Monthly Archives: March 2011

Savoring Home: Chocolate Emergencies

It’s Thursday.  You are almost through a long work week, but you still have one more day to go.  The weather outside has been grey and damp for days.  You wish the Spring would get here already.  What you need is something comforting.  Something chocolate.  You dig through your fridge and cabinets, searching.  There are no morsels, no candy bars, nothing you can sink your teeth into now.  All you can find is this:

Image courtesy of Amazon

What you have, my friend, is a “Chocolate Emergency”.

Help is here!  Using the most basic of ingredients you have in your pantry, warm, gooey chocolate can by on the way to your taste buds in a mere 30 minutes.  Hang in there!

Olson’s Brownie Pie*

* Many families have brownie pie recipes in old family cookbooks. This is the recipe used in our family and, in our experience, it works like a charm in any Chocolate Emergency.

Ingredients:

  • 2 eggs (for best results, let the eggs warm to room temp. before using)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 3 Tbsp. baking cocoa
  • 1/4 tsp. salt

Preparation:

1. Set out butter and eggs to warm to room temperature.  (Do your best to wait, but if you can’t, don’t try to be a hero…mix the batter!)

2. Pre-heat oven to 325° F. Butter an 8” pie pan or dish.

3. Combine all ingredients in a mixer and mix continuously for 4 minutes.

The batter will be the light brown color of chocolate mousse.

4. Pour into pie pan and bake for 30 minutes, until firm.

The top will look rather puffy when it comes out of the oven.

5. Let it cool, as it will settle while cooling. (As if the “let it cool” step ever happens in our house. Try not to burn your tongue.)

6. Cut into wedges as best you can, it is gooey, and serve. (Or spoon it into a bowl in a lump and eat.)

Enjoy!

Notes:

  1. While this is not the prettiest of recipes when it comes out of the oven, as you can see in the picture above, it can be dressed up slightly if you have unexpected company.
  2. Play with this recipe and add things in combinations you like. This is a great chance to clean out your baking supply leftovers. Try: most nuts (walnuts, pecans, almonds, peanuts), any baking chips (chocolate, mint and chocolate, peanut butter, heath bar), broken bits of candy bars, chocolate sprinkles, sweetened coconut flakes, raspberries (defrost frozen ones before using), etc.

Disclaimer:

  • Children, adults and adults-behaving-like-children must be patient for this to bake properly.
  • Staring at the oven with anger or desire does not shorten the baking time listed above.
  • CARO Interiors accepts no responsibility if this recipe causes you to change clothing sizes.

Eames icons

Have you seen this chair?

Image courtesy of Herman Miller

I’m guessing you have.  Original models of it live in major US museums. It’s in a lot of movies.  And tv shows. And commercials.  It’s a superstar.  Owning this chair is like owning the most gorgeous sports car you can imagine.  Except you can “drive” this sports car in your pajamas while eating cereal.  It welcomes pajamas.  It will welcome you into its seat regardless of what you are wearing.  It reclines.  It is, in many people’s opinions (including mine), quite possibly the most comfortable chair you could ever sit in, which is why it also comes with a sports car price tag.  What would it take to get you into this chair today?  Approximately $5,000.  Shipping not included.

Ok.  Wait, wait!  I hear you!  $5,000 is a lot of money for one chair.  Even if it is THE most comfortable chair in the world (which I maintain it is.)  Does it help to know that most owners of this particular chair pass them down in their families as treasure heirlooms?  The chair does age really well.  No?  Well then, let’s talk about why this chair such a superstar.  Such an icon of modern design.

Image courtesy of Design Within Reach

The Eames Lounge Chair (let’s call it by its proper name) debuted in 1956.  It was designed by Charles and Ray Eames (that’s them on the left) who went on to make great strides in modern furniture design and technology.

Charles and Ray Eames became such stand outs in the world of furniture design because they used different materials to make different profiles.  Charles had worked in the steel industry and had architecture training that allowed him to see the structural needs of the furniture pieces beyond the traditional shape that was expected.  This was modern design that made many people uncomfortable in the 1950’s.  For others, it was very exciting.

Here’s an example.  If you went to high school before 1960, your school desk probably was something along the lines of desk below.

Image courtesy of craigslist.com

Okay, this desk has metal bars connecting the seat and the desk (a little “Bauhaus”-ish for you AP level design fans), but really, separate them onto wood legs and you have a desk that could make a cameo in any Dickens period drama on PBS.  Did you notice?  That little circle above the lift-up writing surface.  It’s for an inkwell!  Old school, indeed.

Now. let’s say you went to high school after 1960, ballpark age range here.  At some point in your high school or college life you probably sat at some version of this Eames desk below.

