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Manolo for the Home: House, Home and Lifestyle Advice

Flooring Installation as a Test of Personality

Beautiful Hardwood Flooring

This is NOT my home.

You learn a lot about human nature when you ask your friends and family members to help you put down new flooring, just as you almost never learn anything good when you try to do it yourself.

For example, I’ve learned that my brother Bob is first rate perfectionist, one who follows the dictum that the careful workman measures twice and cuts once. He does close work well, and because he takes his time and does thing correctly, his finished flooring looks like it was installed by professional. (He makes relatively ordinary oak flooring look like a million dollars.)

I, on the other hand, have learned that I am a sort of slapdash, happy-go-lucky fool, content to eyeball things into place, using a circular saw when a mitre saw is better, and a steel hammer when a rubber mallet is required. My flooring looks like it was put in by hobos; hobos who were being paid with jugs of cheap wine and ham sandwiches.

How two people with the same parents, birthed only two years apart, could turn out so differently with regard to working styles is one of the true mysteries of genetics. I have no patience for these intricate jobs, while he was able to build our mother an entire house. He can do almost anything with his hands, while my do it yourself skills usually end at making sandwiches for hobos.

You learn a lot when you’re putting down flooring. Not all of it good.

The iThermostat

When did Thermostats start looking like iPhones?

Heatmiser Thermostat

I admit that what you see above is an intuitive interface, or at least this has become intuitive for hundreds of millions of young people worldwide who spend most of their waking hours tapping away at their cellphones. It looks like you could play Angry Birds on it, while you’re making a call to the furnace repair man.

This thermostat, from the aptly named Heat Miser, is called the “TouchPad”. Here’s the description of this marvel of modern ergonomics.

The TouchPad features a TFT colour touch screen, giving you central control of up to 32 zones of heating. There really is no better way to take control of your heating. You are able to give each thermostat a name allowing you to easily identify each thermostat on the network.

You can give each thermostat a name?

Woah. Talk about your 21st Century problems: what to name your thermostat? Do you go with a traditional human name like Emily or Jacob? Or, something hi-tech and computery, like Eniac 2000, or (heaven forfend) the Hal-9000? I suspect that most people will go with boring monikers, like Rear Bedroom and Front Hallway.

Of course, when I was growing up, there was only one thermostat in the whole house, and it looked like this…

Old School Thermostat

And you didn’t give it a name.

Names were for people and pets, and cars, ships, guns, and maybe pieces of heavy machinery like printing presses and iron smelters. Things that had souls, or nearly so, not inanimate doo-hickies that lodged on your wall at home and caused the furnace to kick on when the temperature got below of 68 degrees.

We live in strange and disturbing times.

The Carpet Runner

Traditional Persian Carpet Runner
There are a lot of things you don’t think about when you’re seventeen, and high on that list are carpet runners. In fact, until you own a home, or unless you’ve tripped over a badly damaged section, you probably don’t pay much attention to carpet runners at all. When you’re renting they come with the place, when buy, then carpet runners become a fact of life, next to other un-thought-of things like water softeners and power washing garage floors.

So, as you may have guessed, I’ve decided it’s time to install a new carpet runner on the front stairs. I’m inclined to go with what we had, a Persian motif in red, which, while predictable and somewhat boring, has the virtue of being traditionally what we’ve always done. It goes with the neutral white walls next to the stairs, and since we do own a few oriental rugs in that popular reddish color, it fits with what we have.

Green Carpet Runner
Although, the reddish oriental rugs in question are far enough away from the stairs that I could get a little more adventurous, with say a floral green (Both photos are from Carpet Runners UK) :

Well, maybe not as bright as the runner on the lest, but, still, a new runner in a new color might liven things up a bit, give my front room some pizzazz.

I better think this over carefully. pizzazz, is a dangerous thing in the wrong hands.

The Kitchen Clock

Kit-Cat WallClock in Black
Even though every appliance I own has a digital clock on it (everyone of which my husband insists on setting to the exact time, to the second) I still feel the need to have a analog wall clock in my kitchen. For many years, I had one of those typically retro, novelty cats with a wagging tail, the Kit-Cat Wall Clock, which you can see here to the right, here…

The problem is, during our last move, I broke the tail off when I dropped the clock into a box full of kitchen crap (the box was actually marked “Kitchen Crap”). I’d had that thing nearly 15 years, and it had become a sort of heirloom, although, my husband, who appreciates digital precision, didn’t seem to mind that it had disappeared from our life.

When we got into the new place and it came time to buy a new clock, I opted for a perfectly functional, perfectly blah, circular white wall clock purchased from Target for less than $20. For some reason, I just felt a Kit-Cat wall clock wouldn’t go with the decor in the new house, and perhaps that I was too mature for something that kitschy. (In hindsight, I’m probably not that mature, despite all the gray hair.)

Ice Wall Clock in Blue

In any event, it’s time for a new wall clock, and I think I’ve settled on something modern and mostly un-kitschy; the Ice Clock (available from The Best Gift Company).

