Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Multi Tasking with Scrapbook Papers & IKEA

So tonight I sit here clearing scrapbook papers that I decided I don't want from my shopping cart at The Scrappy Gourmet. Who the heck broke in and put over 60 papers in there? I did that? Naaaahhh. And for some of these, what was I thinkin'? Though some of the Pink Paislee papers, I'm lovin':

Must break up the tediousness of zooming in on, uh, about 50 papers where I question my sanity when I previously hit "Add to Cart," once I get a closer look. Do you get the positive rushy-glowy effects of binge shopping by adding to cart? That's the only way I can explain this. This is why buying online is good. You can impose a cooling off period. Don't get me wrong, The Scrappy Gourmet has some fantastic papers, and in my short 2-month addiction to scrapbooking, I've already placed several orders. But selectively clearing a shopping cart, when the obsessive side of me doesn't want to let an eye candy opportunity go without another, closer look, is truly tedious.

To break it up, I surf some blogs. And find something really intriguing, right here in the Blogs of Note feature in Blogger Dashboard: ikea hacker. This blog shows how people take IKEA stuff and dramatically modify it, or use it in innovative ways. Our home office is lined with seven beech color IKEA Billy bookshelves with solid doors on the bottom and glass doors on the top. They make nice impact in such multiples, especially with the doors. But they will always feel temporary -- now that I've been in real mahogany-lined home offices, Billy will always reek of those early adult post-college years:
But what if you surrounded Billy shelves with molding below and above so they look like floor-to-ceiling built-ins? You can upgrade the hardware too, as I already have. I may just do the molding trick someday if we want a more permanent installation. No use chucking Billy to the curb, or Salvation Army, or even Freecycle when we really should learn to make the best of some things we got.

Speaking of such, check out this bathroom re-do featured on ikea hacker using IKEA products:



Amazing, huh? So if you've hacked any IKEA furniture, accessories, anything, the guy at ikea hacker asks you to send him some material to post about!

Now, I go back to scoring some cool Pink Paislee papers ...

Monday, July 28, 2008

Stone Cold Crazy 2

So there's this great stone showroom not far away, Schwake Stone. They have what I need. For the past two summers, I've been piece by piece, bit by bit, building a 6-8" tall, rustic stone edge along the front garden. Yeah, just an edging of stone, but I'm very precise about what I want there. And it's taking forever to complete it as I pick up one or two, or sometimes if I'm very lucky, I find three or four pieces at the same time that are the right shape, width, height. Can you imagine how long it would take me to build a 2-foot tall wall? And that's still a very short wall!

Now, I must build stone edging under my cascading curved swaths of Japanese Forest Grass, which when it grows up will look like this from Heronswood:

It's not as full and lush yet, but it's getting there. And it needs a low bank of stone under it to support it and set it aside from the grass. See, Heronswood thought so too.

And, after two years, I can't believe that all I have to do is drive down to the Schwake showroom and find the stone I want, like one of these:

So coming soon, a photo not from the Internet but from my own garden of Hakonechloa macra 'Aureola' spilling over a low edging of dry-stacked thin stone.

Basement Overhaul

Overhaul #1: Tonight, researching a major change for our basement. Water problems. Always been there, likely always will be. Previous owner warned us about it. We have an outdoor staircase going down to the basement. Wierd, but at least we can get out of the basement easily if there's ever a fire (silver lining in a dark raincloud). The staircase drain backs up during torrential downpours, of which there are more lately. Especially if we don't remember to clean plant debris away from the drain. We rarely remember to do this. And then water seeps in through the door. Ugh. Happened a few times this spring. Current carpeting must be ripped out.

Thus, researching Flor. Ever got a problem, rip some squares up and replace them. Sounds like a plan to me.

