Category Archives: Design Vocabulary


Today’s Design Vocabulary post is about a special type of wallpaper. Do you know the old saying “Not your grandmother’s (insert item here)”? Well, this may have been your grandmother’s and your great grandmother’s wallpaper. And when we’re done, you might want it, too.


The Victorians had a common household problem. Soot. We forget, in our post-incandescent-light-bulb world, exactly how many flames it used to take to light up a room at night. The average Victorian home used their light very conservatively, whether it was gas or candle light, but the soot still got everywhere.

Today, we think of candle light as being romantic, out of the ordinary. Sconces on our walls are mostly decorative and provide ambient light. I doubt we would find these lights quite so lovely if we had to scrub down the walls after we used them. With every light lit in a Victorian room, more soot was added to the room.

Enter Frederick Walton:

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

He had invented linoleum in the 1860’s and when it proved to be SO popular (hands up anyone who has ever mopped a linoleum floor in their lifetime), he started thinking of more ways to adapt his new technology for household use. By 1877, he was ready with a new product…


Using the root words of “lin” from the linseed oil found in flax and “crusta” meaning “relief” (in the architectural meaning of the word, not “whew!”), Walton created embossed wallpaper. It is made from organic ingredients, such as linseed oil and wood flour, which is then pressed onto heavy canvas.

When the canvas dries, the embossed surface becomes rigid and can be sold in rolls like regular wallpaper.

It is a remarkably heavy and durable surface. It is very scrubbable, unlike many of the plaster walls it was bought to cover. It’s decorative patterns make it feel like a luxury. Victorian home owners could rest assured that their servants could now get those soot stains off the walls with no problems, too. Best of all, it can be painted:

Examples of Use

Beyond your walls, there are as many way to use Lincrusta as you can imagine. You can use it as a border:

As a decorative frieze against your crown molding:

As faux paneling:

Or even, to dress up your ceiling:

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Because of the rigid molding on the surface, Lincrusta can hold oil or water based paints very well. It also makes decorative finishes look beautiful and luxurious. Here’s a great example:

Lincrusta is still in production today. Except where otherwise noted, all of the images for this post come directly from the lovely Lincrusta website, which you can explore right here. It is a product in high demand for historic home restoration and historic public buildings of note, including the White House.

But that’s not the end of this story…

Lincrusta was so popular that others started to play with the designs and technology, too. I’ll be back tomorrow with more details on the next innovation in embossed wallpaper, including some very modern styles you may want to install in your home….

Image courtesy of Graham & Brown

Do you like the idea of textured walls? What pattern would you use and what color would you paint it? Can you think of an unconventional place to hang texture wallpaper? Leave a comment and share your ideas!

The ultimate DIY house

This post started out with one, simple thing as its subject, but it has now evolved into three posts, after I organized all my thoughts. It will all make sense by the end of next week with a new giveaway. I promise!

Today, we’re looking at one of the most popular home manufacturers of the 20th century: Sears. (Before your mind goes there, I’m not giving away a house next week.)

You know I love a good house plan (you can read more about that here and here), so I had to share this great treasure trove of history and design. Isn’t it interesting to see how previous Americans chose to live? Wait until you see how they got these homes…


Sears & Roebuck Co. began selling building supplies in the 1895 edition of their famous mail-order catalog. It was a failure. Sears was considering closing down the building supplies division in 1906 when a new manager, Frank W. Kushel, decided to offer the supplies shipped directly from the factory. This eliminated all of the storage costs for Sears.

(Side note: Frank Kushel came to the building supplies division from managing the china department of Sears, proving the old adage that a good salesman can sell anything.)

In 1908, Sears issued its first kit home catalog, know as the “Book of Modern Homes and Building Plans”. The houses ranged in cost from $163 to $3,506.

This book contained 22 house plans, which the customer could choose from and order directly from Sears. These were very flexible designs that often can with several floor plan options that could be modified to suit the owner’s tastes and needs.

