Monthly Archives: July 2011

How much for the Cheshire Cat?

I’ve been noticing a new design trend across the industry lately. You might have noticed it, too, if you get a lot of catalogs. It looks a little something like this:

These are stools. Although, I would argue you could also use them as side tables. Have you noticed how many of these are popping up in stores and catalogs? They seem to be everywhere.

The product description for the pastel stools above reads:

“You’ll instantly fall in love with the Kenneth Stool, a chic, contemporary seat that is available in a range of bright, inviting colors. Place one or several in your living room, kitchen, bedroom or home bar for a sophisticated and modern look that is also playful and full of fun personality.”

The thing is…I’ve been wondering if people really buy and use these stools. I am all for modern design and I love the advances that have been made in acrylic furniture and accent decor over the past decades.

However, most of the adults I know don’t really prefer to sit on stools in a furnished room. It’s a little like being seated at the Thanksgiving kid’s table when you’re 40. You can see the comfy sofa across the room, but you have to sit perched like Miss Muffet while making conversation.

(Yes, that’s a stool, too. I can’t decide if the inspiration was a bean bag or a circus clown’s nose.)

Would you offer stools to your guests in your living room? I just don’t think it says, “Welcome, and make yourself at home”. This should be a consideration when you realize that some of these stools can be quite expensive. Like these:

These are made of cork and are $450. Each. I wish there was some way to find out if anyone had ever bought them as a set.

Most Americans decorate their homes in casual-eclectic mix and I’m not sure what decor these colors would join or in what room they would add legitimate seating. For example, I don’t know who these guys are (European boy band reunion?), but I would be a little nervous sitting on these:

You see what I mean?

Now, to be fair, there are some stools that I really do like, such as these classic jardinieres:

I really like the shiny modern finish options. You could use one as a nice side table by an arm chair or even an interesting plant stand in a hallway. Of course, they could also work outside, as they were originally designed to do centuries ago.

This stool, in a garden setting…

…also seems perfectly reasonable and frankly, rather charming. I also like the idea of stools with storage in them:

It could be a real bonus in a kid’s room. Anything that can help clean-up time gets a warm welcome from parents.

Some stools I’ve seen also remind me of something else. Like these, which seem a little like a modern chess pawns to me:

These walnut stools have actually been around for a while. They were designed by Charles and Ray Eames. You can read more about them right here.

Now what does this stool remind you of? Folded paper? Folded cloth? Something…

And some of these stools look downright uncomfortable for the human form. This stool is made of stainless steel:

It would have to be a table in any home setting I can imagine.

“Umm…..no, thank you. I’ll just stand…and hold my drink.”

All in all, most of these new stools make me think I’ve wandered into the consignment shop of Lewis Carroll’s imagination. What do you think of this current trend? Can you think of a place where you would use a new stool in your home? Leave a comment and share your opinions.

All of the above pictures are linked to their retailers, to make shopping and browsing easy…and to prove I’m not making any of these designs up!

Christmas in July

Last month, I wrote a post all about how I plan for Christmas during the other months of the year. I don’t do this because I’m super organized, I just do it because I like to save money. You can read about one of my thrifty methods in this post and today I’m going to show you another one.

Image courtesy of whitehouse.gov

Right now is great time to buy artificial Christmas trees. July is the time of year when tree retailers like to clear out last year’s models for their new inventory. What makes a Christmas tree look like last year’s model? If you figure it out, please email me the answer.

All I know is that their inventory change can mean big saving for us. Such as, in 50-60% off their prices, with free shipping. Those kinds of savings can translate into more money leftover for your Christmas gift budget. (Cue Hallelujah chorus here.) If your workplace throws an annual Christmas party, now is great time to get savings on your decor, too. Let me show you how to work these deals…

Choosing the right size

Here’s the easy-to-remember tip for always choosing a tree height that fits your home perfectly:

The top of your Christmas tree should be a minimum of one foot taller than the tallest person in your household.

For example, Mr. CARO is 6 feet, 5 inches tall, so our Christmas tree should always be at least 7 feet, 5 inches tall. This measurement does not include the height of whatever you use as a tree topper (an angel, a star, etc.).

30" tabletop tree for $45, online at Target

Of course, if you have high ceilings, you might want to go with a taller tree. To feel proportioned in the room, most trees need to get close to the ceiling, but this can also vary based on how you use your room. This brings me to my next tip:

Be sure to measure your floor space and compare it against the tree’s diameter before ordering.

There is no standard size for artificial Christmas trees and you can’t use the pictures you see online as a reliable measurement guide. The taller the tree, the wider the base of the tree. There are now also popular models designed for narrower spaces that are slim at their base but stand slightly taller. Measuring in advance is essential to avoid having pesky, bulky returns.

