My big, blue wall…

And how it came to be.

Our new home is a builder’s “spec house,” purchased too late in the process to add any real customization like an extra wall outlet or alternative light fixture and in the midst of a supply chain calamity that made even getting a built-in oven and microwave a Herculean effort.

The architectural flourishes we admired in many of the models we visited during our home search were add-ons we would have happily paid for, but there was no one available to do them. So, in true Janet and Steve fashion, the more closely we examined “feature walls,” the more we thought, “We can do this.”

I don’t know if it started with Joanna Gaines and her shiplap, but feature walls decked out in various wood treatments and painted a contrasting color have become “a thing.” Actually, long before the feature wall trend, molding treatments on their own or framing wallpaper or fabric panels were popular, often a decorator’s trick to use pricier accents in smaller amounts or inject some architectural interest in a boxy space. Today’s feature walls have just taken that idea and run with it.

I saw feature walls more and more on Pinterest and in magazines for the last few years. When we started looking at houses, I saw them up close, painted in a trendy contrasting color and decked out with molding or board and batten trim. They provided an attractive architectural focal point for open floor plan spaces. As a bonus I noticed that when painted a dark color they lent a little camouflage to the flat screen televisions usually mounted on that primary wall. And frankly, the 9-foot by 15-foot blank wall in our great room was crying out for something to balance the rest of the room’s windows and open space. 

Steve and I did some research and watched lots of YouTube tutorials. We went back to the model home here to take a  closer look at similar treatments and take pictures. Then we got really carried away and decided to add similar molding and a chair rail to the entry. 

It’s all geometry

Here’s one of our “working diagrams” to determine the sizing. 

We realized early on that the painting and wood trim were doable, the challenge was working out the geometry on the wall. Chair rails are a consistent 36-40 inches above the floor. But the boxes had to be evenly spaced and sized to accommodate existing electrical outlets and switches — something not one of the tutorials mentioned. Several sheets of graph paper later featuring not only the wall dimensions but also the location of outlets and switches, and using variously-sized paper templates to represent the proposed molding boxes, Steve figured it out. The five equal-width boxes we began with gave way to three different sizes, arranged symmetrically, (basically A, B, C, B, A) to accommodate a handful of electrical obstacles. All the boxes are spaced 4-inches apart and 4-inches from the base, chair rail and crown molding above and below them and 8-inches from each end to accommodate wall switches. 

This is what we started with. Kind of blah.

With the geometry solved, we collected our materials: chair rail, trim, and crown molding from the lumber department at Home Goods; and paint. Our plan was to paint the wall first. We assumed it would take two coats, but it would be easy to roll on — and it was. Then we’d paint the molding before cutting it to size and adding it to the wall. We could touch up whatever we needed to after. The first coat rolled on and the dark navy was bold but we loved it. It dried somewhat splotchy which wasn’t especially concerning, since we expected to need a second coat. The second coat was better, but there were still some patchy spots. Ugh! Before attempting any “repairs” to our paint job, Steve took pictures of the splotchy paint and headed back to the store to ask a few questions. 

I need to stop here and tell you how terrific the pros at our local Sherwin Williams paint store are. Steve and the manager discussed the tools he used, the condition of the wall, etc. SW has a number of grades of paint and we had used an above-average grade (at the manager’s suggestion). So, the manager gave us a new gallon of top-of-the-line paint. (We didn’t ask for any freebies, SW just wanted us to have a successful project.) Steve came home and painted the wall yet again. Third time’s the charm! 

Let’s hear it for customer service and quality materials. You have to wonder how many do-it-yourself projects are derailed because the instructions and/or materials aren’t up to the task, or the do-it-yourself-ers don’t ask the right questions. A good lesson to learn. 

It may be a little unorthodox, but given how the sizes of our boxes worked out, Steve installed the crown at the top and the chair rail 36-inches off the floor. This would help us consistently align the boxes. He started in the middle of the wall, doing the bottom then the top boxes. Next he worked on the boxes on either side of the center and finally the ones on the end. He had painted, measured and pre-cut all the pieces ahead of time, labeling each piece with dimensions on the back.

Installation was like assembling a puzzle. We used a laser level to square up the bottom corner of each box, spread a small amount of glue on the back of each piece, then tacked it on using a pneumatic nailer. He nailed up the bottom of each box first, then the left side, then the right side. The top just dropped into place. We were a little tentative getting started and then surprised when the first finished box was done just as we’d planned. We got more and more efficient as we moved along. By the time we got to the entry hall, where all the boxes are down low, we were flying. (I’ll detail that in another post.)

It turns out I was too busy as the carpenter’s helper, holding tools, getting a damp rag, holding the glue, moving the laser level, etc., to get in-progress pictures. But I can’t stop taking pictures of the finished wall.

As you can see here, this is not exotic molding. And the wall and
the molding are painted with the same finish.
Here’s the finished wall. It needs artwork and a more substantial buffet or console table. But we need to make a TV decision first.

So now while we continue to admire the results we have a few decisions to make.

Do we paint the wall and ceiling trim blue or keep it white?

And what about the white switch plates?

