Thursday, October 7, 2010

An Ikea Love Story

I love Ikea. I just do. It's like Target, only bigger and bluer and ... Swedish. And I don't get to go there very often, so when I do, I kind of go nuts.

I definitely lost my mind in there last weekend.

We went to Dallas to visit family and catch the Texas Rangers as they cruised toward the playoffs. We stayed with cousins who live in Frisco - which is also where DFW's Ikea store lives. And I practically lived in the store all weekend. Every time I get to an Ikea store, I go with a mission, and this time, it was the big-boy bedroom I blogged about a week or two ago. I went into the store with a vague inkling of an idea and left with a basically finished room. I bought bedding and curtains and pillows and accessories and art.

And I didn't stop there - I mean, I couldn't ignore the rest of the house, right? I bought dishes and a desk and the desk chairs to go with it and storage boxes and more pillows and even a chandelier.

And I managed to get it all home in our tiny car - they don't call it a Honda Fit for nothing.

Why, oh why, don't we have an Ikea at home? Oh yeah. Because they're "not interested in locating in our region." I know this because an old co-worker of mine actually called and asked. So the place does have one flaw. But for those of you who've never been to one, basically it's like a shopping amusement park. An enormous blue box filled with absolutely everything related to home. It's a great place for kitchen stuff, kids' stuff, accessories, frames, bedding, storage pieces - and furniture, if your taste leans toward the clean-lined and the contemporary. Which mine does.

Ikea, oh how I heart thee. :)

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Bye, Bye Baby

So, my big boy definitely isn't a baby anymore.


And apparently, Mommy is having a hard time moving on - because his bedroom still has baby written all over it. I don't know why I haven't been able to bring myself to transform his nursery into a big-boy bedroom yet, but it probably has something to do with the fact that I love that little baby room so much. I remember the week I hauled my very pregnant self all around the room, dragging a stool with me to sit on, and painted words in cursive on the flat chair rail my husband and father installed.

"Once upon a time, there were four little rabbits, and their names were -- Flopsy, Mopsy, Cotton-tail, and Peter...."

I made a window treatment (I even sewed a little, which is a major undertaking for me) and painted three scenes from the storybook that I framed for the walls. I painted an old bookshelf and the old rocking chair my parents gave me. I mixed and matched bedding, found my own combination of items to create a theme without being too "themey."

Poor grad student as I was, I did it on a shoestring budget, and I just loved it.

So, OK, I guess that explains why I haven't moved on from it yet. All that, plus the fact that it's been a VERY busy almost-four years. But now that my not-so-little-guy is on the verge of his 4th birthday, I know it's time he gets a more grown-up space. I want his new room to reflect him, not me (nursery is all about Mommy, big-boy room all about Big Boy), so I've been paying attention to what he's into and asking him from time to time what he wants in his new room: cars & trucks or music.

Since it's the answer nine times out of ten, music is the clear winner. So for a few months now, I've been keeping my eyes open for music-themed items to inspire me. I've found a lamp here, a rug there. But last weekend at the Cooper-Young Festival, I found what I've been waiting for. The piece de resistance. The thing that will inspire the design of the whole space.

Again, it's a book.

But it's a grown-up book, a big-boy book, and it sets exactly the right tone (no pun intended) for what will hopefully be an awesome, stimulating, inspiring space for my Big Boy to grow up in.

*sniffles again*

I'll get started on the transformation soon - because I know he doesn't need a changing table anymore. I know he's past the stage of being rocked to sleep in that old, painted rocking chair. He's moved on. So I'll move on, too.

Really I will..

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Not-So-High Price of Custom

One of the things that's most fun about my job is the chance to create something all new and completely unique. That can happen in a lot of ways - blending an unexpected mix of colors or patterns, solving a problem with space planning, playing with scale - but the most obvious way it happens is designing something that's not already out there on the market to meet a specific need for a space.