Most of the building materials were included in the price of the home: lumber, windows, hardware, etc. Masonry, due to weight, had to be bought near the house’s building location. Plumbing and electrical kits were sold separately, in part because some homes were often built beyond the local municipal reaches of electricity, sewage, etc. Each house also came with a detailed construction manual, which can in very handy because…you had to build the house yourself.

Image courtesy of

What made these houses so affordable, and therefore popular, is that they eliminated the labor costs of professional builders. Your house would arrive 30,000 pieces on two railroad boxcars. You built the house yourself, on your lot, on your schedule, using the included tools and directions from the construction manual. The manual even came with a prominent fore-warning: “Do not take anyone’s advice as to how this building should be assembled.” Talk about “sweat equity”, right?

Sears also sold out buildings, such as garages, barns, out houses, etc. Due to the municipal plumbing issues I mentioned above, out houses were sold well in the ’30’s. Over the years, Sears also featured building innovations in their house plans as they came on the market, such as drywall, plumbing upgrades and asphalt roofing shingles.

While Sears didn’t invent the mail-order house, they were the largest American retailer of the concept. In the years that Sears sold home kits, between 1908 and 1940, an estimated 100,000 houses were ordered by mail. Standard Oil even built a company town in Illinois using over 190 Sears houses. Many of these homes still survive all over America today.

House Examples

Sears offered 3 grades of houses. These grades accommodated budgets and regional house uses ever further than floor plan adaptations. However, this does not mean the lower grade houses were less sturdy, just that they used different materials.

The first grade of house was known as “Simplex” or “Econo-Bilt”. These buildings were often smaller, with less daily use, like vacation cottages and hunting cabins. Here’s an example of one as it appeared in the catalog:

Notice anything missing from that house plan? You would eventually. Remember, out houses are sold separately…

The next grade of house was the “Standard Bilt” grade. This grade of house was designed primarily for warmer climates. It included floor plans with more consideration for warm breezes, such as this example:

See how the Hall and the Kitchen can be opened on two sides to allow breezes to cool the rooms? Also, the bathroom is off of the porch only, which is not ideal for a Midwestern Winter. Love the porch on this house, though.

The last and most expensive house grade was the “Honor Bilt” house. Enticing name, huh? Clever marketers at work. These houses used the highest grade lumber and ALL of its pieces arrived for construction pre-cut and pre-fitted. They tended to have much more variety in architectural style. Some of these homes had some quite large floor plan options for the day, too. Here’s an example:

These “Honor Bilt” houses were very popular. They are often identified today by their wood shingle siding, which was a very popular option in an already well established architectural style of the day.

I also wanted to give you a small sampling of the many architectural styles Sears offered in their houses. (I’ve linked the location of all the houses and their plans in paragraph that follows these images.)

See a house you love? Except where otherwise noted, all of the pictures in today’s post are courtesy of the Sears archive website about Sears houses. They have dozens of other house pictures with plans to drool over in their image section. You can explore them all right here.

I also recommend you browse this website for great personal stories and pictures of Sears homes and the families who built them. There are also a lot of nice pictures of Sears homes as they stand today. It’s fun to see original sales receipts, crates that the building supplies arrived in and family pictures of the houses being loved over generations.

Do any of you live in or near a Sears house? Do you like floor plans from older house designs or do you prefer a more modern layout? What is the largest thing you have ever bought from a catalog? Leave a comment and share your experiences!

One, if by land, and two, if by sea…

With the arrival of our July 4th holiday weekend, it’s time to celebrate our early American patriots. As the title of today’s Design Vocabulary post suggests, we are taking a look at the famous American patriot who also happened to be a very talented craftsman.

Portrait of Paul Revere, by John Singleton Copley (circa 1769), painted when Revere was around 34 years old. Image courtesy of Wikipedia


Paul Revere was born in 1735 in Boston to a French-born silversmith and his wife. He was the third of 12 children, and would eventually be the eldest surviving son. As was the custom of the day, Paul left school and became apprenticed to his craftsman father at the age of 13. His father died when Paul was only 19, which did not allow him to legally own and continue the family silversmith business.