This also means, after you're done designing your own shoes and your own handbag, you can design your own carpet! Oh what great fun! This is a cool design, but for us, in a different colorway:

Here it is in somebody's home:

Another nice customer example on the Flor website. Obviously, I am drawn to samples where it's not just a grid of squares:

I've ordered a bunch of samples, and will be playing with our basement's dimensions in the Configurator until the wee hours.

Overhaul #2: Banish oak tones from the basement. Wanna know how I feel about oak? The basement has custom-built oak shelves along one wall, and a matching entertainment center on another. They're quality, they're sturdy, they're very much needed and used. But they're oak. And very middle-of-the-road traditional. The basement is going to be my design studio and I must be surrounded by something inspirational, not traditional.

Something like this from the Sundance catalog is more to my liking there:

Thus some painting and distressing will be happening in the near future to approximate this look.

Wow looking at all this, it doesn't feel so hip to be with so many squares ... all the photos kinda hurt my eyes here, but it won't be like this in the basement. It has lengthy rectangular shelves and I'm thinking of installing the carpet in a diagonal to draw your eye toward the other end when you walk in.

Here's an alternative for the floor ... stripes:

While I'm inspired by the Flor rug idea here, I could never ever ever go in this room. Why? See that stack of books? Aren't you tempted to ... just ... with one finger ... puuuuuuuuuushhhhhhh ... heh heh heh ... can't stop looking at it. Obsessed, I say, obsessed.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Design Bags To Go With Your Ribbon Shoes

Gotta move on to other things this evening, but I leave you with this, another Chicago company, 1154 Lill Studio that custom makes handbags and totes from fabrics that you choose:

There's lots of different handbag, evening clutch and tote styles and tons of fabric choices. Here's one I designed real quick:

Same style, different design:

One more so we have an odd number of photos (sounded like good reason to me):

See? You could spend all day and night playing with patterns and colors. Have fun!

Crafty Soles Got Under My Skin

Told ya I have visual obsessions ... I can't leave the ribbon ideas alone (see post below). I offer to you a few ideas.

Go forth, ladies, and create!

Crafty Soles

Ever need just-the-right-color sandal to go with summer clothes? I have a generous stock of black, brown and beige shoes of various styles and degrees of office-appropriateness, dressiness and grubby garden-ness. I tend to not want to invest in non-neutral colors unless they're inexpensive flip flops or other summer sandals. But these, you must have these, especially if you have a crafty DIY soul ...

You can change the ribbon color every day if you want!

Love love love. And as a hobby seamstress, I have a healthy stash of cool ribbons. Although I don't have any LFN Textiles ribbons yet, I've always loved the innovative designs ... tomatoes, pears, chocolate cakes, poppies and alliums, even knitting instructions:

There's even a ribbon commemorating my evil garden nemesis ... the dandelion:

On my shoes, I could see leopard or zebra grosgrain ribbon, ribbon with stitched accents, delicate sheer silk ribbon, embroidered and beaded ribbons ... I see a feverish search for unique vintage ribbons in my future. For new ribbons, buckles and other embellishments, MJ Trim is a great source.

So how do you get a $278 shoe purchase past a husband, especially when it's not even a complete shoe? Can you imagine explaining this one? Men just wouldn't get it. May be moot obsession anyway ... it's not available right now in 6.5, my size.

Oh, but ah, never give up! It's hard to remember life before Google, yeah? Here they are from Mohop the manufacturer, lots of low and high heel styles, wedges and flats. Oh so tempting. And handcrafted in Chicago, too. See a whole gallery of ribbon ideas! See how customers have used ribbons -- some used crochet ribbons, vintage ribbons, stones, buckles ... so creative and visually interesting. My new life goal is to get posted here!

But how to acquire, how to acquire ... there is the jar of spare change. It tends to add up fast ...

