Thursday, August 28, 2014

Coastal Modern Family Room Concept

Coastal Modern. Is that a thing?
I say it's time to reclaim coastal style from the shabby chic folks and make Coastal Modern a thing.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. The living room, dining room, and bedroom are all in progress. w00t.But it seems strange that I haven't done anything yet to the den. After all, it's the most-used room in our house. My rationale has been that form should follow function, and we should figure out how we actually use the room before coming up with a design concept. But we've lived here for a few months. And it's safe to say we should rename this room, "The Netflix Room." So it's time to begin. And no, we won't be keeping the banana leaf ceiling fan!
Modern Coastal Family Room
This is the look we're aiming for. Keith loves the beach, I love turquoise and teal, and we couldn't stand to get rid of all our Mid-Century furniture. So I put together a modern take on coastal style, without any of the shabby chic influences usually associated with a coastal look.

Aside: I hate shabby chic chipped paint finishes. It seems like every time I touch a chippy piece of furniture, I get a paint-chip splinter. And it always stings like a thousand tiny wasps dipped in acid and shoved under the skin. Does that happen to everyone, or just me?

Anyway. We're off to a good start: We already have the credenza, coffee table, black and white fireplace, and the art. We need a comfy gray sectional, a ceiling fan that doesn't belong on a lanai, window shades, and curtains. I'm still not sold on the rug; is it weird to put a rug over carpet? That seems redundant. Mostly, we need window shades. We just pruned the trees outside, and now I feel like I can't walk around my own house without a bra.

Here's a question for y'all: I'd like to hang our TV over the fireplace, if we can figure out how to do it without any visible cords. Have you done it? Did it make you cuss like crazy, or would it be a relatively easy project for people who aren't afraid of using tools and making holes in walls?

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

We Found a Big, Fancy Bed. Thank You, Craigslist!

When we moved into the new house, my husband said, "I don't like upholstered beds. There's something gross about sleeping, breathing, and shedding a night's worth of skin cells on something upholstered." Ew. I never thought of it that way before. He continued, "I want a solid wood sleigh bed with a cherry finish." Wow, specific much? When we met, Keith's furniture vocabulary consisted of the words "wood" and "French." He's come a long way!

Please forgive the grainy pictures, and ignore the bathroom from hell in the background.
When it comes to design, Keith doesn't usually make specific requests. So when he does make one, he gets what he wants. Upholstered beds are *yawn* so trendy, and I thought it would be interesting to buck the trend. So I glued myself to Craiglist and hunted for the perfect sleigh bed. And had a laugh at all the listings for "slay beds." One "slay bed" even came with a "matching armor" (armoire)! Nice.

This thing is so tall, I can't see the top of it.
A few days after the major Craigslist fail, the bed of our dreams appeared on Craigslist. It's in wonderful condition and made by Thomasville. It came with a gorgeous matching dresser. And the best part? The dresser has a secret drawer. I was in love. There was just one problem: The seller wanted $650 for both pieces, and I'd budgeted just $250 for a new bed. I didn't want to blow the budget, so I waited. And waited. A few weeks later, the seller dropped the price to $400 for both pieces, and I pounced.

The shield hardware was a pleasant surprise.
We've been living with the new furniture for a few weeks, and I love the way it looks in our bedroom. The ceiling in here is 12 feet high, and our old furniture looked tiny and strange in the large space. But the new dresser is almost as tall as me, and the foot board gives the bed a heftier look. These pieces look right, and I'm so glad Keith steered me toward this style.

A place to dream: A grown-up fairy tale bedroom

Remember this? This is still my plan for the bedroom, and we're halfway there. Paint, chandelier, rug, bed, lamps... Check, check, check, check, check! As it comes together, the windows look more and more naked. So now I'm hunting for vivid chartreuse curtain fabric, and looking for a pair of nightstands. I've seen some nightstands that would perfectly match the bed and dresser, but I don't think I want a matchy-matchy furniture set. What do you think?

Monday, August 18, 2014

August 2014 Ipsy Bag: Beauty Schooled

For those of you just tuning in, Ipsy is a beauty subscription service. For $10 a month, Ipsy sends 4 - 5 surprise beauty products to your door in a cute cosmetics bag. They even mail it in a shiny hot pink envelope! Seeing that envelope in my mailbox always makes me dance around like a little kid. If you don't want to get in a beauty rut, Ipsy is for you.

