Thursday, February 12, 2015

rain city

In the fall of 1995, I moved to Seattle to accept a spot in a Master of Fine Arts program at the University of Washington.  I had just completed my bachelor's degree at the University of a Maryland in College Park,  and had been living in (and loving) the neighborhoods in and around Washington D.C. for the 4 years prior.   I had honestly never given Seattle a second thought before I was offered the opportunity to go to UW and used to joke that I couldn't have found it on a map before I moved there.  I had absolutely no inkling that it was a city that would change my life.

Lots of people had random tidbits of knowledge to bestow on me when they found out I was moving to Seattle.  My favorite example is one of my Pennsylvania aunts trying to convince me that the city was teeming with serial killers.  All I really knew was that there was rain and there was music.  I definitely found those things (luckily no serial killers), but I also found a city with fantastic food, lots of interesting, creative people and beauty -- natural and otherwise -- pretty much everywhere I looked.

In the six years I lived in Seattle,  I became an artist and a member of a creative community like none I've experienced in any other city.  I became a much better cook and fell in love with gardening.  I also became a wife and the member of the giant clan of Seattlites that came with my husband.  With the husband and the clan came the gift of always being connected to this fabulous city.

You can imagine why I consider it my second hometown. 
Beauty.  Natural and otherwise.
It probably seems like a tourist move (it isn't, unless you go on a Saturday in, say, August), but I almost always start a trip with a visit to Pike Place Market.  My first apartment is Seattle was in Belltown in a time (before fancy condos had taken over) when the closest grocery store was either Larry's Market in Lower Queen Anne or the Safeway on Broadway.  Pike Place is where I did my shopping and it was, and remains, one of the most inspiring and places for me.
I never get tired of this place.
Sosio's, Don and Joe's and The Pike Place Market Creamery were my go-to spots.   I was additicted to the baguette and croissants and pretty much everything else at Le Panier.

The plan is always to eat as much seafood as possible while in Seattle.  It is not hard to find the good stuff.
Even with good places in abundance,  my sentimental favorite in the market is DeLaurenti.  When I landed on Seattle's shores I was a 21 year old Italian-American girl from the east coast.  I was terribly homesick for the Italian food culture that I grew up with, so DeLaurenti became the place I went to comfort myself on many a gloomy (and not-so-gloomy) Seattle day.

It was Super Bowl weekend when I was in town, and I've never seen Seattle so pumped up about sports.  It was Seahawks everything, on everyone, everywhere.
Rachel, all dressed up for game day.

There are lots of other things to see and do, but really Seattle visits are all about the food.  I made it a point to eat some oysters from the paradise that is Uwajimaya and lots and lots of Theo Chocolate, but the through line of this trip was sandwiches.
The Pork Medium (P Med) from Pecos Pit Barbeque - a thing of messy, eat with a spork beauty so good that I will sit outside in Seattle in January to eat it and the sweet and spicy beans that are it's perfect mate.  Pecos is the only BBQ joint with a sauce too spicy for me to order the hot version.  The medium is ass-kicker enough.
We are a family of bloggers and food nerds, so of course there was documentation of the construction process of Drew's fried chicken sandwich with spicy slaw --special request for my sister in law's birthday dinner.
Really good burgers from a drive-in count as sandwiches, right?
There is no trip to Seattle that doesn't include a stop at Dick's Drive-in.  Did I mention that it was Super Bowl Sunday?  Lots of very excited Seahawks fans were also having burgers for brunch.  By the time we got our Deluxes and cheeseburgers, fries and a chocolate shake, the all of the lines stretched well into the parking lot.  It was a sea of blue and green.
More sandwiches during the halftime show.
A team effort creating salmon BLTs for Super Bowl sustenance.
My husband is a Seattle native, and he grew up in one of the giant Victorian homes in the Capitol Hill neighborhood (you can see his childhood drawing of that house in this post).  In the past few years, much of the family and quite a few of our friends have moved to Ballard.  When I lived in Seattle, it was a sleepy neighborhood filled with retired fishermen from Scandanavia.  In the last decade or so it has transformed with lots of new condos, restaurants, breweries and shops along the water at Market Street and Ballard Avenue.  They also have a fantastic Sunday farmer's market.  It is a neighborhood where everybody walks and bikes, even in the rain. 
Many of our friends and family have bought cute little houses on the streets surrounding "downtown" Ballard.
A mild Pacific Northwest winter means that the daphne (and lots of other gorgeous flowering things) were ready for spring as early as January.
Quite a few of the little craftsman houses in Ballard are being remade into Northwest modern homes like this one.
There's a fabulous view of the diving lady, my Ballard beacon, from the living room window of my in-laws' condo.
Here's how she looks when the fog rolls in.

