Wednesday, March 31, 2010

in which the misfit acts as a (highly amateur) design consultant

Ha! So one of the lovely ladies on my blogroll, The Mom, has taken leave of her senses and actually asked me to suggest things about decorating a room in her house. Fortunately for her, she doesn't have to pay any attention to anything I say, so I guess it's a low-risk proposition. I am enjoying this opportunity thoroughly, though, I can tell you.

The room in question is intended as the house's separate dining room, but that's not a function her family actually uses (plus it has a beige carpet that she finds impractical for a dining room). She is interested, she says, in an adult sitting room - since the adjoining living room is often occupied by kid movies. Here's the patient:

I got a peek at a sample room in her house she likes (the living room). She told me that she likes a mix of old and new things and is fond of art deco (I believe the design-y people call these combination styles "eclectic"). The one element in the dining room that has to stay is the framed stained glass in the window (conceals a view of the neighbor's A/C unit!). She also told me she collects Talavera pottery. I had never heard of that, but it is so pretty:

It has a colorful south-of-the-border vibe that would really work with the Mediterranean look of those pretty archways, right? And I don't see any on display in her living room or dining room yet, so we've got to get some out there.

So here's what I was thinking. The stained glass is staying, and it has some awesome colors (enough of them to be the source of all the colors for the room). The colors look compatible with the strong Talavera colors. And I don't think they'd clash with the green walls of the living room next door. I thought first about a muted yellow from the stained glass for the walls, but I thought it would be harder to harmonize an eclectic blend of styles with that. So, instead, I propose a muted/warm gray. Still goes with the stained glass. Should coordinate better with everything else.

Behr seems to have a great sale on color samples now. I thought the "Sandstone Cliff" (Color Swatch 750C-3) looked good, but I wasn't sure when I saw the preview tool. Maybe this is new technology and not really accurate yet. The "Ocean Pearl" (Swatch 780C-3) or the "Castle Path" (Swatch 730C-3) might be good too. Either way, I think it's definitely worth trying out color samples (a tiny can of paint to slap onto a bit of wall) before doing an entire wall. I was going for something like this color:

Next, a rug. I've seen lots of people layer area rugs over wall-to-wall carpet, and it always looks nice (plus patterned rugs don't show dirt as much. How does she keep that beige so clean??). And it will help give the "more grown-up" feel. Overstock has a lot of nice options you might like - below are a few examples (all hail from the brown/gray/yellow in the stained glass).

This is quite traditional (another similar idea):

This is a contemporary version of an older idea:

I can still be friends with people who like contemporary design:

Now I think we need some furniture. Because of the pretty arches, wall space probably won't allow large couches. But we can work with that. First, we scoot the piano all the way to the right along the wall it's on. Then, in the newly-empty corner next to the kitchen, we put a traditional-style chair - upholstered in a fabric that's on-trend right now:

(It's $45 on Omaha's craigslist, and you didn't even know you needed it! If I should use a different area craigslist, let me know and I will update.)

If you have room on the long wall next to the kitchen, and in your budget, for this piece, you have to buy it immediately:

It's $750, but that's ludicrously cheap for a real leather Chesterfield (the best I've ever seen is $1200, and $3000 is more normal) and if I lived anywhere in driving distance I would buy it myself and store it in the bathroom until I had room. If The Mom doesn't buy it, somebody needs to, OK?

Now that I've gotten that out of my system. If she does buy it, I might revise the other furniture to coordinate better with it. If no blue leather Chesterfield (and I cry crocodile tears as a direct result), how about this?

Yes, that's eggplant-colored. I actually think the color is pretty cool. There's also a chocolate-colored option. That would also work and is more normal, but a lot more expensive (don't ask me why). Or, instead, we could do this one:

Something more normal would also work.