It was the best of bags; it was the worst of bags. I was thrilled to get samples of Urban Decay mascara and Dr. Brandt's primer, but not impressed by kiddie lip balm and two samples that are a) so small, they're difficult to use, AND b) manufactured by companies with which I am not familiar. Here's the underwhelming value breakdown for this month's bag.

Pores No More by Dr. Brandt (.25 oz sample): $11.25
Perversion Mascara by Urban Decay (.1 oz sample): $5.50
Silk Kajal eyeliner by Lord & Berry (0.02 oz sample) $7.00

Total Value: $27.74

The Urban Decay Perversion mascara might be the best lengthening mascara I've ever used. It doesn't thicken my lashes as much as I like, so I'll stick with my beloved Too Faced mascara for every day. But it made my  lashes long and feathery-soft, with zero clumping until I tried to put on three coats. There's just one problem: It doesn't remove easily with soap and water.

The Lord & Berry eyeliner is smaller than my pinky, and that sucks. It's so small, it's difficult to use. But the formula is a pleasant surprise. It doesn't smear quite as much as Urban Decay's 24/7 liners, and it's great on the waterline. I just wish it was larger.

The Absolute lip balm is not impressive. With a fruity flavor and packaging that requires you to stick your finger inside, it reminds me of products I bought when I was 11. I suppose it's fine, if you like children's make up, but it's not my style. I'm surprised that Ipsy Match recommended this product for an adult woman.

The Coastal Scents blush samples are so small, I can't actually use them. When I try, I wind up with too much product on a very tiny part of the brush, and no product on the rest of the brush. Packaging fail.

The Dr. Brandt primer is incredible. It's a mattifying primer that erases pores and makes your face look airbrushed. Those products often break me out, but this one has a breakout-fighting secret weapon: Tea tree oil. I've been using it for two days, and so far I love it. I may even use the 25% off discount for Ipsy subscribers to buy a tube.

To sum it up: I'm not thrilled by the tiny samples, but Dr. Brandt's excellent primer redeems the bag. And sampling two expensive, high-end brands is never a bad thing. So, what did you get in your Ipsy bag this month? If you got the Glam Glow Youth Mud, is it as incredible as they say? People say it's the Fountain of Youth mixed with, like, unicorn tears. Is it really that good, or is it just priced that way?

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Book Review: Enchantment by Orson Scott Card

Did you know that Orson Scott Card wrote a retelling of Sleeping Beauty? Me, neither! How did this one get past me?! There are few things I love more than a good fairy tale. This one feels different than most, though, and at first I had trouble putting my finger on why it was so different. But then I read a beautifully written article by Anne Thériault that helped me make sense of it.

According to Thériault, fairy tales were originally created by women and for women, and told out loud in kitchens and at sewing tables: "They're women’s whispered desires and fears, neatly wrapped up in fantastical narratives filled with sex, violence and humour. Fairy tales speak of the things that women most hoped for – a prince, a castle, a happy ending – and those that they were most afraid of – that their children would be taken from them, that men would hurt them or take advantage of them, that their family wouldn’t be provided for." Eventually, the stories were published and sanitized. Instead of reflecting what women wanted and feared, fairy tales became prim guides for how women should behave. I'm summarizing, of course, but the article explains it all in detail.

You might be asking, "What does that have to do with Enchantment?" Plenty! Enchantment is different from other fairy tales because it follows the story of a young man. And in typical "I am Orson Scott Card, and I will use fiction to tell you about my values," fashion, Card uses the story to demonstrate his ideas about how husbands should treat their wives. But please don't assume the worst. It actually comes across very well.

Oh, and it's also a really great time-travelling adventure with witches and magic and bears!

Here's the premise: Ivan is a young Jewish scholar living in the 20th century. While visiting a distant relative, he accidentally awakens Princess Katerina. Katerina has slept in a Carpathian forest for more than a thousand years. When Katerina awakens, she and Ivan are transported to her time. Against his will, Ivan is betrothed to Katerina and thrown into her people's war against the evil witch Baba Yaga.

Yes, Baba Yaga. Instead of basing his story on well-known French fairy tales, Card ties Sleeping Beauty's story in with less familiar Russian fairy tales. It's a brilliant move that makes a story we all know feel new.

Unfortunately, 20th century life hasn't prepared Ivan for the physical demands of Medieval life. Katerina and her people enjoy humiliating Ivan at every opportunity. Soon, Ivan and Katerina flee to the 20th century, to buy time to plot against Baba Yaga. Once there, Katerina understands the hardships Ivan has endured for her... And I don't want to say any more.

