Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Does Anyone Actually Throw Them?

I have to confess something. I have a slight, but incurable, pillow fetish. If I count the number of pillows that are out and visible in my home, I get to 40 without even thinking very hard. To actually go and count them might force me to consider that I have a real problem.

But is there anything that can instantly update a room better than a great pillow? I've always kept my sofas neutral so I can change out the accent pillows on a whim. They can quite literally set the tone for a space. And while most people might bristle at having a whole sofa covered in expensive designer fabric, or be unable to justify the expense of doing window treatments in a print that retails for $200 a yard, pillows are a relatively inexpensive way to add luxury and detail to a room.

Some of my favorites right now:

These are in the gorgeous "Bengal Bazaar" fabric by Kelly Wearstler

Z Gallerie's Bukhara pillow (the white is much warmer in person than it appears on screen)

Wonderful faux bois pillow by Clayton Gray

I love how Eastern Accents combines different patterns and trim.

Another one from Easter Accents. Gorgeous geometric border, simple and elegant.

There are a number of great sources for pillows online.  One Kings Lane is a perennial favorite. (If you aren't a member there, go join. NOW.) Gilt is another good one that has new sales daily. Etsy has an almost overwhelming selection of pillows. It's a great way to get pillows in to-the-trade fabrics that might otherwise be out of reach, and many sellers there will do custom jobs. (I recently ordered an Imperial Trellis pillow to match the drapes in my study from Etsy)

And let's not forget one of my favorites...eBay! I don't think many people consider eBay for such a purchase, but a search of any designer fabric maker will turn up dozens of pillows for sale at any given time. Look at these great ones I found searching eBay recently:

A seller was offering this pair of Scalamandre pillows (they are actually navy and ivory, not black as they appear in this photo) for $99!

This Brunschig and Fils bolster was only $49.

This pair of gorgeous Lee Jofa pillows were available for just over $100.

A beautifully made Schumacher pillow.

And of course a person with even novice sewing ability can put together a pillow--meaning odd bits of designer fabric can be snatched up for little of nothing and turned into a real treasure. 

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Another Guest Room Transformation

Guest bedrooms are often filled with leftover bits and pieces, cast offs from other more frequently used rooms, and low-budget finds. That's certainly the case with the guest rooms at my house, but there's no reason for them to look like the red-headed stepchildren of the house.

This guest room was a blank slate: builder white without a stick of furniture (unless an ironing board counts.)

I had a handful of good cast-offs to use in this room. The drapes from my old living room and dining room, which I'd had custom made for those spaces, had no logical  home at this house. And we had nothing more than a mattress and box spring on a frame to go in this room. I figured we could create a "headboard" with two of the drapery panels and use the other four for the windows.

We painted the walls a soothing neutral (Sherwin Williams "Ramie") and painted the wall over the bed a darker accent color (Sherwin Williams "Prairie Grass"). Two of my leftover drapery panels break the transition and create some height over the bed. The two prints are some of the oldest pieces I have. I bought one in high school from Pier One, and the other was a gift that I had framed to match for my first apartment. (They are by Walter Valentini, who did a whole series of wonderful graphic pieces like these.) The black side tables were $70 pieces from Target, and the great urn lamps were on clearance at Wal-Mart for $15 a piece, shades included! The black-and-white hotel style bedding was a TJ Maxx steal...$30 for a set that included the duvet cover and shams. The medallion pillow is a Homegoods find for $10.

Not visible in these pictures is a large espresso-stained armoire that sits opposite the bed. This piece hid the television in my old living room, but now anchors this room quite nicely.

As usual, I am linking to the Metamorphosis Monday party at Between Naps on the Porch. I'm also joining Frugalicious Fridays at Finding Fabulous! Click over to those sites for more great ideas!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Stop, Drop, and Organize

Is there a spot in your house that looks like this?

