Thursday, June 30, 2011

No More Wire Hangers

Well we are finally moved into our little pied-a-terre here in Menlo Park and so far we are loving it -in spite of the garden window in the kitchen (though I must say my orchid is a happy camper). The last time I had so many positive emotions for a place we lived in, cupcakes were the new dessert.

With all of our boxes unpacked there's little to do but to hang paintings and organize the closets. Since we moved from a large house to a small duplex the latter will be a challenge. But, as any good type-A will tell you, this is the kind of challenge we live for. Oh! To have total organizational control over all the little goo-ga's in my life. Now that's bliss. 

I suspect she bought more blankets
than she'll ever need just for this photo shoot.
But where to begin? Well for those of us who sadly cannot afford Poliform (I don't believe they do custom work for 2' x 2' closets anyway) and get a complex from reading Martha Stewart (I don't have time to hand-blow the glass containers that will hold my home-remedy salves & soaps) we take a trip to The Container Store. Alternatively, I could roll retro and throw my stuff into bunch of old shoe boxes, label them with a half-dried-out Sharpie and call it a day. It has the essence of a DIY Martha project...but with a ghetto edge. Hmm, that's something to consider.

Back to the Container Store: I am not advocating purchasing a bunch of stuff in order to store more stuff. I'd much rather pair down than add to the problem. Why clutter your clutter, right? But a purposeful box here, a cedar smelling thingy there... new fuzzy hangers to replace the sad little Joan Crawford ones... that may be just the ticket out of Clutterville.

Bee's wax harvested to
create a soothing lip balm
I'm looking to organize (2) bedroom closets and (1) linen closet. And I need to design and implement my solutions fast. There's nothing worse than noticing that your son prefers to play with a box of sanitary napkins over his firetruck. Well, maybe he'll be an OB-GYN.

Check back in later to see my results. I don't guarantee they'll be publish-worthy but they will be wire-hanger free.


Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Little Kitchen That Could - Part IV

Well, the old cabinets (what there were of them) have been demolished and the old appliances and plumbing removed.  The floor was already on it’s way out thanks to water damage, and required very little effort to finish the job.  However, once the ‘decorative’ floor was up, we discovered more water damage that had caused the plywood sub-floor under the Washer and Refrigerator to de-laminate, decompose, and become host to a number of shiny black bugs that crunch when you step on them.

Pulling the cabinets down proved to be more effort than expected.  Instead of finding bare plaster, we found bare studs and tar paper.  Apparently, the original builder hung the cabinets from the studs, then plastered around them (in an effort to save a little money).  We were also granted a view into the attic (and it's abandoned Wasp nests), as he gave the ceiling the same treatment as the wall. 

In the photo, you can see that we have begun to install green board where necessary, as well as putting up drywall and mudding the ceiling.

If taking the cabinets down was problematic, removing the soffit was a nightmare.  Plaster gave way to chicken wire that was nailed to studs which were set 8” apart (the standard is 16”), and those studs were there to stay.  The original builder obviously believed that if 10 nails were good, 100 nails were better. 

My GC’s workmen were literally hanging from the soffit structures trying to rip them down.  It looked like some slapstick comedy routine that never got off the ground.  After sledges, crowbars and hammers failed them; they found success by sawing through the nails and pulling the soffits down.


The Dinette set used to live here.  It's soon to be the home of cabinetry
and the new range.  Outlets are a sign of things to come.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Fabulous Little Things: The Art of Display

A console arrangement in a Michael S. Smith interior.
Note to use of highs and lows, creating an interesting
visual composition and eye line.  I'm also a fan of the coffee
table book as riser.
I love accessories.  I love giving the cleaning woman things to dust and the opportunity to break them.  Nothing gives me more pleasure than holding the threat of garnished wages above the head of an underling.  Monstrous behavior aside, I genuinely take pleasure from the stories accessories tell and the dimension they give to an otherwise predictable landscape of furniture and lamps. 

Collections of jade discs, foo dogs, bibelots, mineral specimens, and other small curiosities do a wonderful job filling in blank spaces on end tables or empty shelves in the book case, while simultaneously telling tales of travels, tastes, and experiences. 

