Come on get happy! 10 tips to finding happiness in 2021!

Last week was a tough one. Wednesday as our nation watched the Capitol being stormed by marauders, I imagine we all felt like we’d traveled to an alternate universe where a despotic president ruled and he had awakened the unruly. Watching the live coverage, I found myself bursting into tears, unusual for me. I’d just heard LA County had directed their ambulance drivers to pick up only those who had a chance of survival as hospital beds were at maximum capacity and…wait for it…there’s now a shortage of oxygen.

Searching for solace, I reached out to a few friends via text and we all seemed to be having the same reaction (burbling eyeballs and a sense of disbelief.) “What happened to humanity?” I texted one pal. “It’s been crippled,” she responded. “It’s one of the worst days in the history of our country,” said another.

Between the doom and gloom of the coronavirus and riding a political roller coaster that can make your stomach drop with every check-in of the news, it’s all a bit much, isn’t it? I turned off the TV, threw myself into designing a client’s master bathroom and it worked; while distracted, I was pulled out of the vortex of sadness. But it got me thinking, what are some other ways to find happiness? Just in case you’re still feeling like I was, a bit rutted in the muck of melancholy, I thought I’d make a list of 10 ways to find happiness in 2021.

Enjoy the Little Things, For One Day You May Look Back And Realize They Were All Big Things, quote.

1. Do something for others: I don’t know why this one works, it just seems to. On those weeks when I have a case of the Mondays that continues Tuesday through Sunday, if I ask myself, “What can I do to help someone else?” it takes the focus off me, and thus, my woeful mood. Side story: the other day, Kai, our five-year-old, and I were in the car, driving to a friend’s house to drop off some desserts I’d made as as a sign of, we can’t be with you, but we care about you. Steve Winwood’s Higher Love was playing in the background and Kai asked, “What’s a pie of love?” I laughed as I realized when Steve sang “Bring me a higher love” Kai was hearing “Bring me a pie of love” because, in a way, that’s what we were doing delivering baked goods: bringing pies of love!

If you think you, or someone you know, could use a pie of love, this recipe for a Bakewell Tart from the Downton Abbey Cookbook, is delicious. (PS, I received the Downton Abbey Afternoon Tea Cookbook for Christmas and have since tried three recipes, Cream Scones, Ginger Biscuits and the Bakewell Tart and they’re all worth making.) If you’re a fan of raspberry and almond flavors, your taste buds will be more than happy with this tart!

Bakewell tart on rattan bar cart.

Update on my rattan cart: I’m still in the honeymoon stage with my rattan bar cart which I gifted myself (good ole retail therapy!) and quickly repurposed as a dessert cart. I usually keep a dinner bell on top which I ring to signal dinner is served (because it’s fun to ring a bell and sometimes actually necessary to get both husband and son to the table). After the meal, I roll the cart up to the dining table to offer a postprandial dessert course. This fills me with glee to no end–unless I turn on the news, The Great Glee Evaporator, soon after, and then the happiness dries up. Lesson: consider watching less news.

Rattan bar cart with dessert on it.

2. Surround yourself by pretty things. I’m a firm believer that our environs play a huge role in our mental well-being. When we’re in a beautiful setting, our moods magically start to elevate. I know not everyone can afford to transform their home but it can be the little things like serving your meals on decorative plates with stylish silverware or using pretty cloth napkins, instead of their less Eco-friendly paper cousins, that make all the difference.

I requested these napkins for Christmas and I’m so glad I did. A set of 20 is $32 (making each napkin $1.60) and you get a random bunch. I’ve never used mismatched napkins before, but there’s something liberating about it and all the colors are so vibrant and cheery. I was worried the colors would run and I’d have to wash them separately, but they haven’t and since we’re using them at nearly every meal, they’ve been washed quite a bit. Their consistency is a bit more like a handkerchief than a regular cloth napkin, but that almost makes them more comforting to use like you’re wiping your mouth with a hanky. ๐Ÿ™‚ Similar source found here.

Rattan basket filled with colorful Indian block-printed napkins.

In other news, I recently ran a row of sake cups down our table and popped a votive candle in each. Now the cups serve as unexpected tealights and add a welcome twinkle during dinnertime. Other pretty votive holders can be found here or here. Here’s one of the napkins in use, below.

Indian block-printed napkin on blue and white plate with brass silverware.

3. Staying connected with others: This one’s hard, right? These days getting together can feel downright homicidal, so the responsible ones among us avoid it. In an effort to find a way for some of our family members to stay in touch, JB’s dad devised a weekly song review of American Standards via Google Meeting. Prior to the set date, someone in the group picks a song from the Great American Songbook and his dad emails us You Tube links to up to fifteen versions of the same song recorded by various artists. Before the meeting, we listen to and rate the different versions.

We convene on Saturday night, when each of us takes a turn reading aloud our picks starting at number fifteen and working our way up. While the main focus is rating the songs, there’s also squealing with delight when someone else gives the same ranking you did, or recoiling with “Really? What did you like about that version?” and, of course, catching up on the week’s events. With a time-certain of one hour, the catching up is kept short but sweet. Note: We discovered Zoom is only free for the first 45 minutes so we recently switched to Google Meeting which doesn’t cost a thing.

Modern dining table and chairs.

4. Add a comforting ritual to your day: After binge-watching The Crown, The Royal House of Windsor, and The Great British Baking show (a show that’s both comforting and uplifting if there ever was one–watching it has become my happy place), I’ve rediscovered my inner-Brit (my family is half British so the quest was quick). I grew up with the proper reverence for the principle that “a cup of tea cures everything,” but had strayed from the custom. I think “the cure” works, in part, because it forces you to take a break and sip something warm and comforting. Now I’m making green tea because my mom recently reminded me of all the health benefits of green tea ; (it also helps to make a cup of tea when what I really want to do is grab a cookie–this is my new weight-loss solution: drink lots of green tea!) But black tea has its benefits as well–I’d count the taste, with milk of course, as one of them.

Two cups of black tea with milk, blue and white napkins, and vase of brightly colored flowers.

5. Get moving: When you look at how much energy kids have and how they’re always pretty cheery, I sometimes wonder if it isn’t because they move so much more than we do as adults. So now, I’m moving more, too. Back in March, when I first started homeschooling Kai I devised a schedule that included a segment called Movement. It soon morphed into playing loud music and running laps through the house in a game of tag or tagyou’reit! as Kai pronounces it as one long word.

There’s no denying the uplifting power of listening to great music and we all know exercise is good for us. After we combined the two into a game of tag, the exercise became fun, not a chore. No matter how sluggish I may feel when we get going , when the music starts and we begin running, I rev up, warm up (an added bonus during these chilly winter days), and, after a few rounds, the endorphins set in. We limit it to three songs (some of our favorites being: Sexy and I Know It, Moves Like Jagger, Move to Miami and Pump Up the Volume–essentially anything with a pounding beat). I exaggerate my arm motions, like I’m a power walker from the 80s, because that seems to work the waist more. I chase Kai or he chases me but sometimes I slow it down into a Tai Chi version of running with long, extended movements. It feels like it’s working a whole other group of muscles and is a great way to work up to a faster pace.

EZ Off jar opener.

6. Give yourself a break: We place so much pressure on ourselves to constantly do so much and take in so much information while doing it which can result in feeling fried, frazzled and frustrated: the three Fs. (And they’ve shown no one’s really good at multi-tasking anyway.) Giving yourself permission to be still and just be, could be the reset you need to get back out there, stronger and better–especially if you can be mindful enough to avoid starting the rush-rush-hurry-hurry cycle all over again.

But I also mean make things easier on yourself. My mom bought me this jar opener because I’m always yelling at lids I can’t open, followed by thwacking them on the kitchen mat until they loosen. I can stay off the kitchen floor now (and cease the swearing!) because this simple thing I installed under our kitchen cabinet, where it’s hidden unless you’re looking for it, has removed the stress of opening jars from daily life and makes opening lids a new-found pleasure. It seems like a small thing, but it removed the stress of struggling with jars which, when added up, was a big thing.

7. Get lost in a book instead of the news: Some nights, instead of turning on the news (or The Great British Baking Show), it feels like the greatest treat to crawl into bed and read. If there’s ever a time to try to silence the din of what can feel like a very dystopian new world, I’d say it’s now. Having a book you can look forward to reading at the end of the day, can be like leading a clandestine other life. Covid-19 may curb our literal travels, but not our literary travels; we can go anywhere we want through the pages in a book.

Brightly colored book cover The Friend by Sigrid Nunez.

The other day our local librarian recommended The Friend by Sigrid Nunez to my mom who read it and then recommended it to me. If you’re a dog lover and enjoy a bit of raw, irreverent writing, The Friend may be just the book you need to help escape the Covid-constraints of the real world. I was so engrossed in reading it, each day I’d look forward to the moment I could sink back into the story.

Giant faux clam shell with paper whites.

8. Clean your house: I know, ick, ugh, yuck. No one in his or her right mind really likes to clean, do they? But after it’s done, your house feels better and you feel better for having done it. I learned a big lesson last year when I sold my old car. I’d loved it, but it was getting up there in years and had the transmission problems to prove it. I put it up for sale, but before I did, I cleaned the heck out of it and suddenly it had my heart again. I have a hard enough time parting with cars, but when all the dust, dog dander and Cheerios crumbs were wiped away, she sparkled and looked almost new. I hugged her seats and told her I was sorry for selling her and, a year later, I still wonder if we parted too soon.

This is all to say it’s much easier to move on to a new car than to a new home, so try cleaning the one you have and see if some of the “romance” comes back. I know whenever I, begrudgingly as it may be, give our house a deep-clean, I feel happier about how it looks. The other day I realized it was time to trade out the paper whites around our house for something less winter-holiday. Thankfully, a good friend was kind enough to pick me up some white orchids at the farmer’s market. I lined a faux clam shell with plastic wrap, placed the orchids, added river rocks to hold the orchids in place, and added moss on top to camouflage the rocks. Suddenly I liked our living room so much more and all it took was cleaning off the coffee table and styling it.

Giant faux clam shell filled with white orchids and moss on styled coffee table. Rattan chairs in background.

Get some rest! Not only does sleep help repair our bodies and keep us healthy, but studies show we’re happier when we get a good nights sleep. But what if you’re filled with gut-wrenching anxiety and can’t sleep? Deep breathing sends a message to your brain to calm down and relax so you can successfully fall asleep. I like to use the method of breath counts, breathing in through my nose for four counts, holding my breath for a count of seven, then breathing out for a count of eight. Breathing exercises where the exhalation is longer than the inhalation can have immediate effects lowering blood pressure, altering the pH of the blood, and reduce the body’s production of harmful stress hormones.

10. Be thankful: Depending on what’s going on in your life, this one can be tricky. I’ve found when my mind starts to dip into the depths of darkness, I can usually yank it back on course by making a mental list of all the things I’m thankful for. When I get to around number five, the fog starts to lift and, thankfully, gratitude and happiness take its place. Research also shows there are health benefits to practicing the art of gratitude.

You made it to the end of the list! Hurray! I hope you’ll find solace in knowing if you’re struggling to stay happy, you’re not alone. We’re all trying to survive this storm and it’s so easy to get swept away. I hope some of these tips will help you find your footing and find happiness in 2021. If you feel like you cannot lift the fog of unhappiness, there are people available 24-hours a day to help at The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800) 273-8255.

Sending good thoughts your way! Happy New Year!

2020 Holiday Gift Guide for Your Home (Kitchen Edition)!

Black and white modern kitchen
Black cabinets, white Carrara marble counters, white globe atomic chandelier, and brushed brass faucets and hardware in modern kitchen.
This was a kitchen design we completed a couple of years ago, but I still love how the black cabinets, brushed brass hardware and Carrara marble came together!

Our houses have been working overtime lately, so I think they all deserve a few gifts, don’t you? I’m assuming you nodded in agreement, but first I wanted to share this quote I recently came across.

It’s okay if you fall apart sometimes.

Tacos fall apart and we still love them.


Just in case you had a hard week and had to shove your figurative fillings back in when no one was looking.

It’s okay.


