Archives for August 2016


Making A Home Homey, Not Cutesy

On a two-lane street seamed with cheerful homes America happens. The road is graffitied with chunky chalk drawings. Bicycles swirl by in lazy speeds. A neighbor returns a muffin pan. This is the avenue of our home, which was built when young men were shipped overseas to serve their country in The Great War. It is a humble, charming home with a pointy roof that blends with the block’s neighborly atmosphere. Inside we made it our own.

Dogs, kids, snacks are all welcome on the couch, which is meant for sitting and less stress with washable slipcovers and cases.

Dogs, kids, snacks are all welcome on the couch, which is meant for sitting and less stress with washable slipcovers and cases.

Imagine falling into Jeannie’s bottle, a lair so comforting it in no way relates to the ornamental bottle. Our house traipses into the fantastical with unexpected colors and accents.  We chose pieces that won’t be the subject of a freak out when kids spill chocolate milk or the dog snags a spot on the couch when we are out–all regular occurrences here.

The main living area that is the focal point in our house, which also seamlessly flows into the dining and kitchen area. Can you spy the string of a helium balloon and arrangement of blocks?

There are always games in motion. Artwork is created. Food is prepared and enjoyed. There are helium balloons that get caught in the rafters that take a week to fall to the ground. Neighborhood kids wander in and out.

I grew up with the understanding that you wore hand gloves to the theater and tea is served with squared blocks of sugar. A mix of old values and new traditions collide in our home. While we respect the past, value special passed down pieces, we scale back to fit into today’s lifestyle and design.

Kitchen with retro, modern appliances.

Kitchen with retro, modern appliances.

Task List for a Modern Retro Home without the Clutter:

  1. Quality Pieces: Fewer furnishings loaded with style can carry a room. Consider when to splurge or style with simple, trendy accents like pillows and throws.
  2. Add Color with Accessories: Painting the walls white is the ultimate blank canvas. This allows you to design with statement pieces, like wicker furniture painted in a punchy color, art or appliances.
  3. Use Washable Upholstery and Fabrics: Eliminate anxiety when someone drinks something aside from water on the couch. Use slipcovers and washable pillowcases to keep a home stress-free and comfortable.
  4. Retro Kitchen Appliances Add Impact: A new refrigerator in a mod design, supported by a microwave, espresso maker or appliance with a period look, distinguish the kitchen.

The Accent Pieces:

  1. Linked-In style: When designing a room bring in like-minded pieces for keep a cohesive theme.
  2. Picture frames: Family photos are the personal accent to a lived in home, which are connected through the shell frames.
  3. Wall art: Simple pictures with spots of color like prints from books or maps, expertly framed, bring interest above and add style.
  4. Toys: To keep the “family” in family room, kid toys should always be available. An easel or blocks concealed in baskets or drawers make the room more inviting for the 10 and under crowd.
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No Fuss Fall Porch Ideas

Once the first orange leaf hits the ground you’d think we lived in a Tim Burton movie. There are inflatable ghosts dancing on the front lawn, glittery spiders crawling up homes, garlands of leaves snaking up posts, bushels of hay seating friendly scarecrows and unnaturally large pumpkins and pots of mums in galvanized buckets. For the same reasons why I don’t prepare my Christmas decorations in August, I take a no fuss approach to autumnal decor.


It begins as all decorating exercises begin, be inspired by the signals of the season. Like getting excited over a new variety of grape (hello Cotton Candy!) I soak in the colors and shapes of pumpkins and gourds offered at the local nursery. Once the staples are in place, flourish with dependable accents, like buntings and flowers, and start layering.

A simple gathering of pumpkins creates an outdoor vignette.

A simple gathering of pumpkins creates an outdoor vignette.


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How to Create a Cabinet Display

You’d think my cupboard had a celebrity colorist considering all the colors it has been, which is  currently painted in Windy Sky. It has been in my former living area and son’s room, displayed children’s books, beach artifacts, linens and currently showcases kitchenware. But how do you master the art of a display?


An attention to the right pieces and color over clutter creates an effective vignette.

Thoughtful Displays of Affection:

  1. Consider the Space: With limited shelf space avoid cramming all of your favorite pieces. (I am so guilty of this). Be prepared to do an edit where some items may not make the cut. Simply stow them away in a clearly marked container and revisit to use again for when you entertain or want to rejig a theme.
  2. Scheming: In this vignette I picked items that have colors represented in the adjoining kitchen and living spaces. I added pink for pop, whimsy and it goes with the playful theme in our household as we are always experimenting with recipes and party ideas.
  3. Create Levels: Pick a variety of objects in different heights to fill in blank spaces. Pedestal plates, trays and the decorative boxes they were packed in are great accessories to stack pieces and add interest.
  4. Mix It Up: From modern basics to heirlooms, traditional and updated accents come together to make a personalized look. Dainty porcelain you thought was destined for your Great Aunt Polly’s 90th birthday need not be relegated to storage. Rose printed china looks cool against simple colored pieces.
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Back to College – Ultimate Fall Shopping Guide

Make a fashionable impact on campus this season with fall must-haves that include grey sweaters with fun prints, classic collegiate pieces and those outerwear essentials because girls are always cold once the temps hit below 60 degrees.


