Monthly Archives: June 2011

Island hopping

Is there anything more coveted in a kitchen than a great kitchen island?

Image courtesy of House Beautiful

If there is, I haven’t found it yet.

Kitchen islands can tackle all sorts of needs in a kitchen and the combinations of options is endless. The most common reasons I’ve found people want an island of their own are:

  • More counter space
  • Food storage
  • Cookware storage
  • Eating area
  • Entertaining space
  • Flexibility of placement in kitchen

An installed kitchen island, like the one pictured above or those with plumbing or heating hook-ups, can cost you thousands (and thousands) of dollars, depending on how elaborate you want to make it.

However, there are many other budget-friendly free-standing options available today. The one question that must always be solved though, regardless of your style or type of kitchen is:

Will it fit?

When you are planning a kitchen renovation of the big kind, such as replacing all your cabinets and countertops, you must discuss your plans with a professional kitchen planner. There are just too many measurement combinations to know if you have the proper clearance for getting around a kitchen.

However, in the case of a simple, free-standing, kitchen island there is one measurement you have to know: 42 inches.  The perimeter of any island must be a minimum of 42 inches from any other cabinet or appliance. However, you may find you need more space depending on your cabinet configuration and appliance doors.

Image courtesy of Canadian House & Home

I recommend measuring out 42 inches from your counters and appliances and taping the remaining central area on the floor with painters tape. Then, you can walk around the space, open cabinet doors, have two people pass each other by the counters, etc. and see if 42 inches is really enough clearance for your kitchen.

Once you have figured out the dimensions that work for your kitchen, you can shop for a free-standing island with confidence.

Island selection

Linked below are some great free-standing kitchen island designs. Just click on the picture to link to more measurement and feature details from the manufacturer. There are so many models to choose from out there, the biggest problem may be choosing which one you like more!

This island looks like a more expensive installed island, with its turned legs and tapered feet. The butcher block countertop also includes two drop leaves which could be used for additional work space or casual dining.

If you prefer more modern finishes in your kitchen, consider this sleek and minimal beauty from Ikea. With plenty of storage, this stainless steel island is durable and easy to clean.

This island, in a classic oak finish, also looks like a pricier installed island. Featuring lots of storage and a fold down breakfast bar, this island would make entertaining in your kitchen easy.

This modern island has three big drawers for storage and can be moved to anywhere you need it in your kitchen. I like the modern lines and stainless steel finishes. You can even order matching stools to go with the island.

With dozens of color and wood finish options, this island would shine in any kitchen with an older style. The surface area of this piece is a massive 6 feet by 30 inches. That’s plenty of space to make a whole assembly line for holiday baking.

Short on space in the middle of your kitchen? This island could turn your small kitchen into an eat-in kitchen without taking up space with chairs or stools. Plus you get a nice stretch of extra counter space.

Few things make a kitchen feel more sophisticated than a nice piece of dark furniture. The island includes some elegant display shelving for your large serving ware, just like you see in all the current home design magazines.

Hello, wine lovers! This island has plenty of storage for your wine and wine glasses. With a little sanding and paint, you could even change the color of this island and make it fit your exacting tastes.

Who says an island has to be square? At only 36 inches in diameter, this little gem can be used to break up all of that rectangular surface space in your kitchen. It comes in cream (shown above) and a gorgeous black.

Okay, confession time. This was my absolute favorite find when I was pulling these sources for you guys. It had me at “granite counter top”. I love the antique-y feel with subtle casters. Love the two deep drawers and the two shallow drawers. Love the slatted shelves that would hold anything, including wine. Love that we could take this show-stopper with us if we moved. In fact, I love everything about this island, including the price.

Now it’s your turn: Have you dreamed of doing a little island hopping of your own? Do you have an island in your kitchen? What is your most common use for it?  Leave a comment and share with the rest of us!

A load off your mind: free giveaway!

*******************This contest is now closed.***************************

It’s time for another giveaway! This giveaway is inspired by our ongoing Greener Living challenge. You can read all about that right here.

Yesterday, we talked about having more ingredient awareness when choosing our laundry detergents. What are we really putting in our water systems when we wash our clothes? You can read more about it right here.