Image courtesy of twentyfirstcenturyretro.com

I’m right, aren’t I?  I bet if you really thought about it, you can still remember how this type of chair sounds as it is stacked.  That metal and plastic scraping sound.  I bet if you really, really thought about it, some of you could remember the gross-out factor of  when you discovered that someone else had stuck gum on the underside of the seat.  But seriously, this desk changed the way chairs and desks were considered for public spaces.  Many, many companies tried to copy this design.  Think about how many of us are familiar with this chair.  It is an icon.  And we can see the steel and architecture background Charles brings to the project.  The legs are just weighted enough to support many different sized people, comfortably, but everyone can lift and stack that chair.  See how the plastic back (plastic! that’s new, too!) is molded to fit the human back in a relaxed state?  You are not supposed to practice your good posture in this chair.

Image courtesy of Herman Miller

Here’s the back of the Eames Lounge Chair again. Slouching for everyone, because it’s what we all prefer to do.  While we’re here, check out how beautifully that wood is shown off.  The original models were made of rosewood, a beautiful wood, but not very planet friendly.  The company that produces these chairs, Herman Miller, now finishes the wood sections from sustainable forests.

Here is another  reason why Eames design is so iconic:  It is fun.  Really fun.  At a time when a huge, youthful generation of mid-century Americans were discovering backyard grills and how to use a patio to entertain, Ray and Charles Eames embraced the colorful party of it all.  The coat rack below is called the “Hang It All”.

Image courtesy of Herman Miller

That is a fun little play of words for a furniture store to market to people who want to have enough guests over to really need this coat rack.  What a cute anecdote a hostess can share with her friends.  Canape, anyone?

There has been a huge market for mid-century modern design in the past decade. People just can’t get enough of it.  You can argue it is new to a new generation of consumer. You can argue that the clean lines and bright colors are clearly defined for a modern world where life’s choices rarely are anymore. I think the reality is much more simple.  Eames design is perennial because it is made of classic materials, streamlined into realistic, ergonomic forms.  It can really satisfy the soul to find an item designed to perform for the way you want to live.

How about you?  Anyone out there own an Eames designed product?  Do you like mid-century design?  Any Mad Men fans out there?  Let me know what you think!

House plan heaven

The "Winona Park" Image courtesy of Southern Living

Do you like to browse house plans? I browse them anywhere I find them: online, in magazines, in big house plan catalogs at bookstores. It is my own grown-up imagination exercise. What shape table would I put in this dining room? Where would a Christmas tree go in this house? Would I continue the authentic Craftsman colors inside the house, too? I once read an article that referred to this reading habit as “house porn”. I really prefer to think of it “hypothetical design opportunites”. Toe-may-toe, toe-mah-toe.

In case you’re like me, or you just want something different to browse during some down time at work (been there!), I thought I’d share some of my favorite house plan links with you. All of my example images are linked, too, so you instant gratification fans can click right to them for more details…

ThePlanCollection.com

I like this site because it allows you to specify your lot size, which a lot of other sites that I have seen don’t give as an option. It can make for an interesting way to sort your fantasy home owning choices. Many of the plans in this collection have exterior renderings (rather than pictures) as their images to select from in the style menus. Jump into the plans anyway. Often, the pictures are just buried farther into the individual plans. Here is a favorite of mine from this site:

The "Chevalier de Florian" Image courtesy of theplancollection.com

It’s outlandish. But if you are going to browse their “French Collection”, I say go palatial or go home. Based on the image above, real landscaping is a big priority for finessing some curb appeal. Looking at the floor plans, do you use hardwoods floors or marble? (Come on, dream with me.) While you are at it, toss in a couple extra millions and build your own water park in the backyard.

Houseplans.com

This fantastic site has three ways of searching their house plans.

  • Architectural Style: as in “Victorian” or “Spanish”
  • Theme Collections: everything category you can think of to search, from “Best Small Houses” to “Country House plans for Texas”
  • Executive House plans: rare historic house plans, international plans  and plans by specific architects

I have to ration my time here. I have never been a video gamer, but when I hear about addicts playing games at all hours of the night, I can picture myself comparing walk-in closets on this site at 3 am. Here is a lovely plan I like, in case I ever win the lottery:

Plan #56-604 Image courtesy of houseplans.com

At 5,342 square feet, it is still on the large size, I’ll grant you. I prefer not to imagine the utility bills from this house, but you can see why I like it, right?The woodwork is gorgeous. The curb appeal is so welcoming. The large floor plan really flows nicely. You could have some beautiful holiday events in this house!

HousePlans.bhg.com

This house plans website is run by Better Homes & Gardens magazine. I like this site for great vacation homes. Whether your perfect vacation idea is in the desert, by a lake, in the mountains or on a beach somewhere, you can probably find a great get-away home here. Here’s one I like:

The "Springview" Image courtesy of Better Homes & Gardens

This little cabin is picture perfect and would be so cosy on Fall weekend. I like the idea of a vacation home being small and easy to maintain, so log cabins in the mountains have always intrigued me. The first thing I would do with this house is buy a lot of firewood. I love a good fireplace!