1. Dakota silver sneakers 2. Women’s merino giraffe sweater 3. Chambord Pro Aigle boot 4. Barbour hip flask 5. Plains Beach Blanket scarf 6. Phira hot dog sweater 7. Contessa tweed cape 8. Ugg Sienna short rain boot sock 9. Pendleton USA Yakima camp blanket 10. Kasson parka 11. Vaughan backpack 12. Eugenia Kim Loulou hat 13. Messenger bag 14. Adams robe 15. Handmade football

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Spot On – Polka Dot Table Decor

When serving treats make sure they are dressed well. The same theory holds true when wearing couture and forgetting to brush your hair. Presentation creates the entire package. Polka dotted cupcake wrappers, tablecloth, straws, napkins and party accessories are festive, come in fun colors, and turn a simple sweet into an event.

Sprinkled cupcakes to match the setting.

Sprinkled cupcakes to match the setting.

From your grocery store to online party venues like Meri Meri, polka dot accessories are widely available. Always have them on hand for your gatherings.

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Travel – Why Choose a Bed and Breakfast

Travelers have options, another byproduct of the digital age. There is the standard hotel with its two square beds, circulated air smell, and requisite ice bucket and coffee maker atop a dorm-sized fridge. You can easily rent someone’s home or go the luxury route with a resort. All venues were considered when planning a last minute quick getaway to Ogunquit, Maine. Here’s how it went:

  • Hotel: Too impersonal and claustrophobic.
  • Renting a private home: Too personal, staying among a stranger’s belongings feels like an intrusion.
  • Resort: Rather not spend our annual travel budget on a few nights.
Farm style kitchen at Beauport Inn, which centers on hospitality.

Farm style kitchen at the Beauport Inn, the center of hospitality.

We then thought of B&B’s and this is why: Bill and I have an annual one-week window a year to travel without kids. This eliminates all family friendly places. We are good parents but a vacation from being cannonballed while reading poolside ranks as a luxury. We both work long hours so we chose a place within driving distance. We also wanted to test out Maine considering that in our combined lifetimes we have been to every East Coast vacation spot aside from the “vacation state.”

There were many no vacancies but we stumbled upon Ogunquit’s Beauport Inn, which caught our interest from the farm style kitchen and breakfast food shots.

We chose the Moulin Rouge room, a red-painted suite equipped with all the B&B trappings of 4-poster bed, closet padded with robes and linens, shelves with readable titles and two separate couches so we can both doze off without a kicking match. The terrace led to the pool, hot tub and first floor that has a steam room, library of DVDs and selection of board games.

The innkeepers, Linda and Ellen, love their job, Ogunquit and treat visitors as houseguests. In fact their kindness extends to their private part of the home where they take care of rescue birds (also appearing on the toiletry packaging). They gave good advice on restaurants and the use of bikes for riding into town, which was a highlight as it takes ten minutes to move two miles on a typical August summer day.

You can connect with other guests or retreat into your room. Another unique quality to Beauport is the space was designed as a B&B so your rooms are private and solid. By day two we were Beauport veterans, understanding the breakfast routine and what to do in town. In a gesture we’d expect from a family member or close friend, Ellen thought to serve Bill’s eggs with his beloved hot sauce. Holiday Inn this is not.

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Travel – 48 Hours in Ogunquit, Maine

When you are over 40, lived on the East Coast for most of your life, and have not traveled to an entire vacation territory on your own coast the prospects of a new discovery excite. Ogunquit, Maine, was the chosen destination.

A typical August Ogunquit beach day.

A typical August Ogunquit beach day.

Maine is the most eastern point of the East Coast, which is why I have neglected it for so long. Seasoned Maine vacationers reminded that just over the state border, a four hour drive from NYC metro area Connecticut, are fantastic coastal towns to rival touristy Cape Cod or the sleekness of the Hamptons.


Local color seen when passing through Ogunquit.

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Ogunquit is just before Wells and Kennebunkport, the tony enclave of Bush family notoriety, and has as much to offer. It is laid back, caters to family SUVs loaded with floats and coolers but refined. Refined meaning this is a friendly community that promotes flying kites, playing outdoors till dinner is served and going to town for a block of fudge or hand-crafted ice cream.

Double chocolate ice cream, a traditional choice over Rococo's artisan offerings like rhubarb sage and sweet avocado cayenne.

