Monthly Archives: August 2011

Beach me: giveaway winner!

It’s time to announce the winner of this weeks giveaway!

This week’s winner has won a silver ceramic shell dish, perfect for keeping a little summer in your home all year long.

And the winner is…Diane!

Diane loves Hilton Head, South Carolina beaches and would build a house there if she ever won the lottery. I can’t imagine she would ever have an empty guest room. I’ll be contacting you soon via email to get your mailing address, Diane. Congratulations!

If you didn’t win today, don’t worry. There is another free giveaway just two weeks away. Spread the word and be sure to stop back by later for another post this afternoon!

Beach Me: free giveaway!

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

It’s time for another free giveaway!

We are in our last official month of summer. I was looking for accessories to keep that warm, sunny, relaxed, just-been-to-the-beach feeling in a client’s home all year when I stumbled upon this beauty…

…and I thought I should share. This silver painted ceramic dish features three sleek seashell profiles. It measures 15 inches long x 6 inches wide.  It would look great on a coffee table, a dresser, or anywhere you want to add a little pop of beach style. Could you find a pretty place for this dish in your home?  I bet you can!

To Enter:  Leave a comment that begins with “BEACH ME!” and tell me the name and location of the best beach you have ever visited. What made your beach wonderful? Was it beautiful weather? The unique coastline? The occasion? Feel free to share your story so we can all find new vacation ideas for next year’s beach season!

Enter By:  Monday, August 29, 2011 at 10pm EST

Number of winners: Only 1, so enter now! Only one entry per email address will be allowed, so that everyone gets a fair chance of winning.

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

Want more giveaways? Let me know about the kinds of things you would like to win when you enter your comment. You might inspire a future giveaway!

Cowboy living

A little Design Vocabulary for you today, as we mosey on into the sunset of the work week. We’re going to look at a unique American furniture designer and how his creations have become part of our national identity.


Thomas C. Molesworth (1890-1977) was born in Kansas in 1890 and studied at the Art Institute of Chicago. After working at a furniture store in Chicago, he, like many men of his generation, enlisted and fought in World War I. After returning from the war, he eventually found work managing a furniture store in Cody, Wyoming.

Thomas C. Molesworth, Image courtesy of his granddaughter on

In 1933, Molesworth got a unique commission from Moses Annenberg, a major national newspaper publisher of his day. Annenberg had seen and admired Molesworth’s work in his store windows. He asked Molesworth to completely furnish his newly built ranch, “Ranch A”, in Beulah, Wyoming. Molesworth created the lighting, accessories and over 24o pieces of furniture for the ranch house.

Ranch A, Image courtesy of

The success of his Ranch A design led to a wealth of commissions for his Shoshone Furniture Company, which he operated with his wife for thirty years. Hotels, lodges, major homes and even Dwight Eisenhower’s Gettysburg home ordered custom furniture from Molesworth.

Today, original Molesworth pieces are dream acquisitions for collectors and experts alike. If you are an Antiques Roadshow fan like I am, you can watch for the unbridled excitement of the appraisers when a real Molesworth piece is brought in to be examined.


So, what makes Molesworth so unique? When the West was settled in the 1800’s, the homesteaders, ranchers, cowboys and other new residents made furniture out of what was on hand. Before the spread of the railroad, furniture for your home was whatever you could build or brought out West with you in your wagon.

Image courtesy of

As a result of these limitations, most furnishings were simply made, using local materials. None of the exotic hardwoods, ornate finishes and luxury upholstery that we normally associate with the Victorian era were available out West. If you think back to any of your childhood “Little House on the Prairie” memories (especially the books), you’ll remember that Pa built most of the furniture himself and that window pane glass was something you save up your money to afford.

While most of America was discovering the Sears catalog home, Molesworth took the old Western design restrictions and embraced them. His upholstery used beautiful local Navajo rugs, his furniture sported carved Western motifs in natural wood finishes and his fine leathers were not from Italy, but from locally raised cattle.

Card table, Image courtesy of

Can you see how he respected the natural burl of this piece of wood’s growth? Each piece is original because he works within the guidelines of the natural form.

Ranch A chair, Image courtesy of

I admire Molesworth for using the indigenous landscape motifs in creative ways, such as in this:

Fire screen, Image courtesy of

Can’t you just imagine how beautiful this would look with a blazing fire behind it? It makes the fire the focus of the art as a sunset. Gorgeous design!

