Thursday, May 31, 2012

Free Decorating! Creating Vignettes and Tablescapes

Today we're going to talk about vignettes. Tablescapes. Displays. Arranging your stuff so it looks really, really good. Yeah, it's kind of twee and affected and sometimes it's overly adorable. But since you can use things you already have, it's decorating for free. And if you like cats and croissants and crinolines and magical realism, then you should dig it. And if you don't like that stuff, what's wrong with you?!

If you're just joining, you might want to start at the beginning.
Part One: Considering Scale and Proportion When Choosing Art
Part Two: Unique Large-Scale Art That Won't Break the Bank

From The Brick House Tumblr
So you've found the perfect piece of unique, special art. You chose the right place for it and hung it properly; it's almost as wide as the furniture below it, but not quite. And you hung it at eye level, so that the center of the piece is approximately five feet from the floor. It looks good. But you're not done yet! Look at what's beneath that gorgeous thing you just hung on the wall. Is it a dresser in your bedroom? A console table in your entry hall? A desk? Unless you're an extreme minimalist, you're going to put stuff on it. Do that carelessly, and it will look like random stuff on a table. Do it well, consider these points, and your artful arrangement will make your ordinary things look special.

1. Vary the heights
2. Vary the shapes
3. Layer
4. Use odd numbers
5. Edit carefully
6. Tell your story and show some personality!
From the Tao of Dana
Varying heights - A pleasing visual composition keeps the viewer's eye moving, and when objects are of different heights, the viewer's eye is guaranteed to move over your composition. Here, my eye goes to the plant first, and then down the plant's stalk and to the telephone, and finally to the cameras.  Notice that stacked books can be your best friend when it comes to creating height. TLC recommends that your tallest object be balanced with an object exactly half its height, but I think such precision is unnecessary and kind of obsessive. Just make sure to vary the heights to keep it interesting. 

From SFGirlByBay
Varying Shapes - Too many straight lines and squares can look harsh, so soften the look with some curves. There is a lot of stuff here, but look at the mix of straight lines in the desk and painting and curved lines in the chair, lamp, and bicycle horn. Isn't that beautiful? This is always a difficult composition problem for me. I love precise lines and geometric shapes, so the things I accumulate are often very angular. But adding a round mirror or curved jug to an otherwise straight and square composition always makes the entire arrangement more pleasing.

From Conspicuous Style
Layering - Layering creates a sense of unity among otherwise unrelated items, and I think a friendly jumble looks more relaxed. Lining up everything perfectly with no overlap screams HI, I HAVE OCD! Let the plant to cover the art a little, place the tray in front of the smaller framed picture, and who cares if you can't see the base of the candlesticks?

From SFGirlByBay
Odd numbers - Three things are always prettier and more interesting then two or four. Why? Because with three points, you have variety, a sense of balance, and a central focal point. Also, because Apartment Therapy said so. In my own home, I like to make arrangements with two items on one side, three items on the other, and a flat tray in the center so the eye can have a place to rest. And so I can see the artwork on the wall above.

From Completely Totally Madly
Editing - How is anyone going to see your gorgeous milk glass candy dish or Buddha statue if it's hidden among thirty other knick-knacks, stacks of junk mail, and a few abandoned coffee mugs?  A beautiful vignette doesn't have to include a lot of stuff. Choose the items you display judiciously, keep surfaces clear of items you aren't intentionally displaying, and edit often to keep your displays fresh, relevant, and interesting. I rearrange my displays two or three times a year, otherwise it all becomes sort of invisible to me.

From My Favorite and My Best
Uniqueness and Personality - You know what I hate? Walking into someone's house and seeing bowls full of those creepy "natural" balls that don't occur in nature. Seriously, who thinks wow, this thing from the Decorative Object aisle at Target is so special and so me? Probably someone named Generica Blandini. You know what I love seeing in people's homes? Black and white family photos. Rocks you collected at the beach with your children. A clay pot you made in 4th grade art class. A doorknocker from your grandpa's house. Stuff that has a personal story, and isn't just there to fill space.