I think this should be called the "You've had too much Egg Nog" model, $400 online at Target (Yep. $400.)

Buying Tips

These tips come from real life experiences of our friends and family (and us). I share these so you can avoid frustrating mistakes that can break your happy Christmas savings mood.

  1. When choosing you tree online, be sure to look at a close-up of a branch. You can use the “view larger” option on most catalog images to do this easily. Examining the branches up close can help you make sure that your tree is the right shade of color, realistic and has no other surprises. (“Pinecones?! I didn’t notice tiny pine cones in the picture online!”)
  2. Many sites offer one model of tree with colored lights and an identical model with white lights. Be sure to look closely at the wording and pictures to make sure you have chosen the one you really want. It’s normally listed in the tree description during the check-out process, too.

    Do you need a bag to store your Christmas tree? A lot of those are on sale now, too.

  3. When your tree arrives, put it together and make sure everything works. While it may feel a little odd to put up a Christmas tree while you sip iced tea, it will make you crazy if you discover the lights don’t work or the stand is too wobbly in December.
  4. Save any warranties that come with your tree. The tree may work fine when it arrives, but this way you are protected (at your sale price) from future problems.

Varieties

In researching this post, I was amazed at all of the different options in Christmas trees available. While I’m going to give you a nice list of sites to browse, I also thought I’d show you some of the items that really caught my eye. All of the pictures below are linked to their retailers for easy shopping.

This is a great time for finding deals on garlands, wreaths and other holiday decor, too. Like this 10 foot pre-lit garland:

It looks very nice. Why is it on clearance? I have no idea.

I would have though you should just put a wreath on each door, but this would be very handy on narrower French doors.

This a good example of one of the nice slim trees I mentioned earlier. See how they show you a close-up of the branch, too. Very nice.

Hmmm…I think this one might look better outside.

This tree rotates on its stand and I can’t imagine why this hasn’t caught on more. It would certain make the tree decorating process much simpler!

The trunk of this red spiral tree changes colors and is filled with moving bubbles. I’m thinking ornaments would just get in the way here.

Not everyone pictures hearty alpine-like trees as part of their Christmas. This is one of the nicer options I saw among many palm tree choices.

This tree just made me laugh out loud:

"The Stephen J. Colbert National Treasure Tree"

Sources

Listed below are all of the retailers I explored online. I’m sure there are many retailers out there, but the ones I chose for this list had either huge off-season sales going on right now, great customer service recommendations or both.

Do you have a great store to recommend for Christmas tree decor? Are you a “tinsel on the tree” or “no tinsel” home? Leave a comment and share your Christmas tree stories.

Wish you were here: free giveaway!

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

It’s time for another free giveaway!

This week’s giveaway was inspired by yesterday’s post about using antique postcards as art for your home. (If you missed it, you can read all about it right here.) Beautiful art for your home is always a great vacation souvenir you can enjoy for years!

To show you that I “practice what I preach”, I’ve framed a trio of antique postcards for you to win. In honor of today’s date, which is “Bastille Day” in France, these postcards are all scenes from Paris:

Ah, Paris. City of Light. Could these pictures add a little “je ne sais quoi” to your home? The lovely architecture in these scenes certainly shows off some of the cosmopolitan style that Paris is so famous for across the centuries. The classic black frames will match any room’s decor.

I used the same technique for mounting these postcards in their frames that I shared with you in this post. You can stand the pictures up in a grouping on a table or hang them in an odd numbered (!) grouping on a wall. (Check out this post to learn how to hang them in a perfect grouping on the first try.)

To Enter:  Leave a comment that begins with “WISH YOU WERE HERE!” and tell me what foreign country you have always dreamed of visiting on vacation. Only one entry per email address will be allowed, so that everyone gets a fair chance of winning. Liberté, égalité, fraternité, my friends!

Enter By:  Monday, July 18, 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? Let me know about the kinds of thing you would like to win when you enter your comment. You might inspire a future giveaway!

A perfect vacation souvenir

Vacation season is upon us and whether you are traveling or choosing a more budget-friendly stay-cation option (you can read ideas for that here and here), we all love to bring vacation memories home with us.

Although, preferably, the best souvenirs shouldn’t cost us additional baggage fees. With that in mind, I have an idea for you today that you can enjoy all year long. I think it may be the perfect souvenir…

Postcards!

Now, wait. I know we all know what postcards are and it’s pretty easy to see that they pack well. Admittedly, I have collected postcards from before I could write on them. As a child, I would choose postcard from every new place we went and my mom would write down notes of what we did while we were there, what we saw, etc. Like this:

We traveled a lot, so I have a lot of these postcards, several very full albums of them. I love them. (Thanks, Mom!) It is fun to look back at all the places we’ve visited. I still collect postcards this way today. Mr. CARO once referred to our postcard process as “scrapbooking for lazy people”, which still makes me laugh. It’s a perfect description, since I am not a patient crafter…at ALL.

