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Love (or at least a healthy dose of obsession) made me do it!

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Sometimes as a designer I will come across an idea, an inspiration that stops me in my tracks and consumes my thoughts. My mind starts spinning with “where can I put that in my home” and “do I have a budget to make this work”… I begin to explore and research what I’ve found until ultimately either A) I talk myself out of it (my husband will say that this never happens, but it actually does), or B) I find a way to make it happen. Several weeks ago, one such moment of inspiration happened, and it was such a fun project that I wanted to share it with you.

I had recently started working with a new client who wanted custom bedding for four bedrooms in a new home that she was purchasing. She knew her style well, and insisted that Ralph Lauren Alpine Lodge was the design she wanted, and the bedding was to be custom made from the fabrics in this collection. My first step was to sign up for a trade account with Ralph Lauren Home. I have long admired Ralph Lauren’s style, and was excited to have a project with this focus. I logged on to the website and made my way to the homepage for trade members… admiring everything along the way. And then it happened! There on the trade member page was a photo that stopped me in my tracks. A beautiful glass cabinet filled with vintage demijohns.

The inspiration photo! Source: Ralph Lauren Home

The inspiration photo! Source: Ralph Lauren Home

For those who follow me on Instagram, you probably already know that I am quite fond of vintage demijohns. My mother had found a collection of them sitting next to a dumpster in Germany long before I was born, and she had taken a few, one of which now belongs to me. This bottle from Germany was the beginning of my humble collection, a collection that had never been displayed in the manner that it truly deserved. But now, here it was, the perfect cabinet to display these pieces that meant so much to me. I had the perfect place in my bedroom for it! All I needed to do was replace the old wardrobe/tv cabinet that I had purchased at a Williams-Sonoma corporate sample sale for $150 a decade ago.

I eagerly searched the Ralph Lauren site to find the cabinet… praying it was still available. It was!!! AND… it was $13,000.00! Crap! That wasn’t going to happen. I was at the tail-end of a very long, very expensive renovation of my home. My husband would have a stroke if I bought this cabinet (even with the trade discount). But it was too late, I couldn’t un-see what I had seen. I couldn’t let go of the idea. This started a month-long search for the perfect cabinet. But any cabinet that I found would have big shoes to fill! If I can’t do something right, I would rather not do it. And if I was going to substitute the perfect cabinet for something else, it couldn’t feel like a compromise.

My little mahogany sample sale find from a decade ago

My little mahogany sample sale find from a decade ago

The search yielded a few contenders that were very nice, but still beyond a price that I felt comfortable with. This cabinet was going to need to be elegant, and a bargain. I was getting frustrated and a little sad. One afternoon as I stood in the bedroom on the verge of admitting defeat, I looked at the little Pottery Barn TV cabinet that had served me so well, and a vision began to form. This little mahogany cabinet could work! It could have an entirely new life… a life that would fit my budget! Thus began the project.

The first step was to let go of the concept of making this cabinet look just like the one I had found at Ralph Lauren Home. I had to let my little sample sale find speak to me about its own potential. It had the right foundation… simple lines and understated style (nothing fussy about it), perfect.

Here is what happened next:

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1) Hardware removed.

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2) Lightly sand cabinet with a fine-grit sandpaper.

Just enough to rough the surface and give the paint something to grab hold of.

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3) Clean cabinet with a degreasing spray.

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4) Apply primer to the cabinet.

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Primed!

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5) Paint cabinet. For this project I chose Sherwin Williams Caviar. It will take at least two layers depending on color choice.

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Two coats of SW Caviar.

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6) For this cabinet I wanted a time-worn look, so I painted a third layer using chalk paint in carbon. I followed this step immediately by hand-rubbing a final light layer of SW Caviar using a rag (this lets the chalk paint show through in places).

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7) To bring in a hint of the warm wood tones that I wanted, I ordered a custom butcher block in white oak.

www.countrymouldings.com

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8) To hide the ugly TV panel in the back, I ordered a custom antiqued mirror and installed it with epoxy.

www.etsy.com: James, Custom Mirror Designs

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9) To achieve the wide open glass-front look of the inspiration cabinet, I had custom glass-front doors made. They even followed my painting technique to match the rest of the cabinet.

www.coloradofinewoodworks.com

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10) Add my collection of old demijohns.

The finished cabinet! Total cost: $1,300.00.

