Like Falling Leaves

Before long the trees will start dropping their leaves in preparation for winter. They’ve amassed their energy during the seasons of growth and maturation, and will let go of them as it becomes time to conserve energy through the cold winter, until the time for new growth comes again next spring.

declutter, organize, clean, fall, autumn

leaves, fall, declutter, organize, decorate, decor, clean

Always inspired by nature, I like to ask in the fall: what is superfluous, what can be eliminated so that my home is simple and spare, holds just what I need? I find I can think better and work better when my surroundings hold only what I use and love.
It’s less confusing, easier to focus. All that extraneous stuff can be distracting!

declutter, decorate, reorganize, redesign, clean and simple

Just as the trees let go of their leaves, the perennials die back to their root systems and the flowering bulbs store their energy for springtime, we do ourselves a favor by simplifying our homes to the essentials of what we use and love. A room that is simple and spare encourages calmness, purpose and focus.

reorganize, organize, decorate, redesign, declutter, simplify, clean


Follow the cues outside the windows …  Fall is a great time for letting go of what’s not needed!

Living With Houseplants

Recently I had a consultation with a client who was struggling with keeping her houseplants healthy… and the plants were clearly struggling, too. So I thought I’d write a few words about houseplant basics.

photo 7

Healthy houseplants


Watering  When and how much? Basically, when you touch the soil and it feels really dry, the plant needs water. Better to stick your finger down 1/2 inch into the soil. If it’s dry, water the plant. Water generously. When water comes out the bottom of the pot (all pots should have drainage holes in the bottom) then that’s enough. It’s better to water the plant well and infrequently, than give it frequent dribbles of water. In the winter, my plants need water once a week – the ones in the sunny windows more often than the ones on the north side of the house.

Potting  The rule of thumb is that the pot should be 1/3 the height of the plant.  (In the picture above, a smaller pot is resting inside the umbrella stand – it’s not all full of soil!) For very large plants this becomes impractical, and the diameter of the pot increases more than the height. Basically, if there are roots growing out of the bottom of the pot, it’s too small. If you loosen the plant and pull it from the pot, and there are roots growing around the perimeter of the soil, it’s too small. Get one that’s slightly larger and deeper – like an inch or two wider at the top and an inch deeper. Make sure it has a drainage hole. Cover the hole with a clean stone or some broken pot shards to prevent the potting soil from coming out the bottom. It will still allow excess water to drain out. Fill the bottom with an inch or so of new potting soil, then place the root ball and plant on top, centering it in the pot. Holding the plant upright, fill in around the edges with additional soil until you’ve gotten to the level of the original soil ball. Tamp down the new soil, as it will sink once it’s watered, and fill a little more.

Place the newly potted plant into a saucer and water well. The soil should be uniformly wet; again, once it’s coming out of the bottom of the pot, that’s enough.

Pruning  Just cut off dead and withered branches, and yellow leaves. It will improve the look of your plants considerably. Also don’t be afraid to give your plants haircuts, especially the vining types. I have seen so many long straggly pothos plants and they are not an asset this way! Once the strands get too long, or lose a few leaves in the middle, cut them off at the soil. This will encourage more growth from the middle of the plant. In the picture above, I would not let the vines get any longer than they are before cutting them back. It will keep the plant fuller and more vibrant looking – kind of like getting regular haircuts and not having straggly ends.

Good luck! Healthy houseplants clean the air in your home and add life to your surroundings. Have fun with them.





Put a Rug Under It

A rug can make such a difference in taking a room from sort-of-done to finished. As wonderful as hardwood is, in a living area it’s a rug on top of the wood that grounds the seating in the room. It ties it all together and invites you in.

Here’s my client’s living room with the major furniture pieces in place, but without the rug yet.


Here’s the room with a rug.


Yes, the drapes, end tables and lamps help a lot, too! But it’s the rug that fixes that feeling of the furniture just floating around in the room.

Here’s the before and after from the other direction:


And after:


I had fun photographing the room so here are a few more shots.




Decorating with Rocks

I am getting a big kick out of the recent trend towards using objects from nature as decor objects. West Elm’s last catalog was chock full of rustic items from nature:

decor, rustic, wood, natural objects, nature, decor

Weathered Wood Spheres from West Elm

The Washington Post wrote an article last week in the Home Section with this subtitle: “Specimens such as skeletons, tortoise shells, bugs and stuffed animals are in at Paris’s Maison & Objet”.

Check out the rocks on my kitchen window ledge:


The variety of texture, color and shape is so interesting. My mom finds my rock collection amusing. But I like it. Now stuff like this is getting popular, so interesting as a counterpoint to the glittery, bling-y look that’s been around for a while now. Maybe we are ready to embrace a more natural aesthetic again. So if you find something outside that you like, bring it in!


What’s On Your Walls?

This summer I spent a lot of time on art and not much time blogging about decorating! I was thrilled to have a solo show of my fiber art at the Reston Community Center in August, and even more thrilled that several of my pieces sold. It’s so gratifying to have other people like what I do. Here are a couple of the pieces that sold:

fiber art, wall hanging, floral, flowers, bright colors, cheerful, colorful

Floral Landscape 1


fiber art, fabric, colorful, wall hanging, purple, gold, floral, flowers

Seismic Garden


fiber art, wall hanging, blues, night landscape, fabric, fjord, water, ombre

Violet Hour

So let’s segue from there into what you can put on your walls other than pictures or paintings. The possibilities are so much more varied than they were even a decade ago!

First off, there’s fiber art (-:

fiber art, wall hanging, fabric, graphic, bold, geometric

Good Neighbors


Then, there’s metal sculpture. This is from my own home, which I blogged about previously here.


metal sculpture, metal wall art, sunburst

Another take on metal wall art – I love these plates behind the bed that become a de facto headboard:

metal wall art, brass plates, silver bedroom

Words that express your values, hopes, dreams, likes and dislikes are a fun way to spice up your walls.

