more down, the more loft but that also means they collapse more easily when you lean on them. The 50/50 works well but since the price also goes down as you decrease the down percentage, I'd consider using 70/30 next time possibly.

Check out the concealed zipper - a perfect color match with the trim!

Euro Chic in Atlanta

I stumbled across this website for an Atlanta-based design boutique called Bobo Intriguing Objects. The website is very limited in description of the history of the business or its curators, but bottom line - I love pretty much everything they have, ranging from lighting to outdoor planters to case goods to upholstery. If I had to shop at one store ever again, they might be in the running. It all has a rough-hewn, old-world European look. Nothing is too glossy or fussy, and they really have a wonderful eye for proportion and interesting shapes/lines. I encourage you to go look at the full collection on their site for more eye candy. Additional note: they do COM upholstery (Client's Own Material) for no additional charge.

Elkins Arm Chairs - love the historically-inspired lines of this chair. The revised shield shape of the backs lend these an almost anthropomorphic quality. Don't they look like women with their hands on their hips, like they could almost get up and walk away on those cabriole legs?

Loveseat - this would be perfect against a wall in an entry or living room. Love the overscaled back and the shape of the arms a well as the cabriole legs.

Iron/Oak Lantern - love the proportion and mix of light and dark. Also, the detailing of the studs along the stringers and the juxtaposition of the vintage-style bulb with the refined style of the piece overall add it layers of interest.

Brugges Planter - love the angled sides, scalloped top edges and ball finials

Alexandre Table - Love the delicately shaped base in sturdy iron.

Agadir Mirror - Love the unexpected angled sides and the overall proportions of this shape.

Oliver Bookshelf - love the matte, raw white-washed finish and the turned spindle supports.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Pillow Power!

I took on the project of sewing pillow covers for our new daybed. Having basic sewing knowledge, I figured this would be a good challenge for me given I had decided to buy some pretty pricey fabrics and I wanted to make the covers with concealed zippers.

If you want to make a pillow cover without a zip closure, it's about the easiest sewing project you could do. It's sewing a straight line in a square.

If you do want to add a zipper, it's just a little bit harder. But the final step of stuffing the pillow, which is a pain if you are not using a zipper because you have to sew the pillow closed by hand once the pillow fill is inside, is way way easier with a zip closure.

I found the whole thing pretty intimidating, to be honest. I was planning on sewing nine pillows in all. The thought paralized me for a few weeeks while I hemmed and hawed about buying the fabric. I knew once I had the fabric, I would have no excuse not to start on the fabrication since my husband would be eager to have the large rolls of fabric gone.

Once I read some advice online and visualized all the steps in my head, I felt I was ready to jump in. Here is the most useful site I used to wrap my mind around the process: tutorial on pillows with concealed/invisible zippers.

Going into this, I knew I might hit some snags (no pun intended!). I could just anticipate that with a project of this size, and not having sewn in several years, I might encounter some tricky situation that would trip me up and possibly lead me to seek professional upholstery help. In this case, it ended up being the difficulty of working with velvet, specifically mohair velvet. It turns out that velvet tends to "run away from" the needle.

I was sewing a pillow that had one panel of mohair velvet and one panel of wool plaid (a two-sided pillow.) Despite cutting the plaid and velvet to exactly the same size, on the first two pillows I made, I would end up with an extra inch to two inches of plaid after sewing all the way down one side of the pillow. It was driving me crazy.

On the third pillow, I thought, "why don't I try cutting the velvet bigger since the sewing machine seems to eat it?" This time, I ended up with like two inches extra of velvet. I would have gone insane, had I not already witnessed the beauty of inside-out sewing on the first two of these pillows that I had already sewn and stuffed: even if your pillow cover looks embarassingly crappy on the inside, when you turn it rightside-out and stuff a pillow into it, nobody will ever know! I imagine there are some limitations to this rule, but I really put it to the test and my pillows turned out looking fine.

Check out how well they turned out (if I do say so myself!) I made the plaid ones and the chain link ones. (The red velvet ones I bought since I happened to find them at a sample sale and they were the perfect color.) This is totally our new hangout spot in the house!

Next project: sewing four more pillows for our living room sofas, this time with zippers and in-seam brush fringe. Cross your fingers!

Friday, April 17, 2009

Very Cool Wall Designs

I am starting to think about stenciling a room or ceiling in our house as an alternative to wallpaper, which can peel and/or be a deterrent to future buyers. Stencils can just be painted over, so you avoid that pitfall. Plus, it can look very modern and you can do funky things like use asymmetry or specific bold colors you may not find in a wallpaper.

This site, Modello Designs, sells stencils (they call them "masking patterns") of all sizes (from inches to many feet wide/tall) for use in a huge variety of applications. In interiors, they can be used on walls, ceilings, or furniture. You choose your pattern from their library, or submit your own custom design, and order it in whatever size/scale you need. I wish I could show one of their designs here but I am intimidated by their copyright protection and unlike just a standard photo, someone could actually download the pattern from my site and reproduce it.

Here is a link to a really fun lantern mural project that they profile step-by-step on their site.