The best thing about creating a pleasing vignette is that you can do it right now using things you already own. If you've never consciously arranged your items before, consider moving things from room to room. That white pitcher in the kitchen might look pretty in your bedroom, and doll you picked up in Prague might look better in another place, too. As you arrange, remember that you don't have to use everything you own. I store the stuff I'm not displaying in a cabinet in my living room. When I redo my arrangements, I'm always pleased to open the cabinet and find "new" things to use.

From The Glitter Guide
A word about using fresh flowers in your vignettes: If your don't subscribe to the flower of the week club, and you don't like to drive yourself crazy, DON'T create a visual composition that relies on flowers. They're gorgeous, yeah, and so many designers say if you don't have flowers you lose at life. But a week after you put flowers out, they're brown and nasty and falling all over the rug. If you're the kind of person who will replace them on a weekly basis, go for it.  But pussy willow branches, potted succulents, and silk cherry blossoms are pretty too, and a lot easier to live with. Or terrariums!

What is your favorite thing to display? Mine is the Phrenology Head my mother gave me as an early birthday present. Also, dino models. I had to make myself stop buying them and putting them together because seriously, who needs more than three dinosaur skeleton models?! BUT I LOVE THEM.
Hi. I live here.
More inspiration after the cut.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Commencing Operation: Cohabitation

I've been sitting on a big happy secret. That's partly because I'm afraid to jinx it, and partly because I'm smugly holding on to it; I don't want to share. But I'm so excited! I can't keep it in anymore. It went something like this. First, Keith was like:

"Hey girl, will you be my girlfriend?"
And I was like, "Well... yeah."

And then he was like, 
"Hey girl, you wanna live
together so we can save up and buy a house?
...And you'll get to decorate it?
And oh hey, I bought you roses and made 
sesame-crusted tuna steaks for dinner."

How could I resist that?! We're going to stay at my condo for nine months, then start looking at houses. Or, as my favorite colleague said, "Jen and Keith are gestating a house." So now we're getting ready to cram ourselves, his two high-energy Pomeranian dogs, my prissy old cat, and hundreds of books into 832 square feet. Gulp.

Keith doesn't have much furniture, and I'm happy to clean out my closets. Unworn clothes, unread books, and unloved tchotchkes can all go. Last week I spent hours getting rid of hundreds of old CD cases so I can turn my black trunk into a linen chest. So I can shift things in my closets. So I can give Keith a closet of his own. It's mad, but there is a method.
I found some forgotten treasures, like a song recorded by my college boyfriend with these cheerful lyrics:

Monday, May 28, 2012

Game of Thrones Party Food: Taste the Dornishman's Wife! Spicy Peach Tarts

What are you eating at your next Game of Thrones viewing party? Do you have a sweet tooth? Good! I present my newest Westerosi recipe, The Dorishman's Wife. This peach tart is spiced with cinnamon, nutmeg, and cayenne pepper. Just like those Dornish ladies, it's sweet, tempting, and muy caliente!

The Dornishman's wife was as fair as the sun, and her kisses were warmer than spring.
But the Dornishman's blade was made of black steel, and its kiss was a terrible thing.

The Dornishman's wife would sing as she bathed, in a voice that was sweet as a peach,
But the Dornishman's blade had a song of its own, and a bite sharp and cold as a leech.

As he lay on the ground with the darkness around, and the taste of his blood on his tongue, 

His brothers knelt by him and prayed him a prayer, and he smiled and he laughed and he sung,

"Brothers, oh brothers, my days here are done, the Dornishman's taken my life, 

But what does it matter, for all men must die, 
and I've tasted the Dornishman's wife!"
-- George R. R. Martin, A Storm of Swords, Chapter 7

I was inspired by Georgia's mini peach tart recipe from The Comfort of Cooking, but adapted the recipe for pre-made tart shells, and added spice to evoke the heat of Dorne. I used white peaches because they were the ripest available to me, but some people thought they looked like potato tarts. Oops! So I recommend using yellow peaches. And I used just 1/8 tsp of cayenne pepper because I was feeling cautious, but the flavor was subtle--too subtle for me! So if you like it spicy, don't be afraid to use more.

