Monday, June 30, 2008

Strawberries: A cautionary tale

Dear Reader,

Today's post is not design-related. However, I think it's critical to share this with you, as I've noticed many, many entries in blogs recently about strawberry-picking and toddlers.

Please take the time to read this important message. It was an email I sent out to friends about three years ago, when my son was 2.

Hi guys:

I've got to share this story with you... cause it's probably all over town and you'll hear it soon anyway.


Sunday is my day to sleep in... and Tony wakes me about 9 a.m. to tell me he's changing Jude's PJs and sees a rash on Jude’s chest. Jude had a bug earlier in the week, so I call the doctor and leave a message for the nurse to call me back.

As Tony finishes taking off Jude's jams, he notices a bright pink circle on Jude's lower leg (about the size of an orange) with all these little red marks in it that look like broken blood vessels. He lets out a panicked shout for me.

Naturally, we think meningitis, and rush to get clothes on and get in the car. On the way, I call the doctor and tell them we're going right to the ER, but they say come to the office since the office is attached to the hospital anyway.

Tony drops me and Jude off at the door and I rush us into the office, brushing past the behind-the-counter woman trying to get my health insurance info. (Think Terms of Endearment... where Shirley MacLaine is screaming for them to give Debra Winger medication).

So the doc takes us in right away, and we strip down Jude.

Hmmm... he cannot figure out this mark.

He takes a wet gauze and ... wipes the smushed strawberry off Jude's leg ... where it landed after somehow migrating into his pajamas during breakfast.

(Rash on chest was real, but of no note).

We feel we must now move. House is on the market.


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Sunday, June 29, 2008

Share your ideas! Get famous!

Starting next Sunday, I'll be running a new weekly feature called "I Love These Ideas!"

I'll be searching blogs for interesting design, decorating or improvement ideas for the home, office or garden. If you've got one to share please let me know by emailing me at

Feel free to send photos as well. I'll be sure to give you lots of credit and a link back to your blog.

And what will you get? Why, that's the best part: That badge to display on your blog.

What if you don't have a blog? I still want to hear your ideas! And then you can print out the badge and paste it to your forehead...or wallpaper your living room with it...or use it as your Christmas card. It's up to you.

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Friday, June 27, 2008

Will you stop sleeping on my lawn now?

Since I posted an item about how my talented friend Chris frames her children's artwork and displays it over her desk, she's been all over me for more blog time. She goes on and on about how it changed her life: she's happier; her hair is softer; fruit tastes fresher.

So, she's been really busy trying to get my attention: Spray painted her dog (good for furniture, Chris, not animals); upholstered her children (again, nice effort); wallpapered her car (I really don't know what to say...).

Then she finally hit on something: She had a big frameless mirror so she smashed a bunch of dishes (I think she does that pretty regularly anyway) and glued the pieces on the mirror, making herself a mosaic frame.

Then she made it the centerpiece of an art wall in her family room.

Good idea, no? Can't wait for the next one...

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A Snapshot: This chick doesn't slow down

Here's one more from Chris: She bought this piece of paper for about 50 cents at a scrapbooking store and framed it. Great idea!

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Thursday, June 26, 2008

Green with envy, that is

I've got to tell you something: When it comes to preserving the environment, I'm as green as the next guy.

Unless the next guy is my sister-in-law, who unwraps presents centimeter by centimeter to save the wrapping. And unless it's my neighbor who composts. Or that guy who drives the electric car...

But here's one thing I definitely do: Reuse furniture and other household items. Not only does it save the environment, but the result is usually much better than what you could buy new.

Take, for example, that garden gate my clever friend Marianne put in her garden. She got it at a second-hand store, hung a little sign on it announcing "Sullivan's Sunny Side" and planted around it. Looks great, especially in contrast to the white fence.

A note of caution: When it comes to re-using older weathered items, practice restraint. A few items are charming. Too many items, and you've gone from Martha Stewart to Sanford and Son.

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A Snapshot: Brought to you by Mother Nature

Another idea from Marianne that you can steal: Tie starfish or other shells to twine and drape outdoor stairs. Move your house to the ocean, too, if you can manage it.