The finished cabinet! Total cost: $1,300.00.

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Let there be light!

Beautiful fabric, quality construction, accessories lovingly selected to align with the design vision… all are important considerations when planning a space. However, without appropriate lighting all other elements of a design plan will fail to live up to their potential. Proper lighting doesn’t always receive the credit it is due… when it is done well, the space is easy to live in, even if the inhabitants don’t know exactly why they enjoy the space so much. And when it is not done well, people may dislike the space, and think to themselves “I really don't like this place” without realizing that a solution might be relatively simple.

If you don’t like a space, take the first step by understanding why you don’t like it:

If you aren’t happy with a space in your home, take the time to dissect and understand what exactly you don’t like about the space. Is it something functional? Do everyday tasks seem like a chore? Perhaps the issue is with layout of the rooms, placement of the furniture, or organizational issues. But if the issue is that your home feels dark, flat and lifeless, it makes you feel weighted down or maybe even depressed, or if your eyes hurt at the end of the day… the problem might be improper lighting. Does the room have windows? If there are windows, are the windows covered with heavy drapery materials, or otherwise blocked from letting light in? What kind of lighting do you have in the room? And what do you use the room for? What kind of coloring is in the room? This is not to say that everything has to be light and bright, but if you are going to have deep moody colors in a room, pay particular attention to the lighting. Dark colors absorb light, while lighter colors reflect it.

I should back up for a minute. Let’s begin by talking about different kinds of lighting in a space:

Natural Lighting

 

In a word: Sunlight. Natural light can do wonders for a space, but it is constantly changing… from mid-day to sunset, summer to winter, clear skies to cloudy. It is important to pay attention to natural light in a space. When you are considering finishes like paint color in a room, they may often appear to look different depending on these factors, which is why most professional designers will suggest placing a sample of a finish in a room to see what it looks like under these varying conditions (as well as at night with the other types of light described below).

                                                                                                      (source: Pinterest)

 

Ambient Lighting

 

Is a source of light that illuminates a room, spreading out rather than being focused in a specific direction or on a particular object. Think of it as the overall wash of light in a space… it’s base that allows people to navigate. Ambient lighting may have functional purposes, but it is mostly responsible for creating a sense of “mood” in a space.

(source: http://www.securatel.co.nz/ambient-light-wellington)

 

 

Task Lighting

 

Task lighting is used… well… for tasks. This is the working light that should be used when you’re paying bills or using the computer at the desk, reading a book on the sofa at night, or cooking and doing homework in the kitchen. Task lighting illuminates the work area, and saves your eyes from becoming strained and tiered.  

(source: http://www.candlesofeden.com/the-different-layers-of-lighting-for-your-office-space/)

 

 

Accent Lighting

 

Also known as directional lighting, it focuses the attention on something like an object or a surface that you want to draw attention to. Table lamps and track lights are examples of accent lighting. I personally also consider spotlights (used to highlight a sculpture, painting, etc.) as accent lighting, although there are other people who would put lighting like this in its own category of aesthetic lighting.

(source: www.interiordesignarticle.com)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now… what about the light-bulbs?

So… you have decided on the best light source for the space. And unless you’ve determined that you need more natural light, and want to remove walls or enlarge windows, you’re probably thinking the rest is easy… Put in an LED light-bulb and call it a day, right? They last so much longer after all, right? Let’s take a quick look at the difference between various types of bulbs: Incandescent, Halogen, CFL, and LED.

(I am not the technical expert on light-bulbs, and have sourced the following information from Mike Prospero www.tomsguide.com and https://www.superbrightleds.com/blog/led-vs-incandescent-vs-halogen/707/)

 

Incandescent:

This well-known lighting type is the most dated and least efficient. Much like in a space heater, an electric current passes through thin filament wire, which heats the filament until it glows. Heat radiates outward from the space heater as it does in an incandescent bulb, and only a small portion of the energy created is converted into usable light; the considerable amount of heat burns the bulb’s tungsten filament until it breaks.

What you should know:

  • Incandescent bulbs use—at most—10 percent of the energy they consume to make visible light; the other 90 percent is wasted heat.

  • They produce a considerable amount of infrared (IR) and ultraviolet (UV) radiation that can be damaging to fabrics and artwork.

  • They’re designed to last just 1,200 hours.

  • Incandescent bulbs have a fragile glass envelope and brittle filament wire.