For us, it's the end of the kitchen counter just inside the hallway from the garage. That awful place where all the mail lands, the pockets get emptied, the keys and wallets fall, and the cell phones, ipods, and cameras charge, ready to be grabbed on the way back out the door. Quite often, we have a pile of shoes at this corner of the kitchen that have been kicked off and lie there until they're slipped back on.

One thing that precious few houses seem to have is a dedicated "drop zone" for all the "stuff" we come into our homes carrying. I try to create one in every house I design from scratch--it's an idea bourne out of my own needs, but one that I recognize that just about every person has as well.

I've been working on the construction documents for one of my pre-designed plans this week, and the house had a wonderful opportunity for built-ins in the hallway between the garage and kitchen. I decided to make it the ultimate "drop zone" and it forced me to think about what functions such an area would need to work. Certainly, a place and way to organize mail and magazines was in order. Lots of outlets for charging all the gadgets, a spot to stow shoes, and maybe a few jackets. But wouldn't it also be nice to have easy access to reusuable shopping bags, a spot for gloves and hats, maybe a place to stow the dry cleaning that needs to be taken in?

In the end, this is the design I came  up with:

Two tall banks of cabinetry flank a window with a built in bench--the perfect spot to sit down and put on shoes--and open shelves below the bench offer a spot to put them. There's a large shelf with three duplex outlets for charging phones, cameras, etc. and a group of pull out bins for stowing scarves, shopping bags, and the like. (Pet owners would have a spot for leashes and clean-up bags.) Mail slots are provided for organizing bills, magazines, and letters, and a large cabinet at the top could be home to packages that need to be mailed, clothes that need to be dry cleaned, or even umbrellas and ice scrapers for bad weather days.

The other side houses a large cabinet for hanging coats and jackets, and below a recycling station with bins to keep items separated (this area could also be used as a place to stow kid's bookbags!). Such a "drop station" not only keeps clutter out of the other areas of the house, but provides a home for all those things that we all find ourselves searching for when we are headed out the door.

Now, if I could only find a way to fit one of these into my house...

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Transforming a Guest Room With Bargain Finds and Repurposed Items

One of the first posts on this blog was about repurposing. (see it HERE) It was a post about bringing together things that I'd used in different rooms in my previous homes for one of the guest rooms in my current house. There was a blank slate to begin with--there was nothing in the room save for a mattress on a frame. But by bringing together throw pillows I'd had made for an old sofa, a coverlet I'd used in a different bedroom, drapes that once hung in my old dining room, and a headboard scored at a consignment store for $35, I ended up with a guest room that couldn't have come out any better if I'd planned it from scratch. Well, at least not for about $100 (not counting, of course, the things I dug out of my own closets).

Not much to see in the "Before"--just a sea of builder-white paint.

The "after". The walls are painted Sherwin-Williams "Prairie Grass." The coverlet, sheets, and bedskirt are from Ralph Lauren, and the accent pillows are custom from old Waverly patterns. The drapes are custom as well, the subdued pattern on the panels was originally part of a more elaborate window treatment that included a muted floral tailored valance. Here, I added a bit of detail with oversized tassles. The prints over the bed were found at Hobby Lobby on clearance years ago, and were in the powder room at my old house.

In one corner, an iron plant stand holds a vase filled with dried grasses. (Live plants tend to commit suicide in my presence, so out of respect, I have very few.) Flanking the window are a pair of framed hinges--the sort expected on Asian cabinetry. I got them on clearance at Bombay Company ten years ago. (I wish that store were still around!)

This shot shows a bit of the rug at the foot of the bed. There are some deep reds and earthy greens in the rug which give this room a needed punch of color. The dark red in the rugs border is picked up again on a small fringed pillow on the bed. (The rug is another repurposed piece--it used to anchor my old living room!)

The headboard, though just barely visible behind the mountain of pillows, really finished the room off. For quite a while, the oversized striped pillows served as the headboard, but the black finish with the gold accents gives the space some depth.