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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Toys? What toys?

Ever wish we lived back in the day when kids had like one toy apiece? It might have been a dried up apple core, a wee strip of tree bark, maybe some fossilized dinosaur poop?

Storing those toys would have been easy. Today, not so much.

Here's a suggestion for keeping children's things under wraps in the more public rooms of the house.

See the cabinet up there? I got that for $5 at an auction. It needed a few nails, a little stain and I hacked off the legs.

And here was the tricky part: I nailed a few starfish (dried; I think the live ones would wiggle too much) to the doors. Just use little nails and don't whack them too hard.

It's about four feet tall and inside there are wooden drawers when little toys live and some shelves for games.

I'd love to hear if you have any good ideas for storing toys in your living room or family room. Pass them along!

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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Steal these baby shower ideas

My cousin is adopting a baby boy from Vietnam and her shower was this weekend. She received a lot of lovely gifts both for her new baby and for children at the orphanage in Vietnam.

There are two things you should know about this shower: One is that I won first-place in the getting-to-know-the-guests game. It's some sort of point of pride with me to win and I often do...even if I have to trample, push or otherwise horrify complete strangers to do it.

(For example: You know that game where you get to steal clothespins or bracelets that guests have collected if you get them to say the bride or mom-to-be's name? Here's how to win: Walk up to a stranger, introduce yourself and then say nothing else.

In an attempt to fill the awkward silence, the woman will inevitably say: So, how do you know (insert bride or mom-to-be's name)? Then you rip the bracelets or clothespins off the person, scream "Loser!" and run away. It's a great way to win...and to get to know people.)

Anyway, the second thing you should know about this party: There were a few great baby shower ideas:

  • The centerpieces were Tonka trucks. They were filled with fortune cookies, because the shower was at an Asian restaurant, but any treat would work, and balloons were tied to them. Some trucks will go to our new little guy, the rest to the orphanage.
  • Guests got to learn some words in Vietnamese thanks to English/Vietnamese flash cards on the table.
  • Finally, the mom-to-be's sister created a book with family photos and asked guests to write a message to the baby. I'm not sure but I think a few people were warning him about me...

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Monday, June 23, 2008

Lemonade will always taste like success to me

Finally held my yard sale this weekend. It was supposed to happen weeks ago, but a stomach bug and the weather conspired against us.

It was fun, with a bunch of friends and relatives bringing stuff over to sell. And we're talking good stuff, too: A ceramic poodle, a bird feeder shaped like a winter hat, and at least one lamp that doesn't work, but would be fine with like $59 in parts and a couple hours of labor.

If any of those things sound good to you, let me know. They are still in my garage. The sale didn't go so well, which is unusual for us, a crowd of folks proud of our ability to foist our unneeded, unused and unwashed on our neighbors.

Many of them decided, quite selfishly, to go to the beach instead. And the ones that did come apparently already have chipped Santa cookie jars, melty Halloween candles and trophy tops.

Only one person really made out 5-year-old son Jude. He had a toy/book sale and a lemonade stand. And he worked it.

He cornered anyone under 6, and was like: "What's it going to take to get you into this dump truck today?" "What, you haven't read Goodnight Moon? All the cool kids have read Goodnight Moon." No one got away without dropping a quarter on too-sweet, too-warm lemonade.

I think he even sold a few timeshares.

All was not lost (for me, anyway). At the yard sale's end, he proposed giving me all his dollars for my much-shiner quarters. I'll straighten him out before he hits the eighth grade or so, but I really didn't see any rush...

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A Snapshot: You Americans, you have no taste

Why nobody buy me? I a good dog. I no bark. I no poop. I no bother.

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Friday, June 20, 2008

If only you needed a stamp for email…

The U.S. Postal Service this week issued a pane of 16 stamps honoring American designers Charles and Ray Eames. And I must say I love them.

Even though the couple worked in architecture, furniture design, manufacturing and photographic arts, Charles (1907-1978) and Ray (1912–1988) are probably best known for making modern design accessible to the general public post-WWII.

(They are responsible for the iconic stackable molded chairs that you probably recognize even if you didn’t know the name Eames.)

