Collapsible Kitchen Tools

This is my salad spinner, at home, in my kitchen.

It is the inspiration for this post. I have been meaning to write about my salad spinner for a while because it is rather popular in my house. Mr. CARO looooves using it. As in “Honey, it’s not a lawn mower. You only need to pull the string once.” (I sometimes think he is trying to get it to take off like a helicopter.) Friends and family members have asked more about this salad spinner when they have seen it in action.

I have to admit, I have given several of these salad spinners away as gifts. Christmas, house-warming, weddings. It has fit as an appropriate gift for many occasions. I, myself, never wanted to own a salad spinner until I saw this one. But when I did see it. I WANTED it.

I never liked salad spinners before because they were all giant, lined bowls that took up a big footprint wherever I could have put them. And it’s not like you can store a lot in them when they are put away because the lid makes it cumbersome.

My salad spinner does this:

I love kitchen tools that work hard and store small. I have between a small and medium-sized kitchen, so I don’t have a ton of extra cabinet/pantry space in my kitchen. (Does anyone out there have “extra” kitchen cabinets?) When something can get the job done really well AND store nicely with other things, I am interested immediately.

Besides my friends and family, I’ve found many clients who also appreciate a great space saver in the kitchen. Sometimes because they don’t cook much and need more cabinet space for pantry items, sometimes because they like to cook a lot and need a way to fit more tools/gadgets together in an already packed area, and sometimes because they don’t have a huge amount space to begin with, so they have to make every inch of storage count. Do you fit in any of those categories?

One of my very own pots and pans drawers. Just keepin’ it real, friends.

Since I love my salad spinner, I’ve payed close attention to other items I’ve seen pop up recently that offer similar storing options. Who can’t use more storage space in their kitchens? So, today’s post is a fun list of fabulous kitchen tools that collapse down into smaller, more storage-friendly shapes. Whether you rent or own, these are practical items for real life.

Oh, and I’ve linked all the pictures below directly to their shopping sources to make purchasing easy. Just in case you need one for your kitchen, or a wedding present, or a hostess gift…you get the idea. Just click on the picture to link to the item. Here we go!


Image courtesy of

You knew I was going to start with this one. You can use the outer bowl as a nice separate serving bowl, which makes it a double-duty tool. For $23, I love the reasonable price on this spinner, too. I don’t understand why some spinner models are close to $50 for what is really a couple of plastic bowls.


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Okay, technically, you can use the interior salad spinner bowl above as a colander for fruit and veg. However, if you are going to be draining something hot, like pasta or boiled potatoes, I always chose metal surfaces over plastic. The silicone in this bowl, (like most silicone tools) can withstand temps up to 500 degrees. This little baby also comes in a variety of fun colors to choose from, several different sizes and features a handy metal loop for those of you who like to hang your pots and pans.


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This is the thing you stack lots of sheets of cookies on when you are prepping them to bake or taking them out of the oven to cool. This thing is perfect for kitchens with next to zero counter space. (Any NYC peeps reading this post? I got your back.) The rack folds so flat you can slid it into storage like a tray. 20 bucks. Genius.


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Where are you going to put all those delicious baked goods after you have used your awesome, foldable cooling rack? Well, if you are taking them to an event, you have several handy choices based on the type of goodies you’ve made. There is a carrier for layer cakes and cupcakes, pictured above. There is another version of this carrier which can carry two 9-inch pies (or up to 24 deviled eggs)…

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…and even a third version of this product for sheet cakes. (That reminds me, I have to share my favorite sheet cake recipe with you this summer. Yummmmm.)

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FYI: If these storage carriers cause you to bake more sweets in your kitchen, I am NOT responsible. I have a similar disclaimer on my Brownie Pie recipe for a good reason. Don’t send me emails about needing to buy larger jeans. I’m probably already at the store trying on new pairs, myself.


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Every kitchen has some items that won’t go in the dishwasher. If your kitchen doesn’t have a dishwasher, or at least a non-human one, you may love this item even more. At only $20, this dish drainer can even adjust to fit over different-sized sinks. I like that it includes a silverware divider and can be collapsed small enough to run it through your dishwasher when you need to…uh, again, the non-human kind of dishwasher.


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Like the over-the-sink drainer above, this cutting board adjusts to the perfect size you need. The bonus feature is that it includes a fancy-schmancy collapsible colander bowl, so you don’t lose any of those delicious strawberries into the sink or drain while you are hulling them. (Oh, the humanity.)


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This 3 quart mixing bowl is by the same company that makes the salad spinner and the dish drainer above. Clearly, they have built upon a great product line. They also carry a large collapsible tub and a nice set of 3 prep bowls that include lids. Amazon has a deal where you can buy all three for items as a set for $40.


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I’ll admit it. I’m not a huge fan of box graters. I love eating cheese, but I am not fond of working so hard to shave a big block of it down. Mr. CARO is the cheese-grating czar at our house and he has the manly biceps to prove it. However, this foldable option looks much less intimidating to me. And I know it exactly where it would fit better in our cabinets, rather than the one we have now that always seems to be right in my way every time I’m looking for something else.


Image courtesy of Sur la table

No more trying to nest all those little spoons and cups in the right order in the drawer! Just toss them all in there and let the lay flat. Wish I had thought of this idea and gotten the patent. At this rate, if you go get all of the items on this list, you may actually end up with an “extra” kitchen cabinet.


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Finally, someone came up with a smaller version of a stirring tool that always gets tangled in every drawer. The colored ring on the handle of this beater slides down to close up the loose tongs so they don’t splay out or snag while being stored. Like so:

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As you can see, this tool is also available is in several fun colors. I like that is made of silicon, so it can work in both stainless and non-stick cookware. I can always use extra drawer space. Now if only someone would make a collapsible potato masher…


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Okay, this item doesn’t collapse, per se, but it is worth mentioning for its savvy design. It would make a great wedding or bridal shower gift. It allows you to store an included set of cookie cutters within the pin itself. For more experienced bakers, you can fill the pin with ice cubes to keep your dough from getting to warm while you’re rolling it out. So smart.