Wooden wall art, words on wall, signs, rustic wall decor


How about something really different? Not many people have doorknob wall decor!


And fiber comes in many shapes and forms, not just quilted wall hangings like I make. How about this decorative rug from joolzigens on

decorative rug, wall hanging

Change one thing on your walls this fall for an infusion of new energy into your space. Try something different. Places like Target and HomeGoods are inexpensive sources for fun items that can update and enliven your rooms. We’re coming into that season of spending more time inside, so it’s nice to get things really cozy and set for a comfortable cold season indoors.



The Power of Editing

…. or, how less is really more.

sewing, reorganize, redecorate, decor, declutter

Recently we got new carpeting upstairs at our house. When you get new carpet, you have to pack up and move out. In moving back into my office/ sewing room/ spare bedroom, it was time to reassess.

I had long been frustrated with the functioning of the room. I work in there – all household paperwork and bills; all House to Home computer work and paperwork gets done there. I sew in there – for years I’ve been making quilted artwork. And, it’s a spare bedroom.  The futon bed in there took up lots of room that I realized I wanted for sewing and working on other stuff.

So I decided to get rid of it. It felt radical to me. Like, can I really decide we will not have a spare bed so that I can more easily do what I really want to do in this room which is de facto my office?

Giving myself permission to ditch the bed (I gave it away on Craigslist) was so liberating. My creativity has taken off since I made more room for myself in there. There is room to spread out and I have space for cutting on a separate table from where the sewing machine is, the desk is in a more pleasing position, and the room has an overall lighter feel. It works for me. It fills me with happiness whenever I come into it.

sewing space, organize, declutter, decor, reorganize

So, don’t be afraid to get rid of what’s not working for you. Do you use it? Do you love it? If the answer to both of these questions is no, then – let it go. See what kind of space opens up for you when you do.

Recycling Stuff You Didn’t Think You Could

Who knew? Best Buy takes all kinds of things for recycling. The kiosks at the front of the store include drop-off containers for:

plastic bags

CDs, DVDs, cases           images

used gift cards

wires, cords, cables

remotes and controllers

ink and toner cartridges

rechargeable batteries

But in addition, they take a ton of other stuff. Computers, printers, game controllers, TVs up to certain sizes, cell phones, and more. A complete list is here, and at the bottom you can choose your state to see any restrictions that apply.

Spring is Sprung

When the seasons change, we feel the energy shift. Spring brings with it a surge of energy, life and growth. We see it in the buds literally bursting open on the trees.


Bring that life inside! An infusion of color and pattern will liven up your home and make it match that awakening feeling that’s happening outdoors.               

It’s no surprise that Easter decorations are the colors of springtime.


But even if you’re not celebrating Easter, there are lots of ways to get some new color going in your decor. Flowers:


or flower pillows:

How about a new lamp?


Switch out a piece of artwork for something more seasonal:

Cherry Blossoms


Or add a colorful accessory:

colorful accessories


Out with the wintery decor items; in with a breath of fresh air! Bring in the blues, the greens, the yellows, the oranges, pinks and purples. Let spring reign inside and out!


Client Living Room Redesign

A recent redesign of a client’s living room:



This is a lovely condo in Reston Town Center, spacious and bright. My client hated the living room. She and her husband were happy to spend their time in the family room, but she was frustrated that the living room was not functional, and wanted a space that could entertain a group more easily than the smaller family room.



We conferred about the arrangement that would work best and the items she would purchase, and she decided to go with a new color palette entirely. Didn’t she do a great job? I advised a slightly larger rug to anchor the seating area more completely, and it really makes a difference. Switching the sofa to the long wall and putting a smaller love seat into the window nook worked better for the proportions of the room. It also allowed the large Asian piece above the sofa to assume its place as the focal point of the room. The pair of lamps introduces some symmetry and adds needed nighttime light. The armchair and another across the room (pictured below) can be pulled into the conversation area to provide seating for a group. My client reports that she uses the room all the time now! Always gratifying to hear.


Time for Change!

Sometimes it’s just time for something new! The fireplace in our family room was a case in point. I’d gotten tired of the painting that was there; a print of a Fitz Hugh Lane painting depicting becalmed ships in Gloucester Harbor off of Cape Ann north of Boston. I was fond of it because we’d lived up there for a while and it reminded me of that time, but it was feeling really lifeless to me – I mean, becalmed ships! It was time for a change.


I knew I wanted something round there, and I looked at a lot of round mirrors on Craigslist, but nothing really grabbed me, and I wasn’t really convinced I wanted a mirror anyway. Finally we found a metal sunburst sculpture online that we really liked. We auditioned it by making a newspaper template the same size as the sculpture to make sure it looked proportional to the fireplace.


It took a while to finally decide to order the sculpture – it was kind of expensive. In the meantime I got to like the newspaper; it looked sort of bohemian! But, we finally decided to buy the sculpture as an anniversary gift for ourselves, so we made the leap and ordered it from I love all the varieties of metal in it. It’s got silvery, coppery, brassy, rusty looking and even bluish parts.  



And the full view, day and night. It definitely does feel like a great update: much more texture, more lively, much less stale. Yay for making that change I’d been thinking about forever!



Christmas trees – to Theme or not to Theme

I’m going out on a limb here (-:  with a strong opinion about Christmas trees at home.

Christmas, holiday, decor, color theme, style, home design, ornaments

I think this tree is very pretty. And the way the color coordinates with the room is very cohesive, harmonious. But – I am defecting from the design world here – it reminds me of, well, a department store Christmas tree. Like you’d see at the mall. Where color coordinated holiday themes make sense, because in the overwhelming array of visual stimulation that exists there, you need that continuity and theme to make sense of the decor.