Double dark chocolate ice cream, a traditional choice over Rococo’s artisan offerings like rhubarb sage and sweet avocado cayenne.

The state mascot, I will safely assume, is lobster. The bright red crustacean is seen on license plates, games, kid’s hats and definitely on the brain. In fact once we arrived we forewent showers for a lobster dinner. This does not involve research, just hit the main road and everywhere serves it. Even the local McDonald’s advertised their $8.99 lobster meal.


Choosing a lobster restaurant was simple, our hunger trumped waiting an hour for waterviews and dinghy art.



Waterside restaurant with a long waiting time but loads of touristy charm.

We chose Capt’n Hooks, which has it down with its seasoned summer employees who helped us choose our own lobster, offer a thoughtful recommendation of the house root beer and hastily interrupted our order so he could holler at a kid standing on the lobster game. For less than $30 Bill and I enjoyed a meal that he inhaled while I was too busy snapping photos. The lobster was tender, perfectly steamed, while the picked-that-day corn and potato sides was the ideal accompaniment.


Simple lobster meal: inexpensive and delicious.


A vast selection of fresh choices.


Lobster American Style.


Easy takeout for stomachs on the go.


More lobster kitsch.

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Ogunquit is crowded but understandably so. In fact it’s good to compete for beach space with fellow visitors who appreciate a classic summer.

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Parlor Room Ideas

While the idea of a front parlor room where you can make embroidered cushions and read letters delivered on silver platters is quaint, we had uncertainty if the original room would make sense in our modern lifestyle. After giving the home a few test months, we valued the separation of the front and back sections of the first floor. Since this is a smaller home, different areas for family to retreat in is key. Thus we transformed the original parlor room into a “calm room.”

The "calm room" is minimally furnished to nurture restful activities for modern times, like reading, homework or games.

The “calm room” is minimally furnished to nurture restful activities for modern times, like reading, homework or games.

The bay window brings in natural light and added seating, which helps keep the room uncluttered and relaxing. I kept the furnishings to a few functional pieces that are low to the ground–movable chairs like the rope poufs and stools, with plenty of books tastefully displayed. The home’s primary palette of blues and seaglass green is amply represented. A sisal rug is always key to bring in warmth and seamlessly integrate into the design scheme.

Upholstered pillows allow you to control the design.

Upholstered pillows allow you to control the design.

The design theme of this room has a combination of influences, notably favorite places I have lived in like the Hamptons and Laguna Beach. Both coastal regions, though on different coasts, which share a casual elegance–comfortable, ethnic-inspired, light with beachy shades. I upholstered the pillows, valances and seat cushions with a Kravet fabric.

My most dependable design accent is coffee table books. If you saw my last storage facility you would say it is an obsession. Being an author of a few titles I am partial to what’s inside the book, though they also have design cred in accessorizing. I painted a brick wall white and kept the shelving for my books, which I organized by scale and color with a few accents here and there. (More to come later…)

Every home should have book shelves in at least one room.

Every home should have book shelves in at least one room.

The coffee table is an anchor piece in a designed home. What makes it on the table are favorite books chosen for size, color and style–peppered with supporting accents. When I came across Bitten by Witch Fever (which is actually a lovely book on colorful Victorian wallpapers) the scheme seemed intended for the room.

Coffee table book chosen for its pattern and color, which fits with the room's theme. Design wise that is.

Coffee table book chosen for its pattern and color, which fits with the room’s theme. Design wise that is.

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Home in Hanoi

If you want to find inspiration from a home with worldly tastes plan a visit to Hanoi, Vietnam. American designer Amelia Fendell, founder of Chez M’Lain, is mother to 18-year old son Nico (who has the good looks and enough passports to pin him as a young gentleman spy–he may very well be a young gentleman spy) and travels so frequently an app to track her location is in the works. Coincidentally Amelia is currently renovating her other home in Amsterdam with her partner of over ten years. More to come on that later…

The living area has a delicious mix of vintage finds and newer accents. Every piece adds comfort, designed to sustain endless gatherings.

The living area has a styled mix of vintage finds and her own designs. Every piece adds comfort, designed to foster endless gatherings.


An unusual skylight becomes an opportunity to display collectibles and bring in the natural with flowers and plants.

Her influences as a global citizen is shown through quality wares. She is also in awe of history, the grandeur and customs of past times, and the works of skilled artisans throughout the world.

While Amelia piles on air miles achieving global style can be effortless without the need to travel. Simply follow Amelia’s 14 tips:

1. Old and New Combo: Start by mixing vintage pieces with contemporary patterns and color to create eclectic and inviting spaces


Vintage pieces and contemporary art are a timeless mix, which style the stairway.

2. Vintage Shopping: I am always walking through the markets and antique shops looking for unusual pieces. Sometimes I will change an entire room based on one piece–whether it be a small tray or chair.


