Friday, December 20, 2013

Radical Dude // This Tree Wants to Party

We're a little late in the game to get the tree up this year - but it's all with good intention. You see, we're planning ourselves quite the shindig to ring in the New Year and decided we'd take our traditional Christmas tree right on into 2014. As such, we're really riding this theme of coloring outside the lines and made this tree merry and very bright. It's already dressed to party.

We were able to parlay many of the black ornaments we typically use. But the neon brights called for a little handiwork. I spent a good week painting, taping and spraying in various neon hues to strike just the right balance. I disappeared last Saturday night only to return from Home Depot with a bag full of neon string and plastic chain and I have to admit, when all was said and done, I got a little thrill garnishing the tree with our eccentrically electric garland. It just gave the tree the right amount of something... 

I've had fun this week decking the rest of the halls in a wee bit of neon. I'm even breaking my own rule of keeping the wrap under wraps until Christmas in sharing with you now, the scheme we went with this year. See... coloring outside the lines. It may just become a part of everyday life in 2014.


Monday, December 16, 2013

Artful Packaging // Ortigia Sicilia

I love beautiful packaging. I've actually purchased products simply on the basis of thoughtful packaging or a particularly smart looking logo just so that I can display them unopened about the house. Little works of art can sometimes be found in a box of pasta, bottle of cooking oil, cleaning solution or in this latest case, a collection of the most elegantly packaged bath and beauty products on the planet.

Of course, having just returned from Italy, its Italian roots speaks directly to my romantic heart.

Though it takes its name and inspiration from a little island off the coast of southeastern Sicily, Ortigia Sicilia is a small Italian soap company based in Florence. It was founded by Sue Townsend, one of the original founders of Crabtree and Evelyn. The all natural products are produced by local, small family companies who pride themselves on product quality, using the essences of indigenous plants like Sicilian Lime, Lavender, Almond, Pomegranate and Orange Blossom to create exotic scented oils, soaps and perfumes.  All I can imagine is the transportive scents coming out of these bottles, something that might just get me by until I can make another trip back to my beloved Italy.

The packaging, designed by Sue Townsend herself, is truly a sight to behold. I'd love to display a few different scents and colors on my bathroom vanity.  

Ortigia ships worldwide from Italy. But if you're still searching for that indulgent little something for that someone special, you're in luck. Amazon can deliver a limited selection of these products to you in time for the holiday gifting.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Up-cycled Mineral Decanters

With the impending holidays, my mind immediately turns to party, which then inevitably leads to bar. Funny how that works. I had been wanting to update our house bar with some fancy new crystal decanters for quite some time. But frankly that expenditure falls well behind in terms of priority - particularly now right smack in the middle of the season of giving. So last weekend, I found a creative way to scratch that long nagging itch and came up with a project that would up-cycle some materials I already had on hand. In the end, it was really what I was hoping for all along.

We've been saving up our old clear wine and liquor bottles for the past couple of years - actually having friends and family save theirs for our hoard. Some are just too pretty to toss and I knew we'd find a way to recycle them into a project at some point in time. When inspiration struck for my makeshift decanters, I turned to our stockpile and picked out a few in varying shapes and sizes. Cleaning and removing the labels was the most time intensive part of this project - nothing a dishwasher and a little 'goo be gone' could not tackle. 

I knew I had a few rocks, minerals and cabinet knobs lying around that I decided could work to fancy up the caps. A dab of E6000 was all I needed to bind them strongly to the existing bottle tops and corks. 

Originally I considered purchasing some traditional chain metal tags to complete the look. But I caught a glimpse of Christine's Instagram and decided to give my decanters a little more edge with a string of bulky chain right off the hardware shelf. 

I think these decanters are ready to rock it and just in time for our big New Year's Eve bash.


Monday, December 9, 2013

The Boss

This weekend brought a pretty significant change to Holtwood House. I've shared our plans for the large set of windows here and most recently here. But as I'm sure you all can attest, one change will undoubtedly lead to another and we finally made the decision to take all of the walls back to white. When we moved in, my Pops was kind enough to paint out the room in Behr's Silver Screen. We lived with that color for the last couple of years and just could not get past it to bring the room together. Grays are tricky and this one translated blue at certain parts of the day and depending on the season, sometimes even brown. Of course, we also had our goofy window tint playing into that. But once the the tint came off and the aluminum frames were painted black, we saw the room fit for only one color - Benjamin Moore's White Dove

So it was that on a rainy Saturday this past weekend, the walls were washed in white by my Pops, who was again, back to paint out the same room he painted only three years ago. I've talked a bit about him before - remember the screen project on the front exterior of the house? There is nary a major project he has not touched in this house. I'm full of ideas and the projects never seem to end around here. The Mister and I can tackle a lot of them, but we've been lucky enough to have my Dad come in and help us execute all the big stuff. 

