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.

 

 

 

 

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.

spring

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.

easter.eggs

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

flowers

or flower pillows:

pillowdecor.com

pillowdecor.com

How about a new lamp?

lamp

kirklands.com

Switch out a piece of artwork for something more seasonal:

Cherry Blossoms

art.com

 

Or add a colorful accessory:

colorful accessories

bhg.com

 

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!

 

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?

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.

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.

 

rad2.com

 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.

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!

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.