The pane of stamps is beautiful, don’t you think? Since we hardly ever mail stuff anymore…and who wants to waste such a nice stamp on the electric company anyway…what to do with them?

You can frame them...a modern, floating frame would look best.

Want to learn more? Check out the Eames Foundation, where you can also browse/buy a lot of cool products.

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A Snapshot: Never out of style

It’s no longer available, but this red plywood elephant was issued last year to celebrate the 100th birthday of Charles Eames. The furniture sculpture was designed in 1945, but never sold. Check out more Eames items.

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Thursday, June 19, 2008

Note to self: Next time, insist on non-disclosure agreement

You've read about a few members of my family: my husband, my 5-year-old son, the cats. Not yet mentioned: The painter.

Let's just call him Eldin. He doesn't actually live here, of course, at least not technically. But he's painted nearly every room inside the house, and the entire outside of the house over the years.

And when he's quite a while before he leaves. That's because he's meticulous (much as there are Dog Years, there are Painter Days...3 days to you or me equals 74 painter days, on average) and one thing always leads to another.

He is now re-staining the faded front of the house, updating a job he did about five years ago. (When we bought the house, the clapboards, trim and door were all the color of cement. We decided on a cheery yellow with white trim to set it off and a black door to ground it all.)

Now that the house is looking good, the deck is a little shabby, Eldin points out. He's right, of course, so that's next.

But there is a more insidious reason we don't hurry Eldin: He knows too much.

He knows the ins and outs of this household with a young boy, two busy parents and two cats. He's seen the basement laundry area...the tantrums (mine, not my son's)...the wine bottles in the recycling bin (again, not my son's).

He's seen the sad state of my garden (which he waters if it is too pathetic)...and my garage...and, oh no, the inside of my car.

Heck, he's seen me without makeup.

So, yes, yes, we will paint the deck. And I think the kitchen is looking a little tired, too...

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A Snapshot: Orange you glad I didn't go for a pun?

I'm telling you, I've got this thing for glass paperweights now. Used this one in the office makeover in the mill building.

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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

This would be even better:

In the interest of full disclosure, I have to tell you something: I'm good at creating stuff, but not so good at the maintaining part.

Design a room? Sure. Pick it up everyday? Pass.

Plant a garden? OK. Weed it? Rather not.

In fact, check this out: Remember the veggie garden I planted just a few weeks ago?

That was then: This is now:It's that bad. But...I've got a solution. Check out this website: HassleMe. You tell it what you need to be reminded to do, and it will nag you by sending emails.

You know: weed the garden, change the oil, feed the kids. Stuff that can get away from you.

Worth a shot.

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A Snapshot: This would scare people away

I saw this guy at the Brimfield Antiques Show in May. Wish I had the kind of house where he would make sense. Don't remember how much he was. But no price would be too high. Don't you agree?

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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Ta-da: The office makeover

As promised, I'm posting photos from an office makeover that my friend Marianne and I did recently. A nonprofit organization won the makeover as part of a larger prize.

The space posed a few challenges for me and Marianne (who owns Consignments Ltd.): The office is in an old mill building, and is large (probably 600 square feet). The organization, Options, puts out a newsmagazine, so it needs tables for preparing it for distribution once a month.

It also uses some bulky items, like bins and carts, but had no storage space. Options would also like to hold meetings at the space, and there really was no comfortable spot for hanging out.

Marianne and I did the makeover in about a day. This would not have been possible if Marianne wasn't such a workhorse. (Only not a horse like this: ; more like this: .)

Chances are you don't have a space quite like this, but there are some ideas you can steal:

We bought some office dividers at a business surplus store and put them together to create both a storage room and a wall that would act as an entrance to the large space. The Options sign hangs on one end of the new storage space. (In the Rhode Island area, this is a good place to find business surplus items at very reasonable prices: the aptly named Business Surplus Inc. Rhode Island.)