  • These bulbs are relatively cheap but consume a lot of energy  

  • They create a warm yellow light.

 

Halogen:

Halogen bulbs are similar to incandescent bulbs but with a couple minor differences. They contain a tungsten filament, but unlike in incandescent bulbs, a small amount of halogen gas mixes with tungsten vapor and deposits it back onto the filament instead of on the inside of the bulb envelope. This process extends the bulb’s lifespan and allows it to work at a much higher temperature than incandescent bulbs, which increases light output. A quartz envelope is used instead of glass because of its ability to handle higher temperatures. 

What you should know:

  • Halogen bulbs come in many shapes but are commonly used as PAR, BR, AR, and MR spotlight or flood light bulbs.

  • They produce a considerable amount of infrared (IR) and ultraviolet (UV) radiation that can be damaging to fabrics and artwork.

  • These bulbs require an extremely hot running temperature to produce light and can cause burns if touched; the high temperature also prevents these bulbs from functioning as well in cold environments.

  • Halogen bulbs are extremely sensitive to skin oils, which can cause them to malfunction or burst.

  • They last approximately 3,600 hours—three times longer than incandescent bulbs—but are not as efficient as compact fluorescent lamps (CFL) or LED bulbs.

  • Halogen bulbs have a fragile quartz envelope and brittle filament wire.

  • Because they operate at higher temperatures, halogen bulbs have higher color temperatures and produce brighter light than incandescent bulbs.

(source: https://www.superbrightleds.com/blog/led-vs-incandescent-vs-halogen/707/)

 

Compact Fluorescent (CFL):

CFLs contain mercury gas that produces ultraviolet (UV) light when electricity is introduced to the gas. CFL bulbs are ugly… so… moving on!

(source: that’s from me)

 

Light-Emitting Diodes (LEDs):

LEDs produce the longest-lasting, most energy-efficient lighting available today. A semiconductor rich in electrons and a semiconductor rich in holes are used to create an LED. Passing a current through the junction of these two materials combines the electrons with the holes and produces photons, which is the light that you see. LEDs have endless application possibilities, such as under-cabinet, landscape, vehicle, work, home, industrial, and commercial lighting.

What you should know:

  • LEDs run much cooler than incandescent and halogen bulbs, which greatly increases their longevity and enables them to function in cold temperatures.

  • Unless an LED is specifically infrared (IR) or ultraviolet (UV), it produces little to no IR or UV radiation, which can be damaging to fabrics and artwork.

  • They can last up to 50,000 hours—42 times longer than incandescent bulbs and 13 times longer than halogen bulbs.

  • Power consumption is the lowest compared to all other lighting technologies—80 percent less than incandescent bulbs and 75 percent less than halogen bulbs.

  • The shatterproof bulbs are shock resistant and have no brittle filaments.

  • LEDs require higher initial investment but produce greater energy returns over time.

  • LEDs contain no mercury, harmful gasses, or toxins.

  • They are available in many different whites and colors.

  • Because of their low power consumption, LEDs are great alternative lighting solutions for solar-powered systems.

(source: https://www.superbrightleds.com/blog/led-vs-incandescent-vs-halogen/707/)

LED color temperature

When they first came out, LED bulbs emitted a bluish light that many found harsh compared to the “warmer” light cast by traditional bulbs. However, LED makers now offer LED bulbs that emit different color temperatures, measured in Kelvin. Here are a few that you’ll most likely find at a home improvement store:

2700K: These bulbs will be labeled “soft white,” and will cast a gentle warm glow that’s good for the bedroom, as well as table and floor lamps.

3000K: “Bright White” bulbs have a more neutral glow, being neither warm nor cool.

5000K: Lights that are 5000K and higher will typically have a “daylight” label, and edge towards the bluer part of the spectrum. However, they will best approximate actual sunlight.

(source: Mike Prospero www.tomsguide.com)

Hopefully this information shows you that lighting should not be taken lightly :). It is a key piece in any design plan for creating a space that is welcoming, user-friendly, and conveys the subtlety or drama that you want it to.

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Repurpose, RECYCLE, Reuse

The message is not a new one… Instagram and Pinterest are full of fabulous examples of items being used in unexpected ways… the old ladder being used as a towel rack, wooden milk crates being used as wall shelves, or architectural elements like doors and windows being used as décor. Using unexpected items in new and interesting ways introduces an element of warmth and interest, as well as allowing us to put a creative and personal stamp on our space.