We need just a little bit more seating. If we don't go with the eggplant chaise or the blue Chesterfield, then how about this chair (at least, if the upholstery is in decent condition - it's hard to tell from the photo):

If The Mom decides to go with the eggplant chaise or the blue Chesterfield, maybe this more low-key Ikea chair, in the opposite corner:

We might need a third piece to finish the "conversational grouping" - I think you'd have to put them together and see what the layout looks like to be sure. We could use the black chair above, if it hasn't already been used; or perhaps this interesting contemporary piece from craigslist:

And, let's see, some nice muted-yellow throw pillows on each chair/couch to pull the colors together. This one is classic, but a little pricey (this one is a better price):

We also need a cool coffee table. I was imagining a funky art deco one like this:

But it's expensive. I have looked high and low for a less-expensive substitute. I'm afraid this is the best I found; you might want two (currently they have free shipping):

If it happens that you do want a mirrored art deco table, I recommend combing all the thrift stores and craigslist every week. You may have to give it six months, but the perfect furniture at the perfect price will eventually materialize in front of you. I promise.

Or you may be willing to go with something else. This one is kind of a funky piece - if not deco, then similar:

And finally, we'll need a rack to display some of the beautiful pottery. I had a specific plate rack in my mind that the internet didn't have (if I find one later, I will update), but I did find some workable options. How about three of these, hung up next to each other on the wall behind the sofa?

You can also get a set of four of these, for a slightly different style:

Whew. Done. I think I got everything to work together - at least, I hope so - but now that I think about it, it's very different from her living room. Much more formal, for one thing. And very eclectic. Hmm. I shall await her thoughts with bated breath. And of course, if I missed the mark, I have an excuse to start my vicarious shopping all over again!

Monday, March 29, 2010

passion Sunday

I got a half dozen folk to go on a lovely hike on the Billy Goat Trail at the C&O National Historic Park Sunday. Isn't it amazing that such a stupendously beautiful place is within spitting distance of the District proper? Blue skies would have made for prettier pictures, but the weather was perfect - the rain held off, and it was just cool enough to be comfortable. Then we went to a super-cute place in Glen Echo (there's this whole complex where apparently they do dancing of all kinds - everyone who had been agreed it was a great date destination) for a bite to eat - and a long (and highly entertaining) discussion of the various defeciencies in the DC Catholic dating scene!

I really wanted to go to Mass earlier in the day, but just didn't get my act together fast enough to be on time. But the evening service was fantastic, with an amazing homily.

I know I vacillate on how I'm going to deal with my childlessness all the time. In the same week I do pious, rebellious, agnostic, philosophical, bitter, and schizophrenic combinations thereof. It probably gets a little exhausting to read. So I've grown suspicious of my own more peaceful or noble resolutions about how I'm going to cope - because a firm purpose of amendment doesn't end up meaning much when I have no idea of how to implement it, and it dissipates into the air the next time something makes me angry or sad (usually, immediately).

So for what little it may be worth, I was thinking a lot during the reading of the passion narrative (for whatever reason the one from Luke's Gospel sounded very unfamiliar to me; and the unaccustomed phrasings of the familiar events helped me to focus on them better). The homilist spent some time discussing Christ's prayer, "Father, if You are willing, take this cup away from Me; but not My will but Yours be done."

He said that no prayer for a good thing ever goes unanswered, though they may not all be granted. If they are not granted, God answers the prayer in some other way for our good. And Christ's prayer, to be spared suffering, was a prayer for a good thing. (Of course it was. My basic moral theology is good enough to know that. But it still helps to hear...)

My prayers to be spared the suffering of childlessness are prayers for a good thing. I know they haven't been granted. I don't expect that they will be. But God is not ignoring me from neglect or malice. The homilist said that God did not spare Christ torture and death, because His death was to be the means of all of our salvation (again, basic, I know). God is not required to spare me the crosses I carry, even the ones I bitterly hate. I am not the author of mankind's salvation. But that does not mean that He does not will for me to carry a cross. And if He wills that I should suffer, then my suffering will work for good.

