Saturday, October 16, 2010

Sweet Master Suite

I put the finishing touches on this master bedroom yesterday...hope you like the finished product!

Monday, October 4, 2010

So I've been kinda busy....

and I went missing from the blog world for several weeks, didn't I?  Well I'm back, and like most people who have put the kids back into school and are feeling the weather cool off a bit, I'm ready to put my nose back to the grindstone and pick up where I left off before summer.

I just returned from an absolutely fabulous trip to Italy. My husband and I renewed our vows once more (we do this every year on our anniversary, and this was our 10th) in Positano, Italy.  What a wonderful gem this tiny vertical town is!  I have wanted to go ever since seeing Diane Lane hook up with a hottie in "Under the Tuscan Sun".  This town was so much more fun and charming than the movie could ever portray!  It is an ancient town, full of good food, millions of hills and steps up and down the mountains, and delicious local limoncello at every stop.

Positano was big on charm, but not so big on design inspiration. We were fortunate enough to cross the sea to the isle of Capri for a day though, and at the suggestion of our guide-for-the-day Marcello, we wandered through the Capri Palace Hotel, which was breathtaking.  It was a perfect blend of ancient and modern visual treats for a designer like me.... feeling very posh and Italian on one hand, and very hip and too-cool on the other hand.

After the Amalfi Coast we took the train back to Rome and spent our last couple of days exploring the city; some parts we've seen before and some were new little gems for us.  We spent our last day with a private tour guide, Annie Ojile, who took us around Roma on scooters.  Annie is a Minnesota transplant who loves all things Italian and knew she had to establish her life there to feed her soul, and she did.  For those of you needing help with travel arrangements or private tours in the Rome or Tuscany areas, I can't recommend Annie enough ( and

Once Annie and I got to know each other and she discovered I am in the decor and design industry, she recommended a walk along a fabulous little street for me, Via dei Coronari.  It was full of design shops that represented every era of Italian design from Renaissance to Modern, and as a bonus there were amazing architectural goodies to see too.

It's always a great way to end a trip for me - to get a jolt of excitement from a visual "design WOW" and get me pumped up for getting home and getting back to working on a project with renewed energy and ideas.  Grazie to my amazing husband for one of my favorite vacations ever (he did all of the planning) and to "scooter maven Annie" for the fun day and the suggestion to walk this wonderful place to finish the day and the vacation.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

High Tea

I have always loved a good cup of tea.  Maybe it's because one of my grandmothers drank tea exclusively and introduced us to it at a very early age; maybe it's because I simply ADORE tiny toy china tea sets and couldn't get enough of hosting tea parties for my little sister and I growing up.

I am too many years past being able to host tea parties now, but I love these playful fixtures and what whimsical fun they would add to a tea room or tea-lover's kitchen.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Sexy Apartment in the City

Well hello! I bet you thought I forgot about you.... not so! I've been enjoying my summer schedule, with the lack of routines allowing me to abandon a couple of responsibilities for a few weeks just for fun and a change of pace.  But I'm still here, and I'm back to blogging today.

I'm a big fan of Sex & the City, and I'm sure I'm not alone (or why else would they have made two movies after the series ended?).  One thing we all remember, whether you are a design nut or not, is how Carrie's original apartment was redone in the first movie, into a fashionable, brilliant space more befitting the character's personality than the dingy, dull and monochrome surroundings she'd  put up with until that point.

In the second movie, we see how Carrie decorates her space now that she is working with an unlimited budget and a lot more space, plus how she decorates for a couple rather than a single girl.  Now obviously, a fictional character did not design and decorate these spaces; rather it is set designer Lydia Marks who can take all of the much-deserved credit.

In the apartment Mr. Big and Carrie (now Mrs. Big?) occupy, there is a wonderful mix of color, pattern and texture.  None of the choices are "safe"... they are eclectic, colorful, and most of all, very interesting.  It is that unexpected foo dog, ruffled electric blue ottoman in the living room, and area rug with giant pink floral motif that make us sit up and pay attention.  I admire Lydia Marks so much and love that she found pieces that so distinctly speak to Carrie's personality as we know it: avant garde, willing to take any fashion risk, and upscale.