You’re human and that’s what we do. We fall apart, scoop up our stuff and carry on. But while we’re carrying on, we might as well do it in style, right? So here are some items you may want to gift your kitchen as a big, “Thank you for working so hard!”

Ideally every kitchen is stocked with the heavy-hitters used in the actual preparation of food/drinks: a Vitamix blender, Cuisinart food processor, KitchenAid mixer, and Nespresso coffee and espresso maker. They are the well-made, work horses that make cooking easier and more efficient. But since each one alone is a bit of an investment, I’m going to focus on the items less likely to break-the-bank, yet still make your kitchen work better and look prettier!

A Citrus Zester When recipes called for citrus zest, this is your friend! It makes zesting so easy, I’d go so far as to say it’s fun to use. If you want a fancier version, it’s now offered with an olive wood handle that looks great, but since water and wood are generally foes, I’d stick to the one that can fall into a sink full of liquid and be forgotten about for a while without the fear of the wood splitting. And it makes an awfully cute stocking stuffer!

Microplane citrus zester holiday gift idea.

Dash Egg Cooker This egg cooker is what celebrity Chef Alton Brown would call “a unitasker” (a one-use appliance–which he says with the greatest disdain); however, it’s so good at its one use and is no more than 8″ across so I’ve made room for it in my life, and our pantry. When JB bought if for my birthday last year it almost seemed like a gag gift. “Why would I need such a thing? If I can make Martha Stewart’s recipe for Ile Flottante, I can certainly boil an egg!” But he reminded me that our son’s favorite breakfast is soft-boiled eggs and, for some reason, so many of the eggs I was soft-boiling were either too runny or too firm and thus repellent to our five-year-old and/or possibly still laden with the salmonella bacteria of an under-cooked egg.

I hate tossing food (even the unpalatable variety) so if this product offered perfectly cooked soft-boiled eggs every time–it can also make omelettes and hard-boiled eggs–the thought of which makes me summon some of Alton Brown’s disdain-those things I can make without the the assistance of a gadget thankyouverymuch!–I was willing to try it. And now our soft-boiled eggs or “stick toast eggs”, as they’re called in our house, turn out just right every time.

Soft boiled eggs on black and white striped plate, tapa cloth style tablecloth, black vase with ti leaves.
I bought this tablecloth years ago at an estate sale, but a similar one can be found here or here if the price of that first one made your eyes roll back in your head (as it did mine!).

Sponge Holder We all use sponges and even though there are some attractive ones on the market (sounds like I’m being overly kind, but see for yourself), I believe the sponge should be tucked away, out of sight. It’s my personal “No wire hangers!”

When I’m styling an in-use kitchen (as opposed to one in a new-build that’s never had any food grace its counters beyond the cookie platter at the real estate caravan), I like to use an OXO Rust-Proof Aluminum Suction Sponge Holder. The suction cups cling to the interior of the sink and you can place it on the side that’s closest to you if you’re standing at the sink so it’s out of view. Not only does it hide the sponge, but the holes in the bottom allow airflow and any excess water to drain avoiding the dreaded stinky sponge. It’s also aluminum and rust proof–and fits in a stocking!

Oxo suction sponge holder holiday gift idea.

Pretty soap dispensers These days we’re washing our hands so much, why not use pretty soap dispensers? While I love a good Savon soap, at almost $30 a pop it can feel like throwing money down the drain. Instead, I use an attractive dispenser I can refill with an equally safe, non-chemical soap (like this) for a lot less money.

A word about dish soap because, almost without exception, the bottles it comes in aren’t very appealing whenever I style a kitchen, I pour the dish soap into a more decorative dispenser and stash the original dish soap bottle in the cabinet below for handy refills. What’s great about these brown bottles is they’re labeled “hands” and “dishes” eliminating any confusion about which soap is which.

Brown bottle soap dispensers holiday gift ideas. One says "Hands" and one says "Dishes".

Soap dispenser tray I used to just plop pretty soap dispensers next to the sink and call it done, but realized in our own house that drips of water soon ran down the bottles and collected on the counter creating a yucky smelling puddle. Now I use a tray that collects the drips keeping them off the counter (this is especially helpful if you have natural stone or marble counters that will develop marks where moisture is absorbed). Note: the tray will still collect stagnant, soon-to-be-smelly, water and will need to be routinely cleaned. If rounded shapes aren’t your thing, here’s a rectangular option.

White soap dispenser tray for kitchen soap. Holiday gift idea.

Decorative dish towels Every kitchen benefits from a decorative dishtowel, like a scarf that ties an outfit together, and I’m partial to ones with tassels.

World Market striped dish towel with fringe. Holiday gift idea.

I fold them in half and rest one next to the sink so you can dry your hands after washing them umpteen times throughout the day.

 Blue dish towel with fringe.

Or hang one from the handle on the stove. I love the graphic print of the one below (and being devoid of fringe they’re likely to hold up fairly well).

Tan dish towel with black block stamp print.

Flour sack dish towels But the reality is after too many washings the fringe on a tea towel can look a little frazzled so I keep these towels around for sopping up spills, wiping counters, and cleaning the food I’m making off my fingers–I even wad them up to use as potholders. I’ve come to terms that they’ll be stained after the first day I put them to use and I don’t care because they’re reasonably priced, slightly larger than most dish towels and highly absorbent. Note: they can be bleached; using a non-chlorine bleach will help them last longer.

White flour sack dishtowel from Walmart.

Salt and pepper mills When I’m getting a kitchen ready for its closeup, I usually end up hiding items that don’t need to be out all the time and just leave the pretty ones. But knowing the reality is a kitchen has to not just look good, but function well, I’m always on the lookout for things that serve a dual purpose: utilitarian and good looking. These sculptural salt and pepper mills check both boxes!

Attractive, sculptural salt and pepper mill.

Cloches Do you remember the buzz about how Khloe Kardashian arranged her Oreos? Really, it was a thing and once I saw how she did it I could never place cookies in a pile before closing the cloche without feeling a little bit brutish. Khloe’s super-civilized method is to create concentric rings, each slightly overlapping the other, producing a very structured display of baked goods. But if you prefer small stacks or even creating a mini mountain, that’s okay too, as long as you have something pretty, like this to display them in.

Glass and marble cake dome.

We have a similar one to the glass/marble one below and it just happens to be on sale!

Jean Dubost Laguiole knives Years ago I bought Jean Dubost Laguiole knives and they’ve been my go-to knives ever since. They’ve stayed sharp after daily slicing and dicing of carrots and cucumbers and the like. I bought mine at HomeGoods where they were not very expensive (like most things at HG!), and was happily pleased when after years of use they were still as great (and sharp!) as ever. So recently when I thought I’d give myself a present and splurge on some more Laguiole knives, I bought them from the reputable source Sur La Table imagining since they cost so much more than I’d paid for the HG version, they might be even better. Instead they were so awful, I immediately returned them but not without doing some research on what a “real” Laguiloe knife is so I’d never be swindled again.

Turns out any knives from Laguiole (a small village in France) can be stamped as such, as well as knives not from the region, making the stamp of “Laguiole” equate to a whole lot of nothing. Per Wikipedia, “‘Laguiole’ no longer refers to the French knife brand, but to a generic term that has become associated with a specific shape of a traditional knife common to this area.” When I looked more closely at mine I noticed they were also stamped “Jean Dubost” which does seem to mean something (the company has been making knives in France since 1920 and said knives can only be purchased directly Jean Dubost or one of the exclusive sources that carry them). In summary, I think if you stick to the Laguiole knives bearing “Jean Dubost” you should be buying the good ones–but make sure there’s a great return policy before hitting “Add to cart” knowing you’re either about to get the best knives of your life–or crappy imposters.

Laguiole Jean DuBost stainless steel knives, knife set.

Wooden cutting boards For the past few years wooden cutting boards have been popping up all over Pinterest, and the like, in photos of kitchens we all wished we had. Funny how something we used to scratch our heads about how to stash away (in a spot that still let them dry properly after washing–which was always a conundrum) is now set out as a point of pride: Look how used mine looks because I cook that much!

Being on the edge of the cutting board trend, I purchased the one below because I already had a more expensive one and wanted one dedicated solely to stinky stuff (garlic, onions, leeks) and keep the other for things I didn’t want to have a savory scent: fresh fruit, anything sweet, baked goods, etc.. I’ve used it for about six months and it has held up well and now it rests on my counter, scratched from use, in all its cutting board glory.

Target acacia wood cutting board.

Wooden trivets I found something similar to these a few years ago at a yard sale and now I set it out almost every time I serve dinner. Ours is about the size of the small one on top and it functions not only as a trivet (to protect the finish of our dining table from heat/steam) but nicely elevates whatever dish I’ve placed on it making it look just a little more distinguished.

Wooden salt cellar.

Attractive fruit basket/bowl I don’t own this exact basket (although my addiction to wicker makes me want to) but it’s another one of those items that falls into the category of “Since you’re going to put your fruits/veggies in something, why not make it an attractive something?” In our house we have such an overflow of fruits/veggies that I put the fruits in a dough bowl and the root vegetables and smellier things (garlic, onions, shallots) in a basket. In this way I can separate them so they don’t commingle and mix savory and sweet scents and it’s also an excuse to have two pretty vessels out because…well, sometimes two pretty things are better than one!

Wooden salt cellar with spoon Almost every recipe I read recommends Diamond Crystal’s Pure and Natural Kosher Salt so I finally succumbed and shelled out the $10 for a box on Amazon. I do think it’s a good salt and it’s supposed to keep your measurements more precise (if the recipe is created using this salt and you use, say table salt, you’re likely using too much salt); however, the box is a big and not something I want to stare at but it is handy to have your salt within arm’s reach while cooking. Enter: the wooden salt cellar. I still get a kick out of sliding the attached lid to the side to reveal the contents even if I know what I’ll find in there (expensive salt). And, it looks cute on the counter. This one even comes with a spoon.

A plant in a cute pot In my opinion, each kitchen (heck, every room in the house!) benefits both in looks and air-cleaning properties from a live plant. Cute containers like this one are small enough to live on the windowsill or kitchen counter and large enough to house a small indoor plant such as a fern or small orchid.

Now that you know how to stock your kitchen in style, here’s something you may want to make in it. I was looking for a recipe for cinnamon rolls that was as easy as it was delicious and found Ina Garten’s Easy Sticky Buns. They’re made using store-bought puff pastry which means most of the hard work is already done for you. The rest is just sprinkling, rolling, baking and eating to your heart’s content. And your heart, or at least your taste-buds, will be so contended!

Not only were they delicious straight out of the oven while still ooey gooey, but the next morning they were still great, but in a different way, more like a rugelach. NOTE: I substituted walnuts for pecans and that worked just fine, but we (three adult cinnamon roll connoisseurs, I might add) all decided they’d be even better if, next time, I doubled the cinnamon.

Ina Garten's Easy Sticky Buns on a white plate with black decorative design

Miso Soup The other day I was mentioning to a foodie friend that in order to avoid gaining 500 pounds from all this holiday baking (and eating), every few days I’ll make miso soup for a meal. It’s warm and comforting and delicious, yet low-calorie which is good for the ol’ waistline. One tub of red miso seems to last forever–I’ve made this soup probably fifteen times now and the container is still half-full.

Recipe: I use a tablespoon of miso per cup of water, tear up some dried seaweed (I buy the individual snack packs which are so small in size I can consume that amount of seaweed before it goes stale), slice up some scallions and heat it to boiling. Of course you can add tofu to make it a bit more like what you’d order at a sushi restaurant, but I find I can’t seem to finish a tub of tofu before it goes bad, so I skip the tofu and find I’m not missing much-except the extra calories!

Blue and white bowl with miso soup, blue and white block printed napkin, blue and white porcelain spoon, all on wicker rattan tray.

Lastly, I went for a walk the other day and saw these pine boughs, red berries and pine cones and thought “Now how could I use those?” I remembered I had a dough bowl and a whole lot of battery-operated LED candles on-hand and whipped up this centerpiece for the coffee table. I set the candles to timer-mode so just as the sun goes down, they turn on and add a soft, cozy glow.