And then I thought, but what about my vocation? Suffering is one thing, but what do I do if God takes my vocation away? Isn't that a particular and objectionable kind of suffering, one that makes life empty and absurd? I kept thinking...motherhood is an obvious and a beautiful vocation. Noble. Blessed. I know that. But what could I want for my own future that would be better than to proceed toward what God has planned for me?

(Even though I have no idea what that is. I went to law school. I got married. I have a job. When I was nineteen and lost and praying and praying for guidance, could I have known all that would occur, I'd have considered all my questions answered. I didn't know then that those things could leave more questions unanswered than answered. You live and learn.)

And then I saw another woman walking up to communion, obviously in her second trimester. Why does everyone else get a basic blessing, often taken for granted, that I don't have? Isn't that just awful and absurd? But there are other people...I have a friend with cancer. It might go successfully into remission after her current treatment. But they still don't know. She's had to leave her demanding career and is not sure whether she'll be able to return to it. She's ten years older than I am. She's not married and I think for the first time is realizing that she might have liked to be for some time now.

She could be dead this year and never get married, let alone hold a child of her own. Wow.

And I know there are people my age who live with deformities that draw a lot more of a stigma than my lack of a stroller. There are people who can't walk. There are people who have substantially greater physical impairments - who go through their whole lives unable to take a lovely nature hike or dance around their living rooms to stupid music, and additionally can't have children. I know some people who live with handicaps, who are joyful. And I'm angry and sad? And I spent the afternoon Sunday with a group of people who (like all people who haven't tried it out) assume that they're fertile. They treated me as if I were a perfectly normal person. I think I'd have drawn more uncomfortable treatment if I were missing a finger than childless.

I don't mean, of course, that I have had a sudden revelation and IF is not a cross. Do I ever know better. And it would be pointless to deny that I now have Issues with God. I was thinking in Mass, trying to frame them right. I guess I've just pushed Him away because I believe He would hurt me, would betray my trust, if I trusted Him. He took things away from me that I didn't believe I could afford to lose. And it did hurt. It hurts a lot. I guess I made a mistake in not being willing to accept suffering. But it wasn't quite an intellectual error, that I could fix by updating my views. There's something bigger there I need to fix.

But I am thisclose to being willing and able to let go. To just embrace whatever's coming (and boy do I wish that I knew what that was!). I told God, I will follow. But I'm going to need graces from You. Piles of them - let's start with the ability to get up in the morning, early, and with energy, so I can start my day with Mass. And the grace to be motivated to say my prayers and go to Mass when I don't feel like it! Before I've relied on my own initiative to get those things done, and believed it wasn't Your problem to get me to do what I should do. But it's clear to me now that I can't do it without help. I'm sure these are unreasonable requests, but I need them fulfilled if I'm to live the right life.

And I remembered that my dh has recently - at least twice, which means he means it - said that we should just look into adoption. Do some research. I am opposed to us doing a home study because I think it would be a disaster. But what could I oppose about research? And why do I have to always be right about things? He wants to do this. I can just listen to him. I will try to follow.

It's not a perfect strategy. It doesn't answer questions like, can I buy a house I love that we can afford now? What happens if I do get pregnant? Or somebody ships us an infant to adopt? Do I put a tiny baby in day care five days a week, which I've always opposed, or face foreclosure on my home? Good grief.

God, if You're listening, I'm going to need a lot of help here.

***And please pray for my husband's Uncle Bill, who died Saturday. He was a good and holy priest, but if his soul doesn't need the prayers, I am sure they will go to one who does.***

Thursday, March 25, 2010

still obsessing

It goes without saying that I am not done with really really antique wallpaper. I have continued searching.

First, I had to share this image that shows the proper implementation of the full-wall design. I thought you'd all be glad to know that my idea of putting a big, dark-colored panel design between bookshelves was right on:

I just adore those full-wall French prints, but I can't possibly afford the original ones. Letting the idea go is not an option. So, more research.