Take a look around your own interiors and imagine where you can add in some pieces that are completely unique and that will help express your style through your interior decor.  And for heaven's sake, don't forget to pour yourself a cosmo when you sit back and admire your work.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Oh Boy, Summer is Here...

And I am distracted!  It's been busy getting my high-school freshman teenage son through his last weeks of school and final exams, then a quick trip to Vancouver, Canada (pretty close to my home town of Edmonton but much more metropolitan!) and here I am, back at home... trying to pick up where I left off with design clients, feel motivated and energized, and get on track with my diet and exercise regimens again.... oh boy!

One of my absolute favorite things about visiting Canadian cities like Edmonton and Vancouver is being able to browse one of my favorite shops, Chintz & Company.  Chintz used to be a small fabric store in Edmonton about 20+ years ago, when that glossy floral chintz fabric really was "da bomb".  They had a tiny little shop in an old, rich, established neighborhood next door to a great little pie and sandwich shop.  They had a catastrophic fire, which left us all wondering if they would re-build and re-open or if that would be the end of "Chintzy's" as we knew it.

Well they sure did re-open... with a BANG!  They came back bigger and better than ever, and have expanded their product offerings, their inventory, and their locations by a crazy amount. Now, you may think I'm crazy to get so excited about visiting these Canadian design stores when I live just outside of LA and can get to the world-famous Pacific Design Center or the ever-buzzing LA Mart anytime.  But Chintz has something none of these mecca's offer me - a fabulous collection of designer-brand furniture, accessories, fabrics, trims, lighting and kitschy little items all in one place. Sure, I can take a day to drive through notoriously hellish LA traffic and scour the design centers myself for pieces by the same vendors and manufacturers, but once I find them I am required to buy in minimum quantities or dollar amounts that don't suffice when wanting to pick up one tray, three lamps and a couple of stunning silver photo frames.  Chintz has already amassed all of those same exquisite items under one roof for easy browsing, and their pricing can't be beat (even by us professional designers, at our own net cost).

So thanks Chintz & Co., for another fun day of poking through your glassware and kitchen decor, your fabulous collection of lighting and bedding, and your unique and impressive way of displaying it all.  The Rocky Mountains and your stores are what I miss most about Canadian landmarks (laugh all you want - until you've been there).

Sunday, June 13, 2010


One of my fave designers is celebrity Thom Filicia, who you've seen on Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, Dress My Nest a& Tacky House television shows.  Besides his adorable looks and fantastic sense of humor and style, Thom is amazing at breaking down a crude "design disaster" and rebuilding it into fabulousness.  In my opinion, he is a master at blending texture, color, pattern and chicness.

On Thom's newest show airing on the Style network, "Tacky House" features DIY design disasters that usually highlight a theme-decor-gone-wrong (and I mean wrong!).  This post is dedicated to decorating around a motif - and doing it in such a way that you won't end up being one of Thom's targets.

I think the most common error is that a theme design can end up looking like a themed birthday party, overrun with embellishments hanging from the ceiling and adorning every vertical and horizontal surface. More is not always better. The goal is to communicate a feeling to people when they enter the room, without hitting them over the head with a pinata bat to let them know you love Mexico and all things Mexican!

So let's use a Mexican theme as our example.  I have had some really great holidays in Mexico and love the  people, the weather and my memories of my time there.  Now, let's say I want to impart that same love for Mexico to my visitors when they come to my home.  My fondness for Mexico doesn't come from a sombrero on the wall, or free-pouring tequila bottles being passed around the dinner restaurant I frequented - so hanging a sombrero on my kitchen wall in California or assembling a collection of tequila bottles on my dining room sideboard is not going to accomplish my goal of re-creating a relaxed Mexican-holiday mood. Instead it's going to scream "look at the cheap junk I brought home!".

Instead, think about how people really live in Mexico; think about the textures, materials and colors used in their homes, their restaurants or the hotels you stayed in.  Bring in natural and rough textures such as hand-carved unpolished wood, textured plaster walls, oversized pillar candles, iron light fixtures and furniture accents.  Terracotta roof tiles are abundant all over Mexico, so utilizing pottery or painting a feature wall in that warm rusty color is a wonderful touch.