The plan has been to mount a TV here, but probably not the one we currently have. If we’re going to hang it on the wall, a newer, smarter one is preferable. We are trying two different templates on the wall for size — to be continued…

This may have been my idea, but my husband really made it happen. And didn’t he do a great job?

Thanks for stopping by. I’ll be back soon, because there’s more to share — including a new book club! See you again next time!

Getting the hang of picture-hanging

Recently, I put my heart in my back pocket and went ahead and made nail holes in our “virgin” walls. I’m not an empty walls kind of girl, and we had pictures, prints, etc., stacked up in corners everywhere. The real issue was less about making holes in new walls and more about deciding what should hang where.

First we decided what we definitely wanted to hang again, what we thought we would hang again, and what we never wanted to see again. (This last category took some negotiation and that process continues.)

About those holes in the wall

I never have a problem hammering a nail or picture hanger into the wall. Sometimes, of course, despite careful measuring, the picture is not hung in the exact spot you planned or maybe it is but doesn’t look right after all. In that case I just move it. Does this sound cavalier? My husband will roll his eyes at this, but I don’t worry much about excess holes in the wall.  A dab of spackle, a quick sand and a light brush of paint take care of most errors. I admit that there have been times when the holes were not visible from minor hanging adjustments until we took all the artwork down to repaint the room and revealed what can only be described as a machine gun look to the walls. In my mind that just means more spackle before you paint. However, I understand that for some, this can be tragic.

Tackling new, blank walls

Sometimes there’s a natural anchor for artwork, like a fireplace or a piece of furniture. This is the bottom of the large buffet from my former dining room. When we moved here, I left the metal shelves off the top and settled it on the biggest wall in the foyer. These prints of Siena and Montapulciano hung in our former living room over a marble-topped dresser, but they seemed perfect for this space. I think, however, I need to switch to a larger lamp and perhaps extend the wall arrangement beyond the width of the cabinet. Does this look skimpy to you?

We are both really fond of a number of prints we bought on our European travels. They are grouped together on a slim wall space, also in the foyer. I started with the large print on the left, then the two from France stacked on the right. Then I just filled in the space. They all came from open air markets or tiny galleries and I don’t think any of them cost more than $20. I thought about just hanging the two square prints from France, but since this is across the hall from the arrangement above, it seemed appropriate to add more weight here for balance.

When I was arranging these groupings, (left and below) I started on the floor first. I discovered that a basic drop cloth was about the same color as our walls and it offered a neutral background for arranging the prints. So, I laid the pieces out, adding, subtracting and arranging space until it seemed right. Sometimes I had to walk away for a while and come back to it.

It’s interesting to mix the media in a group. We did that in the library with this combination of black and white photos, a black & white print and some smaller, sepia-tone prints. This is a grouping that I imagine may grow a bit, as we find additional pieces, though I would like to stick to black and white.

It’s fun to hang something in a more surprising spot, like over a door. This old fruit print is from my pears/plums/grapes period, when I was collecting artwork and plates with that motif. (It’s a long story.) I’ve passed on most of those pieces, but I do love this print and its unfortunately heavy, dark oak frame.

More hanging tips and tricks

  • There’s a hanging system for everything, from heavy-duty french cleats (which we used to hang some antique shutters in our last house) to super light tacks for small pieces. Cruise the aisle with these supplies at the hardware store and ask questions. Then, arm yourself with a selection of anchors, hooks, hangers and even Command stick-on strips. I keep my supplies together in a kit with a small hammer and a tape measure so I have what I need when I’m ready to hang.
  • Framing gets very expensive very quickly. Usually what we find on our travels or at antique markets is unframed. I have most things framed at Michael’s or Hobby Lobby, and I wait for a sale or a coupon. Their frame selection is substantial, and I have never been disappointed in their workmanship.
  • You probably already know this, but in general, the center of a single picture should be between 56- and 60-inches from the floor. If you’re hanging a gallery of pictures, you will have to adjust this, but keep in mind that wall arrangements should be essentially at eye level, not floating above furniture.

The snake-bit system

A designer friend introduced me to this a few years ago. It requires two holes for every frame (Ouch!), but once hung nothing moves. This is especially useful in a hallway or high-traffic area where pictures often are knocked askew. To do this you need a hammer, small finishing nails, wirecutters, a small level, a small block of wood, a tape measure and pencil. 

  • Determine where you want the picture to be. I like to make a small pencil mark on the wall at the top corners of the frame and in from the left and right sides of the frame a quarter- to a half-inch, depending on the width of the frame.
  • On the back of the frame, make comparable marks a quarter to a half-inch on the left and right sides and 1-1/2 to 2-1/2 inches down from the top of the frame. Tap a finishing nail into the frame at each of the two marks. The nails should be at an angle, like fangs on a snake. Make sure the nails are anchored firmly in the picture frame. Use the wirecutters to snip off the heads of the nails. You need to be able to drive this end into the wall.Measure the distance from the top and sides of the frame to the point where the nail is in the frame. Using the lightest touch of a pencil, transfer this to the wall, using those first marks you made indicating the left and right top of the frame.
  • Using another finishing nail, make a “starter hole” in the wall for the snake bit nails to slide into. Tap this nail in part way and angled down to match the nails on the frame. Pull the nail out and you have holes for your snakebit nails to slide into. Now carefully fit the snakebit nails in the frame into the holes in the wall.
  • Gently push the frame down to snug it to the wall. If you need the hammer to tap it in place, use the small block of wood between the hammer and the frame to prevent damage. Use a 6- or 8-inch level to check that the top of the frame is level.