In other words, creating a custom piece of furniture.
It's not something that happens every day for a designer, but I haven't been doing this all that long (two years), and I've already had the chance to see one piece through from conception to completion (pictured) and am about to start conceptualizing another one. Which is why the topic's on my mind.
In both instances, the reason the client and I pursued a custom piece was because we searched and searched and searched for an existing piece that met their needs - space-wise, function-wise, style-wise - and came up short. With the gazillions of home products out there for sale, you'd think that'd be an uncommon problem, but it happens all the time. The biggest surprise - for me and my clients - is that a custom-designed, custom-made piece of furniture isn't necessarily as unattainable, price-wise, as you might think. The china cabinet pictured above is the perfect height and width for the space, has the exact finish the client wanted (plus a metallic finish inside that literally makes it shine), and has shelves and drawers configured specifically for the items the client wanted it to hold. It doesn't get any better than that. And the price tag wasn't much higher - maybe 15-20% - than a comparable piece from a decent furniture manufacturer.
Worth it, because the piece is not only ideal for the space, but it's handcrafted from solid wood and made in our local community (a real anomaly these days, since nearly all furniture is made overseas). It's also well-built - something the family will hold onto and pass down for generations.
Now I'm about to pick up my drawing tools (yes, I draw by hand, also an anomaly these days but so much more fulfilling for me) and get to work sketching out ideas for my new piece..
So. Much. Fun.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

My Modern Friend Morgan

A friend of mine, Morgan Armstrong, just jumped out there and launched a website for her new interior design business, Memphis Modern. The site looks awesome, and I'm so proud of her! She, like me, has a contemporary aesthetic. That's not to say she won't design traditional rooms and traditional homes - that's par for the course when you live and work in uber-trad Memphis - but she loves modern design and contemporary style, and I love that about her!

I just wanted to put up a couple of pics from her portfolio. I especially love the trash-to-treasure white lacquer chest of drawers and mirror. I also love her color palette - silvers and grays and whites and soft blues.

Morgan and I crossed paths in school and she worked as an intern at my firm. We've been to Market together, attended IDS meetings together and sat through product presentations together. We've also had a lot of conversations about design - what we like and why, what styles appeal to us and don't, what types of things we'd have in our dream houses. And we've discovered that our tastes are really similar.
Anybody reading this, what about you? What styles are you most drawn to? What colors soothe you and say "home" to you? Does your house reflect those things?

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The New Eclectic

I'm intrigued by the concept of eclectic design.

Real, thoughtful, well-edited eclectic design. It's not an easy look to achieve, and it can mean a lot of things. But by pretty much anyone's definition, it's design that doesn't fall into one specific category or period. It's an assortment of things collected or gathered or pulled from a wide range of places, periods and styles.

In terms of design magazines, it's Elle Decor. It's Domino (which isn't around anymore - and I'm still upset about it). It's not your grandmother's eclectic. It's not your grandmother's anything. Unless your grandmother is really, really cool.


The reason I love eclectic design is because it's personal, interesting, quirky, inherently stylish and fun. In other words, not boring. If there's one thing that doesn't appeal to me in design, it's bland. I love it when a space oozes the personality of its owners. And when you stop to think about it, not many do. Most of us just "fill the spaces with wood in places" (sorry - I can never resist a John Mayer reference) the same way our parents did or our friends do with little thought about how or why things appeal to us. Or buy things just because they're on sale. Or fill a spot with something just to fill it, not because we love what it's filled with. You get my point.

And eclectic design, well-executed, is rarely that way. Because to make random objects gleaned from various places - flea markets, favorite stores, parents' attics, your travels - come together in a way that works isn't easy. It takes trial and error. It takes editing. It takes mad skills, really. And you just don't go to all that trouble if it's not a labor of love.
Two notes: The above photo is from Elle Decor and was taken in designer Sheila Bridges' Harlem loft. And the story I recently wrote for The Commercial Appeal on eclectic design is at

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

What Is "Modern," Really?