I love project days. After three years chalk full of them, we seamlessly slip right into our roles. I prepare and clean, The Mister helps with all the heavy lifting and inevitable 10 trips to Home Depot and Dad comes in and does his thing.  Dad teases me and calls me "Boss", but throughout the day, we pay close attention and learn, shaking our heads as he takes each line of the window or wall with a deft hand - never once needing to tape off. Truth be told, I'd have the entire room outlined in Blue Painter's Tape. Around Noon, we congregate at the dining room table for lunch break and then, he's back at it. I always marvel how he can neatly fit a project into an 8 hour day. 

Trust me, we know how lucky we are.

Late Saturday afternoon, as I stood back just super giddy at the way the room came together, I put my arm around him and said 'Aren't you just impressed with how awesome you made this turn out?!' He just shook his head and laughed at me. 

There is still so much to do to make it all come together, but I awoke Sunday morning, ran right to the living room and had one of those "I can't believe this is our house!" moments. Thanks to Dad, I've been fortunate to have quite a few of those. 


Thursday, December 5, 2013

Fresh Ideas // Bare Root Pine in Water

I caught a glimpse of this first image right as the holidays were ending last year and for a good part of the following 12 months, thought about the beautiful simplicity achieved by displaying this familiar item in an unexpected way. Even in simplicity there can be drama.  

I've since spotted similar set ups among some of my favorite Scandinavian design blogs and what strikes me most is that this is a living display - one that feels respectful and a bit otherworldly to this SoCal native used to covering every square inch of a heavily flocked tree that seems to dry out the moment I bring it through the door.  There's something calming too about a glimpse of the bare roots still swimming in a vase of cool, clear water. It reminds me that it's not always necessary to fuss this time of year and that there is beauty to be found in even the unfussiest of details. 

clockwise from top: 1 / 2 / 3 / 4 / 5

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Make This // Floral Pick Centerpiece

With the holiday entertaining season well underway, I wanted to share a quick and easy centerpiece idea that you could put together in a snap - probably with items you already have on hand. I was at my local crafts store the other day and came across some feathered floral picks that I simply had to do something with. I eventually left the store with them in my bag and by the time I pulled back into the driveway, had the idea that I could pair them up with a piece of scrap wood to create a dramatic centerpiece for our Thanksgiving table. 

To recreate a similar centerpiece, simply drill small holes down the center of a piece of 1x1 board, cut to your desired length. You could certainly insert your floral picks at this point and call it done. I took it a couple of steps further by staining the wood and adding some gold leaf into and around a few of the natural grooves in the wood. I finished it off with some spray lacquer to give it a bit of a shine and ensure the gold leaf was held intact.
I made two on the cheap and both transported well to our holiday celebration. I also had a few sheets of marble paper on hand and while helping to set the table, also whipped up some coordinating napkin rings. The 2" strips were held together with a dot of glue on the backside and added just a little more polish to our dinner table.


Monday, December 2, 2013

Design Dilemma // A Windows Update

Things have been quite busy since our return from Europe and unfortunately, the blog has suffered a bit of neglect as a result. I'm working at "balance" and not driving myself crazy trying to do it all and as badly as I feel having not posting more regularly, I have been using the additional time gained to get some of those nagging projects done around the house. One of them concerns our west facing living room windows.
Recall, I had shared some of our concerns about the irregular shaped window arrangement in a previous post. While managing around that was certainly our most prominent dilemma, it was just one of several we've been facing. In that previous post, I got a couple of comments that made me rethink and expand our original plan a bit.
The new plan:
Frame out windows with casing
Paint old aluminum window frames black
Hang rod above new casing and flank with drapery panels

We made a decision on the window casing and thanks to Dad, got that installed last week.  But as you all know, one thing leads to another and now I get to reveal the other (embarrassing) dilemma we were looking at solving before we could move on to painting out our frames.
Behold, the mirrored tint that came with all of our windows when we bought the house:

