Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Roger's New Ride

Roger's New Ride
After nearly 300,000 miles and twenty-three years of faithful service, we’ve said goodbye to an old friend, our gray 1990 Dodge van. Some of you may remember it!

The van served us well from the early days in the San Francisco Bay Area when our business was called Ness Painting & Decorating, then it helped us make the cross-country move to Hendersonville and start Sterling Property Services in 2004. 

Apart from being an essential element of our businesses, the van also helped us at home. For example, there are three Japanese maples in our garden today that came from our old garden, transported safely in the trusty gray van. 

Goodbyes are never easy, but we have much to remember and be grateful for. 

This week the signs went on the new van and Roger completed the transition. Here they are, ready to begin the New Year. If you see them, honk and wave! 

Friday, August 30, 2013

Cabinets With Glass Doors: Pitfall or Opportunity?

The contents of cabinets with glass doors are often overlooked by sellers who are distracted by a long list of other things to do, and by homeowners (including me) who become accustomed to their appearance, or are so eager for a place to put something, that we ignore crowding or other issues. Even though it's understandable that we would focus on more pressing matters, it's good to be aware of some negative consequences of leaving them as is, especially when you're selling.

Some Pitfalls of Glass-fronted Cabinets

  • Over time, glass-fronted cabinets can become strictly storage places where things are kept with no concern for appearances, instead of being an attractive design feature
  • Unless properly staged, these cabinets have a disorganized, busy look that adversely affects the impression of the room, and even more importantly for sellers, results in less attractive marketing pictures. 
  • Because everything is in view, unstaged, overfilled cabinets can make a room look and feel uncomfortably small and unattractive. 
  • Crowded cabinets, like crowded closets, sends the overt messages that the house lacks adequate storage, which is not good when you're selling, and that you're disorganized. The additional, unintended message could be that there are other things, like regular maintenance, that you didn't get to either! That message could undermine buyer confidence that your house is in good condition. 

The Typical Offender - The China Cabinet

Nana's China Cabinet
The typical offender is the china cabinet in the dining room, built-in or free-standing, where an assortment of china and other pieces are kept waiting for a special occasion, or because they have no other home. That might be OK when you're living in the house, but not when you're selling. 

This is my grandmother's china cabinet, filled with her tea cup collection and some other things I couldn't figure out where else to store...Sound familiar? My cabinet isn't as bad as some, but I can do better, and so can you.  For example, the miscellaneous vases, figurines and bird nests don't need to be there. I need to become my own client, create a better backdrop for each shelf and display the tea cups more creatively, such as with lifts to present them at different heights and by using a special stand that stores the saucer vertically behind the cup. 

How to Stage Glass-fronted Cabinets:

  • Remove everything so you can make a fresh start, with no preconceived ideas of where things should go. 
  • Clean the shelves and the glass.
  • Sort the contents. Take away everything that can be donated, discarded or stored elsewhere. 
  • Keep only the medium and larger pieces that are attractive and that suit the style of the room.  
  • Sellers should avoid using small, single items. It's a busy look that doesn't photograph well. You want to focus attention on your house, not your belongings. Store collections of small pieces too.
  • Plan for negative space. Don't crowd the shelves. 
  • Place the large items first. 
  • Align some larger things from the right, some things from the left and center others.  
  • Place the medium size items.   
Portmeirion Storage Only
  • Simple usually works best, especially when you're selling. Behind glass, a single china pattern nicely displayed works better than a hodgepodge of many unrelated, clashing objects. For that reason, I store my collection of Portmeirion "Botanic Garden" china in the two glass-fronted upper cabinets in our kitchen. Other china and the functional odd bits are stored behind closed doors. 
  • For more interest, stack some things and display others, like plates and platters, vertically. 
  • Consider shape and size and work in opposites. Mix small and large, round and square, etc. 
  • Use color to advantage, especially with the larger pieces, as color will show in photographs and make them more appealing. Coordinate the colors with the other colors in the room. 
  • Don't mix crystal with opaque china because the crystal gets lost and the shelves just look busy. That's why I display glassware by itself in this lower kitchen cabinet where it becomes texture, and not a distraction. (Please pardon my dust!)
Glass Storage Only

Sellers should keep in mind that the goal is to focus attention on the house, and the contents of glass-fronted cabinets should play a supporting role, while people who are simply living in the house can please themselves. 