Well, maybe no totally un-kitschy. It does look like a wrist watch, instead of a wall clock. But, that blue goes with my blue Stand Mixer, although, I think I’ll have to get a new set of curtains for the window over the sink.

The Ghost Chair

I call myself a home blogger, but here’s a trend I have completely missed: The Ghost Chair.

Actually, I had noticed these translucent chairs all over, mostly at social functions, but I hadn’t known that they’re called ghost chairs, and I hadn’t known that Philippe Starck Louis Ghost Chair was considered one of the “iconic chairs of the 21st century.” I just thought they were cheap, injection-molded plastic rental chairs provided by wedding planners for receptions and engagement parties.

Who knew that they were so trendy, showing up in all sorts of places, from trendy kitchens, to newly remodeled offices, to fancy bedrooms in swanky homes.

Ghost Chairs in Dining Room

The Ubiquitous Louis Ghost Chair

Now that I’ve noticed that this is a thing (several years too late, apparently) I know I’m supposed to admire the clever way the chair makes me think of more substantial and elegant pieces of furniture, while (almost) disappearing into the woodwork.

I’m not buying it. I don’t really want that much plastic in my house, and I don’t want that much plastic touching my bare legs in the morning when I’m sitting at the dining room table drinking coffee and reading the New York Times. You can count me out of this trend, in fact, I’d like to go back to the period when I thought these were just cheap chairs you bought at Wal-Mart, for $19.99 each.

Wallpaper Love

French Wallpaper in Andrew Jackson's Home, the Hermitage, Nashville, TN

French Wallpaper in Andrew Jackson’s Home, the Hermitage, Nashville, TN

I’ve got to say that until two years ago, I had never particularly cared for wallpaper. Probably because most of the wallpaper I’d encountered had been installed in the 1960s or 70s and never updated. I equated it with fusty, musty, old-fashioned homes gone out of style. It was paint, or nothing for me.

What turned me around on the wallpaper issue was a visit I made to The Hermitage, the home of President Andrew Jackson in Nashville, Tennessee, where I saw the magnificent, hand-painted, scenic wallpaper Jackson had imported from France at great cost. It was drenched in color, mostly blue, and gorgeous. And it convinced me to give wallpaper a second look.

Since then, I’ve been spending a lot of time looking at sites like I Love Wallpaper, trying to figure out how to fix up my walls with a splash of textured, paper color. The problem I’m having is that I can’t afford to hire French craftsmen to paint delightful garden scenes on Chinese silk. I’ve found plenty of great swatches of wallpaper, for example, I like this Eden Bird pattern in cream, green and pink, but it’s hard for me to imagine an entire room decorated in this.

I think, I’m just going to have to take the plunge and order something.

The Necessity of Waterford

Waterford Butterfly Vase

Waterford Butterfly Vase

There are certain things that, after the bare necessities of life are met, everyone needs. Near the top of the list is Waterford.

It doesn’t have to be an elaborate piece of crystal, something simple like this butterfly vase to the right is more than enough to satisfy the requirements.

I say that Waterford is essential, not just because I’m Irish-American, and as such have a natural affinity for shamrocks, Notre Dame football, Guinness Stout, and Waterford Crystal, but because a simple Waterford vase with flowers from the garden does more to make a room a happy place than all of the fancy furniture in the world.

For less than $200 a piece of Waterford cut crystal can become a family heirloom, or a suitable wedding gift for almost anyone. My husband and I received a pair of Waterford champagne flutes for our wedding and we bring them out each year on our anniversary and toast our marriage, our family, and the giver of the gift.

That’s why Waterford is a necessity, because it’s memorable and it’s beautiful.

(Waterford image via Treasure Box.)

Bakokko: Lessons in Style

As in many areas of style and fashion, the dividing line between exquisite good taste and execrable bad taste is remarkably thin. The same company that produces achingly beautiful objects one day, can produce items that are almost comically over-the-top the next.

Take, for example, the Italian furniture manufacturer Bakokko, producer of this beautiful, restrained, classical love seat (found at the LA Furniture website):

Bakokko Loveseat

I love everything about this piece of furniture; the green leather, the curve of the legs, the figured wood with that finish. I want this piece for my house so bad it’s making my teeth hurt.

Now, consider this divan from Bakokko, the San Marco in green and white:

San Marco Divan from Bokakko

It’s ponderous, squatting on the floor like an upholstered chest freezer, dominating any room that’s smaller then a squash court. Worse, the busy pattern of the fabric and the gilded filigree on the frame are both fussy and old-ladyish, like something your great aunt would choose for window treatments.

I wouldn’t want this piece of furniture, and I probably wouldn’t want to live in any house that this divan was appropriate for. It’s just not my style, no matter how well made and richly upholstered it is.

Ultimately, I suppose what I’m really complaining about are the vagaries of personal taste. I’m clearly not the market for that white and green divan. Bakokko is aiming to sell furniture like that to people with more baroque sensibilities, perhaps someone like a Russian oligarch, who appreciates heavy furniture, brocaded fabric and ostentatiousness. So, one could say that it’s not Bakokko’s fault that they occasionally make furniture that seems over-the-top, because they’re catering to a clientele that likes over the top.

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