Category Archives: Lifestyle

Hollywood Open House

It’s a rainy Friday here and I thought we could use some extra fun, so let’s go gawking at some movie star homes. We’re going to use the fabulous Architectural Digest as our tour guide today. All of the house images in this post come directly from them and the very talented photographers they work with for each month’s issue.

I “discovered” AD when I was in college and they did this amazing spread of old home decor photos from movies stars of the ’30’s and ’40’s. Some of these pictures were so old that they must have been pulled from the archives of those infamous Hollywood studio publicity offices. I have been hooked on Architectural Digest ever since then.

Image courtesy of wiki.brown.edu

Have I ever told you that I’m an old movie fan? I am. HUGE fan. I took film classes in college and I even own dvds of some important silent films. There are few activities I love in this world like curling up with some fresh popcorn and a great old film.

Anyway, Architectural Digest takes amazing, timeless photographs, as you will see. Today I’ve gathered together some of the AD photo galleries of the homes of real Hollywood movie stars, both old and current, and linked them directly below. Let’s go knock on a few doors and see who’s home. You can visit as many or as few as you like, just be sure to wipe your feet!

Bermuda Home of Michael Douglas & Catherine Zeta-Jones

Will and Jada Pinkett Smith’s Malibu Home

10 Silver Screen Leading Ladies at Home

Jennifer Aniston’s former Beverly Hills Home

Carole Lombard and Clark Gable’s Ranch Home

Elvis & Priscilla Presley’s multiple homes

Elizabeth Taylor’s Bel Air Estate

Jayne Mansfield’s Pink Palace

Helen Mirren’s New Orleans Bungalow

The Luxury Resort Birthplace of James Bond

Are you a fan of Architectural Digest? Did you enjoy seeing all of those glamorous homes? Do you have a favorite old movie star that you would love to have visited at home? Who’s home of today’s movie stars who you like to get an invite to see? Leave a comment and share your favorites!

Chew on this

Today’s post is a follow-up to the green-clean-up-your-pet’s-accidents post I shared with you last week. I love pets and I keep a list of great sources from my pet-owning clients to share with others. My tip for today is for dog and puppy owners, which make up the majority of pets I see in the homes I visit. This tip may also work for kitties, but I leave that up to the cat owners to decide if it works for them.

I have used today’s tip myself with several dogs and three (yes, three) litters of puppies. This tip does work for canines. And in fact it is designed to curb your canine’s canines. This tip works to solve this problem:

Image courtesy of merchantcircle.com

Have you ever had this problem in your home? Puppies love to chew when they are trying to get rid of their baby teeth. Older dogs might develop a taste for a certain piece of furniture or shoes and return to it whenever they are tempted by the smell. So, when we employ this deterrent in our home, we must also remember to conquer the smell, just like last week’s post.

Our Secret Weapon

Didn’t see that coming, did you? I bet most of you already have some variety of hairspray in your home already. Here’s how you use it:

Just spray the area of chewing temptation lightly with hairspray and let it dry. I’m using the legs of a wicker chair, which was like catnip for our dogs. You can use this on any wood furniture piece or leather shoes (not fabric shoes). It will not hurt the finish of your wood furniture or leather.

When you are done needing it, when your puppy has grown up or your dog has learned not to chew the vulnerable item, you can just wipe the hairspray away with a damp cloth. (I use the eco-friendly cloths I discuss in this post.)

You can also leave the hairspray on indefinitely if you are worried about protecting your items forever.

How It Works

The alcohol in the hairspray is a natural odor absorber. It is a great way to disguise the natural scent of the tempting item. In addition, many hairsprays have artificial scent in them to smell fruity, floral or feminine for the human customers. These scents take care of the older dogs tempted by the items natural scent. You may need to top of the layer of hairspray every now and then to protect it from…”repeat offenders”.

Image courtesy of mylot.com

The way the hairspray works for puppies is even simpler. Puppies are looking for anything they can wrap their gums around, just like human babies love teething rings. If you were teething, would like to get the taste of hairspray all over the inside of your mouth? Neither do puppies. Just be prepared to top off the layer of spray on the “targeted” items because puppies have a slower learning curve about taste than older dogs.

Easy solution, right? And you probably already have the “secret weapon” in your home. Okay, one last thing to share with you…

Puppy Bonus!