And I could never make a post about Seattle without talking about coffee.  I miss the coffee culture so much -- Los Angeles just can't hold a candle to it -- so I have to have "real" coffee when I'm in town.
The Ballard outpost of Bauhaus Books + Coffee.   The original store at the corner of Pine and Bellevue had amazing views of downtown and the Space Needle.  It was one of my haunts during graduate school.
A perfectly made mocha.  And that's a little bar of chocolate on the rim of the cup.
It was a fabulous Seatown weekend -- in so many ways a trip "home".  I am so grateful that I'll get to do it all again soon.



Friday, December 19, 2014

what's your gift?


Last Christmas, my parents asked if I would, as my gift to them, design a new living room for their Pennsylvania home.

First, I should mention that my parents have serious skill when it comes to remodeling and were a big help to Drew and I in the first year or so in our new house.  The MMD studio couldn't have happened without them and I really wanted to repay them in whatever way I could.  But.   When it came to tackling their living room, I was a bit hesitant at first.  Not because I didn't want to avail my parents of whatever design skill and talent that I possess, but mostly because I thought it might be difficult to design my parents' house.  I was concerned about making them uncomfortable with all of the change that design can bring, of insulting them when we disagreed.  I was worried that we couldn't have the kind of relationship that a designer has to have with a client because they are my parents.

And let me also add that the design evolution at my parents' house has been a little odd.  My mom has wonderful taste and great personal style and always decorated the homes I lived in with interesting art and color and furniture she refinished and restored.  I was already away at college by the time she and my stepdad moved into their current home, and in the 20 years since, I've been surprised to see it morph into a house that looked like old people live there -- especially because my parents are decidedly not.

I relented and said yes -- there was really no question -- and in the end my fears were unfounded.  At one of our first design meetings, my mom said "I don't want it to look like an old lady's house anymore."  I knew right then that she got it and was ready for something different.   I stopped being nervous and just decided to do for my parents what I do for every other client.  And if I'm really honest with myself, I've been dying to get my hands on their house for years, so I was thrilled to get down to it.

My mom is dreading this part, but here are the before photos:
The matchy old lady floral furniture.  The green carpet.  The pink walls, fake flowers, awkward floor plan, all of it.  Ugh.

Dark, heavy draperies covering big, beautiful windows.  The giant TV in front of the window.  Uncomfortable furniture.

Here's my sketch of the new floor plan:
All of the furniture was replaced by more comfortable, more contemporary pieces.  The two focal points of the room, fireplace and TV, are now on the same wall.
My parents turned out to be really great clients.  They were open to color and furniture ideas that were far more contemporary than anything in their previous comfort zone and they were really motivated to get the space done.   After a couple of design meetings we finalized a color palette and furniture plan, and they really got to work.  They did lots of furniture shopping.  My mom spent hours in fabric stores, choosing the drapery and accent pillow fabrics.  They had the place painted and had new carpet installed.  They replaced overhead light fixtures, hung the new draperies and removed the brass trim around the fireplace.  We exchanged endless photos of art, lighting and accessories options and tweaked the floor plan where necessary, but really, after the design development and my initial site visit back in February (really an excuse for me to come and hang out with my family), my parents rocked the project management and installation on their own. 