As always, I am joining the Metamorphosis Monday party at Between Naps on the Porch. Click over to check out tons of wonderful before-and-afters.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Inexpensive Art Ideas

One of the things that is always hard for me to find is art. I suppose if I had an endless budget it would be easier, but unfortunately that isn't the case. So, over the years, I've had to get creative to fill my walls.

Something I've noticed is that much of the wall decor available makes it's statement not so much through the "art" itself as through the frame and mat. Stores are filled with rather insignifcant items and hastily done splashes of color that make attractive wall decor because they have been framed and matted well.

Having an item custom-framed can be quite expensive, so the bargain-conscious will want to stick with off-the-rack frames. Luckily, hobby and discount stores carry pretty good frames and even mats in a variety of stock sizes and colors.  (Though my first tip would be to invest in a good mat-cutter and learn to use it--will open the door to many more custom-looking projects.)

So what, exactly, should be placed in the discount frames and behind those all-important mats? That's where the real creativity comes in. I know of one designer who did an entire vignette of menus from her favorite restaurants in her breakfast room. The pages of a calendar could easily be turned into a set of botanical prints. I once saw a gorgeous set of framed buttons--one large, highly detailed button per frame, surrounded by a luxurious oversized double mat. In all of these cases, the "art" itself costs nothing or almost nothing. It's all about how they are presented. When it comes to budget art, there is often strength in numbers. One framed button might have been interesting, but a set of six made a real statement--the pieces took on greater importance.

Here are some budget art pieces I've done over the years:

Here, I simply converted some of my own photos to black and white and framed them in simple black frames. I cut the mats "gallery style" (proportioned such that the lower portion of the mat is exactly twice the height of the upper portion)

I gave these as a gift once, framing vintage postcards from the recipient's alma mater in the school's colors. The red silk mats were remnants I scored by asking the custom department to sell me their "leftovers."

I trimmed these greeting cards to fit into discount store frames. The "mat" in this case was the card itself, which opened to reveal the daVinci drawings. That the card openings were off center only made them more interesting to me.

I framed reproduction luggage stickers and ticket stubs from the Titanic once. I think a group of stubs or other reminders of a great vacation could make an excellent piece.

This pair was done by rubber stamping a design onto beautifully textured paper. No artistic skill required!

I put this together for my very first apartment. It's simply a framed page from an auction preview catalog. I haven't used it in years, but I may change out the frame and mat and give it a new home soon.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

TV and Movie Houses--Dr. Frasier Crane's Apartment

"Frasier", the  spin-off of the classic sitcom "Cheers", won 37 Emmys during its eleven-season run, and it's ratings proved that it held popular as well as critical appeal. Much of the action takes place inside one of the stars of the show--Dr. Frasier Crane's apartment. The set was designed by Roy Christopher, a legendary set decorator.

In the pilot episode, Frasier shows the apartment to his father, Martin.

Frasier: So what do you think of what I've done with the place? You know, every item here was carefully selected. The lamp by Corbu, this chair by Eames, and this couch is an exact replica of the one Coco Chanel had in her Paris atelier.

Martin: Nothing matches.

Frasier: Well, it's a style of decorating - it's called eclectic. The theory behind it is, if you have really fine pieces of furniture, it doesn't matter if they match - they will go together.

Martin: It's your money.

And a lot of money it was. The set cost a half-million dollars to build in 1993! But what a fabulous set! In addition to the treasures Frasier mentions in the pilot, the apartment featured a Steinway medium grand piano, a Chihuly vase,  and several covetable abstracts. Nearly twenty years later, it still looks great. A bit dated around the edges, but overall, a chic and timeless space.

I came across this beautifully rendered floor plan of apartment 1901 at Elliot Bay Towers (the building is as fictional as the view outside Frasier's windows--such a view exists only from the cliffs overlooking Seattle.) The artist who created this plan has a great portfolio of work that can be seen HERE.

It's a wonderfully laid out apartment, isn't it? The public areas seem great for entertaining.

The apartment is filled with built-in shelves and display areas that highlight Dr. Crane's collections of African and pre-Columbian art without making it feel like a shop or a museum.