A home Christmas tree, in my book, is personal, and evokes years past, tradition, faces and memories of those we love; people we may still see regularly, or perhaps have passed away and only live in memory.

Here’s ours. Everything on it means something to us. Yes, it’s more of a hodge-podge, less polished (not to mention my amateur photography skills compared to the BHG picture above), but almost every one of its mishmash of ornaments collected over the years has a memory attached to it. A memory that evokes a face, a place, or an experience from the past.

holiday decor, Christmas, decorations, decorating, style, home decor, ornaments

Here’s an ornament we bought on vacation at Zion National Park, and an angel purchased at a holiday fair at my daughter’s school when she was little.

Christmas, holiday, decor, style, home decor, home design, holiday decorating, ornaments

There are a bunch of old family ornaments my mom gave me when I was first married, that her mother gave her. They’re blotchy and the finish is dull, but through them I feel connected to family members both known and unknown to me, who hung them on trees in past years stretching way back to before I was born. They’re precious to me.

We use this angel as a tree topper every year. She was a gift to me one Christmas when I was about 10 years old and I love her. Actually I think she looks pretty good for having been around so long by now!

tree topper, angel, Christmas tree, holiday decor, style, home decor, decorating, home design

There are quite a few ornaments I’ve given to my daughter each year as gifts. She’s got a good collection by now and will take them with her when it’s time for her to start her own home.

christmas, decor, holiday, home style, home decoratingornaments, christmas, decor, home style, home decor, decoratingdecor, christmas, home design, home decor, style, holiday decorating

 And she’s given me a few too. This star comes from Austria where she visited last fall while studying abroad for a semester. The little painted doll that hangs above it was found when we helped my husband’s parents move out of his childhood home, years ago. It’s a sweet old-fashioned little thing. To the left is a gold-painted walnut from the Waldorf school my daughter attended as a child, and on the right is a wax angel, part of a trio we made from a kit when she was little.

christmas, ornaments, christmas decorations, decor, home style, home design, holidaysMany places we have visited are represented on the tree: a few are Yosemite, Zion, Victoria, the Herndon street fair and the sandwich shop between NoVa and JMU that we stop at when we take Julia to college.

There are ornaments that have been given to us by friends who are no longer with us; others were gifts from my nieces, now grown; and still others predate those and came from children who were my Montessori school students in Boston long ago. The faces and spirits of those friends, children, and family come to mind and seem so present each year as the boxes are opened and one by one the ornaments are rediscovered and placed on the tree. In all their humble diversity of style and form, each is meaningful and together they add up to a tree that we find completely beautiful.

Whatever your style and whatever you celebrate, may you enjoy the season and may it be filled with love and good cheer! Happy holidays to all.

 holidays, christmas, decor, style, home style, home decor, decoratingdecor, style, christmas, home decor, holiday decoratingdecor, holiday decorating, christmas, home style, home decor

 christmas, holiday, style, decor

My Top Five Things that Make a House a Home

Working with clients to help them make their homes fit them better and making my own home into a place that feels right for my family has led me to these conclusions about what’s most important in creating a space that feels “right” to you. Other designers might have other priorities, but since mine is helping people be comfortable in and like their homes better, these are mine.

1)  Comfort

comfortable home, comfort, relaxed home, relax, style, informal style, informal decor, homey
Home needs to be comfortable. There should be at least one spot that you feel comfortable doing each of the following: sitting, reading, working, eating, sleeping, and any other activities that you regularly do at home. There’s going to be a nagging sense of unease about a place when you’re uncomfortable doing what you want and need to do there.

Comfort includes safety, to me. Home should be your refuge, the place you feel safe, relaxed, completely OK with being yourself. You can recharge there, rebalance yourself, get your bearings, come back to center.

2)  Functionality

find your stuff, organized home, organized house, style, decor, house to home

You can find your stuff. You can get around easily. You have space to work if you need to do a project. There are clear  places to do different things – cook, eat, sleep, read, play games, etc. Not that those can’t shift, or overlap. But basically, you have space. If you’re frustrated that you can’t accomplish what you’d like to in your house, it’s hard to feel good about the place.

3)  It’s personal

personal home, comfortable home, love your home, like your home, house to home

There are reflections of your life and experiences at home. Objects, artwork, furniture – any or all of these, or other things – remind you of people you love, places you’ve been, things you’ve done. Home is not an anonymous place. The things around you should have meaning to you.

4)  Aesthetics

beautiful home, house to home, comfortable home, love your home, like your house, like your home, beautiful house

It looks good (to you. it doesn’t matter if it looks good to others for you to feel at home with it). Many people would put this factor first on the list.  How my house looks is definitely important to me; I’m a very visual person. But not everyone is. My husband cares more about the acoustics in our home than the aesthetics; that’s a comfort issue to him. Your house should fit your aesthetic. If your aesthetic is messy and you’re happy with that, that’s OK. It just needs to suit you.  But, to feel at home with your space, you don’t want to look around and dislike what you see.

5)  Color and Lighting

I slipped two in there under this last one. The color of a room can influence how comfortable you are there. The same is true of lighting. Rooms that are lit solely by overhead lights feel colder, and cast people in a less attractive light. The light is harsher, as opposed to the warm pools of light created by table or floor lamps with shades. And having enough light – three sources in most rooms is a guideline – contributes greatly to the feel of the room. Actually I think I put lighting ahead of color in importance. It’s possible to fix a lot of ills with lighting; adequate, warm, flattering lighting really impacts how a space feels.


Note that many of these things all point to comfort, which is why I put it first on the list. It’s really the sum of lots of factors, and doesn’t just refer to comfortable seating which might seem like the most obvious factor contributing to comfort.  And, comfort also means you just plain enjoy being in your home. If it grates on you somehow then you’re not going to be completely “at home” there.

So, those are my five most important things to make your house feel like home. What would yours be?

