Friday, November 30, 2012

Holiday Gifting // Package Creatively

Half the fun in giving a gift is imagining the look on the recipients face when you finally place it in their hands, is it not?  I have this in mind each time I wrap a gift, but at no time more than during the holidays. There is a spirit of child-like wonder in the air that makes giving and receiving so much fun. I like to parlay that spirit into themed or unexpected packaging that is often part of the gift itself. 

Today, I'm sharing some creative ways to package your holiday gifts that will no doubt make a big impression, even before the true gift is revealed.

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Thursday, November 29, 2012

Haute Chocolate

I have a small confession. For the past couple of weeks now,  I've been sneaking off to the kitchen every afternoon to whip up a cup of hot chocolate. 

Perhaps it's the darker, colder afternoons sending me in search of a little extra pick me up. Truth be told I have always enjoyed sipping on something hot to get me through those last couple of hours in the work day. In the New Year, green tea with all it's antioxidants will fill my cup. As resolutions wane, that will eventually evolve back to my trusty ol' cup of joe. But in need of something sweet one particularly tough day, I happened upon an unopened box of Swiss Miss hiding in the cupboard and I have to say, my afternoon ritual suddenly turned into well... a delight.

Fast forward to Thanksgiving. I was steeping vanilla beans in some milk that would eventually become custard and I got to thinking about how I might up the ante on my daily treat. Lo and behold, there are dozens of ways to turn that cocoa into a haute cup of chocolate. Here are eight I can't wait to try!

Paula Deen
Nigella Lawson
Katie Goodman | Good Life Eats
Alex Rushmer | Just Cook It
A Cozy Kitchen via Tasty Kitchen
Martha Stewart
Kristin Rosenau | Pastry Affair


Wednesday, November 28, 2012


It's the only time of year we hang a wreath on our front door. But much like a national holiday, when most of our neighborhood is donning the red, white and blue, the wreaths that have started to appear over our respective thresholds and mantles are at once a unifying gesture. It's like the neighborhood is collectively saying the holidays are here and I'm all in, and as far as I'm concerned, nothing says let's celebrate like an evergreen wreath.

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Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Around Here // Patio Banquette

Just off the kitchen dining area, sits a screened-in patio that we use often, especially when entertaining. When we bought Holtwood House, we actually considered a complete tear down of this area, convinced that it would provide too much shade to these poolside windows. It also was quite outdated, with slick yellow tile that we knew we could not live with, but was a low priority item on the long, long list of renovation tasks we were facing.

I always say that scheduling a party will motivate you to tackle all those things you've been putting off and in this case, it was true again with the patio. We knew we needed seating and we also wanted to be able to use this area as an extension of our house for long term entertaining. One weekend just before our housewarming, The Mister quickly constructed these banquette benches. We upholstered the top with 3" foam and went with an all-white pillow color scheme along the back- easily bleached when cleaning is needed.

It's a casual spot to hang out poolside, but dresses up nicely like it did on Thanksgiving with a little floral and my favorite Anthropologie placemat.


Monday, November 26, 2012

Holiday Floral // LA Flower District

Today, I thought I'd share a few floral moments around Holtwood House as seen over the Thanksgiving holiday. I parlayed my current fascination with rocks, agate and geodes and worked them into my holiday tablescape. Air plants were mounted to vintage brass candlesticks that flanked the center arrangement and worked to counter the weight of the amethyst. A little greenery eventually made it's way to every corner of the house, a detail which helped make the house feel festive and holiday-ready.

But before all that fun could begin, I made a trip out to the LA Flower District (one of the happiest places on Earth as far as I'm concerned) early last Wednesday morning. I loaded up on pods, berries and greenery and spent the remainder of the day styling my arrangements. You know, those are my favorite kinds of days... quietly creating with a little background music, just before the true hustle and bustle of staging a party begins. 

Most major cities have a floral district of sorts- a place where vendors gather to sell mostly wholesale to the trade. There are two within my reach- Downtown LA (my market of choice) and San Diego- and just as expected, there was plenty of inspiration to be had at the "Mart" that morning around every corner.   

Never been to the Flower District? There are a few things you should know. 