Until you have done this a few times, it seems like a huge project. Don’t be discouraged if your holes are too big or unevenly spaced. Don’t be surprised if you end up with a few extra holes until you perfect this technique. We used it on these botanicals in our last house, and none of the prints dared to move. 

None of these ideas are original. In fact, the concept of assembling wall art by subject matter or color is fairly “tried and true.” It works. Most of my ideas come from a Pinterest board I’ve saved called “Walls,” because it includes shelves, sconces, baskets, plates and more. Like I said earlier, there’s a way to hang almost anything on a wall. And the mix of items is so much fun!

Obviously, there are more walls to deck, more pieces to find places for, and inevitably more to collect, so stay tuned. For now I’m giving my hammer and hangers a rest and enjoying what we’ve accomplished.

Thank you so much for stopping by. See you again soon.

Summer without a garden & more

Normally at this time of year I would be including lots of notes about my garden, but I don’t have one yet in Ohio.

Good morning! First, thank you for your supportive comments on my last post. I really appreciate them. After my rant, however, I thought something a little lighter may be in order, so I’m sharing my latest Instagram favorites. They are probably as good a clue as any to what’s on my mind, what I’m finding inspiring, and what I may (or may not) be planning to do.

My summer without a garden

Our yard is still clay and rocks; there is also a healthy crop of weeds. (It’s really pretty awful looking.) The builder is awaiting the appropriate parts and crews to finish drainage and irrigation issues. In the meantime my green thumb can only dream. So here’s what I’m thinking.

We will have a small garden out front based on some bushes that the landscaper provides. We will supplement that with some blooming plants and I would like to try for a green and white garden. It’s a small area and I want like it to look cohesive. Something like this, with Lambs Ears and Hostas for texture and color variation, along with white blooms, below.

In the back yard, we have a small patio, sort of a very mini version of this, below. Again, I like the blue, white and purple with the greenery. And I love the idea of a few really generous pots for color, but still keeping a tight palette.

Hung up on picture hanging

We continue to work on getting pictures hung here; Steve and I both think they add the personal touch that makes a space feel like ours. However, the spaces here are somewhat different so I’ve been searching for inspiration on Instagram.

We have several pairs and even trios of prints to find places for. I am not necessarily a symmetrical person, so arrangements like this, below, that work for multiples often throw me off. But, hey, if James Farmer can do it, I can too! I love the way he takes the edge off the symmetry by staggering heights and objects on top of the cabinet (which would be perfect in my house.)

I really like the idea of dressing up a bathroom or powder room with artwork. The image below does just that and is the kind of loose arrangement I usually prefer in most rooms, instead of something too studied. (Although I think it’s harder to achieve.) And I like the way the classic frames and touches of black and white give this space more sophistication.

I’m planning a picture-hanging post soon to show off some of what I’ve done so far. And some of what I’ve already moved!

Some rooms call my name

If you are one of the legions of fans of Nancy Meyers films (The Intern, Something’s Got to Give, It’s Complicated) do you like the films or are you just mesmerized by the gorgeous settings? I’ve seen each of these movies more than once, and they’re charming. But I love her sets. They are the ultimate eye-candy. So it’s no surprise that the blog world was set a-buzz when the newly renovated interior of Nancy Meyers’ own home was revealed in the current issue of Architectural Digest. You can go directly to the magazine, but if you’re really interested I encourage you to read Joni Webb’s post (here) to get a look at Nancy’s house then and now as well as all her sets. No one covers a decorating story like Joni Webb.

This is the perfect living room in Nancy Meyers’ house, below. It’s a little traditional, somewhat spare in a modern sense, not overly staged but certainly welcoming. I like the way the mirror off to the right (instead of staged over the fireplace() reflects more of the room, the substantial coffee table with plenty of room for drinks, snacks and magazines. I could easily sink into one of those chairs to enjoy a conversation with friends or a drink in front of the fire.

Sometimes I scroll along in IG, pause, scroll some more, go back and like something and scroll some more. Then I finally go back and save the photo. That was the case here. First, I’m a sucker for a center table like this and when it’s skirted, it’s even better. (Any excuse to incorporate a generous swath of fabric and trim!) I like the way the white in this room balances the wood. Those beams could be imposing, but they aren’t. And that table — perfect centered with big flowers and staged with a collection of books and memorabilia, at least that’s what I imagine.

Paris is always a good idea

We are beginning to think about travel again. It turns out I’m willing to go anywhere as long as it ends with a few days in Paris. And even if I don’t get to Paris, I still save images of the city. Cafe de le Nemours is one of our favorite stops there. It’s near the Louvre, next to the Comedie Franchise, and around the corner from the Palais Royale (also good for a glass of wine) and therefore perfect for people watching. It also serves a wonderful quiche that’s perfect any time of day if you need more than a cafe or wine.