Bookcases and Open Shelves Are Treated Differently

My approach to cabinets with glass doors is different from the way I like to stage bookcases and other open shelves. Whether you're living in the house or selling it, you have so many more options for open shelves, like books and plants and art and more, but that's a topic for another day... 

A professionally trained, experience stager can help you edit your cabinets - and everything else. Call me at 828-692-4355 to schedule a two hour staging or redesign consultation, and expect a minor miracle, just from using the things you already have. In the meantime, I have some work to do around here...

By:  Sandy LeRoy 

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Negative Space - A Powerful and Versatile Tool

Negative Space Example
from marthastewart.com
Contrary to what the word "negative" suggests, negative space can be a very good thing. When it's used properly, negative space is a powerful and versatile design tool that can have a positive impact on everything from real estate marketing to our overall quality of life. 

Think of negative space as unoccupied territory, a place where the eye can rest between points of interest, allowing or creating a clear view of each. Another way to think of negative space is breathing room, or a pause in a conversation that gives you a chance to relax and collect your thoughts. 

The empty frames in this image allow you to see their shapes and colors, and because they're empty, they complement, rather than compete with the elaborate design of the settee. Your eye can take in the composition in as a whole, and then slowly appreciate the individual elements. 

How Negative Space Gets Lost

Negative space is often lost because of anxiety or guilt. Empty spaces make some people feel uneasy, so they put something, anything, in corners or on walls. Often, the pieces are too small, or serve no logical purpose in that spot, or are otherwise homeless, so they're put to work as space fillers. Then there's the gift that you feel you have to display, whether or not it works in your house. Negative space is also lost to "piling up." In the course of daily life, stuff has a tendency to pile up because it's put in a spot "temporarily", and then forgotten. Whether the cause is intentional filling up or accidental piling up, the result is visual clutter, the enemy of tranquility and organization, not to mention good design. Having too much stuff around is also stressful, and it can be detrimental to your health because it makes cleaning more difficult, providing collection points for dust and dirt and mold. 

Negative Space When You're Selling

When you're getting your house ready to go on the market, it's important to make it look as large as possible. One way to do that is to remove small pieces of furniture, superfluous accessories and the stuff of daily living, then be sure the remaining items are attractive and colorful, and that they're arranged with sufficient negative space around them to create the impression of spaciousness. This editing also enables you to produce marketing pictures that showcase the focal point of the room, such as a fireplace. After all, it's the architecture you're selling, not your stuff. Another benefit of editing is that it forces you to start packing and begin the process of letting go, so that your house can become a marketable product, instead of a home. 

Editing To Create Negative Space

When I do a staging or redesign consultation, editing is a crucial part of my work. We're so used to seeing certain objects in certain places in our homes, it can be difficult to imagine how things could be different. Assumptions need to be tossed out the window to make a fresh start, so I like to remove all the decorative accessories from the walls and horizontal surfaces. This step may seem extreme, and sometimes the homeowner is stunned at first, but it's very effective because it helps me to really see the bones of the room and adjust the furniture layout, as needed, before selectively adding back key accessories. This step also makes very clear how well the paint colors are (or aren't) working with the flooring, counter tops, stone, tile, etc., and with the furniture. 

Make Room For Negative Space

Look around your house. Do you see any accidental or intentional accumulations of stuff? If you'd like to start fresh, call me at 828-692-4355 to schedule a redesign consultation. If you're selling and need help to prepare your house for effective marketing pictures, schedule a staging consultation. 

Remember the positive effects of negative space!

By:  Sandy LeRoy

Monday, July 29, 2013

Home Sellers: Prepare For The "Money Shot"

An Effective "Money Shot"

When you're selling, the single most important marketing tool you have is the "money shot" of the front of the house. It's the primary image that's used on MLS and the internet, and usually it's a buyer's first (or last) impression.

You Have Only 3-4 Seconds to Impress...

Over 95% of home buyers start by shopping on their computer, long before contacting a REALTOR to arrange to visit the houses they like. As they click through the search results from criteria they selected, the image of your house has only three to four seconds to capture their attention, and wow them. That immediate emotional response is crucial. If the money shot doesn't do its job, the buyer will dismiss your house from consideration and move on to the next one. 