Go early. Professional floral designers arrive as early as 2am to get the best picks. If you are non-trade, plan to arrive by 6am on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Entry hours are a later on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Plan to arrive right at 8am on those days. Though posted hours suggest the market is open much later, you will start seeing some of the bigger vendors packing up early.

Bring cash. Though many vendors take credit cards, it really helps to expedite your transaction (and limit your budget in the event you want to go completely nuts) if you have cash. Unless you are carrying a trade badge, you will also to pay the $2 entrance fee at the door and they only take exact change. Quarters are also helpful if you are lucky enough to snag a parking spot on the street or need to use the pay only restroom.

Dress in layers. An early morning walk through these chilly buildings calls for a sweatshirt and gloves- particularly this time of year. You'll likely peel a layer or two off, depending on how late you stay.  Better to be prepared than uncomfortable.

Bring a hand cart. Bundles of newspaper wrapped blooms get heavy. Avoid frequent trips to the car and bring a little shopping cart if you have one available. It's best to keep all your picks visible anyway so you can easily pair to what you've already purchased. 

The "district" has two sides. The Southern California Flower Market off Maple in my opinion has the best selection of flowers. My favorite vendor there is Mayesh. Go there first and snatch up anything unique you must have. It will likely be gone if you think you are going to come back to it. Price out more common blooms like roses, hydrangea, tulips, etc... from several vendors.  The other side- Los Angeles Flower Market- will hook you up with the best selection of tropicals and orchids.

The lowdown on other details, including hours and parking can be found on the LA Flower District website.


Thursday, November 22, 2012

Holiday Weekend

Wishing all those stateside a lovely holiday!

Cross your fingers for me. I'm roasting my very first turkey ever today.



Monday, November 19, 2012

Talking Turkey

This Thursday, The Mister and I are hosting our first ever, big holiday in our new home and yours truly will finally be tackling her first Thanksgiving meal. While I consider myself to be a seasoned cook, there's still been a lot of anticipation built up about roasting the turkey and managing the side dishes so that they all arrive hot and fresh to the dinner table. To quell my nerves, I've been doing a lot of research into turkey preparation and have already begun staging platters, linens and dinnerware so they are ready to table.

While at this stage of the game I'm obviously no master, I have amassed a few resources that I thought you all might find helpful as you plan your own holiday meals as well.

This Thanksgiving guide from Bon Appetit is a must read. I've already scrolled through it numerous times. I love that they chronicled both tips for success and common mistakes for every aspect of the traditional meal- an area I paid particular attention to.

Epicurious is also featuring some great "how to videos".  Not sure how to brine or carve your bird? Watch an expert tackle those tasks step by step.

Drink what you like. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, that's what it all comes down to when pairing wine with your Thanksgiving meal. I've also considered some of the $15 and under picks highlighted by Food and Wine.

Martha is breaking down turkey recipes for every palette. You will have to forego the classic look, but this spatchcocked recipe (pictured above) can help get your turkey to the table in half the time.

Not sure where to start and just want to make it easy? The Food 52 community is delivering several full menu options you can straight up duplicate.

A dry brine for me. After a lot of reading about whether to brine or not to brine, I think I've finally settled on a dry Buttermilk Brine by Williams Sonoma. But there were plenty of turkey experts who gave me lots to think about and educated me in the process- including having a back up plan for gravy when brining.

Questions are bound to come up on the big day. If they do, I just might turn to Real Simple's Thanksgiving 911 for a little coaching.


Friday, November 16, 2012

Holiday Table // Papered Tablescapes

Tradition tells us to formally set a holiday table with our best linens and china. But there's also something to be said for a little simplicity around the edges, particularly when it comes to such a storied and time intensive meal as the Thanksgiving feast. 

I've always been a fan of the formal table myself and truth be told, my plans this year do involve linen, flowers and candles. But playing devil's advocate, one needn't exhaust energy planning and buying for a formal table when in spirit, the holiday really focuses on the food and the company you will share the meal with.

Today I'm sharing another way of approaching your holiday table- interactive with easy clean up.