This is an old snapshot, but one that best illustrates what we saw everyday when the sun went down - our own reflections. Curiously, the tint allowed anyone standing on the outside to see clearly in, but prevented those on the inside from seeing out after dark. We understand why the previous homeowners installed tint. Left naked, our West facing windows certainly heat things up on that side of the house. But the mirrored tint would certainly not have been our choice. Did I mention these babies are also single paned? We had installed blinds on the windows, which hid the tint quite well. But we intend to ditch the blinds and leave the windows themselves undressed. The bottom line: the open, steel frame look we are desiring could not be achieved with the cheap looking mirrored tint still on. 

So while most of you were hitting the malls last Friday, I was tearing off our unsightly tint in preparation for a big paint job we now have scheduled for the coming weekend. It came off in big sheets and took only minutes. I smugly stood back and thought, "well that was easy". But the light coming through the following morning showed me that my work was only half done. The old adhesive was fully baked on and still needed to be removed.

Not knowing the best way to go about it, I consulted the guys at Home Depot (who all gave me the side eye, as if to say "don't do it"). I turned to Google and YouTube and in the end, came up with two tools needed for the job: a pack of razor blades and ammonia. So I went at it... for four hours.

I got creative and thought "soaking" would expedite removal. It didn't. Patience and frequent blade changing on my scraper were the only ways to tackle. Had we not had single pane windows, I would have attempted to steam. In the end though, I just didn't want to risk cracking them.
So that's where we are now - windows cased, stripped and cleaned and now, ready for paint. Next up: we'll attempt to get the steel frame look we've always wanted (until we can install the real thing) with a little paint. We also have a bigger paint job planned for the entire room to help brighten things up a bit and return us to a neutral canvas. Stay tuned for more updates...

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Make This // Gilded Chipboard Party Coasters

No sooner had our plane home landed that I found myself fully immersed in our next project: the party we always said we'd throw on New Year's Eve. Busying my hands with decorative projects for our soiree has helped to ease the common symptoms of a post-vacation, return to reality. 

For one such project, I uplifted some old beer coasters we had laying around the house - you know the kind usually distributed with your pint at your local brewhouse. Ideally, I would have ordered a set of pretty, professionally printed monogrammed coasters. But inspiration struck and I transformed that stack of printed chipboard coasters and saved a little money in the process. More than that, I was pretty tickled with how these came out.  The shiny gold leafing paired up well with black for our fancy, night-time affair. But I imagine these would also be brilliant in other colors for your coffee table - cobalt, lavender, hunter green and bright orange all come to mind. Here's the very simple how to:

While we used some old beer coasters, you can purchase plain, unprinted versions from Etsy.  Gold leafing kits are readily available at your local crafts store, as are the metallic paint pens if you wish to add a monogram detail like I did.


Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Italian Adventure Highlights (+ Paris!) // Part 2

While staying in Sorrento, we took a wild ride on the Circumvesuviana to see the ruins in Pompeii. I had been once before, but after watching numerous documentaries on the subject, it was something The Mister wanted to see while we were in Italy.  It was just as sobering an experience as it was the first time I saw it. We found ourselves smiling for pictures to take back home and show others, but the reality of the place and what befell its inhabitants nearly 2,000 years ago weighed heavy that day.  There was also wonder too- amazement of the work that still continues to take place to unearth treasures buried so very deep in hardened ashy earth, bit by little bit. 

We took another risk right outside the train station and hired a local guide to teach us all we did not know. It was one of the best investments of the trip and surprisingly inexpensive. We landed with a small group and an archeology student who was well versed in every nook and cranny of the site. We learned so very much that day, saw portions of the city that had opened only the weekend before and could not help but be awed at how beautiful the surrounding landscape was. There were also the resilient wild dogs of Pompeii to marvel and coo at. Both were reminders that Pompeii is also a survivor and not just a city in ruins.

We left the Bay of Naples and headed off by train to Tuscany for the next three days. We arrived in Siena at dusk and immediately made our way into the medieval city centre for dinner. Our first glimpse of Piazza del Campo, the main square in front of the towering town hall was another moment I'll never forget. I'd stared at pictures of it for so very long and I think I must've said I can't believe we're standing here! so many times that night. We ate at Bar Il Palio, a historic watering hole named for the famous horse race that takes place there twice each year and over a plate of Pici, giggled at the bar's soundtrack for the evening, Elvis' Greatest Hits. It was surreal being in a distant place so brand new, trying a dish we had not ever heard of while we were serenaded by a voice all too familiar. 