In my travels as a Decorator, I've found wonderful little things that can elevate even the simplest memento to great heights.  What's truly marvelous is that these simple additions cost fairly little and make a huge difference in the way your collections are viewed.  Try a few ideas you see here, or, find a photo of a display you love, and really analyze it to find out what makes it work.  It's going to really emphasize the personality of your space and the things you love, and that's definitely worth the time and effort.

- Ian 

To add height to a special piece, try using either of these risers from Wisteria.  Varying sizes are available in clear glass or Marble.  Prices start at $42.00 per pair for glass or $69.00 per pair for the marble.  These simple blocks are a quick and easy way to add dimension and height to your arrangements of accoutrement.  Simple blocks like this add a 'Gallery' feel to anything you put on them. 

Lately, I am a fan of easels, and the only place I can find any that are good quality and attractive at an affordable price is Restoration Hardware.  Places like Michael's, Aaron Bros., and Art Supply stores are either cheap or utility, and neither term is welcome in my home.  Restoration Hardware easels are secure and practical, but also offer a great deal of aesthetic value.  They're wonderful if you like to layer your accessories or art as I do.

The Library Easel is solid wood with an adjustable shelf and clamp to
secure art.  The piece also tilts to reduce glare and provide optimum viewing.
Retails for $129.00.

This great Easel I actually own.  It comes in two sizes and two
finishes, Bronze and Silver (I bought the Silver).  The large size retails at $89.00
and as with the Library Easel, the shelf and clamp are adjustable
and they're even padded so the frame doesn't get scratched.  Love that.

The Wyndham Easels are the simplest of all the offerings.
No moving parts, no adjustments, just three sizes, priced at
$59.00 - $89.00.  These are great for small prints, etchings, photos,
what ever you want to bring off the wall and onto a credenza
or night table.

Ralph Lauren's private home.  To me, he is the
master of the accessory display.

Ralph Lauren't Dining Room.   I love the way he layers his art,
overlapping piesces that have been set on the Buffet.  Not a
look for everyone, but certainly dramatic and dynamic. 

Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Neo-Victorians - John Derian

I first saw John Derian's work at Saks a few years ago before I knew who he was.  I was shopping with a friend and we both fell for an oval glass dish with a contemplative Victorian woman standing on a balcony, bats flying behind her across a cloud cover moon.  It was decoupaged from behind, so that the clear glass plate protected the image; a photo reproduction of a vintage illustration.  There was only one tray in that style, and my friend bought it.  She keeps it out and loves to feature it prominently every Halloween.

Over the years, I have seen Derian more and more, at large Department stores like Saks, Barney's and Neiman's, and also at smaller boutiques such as Salutations in Pasadena.  There are of course lesser priced copies readily available, and they're very pretty, but nothing compares to a real Derian.

The John Derian booth at the NY Spring Gift Fair.
Love those wall collages!
His pieces are hand decoupaged (decoupage is why I'm classifying him as a Neo-Victorian.  The art form was all the rage for the refined set of the 19th and early 20th Centuries) with the most unique vintage images I have ever seen.  The previously mentioned Victorian bats fit right in with nautical maps, vintage letters, botanic illustrations, photos, monkeys, sea weed, you name it, he's stuck it to a plate.  It really gives you the feeling of finding a lost treasure, each image stirs a certain amount of sentimentality, with and humor.  In addition to plates and paperweights, he's now started to offer bell jars, fire screens and cache pots.  The shapes unique, but still simple so as to provide an uninterupted view of the graphics.

A wall collage of exotic game birds.  Retails for $2,575.00

 Derian subscribes to a collected, eclectic aesthetic.  There's something distinctly East Coast about his craft, his subject matter, and his direction.  His outlook is casual, even cavalier.  His mood is comfortable, approachable, a little worn around the edges; at once approachable but also impressive and intriguing. 

His decoupage pieces work alone on the entry table or vanity, but he also designs some wonderful mosaic groupings and also encourages clients to mount collections in unique wall compositions.  They're truely dynamic and utterly unique.  Of course ground zero for Derian is his eponymous shop in NY and his website which is really worth a look.  He's also come out with a line of furniture that is utterly perfect for New England and anywhere else that is in need of a little historic charm and understated character.

- Ian

A pretty little tray; love the bird carrying off the spider.