And after, you can walk over to the Louvre and, if you have had the foresight to buy the right kind of ticket, enter thru a side door for a quiet look around. Just avoid all signs leading to the Mona Lisa.

Of course, Paris is going to be a bit of a stretch if we decide to road-trip thru Canada or head to Sonoma for some wine tasting! I think the real issue here is indecision. I’m not packing any bags just yet!

In the meantime, I hope you’re having a great day. Thanks for stopping by! See you again soon.

Finding inspiration

I have always loved magazines. My first subscription was to Seventeen. Then I moved on to Glamour and Mademoiselle. It was around this time that my dad was an editor for Conde Nast. We always had magazines around; now we had more. In my early years writing ad copy, I was mentored by a former editor at House and Garden. In my last professional position I edited two trade magazines. Do you see a pattern here?

I have also always loved decor, arranging and rearranging my teenage bedroom, putting my personal stamp on my first basement apartment furnished with the land lady’s cast-offs, hauling home estate sale bargains to refinish for our first house. This is just who I am. So this weekend when I was sorting miscellaneous papers and discovered what is left of my old decorating files — essentially pages I had torn from magazines featuring furniture arrangements, color schemes, collectibles, centerpieces, window treatments, holiday decorations, you name it — all the ideas we now save on Pinterest and Instagram, I felt like I’d unearthed hidden treasure. After I took some time studying these pages, I realized they were not historic (although some are more than 20 years old!) but rather the backbone of my personal design “aesthetic.”

I sat down and took the time to savor them, page by page, the way I sit down to dig into a new magazine. I went thru them once, just to see what I had, then again more slowly. I remembered these photos and have even seen some of them on Instagram. But rather than feeling stuck in the past, I realized that good design (however we define it for ourselves) is always in style. Had I chosen that well? Or do I just know what I like? Maybe some of both.

Style seems to morph with the times. The reds, blues, greens and golds I started out with have now mellowed into white and pale grays. The plates and photos that once crowded occasional tables are cleared out, along with some of the tables. I’ve been through a wallpaper phase and then stenciling. I loved them both until they seemed dated. I’ve been editing a lot, or at least a lot for me. As I said in one of my earlier moving posts, I’m looking for leaner and cleaner these days, keeping the best and getting rid of the rest. Which takes me back to these pages…

I realized how many of these ideas I had actually implemented in my own home. Here’s an image of Dan Carithers’ own kitchen, decorated decades ago and still looking timeless when it appeared in Country Home or Traditional Home (not sure which) several years ago:

The late Dan Carithers was a master at timeless design. His rooms were layered and detailed
but never standoff-ish.

And here’s a parade of white ironstone pitchers on top of a cabinet in our new house:

As soon as I saw this niche in our new home, I knew my old green cabinet and white ironstone pitchers were meant for the space.

Here’s a good example of inspiration that somehow stayed with me, however subconsciously. I tore this image from Country Living in 2009.

A few years ago, looking for something simple on my farm table, I gathered up my own collection of brass candlesticks. Then I re-did it with glass candlesticks. You may have noticed I did the same thing on one of the library shelves in the Reset.

When I wrote about our new “library” here, I said I had been saving bookshelf images for a long time. In fact, that idea pre-dates my Instagram.

Where am I going with this? First, good design, design that really speaks to you, is always going to be good. Decorating on a whim is fun, but like those old bell bottoms in the back of your closet, it just doesn’t last. Recognize its limits. The best rooms are edited. Early on when I was dragging home the estate sale finds, they were fun but intentionally temporary. The old tea cart I bought at an estate sale and painted tangerine to be a fun table in our tiny kitchen was a temporary fix. I sold it when we moved to the next house.

And it doesn’t mean I’m not going to try a few trendy things now, like faux greens in a glass vase between the sinks in our master bath or a trio of orchids in a large bowl (staged with plenty of moss) on the kitchen island. That kind of styling is way too much fun!

But back to my file of old magazine pages. They were really my home-grown, do-it-yourself design class. I learned a lot from those pictures: balance, symmetry versus asymmetry (they both have a place in design), scale, the difference between country and primitive and traditional (and all their variations), and the importance of detail.

To think it all began with Seventeen magazine.

Thank you so much for stopping by. See you again soon.

Putting our stamp on the Reset

Our second move — from rental to new house — has posed some interesting creative opportunities. This house is much more open with more flexible living spaces, making how we want to use them the challenge. We think we’re getting a handle on it, and Steve and I have dived in, unpacking boxes and making the Reset our own. For someone who loves tweaking and arranging as much as I do, this is the perfect project. 

Once we saw the “flex room” under construction, Steve and I knew it would make a great library.

Those of you who visit Ivy & Ironstone regularly know I am a book lover and find it nearly impossible to part with many of my books. Add to that a shelf or two of books that I have kept from my parents, as well as Steve’s library and you can see why we moved 28 boxes of books. (Okay, some were partial boxes, with other items included. But still, 28 boxes!) 

I have been saving images of library walls and bookshelves to a Pinterest page since long before we knew we were moving, so you can imagine I had plenty of ideas on how to stow my library. And this house has a “flex” room off the foyer that Steve and I both thought would be perfect for a wall of book shelves.