Instead, Paul spent a couple of years serving in the provincial army during the French and Indian War. When he returned to Boston, he was old enough to take over his father’s shop in his own name. He married his first wife, Sarah, in 1757, after which they had eight children before Sarah’s death in 1773. Only five of their children survived childhood.

Paul was a popular and talented silversmith, as represented in his portrait above and evident in his creations shown below. He marketed his business through membership in the Boston Masonic Lodge, of which he was a founding member. Unlike most silversmiths, Paul was also a gifted engraver, which allowed him to decorate his own pieces in his own shop. Documents actually survive detailing that his shop made over 5,000 pieces of silver, including items as small as decorative buttons.

A sugar bowl and creamer from Paul Revere's post-revolution work, circa 1790-1800 Image courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Paul was a good provider for his family, which included his second wife, Rachel, and their eight children (of which only six survived). He also took care of his mother and older, unmarried sister. However, following harsh new British laws, like the infamous Stamp Act, the American economy took a nosedive and fine craftsmen like Revere were the first lambs to the slaughter.

We all know what happened next. Thanks to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and his heroic poem, Paul Revere is eternally remembered for his “midnight ride” to warn American patriots of the arrival of British troops for what would become the battle of Lexington and Concord. (The British troops arrived by land, in case you forgot your Old North Church lantern trivia.)

While scholars (and, apparently,  Sarah Palin) will debate the details of that midnight ride for the rest of time, I’d like to focus on a lovely piece from Paul’s designs that is still popular today. The Revere Bowl:

"Sons of Liberty Bowl", silver hollowware, 1768, by Paul Revere Jr. Image courtesy of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts (Click on the picture for more interesting details!)

All of the bowl photos shown in this post are linked directly to their sources for easy browsing.


As you can see from the above photo, the design of a the Revere bowl is very simple. It is a wide, deep bowl on a foot of several tapering rims. While some of the most famous of these original bowls were silver, they were also very popular and practical in the more affordable pewter variety.

While these pewter bowls are not as shiny as the silver versions, they also requires less maintenance. I like the lovely antique-looking patina that the pewter bowls show.

Now that you can spot the Revere bowl profile you can find all sorts of variations available today. For example, many fine china companies use the Revere style footed bowl as a model for some of their patterns’ vegetable serving bowls.

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You can even find a few crystal bowls sporting the Revere bowl profile. Shown here as an etched commemorative bowl…

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…and here in a cut crystal style.

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There are as many uses for Revere bowls as your imagination can dream. I think this is one of the reasons Revere bowls are still so popular today. Linked below are a few of the most popular uses today.

Trophy Bowl with wood block base

Like the original “Sons of Liberty Bowl”, Revere bowls are great commemorative gifts. Dates and names for anniversaries, christenings, retirements and awards look gorgeous engraved on the curved bowl edge. Here’s another example that raises the foot of the bowl to give more of a classic trophy look:

Empire Pewter Trophy Bowls

Smaller Revere bowls work great as candy dishes, nut bowls and great accessory bowls for other uses in the house, like catching jewelry or holding potpourri.

This lovely Revere punch bowl would be a real show-stopper at any party. Can’t you just imagine it shining in candle light at a great Christmas party?

Revere bowls make great fruit bowls in a simple style that matches any room’s decor. You can now find Revere bowls with removable clear plastic liners to make any day-to-day cleaning a little easier.