The ashtray in my feature photo was purchased by my mother in India decades ago. I have had it with me since college, but it sat in a drawer for many years because I couldn’t see beyond its original purpose… until one day when I decided it would be the perfect piece to hold eucalyptus hand scrub in a powder room. It is wonderful having it out on display in such an unexpected way!

Throughout the years I have gathered pieces found mostly from my grandfather’s cattle ranch in Montana, or from family travels through Europe and Asia. These pieces now grace my home, often times in ways that their creators probably never intended. A chofa from the 1800’s sits on the corner of a desk in the living room, and the coffee table centerpiece is an Indian urlui. My father always chuckles when he sees old gate locks and singletrees from the ranch intermingled with art and Thai textiles on a gallery wall, but truth-be-told I think he loves seeing new life being brought to these utilitarian pieces from his childhood. I certainly do!

Below, I’ve gathered a few favorite repurposed items to share with you, both from my own collection and elsewhere:

Windmill:

Using unexpected items like the wings of a windmill as décor or as a ceiling fan makes a statement!

*source: Laundry Basket Quilts (laundrybasketquilts.com)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Architect’s Canoe Maquette:

A model used to construct canoes. Other interesting forms that can be used as display include shoe and hat molds.

*source: Restoration Hardware (www.rh.com)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Indonesian Oyster Branches:

Placed in the water by fisherman to culture oysters and mussels, which would grow on the wood, leaving a unique texture after many years of use.

*source: Restoration Hardware (www.rh.com)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Textile Stamps:

Usually made of hand-carved wood and used to print on fabrics. Love using them on this small wall that needed a little something.

*source: Pam Sunderman Design

 

 

 

 

 

Buddhist Temple Roof Finials (Chofas):

Found throughout Southeast Asia. Chofas are the roof finials found on the ends of Buddhist Temple roofs.

*source: Pam Sunderman Design

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cooking Pots from India (Urluis):

A traditional Indian cooking pot, they are now often used as decoration both inside the home, in a garden, or on a patio. Perfect for floating flowers or candles!

*source: photo by Pam Sunderman

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Wine and Acid Bottles:

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My mother started this collection when she found a couple of acid bottles sitting next to a dumpster in Germany. I have since added vintage wine bottles to the collection from France and Italy.

*source: Pam Sunderman Design

 

 

 

 

 

Once you begin thinking beyond an item’s original purpose, a world of creative opportunity opens up for styling your home. It would be impossible in this short blog to share all of the creative ways to repurpose and reuse items in your home. The most important thing to share is that you should have fun with it, and see where it takes you! I would love to see how you have reimagined items in your home, and hope you will send a comment about your fabulous projects!

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Plan, Paint, Pillows, Placement… Updating Your Home on a Budget

I think it might be embedded in our DNA… that “itch” that restless urge to refresh our home. We watch the popular renovation programming on HGTV or DIY network, and flip through design magazines with a ravenous hunger for inspiration and ideas. However, for many people, when it comes time to actually put these ideas into practice knowing where or how to start stops us in our tracks… the inspiration turns to intimidation. What if I do something wrong? What about the budget? So often what has inspired us, has been accomplished with a large budget. So, what if you don’t have a big budget for your update… no worries. Let’s remove some of the intimidation by breaking the project down into a few manageable sections that can be accomplished with a smaller budget: plan, paint, pillows, placement.

PLAN:

Image Source: sophierobinson.co.uk

Image Source: sophierobinson.co.uk

Before diving in, start by organizing all that inspiration into something manageable. You’ve spent hours walking through furniture stores and studying photos of rooms and furniture that speak to you. But now you struggle with translating all that you’ve seen into an actual plan for your home. Start with a mood board.

This is a collage of photos and samples of fabrics, flooring, tile, and décor gathered in a composition. A mood board will help to organize your inspiration and give you an idea of how things will look together. Start with a photo of a room that inspires you, and then gather samples of the finishes that have been used in the room. Most stores offer samples of carpet, flooring, tile, and fabric for free or a minimal cost. If a sample is not available, take a photo. Paint samples are readily available at hardware and paint stores. Pay attention to details like texture, and color when gathering samples. Is the color warm, or cool? Is the metal table that inspires you shiny, or distressed? What is the texture of the fabric or finish that inspires you… is it chunky, sheer, smooth? Look for samples that have those same qualities.