Along with the bins and carts, we stored a few of the tables and some chairs in the storage area. The tables and chairs can come out once a month, but in the meantime there's room for the lounge we created with sofas from Marianne's store. We added a rug, and few pillows and accessories, and it's a comfy meeting spot. (Check out the little tables I painted, too.)
We used a print they already owned in the bathroom (tip: a big piece of art in a small space makes a really big impact) and the mirror I also painted orange. (I like taking a traditional item like the Chippendale mirror and paining it a bright color to create a funky look.)

Paint is a great tool to use when you've got a lot of space to decorate.

Options already had 25 of the first pages of its newsmagazines mounted on huge poster boards. But only six or so of them were up. They were painted in rainbow colors. So, we painted a bunch more and hung them up, too. Not only did the posters look colorful, but they helped unify the space.

We also hung some curtains (thanks to Marianne climbing a 15-foot ladder), switched out a bookcase for better organization, and a few little odds and ends and we were done.

Done, but too tired for even a glass of wine. And that's saying something.

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Monday, June 16, 2008

Yes, you're in the right place

You may have noticed that my blog looks a bit different today...different from yesterday, which was different from the day before that, which was different from a few days before that.

I've been experimenting with its design. Now you know how my husband feels. He never knows how the furniture will be arranged when he comes home from work...or if someone will have started sledgehammering out the fireplace hearth...or if the bathroom will be in the midst of demolition. (I told you...didn't I tell you?)

But, I think this blog design is here to stay...for now, anyway. Do you like it?

Tomorrow: Photos from the redesign in the mill building.

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Friday, June 13, 2008

A Snapshot: Perfect summer accessory

Love this little 1960s metal pin I spotted on Etsy.

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Summer: Bring it on

My son graduated from college this week. Seems like just yesterday we were sitting through his preschool graduation ceremony. Oh wait a minute, I'm wrong. That was just yesterday. Getting ahead of myself a little bit.

His school, a wonderful co-op nursery school, put on a little program. The kids sang songs (well, most of the kids sang son had his own agenda. When the other kids praised the rising sun, my boy covered his eyes and said: "The sun. It burns my eyes!" When they held up letters of the alphabet, he perched his letter "N" on the head of the kid next to him. Doing a duet with a little girl that involved waving his arms, Jude preferred to whack himself in the head. It was a better bit for it, I will admit.)

So, now summer. And summer reading...for me that is.

Here's what I subscribe to these days:

Better Homes and Gardens
Country Home
Country Living
Elle Decor
House Beautiful
Traditional Home

And catalogues of all sorts. Do they count? I think they count.

What's on your summer reading list?

A little P.S. regarding yesterday's post: My mother emailed me to say I should always wear a mask when spray painting (a lot of capital letters were involved). Mom, you are right, of course. Please refer to the complaint department for a number to call to get your concerns on record.

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Thursday, June 12, 2008

A sneak peek at a surprise redesign

It's been hot in Rhode Island. I mean, seriously hot, especially for June.

So, what am I doing during all this? Spray painting tables outside (see them, up there, in the orange). Remember that client I mentioned? The nonprofit organization that won an office redesign? The office is in an old mill building and these tables are going to go in there.

I know what you are about to say... But, Mary, aren't you risking your life, spray painting outside in this heat?

Why, yes, I am. But I am that devoted.

I found these tables (and a cute little Chippendale mirror, too) in a consignment shop. The tables had been kicking around for a few months so I got the three for $30. They were pretty nondescript except for the shape.

So I spray painted them orange, and the mirror too. (They are the same orange, just took one photo outside and one inside. Try to keep up, please.)

Besides heat stroke, I got spray paint on my hands, feet, and the lining of my lungs. (Because gloves and a mask were upward of two to three steps away and I Don't Have Time For That.)

I know what you are about to say... But, Mary, aren't you risking your life, spray painting without gloves and a mask?

Why, yes, I am. But I am that devoted.

The tables are going to serve as a coffee table in front of a sofa in the office. Now that I look at them, aren't they shaped a little like bear faces? Like you could have painted them out as animals and used them in a child's room?

Oh sure, now everyone wants them.

Next time you are scouting around, keep your eyes open. You might find something you can transform.

But, hey, this is dangerous work. Let's be careful out there.