Four small peaches
2/3 c peach preserves
2/3 cup hot water
1 tbsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
12 graham crackers
1/8 to 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1 package of 8 VIP Pastry Shells

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Remove the pastry shells from their packaging, separate them, and place them on a cookie sheet to thaw while you prepare the other ingredients.
2. Place the graham crackers in a ziplock bag and crush into a powder. Set aside.
3. Pit the peaches and cut them into small pieces.
4. Mix the peach preserves and water together in a big bowl and stir until the mixture is uniform. Stir in the spices. Gently fold in the peach pieces, and coat them evenly with the spiced glaze.
5. Place a tablespoon of graham cracker crumbs in the bottom of each pastry shell. Then fill each pastry shell with peach mixture. Be sure to spoon a bit of glaze into each shell, too! Top with more graham cracker crumbs.
6. Bake at 350 degrees for 37 minutes. Allow to cool for at least 5 minutes before serving, but do serve warm.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Unexpected and Interesting Large Scale Art, or, No More Ugly Prints!

The last post about choosing appropriate art and hanging it in the right place generated some questions. Here, I'll address the first: Art is expensive. How do you find art big enough to fill the wall over the sofa that doesn't cost more than the sofa? Please don't hang overpriced prints of Van Gogh paintings and vintage absinthe ads on your walls! Think beyond the tired art selection at Bed Bath & Beyond and consider these options. That crap costs between $50 and $100, and most of these options do too--but they're so much more special! And many of these have a DIY element, so no one else will have a piece quite like yours.
A large piece of framed fabric functions as art. From Inspire Bohemia
I'm so crazy about the bold black and white textiles with mint green walls and red accents!
Use a mirror instead of art. You can always spray paint the frame to make it match your room.
From House Beautiful
Easy DIY for music lovers... Your favorite song lyrics + wood stain and paint = art! From MeOhMy
Aww, look at the little birdcage! Wall decals make a huge statement.
They're cost effective, too. This big one is only $42!
Tree Decal with Birds by annaandnana on etsy
DIY Abstract Art - This blogger spent $70 on this project, and I think it looks soooooo high end.
. From Oh Happy Day
I LOVE metal wall art. Jonathan Adler's Curtis Jere reproduction sculptures like this aren't cheap.
But if you lurk eBay, you can find a vintage Curtis Jere for under $100. I promise. From Freshome
Rasterize! Rasturbate! Whatever you want to call it, enlarge an image and hang the pieces individually.
I used to think of this as an amateurish college technique, but it can look good if you hang the individual pieces nicely.
Joe's tutorial explains exactly how to pull it off.
If DIY is for you what plants are for me (I kill aloe plants!), and you absolutely must avoid a do it yourself project, frame a few of your favorite band's posters or travel prints from a place that is special to you, and call it a day. At least it's more personal than one of those tacky vintage liquor ads! Just be sure to hang more than one if you're trying to fill a large space on the wall. Check this out...

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Tennessee Renaissance Festival 2012

Ahoy, ye brave knights and lusty wenches! Keith and I spent the day at the Tennessee Renaissance Festival, and this weekend's theme was Pirate Invasion. We enjoyed a gorgeous day at Castle Gwynn!  We watched a joust, a bawdy troubadour, and serendipitously found ourselves in the middle of a fairy picnic. Keith threw knives, and I bought a beautiful new charm for my bracelet. We saw rescued birds of prey and ran into lots of friends. The locally brewed beer and shepherd's pie were tasty, and it was a fantastic day!
I thought he was a gorgeously detailed piece of art... until he opened his eyes and stuck his tongue out at me!
Axel the Sot
They had a fantastic selection of Elizabethan paper doll books and academic texts on Medieval history.
I bought a beautiful phoenix charm from this booth. 

So many more pictures under the cut...