A room can be themed around a starring piece, such as this antique rattan settee.

The best vintage markets are in Belgium. I find a variety of unusual pieces there and in the auctions in the Netherlands.


Part of the journey in creating a home with global style is to shop the flea markets. Belgium is Amelia’s favorite place to find great loot.

Vintage finds with Amelia's custom embroidery is a tasteful mix.

Vintage finds with Amelia’s custom embroidery is a tasteful mix.

3. Light at Home: Good lighting is essential for composing a room. Add layers of lighting from floor and table lamps to overhead lighting with dimmers.


From overhead lights to supporting fixtures, lighting helps accentuate a well-appointed room.

4. Color Process: Sometimes I have a vision in mind for a room or space and will work from the walls inward. Selecting paint is key and takes time–always painting squares of color on the wall and seeing how it feels during the different times of the day. Then I begin layering in colors with the cushions etc.


A dramatically colored wall creates a look, which highlights the added detailing.

5. When to Splurge: Lighting and always one extraordinary piece for each room such as an antique carpet, chair, paintings or objects are worth the investment. I also have a large collection of contemporary art from Asia and Europe, which is great for building character to the rooms. I also find unusual objects to refurbish, like new shades to update a lamp or upholstering a worn piece.

Invest in an important piece, like a rug or art work.

Invest in an important piece, like a rug or art.

6. Thrift Store Finds: Many unusual pieces can be found in secondhand shops, antique stores and flea markets. They usually need a bit of love and attention but it is worth the effort if you find a great piece.

7. Show Offs: I collect many small items and learned that they are best exhibited in gatherings. Not all collections need to be displayed in one place. Break it up and put them in groups in different places.


Likeminded pieces create an eye-catching vignette.

8. Accentuate the Bathroom: I love powder rooms, which is a fun place to be creative. Personal photos and mementos give me joy to look at them.

A bathroom need not be sterile, but is personalized by bringing in accents.

A bathroom does not have to be sterile, which can be personalized by bringing in unexpected accents.

9. A Good Mix: There should always be fresh flowers in unusual vessels. Mix the arrangements as small groups of flowers or one extraordinary bunch. Candles are also a must-have, which immediately sets the mood for a special evening.

Mix your personal finds with flowers for a pop of color and touch of the natural.

Mix your personal finds with flowers for a pop of color and natural element.


Hallways are a great opportunity to add design intrigue. Gallery walls and a slim bureau with a mix of pieces weave in the home’s worldly theme.

10. Strategic Placement: Lighting should be in pairs as well as end tables. The sofa should be the same color as the large mirrors in the dining area and in the hallways to reflect light around the room.

11. Layered Look: Layers of old kilms and variety of plants create an oasis of sorts, notably in the bathroom.

12. Open Kitchen: I love having all my silver and objects on display, which makes it easy to find what I am looking for.

13. Conceal Electrical Cords: Do some planning of where to situate outlets. In the house in the Netherlands we splurged by putting the electric outlets in the floorboard near the tables and sofa so we would not see the cords.

14. Mud Room Must: Have a great mudroom or shoe room at the side of the house or kitchen entrance with hooks and cabinets to hide and hang all the gear.

Photography by James Vigliano.

For more information on designer Amelia Fendell please visit Chez M’Lain.

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Make the Best Salad – Ever

When you come home to find freshly picked vegetables delivered on your doorstep from a neighbor, the challenges of suburbia become tolerable. The bundle of arugula and herbs carry their fragrance inside. The squash looks more saturated against the bed of greens—model shades for a color wheel.

It doesn’t get any fresher than plucked from a vine and delivered across the street.

The garden pickings make appearances in sauces, layered aside tomatoes and mozzarella, and the kind of salad served at a Napa restaurant.

A combination of grilled vegetables and toppings chosen for color, texture and taste compose a first rate salad.

A combination of grilled vegetables and toppings chosen for color, texture and taste compose a first rate salad.

How to make the best salad — ever:

  1. Start with a bed of greens.
  2. Drizzle olive oil over vegetables and chicken, grill.
  3. Cut grilled food into thin slices.
  4. Add herbs and your favorite dressing.

The must-have ingredient to the perfect salad is fresh herbs, which is a healthy way to pack in the flavor. My favorite is cilantro.

I am inspired by Paola, my quality neighbor, and berate myself for not starting a garden this year. Though I do benefit from her tips:

  1. Begin by finding the perfect location that has a mix of sun and shade. Leafy greens need 3-4 hours of sun. Root vegetables 4 to 6 hours.
  2. Be sure the garden is close to a water source and you have easy access for proper care and supervision.
  3. Use organic soil, manure and plant vegetables from seeds and young plantings. (All available at Home Depot).
  4. Give thoughtful consideration on what to plant and how much space to designate. Paola was surprised by how much room the squash needed.
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