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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Real Estate Staging: I'll take the door Carol Merrill is in front of

The mom of a child in my son's preschool was asking me today for a little advice for her parents who are trying to sell their house in this tough real estate market. She showed me a few photos, and for the most part they had done a wonderful job getting ready, particularly since they've lived in the house for 40 years.

Given how much stuff I can accumulate in the back of my car in a weekend, I can appreciate just how much furniture and accessories a household can wind up with over decades.

I did, however, suggest her folks remove just a few more pieces from the house.

Take a look at the before and after shots above of a dining room I staged not too long ago. The carpet and lighting fixture were updated, but the biggest impact, I think, comes from what is not there anymore.

The decorations are now simple and there are two fewer chairs (and a corner hutch you can see reflected in the mirror in the before photo).

The impression you are left with: A tidy, pretty space where you are more apt to notice the deck and yard outside.

Paring down is definitely worth it...even if it means putting items in storage for a while. You never know what will seal the deal for a potential buyer, and the impression of a large, breezy space might just do it.

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Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Turns out, you can't nap in their beds either

I had mentioned last week that I was going to check out the The Providence (RI) Preservation Society's 29th Annual Festival of Historic Houses on Saturday.

The homes, many built in the early to mid-1800s ranged from the magnificent to the everyday...just like homes built today. But they were all interesting to see.

Here's an idea we (my sister Kat and friend Chris) loved: Asian silk lanterns hanging from an arbor and over a table in a city garden. (No photos were allowed, so I've posted this one from to give you the general idea.)

We wanted to sit right down and plan a party: We'd put LED lights in all of them and use lanterns in rainbow colors for a kids' party; monochromatic for a twilight dinner; blue by the ocean...

But here's the thing about house tours: They don't let you plan parties in their homes, or rearrange the furniture, or try on their clothes... selfish, very selfish.

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Monday, June 9, 2008

Forget roses, give me squash flowers

My 5-year-old son has been wanting to plant a vegetable garden, and this weekend we finally got around to it. But I am going to remember this for next year: Loosely translated, "I want to plant a garden" means "You do it. And call me in two months when the fried squash flowers are ready."

Fried squash flowers? What, you've never had them? (I had them for the first time only last year, but it makes me feel like a Southern belle to act like I've made them my whole life. Like I garden in white gloves, my hair in a bouffant, and ice tea at the ready...when in fact I'm a Northerner, who gardens without gloves so my manicure is ruined, my hair in a ponytail turned in on itself, and the only beverage in sight is the one that comes out of the garden hose...or from a bottle that says Mike's Hard Lemonade.)

Anyway, Jude refused to help because of the bugs that my superficial tilling uncovered. To be honest, these aren't your usual bugs...they are prehistoric bugs, like maybe our yard is some sort of Gateway to Bug Hell, with all tarantulas and Africanized honey bees safely ensconced in Bug Purgatory.

So Jude runs off to his swing, me reassuring him: "They are more afraid of you...No bug has ever eaten a person...that I know of."

Back to the moral of the story: All vegetables taste better fried in oil and sprinkled with salt and pepper. And with yellow squash, same goes for their flowers.

So here's my tip of the day: Grow some yellow squash and then pluck off the male flowers (the larger ones). Remove the stamens and gently rinse the flowers and pat them dry.

And then do this:

Combine about a cup of milk with a tablespoon of flour and some salt and pepper and maybe a shake of hot sauce. Dip the flowers in the mixture. Fry in olive oil in a hot pan until they are golden brown. Drain on paper towel.

Eat. Repeat.

The design part? We should probably have a design part: Put them on a pretty plate.

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Friday, June 6, 2008

Take it outside

It's pretending to be April around here (in Rhode Island) ... but they are predicting a nice weekend (and we are holding them to it).

Here's an idea for you if it's nice where you are, too. Grab a dining table and bring it outside. And chairs, tablecloth and real dishes, too. Set them up in the middle of your yard (or under a tree or on a patio, garden or deck).

Add a few throw pillows, maybe even a blanket from inside and drape if over a chair in case it gets cool.

Add a string or two of electric lights, candles or even LED lights. If you've got a tree, hang them in it. Then at dusk, have a few friends over for drinks or for dinner.