Tips for hanging artwork and pictures

Blank walls can seem to cry out for something to be hung on them.

walls in need of artwork

But there’s lots of confusion about how to best display artwork, mementos, family pictures, or whatever else you have that’s wall-friendly. What often happens is that people spread everything out evenly on the walls around the room, sort of like what you’d see in a museum gallery:

tips for hanging art well

It’s much more effective, though, to group things so that you have a few focal points on the wall instead trying to fill as much wall space as possible. Your artwork should draw attention to itself – it’s like a great piece of jewelry added to a good outfit. Big pieces are not so hard – over the sofa, on an entry wall, a dining room wall. What’s harder are the small pieces of artwork that are often found looking lonely on big walls. Group them! Over a table, the sofa, a dresser, the fireplace. That way attention is drawn to the whole grouping and the viewer is attracted to getting closer to see the details.

art groupings


plates hanging on wall

art grouping over sofa


family picture display on wall

Then let the walls in between the groupings be empty. You don’t have to fill every bit of wall space there is. When you have focal points, the blank spaces in between are like resting places for the eye. There’s a rhythm between the places to look and the blank places.

I know it can be tricky to get everything placed on the wall in a pleasing and orderly arrangement. Future post: how-to tips on laying out and hanging groupings of artwork or pictures.

In the meantime, feel free to contact me for help!

Love Your (Color) Neighbors

“All colors are the friends of their neighbors and the lovers of their opposites.”     Marc Chagall

Recently I wrote about analogous color schemes in home design. This would be the “friends of their neighbors” scenario- remember, analogous colors are next to each other on the color wheel. Here’s the color wheel again, to see what we’re talking about here.

Color Wheel

Today we’re going to look at the “lovers of their opposites” situation, otherwise known as a complementary color scheme. Pairs of colors that are opposite each other on the color wheel are said to be complements: yellow/violet, blue-green/red-orange, red/green, etc. Complements provide a lot of contrast, and using them is one of the easiest ways to add drama and verve to a room.

complementary colors, decorating, decor, design

 The blue pillow on the orange settee in this hallway provides that spark of contrast that makes the whole scene “pop,” as designers like to say. Note the more muted blue and orange motif in the wallpaper and also in the rug. The use of the same colors carried throughout the area creates a unified feel to the entire entry hall.

The brighter and purer (i.e., without any added white, gray or black) the colors, the more intense the contrast and the drama. The use of unadulterated pure complementary colors can be jarring, resulting in a childlike or cartoonish feel. Shades (color plus black) or tints (color plus white) of the pure colors make for a more subdued and sophisticated, yet still dramatic, scheme. The red and green child’s bedroom below illustrates this well: in their pure forms, red and green scream “Christmas,” whereas in this case the pastel green tones the whole thing down.

So in the room below, the opposites are violet and yellow, both muted. Red is used as an accent color.


The bedroom below is a variation on orange and blue; the blue is more of a teal and the orange is more brown, but the feeling of complements is still there. Your eye goes right to those blue pillows, as they provide such a contrast to the cream and brown of the rest of the room.


How about these? Below, some examples of complements that are quite vivid.









 These rooms are vibrant and exciting – maybe too much so? Do you like this much color and drama in a room?

If you’d like help deciding on what colors are right for your home, contact me, I would love to help.

Zig-zagging along

What we used to call a zig-zag pattern, the design world calls a chevron. In fashion design, maybe a houndstooth print. Whatever we call it, it’s all over the place:

chevron pillow cover

Simple yet interesting, bold and timeless, this is a pattern at home in many settings.

chevron chair fabric traditional

Melissa McLay Interiors


wall design fireplace chevron

The chevron motif itself can be found throughout the ages all over the world, and its classic appeal lends itself easily to quirky, contemporary applications.

chevron fan blades


Is there a place in your home that could use a little pizzazz? Something in this motif might do just the trick.


If you’d like help making your house more of a home, contact me about our design services.

Kitchen Sink Garden Vignette

I took this picture at my mom’s house over the Labor Day weekend. Her kitchen sink is in a corner. Previously she had propped a pretty plate up behind the sink, but now it looks like this:

home kitchen design room interiors

This is the perfect thing to put behind the sink – the violets like the moisture in the air, the statue hides the seam in the corner, and the whole vignette fills the space perfectly and softens an awkward area. Great decorating idea, Mom!

Garden Stools Come Inside

This is a really fun trend – Chinese garden stools used indoors in myriad ways. They’re great on the patio or deck too, as originally purposed in China:

They’ve been showing up inside the home for a while now in all kinds of ways – as side tables:

garden stool as side table

.. As extra seating, while doubling as a design element while they wait to be pressed into service:


garden stool as extra seating


You can use them in every room; think outside the box! (or tub, or inside the shower!)


garden stool in shower


garden stool


garden stool as bedside table

A truly versatile piece, inexpensive, at home inside or out, easily movable, can change functions in a flash – unexpected guest, run out of chairs? The stool that was a side table becomes an extra seat in a second. And the variety of styles, materials and colors out there is endless. I seem to have posted lots of pictures of white ones, so here’s some more variety. The three below are all from

garden stool, design elementgarden stool, design element

garden stool, design element










So do you have any of these in use in your home? Have you thought of other unique purposes for them? Do share!

Nuevo Retro

What is that saying about all things old being new again? That is so true in the design world.  For instance, take the “mid-century modern” trend.  Being a child of the 60s, the den in our house on Long Island comes right to mind! These retro pieces are showing up in today’s homes to provide that simple, sleek look that’s a sort of Danish-with-an-American-twist look that was so characteristic of the mid 1900s.



