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.

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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.





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!


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!



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.

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 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.

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.

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!