I don't like the rigid gender roles throughout much of the book, but I do like that women (and magic performed exclusively by women) play a prominent role in the story. Interestingly, the strict Christian missionaries support the use of magic; they acknowledge that it goes against teachings but feel that the people's survival is most important. Also, the book doesn't follow the typical tropes about old, ugly crones--and I love that. In this story, older women are valued mentors to younger women. Let's just say that the book passes the Bechdel test.

There's a lot to discuss, but I don't want to ruin the story. Has anyone else read it? What did you think?

Monday, August 11, 2014

Bathroom Reveal: Birds, Butterflies, and Bill Murray. Or, How to Live with Almond Bathroom Fixtures.

Wow, that title is a mouthful. If you follow me on Instagram, you've probably seen some sneak peeks of this room. But now it's done. Yay!

This is the first room we've finished, and I'm so happy with it. I started with the guest bathroom for two reasons: a) The master bathroom needs a full gut job, and we'll need a usable bathroom in the meantime, and b) I didn't want guests using a sad, gross bathroom. Because when we first saw the house, this room was pretty awful. The first thing I did after we closed on the house was strip that damn wallpaper.

I want our home to feel serene and elegant, but I'm drawn to bold wallpapers. Like, CrAzy bold. So I wanted to use at least one fun wallpaper in our house, and I think a powder room is the best place to make a strong design statement. Since you won't spend a lot of time in there (uh, I hope), an in-your-face look won't drive you mad. We don't have a true powder room, but this bathroom is the one used by guests, so I applied that logic here and used my favorite wild wallpaper on just one wall.


I apologize; those sconces are so difficult to photograph.

I can't resist adding one more picture of this wallpaper!
What we did:
  • Hired a pro to paint the walls, ceiling, and vanity and install the wallpaper
  • Put new hardware on the vanity
  • Replaced the builder-grade mirror with a framed wall mirror
  • Replaced a corroded, outdated fixture with two wall sconces (Spoiler alert: This was the scariest part.)
  • Replaced the squishy toilet seat (Yes, the previous owner left us with her squishy toilet seat. Ew.)
  • Replaced the corroded towel bar and toilet paper holder
  • Screwed nickel switchplates into the walls
  • Bought a rug and art
  • Hung my favorite shower curtain and used accessories we already owned
How long it took:  I made choices slowly and carefully, worked on the room little by little, and finished in two months.

The almond fixtures were the biggest challenge. For those of you who are normal (and therefore not obsessed with stuff like this), almond is a dark, dingy cream color with greenish-yellow undertones. It was a popular bathroom fixture color in the 70s and 80s. And when I say "fixture," what I mean is, "Porcelain stuff like tubs, sinks, and toilets." A lot of us are still living with almond fixtures, and that sucks for us because almond always looks a bit dirty. It looks especially gross next to white.

Even though the fixtures aren't cool, we kept them because they're in great shape. They don't have any cracks, stains, or other weird stuff. It feels wasteful and kind of princess-y to gut a bathroom in good working condition. If not for the fixtures, I would've probably chosen a trendy black and white bathroom. But I'm glad I was forced to come up with a different design. I ended up choosing things because we love them, not because they're popular.

The trick to working with almond fixtures is to choose paint colors and flooring that are in the same color family as the fixture, but just a bit darker. This makes the fixture look light, bright, and clean in comparison. I chose Sherwin Williams' Kilim Beige for the walls, and it works perfectly with the fixtures. The floor tile was replaced very recently by the former owner when she had the house on the market. She chose a beige and cream faux stone pattern that I don't love, but at least it's clean and new. Normally I think beige is boring, but the wallpaper is interesting, so I'm pleased with the overall effect.

Can we talk about that wallpaper? I know I already dedicated another post to it (and to the incompetent local distributor who made it so hard for me to get  my hands on it!), but I really love it. We've been living with it for over a month now, and it's a lot of fun. If you're considering it, but you're not sure if the bold statement will be too much, I say go for it.

We didn't replace the vanity because it's solid hickory and in good shape, but I don't like the raised detailing on the cabinet doors. We painted the vanity black because a) we like black, and b) it makes the raised panels recede into the background. I think the paint does a good job of camouflaging the doors. We replaced the hardware with chunky nickel pulls and nickel cup pulls.  In the interest of complete honesty, the counter top is damaged: The apothecary jars hide cigarette burns left by the previous owner. I'd like to replace it, but we have other priorities right now.