I hope some of these ideas will inspire you and here’s hoping you’ll have a week full of light and love…and that all your “cheese and lettuce” stays in place! But if it doesn’t, just scoop it back in and no one will be the wiser. ๐Ÿ™‚

Happy holiday and thanks for stopping by!

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas! A holiday tour of our house!

Wooden mannequin holding a gold disco ball Christmas ornament in front of wicker lamp and wooden dough bowl.

I like to look at the calendar in the first few pages of Martha Stewart Living Magazine. Presumably it’s Martha’s calendar as the headline reads “Martha’s December”. In this month’s issue you’ll find gentle reminders like “Force paperwhites indoors” (that happens on the 4th), “Begin winter pruning” (on the 15th), and “Go for a hike with the dogs” (the 19th).

It’s all well and good and even comforting, “Oh yes, I do need to force my paperwhites, don’t I?”

Until I read on.

When I get to “Fertilize orchids in the greenhouse” (on the 11th), I start to feel a bit inadequate. It must be quite nice to have a greenhouse. And even better to find the time to fertilize your orchids. My single specimen lost its blooms years ago and if it wasn’t perched on the sill of our kitchen window, a location that serves as a constant reminder to “feed” it the occasional ice cube, it would likely land itself in the green waste.

Then there’s “Begin winter pruning” (the 15th of December). My gawd she’s on top of it, isn’t she?

“Bake and assemble birch de Noel” (the 23rd)…now I think she’s just showing off.

When I get to “Make a batch of dog food” (December 28th), I wither and turn the page in despair.

Well, we can’t all be Martha, can we? But we can do what we can. So here’s what we’ve been up to over here since last I checked in.

Of course Thanksgiving happened. I hope your gathering was a great one, no matter how big or small. We had a party of four (my mom joined the three of us) and that felt just right. Here’s our table setting. That’s a sprig of rosemary tucked into the twine “napkin ring” and velvet pumpkins you can read about making here or brass tack pumpkins here.

Thanksgiving fall table setting. Brown napkin tied with twine and sprig of rosemary. Velvet pumpkins and brass tack pumpkins.

After all the cooking, cleaning, and decorating, I was thankful for leftovers to last for days because I figured that was about how long it would take me to want to cook again.

But by the next morning I’d recovered enough to make these donuts. They’re the only donut recipe I’ve found that produces a quick (no need for yeast or rising time) and consistently good (not overly oily, tough, or dry like some of the others) scrumptious donut every time. I can’t find a link to the recipe online so I’ll jot it down here.

Lemon ricotta donuts on white plate.

Lemon Ricotta Donuts (makes approximately 2 dozen)

1 1/4 c all-purpose flour

2 t baking powder

1/4 c granulated sugar

1 T freshly grated lemon zest

3 eggs

1 c ricotta cheese

1 t vanilla extract

Vegetable oil for frying and powdered sugar for dusting

Sift the flour and baking powder. Stir in the sugar, zest, eggs, ricotta, and vanilla, mixing just enough to combine (do not over mix!). Heat oil to 350 degrees and fry the donuts turning once until both sides are golden. Use a slotted spoon to remove from oil and let rest on a paper towel to drain off excess oil. Sprinkle immediately with powdered sugar. Eat, smile, repeat. ๐Ÿ™‚

After the feast of Thanksgiving, topped off by a few too many donuts, I decided we needed to cleanse our palettes by eating nothing but soup. I declared this past week The Week of Soup! We started with this recipe for Thai Tomato Basil Soup except I substituted a 28 oz. can of crushed tomatoes for the tomatoes and added one tablespoon of fish sauce and the juice of one lime to make it even more Thai-tasting.

Thai tomato soup on plate fall dining table decor.

But first I took advantage of the amazing Black Friday sales and bought myself what I consider “a big girl” cooking pot: a Staub Cocotte. I was torn between a Le Creuset and a Staub, but did some research and after reading this article, I was sold on Staub and when it was on sale for $99 (instead of $415) I hit “Order”!

It arrived tied with a bow: very fancy, indeed! But, besides being made in France, being purported to be the kind of pot you hand down to your progeny and it being glistening and white like a fresh snowflake (it does come in quite a few other colors, but in the same way I think you can’t go wrong with all-white dishes, I thought white was the most classic looking), it does seem to do all the cooking-related things it’s supposed to do: heat evenly, heat quickly, hold in moisture (when the lid is on), and it cleans up like a dream!

This recipe for Greens, Orzo and Meatball Soup was another winner, but I felt it only sprinted to the finish line once I added 2 to 3 Tablespoons of Better Than Bouillon (before that it didn’t taste properly seasoned to our taste-buds).

White Staub Cocotte pot in front of white subway tile.

Back to those sales, a few posts ago I showed you the snow leopard version of these house slippers. Since they were only $20 I “splurged” and bought the brown suede version and have been wearing them most mornings (and some afternoons, and some evenings) ever since! They are that cozy!

Brown suede cozy house slippers on feet wearing jeans.

Moving on to decorating…I was determined to hold off on decorating for Christmas until after Thanksgiving so the Day-of-Thanks could have its own identity, but the day after…all bets were off! I started with the dining table.

Christmas table setting on dining table, conical Christmas tree decorations, modern chairs, rattan Panton chairs.

Side note: there was an earlier incarnation of our Christmas tablescape, but my mom said it reminded her of the Addams Family (too many faux birds and dark twigs) so I switched it to fresh (eucalyptus) greenery, cute animal decorations and conical trees to lighten things up. #motherknowsbest

Closeup up conical Christmas trees on dining table as decoration. Modern dining chairs.

I purchased the conical trees that are covered in layers of feathers (I can’t seem to let go of an avian theme!) but made the bark ones a few years ago by gluing pieces of eucalyptus bark onto a cone made from card stock. They’re not only easy to make, but they cost almost nothing since you can use what you have lying around–I foraged the eucalyptus bark from pieces I found on the ground in our neighborhood.

If you want to try making the trees, here’s a closeup and a link to the how-to-post. Note: I took this photo the first year we moved in when the carpet and walls were still Band-Aid beige and we hadn’t yet remodeled our fireplace with a stucco finish.

DIY conical Christmas trees made with eucalyptus bark.

You’ll have to squint to see it, but I decorated the Christmas tree loosely* in the theme of a partridge-in-a-pear-tree.

*”Loosely” because while there are gilded pear ornaments and lots of random faux birds (there I go with that motif again!) no partridges, per se, are represented.

Bird themed Christmas tree.

There is, however, this rather large bird topper. Kai still keeps asking why it can’t be a star like he sees on the Christmas trees on TV. How do I explain that while gold mini disco balls fit into the theme a star topper just didn’t?

I built up a bit of an obsession about buying this Christmas tree collar from Target which unfortunately cannot be shipped and must be purchased in-person. Just when I was trying to work up the courage (Insanity? New Covid cases have spiked to 98 per day here in Santa Barbara) to head to our local Target–I considered going after dinner when surely all the sane people were hunkered down at home out of the cold and away from the virus–the last one at our local store must’ve sold because when I checked online they were no longer available at that Target that’s only fifteen minutes away, only at the one thirty minutes away. Sigh.

Of course now I’ve decided it’s the best Christmas tree collar I’ve ever seen and that it would have looked so good with the abundance of rattan/wicker/bamboo in our living room–if there’s such a thing of too much rattan/wicker/bamboo, I eschew it!–and it was about half the price of any of the competitors’ (that are, in my mind, only half as attractive). Grr.

But I was able to get the other best-deal-in-town: paperwhites at Trader Joe’s. (Martha would be so proud…I’m forcing paperwhites right on schedule!) At $2.99 each, a dollar up from last year–guess that’s inflation for you, they’re still such a steal!

I placed one next to my side of the bed.

Three rattan lanterns in front of black and white photo mural.

And the rest are placed here, there, and everywhere!

Here’s the big picture.

And a peek at the dining table while it was still a bit too Addams Family-esque. ๐Ÿ™‚

Rattan swivel chairs in living room.

Switching gears here..and speaking of transitions, am I the only one keeping pumpkins long after it’s holiday-appropriate? I know pumpkins are soooo last month, but while they’re still so pretty, I can’t bear to cut them open (so I can access their seeds and plant new ones next year) and certainly not toss them in the trash. So, for now, it’s Christmas/winter on the inside of our house and fall on the outside. So be it. Long live the pumpkins!

White pumpkins decorated with succulents, fall decor.

Which leads me to we’ve been whipping through Season 4 of the The Crown so quickly, I wanted to pump the brakes a bit so we switched over to The Royal House of Winsdor, also on Netflix, and are now completely enthralled by it. If you’re already enjoying The Crown, but want something supplemental (you can watch both concurrently), I think you’ll find its historical reporting and archival footage and news clips fascinating. Just the image below says so much, doesn’t it?

But if that’s not your cup of tea (attempt at British humor, yuk yuk), if you’re at all into gardening, I’d recommend The Gardener on Prime. It documents the illustrious gardener Frank Cabot, as he discusses the methodology of his garden masterpiece: Les Quatre Vents. He talks about beautiful environs elevating our mood and the importance of protecting the historical gardens. The shots were languid–the antidote to the few-seconds per frame we’re often assaulted with–the music swelling and orchestral, and the message was one I subscribe to: art, including the art of Mother Nature cultivated to look her best, lifts our spirits and moves us and leaves us better for having seen it. Because beautiful environs lift our spirits, we need to value them. Amen!

Lastly, this week I tried Martha Stewart’s recipe for Ile Flottante With Caramel Sauce.

It was supposed to look like this….

But when I tipped my meringue out of the Bundt pan and onto the plate, the meringue broke into multiple pieces and what came to mind was that stomach-sinking-sentiment “Pinterest Fail!” It wasn’t Pin-worthy or Instagram-worthy; I’m only showing it here on my blog to make a point and, even at that, I’m not showing the top which was broken beyond repair.

However, it was delicious! Once it was plated in a pool of Creme Anglaise and drizzled with more caramel sauce, you’d never know it was anything other than perfect. We had it for dessert after Sunday dinner and all decided it was one of our new favorites.

The message being, at some point, we all break the meringue–likely even Martha does. And that’s what makes us the lovable humans we are! Trying to survive a pandemic has certainly tested all of us and I know stress levels are high. Here’s to wishing you success in your week whether what you do turns out perfectly the first time or you end up finessing it to look as though it did. Either way, perfection isn’t really the goal; but putting one foot in front of the other and doing as best we can is.

Happy holidays and thanks for stopping by!

Freshening up your front door for fall, and other news.

This week decorating felt trivial.

Coronavirus cases spiked across the globe, California went back to being on a purple tier, and, closer to home, we lost a good friend.

He was kind and steady. He could fix most IT problems (he once saved my computer and the 300-page novel I was working on when I thought it was wiped). He grew an enviable garden full of species native to Santa Barbara; if you didn’t recognize a plant you could bring it to him and he’d name it and tell you how to keep it alive. He was known to grumble a bit, but in an endearing way. He was the first of our group to marry and, many anniversaries later, he and his wife inspired us all by still using pet names and seeming as smitten as ever. He turned 52 a few weeks ago and died, unexpectedly, last week. His name was Geoff Jewel.

At first the news was shocking, then disbelief turned to sadness. It clung to everything and hung in the air like a gloomy mist. The short, dark days weren’t helping. I’d vacillate between trying to cheer myself up and feeling guilty for trying to shake the sadness because I know his wife won’t be able to, at least not for a very long time.

Geoff stopped by our house a couple of weeks ago to drop off two giant cycads from his collection to thank me for some design help. Since we are mostly home these days, it was strange we were out, but we were. Now we’ll never see him again and the cycads have taken on a sentimental status. I’m determined to keep them thriving.

I imagine so many of us are going through something similar. There have been too many deaths from this pandemic to come through entirely untouched. Or if you have come through untouched, I think all it takes is turning on the news and hearing the latest numbers to feel overwhelmed with empathy. And you want to help, but you don’t know how and intellectually you recognize feeling sad isn’t really helping anybody.

So what do we do with all this sadness? Is it okay to file it away, tilt our chins upward and trudge along like everything is fine? Is it okay to want to be happy when so many people are suffering?