It is no secret that I am a big fan of our National Parks Service, which you can read more about in this post. I learned something new about the NPS just last week and I had to share since it involves these three little cuties:

Image courtesy of nps.gov

The National Parks Service raises a litter of sled dog puppies every year at Denali National Park and Preserve in Alaska. This years litter of pups are named Koven, Carpe and Tatum. You are paying a tiny, itty-bitty portion of their care through your tax dollars going to the NPS. So, in a sense, these are partly YOUR puppies.

Your puppies have grown up a lot since that above picture. Now they frolic and play, greet their keepers when it is mealtime and take naps in a big furry pile of sibling-hood. How do I know all this? I check on them, almost every day, and you can, too.

Just click on the still picture below and it will take you (past a ridiculously long web address) to the NPS Sled Dog Puppies Kennel Webcam. The camera refreshes the image approximately every 18 seconds.

Remember that Alaska is 4 hours behind Eastern Time, which makes it even easier to watch them during the day and in the early evening. Two days ago, the pups woke up to their first major snowfall and they were so excited!

What does all this puppy-cam stuff have to do with interior design? Well, the point of great design is great living. Pets are a great reminder that sometimes the smallest things can bring beauty and joy into our lives and homes. Even if they slop their drinking water all over the floor and carelessly leave paw prints in their wake. Few people ever welcome us home the way our pets do.

Image at learningthelight.com

What is the silliest thing you pet ever chewed up or destroyed? My puppy got into a sewing box and unwound every spool of thread by chasing them all over the upstairs. She certainly had a good time but she also managed to tie her own legs together. When we came home, it was really hard to be mad at her since we found her stuck at the top of the stairs trussed like a turkey, quietly whimpering.

Got a good pet story of your own? Share it in a comment!

Accidents happen…

…especially if you have pets.

I am a big fan of pets. Huge! My local ASPCA uses the lovely phrase,  “Discover the warmth of a cold nose.” and I couldn’t agree more. I talked about great online pet supply sources clients have recommended in a post last week. Today, I’m back with a tip I give my clients for handling a common household issue that comes with our furry family members.

Image courtesy of p49gar.com

Awwwww! Happy animals make me smile! If only they could talk in a language I could understand. Okay. Back to my point…

If you have four-legged pets, you may be familiar with the household issue I was referring to. It looks a little bit like this:

Yep.

As an interior designer, these types of pet stains cause the same kind of unhappy surprise and general need to yell that they do when you find them in your home. (Which is hopefully not while you are in your bare feet. Been there.)

I have a solution for you. This solution works for…well…let’s call them “upset tummy” accidents, “liquid” accidents and “solid” accidents. You know what I mean. And don’t worry. I’m not showing any pictures of the two most icky types of accidents in this post. Use your own imagination or experience.

There are two issues that we need to solve in the clean up of this situation. It only takes two steps, but the second one is almost always forgotten:

The Stain

This is the most obvious problem to solve. I hardly need to tell you to clean up the “solids” first. If you need to soak some of the solids out off a carpeted surface, use water to loosen them. Do Not rub a carpet to get a stain out. Just keep flushing the surface until all the solids have been removed.

If you are dealing with a liquid stain, first blot the surface with a paper towel. To do this:

  • Place a large wad of paper towels over the stain then press down on the paper towels with the palm of your hand.

  • Keep pressing in different places on the paper towel to make sure you cover the whole stain’s area. Your paper towel will soak through, just keep replacing it until there is no more liquid to soak up.

The Smell

This is often the skipped step in dealing with ALL pet stains and it makes a big difference. Whether you are dealing with a solid or a liquid stain, you should never skip this step.

It is important to remember that our pets’ sense of smell is multiple times more powerful than our human sense of smell. Ridding our homes of the smell for us is not the same as ridding the stain’s smell for our pets. More importantly, if our pets can still smell where a stain was, they often take it as a sign of the right place to…leave a stain…again.

To battle this risk, this is our secret weapon:

White vinegar, which has no color, is a green cleaning solution that many  people already keep in the house. It can be used on solid and carpeted surfaces. (Although, if you are worried about rug/carpet discoloration, you can always try this solution in a discreet corner of the rug.) Vinegar is cheap and a wonder at getting out smells.