Sourcing the shelves

Now that we had the space, we had to find the shelves. Months ago i started looking into buying finished book shelves. That resulted in serious sticker shock. I knew it would be pricey, but yikes! I decided to search out other options just to see. Our realtor suggested her handyman, so after we moved in I asked him to come by and look at what I had in mind. Alas, I had a “furniture look” in mind and that was not at all what he was envisioning. So, I’m saving his talents for other tasks, but I still needed the shelves and a place for all those books. 

Along the way, Steve and I had both been attracted to some Ikea hacks, including more than one involving their various bookshelf components. We made a few trips to Ikea checking out the options in person, coming home to measure again (and again!), and then finally purchasing three Hemnes bookcases in the black-brown finish. They’re made of solid pine with six shelves, five of them adjustable and one fixed for added stability. This was not a huge financial investment, so we thought we’d give it a try. 

Originally, we assumed we’d use four bookshelves because that fit the length of wall perfectly, but the shelves are deeper than the adjacent wall. We didn’t think we’d like the idea of them extending five or six inches into the doorway. We also thought we would choose white, but decided it might be a little “blah” against the pale walls and all the white trim. I knew I was going to use these shelves to show off some of our collectibles, and the dark background is a great foil for the ironstone and transferware I’ve used there.

The shelves went together easily, but assembly definitely took time.
We used additional hardware to anchor the frames together and then to the wall.
Once the shelves were up and anchored, I literally flew into action unpacking books, collectibles and arranging. This was so much fun!

The shelves need some finishing touches: some trim top and bottom and perhaps some lighting. But we had to stop here and move on to other projects just to get the boxes unpacked. Here’s some of the styling I did with pitchers, baskets and candlesticks.

 

I had not started out thinking I would put my baskets on top of the bookshelves, but I think they really work!
I used to gang all these candlesticks on my dining room table (with candles of course) and I loved that look. So, I tried it here, I just couldn’t fit in the candles!

Lessons from moving a collection

One of the things I’ve learned in the moving process is that I need to let go of some of my ironstone and transferware collections. This is in part a space consideration. I just don’t have the display space I once did. But I’m also opting for a leaner, cleaner look. When the realtors finished staging our former home for sale, I wasn’t at all thrilled about what they kept and what they removed, but I really liked the cleaner look. And to tell you the truth the house was beginning to look a little too granny-ish. So my new mantra is “keep the best, let go of the rest. “ 

I know I said I left five pitchers on top here, but I “borrowed” one for flowers on the kitchen island. And I just noticed the crooked print hanging above. Oops!

When I was styling the bookshelf, I used four of my favorite ironstone pitchers. Then I put another five of the best and biggest ones atop another cabinet. But I still have eight of them on a shelf behind this cabinet door, along with assorted sugar bowls, sauce tureens, etc. I used to think that I could never have enough white ironstone; now I’m not so sure.  

I have always loved collections — the bigger the better — and the character they lend to a space. And frankly I love the look of the blue and white transferware, the ironstone and the shelf of brass candlesticks on the library wall. I could “rotate my stock” from time to time or I could have a sale. What would you do? 

Thank you so much for stopping by. It’s taken me a while to get my head out of the boxes and back into the blog. But there’s so much more to talk about, like what I’ve been reading (did you see my Instagram post of the Book Loft in German Village), what I’ve cooked now that my kitchen is open for business, and have you seen “Downton Abbey: A New Era” ?

See you again soon!

Making my case for baskets

Handmade, contemporary baskets that mimic antique designs and techniques..

When I wrote a post on collecting sweetgrass baskets, here, I was only telling part of my basket story. It goes way beyond those hand-crafted treasures from the low country.

A  bit of history: My basket “thing” started out simply enough as a single girl in my first apartment. Baskets were a cheap, cozy way to corral miscellaneous kitchen tools, makeup, whatever was loose and needed a home in a small space. (This was long before The Container Store had effectively organized all of us.)

However, as my space and resources grew, so did the basket collection. Eventually my taste changed. Craftsmanship topped utility. I trimmed my collection to make room for hand-crafted and antique examples. Although my current collection ranges from the utilitarian, (holding onions and potatoes in the pantry or spare soap and cold remedies in the linen closet) and includes a stack of large, handled baskets that held gifts of flowers or foodstuffs, it’s the old and/or handcrafted ones I am drawn to.

The handmade examples

In addition to my sweetgrass collection, I’m always on the look-out for hand-crafted baskets like the large, black round one, above, that I use to stash current magazines. I bought it years ago at a folk art show and am especially fond of the black paired with the yellow handle and rim. It’s the work of a modern folk artist. The taller, natural basket in the foreground is made by the same craftsman as the black one. It’s really very sturdy.  I’ve been using it as a wastebasket, but is it too nice for that? Finally, the one in the back, with greenery right now, came from the same folk art vendor as the other two. I acquired all three over the course of several years at a folk art fair  I used to attend. Unfortunately the fair no longer exists, but I appreciate the handmade treasures I bought there. And I’m very glad I bought them when I found them!

I’m beginning to look more closely at the basket traditions of other countries, often so different because the materials and aesthetic are distinct. Different materials mean different colors and textures.This french market basket is one of two I brought back from our last trip abroad. The squared-off shape and sturdy leather handles are designed to carry a shopper’s cheese, produce, sausage, etc. home from the weekly market.