Crafty entertainers have long employed paper liners to keep little ones busy and simplify party clean up. But I'm loving the new breed of disposable table dressings like these Cake Kitchen runners and place mats carried at West Elm. 

Plain white butcher paper has given way to chalkboard and brown craft papers that can be doodled on before, during or after dinner. They can be marked up with festive sentiments straight across the dining table or sketched out to establish seating assignments. I drew attention to a pizza station over the summer with arrows and bold lettering- perfect for a gathering that emphasized handmade personal pies.

  • Encourage family and friends to add some extra flair!  Arrange cups filled with chalk or colorful soft-tipped markers down the center of the table so guests can doodle over dessert. Just take care to line your surface underneath with an extra sheet or two in order to catch anything that might bleed through.
  • Drape across the entire table or break up the table with a runner. Don't just stick to lengthwise either. Shorter strips can also be arranged horizontally to be shared by table mates across from one another.
  • Have the best of both worlds. Why not layer paper right over linen for a restaurant-style approach to dining? Papered table drapes are ideal for drip-prone, buffet style set ups as well.
  • Keep kids (and adults) out of the kitchen during that last hectic hour. Create a papered worktable complete with supplies and snacks. Encourage the big "kids" at your gathering to join in the fun and leave a message telling you what they are most thankful for this year.
Image Credits:  In the Now Weddings and Events / West Elm / Martha Stewart


Thursday, November 15, 2012

Hot for Hardware

I'm always surprised at what a little paint and some new hardware can do for an aging piece of furniture. A bright hue and some shiny pulls can really elevate what would otherwise be an average piece of stained pine or less expensive piece. I'm currently in the process of making over several pieces of furniture, which have required a lot of hardware sourcing of late. Today, I thought I'd share the direction I'm looking to take with some of those projects.

I'm focused on updating two smallish dressers for my nieces and nephew. The first will take an unfinished pine bureau and transform it with a little dark blue paint and some big boy pulls from Anthropologie. I spotted these fixed rope handles on a recent visit and thought they'd work perfectly with some of the vintage baseball paraphernalia he has displayed in his room.  

My nieces share a room and will get a sassy little side table makeover, compliments of some orangey-red paint and long lusted after O'verlays. I'll finish the drawers off with probably my favorite pulls of all time by Lewis Dolin.

I recently stumbled upon this collection of bronzed bathroom beauties by Amerock. In my opinion, these are maj. If I have my way, we're going to toss the Ikea fixtures we threw up temporarily to the curb and go in this modern, gilded and sculptural direction. 

There is larger dresser in my nieces' room that I think just needs some touch up paint and some new knobs to bring it current. How about these beauties from Anthro? I had these in my hand on my last trip and had a very hard time walking out of the store without them. My own master armoire will get a lift with the two-toned knobs below, another set I could not put down. Finally, I've been really hung up on these homemade leather pulls and perhaps it's a little cart before the horse, but I've been madly looking for a place to incorporate them. Project nook might end up wearing these handsome straps.


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

A Little Nature Tied In

We're about a week out from the big Thanksgiving feast here in The States and my mind is not only on turkey, but my holiday gift wrap. Too soon you say? Perhaps. But it's amazing how the weeks will begin to fly by this season- they already have. My plan is to get a jump on my packaging theme this year in order to eliminate any last minute headaches. I'm hoping to enjoy every minute of these fleeting festive weeks.

While I consider what thoughtful theme to go with for the packages under my tree, I'm noticing a real trend on the interwebs towards incorporating seasonal greenery into holiday packaging. Today I'm sharing a few modern takes on what could otherwise be a rustic motif.

This look is achieved with clean, simple packaging. Neutral, solid colored papers work best to highlight the green embellishments. No fussy bows and ribbons. Modern typefaces identify the recipients. 

Holly and cedar really say "holiday". But rosemary, sage, thyme and boxwood would also work nicely. If I end up going this route, I think I'd even be partial to small swag of olive knotted into bakers twine.

While expense might ultimately have been spared in the finished product, it will be clear to whoever receives these that your time and thought went into tying off each and every package.