I always loved the fireplace, but I think it's one of the features that dates the apartment.

The Wassily chair isn't long for that spot once Frasier's father moves in. (Ever sat in one? They are surprisingly comfortable.)

Goodbye Wassily, Hello Barca Lounger. Martin could have at least let Frasier reupholster it, but the difference in their personalities is underscored by the difference in their furnishings.

Of all the fictional homes that are part of our pop culture, the muted colors scheme--injected with pops of vibrance through art, the formal edge to a contemporary space, and the great flow make Frasier's apartment one of the ones I'd most like to call home.

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Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Over It!

Decorative trends, of course, come and go. Sometimes, a classic enjoys a surge of popularity then falls back into line--much as toile prints did a few years back. Toile will never be "out" but gone are the days when it could be found in 12 different colorways at every Target, Wal-Mart, and Bed Bath and Beyond. Sometimes a seemingly "new" trend will burst on the scene, and then get overshadowed by something newer, but always stay in the realm of decorative possibilities. I think the more recent penchant for blue and brown color schemes fits in there. It may not be on the cover of every magazine anymore, but the two colors work so well against one another, they will always be around in some form or another. Then there are the firework trends that blaze into our decorative consciences for a fleeting moment, and then fizzle away. (Avocado appliances, anyone?)

Here are three current design fireworks that I am completely over. Not that any of them are bad, they are just overdone, and so specific that I predict they will have no lasting power whatsoever.

Keep calm?? I don't think I'll be able to if I see this in one more store, one more magazine, or in one more home.

I actually love the subtle "washed" coloring of these overdone French grainsack pillows. Unfortunately, they have just become so cliche. You can't swing a cat in a TJ Maxx or home decor shop without knocking over a stack of these.

Here's another one that I actually liked until it was just completely overdone--old transit signs as art. They make a wonderful graphic statement in the right sort of room, but they've been so over marketed that there are probably three sets of them on every block.


Sunday, March 6, 2011

Small Changes, Big Results

Anyone who has done much home improvement has no doubt realized that sometimes small changes can yield HUGE results. Such was the case with the bathroom in my previous home. I started with a fairly nice, builder-basic bathroom--all white with a vinyl floor. I had big plans...I envisioned subway tile halfway up the walls with a travertine border and accent tiles, recessed panels on the clipped ceilings, and a built-in cabinet for towels in one corner behind the closet.

Bathroom Before

Another angle
I struck a deal with a builder friend to purchase enough walnut travertine to do the floor. He'd gotten a huge shipment of 18 x 18 tiles that he was using in all of the spec houses he was building at the time. My total investment was about $200. Now, I wish I could say that the more ambitious parts of my plan fell aside because I realized the bathroom just didn't need tiled walls or more built-ins. The truth is, after a month's worth of weekends, mornings of tip-toeing through construction debris, and hair-pulling trying to figure out the transition between my new travertine and the carpeting in the adjacent bedroom and closet, I was just ready for the bathroom to be done! (Full disclosure: ultimately, another builder friend spent a Sunday afternoon laying the tile!)

 So, a coat of paint and a new bargain floor later, my builder-basic bathroom looked like this:

Walls are Sherwin-Williams "Hopsack"

Pottery Barn "Porcelain Blue" Rugs

Paint and all supplies, there may have been a grand total of $400 spent on this bathroom makeover. I thought it made a huge difference though, and so did the buyers of my house. At closing, they remarked that the master bath is what sealed the deal for them.

This post is part of the Metamorphosis Monday party over at Between Naps on the Porch. Click over there for more before-and-afters!