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Don't Hang That On Your Wall! Or, Considering Scale and Proportion When Choosing Art

One of the most common decorating mistakes I see--and one of the easiest and cheapest problems to fix--is art that is too small for the wall, or hung too high. Tiny, too-high art is to interior design what high-water pants are to fashion. It can ruin an otherwise attractive room!
A large, wide wall calls for large art, and a small, narrow wall calls for small art (Thank you, Captain Obvious). Art, furniture, and other decorative items should come together to create a cohesive visual composition. When the art is too small, the furniture beneath it looks graceless and bulky. And when art is hung too high, there is an awkward gap between the art the the nearby furniture, so that the pieces look separate and strange. These are the rules:
  • Hang art at eye level. The center of the piece should be approximately five feet from the floor.
  • Art should be approximately as wide as the furniture beneath it. It can be a bit narrower, but no wider.
  • If you're hanging more than one piece together, don't hang them too far apart!
  • Large walls need large art, and small walls need small art. I can't emphasize this enough!

Hang your art like these folks, and receive compliments from all your friends:
The DIY ribbon garland is just the right size to hang over the bed.
The large, square paintings over the sectional are perfectly proportional.
But I'm not sure why there is a huge buckeye in the middle of the floor?
The single piece of art over the two chairs creates visual cohesion.
The group of four paintings functions as one large piece of art, and fits perfectly over the bench.
These folks got it wrong! Images are not attributed, to protect the dignity of the clueless :

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Book Review: Savvy by Ingrid Law

As a librarian, I feel I should be more aware of Newbery Honor books, so I picked up Savvy by Ingrid Law. Forget Hogwart's and everything you know about magic-meets-coming of age stories; Savvy is different because it's an Americana-flavored tall tale in the manner of Paul Bunyan, NOT a story of wizardry set in a European castle. Instead of meeting giants, warlocks, and dragons, readers will meet a controlling preacher's wife, a shambling Bible salesman, and a down-on-her-luck diner waitress. Expect to go on a road trip in a pink schoolbus, play pranks in a cheap motel, and meet the arch-nemesis in a trailer park.

But what is the story
about? The members of the Beaumont family first experience their magical power, or savvy, on their thirteenth birthdays. Each person's power is unique: Rocket generates electricity, Fish's emotions control the weather (don't make him mad!), and Grandma captured radio waves out of the air and kept songs in Mason jars. A new savvy can be troublesome, and each young Beaumont must learn to scumble--or control--his or her savvy.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Ask the Amateur: Asian Inspired Bedroom

Kat asks: "I want to redecorate my bedroom with an Asian theme, but I'm not sure where to start. I know I want a simple platform bed and I want to use wall sconces for the bedside lighting. I might like to make my own upholstered headboard. Do you have any advice?"

The Amateur says: "An Asian look relies on minimalism, so begin with a blank slate. Pack away your knick-knacks or display them in another room, and send the things you no longer use to Goodwill. I wanted to avoid an over-the top, in your-face theme, which can make your home feel like Disneyworld, so I chose items that suggest the theme but don't scream it..

Asian Inspired Bedroom Design

Asian Inspired Bedroom Design by stuffjendid on

The Amateur Continues: "This Asian-inspired look relies on black furniture with clean lines and a color scheme of red with pale green accents. The boxy bed and dresser are balanced with a round mirror and bedside tables. I incorporated bamboo in the area rug, wall decals, and plant. The red cushions behind the bed indicate how an upholstered headboard might look, and I'm crazy about these Art Deco-does-Asian wall sconces!"

Bamboo Tree Wall Decal Stickers from Amazon - $28.99
JLA Green Satin Pillow from Target - $24.99

Design House Monroe Oil Rubbed Bronze Wall Sconce from Home Depot 
- $47.97 each
Baxton Studio White Round End Table from Lowe's - $224
Red Retro Clock from RetroPlanet (Wall clock shown as bedside clock) -

Kat says: "On second thought, I might prefer a dark wooden headboard instead of an upholstered headboard, and lamps rather than wall-mounted sconces. What should I do?"

Friday, May 11, 2012

Mid Century Wonders: Cram's Universal Terrestrial Globe No. 105

I love my new-old globe! I'd wanted a globe for a while, as part of my ongoing quest to outfit my living room with all the best accoutrements of a third grade classroom. Dino models? Check! Easel? Check! Science diagrams posing as art? Check! OK, time to remove  my tongue from my cheek. 