Today, I’m gonna make trying a new eco-friendly laundry soap even easier. I’m giving away two 50fl. oz bottles of Seventh Generation Natural 2X Concentrated Laundry Detergent. This laundry soap is hypoallergenic, biodegradable and even works well in cold water, helping you save a little extra on your energy bill!

I’ve chosen the “Free & Clear” variety for this giveaway, to make it extra handy for those of you with any allergies. Each one of these small-and-mighty bottles washes 33 loads of laundry. You can keep them both for yourself or invite a friend to join you in trying an earth friendly laundry soap. Free laundry soap and you’re protecting the planet while you wash. Now that’s what I call “a load off your mind”!

To Enter:  Leave a comment that begins with “GET A LOAD OF ME!” and tell me how many loads of laundry you do in an average week. Only one entry per email address will be allowed, so that everyone gets a fair chance of winning.

Enter By:  Monday, June 20, 2011 at 10pm EST

Number of winners: Only 1, so enter now!

The Winner:  Will be selected at random from the total number of comments by using random.org and will be announced in next Tuesday’s post.

Want more giveaways? I have some things planned for the future, but I’d love to hear about the kinds of thing you would like to win when you enter your comment.

What are you waiting for? Enter your comment to win now!

Airing dirty laundry

Can you guess what today’s post is about? I like to use related phrases as titles for each post, but today’s post is about exactly what it says, dirty laundry.

Shouldn't all laundry rooms be this pretty? Image courtesy of Canadian House & Home

I have this idea that many of you have gone through what I have gone through when it comes to buying laundry supplies at the grocery store. I have bought the same brand of detergent for years, without even thinking about it. I noticed “greener” and “eco-friendly” soaps appear over the past decade, but I thought, “It’s soap! How toxic can soap really be?!”

Turns out, I was really wrong.

I’m not gonna blast any specific products by name, but I did want to share some info I found about common laundry detergent ingredients. I figure (and I’m guessing that this is exactly what the big soap companies don’t want us to do) that we are all capable of reading our own bottles ourselves and comparing info once we know what all the chemical words mean. Take a look at this little list:

  • Phosphates: When these chemicals are released into our natural water systems (lakes, rivers, etc.), they cause algae to have huge growth blooms which deplete the oxygen from the water. This suffocates fish and plant life and can unbalance an ecosystem very severely. Europe is banning all phosphates in domestic products beginning in 2013.
  • Petroleum distillates (aka napthas): If you Google “Petroleum distillates”, the first link that pops up is Wikipedia’s entry for “Oil refinery”. That’s who you’re giving money to with every purchase. In case that’s not enough, some of these chemicals have been linked to cancer, lung damage, lung inflammation and damage to mucous membranes. All in the name of clean towels.

    Image courtesy of Wikipedia

  • Sodium hypochlorite (household bleach): Bleach can’t be bad. People have used it for over a century, right? Did you know that bleach is involved in more household poisonings than any other chemical? Let bleach loose with organic compounds and it also creates carcinogens, which can cause reproductive and immune system disorders. Just how bright do our gym socks really need to be?
  • EDTA (ethylene-diamino-tetra-acetate): EDTA is often used as an alternative to phosphates. It reduces mineral hardness in water and allows machinery to run more smoothly in hard water exposure. EDTA can also dissolve toxic heavy metals in the environment, allowing them to re-enter the food chain. Even more scary: you can find it in many food products.

I could go on with a longer list here, but I think you must already be thinking the same things I was: “I put this stuff in the clothing I wear against my skin?!”

Now, I don’t like to bring up a big household problem without trying to contribute a realistic solution or idea. By now you have probably figured out that this is a Greener Living series post, which you can read all about right here.  Here’s how we solved this problem at our house:

We now use Seventh Generation products for our laundry. I am not sponsored by Seventh Generation to say pretty things about their products. I only ever recommend products I actually use because I like to be honest about my experiences.

When I was looking for a new laundry soap (after I freaked out and threw out all of the food with EDTA in it from our pantry), I was also looking for a good value of price in eco-friendly soap. Seemed like an impossible combo, but Seventh Generation, which I buy at Target, fit the bill.

I also like that they translate all of the ingredients on the product labels for easy identification.

Do you know where Seventh Generation gets its name from?