I finally decided it was. I wasn’t helping anybody being stuck in a funk. So I decided to choose happiness.

This mural was painted on the wall leading to the restroom of Thai Tap, a Thai restaurant in Santa Barbara. This was years ago before they changed locations but at the time I liked it so much I photographed it with my phone and have remembered the sentiment all these years.

What started to lift the muck of melancholy, was to make things prettier around our house. Decorating didn’t feel so trivial anymore. (I strongly believe beautiful environments elevate our mood–I think that’s why I do what I do for a living).

This mat arrived and inspired me to freshen up our front door. I’ve used it on three different houses over the years and decided it was time to buy it for ours. I love it and it’s a great price ($12.99!) but, truth be told, at 30″ x 18″, it’s barely wide enough for our 32″ wide front door.

Design tip: In general, you want your doormat to be at least as wide as your front door, if not slightly wider. Since most doors are also flanked with a few inches of casing on both sides, your impression of the width of the door is wider than just the literal width of the door itself. So when calculating what size to buy, I’d say err on the side of wider than the door. So, yes, it could be wider, but I love the pattern so much I’m forcing it to work and what helped was sliding it out from the front door a few inches making it less obvious that it wasn’t as wide as the door.

The leopard doormat below is equally cute, albeit a bit pricier, but does come in a larger size option. It would work so well with my shoes. ๐Ÿ™‚

I’ve used this braided rubber one on a couple of projects and it’s so neutral it looks good year-round. Since it doesn’t try to steal the show, you can dress up everything around it (sometimes a doormat is just a doormat, right Freud?).

But this next one had me at “jute”. Of course it’s only going to work for “sheltered outdoor use”, per its online description, but it’s classic and good and adds just the right touch of natural, organic materials which I’m always drawn to.

I hung this preserved boxwood wreath from Target which we’ve had for almost seven years now and it’s still going strong. I love that it’s real boxwood but since it’s preserved it keeps on lasting and lasting. A real green option! Get it? ๐Ÿ™‚

It’s so neutral, in fact, I’m going to transition it into all-things-Christmas the day after Thanksgiving. I used it on this house last year.

The new wreath along with a lantern and new doormat gave an instant refresh.

Here’s a faux berry wreath that has some definite holiday spirit. My mom has a similar one she hangs on her front door for the holidays. Her front door is painted a very dark charcoal so the wreath looks amazing in contrast.

During these politically-charged times, this battery-operated lighted peace sign wreath certainly sends a nice message.

A lantern by the front door is not only pretty, but adds a welcoming touch. I use battery-operated LED candles set to timer-mode in ours so they automatically turn on at dusk like magic. The lanterns below from Pottery Barn are similar to the ones I placed by our front door although I bought ours years ago at Osh of all places.

I’ve had my eye on these below from Pottery Barn for our back door. Here’s a less expensive version from Target.

A planter or two, or three, by your front door not only softens the the scene, but is a good transitional piece from the outside in.

These ones one would work with most home styles from traditional to modern.

And the glaze on these next ones is so good. I recently saw something similar at the home of renowned Santa Barbara landscape designer. I can imagine them filled with ferns or succulents (climate permitting; succulents are usually sun-loving, but the aeoniums by our front door have tolerated the shade surprisingly well).

These lit twig orbs are similar to ours and would add a warm, welcoming glow at night.

And there you have it. I hope these ideas sparked some design inspiration. It’s easy to feel like letting it all go with thoughts of “What’s the point? Why do we try?” But I think we do need to keep trying. So chins up and off we go, trudging into another week. But let’s do so with a mindset of proactively choosing happiness and being thankful, shall we? I know it’s easier said than done. Perhaps check out this article which gives some good tips about cultivating joy.

Wishing you a very, very happy Thanksgiving next week!

Kai turns one: A year in review!

WARNING: This is a long post. Thank you, in advance, if you make it to the end. ๐Ÿ™‚



“Arrival is such a definite thing; it is hard to live up to it.” –Peter Mayne, A Year in Marrakesh.



Kai turned one at the end of November which means we made it to the other side of a year, for the most part unscathed considering our lives turned upside down by their pant legs, shaken until their pockets fell out; our house is now sprinkled with “charming” children’s toys, the de rigueur decor of new parents, we go to bed a full two hours earlier than pre-parenthood, and our social lives, as a result, are but a distant memory. By now Kai usually sleeps through the night which means we are fairly well-rested with only the occasional sleepy day after a hard night–although, look closely, and we’re still a little foggy in the eyes as life now seems a constant study in, “And what is in store for today?” But mostly, we are fine, better than fine–ecstatic even–because we have Kai.




Last New Year’s Eve. Kai crashed out at 10:00 pm so we followed suit and never saw midnight.



I told JB, having a baby is like inviting someone you have never met to live with you for eighteen years. First it’s just you and your partner. You establish a routine, you find your groove. Someone is assigned taker-outer of the trash; the other person does dishes; sometimes one person is pregnant so the other person does both duties. ๐Ÿ™‚ Then you bring a stranger (your new baby) home and, unlike most roommates, this one will take rather than contribute to the household income. He’ll eat a lot and then fart and burp like no one else is in the room. He will come with a whole lot of paraphernalia and require frequent baths as though we’re not in a severe drought and dictate when, and if, we sleep. You can only hope he’ll grow up to have similar interests and taste as you, laugh at your jokes, make some of his own, and, eventually register as a Democrat. The rest we just have to leave up to nature and nurture and cross our fingers that when eighteen rolls around, he will leave the nest (and head to college), but call and visit often.




Or, as a client and friend said, “Having a baby is like dropping a bomb on a marriage. Having two babies is like dropping two bombs.” (It’s kinda making us want to stick to having just one, but you never know.)







The morning after Kai turned one, I said to JB, โ€œIt’s so much nicer waking up to a one-year old than a one-day old.โ€ Mostly because when you wake, it will likely be after you had six, eight–maybe more–consecutive hours of sleep. And sleep is a marvelous thing. A thing so great that you never knew you loved, treasured, and so desperately needed in order to speak or think in anything other than an unintelligible mumble of jumble–until it was gone. I remember watching people on commercials during the early days (Kai didn’t let us focus on actual shows for a very long time, even now we only process about a third of what’s on the screen, the rest obscured by the noises and interruptions of our dear pre-toddler) and the actors would snuggle into their Sleep Number Beds or rest soundly because they took NyQuil and could finally stop sneezing and fall asleep and I’d think, “Oh lucky you. You bastard. You don’t know how good you’ve got it heading to bed like you don’t even appreciate it. Man I’d love to appreciate it for you.” Thoughts were like that. Weird and disjointed, often centered around, and due-to-the-lack-of, the precious commodity that was in low supply and high demand: at least five consecutive hours (the minimum it takes, they say, to avoid clinical sleep deprivation) of, blessed, sleep.



Another noteworthy thing that happens when your baby grows older is you get to switch from counting in weeks like you do when pregnant or with a newborn, to months which is nice since any time computation is involved (“How many months is fifteen weeks? How pregnant is that person? How old is that baby? How old is my baby?”) my head hurts–especially when under the influence of clinical sleep deprivation. And so began the great recounting of what we were doing at this time last year.





Oh it is so much better now than say Kai’s third day on the planet. That third day, but his first day home, we returned to our very new-feeling house that we had remodeled 3/4 of and just moved back into the weekend before I popped out (or rather, “labored out”) a baby. Everything was in place, devoid of dust and it all looked so pretty, if a bit foreign in its newness; it was still a surprise to walk into a freshly decorated room, โ€œOh, what is this? How nice!โ€ I remember thinking what a double-whammy of excitement it was: moving back into our “new” house with a new baby. Our house had changed, and bringing a baby over its threshold, so had life as we knew it.





We had placed the antique bassinet, which would serve as Kai’s bed until he was old enough to transfer to the crib in his nursery, in our master bedroom. The bassinet was a gift from a close friend and design mentor, outfitted with a skirt of ivory-colored linen, draped with an antique lace receiving blanket and accessorized with a vintage teddy bear with moveable arms and legs. I’d styled the items just-so and parked the bassinet on an angle so everything looked magazine-ready–or at least Instagram-worthy. We had just come home from the hospital and JB was on a Trader Joe’s run stocking up on prefab meals. I sat on our bed nursing Kai while talking on the phone with another new mom. I chatted as Kai contentedly nursed and thought, “This is not so hard!” When he began to look a little sleepy, I got off the phone and arranged him in his new bassinet.ย  Brimming with pride over the picturesque scene and the ease with which I was apparently navigating the learning curve of this motherhood thing, I snapped a photo of Kai looking very much like a catalog baby and texted it to JB along with, “He’s sleeping!”–the subtext being, “We got this!” Moments later, Kai erupted in a howl that lasted and lasted. And lasted. Except for the moments when he was eating, or very briefly sleeping (ten minutes here or there), there was no respite.





By 4 am, I desperately wanted to call my mom and ask her what to do but realized she shouldn’t have to suffer just because we were. She had done her duty as a parent, now it was our turn to figure it out. Kai screamed if we set him in the bassinet and walked more than a couple of steps away so the beatific vision of him sleeping there was short-lived (although the bassinet did serve another purpose as a very mobile changing table). Instead JB pulled the back cushions off the sofas to make a pillow fortress so Kai and I could sleep on one sofa (JB on the other) and in case, God forbid, Kai slipped during the night, the drop would only be a few inches and the landing would be cushioned. We “slept” like that, JB continually checking on us from his sofa, and me waking up to make sure that Kai was still safely tucked next to me–and, more importantly, still breathing! Those first few nights were the scariest where the fear of smothering was constant. I’d wake up every couple of hours so tired, but so relieved Kai was still alive!







Our real estate agent had said the first three months of having a baby feels like three years and now I understood. The lactation consultant told us that the parents who were the most pleased with themselves were those of five-month-olds so I held out for that milestone and was happy to discover that by four months it became, if not easy, than easier. Then actually fun. Kai smiled and laughed and seemed to recognize who we were and maybe even like us.






But before that, when Kai was six weeks old, I took a walk with the same new mom friend I’d called on Kai’s first day home. Her second son was two months older than Kai and when I expressed how difficult I was finding being a new parent (lack of sleep, lack of free time, lack of recognizing your former life in your new childcare-filled one where you, as the mom, have the starring role of childcare provider), she chided, “Oh you are going to miss this stage and want another soon!”ย  I stared down at Kai who was looking very serious, grimacing even, but otherwise being perfectly well behaved. And thought,ย  “Really?



I realized some of my favorite moments were when I was either walking Kai in a stroller or driving with him in the car because I could go at the same pace as I had in my PK (Pre Kai) life, so I was feeling the thrill of power-walking like a non-mom, but I knew as soon as we were home, we’d be back to the strict regimen of nursing/burping/changing/repeat in between bouts of crying. We weren’t quite to the fun, giving back (smiles, giggles, dancing together) stage and I thought, “What exactly am I going to miss about this?” And I still wonder.








I have never felt so dragged down and unhealthy as after having a baby. For a while I was obsessed that I might not live to see Kai grow up to be a man because I felt so unusually achy and mortal (feeling back to normal now, thankfully). I was in awe of all parents. “You did this? You survived this? Your kid(s) survived this?” I felt like something was wrong with me because even though he was small and snugly and cute, it didn’t seem like such a good trade-off for giving up sleeping and getting any work done. Heck, if all I wanted was something warm and little to wrap in a blanket, I would have been satisfied raising my Chiweenie whom I can leave unattended for hours and is fully potty trained.





I think this means I am someone who the Baby stage was a little lost on. I definitely prefer the baby/toddler period to the baby/infant period which is probably for the best since, in retrospect, the infant stage lasted all of a nanosecond (even though if you had asked me back then, I would’ve said time was standing still and I was in a sleepless purgatory) so I figure it’s a good thing I’m super keen on the kid stage since we have years more of that to come whereas the baby part was but a blip on the ol’ childhood trajectory.