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I saw this little beauty advertised in Real Simple magazine last month and had to include it. It stands at 20 inches tall when assembled. All seven of these separate tiers stack down into the base for storage. How great is this for easy entertaining in your home? I may have to put this on my list for Santa this year, then I can serve him cookies on it next Christmas Eve.

So, that is my long-ish list of what I’ve found out there. Pardon me for being a tiny bit ramble-y in this post, but when I find a great organizational solution (or 15), I like to share it. Now I want to hear from you.

What kitchen tool still needs to be re-created in a collapsible form? Can you think of something? Is there an item that I missed out there on the market when I made up the list for this post? What is the most awkward kitchen tool you wrangle onto a shelf or into a drawer?

At least leave a comment so I know I’m not the only one out here with overflowing kitchen shelves. Dish with me!

Design Vocabulary: Acanthus Leaves

Today’s Design Vocabulary term is hiding in plain sight. Once you understand what this term means, you’ll realize that you can find this motif everywhere.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

We’re looking at Acanthus leaves today (pronounced “Ah-CAN-thus”). And you can find them in all sorts of places, both inside and out. That is the flowering variety in the picture shown above, which is rather pretty. You can see the plant has very sharply edged leaves at the base of it. Those are what we are going to go looking for today. Here is a different variety of the Acanthus plant that shows a larger version of those leaves. Take a good look:

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These leaves had been popular as a design motif for centuries. I can even say that they have been popular for millennia. Let’s look at some of the roots of this plant to see why it is so popular over time. (Oops. Sorry about the pun in that last sentence. Just happened.)

Paging Molly Ringwald

The Acanthus plant is supposedly named after “Acantha”, a minor female character in Greek mythology. She was attractive enough to catch the eye of  Mt. Olympus’s original god-as-a-gift-to-women character, Apollo. Apollo rarely met a woman that he didn’t like and he also didn’t like to hear a girl say the word “No”. He’s kinda like the smart, rich, cute guy you see in all the party scenes in classic John Hughes films. He may seem fun while he’s flirting with you, but you still have that gut feeling that this is not going to end well for you if it goes any further.

DUDE! You just know that missing arm was holding out a beer, don’t you? Image courtesy of the University of Texas

Anyway, Acantha, smart girl, apparently told Apollo “No”. But, since he was a god and all, Apollo couldn’t have his reputation as playboy-deity-of-the-civilized-world diminished, so he did what most jerky gods did in those days to people who stood up for themselves. Her turned her into something else. A plant. With almost-off-putting sharp leaves. “Acantha” now roughly translates from Greek to English as “thorny”, which you can kinda see in those spiked leaves shown above. (Is this Apollo’s way of calling her an ugly name for all eternity? You be the judge.)

So, now you can see how the plant supposedly got its name and we are waaaaay back in ancient Greece.

Slap Some Decor On That Building

Now we all know that the ancient Greeks were brilliant at building. Cities, streets, civic spaces, temples. You dream it, they could build it. And it lasted pretty darn well. Pictured below is an ancient Greek column, in modern-day Athens:

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

See those leaf things growing up from around the top of the column? Those are our Acanthus leaves. The Greeks figured out that with a little sculpting those common plant leaves were actually very decorative as a natural motif on their sleek new buildings. (Take that, Apollo.)

By the way, if you are a long-time reader of this blog or have already perused the Design Vocabulary archives, you absolutely get extra credit if you can also identify the Egg-and-Dart motif on that column above! (Or you can read more about that right here.)

Leaves Going Viral

Ancient Greece was a popular marketplace for all sorts of trading. So, other cultures picked up the Acanthus leaves motif, too. You can easily find it embedded in Byzantine architecture and ALL OVER the work of the ancient world’s original copy cats…the Roman Empire. The Romans took the very best of every culture they conquered and claimed it as their own.

Greek and Roman architecture had a great revival in the 18th century. Most of the world calls this period’s architecture “Classical Revival”. In America, we also call this period “Federal”. You can find Federal style buildings all over the US in the form of government buildings and important institutions. Here is a very famous American building in the Federal style:

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See those familiar leaves, now curling, at the tops of the columns on the left? Those are our acanthus leaves, back for another round of popularity. And they weren’t just used outside, either. The 18th and 19th century loved “Classical Revival” motifs so you can find great versions of those leaves in sound a house, too. Here’s a bit of pretty reproduction architecture of that period, pretending to be structural support in a doorway…

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…and here are our leaves hung in a decorative swag on a piece of Wedgwood pottery:

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There was a famous English style-maker of the 19th century named William Morris. He loved to use botanical themes in his popular wallpapers, many of which still survive today, as does his company. Acanthus leave show up in a lot of his designs, whether they are the focus of the design…

Image courtesy of Morris & Co.

…or play more of a supporting role for other flowers and nature patterns:

Image courtesy of Morris & Co.

Today, you can still find acanthus leaves showing up in home furnishings, including everything from custom tiles…

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…to modern area rugs.

Image courtesy of Dalyn Rugs

See the curl of the acanthus leaves as it reaches out toward the flowers? This is the same curl we can find in architecture of ancient Greece and Rome. Can you see what I mean when I say these leaves are hiding in plain sight?

How many times have you looked at an American government building and never noticed the acanthus leaves? Where can you spot them in your part of the world? Leave a comment and share your sightings!

Coming tomorrow: Kitchen tools that give you more space!

Marvel-ous mood board for kids

Today’s post is brought to you by all the cool Wonder Woman tools I think every woman still wants today. Where is my lasso-of-truth to use on department store cosmetic personnel? Where are my bullet deflecting bracelets to fight off telemarketers? If I wanted to, I could now fill an entire house with clear acrylic furniture. How is there still no invisible plane that allows me to skip the TSA line?