As luck would have it, America was re-discovering the West at the same time that Molesworth was furnishing it. With the installation of the National Parks system and interstate highways, more and more Americans took to vacationing out West in the ’30’s, ’40’s and ’50’s. With Molesworth’s unique furnishings filling the most popular lodges and hotels, his style soon became recognizable as “authentic” Western furniture.

Wagon wheel chandelier, Image courtesy of

His work also coincided with the invention of the most popular marketing tool ever invented: television. America loved its early television and it loved its Westerns even more. (Ask any male Baby Boomer if he ever owned or wanted to own a Davy Crockett raccoon skin hat.) How better to enjoy 20 seasons of Gunsmoke than watching from your own Molesworth chair?

Image courtesy of


Thomas Molesworth died in 1977 (just two years after Gunsmoke ended its record-breaking run), but his style has lived on. “Molesworth” remains the gold-standard name for western inspired furnishings. Molesworth originals reach high auction prices, often in the millions. Several major museums have curated very popular Molesworth exhibits.

Cowboy Entertainment Center by Marc Taggart, Image courtesy of

New designers and artisans have found creative ways to bring Molesworth’s Western style to new generations of Americans. Even some of our leading style-makers have embraced the relaxed comfort of Molesworth in their own homes. For example:

Image courtesy of Harpo Studios

This is the Telluride, Colorado living room of Ralph Lauren. I can definitely see the appeal of sinking into that sofa with a great book or watching tv while sharing a big bowl of popcorn with my sweetie. Can you imagine yourself there?

What says “old American West” to you? Have you had a great vacation out West or are you lucky enough to live there? What speaks to you about Molesworth’s designs? Don’t be shy. Blogs are for conversation, so leave a comment!

Happy Trails to you, until Monday!

Mood Board: Busy young boy’s room

This room was designed for a little boy who had out-grown his nursery. His parents wanted a bedroom that would grow with him, but they were not interested in making a room too “theme-y”, since his young tastes would inevitably change. They wanted play space for their son and a friend or two, practical toy storage and colors/patterns they could live with comfortably…

We re-started this room with a new wall color, Benjamin Moore’s “Heavenly Blue”. This is a clean blue color with just a touch of smoke in it to keep it from feeling too baby boy blue. A lot of the rest of the color palette was inspired by the large alphabet zoo print seen over the bed. These modern hues give the room some color diversity, which will help keep the room feeling original and non-theme-y.

The bed was chosen as a piece that will grow with the little boy. Both of his parents are tall, so we made sure this sturdy bed had no footboard to deal with when he is older. For bedding, we chose a busy pattern in lots of colors for a duvet cover and sheet set. By mixing and matching a duvet set, the bed can be changed easily and, eventually, will be easy for the young client to make himself.

Painted furniture was chosen for the night stand and the dresser. Both of these pieces come with deep drawers for plenty of storage. We also lined a side wall with three toy storage corrals (in the top right of the mood board) which can hold toys now and games/media/sports equipment later. Similarly, a large wicker trunk at the bottom of the bed becomes a great catch-all for toys and all of their small pieces.

This room’s window has a nice large roman shade that the parents wanted to keep, so we added a mirror over the dresser for practical purposes and to share the great natural lighting. A simple short ceiling pendant with fun stripes was installed for over-all room lighting. Two lime table lamps were added to give some task lighting options, perfect for bedtime stories.

Play is an essential part of any child’s room, so we covered most of the floor with a big area rug in a busy pattern. This rug pulls in colors from all over the room and should wear well with hard play. We also added a play table and chairs, which can later be swapped for a desk when homework becomes part of daily life. The green self-healing cork boards over the play table are great for art projects now and teen-aged mementos years from now.

Bold patterns mix well in this room and fit the lifestyle of a busy young boy. By choosing colors and furniture that can grow with their child, the client parents are now able to look forward to years of activity and fun.

Unique, affordable, comfortable living.

Don’t just pick “b”

Thought we could use a little fun today, so I’ve scoured the internet for some fun design style quizzes. These design style quizzes are supposed to help you understand your own personal interior design style based on the choices you make in the quiz. You can take these quizzes as many times as you like and get different results.