In our every deliberation, we must consider the impact of our decisions on the next seven generations. – From the Great Law of the Iroquois Confederacy

I like that idea as a company mission statement. Seventh Generation has a lot of household products available, but I haven’t tried them all. You can browse their full line of products and sign up for some coupons by clicking the link in the picture below.

Bonus tip: If you’ve read this far in the post, I’ll let you in on a secret: Be sure to visit tomorrow’s post for a chance at a great Greener Living giveaway!

Want more Greener Living ideas? Visit this page for a complete listing of products and solutions from previous posts.

Have you used Seventh Generation products before? Do you have another planet-friendly laundry soap you’d like to recommend? Share your ideas and solutions by leaving a comment!

What so proudly we hailed

It’s Flag Day. You might not have even known that. I found it printed in small type on my planner. Flag Day is not an official federal holiday. Do any of you celebrate Flag Day?

Flag Day happens every June 14th in the US. It commemorates the adoption of the Star Spangled Banner as our nation’s official flag. This adoption took place through a resolution passed during the Second Continental Congress in 1777, on June 14th. Very interesting, but what does this have to do with our real lives today? Well, I’ll tell ya. (Some pet peeve venting ahead…brace yourselves!)

I live in Baltimore, where the national anthem that shares the same name as our flag was written. “And the rockets red glare…”? Those rockets were fired here, over Baltimore, during the War of 1812. We take out-of-town guests to visit Fort McHenry, I drive on Francis Scott Key Highway, the beautiful Key Memorial is in my neighborhood:

I love the design of this memorial and fountain. I like originality of using the formal column and pedestal, then breaking the form by allowing Key to wash up on its solemn shore in his boat. Someone clearly put some heartfelt craftsmanship into the design of this memorial.

And that is why this makes me CRAZY:

This is also at the edge of my neighborhood. A giant torn flag waving in the breeze. This flag does not look like it is being respected, yet alone “hailed”. (Did I mention that this is in Baltimore?! Heresy!) I bet you can find torn flags in your area, too. There are laws against this, as well there should be.

I believe if you are going to make the effort to show our flag with pride, then do it right. Too many people have sacrificed for the ideals the flag represents to do otherwise. Full disclosure: I have been known to call business owners and shame them about their US flag display. Do you hear me, Used Car Salesmen of America? I’m comin’ for ya!

So, in honor of Flag Day, I’ve excerpted the US Flag Code, Title 4, Chapter 1 (which is a long and detailed  read, let me tell ya!). My excerpted version below should be all you need to help you display your own Star Spangled Banner with pride and dignity outside your home. Feel free to print a copy of this and share it with others. Our flag is so beautiful, long may she wave.

Time and occasions for display

  • It is the universal custom to display the flag only from sunrise to sunset on buildings and on stationary flagstaffs in the open. However, when a patriotic effect is desired, the flag may be displayed twenty-four hours a day if properly illuminated during the hours of darkness.
  • The flag should be hoisted briskly and lowered ceremoniously.
  • The flag should not be displayed on days when the weather is inclement, except when an all-weather flag is displayed.
  • The flag should be displayed on all days, especially on:

New Year’s Day, January 1
Inauguration Day, January 20
Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, third Monday in January
Lincoln’s Birthday, February 12
Washington’s Birthday, third Monday in February
Easter Sunday (variable)
Mother’s Day, second Sunday in May
Armed Forces Day, third Saturday in May
Memorial Day (half-staff until noon), the last Monday in May
Flag Day, June 14
Father’s Day, third Sunday in June
Independence Day, July 4
Labor Day, first Monday in September
Constitution Day, September 17
Columbus Day, second Monday in October
Navy Day, October 27
Veterans Day, November 11
Thanksgiving Day, fourth Thursday in November
Christmas Day, December 25
and such other days as may be proclaimed by the President of the United States
the birthdays of States (date of admission)
and on State holidays.