A marvelous bell jar ornamented with sea fan.
Retails for $880.00.

An amusing cylinder table lamp with a map of a country estate.
Retails for $1,155.00 with shade.

This apothecary jar needs to description, it's just delightful.
Retails for $1,320.00.

I j'adore this cache pot.  Roses on the outside, trellis on the inside.
It seems a shame to put anything in it!  Retails for $645.00

A marvelous wall composition.

A Seagull fire screen.  I love the graphic quality of those waves.
Retails for $1,900.00.

A glass fish bowl ornamented with fish decoupage.
Charm and humor are such good neighbors.

A' faience' plate collection.

The Victorian taste for the macabre shows up in these bats...
Retails for $220.00.  

...and these bones.  Retails for $185.00

Friday, June 24, 2011

The Little Kitchen That Could - Part III

Cloth off, J-Boxes in.
With work underway, and the Kitchen cleaned of minor debris (how many whisk brooms does one person need, anyway?), we really started to see what we had to work with (see it came from inside the wall to see what we did not have to work with).  You will notice a change in wall texture.  We went from old dirty gloss paint to mat plaster.  This is because homes built within the first half of the 20th Century would often have their utility rooms and wet rooms skinned in a canvas oil cloth and then they would paint them with 7 layers of gloss oil based enamel so that 50 years later, when you peel off the cloth, all the layers of paint shatter and blow off like Confetti and get stuck in your hair.

The cloth also served as a protective barrier so that the plaster would not be damaged while in use in high traffic areas.  It blocked water and oil, prevented stains and dings and also hid any minor cosmetic issues that could come to light over time (cracks).  There is the double edge sword in this brilliant concept.  The canvas not only hid small cracks, it hid big ones too.  So, after peeling the canvas, we had to chip out the major cracks caused by settling and re-plaster.

You can also see a color change in the drywall, going from white plasterboard to green board, as well as a strong patched line in the ceiling.  To me, this would indicate that there was once a wall separating the once even smaller kitchen from what used to be a Laundry Room or Service Porch.

You will also notice that the 8 foot shop light is gone, the hole patched, and 3 new j-boxes installed.  These will be the new home to some great period lights I found at  They have with porcelain bases with milk glass shades and are a perfect match for the period of the home.  This Kitchen is going to be so wonderful, and so useful when we're finished.  It's going to be amazing.

- Ian

These vintage fixtures from Rejuvenation are going to be perfection.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

That Fortuny Look

Palazzo Fortuny, the walls draped in his iconic prints.
Since my earlier posts on Fortuny and his artistic and aesthetic innovations, I have had a few readers ask where they could get Fortuny fabric on the cheap.  As your guide to all that is beautiful, I of course want to help, but I also must maintain a realistic approach to all that I say.  Primarily, the words 'Fortuny' and 'cheap' do not go together.  Ever.  Whether new or old, anything with Fortuny's name stenciled on it is going to set you back quite a bit.  However, being the resourceful person that I am, I do have a few sources for Fortuny inspired textiles.  I would have used the term 'knock-off', but that sounds so back alley, doesn't it?

Lipinski Silk from Fabricut.  Note the irregularities in
the printing and how they add an element of
authenticity and the organic process.
Retails for $104.50 per yard.
When scouring the market for Fortuny style fabric, begin by looking for printed Damask, on a lavish looking textile.  The patterns can be purely plant forms, or they may incorporate animals or frettework of some sort.  If money were no object, you could find a printed velvet or silk, but you can also do fairly well with a fine weave cotton, a faux silk rendered in Polyester, a low pile velvet, or even a sheer if you are interesting in doing window treatments.  Make sure the printed patterns look aged or have slight intentional irregularities.  Also look for gold or jewel tone colors, Fortuny rarely did pastels.

The fabrics I'm showing are from vendors that are readily available in any city with a Design Center.  Yes, these are to the trade, but any Designer (me, for instance.  wink wink, nudge nudge) would be glad to assist you in procuring said textiles.  With an understanding of what you need, you may also be able to source textiles in your cities Garment District.  Speaking for Los Angeles only, I'm sure Michael Levine or Mood would have something in a Fortuny look.

