Birthday traditions

I'm back from New Mexico, and had a fantastic time. Thanks for all your great suggestions for my trip.
The skies in the southwest are completely amazing, and seem to go on forever. I'll put together some posts on wonderful colors of the region just as soon as I get a chance.

A birthday tradition I treasure is one my husband and I started years ago when we first moved in together. Instead of store-bought gifts, we give each other hand-made birthday "crowns" for our special days. They have gotten more and more elaborate each year. The idea is to make a crown that encompasses some personal or joint experience from that year. This was the crown I created for my husband this year, depicting the journey we have taken over the past 7+ years for his education. A loosely-interpreted yellow brick road and emerald city. The yellow velvet fabric road represented hope and the pursuit of wisdom (life experiences can sure give you that). The emerald city (those green sparkles stick to everything!) was the "destination".

My husband's crown for me was a tad more technically-complex. Since we moved across the country back to CA this past year, mine was an interpretation of the bay area, complete with 3 bridges and several landmarks that lit up in the dark with LED's. (Treasure Island isn't really that big, but he had to fit my head in somewhere!)
Here you can see the Golden Gate Bridge, the Richmond Bridge, and a bit of San Francisco. Yup, that "ocean water" is green shimmery jello! Little styrofoam balls created the pockets to represent waves. I was blown away.

Do you have any fun traditions you've created for birthdays?
Poiret in his studio

Paul Poiret was a French couturier with lots of never-before-seen ideas for the fashion world.  He was known in America as "The King of Fashion" and “Le Magnifique” in Paris.  His exotic, new and exciting designs, along with his hard work and self-promotion made a big impact on fashion in the early twentieth century. He said in his autobiography, "I did not wait for my success to grow by itself. I worked like a demon to increase it, and everything that could stimulate it seemed good to me."  He is an inspiring example of someone who started out with little more than passion and worked hard to make himself into a huge success and a very influential figure.


A bedroom designed by Paul Poiret

Poiret was the first designer to have a fragrance line

Paul Poiret was born in Paris on April 20th, 1879.  He started his fashion career selling designs to prominent dressmakers, and became an assistant to Jacques Doucet at the age of nineteen.  After working under Doucet, and at the House of Worth, Poiret opened his own shop in Paris.  He was a very influential designer and introduced many new, innovative designs. He was the first designer to develop a fragrance line, which he called “Rosine”.  He founded a school of textile arts, called Atelier Martine and with that, expanded into interior decoration.  He also gets credit for pioneering both the boutique and the designer ready-to-wear system.  Despite all of Poiret’s many successes, he ended up losing his name to his business after he was drafted into the war.  His business ended up closing and he died in 1944 at sixty-five years old.

Breaking into Fashion

Poiret with his tailor and a model

Poiret’s rise to fame began with his first design for Jacques Doucet; a red cloak which sold 400 copies, customers demanded the design in other colors.  Poiret himself said that it was a mantle he made for the actress Réjane in a play called Zaza that really secured his place in the fashion world.  He became well known in both Europe, and America, and not only broke into fashion, he started a renaissance.  His career was interrupted during World War I, when he was drafted to serve with the French army.  Despite the war, Poiret was the dominant designer of the decade.

Signature Styles

Poiret's Oriental designs with his signature turban

Poiret introduced this new silhouette

Harem pants

Robe du Soir

Lampshade Tunic

Paul Poiret is known for many things, from his lavish parties to his “lampshade” tunic.  Perhaps what he is most known for is the abolition of the restrictive “S” bend corsets, with the introduction of the new, straight, upright silhouette in dresses.  He also introduced the hobble skirt, which was very narrow at the bottom, harem pants, and cocoon and kimono coats.  Poiret’s use of vivid colors and oriental-inspired designs were a great change from the muted colors of the Edwardian era.  Not all of Poiret’s designs were widely accepted, as they were considered too avant garde.  The “lampshade tunic” and harem pants made fashion headlines but were only worn by the most brave women.


Poiret's wife, Denise

A poster for the Ballets Russes

Poiret was greatly influenced by oriental costumes, especially from Diaghilev's Ballets Russes by Leon Bakst, and exotic oriental tales such as 1001 Arabian Nights.  The bright colors he used and his trademark turban are just a few examples of ideas inspired by the orient.  He is also quoted to say "My wife is the inspiration for all my creations; she is the expression of all my ideals." She was his muse, creative director of the fashion house, and his favorite model.


The following pictures are from a fashion spread in Vogue featuring designs inspired by Paul Poiret

When Poiret returned from the war in 1919, his fashion house was on the brink of bankruptcy.  With no money, and no support, he soon left the house, which ended up closing in 1929.  Without a fashion house to carry on his legacy, he isn’t as widely remembered as other designers of the century, but whether people know it or not, Paul Poiret’s influence can still be seen in designers’ collections today.  People still look to him for inspiration.