Now that you have your mood board, it is time to translate your vision into your actual living space. This is when it becomes necessary to align your vision with your budget. Big changes can happen on a small budget by focusing on paint, pillows, and placement.

PAINT: there is no greater cost-effective way to make a substantial change in a space than paint. Walls, cabinets, and some furniture can all be completely transformed by paint, and can bring your inspiration to life by keeping a few things in mind.

Warm vs. Cool Tones

All color has either a warm or cool undertone, meaning it has a blue base or a yellow base. Warm colors (yellow base) go from red through yellow-green while cool colors (blue base) go from green through red-violet. A good way to begin training your eye to see these undertones is by visiting the paint section of your local hardware store and studying the color samples. Begin in the white paint section… there are hundreds of shades of white, look closely… does the sample have a cool tone, or a warm tone? As you train your eye to see what those undertones are, you will begin to recognize it in other colors as well. Color can be complicated, but as a general rule you will want to choose warm or cool tones rather than mixing the two. Warm tones will make a space feel more intimate, while cool tones will make a space feel more open.

Finding Colors that Complement

Understanding the relationship between colors can be daunting. Using a color wheel can help you make choices that work best together.  At the most basic level there are monochromatic colors (various tints, tones, or shades of one color), complementary colors (colors that are positioned directly across from one another on the color wheel), split complementary (your key color and the two colors on either side of its complement), triad (using three colors equally spaced on the color wheel), tetrad (a combination of four colors that are two sets of complements on the color wheel).

Use Small Samples First and Invest in a High-Quality Paint

You think you’ve found the perfect color? Excellent! But before you commit to painting an entire room take the time for two more steps:

1) Invest in a quality paint. The more pigment a paint has the better the quality. While it may seem expensive at first, you will need fewer coats… saving you both time and money in the long run.

2) Buy a small sample can of the colors first and paint it in several places in the room. You will get a better idea of how the color will look in your room once you see it in various lights, times of day, and next to other finishes like baseboards and furniture colors.

PILLOWS (and other accessories): another way to save money while updating your home is by paying attention to your pillows and accessories. It is far more cost effective to swap out your pillow covers and add a throw blanket to your sofa instead of reupholstering or buying new furniture. While you may be swooning over that emerald green velvet sofa, in the long-run it is best to begin with basic upholstered furniture in neutral colors as your foundation, and save the bold colors and patterns for the pillows and accessories. If this advice has reached you too late, don’t panic. Chair and sofa slip covers come in many shapes, sizes, and colors.  Changing rugs, art, and accessories in the room can also transform your space to the updated look you’re going for. This doesn’t always have to mean buying new. Start by shopping your home… you may already have the perfect rug or accessory in storage or another room. Also, consider having your art reframed instead of replacing it entirely.

Image Source: architectros.com

Image Source: architectros.com

PLACEMENT: simply reimagining the placement of your furniture can have a dramatic impact on how the room feels. Is all of your furniture pushed up against the walls, leaving the center of the room feeling empty?  Try anchoring the center of the room with an area rug, and pulling your sofa and chairs closer in so their front feet are on the rug.  Or, instead of having your sofa and chair at 90° from each other… try moving the chair to the far corner of the rug and turning it in toward the center.

As I mentioned earlier… shop your home. Don’t limit the furniture choices to what is already in the room. If you have a painting, rug, pair of chairs, etc. in another part of your home try them out in a new space and see how it looks.

There are principles of space planning and the flow of a room that are important such as not blocking entryways and traffic flow, but perhaps most importantly you need to be willing to experiment. See what feels right to you and what doesn’t.

Taking the time to really think about all of these details of your update will ultimately save you money in the long run because you will be happy with the results, rather than always feeling like something needs to be adjusted. If you still feel like you need help, don’t be afraid to consult a professional designer. Many offer a free consultation, and will outline a scope of work and budget that you both agree upon before getting started.

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To layer, or not to layer. Is there a question?


I was reading an article from a local magazine about decorating with style in which the opinions of three different people involved with furniture and design were shared. All three emphasized that you should fill your home with pieces that you love… and I couldn’t agree more! However, when it came to the subject of tone, the article really grabbed my attention. The first person directed readers to “honor design principles: don’t mix wood colors and keep your metals in the same family.” I had an emotional reaction to this advice, which I will get into a little later. Feeling a little disheartened, I pensively continued on with the article. When I arrived at the final design profile, it was delightful to see a bullet point that said “mix materials: natural and painted wood, shiny aluminum and rusted steel.”