I wouldn’t want Wonder Woman’s dry cleaning bill, though. You just know hers is still more expensive than all those guys in tights. Image courtesy of

In all seriousness, though…well, not too much seriousness…

With the ongoing success of The Avengers movie, I thought it might be fun to throw together a free mood board on Pinterest with a super hero theme. I’ve made this mood board with kids in mind, as a sort of ideal super hero hangout. However, I’m would not be surprised if adults found some fun decor inspiration in here, too. (When you see it, know that I just discovered the “Lay-n-Play construction set carrier” today and can’t wait to recommend it to future clients!)

Bat signal. You know you want it. Image courtesy of Amazon

I chose a cool grey as this room’s wall color because I want a clean backdrop for all the riotous comic colors to stand out and be noticed in the room. I was thinking of it as a basic pencil shading color, but moms and dads might like that it would be an easy color to adapt if the room decor needs to change away from this little fortress of solitude. That said, I have committed an entire accent wall to a comic book cover mural. It was just to fun of a wall covering to ignore and I figured, like most comic book villains, I should go big or go home.

Warning: Using this wallpaper mural on every wall in a room may induce serious mad scientist tendencies. Image courtesy of Amazon

Many of the furniture pieces in this mood board sport flashy colors. (Or should that be Flash-y colors?) I chose a lot of pieces from Ikea for this board, because Ikea is really offering some fabulous colors in their designs right now. I also feel that no one ever begrudges the price points at Ikea. The clean simple lines in most of their furniture works really well in kids’ rooms because they are neutral enough to grow up with any child while still being practical.

Its kind of an old Superman blue. Not quite as bright as a Captain America blue, but definitely brighter than an X-men blue. Image courtesy of Ikea

Unlike past free mood boards on my Pinterest account, I’m gonna leave this one up indefinitely. I know parents can use all the help they can get when keeping kids room manageable and affordable, so I hope this offers some realistic resources for anyone looking for some inspiration. (Please note: I take no responsibility for adult comic fans attempting to recreate this entire room for themselves without the knowledge of their spouse. You know who you are. Please use your super fan status for good, not evil.)

This bunk bed, although super-cool looking, is not designed for adults. Image courtesy of Ikea.

All of the images shown in this post are pulled from my fun new mood board on Pinterest. Want to jump to the mood board faster than a speeding bullet? Just click right here. You can also always reach my Pinterest boards by clicking on the Pinterest logo on the sidebar of this website.

Question time! If you could choose a super hero power, what power would you choose? Mr. CARO and I go back and forth on our choices, but somehow we always end up in a debate about distorting the space-time continuum. Bazinga! (Fluent geek spoken here.) Share your superpower in a comment! Love this mood board? Share it on your Facebook page to help me recruit more followers!

5 Things: Nursery edition

It’s time for another post in the “5 Things” series. These posts list 5 things that I love to use in clients homes. They can be handy things, decorative things and/or organizational things. I list them here because I know that they are tried and true with my clients and that they may work for you, too. Consider this a industry-secret whisper from a designer out in the trenches. (You can see more posts from this series, along with other organizational tips, right here.)

Linked image courtesy of

Today’s list is full of things I like to put in client nurseries. You may be thinking that nurseries generally have such specific themes that I couldn’t possibly choose 5 things for every nursery, but I have. The secret is all of these items can be customized or are already neutral enough to use in any room. Let’s get started…

Crib Skirt

This may seem like a pretty decorative item, but the genius of a crib skirt is that it can provide all sorts of extra storage. When the baby is an infant, you can stockpile diapers in bulk under the crib at its high mattress setting. When the child is a little older, you can place storage tubs under the crib to organize larger, grow-into-them  clothes.

Image courtesy of Little Giraffe

When the child is a toddler, if your crib turns into a toddler bed (and so many do these days), that under the crib space can become the perfect corral for all of those activity sets that take up so much floor space. Farm sets with menageries, large wheeled toys and any musical foobahs you don’t want to tread on with your bare feet at night. You know the kind of thing I mean. Just slide them right under the crib skirt and the nursery is tidied in the blink of an eye. You might even get your little one to help you clean up, since the storage space is right at their level.

Crib skirts are available in all sorts of styles these days. They are not all traditional and ruffle-y like the one pictured above. You can find crib skirts in all sorts of patterns and designs, which makes them easy to customize to any nursery’s theme or color plan. You can even find crib skirts designed to fit the clean, simple lines of a more modern crib, like this one…

Image courtesy of DwellStudio

I’m delighted that there has been such an upswing in crib skirt popularity in recent years. I have yet to meet a parent who looks around their child’s room and says, “You know what I have too much of in here? Storage space.”

Area Rug

Okay, this may seem like a no-brainer. Every parent-to-be anticipates spending some quality time sitting on the nursery floor with their child. Who wouldn’t think of some sort of rug as a practical solution? However, I’m not talking about any old kind of area rug. I’m talking about a kind of rug that can take a beating and still good look over the next 5 years, without costing you a fortune. After all, you still have college to plan for, right?

Image courtesy of Couristan

Whether a nursery needs a neutral, traditional pattern (like the rug shown above), or a colorful, younger palette (like the rug shown below), I always choose Indoor/Outdoor rugs for nurseries.

Every single time.

I embrace the “Indoor” part of the rug’s type that makes it soft on tiny bare feet and knees (and parent’s bums) as they play and explore. If a nursery is already carpeted when I arrive on the job, I still throw one of these war horses into service for the parents. It’s the “Outdoor” part of this rug’s name that makes it a weapon against chaos.

Two words: Diaper blowout.

Need two more words? Projectile vomiting. And let us not forget the food, craft supplies and other childhood detritus that can get ground into your flooring and carpet. Your nice, expensive, pre-baby, wall-to-wall carpet or flooring. On its very worst day, you can haul this rug outside and hose that puppy down. Let it dry and it is as good as new.