Now these photographic postcards are fun but they would look rather odd framed on your wall. There is another kind of postcard that can make for some beautiful art in your home. Take a look at these antique postcards:

These older postcards are like beautiful little watercolors. You can find all kinds of vivid colors in them. Imagine how great they would look framed (inexpensively) in your home. You could hang a whole wall of them. (Here’s a tutorial to make it easy.)

You aren’t limited to just American locations either. Here is one of my favorites that I found while studying in Florence, Italy:

You may be thinking, “I’ve never seen postcard stands filled with antique postcards.” That is the other reason these cards may be the ideal souvenir: you don’t have to find them on your vacation.

Just find a decent antique shop in your hometown. Here’s one of my favorites in Baltimore:

Once inside, ask the store employees where they keep their old postcards. They are often stored behind a counter, but they are almost always in boxes like these:

Can you see how many there are in just this one store? Hundreds, maybe even thousands. Postcards were the text messages of earlier eras, which means there are millions of them out there for very little money today. Here is a beautiful postcard I picked out showing Chateau Frontenac in Quebec, Canada:

Did you notice the $1.95 price tag? You don’t even have to change your money for the local currency to get this deal! You’re not limited to location themes in these postcards, either. Here’s an example of some of the many holiday cards you can find:

It would look great framed on a hall table at Christmas. These cards make thoughtful gifts, too. I’m sure you can think of sentimental destinations for friends and family members. You might even find a card for a great place you have forgotten you’ve already visited.

We keep all of our antique cards in an album, where we can make little notes next to them. Often, these old postcards come with letters and addresses from previous senders, which can make for interesting reading.

When we are in the mood to mix things up in our decor, we just slide out a couple of favorite cards and slip them into frames around the house. These types of  little changes can really give a well-loved room a seasonal lift.

Could you consider vacation postcards as art for your home? What favorite places would you like find on old postcards? Leave a comment and share your favorite vacation sites!

Be sure to stop by tomorrow a new giveaway! Here’s a sneak peek:

BIG House Tour: Chartwell

It’s been a while since we went on a BIG House Tour. For those who are unfamiliar with Chartwell, let me put it in some historical context. This house tour is important because of this little boy:

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

You may not recognize him now, but he grew up to be someone very famous in history. I want to start with him at this age, though, because we often forget that very famous people also live everyday lives. They have family arguments and have to decide what they want for lunch and where they want to live, just like the rest of us.

We also need to remember that most historical icons start out with no idea that they might be subject of books later or that people will want to visit their homes, simply because they once lived there. Understanding these common human beginnings and how history’s celebrities choose to live the everyday side of their lives can really give new understanding to their life’s work.

Our hero had a wealthy childhood, but not a very happy one.  His father, Randolph, came from a famous aristocratic English family with very empty coffers. This is the English family home, Blenheim Palace:

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

While it is very grand, it doesn’t really say, “come in and relax”, does it? As you can guess, it isn’t cheap to keep up a house like this, to say nothing of the very large swath of landscaped grounds that surround it. So, the men of this family chose a popular solution of the day: they married the daughters of American millionaires. (If you’re a PBS Masterpiece fan like me, you might already recognize this marriage formula from “Downton Abbey”.)

These American women, many with maiden names still recognizable today,
brought lots of money to their marriages in the form of dowries. In return, they were guaranteed a lifestyle on the scale they had grown up in, including a large house that their mothers had educated them to run. These ladies often also received some extension of their husband’s titles when they married, which was a lovely novelty for the families back home in the US.

Sounds perfect for everyone, right? It wasn’t. In fact, it led to many love-less marriages with wives feeling abandoned or neglected and husbands resenting that they had to do their “duty” by marrying money to keep the family bills paid. Our little hero’s American mother, Jennie, was in just such a marriage. Her husband, Randolph, was a known philanderer and was very distant with his two sons.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

So, our hero went off to boarding school, into the army (seen above), saw some action in a few war zones and eventually began a long career in the British government. Shortly thereafter he got married to a lovely girl named Clementine. Here she is:

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Together this couple would live in many houses over their adult lives. Some were chosen as they searched for the perfect house in London, some were tried on for size as the possible perfect house in the country and some came as part of our hero’s jobs.

You see, our little boy grew up to be…

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

…Sir Winston Churchill. This is the image most people think of when they think of Winston Churchill, but it’s worth remembering that while he was trying to save the world he was also a husband and a father of five children. And when you see the house the Churchills finally settled on, you can really understand why they chose a setting of quiet countryside.