I could definitely live here. I think I made the announcement several times as we walked the narrow stone streets of Siena. It somehow felt more cosmopolitan than Rome or the other cities we had visited. From table to table you heard people speaking French, German and Italian, readily exchanging one language for the other depending on who they were addressing. We were made aware so many times on our trip that we are part of a global community and yet here was one more reminder. I felt ashamed that I could only order in my native language and made a promise to myself over plate of wild boar pappardelle that I would make a solid attempt to pick up another language well before my next big birthday.

Put Siena on your bucket list. It's a place well worth a visit, maybe even more than once.

It wasn't on our original itinerary, but a change of plans had us spending our last full day in Italy in the city of Florence. We needed a bit of a break before we took our next destination by storm and decided on a slow exploration of the city, picking out just a couple of spots that would give us a little taste of this historic place. After lunch, we pinpointed The Basilica of Santa Croce as our big draw and visited the tombs of Galileo, Machiavelli and Michelangelo before taking in a little street-side shopping.  

Paris is a city to be shared. My first Parisian experience over a decade ago was a solo mission and I understand now more than ever that I didn't get the same feel for that magnificent city as I did when The Mister and I landed there for the final leg of our trip. I was joyful, ecstatic even nearly every moment we were there. Perhaps it was due in part to our inaugural cocktail the night we landed. It's not everyday that you get to taste a bloody mary made from behind the bar where it was invented. The Mister can finally cross that one off his bucket list.

But the truth is, the beauty present in every single thing in this city spoke resoundingly to the romantic in me and to my surprise, my Italian Mister who might have whispered that this was his favorite leg of our journey. It was amazing to us how clean, well cared for and styled every table, monument, lobby, garden bed and street corner was - how evident it was that people actually took the time to "make pretty", everywhere.  Made us want to return home and do the same.

We had just two and a half days in The City of Lights and we made the most of every minute. I plotted out long walks that made the most efficient use of our time there and we found ourselves seeing everything we wanted to see on this trip. We walked in the rain along the river and found the best bowl of Pho I've ever had in St. Germain (I'd give anything to go back there right now and have that meal again). We walked the heart of the city at least twice over and among many things saw Napoleon's tomb, picnicked on The Seine, cruised the river after dark, locked it all up on The Pont des Artes, saw a mass take place at Notre Dame and yes, sipped champagne under the lights of the Eiffel tower. We even took a train out to Pere Lachaise Cemetery to visit Morrison's tomb. The Mister can cross that one off his list as well.

Note the lipstick stains that mark the tomb of Oscar Wilde above.
There was also Edith. I can cross that one off my own list.

Our last day greeted us with sunny skies and it was Sunday afterall, so all of Paris was found strolling the Champs-Elysees along with us. We walked from the Arc de Triomphe up the great avenue to the Place de la Concord and finally through The Tuileries before landing in front of the glass pyramid at The Louvre. It was free admission that day and the line did not end. We made a promise to come back and see it when we could spend the time and do it right. 

The best way to end a trip is with the promise of another.

If you'll indulge me, I have one more post to share with you. With so much to see, it's easy to dismiss where you stay as unimportant, but I have some thoughts and some great finds to share with you on the subject. We did a lot of reflecting on our journey and learned a lot about ourselves, as well as gained a new understanding about travel and why it is important (even if the destination is not always as grand). Of course, there are some logistical learnings that you might want to file away for your own adventures in the future. Keep a look out for that post next week.

For reference, Part 1 of our journey is chronicled here

* photos by Holtwood Hipster / R. Neally


Monday, November 18, 2013

Italian Adventure Highlights // Part 1

We've talked about taking a trip together to Italy for as long as I can remember. My husband's family hails from this particularly beautiful part of the world and it was always on our collective bucket list to have this one carefree, wondrous adventure for ourselves before we ever started a family of our own. I daydreamed my way through more than a decade, planning and plotting what we'd do, what we'd see, what I'd wear (yes!) and how much this experience would mean to us and our marriage. But you know how it is... things come up, years pass, other events like buying a house take priority, money is saved and eventually spent and travel luxuries, well, they tend to fall by the wayside. 