You get the idea - think about what materials and design style people live with where you want to re-create a foreign locale in your home, rather than thinking about what cheesy tourist loot you can nail to the walls that screams "I was in Hawaii and I loved it, so check out my plastic flowers and hula skirts hanging from the light fixtures!".  So go ahead, express yourself through a design theme - just be sure to use some restraint and subtlety and you'll achieve a relaxed, classy theme instead of a theme-park!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Tent Event

Yes, a week in Aruba with my husband was a much-appreciated interruption of everyday life.  We sunned, we slept, we indulged in good food, ice-cold cocktail concoctions, and recharged our physical and emotional batteries.

Aruba is a very small island in the far southeast Caribbean.  It is fine white sand beaches hemmed in by clear turquoise (remember, turquoise is also Color of the Year 2010) waters.  It is also scorching, searing, on-the-equator hot.  Surviving this heat meant seeking out a much-appreciated thatch-roof beach palapa everyday.

Here in southern California, palapas are a common yard decoration.  They are a suitable shade option here where bird of paradise and palm trees grow naturally, however, in other climates they may seem out of place - or perhaps just a bit too casual for your particular outdoor space and design theme.

For those who want a chic outdoor shade option or just a cleaner look, check out these gorgeous shade options by ZGallerie.  Whatever fun shade option you choose for your outdoor environment, just remember to keep the style and color scheme cohesive with what's in the indoor rooms where a sight-line goes through both the indoor and outdoor areas.  (Oh yes - also, don't forget the SPF and the blender!)

Monday, June 7, 2010

Ahhh, back from vacation

Hello Readers, I've just returned from a great, very relaxing vacation in Aruba... will put up a new post for you all tomorrow.  Hope everyone is enjoying their first week of June as much as I am!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

With the increase in square footage that home builders are now offering, and the number of us who quickly pick up the phone or click our mouse to grab the latest airline seat sale to get a change of location and break from life now and again, having guests in our houses and a fully-dedicated guest room is more common now than ever before.  Living in southern California, we have guests often and I'm always looking for ways to make their stay even more comfortable.

It's easy to overlook even the obvious things our guests might want or need because we have everything we could need in our home, so why wouldn't they? Well, let me tell you... I have stayed in hundreds of hotels and many homes of friends and relatives over the years and sometimes the hotels provide a few extras that are often forgotten by well-indended hosts and hostesses.  Here's how to make your guest room homelike and pleasant for incoming company:

1. Bedtime Story.  Do you think you have installed a comfortable place for guests to sleep, or do you know you have? When was the last time you laid down on that bed for an hour with a book yourself, to see if the bed is free of poking springs or sagging middles? Whether it's a bed, a pullout sofa sleeper, or an inflatable "insta-bed", give it a try for yourself and be honest about how comfortable a place it is to spend 8 or so hours.   I once spent a night with relatives who graciously offered up their pullout sofa in the den for the night... all I felt were wiry springs digging into every part of my body.  I ravaged the room for all available throw pillows, blankets and other soft surfaces to put padding between me and the offending mattress, which then meant I had no blankets left to put on top of me for the night.  It was awful, so make sure you know what you are offering to your guests before assuming you are doing them a favor.

Shop for a truly soft, high thread-count set of sheets.  They are inexpensive now with so many manufacturers out there (even Costco).  Add a comforter or duvet in a cover that is cleanable (and preferably, cleaned always between guests), an extra blanket in case the night is chilly.  That same blanket is a great option for your guests to add to the bed if they find it too hot and want something lighter than the comforter.

Pillows with clean pillowcases are an obvious addition, but again, really lay your own head down on those pillows to see if they are still comfortable.  Offer additional pillows for those who like more loft under them too.

2.  Light Up.  Add a small lamp near the bed. Many people like to read in bed, and especially those who may be on a different time zone and not sleeping on the same schedule as everyone else in your house.  A small reading light and a couple of magazines (reasonably current, please - no doctor's office cast-offs, thank you!) means your guests can still rest quietly if insomnia strikes.