- Ian

Henley Damask, from G.P. & J. Baker.  Printed on golden
cotton velvet, the Terracotta dyes have taken inconsistently,
giving this textile a charm and quality similar to the
originals it imitates.  Retails for $240.00 per yard.

One of my favorite, Gilded Paisley from Robert Allen / Beacon Hill.
Printed on gold cotton velvet, red dyes are over laid with metallic
gold ink.  So Fortuny.  My favorite part of this is when it ages with use
the gold ink will crackle and add another layer of texture.  Stunning.
Retails for $306.00 per yard.
Gilded Paisley detail. 

Ariadne by Fabricut in Woodland.  Dark maroon printed over olive green taffeta.
The off colors remind me of the originals.  This is a polyester taffeta
so it's perfect for windows (the sun can damage silk) and also
areas of high use, like chair seats.  Retails for $119.50 per yard.

Ariadne in Tidepool.  Still lovely.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Little Kitchen That Could - Part II; It Came from Inside the Wall.

So guess what I found behind the dryer?  Yeah.  A big hole (this was after the old newspapers and chicken bones).  There was once a time when things shocked me, but that time has passed.  It really makes dealing with things much easier.  This huge void goes way beyond the standard size required for venting in any country, and it completely explains the evidence of vermin we were seeing.  But, horror and chagrin aside, it did give a full view of the plumbing situation. 

And as you can see, we have a variety of electrical and pipe, one of which looks like it was picked up at a rummage sale at the Hoover Dam.  You can also see one of the many random pilot holes (lower left) that perforated the wall.  I am not sure if the goal that inspired the holes was ever achieved, but they were humorously plugged with paper towels and old newspaper and then sealed with numerous coats of paint.  It is situations like these that you thank your General Contractor heartily when you discover he always buys extra dry wall and mud.

- Ian

Monday, June 20, 2011

Fabulous Little Things: The Terrarium

The offending party.  Never again.
 I'm not going to lie, I used to hate Terrariums.  All the teachers I had in grade school had one on the corner of their taupe Steelcase desks with the laminate imitation wood tops.  I remember them as they truly were; gauche fish bows filled with dirt and gravel with a fern and an African violet stuck inside.  If the owner fancied herself artistic or witty, you might be lucky enough to find a smiling ceramic frog or snail tucked inside, their googly eyes looking up at you.  Gag me.  The condensation and calcium crust that circled the soil line did not build a bridge to my black bitter heart either.  I was a complex person, even in child form.

But things are changing for the better.  Terrariums are once again in style, but they are actually quite stylish.  Gone are the fish bows and 3" potted plants.  In their places are hand blown terrariums, faceted glass and brass cases, and the good old fashioned cloche; all filled with Orchids, Fly Traps, and the occasional Bromeliad.  They're lovely on a kitchen counter, the dining table or any place you want to add a little life and dimension.  And don't feel bad about filling these with faux plants.  Just because you have a black thumb doesn't mean you have to be honest about it.

- Ian

From Anthropologie, a suspended style by Esque Studios of Portland, Or.
Hanging from a leather harness, this hand blown piece connotes teardrops
and bowling pins.  At 26" tall and 16" wide, this piece is not short on
impact.  With a retail price of $1,450.00, hang this one in a safe place
far from kids, pets, drafts and swinging doors. 

The Conservatory Cloche from restoration Hardware.
At an immense 25" x 31" could dramatically house in Neo-Victorian splendor
exotic lady slipper orchids, or an air garden of Bromeliads.
The cloche retails for $595.00.

Hanging bubble Terrarums from Shane Powers at West Elm.
The over wrought Terrariums Hipster/Granola younger sibling.
The one who likes flannel and Tom's and Soy.
Minimalist geometry shows plants as art forms, each
encased in a transparent bubble.
Sizes range from 4" to 13".  Priced from $9.00 - $24.00. 
The Francesca Jars from Z Gallerie could be filled with Succulents planted
in sand, pebbles, or even tiny shells for a wonderful effect.
$49.00 - $59.00.  Sizes 10" x 15" and 9.5" x 23".
Wisteria offers two sizes of the classic glass cloche.  The large is shown here.
Made of soda glass, the simple cloche comes with a stone plate.
Fill with your hearts desires.  Perhaps a miniature Rose or Azalea
or, for something more poetic, a single large Magnolia blossom. 
16" x 14".  Retails for $99.00

Friday, June 17, 2011

It Drove Me like a Magnet to the Sea

Sitting on the coffee deck at my Starbucks of choice, looking a the sea expanding before me, I can't help but hum this song.  The lyric running over and over in my head, like the waves that hit the rocks below.  I'm sharing this with you because it's beautiful, and for me, that is reason enough.

