Nov 6, 2014

Top 5 Entertaining Accessories

My husband and I are the official Thanksgiving hosts for my family, so this time of year I'm busy prepping for out-of-town guests and already have the big dinner on the brain.  I LOVE accessories for entertaining and really went to town when I registered for our wedding : ) I dream of one day having an official "Prop Closet" where I keep all of my party and tabletop pieces - and maybe even a little table devoted just to trying out new combos of tables settings.... Ahhh, bliss.  But for now, all of my beautiful pieces are crammed on top of each other into a rather unattractive hutch right smack dab in the middle of our main living space.  (I'll save that story for another time.)

Matt thought I went totally overboard when all these wedding gifts started piling up in our then-apartment, which was maybe 700 sq feet.  (We were in NY, people - we used to think that was pretty darn spacious.)  Flash forward six years, and I really have been using all that stuff!  To me, it's totally worth having that huge, ugly hutch in the dining space to store all my tabletop treasures.

But, if I had to cull it down and choose just a few must-have entertaining accessories ~ the things that make hosting guests as effortless, fun, and festive as it ought to be ~ these would be the top 5:

1 - Real Cocktail Napkins
There's something about a pretty linen cocktail napkin that elevates any drink.  I swear, chocolate milk can be downright sophisticated if you serve it up with a delicate little piece of hemstitched linen. Of course, I just had to have monogrammed ones when I got married....

(from Mark & Graham - a great budget-friendly source)

(from Julia B - great source if you've got plenty to spend)

but now that I'm getting older, I find myself drawn to less formal, cheekier ones like these
(from Julia B.)
And just in time for the holidays ~
(all from Biscuit Home)

Aren't those fun?

2 - An Old Fashioned Flower Frog
I love those lush, old fashioned floral arrangements you see in big wide-mouth silver bowls and urns, but my flowers were forever flopping around to the sides, so my arrangements never really looked full.  Enter the flower frog! Matt found one out in the barn this summer, and I discovered it really is the secret to foolproof, pretty bouquets - I don't know how I ever went without it.  Using one is pretty self-explanatory, but Martha offers some helpful tips here, because doesn't she always?

Find one that fits your favorite vessel, or scoop up this perfect vase/flower frog combo from the Bunny Williams for Ballard collection - a gorgeous copper to warm up your dining table, and it's thin enough to grace most mantles too.

See that wire mesh in there?  That's what will make your flowers stay exactly where you put them, 
instead of flopping all out of place the way mine usually do.

And Voila!  You'll have an ooo and ahh kind of centerpiece.

4 - Pretty Cheese Platters
My absolute favorite cheese platters are my cheese slate and a long, lightweight wood cutting board. I use the cutting board for rustic spreads of Parmesan, salami, and olives, and the Cheese slate for when we serve a variety of cheese.  Somehow these two platters seem to work aesthetically for everything from casual pizza parties with lots of toddlers to formal dress-up holiday dinners.  World Market and Crate Barrel carry pretty options of both.

5 - Oven-to-Table Casserole Dish
I'm a disaster when it comes to entertaining guests and cooking at the same time.   While I have visions of myself whipping up a fancy red wine reduction while cracking guests up with some hilarious story and simultaneously making sure no one's drink dips below half-full, I can never actually manage it in reality.  If I'm cooking, then I'm ignoring my guests.  If I'm chatting with guests, the dinner burns.  The only way I'm ever able to enjoy good company (and all that cheese!) is if dinner is in the oven and I need only pull it out when the timer dings.  So having a pretty baking dish I can take straight from the oven to the table is critical for me.  There's no need to plate your culinary offerings with these pretty bakeware pieces ~ 

Whenever I serve up simple comfort foods, like pot pie or mac-n-cheese, I like to serve everyone in their own little mini baking dish - like these from Crate & Barrel.  It just makes it feel a bit more fancy, even if the food isn't : )

6 - Silver Polish & White Vinegar
Ok, so I said Top 5 accessories.  And no, these technically aren't even accessories.  But I swear by having these two things on hand this time of year.  These oldies-but-goodies are key to making the pieces I have look their best.  Nothing gets rid of hard water spots on my drinking glasses and flatware like a dip in white vinegar - it makes everything sparkle like new.  And while I love a little aged patina as much as the next girl, the holidays are when your silver should shine.  I'm starting on my trays and picture frames now, so everything is lookin' good by the time my guests arrive.  I'm trying to get Lulu in on the whole "polishing the silver is fun!", but she so far she isn't buying it : (

Hope you all have some entertaining fun coming up too!!