I have taken all of these quizzes, as you’ll see below. Sometime they get it right and other times, not so much. Think of them as design style fortune cookies: sweet and fun, but may have nothing to do with real life.   Play around a little and see what you can come up with…

Ethan Allen’s “What’s My Style” quiz

This quiz is based on your choices of just 5 pictures, which might be design related or might not. You just have to “click the image that grabs you first”. I don’t know how they can make any real conclusions from such a short quiz. The first time I answered, I got:

Hmmm. It seems a little formal for some of my tastes. The next time I answered, I was given completely different images, but tended to choose along the same lines as the first quiz and I got:

Maybe little too frilly for me, but interesting to see how there was such a big change in the results.  What style did you get?

The next quiz is:

The Better Homes & Gardens Design Quiz

This quiz is much more detailed, including lots of actual design images of things like houses and paint palettes. The one catch is that they ask you for your name and email address at the end, although you could leave any old email address you wanted, even a made up one… just sayin’. My results from the quiz were:

Ummm, kinda. Although, I’m not huge fan of stucco walls or rustic finishes for our home. We tend to be a little more finished in our tastes. What results did you get?

Next quiz:

The HomeGoods Stylescope Quiz

This quiz was designed by Deborah Needleman, founding editor of the sadly-now-defunct Domino magazine. It focuses on your lifestyle, with and without pictures to see what you would pick in different scenarios. My results were:

Such a different result from the previous quizzes.  “Earthy” and “Modern” are not words I would ever chose to describe my personal style. I totally agree with the organizing part of this description, though, so they got that part of me perfectly. However, I do like ornamentation on furnishings. Also, I only like about half of the color choices, some of them just feel too orange for me. What answer did you get?

This last quiz is just what it sounds like it is. Just click the picture above to get to the quiz.

All of the Pottery Barn paints used in this 12 question quiz are discontinued, so the names really won’t feel familiar if you just got the latest PB catalog. I loved this quiz, even though I only got 80% correct. (The shame…) It just goes to show you that paint names can be interpreted to mean anything, so you shouldn’t ever get hung up on a name.

Are you now craving ice cream, like me? Did any quiz define your design style perfectly? Did any of them get it so wrong you laughed out loud? I’ve shared my fun answers, now it’s your turn! Leave a comment!

If I had a hammer…

Today’s Toolbox post tackles one of the most important tools we can have in our home toolbox: a hammer.

It can be very intimidating to pick out a hammer in a hardware store. There are so many choices…

To make sense of all of the choices, we’re first going to look at how a hammer works.

What You Need

There are 3 things you need in a good hammer. They are:

  1. a smooth striking area
  2. a good claw
  3. a sturdy handle.

Let’s look at these individually so we understand what they are:

The striking surface is the round area on the head of the hammer that hits the nail directly. Some hammers, for other specific jobs, have textured or differently shaped striking surfaced. For basic home repairs, we want a smooth, clean and round hammer head so that it connects firmly with a nail.

The claw is on the opposite side of the hammer head from the striking area and is used for removing a nail. To remove a nail, you turn the hammer upside down and simply slide the split of the  claw under the nail…

…and then, gently rock the handle back and forth, away from and towards the wall, as the claw lifts the nail out.

Finally, a good hammer must have a good a sturdy handle. It can be wood or metal, with or without a rubber grip, but it must fit nicely in your hand. This is essential to using a hammer well and getting the most from the torque.

To understand “torque”, let’s take a minute and read a past post that explains how to use the hammer properly. You don’t buy a car without knowing how to drive. For exactly the same reasons, you should know how to use a hammer before you buy one:

How to swing a hammer properly

All done reading? Then let’s go to the store and pick out a hammer!

Buying A Hammer

When you are at the hardware store looking at a selection of hammers, you will now notice how the shape of the hammer can tell you how it is used. For example:

This is a tack hammer. It is used for putting short tacks down into things, such as carpet. Tacks are short and have big nail heads on them, so the hammer head has been re-shaped to give the most effective delivery of the torque to the tack. The claw (on the top right of the hammer head picture above) has also been re-shaped to fit the unique shape of the tacks themselves.

This is a drywall hammer, used to nail the drywall to the wood studs before the seams/joints of the drywall are covered over with heavy paste known as joint compound.

This is a roofing hammer. The striking surface is textured and the claw has once again been re-shaped to allow it to reach up under roof shingles.

While you are browsing hammers, you may also find a large selection of “ball peen” hammers.