1 // 2 // 3 // 4 


Tuesday, November 13, 2012

How To // Extend Your Rug

In yesterday's post, I mentioned a simple DIY I recently completed for our work in progress dining area. Here at Holtwood House, we have somewhat of an odd space- not quite a room and more than a nook- off of the living room that we are planning on using as a secondary dining area. While I've always envisioned a fluffy white Moroccan rug in that area, our dwindling decorating budget forced me to consider more affordable substitutes- in this case the Flokati from IKEA. However, our space called for a rug somewhere in the neighborhood of 6x9, which if you're keeping track, would still cost me a pretty penny. A little creative thinking helped me turn three IKEA rugs into the size I needed for about half the price.

1. // Measure

I flipped the rugs over and measured off my cuts, lightly marking the back with a straight-edge and silver sharpie. A yardstick worked great for this.

2. // Cut 

Here's where I had a minor heart attack. I was sure that half-way through my first incision, the rug would completely fall to shreds. It didn't. 

3. // Sew

Once I had all my pieces cut, I began to piece them back together, creating the custom size I was looking for. Binding the rugs together was actually the easiest part. I used thick, cream colored embroidery thread and an embroidery needle and franken-stitched the two sides together.  You'll be amazed at how forgiving the shag on the other side can be. 

Our rug will eventually rest under a table, so it is not going to get a lot of foot traffic. You could also re-enforce the back with some carpet binding tape as well- tack it in a few areas and then go to town with the tape. But the method I used suited my needs perfectly and the hand-stitching went pretty fast actually. Total time for this project: 1.25 hours.

A little combing and fluffing will complete the final stage of this project, while our rug waits patiently for us to finally finish that table.  


Monday, November 12, 2012

Work in Progress // Dining Area

With the heat finally starting to wane around here (hopefully for good this time!), I've found myself growing more and more anxious to jump back into busy work around the house and with that of course, comes added anxiety over what to tackle first. While much of my focus still lies outside our front and back doors, there is one particularly high profile area inside the house that I'm calling priority on. 

For the past couple of months, we've been sitting on a half-finished African Mahogany table top for what would be our more formal dining area. It's in need of sanding, stain and sealing before we add custom built hairpin legs that will take it to counter height.  Each day, I walk into the living room and spot that lonely, beautiful piece of wood just propped up against the wall in an otherwise barren space in the house and admittingly, I feel frustrated and a bit wary. It kills me to look at it sitting there, waiting. We are two years in at this point. Will it ever all finally come together?

In need of reassurance and renewed commitment, I recently returned to my boards to revisit the intended direction for this room and realized progress is taking place- albeit slowly. I'm sharing two different views of the same plan here.

Navy velvet curtains were purchased and the perfect basket for that fiddle leaf fig was plucked from Home Goods a couple of weeks back. We hung the Sergei Sputnik chandelier long before we ever slept in our home and a custom flokati rug was installed (I'll be sure to share a related DIY this week). We also hung the large scale mirror we inherited from my in laws- though it's currently frameless. 

Chandelier aside, the barstools and the Slim Aaron's print will be big purchases for this room. In the end, we'll go with four barstools at the counter height table. The long loved print (the house we were married in had a mural sized print that I swore would hang in the house we would buy someday) will be displayed in a plexi-glass frame with shiny gold mounts to balance out and warm up all the chrome in the dining and adjacent living rooms. The more I stare at that bold, beautiful mirror, the more I want to have a little fun with it and perhaps frame it up in a faux snakeskin leather. Natural elements like the large geode centerpiece on my wish list and tall potted cactus in the corner will eventually add one more layer of texture and color.

But first things first. We need to get that table finished and up on it's legs. I just know that seeing a piece of furniture in that space will make it feel like things are finally starting to roll on that front.

Stay tuned...


Friday, November 9, 2012

Holiday Table // Personalized Messages

Friends, I somehow caught that head cold plague that's been going around and it's all but held me hostage for the latter part of this week. It has not been fun. The only upside has been a little downtime in front of the TV as well as catching up with some of my favorite blogs.