This is a working basket. Many market baskets have a flared shape at the top, perhaps making it easier to hold flowers or baguettes, and some even have shoulder-length handles. When it’s not looking pretty styled with fresh or faux flowers and greenery, I can use it to scoop up miscellaneous books, papers, and mail if I’m trying to quickly tidy a space.  No wonder French homes have a stash of market baskets in all shapes and sizes!

Metal baskets?

I’m glad you asked.  Early in my basket-collecting life, a remarkably astute friend who knew how to choose the absolute perfect present, gave me this silver basket as a wedding gift.  She said she saw it in a window and immediately thought of my basket habit. This definitely put a whole new spin on my collection! I’ve used it to hold crackers or cookies and, often, to hold a plant. But it’s certainly pretty enough to stand on its own.

Along the way, I have acquired a handful of woven metal examples. I think the one below holding books is vintage as opposed to antique. Some are sturdier than others. I use this one to hold some books on top of a dresser. The much finer wire basket with the handles reminds me of French egg baskets, but I just don’t know anything about its provenence. The taller metal basket with the flared rim has an industrial vibe to it. I’ve been using it for paper waste next to my desk.

Sometimes you just have to go big!

When I find pieces like these, below, I pounce! I don’t know if either one of these is especially collectible or precious, although the wheeled basket on the right is unlike any others I’ve seen. It reminds me of taller versions used in France to hold baguettes in a boulangerie. I bought these baskets to hold spare quilts and pillows.

Do you remember the laundry baskets our mothers and/or grandmothers had for carrying wet clothes “out to the line”? I still have my mother’s natural wicker one as well as a newer white version (I have no idea where it came from). We’ve been tripping over both of them in the basement for years and my husband kept trying to sneak them into the “giveaway pile.” I just couldn’t part with Mom’s basket, but I found a solution. (That long blank wall in the finished basement needed a little something. Baskets to the rescue!)

 

Battered, brittle, & beautiful

Finally, I have a handful of antique baskets like these. They are not in really great shape (that would have made them far too pricey for my collecting budget), but they are lovable despite their fragile condition. I’ve had pieces of fiber snap off in my hand and I recently got a nasty splinter from one of them, so they just spend a lot of time on top of cabinets or bookcases, looking pretty, but not subject to excess weight or handling.

 

By now you have noticed that I use most of my baskets, some decoratively and others more practically. It gives me genuine pleasure to make these pieces part of my everyday life, to anonymously honor the artisans who fashioned them. I’ve thought a lot about why we all like baskets. Sometimes they’re just cute. They’re often purposeful whether they are serving chips or holding firewood. Some — like my french market basket — are also souvenirs. Their natural material is appealing and seems to work in any decor. In many respects, I think they have been an “accidental collection.” They started as utilitarian objects, but I kept refining the choices.

What about you? Do you have a collection that started unintentionally? I’d love to hear about it!

Thanks for stopping by to read. See you next time!

 

Fall started with a manicure

My husband gave me this bowl years ago, and I really do love it! It’s perfect for big, mixed arrangements.

I stopped for a manicure the other day, then realized, as I was heading back to my car, that Trader Joe’s (which shares the parking lot) had an interesting variety of pumpkins piled outside. Of course, I checked out the display and they were even more appealing up close, not to mention well-priced!

And that was the nudge that pushed me into fall.

In truth, I had already picked up a few cute pumpkins and updated planters with mums, the latter because the previous blooms had totally withered in the last of summer’s heat. Now, however, I was into the new season. I cut two big buckets of drying hydrangea blooms and arranged them into several plump bouquets.

More than that, however, I began my quest for my own pumpkin patch in the front yard. It’s a challenge to see how many different kinds of pumpkins I can find — green, pink, white, orange — and I also have to protect them from from nibbling by squirrels, rabbits, and whoever else stops by for a bite of pumpkin. And don’t get me started on how easily specimens with soft spots or tiny breaks in their skin can readily rot into messy, mushy piles. (If it sounds like I have had experience with this, you are right.)

Here’s the font yard patch: three different oranges and a pink (!!!) pumpkin.

This is my patch from a few years ago.

This year I armed myself for serious pumpkin protection (or maybe I just need a hobby?). I washed them with soapy water seasoned with a splash of bleach. After they were dry, I spread them on a drop cloth and sprayed them with a clear coat sealer. I have no idea if these precautions will work, but they come from other bloggers who seem to know what they’re talking about. (Which really means they take their seasonal decorating much more seriously than I do.)

Pumpkins getting the “preservative treatment.”

I’ve also done my best to spread some autumnal cheer inside. I have an admirable collection of dried gourds, collected over several years, that I rely on for inside scene-setting at this time of year, but they are currently trapped under the basement stairs behind bookcases and toolboxes re-located for the duration of our drainage repairs (which should be wrapping up in another week or two. Hooray!!). So instead, I’m using more pumpkins, fruit, fresh and faux leaves to set the scene inside.

I piled my ceramic pumpkins from Berea, Kentucky, along with some some baby boos and a few real ones here on the antique dresser in the living room.