They also make wonderful floral centerpiece holders. They can show a beautiful arrangement of flowers without a dominating height that blocks the view of those who are sharing your table. This makes these centerpieces very popular at weddings, like the example shown here:

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I have several Revere bowls. I love using them as beautiful catch-all bowls for smaller items on our bookcases. They look stylish and organize some of our smaller items that would otherwise look clutter-y. We toss in photos we need to put in albums, souvenir tickets or programs, small books that fall over on the shelves by themselves, etc. Here’s a Revere bowl at work in my home:

Do you like the classic style of the Revere Bowl? Do you have a Revere Bowl in your home? How do you use it?  I hope you all enjoy, or are already enjoying, a beautiful July 4th holiday weekend, from sea to shining sea.

Happy Independence Day! See you on Tuesday!

George F. Barber homes

This is a long post, but it has so many gorgeous pictures that I just couldn’t bring myself to edit them down. I’m hoping this makes for a great read for you all who browse the blog on the weekend, too.

Today’s post is about American architect George Franklin Barber, who was born in 1854 and died in 1915. I would love to show you a photo or portrait of George F. Barber himself, but I haven’t been able to find one anywhere. (Reader update at the end of this post!) We’ll have to get to know George through his beautiful work.

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Barber was born in Illinois and grew up in Kansas. He learned the trade of carpentry while working for his brother-in-law. He taught himself architecture through books and his own on-the-job study. His keen observations and natural talents soon allowed him to expand carpentry jobs into a larger market.

At the time, there was very limited quality or quantity in ready-made house plans. The order-by-mail home building giants we still know today (Montgomery Ward, Sears Roebuck, etc.) were not on the market yet for the American home builder. Barber saw a way to reach those potential customers by offering easily readable house plans that could be customized to the owners needs.

Using the new mail-order catalogs phenomenon, Barber started with a small offering of houses and grew his business and publications over his lifetime. Many houses in the catalogs came with multiple floor plans to choose. Here’s an example:

Here’s the first plan available for the rooms:

And here is the second floor plan option, for the same house:

You can probably see how attractive this customizing concept was to potential home buyers. Free customization by mail with the architect?! What a deal! Barber went on to become one of the most successful American architects of the Victorian era. When his catalogs stopped publication in 1918, Barber had sold more than 20,000 plans.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Most of his designs are in the Colonial Revival style (seen in the house shown above) or the Victorian Queen Anne style (seen in the house shown below).

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Later in his career, he included Craftsman and Bungalow homes in his collections, although these weren’t as popular. He also offered plans for additions, such as porches, verandas and various outbuildings (sheds, barns, etc.). Many of his houses are in the Midwest and the South because of his own connections to those areas. His first company home town was in DeKalb, Illinois, before relocating to Knoxville, Tennessee permanently in 1888.

Here’s and example of a classic Victorian Barber home in Iowa:

All of that house for $12, 500. That would calculate out to around $296, 000 in 2010. Amazing. Here’s the first floor inside:

And here’s the second floor:

You’ll notice the word “Chamber” used a lot in his drawings. This roughly translates to our modern use of the word “bedroom”. In today’s real estate vocabulary, for a room to be a “bedroom”, it must contain a window and a closet. This might explain the prolific use of the word “chamber” in a time where large, free-standing armoires and wardrobes were still so popular.

Barber built big homes, too. Here’s a grand example:

Here is the how-can-we-live -without-3-verandas first floor:

And here is the glad-we-have-servants second floor:

Yours for $40,000 in construction costs. That’s around $1,070,000 of 2010’s money, in case you’re doing math beyond counting all of those rooms.

I have to show you this darling house “of Swiss persuasion” for a special reason.

See if you can spot one of our previous Design Vocabulary words on the floor plan!
Did you find the Inglenook? (You can learn all about them right here.) I was so happy when I saw that on the plans. I’m a little geeky that way.

Barber never forgot his carpentry background inside the homes he designed. Pictured below are two of  Barber’s exquisite “grilles” (decorative arching wood frames made of spindles in lattice patterns) that he offered as part of his customization options.