A television is also a fantastic option (with a local channel guide) if you have the space and the budget to add it into the room, for the same reason.  Often people will be visiting from other time zones and don't sleep well the first night or two, and a TV they can watch without fear of disturbing anyone else in the house is really nice.

Natural lighting is also a big consideration.  My guest room window is dressed with a wooden blind, a pair of sheer panels and a pair of heavy blackout drapery panels.  My guests can have full bright sunlight or complete blackout in the room as they choose.

3. Come Out of the Closet.  Closet space is at a premium for almost everyone, which means the closet in most guest rooms ends up filled with odds n' ends (true confessions: mine holds luggage, Halloween costumes, out-of-season clothing....).  Try to leave some space your guests can use, with some nice hangers for both tops and pants/skirts, and that they can access easily, which means without standing on their toes and balancing on your bowling ball while reaching into a small cubby of space you cleared in the back. If you have a dresser or nightstand with drawers, try to keep one or two empty for holidayers to use too.

Luggage racks are really a nice touch too.  It shows your guests that you welcome them and their luggage, that you are prepared for their arrival, and you have considered that they are living out of a suitcase while they stay.  These are quite inexpensive now and you can even find them at places like Bed, Bath & Beyond and Target nowadays.

4.  Dirty Girls, Dirty Boys.  The first thing I usually want to do when I've been traveling and finally arrive at my home-away-from-home is shower!  Make sure your shower is clean and that all the kid's rubber duckies and other bath toys are corralled into their own storage space.  Leave at least one empty area for your visitor's shampoo, body wash and razor etc.  It's great if you can also leave some liquid bodywash and some decent hair products in the shower in case they need to share yours.

Towels are SO important!  My husband stayed with friends recently who are unmarried and a bit younger.  He really appreciated the chance to spend time with them overnight and save on a hotel room, but it reminded him of the differences between staying at a friend's house when you are in your 20's-30's, and when you are in your 40's+.   Scratchy, thin towels and sheets were more "fraternity house" than "guest house".  Really soft towels and a couple of washcloths that are free of mascara stains and years of various uses & abuses are critical to your visitors feeling like they are as comfortable (or more so, hopefully) than they would've been staying in a hotel.  Get to Target and pick up a couple of sets of fresh  bath linens for less than $20.

A really nice addition is an emergency kit of vanity items.  We recently had friends come to stay and all of their luggage was lost by the airline for the first two days.  Having a couple of new toothbrushes in packages, a clean razor, and some sample packs of moisturizer, cleanser and similar items from department store cosmetic counters was a lifesaver for them.  Travel sizes of deodorant, aspirin, antacids, lip balm, feminine products and a lint roller in a small basket or drawer just for guests will make you as hot a host or hostess as Martha Stewart in your guest's eyes.

5.  All the Rest: a few other important elements: a mirror inside the guest bedroom, which gives people the opportunity to run a brush through their bed-head hair before they see everyone else in the morning or get makeup done in different light than your bathroom mirror offers.  Making it a full-lenth mirror is even better since most of us like to use one when we dress.

An open electrical outlet or two. We all carry cell phones and cameras that require re-charging.

A clock radio.  Who doesn't want to see a clock during the night and morning hours and listen to the local radio stations?

A place for their used bath and bed linens.  Leave an empty laundry hamper or basket, or at the very least, show them where they can drop their used wet towels for laundering in the laundry room.

Bottled water.  Duh!

Now your work is done.  Open up the wine, set out some appie's, and enjoy your time together.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Did I Make You Blush?

This week's lesson is about using color.  Don't shy away from it!  Be bold, be vibrant, be fun.  If any of you have been watching NBC's The Celebrity Apprentice, you know that in this week's episode, the teams were challenged with decorating an apartment-hotel suite and that the room that got the most attention was the one Cyndi Lauper decorated.  The walls were daredevil red, the sofa was in adventurous glossy black patent leather, and the accessories included a birdcage and a huge Eiffel Tower.  The choices were very daring and the result is pure rock star glam, and exciting! 
Now obviously this is not a style that suits the lifestyle or taste of everyone, but it is memorable and just plain cool.  Now imagine this same room with a backdrop of white walls.  Not nearly as interesting, would it be? In fact, it would look more like an aisel of a HomeGoods / HomeSense store with an eclectic mish-mash of furniture and accessories.  The strong red walls are proof that the whole design was meant to be eye-catching and feisty.  Cyndi Lauper may not be a decorator by trade, but her creativity and "out-there" style certainly came through in her choices for this room.