Here’s how to use it against pet stain smells:

  • Pour one half cup of white vinegar into a 1 cup measuring cup.

  • Fill the rest of the measuring cup with room temperature water from the faucet.

  • Pour the water/vinegar mixture over the stain and let it sit for 30 seconds. Then blot all of the liquid up with paper towels, just like you did with the original stain.

  • Allow the stain to air dry.

Easy, right? You can even teach children to use this technique. I learned how to do this when I got my puppy as a little girl. It’s a great way to teach pet owner responsibility and you can relax in the knowledge that the cleaning agent is non-toxic to your kids, your pet or your floors.

If you like this tip, you’ll love the “pet vs. furniture” tip I’m writing for a post next week! Be sure to check back! If you have a question about solving other furnishing stains/accidents, leave a comment below. How can I help you solve a troubled “spot” in your home? (Had to use that pun somewhere, sorry!)

Fall-ing

Today is the first day of my very favorite season. It is pouring rain outside (sideways) as I write this to you, but I don’t mind. I spent a good part of my childhood in rainy places, so I learned at a young age to not let less-than-sunny weather slow you down. This is also one of the reasons that I love, love, LOVE Fall! Some people love Spring or Summer, but Fall makes me feel more alive than any other season.

Image courtesy of educatall.com

Fall is also my busiest time for design work with clients and I love sharing my love of the season with my clients as they prepare for holidays and their own family events. I love designing rooms but I am most grateful for the trust that my clients honor me with as I help them get the most out of their homes. And Fall is the perfect time for wonderful things in your lifestyle and your home! Here are my favorite things about Fall:

Cooking & Baking

We have lots of Fall recipes that use seasonal ingredients, Autumn-type flavors (like cranberry, roasted meats and apples) and just cosy, good food with lots of savory spices. I love the feel of a warm kitchen and rich scents filling the house in the dusk of evening. Don’t you? I have several really good recipes planned to share on the blog with you this season, too. (You can see all of the recipes I’ve shared to date right here.)

"Skillet Apple Crisp" from America's Test Kitchen. Just click the picture to jump to the recipe!

Turning Leaves

I love the variety of colors that appear in the Fall. The deep reds, rich oranges, smokey greens, buttery yellows and dappled browns of Fall foliage can be like an all-day fireworks display. Mother Nature is such a show-off this time of year and we are lucky to live in a region where we really see a lot of changes with the arrival of the cooler weather. Speaking of which…

Last year's Fall view from my desk, where I write every blog post.

Cooler Weather Walks

Cooler weather beckons us back outside in the Fall to enjoy lots of walks and local festivals. We are visiting the Baltimore Book Festival this weekend, even though there is rain in the forecast. The cooler weather is also great time to get outside on your weekends an explore all the changes to your area. Long walks in fresh air wearing a warmer coat are all you need to feel like you’ve had a break from your work week. Why not see what’s happening the FREE National Parks near you? (You can read more about this idea in this post.)

Part of a path in Rock Creek Park, Washington, DC Image courtesy of the National Parks Service and your tax dollars

Special Days

The arrival of Fall marks the coming of several important anniversaries in our home. Mr. CARO and I met for the first time in Fall, we got married in the Fall and my birthday…er…”falls”… in the Fall. Taking some time out to plan little gifts, celebrations and surprises for each other is part of our happy Autumnal routine here. This has absolutely nothing to do with interior design, but I like to keep it real on this blog and that includes sharing how we really live in our own home. Real life is what we do here.

My birthday breakfast last year. All birthday meals come with candles in our home.

Cosy Bed Linens

I change out the bed linens in our home shortly after the arrival of Fall. I’m not just talking about adding blankets or changing to warmer sheets. I carefully designed our bedroom color palette to work with several shades of certain colors so we could move with the seasons. When we make this change, it really feels decadent, like we’ve had a whole room make-over to match the weather. I can do this for you, too, and you can learn how right here and right here.

Big, fluffy duvet? I'm in! Image courtesy of Pottery Barn

Sweaters

The softness of a really good sweater against your skin is one of the things I like to rediscover every year. We switch out our closet in early Fall and all the shorts and lighter tops/shirts get replaced with good sweaters. Even though I hate to stand around a fold clothes and pack them into their boxes for the other closet, getting out the good sweaters can feel a bit like Christmas morning. Especially if, like I sometimes do, you manage to forget what clothes you own from season to season. (Borderline pathetic, but very true.) “Oh, I LOVE this sweater!” is a common shriek of happiness for this ritual in our home.