I will admit I had some challenges. Most contemporary wallpaper murals are photographic - huge 6 x 9 foot prints of a closeup of a dew-drenched rose, or something. Interesting for a stark contemporary highrise apartment, maybe, but not for an old house. So first I had to narrow it to art-type prints, rather than photos. And there are lots of reproduction wallpapers out there, but I've seen zero reproductions of full-wall non-repeating prints. We'll have to work with a modern image library.

First, I addressed my favorite of the three - the pretty blue with the climbing vines and birdies. In case you forgot what it looks like:

The print is a century old at least. I bet you didn't think I would find anything even close. Ha!

I found a number of possibilities, but I think this is the closest I got:

It's definitely less than $6000. It doesn't have the beautiful blue color I liked in the original, and is missing a certain delicacy in the vines. So I think I might give it a pass. But if someone wanted to do period wallpaper, I think this would fit perfectly.

But you'll be relieved to hear that I did find a couple of things I do find persuasive as a stand-in for the blue floral. This, while not quite as on-the-nose with the blue as the one immediately above, I like better (though it's twice as expensive):

And its warm ivory background would make an attractive paint color for the other three walls, I think. Definite potential for a bedroom. (In fact, a bedroom that could become a kid's room in the event of a miracle, but is of a style meant for adults.)

Another substitute I considered for the blue floral is this. It also has a fabulous antique/Victorian/Chinoiserie look. I love the colors:

Its height indicates a half-wall. The cloudy soft blue at the top would be a great color for the top half of the wall, and I might be able to paint something that looked like a match for the mural. But then there would be a wallpaper seam in the middle of the wall! I could lay a strip of white chair rail over it plenty easily, and chair rail would be fine in a bedroom. But...I'm just not sure about mural below the chair rail, sky painted to match above, and then three walls with a coordinating blue (no painted sky though) with their own chair rail. Would this work? Would it have been done in days of yore? Can't get it straight in my head, so I'll keep thinking.

Of course, I can definitely picture a Victorian dining room with dark-stained wood wainscoting and a half-mural above that. The peacock would work well there, and I think I've seen some other things that would too.

OK, back to the French murals. You remember this one:

I was less successful with replacements for that, frankly. Is this sort of a similar idea?

Not really, you think? Too clearly refers to the contemporary decor fascination with Florence and Tuscany? Too should-be-in-a-frame and not wallpaper-y enough? Well, it was a shot.

What about the red-on-cream engraving print? This one:

OK, I didn't find any engravings. But I did find things that had a similar personality, the feel of the right era, and would also form a big largely-monochrome rectangle for an area between bookshelves. There's lots of variants on this theme at all the wallpaper stores, but this was probably my favorite (and very affordable!):

Oh, and other fun with nineteenth-century wallpaper: William Morris prints. Apparently he was the father of the arts & crafts movement (no, not scrapbooking. Like old houses with lots of medium-brown wood trim everywhere? Window frames that match staircases and door frames and doors and...well, you'll know it if you see it. Those are arts & crafts movement architecture. There was a lot more to it too - it was generally a movement away from the factory-produced decor and art that were becoming common in the late nineteenth century in favor of products handmade by artisans). That's a few decades too late for this house, actually, but he did lots of cool stuff. For example:

I think my dh would actually like this - the Irish color scheme wouldn't hurt! Whereas if I put a peacock mural in a bedroom, he would probably flip. That's why it's important that I buy and redecorate a home while he is still traveling for extended periods at a time...

And - would you believe these are anemones? Seriously:

Oh, last thing I found. If I redo a bathroom I want to put in a clawfoot tub. But what if it already has a porcelain tub in good condition? I wouldn't throw something like that out, but if it's the wrong era for the rest of the house, what to do? I think I may have found my answer:

This brings together all the right elements for an antique bath beautifully.

OK, happy home decor daydreams. At some point, I shall have a ttc (now with tmi!) update, but for today, this space is G-rated.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


No, not the weather (but that too). So I have made known my unusual fondness for wallpaper. Especially period wallpaper. And having grown up in an old house (which definitely had wallpaper), I'm decent at spotting good Victorian wallpaper. Plus I have a high tolerance for toile, which is a plus.