Like mirrors. I hate frameless builder-grade mirrors that stretch over the entire vanity, so we took ours down and replaced it with a framed mirror from Lowe's with pretty silver beaded detail. It's meant to be a sofa mirror, but we hung it vertically. It hangs at the same height as the shower curtain on the opposite side of the room, and makes the room look balanced.

We had to take down the old light fixture to hang the mirror, so new light fixtures immediately became a priority. Overhead lighting casts unattractive shadows on one's face, and HELLO... I'm in my thirties now, so that matters! Ha. That's why I wanted sconces on either side of the mirror. But there were no existing electrical boxes there. Uh-oh. The project was so intimidating that the sconces sat on the floor, uninstalled, for weeks. But when Keith finally mustered his courage and picked up the drywall saw, the project went smoothly. He cut two holes. He installed two $2.50 electrical boxes. He went into the attic, drilled some holes, and ran wiring to the boxes. He installed the fixtures. And voila, beautiful sconces!

Finally, it was time for art and accessories. When I chose the wallpaper, I jokingly began calling this "The Wes Anderson Room." Then I bought the Bill Murray portrait for Keith as a birthday present, and the theme solidified. Society 6 fans will probably recognize it; it's one of their more popular pieces. And if you'd rather have a version with David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Mr. T., or someone else, they can do that, too. Awesome. The brass bit of fanciness above the portrait was $10 Gaslamp Antique Mall, and I like the way it offsets the square lines of the gallery-wrapped canvas.

Wall Paint - Kilim Beige by Sherwin-Williams, color-matched to Glidden paint
Vanity Paint - Black Beauty by Benjamin Moore, color-matched to Valspar paint
Wallpaper - Picture Gallery by Sanderson, purchased on eBay
Mirror - Lowe's
Sconces - Cannondale by Z-Lite 
Vanity Hardware - Pulls and Cup Pulls from Lowe's
Soap Pump - Threshold at Target
Rug - Safavieh at Overstock
Bill Murray Portrait - Replaceface at Society6
Hardware - Delta at Home Depot
Shower Curtain - West Elm (Discontinued)
Switch Plates - Hampton Bay at Home Depot

I'm so glad it's finished, because now I just want to focus on the dining room!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Tips for Visiting the Biltmore Estate

Are you planning a visit to the Biltmore Estate? Read on!
As promised, here are the tips we picked up during our recent trip to the Biltmore (and some of my favorite photos from that day).

Look for deals ahead of time.
It's expensive to visit the Biltmore: If you purchase your ticket at the gate, it's $60 per person, per day. But many Asheville innkeepers sell two-day Biltmore passes for just $55 per person. And the estate is so big, we could've easily spent two days there. You may also be able to get admission deals through AAA or your credit card company. Plan ahead, and you'll save money.

Go on a weekday.
I heard that weekends at the Biltmore Estate are a madhouse. So we went on a Monday, and found the crowds to be quite manageable. It's easier to enjoy the mansion when there aren't twenty people blocking your view, so try to go on a weekday.

Pack a picnic lunch.
The food at the Biltmore is much better than the food at most tourist traps--but it's pricey. At lunchtime, we waited in a long line and paid $20 for two sandwiches at the Bake Shop next to the mansion. The veggie wrap was crisp and flavorful, but I would've liked to avoid the line and enjoy a cheaper lunch. Picnic lunches are allowed, and a picnic on the lawn in front of the mansion would be beautiful.

The audio tour is excellent.
The 90 minute self-guided audio tour is fascinating. It's $10, and I thought it was worth it because I loved learning about the Vanderbilts and hearing commentary from estate curators. If you enjoy history or antiques, you'll want to purchase the audio tour. We also liked the flexibility it offered; we set our own pace, paused the audio often, and took breaks when we wanted.

Consider a special tour.
If you want to learn about the architecture or servants who worked at the estate, consider a special tour. These one-hour guided tours are $17 per person, in addition to the base ticket price. But they give you access to parts of the mansion that are off limits to the general public. Keith loved that; he felt special. I was very interested in learning about the process by which the home was designed and built, so we purchased the guided architectural tour. It gave us access to the observatory, roof, and attic. Did you know that each slate tile on the roof is hand-wired to the house? Can you imagine the man-hours required just to construct the roof? Incredible!

Make time for the gardens.
There is so much to see in the mansion, it's easy to forget about the gardens. But that would be a mistake. Our walk through the gardens and greenhouses was the most relaxing part of the entire vacation. When you go through the garden, be sure to visit the orchid greenhouse--it was my favorite!