Now I am the first one to advocate sensible, somewhat neutral palettes for the bigger common rooms in your homes.  If you have conservative and classic tastes then painting the dining room purple may not properly reflect your style or the vibe you want guests to feel in your space.  But why not find one space in your home where you can go a bit wild and fun and be completely remarkable with your design choices?  Maybe you have a small home office that is used just by you where you can express something unique, or an area dedicated to scrapbooking or woodworking or fitness that will allow you to stretch your imagination?  Perhaps it's a walk-in closet, where a fabulous leopard-print carpet and baroque chandelier can be displayed as you unleash your inner Cher?

As I've said before, find your inspiration in anything that "speaks" to you - the color of a book cover, a piece of clothing, or a funky collectible garage sale lamp.... and then find a corner of your home that lets you throw "safe" color out the window and just go bananas.  Remember my design lesson in eclectic style? Things are chosen more because they "don't go" - they are collected, fun, interesting and that's what gives the space interest instead of calmness.  In this office below, I used "sangria" paint color on one feature wall and added floor-length draperies in the same color silk.  The drapery panels add some texture and depth to the wall without breaking up the impact of the full wall of punchy hot pink.  The large upholstered bulletin board gives your eye a resting point on the wall and creates some contrast, just as Cyndi's choice of predominantly white artwork did on her red wall.   Now pull out the paint chips and look at those colors you'd love to use but haven't yet!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Boston Architecture, Then & Now

For those of you who pop in on my blog occasionally, you may have wondered why there has been such a lapse in blog postings.  It's been a busy month for me, including having my mum visit me for a week (she lives in western Canada) and then the passing of my husband's grandma took us to Boston for almost another week (add to that some other out-of-town friends, a couple of unexpected and awful illnesses of people we know, and a school division strike that kept our kids out of school unexpectedly for a few more days, and you see how April suddenly got away from me).

When I first married my husband Frank, we lived in southern New Hampshire.  I had always lived in Alberta, Canada up to that point and moving to New England was interesting, exciting, and certainly offered more of a chance to see North American history than I'd ever been exposed to (as my sister likes to joke, Canada still has that "new country" smell).  When you remember back to first grade history and think that the pilgrims first stepped off that Mayflower ship onto Plymouth Rock in what is now known as Massachusetts, you can imagine how simply mind-blowing the oldest architecture in North America was for me to see up close and personal.  Admittedly, I didn't exactly love living in the countryside of New Hampshire (hello, Manhattan and central Paris are just about my fave spots on earth - so a country girl does not describe me!).  But what I did love was that my husband and I made a point of making the hour long drive into downtown Boston once a month for a fun date night, eating in the best Italian restaurant ever in the old North End, taking in an event at the local theaters, visiting various bars or restaurants or just having a drink on tony Newbury Street and watching the luxury cars drive up and down awaiting their due appreciation.  We were married in the Boston Public Gardens and had our reception in the penthouse apartment of the Hampshire House, more commonly known to most as "the building the Cheers bar is in".  So you can see why I have a sentimental attachment to the heart of Boston still today, and loved the opportunity to revisit this small yet remarkable city over the past week that is the polar opposite of my current Orange County home, which is surrounded by all new buildings and young trees.

The Zakin bridge is now the grand entrance to the city, a bridge that I saw the progress of during all it's phases of construction while I lived nearby.  That bridge is so iconic and breathtaking now; a proclamation that you have arrived in Boston that would make even Paul Revere proud.  Illuminated at night, it is even more spectacular (night photo courtesy Boston Globe).

The city has done an awesome job of maintaining so many of the original structures while still moving very much into the 21st century with modern architecture and amenities (for those of you who have traveled to European cities, the history is very much in-tact; modern conveniences are not quite so available as they are in this city).  The Old State House sits tightly against a number of modern buildings, and it's balcony overlooking a busy intersection is where the Declaration of Independence was first read on July 18, 1776.