SouthernLivingHousePlans.com

This site is run by Southern Living magazine. If you like Tudor, Colonial, Southern or Plantation style homes. This might be just the house plans site for you. When you first log on to this site, choose their “Advance Search” feature. This will allow you to choose houses based on specific styles and requirements. Here is a favorite of mine:

The "Inlet Cottage" Image courtesy of Southern Living

This little darling comes from their “Tidewater/Low country” collection. It is on the smaller side, as far as square footage goes. However, this cottage could be a real gem in the right setting on a beach or a lake. The breeze on that side porch could be heavenly!

What does your dream home look like? Do you like any of the houses I’ve posted today? Do you have any other house plans website ideas?

Mood Board: Asian art entryway

This mood board was created for a client who had just moved into her new condo.  Like many condos within larger buildings, the entryway was really a small part of a larger hallway.  It also got very little natural light and was rather, well, to be honest, stark.  My client had also been trying to find a place to display a several woodblock prints she had collected on business trips to Japan.  So we decided to make her entryway a warm, welcoming space that also gave her art collection a space to live and grow…

The first thing we did was settle on a warm paint color.  This shade of peach, while quite vibrant, works well in the space for both day and evening light. We countered some of the feminine aspects of this peach by balancing in some earthier wood tones in the client’s art (not pictured) and the large area rug.

Lighting, as I mentioned, was a huge obstacle in this space.  The new lighting was broken into two sources:  a ceiling light and table lamp.  This way, the client can use the overhead light for full room lighting (for future events like welcoming guests to a party), but she also has the option of just leaving a nice lamp on for a cosy glow when she comes home after a long day at work.  The natural feel of the ceiling fixture shade turns it into a nice neutral piece.  The jade glazing of the lamp adds some nice texture to the classic ginger jar shape.

I am a big believer of practicality when it comes to any entry space.  No matter how beautiful you can design a foyer to be, if the client can’t put their mail down to take their coat off, the job is incomplete.  The aged wood console table is an elegant solution as a place to put your mail and that cosy jade lamp.

On a similar note, I added a little lotus bowl to catch any other small items, like car keys or sunglasses.  The small horse statue is a decorative nod to all the lovely equine sculpture found across generations of Asian art.

This client and I both live on the eastern seaboard, so we know that rain can be a part of any day.  By adding a large, deep umbrella stand with some painted gold finishing, leaving a damp umbrella open to dry will not turn the entryway into a mudroom.

Last, but most important, I centered a wall mirror over the table.  I chose the frame very carefully, so as not to compete with the larger Japanese art prints. The simple bamboo profile of this mirror discreetly maintains the Asian ambiance we have build with bigger pieces in the space.  The mirror will serve many practical uses as my client leaves the house everyday (hair check, lipstick check, etc.), while also bouncing some of that soft lamp light glow around the room to wherever it is needed.

Keeping the furniture and decor pieces in the same style family as the incoming art collection gives the art a solid foundation on which to be the real show-stopper.  By using Asian design from several different countries and periods of history, the client will be able to grow her Asian art collection as she desires, without worrying if any new items will “match” the pieces back home.

Unique, affordable, comfortable living.

What do you like about this design?  Are there any colors in this design plan that really speak to you?  How do feel about using an “unfinished” wood table? Let me know what you think!

Using the “Good” china

Do you have things in your home that are too “good” to use?  For example, you might have some wedding china that you use only when you have “company”.  Or maybe you have a special set of dishes that you only use at certain holidays?

I did.  We had these things in my childhood home and I had started the same ritual saving in my own home.  My family has some Southern roots, with some of the older traditions around weddings.  So, when I was engaged, we spent weeks trying to find a formal china pattern we liked. After endlessly browsing catalogs and stores, my now-husband was the person who found the perfect pattern, in a tiny Lenox china outlet store in the Pennsylvania countryside.  Jackpot!

"Coronet Platinum", Image courtesy of Lenox

We put the pattern on our registry and hoped for the best.  Not every one likes to buy bone china dish sets anymore, since the concept of formal dinner parties has kinda gone the way of Mrs. Cleaver mopping the floor while wearing a pretty dress, heels and pearls.  However, we had many wedding guests jump on the china bandwagon. (Hmm.  There’s a noisy image.)

So, when we returned from our honeymoon, we unwrapped all the china gifts, wrote all the appropriate thank you notes and packed all the lovely, new china away into a dark china cabinet for the next few years.

Well, that is the real tradition, isn’t it?

Enter my great aunt Millie, who was in her ’90’s at the time.  In a casual conversation with my mom about the secret to aging happily, she said that when she turned 60, she started using her formal china as her every day china because, “I’m good enough for the good stuff!”

