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March, 2008 | Manolo for the Home
Archive - March, 2008

A little magic for a long-awaited springtime

Where I live, the birdies are just now starting to make a little noise and the first green shoots are tentatively poking up out of the soil. We’re at the end of March, the month that comes in like a lion and leaves like a lamb, but things aren’t particularly lamby in my neck of the woods. It’s still pretty cold. Heck, it snowed the other day! In fact, today’s weather report reads “cloudy with a mixture of rain and snow showers developing during the afternoon. Some sleet may mix in.”

If it wasn’t for a little magic I learned, I’d be feeling pretty bleah right about now. The magic operates thusly: Make the inside of your home as springy as possible by replacing heavy curtains with gauzy ones, putting away those heavy throws, and prominently displaying brightly colored objects. The springier it feels inside, the faster springtime will actually arrive outdoors. Seriously, it works. I promise.

You can tell it’s springtime because the buds are just now coming in

You’re probably looking at thisAngela Adams rug and thinking, “But it’s so dark!” It is indeed quite brown, but my eyes are drawn toward the circles of green at the end of each birch branch. They look, to me, like the first buds of spring…the ones that appear early because the tree is testing the air, deciding whether or not to come out of its deep wintertime sleep.

This 100% New Zealand wool rug comes in another incarnation that you might find somewhat more evocative of springtime because it’s a light, airy gray. I like Angela Adams’ stuff because she’s part of Rugmark, a global nonprofit organization working to end illegal child labor in the carpet industry and offer educational opportunities to children in India, Nepal, and Pakistan. Gorgeous and humane? I’ll take that over blah and unethical any day.

Can you increase your home’s value on the cheap?

A great feature recently up at Telegraph.co.uk brings together experts like award-winning landscape designer Bunny Guinness and interior-designer-slash-author Paula Robinson to compile a list of fifty ways to spruce up your house, inside and out.

For the most part, the improvements they suggest will cost you. Replace all your radiators with an underfloor heating system? Knock out tatty tiles and replace them with slabs of marble? Um, right. I’ll be sure to do that when the economy bounces back, but for now I’m married…and not willingly…to the DIY ideology.

That being the case, I pulled five of the less expensive tips out of the piece. If you’re in the same boat as me, they may help you freshen up your home without spending a bundle.

1. First impressions count, so update your front door with paint:

Glossy black looks great on grand, stucco buildings, but rather forbidding next to red-brick or on a smaller house or cottage where soft greys work well. Blue was voted most appealing in a survey of buyers, but whatever the colour, a trick used by high-end decorators to achieve the best finish is to use several coats of paint thinned with white spirit.

2. Give your kitchen a mini-facelift with new knobs:

Standard sized, plain round knobs emphasise the mass-produced look of cupboards. Replacing them with unusual handles will add interest and character. Aim for texture, and avoid bright lacquered brass; it looks tacky and wears badly.

3. Enjoy regular seasonal refreshment without breaking the bank:

Replace cosy throws on sofas with light-coloured linen or ticking (for a classic New England beach house look, you might even invest in fitted linen-mix loose covers that are put on just for the summer and can be thrown in the washing machine when dirty). Even cushion covers can change: find pretty faded linen floral ones or make your own.

4. Learn to use that old sewing machine collecting dust in your basement:

With a little imagination, you can transform antique linens into unusual curtains, blinds, sofa and armchair slipcovers, cushion covers, upholstered seats or linen bags. Vintage white and cream linen is perfect for spring and summer soft furnishings.

5. Check your gutters…seriously, yucky gutters make a house look bad:

Most gutter problems are not caused by leaves, however, but by leaking joints. Plastic guttering has a high coefficient of thermal movement, and this constant expansion and contraction can push adjacent sections apart. Maneuver them back into place, and check that the supporting brackets are lined up correctly so that it doesn’t happen again.

Prefabricated modules can be sexy

If you’ve never checked out Prefabcosm, you’re missing out. It’s a resource for pre-fab and modular homes that’s full of cool images (real snapshots and concept designs) and links to manufacturers of slick, boxy structures. I like to browse in case I ever decide to replace my little cottage with something that will be delivered to my property on a series of trucks.

What’s a Loblolly?

The Loblolly house from KieranTimberlake Associates LLP forces me to sin because every time I look at the pictures I start to covet it. It’s named for the tall pines that sit on and around its site on the Chesapeake Bay, and it’s crafted from pre-fab panels that distribute radiant heating, hot and cold water, waste water, ventilation, and electricity through the house. How cool is that?

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Crazy ottoman: Yes? No? Maybe?

Is it really all you need?

Oh how I wish you were mine, Sari patchwork ottoman. You remind me of a wonderful set of throw pillows that dazzled me in childhood, and you say, “I belong to someone who isn’t afraid get cultural in the pursuit of coolness.” Unsurprisingly, that’s also what Gaiam Living wants me to think when I look at this refreshingly red ottoman. Let me quote their catalog…

Sometimes all you need is one work of art to bring an entire room together. Reclaimed cotton fabric patches, shells, embroidery, appliqué, tassels – they all lend a hand in giving this handcrafted ottoman its fantastic worldly flavor.

Could this bring a room together? I’m not so sure…I rather think you’d need an awfully special sort of room for that to happen. That’s not to say I wouldn’t happily accept this as a gift and stick it willy-nilly in my living room…because I so would. But you have to admit that this is a stand out piece, not some kind of aesthetic glue that’s going to suddenly meld all of your disparate bits of furniture into a cohesive whole.