I found humor in the fact that these two perspectives were sitting side by side in the same magazine article. But humor aside, it also makes an excellent point about the rules of design… and knowing when to break them.  

Early on I definitely came from the school of thought that metals and woods should all match. And I aspired to this clean and perfected cohesion in my home with an obsessive-compulsive efficiency. I loved the look, I loved how coordinated everything was, and to this day I can’t say that there’s anything wrong with wanting that kind of cohesiveness in your home. But then marriage happened to me…

Suddenly I found myself faced with a new home, new to me anyway, and a new person with attachments of his own to the things he had gathered around him throughout his life. There was no question we would live in his home. Both of us love this house! It is a 20-year-old custom home that my husband designed. The outside is inspired by the ivy-covered flagstone buildings that grace the campus of the University of Colorado in Boulder… truly one of the most beautiful campuses in America. The inside… well… the inside was a monument to late 80’s-early 90’s design. As I assessed the situation, the budget, and the priority list it became clear that there were two elements in this 5,500 square-foot home that I would need to work with: honey stained oak and brass. They were everywhere!

Had I followed the rules of the first person in the article I was reading, I would need to fill my home with brass, put in honey toned floors, and stain my furniture honey. Um… no! The circumstance facing me meant that I needed to embrace layering finishes. Not every wood color would work in this space… grey barn wood, or cherry (as examples) would have been an uncomfortable contradiction to what was here. I decided to incorporate black and very dark brown/black wood colors to mix with the traditional oak cabinetry, trim, and doors. We used a combination of new furniture and existing pieces that I updated with a mix of dark walnut and ebony stain (literally mixed… to obtain the desired color), and a rocking chair and credenza downstairs received a black paint finish. The home has wide open, soaring spaces and was able handle darker pieces without feeling weighted down or dark. To further offset any heavy feelings, I brought in earthly neutral and light colored upholstered furnishings and accessories, and winter white sheer linen drapery panels were hung on oil rubbed bronze rods near the top of the wall to highlight the height of the rooms, and coordinate with the darker wood furniture. A fresh coat of light earthy grey or brown color was painted on all the walls to further balance the space.

Throughout the house, I also mixed metal finishes. Fortunately, almost all of the brass was good quality, and had aged beautifully over the past 20 years. But I still wanted to tone it down a little. As you can see from the photo posted with this blog, in the bathrooms I decided to mix metal finishes. I removed brass drawer pulls from all of the bathroom drawers, and replaced them with oil rubbed bronze. In one bathroom, I kept all the brass fixtures, and in four others I did a mix of aged brass and oil rubbed bronze. In some instances, I also used an antiquing glaze and a blow dryer to age bright brass and tone it down in places (like the shiny brass frame around the mirror in this photo). The key to making the mix work is striking the right balance. In the bathroom pictured here, I used an aged brass faucet and replaced the shower fixtures and towel racks with oil rubbed bronze to match the drawer pulls. Lastly, I sprinkled in dark bronze, aged brass, and silver among the accessories throughout the home.

As a result of layering these finishes, the home has a cozy dimensional quality that has exceeded all expectations. I have always admired homes that feel traveled and curated (topic covered in a previous blog post). But in earlier years I wasn’t able to put my finger on what it was that made those homes feel so appealing. In part, that answer is in the layering of wood and metal finishes.

None of this is meant to say that a perfectly matched home is a bad thing. It isn’t at all! My message is for those who don’t have that option. You shouldn’t feel like your home can’t be beautiful, harmonious, or balanced if things don’t match. Don’t be afraid to experiment, mix your metals, and refinish a piece of furniture or two. Layers are a beautiful thing!

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SEASONAL DECORATING... ON A BUDGET

I’m not the kind of person who eagerly looks forward to changing my décor with every season or holiday. Quite the opposite, actually. Because, let’s be honest here, updating accessories to go with every holiday can get to be rather expensive. But no matter how you feel about the subject, inevitably we all have events that require creating at least a holiday tablescape when we have family and friends gathering in our home. But where to start… especially on a tight budget?