But the house I've become obsessed with most recently (referred to recently as "the castle") is pre-Victorian. No, I'm not kidding. I am partial to French country designs, and, should this home ever be mine, will doubtless be deploying some (I like the less heavily ornate stuff, but this is a good place to start for a quick French country wallpaper education), but it's become clear that I have to expand my wallpaper research into a previously uncharted century.

I am in the process of being amazed by what I found.

See, has amazing stuff periodically with wallpaper - the writers like the idea of traditional wallpaper but they like a modern take. So they have contemporary patterns. And mod geometric prints. And sort of a fan-art approach to old designs. And decals and other non-repeating pattern-type stuff.

A lot of it is nice stuff. I really like it. But because I want a historic home, and I want to decorate it with a substantial degree of fidelity, I still need to do my research.

I will admit up-front that the following examples (from here) are early twentieth-century and just a few late-nineteenth, so I still need to dig deeper by a few decades. But they're unlike other Victorian-era examples I've seen. They're all original French pieces (seriously original - they cost thousands. But I recommend getting ideas from research and then buying everything from anyway, though that wouldn't be possible with these particular designs). Wonderful people, the French. Amazing cheese. Beautiful artwork. Sumptuous sauces. And the pastry!

So anyway. Check this out:

I do still like Victorian wallpaper, but you have to admit this is way more interesting than a repeating pattern. And in a way, it fits in with the modern trend toward neutral wall colors - although it wouldn't exactly recede into the background. I am firmly convinced that I could have this on my wall (maybe a large hallway wall? Or the dining room?) for years and never get sick of it.

This may be even more fabulous. Would definitely put it in a bedroom, and it would be a superfantastic bedroom immediately and permanently:

And then there's this. Plastering it across the whole wall of all four walls in a large room would probably give me a pounding headache. But what about a substantial expanse of one wall? Perhaps in a study? In a rectangular space between bookshelves or windows, maybe? I think it has real potential:

The question is, of course, how I could accomplish these looks without spending $9000 per print on wallpaper (not joking). For the last one, I think a high-resolution overhead projector or a digital plotter (or both) might enable me to reproduce an engraving in this fashion (might use a different engraving to avoid intellectual property issues - the print above was based on a particular engraving of its day). That would be quite a bit of work. But I have no idea how to do the first two without basically painting a mural, which is not my goal.

This source has a far more comprehensive library of papers from the right period. They are, admittedly, not as gorgeous as those above. (But then, they're not French.) But some of them are certainly interesting:

With brilliantly white crown and shoe molding (and maybe brilliantly white wainscoting too), and pale upholstery fabric (light blue or gray colors from the print would work - maybe with navy and rust accent pillows and curtains?), I think I could make this work. In a formal living room or a bedroom, I think.

I could not make this work:

These next prints are a little later, but still in the right period for the house.

I'm pretty sure I've seen this print in these colors on Score! Although I think I might actually pass on this much color:

I have definitely been drawn to gray-with-white-floral (or, in this case, leaf) before. I found a 1940s pattern for one of the original "my houses" and decided I had to have a bedroom with black lacquer furniture (and I found a comparable gray-and-white print of contemporary origin - and price! - from totalwallcovering). This nineteenth-century print reaffirms my enduring commitment to said hypothetical bedroom:

I doubt my home will be this formal, but if it were, I would have no objection to a dining room or downstairs hallway in this paper:

This might not be a bad dining room either, though also more formal than I expect to end up with:

(And apparently this one was in Lincoln's bedroom. Fascinating, eh?)