Elegant, colorful, cosy. Image courtesy of Coldwater Creek

Tea & Hot Chocolate

This may seem like an obvious favorite thing. I don’t meet many people who don’t like chocolate. Have you ever experienced a rainy day where the light and the sound of the rain just makes you want to snuggle up with a cup of good tea or hot chocolate to watch a great movie or read something delicious? Fall offers a whole season of opportunities for this luxury. And speaking of reading something delicious…

This is my favorite kind of hot chocolate. You can adjust the chocolate quantity to be as strong or weak as you like it. Yum. Image courtesy of Amazon

Great Books

Just as summer welcomes the action-movie blockbusters, Fall brings all of the new books from my favorite authors. I am a huge mystery fan, especially if it is set somewhere less-known to me because I love to see how people live in different places. The quiet of Fall seems made for great escapes to the pages of a great book and I am already making a list of all that I want to read!

More sharing: My hands-down favorite author is Louise Penny, who writes a series of detective novels set in contemporary Quebec. Her beautiful settings are almost make me want to change my nationality!  Seriously, I cannot recommend her books highly enough…start with her first book, called “Still Life”, and you’ll be hooked, too.

Just out, this is #7 in my all-time favorite series of books, the Armand Gamache mysteries. Image courtesy of Louise Penny's lovely website

Holiday Planning

Lest we forget all of the fun holidays in this great season, I love the excuse to plan and make lots of lists. I’m a big list maker (try to act surprised), which has served me very well in two rather different careers. List making with a fun celebration at the end of it is a huge bonus! Costume supplies, candy treats, holiday baking, seasonal decor, gift-giving, meal planning, day trips with house guests, travel arrangements… So much list making is REQUIRED for these activities. Sign me up and I’ll be there smiling!

The more holidays, the merrier. Image courtesy of Williams Sonoma

It goes without saying that if I ever combine all of the things/activities listed above into one day, or even one weekend, which sometimes happens, I am on cloud nine. As in, my-face-hurts-from-smiling happy.

Are any of my favorite Fall things the same as yours? What do you love about Autumn that I don’t have on my list? Is anyone else craving hot chocolate right now?  What are you looking forward to this Fall? Leave a comment, please, and share!

Fur, feathers and fins

When I work with clients to design rooms for their homes, I must always think of ALL of the household residents. I interview everyone to make sure I choose furniture to the right scale, layouts to the rooms needs and fabrics to the right degree of sturdiness. I want all of the rooms I design to be really livable within their respective homes and feel like a natural extension of the client’s lifestyle.

While I want the humans to enjoy their home, I also must make sure I respect the needs of their pets for each room, too. Does your dog sleep on the sofa? Then I need to choose an easily washable fabric. Does your cat stretch out on the window sill? Then I shouldn’t block the window sill with a blind or shade type of window treatment.

Image courtesy of guzer.com

My job includes learning about the family pet preferences and making the design fit in around them as needed. For example, I had never considered all of the idiosyncrasies of kitty sunbathing until I started working in interior designs and had to understand how the sunlight tracked across a family room. As one of my mentors used to laughingly say, “Don’t be afraid of picking a rug that matches the dog hair.”

Along the way I have picked up sources for many great pet supply websites, so I thought I would share them with you today. Some of them may be known to you and others may be new. As an animal lover myself, I share out of appreciation for all the different pets I get to visit in my work. Cold nose = warm heart in my experience!

ALL PETS

These sites are great for a large variety of products for lots of different types of pets. Two of these sites also have great storefront locations in many communities.

  • Petsmart.com: A popular site great for all sorts of pets, they have great sales throughout the year that allow for significant savings for many types of pet supplies. Some store front locations also offer grooming, training and some boarding options for dogs.
  • Petco.comThis site also carries a large variety of items for all types of pets, with lots of storefront locations. They have a great online “Repeat Delivery” system of pet food and supply ordering. You list your pet’s food and supply needs and choose how often you would like to have it delivered (every month, every two weeks, your preference) and it ships automatically to you. You can adjust your products and  delivery schedule any time. Great for busy schedules!