 

Then I thought about how good orange looks with blue and white, so I tried this in the dining room.

 

Finally I paired one of my buckets of hydrangeas with these pumpkins on the back porch!

Most importantly this has fed my puttering/tweaking gene, which spills over into a bit of fall cleaning, polishing and generally dusting-up. (My grandma would be pleased.) My house needed the attention and I needed the “therapy.”

I’m so glad I stopped for that manicure!

Thanks for stopping by. See you next time?

I’m skipping Christmas in July

I’m not sure who came up with the idea of Christmas in July, but I am not buying into it. Not the Hallmark movies, not the Christmas in July decorating blog posts, and definitely not the pre-, pre-season sale on artificial trees. And I have my reasons.

July is the heart of the summer. It’s the long, sweet stretch between school years. It should be celebrated with more than picnics and fireworks on the 4th, but with entire days spent at the pool or popsicles for lunch. July is long and luxurious, reading a book in front of a fan. Yes it’s hot and sticky (especially this year!) and sometimes stormy. And even if you can’t get away to the mountains or the beach, there’s always the hose. (On the hottest days, I always “need” to hose down the patio.)

And then there’s the food: sliced, salted tomatoes straight from the garden, sweet corn, cold shrimp or chicken for supper, the best watermelon. This is all the stuff that’s so out of place at Christmas, when we’re thinking hot chocolate and fancy cookies.

Christmas should be savored in its own season.

Christmas is sacred and special. If we preview it six months ahead of time, we risk watering it down. The holiday season is its own, magical, list-making, secret-sharing time. Christmas (and for that matter Hanukah and Kwanza) are nothing like July. It’s about the Christ Child, angels and three wise men, not to mention shorter days, holiday lights, and hoping for snow.

Of course, it’s a busy time and we need to prepare. The smartest among us do just that. But I think the best of us do so quietly, so the holiday season opens with us ready to enjoy the celebration. Otherwise we risk being talked-out and tired of it before the first bells jingle. And don’t tell me you haven’t bemoaned the appearance of holiday goods in stores as soon as the school supplies are sold out.

If you rush Christmas, you could miss something good. I really don’t want to miss back-to-school, falling leaves and Halloween. I want to enjoy decorating with pumpkins and gourds. I do not want to miss Thanksgiving.

I speak from experience

Back in the dark ages, in my twenty-something career before having a family, I was a buyer for a gift catalog. Christmas was our bread and butter. We worked on it all year, literally. In February and March we made the rounds of the gift, toy and holiday shows where we selected items for consideration in the holiday catalogs. In May and June we finalized the merchandise, designed the pages and wrote the copy. In July we delivered it to the printer and signed off on the proofs so the catalog could mail in September. (The print industry runs well-ahead of the calendar.)

By the time Christmas rolled around, we’d already “been there, done that” and were scheduling ahead to start again in February. I used to say I was getting twice as old in half the time. When I left that industry, I was anxious to reset the calendar and live in the present. I haven’t looked back.

Go ahead and savor Christmas in July if you must. I’m fortunate to be writing this from the beach in South Carolina, where life is sandy and salty. And there is no way I’m going to rush the season!

Thanks for stopping by. See you again soon!

 

 

 

It’s good to be a girl & other July musings

My daughter and I at Chicago Shakespeare this spring. I just need to brag about her a bit below.

Actually, it’s good to be a woman. “Woman” is more politically correct, but “girl” suits my copywriter’s alliterative habits. So, why is it good? Have you followed the news this week?

Congratulations to fifteen-year old Cori “Coco” Grauff for beating Venus Williams in her opening round at Wimbledon. She is the youngest player ever to qualify for the legendary tournament and credits Williams with inspiring her to pick up her first racket. And, she’s continued to win! It would be easy to call this a Cinderella story, but you don’t get to Wimbledon without talent and a lifetime of hard work. And when you continue to win, you’re on your game!

Then there is the U. S. Women’s Soccer Team. I must admit I am not a huge soccer fan. Back in the day, when my kids played, I never really understood the game and I still have not acquired a real appreciation for its finer points. (I had to give up soccer for volleyball and football!). But I am overwhelmed by the athleticism and competitive drive of this team. They play hard every minute of every game. And they play together. And it shows.

Sometimes Mom just has to brag

My daughter Maggie is a photographer by avocation and regularly shares her photos on Instagram. (In fact, after she got me going on this blog, she nudged me onto IG too!) Thanks to IG, she’s been invited to share her work at an upcoming Chicago showcase. How cool is that! Here’s a sample of her shots around the city.

 

 

My IG view of the Fourth

I’ve spent a little (or a lot?) of time lately, sitting on our shaded porch and cruising through Instagram, enjoying a variety of takes on red, white and blue in honor of the 4th of July. Here are a few favorites.

First, I love this display of a beloved family flag.

 

 

I’m sure if I looked in the right folder I would find the original shot of this wall-mounted flag. I know I tore this from a magazine. I love everything about it: the flag (of course), the bench below it, the open landing and that beautiful railing. Isn’t it amazing how a single magazine page can come back to us so many years years later and its appeal is as fresh as ever?