Position and manner of display

  • The flag of the United States of America should be at the center and at the highest point of the group when a number of flags of States or localities or pennants of societies are grouped and displayed from staffs.
  • When flags of States, cities, or localities, or pennants of societies are flown on the same halyard with the flag of the United States, the latter should always be at the peak. When the flags are flown from adjacent staffs, the flag of the United States should be hoisted first and lowered last. No such flag or pennant may be placed above the flag of the United States or to the United States flag’s right.
  • When flags of two or more nations are displayed, they are to be flown from separate staffs of the same height. The flags should be of approximately equal size. International usage forbids the display of the flag of one nation above that of another nation in time of peace.
  • When the flag of the United States is displayed from a staff projecting horizontally or at an angle from the window sill, balcony, or front of a building, the union of the flag should be placed at the peak of the staff unless the flag is at half-staff. When the flag is suspended over a sidewalk from a rope extending from a house to a pole at the edge of the sidewalk, the flag should be hoisted out, union first, from the building.
  • When displayed either horizontally or vertically against a wall, the union should be uppermost and to the flag’s own right, that is, to the observer’s left. When displayed in a window, the flag should be displayed in the same way, with the union or blue field to the left of the observer in the street.
  • The flag, when flown at half-staff, should be first hoisted to the peak for an instant and then lowered to the half-staff position. The flag should be again raised to the peak before it is lowered for the day. On Memorial Day the flag should be displayed at half-staff until noon only, then raised to the top of the staff.

Respect for flag

No disrespect should be shown to the flag of the United States of America; the flag should not be dipped to any person or thing.

  • The flag should never be displayed with the union down, except as a signal of dire distress in instances of extreme danger to life or property.
  • The flag should never touch anything beneath it, such as the ground, the floor, water, or merchandise.
  • The flag should never be carried flat or horizontally, but always aloft and free.
  • The flag should never be used as wearing apparel, bedding, or drapery. It should never be festooned, drawn back, nor up, in folds, but always allowed to fall free. Bunting of blue, white, and red, always arranged with the blue above, the white in the middle, and the red below, should be used for covering a speaker’s desk, draping the front of the platform, and for decoration in general.
  • The flag should never be fastened, displayed, used, or stored in such a manner as to permit it to be easily torn, soiled, or damaged in any way.
  • The flag should never be used as a covering for a ceiling.
  • The flag should never have placed upon it, nor on any part of it, nor attached to it any mark, insignia, letter, word, figure, design, picture, or drawing of any nature.
  • The flag should never be used as a receptacle for receiving, holding, carrying, or delivering anything.
  • The flag should never be used for advertising purposes in any manner whatsoever. It should not be embroidered on such articles as cushions or handkerchiefs and the like, printed or otherwise impressed on paper napkins or boxes or anything that is designed for temporary use and discard. Advertising signs should not be fastened to a staff or halyard from which the flag is flown.
  • No part of the flag should ever be used as a costume or athletic uniform. However, a flag patch may be affixed to the uniform of military personnel, firemen, policemen, and members of patriotic organizations. The flag represents a living country and is itself considered a living thing. Therefore, the lapel flag pin being a replica, should be worn on the left lapel near the heart.
  • The flag, when it is in such condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem for display, should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning.

Conduct during hoisting, lowering or passing of flag

During the ceremony of hoisting or lowering the flag or when the flag is passing in a parade or in review, all persons present in uniform should render the military salute. Members of the Armed Forces and veterans who are present but not in uniform may render the military salute. All other persons present should face the flag and stand at attention with their right hand over the heart, or if applicable, remove their headdress with their right hand and hold it at the left shoulder, the hand being over the heart. Citizens of other countries present should stand at attention. All such conduct toward the flag in a moving column should be rendered at the moment the flag passes.

How to fold and store a flag properly

For a great visual tutorial on how to fold the US flag properly, please visit this site:  http://www.usflag.org/foldflag.html

If you are interested in more info on flag decorum and care, visit:  http://www.ushistory.org/betsy/faq.htm for FAQ and other details.

All the images in today’s post (excepting the first two) are courtesy of art.com, a favorite source of mine for all kinds of beautiful images.

Do you have an opinion about all of these flag regulations? All comments are welcome, because we are a free country! Happy Flag Day, everyone!

Hang ’em high!

As we discussed last week, Salon style with its “gallery walls” is very popular again. You can find this wall decor in most dwelling magazines and home furnishing show rooms. (Learn more about their long popularity and history in this Design Vocabulary post.)

This is one of my favorite DIY techniques to teach my clients. I did it by myself for several years before realizing how much my clients enjoy participating in this step of the room installation process. Now I teach it to everyone who wants to learn!