In 2007, some of Poiret’s designs were shown in a retrospective exhibition at the MET.  In correlation with the exhibit, Vogue did a fashion spread of designs inspired by Poiret.

Paul Poiret
In conclusion, nobody could express Poiret’s essence better than himself.  He says in his autobiography, "It was in my inspiration of artists, in my dressing of theatrical pieces, in my assimilation of and response to new needs, that I served the public of my day."  You can see it in his designs and you can see it in modern designs now, Paul Poiret was a groundbreaking and very influential figure in the world of fashion.


Milbank, Caroline Rennolds. The Couture Accesory.  New York: Harry N. Abrams Inc. Publishers,  2002

Herald, Jacqueline. Fashions of a Decade.  New York: Facts on File Inc., 1991

Darnell, Paula Jean.  Victorian to Vamp. Reno, Nevada: Fabric Fancies, 2000

Mendes, Valerie and Amy De La Haye.  20th Century Fashion.  London:  Thames & Hudson Ltd., 1999

Koda, Harold, and Andrew Bolton. "Paul Poiret (1879–1944)". In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. (September 2008)

Bowles, Hamish.  “Fashioning the Century.”  Vogue US  May, 2007.

Black ceilings go the distance

While perusing my favorite daily reads, I stumbled upon this fantastic bathroom make-over. ('before' shots here)
The thing that struck me the most was the black ceiling- it completely erases the boundaries of where the room ends, and gives the illusion of much more space than is actually there.
In the owner Anna's own words,
"The bathroom is only about 5×6 feet, but the ceiling is more than 10 feet high! By carrying the white paneling and wall tiles to a uniform 8 foot height and then painting the upper portion of the walls and ceiling black, I was able to give the room a greater feeling of width and space. It’s an illusion that really works. I can’t believe how much more spacious the room feels now!"(source)
By incorporating black flooring, the space is grounded and cohesive.
images source
So, when you're looking for a solution to make a space look and feel bigger, don't rule out black. It really can work wonders.


Hubbie and I are taking a little vacation for my birthday to Santa Fe, New Mexico. Having never been to the southwest, I automatically assumed I should be packing shorts, t-shirts, maybe even tank tops and a swimsuit. So imagine my surprise when's forecast for today was:
Yikes! What is this, the north east?! I thought we were done with winter on this side of the country!

Not to worry, wonderful readers, I've got some posts all set up for next week while I'm away.

Any travel tips for Santa Fe or Taos?

Trimmings for the basement

Speaking of basements, Sarah in Minnesota recently moved, and has big plans for her basement. But she's stuck on where to start, to make the space livable before renovations. She has set her sights on tackling the trim first.
"It's very overwhelming. Do I go with what I like (white trim), or match the rest of the house (wood trim) even though it's not my favorite? I always keep resale value in mind even if I plan to stay somewhere forever. At this point I'm just trying to pick trims (white or lightish wood?) and carpet. We're eventually remodeling, adding a bedroom, a bathroom, a wet bar, fire place with built in bookcases, a game area, and a closet." -Sarah
Here's some examples of Sarah's wood trim upstairs.
And here's the basement. It's pretty much a blank slate at this point.

So, readers, what would you suggest Sarah do about trim for her basement? Should she install wood, or white?

Marketing that works

I got the cutest little promo from Anthropologie in the mail the other day that I just had to share with you.
This little white cloth envelope opens up to reveal...
a mini sewing kit complete with colorful thread and buttons. The card inside says, "Celebrate! For your birthday, treat yourself to something special. Use this card for 15% off your total store purchase any day this month."

15% doesn't amount to much, but I think the concept is witty and clever. The cheery bright hodge-podge of colors, crafty construction, and whimsy is very in keeping with the Anthropologie brand. And since I love love love their stuff, I will certainly make my way over for a birthday treat this month.

San Francisco, Bay Area color expert investigates: Let's weep for my walls...

Oh wait, they can do that without any help!
Bathroom streaks, take 1.
For those of you unfamiliar with my plight, those are dry shiny drip marks you see on my walls. You can wash them out with soap and water, but they return immediately. I will give this disclaimer: we do have a rather poorly-ventilated bathroom, but we always leave the door and a window open to air it out.

Everyone wants to know about the outcome of my weeping walls. There was a great discussion that ensued in the comments section of the initial post, debating what to do, and where these pesky streaks come from.

Responding quickly, Benjamin Moore hooked me up with a gallon of their brand spanking new product in their Aura line, called Bath and Spa paint.