Image courtesy of Loloi Rugs

Book Racks

You may have noticed by now that I think about the parent’s needs first in any nursery. It’s true, but don’t get me wrong. I want the room to be as beautiful as the new baby about to move in there. I take great joy in finding just the right mix of personal and adorable items for the new room. However, if the nursery leaves Momma or Daddy worn out from all the upkeep, I am not doing my job properly. At the end of the day, my clients are the parents, the caretakers of the room.

Most nurseries need some form of bookcase early on, to hold all sorts of thing collected before the baby arrives. Toys, baby gear, mementoes, you name it, tend to get organized and stacked very neatly at the beginning. After the baby arrives, the jumble of items in play often mean that books are harder to put away or keep handy when parents need them. I am a big fan of books, myself, so like to include book racks in addition to shelves. Here is one of my favorites:

Image courtesy of Land of Nod

The beauty of a book rack is that a parent can put books into it with one hand. Whether they are reading a story while holding their baby or doing a big room sweep of toy clean up, books can get safely (respectfully) dropped into place without being jammed in with other toys. One of my clients used a dedicated book rack to help keep track of all of her children’s library books, without having to search everywhere. Smart Momma!

I also have discovered another source for a great book rack via some innovative DIYers on the internet. (I wish I could say I thought of this one myself, but credit should be given where it is due. I certainly use this idea for my clients now!) Ikea offers a lovely little birch spice rack, called the BEKVÄM, for a mere $4. Some clever parents out there saw the similarities between that spice rack and the more traditional book rack pictured above. You can add a Ikea book rack system, like this one, anywhere that you have a little extra wall space for only $12:

Image courtesy of

Vertical Storage

This is a concept I use in every nursery. It is a simple concept  that can be reused in many different ways as a child grows up. Not all new parents have dedicated furniture suites for their new children, so this concept can be particularly helpful in smaller nurseries or even in master bedrooms that host the baby when it is very young. I like to use vertical storage in a closet as a place to catch clothing, diapers, blankets, special soft toys and whatever else a parent needs to find quickly, without having to dig through a drawer or bin. Here is one of my favorite products:

Image courtesy of Ikea

This is a hanging shelf is from the Ikea SKUBB line of organizers. They currently come in white, black or this vivid purple. I love them because they are affordable. The example pictured above is only $8. Because they are made of a sturdy nylon material, they can also be cleaned easily. As your child grows older, this 5 shelf hanger can become a place where they lay out their school clothes in advance, to avoid the morning rush.

Another great place for vertical storage is the back of a bedroom or closet door. By capitalizing on a place that is often forgotten to store small items (creams, sunglasses, hats, shoes, etc.) and regularly used large items (favorite toys, blankets, extra diapers), tidying a child’s room and leaving the house can become much easier and faster. I like the clean design of this back-of-the-door storage (by Real Simple for Bed Bath and Beyond) because a child can get access to their own things at the bottom of the door when they are old enough to help.

Image courtesy of Bed Bath and Beyond


Sleepy parents should not have to struggle to see what time it is when they are up with a late night feeding. While cute nursery wall clocks can be found almost everywhere, I always suggest something smaller and easier on the parent’s eyes when they are waiting for their babies to drift back into Neverland. Despite all the varieties available, my two favorite, go-to clocks for nurseries come from LL Bean. The first one is the classic Moon Beam clock…

Image courtesy of LL Bean

…which has an easy-to-read dial face and on/off switch for the backlit setting. It also comes in several colors (easy top match to any nursery color plan) and has an alarm setting that include waking to a gentle light, a bell or both. Charming!

My other favorite LL Bean clock is the 1931 Big Ben model, which also comes in several colors and features and easy-to-read face.

Image courtesy of LL Bean

Like the Moon Beam clock above, this clock has easy alarm settings and has an on/off setting for the backlighting of the face. I should mention that these clocks are a little more expensive than say a plastic digital clock from Wal-mart. However, the quality of these clocks is excellent and they can eventually become a child’s first alarm clock when they reach school age.

So there is my list of 5 Things that work in every nursery! I didn’t set out to have a favorites list like this, but when I find something that really works well I want to give that extra practical assistance to every set of parents who ask for my design help.

Now I’d like to hear from all of the parents out there who are reading this post. What do you think of my list? Do you have a favorite nursery item you can’t live without? What is the best tip you ever got about organizing your child’s room. Jump on in, parents, and share your experience in a comment!

Design Vocabulary: Barley Twist

I have always thought today’s vocabulary word sounds like an old-fashioned soda or confection. Something someone could have ordered at the fountain or candy counter at a General Store in the very early 1900’s. Another, older and now much less used, variation of this term is “barley sugar twist”, which sounds even sweeter. But, in fact, this is what it looks like:

Image courtesy of

See the twisted legs? Those are “barley twist” legs. This style dates back hundreds of years. It actually takes its shape from the architectural term referred to as a “Solomonic column”. The “Solomon” in that term comes from the belief that helix shaped columns…

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

…were used as structural pillars for the roof of Solomon’s Temple, of Bible fame. Of course, that was believed to have been built a long time ago, circa 600 BCE, so we have to rely on the oral history. Nevertheless you can still find Solomonic columns in architecture today. Here’s one of the most famous examples:

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Beautiful, huh? Look at how large it is compared to the people in the bottom left of the picture. This canopy is made of carved bronze and sits over the high altar in St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican.  This is Bernini’s design of St. Peter’s baldacchino (pronounced “bowel-da-KEEN-oh”, which is Italian for a form of canopy.) That’s hand carved bronze. my friends. No machines to help built this back in the 1700’s.