Monday, March 22, 2010

home decor - ur doin it rite

So it occurs to me that as I'm browsing through pictures of houses (I usually can't afford) to buy, I occasionally see something that's exactly the way it should be done. And then I forget which house listing it was on, and the house sells, and the picture vanishes from the internet; and with it all record of the exactly correct shade of blue for a kitchen (this has already happened once). While designed interior shots from the likes of houzz are awesome, there's something particularly inspiring about pictures of homes that don't look perfect or professionally designed (or super-expensive), but nevertheless have a look that I would be serenely happy if I could achieve in my own home. So I'm sharing some.

(BTW, I did find a quasi-castle for my happily-ever-after. It just went on the market and I am afraid it will sell lickety-split. But it's just out of our price range. And my dh still doesn't have his job locked down. Oh I am impatient. But if St. Joseph found me the house, he will line everything else up too...)

Perfect item #1: the cellar

Everyone is now aware I like old houses. Often these come with a concrete basement that is really better described as a cellar. The contemporary fully-finished basements are certainly nice, but for just a few hundred dollars (maybe $1000?), a cellar can be long on storage and short on scary. This is all it needs:

Perfect item #2: the kitchen

I want a traditional kitchen. Sometimes old houses have kitchens that were remodeled in 1985, and you have to start from scratch. Even if you have to gut and start clean, you can still do traditional beautifully (I am forgiving the stainless because it actually is a classic material, despite its current trendiness):

Although I would probably lean really traditional myself (for continuity with the rest of the house and so it wouldn't go out of style and have to be redone), one can do a traditional-minded kitchen with contemporary flair that's just beautiful. I am confident this one was very expensive, but check it out:

Yeah, that's really nice.

If you have the original kitchen, though, it would definitely be worth keeping:

Perfect item #3: a traditional bathroom

This is in the attic of a two-story Victorian, so we know there wasn't a bathroom there to start with. If you're already putting in (or gutting) a bathroom, you can get a traditional one for less than the cost of an ordinary bathroom. The clawfoot tub (this looks like a standard 5-footer) and the shower bar are available all over craigslist, and can be found for around $200. The arts-and-crafts stained glass pieces can also be craigslisted. I think they bought the arts-and-crafts molding and the reproduction pedestal sink new; both can be found at the Home Depot, but you can also find an antique pedestal sink (for less) on craigslist. I could really do this (with some help from a plumber)!

Oh, and I'm not recommending this as the ideal bathroom, but somebody is clearly a genius here, so I had to share:

Perfect item #4(a): gifted with color

Some of the houses I've looked at seem to have been decorated by the color-blind. Obviously professional decorators do these things well, but sometimes I see a house that actually needs some work - and yet the person who chose the colors obviously has a gift. Clearly, I should exploit that gift for my future home:

(Of course, having those magnificent floors didn't hurt here.) They did a good job with blue, too:

Perfect item #4(b): gifted with contrast

I see lots of gorgeous, artistic, trendy all-white interiors with fascinating decor elements ("pops of color" - sick of that phrase) on and elsewhere. They're lovely. I'm not an artist and I doubt they would work in my home. But the clarity and contrast they're going for can, it appears, be captured in a design that doesn't need to be updated every six months. This house is expensive - but it doesn't look like a professional designer was involved. I am seriously impressed here:

I mean, yes, they started out with high ceilings, and transoms. But they didn't go nuts and paint everything. They didn't even refinish the floors. Those aren't the most pricey antiques I've ever seen. And anybody can buy black and white paint. If you have an old house (or an ornate one), you could totally do this.

The aesthetic that inspired the above room can be overdone, of course. Even with the somewhat riotous excess, this kitchen makes me really happy. I think it might need only a bit of editing (perhaps removal of all the purely decorative items - wrought iron rooster silhouettes and the like):

I've also seen a couple of exterior colors recently where people were clearly doing it right, which is a cheap trick. If I'm painting a house, I'm finding out exactly what color the people used who have the pretty houses. Costs the same and looks better. It seems to me that sometimes the right color is more than just a pretty color - it magically transforms the whole house! I'm going to have to get out my camera and take a drive to show you those finds, though, so maybe later.