Here’s a view of the back of the house as they found it:

Image source

Named “Chartwell, meaning “rough ground near a well”, this house had already been lived in for several centuries before the Churchills purchased it in 1922. As you can see from the picture above, there had been all manner of additions and “improvements” by previous owners.

Despite coming from aristocratic families, the Churchills had to ask, hat-in-hand, for money from the family trust to buy this house, and all other home purchases and leases in their lives. The governors of the trust would determine if they thought the purchase wise, then offer what money of the trust they deemed appropriate for each purchase. It was up to the Churchills to make up whatever money was leftover for the purchase. Here’s the property deed:

Image source

After purchasing the property and a large amount of acreage around the house, the Churchills had to make many changes to the house to bring it up to contemporary standards before they could move in. This included adding a wing to serve their children’s bedroom needs and much more basic-yet-expensive things, like replacing all the wiring and heating. They also took great steps to clean up the architecture of the house, as you can see by this picture of the back of the house.

Image source

The front of the house had also suffered under previous owners. Not only had it endured the addition of mismatched gables and tacked on bay windows, but almost the entire front of the house was covered in ivy.

Image source

Ivy, as any builder or gardener will tell you, is a real threat to the structure of any building. It corrodes what it clings to, be it mortar, brick, stone or wood. The Churchills had all of the ivy removed immediately and then set the builders the task of finding and restoring the original facade of the house.

Image source

Despite many set backs, billing arguments and expensive-old-house-discoveries (it is reassuring to know that even great world leaders have major contractor complications), the basic workings of the house were in place and the family moved in. Here is the front of the house as it stands today.

Image courtesy of the National Trust

After World War II, Chartwell was bought by a group of friends and admirers of the Churchills to be given to the National Trust upon Sir Winston’s death. This extraordinary gesture alleviated most of the mortgage woes and inheritance details the Churchills worried about for their children. For years, the identity of the group of donors remained a secret, but today, the names of these men and their generous gift are celebrated on a plaque on the Chartwell grounds.

Image courtesy of the National Trust

We’ll take a look at the extensive grounds later, but first, we’re going to look around inside. Although the Churchills lived in the house until the early ’60’s, all of the rooms have been restored to the 1930’s-40’s furnishing, per family wishes.

Because Chartwell is a popular tourist site, there are no photographs allowed inside the house itself. This keeps the tourists coming to see the house and keeps the profits up to maintain the property.  The few pictures I can show you of the interiors all come in various sizes from publications, guidebooks and postcards of the National Trust.

Image courtesy of the National Trust

This is the family sitting room, or drawing room. I love the large mirrors that flank the far window and the built-in bookcases. This seems like a lovely place to relax in with a good book. This room also shows how much light can reflect off of a glossy ceiling in a light color. In the US, we tend to paint most ceiling in a matte or flat finish.

Image courtesy of the National Trust

The dining room has sweeping views of the surrounding grounds. I love the round table, which can be extended to host a large party of guests. The chairs look rather comfortable and the floral upholstery keeps them from looking too formal.

Don’t you just love all the light in this room? Have you noticed that there is no chandelier over the table? They must have relied on candlelight and peripheral room lights, like those floor lamps, for evening meals.

Image source

This is Winston’s study. When the builders were restoring the house in the twenties, they discovered this timbered ceiling had been closed in and a lower ceiling installed under it for this room. The Churchills had the ceiling opened up and this room became the office for Winston and his writing. (Please take note of the fish tank, which we’ll discuss more later.)

Winston wrote prolifically, totaling 43 book-length works in 72 volumes, which still amazes me that he had time to do anything else. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1953. Here is his desk in the study, where he did most of his writing at Chartwell:

Image courtesy of the National Trust

While I love all of the framed pictures and mementos on this desk, it does seem almost too perfectly staged to be realistic. I’m thinking that Winston used more desk surface for his researching and writing than just two pads of paper’s worth of space. Don’t you? The light is lovely across the desk, though. I can see the attraction of the desk’s placement in the room. Let’s go upstairs…

Image courtesy of the National Trust

This is Clementine’s bedroom. As was the custom of their upbringing, the Churchills maintained separate bedrooms for their entire marriage. I find it interesting the Clementine’s bedroom is decorated in such rich, solid color, when the rest of the house has mostly neutral walls and delicate florals or small patterns in the furnishings.

You can also see they she placed her desk facing the fireplace, just like her husband did in his study. I would have never considered blocking the heat from a fireplace in a large old house, but it would be cosy to be close to as you work at your desk. (Side note: I just saw an oval phone table just like Clementine’s in a store the other day. It looked so familiar, but I couldn’t remember where I had seen it before. You can see it here.)