Here is a period interior photo of one of those grilles installed:

Here’s a glimpse (in the top right of the photo) of one of those grilles today:

Image courtesy of

Barber’s house plans were constructed in 44 states of the US and many countries abroad. Many American Barber homes now function as very roomy Bed-and-Breakfast businesses. Over four dozen Barber homes are listed individually on the National Register of Historic Places, and even more as parts of historic districts. Here are few current examples:

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

While not all of these lovely old homes have fared well over the years…

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

…there is much love given to many of them in their restoration and care.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

I’ve told you before that I love to browse house floor plans, which you can read all about in this post. So, it should come as no surprise that I love imagining how you could make homes out of non-traditional home structures. Old fire houses and churches really call to me with their siren songs. (No pun intended.)

This barn is my favorite George Barber version of this daydream:

I know, I know. “If this is the barn, what does the house look like?!” This is a building for carriages, horses and the groom that tends to them (who apparently doesn’t bathe). I have no idea if any version of this building was ever built or survives. Let’s not even think about what it would cost to build today. The masonry bill alone would make us cry. Here’s the inside:

Can you see the potential for re-working this building into a fantastic house? The little L-shaped wall on the second floor keeps the hay from getting into the groom’s room and down the stairs. I would take it out right away and then get to work transforming the space.

Here, in a long and very expensive list, is what I would do:

Carriage Room:

  • Add several big windows (in the shape of the big barn door at the front of the building) across the long wall of the Carriage Room.
  • Add a fireplace and a floor-to-ceiling bookcases to the Carriage Room
  • Use the Carriage Room as a giant Living and Dining room
  • Put a giant patio with a pergola off of the back of the Carriage Room

Harness Room:

  • Change the door of this room to face the Passage (hallway)
  • Turn this room into a powder room for the first floor


  • Open up the staircase wall by the front door to make the room bigger

Box Stall:

  • Turn it into a home office with built-in cabinetry
  • Add an etched glass pocket door


  • Take out all stall walling
  • Add wall to separate room from Passage
  • Add more windows to room
  • Use room as kitchen
  • Install a small kitchen garden outside a new back door

Upstairs: (a lot of this depends on the interior roof slope)

  • Add skylights on the back roof
  • Add a bathroom, a laundry room and two bedrooms
  • Add a Master suite with bath and walk-in closet
See, when I say I daydream about house plans, I mean I REALLY daydream.
Oh! Let me at the garden of this cute house! Image courtesy of

Credit where credit is due: All of the original drawings and floor plans in this post are courtesy of this great book, which I recommend as a great read and source for many decor daydreams. If you know someone else who really loves house plans, this little book makes a great gift.

So, that’s my 1,426 words on George Barber homes. I can really yammer on about a good house plan, can’t I?! Thanks for reading along! Now I’m all talked out. (Cue my husband, laughing at the very concept.) Tell me what interests you in what we’ve looked at today!

Did you see a house plan today that you’d like to move into? Ever dreamed of making an old building with a different purpose into a new home? Do any of you live near a restored George Barber home…or (holding my breath) live in one? Dish, please!

Reader Update:

One fabulous reader found a picture of George Barber! Here it is:

Doesn’t he look dashing? A big shout out to Kate, who took the time to send in the picture while she is researching her own may-be-a-Barber home. Thanks, Kate!

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:

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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.

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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.

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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

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!

It’s getting hot in here

Today’s Design Vocabulary word was inspired by a huge, glaring error I watched on an HGTV renovation show last week. I gasped out loud when I heard the tv show host calling something by this name when it was not.

This is also one of my very favorite design words. Partly because I like the way the word sounds and mostly because the word’s meaning is exactly as cosy as it sounds.

What’s the word?  “Inglenook”

What kind of image does that conjure up in your mind? If it brings to mind a great wine, you are partly correct. You can read all about the Inglenook Vineyards and Winery right here. And, actually, wine is a great way to remember the meaning of this word because this would be a great place to enjoy a nice glass of wine.