Instead of a claw, these hammers have a ball head that looks like this:

I have one of these hammers in my toolbox from my grandfather’s workshop. This is an older type of hammer, from a time when nails were manufactured differently and walls were constructed using different materials. Some people still prefer these hammers for specific tasks, but I always find a hammer claw far more useful to have on hand. (See that lovely “Craftsman” logo burned into the wood handle? You can read why it’s important right here.)

This next hammer doesn’t look like much of a hammer at all:

It’s a rubber mallet. It can been used for any project where you want some striking force, but worry about damaging the surface of whatever you’re striking. For example, an installer might use a rubber mallet to tap a new countertop into place right up against a wall, without risking a dent/crack in a wood/stone surface.

Here’s closer to what we’re looking for:

This hammer has a nice claw and a nice striking surface. Plus, the handle is made of bamboo, which is a renewable resource…

Stop right there.

Do not get sucked in by the marketing. I’m all for Greener Living, but a tool needs to do its job properly or we shouldn’t waste our money buying it. This tool does not meet the three criteria we discussed above. Swing the hammer around to see what I mean.

That short, light bamboo handle makes the handle MUCH lighter than the hammer head, which effects how the torque works. And you are now smart enough to know how important the torque is. (See how your tool knowledge is power?)

The handle also absorbs a lot of the shock of the striking action. A light wood, like bamboo, could split easily after just a little use. This is a great way to have a hammer head drop off onto your foot. If you choose a wood handled hammer, it should be made of a hard wood and it should balance nicely in your hand when you swing it.

Let’s move on…

This is what we are looking for! Good striking area, a balanced and weighty handle, a good claw and the grip feels secure in our hands. The only dilemma is which size to buy…

This hammer comes in a 12 inch size and a 16 inch size. Since we know that the handle of the hammer is what does the real work of the job, I would recommend the 16 inch hammer. That should cover you for just about any DIY, decor or home maintenance project. As in all things for our home, we should choose the smartest, most practical and budget-savvy tools. A good hammer can last you a lifetime.

Now you know:

  • The essential elements of hammer
  • How to use a hammer
  • How to buy a hammer

So tell me, what are you going to use this knowledge for? Are you planning to hang some pictures? Do you have a little DIY project you’ve been wanting to try? Share your ideas and plans in a comment! There are more Toolbox posts in the works, but you can also leave me an idea for tools you want to learn more about…just leave a comment!

Interior monologue

Running errands this weekend took me past a store I like to browse occasionally, so I stopped in to a take a look around.

I use big craft stores for little tools of my trade, such as felt. Designer tip: you can buy a sheet of felt in a color very similar to your furniture and custom cut it to fit your needs. Prevent chairs from scratching your chairs, cabinet doors from slamming hard, you name it. It is much cheaper to buy a sheet of felt than those pre-cut-in-many-sizes felt pads.

I am a big fan of Hobby Lobby, Michael’s, A.C. Moore, Joann’s and any other store that carries a wide variety of affordable craft supplies. There was a time when arts and crafts supplies were only in the budgets of wealthier Americans, so it is nice to see so many can express their creativity today.

However… (you knew there was a “however” coming, didn’t you?) I do sometimes get confused when I visit the decor sections of craft stores…and not just because of this:

It’s still August where I live. How about you?

But, as many of you regular readers know, I have already written a few posts this year about Christmas, so I have no room to judge. And I spend a lot of time in decor sections of craft stores trying not to judge. Just because something isn’t my taste, doesn’t mean someone else might love it in their home. Such as this:

Not my taste, but someone might really love leopards…or cheetahs. (I can’t figure out which animal these pillows are supposed to be, I just know it’s not giraffe.) Plus, its my job to help people make their homes more “them” and take that responsibility and trust very seriously.

That doesn’t mean I don’t judge the decor manufacturers out there, though. Someone, somewhere is giving the go-ahead to produce some crazy stuff with middle America as its target market. Those are the things that really get me. As I wander around, I keep my opinions to myself in a quiet, ongoing interior monologue that sounds a little something like this:

(Stainless steel water bottles with coozies)

There are too many things monogrammed in today’s world…

…Who hates trees so much that they stick these on them?…

…Is this real produce that someone might try to use?…

…Probably not. I hope no one removes these labels!…

…I will never find the rituals of laundry art-worthy…

…No room I would include this hardware sculpture in, not even a garage….