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Oh So Giddy About Style For A Good Deal

So I surfed around Antiques by Zaar for a bit after referring to them below. Someday I will be overcome with my Chinese furniture obsession and will purchase from them. That is inevitable! For now, this table caught my eye:

I love it, and I already have two under our living room windows. It's a perfect spot for plants, and of course for cats. But I wouldn't pay well over $1,000 for a real vintage or antique table and then expose it to cat claws. With the tables being under windows, cats are on them every day. Just the other day, I saw our newest little guy, Chaai, hanging by his claws on our Chinese writing table because he tried to jump on it and missed a bit. But I wasn't fazed. Why? Because we got our Chinese writing tables for $100 each! We took pictures of Chinese writing tables on our most recent trip to Thailand a few years ago, and we made a special side trip to Baan Tawai, just south of Chiang Mai. Years ago on our first trip to Thailand, we tread carefully through one of those very expensive shopping centers by The Oriental. We loved what we saw, but could not afford it. It's the kind of place where you watch your elbows and you look behind you before you back up. Can't afford to pay for anything inadvertently broken! A woman in one of the shops told us to go to Baan Tawai, where everything is "cheap cheap cheap." That year we spent much time in Chiang Mai (why we were there so long is another story, and a long one, for another time, let's just say it involved visiting the U.S. Embassy many times, and sitting under John Ashcroft's picture made me shudder) and we did a little shopping in Baan Tawai. Her words "cheap cheap cheap" were correct and we've never forgotten them.

So a few years ago we were in Chiang Mai again, and we were prepared with plans and pictures of furniture we wanted to make. I read the book The Treasures and Pleasures of Thailand -- I recommend this book for anyone shopping in Thailand. While the authors are higher-end shoppers, the tips and strategies they share are right-on and appropriate for shopping in any environment there. For example, during our first visit in Chiang Mai, our hotel arranged a minivan and shopping guide to take us to Baan Tawai. They kept speeding past places we wanted to visit, and stopping at crappy shops. We didn't understand at first. But after our last stop of the day when something overcame us and somehow we walked out of a shop with over $150 worth of gifty things we really didn't want (and that was a lot of Baht in 2001), and we saw the guide settling with the shop owner, we finally got it. The next day, we asked the tuk tuk driver who hung around outside our hotel to take us to Baan Celadon for our big dinnerware purchase. He played chess outside with his daughter while we loaded up on celadon plates and bowls, and I think all our boxes weighed more than the tuk tuk and the four people in it! It was a precarious ride back to the hotel.

The Treasures and Pleasures of Thailand book recommends you do your research, be prepared, and travel on your own. So in 2005 we decided to not be dependent on others and we rented a car. We had plans to make and purchase quite a bit, and ultimately the car rental saved us money because we could negotiate better. We had many things made for us, including reproduction Chinese writing desks just like the photo above. Each was $100, made of teak and finished with a very dark espresso stain. They have the slimmest drawers. We didn't bargain the business owner down much, instead we emphasized that we wanted old wood, well-seasoned wood, and we were willing to pay for quality. The shop did an excellent job. We took measurements and pictures with us, and they made the tables to the exact measurements we wanted. They included all the details in the photos. The tables have cracked just a little over the past few years in the adjustment from Thailand's humidity to our dryer Illinois air, especially in winter. But it just makes them look older, and that's OK.
Another great Thailand shopping resource are Nancy Chandler maps for Bangkok and Chiang Mai.

Here is our gorgeous girl Seesa, a bluepoint Siamese Snowshoe, lounging on one of the tables.

Suffocated By Oak II

Our kitchen has a completely useless desk in one corner. When we first moved in, I had many new file folders to manage for new household services, utilities, insurers, etc. I wanted to keep them close at hand as I was talking with these companies frequently. But the desk drawer is not wide enough for file folders. Useless!! We are also never going to sit at it because it's child-sized, really, and a chair would be encroaching on the kitty-cat racetrack in our house. And oh yeah, humans walk through that track frequently too.

