Friday, 30 January 2009

"Real" vs. "Kitsch"

As you know, I'm constantly trying to define my style, hone my skills & figure out what works & what doesn't work in spaces. Well, a concept I often think about is real or authentic design, art & accessories. vs. what make something kitsch or scripted or forced or "decorated."

I used to be THE culprit of kitsch when I started out. I wanted my college apartment bedroom to feel like a conservatory, so up went a huge painting of a conservatory & palms & a whole dollar store's worth of fake flowers along with it. eesh (I've mentioned this room before & still haven't found a picture of it- my albums are in storage!)

Anyway, since kitsch is often one of the easiest & cheapest things to do and one of the most readily available, we see it a lot in real life. Picture the person who wants their house to feel like a farmhouse so they buy farmhouse dinnerware:

When instead they could do something more authentic, like this home from Country Living, below:

Using materials & details that would possibly be used in a true farmhouse make this space authentic. The cow print is a fun playful addition to the room & it's not trying to be anything more than it is. The white ironstone is appropriate & beautiful.

Or picture the person who wants a Tuscan-feeling kitchen & fills it with an unusable amount of bottles of oil in the kitchen,

or dishcloths with winebottles on them, wine bottle artwork and throw in a mass-produced Tuscan scene or two. Now I do not mean to judge here, merely to get us thinking. I have been the culprit of this many a time. I think it's a really easy way of designing to get into for the inexperienced & I've SO been there. (how do you think I can describe this room so perectly?! ;)

But the interesting thing is how to figure out how we can evolve out of it, to figure out ways to create the spaces we desire without being inauthentic. To really evolve & become better. I like this styled buffet from Pottery Barn, below. It gives the Tuscan feeling without being as obvious:

Why show a picture of a bottle of wine with no intrinsic artistic value when you can simply have a wine rack? (This isn't to say that I think art with wine in it can't be beautiful, because I've actually very recently seen some amazing art with wine bottles in it) And, why have a picture of a potted palm when you can just head to Home Depot & grab a real one? (yeah, I know, you have to keep it alive ;) And I'm not talking about botanical prints of palms (which I love & I do think of as authentic), I'm talking about the early 90s looking artwork:

If you have stuff like this home, don't feel bad. Just maybe take a minute to reevaluate it. Ask yourself if you actually love the piece or if you just picked it up because it was inexpensive & came in 4' by 3' & fit the "theme" and in the blank space above the sofa. If those are your reasons, I'd say ditch it. If you actually look at it & do love it, then work with it. Thomas Kinkade (below) is one of America's top-selling painters & his name is also one of the first that pops up when you google "kitsch art." A lot of people love his work & the happy feeling it gives them. I say that if you really love something even if it is considered inauthentic, then keep it. If you love it, it's authentic to you.

I also do think it's possible to be ok with certain aspects of kitsch. For example, check out this space in decorator Kirsten Hollister's kitchen (below image from where she uses a bunch of kitschy little paintings of flowers & groups them together casually, irreverently & has fun with them. She's using them for the pops of color & fun they add to the room and it's not displayed as precious art:

And I totally have a thing for really cheap old paintings of landscapes, boats, people & the water. I get them for around $5- $30 & I absolutely love them. I know they're not great art and are considered kitsch, but something about them makes me happy. I think the key is to just display them casually or en masse. The way you display art says a lot about it. (Is it lit up & in a $400 frame? Then that baby better be art in your eyes!) Image below from

Here's a $5 cheapie I love (below) that I have on my mom's mantle right now. It's just causually leaning there & it's not a permanent fixture. It doesn't speak to me in any profound way, it simply added the color & feeling I was on the mood for in the room. It's more to create atmosphere than to be gazed upon as a work of art.

On this road also comes the fabric question. There are those who say that flowers belong in vases & not on fabrics. I really do see the logic & realness to this idea, but I'm still not there yet. I still love a pretty floral on a pillow or blanket. (I'll write more on this later)

One thing I am learning through all of this is that I don't believe in absolutes when it comes to design. Make your rules, but if something comes along & doesn't jive with your rules & you're okay with that, break 'em! I just think it's important to be aware of why you're making certain decisions & to be aware of why you're breaking the rules.