…Wouldn’t matte black Christmas ornaments just look like deep, dark shadows on your tree?…

…Clearly, I need to expand my traditional instincts on this particular subject…

…Is there a man in this world that wants his belongings labeled this way?…

…Or a woman who could live with this sitting out on a table or shelf?…

…Creepy, yet hypnotic. Not very “namaste”…

…So top heavy it can’t go into a home with pets, children or adults who might ever risk walking quickly…


…I wonder if anyone ever spells out the word “ampersand”?…

…I don’t think Queen Victoria was ever even Victorian enough for this frame…

…people must get lost in their homes more than I realize.

So, there’s a little view from my corner of the world inside my head. If I have offended anyone, that was not my intention and I do apologize. Feel free to laugh at my aimless shopping opinions. Am I the only one that has this kind of monologue running in their heads in decor stores? You can give it to me straight, I can take it. Leave a comment below and share your 2¢…

Savoring Home: Heirloom tomato bruschetta

Today’s recipe can serve many purposes. It makes a great appetizer, and a healthy snack and can even make a great summer meal. In full disclosure: Mr. CARO and I find this to be our very favorite summer dinner. We’ll just make the whole recipe and divide it between us. I maintain that heirloom tomatoes are Mother Nature’s way of saying, “Let me show you how I make summer look goooooood…”

What did you say?

Here’s something you may not know about me and Mr. CARO: We used to work in opera, which required Italian language usage almost daily. One of our small pet peeves is that America seems to have decided to pronounce this yummy Italian dish incorrectly. It has somehow become all German in its consonants.

I’m gonna fix that for you right here before we get into the recipe. Trust me, this will make you look good as you place this gorgeous platter of food on the table. You can even complain about how no one else pronounces it properly and look like an expert. Here we go:


Incorrect American pronunciation: broo-SHETTE-uh

Correct Italian pronunciation: broo-SKETTE-tah

See the difference? The “sch”  in the middle of the word should be a hard “k” sound, just like in the word “school”. Also, the double “t” in this word gets an extra tap with your tongue in the last syllable, a “tah” sound. It’s not hard, just practice saying it aloud a few times. Now that we have wrapped our mouths around the name of this recipe, let’s get into the making of it!


  • 1 1/2 – 2 pints of small heirloom tomatoes: the more variety, the better
  • coarse ground sea salt
  • dried basil (I never use fresh basil here, it competes with the tomatoes)
  • 1 baguette: a real one, not pre-packaged or whole wheat varieties
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • grated Parmesan cheese


First, we are going to wash and admire the tomatoes. Did you know in 1903 there were over 400 varieties of tomato being grown in the US? By 1983, only 80 years later, we were down to only 79. You should read more details about this right here.

It is important that we appreciate the real food gifts we have today, as opposed to all of those McDrive-thrus out there, so let’s take a minute and admire the diversity of this single plant:

Gorgeous colors, flavors, shapes and textures grown for us. Aren’t we lucky? Now let’s make these gifts of nature into a great meal!

Dice all of your tomatoes and place them into a large bowl. Remember to use a serrated knife to slice the tomatoes so you don’t tear them apart.

Your diced pieces should be about the size of a dime, so that they’ll spoon nicely onto the bread later.

As you dice, if you haven’t tasted all the varieties of heirloom tomatoes individually before, take a moment and sample them as you go. You’ll be surprised at the differences in flavors. (You may realize that you have forgotten what a real tomato even tastes like…we had.)

When you are about halfway through dicing your tomatoes, pause and lightly salt the bowl of tomatoes already chopped.

This helps bring out all of the beautiful juices in the fruit and will help with seasoning later.

When all of your tomatoes are diced, lightly salt the top layer of the bowl again and then add the dried basil. I use dried basil equal to the total amount of salt in the tomatoes.

Toss the tomatoes, basil and salt well. The juices will help distribute the basil more evenly. Your finished bowl of tomatoes should look similar to this:

Now you can set this bowl aside and we will prep the bread.

Using a serrated bread knife trim the small ends off of the baguette and place them in a large bowl.

Next, cut the entire baguette into 1 inch thick slices, like this…

…and place them in the bowl. Toss any loose bread crumbs into the bowl with the tomatoes. It thickens the juices for later. We don’t waste anything in this recipe.