Oct 4, 2014

Schuyler Samperton Shout-Out

I've been a longtime fan of Schuyler Samperton's work, so I was thrilled to see her featured in the latest issue of House Beautiful.  I first spotted her work in Domino back in 2007 and instantly loved her use of bold color, mix of prints, and the lived-in feel of the spaces she designs.  No beige on beige for this girl!  She uses very traditional prints, patterns, and furniture, but it all reads very fresh, very youthful.  So while her designs look grown-up and timeless, they never feel stuffy or old-fashioned - just pretty.   As someone who personally gravitates towards antiques and more formal furnishings, it's that special fresh touch of her's that I'm always aspiring to and really admire in her work.  Check out these gorgeous shots from the issue ~

And more from Samperton's portfolio...  

If you like these shots, be sure to check out her website for even more inspiration!

May 23, 2014

Outdoor Living Spaces

After this crazy cold winter, I'm SO ready for some warm weather and sunshine.  An indoors-girl through and through, my ideal "outdoor" living space is actually a screened in porch.  But thanks to this whole polar-vortex thing, even I am ready to spend some time out in the sunshine and fresh air!  I want to make the most of our yard as it is, so we can spend as much time as possible out there this summer.  Here are a few of the things I've dreamed about while cooped up inside all winter...

A Fire Pit Conversation Area ~ So we can have s'mores all summer!  And some cozy grown up conversation and a quiet glass of wine when Lulu's gone to bed : )
Thom Felicia's lake house as shown in House Beautiful

A Hammock For Lazy Afternoons ~ More like a lazy 5 minutes, given this household, but still...
from Country Living

A Pretty Place to Eat ~ We'll be scouring garage sales and second hand shops this summer in search of a proper outdoor dining table and chairs.  I love the idea of setting it up right in the middle of the kitchen garden like this one - gives a whole new meaning to "farm-to-table" dining! 
Home of Diedre & Caleb Barber as shown in House Beautiful

Some Dreamy Mood Lighting ~ Outdoor lights make every night feel like a little party.  From twinkle lights to paper lanterns to full blown chandeliers, I'm a total sucker for pretty lights strung up around the yard.
from Domino
Lucas Allen as shown in Country Living

from Southern Living
The Hunted Interior via Home Depot blog

A Pool & Jacuzzi that blend right into the Landscape ~ Hey, a girl can dream!

Wishing you some warm weather and soft summer breezes!!

Apr 25, 2014

Favorite Cleaning Products

Clients often ask me which products they should use to clean their new hardwood floors, kitchen appliances, granite countertops, and furnishings.  Below is a roundup of the cleaning supplies I recommend and use in my own home.   They can be found at most of the big stores (Target, Walmart, Bed Bath & Beyond), won't damage the finishes on your favorite things, and will help you keep your home beautiful.

Wieman Glass Cook Top Cleaning Kit - This product comes in a box with a small scraper-thingy that works to get off any gross globs sticking to your glass top stove.  It removes grease and food bits and leaves my stovetop shiny and looking like new!

Sprayway Stainless Steel Cleaner & Polish - Everyone loves stainless steel appliances in a kitchen, but they show EVERY SINGLE fingerprint and smudge!  This is the only product I've found that really manages to wipe my fridge clean.  I use it with a microfiber cloth and rub in the direction of the grain to buff away fingerprints and grime. (Yes, there's actually a grain to your stainless stuff, just like wood - just look really closely.) 

Stone Solutions Platinum All in One Granite Polish - I use this polish from the showroom that installed our granite countertops.  Contact the folks who installed your countertops or a local kitchen and bath showroom; they'll likely have their own store-brand product for you to use.  In between polishings, I just use regular dish soap and water.

Microfiber Dusting Mitt - This washable chenille dust mitt with the green noodle things sticking off it is the best for super-speedy cleanups.  I use it along my baseboards, on the TV screen, along lamp and cable cords - anywhere I need to swipe away dust quickly.  Then it just pops in the washing machine. 