Samuel Adams and John Hancock are buried just a couple of blocks away in a crowded cemetary tucked between tall buildings.  Today, the John Hancock Tower is now the tallest building in New England at 60 stories.

Those thought to be witches and quakers were hanged in the country's oldest public park: Boston Common.  The old brownstone buildings overlooking the Common and Public Gardens are enough to make a design-o-phile like me drool with the thought of getting into one to decorate.

(That's me standing with the tulips in the Boston Public Gardens.)

Of course, as every Bostonian will tell you, one of the most enduring icons of loyalty and patriotism sits just off the banks of the Charles River - no, not the American flag, but Fenway Park, home of Red Sox Nation and the USA's oldest professional ballpark still in use.
So if you are ever heading to the Northeast of the USA, and haven't yet spent a couple of days enjoying Boston, make sure to add it to your itinerary.  Because even if you aren't as impressed by architecture as I am, you can still make a great memory for yourself by ordering the local chowda or lobstah bisque!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Sweet Dreams, Baby!

It's a rainy afternoon here in Southern California.  We almost never get any rain between March and October, so this is an unusual event for us in April.  I've had my cup of hot chocolate and popcorn, filled the often-empty firebox in my fireplace with warm flames, and am thinking about how days like this make us all crave warmth, coziness.... our comfy beds!

A bed is by far the most important element in every bedroom... not just for the obvious utilitarian need of having a place to rest all night, but it's also the most important design element in a bedroom.  It is usually the largest element in the bedroom, which automatically makes it the focal point of the room.

The design statement your bed makes is enormous.  The frame itself and the way the bed is dressed and finished tell the whole story about how you unwind, what comforts you, what style is restful and peaceful for you.  Have a look at these fabulous beds by Anthropologie:

These frames provide so much impact with their intricate styling.  Just the bed frames give me a spark to start designing a fabulous scheme, each unique to the influences found in these skeleton starting points.  The bed in the top photo is an intricate lacework of larks tucked between flower blossoms - the jumping-off point for a colorful palette of florals and French toille fabrics.  The shell motif on the bed in the center photo evokes a subdued, natural color scheme of ocean blues and aquas, sandy-colored linens and decorative beach glass accents.  In the bottom photo, this white "Calligraphy" bed is pure romance, soft, textural fabrics in muted pastels.  When you look at your bedframe, or start shopping for your next one, choose purposefully so that your bed creates a visionary inspiration for your sanctuary.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


Mirrors are such a simple invention when you break it down: a piece of glass with silver coating on one side to create a reflective surface.  Very elementary.  But consider the difference that grayish layer makes: literally the difference between a window to what is beyond and a reflection of what is within.

Mirrors began as utilitarian and have progressed to become fabulous design accessories.  There are a few good guidelines to follow when using mirrors as decor embellishment rather than simply functional. There are a million styles and sizes and frames for mirrors now which makes them a perfect addition to any room whether you need them to duplicate an image or simply add light and sparkle.

Hung opposite a window, a mirror can throw a lot more daylight into your room (a fantastic option for rooms with north-facing windows that get limited daylight, like in this room below that I designed).  It's almost like adding another window to the room when the outside light is reflected back into the room!

Hung opposite an exquisite piece of art or an interesting piece of furniture, it creates a duplicate view of that wonderful adornment. Placed above a fireplace mantel they add a little more sparkle and drama to that focal point.

Large mirrors on a wall will add depth to your room; hung ceiling-mounted they add height (both are great tricks for small rooms!).  As shown in this photo, I added a large leaning mirror to add depth to this dining room and bring some of the outdoor light and greenery inside.

Are there any places a mirror installation doesn't look great?  Well, just one in particular.  A mirror hung opposite a blank wall in a small space such as a hallway will look void and lifeless since it has only "nothingness" to reflect.  Even an extraordinary frame will look lose it's "wow" factor if the mirror within it has nothing interesting to reflect.

Look around your rooms at the walls that seem lifeless, flat or unadorned and consider what a mirror can do to change your view!