Staging Creates Curb Appeal (and Better Pictures)

In the example above, the sellers of this former rental understood the importance of cosmetic appeal and did a lot of things right. I could nit-pick a few details, like the accented white vent and downspouts, the white threshold and the scalloped bed lines, but on the whole they were receptive to my staging and color advice, and did a very good job implementing many of the recommendations, as their time and budget allowed. The result was dramatically increased curb appeal that photographed well. I liked this project very much because it illustrated that staging works for everybody, not just for people selling expensive homes, and that a little money and effort can go a long way.

How to Prepare For The Money Shot

Here's how you can make sure your house is ready for its money shot when the photographer arrives.

  • Analyze the house to determine if the paint is in good condition, the colors are attractive and that color is being used in the right way. That means you've accented only the things that deserve it, and camouflaged the rest, like downspouts, vents and utility boxes, by painting them in the wall color. The analysis should include decks, porches, etc. 
  • If the house needs painting, get professional color advice to be certain the colors you use will harmonize with the permanent elements, such as the roof and stonework. If your colors aren't pleasing and well-coordinated, it will be painfully apparent in pictures. Here's my guide to finding colors that work:  Choosing Exterior Colors? Use This Questionnaire
  • Get the door colors right. The front door should be painted in an accent color used nowhere else. The garage door should be painted in the wall color, not the trim color. Some doors are better painted in the wall color to make them texture, instead of an accent. To learn more, read Choosing A Front Door Color - A Baker's Dozen Mistakes to Avoid
  • Check the landscaping and prune judiciously. If the picture shows overgrown trees and shrubs, you've created the impression that maintenance is too difficult to keep up with.
  • Be sure the colors in flowering container plants or in the landscape aren't clashing with the house color. If there are clashes, prune or relocate the offenders.
  • Add fresh mulch to all the planting beds.
  • If the house doesn't need painting but it's dirty, have it pressure-washed, including walkways, decks, patios and the driveway, as needed.
  • Analyze the shape of the front planting beds. Are they the usual narrow rectangles
    Curved Planting Beds
    along the front of the house? If so, using a half moon edger, re-draw the beds into sweeping curves to create a more gracious, custom and photogenic look. It's a cheap fix with big impact.  
  • What about the light fixtures? If they're old or in poor condition, they should be updated. Choose a design appropriate to the house and in the proper scale for each location. Keep things simple and don't mix styles. 
  • Remove small decorative accessories (wind chimes, elves, bird houses, dried wreaths, etc.) from the front of the house and the entryway. Outside clutter is as detrimental as inside clutter in photographs, and in person.
  • If you do use container plants or accessories, be sure the style, color and scale are right and that they add to, not detract from, the features of the house. A busy look doesn't photograph well.
  • Be sure no utilitarian items such as trash cans or hoses are visible when pictures are taken. Pick up any toys or bicycles. Move the boat, the RV and all the cars out of the driveway.
  • On picture day, be sure the lawn is mowed, the edges are crisp and the walkways and driveway are swept. Sometimes you can get a better picture by hosing down the driveway and walkway just before the shot is taken to clean them and intensify the color of the materials.

When the pictures are taken, make sure you have several to choose from. Insist on having final approval of the money shot before it goes public on MLS or the internet. If it takes more than one try to get a great picture, it's worth the effort. Remember that this image is the bait that you're dangling in front of prospective buyers to attract their attention. The interest the picture generates (or doesn't) can be money in your pocket, or money forfeited. It's up to you.

By:  Sandy LeRoy

Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Color to Avoid Using With Wood

I wish I didn't see it so often, because pure white walls in a room with natural wood trim and cabinets are a mis-matched pair in an unhappy marriage. 

Why Pure White Doesn't Work With Wood

Pure white and wood don't work well together because pure white has no earth tone component to marry it to the earth tones in the wood. With no color relationship, neither brings out the best in the other, and the combination looks like a mistake, instead of being warm, harmonious, inviting and flattering to both parties. The photo on the right from sfgate.com tells the story.  It's cold, bland, and boring, and nobody is happy.

Sellers Beware

When people don't know what color to use, or they plan to sell the house and want a neutral color, pure white often is the default choice, probably because they think it's safe and they can't make a mistake. Wrong! White walls do not produce attractive pictures for MLS and the internet, and you could be unwittingly sabotaging your marketing plan by making your house less appealing to buyers. If the house is vacant, the problem of mis-matched wall and wood colors becomes even more obvious. 