Here's what the room looks like now:
This room is filled with grey tones, but is still light and bright.  The velvet sectional is over-sized and super comfortable and serves as the anchor piece in the space.  A long, slim console table behind it is a perfect perch for the lamps.  And my stepdad still has a recliner.
I never thought my stepdad would love an IKEA chair (or IKEA anything for that matter), but this recliner is his new power spot.
Remember the corner that used to have the big TV in it?  Now it is my mom's center of gravity.  Those spectacular armchairs are my absolute favorite thing in the room.
Double drapery rods with peacock blue velvet draperies are perfect with all the grey tones.  They are also great insulation during the cold Pennsylvania winters.  The second rod is hung with pure white sheers -- perfect for creating daytime privacy while still allowing the room to fill with light.
A pair of beautiful prints, picked up on a trip to Paris my parents took a few years ago. 
Paris meets Pittsburgh in the books, art and accessories in this room.  The carpet is luxe, too.
The grandfather clock has been in the Brinker family since the 1840's.  Its the most traditional element in this room (the only room in the house with ceilings high enough accommodate it), but it seems to work.
Pillow and sectional sofa details.
We're still working on the artworks for a few of the walls and a family photo gallery for another, and I don't think that I'll ever convince my mom that less is more when it comes to accessories, but I think its safe to say that this room is a success.   During my visit last month we spent almost all of our time here.  It is comfortable and beautiful and best of all, my parents are happy with it.  They will be spending Christmas 2014 in the room I gifted them last year, and it brings me nothing but joy to think of my Pennsylvania tribe, all of them, having a fantastic holiday in their beautiful new space.
A photo from my parents as they decorated for their first Christmas in the new living room.

So. What's your gift?  What are you giving this holiday?  I hope it brings you as much happiness to give it as it does to those who receive it.



Friday, November 21, 2014

sparkle and shine

My favorite pair of shoes are red patent leather Marc Jacobs pumps with a round heel and a peep toe.  They were a birthday gift from my husband six or seven years ago, and have been my footwear nirvana ever since.
Favorite shoes, perfect Christmas gear.
I wear them whenever I can during the year, but the best time to put them on is during the holidays.   I'm not really the Christmas sweater type, so I have to figure new things to pair with my shoes to create my holiday attire.  And since I almost always wear a pair of dark jeans and a white blouse (sometimes black), the easiest way to pull together a look is with jewelry and accessories.

It just so happens that my friends at Chairish (Remember them?  They asked me to design a room with some of their vintage furniture?)  just added thousands of vintage jewelry and accessory pieces to their marketplace.  With Thanksgiving coming up next week and Christmas hot on its heels, it seems to me to be a great opportunity to find some perfect pieces for my holiday looks -- and maybe a little something that I'm hoping to find under the tree.

The beautiful girl in the photo is not me, but you get the idea.  Everything here except my shoes is available from Chairish.
So many beautiful things to make my blouse, jeans and red shoes holiday ready, from the vintage clutch to the square pendant necklace.  Jade bangles and the little glass earrings are just enough green.  The cocktail ring isn't too matchy.  And Christmas is sunny in Los Angeles, like, really sunny,  so you can bet I'll be rocking those red cat's eye sunglasses.

This time of the year there seem to be parties and gatherings every spare second from Thanksgiving to New Year's Day.  Nothing is ever too fancy in my life, but I do like to dress up my jeans and blouse when it is not the right occasion for red and green.  I love to get a little sparkly, too.
That's my jacket and shoes.  Everything else is from Chairish.
I swap out my red shoes for black Mary Janes and pull on my blue velvet jacket -- sometimes with the white blouse, sometimes with a black t-shirt.  I am obsessed with the Dior insect brooches, and they seem to have been made for the lapel of my jacket.  The pearl and glass cocktail ring is  spectacular.  The little round handbag is adorable.  I'll be wearing this outfit as long as there is an excuse to celebrate.

Besides all of this beautiful stuff, there is one more piece that I'm hoping to find under my tree.

 I'll just have to wait and see if Santa is kind to me.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Central Grocery doesn't deliver

The muffaletta from Central Grocery in New Orleans is my favorite sandwich. And that is saying a lot when you consider that my runners up are the grilled pork sandwich from Paseo in Seattle, the cap and cheese from Primanti Brothers (the location in The Strip only) in Pittsburgh and The Godmother from Bay Cities Itailan Deli in Santa Monica.

Lots of delis and sandwich shops here in Los Angeles make their version of a muffaletta, but I haven't found any of them particularly satisfying.  And since Central Grocery doesn't deliver, sometimes I have to take matters into my own hands.