    "Casbah Parakeet/Cockatiel Cage", available in two color options, ships FREE from petstreetmall.com

  • Petstreetmall.comThis is an online only business that caters to dogs, cats, birds, reptiles, fish and “small animals”, which translates to anything furry that scurries or hops. (Note: their reptile section is still “under development”.) They have a great policy that order over $50 ships FREE to your front door. If you have ever lugged a very heavy bag of dry dog food or kitty litter to your car, you probably already see the value in this deal!
  • Petcarriers.comThis site carries over 300 types of carriers in many sizes, including airline-approved travel bags, travel crates, pet barriers, seat covers, travel seats, pet strollers, pet bike trailers and pet bike baskets. I like that you can shop by price on this site, which can help you stay on budget without sacrificing safety features. Their products also ship within 24 hours and any order over $50 gets FREE shipping.

    "Pet Saver Dog Life Jacket", available in several sizes for only $20 at petcarriers.com

DOGS

  • Fetchdog.comThis site, created and managed by actress Glenn Close and her husband, offers a wide variety of great dog supplies for solving household problems. This is a great source for dog specific products like ramps/stairs, collars/harnesses, special feed bowls and toys for agility. This site also features a great blog and links to many reputable dog charities that welcome donations.

    This is a great metaphor for life: Some days you're the dog, some days you're the chicken. Image courtesy of dogster.com

  • Dogster.com: This site offers great health info for specific dog breeds, finding a vet, behavior/training and tips-of-the-day. I love that they also feature recalls for dog foods and products, which makes it a handy place to stay on top of health care for your canine babies.

CATS

  • Catnipstore.com: A friend of mine who used to show cats recommended this site and the site name almost says it all. In addition to their catnip and custom catnip toys, this site carries bedding and very affordable stick toys for feline friends, too. They also offer seeds so you can grow your own catnip at home.

    The kitty is thinking, "I love this shiny dish set....but why is it empty?!" Image courtesy of cattoys.com

  • Cattoys.com: This is another great resource for fun toys and health care supplies. You can also browse gifts for cat lovers, products made-in-the-USA and eco-friendly products easily. They even sell bird feeders for cats who prefer “live” entertainment…so to speak.

Birds

Have you ever decorated a room under the supervision (and comments) of a large, colorful bird? I highly recommend it. The critiques are much more fun than any tv design show competition! I have only had the privilege of working with/around (for) one parrot, but wanted I to be sure to include the great website his owners love:

  • Superparrots.com: This website has all kinds of products I never knew existed for these clever birds. I especially like the “flight suits”, which allow your parrot freedom to fly around your house with leaving any droppings (on your brand new furnishings). This site also has a great selection of specialized food, toys and health care products, complete with a “Ask the Avian Vet” email link.

    "Who's a pretty bird?!" Image courtesy of superparrots.com

So, that is my recommended list! Now I need to ask all of you: What kind of pets are members of your family? Where do they live in your homes? Do you have a favorite pet website? Share your stories in a comment below!

Redefining “thumb drive”

Hello! Hello! Hello!

I am so glad to be back with you, friendly readers! Thank you for all of your kind words and notes. My thumb is very happy to be back at it’s space bar on the keyboard. Now, where do we begin to catch up?

How have you finished up your summer? We finished ours with a great closet clean-out, which I love to do as we begin every Fall. I love a good clean-out and there is something very satisfying for me about a tidy space. It’s like it creates room for your next adventure or activity. However, I’m never quite so detailed in my tidy-ing as this:

Isn’t that silly in a fun way? Click here to read more about this fun artist. The pool picture is my favorite! I love these pictures and I am now on the hunt to find his other photography books. Has anyone else out there read them?

While my thumb was on it’s un-scheduled vacation, I also had plenty of time to surf around the tv at night. (Note to self: before injuring the thumb on your dominate hand again, build more practical skills with your other thumb, like using the tv remote…and buttoning your jeans.)

While I was (pitifully) trying to change the channels, I stumbled across two of my  favorite tv stars:

Image courtesy of fox.com

Leigh & Leslie Keno of Antiques Roadshow fame! Did you know they have a new tv show on Fox? It airs on Wednesday nights (check your local listings for the exact times) and it’s called:

Image courtesy of fox.com

The Keno brothers visit homes and help people find money in long-ago-stored/inherited/forgotten family treasures. The money is then used to help the owners begin the next important chapter of their lives. Along the way, the Keno brothers teach little bits of design history and identifying characteristics in what they find.