In fact, all of the early barley twist furniture was hand carved, too. It was generally  used as a form of support in a larger piece of furniture, like the table I showed you above or this reproduction chair:

Image courtesy of

I’ve always admired the meticulous measuring skills that must have gone into making the curves so evenly spaced. That must have taken such planning and patience to plan out before the carving even began. As soon as mechanical woodworking tools started to be developed a couple of centuries ago, a technique was developed to turn pieces of wood on a lathe and carve the curves in as the wood turned. Here is a working lathe with a craftsmen putting a barley twist pattern onto a lathe, to show you what I mean:

Image courtsey of

The barley twist pattern was very popular in English furniture design and had many revivals, including the early 1800’s and then again throughout Queen Victoria’s reign in the mid to late 19th century. Because the British Empire was stretched across the globe, many of its ideas for fashionable furniture design travelled, too.

Before long, people were using the barley twist as an ornamental feature, instead of a structural one. You can see how the detailing of all those curves gives this mirror an extra sense of layered opulence:

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Here’s an example applied to a modern crafted desk, designed to look like a heavy antique:

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And my personal favorite, a bed where the barley twist columns themselves are the show-stopping, non-structural, ornamentation:

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There is also a variation of this term called “open barley twist”, with “open” meaning “hollow”. In older pieces this was very uncommon, because it took away the strength that made the column structural in the first place. You generally only saw open barley twist appear in small items, like these brass candlesticks:

Image courtesy of

I chose this term for our Design Vocabulary today because I’ve noticed a rising popularity of this form in recent months. I first saw barley twists showing up in all sorts of designer table lamps, like this lovely floor lamp:

Image courtesy of the Jamie Young Co.

Do you like the simple curved shape? I think this can work with almost any style preference, from modern to period-accurate antiques. You can find barley twist popping in materials beyond furniture, too, such as this lovely retro print by designer Robert Kime:

“Barley Twist” by Robert Kime Image courtesy of

Can you see the elegant barley twist in the pattern? Most people wouldn’t even know where the pattern name comes from, but now you do!

And remember how I explained that the open barley twist form was generally only used for smaller items, because of structural integrity issues? Well, an American designer decided that seemed like a good challenge. When I saw this table recently…my jaw actually dropped:

The Watson Table by Paul Loebach Image courtesy of

How gorgeous is that?! Wait, here’s a close up of the legs and delicate corners:

The Watson Table by Paul Loebach Image courtesy of

It’s not delicate in strength, though. Here’s the proof:

The Watson Table by Paul Loebach Image courtesy of

That table would make me throw out my tablecloths forever!

So now you can spot a barley twist, in all it’s varieties. Have you seen one in a store lately and not realized it has a name? Do you have an old piece of family furniture with barley twist legs? What other design terms have you always wanted to know the meaning of? Leave your thoughts in a comment and you may see your ideas in an upcoming Design Vocabulary post!

Downton Abbey DIY Decor

Ah, Downton Abbey. Are you already hearing the theme song your head? I find it can get stuck in my mind like an endless loop after I see PBS commercials go by.

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Have you been watching? Do you have a favorite character or story line? I find the show so beautifully designed that I hardly know where to look when I should be watching the characters. Although, nothing gets my attention more that Maggie Smith’s entrance in a scene. I believe she has the best one-liners I have heard in a long time. And I love that her character seems to know it.

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Downton Abbey is in reruns on PBS here in Maryland. Mr. CARO and I have been catching the last season’s episodes again on Friday nights. We tend to have our TVs on as we go from room to room doing our end-of-the-week Friday evening household chores. Because so much of the drama involves the servants, you can almost trick yourself into believe you are part of them if you find yourself dusting or vacuuming while they are also doing housework.

Image courtesy of


We are big fans of this show, as is practically every other person I know. There has been so much written (and photographed) about the costumes and casting (and setting) for this show that I almost dismissed the concept of this post because I thought it might be overdone.

However, as we were talking on Sunday night, I made a joke with my husband about  the imminent arrival a new line of (fictional, yet) extremely large furniture at Macy’s called “The Grantham Collection”. Since PBS was able to successfully sell reproductions of Lady Mary’s jewelry for a while, it seems like the obvious next step.

So, I decided to build a DIY Downton Abbey room on Pinterest, just for a lark.

Image courtesy of

I built the room from my own instinct and memory of the show’s design, without looking at production stills or watching the reruns while I worked. When I was done, I asked Mr. CARO to review my selection and give me his opinion of how I did. From the other room, I could hear him laughing and saying, “Yes!” as he scrolled through my choices.

The room I decided to recreate (à la Downton Abbey) was the library. I think a library is one of the truly defining things about an English country house. It reflects the personal style of the current resident, but also tends to much some of the family history in the home. It is a primarily masculine room, historically. (Girls do get up to all sorts of thing when they are taught to read!) However, I wanted to make sure I included that warm feeling that sometimes brought the ladies of the household into the room.

Image courtesy of

I scoured the internet for all of my sources for this mood board. Some of them may seem to come from very random places, but that was the exact place I found the image of the item I was needing for the library. I like putting the mood board on Pinterest because it automatically gives credit and a link back to its original source. In most cases, you can also use the links to find out who makes and how to buy the chosen item. (If you happen to buy yourself one of those gorgeous decanters, I’d be happy to help you christen it!)

I’ve included notes on all of my room choices, to explain why you would want or need each item in our little dream room. Now all you have to do is supply yourself with a very old large room, with large windows and a serious fireplace. Simple, right? Here’s a little sneak peek of my Downton Abbey library:

Want to jump directly to the mood board? Just click on the picture above or use the Pinterest link on the page’s sidebar to see all of my boards.

Now I want to hear from you about Downton Abbey. How did I do on this mood board? Was I close? Can you think of anything I missed? Do you have a favorite room that we’ve seen on the show? What about the “smaller” homes we see, like cousin Isobel’s house or the Dowager House Maggie Smith’s Violet lives in? Share with me like you’re reporting on a social scandal from London!

Image courtesy of

If you like this Downton Abbey post, you might also enjoy related posts from the blog’s archives, including these:

See you tomorrow!

The Cookbook Sagas, part 1

I’m Cathryn Olson and I’m a Recipe-aholic. (Is that a real word? It should be.)