I like it LOUD

Ever since I got into sewing–thanks, in part, to some gracious tips left in the comments by Manolo for the Brides readers–I’ve been enamored with all of the great fabrics out there. The ones I like most either have really striking patterns or really vivid colors, so imagine my pleasure when I opened my new Pottery Barn catalog to find nothing but!

I’m too engaged to sleep!

Intricate embroidery will cost you, if a lumbar pillow cover that costs $79 is any indication. I’m going to guess it was machine embroidery, which is something the ladies at the sewing center I frequent seem to do without eighty bucks worth of effort. But maybe they jut make it look easy!

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Tweedle-deedle-dee!

Renovating and redecorating — even when the change is a minor one — always makes me want to clean up. A new, intensely white stove just isn’t going to look right in a kitchen that’s a bit dingy with assorted life crud. It doesn’t matter if the replacement item is a sink, toilet, light fixture, or a new piece of furniture, I want to welcome it in with all of the fanfare it deserves. So what if I have to clean all over again when the installers are finished because they’ve left mud and sawdust everywhere?

The thing I really like about pulling things out from under cabinets and moving furniture around is that I’m bound to find something interesting or unexpected. Back in the old apartment in some random June, The Beard and I were rearranging our shared office. To our amazement, we found an unopened Christmas card containing three hundred dollars in cash.

I haven’t uncovered a similar windfall yet, though I am currently doing my best to clear my kitchen of all signs of human habitation. There will be plumbers and contractors tromping through today, and goodness forbid they see any signs that someone, say, cooks and eats in that room. Look, I’m the same person who will clean the entire house twice over because a friend is dropping in after work for a glass of wine. We can’t change who we are.

Anyone, the one thing I did find is the silly little pie bird that my mother-in-law bought me for my birthday last year. Fortuitously, it came with a matching pie plate…this was lucky because the cats’ dish is rather in need of a wash. For the time being, my feline companions will be dining out of a Pfaltzgraff dish.

PRETTY BIRD!PRETTY BIRD!PRETTY BIRD!
PRETTY BIRD!PRETTY LAMB?PRETTY BIRD!

I haven’t yet used my pie pan and bird to make an actual pie because I hate making pie crust. Pie birds, in case you’re wondering, are steam vents that keep wet fillings from bubbling over into the oven,where they make a great big smoky stink. I’ve been baking since I was knee high to a merry grasshopper (it’s a wonder that The Beard doesn’t weigh 400 pounds) but I cannot for the life of me make a pie crust that turns out tender. My crusts are, frankly, horrid, so I typically buy them, and then I still can’t use the pan because all of the roll out crusts contain lard and we’re vegetarians!

Where was I going with all of this? All I wanted to say when I started was that pie pans and pie birds make great gifts, even for those of us whose pies won’t be winning blue ribbons any time soon. An extra deep dish comes in handy now and again — your cats will thank you — and as for the bird…well, it can sit up on the windowsill over the new sink looking cute and inspiring conversation. After all, how many people in your life have ever seen a pie bird?

In for a long soak

Like many people of the female persuasion, I love old fashioned bathtubs. I think my love affair with them began when I was tiny enough to be bathed by gentle hands in my great grandmother’s monstrous claw foot tub. How could I not love a bathroom fixture with feet? Put little tootsies on the toilet and I would have been in heaven!

The apartment I lived in before buying my house had a lot going for it. For one thing, it was cheap for the outskirts of Boston. It was relatively huge and had a porch big enough for two chairs, a table, a grill, and my collection of growing things in pots. The main downsides were the flaking floors, the omnipresent funky smell in the bathroom, a freezer that resembled Hoth, the ice planet, no matter how often we defrosted, and the landlord himself, for he was old and dimwitted.

Just look at those rings!

Now I must (for the time being) content myself with a plain, boring, and slightly scratched up built-in tub. If the enamel on it was fresh and white and unblemished, it might not be so bad, but no matter how hard you scrub and sweat and swear, it simply never looks clean. I’d gladly swap it out for this tub of hand-formed and hammered copper!

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Whaddya mean I can’t have it?

My favorite area in Disney’s Epcot Center was always the little alcove I liked to call Morocco World. Being the Epcot was generally boring as dirt, I had to latch on to something. Now they have characters from Aladdin prancing around and things like Test Track right across the way, so I wonder if quite so many kiddies will lose themselves in the geometric patterns and abstract design found in that pavilion.

I was reminded of all this when perusing You Love Me & It’s Heavenly, as the future Mrs. Cruz posted some images from Zara Home. Putting aside for the moment that this shop apparently limits the sale of its wares to *sniff* a great many places other than the US, I’m tremendously in love with their showcase rooms.

I might be too distracted to sleep…in a good way

The one thing I’d nix? The picture on the wall.

I love the table and the screen!

If Moroccan influences just aren’t your bag, there’s still plenty to see. In fact, a quick tour of the Zara Home web site reveals design elements borrowed from just about everywhere. Stark, cold whites can be found next to browns reminiscent of safaris gone by. Then there are tropical greens, vivid pinks, and muted, modern grays.

Americans, as I mentioned earlier, are plain out of luck for now, so all I can do is look longingly at the web site, cross my fingers, and hope that Zara Home makes its way to this part of the globe.

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