Such a simple concept, but so right!  What were we hoarding all of this nice china for anyway?  For the “special” meals?  Thanksgiving?  Once a year?  So by the time we have reached Millie’s age (should we all be so lucky), we will have used this china for only sixty meals?  That does sound kinda crazy.

My mom went home and put all of her every day china in a garage sale. My dad adjusted to the new set up after a few variations of, “How can I eat a tuna sandwich off of the good china?!”  At the end of the day, dishes are designed to be eaten off of regularly.

Now I am a convert to the “good” china, too.  I do still have my every day china, because, believe me, this woman needs her microwave.  (Fine bone china + microwave = very expensive shards.  Don’t try this at home.)  But I really enjoy using and seeing my formal china around the house.  Sometimes I put a bunch or oranges in a vegetable serving bowl and put it out on the counter, other times we try out new recipes on the dinner plates.  Whatever the mood, we are enjoying our china now.  And so can you.  You aregood”. Now.  Life is too short.  Dig through your cupboards and pull out the good stuff.  Enjoy!

Design Vocabulary: Klismos chair

The Klismos chair is a classic chair design that reappears many times throughout history.  Understanding the history of a classic design item can be more than just fun trivia for design fans, it can also help you spot a trend and notice the specific variations of the original design that define each new version.

The Encyclopaedia Britannica defines a Klismos chair as having “four curving, splayed legs and curved back rails with a narrow concave backrest between them”.  Kinda hard to visual from that description, huh?  So, let’s break it down.

First, you will never find an “original” Klismos chair in an antique shop. Klismos chairs date back to ancient times in several areas of Europe and the Middle East. There were a scant few that survived in royal Egyptian tombs, but only because those places were sealed up air tight for a millennium or two. Our best understanding of those chairs in older eras comes from depictions in surviving decorative arts objects.  Here is a representation of a Klismos chair in ancient Greece:

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

This is a really clear view of of those “splayed legs”.  Can you see them flanking the little child?  They are also know as “sabre legs”, because they have the same distinct long curve as a naval sabre.  See:

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Now let’s look at another chair.  This version of the chair comes from the late 18th century. America and a lot of Europe were going through a whole crave-everything-from-ancient-Greece-and-Rome phase then (we’ll discuss more of this phase in a future post), so you can see a lot of ornamentation on this chair.  Let’s look at the “curved back rail” mentioned in the description.

Image courtesy of about.com

Can you see how the back is really “curved”?  Now, let’s look at the “narrow concave backrest”.  Here’s an example from the 19th century:

Image courtesy of House Beautiful

Just look at that curve!  You can see in this example (and the example above it) how the ends of the back curve out beyond the rails.  This, to me, is one of the most recognizable characteristics of a Klismos chair.  In most of the variations you will find, this curved, extended back is a dead giveaway of the design origins.

Now that you know what basics to look for in a Klismos chair, see if you can spot some of them in contemporary designs.  I’ll give you a head start:

Image courtesy of House Beautiful

This modern version (left) would be great in an office setting.  The curved back would probably be very comfortable for long sessions in front of a computer monitor.  The wire-looking legs keep it nice and light weight, portable in a conference room.

Image courtesy of Stickley

This little gem (right)  has minimized the curved extended back…perhaps to fit more of them around a dining table? The elegant design has also added some extra surface space by filling the back with lovely upholstered curve.  It almost looks like a traditional dining room chair, but no one can ignore those lovely sabre legs!

Image courtesy of Pier One

This playful chair (left) would make a great desk chair or even an accent chair in a bedroom.  By tufting the back and using a vibrant pattern, you almost don’t notice the curve of the back at first glance.

Lastly, look at this beautiful living room adaptation (below).  They’ve straightened the front legs a bit and added little nail head trim.  The leather finish in the light color adds a very modern classic feel to the design.

 

Image courtesy of urbancolony.com

Now you be the expert!  Find Klismos chairs being showcased in your favorite magazines or furniture showrooms.  Do you like the overall design elements of the chair?  Would any of the examples I’ve shown work in your home?  Let me know what you think!

Welcome!

This blog endeavors to celebrate everything wonderful about your home and the life you lead in it.  Whether you rent or own, share with others or live solo, your home should be your soft place to land at the end of each day.  My goal is to share ideas with you to make your home a real sanctuary on a practical budget.

Future posts will include:

  • Design history and vocabulary
  • Mood boards from my clients
  • Recipes and celebration ideas
  • Housetours
  • Giveaways
  • Household problem solvers
  • Expert guest bloggers
  • Virtual window shopping
  • And many, many more ideas…hopefully some from readers!

Grab a warm beverage of your choice, put your feet up and join in the conversation!  More posts are coming soon!

Until then, here’s a little Spring color to brighten up your view!

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