("They're more like guidelines anyway." ;)

Thursday, 29 January 2009

The Washington Post Santa!!

I wanted to thank Terri Sapienza so much for putting Pure Style Home on Blogwatch today in the Washington Post!! (For the recent post on my client's dressing room, 2 posts down.)

I was just sitting down for breakfast & opened up the Home Section to Blogwatch & was so shocked to see it on there!!! I started yelling because I was so excited & totally freaked my husband out because he thought something had happened with the baby. oops!

Anyway, it's like Christmas morning for design bloggers & Terri, thank you so much for being Santa! (Do you know how exciting this is for us?!!) I really appreciate it & can't tell you how great it was to call my grandparents & have them open up the paper to H2. ;)
ps- my dad read this post & was like, "I think you should tone down your excitement." Come on dad, do you know me?!!

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

House Love: Rice Cottage

I know I say this a lot, but I LOVE this house:

[Please forgive my limited use of vocabulary in this post which consists mainly of: "love," "perfect," and "beautiful."] The living room has almost all of the elements that I love: natural elements, (the linen!!) the color scheme, the something pretty, the sculptural table, it's light & airy & relaxing, comfortable, it's got an amazing mix of fursnighings & styles, the texture = I LOVE IT. :)

It belongs to Diane & Jay Speakman & is located ont he coast of Maine. They recently turned it into a seasonal rental cottage.

The wallpaper is beautiful & timeless. (And how great does the painted white mirror look against it? = So easy to do with a cheap flea market find... I'm considering this for my bathroom.) Below, I'm loving the rough natural stones against the ornate lines of the mirror & candlesticks:

This image below is perfection to me: White, wood, nature, light & airy. And I think drop-leaf tables just add so much interest & age to a space. (And I'm going to pretend they just found those moose horns, ok?)
Here's the lucky lady, Diane, enjoying her kitchen:
Oh wow. (below) You know I can't get over the fern on that table in the gorgeous glass vases. Again, I love everything about this space. All the white stoneware against the wood of the hutch... Then mixed with all the white & against the pale blue of the kitchen!!! = perfection
Here's the eat-in kitchen (below) & while I think it's really pretty, I'm not AS obsessed with it as I am with the main living & dining areas of the house. It's missing some of the rawness & layers that's in the other rooms. It feels more "cute" to me than the other spaces but I'd still take it! (Maybe pull off the table cloth to reveal rough wood & switch out the white shades of the chandelier with burlap ones?? Get some contrasting hardware on the cabinets?? I'm only picking this room apart because of the sheer perfection of the other rooms in my opinion. Normally I'd never do this to such a pretty room! ;)
The bedroom below is the perfect coastal getaway bedroom. The roman shades & striped pillow add just the right amount of color into the space to keep it relaxing & totally vacation-feeling. (a word?? ;) I also love how the silver accents to kick it up a notch:
And here's the kids' bedroom. It has more of that sweetpea feeling that the kitchen table did. It feels so clean & pretty & I'd love to tuck little ones in here at night on my vacation!
On another note, we have a snow day today!!! (My husband's a teacher so it's a big treat!!) We took Christian (our year & a half year old out in the snow for the first time yesterday & it was so great- especially when we showed him he could eat it too!!!)
photos by Keller + Keller

Enjoy your day!!

Monday, 26 January 2009

Pure Style: Dressing Room

A dressing room: one of the ultimate luxuries. A client of mine came to me with the idea to change a spare room of hers into her very own dressing room and that's what we did.

She loves to shop & attends all kinds of parties & galas and has the most beautiful collection of ball gowns & cocktail dresses!!! Her shoe collection is amazing. The problem was she has nowhere to store her ever-growing collection of clothing. She used to keep her things in the guest bedroom (the guest bedroom I just recently showed pictures of), but that closet wan't big enough & we demo'd it for the bathroom renovation. So, the spare bedroom was the perfect solution.

Here is the room before: an office/ workout room/ catch-all. With her crazy-busy schedule, she was unable to get a handle on the room.