Earlier this week, I wrote a story on eclectic design (I'll post a link here when it runs, which should be tomorrow), and in talking to designers, one topic that came up was the difference between "modern" and "contemporary" design. A lot of times, I've noticed, the words are used interchangeably. And they do kind of give off the same vibe.... Like, when somebody says a room's "modern," that puts a certain type of picture in your head. Clean lines. Minimal. (Or, at least, not fussy.)

And sometimes a room like that is modern. And sometimes it's not.

One of the designers I interviewed, Lee Pruitt, summed up the difference in a really nice, succinct way. He said, "Modern is a period in art, and contemporary is now." I'll spare you the entire history lesson, but the word "modern" refers to Modernism, which is a specific era in design history - basically the early to mid-20th century. The Modern movement rebelled against the fussiness of the periods that preceded it and, in architecture and design at least, was popularized by a small group of architects and designers that included Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Le Corbusier and Walter Gropius.

Modern design is not only still popular, but in recent years, it's seen a total resurgence. So many things I see in catalogs of contemporary retailers like CB2, West Elm, etc. are takeoffs of modern designs. And Design Within Reach offers an amazing lineup of products created from authentic modern classic designs. Like the molded plastic armchair by Ray and Charles Eames pictured above. Sleek, gorgeous, interesting ... and so right now (in other words, contemporary).

And also modern.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Dream Rooms

If you could design an entire room in your house using furniture and accessories from only one store, what store would it be? I'm talking a pie-in-the-sky, money-is-no-object, you-can-have-whatever-you-want scenario.


That's a question with no easy answer. I like a lot of different styles, so it'd probably depend on my mood. My top contenders are (in no particular order) CB2, Anthropologie, ABC Carpet & Home, Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams, Design Within Reach, Ochre, Crate & Barrel, West Elm (pictured) and Ikea. I guess it's fairly obvious from this list that my taste leans toward the contemporary. I'd call five on the list contemporary or modern, two transitional and two ... eclectic.

(As for my own house, just in case you're wondering, it's definitely eclectic. And I use that term loosely. It's eclectic because I'm working with the hodge-podge of stuff my husband and I have collected or been given over the years, not because of some brilliant design plan on my part.)

I digress....

So, all right, all right. To answer my own question, if I absolutely had to pick one store, it'd be ... OK, no. I just can't. For one thing, half the fun of designing is finding little things here and there and making them all fit together as one cohesive whole. So since I'm making up the rules of this little game, I'd choose to use something from every store on this list.

Plus a couple more, depending on my mood that day.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Fun with Merchandising

I recently was offered a cool opportunity to be the featured designer for July at Market Central, a fab antiques store in Midtown Memphis.

In a nutshell, that means I got to design a vignette in the space just inside the store's front door using Market Central merchandise - basically a super-fun exercise in visual merchandising.

My first step was choosing a paint color, and I went with a personal favorite, Sherwin Williams' halcyon green. Then I wandered around the store for a while (which is huge - a nifty old loft-like place) getting a feel for what I had to choose from. I did a few quick sketches of ideas for the space, then walked around with the manager pointing out items I wanted to use.

Apart from my paint color, which I chose a couple of weeks ago without knowing how I wanted to use it, I had no constraints on the design. I didn't have any pre-conceived notions of what I wanted to do. Didn't even have a particular style in mind.

When I got in there, I saw that white antique chest, which is distressed not from some contrived factory finish but from years of actual wear. I love, love, love it, and my plan for the space was instantly born around it. I went for a serene color palette of whites, golds and spa blues, and I just couldn't pick up enough mercury glass. (In general, I can't get enough mercury glass.) And I could stare at the all-glass chandelier all day.

It's girly and French-y and soft and sweet. I could live in a room like this.

Not sure how my husband would feel about that....

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Warm and Lovely

On the heels of last week's post about a fantastically curated Midtown townhouse, I thought I'd post another great house I was privileged to get a look into for My New Home, a feature I write weekly for The Commercial Appeal.

This family was so gracious, so gorgeous, and their house is warm, inviting, beautiful and highly reflective of them, which is always my favorite thing about a house.

