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April, 2008 | Manolo for the Home - Part 2
Archive - April, 2008

Five things I can’t live without

Everyone has that short list of items they’d take with them to that hypothetical desert island that comes up now and again in conversation. Much of the time, those things special to us wouldn’t be of much use to us on that island (what good is a Kitchenaid mixer without electricity?) but we’d haul them along with us anyway. Human being are kind of like magpies that way, and more power to us. I think that our ability to imbue inanimate objects with emotional value is fascinating.

Here’s my list, which I put together just now. I didn’t let myself think too much about my choices because I wanted to see where my impulses would take me.


1. I try to keep an unending supply of petit fours in my pantry. Sometimes I buy ‘em, and sometimes I make ‘em from scratch. You don’t want to run into me on the street when I’ve run out. Little cakes…they are my crack.

Pretty things with a name that reads like a disease

2. My collection of Russian khokhloma kitchenware is important to me because it represents a connection to my heritage. Well, part of my heritage seeing as that I’m what one might not-so-politely call a mutt. In more courteous conversation I hail from “mixed ancestry.”

Ooh, creepy! I like!

3. I always admired my grandparents’ collection of masks from different parts of the world, and now I have all sorts of masks of my own. Why do I like creepy faces hanging inside my house but hate the creepy faces hanging outside of other people’s houses? I’m going to guess it’s because mine are culturally relevant. I do worry that they’re going to scare the hell out of my kids someday!

It really sucks!

4. My red Oreck upright rocks my socks — it was a hand-me-down from my grandparents, and thank goodness for that. Vacuums are way more expensive than I assumed they’d be back before I ever had a floor of my own to keep clean.

Here kitty, kitty, kitty, kitty!

5. As annoying and yucky and mean as they can be, I adore my my quatro of cats. Did you think I was going to say “the litter box?” Having living beings around is, in some way, invigorating, if only because I find myself chasing them around the house with the spritz bottle.

I guess at my core I am a crazy, cake-eating cat-lady neat-freak who has a weakness for other cultures. Now tell me, what are the five things that you wouldn’t want to live without? And what does your list say about you?

Live like you’ve always wanted to live — at least until the house sells

I just happened upon a The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Staging your Home, which is how you know some concept has officially entered the collective consciousness. Naturally, there’s also a Home Staging for Dummies.

Looks good and empty. Hotelish is ALMOST what you’re going for.

I only saw a single staged home when searching for properties around Boston, and I was more than a bit surprised. I saw many, many houses that looked like the owners (or previous owners) hadn’t even bothered to run a dust cloth over the windowsills. Personally, I was mortified when I couldn’t really even tidy up when showing my old apartment. Yes, I could clean the cat hair out of the corners, but the mountains of boxes made staging utterly impossible. However, the apartment was in a desirable area and cheap to boot, so it was snapped up quickly.

Why stage? According to a study conducted by Realtor Joy Valentine, staged homes tend to sell more quickly than their un-staged counterparts. Even better, the average difference between the sale price and the list price is 6.3%, versus a paltry 1.6% for unstaged homes. That means mo’ money. It’s pretty easy, too, when you consider the basic rules: declutter, let there be light, give a good first impression, show off your trendiest and more beautiful stuff, make rooms look bigger, and hide life’s detritus.

You are, after all, selling a HOUSE not a HOME, and there’s a big difference between the two. My mother-in-law had a beautiful house filled with fabulous antiques that really enhanced the space from the point of view of someone living in the house. But her house didn’t sell until she took the advice of her Realtor and put all those wonderful pieces in storage. He said, and I quote loosely, that people coming to see the house were gushing over her antiques and forgetting all about scrutinizing the structure housing them. Oops!

Here are some basic staging tips from About.com:

  • Arrange sparse pieces of furniture in an appealing grouping known as a vignette
  • Showcase a generous usage of soft fabrics such as silk, lambswool, satin
  • Display unusual knickknacks in units of 1, 3 or 5
  • Drape window coverings with simple lines
  • Add unique elements to shelving, bookcases and fireplace mantels, which draw attention to predetermined areas

If your furniture isn’t that hot, pick the best pieces and stow the rest. If you don’t have any high-end knickknacks, pick the funkiest, hippest ones that will have mass appeal–think a kitschy vintage glass elephant statue, not a penis-shaped lava lamp. Frankly, I try to keep my kitchen and living room at a staged home level of neatness all the time because, hey, I never know when the Queen or Patrick Stewart might drop by.

Whatever you do, for goodness sakes don’t “chop” your pillows. That was considered cool for about a week until someone finally had the guts to tell the San Francisco staging company that started it all that chopped pillows look ridonculous.

Trees barf birdseed — you learn something new every day

Right this second, someone, somewhere is thinking about how if they could have anything at all in the world, they’d pick a giant ent face that is poised to vomit half-digested birdseed all over the poor sparrows congregating at the base of the tree.

I think this one's not feeling so well

Sure I only just wrote about these fun forest faces — that’s what the manufacturer calls them — but I couldn’t resist showing you this one, which looks as if it had a rough night on the town with the Birch Boys and is desperately searching for an antacid or a little hair off the dog…anything to wash the taste of birds out of its mouth.

The choice is clear?

Clear and colored plastics don’t seem to be going anywhere any time soon if all these house and home rags I read every month are any indication. There are the various Ghost chairs designed by Phillippe Starck, and then there’s the polyhedron Alchemia chairs I mentioned a while back.

Here’s another, again designed by Starck:

Choices, choices, choices…

The Mademoiselle armchair claims to combine two (or is it four?) aesthetic qualities: “solidity and space, materiality and transparency.” I like the fact that it comes in oodles of different colors and prints.