There are all sorts of weather-proof items available today, from rugs to lamps, but there's something slightly decadent about using indoor items outside. It's more festive, more romantic, more fun.

Just be sure to check the weather forecast before deciding whether to bring everything back in right away....there's nothing festive, romantic or fun about finding a bunch of soggy stuff in your yard the next morning.

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A Snapshot: I had no choice

Check out the bookends I picked up the other day. I saw a pair like them at the Newport Showhouse Guild's 14th annual Designer Showcase a few weeks ago and loved them. And they were only $12.

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A Snapshot: Hanging out in the yard

Wouldn't a few of these suncatchers look great hanging in a tree in your yard? They are handcrafted stained glass and available on Etsy.

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Thursday, June 5, 2008

Please don't tell my neighbors

Here's one of my favorite things: It's dusk. I'm a passenger in a car, driving through a neighborhood. The homeowners haven't gotten around to pulling their shades yet...

...and I get a peek (at 20 or 30 mph) at how they've decorated their homes.

If that's also your idea of a good time, you're going to want to know about The Providence Preservation Society's 29th Annual Festival of Historic Houses on Saturday.

Buy a ticket and you can get a really good look inside 10 historic homes in the Fox Point neighborhood of Providence, RI.

All the homes were built in the 19th century. I've been in one of them, where I worked on interior redesign. (That's the foyer of the house in the photo above.)

I'm not going to tell you where the house're not supposed to know any of the details until you pick up the map at Brown University’s Maddock Alumni Center, 38 Brown St, Providence.

But I can tell you that it's got wonderful millwork, five fireplaces and beautiful gardens. I'm sure the other houses are fantastic, too.

So buy a ticket ( $30 in advance and $35 on the day of the tour). The self-guided walking tour runs from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., with the houses within about a half-mile loop.

The best part: You won't have to yell for your husband to slow the car down so you can get a better look...

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Wednesday, June 4, 2008

I double dog dare you

Was talking to a friend the other day (Hi, Elisa) about color, and we got around to the topic of painting only one wall in a room. (OK, technically painting all the walls in a room, but three of them white, or perhaps off white, and the fourth a color you really love.)

Unless you've got a really good reason for doing that, I don't recommend it.

If you love a color, go for it and paint all four walls. Think the color will be too dark and make a room seem small? Nah, it'll make the room seem dramatic. Think it'll be too bold? By the time you bring in the furniture, the artwork and accessories, you'll see far less of it than you would imagine. Concerned you'll be overrun with color? Then make your other color choices in the room (the drapes or couch for instance) a bit more tame.

Are you thinking you want to paint only one wall to highlight a fireplace or a bed, for example? Rather than painting all the other walls white, paint the highlighted wall a slightly darker or lighter color than your main color or choose a different color that you also love.

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Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Color me convinced

My 5-year-old son did a little experimenting with color the other day. Using a few tubes of paint - red, blue, yellow - he diligently recorded the colors he created: purple, orange, green, aqua, grey...

He had a lot of I thought I'd pass along a tip if you like playing with color, too.

There are a lot of online tools out there where you can check out colors and color combinations in virtual rooms before you head to the paint store. (Never pick a specific shade strictly by using this method. Your computer monitor may not be showing the exact, true color. But this is a great jumping-off point.)

Give them a try:

All of the fun of playing with paint...none of the scraping it off the tiled kitchen floor later.

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Monday, June 2, 2008

Room makeover, a before & after: More comfortable than sitting on English muffins

Everyone loves nooks and crannies, cozy spaces great for talking on the phone, reading a book or sipping a cup of coffee.

Sometimes it's just relaxing to have a space like that...even if you don't use it much.

And it's possible you have one of those spaces and don't even know it.

Take this house, for instance. A bump-out in short hallway that led to an addition was largely ignored, save for a bookcase.

I added a bench, just wide enough to slip comfortably into the bump-out, and a few pillows and lamps and the client had a great - and unexpected - new space.

Take a look around your house. Do you have an underused window seat? A little extra room in a hallway or a foyer?

Could be an opportunity awaits...

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