It started with bread.  I've been on a bread baking kick lately thanks to an absurdly easy and crazy good recipe from Cucina Collora.  A perfect loaf, just out of the oven, begged to become sandwiches.
I made this beautiful thing. 
Crusty exterior, great crumb, slightly sour flavor.   Perfect for muffaletta.
While my bread was cooling, I made what I consider to be the most crucial component of the sandwich:  the olive salad.
I combined kalamata and picholine olives with our homemade giardiniera and pickled hot and sweet peppers and a little olive oil.  Add a bit of salt (not much) and some black pepper and you're all set.
You can use whatever good stuff you've got on hand to make your olive salad.  The longer you let it marinate before you use it, the better it tastes.
Drew stepped in, as he often does, to assemble our sandwiches.
Lettuce and tomato, then salami, mortadella and capicola.  And Drew's big bird slippers.
Provolone cheese, my fabulous spicy olive salad and condiments.  Just to gild the lily, we topped it all off with a kosher dill pickle slice, too.
Not bad for our first go at it.  And I barely had time to take the photos before we'd devoured them.

Got a favorite sandwich?  A favorite sandwich joint?  A secret spot for great muffaletta?  You know I'd love to hear all about it.

Friday, October 24, 2014

everything old is new again

Anytime I'm in a house that is truly a home, the thing that is most noticeable is that almost nothing is brand new.  There may be a few new pieces (I'm a big proponent of mixing new stuff with old), but the rooms with the most comfort and charm don't come from going into a retailer and buying furniture and setting it up like the display at the showroom.  The really good ones are collected, put together over years with thrift store finds and family heirlooms and vintage pieces from different eras and varying provenance.  So when the lovely people at Chairish, purveyors of all sorts of vintage furniture, art and accessories, asked me to design a room using some of their gorgeous stuff, I was excited to give it a go.

The space in question:  a library with particular challenges.  Not a super large room (12'x15' or so),  but with great features like windows on two walls and a built-in bookcase (because its a library) running the entire length of one wall, from the floor to just beneath the window sills. 

The whole design started with the golden velour sofa.   I was obsessed with it the moment I saw it and knew it would become the anchor in this space.  I also found a pair of long lumbar pillows in a graphic gold chain fabric that were perfect for it.  Biggest piece in the room and some accessories for it.  Done.

The antique Persian rug came next -- it is comfy and rich and great with the sofa.  The room is full of light, so I knew that the deep gold/red/chocolate brown tones wouldn't be too dark or heavy here.  Plus, they are just the sort of colors that make for an inviting spot to curl up with a book.

The room needed way more seating than just the sofa and I LOVE chairs, so it was a no-brainer to choose a pair of them to go with the sofa and rug combo.  Chairish has so many fantastic options for seating (and you know that I love chairs), but I managed to narrow it down to a pair of mohair club chairs by Mitchell Gold and Bob Williams.  MGBW has long been my go-to for chairs, so it makes sense that I chose them.  And just like always these are super comfortable, the upholstery is luxe, the color is yummy and they are so right with everything else in the space.

The mood board for the Chairish library.  Besides all of the books, I found every item in this room in one place.
The tables were easy.  The tree shaped teak table is so interesting and unique.  I was determined to find a way to use it, and it turns out that it tucked nicely between the club chairs.  The mid-century modern nesting tables, well, I'm a sucker for the versatility of nesters.  I've used two in front of the sofa like a coffee table and the third one as an end table, but they can be used in the room in lots of different ways.

Every library needs a bar, and this one was no exception.  I wanted a piece with some size and weight, so instead of seeking out a typical bar cart I decided to re-purpose an art deco dresser with a beautiful walnut finish and great hardware.  The drawers are storage for glassware and the cabinet side is perfect used as liquor storage.  The surface space is great for mixing and serving drinks and is large enough to accommodate a glossy cobalt blue lamp with a clean white shade. 
My sketch of the furniture plan with each item on the mood board.

Sometimes the hardest part of a room is getting the art and accessories right.  Good art -- the kind that you love and want to live with -- is tough to find.   And I'm a firm believer that accessories should be a minimal amount of stuff, but it should be the right stuff.  I think I managed to collect a balanced mix of art and accessories that looks great with all those books.
I could not resist the vintage George Nelson clock.  It will fit perfectly between the windows on the bookcase wall.
Globes are the greatest thing ever.  This one will live atop the built-in bookshelves.