Take a look at what I mean:

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An inglenook is a small recess that adjoins a fireplace, often with some form of seating built into it. Here’s another inglenook:

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See, there is no seating in this version. The seating is not what makes an inglenook, it’s the “nook” in the chimney wall that makes an inglenook. In fact, inglenooks are also sometimes referred to as “chimney corners” or “chimney nooks”.

The “ingle” part of the word comes from the old Scottish gaelic word “aingeal”, meaning “fire” or “light”. By the 16th century the word had transformed to “ingle”, and was used when meaning “domestic fire” or “fireplace”.

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Inglenooks were popular for centuries in the family kitchen of most homes. Before rooms like “living rooms” and “family rooms” became the popular norm, the kitchen was where everyone spent their time together. It was always the warmest room in the home. Why not pull your chair a little closer to the fire for some extra warmth?

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More importantly, doesn’t “inglenook” just sound cosy? It sounds like a place you want to curl up with a a glass of wine or your favorite hot beverage and a great book.

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Inglenooks reagined some popularity during the Arts & Crafts movements in the United States and the United Kingdom. Here’s is a grand example from the Gamble House in California:

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There is something very fairytale-like about the woodwork of this example. It seems almost as if Hansel is just around the corner with a broom and some fresh kindling.

Here’s another Arts & Crafts beauty:

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Some of you design fans may recognize the style of the designer, Charles Rennie Mackintosh, in this example. This inglenook is also a good lesson of what an important role lighting plays in every room’s design.

(By the way, as I’m typing I’m realizing what a serious drinking game this post could be. Although if you are drinking at every “inglenook”, you must be on the floor by now….)

Here’s a more modern adaptation of an inglenook:

Image courtesy of Tracery Interiors

I really like the use of the bookcases to fill the traditional seat space in this fireplace. It gives a lovely purpose to the wood framing and paneling around the fireplace.

How would you use an inglenook in your home? Would you want the seating or some other option for filling the nook? Which style of the pictures above appeals to you the most? Leave a comment and share your opinion!

Casting a look back

I thought it might be fun today to look at some really popular lawn furniture.

Okay, I should have explained that it was really popular in its day, but not so much today. It doesn’t look very comfy. Does it? Maybe it needs more cushioning?

Okay. Still no. So, why was this so popular?

This furniture is made of cast iron. This was brand spankin’ new technology in the 1800’s. It was the lucite furniture of the moment.

"Peekaboo clear nesting tables" by CB2

While the use of iron dates back to the Roman Empire, iron was all the new rage for architecture in the Victorian era. We’ve already talked about one famous building example of its use in this post. Here’s another example that still stands today:

The Eiffel Tower, in Paris, may be the most famous example of an iron structure on the planet. Millions of people still travel to see it every year. However, the Eiffel Tower was not cheap when it was built, in part because of its weighty materials.

This bring us back to the cast iron furniture. Cast iron was so exciting because the process made it so cheap and adaptable to decoration. Molten iron is poured into a mold of any shape, cooled and then the pieces are bolted together.

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Most of the furniture was originally painted green, to blend in with your garden. This is also why most pieces sport so much foliage detailing. It’s almost is if the designers were trying to say, “This garden is so lovely it has grown a bench for us to enjoy in it!”

As you find models from closer to the 20th century, the detailing styles can become all Gothic and scroll-y (very technical term):

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If you’ve ever sat on black cast iron furniture during hot summer months, you can also imagine another reason that green and white were very popular color choices. The women of that era would have no idea of what I’m referring to because they all had layers of skirts to protect them from the heat. However, Victorian men, in their white linen summer suits must have inwardly cringed when beckoned to one of those hot seats. We never see that in Merchant Ivory films, do we?

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It’s also worth noting that the backs of all of these furniture pieces were also dictated by ladies fashion. Remember that polite ladies were always taught to sit upright, and really had no other choice because of all this nonsense going on underneath their pretty dresses:

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There was no way these ladies could kick back with an ice tea and the latest issue of Elle Decor. Poor things. So now you have a good idea of why this furniture declined in popularity as fashion, literally, “loosened-up”.