I think it was a friend who wisely said, โ€œBeing a parent is the best worst job.โ€ Or maybe I said itโ€”I can’t remember; former sleep deprivation has wiped away parts of my memory. I haven’t watched children since I was a child and babysitting other people’s children for money so, at times, it has been hard to change gears from doing my design work to essentially babysitting. (Funny story: One day when JB told a coworker he had to hurry home because I had to be somewhere and he had to babysit Kai, the coworker, also a father, said, “When it’s your own kid, it’s not called ‘babysitting’, it’s called ‘parenting’.” Ahem.)ย  I have female friends who took the first year of their child’s life off from work so they could exclusively watch their kid. I think it is wonderful that they report back, “I love staying home! We make cookies and dance around and go to the park.” In contrast, I see myself enjoying that for the first four hours and then sinking into a cavernous pit of depression.






Don’t worry, I didn’t/won’t go all Brooke Shields (sorry, Brooke); however, I freely admit I didn’t find the transition to parenting to be as seamless as I had hoped. It wasn’t until I realized I needed to hire someone to come in so I could keep up with my work and have some balance in my life which had suddenly shifted to all childcare all the time, that the clouds lifted. Otherwise, a storm was probably imminent.





My rationale for hiring babysitters so I could get some work done, as first told to JB: “I love Kai more than anything, but imagine something else lovable such as ice cream. We’ve all know people who loved ice cream and then got a summer job working in an ice cream store where they could eat as much as they wanted and the next thing you know they hated ice cream. This is why I need to hire babysitters so I can still work. Too much of even a great thing is a bad thing and I want to still love ice cream*.”



*Kai is Haagen Dazs’s Rum Raisin, my all-time favorite flavor of ice cream, in this analogy.





Okay, more truth serum. Sometimes I feel guilty that I enjoy when Kai is napping because that means I enjoy time away from him. Then I remind myself of my ice cream analogy and realize that it’s similar to the sage words of that country lyric, “How can I miss you if you won’t go away?” If you know another mom who feels like this, or you yourself feel like this, I think it’s important that you know you are not alone and it is okay to want to get things done. That doesn’t make us bad moms, it makes us complex people who like to get a lot done. Plus, that little break can make you come back refreshed, and ready to do things like make cookies, dance around the house, and go to the park. ๐Ÿ™‚






I’m not sure why I felt so stressed out and in a giant hurry for about the first ten months, but it was like there was a giant ticking clock in my ear (not my biological clock this time, but the “alarm” of baby Kai waking from a nap with a shrill cry which is how he would awaken, 9 times out of 10). I’d be so grateful for the moments that I could move around with my arms free, at my naturally accelerated speed, that I’d speed up even more. I’d race around going back and forth between work stuff and cleaning and work stuff again. If I was calling a client, I’d be thinking about all the dishes that were still in the sink. But if I was cleaning the counters, I’d be thinking about the client I hadn’t emailed back. Always a sense of needing to do more, faster. Of course, not everyone gets to work at home, so I’d count my blessings, but I noticed I was often having to remind myself how lucky I was, which was kind of telling unto itself and told me it was time to have someone watch Kai during the hours I needed to focus on work and the counters and dirty dishes could wait.



Trip to Home Depot. Kai “telling us” how it is.




When I see other new parents with babies, I think, โ€œAh, that looks so quaint. Romantic even. What a cute and cozy family.โ€ I visited my niece-in-law when her twins were a few weeks old and they mostly slept and made occasional gurgling noises. I thought, โ€œWell, that looks quite easy!โ€ (Note: I know it is NOT. I since found out that while the twins did sleep through the day, they did not do much sleeping at night. So, sometimes what looks so easy is “smoke and mirrors” which actually applies to many aspects of life.) So why, why, why, did I find it hard with only one sweet baby?







Perhaps it’s the game of Perfection. And I don’t mean metaphorically; it’s an actual game. I had to look up the name because I had forgotten it, but it’s a game I had growing up where you have to fit plastic pieces into their plastic slots while a timer loudly ticks and if you don’t finish in time, the buzzer sounds and all your work is undone as the pieces fly into the air and scatter. Having a baby is a lot like this. I’d hear a loud imaginary buzzer (in reality: Kai screaming when he awoke) that announced: “Put your work down and walk away. Your time is up!” Being a mom you learn to be so fast, so efficient, go as quickly as you can until the baby goes pop (cries). After a while I could feel the stress like a physical toxic goo, running from my shoulders down into my arms and hands. I had to learn stop and breathe and think, “So I may not finish. Oh well.”






When Kai was ten-months-old, we took a trip to Hawaii. It was his first time on a plane and he did very well, but was extremely fidgety if we stayed seated and only happy if I stood up and bounced him. As a result, I spent much of the flight standing and swaying and bouncing baby Kai at the back of the plane by the bathroom. At one point a woman stood in line with her five-year-old daughter and told me, “It doesn’t get any easier. I thought it would, but it doesn’t. The challenges just change as they get older.” Hmm. That was probably the last thing I needed to hear. I was already a little nervous about how this vacation-with-child was going to play out and while I smiled and thanked her, I thought, “Thanks for the parental buzzkill, lady.” Personally, I like to think that it does get easier because it already has. I get that the issues will morph, but that also means that we get to leave some of the stages that aren’t so pleasant (diaper changes, the freakiness of watching your child learn to walk and not being able to stop every fall, sucking the snot out of your baby’s nose) behind. So there!







I know it gets easier because even the crying isn’t as hard to hear as it once was. I often wonder if that is in part why having a newborn, at least your first newborn, seemed like such an endurance test. It only makes sense that instinctively crying makes us tense up and go out of our minds because crying is cause for alarm: someone (your precious, vulnerable, helpless baby) is in need and needs YOU to fix it. Once you learn a cry can mean, โ€œI want another chip and I want it NOW!โ€ you learn every cry is not an occasion to jump…or freak out.



However, JB does not seem to be bothered by the cries as much as I am. This must be something built in: the mom gene? To me, the cries are like nails on a chalkboard or any other metaphor for extremely hard to hear and verging on a form of torture. For JB, I think it’s just background noise. For me, the sound is almost physically painful.







For precisely that reason, I wanted to enact a firm “You wake him, you watch him” policy, but, alas, I am the owner of the mammary glands and therefore the great soother. At least I was. Without warning, Kai went from being an A-plus nurser to going on a nursing strike the night of the election (perhaps he could sense my stress). Our pediatrician said he had never heard of a baby stopping so suddenly, but to consider myself lucky since we were only a couple of weeks from the one-year mark anyway and this meant I’d get to avoid having an eighteen-month-old trying to lift my shirt in public.



Here is how it went down: The first time, I thought, “How unusual. You are always such a good nurser,” or something to that effect. It was only the next day, when each attempt was met with a funny “Pffbtโ€ laugh from Kai, a look like, โ€œYou have got to be kidding me!โ€ and him trying to scramble off my lap in the opposite direction of my chest, that I knew something was up. So I moved on, grateful for breast pumps. Sappy commercials would make me cry, JB accidentally putting a beloved dessert plate with a gold rim in the microwave where the gold burned off made me yell more than I should have and for the next few days I was probably very hard to live with as I rode the hormonal wave of weepy to tantrum to back to before my body was responsible for someone’s sustenance. It did suck that I didn’t know the last time was the last time so with no fanfare, or gradual weaning to prevent my chest from filling up with what felt like rocks, my magical powers of being able to instantly soothe Kai in general, and soothe him back to sleep, in particular, were gone. My reign as a super hero was over.ย  Darn it, I’m like a normal person again, but I think that gives JB a feeling of equal parental footing (he can now soothe as well as I can) so that’s good. ๐Ÿ™‚








I do actually have another latent super power. Even when Kai is sleeping in the next room, with his door closed, the heater blowing, the dishwasher creating its soothing white noise, if he makes the tiniest noise, the most muffled peep is magnified in my eardrum like a large conch shell blowing to say, โ€œWake up, mom. You’re on!โ€ย  Funny how what to me is a blaring cry for help, fails to wake JB up and he lies beside me, breathing softly, contentedly a sleeping dad.






One of the best parts about having a baby has been the Christmas-morning feeling of โ€œOh my gosh, you’re finally here!” I wonder if/when it will wear off. I’m pretty sure it isn’t the first thing my mom thinks when she wakes up, although I have been meaning to ask her, “Do you wake up and the first thing you think of is how lucky you are that I’m alive?โ€ As close as we are, I’mย  guessing the answer is a definitive, “No.”



At times when I feel like I will never get anything done or do it when I want to or for as long as I want, it will suddenly dawn on me that JB’s mom and my mom are not having to worry about when we are hungry or tired or need to go to the bathroom and that they (for the most part) do as they please, which means this is just a stage. I figure I better get that concept soon so I can enjoy this as a transitory period, not a sentence, so when Kai is a tween and wipes our kisses off and wants us to drop him off a block from the school or the skate park and rolls his eyes behind our backs (Kai, please don’t turn into โ€œthatโ€ kid), that I will think we sucked everything out of this stage like it was a bone and we got down to the marrow and that we were really present, enjoying it as much as possible. So when my selfish self surfaces and I get frustrated that my time is no longer my own and when I fear that all the one-way conversations with Kai may make my mind turn to mush, or at least make it 50% more likely that I might start talking to myself in public, and, during the other times, when it is just plain lonely, I try to remember that, just like the breastfeeding, when it suddenly stops, I very likely will be startled into saying, โ€œWait, slow down! Can we just freeze time?”






We are in a super cute stage now. There are the bobbing dance moves (his and ours) any time music comes on–even when I “sing” (in quotes because it’s not that musical) and his trick of holding things in his mouth hands-free (cute things like his rubber ducky, his sippy cup, and less cute things like his dirty socks) while making a noise that says, โ€œLook, Ma! No hands!โ€ There’s what I call “the ET finger” where he points at everything he wants and says, “Doh” like he’s Homer Simpson. The sort of screechy “pterodactyl speak” has turned into a heart-warming “Minion babble” although Kai seems to think the word for almost everything (besides “Mamamama” for me and “Dah” for JB) is, strangely enough, “Dog”. And the other day he held the remote control to his ear like it was a phone and said, “Ello,” like he was Oliver Twist and the parental, “Aww!” was probably audible even next door.



The other day, I started to tell a pregnant acquaintance about how hard the early days were and I saw her face begin to fall so I quickly swerved the story from drama to comedy and made sure to give it a happy ending. She didn’t need to hear me complain. She’ll have her own sleepless nights. Like the woman on the plane, I didn’t want to be her buzzkill.







At ten months my mind seemed to reawaken and it felt like most of the cobwebs cleared out.ย  Prior to that, thoughts would wriggle away like slippery fish before I could catch them. Free time was non-existent so reflection was out of reach. Even writing in Kai’s baby book seemed almost impossible. Now when I look at it, I notice my handwriting was very near illegible in the early months as I raced through getting the words down. As time went on, my penmanship became almost comically clearer. So maybe it was just this sense of not having the time, and cognizance, to process the biggest (and greatest) thing that has ever happened to us that made it hard to “go with the flow” as much as I wanted to. I wanted to be a Superstar Mom, a mom who was loving every minute of it. At least we weren’t in Syria (my go to aphorism for cheer)–or worse. We were blessed so what was I complaining about? I guess there was still an “elephant on our foot” even if the elephant was darn cute and didn’t even weigh ten pounds yet.



I remember when Kai was one week old, I went to the weekly hospital weigh-in where a lactation nurse would make sure you were feeding your baby correctly. One I liked in particular said she would watch the new moms pour in the door, stunned with the “Thousand-yard stare”. She used phrases like “shell-shocked” and being “still in the trenches” to describe new motherhood. I think this says it all. There’s a sense of having been to war. We have come back to civilian life, but we’re different now. I am still fascinated by this parenthood thing and can’t entirely grasp that we are actually living it. I have spent most of my life as a non-parent so it’s rather radical to suddenly be one forevermore. The closest thing I can compare it to is we opened the treasure box, the white light poured out, and we saw what was inside. We are forever changed because we saw something special and now it is time for us to raise someone special. And for that I am eternally, blissfully grateful.







If you made it this far, thank you. Stay tuned for the next blog post as we will be back to our regular programing of all things to do with design.