A large shot of the abstract art for the wall behind the sofa.  So much dreamy color.  I love the frame on this piece, too.


So.  Like this room?  Love and covet something in it?  Its all for sale right now, so don't hesitate.


Wednesday, October 15, 2014

make me over

When I'm working with a client on their home, we inevitably have a conversation that involves "the perfect piece" for that breakfast nook or space at the bottom of the stairway or empty corner of the master bedroom.  Whatever the trouble spot in a house may be, I find that I bump up against that idea all the time.  Lots of people are convinced that they haven't properly designed or even attempted to design their space because they just haven't found that perfect piece that they envision will make the room complete.

While I definitely visualize the right item for each spot in any room I'm designing,  I'm also of the mind that if you can't find that perfect piece, you should create it yourself (or hire a pro to do it for you).  And one of the best parts of my job is making old things new and not so fabulous things beautiful.  

The Hyde Park house is in progress, and is filling with examples of creating the perfect piece.

Some seating was necessary for the living room, so we made the pilgrimage to my favorite resource for rehab-able chairs in Los Angeles -- Hotel Surplus Outlet.  They sell new furniture overstock, but more importantly, any and everything from hotel and resort liquidations.  Tons of furniture, lighting, art and frames, even a room filled with hotel dish and service ware -- total designer Disneyland. Its one of those places that I feel so lucky to have nearby and it always feels like a treat to walk into their warehouse to see 200 ugly chairs and know that a couple of the will soon be beautiful.  The other great thing about HSO are the prices.  The pair of red chairs I selected only cost $50.
Looks like it belongs in a chain hotel lobby, right?  That's because it does.  But the shape and scale are just right for the living room, so we'll reupholster and give them some cool new legs.


Side view.  And ugh, can you imagine how many dirty traveler hands have touched that armrest?  Gross.

Here are the same chairs after rehab.  They are perfection.
The new fabric is a bold peacock blue with a really subtle herringbone.  At only $10 per yard,  it was a quite a find at the discount outlet of F&S Fabrics.  The trio of metal tables are from CB2
No more dirty armrests!   And some beautiful new legs from tablelegs.com
The white boucle pillow is from Crate & Barrel.
The orange Ikat pillow cover is from Fabricadabra.

The master bedroom is a serious work in progress, with wall color and the removal of the builder's beige carpet and restoration of the hardwood floors still to come.  The furniture plan in this space is really starting to take shape.  The room is already a colorful and comfortable place to be.

The headboard was created specifically for this space.  It is simple and streamlined with a bit of cushion and a luxe linen from Robert Allen. The dust ruffle was constructed in the same fabric.
Not bad for only halfway finished. 
The beautiful pulled thread detail on the headboard and dust ruffle fabric.



Bedside tables are key to comfort, in my opinion.  Must have a drawer for the book (or whatever).  Must be sturdy, and have surface space for a lamp and maybe an alarm clock or glass of water, too.  Storage is a bonus.

I scored a great pair of bedside chests for $20 at a garage sale.  Paint and hardware is all they needed to tick all the boxes.


Solid wood but hideously painted.  An easy fix.

Here they are in their new home:
A pair of vintage lamps with white drum shades are great atop the rehabbed chests. 

The gorgeous new finish and hardware.
The bedroom is a nice, long room, so we wanted to take advantage of the space with a bench at the foot of the bed.  Nothing too large or chunky, but something with storage.  The piece we started with came from one of my absolute favorite resources, my local Home Goods store.  It sometimes take a couple of shopping trips, but I always find what I'm looking for there.  This bench cost about $100.


Great shape and the scale is right.  Bonus storage.  Boring upholstery can be remedied.
 After re-upholstery, it is everyone's new favorite piece in the room.
The fabric has just enough pattern to be a feature, not so much that it looks crazy.  And it is great with the red bedside tables.
The bright, graphic cotton on the bench is from The Fabric Store.  I love it paired with the draperies, from West Elm.

So.  Is there a place in your home that's missing its perfect piece?  I want to know.