You can still find cast iron furniture today. The best place for the original stuff is estate sales and auctions. You can also find decent reproductions available.

The "Country Living 3-piece set" from Sears

If you are seriously considering moving cast iron, even just to sit down…bring a friend. Or have a really strong butler, like they did in the 19th century. It is very heavy furniture. I think this is why some many older pieces survive today.

Do you like the cast iron furniture look? What type of lawn furniture do you prefer? What is your favorite way to relax outside?

Psst! Today is the very last day to enter to win our current giveaway. It can certainly help you kick back and relax! You can enter to win it right here!

Colonel Mustard, in the library…

Today, I wanted to share one of my favorite design vocabulary words. Most people can immediately conjure up an image of this term instantly, even if they don’t know there is a proper name for it.

A jib door.

Can you picture it? No?

A jib door is any door that is designed to look like the wall it which it stands.

See if you can recognize this famous example:

Image courtesy of

Those big windows are actually jib doors that lead onto the balcony of the White House. Here’s a view with the doors open:

Image courtesy of

Can you see how the doors are part wall and part window? The White House balcony was only added during the Truman administration, so the architects had to figure out how to put in doors where there were already (famous, historic) windows in place. Their clever solution? Well, you see it from the exterior in the news almost every day, don’t you?

Are you a great mystery fan?  How about this type of jib door?

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When I was a little girl in England, one of my friends lived in a very grand old house that had a huge jib door built into the enormous bookcases in the formal living room. The door only led to a large walk-in closet under the stairs, which her parents used as a bar. However, that didn’t stop me from wishing, every time we opened it, that Hercule Poirot would be standing on the other side. I would have even settled for Colonel Mustard, maliciously waving around a candlestick.

Some jib doors really are almost indistinguishable. Can you see the jib door in this room?

Image courtesy of

(I’ll give you a hint: look on the wall left of the bed.)

This was Marie Antoinette’s bedroom at the Palace of Versailles. She had two of these doors in this, her “public” bedroom, leading to her “private” bedroom and “study”. Zut alors!

I’ll leave you today with quite possibly the most popular jib door in all of literary and film history.

Image courtesy of

I do hope you’ve remembered the password.

Now daydream with me: If you could put a jib door your home, how would you use it? Leave a comment and let me know…

Art’s own rule of 3

We’ve been talking about finding great art for the home recently (you can read earlier posts here and here). Today’s Design Vocabulary post is about using a simple, old form to bring some new, personal art into your home.

The rule of three is the basic writing principle that everything is better in groups of three. This is a tried-and-true pattern. You can see this most easily at work in fairy tales. Three…little pigs, bears with Goldilocks, blind mice, billy goats gruff, etc. You can also probably name successful examples of this principle in film. How many movie trilogies have you paid to see in your life so far?

Art has its own version of this rule of 3. We call it a “triptych”. Pronounced: “TRIP-tik”, it comes from the Greek, meaning “tri-fold”. It basically means an image shown in three panels or sections.

Here’s an example:

"Harbaville Triptych" Image courtesy of Wikipedia

This is the Byzantine “Harbaville Triptych”, which was carved out of ivory in the 10th century. When you consider how heavy yet fragile these panels are, the ability to hinge closed on itself seems rather practical. I’m sure the various clergy who have moved this piece over the centuries have appreciated the easier way to carry it.

Here’s another example of the religious form of the triptych:

"The Elevation of the Cross" by Peter Paul Rubens Image courtesy of Wikipedia

This enormous triptych painting was painted in 1611. It is a great example of how those extra panels give extra story to the overall religious image. We are looking at the cross itself being lifted to its final position (center panel), but we are watching those who are watching this scene of violence (side panels). In this case, the artist allows the viewer (you) to identify with those present at the scene (side panels) and thereby empathize with them. This visual aid could be a valuable tool for a church teaching to a largely non-literate congregation.