Here is her mother's adorable vintage tufted chair in need of some TLC:

My client requested an organized space that felt traditional & luxurious with some earthy elements. Nothing too feminine, but a space with just a touch of with subtle glamour. And, finally (below) here are some shots of the finished room:

(The colors are a little off in the pics- sorry!) I had the chair reupholstered in a green nubby fabric very similar to the original pink fabric but with a little metallic sheen. We did that walls in a faux-linen finish with a subtle gold sheen again emphasizing that natural-glam feeling. The custom cabinetry houses dresses & hanging items in the cabinets above & shoes in the drawers below.
And, below, you can see again that combination of natural & elegant in the juxtaposition of the natural shades with the silk Greek Key draperies:
And against the rough wooden mirror too:
Below, a celabratory glass of wine for the completion of the project!! (I thought it looked too perfect on the stool with her tiger striped heels!)
A here's a pic of a great little exposed shelf in the corner of the room for purses:
We went with oil rubbed bronze fixtures & hardware & the shots of black really added some needed contrast to the calm tone-on-tone space.

My client found all these great prints on Ebay (below) & Iwe had them framed in a series of gold frames. (I was so proud of the hanging job: we did it as a team & the laser-level is key!!!) The glass bubble lamp from Currey & Co is topped with a linen shade & sits on a cool transitional pedestal table.

Below is a picture of my awesome & very happy client. She's worked so hard for & waited a long time for this dressing room & she totally deserves it!!!

One last picture: (I'm definitely a little envious of how organized & functional the space is!! my closet is jam-packed! ;)
Soon-to-come will be finished pictures of her guest bath, master bed & bath & living room. (Our original project definitely grew!! :)

Thursday, 22 January 2009

Design Exercise: What's Your Personal Style?

I’ve been doing a lot of design-soul-searching lately, trying to really get a handle on my personal style.

(Image from Carlton Varney's Wisconsin lakehouse featured in House Beautiful)

While always evolving, I think it’s really important to hone your personal style or design philosophy into something you can wrap your head around & define. It makes us better designers/ decorators/ homeowners & more equipped to make decisions. When you really know who you are (or who your client is)and what you’re trying to achieve, it’s much easier to look at an object, a color or any other type of design-decision & know if it’s right for a space or not. Check out my first apartment (Ah! I can't believe I'm showing you this!!! haha I found lots of cool Asian objects & just decorated the room around the objects instead of what I actually loved. I used lots of bold colors because they created that "wow" effect I was after.) But looking back I really can barely stand this picture because it's just so not me & I've really found my style since then:

Now compare it to my townhome (below) & you'll see how much I changed & was able to sort of find myself (That was a summer pic of my townhome & even looking back at it I can see how I leaned towards a cottage feel. I still wouldn't say it's "totally me."):

Once you know your design style or philosophy, you can ask yourself some really important questions: Do I love it? Even if I think it's amazing, does it fit with my design philosophy? (Which was my problem with all the Asian objects- they were really cool & interesting, but they didn't strike any notes within me & as a result, the design rang hollow.) What’s the overall impact it’ll have on the space? Will it add or detract from what I’m trying to do? (For example, "If I want an uncluttered space, even though I love this set of antique prints, I know putting them in the room will make it feel too busy.")
(By Carleton Varney featured in House Beautiful)

But how do you figure out your personal design style/ design philosophy? Well, most of us crazy bloggers are doing it daily- writing posts about rooms we love, objects we think are beautiful, designers we admire… Scrolling down any blogger’s posts, it’s really cool to see how the collection of images (even from separate posts) creates this really telling ‘whole’ that gives us a peak into the writer’s style. Many of these bloggers have an amazing handle on their personal design styles. --- But I think it can be helpful to go further than that & really try to get our design philosophies into words.

(Philosopher from

As I’ve written in the ‘About Me’ section on the blog page, “My design philosophy, "pure style," is based on keeping things simple, beautiful & fun. “ But I’m in need of breaking it down & defining it further. I’m talking something deeper here. (And I don’t mean “Early American” or “Modern Asian” or “British Colonial” …. I mean something that can be translated across styles… Something more core, more innate.)