Lastly, this week we lost a great talent, the actress, and amazing author, Carrie Fisher. From one “over-sharer” (she used that term to describe her writing) to another, if they read blogs in heaven, this one’s for you. ๐Ÿ™‚




Happy decorating and Happy New Year! ๐Ÿ™‚







What’s the difference between sisal and seagrass?


You’ve heard of sisal.ย  You’ve heard of seagrass.ย  So what’s the difference between the two?




People often use these terms interchangeably–and even more frequently mispronounce “sisal”.ย  (Say “sigh-zhel” quickly and with a slight slur and you’ve got it right.) The confusion is understandable as the two do have quite a bit in common. Both are natural, renewable fibers used to create rugs and wall-to-wall flooring. They are somewhat similar in appearance with their woven texture and natural hues and look strikingly rich–although each generally costs less than most nylon carpets and certainly less than wool. But perhaps their greatest asset is their stylistic versatility. Sisal and seagrass are idea candidates for nearly any design direction from chic to shabby, modern to traditional.




Chevron-patterned seagrass. Photo source: Lonny.




However, as someone who has lived with both, I can tell you these two are not the same, nor do they wear the same. They’re not even made from the same plant! And that’s just the beginning of their differences. Here are the rest, including pros and cons.




Memorize this: this is sisal.



Agave Sisalana: Sisal fibers are extracted from the crushed leaves of the agave plant. (Nope, not the one used to make tequila.) The telltale look of sisal flooring is tight, neatly woven rows that are natural in color; however the absorbent fibers can also be dyed and/or woven into patterns such as a chevron pattern. These same fibers are used to make rope and scratching posts for cats which gives you an idea of how soft it’s going to be: not very. So maybe not ideal for still-crawling children, but the problem isn’t lack-of-softness as much as it is sisal’s sensitivity to stains.




Sisal stair runner. Photo source: J.K. Kling Associates.




You spill, you stain: Sisal and seagrass both start out as beauties, but, unlike seagrass, sisal is so absorbent that it can soon turn beastly with blemishes. If you spill wine on sisal, you have two options: learn to live with the stain or throw the flooring out. If you think the third option should be clean with water or carpet cleaner, think again. Most cleansers will discolor the sisal, and water, as odd as it sounds, may stain sisal, leaving a watermark behind. The one way to “fix” a watermark is to wet the entire surface which is not, of course, a great option for wall-to-wall installation (as moisture can be trapped below the flooring leading to mold, mildew and/or subfloor damage). For rugs, make sure the rug has an arid, sunny spot to dry or a mold/mildew problem may trump any stain issue you were originally trying to ameliorate.





dark-sisalDyed sisal.




The splendor of seagrass: Like sisal, seagrass also comes in a chevron pattern, but its classic and most common look is a basket weave (although the spacing and thickness of the weave will vary). Unlike the crushed fibers that comprise sisal, seagrass is a marsh-growing weed and no stranger to water. During production, the slick skin of the reed is kept intact making it somewhat impervious to stains. Seagrass is also inherently static-free and therefore dust and dirt repellent. A clean, damp cloth can be used to blot away most spills if you catch them right away. Note: I have used 5 parts water to one part bleach to remove stains of the potty-training-a-dog-variety. ๐Ÿ™‚





Memorize this: this is seagrass in its most common, classic form.





Seagrass woven into a chevron pattern.




Soak it up: Seagrass’s resistance to moisture makes it equally resistant to dye. This is why you will almost always see it in its natural state which is slightly green when first unrolled; in a week or so, after interior exposure to light and air, it will dry and turn a shade of wheat. Note: When sisal or seagrass are insalled wall-to-wall, they can be treated as a hard surface with rugs thrown atop them; however, seagrass, more than sisal, needs to breathe. Any areas you cover with aย  rug will stay green longer. You will also want to avoid placing plastic mats, like the ones used to protect a floor from rolling office chairs, on top of seagrsass, as you risk trapping moisture (again with that pesky potential for mold and mildew!).






Seagrass flooring. Photo source: Architectural Digest. Designer: Suzanne Kasler.





Sticky situation: Both sisal and seagrass can be cut and bound into custom-sized rugs (have the edges bound or they will fray and unravel) or installed wall-to-wall. The edges can be bound in anything from plain cotton to a leather that has been tooled to resemble alligator skin. If you choose cotton, select something in the dust color family which will show dirty footprints less than darker shades–even if that sounds totally counter-intuitive! it is important to note that sisal and seagrass come with a latex backing that helps hold the rug together and provides a built-in cushion. If you have hardwood floors, do not lay your rug directly on them since over time the latex back may stick to the hardwood. Note: when selecting a rug pad, use one that is rated to go over hardwood floors as some of the perforated rug pads have been known to (gulp!) adhere to hardwood floors, as well.






Seagrass rug. Photo source: unknown.




Wall to wall: Unlike regular carpet, instead of resting atop a pad and being stretched in place with tackstrip, the latex backing of sisal oar seagrass is glued directly to the subfloor. If a spongier surface is desired–after all, this tightly woven floor is less cushy than regular carpet to begin with–a urethane pad can be added. This is a special pad is made specifically for use with natural fiber flooring. One side will be glued to the seagrass with a permanent adhesive and the other side, the one that will rest on your subfloor, must be glued with a pressure-sensitive adhesive. This step is crucial so if you ever decide to remove the pad and flooring you can, without pulling up part of your subfloor (whether wood or concrete) with it. A notable benefit of wall-to-wall sisal and seagrass is that they are so tightly woven that dirt is less likely to penetrate through to the backing, which means dirt and debris are kept mostly on the surface where they can easily be swept or vacuumed.






Seagrass installed wall to wall. Photo source: Lauren Liess. Designer: Lauren Liess.





Shrinkage: The fact is, natural fibers shrink. While they are stored on a roll, moisture is retained, but once the material is unrolled and exposed to light and air, seagrass can shrink up to 3″ on each side. It is imperative that not only is shrinkage accounted for when your rooms are measured but that the installer who cuts your flooring waits at least 24 hours for the material to shrink to size before the final trimming and gluing commences. Any sooner and your carpet will gap at the walls!






Natural fiber rugs (likely sisal or jute). Source: Eric Olsen Design.





Hold it down!: Even well-installed sisal or seagrass needs something to keep its raw edges from fraying at the walls. If you already have baseboard, shoe molding can be installed to the base of the baseboard or, for a touch of whimsy, natural rope, 1/2″ or thicker, can be hot glued in place.






Seagrass runner in chevron pattern bound with light colored cotton binding tape. Photo source: Shine Your Light.




So-so seams: While most nylon carpet is 12′ wide, sisal and seagrass generally span 13′ 2″. This is a big plus as many bedrooms are 12′ or narrower, meaning no seams are necessary. (As with any woven or looped flooring, seams on sisal or seagrass are harder to hide than on thick, cut-pile carpet.) However, if your rooms are wide, don’t worry. A good installer can work wonders with side seams. Cross or T-seams are another story, though, and should be entirely avoided to prevent an obvious split or frayed seam later on.





Sisal rug. Source: Emily Henderson.






Sisal rug. Source: Serena and Lily.




What’s that smell?: Unlike sisal, seagrass has a strong, basket-like smell that becomes especially pungent in humid weather or when a house has been sealed up for a while. This is a natural smell that is pleasing to many, but make sure you can include yourself in that bunch before you have it installed in your home. Take a close whiff of the sample and then imagine that smell concentrated and hitting your nose like a wall when you open your front door after an extended vacation.









The finicky foot: Whether you choose sisal or seagrass, understand that both are highly textured and thus very bumpy underfoot. The texture falls under the “love it or hate it” category. Before purchasing either, walk on a sample barefoot. This is especially important if you don’t wear shoes at home. Some will find the nubby texture like a massage (interestingly, usually women); others may actually find it painful (men).






Seagrass. Source: Lauren Liess.



Personally, I love seagrass and I love sisal, but I love seagrass a bit more for its stain-resistant properties.ย  It’s a great compromise between carpet and a hard surface flooring (such as wood or tile). I am fairly anti-carpet so whenever I can talk a client out of installing carpet in a bedroom or living room I feel I have done a public service (carpet holds dirt, dust mites, and is, in general, just very unhygienic), but when there isn’t enough money in the budget to replace carpet with a hard surface like wood, stone, or tile, seagrass is a great alternative as it is stain-resistant, natural, classic, and just so good to look at!



This post is an adaptation of my column, Design Intervention, and first appeared in the Santa Barbara News-Press.



Happy decorating! ๐Ÿ™‚






Design work and diaper changes: Life with a six-month-old!



There are bloggers who have babies and keep writing blog posts like it ain’t no thang. For me, it was a thang. A big thang.



A thang I couldn’t quite keep up with.



The last time we met here, Kai was seven-weeks-old. I didn’t have the free time to scribe posts, so instead I scribbled notes:


“There are condiments in the fridge that are older than Kai.”


“My dogs know more words than he does.”





I pondered how no one can really prepare you for how your life will change when you have a baby. That I found it like being suddenly shoved on stage, with the expectation of giving the performance of a lifetime, when I’d never even seen the script. So I started moving and scrambling (“Dance, monkey! Dance!”) and ad libbing and hoping my audience wouldn’t throw tomatoes (or, in the case of my infant, a Let’s-hope-the-neighbors-can’t-hear-this! tantrum). To use a different metaphor, I realized I must swim or I would sink. Maybe I wasn’t exactly pulling off the Butterfly Stroke, but I was sure dog-paddling like hell!




Baby Kai with chalkboard wings




I questioned why Home Economics classes would think asking students to carry around an uncooked egg would somehow convey the responsibility of having a baby. Hauling around an alarm clock with an inoperable snooze button would be more like it. Drive around with it, take it on walks, hold it with one hand while you use your free hand to shove food in your face. I dare you to try to sleep in the same room with it. Then imagine feeding, burping, and wiping it (all the while stimulating its brain: It’s never too early to start reading to an infant!; Skin-to-skin contact is essential to instill a sense of security!; Narrating every move you make will jump-start brain activity!, Eye contact will foster bonding, but avoid it at all costs when trying to get your infant to fall asleep!; In between nursing, don’t forget to pump, pump, pump!; Have two hours really passed already?; Feeding time!; Crying, why are you crying when you are fed, warm and clean?; The rest of us really enjoy sleep, I promise, people even pay to go on vacation to sleep and it’s not like you have any other pressing duties!; Are you sure you don’t like naps? I’ve heard other babies love naps!; Do other babies cry this much?) all on those five hours of splintered sleep you were “lucky” enough to have had and then, REPEAT.



Every. Single. Day.



Why, I wondered, does anyone congratulate a pregnant person? I told JB, we need to tattoo our wrists with “Note to selves: This is hard. Don’t try this again!”ย  But then the coos and giggles and belly-shaking laughter came and, for the first time, I thought “Oh come on, it wasn’t that bad!” (Nature, you trickster, you. This is how you keep the population going, isn’t it?) And then, just last week, Kai turned six-months-old and we asked ourselves, how did we get here? How did we do it?




Kai on paisley bed cover




The sleep coma has begun to retreat, Kai has discovered he actually enjoys napping and I remember that no matter how hard it seemed, there was never a morning that I didn’t wrench myself from Dream Land to stare fuzzily over at Kai while it sank in that yes, he was here, he was real, and suddenly I’d go all giddy like it was Christmas morning and Kai was the gift.



Brick fireplace before

See ya, scalloped woodwork. This house is getting a gutting.




Brick fireplace demo

Ah, better already. Wait till you see the fireplace transformation we have planned!




Then I ask, what was so hard about the first few months, exactly? Maybe because lucid thoughts seemed out of reach. I felt like an ESL student trying to string words together. Forming sentences took a frightening amount of effort. Forget “Baby on Board” signs suctioned to car windows, they should say “New Mom Driving”; the day I drove a street I’ve driven hundreds of times and entered an oncoming lane, mistaking it for a turn lane, (thankfully no other cars were around, and JB was there to yell, “What are you doing?”), I took up drinking coffee.