The renaissance of the hippie look is also something I’m getting a big kick out of. This dress in the window of the local Anthropologie store caught my eye:

It’s a more embellished look, maybe not so in-your-face as the flower power and love beads look of the 60s, but a more refined aesthetic with the definite flavor of that style. In home decor, places like World Market and Pier One have a lot of ethic offerings, as in this throw that reminds me of what we called “Indian print bedspreads” back then:


And this trio of accessories from West Elm, reference African culture in the spirit of one-world inclusiveness that is prevalent in the decor world today.




 Masai Chokers West Elm



What all this says to me is that the style police are off the job. There are dozens of different looks out there in fashion, in accessories, in home design. Yes, some are trendy right now. But you can choose the look you like without fear that it is not “in,” because everything old is new again, after all, and whatever your taste is, suits you just right.




Harmony with Color

Color is a show-stealer.
It’s the topic I get the most questions about: how to use color, what color will work here, how much of a color is too much, will this color go with this other color?

So I thought I’d write a series about color schemes. Let’s start with the basics, which you may remember from school:

Colors next to each other on the color wheel are called analogous colors. Colors opposite each other on the color wheel are called complementary colors.

Here’s an example of a room done in analogous colors: yellow / green / blue.

House Beautiful


Using analogous colors is an easy way to ensure harmony. They “go” together because they’re neighbors. Yes, there are other factors, such as the purity of the color, whether it’s a shade, a tint, is a light or dark value – all topics for a future post. In this room the neighboring colors of blue, green and yellow are all muted – i.e., none of them are pure colors, making for a calmer look.

Here’s another room done in an analogous color scheme: red / orange / yellow, with a very different feel, because the colors are very vibrant.

House Beautiful

They are purer, without any gray mixed into them. Maria Killam, the Canadian color expert, calls these “clean” colors versus “dirty” ones. The ones in the previous room, the green/blue/yellow, were dirtier because they’re muted with gray or black. These cleaner ones are purer and thus brighter, more vibrant, more energetic. A bolder look, but still an analogous scheme.

A third example of an analogous color scheme: orange / yellow / green.

 Somewhat more muted, but a lively mix that is harmonious at the same time, owing to the analogous colors.

Any two or three colors that are adjacent on the color wheel, used together, will create a look that is harmonious and unified. You can mix it up by using brighter or more muted colors, or lighter or darker colors.

Next time: Complementary Color Schemes.

Porch Sitting

The allure of a front porch – what else says summer, ease, timeless afternoons with no agenda quite as well?

We spent a week in Chautauqua, New York recently. All of the houses are wood-frame New England style homes and almost every one of them has a front porch.

Some of them have side porches as well. These porches are outdoor rooms which expand the living space of the house during good weather. And one thing that’s wonderful about a covered porch is that you can sit there in the rain as well.

Here in Virginia we spend a lot of time on our deck, weather permitting. Fall and spring are when it sees the most use, as the hot and humid weather make being outside most of the summer unpleasant here. I loved that the humidity was low in northern New York, so we were out on the porch a lot. Here are my daughter and her cousins and friend on the second-floor porch of the house we rented.

Another thing that’s different about a front porch versus a deck is that generally the deck is on the back of the home. That affords more privacy, whereas sitting on the front porch gives you more sense of community. It turned out the fellow who was teaching the improvisation class that my husband took at Chautauqua was staying across the street from us. We wouldn’t have known that if we hadn’t been sitting on the porch and seen him coming and going there. It felt very neighborly to hang out on the front porch and be aware of the activity in the street – bicycle riders, walkers, folks across the street enjoying their porches too. I’m definitely a fan.

As is the dog!

Living Walls

How about bringing more life into your space – literally – with a mobile green plant wall? A  room divider for home or office, movable, self-watering, with pockets for inserting plants of your choice. Ingenious!

This is from Greenworks in Sweden, you can check them out here. They have some other great products as well, all based around bringing more plant material into your indoor environment.

It reminds me of this one in Madrid, which is not mobile, as it grows on the side of a building! This was a jaw-dropper for me when I first saw it. Fabulous!

Keeping it Cool, Clear and Clean

As a girl growing up on Long Island, I always loved the summertime.  It was a time of open windows and breezes, hot sun and cool waves, expansive days that stretched out into long dusks, and freedom to explore, play and dream.

What we called a “heat wave” was a hot humid spell that lasted for a week or so. Here in the Washington DC area, we call that summer, and it can be a bit more of a challenge to always love it.

I’m neat by nature, but I find that especially during the summer, I need things to be spare and clean to counteract the claustrophobic quality of the humidity here.  Less stuff lying around equals a calmer, more serene feeling; clutter and mess feels oppressive and heavy.

“Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”   – William Morris

Here are a few simple tricks to lighten up the look of your home for summer and create the illusion of coolness.


 “Don’t put it down, put it away” is the first tenet of clutter-free living. Put it away right away and you will save time in the end. You’ll be forging a habit each time you do it, even if it feels cumbersome at first.

Recycle the newspaper daily into your recycle bin or into a basket that you take out to the bin once a week. Have a dedicated spot for magazines that you want to read, and only keep a handful at a time. If it’s more than a few months old, recycle it.

Paper is a relentless clutter challenge. Sort all paper coming into the house into three categories:

Throw away immediately: junk mail, flyers, catalogues.

Action items: bills, kids’ permission forms, items you want to order, etc.

File: insurance papers, medical records, etc. 

Have one dedicated place for paper so it doesn’t take over the house. Sort it there, and act on it once a week.

Scan the floor for piles. If what’s on the floor isn’t furniture or an intentional decor item such as a plant or basket, it doesn’t belong on the floor. Tackle one pile or item at a time until you’ve put them all where they belong. This can be done daily for ten minutes; it’s surprising how much effect a few minutes, done regularly, will have.

Some of these Better Homes and Gardens organizing tips are good ways to stay on top of things before they get out of control. Maybe one of these techniques will speak to you.