When you are done slicing the baguette, your bread bowl should look similar to this:

Now pour a layer of olive oil into a large skillet and swirl it around to coat the bottom of the skillet evenly.

Turn the burner on to “High” and place one layer of bread into the skillet, spread evenly across the bottom.

Get out a pair of kitchen tongs and watch the bread cook. Don’t walk away, answer the phone or settle end-of-the-world disputes between your kids. Watch this bread to make sure it doesn’t burn.

When it is done, the under side of each slice of bread should be golden, with slighted darker, crispier edges, like this:

Using the tongs, remove each slice of bread from the skillet. Place them toasted-side-up on a plate.

Before you add your next layer of bread, lower the burner temperature to “Medium”. You should also see if you need to add a little more oil to the skillet. You want to bread to have some oil to absorb, but it shouldn’t be swimming in it.

Repeat the toasting steps above until you have toasted all of the baguette, including the little end pieces at the bottom of your bowl.

Your toasted baguette slices should fill two large dinner plates, like this:

Now we will use the toasted ends of the baguettes to taste our tomato mixture, which has been quietly marinating on its own. As any chef will tell you, the only way to check your seasonings is to taste the food. Do you need more basil? Do you need more salt? Dip the baguette ends into the juices, taste and then adjust accordingly.

When you are happy with your tomato mixture it is time to serve. Ladle a small amount of tomatoes and juice (don’t use a slotted spoon) onto each medallion of bread. The tomatoes will slide everywhere, but don’t worry about it.

Last comes the cheese. Be careful not to put too much cheese over the top of this dish. (You can use my pictures below as a guide.) You want the cheese to highlight the tomatoes, not dominate them. For this reason, you should also know that you can’t substitute other cheeses for real Parmesan in this recipe. Not even mozzarella. It is just not the same and you will have wasted great tomatoes.

When you are done adding the cheese, you are ready to eat! If you are serving this recipe for a party, be sure to offer lots of cocktail napkins with this dish. The juices can be drippy. If you are serving this as a lazy summer meal, like we do, be sure to include a spoon to get up all the loose tomatoes. Yum!

I’m getting hungry just looking at that picture. Now it’s your turn to share with me: Do you have a favorite summer tomato recipe? Leave your recipe, or a link to it, in the comment section so we can try it this weekend…

Mood Board: Colorful, casual family room

This room was designed using the DIY Design service for a family that craved some new color. Their family room had been furnished in neutral colors and lots of browns. While their kids were younger and they needed fabrics to take a real beating, the browns (brown leather, dark wood tables, brown patterned rug) worked well. Now that their kids are older, they need a more colorful space that works for family relaxing and more entertaining. They also wanted plenty of seating for their movies nights, a place for board games and better lighting…

What you can’t see in this mood board is that this family room already has plenty of storage. Floor to ceiling built-in wood bookcases line an entire wall of the family room. The entire wall of bookcases and all of the room’s trim got a crisp new look in white paint (Benjamin Moore’s “Decorators White”). Then, we re-organized the bookcases to show off some family mementos, books, games, photos and other decor using the Finishing Touches consultation (you can read all about it right here).

The room’s large stone fireplace features a nice chunky wood mantle and a large alcove that houses the tv and all of its electronic friends. We used the wood mantle as a guide to choose the new wall color for the room. The walls were warmed up from off-white to a light coffee color (Benjamin Moore’s “Bar Harbor Beige”). This also helped a lot with lighting, which up until now had only been a large spread of recessed can lights.

We toned down the lighting of the room by exchanging all of the canned light bulbs for lower wattage bulbs and we put the entire system on a dimmer. This immediately made the room much more movie-night friendly. Next, we added a large bronze pendant lamp over the seating area, also on a dimmer. This fixture keeps the lighting feeling casual but gives some direct task light for board games, take-out dinners, and other group activities.

A big,comfy sofa was called for, so this large sectional was chosen in a high pile micro fiber upholstery. This navy fabric looks a little more luxurious, almost like a velvet, but can still handle the occasional stain easily. Two sea glass colored club chairs flank the sectional sofa and create a conversation circle perfect for entertaining. The throw pillows with lots of patterns will be used anywhere they are needed: on the sofa, on the chairs or even on the floor for extra seating.