I think it’s really cool to see yourself begin to have a signature look that can be translated across many homes & styles. If you really get down & dissect what it is you love about rooms & what your recipe for a great room is, your personal style can translate across other design styles & I think that makes you a stronger designer. For example, what designers personally do in their homes is usually not exactly what clients want in their own homes, but there’s something about the designer’s style that clients see & love. – a signature look, a design philosophy, a personal style that comes across in every room. (Think Darryl Carter, below)

I think the more rooms you do, the more experience you have, the more your signature look will become apparent. I’m noticing this in my own work & it’s a really cool discovery. But it takes a lot of time & I’m SO not even close to where I hope to be one day. Blogging really helps you get a jumpstart because people start to say “Oh that’s so you” or “your style” and you start to realize that you actually are developing a concrete style. (Just scroll down blogger’s entire pages, quickly through all the posts & see how cool it is to get a glimpse of that blogger’s style!) -- Like Eddie Ross's signature style very apparent in his gorgeous living room below:

There have been some elements I’d never thought about until I started blogging. Here’s what I’ve got (SO FAR) for my ingredients in the recipe for a perfect “pure style” room: sculptural elements (such as spheres, large lamps, branches in a vase, certain furnishings that are just beautiful on their own like this table (below)from a Belgian-style home in House Beautiful:

A green element (such as plants/ flowers or moss) Here's a gorgeous fern in Carlton Varney's home:

A natural element (such as raw wood or coral or seashells or animal or nature prints,) like weathered wood & olive branch in this photo from House Beautiful:

White (& lots of it!) or another neutral or “huetral” (remember that article from House Beautiful?) like the white bowl (made by one of my best friends, Lindsey Augustine) combined with the white sofa & table:

A touch of pretty or maybe even something a tad fussy (such as an antique compote or a vintage plate, a fabric or a luxurious throw) to add some interest, like this pitcher in a room I did for my in-laws:

A hint of a Neoclassical/ Garden feel (I love topiaries, busts, urns & putting them in unexpected places or having fun with them). I love the feeling in the conservatory at Dumbarton Oaks in Georgetown (we were supposed to take our wedding pics there but it rained-- no poured!! )

A raw or rough element (such as weathered wood, linen, burlap), a feeling of age (architectural details in a home, an antique table, etc.,) like the table below and weathered finishes below from House Beautiful:

Style contrasts (a modern painting hanging over an antique console) like this modern stainless oven paired with the antique linen dishtowel & botanical prints in my dad's kitchen:

A “WOW” element (like a huge hutch or tall ceiling or an insanely gorgeous mirror over a mantle, or beautiful furnishing or fabric or a striking color scheme) like this tub from Ina Garten's home:

Something quirky/fun or unexpected (like cute little porcelain busts on a dining room table or the flea market froggy) Check out this lady we've had in our family for years. She used to hold fake fruit (My Grandma Maestranzi was an old Italian lady who put plastic on the sofa) & I stuck her in my dad's bathroom to hold the soap as a joke but we actually ended up loving it:

A clean, well-edited look like this room by one of my FAVORITE DESIGNERS, Nate Berkus:

"Something off" like this surfboard in the picture below from Leslie Klotz's home featured in House Beautiful:

And, finally, enough room for change (I never want to be “finished” and our rooms are constantly evolving, be it seasonally or just when I feel like it… I love having a neutral base that I can inject punches of color or pattern into.)

Ok, so here goes my attempt at defining my personal style, or shall I say "pure style" haha. Pure Style is clean & simple, well-edited, natural, beautiful, sculptural, a blend of old & new, neutral with splashes of color/pattern & a little quirky & fun.

That was hard for me. Haha. It's a mouthful! I'm sure it'll evolve just like my rooms but it feels really good to define my style & really break it down. So, what I’m asking of you is that you tell me your personal style. Think hard & really dig deep. Whether you're a design enthusiast, do-it-yourselfer, designer or decorator, this can really help. If you’re reading & have never commented before, please do!! List your ingredients for YOUR perfect room recipe. If you can break your elements down into a philosophy, go for it!! (If you feel you need pics to explain like I did, you could always do a post on your blog & come link it up here in the comments section too!! :) I can't wait to hear everyone's!!!