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!


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.

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.

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.

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!

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!

Stencils – the new faux finishes

There are so many fun ideas out there for wall treatments right now. Paint has always been the easiest way to make a dramatic change in the look and feel of a room. Then there were faux finishes – ragging, stucco-like looks, marbleizing, etc. Now there are these fabulous stencils out there to add patterned interest to small or large areas of a room. Check these out:

For an elegant look:


Or a botanical theme:


How about a Moroccan tiled look, a style that’s found quite a footing lately:


Or last but not least, a just plain fun look:


All of the above come from Cutting Edge Stencils. You can find them here, along with dozens of others designs to whet your creative appetite:

I have not used one of these yet, but have read of others using them. What I hear is that they adhere well to the wall so that the paint does not drip down behind the stencil, and the registration marks on the stencils are easy to use so that if the design is a repeating one, it’s not hard to get the repeat to come out accurately. Right now I’m in the process of rethinking our family room, and one of these is definitely on the list of strong possibilities!