Thankfully, fate eventually stepped in and gave us a little nudge. A portion of the trip was unexpectedly gifted and it finally became non-negotiable that this trip was going to happen. We buckled down and saved, got creative with our resources (hello eBay!) and squirreled enough away to finally have the trip of our dreams. So it was that in late October, we boarded a plane and made our way to the Eternal City to begin our adventure.

I had been to Rome before. When we were just dating, I got on a plane all by myself and hit London and Paris solo before eventually meeting up with my Uncles for a whirlwind tour of Italy's great cities. It was good background for us going in this time around, as we were able to weed through what we wanted to do with the short time we had there. A flight delay on the front end allotted us only two full days to taste Rome, but running on pure adrenaline, we were able to drink it all in.

Traveling during the 'shoulder season' is less expensive, but certainly delivers a mix of weather. We got both rain and sun and planned activities accordingly. Late one afternoon, we stopped for a drink at a cafe in front of The Pantheon and watched all the umbrellas come out. The colorful parasols only added more atmosphere to our little happy hour and the sight of them all popping open in near unison was one of those hallmark moments that I know I'll always remember.

I fell in love with the towering stone pine canopies that seemed to cover every sidewalk and pathway around Rome. It sometimes felt like they were watching over us as we took long walks through antiquities and along the Tiber, eventually fading out as we wound and weaved our way into pretty piazzas for more food and drink.

Against our better judgement, we bought a guided tour that very first day from one of the street vendors  out in front of The Vatican- solely on the promise that we would get into Saint Peter's Basilica, which was scheduled to close early that day. Our rationale was that we had a short amount of time to spend at The Vatican and this would fast track us through the museum hordes and eventually past the never-ending line at the Basilica entrance to see the show-stopper. As luck would have it , our guide eventually ditched us in The Sistine Chapel and the fast track we were promised failed to happen.  In the end, we chalked it up to divine intervention because we would never have risen at the crack of dawn the very next day to see St. Peter's Square at daybreak and with nary a line in sight. The way the hazy morning light blanketed the square was magical and we agreed it was one of the best gifts of the trip.

If you only see one thing at The Vatican, this is it folks. You can not conceive of the majesty of it until you stand beneath it and see it with your very own eyes.

We took the train south for a 3-day stint out of Sorrento. From there, we saw Capri, Amalfi, Positano and Pompeii. The weather was not on our side the day we went to Capri, so we skipped the boat and spent most of our time in cafes people watching and indulging in sweet treats. It was a nice break from the high pace of Rome. But by evening, we were ready for some more action so we headed into town from our hotel.

Downtown Sorrento will forever be one of my favorite places to visit. The energy was well suited to The Mister and I - plenty to see and do if you wanted to partake, GREAT food found inexpensively and atmosphere, lots and lots of atmosphere for sitting in a cafe and watching the evening passeggiata.
That Sunday night, we sat at what became our favorite spot and suddenly the whiz of the motorbikes stopped, the buzz of the crowd was silenced and we looked up to see a procession of nuns and priests filing out of the nearby church, holding up a statue of the baby Jesus. It was incredibly moving to hear an entire bustling town silenced at its busiest hour, suddenly falling into cadence in prayer. I'll never forget it.

Our final day had us truly on The Amalfi Coast, white knuckling through the SITA bus ride to Amalfi before taking a ferry back to Positano for lunch. It was everything it promised to be - colorful enclaves built right into rocks that preside high above the bluest water I've ever seen. Some parts of Italy are meant to be seen on foot or by train. But this... there is no other way to see it than from the water, studying every towering detail, wide eyed, wondering what strength and fortitude the people who live high above must have to hike those hillsides day in and day out. 

As we returned back to our hotel to pack up for the next destination, we recognized that we had half of our trip now behind us. It was evident that we were both fighting off that nagging realization that eventually we'd board another plane bound for home. La Dolce Vita had certainly taken over and if we couldn't make it last forever, it was definitely starting to become clear that we'd want to take home a little more than a trinket souvenir from this journey. 

Be sure to check back for Part 2 of our adventures in Pompeii, Tuscany and finally, Paris.

*all photos by Holtwood Hipster / R. Neally

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