If you’re really stuck and clutter is a relentless problem for you, my friend Yvette Gluck at Lighten Up! Professional Organizing is a great help.         I had her come work with me on my home office, which also doubles as a sewing room and a guest room, and I was very happy with how much more in control I felt when we were done. Everything is zoned, in a logical place, and easily accessible for the disparate tasks I use the room for. Success!

Here’s to feeling unencumbered by stuff! – as well as cool, calm and collected.  Happy summer to all.

Feng Shui : healing design

So, I have been going back and forth over whether or not to take an upcoming workshop about feng shui in Baltimore.

Meaning “wind and water” in Chinese, feng shui today is practiced as sort of a “space healing” art.





Briefly, for those who aren’t familiar with it, feng shui is an ancient Chinese system of balancing and harmonizing the energy of a space in order to maximize the well-being of those who inhabit or otherwise use it. It assumes that chi – a subtle animating energy that flows through everything – is real; from my longstanding tai chi and meditation practice I have no doubt of this. It’s also really apparent to me as an acupuncture patient; I can feel the chi moving in my body with the placement of the needles. That the land and buildings have their own chi – I can go there, too. We all know the difference between a place that feels good, and one that feels off, or even feels menacing. And that we’re an intrinsic and connected part of a bigger whole seems apparent to me also, so that accepting that the chi that animates us, also flows in some form through everything else that is manifest, is not a problem for my left-brained 21st century comprehension. So up to there, it’s easy for me to feel like it’s all good. Where I get kind of iffy is what I know about feng shui “cures” for problems areas in rooms and houses, things like hanging wind-chimes or flutes or mirrors to redirect energy. It starts feeling pretty hocus-pocus-y and magic-y at this point. I mean, it’s still the same theory – those things have energy, so could theoretically redirect it – but still ….. I haven’t quite reconciled this yet, the pros and the cons of going forward with this training, which is not cheap. On the one hand it feels like it’s exactly the intersection of expertise that would deepen my home design practice, and on the other hand it feels like maybe a weird trick up my sleeve that’s pretty superficial. Of course the quality of the training is paramount also. Without going into that in detail yet, I’ll just say that I have looked into the person presenting the workshop and believe that she has the goods.

Does anybody have experience with feng shui? I’d love to hear about it.

Pin Happy

Pinterest – have you been there yet? I’ve been reading that it’s the fastest growing social media site out there. Facebook is so yesterday!

Pinterest is a visual cornucopia of images collected into “boards” by members. (Membership is free. Just ask for an invitation from a current member – I’d be happy to invite you.) Essentially, it’s a huge online gallery of virtual bulletin boards categorized by topics such as:  Art, Pets, Food, Wedding Ideas, Stuff I Like, My Style, Great Gardens, Inspirations, etc. etc. The possibilities are endless. You can use the stock categories that are set up already, or make your own. The images can come from other people’s boards on Pinterest, or from anywhere on the web – you put a little “pin it” tab from the site into your browser’s bookmarks bar, and then if you find an image or picture in your web travels that you want to save, you click on it and then click your “pin it” button that’s now handily in your bookmarks bar, and you’re walked through the process of pinning it to a board of your own. Voila – join the crowd. Make a board, or two, or three. Browse to your heart’s delight. It’s great inspiration for home decor, one of the more popular categories of boards you find there.

You can look at my page here to see what it’s all about. And here’s my favorite “Just Plain Beautiful” picture. This is a place that looks pretty much like heaven, to me. It’s quite a bit more formal than my usual taste, but that Maxfield Parrish look of the light, and the view beyond, just really makes me yearn to have an afternoon to spend at that table with a bunch of friends and family.

from The Enchanted Home





Let there be light!

So many fun lighting options have been coming across my desk recently that I decided to put them all in one place – what better place than a blog post? Except for Pinterest, of course, where they also live.

First, my favorite, the Knopp Lamp designed by Ania Pauser for the Swedish furniture manufacturer Klong:

The twelve “petals” are laser cut with patterns and then attached to a foundation structure with brass fittings. I love it. Simple and clean and classy.

This next one is called the Upcycled Doily Lamp, made by Shannon South. What an imaginative use of old doilies, which likely are not part of most folks’ go-to decor items today, but might be hard to get rid of if they are family items from the past.  The only thing I would quibble with in the implementation here is the use of the black socket for the bulb inside the lamp. A white one would be much less visible.  But, I might have to start collecting doilies! She plans to post instructions for making it once she’s satisfied that she’s got the process down.  

Another DIY project is this one made from a Japanese paper lantern covered with crunched up coffee filters.  Instructions for making it are here.


You might be catching on that I really like globe pendants! Here’s a variation on the theme, from West Elm.


Moving on into the realm of table lamps, how about these? The three of them together remind me of some sort of funny Dr. Seuss creatures. They’re called Paper Coil table lamps from Shades of Light. Probably best for your teenager’s room.

I’m always drawn to lamps made from vessels like urns, bottles, ginger jars, etc. This one is called the Demijohn Table Lamp from Shades of Light. I learned that demijohn bottles are used for home brewing wine or beer.


Whatever your style, may your home and your life be filled with light!


Choosing Color for Your Walls

It can seem overwhelming to decide what color should be on your walls. Lots of people paint their walls white or off-white because they’re afraid of making a mistake with color. Which is understandable, because even though one is always hearing that paint is a cheap way to make a difference in your decor, I always think – huh?? Paint has gotten expensive lately, and painting a room requires either a big effort and a lot of upheaval if you do it yourself, or spending real money to hire someone else to do it. So how do you gain the confidence to be bolder with color?

Here are some tips, gleaned from Maria Killam of Color Me Happy.

Most neutral colors (beiges, grays, grayed-down greens and blues) have an undertone. This comes from the paint formula itself. It depends upon the proportions of red, yellow, blue in the formula. More of one or the other will give the color an overall cast, or undertone. Same with grays – the undertones can be blue, green, or violet. A green might be more brown, or more gray, yellowish or bluish. The way to see the undertones is to compare a few colors that upon first appearance look very similar. Look at a bunch of beiges together, and you’ll start to see the undertones. Do this with whatever color you’re considering.