They say admitting you have a problem is the first step toward solving it. However, in my experience, with this particular issue, it just means you find more shelving to load up. I have way too many cookbooks and recipes. WAY. TOO. MANY.

This is just one small handful that I grabbed for a picture.

To be fair, I LOVE to cook. Not everyone does, but I like discovering new ways to put flavors together and trying foods from different cultures. And sometimes I like telling myself I will try the most difficult cuisines on the planets if I could just find the right cookbook to make them easier for me. (We’ll re-visit this vicious cycle later.)

To also give credit where credit is due, my husband (Mr. CARO) now loves to cook, too. I did not find him this way when we started dating. He did cook for himself, which was refreshing to find in a guy, but it was mainly salads and what I call the classic “Bachelor Boil”. Boil pasta, boil sauce, boil soup, boil eggs… (Ladies, can I get a witness?) However, the man was game to try new any recipe and what more can you ask for in a recipe enabler partner? Mr. CARO is an excellent cook.

Mr. CARO’s apron of choice

So, when we got married I started collecting recipes in a much more purposeful way. I scanned magazines, I searched online, I actually read many of the older cookbooks my mom had offloaded onto me in an effort to diminish her own recipe stockpiling tendencies. (See, nature and nurture. This really isn’t my fault.) As I collected , clipped and printed recipes that sounded good, I decided to paste them all onto card stock and put them in sheet protectors, in three-ring binders. Sounds logical and organized, right? I was very efficient at this. In five years, I had 8 full 2-inch binders. EIGHT.

Soooo much time spent gluing.

These binders were so full I had to dig every time I wanted to find a recipe that A) we had already tried and B) that we liked. This was my recipe for a What’s-for-dinner nightmare. So I stopped gluing, because clearly the binders weren’t working so well and I didn’t want to spend more money on more of them when I didn’t have the shelf space for them either.

Go ahead, judge these books by their covers.

Did I mention that I had three more shelves of regular cookbooks? Yeah. There has to be a support group for this somewhere. A support group that never serves snacks so nobody can ask for a recipe. I asked my own support group Facebook friends what they did to keep their recipes organized. They made me feel really normal. Especially my childhood friend who admitted to laminating ALL of her recipes. (You know who you are and I love you for that answer!)

So that’s where the idea for this post series came from…paper hoarding in my kitchen. Is this problem solved? Noooooooo. But I’m working on it and have found some real solutions. I thought I would document my progress since I realized that this is a more common problem than I had originally thought. I also thought that by documenting my progress on the blog I could publicly shame myself into staying on task. (Bonus!) I’ll be blogging this project in real-time, so I can keep my solutions honest.

Note to self: These tools are not my friends in the kitchen.

The one thing that I can tell you I have done so far is donate a whole bunch of the really old cookbooks that my mom and I never used to my local library. I’m still not sure if this was a good deal for the library, but they took the books anyway. If you happen to find yourself in the Main branch of the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore, there are several shelves in the cookbook section that warrant some sort of “donated by” plaque with my name on it. And if you are seeking complicated ways to display 1960’s tuna casseroles or 1920’s ingredients you would never bring in your house let alone eat, it may be your lucky day!

An old cookbook from my great grandmother. And yes, that says “Opossum”.

There is much more to this saga and I’ll share more with you on my progress next week. In the meantime, how do you store recipes in your kitchen? Do you keep old cookbooks that you may never use? Have you ever lost a favorite recipe? Don’t leave me hanging out here, friends! Share your stories!

Martha’s Cookies

This recipe comes to us via a military wife. Military wives, throughout history, have had to have recipes that adapt to many different situations. Sometimes they are be in a place where they could get all of their favorite ingredients, sometimes not. Their recipes have had to work with wherever they were when it was time to cook. (A big shout of love to all of you awesome military wives, especially you, Mom!)

This recipe comes to us from a Virginia military wife that knew all about doing the familiar “bag drag” to a new station. (That’s “baggage dragging”, part of military moving slang, for all of you civilians out there.) In fact, this military wife would load up wagons full of produce from her farm and haul it all to her husband’s winter encampment to help feed the troops. That military encampment was Valley Forge and that military wife was named Martha Dandridge Custis Washington.

Image courtesy of The National Portrait Gallery

Now, to be perfectly honest, I can’t say that Martha actually made these cookies herself. As we all know, Martha was a very wealthy woman with many slaves and servants. She may have never set foot in her own Mt. Vernon kitchen for all we know. However, this meringue cookie recipe has been called “Martha Washington Cookies” for generations in Virginia. Given the simplicity of the ingredients list, it would certainly serve a military wife well when she had to entertain on the move.

If you have never made a meringue before, don’t be intimidated. This recipe is an EXCELLENT way to learn the basic technique and how the chemistry works. It is very, very difficult to mess this recipe up. If you can pour, flip a switch and spoon things out of a bowl, then you can do it! Take a look…


  • 2 egg whites
  • 1/4 teaspoon / 1.25 mL salt
  • 2/3 cup / 157 mL brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons / 7.5 mL vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups / 355 mL pecan halves, broken into small pieces


Pre-heat your oven to 250 degrees F/120 degrees C/ Gas Mark 1/2. We are going to bake these cookies low and slow. Grease 2 cookie sheets (I use butter) and set them aside.

(All of these photos are all from my new camera and I’m still learning/playing with the detailed-yet-fabulous lighting features.)

Next, crack and separate your egg whites. I use this dinky little egg separater whenever I am low on eggs or patience, because I am not so adept at using the shells to get the yolks out.

In a large bowl (I’m using the bowl of my stand mixer), pour in your salt…

…then add your 2 egg whites…

…and now beat the egg white and salt mix on a low setting of your stand mixer (or hand mixer, for those of you who are old school) until this little mix is foamy.

When I first taught Mr. CARO (my husband) how to make this recipe, the word “foamy” caused some worry. “How will I know when it’s ‘foamy’? Is there a time measurement or something?” So, I will tell you what I told him, just in case you are thinking the same thing.