50s living room before clock on wall

Is it wrong that I actually kind of liked that clock? Probably. Well the client didn’t so it’s on its way out.




50s living room demo

Along with the ceiling (making room for a tray ceiling) and the flooring.





The other week I heard that my niece-in-law is pregnant with…drum roll…twins! I was shocked to hear myself exclaim, “That is awesome news! I am so happy for you!” And to truly mean it! I didn’t think of the sleepless nights and the shushing and swaddling and missing reading a book before bed instead of turning out the lights and starting the twenty minute routine of “Shh, it’s okay,” over the roar of a crying baby until he falls asleep. Nope, not a thought of former social lives or how easy it used to be to leave the house without a litany of items (Kai developed a Linus-like relationship with his blankie and it cannot be forgotten–or else!) or how once-upon-a-time we could watch a TV show uninterrupted, or the days when duties like steaming and blending veggies for baby food were not on my To Do list. Nope, all I could think of was how much joy those two babies will bring.




50s kitchen before

You can rest easy, this cabinetry is now gone. Along with that fan, etc.




50s kitchen demo

Walls will soon be bumped out. Yahoo!




On the design front, (I know, that was promised in the title), most of my jobs are either just beginning or in the not-so-beautiful (except to clients and me) stage of demo (we love this stage because it signifies progress!).





Demo day reception room

A commercial job I’m working on that became mired in the permit process but will be picking up steam soon!





It was with a heavy heart that I resigned from my interior design column, Design Intervention, (this blog’s title is an offshoot) that I’ve written for the Santa Barbara News-Press for the past four years. I loved writing the column and hearing from readers who wrote in, and I had the coolest and kindest (and very patient about my hitting my deadlines at the last minute) editor I could ever ask for, but if I want to give Kai and my clients the attention they deserve, I came to the realization that I had to free up some time somewhere and the time it took to research and write the column was akin to falling down “the rabbit hole”. I plan to reboot some of the best ones into blog posts and give them a new life outside of a recycling center, but that will take some time as well, so we’ll see.





Rock wall

There was a moment when the beautiful rock wall might have been the only thing that was going to be kept on this project due to a nasty case of easement contracts. And then, goodwill, logic, and most likely good karma (this client is a very good human being) came through and things are looking up.





Cobblestone patio

Thank goodness because this new sandstone cobblestone patio and covered roof is going to be a beautiful space when it’s finished!





This week, I was lucky enough to be featured, along with fellow interior designer Michelle Beamer, in the Santa Barbara Independent.


Here is a photo. To read the full article, you can click here.




Independent article

You can imagine I did the “happy dance” when I read the headline. ๐Ÿ™‚




Besides working on projects for clients, I can hardly wait to share the projects we’re working on at home. I’m excited to show you our new office reveal and the Before and Afters of our house that were finished when we first brought Kai home but I never photographed and posted. We (and by “we”, I mean “JB”) and I began a DIY project to build a custom 96″ long dining table out of Douglas Fir last week and as soon as the last coat of stain and sealer go on and we attach the metal band legs from Etsy, I will share it. Yesterday I had my wonderful builder (he has the best can-do attitude of any tradesperson I know) and his stucco guy look at our fireplace (the one shown in the Independent photo above). The plan is to build it out 6″, finish the new structure in white stucco, and add a gas conversion and concrete FireBalls on a bed of either lava rocks or glass. To the left of the fireplace we will add base cabinets, a place for the TV to fit in, and either floating or built-in shelves–depending on whether we want the look to be built-in or more casual, but more on that later.


I’ll keep you posted on all that, Kai permitting.



If you made it to here, thank you for your loyalty and patience. I treasure you as a reader and thank you for reading my blog. You make it all worth it!


PS, If you want to read a good article on old-fashioned niceties that deserve a comebackย  (I think we could all use a reminder), click here.



Happy Thursday! ๐Ÿ™‚




Pink signature








Design trends from the Las Vegas Market 2015!




It’s all over the internet: Facebook users are less likely to LOL (Laugh Out Loud) than they are to phoneticize their guffaw with a “haha” or a “hehe”. At least that’s what the social media “share and show off site” (aka FB) discovered after analyzing posts written in English during the last week of May.






Chair with spine design on backOkay, maybe for Halloween, or if you’re an orthopedic surgeon, but those are THE ONLY INSTANCES when this chair does not max out the creepy-bad-taste meter.






Good, I say. I was always a “haha” kind of person who found LOL too trendy, too socialized, and too embraced by the same folks who chant “Woo!” to articulate unbridled enthusiasm, think terms like “jelly” are acceptable substitutes for the word “jealous” and respond with ROFL (Rolling On Floor Laughing) to anything other than grievous news.







Rattan circular chairThis chair, on the other hand, sure it may be totally uninviting and poky looking (certainly not ideal characteristics for an everyday chair) but isn’t it still just so darn charming?





But that’s right now, this moment, if you want to be on-trend. It’s head-spinning to keep up isn’t it?ย  So imagine my disposition a few weeks ago when I attended the Las Vegas Design Market, a To-the-Trade-only mecca for the latest in home decor where climbing the escalator through three buildings, 42 floors in all, I had two days to absorb showrooms packed with what’s promised to be the next design craze. The latest and greatest. Stuff that will be coming soon to a living room near you–yours if you should be so lucky! Here they are, the top design trends from the Las Vegas Market 2015, and they’re so worthy on an OMG!






Leather Chair with metal petrified wood side tableNote the petrified wood side table.






So old, it’s new: Side tables fashioned from a slice of polished petrified wood atop slim metal legs are the side table du jour. A few years back, the ridiculously heavy solid petrified stumps were a home fashion must-have, but, thankfully, for the health of our backs (have you tried to lift one of those things?) styles have shifted to the airier, open-legged look.







White Peacock clear acrylic chairWhat to say? Words escape me.






Seeing clearly: Calling to mind Cinderella’s glass slipper, surprisingly see-thru acrylic chairs in the French style of a rounded back dining chair (transparent shades are available, but devoid of color was the clear winner) will add some cheeky glam to your desk or dining table. Used sparingly, wacky wallpaper (framed old photos of movie stars, rows of vintage books, abstract bunnies) adds the perfect whimsical backdrop.







Black and white photo wallpaper Andrew MartinPoints for fascinating.







Gilded frame art wallpaperThis wallpaper takes the gallery wall concept to a new level and does all the agonizing work of placement and hanging for you!








Andrew Martin book wallpaperThink of all the real books you could store if you just built a bookshelf where this wallpaper would hang.








Kravet bunny wallpaperWho doesn’t want to be reminded of Easter all year long?








White lacquer table metal legs plastic formed chairs cowhideImage via Elle Espana.






Smooth surfaces: If you’re riding the sleek and modern wave, consider a desk or dining table finished in glossy white lacquer with sparkling X-base legs for your home office or dining room. Not only is the look clean, the smooth surface is a breeze to wipe up.









Leather and metal dining chairNote the X-base table legs, the bench seating and the metal/leather chair combo.








Wood plank headboardIdea alert: this could be your next DIY project!







Mix, don’t match: Imagine this: dining chairs on one side of your table and on the other side…a bench!ย  A bench with a dining table brings to mind a merry BBQ al fresco feel, can accommodate more guests than individual chairs will, and offering two different seating options at one table is just, well, fun. So what are the tables looking like these days? Traditional polished wood tables with turned legs are in short supply, but live-edge tops, rough-hewn planks, and concrete topped tables pared with metal or wood Parson’s legs are ubiquitous. Note: plank wood everything from headboards to buffets are so plentiful, I fear they may not sustain the saturation.







Herman Miller formed plastic dining chairHerman Miller chairs.






Fifties fanaticism: The love affair with Mid Century Modern continues. White or brightly colored formed-plastic chairs with metal tubular legs are being marketed for the living and dining room although I find the look a bit classroom–cafeteria, at best!ย  Tapered wood or metal hairpin legs that appear so spindly they seem likely to crush under the weight of the chairs, console tables, and buffets they’re holding up are apparently supported by a mighty big fan base. Table lamps with bases of walnut or fired ceramic paired with textured linen shades were outnumbered only by the plethora of arcing floor lamps with over-sized barrel shades. Tip: the latter are great for placing next to a sofa for super task lighting, but only if you can make peace with the sensational of something dangling over your head.







Leather and metal tube modern lounge chairMetal tubes and distressed leather? Oh, yes. Does anyone remember the Maxell ads from the 80s where the man is sitting low in his Le Corbusier chair, blown back by the sound of his Maxell speaker system? I feel like that man when I sit in these new low sofas/lounge chairs.






How low can you go?: Lounge chairs and sofas have gone deep and low. How deep? So deep that if you lean back you’re slouching, and if you aren’t terribly tall, you may find your feet are dangling. But how low? Let’s just say if you’re with child or your joints are aching, forget about getting up gracefully. That being said, they are a thing of beauty. Muted tones still reign supreme, with sofa styles toggling between tufted and tailored to the even cleaner line of the tight back and single bench-seat sofa (say goodbye to sitting on a seam). Adding to the ever popular oatmeal-toned linen fabric was this newcomer: distressed brown leather. This sanded-looking leather was often accompanied by what appeared to be metal tubes wrapping around the sides of said sofa or chair. Very Bauhaus. Very a la mode.







Maxell speaker 80s ad Le Corbusier chair80s Maxell advertisement. Image via iconic photos.





This post was adapted from my column, Design Intervention Diary, which runs every other Saturday in the Santa Barbara News-Press.





Happy decorating and happy Tuesday! ๐Ÿ™‚



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Wading and waddling through the Las Vegas Design Market

At the beginning of August, JB was kind enough to agree to brave the Las Vegas Design Market with me. This is a great plan, I told him. A last hurrah. A babymoon. A chance to find amazing furniture for clients and maybe even something for our nursery.



Oh yeah, that room. I’m often asked, “How is the nursery decor coming along?” It’s not. Or it is if you know we’re still waiting for the new window, closet doors, floors, and paint that will magically (if my prayers are answered) come together in the nick of time. But if you weren’t warned, it would look like a guest bedroom gone wrong. There is one piece of furniture (if you don’t count the ironing board): a totally baby-inappropriate, Queen-sized bed that is currently covered with clothes and sprinkled with a snowy layer of drywall dust since even though the drywall guys used plastic to cover most surfaces, drywall dust found its way EVERYWHERE. (Do you remember this post on surviving a remodel while staying in your home?)




At this point, it’s rather hard to imagine the room ever looking cute, let alone SAFE for an infant to enter.




But back to the Design Market. I attended it last year (you can find that post here) so I knew there would be three buildings, and 42 floors of viewing pleasure to traverse that would, by the third day, make my eyes glaze over with sensory overload and my feet implore me to seek the nearest bench for goodness’ sake before my arches made good on their threat to collapse. And I know Vegas is hot, but it has been hot here in Santa Barbara so I figured my body was somewhat acclimated. I assumed I’d be fine. And that it was a brilliant idea to go.*




*I assumed wrong, but more on that later.




Last year I was posing on interesting chairs.




Circular Chair




This year, I stare at that photo and think, “So that’s what my legs looked like before the swollen calves of pregnancy pounds. Harrumph.” There will be no selfie’s posted because I did not ask JB to capture me sitting or standing or walking. It was enough to be that person with the side to side waddle wearing a sleeveless dress tied at the waist where my market badge hung just over my bulging stomach bouncing and bopping with each step, very professional-like. My pony tail had fallen flat in the heat, even my elbows were sweating–so you can imagine the state of everything else! And what, at the hotel, had seemed like a fine denim ensemble felt Midwestern frumpy the moment I entered the first glamorous showroom. I felt like an impostor until I decided not to care and just embrace my pregnant self.




And then we actually started to enjoy ourselves because we saw this…





Andrew Martin astronaut artCheck out those monogram side tables (“I” and “P” in this case.)





If there is a showroom to cheer you up and remind you that design doesn’t have to be about fuss and formality, it belongs to Andrew Martin. From the black and white Polaroid print wallpaper to the giant, neon-lit double astronaut image, their displays are like a celebration of playfulness and a high five to irreverent decor.