Pink – Beige Walls and Ceiling (Pinterest)

Yellow-Beige Stone Wall (Pinterest)

If you already feel that something in your room is “off” color-wise, it could be that two of your large elements are at odds regarding their undertones. For example, your sofa might be a yellow-beige and your carpet a pink-beige; they will not complement each other but will actually each make the other less attractive. Simple switching one out so that the undertones are the same will work wonders for enhancing the overall look.

Green-Beige on Walls with Green Sofa

Knowing that, then start thinking about what will work in your room. The color on the walls will be a big factor in tying the room together. Use the big pieces in the room as a guide. For example,  choose the carpet color and repeat it on the walls. This will unify the room. If the rug or the sofa is a deep shade, i.e. red, blue, dark green, etc., choose a neutral with an undertone of the same. That would be a pink-beige, a blue-gray, or a green-beige ior green-gray in the three examples above. Where you get into trouble with color is choosing a neutral with an undertone that is different from the colors you’ve got going on already. A beige paint with a pink undertone will not look right with yellow-beige furniture.

Whatever color you choose, have a small pot ($7 at Benjamin Moore stores) made and paint it onto a poster board. Hold the poster board against a white background – i.e. a larger unpainted poster board – so that the existing wall color does not distort the one you’re auditioning.  With the white background behind it, hold the new color up against your furniture, drapes, carpet, etc. to make sure it makes a pleasing combination with all of them.

The orange sofa brings out the orange tint in the stone wall, above. (House Beautiful)

If you plan to replace something sooner or later,  like a carpet you hate or an old sofa, then choose your color based on the elements in the room that you know will be staying, even if the combination with the undesirable element is not great. You will know that the overall cohesiveness of the space will improve a lot when you do get around to making the change you are planning on. Just remember to take a sample of your paint to the furniture store or carpet store. Don’t depend on your memory to tell you that the colors will go well together. You really have to see them together to ensure that the undertones don’t clash.

Call me for help if it’s still too daunting to commit to all that paint!

Mini gardens in outdoor pots

I thought I would plant the big pots on my deck this past weekend, but it turned out to be 50 degrees and raining, so that didn’t happen.
But in order to have pots that look like this later in the summer:

it’s time to put in the little plants soon.

With about 4 hours of sun daily, I’ve found that shade loving plants are the most successful for me.  Over the years I have tried lots of things that didn’t really work and have accepted that full-sun lovers just are not in the cards for this spot.
The exception in the picture above is the sweet potato vine which took over the deck by the end of the season last year – four hours of sun seemed to make it quite happy.

What you see above that really thrives in a mixed sun/shade environment is:
Coleus – all the taller foliage in back. It gets purple spiky flowers late in the summer, which I pinch off to keep the foliage from getting leggy and thin. It comes in lots of colors and leaf shapes so you can out different ones.
Begonia variety – the star shaped leaf in the middle left. This was a tiny $3 specimen from Home Depot which I planted in June; the picture above was taken in late September. There are many wonderful varieties of begonia, the least interesting of which are the little waxed begonias, IMO. I like the more unusual ones. Angel wings are also nice.
Below the begonia is impatiens, a trusty shade lover which comes in many shades of white, pinks, peaches, oranges and reds. And below that, a vine with with tiny round green leaves, is creeping thyme, also bought from Home Depot. It did so well that I brought it in over the winter, so it will have a head start this year.
The big elephant-eared pink and green leaves are a variety of caladium – yup, Home Depot. The bulbs can be saved year to year so you don’t always have to purchase new ones.  The small purple flowers on the right are a streptocarpus plant that my mom gave me and it just loved it on the deck last year. It doubled in size and I brought it in to overwinter it; it wouldn’t survive outside and I couldn’t just let it die. It’s been flowering inside all winter in a sunny window.


The bigger the pot, the fuller it will look at maturity, and the longer it will go between waterings. The pots I use vary between 14″ (top diameter) and 22″. I got some of them on Freecycle, and some on Craigslist, as well as purchasing a few. But they’re expensive, and I’ve definitely scrounged around for free and cheap ones. Group them together for a lush look.

Make sure the pot has a hole for drainage. If it doesn’t, make one with a hammer and a chisel or something that will poke a hole through the bottom.

Start with rocks or gravel in the bottom to add an extra layer of drainage. A couple of inches will do.

I used bagged soil – you guessed it – from Home Depot. Not topsoil; that’s for garden beds and is too heavy. The biggest bags of potting soil I can get do the trick. Bags that say “professional” on them are usually a high quality mix.

Leave space between your little plants – they will get lots bigger! I usually leave a radius of 4-5 inches around each plant. That way the pot fills in well, but the plants have room to grow.

The rule of thumb for watering is that when the soil feels dry about an inch down under the surface, it’s time to water. Stick your finger in to feel the soil.  When you water, water thoroughly so the plants get a good drink, then wait until the soil dries out again. Caveat: in the high summer when it’s really hot day after day and it doesn’t rain often, you’ll need to water more often, possibly every couple of days. As the plants get more mature, the root systems are bigger and their water needs increase.

I have no compunction about taking out plants that don’t do well and replacing them with something else. Don’t be afraid to edit what you’ve done. Playing around with it is the way to learn what works, what doesn’t, and what you like. It will give you confidence. Have fun!

Ikat, that ubiquitous fabric

While I’m on the subject of ethnic influences in current design trends, I thought I’d post about the ikat fabrics that have been so prevalent for the last year or so. You see them on chairs and other upholstered furniture, like these:

Blue Ikat Chair from Urban Outfitters

Jewel Ikat Slipper Chair from Urban Outfitters

and in home decor fabrics:

Blue Ikat Fabric from Waverly Home Decorating Fabrics

and even accessories and clothing:

Bowls from Anthropologie

Dress from

So what is ikat, anyway?