“Mix until foamy.” is all we’ve got, but then again, really old recipes don’t come with detailed instructions. The older the recipes are, the luckier you are if they even come with exact measurements. (If you have a great-grandmother or aunt who cooked by measuring all ingredients in her palm, you know what I mean.) This recipe was made by people (“slaves” in those days) who weren’t even allow to learn to read. Trust the recipe and watch the mix being mixed. Just watch it. You know what “foamy” looks like. A little like soapy water collected at the bottom of your sink. Like this:

Now that we have successfully reached foamy, we are going to add in our sugar. Before I add in the brown sugar, I like to break it up from its measuring shape into something that pours easier. I just use a fork to crumble it well.

Turning your mixer back onto a low setting, slowly add your sugar to the egg mix.

Then add your vanilla extract…

…until everything is well combined. This mixture should now look like a melted caramel color, like this:

This is your basic batter, but now we are going to put chemistry to work for us to triple the quantity of the batter. By folding in air as the batter is rapidly beaten, the egg proteins will stretch. The sugar and salt help the batter hold the air in the mix, making it lighter and fluffier.

To do this, set your mixer speed to medium high… (here’s my speed setting)…

…and beat the mix for about 10 minutes.

Yep. 10 minutes.

I timed it for you with my mixer. (This is the part of the recipe where we thank our lucky stars that we have electric appliances. Imagine what it would be like to beat this mixer by hand. Ugh. ) As the batter is beaten, it will start to change color, becoming lighter and lighter the longer it is beaten. Here it is at around 4 minutes:

It’s already much lighter in color. Just keep it going until you reach 10 minutes.

While we’re waiting, I’d like to take a moment to salute all the hardworking American women who have ever hauled electric American kitchen appliances to foreign locations and voltage requirements. May your adapters run forever smoothly and your warranties be ever sound, ladies!

Here’s my mixture at 10 minutes and a much lighter cream color:

Now I need to check to make sure I have “stiff peaks” in the batter. This is the key to knowing you have whipped enough air into the batter to make it a meringue. Can you see the little peak of batter in the sticking straight out of the mix in the top left section? Here is another look of a good peak in the I batter pulled up on a spatula:

This peak of batter is holding still, with a stiff point, not dripping back into the bowl. This is how you know the meringue will hold up in the oven.

Now gently fold in the pecans. You want to make sure that you fold in the nuts and not stir them into the batter. If you stir the batter, the motion will break up all those nicely stretched egg proteins, essentially undoing all ten minutes of your mixing.

So, sprinkle some of the nuts onto the batter…

…then fold some batter over the top of the nuts.

Repeat this step until you have all the nuts folded into the batter.

As soon as your batter is complete, use a teaspoon to scoop and drop the batter onto your greased cookie sheets. These cookies do not spread or rise when you bake them, so you can dollop them onto the baking sheet rather close to each other.

If I had used an even teaspoon measurement, I would have an even two cookie sheets full of cookies. However, Mr. CARO likes these cookies a little larger, so my cookies are closer to a large Tablespoon size. I wouldn’t go much larger than that, though, or they won’t bake through evenly.

(Can you see how well-loved my cookie sheets are? It may be time for me to upgrade to some restaurant grade baking sheets, but these sheets have produced hundreds of happy cookies so far.)

When your cookie sheets are ready, pop them both in the oven on two separate racks and set your timer for 30 minutes. When your timer goes off, rotate the sheets 180 degrees and swap their placement on the oven racks. Reset your timer for another 30 minutes.

Important Note: You can’t store meringue batter in the fridge or on the counter. The stretched egg proteins will not hold their shape for long before baking, so you should make just what you can use right away. This recipe is difficult to double because it bakes for a full hour and the batter won’t wait. However, if you are lucky enough to have double ovens, meringue away!

Here are my cookies fresh out of the oven:

They are only slightly more golden and glossy then when they went in the oven, but if you look closely, you’ll see slight cracks in the sides of the cookies. They come off of the baking sheet very easily. You can even remove them with you fingers. And don’t they look pretty on a plate?

Mr. CARO generously volunteered to eat half a cookie so you could see what they look like on the inside. (Such sacrifice!)

The light meringue will almost melt in your mouth and just at the center you’ll taste the caramelized pecan flavor that Virginian’s have loved for centuries. These cookies are especially good with coffee at any hour of the day…if they last past the day you bake them. (I speak from experience.)

So what do you think? Do these flavors sound good to you? Does this easy recipe inspire you to try a meringue cookie? What other recipe techniques are you wanting to try? Leave a comment, especially if you try this recipe, and share your thoughts! And most importantly, if you happen to know a military wife, be sure to thank her for HER service to our country!

Design Vocabulary: Shagreen

These are some of my favorite types of posts to write. Partly because I love interesting trivia and history and partly because I love sharing the “What is that?” of the many parts of interior design. Today’s Design Vocabulary word is a great example of the interesting details I love. It is a very old leather that is back in style again.

Leather, as you know, comes from the outer layer of an animal’s skin (the “epidermis” for you science fans). Cow leather, which is arguably what we Americans think of first when we think of “leather”, is traditionally stretched and tanned before use. Shagreen (pronounced: shah-GREEN) is an untanned leather. “Shagreen” used to primarily refer to horse leather, but horse leather has become much less popular in the last century. Nowadays, shagreen almost exclusively refers to shark skin, which looks like this when it is applied as a leather:

Image courtesy of

The above picture is an antique toiletries kit wrapped with shagreen. Shagreen was a true luxury item in past centuries. Imagine how hard it would be to catch, haul in, skin and delicately preserve a shark when out at sea in a ship during the 1700s. Herman Melville eat your heart out. Being able to own and display just a little bit of shagreen in your daily life (“What? This old thing?”), was a real sign of refined taste.