As much as they are popular, gallery walls can also be quite intimidating. So much relies on getting the arrangement right and then hanging it all to match what you’ve imagined in your mind.

Image courtesy of House Beautiful

Beginning today, those worries are over! We are going to hang a gallery wall of art without making one single mistake. Not one nail hung in the wrong place and not one picture hung just a little too high/low/close to the next one.

I promise you that this method is foolproof. To prove that I practice what I preach, I’m gonna show you step-by-step pictures from hanging my own gallery wall in our narrow foyer. Mr. CARO and I just finished this project last week. Let’s get started:

Supplies needed

  • Measuring tape
  • Painter’s tape
  • Roll of brown paper or gift wrapping paper (I really like to use Scotch Postal Wrapping Paper, which I often buy at Target for around $4.50. One roll of this heavier paper will supply you for many projects.)
  • Pencil
  • Nails
  • Hammer
  • Art (fine art, framed prints, photographs, mementos, etc.)

Technique

  1. Measure your entire wall and decide on the total area that your art gallery will take up on that wall. We’ll call that decided-upon-area the “gallery box”. 
  2. On clean and open floor space, roll out your paper roll to mimic the total area measurement of the gallery box. If you are using wrapping paper be sure to have the white side of the paper facing up. If your gallery box is taller than your paper roll, use the painter’s tape to secure two rows of paper together on the back sides of the paper. Weigh down the corners of your paper with books, as needed. 
  3. Now lay out your art on the floor within the gallery box. Move the art around as you play with the layout. Look at the gallery box from different angles. If you have a very large gallery box, like mine, try viewing it from atop a tall step stool or short household ladder to gain perspective. Keep moving your art around until you are satisfied with all of the placements.
  4. When you are happy with your art layout, take a picture of the gallery box as a whole with the art in place. Get back up that ladder if you need to, you’ll thank yourself later!
  5. Next, take your pencil and mark the top of each frame in its proper position on the gallery box paper. 
  6. Here’s the hardest part of this whole project: you have to mark exactly where each frame’s hook is on the gallery box paper. You have to get this part very accurate or it will undo your careful spacing and your gallery will migrate oddly on the actual wall. If you missed it earlier, there are two easy, accurate ways to measure this and I’ve put them both within the steps of this tutorial post.

    (Mr. CARO is a "Gunslinger", per the picture hanging tutorial.)

  7. When you are done with all of your markings, remove all of your art from the floor. Your gallery box should now be covered with lots of little markings for each frame, which should all look similar to this: 
  8. Using your painter’s tape, you are now going to attach your gallery box to the wall on which all of the art will hang. Use extra tape to make sure that the paper is secure.

    Blue tape + blue walls makes for difficult contrast, but you can see what I mean...

    This is great time to make sure that you like the height at which your gallery will be hung. It’s quite common for people to discover they want their gallery to begin a little higher up on their wall then they had originally considered. With this method, you don’t have to re-hang all that art, just adjust your paper!

  9. With the gallery box now secured on the wall, let’s get some nails up. Hammer the nails right through the paper. (To use your hammer properly, check out this tutorial right here.) All of your nail placements are perfectly marked, so all you have to do is work down the wall until you are done. 
  10. Nail work done? Take the tape off of your gallery box paper and then GENTLY, so as not to pull out any smaller nails, tear away the paper from the nails. 
  11. Use your photo (the one that you may have taken from the top of the ladder) to hang up all of your art on their respective nails.

 Congratulations! You’re done!

(Without a single hammer/nail error to fix! Huzzah!)

Now that you understand this gallery art hanging technique, you can use it for small or large groupings of any kind of art in your home. It takes away any guesswork and nail hole patching by letting you see your art collection as a whole before it is on the wall. Imagine how much easier this can make hanging a gallery of pictures up in a tricky place, like up a staircase wall!

Image courtesy of House Beautiful

Where can you use this technique in your home? What have you been dying to get up on your walls? Be sure to leave a comment! You may inspire others for their projects!

Mood Board: Perfectly pink home office

This project was designed using our DIY Design service. I’m currently in the process of developing an online version of this service, which you can read more about right here. I would really like to hear from you, too. Am I missing something you would want included? Please leave a comment!