 

The flags here are a nice, subtle salute to the season, but what I really love about this image is the cabinetry. I want those shelves and their neat, glass-paned doors.

 

Shirley is a fabulous flower arranger, so it’s no surprise that she can turn a handful of flags into a bouquet in blue and white. She even arranged them in moss! The result is crisp and summery and perfect for the entire season.

 

So, how is your holiday weekend shaping up? It’s warm and summery here, the garden is flourishing, and we’re off to the beach soon. Yes, it is July!

Thanks for stopping by. See you next time?

Looks, cooks, and books from May

One of my favorite perennials, these are much earlier than my Shasta daisies and far more prolific.

Perhaps you’ve noticed? I’ve been in a bit of a blog funk, waiting for a spring that teased rather than settling in, getting caught up in a big round of volunteer meetings, and more. But I’m back. And here are the looks, cooks, and books I’ve been up to lately.

Digging in the dirt

It happens every spring. Like the fans who love getting back to baseball, I’m eager to get out to my garden. The season is short in Chicago, so you need to make the time count. I love seeing the perennials push their way up each spring, unfolding and leafing out. I worry over gaps, where a plant didn’t survive the winter or where I made a note last year to fill in with another specimen. I love this! It’s like styling a bookshelf or tabletop, but with plants in the dirt.

This year the cool, rainy spring has been both blessing and curse. The good news is that many of the perennials like hostas, dallies, and astilbes have loved the cool, wet spring. They are bigger than ever and many need to be divided. The bad news is that it is absolutely squishy and muddy in most of the yard. It’s just too wet to work.

I’m also challenging the familiar garden pot recipe — a thriller, a filler and a spiller — in patio pots this year. I did some like that and then planted a few others with just one kind of plant per pot. I had this idea last year, but didn’t quite get it done, so this year I planted two pots with nothing but cosmos. And I filled another pot with three marguerites, though I also tucked in some alyssum around the edges. They’re doing well, but the plants need to get bigger to make more of a statement.

After I planted cosmos seeds in one pot, I found these at the garden center and loved the color.

I read Harry Potter!

You’re probably saying, been there, done that. Well, I didn’t. (And I didn’t watch the movies either. I was waiting until I read the books!) Now that our eight-year-old grandson has started reading them, I’m catching up. I totally understand what the fuss is about because these are wonderful characters and stories. Second, and even better, it’s just so much fun sharing this discovery with Jack! He’s well ahead of me (of course), but a great cheerleader so I’ll be catching up.

When I finished Harry, I went on to The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid. This was the choice of one of the readers in a small, informal book group I meet with. Our choices are all over the map: fiction, non-fiction, especially biography, and sometimes we skip a book and watch a film together instead. This is a page-turner, about an aging Hollywood legend telling her life story — which includes seven husbands! — to a much younger writer mysteriously selected for the job. Check it out!

Two from my kitchen

When it’s too rainy to be outside (and we’ve had a lot of rain, have you?), I play in the kitchen. I discovered this recipe for copycat Starbucks blueberry muffins on the Cafe Sucre Farine. I happen to love those muffins (and have eaten more than my fair share of them), so I decided to see how close they really come. Well. they’re awesome and they do bake up with these lovely puffy, crunchy tops. There are a few extra steps in this recipe, but I think they’re worth it.

I’ve also been perfecting this chicken dish, recommended by Elizabeth at Blue & White Home. It began as a Southern Living sheet pan recipe using chicken thighs and drumsticks. And in that incarnation (check their website for Lemon-Rosemay-Garlic Chicken and Potatoes) I agree with Elizabeth that it’s perfect for serving a family or friends.

I wanted to try using white meat (my husband’s preference) in a smaller quantity. I’ve now made it three times, tweaking a bit each time. I used two, skin-on, bone -in chicken breasts (more than enough for our dinner and leftovers for a salad or two for me later in the week). While the oven preheated to 450, I browned the chicken pieces skin-side down along with a few handfuls of small potatoes, halved, in a small amount of olive oil. Use a pan than can go right into the hot oven.

While the chicken was browning I mixed 1/3 cup of olive oil, the juice of 1 lemon (about 1/4 cup), half of a 3.5 ounce jar of capers drained, 4 smashed garlic cloves, and a generous tablespoon of fresh rosemary. I also sliced up another lemon and added that to the mix.

When the chicken was browned on one side, I turned chicken skin side up, poured the lemon/oil/herb mix over all and put the pan into the hot oven. It took about 40 minutes to reach 165 degrees. (It could be longer if you have more pieces in a larger pan). When it was done, I took the chicken and potatoes out and added a generous splash of white wine and a pat of butter to the pan juices and stirred and simmered for a few minutes until both were incorporated. I spooned this “sauce” over the plated chicken and potatoes. Voila! Dinner is served.

 

Pretty pictures

Some days Instagram is so full of great images, I just have to save some. I have always loved a sunroom, especially with a black & white floor, but this one with the baby grand breaks all the rules!

 

And then there is this beautiful vintage frame, with the asymmetrical arrangement of blue and white. (Yes, I’m trying to figure how to duplicate it!)

 

And finally, I just can’t resist a pretty windowbox!

           

How was your May? And what’s your plan for June?

Thanks for stopping by. See you again soon!