Next is Winston’s painting studio:

Image courtesy of the National Trust

I know what you’re thinking. In addition to writing professionally, raising a large family, running a government and ridding the world of Nazis, the man had time to paint?! Yep. And he was really quite good at it, as you will see in a moment.

Image courtesy of the National Trust

He created over 500 paintings in his lifetime. Makes us all feel like slackers, doesn’t it? It gets worse. He didn’t start painting until he was 40 years old.

Time to head outside…

Image source

This a map of the overall ground of Chartwell today. First let’s start with a side view of the house to get ourselves oriented:

Image courtesy of the National Trust

This croquet lawn was originally a tennis court for Clementine when the Churchill family first moved into the house. Later, they had it turned into a croquet lawn for more use when entertaining house guests and their grandchildren. Using the map above, you can see that the front of the house is the left side of the building and the back terraces are on the right.

The lakes feature prominently at the back of the property. While the Churchills bought the property for its beautiful views of the forest (the Weald of Kent), those trees have grown considerably over the decades and now lend the land a quiet sense of seclusion.

Image source

I think this view could inspire anyone to take up painting. Although, it wasn’t always this way. Several of the water features that look natural on the property now were installed using local labor and much supervision (and meddling) by Winston himself. They workers (and Winston) even used a portable railroad line to haul all of the dirt and muck out of the dig zones. You can see a railroad in action with this lake construction:

Image source

And Winston didn’t stop at the big projects. Many stories tell of his opinions on how to build things properly being shared with any building or gardening professional that would listen. He even got his hands dirty and found masonry to be quite relaxing:

Image source

(I always prefer a fedora when I’m building a garden wall, don’t you?)

Image source

It is believed that Winston helped out with the building of “Marycot”, short for “Mary’s Cottage”, for their youngest daughter. This is an example of what the British refer to as a “Wendy House” or what Americans call a “Playhouse”. (The “Wendy” comes from Wendy in Peter Pan, who had a small house built just for her in Never Never Land).

Image source

(I would move in there tomorrow if the windows weren’t quite so low.)

This is a view of the old kitchen gardens, near Marycot, as painted by Winston:

Image source

Most of the kitchen gardens have now been removed to allow for facilities needed by the National Trust, pesky things like visitor parking, rest rooms, offices. Now let’s just wander around the grounds and I’ll show you a few more things before we leave Chartwell.

Image courtesy of the National Trust

Image courtesy of the National Trust

Image courtesy of the National Trust

Image courtesy of the National Trust

The above rose garden was a Golden Anniversary gift from the Churchill children and grandchildren. 

The Churchill family were great animal lovers. They counted dogs, cats, birds and fish among their many pets. Here is Winston with one of his poodles, “Rufus”:

Image courtesy of the National Trust

Remember that fish tank in Winston’s study? He was a great fan of fish and built an ornamental fish pond, where he also enjoyed painting:

Image source

Black swans have always been a part of Chartwell’s landscape. Here is a painting of them by Winston, which I think is quite good for a hobby-ist:

Image source

The (heated) swimming pool:

Image source

The walled garden:

Image courtesy of the National Trust

The green houses:

Image source

The loggia which leads from the rose garden to the “Marlborough Pavillion” or summer-house.

Image courtesy of the National Trust

Image courtesy of the National Trust

Image courtesy of the National Trust

The frieze on the wall of this summer-house was painted by Winston’s nephew and depicts the Battle of Blenheim, pronounced: “Blen-nem”. Winston was a descendant of the Spencer-Churchill family and the Dukes of Marlborough. The first Duke was awarded Blenheim Place, seen at the top of this post, for winning the Battle of Blenheim in today’s Germany.

(If you are a Princess Diana fan and you noticed a familiar name in that last paragraph: Yes, those Spencers. Winston and Diana were cousins in a very large and very old aristocratic family.)

Image courtesy of the National Trust

That ends our BIG House Tour for today. Aren’t we lucky that we had such great weather and no lines at airport security? Could you see yourself living as the Churchills did at Chartwell? I would certainly give it my very best effort!  If you would like to visit Chartwell, please explore the detailed National Trust website right here. This organization works very hard to preserve history for all of us to enjoy and deserves your support!

Much of the information and many images shared in today’s post were found in Stephan Buczacki’s Churchill & Chartwell: The Untold Story of Churchill’s Houses and Gardens. I cannot recommend this book highly enough for those interested in history and Churchill. Despite being one of the most written about figures in history, this is the only book that really examines all of the homes Winston lived in and how it was all managed and paid for over his lifetime. A great read!