Now, on to today’s mood board…

This DIY Design room was designed for a client looking to upgrade her small home office. As a freelance journalist, she spends a lot of time writing at home. Her home office had functioned as make-do office/guest room for several years. Its contents included an well-loved futon, a functional bookcase, a tall file cabinet and a card table, acting as a desk.

The client wanted a light and airy space. Her favorite color is pink, but she didn’t want a room with pink walls.  She wanted a homey  space where she could work, but that she would also feel comfortable inviting colleagues into as needed. She wanted a softer place to read, besides a stylish desk chair. She mentioned that she also loves flowers, but has severe allergies, so “no plants, please”…

The first thing to do in this room was rearrange the existing furniture. The futon and card table were donated to her younger brother. The tall file cabinet and the bookcase were tucked away in the empty closet. This allows the client to keep professional books and office supplies stacked however she wants them and they can all be tidied away just by closing the closet door.

Knowing that we would want to include lots of pink in the room, this silvery grey wall color (Benjamin Moore Color Preview in “Silver Half Dollar”) provides a neutral background for warmer colors and any patterns. We also added some simple crown molding to the design to give a nice finished look to the walls. A crisp white paint (Benjamin Moore Color Preview in “Chantilly Lace”) was chosen to update the trim, crown molding and doors.

Painting the walls grey brought much attention to the white Berber carpet already in the room. We kept the carpet, especially since it had nice cushy padding, but we minimized the bright white color by centering a darker grey area rug on top. The gentle circular pattern on the rug helps soften all of the right angles in the room.

To keep the room feeling airy, lightly textured sheers were chosen for the window. This will cut down on any glare when the client is working on her computer and offer a breezy feeling if she wants to open the window. We echoed the soft waves of the sheer in the new ceiling fixture. With multiple glass panels hanging around the shade, this fixture will offer some softly diffused light when the client works in the evening. Our last lighting choice was this large desk lamp. The crystal base lets the light pass through it, giving the lamps a lighter feel on the desk surface and adding a tiny bit of sparkle to the room.

Speaking of a light feeling, this trestle style desk was chosen to give the client plenty of storage for her printer and her scanner without taking away from the desk top surface area. The open shelves and legs of the desk also keep the desk from feeling like a heavy piece of furniture in the room. The desk chair needed to feel dressier than most desk chairs. By choosing a dining chair and having it custom upholstered in a modern dark pink print, the client has a comfortable desk chair in her favorite color. This desk chair can also be used as a stylish side chair with the settee.

This small settee is ideal for the room size. We also liked the elegant legs, which repeat the wood finishes found in the desk and desk chair. The tufting on the back of this settee make for a lovely texture against the smooth grey walls. Two contrasting pink pillows also add some velvet texture and extra comfort for the client to enjoy when she’s reading.

The woven textured basket can catch all of the client’s magazines in a neat stack by the settee and also give the room some natural texture. Two green garden seats were chosen to serve as simple end tables to the settee or the client can place them together to use as a coffee table. The light green color gives some contrast to our neutrals, without steeling focus from the saturated shades of pink.

Finally, most importantly, we wanted some real pops of pink on the walls. Knowing that our client loves flowers but has real allergy issues, these beautiful photography prints give her a flowers year round with no watering required. They also bring in more texture from nature, which always helps a room feel more relaxing.

By choosing very livable neutrals, this rooms allows the client’s favorite color to really show its personality. Mixing textures and light keeps this room feeling clean and airy, a perfect place for working in comfort.

Unique, affordable, comfortable living.

Almost a genocide

Do you see this pretty little pot?

It has seen a lot of death.

I do not have great luck with house plants. I can easily choose them as part of a great room design. I can find the ideal leaf shape and the perfect vessel to place them in, but after that, it’s best I just leave.

And I’m putting it mildly. Much more mildly than I over or underwater the brave plants that venture into my dangerous home. I have unintentionally killed lots of plants. My husband has been known sigh with sadness as he empties yet another pretty pot of dirt into the trash.

I have met others with this problem, but there is no support group for those of us sporting rather brown thumbs. So today, in the hopes I may offer some succor for people like me, I present my list:

8 House Plants I Can’t Kill

Philodendron

This little climber is a real prizefighter. It will grow to enormous lengths despite any number of neglectful conditions.

Peace Lily

Don’t let this delicate example fool you. These plants can grow to be 6 feet tall and almost as wide. They may droop when they are thirsty, but they spring right back up.