Through my perusing, I became a little captivated with the idea of personalized messages to all of those gathered around my Thanksgiving table. It needn't involve a detailed accounting of why I'm thankful to have each person in my life. Simple messages often pack the same punch. Sitting down for the long awaited meal, would you not be completely taken aback by a short and sweet statement such as the one above (stitched right into your napkin no less)?

Such a message makes an even bigger impact set against an unfussy backdrop. The focus is on the welcoming words and the time and thought taken to include them as part of your holiday table.

Enjoy the weekend.

Image by Jeroen Van deer Spek for VT Wonen


Wednesday, November 7, 2012

3 Things I Want to Make Right Now

I'm feeling motivated to put that little project nook to good use and make it a real handmade holiday this year. What a unique gift these geode stoppers by Cupcakes and Cashmere would make, right? I can see some metallic patterned beasts like those Heodeza created at the foot of our Christmas tree and a garland of golden tipped feathers like the one Laura Burkhart at The Daylight designed would certainly be a fun and unexpected substitute for crepe paper at New Year's.

By the way... you gotta check out some of the other DIY stylings by Heodeza here. Girl's got mad skills.


Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Project Nook

I've always fantasized about having a little in-home project studio, the kind of place where I could corral and display all of my brushes, papers, tools and fabrics in one organized, easy to access spot. I envisioned it composed of all these creative workstations, media on one end, my ever-growing library of magazines at another and somewhere in there, an uncluttered worktable where I could scatter materials about and not have to worry about cleaning up my mess in time for dinner. I thought should I ever be so lucky, it would have a little bit of Martha's sensibility and Tenka Gammelgaard's creative edge.

Our little Holtwood House has afforded us many luxuries, including at long last, a little space for me to create. I've been slowly working on my "studio" of sorts and recently turned what would otherwise have been a deep spare closet into one of those work-stations I had always dreamed about.

We had installed the shelves a couple of months back and for a time, housed all of those magazines I'd collected beneath them. But in the end, I felt that I wasn't taking full advantage of this precious little area (not quite a walk-in closet, not quite a standard either) and so the idea for the "project nook" was born.

We had a spare piece of pegboard sitting in the garage that just needed a little trim and paint. When we bought the house, the old workbench area in the garage had come outfitted with some old metal do-dads and hooks that I just took a spray can to and turned shiny gold. Bottles are now all corralled into black hanging baskets- my only additional purchase for this project. I even sprayed my old wooden thread rack black and hung it up on the pegboard to keep the work surface clutter free. Drawers below hold invitation papers, fabric remnants, studs and pins.

Land of Nod
Because it was intended as a closet, it is not currently powered. Perhaps we'll install a permanent outlet or some recessed lighting. For now, I've got my eye on this inexpensive little pretty that I'm planning to clip to one of the shelves and shine a little much needed light down from above.

Professional chefs like to advise nervous novice cooks to start first with an organized work surface- mise-en-place- or everything in place. For so many years I've had stuff piled into bins in the garage and randomly tossed into office drawers that were becoming more and more difficult to close (and honestly, very easy to ignore). I felt stifled, unorganized and a little frustrated. I'd waste so much time starting and stopping a project to find that one bottle of paint or glue that I needed. It feels so good to have it all organized now in one place, one happy, little, shiny, black and gold place.

Update! Hey guys... I'm also over at Bijou and Boheme today sharing my Style in 7. Can somebody pinch me please? Christine's blog is one of my absolute favorite (and daily!) reads. Please hop on over and check it out... 


Monday, November 5, 2012

Framed Mineral Art

I've had a fascination of late with rocks, minerals and marbling. You'll find them piled up in bowls, used as coasters and adorning boxes throughout our house. While I've previously talked about my minimalist tendencies, when it comes to these semi-precious sparklers, I've been borrowing from the more is definitely more theory in decorating.

So I'm pretty sure this is going to happen- perhaps in the master bedroom or bath. I've been slowly collecting flat backed geodes and agate slices for some time and now I'm contemplating framing options. I just love how the white matting draws attention to the different shapes, colors and textures in these specimens here. The installation I have planned would add some much needed visual interest and color to our master. But it would also serve as a good reminder of how crazy beautiful this world of ours can be- something perfectly suited for a place we start and end each day.

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