Do you have a BIG house that you’ve always wanted to visit? Do you have a must-see recommendation of a BIG house? Leave a comment! You might inspire our next tour!

Bonus post: new USPS stamps for design fans

Remember when I talked about using US Postage stamps as collectible art for your home? (You can read about it in the original post right here.) Well, I had to share this new collection of home design item stamps with you:

These stamps celebrate the classics industrial American designs that we now take for granted in our homes. (How much do I love those art deco pitchers? More than I can tell you.) The back of the sheet has a small history of every item pictured and a little info about the designers.

The full sheet of these “Forever” stamps is only $5.28. How’s that for affordable art?! You can order your own sheet by clicking right here.

And while you’re at the USPS website…might I also recommend this little beauty?

The “Garden of Love” Forever stamps depict “a colorful mosaic of flora and fauna in a garden setting” with each stamp using a heart motif in a different way. Each block of ten of these stamps is only $4.40. You can order them by clicking right here. Consider framing them for a unique Anniversary gift, a wedding gift, a Valentine gift or just a lovely graphic collection of American art. (You can learn how to frame things inexpensively right here.)

Just so you know, I never get compensated for recommending USPS stamps as art (or for mentioning any other product on the blog). I just believe that every home should include beautiful, affordable art. Home is where the heart is, right?

See you tomorrow!

Savoring Home: Cheesy Grits

Whew!

That tech upgrade took much longer than I thought! Now the blog has space for a lot more pictures and I’m already planning new things to share with you.

Just in case you missed them, I shared some interesting articles with the Facebook fans and Twitter followers while the blog was quiet this weekend. (Who knew Liz Taylor was such a big fan of shag carpeting?!) You can get all the bonus updates by liking or following CARO Interiors. Just use the social media icons coyly peeking out at you from the top of this website.

A big hug of thanks to all of you faithful readers who stopped by over the weekend to check the blog. I really appreciate your patience and I’m very glad to be back with you all! Now onto something delicious…

I want to share this recipe with you because it works for any meal. Breakfast, brunch, lunch or dinner, it never fails to disappoint. We love this for a lazy, cosy dinner, a simple brunch and a savory breakfast. It is perfect in any season and you can adapt the recipe to any of your favorite tastes.

But first things first…

A few words about grits

If you aren’t familiar with grits, here are the basics you need to know:

  • “Grits” is the cooked, porridge-like form of coarsely ground corn meal, or “hominy”. When cooked, grits resembles the consistency and texture of polenta, but with a creamy white coloring, rather than golden yellow.
  • Grits come from the Native American culture, but are religiously claimed by the Southern states of the US as theirs, and theirs alone. It is unwise to challenge this belief system in public. Not a hill worth dying on.

    Image courtesy of Wikipedia

  • No one eats only grits. Butter and salt are the very minimum of what is added to grits during a common breakfast serving. Grits have very little flavor of their own, but similar to rice, can absorb other flavors beautifully. This is why grits are served with many different types of meals and recipes.
  • Many Southerners will claim that there is only one way to cook grits: using their recipe. Again, just nod and smile politely like your momma taught you to do.
  • Despite common Southern arguments to the contrary, “instant grits” are not the work of the devil. I spent a good part of my childhood in Germany, where grits – surprise! – are not in high demand. Instant grits work just fine if that is all you can find or what you are comfortable using.

Now that you have the basics covered, let’s get to the yummy recipe!

The Ingredients

  • 2 eggs per person
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • 1/3 cup/80 mL of diced ham per person (As in many of my recipes, I use the healthier Jennie-O brand turkey ham. You can’t taste the difference.)
  • 1 small pat of butter
  • Grated cheddar cheese, 1/3 – 1/2 cup/80 mL – 120 mL per person
  • Paprika (not smoked or sweet varieties!)
  • Garlic powder
  • Quaker brand Grits (with no additional flavoring), 1/4 cup/60 mL for every 2 people served
  • Water, 1 1/4 cup/ 295 mL for every 2 servings

Preparation

Melt the butter in a small skillet over medium heat and toss the ham in to caramelize for around 5-6 minutes. Stir the ham occasionally to give it some nice browning on all sides.

While the ham is cooking, start your water to boil for the grits. When the water is boiling, add your grits…

…then stir the grits well, cover the pan and set your kitchen timer for the correct cooking time based on your serving size:

2 servings = 10 minutes, 4 servings = 12 minutes, etc.

(Really, use a timer, it’s helpful later!)

Your ham should be done about now and it should look something like this:

See the toasted sides of the ham? You will! Remove the ham from the skillet and set it aside. You can save the skillet for when it is time for the eggs.