English Ivy

This plant family often challenges professional landscapers when it comes to removing it from buildings. It really holds on and puts up a fight, which makes it perfect for me.

Ficus

This is a tree, which makes me proud that I can sustain something so big when I have killed so many smaller plant specimens. This tree is also known as a rubber tree, based on its sap, and is a cousin to the fig tree.

Snake Plant

This plant can also grow to be very tall. It is sometimes known as “Mother-in-Law’s Tongue”, but I’ll leave the name choice to you.

Spider Plant

These plants can be grown quickly and easily. This plant is also known as “Bad Mother” because it leaves its youngest sprouts vulnerable as they droop away from the center of the plant.

Jade

This plant is hardy enough to withstand multiple military moves across several states without leaving a single plump leaf behind. What more can you ask of a plant?

Donkey’s Tail

This is my very own little plant in this picture. I grew it from a tiny little collection of stems and now it has stretched its heavy arms toward the window. It is not as full as other examples of this plant, but it makes me smile every day.

All of today’s pictures, with two noted exceptions, come from the luscious plant encyclopedia of the Better Homes and Gardens website. They are great resource for any plant or garden owner, even those of us known to clutch a watering can as we swallow our shameful failing.

What types of plants do you enjoy in your home? Have you ever struggled with a particular house plant? Please don’t make me feel alone out here with my plant efforts. Leave a comment!

Salon style

Have you seen the popularity of gallery walls in homes recently?

Image courtesy of House Beautiful

They are everywhere. It is the trendiest new way to show off a collection of photos, art and memorabilia. Except…it’s not really new. Today’s Design Vocabulary is about where this trend originated and how it is useful again in homes today.

The “gallery wall”, as it is commonly called today, is quite an accurate name. One of the original French terms for “art gallery” is “Salon”. The habit of showing multiple pieces of art on one wall or surface became known as “Salon style”. You can see it in its original action right here:

Image courtesy of bostonartlife.com

Salons, also sometimes referred to as “Salon de Paris”, were the official annual art shows of the French Académie des Beaux-Art in Paris, France. Starting in the 1700’s, these massive art shows lasted for weeks of each year so that all of the critics and reviewers had a chance to consider and document the work.

It was a great achievement for artists to have even one piece of their work shown at the Salon. It gave them wider exposure within the arts community, recognition of a certain standard among art buyers and a sort of launch of their name as an artist to be taken seriously.

Image courtesy of blog.sfmoma.org

The general public attended these art shows as well. The Salons were held at the Louvre museum and the crowds would line up to get in for hours every day. (Not unlike some experiences at the Louvre today.) Once they were inside, the lowest members of the public classes mingled with upper class critics and artists alike.

Public opinions (a new idea at the time) were expressed right along with those of the elite experts. This became popular with the public for the same reasons many people today would love to attend big movie premieres. It was THE stylish entertainment and you could say you were there, in the middle of it all. Whether or not you actually cared for the art was beside the point:

"This Year, Venuses Again" by Daumier, 1864, Image courtesy of Wikipedia

To fit in all of the art chosen for each Salon, the paintings were hung in the Louvre from floor to ceiling. As you can see in the illustration below, the larger paintings were hung toward the ceiling, allowing the details of the smaller painting to be viewed more easily, closer to eye-level.

This juxtaposition allowed for more comparison between the individual artists and their contemporaries. It also made the rooms buzz with conversation and gossip amongst the attendees, a marketing strategy we still see at play in the press every around Los Angeles Oscar parties.

Image courtesy of parsons.edu

As the fashion of attending the annual Salon de Paris became mandatory for the social elite, the Salon style of hanging multiple pictures in larger groups began to appear in almost every class of domestic setting. It was a less-than-subtle way of showing your guests that you not only attending the Salons, but could afford to live and decorate with your own art collection.

Image from the Palace of Fontainebleau courtesy of wayfaring.info

Today, with the technological addition of photography to our arts, there are many more choices as to what can be included on a Salon style wall. This is now also a great place to display art, family photos, special mementos, etc.