When you're selling, put color to work for you. Avoid pure white walls. Instead, choose a palette of coordinated colors throughout the house that works with all the permanent elements, like cabinets, flooring, tile, counter tops, etc. 

Wood Color Families

If your house has wood floors, cabinets or trim, you must consider those color(s) in every design decision you make, especially when you're looking for interior paint colors. 

The crucial thing to determine is the wood's color family because this information will point you in the right color direction. The most common color families are red, yellow, orange, brown, purple and gray. 

Basic Color Wheel
Once you know the wood's color family, you must decide if you want to showcase the wood or have it blend with the other elements in the room. If you want the wood to be the star, call attention to it by painting the walls in an earth tone version of the family's complementary color, that is, the color opposite on the basic color wheel. 

Let's say you have red mahogany cabinets. Green is the opposite of red on the color wheel, so you could choose a green or blue earth tone, in a light, medium or dark color for the walls. If you wanted the mahogany to blend with the walls, you could choose a mid range color in the red family. 

Other Colors That Aren't Good Choices

In addition to pure white, tint colors, that is colors that are one or more hues plus white, also aren't good companions for wood. For every hue there are variations mixed with white, and variations mixed with pure gray or black, so if you like green, use green. Just make sure it's the right green.  In the green family, imagine lime green (tint) vs. sage green (earth tone). When looking for the color to flatter your wood, always choose the earth tone version. Here's an earlier post that explains the difference in more detail:  Mixing Tint Colors with Shade Colors

Bewildered by Color?

If you need a little help, call me at 828-692-4355 to schedule a color consultation. Whether you're selling or updating, we'll find the colors that are just right for your project.

By:  Sandy LeRoy

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Invisible Paint Touch Ups? Maybe Yes, Maybe No...

Have you ever tried to fill a hole in a wall and touch up the paint, only to have the repair be obvious and look even worse than the hole? It's likely not your fault. Successful paint touch ups can be challenging, and in many cases aren't even feasible. 

Here are some of the areas where things go wrong:


  • Even if you use the same color paint from the same can, the touch up might show. There are several reasons why this happens:
    • The paint on the wall has changed color over time.
    • The paint in the can has changed color
  • If you don't have the original can of paint, try to get the same color, or have it matched. In this case the best solution is to repaint the entire wall from corner to corner, to make any slight difference in color less obvious.


  • The easiest type of paint to touch up is a flat or matte finish, and, ironically, cheap paint touches up better than high quality paint.
  • "Flashing", a noticeable difference in the finish, often occurs if you attempt to touch up a paint with a sheen, even a low sheen. Flashing is most visible when you view the surface from the side, such as when you enter a room or go up or down stairs.
  • Paint sheen can change over time too. Even if you have leftover paint from the same can as you used originally, the sheen on the surface or the sheen of the paint in the can could be different when you try to do a touch up. 
  • Other reasons for a difference in sheen could be that the temperature or humidity when you did the touch up were considerably different from what they were when the paint originally was applied.
  • Satin, eggshell, semi-gloss and gloss paints usually can't be touched up. In these situations, the best approach is to repair and repaint the entire run of trim, or the entire surface, such as a door.

Patching and Priming

  • Even if the patching is done reasonably well, if you fail to prime correctly, the patch
    can show.
  • If the patched area is large, don't even try to touch up the paint because the repair will be obvious. It's wiser to repaint the entire wall.
  • Always make the repair as small as possible, if you want it to be undetectable. 
  • Use the least amount of patch that you need to fill a hole, and feather any patch material outside the hole to blend with the surrounding area. 
  • Prime the repaired areas with the correct primer for the surface. 


  • Unless patching is done with great skill, the texture of a patch can be obviously difference from the texture on the rest of the wall, or ceiling, especially a popcorn ceiling.  
  • If the surface is textured, buy a can of spray texture and practice, or use a drywall texture stencil designed to match fine, medium or heavy texture. Don't forget to prime before you do the paint touch up. 

Applying the Touch-up Paint

  • Use the same method of paint application on the patched area as was used originally, or the difference in texture from the applicator will show. If the paint was applied by roller, use a roller.
  • Always use the least amount of paint that you can.
  • Use a tiny artist's brush, when possible.
  • For larger patches, you can try to apply some of the new paint to the center of the repair and feather it out to blend with the old paint, before you repaint the entire wall.

Now you know why it's not always possible to have invisible paint touch-ups, even when you're careful.

If you have a repair and painting project, such as from fire or water damage, a falling tree, or even a challenging cosmetic repair, Roger can help. Call me for an estimate at 828-692-4355. 

"We had a tree fall on our house last winter. Roger repaired and painted our ceiling and did an incredible job. He has worked on several other projects for us as well, both interior and exterior. Excellent, excellent work each time. If you want it done right at a fair price, call Roger and Sandy."

Hunter Marks

By:  Sandy LeRoy

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Beware of Low Bid Pressure-Washing

We get many phone calls every year from people who are unhappy with the way their house was pressure-washed the last time, usually by a company they chose because of a low bid.

What's wrong with a low bid, you may wonder? There are several reasons why choosing a company by price alone can turn out to be a costly mistake.

Some Pitfalls of Low Bid Pressure-Washing

  • When pressure-washing isn't priced correctly to cover costs, it's usually because the bidder is an amateur, or doesn't operate as a legitimate business, and doesn't know or care about meeting professional standards. 
  • In order to price below market, the company hires people who have little or no training, often students hired for the summer, in the mistaken belief that just about any able-bodied person can do the work. Immaturity, carelessness, inexperience and little training are not the qualities you want in the people you entrust with your home.
  • Often the equipment isn't professional grade, or even when it is, the workers don't know how to use it properly. They apply excessive pressure, stripping paint and damaging the house and landscaping.
  • Amateurs apply chemicals indiscriminately, another common cause of damage to the house and plantings.
  • Amateurs use the wrong products, or use them in the wrong way, and the house isn't thoroughly cleaned, or damage occurs.
  • The estimate is often verbal, and work customers thought was included, wasn't, after all. Extras raised the final price to more than a legitimate company would have charged.
  • Temporary workers are often are paid in cash and are not covered by workers' compensation insurance. Should they be injured at your house, you could be liable.

As you can see, that low bid is low for several reasons, and none of them benefit you! The next time you get a pressure-washing estimate that's too good to be true, it probably is. At least that's what many new clients say. They've learned that it's much better to pay a reasonable price to have the work done by someone you can trust to do it the right way, and who will treat your home and landscaping with the respect and care they deserve.

If your house or decks need to be washed, and you don't want to worry about things going wrong, call me at 828-692-4355 to schedule a free, written estimate with Roger. You'll be glad you did.

Take a look at what our clients have said about his work:   Comments from some of our clients

Roger Ness - Sterling Property Services

By:  Sandy LeRoy

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Make Room for (Real) Books

   "In addition to their own worth, books do a lot of decorating. Old books add the same patina to a room as do good antiques."

David Easton, Charles Faudree Home

I can't imagine living in a house that didn't have lots of books, because they've been an essential part of my life since I learned to read. In this house there are books in nearly every room, and I love many of them for their beauty and history, as much as for the information they contain and lie waiting to share. Although I appreciate the virtues of e-readers, and use one, it will never completely replace what I consider to be the real thing. 

Living With Books

Gardening Books in the Family Room
Over the years I've collected the classics, as well as books on gardening, art, design, travel, poetry, computers, crafts, business and more, and keep them in the room where their presence makes sense, like cookbooks in the kitchen, business books in the office, and the gardening, reference, poetry and children's books at my fingertips in the family room. It also helps me to know where to search when I want a book on a particular topic.

During the year, I bring some books out of their slumber on a shelf to more prominent positions, choosing them because they're appropriate to the season, like the pumpkin cookbook or the Christmas books, or because the cover adds a particular color.  The decorative role of books is well known, and designers often buy libraries of books, or books by the yard, because the bindings are beautiful and they're an essential prop for staging shelves.  

Some Antique Books From My Family

There's a special place in my heart for my small collection of antique books, and I keep them out most of the time for personal and decorative reasons, even though many are in pretty bad condition. Some were birthday presents from my Uncle Bob, who placed an index card in each describing the book and which ancestor it came from. One of the oldest, "Cobb's Spelling Book", belonged to Elizabeth T. Lines of Oxfordshire, England (mother of my great grandmother Medora Warner LeRoy), who signed and dated it in 1833.

"Cobb's Spelling Book" (1832)

The history book below belonged to my great great grandmother, Abigail Carpenter LeRoy, who gave birth to twelve daughters before having a son, whom the jubilant parents named George Washington LeRoy. I can't imagine what it was like for little George to have a dozen sisters...