During the grits’ cooking time, come back and stir the grits thoroughly at least once every 2 minutes. Be sure to really scrape the bottom of the pot with your spatula. There is nothing more miserable to clean than burnt-on grits in a pan.

Right about now is when you should start cooking your eggs in batches of two. The best eggs for this recipe have a runny yolk. We recommend fried or over-easy eggs with a little salt and pepper over the tops of them. You can reuse the skillet from the ham this way, too.

(I didn’t take a picture of us cooking eggs, because I’m assuming you already know just how you like your eggs cooked.) Just slide them onto a plate and set them aside until we add them to the grits at the end of the recipe.

When your grits are done, remove the lid, stir again, then add in the garlic powder. I use five shakes of the bottle for every two servings. This is just enough garlic flavor without it becoming overpowering.

Stir well and then we add the paprika.

The total amount of paprika should just cover the top of the grits in the pan like this:

It may seem like a lot, but this seasoning isn’t overpowering either. After you have mixed the paprika in well, the grits will start to resemble the golden yellow color of polenta.

Next comes the cheese! Pour it all in…

…then stir it well as it melts into the grits. Now it will really look like polenta:

And we’re almost done! Time to serve! Put one helping of grits into a bowl and top with a portion of the chopped ham:

then add the eggs on top:

Oh, and you’ll want to eat this with a spoon, so you don’t miss a bite of cheesiness!

Happy Eating!

If you’re new to grits, are you interested in trying them now? Any of our European readers game to try this American classic? Do you have a great grits recipe to share? There are so many good ones out there! Leave a comment and share your experiences.

Psst! BIG House Tour in tomorrow’s post! Be sure to stop by!

No watering required

I was backing up my computer the other day when I got the idea for today’s post. I just had a friend lose her hard drive and a lot (I mean: A LOT) of family photos. It’s sad to say this reminded me to back up my own computer, but it really did. I gratefully share my wake-up call with you all:

Please back-up your pictures!

I take a lot of pictures and even take the camera with me on errands, since you never know when inspiration may strike. As I was backing up my pictures, I came across one of my favorite little smile files. It consists of lots of images like this:

You know if you’ve ever looked at my client mood boards that I like to include nature items in every design. Natural materials and images in a space are very calming and comfortable. They really help turn a space into a home.

When I am out on my errands, I take close-up pictures of flowers wherever I find them in bloom. I just lean in or zoom in and snap away. This can be anything, from my neighbor’s roses…

…to a more exotic bloom from a historic garden greenhouse…

…to a perfect blossom on sale outside my grocery store.

Beautiful, right? Mother Nature sure does great work.

I save all of these floral pictures and use them on my computer as my screen background. This may seem like a really obvious idea. Many people already choose family or vacation photos for their desktop screens. However, flowers can be changed around more easily to fit your mood.

We have so much technology and wiring in our offices today that simple touches of real nature can do a lot for our spirit and lift our moods. Have you ever counted how many cords you have under your desk?  How many things have an “On” button in your work area?

If you don’t have a great view from your work desk or are too far away from a window, consider using your own floral pictures as a fresh touchstone to nature. Take a quiet moment during your workday to really study your picture. It can give you a greater sense of calm because you will be able to remember where and when it was taken.

This is the time of year when we take these flowers for granted. There are so many colors and varieties out now that we do not bother to stop (should I say it?) and smell the roses, or even really see them. When you find yourself in the months of the year that look more like this on the outside…

Image courtesy of tetoncountysheriff.org

…think of how nice it would be to find these waiting at your desk every morning.

It’s almost like sending free flowers to your future self, with no watering or vase wrangling needed. I find great flowers in Spring, too. Here’s one of my favorites from my own street during Cherry Blossom season. I just got under the tree on a sunny day and looked up.

You can mix up your images for the seasons, too. This is a favorite picture I use in December.

This species of poinsettia is called “Peppermint Twist”. I love them!

Now, some of you might be thinking, “What does all this have to do with Interior Design?” I’m glad you asked!

Great interior design strives to create beauty and comfort in your home. I think if you’ve read this post this far you’ll agree that flowers can be captivating. However, sometimes real living gets in our way of remembering things on the grocery list like fresh flowers. Sometime our budgets simply have other priorities. This does not mean we should live without nature’s beauty in our homes and work places. We can simply adapt to reflect our lifestyles. Pictures can be a great option. (Here’s a client mood board with a few examples.)

Here are a few other ways to adapt flower photos for use in your home:

  • Print and frame your pictures to create a lovely grouping on a wall or table (Learn how to hang them as a gallery wall right here.)
  • Place prints of your pictures under a glass-topped table or tray (like this one)
  • Print your pictures to use in photo frame note cards (like these)
  • Publish your photos as your own custom coffee table book (at sites like this one)
  • Send the pictures in emails with friends, co-workers and loved ones to help them brighten up their spaces

There really are endless ways to share and enjoy these pictures. Just get out there and take them while the weather is on our side! Look around your neighborhood. What have you been missing?