Here is a link to the blog post on Real Simple where I initially saw Modello's work. Please go look - it is SO cool the way they stenciled graphic pattterns all over walls and ceilings.

An alternative to stenciling, here is another company I am also intrigued by. It's called WallTat. Their product is actually a removeable sticker for your wall, but the designs are very modern and you can choose from their whole range of colors. Unlike stenciling, the only work is sticking it up on your wall. Peel and stick - done!

What I love about these is that they work in public spaces, bedrooms, and especially kids' rooms. A lot of the patterns that aren't specificaly for kids could still work in kids' rooms really easily, especially the nature patterns. Imagine a child's room with pale yellow wals and a white dandelion like the one shown over the bed here.

To see even more interesting wall designs, check out my other blog posts on this topic:
More Cool Wall Designs
Even more Cool Wall Designs

If you're thinking about buying one of these and want some advice on sizing or color, let me know!


Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Immortalized in Dots

At the Architectural Digest Home Show, they had a juried exhibition of artisans who create artwork and furniture for the home.
I met Kristine Baerlin of Figment Studio, who paints portraits in a pop-art style that is very distinctive, yet accessible and not too abstract to really capture the likeness of your child or other portrait subject.
You give her a photo you want replicated in portrait form, and she mixes her own acrylics and uses museum-quality canvas to replicate it in her style, with an overlay of dots or circles.

Kristine had a selection of portraits on site at the show and they were really eye-catching. And the price point is pretty reasonable for a custom piece of artwork.

Here is a beautiful example of one of her portraits of a non-child subject, using the "dot" style rather than the open circles. This color palette is more monochromatic, but her website displays a wide assortment of other standard color palettes you can choose from or customize to your own liking.
I think one of the best things about these portraits is that you can get them as a surprise gift for someone since they are done from a photograph. How cool!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

And on the Subject of Blankets... More Awesomeness!

Pendleton "Eye Dazzler" Blanket

In writing about the Swans Island Blankets in my earlier post, I was reminded of some other blankets I recently came across while researching linens for my new daybed. Some of you may not be that familiar with Pendleton or might never have heard of them, but they are still around making blankets from historic designs in addition to their contemporary apparel.
Pendleton is a family company founded in 1863. Until 1895, the company dealt in wool but did not do the weaving. Beginning in 1895, the company opened its own mill to produce blankets and robes for Native Americans, later branching out into menswear and womenswear. It still produces historic Native American designs (like the one above) from its archives in addition to modern apparel and bedding.
I love their authentic national park blankets in heavy wool - perfect for a mountain home or really any room that works with these bold colors.

Glacier National Park Blanket, 100% pure virgin wool
Grand Teton National Park Blanket, 100% pure virgin wool

I also love their selection of throws. The ones I've shown here are both plaid, but they have an assortment of beautiful solids as well in numerous types of wool. They've got me dreaming of curling up on the couch enveloped in one of their super-thick wool throws.
Plaid 5th Avenue Throw, 100% merino wool

"Motor Robe" in Indigo Plaid, 100% pure virgin wool

Lust-worthy Blankets

My favorite booth at the Architectural Digest Home Show (that I attended a week ago in NYC) was the Swans Island Blankets booth. The company is based in Maine and makes the most beautiful blankets from wool from local sheep, dyed using local dyestuffs. They are an authentic New England product in every way and I can't stop thinking about them.

Their line includes winter- and summer-weight blankets and throws as well as baby blankets from the softest merino wool.

Here is an excerpt from their catalog:

Because the wool is so clean on teh backs of the sheep, it only needsmild organic detergents for final washng, preserving the fiber's natural oils. It is then carded and spun into skeins or onto cones. The natural blacks and browns, the "rare wools", are ready to use. Other batches are dyed naturally, using madder root for orange, indigo for blue, cochineal for red and pink, kamala root for yellows.

Does this take you back to medieval times or what? I am reading a historical novel now in which one of the central families develops a dying practice using madder that changes the economy of the town. It is so neat to know that these roots are still used today.

Here is more about the process:

Setting up each loom takes four days. Between the warp and weft, up to 3456 knots are tied by hand. Yarn is spun onto bobbins; the bobbins are installed in shuttles. It takes nine hours to weave a queen-sized blanket and as many as five more to pick out the last of the chaff by hand. Its edges are finished in silk and it is folded into its linen slipcase, comple with moth-deterring cedar boards.

I love a wool throw because even in summer, wool allows your skin to breath while still providing warmth. These blankets are heirloom quality and will provide your family with comfort for years.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Pillow Mania

I just found the coolest site, Fabricadabra. They have awesome pillow covers in silk/cotton suzani and ikat prints, among other patterns, at prices that are super-reasonable. On her "About Us" page, the site's curator, Donna, describes her goals and concludes with this:

I have chosen to work with artisans from all around the world who still utilize pure and ancient techniques for dyeing and weaving fabrics. All decorative covers use natural dyes and are woven on handlooms. All embroidery is hand embroidered. All artisans are paid fair wages. The carbon footprint isn't low, but where in the States can I find such products and skills?

Here are a couple pretty pillow covers:

And here is one of several adorable childrens' pillows she offers: