Friday, December 5, 2014

Give The Gift Of Getting Things Done!

This December, Blue City Monthly will be publishing a handy and timely article for this festive gift-giving season written by yours truly. We love getting to write about things we care about, and we love thoughtful gift-giving.

For those of you who are chomping at the bit to check a few gifts off your shopping list NOW, we decided to give you sneak peak - a teaser, if you will - of what you'll be able to find in Blue City Monthly's December issue. 

If you're ready to give thoughtful gifts that are personalized, clutter-free and can even reduce stress for the recipient, here are a few ideas to get your gift-giving juices flowing. Renters and homeowners alike have hefty to-do lists for their home. Why not choose holiday gifts that will help make that list easier to conquer for your loved ones? 

Idea #1: Gift Certificates to Home Improvement Stores
Know someone planning to retile their bathroom? Put a 10lb bag of grout in a gift bag (along with a return receipt) with a gift certificate to your local big box store to help fund the DIY project. The big bag of heavy grout will make them wonder until they open the gift, and the money will be well spent.

Idea #2: Window Cleaning
This is a favorite gift given by real estate agents to new homebuyers, and often that first year of homeownership was the last time the windows were professionally cleaned. A gift like professional window cleaning is exactly the kind of thing people won’t get themselves which makes it a luxury. Find a picture frame that looks like a window, tuck the gift certificate inside the frame for a clever presentation.

Bonus Idea #3: Chopped Wood
This one isn't even in the upcoming article, but came up while we were prepping this blog for you. Our fabulous intern mentioned the idea of having a cord of chopped wood delivered to your family members who might be a bit tired of prepping their own winter fire supplies - what an unexpected and lovely idea this might be for your snow-bound family! Want to see an amazingly efficient way to chop wood? Check out this video!

Any of these gifts can be services you offer yourself if you are handy and have the time. That makes the gift that much more personal and saves money, too. So, whether you find great professionals for these or offer yourself as the “honey-doer” for the day, think outside the gift of stuff this year, and help create happier, less stressful lives for those you love this holiday season.

For more gift ideas, check out Blue City Monthly or like them on Facebook.  

Happy gift-giving!

Friday, August 15, 2014

Claim Your Spot In The Sun: How Your Home Can Help You

A recent Tumblr image of "men taking up too much space on a train" caught my eye...  two men on a subway train, legs splayed out, penning in a tightly compressed, contained woman. I think it struck me as extra funny because I've had that "overflowing" experience with my husband on plane trips, his body spilling freely past his seat, me politely contained in my spot. I (affectionately) call him "Mr. Elbows". But aside from making me identify a cultural curiosity within my own marriage, that image also got me thinking about myself as a woman and how I make myself be seen and heard in the world.

Then, last week, enjoying my morning walk on a local trail, I noticed a similar male vs female phenomena as I passed other walkers on the path. As men approached other walkers they stayed center to the trail, while nearly every woman moved aside. The men greeted each passerby with confident "good mornings," while women spoke it more gently, often in response to someone else saying it first, and also frequently with a rather apologetic smile. I became hyper-aware of my own greetings. Did I greet first? Second? Did I use a quiet, timid voice or a confident, assertive voice? Did I move aside, or did we equally share the trail? 

[Photo from Tumblr]

Of course that made me wonder, as an interior designer, how can my work help women (or introverted men) be seen and heard?

For me, my home is an integral part to how I begin my day. When I wake up in my home, I smile as I look around my bedroom. It is tidy, sensual, and looks onto my beautiful woodsy yard. From the moment I wake, I feel supported, present, affirmed, clear about who I am. 

By feeling supported at home, I leave the house with my head higher, shoulders back, and then speak to strangers, colleagues and clients with more confidence. My clothes and colors, the cleanliness of my car, my smile, they all remind me that I'm Rebecca West and I have a place in this world. I have every right to every inch of my plane seat, to an equal share of the trail. I have a right to be seen and heard.

On the other hand, if you wake up to a home that looks like it belongs to someone else, or to a room that is stuck in a moment in your history that is past or hurtful, or to a place that is falling apart and speaks of failure and not success, you will, naturally, start your day off in a very different place and have to work harder to hold those shoulders back and demand your place in the sunshine. That's not to say it can't be done - people do it every day - but why not start you day off in a place of support and love?

In the end, I don't want anyone, male or female, to diminish their power. There is room enough for all of us to be confident, and each of us have the responsibility to speak up and take up a good chunk of space in this world. I mean, if you don't take the space, someone else probably will. Why not make the moment yours? And in a world where every magazine cover would have you believe you're not tall enough, sexy enough, or smart enough, you have to create spaces that smile back at you, that say YOU ARE ENOUGH! - spaces that encourage you to stake a claim in your life. Whether that starts at home, in your closet, or in your cubicle, it's time to be seen and heard. No apologies. 

I may not be the next "Ms. Elbows," but plan to share the road (or trail) with me!

Monday, June 2, 2014

Can Color Increase Satisfaction in the Bedroom?

Since we are embarking on our honeymoon as this is published I have travel on the brain, so I thought I’d share a little bit about what I look for when I am booking a hotel, and how it relates to how I think about bedroom design. 

My most favorite hotel that I have ever stayed in is the Opus Hotel in Vancouver, BC. It is gorgeous! The rooms, instead of being boring hotel beige, are painted colors like luscious reds, electric ocean blues, and deep, sexy charcoal grays. I walk into those rooms and automatically feel sexy - waaaay sexier - than I do in a boring beige room. Seriously, check out their rooms - yum!

What is amazing to me is that more hotels don’t choose to use vibrant color on their walls - it’s just paint, and nearly everything else in the Opus rooms are more standard hotel choices. 

What’s even more amazing to me is that so few people take the time to make their own master bedrooms sensual retreats. Even folks who spend time and money creating welcoming living rooms, inviting guest rooms, and adorable kids' rooms often neglect their own bedrooms.

That is so silly because of all the places in our home, the bedroom more that any other rooms sets the tone for our days. We wake up every day in our bedroom, finish every day there, too - it is an integral part of our daily experience of life. In that space we love our partners, wrestle with our kids, cuddle with the dog… why not make it an embracing, comforting, sensual space instead of a plain white box filled with junk mail, laundry, and unread magazines?

So join me in the spirit of romance. I’ve chosen all my hotels in Italy for our honeymoon with excitement and romance in mind, why not make sure it’s at home in our everyday spaces, too?

Here’s to a romantic season of love, no matter what the calendar says!

Friday, April 25, 2014

Is A Messy Desk The Sign Of A Messy Mind?

Is a clean desk really a sign of a tidy mind? I find that when I am interviewed by journalists this question invariably comes up, and I also find that the interviewer usually has bias. Messy people ask with the hope that they don’t have to go home and tidy up, and tidy people ask it with an air of knowingness just certain that I’ll back up their assertion that cleanliness is next to godliness.

Interestingly, in a 2013 study Kathleen Vohs, PhD, of the University of Minnesota Carlson School of Management, found that working in a tidy room does encourage people to do socially responsible, normatively "good" things like eat healthfully and give to charity. But she also found that working in a messy room seemed to help people be willing to try new things and come up with creative ideas. After reading that study, author Randa Goode wrote “If [messiness is linked to creativeness], when it comes to my desk and writing, then I may be the most creative person in the world. Heck, maybe in the universe.”

In the end, I don’t think there is one right answer. My own habit is that during a project, whether designing a living room, writing a book, or getting ready for a party, I create chaos and stacks and piles galore. I start off with a pristine work area, devolve into utter chaos complete with two-day old dishes, and then as I wrap-up the project return to a perfectly tidy state. That is my way.

I do find, however, that disorder can turn into a burden if left unchecked. Do you *really* know what is in those piles? Can you *really* find what you need to find when you need to do so? It’s all a matter of honest evaluation, and sometimes we have to shake things up and try something new to see if our habits are really serving us. In her book The Power Of Place, Winifred Gallagher writes that “One reason we work so hard to keep our surroundings predictable is that we rely on them to help us segue smoothly from role to role throughout the day.” If that messy desk is part of focussing your mind and getting you into the role of entrepreneur, who am I to ask you to change it? But if that messy desk is actually a source of confusion, frustration, embarrassment, or procrastination, then of course you need to change it.

As with all things in our home and environment, the things surrounding us only have one role, and therefore one rule - to support and nurture us as we reach for our dreams. As long as you keep your desk in a state that is in accordance with that support, then embrace it, messy or pristine!

Friday, March 21, 2014

Too Skinny? 4 Things That May Not Measure Up

We all like the idea of skinny, but some things in your home need to have substance to really do their job. When it comes to home design and decor, here's today's question:

Q: What are four things that tend to be too skimpy in our homes?  
A: Area rugs, curtains, lamps, and art.

Area Rugs: Rugs are supposed to soften a room, anchor the furniture, and be a key element in your decorating. Too often, though, we are afraid to spend up for the 8x10 and get the 5x8 instead. The result? A room that looks cluttered, busy, and unfinished. When choosing an area rug, pick a size that will go under all the main seating pieces (sofa, chairs, etc) or at least allow the two front feet of each piece to be on the rug. You almost can’t go too big, just aim to leave about foot of space between the edge of the rug and the walls. Afraid it will cover up too much of your beautiful hardwood floors? Think of it like a beautiful woman - sometimes the skin revealed is that much more lovely because of what the evening gown covers up.

Curtains: In the Northwest we don't like to cover up our windows too much because we want to let the light in. We opt for naked windows or just simple grommetted curtains. There is nothing wrong with that in the least, but if you are going to hang curtains, make sure to choose a good sized rod with attractive finials - a chunky 1.5" rod does so much more to dress your windows than a skinny 1/2" rod.  More importantly, hang lined curtains! Generally speaking, unlined curtains will look more like bedsheets hanging from your windows, reminiscent of your college days instead of a grown-up home. There are plenty of off-the-shelf lined curtain options, so banish the bedsheet-look asap!

Lamps: Lamps should be both art and light. Their functionality comes in three forms. First, to give enough light. That means that the bulb size and wattage is enough to light the area you are trying to light. It also means that the shade lets light through - colored, opaque, and stained-glass shades might be beautiful, but they also reduce the light coming from the lamp. Second, they have to be easy to use. That means they are sturdy and won't tip over easily. They must be easy to turn on from a wall or easy-to-find switch. They also must not be fragile - no temperamental switches, no wobbly shades, no broken bases. Third, they should be artful enough that you don't need a bunch of other clutter to make the table feel decorated. A candlestick lamp from the drug store might give enough light and be easy to use, but really falls flat when it comes to creating a warm, inviting, finished room. Swapping it for a globe-shaped hammered bronze lamp, or a glazed porcelain ginger jar lamp can make such a difference to feeling great in your room!

Art: Whether we are talking a ten-dollar poster from Ikea or an original Picasso, most people go too-small with their art, and expect a 12x16 print to fill an 8 foot wall. Make sure your artwork can do its job either by buying larger art in the first place, creating galleries by partnering several small pieces together, framing small art in large frames with generous mats, or creating a mat on the wall with paint to anchor small (or several small) individual pieces.

Every room will feel more warm, inviting, and finished if the items in it are doing their job. A room, even a small room, that is full of too-small objects and art will always end up feeling cluttered and naked. This year, try going BIG and see what a difference it can make!

Monday, February 10, 2014

A Romantic Home 365 Days A Year

February triggers an expectation of romance, but the focus is often on temporary romance - roses, candles, bubble baths and champagne.  While those things are lovely, why not set up a home that encourages long-term romance, the kind that can last a lifetime? What are the key ingredients in a romantic home, and how can you bring them into your space and relationship?

1. Create adult-focused areas

We all hear about kid-friendly rooms, but these days it seems the whole home is not only kid-friendly, but kid dominated. How romantic is it to cuddle when surrounded by Barney dinosaurs and stepping on stale cheerios? While it is important to have an inclusive, loving family, it is also important not only to have spaces where you can be grown ups and individuals, but also to teach the kids that there are times and places for different things, and that it is not, in fact, all about them. They will grow up to be better balanced, more empathetic adults.

2. Balance masculine and feminine energy

"Romantic" often brings to mind classically feminine associations - pink, ruffled, layered, soft, light, etc - but masculine energy is every bit as important as feminine in creating romance 365 days a year. For long-lasting romance, try to keep a balance in each room. Pair soft curves in a crystal lamp with strong lines on a deep wood end table. Pair a fluffy white duvet on the bed with a rich, clean-lined frame and headboard. Install rustic, reclaimed hardwood floors and top with an inviting white velvet armchair. A full life honors both sides of our male-female energies, and a balance, romantic home does the same. 

3. Control the lighting

Always give thought to the lighting in your home, especially in the bedroom, but also in the living room, dining room, and bathroom. Have layers of light (ceiling light for overall light, table and floor lamps for mood and task lighting) and put as many of them on dimmers as you can. Dim lighting can mask clutter, create a flattering glow, invite a desire to linger, and set a mood for slowing down and spending much-needed time together.

Bedroom Before & After:  A Romantic Makeover

Embrace Romance

Romance can be part of your life 365 days a year. That feeling of being present, being aware, lingering, can be created whether you are enjoying a cup of coffee on your own by a fire, or snuggling with a partner on a lazy morning in bed. Take time this month to eliminate things in your home that hinder romance (clutter, sheets leftover from an old relationship) and bring in what you need to feel at home (soft lighting, fresh bedding, a kid-free zone). Then lower the lights, pour a glass of wine, and love being home.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Beat the winter blahs with bright bedroom colors

For those of you who know me personally, you know I regularly wear a bright red rain coat, a peacock teal fedora, and sometimes a mustard yellow scarf.  I get compliments all the time on all the colors, and I usually respond by saying that this is how I counteract the winter-gray weather we have in Seattle from November to, well, June.  It's like carrying around my own little bouquet of bright red tulips!

If you suffer from the blahs in this winter season, you can use the same trick in your home to chase away the gray and bring in some sunny weather.  Check out this mustard yellow duvet set I found not long ago at West Elm.  Just that splash of sunny gold takes the black and grey bed to a warm and happy place! 

What is so great about this way of splashing in color is that it isn't a big commitment. Unlike tile or counters, or even a whole sofa, a bedding set can be swapped out by the season to change up the look and feel of your room.  It can let you play and experiment with otherwise over-the-top colors. Try a rich plummy purple, or an electric blue, or a juicy apply green!

Have some fun with color as the holidays come to an end, twinkly lights are packed away, and we settle into 2014.  Create your own sunshine and welcome the new year with a smile on your face!