Do you have an interesting way to enjoy natural in your home? How do you bring a little nature into your space? Do you have a favorite flower you just can’t get enough of? Share your ideas with others in a comment below…

Savoring Home: 5 Summer fruit desserts

I don’t know about you, but one of my favorite things about summer is the fabulous produce. We live in a city, so we can’t grow our own produce, but I more than make up for it when we go to the farmer’s market or grocery store. I cannot get enough of the beautiful veg and delicious fruit, even when I go to the grocery store looking for something else.

So, in case you’re like me and you occasionally “over-buy” in-season fruit (as if that is even possible), I thought I’d share 5 great recipes links for fresh fruit desserts. These are all very simple recipes, because no one should break a sweat in the kitchen in the middle of the summer. Try not to drool on your keyboard as you look at these pictures!

RUTH REICHL’S  APRICOT PIE

Ruth is the former editor of Gourmet magazine and the former food critic of the New York Times. For a fun summer read, I also recommend her book Garlic & Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise, in which Ruth shares her fascinating experiences trying to blend in at NYC restaurants to give accurate reviews. The book also has some great (simple!) recipes Ruth makes at home, just like this 5-ingredient pie.

ALTON BROWN’S BLUEBERRY BUCKLE

Have your ever bought more pints of blueberries than you can think you can eat before they go bad? Been there! Just in case you have already used them in cereal and on ice cream, this easy dessert from a Food Network genius can take care of the rest of your bounty! Oh, and save some of that vanilla ice cream to go along with this dish.

SOUTHERN LIVING’S VERY BERRY SUNDAES

I love the dessert recipes in Southern Living, even if some of them are way too complex and delicate for me to make. Fortunately, this dessert is not hard to make at all. It covers you for any type of berry you may have and is oh so cooling at the end of a long day. Looking at this picture makes me wonder if I need to go pick up some more strawberries…

WATERMELON SALAD

This recipe from Better Homes and Gardens magazine is on our to-try list. We love watermelon in the summer and this recipe has some nice savory flavors we already love for its garnish. I also like the idea of using the watermelon and plain gelatin to make something from scratch, in a true color-found-in-nature (unlike some other sugary products that won’t be named…cough*jello*cough). This could become a new picnic favorite here.

POUND CAKE WITH ORANGES, HONEY & ROSEMARY

I can’t make a list of great summer fruit desserts without including some gorgeous citrus. The recipe comes from Real Simple magazine and is great for entertaining. You can slice everything in advance and then just layer it on each dessert plate when it is time to serve. I think pound cake and citrus is a magical combination and should be ranked up there with peanut butter and chocolate. Yum!

Now it’s your turn to dish! Which recipes sound good to you? Do you have go-to summer dessert recipe? Share it with a link in the comment so we can all try it. I’ll be posting my favorite summer tomato recipe next week. It is sooooo satisfying! Stay tuned!

Understanding the odds

Welcome back from the holiday weekend! I have a fast and easy home decorating tip for you today. It will never let you down. Ready?

When grouping a collection of things together for display in your home, be sure to group them in odd numbers.

Easy, right? Want to see it in action? Here you go:

Image courtesy of Pottery Barn

Image courtesy of Restoration Hardware

Count the pillows...nine of them! Image courtesy of Macy's

If you actually look for it, you can see design experts at big retail stores put this tip to use in almost every catalog.

Why does an odd number of items look better? It’s just one of those mysteries of the human brain. No one really knows the answer, but the results are clear. Here’s a little comparison experiment I put together for you using items I have in my own home. With one exception, these are all colorful variations of art glass, which I adore. (And collect like a magpie.)

There are seven pieces in the first picture (above). Now, lets just take one piece away:

How does it look now? Take a minute and really look at it.

It just looks…off…in some inexplicable way, doesn’t it? Now let’s take away one more piece:


Now it looks okay again, because we are back to an odd number of items. Scroll up and down between the last three pictures and see if you agree. It’s a subtle thing, I’ll grant you, but if you look at these items every day, you’ll notice it.

This “Rule of Odd” (my term, feel free to steal it) works anywhere in your home. Test it with books stacked on your nightstand. Use it when you consider hanging a gallery wall. (You can read more about that right here.) Try it with table centerpieces at a holiday meal. There is just something lovely about odd things. And if that isn’t a good rule for life, I don’t know what is.

Look around your own home. Have you naturally grouped things in odd numbers? What are they? Leave a comment and let’s see what we’ve all collected!

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