Which can be a breath of fresh air after you’ve just exited a showroom like this…





Christopher Guy pink bedroom Las Vegas MarketThe Christopher Guy Collection.




Entering the showroom of Christopher Guy is an experience. The salespeople are well-groomed (no denim frocks, here) and slick, but if you’re quick enough you can slip into their separately staged rooms covertly snapping photos with your iPhone without suffering a stiff finger poke on the shoulder accompanied by a disarming, “No photos allowed,” glare. Somehow, even with a belly bump, I waddled in and out of these rooms with extreme stealth so I could bring to you the glamour, the nod to Art Deco, the strange world that is…




Christopher Guy…






Christopher Guy bedroom Las Vegas MarketThis is a very dramatic headboard but, sadly, only suitable if you also happen to have soaring ceilings. If you have standard 8′ ceilings, you need not apply.







Christopher Guy chairs Las Vegas MarketIn the market for lacquered furniture? Christopher Guy is your guy.






This wire man sculpture was astoundingly affordable (in the hundreds, not thousands) but JB was the voice of reason convincing me one man in our house is enough.







Wire man sculpture Las Vegas Design Market




I thought this wall art was clever…and so easy to replicate as a DIY project!





White sofa chandelier Four HandsFour Hands Furniture.





Here is a closeup…






Abstract line artIKEA frames + paper + black Sharpie= DIY wall art, right?





I will be sharing a more comprehensive post on the show in the next few days, but before we wrap up, check out these outdoor lights. The bulb is a battery-operated light that fits into an outdoor-compliant base with an acrylic drum shade. I love quirkiness of having indoor looking table lamps outside, but I didn’t love the price: $500 retail.






Solar table lamps




I can’t recall where I snapped this photo (below), but it was on the way from one casino to another. (Yeah, I know, very specific.) JB and I are still toying with the idea of doing something similar, but in black and white, on our one bare living room wall, yet we haven’t found an image that either of us likes enough to see as a permanent feature and blown up to life-size scale. However, this one gives the feeling I’m aiming for where it is just so charming I don’t even care that I don’t know who these people are. Maybe we need to stop searching for images online and start looking through old boxes of family photos. Or maybe we’ll decide this is a terrible idea and cover the wall (it is currently a chalkboard wall) in grasscloth wallpaper.





Sepai photo feature wall





The Magritte-esque horse sculpture and fun faux flower “clouds” at the Aria Casino…





Aria hotel blue horse and hat





So why was going on this trip a crazy idea? Certainly it was worthwhile as a business trip, but it somehow slipped my mind that to enter or exit our hotel one must cross the floor of a casino with air thick with fetus-threatening exhaled smoke that made me panic every single time (stress = not so great for the fetus, either) until I decided the best I could do, since holding my breath seemed like a problematic, if not unrealistic, option, was to hold a wad of paper towels to my nose and use it as an filter. JB would walk ahead, in a, “Not associated with the crazy chick behind me,” manner and and I would walk as quickly as I could shuffle, trying to own my paper-towel-clutched-to-nose pollution filter like I was wearing a chic Asian surgical mask.





And that was just the walk through the casinos. The halls to the rooms were kept so chilly I got goosebumps and just when my body had adjusted to the Arctic chill, bam, I’d be hit with the wall of heat outside.ย  Heat like I had forgotten existed. Heat that was so much worse than our Santa Barbara heatwave. Heat that made me seek benches in the shade so I could sip my water bottle, sometimes pour it on my head, douse my paper napkin air filter with water and wipe my neck while questioning my sanity for bringing us to this place.






Suite at Venetian Las VegasOur “living room/office” at the Venetian.





Why? Because Vegas is a crazy-loud place filled with talking billboards and loud music and throngs of people who are competing to be even louder.






Our room became a sort of respite from the chaos. Even if it was freezing before I figured out how to turn the air conditioning down.







The Venetian hotel bathroom vanityThis vanity was a nice touch so that one person could use the separate toilet room while another person could agonize over how to get her pony tail to lie flat on top.








Lotus wallpaper Venetian HotelThe cute wallpaper inside said powder room.





More fun wallpaper in the marble-themed bathroom. Can you imagine if you slipped? Ouch!







Venetian Hotel shower






And just when things were seeming fancy, we were brought back down by the view outside our window (because I didn’t spring for the additional $45 per night for a view of The Strip).







Room out view Venetian HotelKinda takes your breath away (in a…gasping for fresh air…and green trees kind of way)!





I don’t think I have ever been so happy to come home from a “vacation”. Avoiding the smoke, volume and heat was kind of like being stuck in a video game dodging bad guys. For the finale? In the airport, on the way home, I opted for the pat down and the TSA agent commented, “Last flight for you for a while, huh?” Yep, small talk, small talk, (pat, pat). She asked me when I was due (this is not so bad, kind of like a full-body massage). I told her (patting ceases). She says, “Huh, you really shouldn’t be flying,” and divulges that her sister went into early labor while flying, due to the change in altitude, and the plane had to make an emergency landing. “Oh, really, how far along was she?” (weak smile). “The same as you,” (knowing look). “Uhhh…” (gasp, look of horror, more gasping).





I tottered over to JB who was waiting at the end of the conveyor belt with my carry-on luggage and repeated the story. And burst into tears. I questioned our pre-parental prudence, “Should we be driving instead?! I cannot go into labor on the plane or the baby might not survive!” He calmed me down. We both cursed the TSA agent. And flew home. Without incident.






To the safety of our drywall-dust-covered-house. ๐Ÿ™‚







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Common design mistakes and how to correct them!



Hearts sank and minds buzzed at the news: After ten years and three kids, Jennifer Garner and Ben Affleck were throwing in the marital towel.




They lived in an 8,800 s/f estate, nay compound, where I’d assume the furniture transcended stylish, the sheets had thread counts in the high hundreds, and everything was perfectly in its place. Surely dust did not reside in that house. But, apparently, neither did enough happiness to keep the house a home.



Ben Affleck Jennifer Garner houseSource: NY Daily News



It reminded me of a quote I have taped to my computer, “You can only do what you can do.” When I catch myself striving for perfection, or thinking someone’s grass is truly greener than my drought-devoured lawn, it becomes my mantra. Which brings us to houses. Yours, mine, even that really bad one down the street. What do we all have in common? We’re doing what we can do. Perfection is not the goal, or perhaps even a possibility, but doing our best is. In that spirit, here are some interior design mistakes and their very easy corrections.




The magic carpet effect: A living room rug should not only define the space, but unite the furnishings; however, all too often, I see homes with rugs that appear to float like magic carpets because they are just too tiny. I’ve pondered the explanation–smaller rugs cost less and/or tend to be readily available whereas larger ones can require a special order–but whatever the reason, there’s an epidemic of dinky rugs.





Living room small rugSource: unknown. Okay, this one is like a trick question. Clearly the neutral rug is large enough (and could even be made slightly narrower) yet upon first viewing, the bright fuchsia rug reads as THE rug and it is clearly on the wee side.






Rug too small living roomSource: Besidesign. No brainer, right? This rug is postage stamp small and not grounding anything. The whole tennis-shoes-under-the-coffee-table, packing tape and bills scattered about, and crooked picture over the sofa makes me feel like we’re seeing this room at an unfair advantage, like it’s still in its bathrobe and we just barged in.






Brook Shields Living room natural fiber rugSource: Architectural Digest, Brooke Shields’ living room. Notice how the front legs of both the sofa and two chairs rest on the natural fiber rug. If it bothers your eye that the back legs don’t, you could increase the size of the rug but risk engulfing the room. Generally you want to see at least 18″ to 24″ of exposed floor around the perimeter of the room. In this case, even more works.





When sizing a rug for your living room: a good rule to follow is that the rug should begin under the front legs of your sofa. It should extend under your coffee table and continue until it fits beneath at least the front legs, if not all four, of any chairs placed opposite your sofa. Finally, the rug should measure, at the minimum, one foot beyond both sides of your sofa. While I highly encourage you to get out your tape measure and plot this out, generally speaking, an 8′ x 10′ rug works for most living rooms; a 9′ x 12′ is best for larger living rooms with massive furniture. If you have a rug you know is too small, but you can’t bear parting with it, consider layering it atop a larger rug that has a minimal pattern such as a natural fiber rug.






Architectural Digest living room large rugSource: Architectural Digest. Design by Daniel Romualdez. Drag your eyes away from that instantly entertaining graphic art (yuy, yuk) and notice the fine execution of rug sizing.





Sitting pretty: Dining room rugs should be large enough to accommodate a guest sitting in a chair without feeling like that chair will teeter off the rug. To determine the correct rug size, measure the length and width of your table and add 36″ to 48″ to both the length and the width. For a round table, add 36″ to 48″ to the diameter and decide whether a round or square rug suits you style. Select the closest standard rug size or visit your local flooring store where they can fabricate a custom rug from the myriad choices of pattern, colors and materials.





Clean dining table pendant lights right sized rugSource: Designmobler. Witness: the well-measured dining room rug.







black cowhide modern dining tableSource: Nwlug. Just when we were getting rather rule-centric, enter the exception to all that rigidity: animal hides. Go as big as you can, then call it good enough.






Help me, I’m a feature wall: Feature walls became A Thing around the same era when design shows began featuring fixing up your neighbor’s house while they were unsuspectingly on vacation and painting not only their heirloom armoire but also one of their walls a shocking shade of orange, a throw-out-the-rules bear hug towards embracing color, the bolder the better! Except they weren’t better, they visually shrunk spaces and made everyone who had to sit near that orange wall appear to have a sudden case of jaundice. In the interest of allowing your space to return to light and airy, I’d suggest painting any feature walls back to the same neutral color as their surrounding walls.





orange feature wall modern houseSource: Featurewalls.comย If everyone suddenly has a strange pallor, it might be the tangerine colored wall.




How do you determine the right neutral for the rest of the walls? Settle on your top three paint colors, paint them on sample boards (available at paint stores) and attach them to the walls in question with painter’s tape to observe how they are affected by the light of morning, noon, and incandescent light, at night. This may seem like a lot of effort, but so is repainting your walls so you want to get it right the first time. If you must have a feature wall, how about a subtle one? To achieve this, locate the color of your surrounding walls on a paint sample strip and select a feature wall color that is in the same row, but one or two shades below. This new color will still give you some drama, without diverging from the color family.





Neutral modern living roomSource: Design by Kraszweska The drama of the back walls is heightened by the deeper saturation of grey, but everything still feels calm and light. That is, until you take a closer look at the giant painting behind the sofa and ask yourself, “Who lives here and what are their hobbies?”






Set it aside: If your bed, nightstands and dresser all match, I’m calling a design intervention. Sure it was one-stop shopping, but it’s also dead-end design. Yes, the styles should relate to one another, but having them all be exactly the same is lazy decorating. If you can replace at least one of these pieces (note: mismatched nightstands can be whimsical!) to break up the set, please do it. Other options include repainting or staining, say the nightstands or dresser, in a new, fresh shade that plays off the color(s) in your existing bedding, rug, or window coverings. Or simply give your dresser or nightstands a new, individual identity with new hardware!






Matching bedroom set pine furnitureSource: Wholesale Furniture Brokers. If you wanted to, you could click on the link and this set could be yours for $2,249.96, but don’t do it, I beg of you!








Mismatched bedside tables white bedroomSource: Decorpad.ย  See how the nightstands and lamps don’t match but they are similar in finish being white tables and mercury glass lamps so the whole design still appears cohesive without feeling stilted. Now this designer obviously still had a hankering for a little more matching and, hence, the bench was upholstered in the same fabric as the headboard. Personally, I could see a clear acrylic bench with a light and fluffy Mongolian seat so the whole effect stays light and airy, not clashy, yet without a repeat of pattern.







Like this…






Mongolian lamb acrylic benchSource: Ebay where this bench is a mere $3,695. At this top ticket price, don’t you think staging it somewhere other than in front of their vegetable garden would’ve been more appropriate? Then again, they are offering free shipping so one mustn’t be too picky.







Happy Monday and happy decorating! ๐Ÿ™‚




This post has been adapted from my column, Design Intervention, which runs every other Saturday in the Santa Barbara News-Press.




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