It's an inefficient area in a room where efficient use of space is paramount. The space under the desk by default stores big handbags, computer bags, bags of rice, etc. And the desktop is an open air junk drawer to catch the mail, spare change, pens, coupons, sunglasses, cat treats, tubes of glue, extra cereal boxes that don't fit in the cabinet, cell phones, Blackberries, etc. What a mess!! Above this junk is about 18" of blank air space, then a wall cabinet above that. Meanwhile, most of our plates and bowls are stored in the family room and dining room nearby, and sometimes-used appliances like bread machine and quesadilla maker sit on the basement floor right now.

A better use of this whole space is sorely needed. I've often envisioned ripping out the desk and the wall cabinet and replacing them with a red Chinese cabinet like this one at one of my favorite websites to drool over vintage and antique Chinese furniture, Antiques by Zaar:

We already have a fair number of vintage and reproduction Chinese pieces, and I think this would contrast in an interesting way with our traditional kitchen. Our kitchen has moss green granite counters with black specks in it, and deep red patterned runners protecting the wood floor from all the sharp and hard things I drop on it. The clean lines of a cabinet like this wouldn't clash and would give us stylish storage. Someday, someday ...

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Stone Cold Crazy

On our recent trip to Tuscany, I fell for stone. Rustic stone walls everywhere. Loved it. I'd already had plans for stone for our home -- a bluestone walkway to the front door with a wide hefty stone step to the porch, a bluestone patio, and a raised garden surrounded by low fieldstone wall in the backyard. I'd like to add stone veneer ...

... below the lower half of our sunroom structure, below the windows.

Or, salmon/beige/gray old Chicago brick to match the brick accents on the front of our house. Hmmmmmm. Obsessing. More later ...

Suffocated By Oak

I travel too often for work, and like to spend flight time flipping through home decor and renovation magazines. The latest issue of This Old House ignited a back burner obsession: painting our kitchen cabinets. No, that link is not my kitchen cabinets, instead it offers delicious photo ideas from This Old House to inspire painting cabinets. Our cabinets are good -- they are oak and so solid that I can't screw in hooks on the inside doors to hang potholders. But, our kitchen floor is oak too. And the island is built of oak. And there are two planks of oak facing our entry hallway that encase the fridge and double oven. There's so much oak! It's suffocation by oak! And grain! Too much of a good thing. Or, as some people who haven't been struck by the homey charms of a typical midwestern house, any oak at all is not a good thing. I mean, really, I do have a hard time imagining lots of oak in California, or Seattle. It just doesn't seem to fit. But in Chicago, Minneapolis, Ann Arbor, Detroit -- all places I've lived -- oak cabinetry is nearly inescapable. I can accept it, but to a point.

Which leads to the ideas in the back of my mind to transform the cabinets into a warm buttery ivory, perhaps, with darker antiqued streaks in the cracks and on the edges. But I don't know. It's a big commitment. Not something to jump into impulsively, as I'm likely to do. This Old House does tell you how to paint the cabinets.

Some ideas ... light cabinets with darker glaze accents like this finish at KraftMaid:

Something like this effect at Plain & Fancy cabinets, except with more glaze in the recessed areas of the cabinets:

A final note to leave you with as I got drawn into the This Old House site: vintage metal doorknobs. What things people get crazy about! But they are beautiful. A row of these on the wall to hang robes and such would be something.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Right Table

I need to thank Mrs. Limestone, whose excellent design sense probably has more blog fans than she knows, for helping to solve a long-time problem. I have been obsessively searching for a table for years. Not just any table. A small table to set drinks, dishes, and other things in our family room, especially when we have people over. There is an old Chinese chest between the sofa and chairs, but it's a bit of a reach from where people sit. This was the perfect solution from Restoration Hardware:

The round table in brass is the perfect solution. But I just didn't want to pay the price. Maybe it never went on sale enough. We have a fireplace set and a floor-standing library lamp in brushed brass from Restoration Hardware in the family room, but both were bought at bargain prices, which is the way I like to get the look.