Movie and TV Houses--"Curly Sue"

I am not the slightest bit surprised that no one was able to guess the film from which I took the image of this rontunda:

It's from the 1991 movie "Curly Sue", a John Hughes film starring James Belushi, Kelly Lynch, and Allison Porter. IMBD summarizes the movie as "Bill Dancer and his young companion Curly Sue are the classic homeless folks with hearts of gold. Their scams are aimed not at turning a profit, but at getting enough to eat. When they scam the rich and beautiful Grey Ellison into believing she backed her Mercedes into Bill, they're only hoping for a free meal. But Grey is touched, and over the objections of her snotty fiance, insist on putting the two up for the night. As they get to know each other, Bill becomes convinced that this is where Curly Sue belongs - in a home, cared for by someone that can give her the advantages that his homeless, nomadic existence lacks. He plans to leave the young girl in the care of Grey and take off.... but Curly Sue has other ideas!"
Much of the movie takes place in Grey's luxurious Chicago apartment. The sets were decorated by Marjorie Fritz-Birch and Sam Schaffer. The apartment needed to symbolize a lifestyle totally unfamiliar to the homeless Bill and Curly Sue, so the "glam factor" is dialed way up. What I love about the set, though, is that 20 years later, it is still very fresh. There are very few things that date it, I could move right in today.

The Foyer. Those obelisks are very Michael Graves.

Might get rid of that floral arrangement, but the crisp white tile and timeless fixtures, and that stunning chinoiserie wallpaper make the master bath fresh twenty years later.

Grey's master bedroom is luxurious and timeless with it's tone-on-tone decor.

Another view of the master bedroom, with a glimpse of Grey's closet. Gorgeous arched casework!

The guest bedroom. Another timeless tone-on-tone space. Love the prints above the bed. The drapery is showing it's age a bit,  but otherwise this room could have been done last week!

The kitchen. Grey had stainless steel before stainless steel was "in." The tablecloth is an unexpected but "homey" touch, and LOVE that there is a fireplace in the kitchen!

Many thanks to Julia at Hooked on Houses for the tutorial in grabbing screen shots!

Are You on Facebook?

Several of my favorite design bloggers have Facebook pages for their sites. It's a great way to alert readers of new posts, share photos or ideas that might not merit a blog post of their own, and generally to open dialogues in a way that just can't quite happen in blog comments sections.

I've started a facebook page for Southgate, and I hope that if you're a Facebook user, you'll take a moment to "Like" it at http://www.facebook.com/southgateresidential

I've shared more of my architectural designs there, and hope to be posting even more soon. If you have a Facebook page, please let me know.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Round and Round We Go

One of my favorite spaces in a house is one that isn't even found there often. They're seen frequently in large public buildings, in classical and historically important architecture, but rarely in houses. I'm talking about the rotunda. In function, they're really just glorified, round hallways. But it's my opinion that the circulation space in houses is often overlooked but is actually one of the places where designers can make a huge statement. The means of moving from room to room is just as important as the rooms themselves.

Rotundas, unlike a standard hallway, are more than a means of getting from room "A" to room "B". They signify a "shift" of some sort, they may be the cog between public and private spaces, formal and informal, or serve as a vestibule that subliminally tells the person passing through to shift gears.

In my own work, I've found them to be a necessity in some cases--in the renovation of two large ranch houses, a rotunda served as a hub for bringing together what would otherwise have been a serpentine collision of hallways leading from old parts of the house to new. The rotundas we included in those renovations gave relief to the bowling-alley effect we would have otherwise had.

I've also used the idea of a rotunda in master suites, where the round shape served as a perfect convergence for the master bedroom, bath, and closets, and made for a very special dressing area.

I can trace my own rotunda fetish to a pretty dreadful movie from the early 90's. Anyone willing to take a guess at what movie this rotunda was featured in?

Love the inlay in the floor!
This one appears to be a half-rotunda, and again there is a beautiful inlay to reinforce the round shape: (you can check out the rest of the house this one came from HERE)

Photo by Blayne Beacham. If you aren't following her blog, you should be!

This one is elongated rather than a perfect circle. The coved ceiling and trimwork are stunning. I don't know where this one is, but it has the feel of a fine pre-war apartment.

And, finally, in this house designed by Stephen Fuller and built by Gabriel Builders, a paneled rotunda with built in bookshelves serves as a vestibule in the master suite:

Photo by TJ Getz