One of the very best features of this home's design was the bold decision the homeowners made to put a deep, rich, foresty brown on the dining room walls. The key to pulling that off successfully, in my opinion, is to punch it up with dramatic, colorful artwork, and they did this with the bright abstract cityscape visible through the open doorway from the living room. You can't see it in the photo (which ran with the article and was taken by freelance photographer Justin Shaw), but the draperies framing the window in this room are an eye-popping apple green. Trust me when I say the effect is not shocking, but lovely. (Yes, I just said "lovely." It's my English heritage coming out.)

Another thing the homeowners got right was the overall color palette. Wall colors throughout the house flow seamlessly, with a soft taupe in the hall that flows to a deeper taupe in the living room, then to the deep brown of the dining room, then to a soft blue in the kitchen that makes a stylish transition from the browns.

I enjoyed being in this house very much.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Midtown Chic

OK, I said a while back I was going to start posting stories and stuff related to my writing. Have I done it? No, not at all. Sooooo, better late than never, right?

I write these weekly features for The Commercial Appeal called My New Home, and although it's not always easy to find willing and able homebuyers every single week to profile....

(If anybody reading this knows anybody who's bought a Memphis-area home in the past 12 months and might want to be featured, please post a comment or send me a facebook message!)

....I love writing these stories. One, just about every buyer has an interesting story lurking under the surface, and two, poking around people's houses and getting a peek into their lives is so much fun. Last week, I wrote about a really nifty, quirky Midtown condo. The owner collects, well, pretty much EVERYTHING, but instead of looking junky, his place looks what I would call "curated." It doesn't hurt that he's the visual manager for the East Memphis Macy's store. He knows what he's doing. At any rate, here's a link to the story:

And here's one of the pics that ran with it. This is his master bedroom, and the main items to note are the afghan folded over the end of the bed (its significance is mentioned in the story) and the original art on every wall. A lot to learn here for anybody who calls him/herself a collector.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Hot & Cool Master Bedroom

So I went to a client-friend's house earlier this week, in part for the installation of a custom-designed, custom-built china cabinet (I'll post pics of it soon) and in part to take some pictures of her master bedroom, which I also designed.

Here's how the bedroom design process went: I started with the floor plan. The big challenge there was convincing my client's husband that it'd be OK to place the bed in front of two of the room's four windows. Once he agreed that was the best spot for it, completing the space plan was simple.

We'd already discussed using a yellow-and-gray color palette - stylish but not too trendy - so next up was finding just the right shade of gray for the walls: not too blue, not too brown. Once that was accomplished, I went on a long search for the perfect yellow-and-white graphic fabric for the windows. We tried out several, almost going for a Thomas Paul print by Duralee, which did look great in the room, but wasn't just exactly right. Finally, the right fabric happened to walk into my office, courtesy of a rep for Pindler & Pindler. In the meantime, I found fabrics for the bedding, and I'm not kidding, the design of the bed came to me in bed. I sat up late at night in bed, switched on my lamp and jotted off this super-quick sketch of the bed area:

It's by no means a great sketch - it looks like I jotted it off in three minutes at 1 in the morning - but it did the trick and we wound up sticking pretty close to it. My client's mother is a wonderful seamstress, and once we'd ordered all the fabrics, she did all the sewing. Then all that was left were the details. I found the quirky, black-lacquered mirror at a source through my shop, and my client already owned the nifty Japanese bird print that's hanging above the bed - I just helped her figure out how to place it along with the two small plates to achieve the right scale.

And that, my friends, is a bedroom!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Other Side of the Story

I'm a little late on this, but this is kind of, sort of a milestone for me, so I thought I'd post it. The showhouse my firm was involved in earlier this month got a writeup in The Commercial Appeal, and even though it wasn't me who was interviewed, my name was in the story as one of the designers who did the room.

Just kind of weird to be mentioned in a story instead of in the byline.