Start by taking inventory

I start any seasonal decorating by taking inventory of what I own already… bowls, trays, candle holders, and other decorations. And I don’t necessarily mean holiday pieces, look at what your foundation is. A large plain silver, white, or glass bowl can be the perfect beginning to a holiday tablescape. Taking inventory helps me to formulate an idea of what I want the design to look like, and to see where the gaps are in my existing items. Going in with a plan also helps to keep me from getting distracted by everything that is new and shiny in the stores.

Foundation pieces (the core)

Much like designing a home, seasonal decorating should be built in layers starting with core pieces. So often I see people get overwhelmed because they think that the table cloth needs to match the plates, that need to match the centerpiece, that needs to match the napkins… and everything needs to be different for each holiday. To some extent this is true, but if you start with a solid timeless foundation this doesn't need to be a major investment, because it doesn’t all need to change for every holiday.  For example, if you are throwing a Halloween party and you know you like to decorate with votive candleholders, buy a set of them in a silver or gold tone instead of orange, and then just sprinkle candy corns around them for a Halloween theme… that way you can use the votive candleholders again when you decorate for a different holiday.

Let’s look at the table. If you use a tablecloth, select a timeless color like winter white in a quality durable material… then as each holiday comes around you can simply add an inexpensive runner or piece of fabric from your local fabric shop that ties in with the holiday theme you are going for.

The same goes for plates. Every holiday tablescape I create has the same foundation pieces, basic white dinner plates and napkins, the colors and themes are added with fabric accents, smaller decorative accent plates, and by getting creative with napkin rings (like tying Christmas tree ornaments around the napkins, or simple twine with a floral fabric band for a BBQ theme dinner in the summer). It is also OK if you don’t have a full set of matching plates. Mixing and matching basic pieces with a common neutral color can work very well, and can add dimension to your design… this goes for glassware and flat-wear as well. If you still don’t have enough for a complete set, check out your local Goodwill or other thrift shops. Odds are you can build a full set of pieces that work well together in no time, and at minimal expense.

With a foundation in place, you can really get creative with inexpensive accessories (like setting your plates on wreaths during winter holidays).

Light it up

Candles add so much versatility to seasonal decorating! But how often do you find that you buy a candle, display it for a season, and then it gets damaged in storage or you simply never use it again? Or, you’ve gone to the effort of creating a beautiful display for a party on your patio only to have the wind blow all of the flames out before the guests even arrive? Personally, I love putting candle lanterns outside, but here in Colorado there are certain seasons when the wind makes it impossible to keep real candles lit. Because of this, I have become a big fan of the flameless flickering candles. But they aren’t inexpensive! I decided to go ahead and make the investment in plain ivory premium flameless candles, and when an event calls for a little color, I create sleeves using colored tissue paper or bands of decorative paper. It may be a bigger investment up front, but when you can use the same candles year after year the cost per use becomes very reasonable.

Accessories… what nature has to offer

When I’m creating my centerpieces, I love to go walk around our property for inspiration and materials. Fallen aspen leaves, branches, and pinecones in the fall and winter, and flowers, leaves, moss, etc. in the spring and summer are what make my designs come to life. They feel fresh, are always appropriate for the season, and guests often comment on how much they like that things are real. If you don’t have a yard or immediate access to open spaces, taking a walk around a local park should yield the same materials. It’s a wonderful, no-cost way to bring the season into your home for an event. Once I’ve selected the materials from outside, I like to visit my grocery store and supplement with seasonal fruit, vegetables, or extra branches, leaves, or flowers from their floral department. On occasion, I will buy a box of acorn vase fillers… because they’re perfect for fall decorating. But I do try to find what I need in nature first.

Regardless of whether you like to go all out each season, or you are subtler about seasonal décor, by keeping a few guidelines in mind, seasonal décor can be done well without a big investment each time.

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A WELL TRAVELED HOME

Ever since I was very young I have always found a soothing comfort, a certain dimensionality, and an intangible intrigue about homes designed with art and artifacts from around the world. Perhaps this comes from my earliest childhood memories being of Thailand, where I lived as a little girl. I was also fortunate to have a mother that appreciated the art and culture, and during our years in Thailand she very purposely gathered a handsome collection of art, furniture, and textiles from the region as well as surrounding countries. My father was military, and my mother would curate such collections wherever they moved, with Thailand being the last destination before my father retired.