I also chose the above picture to make another point about the term’s origins. Follow me on this little tangent. Those of you who took French in high school might notice a similarity to between “shagreen” and “chagrin”, the latter of which means “embarrassment or anxiety” in French (and now also English). When you consider how “rough”, “coarse”, and “unfinished” can be used to negatively describe something like manners, as in “Your coarse manners reflect your country upbringing.” you can see how the word “chagrin” is clearly a derivative of this unrefined leather. Sneaky, huh?

Fashion forward and backward: a 2012 shagreen handbag Image courtesy of

Shagreen was also used throughout history as a covering for things that could get slippery. Today, we would design something that needs a good grip to have some sort of rubberized wrap around it, like a tennis racket. When your hands get sweaty playing tennis, you don’t ever have to worry about dropping the racket because it has a firm, dry grip.

So, what if you lived in an era that didn’t have rubber or silicone as an option, but you really needed to hold something very firmly, like a toiletries kit, or something more dangerous:

19th century (Edo period) Wakizashi, National Tokyo Museum Image courtesy of Wikipedia

This sword, called a Wakizashi, was used exclusively by the Samurai, the elite class of nobility warriors that served the ruling dynasties of Japan for centuries. And if you look closely, you’ll notice that the handle of this sword is covered in shagreen. (Because who wants to drop their sword in the middle of a battle?)

Shark skin, by its very nature, performs well in moisture. The early sword masters of Japan were using smart technology when they chose this textured material as a standard in their designs. And now, thanks to the renewed interest in shagreen as a modern design element, you can use it to hold onto things you don’t want to drop either:

Cell phone cases Image courtesy of Bergdorff Goodman

Now, I’m not suggesting that everyone go out and buy real shagreen again. (No angry letters from PETA, please.) Sharks are now an endangered species and we all need to act responsibly as custodians of our planet. However, I want you to understand the history of this design element so you can make respectable choices if you like the pattern and texture as it has evolved in today’s design market place.

And evolved it has! Check out these beautiful new bath tiles from designer Ann Sacks:

Image courtesy of Ann Sacks

Can you see how she mimicked the original organic texture in these tiles? I think they are beautiful. How gorgeous they must look when they get wet in a shower. No animal was hurt in the mass production of these tiles, yet we all get to admire the design genius of Mother Nature.

You can also find shagreen applied to more traditional uses again, such as these sets of decorative boxes…

Love these? These sets of boxes are now on sale! Image courtesy of West Elm

…and this large-scale application of shagreen on the surface of a coffee table.

Image courtesy of DwellStudio

Have you noticed any shagreen in the stores lately?  Do you like an animal-based print or texture in home decor?  Where could you see using a little shagreen in your home? Leave a comment!

Springing back into action…

Did I say “action”?

What I really meant was “blogging”.

I have been away from this blog for much longer than I intended. While I was away, the whole country blossomed into Spring.

What was I doing, you ask?

I’d love to be able to tell you that I was doing something noble, like volunteering with Doctors Without Borders, or something equally heroic. But the truth is much more boring. Lofty life coaches and workplace style-minders might say I’ve been “trying to find a better work/life balance”, but I think it is better to use clear, Anglo-Saxon words. I was cleaning up my work vs. home schedule.

January is typically a quiet time for interior designers. Many potential clients are taking it easy while they pay off their holiday bills. Most people savor being at home with their families, sharing indoor activities and enjoying cosy winters viewed through frosted windows. No one is really in the mood to paint or re-organize all the family room furniture. And who can blame them?

Mr. CARO (my husband, who also owns a small business) and I also like this time to be at home. We catch up on all of our business paperwork and enjoy lots of movies with homemade popcorn and hot chocolate. However, there was NO winter here this year. Not a flake of snow or a bite of frost. And so Spring arrived very, very early…

And while we were able to get our business paperwork done, we spent a lot of time working on other little projects that popped up as unexpectedly as Spring. Just the daily life stuff everyone has, like head colds, car repairs, social events and housework. And all the stuff that goes along with owning small businesses, like tax preparation, networking, creating new marketing materials and okay-I’ve-officially-outgrown-this-file-cabinet-and-now-need-another-one. It may not seem like much, just the stuff that everyone else deals with, but it got ahead of us. So, we took a purposeful pause and re-grouped.

We needed to overhaul our work schedules to make our home work better and we think we have conquered a new layout now. While I had spent many loving hours helping other people make their homes more lovable, my own was becoming a bit of a wreck. I’m a proud Type A personality (see my organizing posts as evidence) so the clutter and cleaning I tried to ignore was getting to me. Spring cleaning was never so welcome in our home!

So now I am back!

Refreshed, reorganized and with lots of things to share on the blog. Even while I was away, I was dreaming up things to talk about and writing little notes to myself about things to share. My goal is now to get them all typed up and back into the new-post-every-weekday format I enjoyed writing before my break. I hope all of you who are reading this will come along for the ride.

And speaking of readers, I wanted to thank all of you who left messages and emailed me about missing the blog. I was missing all of your comments and sharing my favorite design things, too. Thank you for taking the time out of your day to send your “Where the heck did the blog go?” notes!

I could also see that many of you were sharing the blog site with friends, based on all the archived posts that were viewed every day. Thank you, thank you, thank you for keeping all of my previous writings active over the past few months. I have a lot more to share with you and I can’t wait to get started with all the details.

The new posts officially begin with what you are reading right now. If I could do a big cartwheel for you right now, I would. That’s how much I have missed writing every day. I love my job and I love sharing it with others who are interested in great design and wonderful home life. So let’s get started…

All of the pictures in this post were taken by me as Spring showed up in Baltimore over the past few months. I love it when the cherry and apple blossoms make their annual appearance in our area. I hope they bring a happy bit of color to your day, too.

Is there anyone else out there that finds flower blossoms energizing? What motivates you to really get moving with stuff around your house? Blogs are for conversation, so share your thoughts in a comment! And, okay, I’ve been away for quite a while, so I’ll just say it: Is anyone out there? Chime in and say “Hi!” if you are reading this!

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