Can you see why I love this show? It’s cleaning-out on a grand scale, with Design Vocabulary and appraisal fun rolled right into it. My little hardworking thumb has never been so happy to get more practice using the remote!

And I have to share the episodes with you! You can watch them all as they become available right here. It is very satisfying tv, even when I admit to my own design-loving bias!

So, what else is going on? Are you ready for Fall? I have been planning all sorts of fun posts for the upcoming season. Fall is my very favorite season of the year. I love the cooler weather, the beautiful colors in nature and all of the holiday occasions that dot the coming months’ calendar pages (including my birthday and our wedding anniversary). I’m so glad to be back in the swing of things so I can enjoy it all and share with you!

I love it when Mother Nature becomes a bit of a show-off.

What are you looking forward to this Fall? Leave me comment. I could really use the conversation after such a long break!

Another fun post will be up tomorrow and there is a Greener Living Challenge giveaway coming later this week, so be sure to stop back by!

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…

…no…

…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¢…

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…

Questions

1. 

Image courtesy of prestonantiquecentre.co.uk

2. 

Image courtesy of nyshowplace.com

3. 

Image courtesy of belltent.co.uk

4. 

Image courtesy of trojanhorseantiques.com

5. 

Image courtesy of antiquehelper.com

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

Answers

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

Image courtesy of prestonantiquecentre.co.uk

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:

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

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.

Image courtesy of nyshowplace.com

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:

Image courtesy of lassco.co.uk

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

Image courtesy of belltent.co.uk

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:

Image courtesy of housetohome.co.uk

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

Image courtesy of trojanhorseantiques.com

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.

Image courtesy of hattonsgallery.com

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

Image courtesy of antiquehelper.com

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:

Image courtesy of bootsonline.com

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…

Laughing matter

It’s Friday and I think it’s time for a laugh.

If you follow this blog, you are probably a fan of home design, great living and loving your own home. You might also love the real estate listings that I share with the Facebook and Twitter fans/followers. Perhaps you are also reading along because you like my household tips, recipes and budget-conscience solutions. In any case, I hope you are reading for fun.

I started this blog as an extension of my interior design business and to share my passion about my work. But, at the end of the day, all of the blog subject matter is really about enjoying your lifestyle more. As my mother would say (and I love this expression), “It’s not like we’re running the Pentagon here.”

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

With that in mind, I thought we could all share a belly laugh at ourselves. I’d like to introduce you to 3 websites that I read regularly. I have “liked” them all on my personal Facebook page, because they deliver fun daily. You might enjoy them, too, and a laugh shared between friends is the best kind of laugh.

Catalog Living

This blog is written by comedienne Molly Erdman is supposedly “a glimpse into the exciting world of the people who live inside your catalog”. The main characters in this story, always just out of the picture frame in your catalogs, are Gary and Elaine.

Gary and Elaine are a married couple who have ongoing squabbles about their preferred lifestyle and decor choices. We see all the catalog images with a conversation-like description of what the hot button issues are really about. Sometimes you really have to study the pictures to understand the references, but it just makes the staged catalog photos that much more silly.

Fair warning: If you read this blog long enough, you will find yourself composing these captions when your own catalogs arrive in the mail. Pottery Barn even included a reference to a “Gary and Elaine” on a chalkboard in a recent catalog, which many fans sent in to the website.

Here are a few recent examples of Catalog Living:

Magazine Living

Also written by the talented Ms. Erdman, this blog focuses on the images you can find in shelter magazines, such as Country Living, House Beautiful, etc. This site’s main characters are Martin and Gareth, who have lovely taste, even if they don’t agree with each other about it.

Here are a few great examples:

Unhappy Hipsters

Doesn’t the name say it all? I love this blog for the modern furniture layouts and sarcastic use of proper design terms. The first image in these examples is one of my all-time favorites.

Have you found a good giggle or two here today? You should check out the archives of these blogs for more laughs. I love jokes that force us to not take ourselves too seriously. If we can’t laugh at ourselves, we’re missing a lot out of life!

Have a great weekend and I’ll see you on Monday!

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.

%d bloggers like this: