Monday, September 24, 2007

NESTING, winding up

Remember, I also said that one of our goals was to get the most bang for our buck, and that if you have too many decorations scattered everywhere, the eye just skitters around and can't focus on any one thing? That's why it's important to concentrate your efforts in a few locations with high visibility, to get the most impact. You might do one grouping on your kitchen counter or on top of your refrigerator, one on your coffee table, and maybe one on the buffet or china cabinet. I promise, you will get a lot more positive feedback from just three or four really good vignettes, than if you had tons of decorations scattered everywhere. As I mentioned before, I have that buffet in my dining room, with the bakers rack above it, and it's the first thing you see when you walk through our front door, so that's one of my primary decorating spots. The great thing about the hutch is that I can store everything in the cabinets below when it's not being used, so it only takes a few minutes to do the seasonal change-outs.

I also do a grouping in my kitchen, and probably my favorite thing I own is a beautiful old glass canister that my mother gave me. Sometime soon, dig through your cabinets (or your mother's or grandmother's), and you are bound to find at least one pretty glass container of some sort - a jar, a bowl, a hurricane, a trifle dish - just about anything will do. Why, you might ask? Well, I have this collection of old Bakelite silverware that I adore, because the handles come in all the colors that I have always loved to decorate with. One day, as I was cruising the candy aisle at the grocery store, I noticed that the gourmet jelly beans are available in all of the exact same colors as my Bakelite. So, of course I bought a big bag full of them, brought them home, and filled my beautiful glass canister with them. Then I set it on my kitchen counter, right next to the "bouquet" of Bakelite that I had sitting upside down in a glazed green flowerpot. It just took my breath away, the grouping was so gorgeous (it doesn't take much to make me giddy). When my husband got home that evening, I was all a'twitter, and couldn't wait to tell him about buying jellybeans to match my Bakelite. He stared for a minute, then grinned and said "You did not! You may be anal, but you're not that anal." I replied seriously "No, really, I did." His eyes grew wide, then he said "Oh my gosh, you aren't kidding, are you?" Well, after thirty years of marriage, you'd think that this wouldn't have come as any big surprise to him, wouldn't you? But I digress. Find the glass container, but don't stop at jelly beans. Think about filling it with candy corn in autumn, or peppermints in winter. And it doesn't have to be candy - what about filling it with cranberries and kumquats for your Thanksgiving table, or tiny antique Christmas ornaments and beaded garland? You could fill it with seashells for summer, or a gorgeous assortment of unshelled nuts in fall. The sky's the limit!

Finally, let's talk a bit about your porch and patio. Someday, when I build my dream house, it's going to have wide sweeping steps leading up to the front porch, and in fall I will have big pots of mums and pumpkins lining the steps along each side. But what I have right now is a little postage stamp-sized piece of concrete. That's why it's so important to use those pyramids and layers I mentioned earlier. Instead of sticking a set of itty-bitty matching pots out there, one on either side of your door, why not do a grouping of three larger pots in graduated sizes, over to one side? Very high impact. Or, if you already have pots, but they are all the same size, make layers by using little metal plant stands, wooden stools, or even empty pots turned upside down, to stagger them. This past fall I got great results by just putting two little metal stands, of different heights, off to one side of my door. I put a beautiful pot of mums on each one, and a big pumpkin down in front of those. At a previous house, where I had a little more room, I used a hay bale as my base, stood a little corrugated metal witch decoration on top of that, grouped some mums and pumpkins at her feet, and tucked in a crystal ball (garden gazing ball, that is) for good measure.

Now, moving around to the back patio, you'll be sadly disappointed to learn that I have your basic, cheap, green metal furniture from the local discount store. At our last house, we had a beautiful pergola built over the patio, but we didn't think we would be in this one long enough to justify the investment, so instead, we purchased a big green market umbrella that gives us plenty of shade in the summer. Soon as the weather turns cool, we take that down and start using our chimenea in the evenings, because the fragrance of burning pinon wood is just so heavenly. In my utility room, under the stairs, I keep a couple of laundry baskets , one for summer and one for winter. Each one contains a small area rug, a couple of throw pillows, and my wonderful, battery-operated paper lanterns that I hang from the ribs of the big umbrella with graduated S-hooks. Whenever we are expecting guests, it takes me all of five minutes to pull out a basket and arrange the stuff out on the patio, but the transformation is amazing. And whatever you do, don't forget the twinkle lights! There's no such thing as too many twinkle lights. In fact, I bet you didn't know this, but the best way to find a good, new restaurant to try, is to look for twinkle lights. It just proves that they care enough to go the extra mile. Hah, you may scoff. My husband was once a skeptic too, but just ask him how many times I've hit on a winner when I've yelled "Oh John, look at all those twinkle lights. We've got to try that restaurant!"

Sunday, September 23, 2007

NESTING, continued yet again

One thing that I love to do for the holidays is force amaryllis bulbs and paperwhites. If you've never tried it, you'd be amazed at how simple it is. Just pick up one of those little kits you see in all of the stores in fall, and give it a whirl. Here's a couple of tips, though. If you are using an amaryllis kit, take the little plastic pot they provide and set it inside a heavier, ceramic container. Once the bulbs get blooms on them, they become very top-heavy, and tend to topple over. Two things about the paperwhites: First, the fragrance can be very strong, so I wouldn't set them too close to where you eat. Second, they too can become top-heavy, and since you plant several bulbs together in one container, they will be flopping in every direction. The easiest thing to do is just take some ribbon or raffia and loosely tie all the stems together. That way they can support one another. Other things that are great to use for the holidays are dried hydrangea blooms, magnolia leaves, nandina berries and greenery, and of course, pine cones and fir branches. As I'm sure you know, you can't beat fragrance for adding seasonality to your home. Pumpkin and cinnamon-scented candles and potpourris are fabulous for fall, and anything pine-scented will surely transport you back to the winters of your childhood. If you don't want the mess of a real tree in your house, you might at least consider purchasing a fresh wreath or garland to hang on the door and welcome your guests with that wonderfully wintry aroma.

Earlier, in rule number five, I told you to surround yourself with the things you love most, but get rid of everything else. Depending on your age, you may or may not have discovered the seasonality of life stages. When we first leave the home of our parents and strike out on our own, we are traveling very light. When we move into that first house or apartment that is truly our own, it seems awfully bare compared to our parent's home, and the nesting instinct suddenly kicks in. We feel compelled to fill up those empty spaces, so we go out and buy a few knick-knacks, maybe start a collection. A few years later, perhaps you get transferred, or married, or have a child, and you realize that the house that was once so empty, is now overflowing at the seams. So you move into a larger home, with lots of empty spaces, and then feel compelled to fill all of those, and so on , and so on, until one day you look around in amazement and ask yourself, "How did we ever accumulate so much #@*=!" And though you once adored taking out the holiday decorations each year, as the amount of stuff, and your age, increases, your enthusiasm for hauling it out of the attic and then packing it up again, will steadily decrease. So, what is the trick to having great seasonal decorations, without having to accumulate and store a ton of stuff? Simply this - learn to use ordinary things in extraordinary ways. Take that simple green wire garden trellis that's sitting idle in the garage this winter, bring it into the house and display your holiday cards on it. Or grab that tower of empty tomato cages, set them on a pretty urn, spiral a length of fresh greenery around them, add twinkle lights and bows, and suddenly you have a gorgeous topiary to go by your front door. Use your collections if you have any. I have several old mixing bowls in shades of green and terra cotta, and I love filling them with mini gourds and pumpkins in the fall, and filling the big green one with shiny red apples in winter.

Let me pause a moment in order to clarify something. When I say "collection", I mean less than a dozen of something. If you have more than twelve items, it's not a collection, it's an obsession, and instead of having a high-impact grouping, you are back to having a room full of clutter. One common problem I see when I visit people's homes, is that they feel like they need to have everything they own out on display all of the time. The trouble with that is that you get so accustomed to it being there that you no longer really see it. That leads to boredom, so you go out and buy more stuff. Bring different things out each season, put other things away, and you'll enjoy them all over again as if they were brand new!

(to be continued, one last time)