This is Starck’s chair in what is presumably its natural habitat:

Something’s not quite right

I don’t particularly like the way it looks like it’s hovering in space, a la Dominar Rygel XVI’s floaty chair. Maybe it’s something about the wall the chair is up against, but the legs just seem to disappear. I suppose that’s the “space,” but I’m not feeling the “solidity.”

Do good, and look cute doing it

There are worse ways to give to charity

I’m usually pretty wary of anything pink that bills itself as benefiting a breast cancer research charity. The Susan G. Komen Foundation, for instance, has gotten the shaft from shady retailers who imply a connection to the organization by slapping pink ribbons on products, but never actually donate. Plus, why go out of your way to buy a pink grapefruit scented candle or a pink pair of panties when only a portion of the proceeds will be used for good? It’s easier to donate the money directly.

However, that said, I am easily swayed by cute, fun, frilly things, many of which just happen to be pink and just happen to be in some way affiliated with a breast cancer research charity. I’ve been a fan of Carolyn’s Kitchen retro chic aprons and washing up gloves for ages — I am a sucker for vintage apron patterns, after all — and I just now noticed that one of her apron and glove sets is Breast Cancer pink. Fifteen percent of the price of the apron and the gloves goes to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, which isn’t too shabby. Plus, it’s 100% on the level.

But if pink isn’t your bag, you can always make a donation to the breast cancer research charity of your choice and go browse Carolyn West’s other cute apron and glove sets.

Just about the easiest update you can ask for

Bathroom moisture issues aside, shower curtains seem relatively unimportant. It’s so easy to pick up a plain white or black or blue one at the drugstore and be done with it. But consider that shower curtains are BIG — they take up a lot of space, which means that a boring one creates a huge blah space. If your bathroom is already crazy interesting, then skip the cool curtain. But if your bathroom could use a little oomph, a new shower curtain can really freshen up that space.

Dancing in the Street Shower Curtain

Take a cue from these black-on-white stick figures and banish your morning blahs with a little impromptu dance number. They obviously know something we don’t.

Lucky Stripe Shower Curtain

I personally wouldn’t combine the Lucky Stripe curtain with the Lucky Stripe bathmat and the Lucky Strip accessories, but YMMV. Altogether it looks a bit too matchy-matchy. Mix it up!

Paisley Scarf Shower Curtain

I like this paisley number because it reminds me of wallpaper and scarves and other good things that have nothing to do with your average bathroom. Plus it can go just a touch longer than a plain white shower curtain without needing to be thrown in the washer! It’s win-win!

I guess all you can really do is stare them down and hope for the best

Tell me — do these freak you out as much as they freak me out?

Okay, he's a cool dudeDo trees really say bleah?

I’ve seen tree faces around town, and nearly every time I encounter one I’m left the worse for wear. I inevitably flinch or startle or jump, making whomever I’m walking with laugh hysterically as I attempt to regain my composure. Then again, I’m also the first of my clique to get the screaming heebies when Halloween decorations start going up.

Gah, this creeps me out

That’s just NOT what I need to see when I’m walking home from the train station at one a.m. after a great party. I mean, really now, I’m already on edge, trotting around by myself in the darkness.

Maybe I’m in a minority here, but I like trees just because. I don’t need to give them creepy faces to make them funnier or give them personality. All the trees in my life have plenty of personality already — in fact, I spent most of fall raking up said personality!

Mulch madness

When you buy a house, it oftentimes comes with a yard. As it happens, one of the selling points of my particular abode was the lush garden that was included in the purchase price. Unfortunately, the property went untended for much of the summer and autumn while we waited to close, and we arrived at our new home to find it looking rather gnarly and overgrown. C’est la vie.

On one hand, this was a pain — neighbors are more neighborly when they don’t have to look at a rough and tumble yard every time they step outside, and yard work isn’t exactly the idyllic activity that back-to-nature guidebooks would have you believe it is. On the other hand, the scrappy lawn and overgrown flora gave me and The Beard the perfect excuse to drop wads of cash at various garden supply shops.

Long story short, that’s how we found ourselves pricing shrubberies, learning about plant food, and placing an order for the delivery of what seemed at the time like a reasonable amount of mulch. The mulch was to arrive in the afternoon of the day following our foray into the land of bushes and trees.


I was pretending to work on various projects on the day in question when I heard the unmistakable sound of a largish truck backing into my driveway. After peeking out of the living room window I came to an inescapable conclusion: Two cubic yards is a lot of mulch…especially when it is sitting smack dab in the middle of one’s driveway.

We chose an organic mulch made of things like bark, wood chips, leaves, pine needles, or grass clippings, but we could have opted for an inorganic mulch made of fabric, plastic, rocks, foil, or ground rubber. According to the Clemson Extension:

Mulching is a very important practice for establishing new plantings, because it helps to conserve moisture in the root ball of the new plant until the roots have grown out into the surrounding soil. The growth rate and health of trees and shrubs increases when there is no competition for water and nutrients from weeds. Mulch also helps to prevent tree trunk injury by mowers and trimmers. Newly planted trees require a circle of mulch 3 to 4 feet in diameter. Maintain this for five years.

Mulch entire beds of shrubs, trees, annuals, herbaceous perennials and ground covers. How often mulch needs to be replenished depends on the mulching material. Grass clippings and leaves decompose very fast and need to be replenished frequently. Inorganic mulches such as gravel and pebbles rarely need replenishing. As the plants grow and fill in the bed areas, less and less mulch is needed.

So there you have it — more than I ever knew (or wanted to know) about mulching before I ended up with a patch of dirt of my very own. I’m off to move the mulch away from my house, as it can act like a landbridge that lets subterranean termites cross areas treated with anti-bug goo. Now if I could only get this $@#$! wheelbarrow assembled before all of my fragrant mulch is spread throughout the neighborhood via the wind, things will be golden.

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