"History of the United States "(1841)
Although they certainly have the patina of age that David Easton mentions, I don't know that these battered and tattered antique books measure up to the level of quality he had in mind, but it doesn't matter. To me, they're beautiful and I love having them around. Since they're fragile and can't be read very easily, I stack them to create little platforms, and sometimes put something on the top, like a small vase with fresh flowers.

Whether your books are old or new, there are many creative ways to use them in your home, including the simple approach of treating the cover as a work of art by leaning it on the back of a shelf. If you need help, there are books on how to decorate with books, including artistic shelving systems. You also can find inspiring pictures on Pinterest and Houzz. 

Have Your Virtual Books and Real Ones Too

By all means use an e-reader, but appreciate real books too, and bring them out now and then for the pleasure of their company. Be selective about the ones you display. Text books, paperbacks, manuals aren't very decorative.

This quote says it all:

"A room without books is like a body without a soul"

If Cicero were alive today, I'm pretty sure he'd still mean it.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Paint Color Consultants: What They Do, How They Can Help You

If you’ve struggled with paint color decisions, you have lots of company because color is a tricky subject. It’s very technical and very personal, and when you choose the wrong colors, they can be unattractive and uncomfortable to live with, and expensive to correct.

There’s a good reason why color selection is challenging. Color isn’t the property of an object. Color is light, and it changes all the time. Many things influence these changes, including the time of day, the type of lighting, the effect of neighboring colors and numerous other factors. That’s why the color that you liked in a friend’s house, or on the Internet, or in a magazine, won’t look the same in your house.

For a painting project to be successful, you not only need to find colors that will work in your house, you need to know where to put them. Professional guidance can help you add beauty and value to your house, while avoiding costly color mistakes.

Color Consultants: What They Do and How They Can Help You

When you call a color consultant for an interior or exterior paint color consultation, you're enlisting the help of a professional with a trained eye, knowledge of how to use color effectively and practical experience with what works, and what doesn't. Color consultants have different backgrounds and may not work the same way, but here's a list of the basic things I do: 
  • Analyze the architecture of your house.
  • Analyze the design and layout for the best approach to color selection and placement, including where interior color needs to stop and start in open concept plans.
  • Analyze colors in floors, tile, carpeting, counter tops, pre-finished items, stone, etc. to be certain paint colors will harmonize. 
  • Analyze the details of the house to determine which should be accented, which should be camouflaged.
  • Consider the effects of natural and artificial lighting.
  • Determine if color could address design issues.
  • Analyze your belongings to be certain the key pieces will coordinate well with the paint colors.
  • Recommend a palette of paint colors and sheens, including historic colors, if appropriate.
  • Suggest features that could receive special decorative treatment, if desired.
  • Recommend additional ways to make your house look its best, including cosmetic repairs.

Many of the items on this list apply to both interior and exterior projects.

What Does it Cost?

I charge $225 to do a two hour on-site color consultation with samples, and will often be able to help you with other design issues while I'm there. Depending on your location, a travel charge may apply. For an on-line consultation, call or write to me and tell me about your project.

When you consider what it costs to repaint after you pick the wrong color, and still not be sure you've chosen well, a color consultation is a bargain.

Benefits of a Consultation

For a more beautiful home with attractive, harmonious colors, get a paint color consultation. You'll create a space that you'll enjoy living in, and feel proud to share, and you'll add to the value and marketability of the house when it's time to sell.

To Arrange A Consultation with Sandy

Call me:  828-692-4355

Write to me:  Sandy@SterlingPropertyService.com

Monday, March 25, 2013

Diana Vreeland's Bookshelves

Diana Vreeland's Bookshelves
The late, great Diana Vreeland (1903-1989) brought singular style to every aspect of her life.  As the Editor in Chief of Harper's Bazaar from 1936 to 1962, and of Vogue from 1963-1971, then later as the adviser on costumes to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, she lived an exceptionally glamorous life. Her clients ranged from Jacqueline Kennedy who adored her, to major and minor royalty, movie stars and the very wealthy. The surroundings Vreeland created for herself, notably the red living room she described as "a garden in hell", became part of her legend.