I see old globes often, but they're usually overpriced. Fifty bucks for one of these? Hell no! But last weekend I found this beauty at a little antique shop in Centralia, Illinois for just $15, and it's perfect. It's marked Cram's Terrestrial Globe, 10.5 Inch, No. 105. It has pleasingly geometric mid-century legs, a killer font on the gold arc that holds the globe in place, and amusingly obsolete names for many nations: Tanganyika instead of Tanzania? Burma instead of Bangladesh? Ceylon instead of Sri Lanka? And what the heck is Bechuanaland?! Using those obsolete names and this useful website, Keith and I dated the globe to sometime between 1957 - 1961.

Nevermind the globe; check out the quintessentially mid-century legs!
Nevermind the legs; check out the archetypical mid-century font!
Since Tanganyika and the brontosaurus have gone the same way, it seems fitting that the dinosaurs keep the globe company, no? Can't get enough of old globes? Or additional pictures might help you date or identify your own globe? Click for more.

Okay, I've really got to go to work now.
Have a great weekend, you!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

What do you call a baby dove?

I don't have a green thumb. Really. I once managed to kill a jade plant. So when my mother gave me an herb basket at Easter, I felt guilty in advance for killing the basil and banana peppers. But when a mama bird made a nest in the basket, I shed the shame and cooed over her babies like a doting auntie. They're so ugly, but their raw-skinned, hollow-boned, big-eyed helplessness makes my heart overflow with a desire to nurture them. Of course, I can't touch them, and I don't want to upset their mother, so I took these pictures while standing on a chair in the dining room (thank you, zoom lens). But I've been feeding their mother and listening for trouble on the balcony. I'm ready to chase off any nasty bluejays that dare to mess with my mama bird and her babies!

Last week I kept talking about my dovelings and my dovelets. It all sounded too much like duckling and cutlet. Ducking cutlet?! Noooooo! So I looked up the proper term. A baby dove is called a squab! The word is about as ugly as they are, so it fits. Behold my precious squabs!

To see how they've grown in just a week, do the clicky thing.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Rainbow Cupcakes and Pinwheel Citrus Centerpieces

Congratulations to my cousin Melissa and her husband, Daryn! They tied the knot on Saturday, and it was  so much fun to celebrate with them and introduce Keith to my family in Illinois. Look at those grins! It was such a beautiful day, and a much-needed reason to smile after saying goodbye to Grandma on Thursday morning.
Photo Credit goes to my sister Erin, who snapped this perfect pic during the recessional.
I was so excited to talk to my cousins, uncles, and aunts that I barely took any pictures. But here are the few photos I snapped before everyone else arrived at the reception. The reception decor was bright and cheerful, and I loved their cupcake tower and creative centerpieces. These colors and decorating ideas would be equally pretty at a luau, backyard bash, or summertime barbecue. Now I want to throw a party just so I can make centerpieces like theirs!
RAINBOW CUPCAKES!!! Enough said.
The centerpieces with pinwheels, ferns, and real lemons and limes smelled so good.
I'd never seen centerpieces with real fruit. How clever and pretty is that?!
But wait; there's more!

Friday, May 4, 2012

Changes and Goodbyes

"What we are tempted to call a disaster is sometimes the first, painful stage of a blessing."
- Stephen Mitchell, The Frog Price: A Fairy Tale for Consenting Adults

This adorable little critter recently appeared in my parents' koi pond. We think he may be the little bullfrog I gave my dad last year on Father's Day, all grown-up. He reminds me that change is inevitable, and it's better to roll with change rather than resist it and let changes become overwhelming. My family just experienced a big change this week.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Hot Air Balloon Ride

We did it! On Sunday, Dad and I took a sunset balloon ride with Lou at B&L Ballooning. It was alternately exhilarating, peaceful, relaxing, breathtaking, and at the end, a little frightening. But we were in safe hands. Lou has been ballooning for more than twenty years, and our ride was without mishap. I loved every minute!

I'm quite convinced that Tennessee is the prettiest state in the country.

Never ballooned before? Curious about it? Keep reading for...

  • Why One Shouldn't Wear a Skirt on a Balloon
  • We Made Dogs Crazy
  • Oh My God, We're Landing on the Interstate