- Ian


The Little Kitchen That Could - Part I

One of the projects that I am most excited to be working on is the restoration of a 1942 Bungalow in the West Los Angeles neighborhood of Westside Village. It is a sweet little house done in a mix of American Colonial and, interestingly, Stream Line Art Deco. It is small at around 1200 square feet, with one and one half baths, a fireplace and two bedrooms. Instead of razing it and erecting one of those overzealous monsters so popular in other areas, the owners opted to preserve and restore the homes inherent charm (a word we all seem to forget about), and focus on quality over quantity.

I was so sad to see this little Radius cabinet go,
but it had next to no storage and the door stuck.
Those soffits were doing nothing but eating up space.
You can also see the 8' shop light that bathed
the kitchen in oh so flattering cool white light.
One of the most interesting challenges of this project is the Kitchen. Measuring 9 feet across and almost 21 feet long, it was sparsely populated with cabinetry and has only 9 linear feet of counter space.  It's filled with a Motley Crew of obsolete appliances (RCA Range, anyone???) and plagued by a water damaged sub floor (the Fridge is sinking as we speak). There was no functioning dishwasher, no garbage disposal and the base cabinets were only 18 inches deep (standard cabinets are 24 inches).

While the Kitchen is small by current standards, we needed to stick with the original footprint while updating the look and functionality. We needed loads more counter space and storage, a new floor, room for appliances, pantry space, new lighting, a washer and dryer, an exhaust fan that did not catch on fire, and somewhere, an eating area. We also wanted to preserve the charm of the Kitchen, and bridge the gap between Period charm and Modern functionality. Oh, and the appliances had to all be Electric, which, if you did not know, severely slashes your options.

So, take a look at the before photos, and check back to see the progress and find out how our Kitchen issues were resolved!

- Ian

I love the police line up effect of all the offending appliances in the back.
A free standing Dishwasher that hasn't worked in a decade (still full of dishes),
a Dryer that won't dry, a Washer that sounds like a Cement Mixer,
and a strange food processing center on wheels.

Note the Dinette next to the Range. This is bad space planning!
You can also see the lack of counter space on either side of the sink.
And let's not forget that 8' shoplight that is stealing the show!

I Shouldn't Be Eating This - Part II

A few weeks ago, I met my friend Kevin for Dinner in Westwood.  He recommended Pitfire Pizza; I had never been but he assured me it was pretty good.  As with any new place, I had no idea what I wanted and mulled over the menu just long enough to exasperate the people in line behind me.  He let is slip that they had Mac and Cheese, as since I am a wanton man when it comes to that dish, my mind was made up in no time.  We did agree to split it, as it was a generous helping, and I did order a salad to temper the carb and cheese speedball I was jonesing for.

I was amused by their use of Orecciette pasta (loosely translated to 'little ear'), my previous post on htis subject mentioned that I appreciated pasta variation on the standard Elbow variety of Macaroni.  Noting wrong with Elbow, we all have them, but variety is the spice of life, right?  It was sauced with a creamy 5 cheese blend and topped with shredded cheese and breadcrumbs, then broiled.

Compared to Bread Bar, this dish was dry, but not in a bad way; Bread Bar's version was very saucy (yes, you may laugh).  The cheese sauce at Pitfire was made from more traditional varieties, dry aged Cheddars and the like, not the pungent, nutty, buttery, artisan cheeses as with Bread Bar.  It was very similar in flavor and texture to what my Mom makes, so there was a familiarity and nostalgia attached to this as well.

As usual, nothing went to waste, and the plate was clean.  Kevin ordered a Farmers Market platter of roasted vegetable to reduce his guilt, and they were excellent.  Flame grilled with olive oil, well cooked but not mushy or incinerated.  Funny how when you go to a Pizza place, the last thing you end up ordering is Pizza.  But this just means I'll have to return and get something else I shouldn't be eating.

- Ian