So here is the story, and in it are a couple pics of the room we did that ran with the article. I'll paste one of them with the post. Doing the showhouse was fun, by the way. Lots of work, but a great experience. Here's a link to the article:

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Split Focus

Wow, is that ever the truth. These days, I don't really know what my job title is - I have so many. Four days a week, I'm a designer. That fifth day, thanks to the awesome flexibility granted me by my day-job employer, I'm a journalist. Then every day, I'm a mommy. And a wife. And a terribly un-domestic goddess. On the side, I'm a writer. Yes, that's different from a journalist.

And I'm a terribly intermittent blogger.

Is anybody out there actually reading this? If so, I'm very sorry about that terribly intermittent part. Anyway, there is a point to this. I've decided that since I am, in fact, a writer as well as a designer, I'm going to split the focus of my blog. I'll write a new tagline soon, but from now on, DesignInsider is going to be as much about writing - particularly writing about design - as it is about design itself. I'll post links to all my stories and ramble on here about the writing I'm doing. I'll still post cool new products and stuff whenever inspiration hits. I'll even, once in a while, post pics that I actually took or acquired legitimately.

Starting now. Here's a pic taken by a source I met a few months back during an interview about the house it was taken in. Me with a reporter's notebook in hand. Kind of sums it up perfectly, right?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Gearing Up for a Showhouse

Our firm recently signed on as one of several designers/design teams transforming rooms in Carrier Hall in the Central Gardens Neighborhood for the 2010 Decorators' Show House benefitting the Brooks Museum League.

The house is, well, WOW. It's basically an English Tudor mansion, built in the 1920s. It's one of many, many structures in Memphis on the National Register of Historic Places. The period details are incredible, as are the tastefully accomplished updates that make the house functional for the 21st century.

And therein lies our challenge. Because what room did we choose to tackle in this monstrous, gorgeous house? The ballroom. Yes, ballroom. It's enormous. Cavernous. Beautiful. Scary.

Scary because modern-day houses don't have ballrooms. Modern-day families don't host balls. We host gatherings, sure. We host parties. In fact, we love to entertain. So our task in approaching this roughly 30' x 40' space was to bring this antiquated space into the current millennium. We wanted the room to reflect the diverse entertainment needs of a family in 2010. That means making the most of its wide open spaces by creating distinct areas designed for different activities.

The ornate, original fireplace topped by elaborately carved wood panels will be the backdrop for a cozy conversation grouping. A pretty little nook surrounded by spectacular leaded glass windows will house another seating area and also serve as a conservatory of sorts, urns filled with greenery topping the benches that surround it.

Another nook provides a great spot for a beautiful antique table and four contrastingly modern upholstered chairs. This area could just as easily be used for game-playing or puzzle constructing as for a casual dinner. Yet another nook, this one containing a built-in platform we instantly saw as a "stage" is the ideal setting for a mahogany grand piano generously loaned to us for the project by Amro Music. A small seating area offers a perch for impromptu concerts. There's even a spot for homework or household paperwork - an antique desk provided by Palladio, our partner on the project, that backs up to one of three sofas.

The room, when we're finished with it, will be a "family room" on a grand scale. A space that will accommodate a party of 50 as easily and comfortably as an intimate conversation between two people or a casual night at home for the family. The key word here, and our goal, is to make it "livable."

And, seriously - whoever gets to live here is soooooo lucky.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Blue Birds... Wishing for Spring?

So is it just me, or are these blue bird vases totally adorable? Me and a co-worker/fellow designer were surfing yesterday for new accessories to order for the shop, and we came across these from Global Views. Maybe it's the fact that they come in a color close to robin's egg blue, which is my current favorite, or maybe it's just the fact that they're quirky and happy and remind me of spring, but I just love them and could easily find a happy little home for them in my own house.

Speaking of spring, come on, already! Right? I think snow's as pretty as the next person, but I'm sick of the winter wonderland stuff. I want warmth and sunshine! On a consistent basis! I hate to wish time away - goodness knows it passes by fast enough on its own. But every winter, probably around this point of winter, actually, I find myself yearning for spring. So blue bird accessories are calling out to me. If you read this, let me know what you think. Love 'em or hate 'em or somewhere in between?

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