Well, that is beautiful and interesting, but how does that fit into modern life?

Triptychs are still around as a medium today. Last month, this modern triptych set an art auction record in China when it sold for $10 million.

"Forever Lasting Love" by Zhang Xiaogang Image courtesy of the Huffington Post

Don’t have $10 million burning a hole in your pocket?  You still have options:

Image courtesy of

Can you see the story-telling in these photography shots? This is Muhammad Ali vs. Sonny Liston in one of two very famous bouts in 1964 & 1965. Based on the story told in these pictures, you can probably guess who won. Your wallet wins, too, if you like this triptych, because it is only $22 on

Sports not your thing?

Try this:

Image courtesy of

This print is also only $22 at While this triptych doesn’t tell a linear story like the others we have seen, it does allow you to have multiple views of the subject. This is very popular way triptychs are used in modern art.

In your home, triptychs can be a great way to fill a large way with beautiful art. Take this, for example:

"Seashore Tranquility" by Dan Werner Image courtesy of

This collection is 39 inches wide, before you space them apart from each other. These lovely canvases would look gorgeous over a fireplace or in a dining room over a sideboard.

You can even make your own triptych, which always adds such personality to any home’s art collection. Think of your favorite family celebration or trip and put together three of the best pictures to tell part of the story of that event. Just to prove my point, I’ll close today with a small photo triptych from our wedding day that I put together for this post:

(Close-up of my train's hem, my dad holding my bouquet, the hymn in our program)

Now its your turn. Can you think of a place to use a triptych in your home? What happy event could you celebrate with a triptych?

Design Vocabulary: Chinoiserie

Chinoiserie (pronounced: shin-wahz-REE) is a French term, meaning “in the Chinese style”. What it really means is “what Europeans understood the Chinese style to be when they first started hearing about traditional Asian arts in the 1700’s and how they tried to copy it over the next few centuries”.

Yeah. The French term sounds better. As usual.

Chinoiserie, in action, looks like this:

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Can you see the Asian flowers and birds in the wallpaper? You have a little Asian flavor, but you can still show off your European wealth in your gold mirror and crystal chandelier. This was very sexy design when it was new.

Chinoiserie really hit its stride when Europe was in the middle of the Rococo period, which celebrated nature. The Rococo period was already producing art work and furniture like this:

"The Swing" by Fragonard, 1767 Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

“If you can find space for more nature-themed ornamentation, squeeze it in. What? You’ve found a whole new continent’s worth of species? Let’s add them, too!”

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Major design clients, like Louis XV of France (you can read a little about him here), could not pass up the idea of having all of those flowers and birds from the “exotic Orient” in their decor. Chinese-inspired shapes and motifs showed up on furniture design, porcelain, art, textiles and, especially, wallpaper.

See how the above wallpaper, painting and cabinet have a similar color palette? That’s no coincidence. The clients were already into these colors and ordering them for every item available. The designers just bent the “Chinese” styles to fit the color preferences of the current market.

Chinoiserie became all the rage for fashionable houses. In England, a Prince in need of a weekend retreat wanted very stylish rooms.  His “Chinese Gallery” combined a little of everything Chinoiserie and came together as this:

The Royal Pavilion, Brighton, UK 1838  Image courtesy of Wikipedia

It is a lovely style. Not authentically Asian, by any means, but a pleasing compilation of Asian imagery. This is probably why it has been so consistently produced over so many centuries.

Want a little Chinoiserie for your home? There are plenty of options still out there today! Check out the shopping source links below:

"Chirp" by Lenox

"Kew" wallpaper by Paul Montgomery Studio

"Windsor Fretwork Shelf"

"Arabesque" rug

"Collectors Classics Chinoiserie Coffee Table" by Ethan Allen

Chinoiserie vases

Chinoiserie magnets

What do you like about this style?  Does the history of the style surprise you? Where could you put a piece of Chinoiserie in your home?

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