Many of today’s designers (myself included) like to use a gallery wall to make a small space look larger. By placing art in a larger group, the art is can visually become one large piece, giving the illusion of a larger wall. Similarly, by placing the top row of art closer to the ceiling, the eye is naturally drawn up to take them in, giving the impression of a higher ceiling. You can see both of these effects in this example:

Image courtesy of Elle Decor

Do you like a gallery wall in the Salon style? I’ll be posting an easy DIY tutorial next week! Stay tuned!

What would you include in gallery wall? You can read some great ideas for art here, here, here and here. Do you have a great idea for beautiful art in the home? Leave a comment and share it with other readers!

Going to great lengths

Here is my #1 tip for making your bathroom feel bigger:

Change your shower curtain.

No, really. But not just to any old new shower curtain. You want an extra-long shower curtain. Did you know those were available? Most clients are shocked when I suggest such a thing.

Who did decide that 72 inches would be the standard length of all shower curtains? I’m guessing it was someone who lived in a time when we were all a little shorter.

Image courtesy of ioffer.com

But back to my tip…

Buy an extra long shower curtain and hang it as high as you can with the bottom hem just grazing the floor. These extra long curtains are 84 or 96 inches long. You can even find them in 108 inch length varieties, for those of you with very high ceilings of claw foot tubs. There are plenty of curtain liners available to match these sizes, too.

If your curtain reaches the ceiling and the bottom edge of the fabric puddles a little on the floor, you may need to hem it a tiny bit. Don’t risk tripping as you step out of the bath! (Those of you with real sewing skills could even consider making your own shower curtains. You can pick from any fabric you like!)

Image courtesy of The Container Store

After you have hung your XL curtain, leave the bathroom for a few minutes, then come back in. The room will feel taller! You see, the long uniform lines of the fabric draw the eye up. They give the illusion that there is more height in the room because you are used to (really used to) seeing a shower curtain at a certain height. (This is the same principle used by all of those shoe designers producing “nude” colored heels.)

Give it try in your home. You’ll be amazed at the difference! Pictured below (and linked to their sources) are some great examples of XL shower curtains out now, but it won’t be too hard for you to find them in stores near you, either.

This is the kind we have in our home. Simple, waffle-patterned, white cotton. It feels very spa-like.

This model is called "Hitchcock", which made me laugh.

Have a great tip of your own for bathroom savvy decor? Leave a comment for everyone to see!

Problem Solver: Emergency Soup

Is there anything more annoying than a summer cold?

I could probably think of some things, now that I think about it…but that is not really where I’m going with this today. No. Today I’m going to offer a little appeasement to the cold & fever gods so that we may all be protected for the summer.

I call this idea “Emergency Soup”. It seems like a really simple concept. So simple that once you understand it you might be thinking, “Well, I think she could have written about something more interesting than that for today!”

Let me assure you, you will only think that because you are feeling fine as you read this.

Here’s the concept:

  1. Go to your grocery store and find the soup aisle.
  2. Pick out the soup you prefer when you are sick.
  3. Buy several cans of said chosen soup.
  4. Store (hide!) those cans of soup at the back of your cabinet/pantry and do not use them, under any conditions, unless you are sick.

It does seem so simple, doesn’t it? I can’t tell you how many years it took me to figure out the brilliance of this plan when I was a workaholic single 20-something. But once I had experienced the joy of discovering the Emergency Soup, JUST when I NEEDED it most, there was no way back.

I defended my Emergency Soup from kitchen pillaging roommates, my husband’s random snacking tendencies and recipes requiring more chicken broth than I had remembered to buy. The Emergency Soup had my back whenever I

  • was sick
  • felt like I might be getting sick
  • made a highly questionable late night meal choice because I was in my 20’s

and Emergency Soup can be there for you.

Whenever someone wakes up to sinus pain and an important meeting on the same day, it will be there. Whenever a spouse can’t run to the store because “the game” is starting, it will be there. Wherever a child vomits in their bed at 2am but insists on chocolate pudding for lunch at noon, Emergency Soup WILL BE THERE!

Seriously, though. Pick up a few cans of soup on your next grocery trip and sock them away, out of the everyday reaches of your family. When you really need it, you, too, will exclaim:

“Emergency Soup to the rescue!”

Then you can write a comment on this post that starts with, “I LOVE Emergency Soup!” Or you can leave a comment now, if you like. Go, now. And stay healthy this summer, my friends!

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