Ballard Designs has the table too. Hmmmm. At least they DID. Can't find now. Anyway, it looked like the pic above, you get the idea.

Then Mrs. Limestone posted an option with a $35 (!!!!!!) price too good to pass up, from Alsto. While she did warn that it's not brass but a painted version, I didn't care. My house is filled with quality everything and not everything has to be the ultimate version. Here it is:

The smaller side table I got is no longer available but you can still have the lower coffee table. The table was a good pick -- we use it nearly every time we're in the family room. A good indication that it's not just a want, but more like a need.

Of course while surfing, I found the perfect solution to fill a blank space on our mantel that was crying to be filled with the current trend of a shabby chic clock. I had found many $250 versions that I wanted that were quality, heavy and three-dimensional. The one I got has an image silkscreened on what seems like MDF, but it's the right colors, the right look, and the hands move on time so it does the job, for $29.99! It also fits our travel theme with the "Grand Hotel" motif:

Of course I can't surf anywhere, even to fill in the pics and links here, without finding something new and perfect to obsess about. So I present the newest object of my obsessions

Our family room already has sconces from the previous owners of our house, and they do their job quite well. But this room is full of rich black and red and gold ... and well, wouldn't these red leather sconces be so much better! They will need to remain an obsession in my mind for now ...

The Write Spot

There's a spot in our living room, behind a double-size dark brown leather chair from the now-defunct Retrospect (a former line from Room & Board) that is a perfect space for a small desk. This Palecek desk would mix fabulously with our travel-inspired home:

The "India Desk." Someone usually has a laptop with them while we're in the living room, and this would be a great space to park the laptop on a place other than a lap, and hang out with those sitting on the chairs or couches.

Unfortunately, a search shows Room & Board no longer carries our Retrospect sofa and chairs. Retrospect was a more traditional line at R&B that we loved and we furnished two rooms with pieces from it. The patterned fabrics were rich and uncommon -- we chose deep orange and red patterns in addition to brown and black leathers. The feet are cute -- I think I might have chosen our couches for their feet! Though now having two cats who are not declawed, but well-behaved, the leather was not the most practical choice. We copied how Retrospect showcased their furniture mixed with Asian pieces, due to our travels and collections of pieces made for us "cheap cheap cheap" in Asia. I most appreciated how the chairs arrived with overstuffed down, and now four years later the cushions have compressed to a normal cushion height. At least we know we won't get dreaded butt impressions on these cushions for quite awhile. Oh how I miss Retrospect.

My next post should showcase pieces from the living room that we love, not because they are objects acquired which would be really superficial, but because each has a story and reminds us of travels.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Things I Covet Right Now

Well I have been irresponsible. But what did I say yesterday -- it's an obsession. What would an obsession be without some irresponsibility thrown in. It's after midnight. And yet, I have found online a few things that have been stuck in my mind for awhile:

It'll Cost Nothing to Dream & Everything Not To -- Saw it in Z Gallerie at the mall. Perfect for our sunroom wall! As it has only one solid wall (the rest, windows) and it is completely undecorated. It is begging for something inspiring on summer days spent out there:

Search "vintage test tube rack" on eBay to see another coveted item. I am watching several and just may bid on one like this on eBay:

Why??? Because on most of my trips, I've collected dirt.