Enjoy the scenic lagoon and bears!
The winery is a three mile drive from the mansion. Halfway to the winery, there is a beautiful turnoff on the left side of the road. It's next to a peaceful lagoon, but the turnoff is easy to miss, so drive slowly and look carefully for this spot. It would be a beautiful place to have a picnic. However, I'm partial to the spot because we saw a bear there. No joke! We parked the car, got out to admire the water, and saw a young black bear running up the road. I might have started jumping up and down in delight. It was my favorite part of the vacation.

The better restaurants are worth it.
Since it was a birthday trip, we splurged on a three-course meal at the Bistro next to the winery. I loved every bite! The calamari and swordfish were perfectly seasoned and prepared, and the wine pairings were spot-on. And can we talk about the service? Our server, Joe, was attentive and so observant. We had everything we wanted, but he never hovered or broke the spell of our romantic dinner. To me, that's the hallmark of perfect service. It's also worth noting that the Bake Shop food was typical pricey tourist food, but the bill at the Bistro was exactly what I'd expect to pay for a good three-course meal with wine. I didn't feel like we were overcharged because we were at a popular tourist destination.

I wish we had gone to the winery, but we had to choose between the winery tour and dinner--and our demanding stomachs won out. This is why a two day pass would be a good idea. I guess we need to go back soon!

Do you have any tips for visiting the winery, or any other tips for visiting the Estate? I'd like to return sooner than later, and I'd appreciate any advice you can offer.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Visiting Asheville

Hi! It's been a while. I just got back from a short birthday trip to Asheville, North Carolina. Keith took me to the beautiful 1900 Inn on Montford for four wonderfully relaxing days. He handled the reservations, and I didn't know exactly where we were going. As we drove up, my heart raced. The inn is a beautiful old Victorian-era mansion, built in Arts & Crafts style, surrounded by lush gardens, with rooms named after famous authors. Oh, Keith. You did so well.

Have you ever been to Asheville? It's small and peaceful, with mouth-watering farm to table restaurants everywhere. If we hadn't walked miles and miles through the Biltmore Estate, I probably would've gained five pounds on this trip. I was so impressed by the quality of the food, and especially the quality of the meals under $10. One of my favorites was Chai Pani, an Indian fusion/street food place downtown. I loved their deliciously exotic take on the humble sloppy Joe. We liked it so much, we went back twice.
I also recommend HomeGrown for tasty and creative farm to table cuisine under $10, the Lexington Avenue Brewery for their extensive late-night menu that has some healthy options, Nine Mile for huge portions of Caribbean inspired pasta dishes (seriously, plan to share a dish!), and Ambrozia if you want to get away from downtown and enjoy finer cuisine with the locals.

But for me, the Biltmore was the best part of the trip. The Biltmore was the home of George Vanderbilt, who was the grandson of Cornelius Vanderbilt. George used his inheritance to build a home modeled after European castles, and he chose the peaceful hills of North Carolina to escape the bustle of New York City. The home is now over 100 years old, incredibly maintained, and open to the public. We spent a day admiring incredible Gothic revival architecture, breathtaking European tapestries and furniture, and lush gardens. Photography is not allowed inside the mansion, but here are a few photos from other sources just to give you a taste of what we saw.

At 2800 square feet, the formal dining room is larger than my entire house. The round iron light fixtures are my favorite part. They're a little rustic, a little geometric, and completely beautiful. Credit
This is the more casual (ha!) Breakfast Room, used by the family for everyday meals. Keith loved the red and gold damask velvet. I guess we won't be changing the red velvet damask cushions on our sofa, after all! Credit
This bedroom belonged to George's wife, Edith Vanderbilt. George began construction on the house when he was still a bachelor, and Edith never saw the house until after their honeymoon. When she came to the Biltmore for the first time, this room was already prepared and decorated for her, just as it looks today. I hope she really loved gold and purple. Credit
Other highlights of the trip included time spent with Keith's family and a bizarre incident in which we rescued an adorable baby possum from a bloodthirsty housecat. Um, what? It was one of those surreal "This only happens in the south!" kind of moments that I relish. Unfortunately, the little one decided to play dead as soon as we stood between it and the cat. We had to stand guard over it for about 20 minutes, while the cat licked her paws and stared hungrily at the poor little critter. Eventually we distracted the cat, and the little one slunk off into the safety of the night. Good luck, little critter.

Stay tuned for a post on Monday with tips for getting the most out of your visit to the Biltmore. And until then, have a wonderful weekend!