A large area rug with a big, casual pattern brings cheerful color to the floor and anchors the seating area. The large granite-topped coffee table has a surface area large enough for the family’s needs, but still feels light in the room because of its slender frame. The rope accent table is actually sold as an ottoman, but looks great as a simple side table between the two club chairs.

To enjoy the family’s pictures more, we mixed bronze and colored frames to create a large gallery wall. (You can see how I teach clients to install a gallery wall with ease right here.) At the base of this gallery wall, we placed a long console table in the same wood tone as the fireplace mantle. A new lamp and some added decor display space help give the room depth beyond the seating area.

The final step in this room was to add some curtains to soften up all of the rectilinear wall profiles. These circular patterned curtains in a color echoed throughout the room were hung loosely at each side of the windows. The drape of the fabric is casual and the color gives some personality to the neutral walls.

Comfortable colors and fabrics complementing treasured family activities rejuvenate this room for its growing family. By mixing colorful patterns in different scales, the room stays casual and lively for all sorts of future entertainment.

Unique, affordable, comfortable living.

Victorian’s Secret

Whenever I hear the Antiques Roadshow theme song, the UK or American version, I am like a moth to a flame. I love to see how people really lived in their homes in past eras and I’m especially intrigued with all of the helpful gadgets and household doo-dahs that we can’t even recognize anymore.

Because I love to see inside old homes, we are also big fans of Victorian era costume dramas/mini-series. All of the daily routines and relationships and class rules are fascinating. The daily work of an average Victorian servant is consistently humbling. If you watched Downton Abbey this past season on PBS or any episode of Upstairs Downstairs, you know exactly what I mean.

Image courtesy of the Norfolk Records Office

See the gentle smirks on those servants? It’s because they know more than we do. I can’t imagine living without my microwave, yet alone taking apart a cast iron stove to clean and polish it once or twice a week. Do you know what that big roller thing is in the picture above? It’s used to tamp down the cut grass after it has been mowed. I would have never thought of doing that. Would you?

With this in mind, and to have some fun, I’ve pulled together some antique household tools for us to name. Embrace your inner Antiques Roadshow expert and see if you can recognized what these five items were commonly used for in Victorian homes. I’ve set the questions up like several polls, so you can see how others have guessed for each question after you vote. I’ve also posted the answers below, so you can see how you did. Here we go…



Image courtesy of


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Does this give you new respect for the Antiques Roadshow experts? Let’s check out the answers…


1. This tool was used to roast meat and is called a “roasting jack”.

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The picture I showed you is actually a “bottle (roasting) jack”. The cylinder shaped weigh at the bottom houses a clockwork timer that slowly rotates the roast as it cooks in front of a fire, like this:

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2. This tool is called a coal scuttle. It was used to hold coal by the fireplace so that it could be added, like firewood, when the fire was getting low.

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The decorative lid on this coal scuttle tells us it was used in the formal entertaining rooms of the house, such as the drawing room or dining room. The lid helped keep the coal dust off the good furniture and fabrics, although people brought soot in from outside, too. Here’s a look at the inside of a coal scuttle of the same era:

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3. This tool was used for preparing breakfast or afternoon tea.

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Called a “toasting fork”, this long iron fork allowed the cook to toast breads evenly over a fire without risking burns to herself or her uniform. You can still find iron toasting forks today at many camping and outdoors stores. Here’s a toasting fork at work:

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4. This is an old hot water bottle, used to warm people in bed.

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This type of hot water bottle was tricky for many households. Wiggly, sick children in bed had a tendency to accidently loosen the cork, which caused scalding hot water to pour all over them and cause serious burns. With the expansion of the British Empire in India, rubber products (made from Indian rubber trees) became available for all sorts of household purposes, including safer hot water bottles.

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5. This pretty little tool was used to help ladies remove their boots and is known as a “boot jack”.

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With all of the stiff frame work of their corsets, Victorian ladies of most classes weren’t able to bend down to their ankles to free their shoes. And even if they could, it would hardly have been seen as lady-like behavior. (Try not to swoon at the very thought…) Boot jacks are still in use today. Here’s a picture of one in action:

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So, how did you do? Did anything surprise you? I am not a fan of housework, but when I think of the tools and efforts it used to take to clean…I’m very grateful for our modern conveniences.

What household chore do you dread the most? Do you think you could have handled your daily chores in the Victorian era or would you have demanded servants?  You’ll have to leave a comment below to share. My servant bell-pull appears to be broken…

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