Remember tie-dyeing? When you went to Michael’s to buy a white tee shirt and then bunched it up into little lumps held with rubber bands? Then you dipped the shirt into solutions of dye in various hues, and when it dried and the rubber bands came off, you had those star-like hippie-style patterns on the shirt.

Well, ikat fabrics are made by dyeing the threads before the fabric is woven. A wax-like substance is applied to bunches of threads in desired patterns, and the threads are dyed. The wax covered parts of the threads resist the dye, resulting in patterned threads which are then used to weave the fabric.
There are complexities to it such as whether the dyed threads are the ones held tightly lengthwise on the loom (the warp fibers) or the ones used to weave in and out of the warp fibers, creating the cloth (the weft fibers)  – or both the warp and the weft fibers, creating a more intricate and complex pattern, but basically that’s it.

The word “ikat” itself comes from the Indonesian language and means either “cord, thread, knot” or “to tie, to bind” depending on the context in which it’s used.
Although the word is Indonesian, the fabrics come from all over the world: Thailand, Cambodia, Central and South America, India, Japan, Turkey, revealing that the technique developed in multiple cultures worldwide, and each have their particular ethnic patterns.

What’s characteristic about all of them is the blurry-edged look to the designs that results from the individually dyed threads that are used in the weaving process.

Think of using one of these pieces as an easy, fun way to inject a fresh accent piece into your decor as you open the windows, put away the winter coats and freshen up for spring!

Ikat Embroidered Pillow Cover from Pottery Barn

Moroccan designs everywhere


Moroccan designs are everywhere lately – on wallpaper, on stencils for walls, on pillows and fabrics. I traveled to Spain with my family last fall, which makes me especially glad to see that these beautiful patterns have become so popular now. We spent a little time in Seville in the south of Spain, where the influence and architecture of the Moors, who ruled Spain for 800 years before the Christians took over, is very prominent. You can see in the pictures here that representational art did not exist at that time in Moorish culture. Intricate geometric and abstract patterns abound, however, often implemented in tile as part of the architecture of the buildings.

So, some examples of Moroccan design in their original execution follow.

But first: A very touristy picture to start with – this is us on a buggy ride tour of Sevilla (Seville to Americans) and outskirts:

And now for the design:

This is the Alcazar in Seville, originally a Moorish fort and later renovated as a castle for a Christian king, so that elements of both Islamic and Christian architecture are evident. This features in this picture (above) are purely Islamic, though. As is also true in the one below, a slightly fuzzy (sorry) image of a tiled wall, also in the Alcazar.

These intricately tiled walls are everywhere, many times sporting multiple patterns adjacent to each other:

It’s a total feast for the eyes. Pattern, pattern everywhere. And yet, the geometric nature of the designs makes the overall look appear somehow simple despite their complexity.

And now, turning to todays world, here are just a small sample of the many items I’ve seen lately for the home, all derivative of  – or simply reproduced –  Moroccan designs.

Eight-Pointed Stars Moroccan Stencil from Royal Design Studio. They have a whole category of Moroccan wall stencils. This one is called the Moroccan Key Stencil:

The Flutter rug from Anthropologie has an intricate pattern very reminiscent of these Moorish patterns, even if not strictly Islamic in origin:

This one is the Floral Fresco rug, also from Anthropologie. It too evokes the beautiful decorative tile work we saw so much of in Spain.

And a pillow from the Home Decorators Collection. Pillows are a fun way to add a touch of a design element to your home without making a big commitment. They’re relatively inexpensive, and easy to replace or recover when your tastes change.

I find all of these patterns very appealing, and I guess others do too, since we’re seeing them so prominently in decor these days. It makes me wonder what cultural influence is over the horizon. I’m going to enjoy this one while the trend lasts, since it brings back great memories of our travels!

Beyond Decorating

Sometimes I have trouble with the designation “decorator.” It sounds a bit superficial, kind of like putting flower rosettes on a cake. They may make the cake look pretty, but that’s their entire function. They’re really superfluous to the quality of the cake. “Decorating” sounds like that to me: let’s pretty up the room a little. There’s nothing wrong with that, but … it doesn’t necessarily change how the space works for the people who live there.

What I do in redesigning rooms for clients addresses the quality of the living space itself. The result is a better looking room, in fact – but more importantly, it’s a room that feels better to be in.  And that’s what I’m after. Helping people feel more at home in their own space is what’s important to me. I want them to come home and feel that the space welcomes them, that it’s comfortable and embracing, that it’s efficient in terms of movement and usage. I want to help clients create an environment that sustains them, that feels safe and regenerative, that enables them to be truly at ease. It’s my goal to help people feel at home, at home. To create rooms and homes that are balanced, cohesive, harmonic. And a better looking home is the icing on the cake!

Let’s look at some of the elements in the before and after pictures here to examine why good design promotes a feeling of ease, warmth and welcome in a space.

The television on top of the chest in the picture below imparts an uneasy feeling because it’s too high to comfortably watch from any of the seating choices in the room. It looms over the chair and monopolizes the main wall of the room, creating an unattractive focal point as one enters. And the room doesn’t look or feel cohesive, which in itself always creates a feeling of discomfort.

Before Redesign

After Redesign

In the second picture, the seating area has been rearranged so that the room now centers around a conversation area that feels unified and more welcoming. The big pieces of furniture are balanced in the space, and because balance is a natural principle that we instinctively seek, this signals comfort as well. The mirror is a more attractive focal point, and the paint samples on the wall will disappear when a final color choice is made. A deeper shade on the walls will give them depth and warmth.

So truly, decorating is about more than decorating. It’s about creating nourishing environments.