This early influence is very evident in my current home in Colorado. But it is actually a recent conversation at a dinner party that prompted me to write this post. My husband and I were discussing interior design with a friend of his, when she commented that she would love to have a designed home, but everything they owned was gathered on their travels, and none of it worked together. The comment startled me. But it also made me realize that while people may appreciate a curated, and well-traveled home, being able to create such a space isn’t intuitive for everyone.

I would give the following advice to anyone who wants to create a sense of wanderlust in their home, but doesn’t know where to start:

Be purposeful in the pieces you acquire.

Take the time to do a little research about your destination and skip the souvenir t-shirt shops. Does your destination have a local market or bazaar? What are they known for… textiles, art, woodcarving, architecture, pottery? Taking the time to educate yourself on what you might find will help you to recognize it when you see it, as well spark some ideas prior to your trip of what you might want to look for.

Use your travel as inspiration.

Just because something calls my name doesn’t always mean that it comes home with me. Not every trip has to result in a purchase. Curating a home takes time. And shipping, especially on larger and heavier items, can be prohibitive. That is why I always travel with a camera. If I know I cannot get something home, I will take a picture of it, and search for local and online resources once I’m home (sites like Etsy are a fabulous online source). These sources also come in handy if you don’t have an opportunity to travel, but still love a well-traveled look. Framing photographs and collecting books of the people and places where you travel (or would like to travel) is also a cost-effective way to introduce a global feel into your design.

I would be remiss if I did not mention that travel doesn’t have to be exotic or expensive. When I drive up to the mountains here in Colorado I seek out small antique shops, galleries, consignment shops, and flea markets. There is a wealth of local finds almost anywhere you live if you take the time to look for them.

Now what do I do?

So, with some pieces gathered, we now arrive at the place where my party guest is at… making it all work together. The first rule of designing an eclectic mix is to have fun with it! See what works together… what speaks to you. Don’t be afraid to try mixing early American with Asian, or bold colors with more subdued pieces, modern with antique, as examples. In the photo for this blog entry you will notice that I have incorporated Thai textiles, an antique singletree from my grandfather’s cattle ranch in Montana, family photos, a Chinese abacus, and other miscellaneous pieces that are sentimental to myself or my husband. You may have some pieces that don’t seem to fit in, and that is OK. I find that if I set them aside for a little while, a solution for where to put them often comes along later.

While it may take some thought, planning, and a willingness to experiment... adding interesting pieces from your travels (or dreams of travel) tells a story, not only of where the pieces themselves come from but also of you and what touches your soul.

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It all started when...

Everyone has something they are meant to do, that certain thing that just ignites the soul. For me, that is interior design. It has always been a part of who I am. Even when I was small, I use to love building homes with my Lincoln Logs, and decorating my room.

That passion for design has only grown stronger through the years. I found as I grew older, the desire to have a home that welcomed me at the end of each day, and served as a peaceful haven from the stresses of the world, became more and more important. When I completed my residential design degree I began working on projects for others, but only through word of mouth referrals. I never considered myself to be an entrepreneur.

So what changed?

I don't want to say that a blog changed my life, but... a blog did change my life. And it came at the perfect moment, as if by design :). I was exploring the very first steps in planning a business, and had reached that moment, the one that so often happens between me and the unknown future, when self-doubt sneaks into my thoughts… and my dreams get placed back on a shelf for some other time. It was on that very day when I came across a blog by fellow designer Sidney Adams (www.kandgrayinteriors.com). Her article was titled “How I Know I’m Supposed to be a Designer” and in it she spoke about being the kind of person who matches their tissue boxes to their décor, and loved the playhouse more than the doll when she was a little girl. Despite her passion, she thought that she needed to choose a more practical career path. I am guilty of doing the same thing (interior design was my second degree). As I read her article that day I knew everything would be OK, and this time the dream stayed on the table. I wrote to her to thank her for telling her story. I told her that I was sitting there reading her blog (with my tissue box) and tears were welling up in my eyes, because what she had to say was exactly what I needed, at exactly the right time. A lovely friendship began in that moment, one that I will always be grateful for.

So, now here I am, getting ready to hit the publish button on my first blog, on my company’s website. As I take this step I can’t help but reflect on all of the years leading up to this moment, and the support and encouragement from my loving husband and family. My parents to this day will smile, and happily tell people about the times when I was a little girl and I would disappear from sight, only to reemerge an hour or two later excited to show them what I had decorated. Actually, for me, it feels like I'm still doing that. 

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