Bear with me here. There is a connection. I have dirt of all colors -- sage green and grainy from the Continental Divide in New Mexico and deep red and sandy from the Turqoise Trail in New Mexico. I scooped dirt at the base of a grapevine at the Cennatoio winery in Tuscany as a remembrance of one of my favorite chianti classicos and vin santos. I took sand from the beach in Chennai, India. Who knows the source of that sand as it was collected after The Tsunami. It has joined a bottle of sand from a less exotic place, Daytona Beach in Florida. I scraped dirt from a well-trodden spot for picture-taking outside Angkor Wat in Cambodia, near the moat. Sometimes when traveling, I forget about my dirt-collecting habit. I forget to pack something to keep the dirt. This happened at Angkor Wat. How can I visit there, a once-in-a-lifetime chance, and not come back with physical evidence? I felt panic rise and was ready to just dump sand in a pocket of my shorts and worry about it later. Then, I turn around, and there on the ground before me is a plastic film cannister. Right there. It was like someone put it there for me just before I turned around. Maybe someone did. In these digital days, how often do you find film cannisters anymore? So I scraped the dry dirt nearby, too trodden with tourists to have any sacred Angkor remnants. But, dusk was falling and we couldn't go back into the temple. I'm not sure I should have taken dirt from within there anyway.

So why am I talking dirt? The dirt is in a cabinet in a hodge-podge of containers, some the original makeshift containers I used on vacation. I want to display the dirt in the test tubes. With vintage-style labels. Surely there are appropriate label supplies in the scrapbook paper collection I'm building at a ridiculously and dangerously fast pace. I always envisioned the dirt in a Dean & Deluca style test tube spice rack and it would make an interesting contrast:

But now I'm seeing something wood and vintage as more appropriate for my current style. Can't wait to acquire just the right test tube set and get started! Whenever the idea finally happens, after over a decade of planning it, it must be placed far far away from the kitchen for obvious reasons!

The final coveted thing that COULD and SHOULD be near the kitchen is this wall hung wine bottle opener, seen at NapaStyle catalog:

I almost hit the "buy" trigger numerous times. But couldn't bring myself to pay the price. A few months ago, we were walking through the village of Panzano in Tuscany, through an outdoor market. An antiques vendor had nearly this exact wall-mounted bottle opener for 35 Euro. I wanted wanted wanted it. Hubby, not so much. We left it to instead enjoy one of the best 2.5-hour lunches ever under the spreading branches of a fig tree, overlooking the Tuscan countryside. During that time, someone else took my wall-mounted bottle opener home. How could they?!? The rest of our vacation was spent inquiring about wall-mounted bottle openers in various establishments. Nothing. No more. I know I can always get it at NapaStyle. But it could have been had for 35 Euro. So, I hold out, but for what ...

Friday, July 11, 2008

Style Over Substance: It's OK Sometimes. Even Essential.

I don't think I'm a superficial person. I devote my daytime work to decidedly non-superficial purposes. But in my free time, I love to look at beautiful things: antique Chinese chests, exotic silk fabrics, leaves and flowers and the play between them making gardens, facades of stately houses, trees arching over deserted roadways, Bangkok's Grand Palace and Cambodia's Angkor Wat, pearl jewelry, cat's eyes, Anthropologie, and my latest obsession caught like a virus from my sister "Janthrax" ... scrapbook papers ... gorgeous vintagey, worldly, faded, distressed, layered, textured scrapbook papers. Have you ever just looked at things for hours and hours, hours without a bathroom or water break? Then you understand the obsession. If you haven't, you may miss the gene that forces you feed your eyes like you would dry up and blow away in the wind if you didn't. It's as essential as breathing air.

Here, I gather my favorite sources of online visual obsession. And I will share snippets with you from real-life travels to other lands, online virtual journeys, and creations of my own. I find these things brighten the days and make the stresses of the world recede to a back corner for a little while.

As the first source of inspiration here, a blog of beautiful handmade cards. Years ago I made my own cards and acquired quite the collection of unique cards made by others, many still in a Card Box which now has the smell of a great aunt's basement. Somewhere, I lost the way. Meanwhile others have built great talents, such as that on this site. Check it out. I love the aesthetic at this blog. Clean, and layered with just enough restraint. I could surf it until 3 a.m., see everything.

But, no, I must be responsible; I am at a professional conference and must meet a colleague for breakfast early in the morning. Visual obsession must meet balance. Balance, meet visual obsession. These two aren't at peace yet!
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