Mr. Clean Magic Eraser - A decorator's magic wand - this amazing little sponge cleans walls and painted furniture without wiping away the paint.  Perfect for wiping away handprints in hallways (especially near where people lean against the wall to take their shoes on and off), smudges around door knobs, and all those other little dingy spots that seem to happen on walls with no explanation.

Bona Hardwood Floor Cleaner - At first I was terrified to use anything on the gorgeous 100+ year old wood floors in our century home.  Plain old water was getting the dirt up, but not doing anything to shine them up.   Bona makes 'em gleam!  

Howard Restor-A-Shine Polishing Compound - I use this polishing compound when I need to really revive a dull piece of wood furniture or buff away water marks or other damage inflicted by my two year old (and husband).  This polish is specially formulated for wood furniture and will not lift a veneer or soften a hard finish.  Then, to keep the piece looking beautiful, I use Howard's Orange Oil whenever I dust.  Unlike some dusting sprays, orange oil won't dry out your wood, leave a waxy build up, or damage the finish.

Seventh Generation Disinfecting & Cleaning Wipes - Sometimes you just need a wipe!  For quick cleanups in bathrooms and kitchens, I use these lemongrass scented wipes that kill 99.99% of germs. Also great for weekly wipe downs of light switches, doorknobs, the remote control, and any other hotbeds for germs.

And one final incredible product - Goo Gone!

I use this amazing product to remove sticky stuff left behind from price tags.  Know how you find all those super-pretty vases and frames at Marshalls, but the price tags are all on the front of the frame and never come off cleanly?  Instead of scraping for hours, just dab a bit of Goo Gone on them and ten minutes later, they'll wipe right off.  Also great for taking labels off of old jars, which I like to turn into pencil cups, crayon storage, vases, etc.  It's also really handy if you have a child who likes to glam up your furniture with sparkly Minnie Mouse stickers.

If you've read this entire post and still haven't got your fill of cleaning related info, check out my Spring Cleaning Checklist in the latest issue of the River Journal.

Mar 17, 2014

Hanging Artwork

I just published two River Journal articles extolling the value of artwork in the home, but when it came time to do the accompanying photo shoots, I realized I had virtually NOTHING to work with.  Despite having been here for almost 2 years, most of my walls are still totally bare!

I spent a crazed weekend up in the attic dragging out everything we've intended to hang up and "organizing" it all on the dining room table.  My husband, of course, wanted to start hanging things up immediately - silly man!  I patiently explained that you have to strategically P-L-A-N what will look best grouped with what, which pieces will play nicely off various upholstery, what ought to be re-framed, and all of my other crazy OCDesigner strategies for hanging our artwork.

As a result, we've been eating off the kitchen counter and haven't actually seen the dining table for two weeks...  Alas, it was clearly a lot quicker to write about hanging artwork, than to actually do it. (Especially with a 20 month old eager to help hold the hammer.)

Now I just have to narrow down all these ideas for displaying our stuff.  Here are a few of the things I want to be sure to incorporate in our house - 

Mixing it up with Plates & Platters  - I used to think hanging plates on your walls was a bit granny-ish, but lately I keep finding myself drawn to arrangements that incorporate pretty plates, platters, and other stuff I used to think was best left on the table.

Photography by Charles Walton IV, from Southern Living

 from Country Living

from Country Living

Hanging Artwork on Bookcases - I love the classic old-library feel you get from hanging artwork and mirrors on bookcases.  The only trouble is that I'm always re-reading and grabbing books off the shelf to reference, so this look might not be particularly practical for me...

from House Beautiful

 from Better Homes & Gardens

A Gallery Wall - This is the interior design version of a fashionista mixing high & low, having an outfit "that goes" instead of one that matches.  Not for the timid, this look takes a good eye to really master, but I'm dead set on trying to create one of these walls on my own.  I love the look of mixing frames, prints and paintings, and having a wall that isn't totally symmetrical, but that still feels balanced.

 from Country Living

from House Beautiful

from Country Living

 from Traditional Home

So much to do!  Thank goodness I have a small house : ) 

*P.S.  I pulled several of the images in this post from Kristin Panitch Interiors - She has a super-inspiring, gorgeous portfolio.  Thanks to Kelly Robson at High Street Market for turning me on to her!