In preparation for my repaint, I washed the walls down with a mild soap, then rinsed them with clean water. To be extra careful, we left the bathroom unused for a week, to make extra sure the walls were completely dry. (Probably unnecessary, but I didn't want to take any chances, since this product was supposed to take care of moisture issues in high humidity spaces.) I had high hopes for this matte finish paint, as I have otherwise been quite impressed with the quality of Aura paint.
Bathroom streaks, take 2
Alas, I was sadly unimpressed with everything about it. First off, it's supposed to be low-VOC, and so shouldn't smell strongly. But it did, and the smell lingered for 3 days, even with windows open. Odd, but not the end of the world.

Regular Aura paint is thick, like yogurt. But the Bath and Spa paint was thin and covered poorly. But worst of all, after repainting my entire room, the weeping, dripping walls returned within a week. So disappointing.

First thing I will do is go out and get a dehumidifier. Given that this moisture occurred from condensation, I'm a bit perplexed why it didn't just evaporate. Why those nasty streaks on a product that was designed specifically to counter those effects?
image source
If that doesn't work, maybe I ought to make that humidity work to my advantage. How about a moss rug, sustained by the humidity in a bathroom!

So, what now? Any suggestions?

Color to conceal

I went to my exercise class today wearing baggy fuchsia pants and a turquoise top. Huffing and puffing in a sea of black-clad women, I got to thinking about camouflage. I needed to get myself some sexy black work-out clothes so I don't stand out so much!

Animals use coloration to improve their survival chances through concealment. Here's a fantastic little video with some amazing examples of nature at work.
It's used by prey, and the predators. Some blend into the background, while others use bold blocks of color to break up the visual "bulk" of their form. Other times, conspicuous colors actually aid concealment, termed, "dazzle coloration". A zebra's stripes can confuse a predator who becomes unsure of it's speed and direction as it runs away.
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Some animals simply look like an object to blend into it's surroundings. I guess I need to work on my shape if I want to truly blend in with the toned women in my exercise class... :-)

What about you: do you prefer to blend in, or stand out in your environment?

Healing or headache?

Benjamin Moore just put out a newsletter, with an interesting article entitled, "The Healing Power of Color".

A chiropractor in Denver takes an innovative approach to health and healing. I don't know about this one; it might be a little over the top even for me!
Here's the floor plan of where each potent color is placed. Luckily, charcoal gray was used on the ceilings and floors to balance all that brightness.
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The designer claims that since the chiropractor wanted to attract an ethnically-diverse clientele, that this palette was appealing to that audience. Since he's color blind, all he sees is high contrast. The designer was going for a mood that was, "personal, communal, natural, and flowing."(source)

I do agree that it's refreshing to see vibrant rich colors used, but might this all be a little -too- stimulating? What do you all think?

Beating the basement blues

I've been thinking about basements, and how to spiff up that often-neglected space. A common issue with basements is that they have low ceilings, and lack natural light. So, how do you draw attention away from that cave-like feeling, and really utilize the room?

Before and after images from home makeover shows can give you some great ideas.
(these are from the show Divine Design)

Dreary dated 60's to chic sanctuary. Notice how the light yellow doesn't necessarily do much to warm up the space? Often, its best not to fight against the existing elements, and try to work with them, instead. Oversized basement spaces should be broken up into smaller, defined areas. The dark brown trim against the yellow certainly didn't help matters.

Can't we all share? Basements don't have to be dedicated to one age group in the family. That gray industrial carpet really put a damper on this room. Blonde wood floors, sandy-colored furniture, and seashore blue walls made all the different in the world.

No natural light or windows? No problem. It's all about a warm palette.

Dumping ground to family rec room- with warm beige/golden tones, wood, and colorful art. Don't forget about adequate lighting, too. No cold blue fluorescents, please.

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This is an excellent example of working with, instead of against the existing elements in a space. This blah basement has little natural light, and as you can tell, the white walls, ceiling, and light carpet certainly don't add much to the space. Remember- white paint in shadows is simply dingy gray. So why not create a cozy sanctuary, using rich deep tones and lots of mood lighting.

Have you done any amazing transformations in your home or office? What strikes you the most about these changed spaces? Which do you prefer?

Hotel lobby project

I just Loved all your ideas for my hotel lobby assignment using the "inspiration" material I was given.
I've opted for a space that reflects the norther California landscape of rolling golden hills dotted with oak trees. A "back to nature" ambiance with stone flooring, wrap-around organic-shaped benches (possibly covered in my mosaic tile?), wooden beams, and big beautiful indoor trees.
For those of you interested in space planning (I can't believe how much there is to consider!) here is our floor plan.

So, time to get to work on my elevations. Gotta figure out what to do with the ceiling (16' to the concrete slab above), how to drop it down to cover all the goodies that go up into ceilings, while still retaining enough room for these fabulous fake trees I want inside.Aren't they cool? Made out of steel, they really look authentic.

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My teacher is scared I'm heading towards Rainforest Cafe cheesiness. ;-) I'd consider replacing the trees with something more sculptural and "tree-like" if I could find something cool enough.

What would you do with the interior to reflect the look I'm going for?