This glimpse of her bookshelves that I found on Pinterest* tells you quite a bit about her worldly, creative, complex, rich point of view, and provides a few design lessons, as well. When you study the shelves, you'll notice that they aren't neat and tidy, or obviously styled. Vreeland placed some things with intent, while she placed others just because she found a spot for them. You can tell that she wasn't a design snob, because you see art and treasured photographs, along with quirky mementos. The drawing of her by famed photographer Cecil Beaton is behind the horn on the right side. 

Notice that the basic structure of the shelves didn't limit how she used them.  She hung things on the back and on the outside frame, and she placed some things horizontally and other vertically, with things on top of other things. There was a similarity of hue in the contents overall, but with a pop or two of red, her signature color. Of course there are books, but a couple of books appear to have post-it notes! Diana Vreeland's bookshelves reflected who she was, and they served her well. 

Here's what I learned from Diana Vreeland's bookshelves:
  • DO: Use every side of the structure. Don't limit yourself to the shelves.
  • DO: Display a variety of objects, but choose ones that relate well to each other.
  • DO: Use repetition of color, content, form, etc. to create a cohesive look.
  • DO: Make it personal. Choose things that have meaning to you. 
  • DON'T: Be too serious. Allow room for a little humor or whimsy.
  • DO: Allow more breathing room for the contents of your shelves than Diana did.
DV in her famous red living room. 

In this room, too much wasn't enough, but considering the name she gave it, you know that she was in on the joke. 

*from lucindaville.blogspot.com

Monday, March 18, 2013

"How To Choose Interior Paint Colors" at Isothermal Community College in Columbus

When color decisions are made one room at a time, the overall result often lacks harmony, and the look and value of the house suffers...

Have you ever had trouble finding the perfect color for an interior painting project? Maybe you thought you'd found the right color, but it looked completely different once you painted it on the walls. Or perhaps you're one of the many people who decide to avoid the pitfalls of color selection by painting everything white, plain boring white.  

If any of this sounds familiar, you'll want to mark your calendar to come to my latest course, "How to Choose Interior Paint Colors", being offered at Isothermal Community College in Columbus next month. My special guest is paint expert Tommy Williamson of Williamson's Paint Center in Landrum. 

Learn how to make a fresh start with an overall color plan that works for your house. Here are some of the topics we're going to cover:

April 9, 2013

  • Color Basics
  • Creating Your Color Plan

April 16, 2013

  • Color Schemes
  • Enhancing, Re-shaping and Camouflaging with Color
  • Choosing the Right Paint
  • Hiring a Painting Contractor

Isothermal Community College, Columbus Campus

Tuesday evenings April 9 and 16, 2013, 6:30 to 8:30 pm.
Registration:  FREE, but registration is required.

To register, call Isothermal at 828-894-3092 x10.

For course information, call Sandy LeRoy at 828-692-4355.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Your Fireplace Mantle Is A Little Theater

Family Room Mantle - Winter 2013
There's a two-sided fireplace in our house, with one side in the great room and the other in the family room adjoining the kitchen. I think of them as theatrical opportunities, little stages to celebrate each season and add personality by rotating a changing group of accessories, old and new, fine and funky. Some things are permanent, and some come back at the appropriate time each year, like the stockings that hang at Christmas, but the displays are never exactly the same, and for me, that's part of the fun. I don't strive for design perfection, I care more about associations with people and places that have meaning to us, and things Roger and I simply enjoy.

The family room is a homey space, and the things I place on this side are in casual, asymmetrical arrangements, like the one you see here. There are copper pieces that came from the home of my beloved Uncle Bob and Aunt Joanne, including one that I use as a container for some black pussy willows, two Fitz and Floyd chickens, a picture of a Tiffany window that I had framed years ago and some ivy trailing from a ceramic container. No two items are the same, so I used repetition of color and materials, a variety of shapes and heights, plus a touch of green, to make it look reasonably cohesive, and to coordinate it with the rest of the family room.  For example, the blue mat in the picture is the same blue as in the area rug, and there are other copper pieces and Fitz and Floyd creatures nearby.

On the living room side, it's a different story. The space above the mantle has three permanent occupants, a papier mache carnival mask of the sun and the moon that was a present from Roger the year we happened to be in Venice on my birthday, and two cement sconces filled with silk greenery. The basic arrangement is balanced, making the look more formal. All I do is add a few seasonal items to the sconces, as you see below: 

Great Room Mantle - Autumn 2012

Great Room Mantle - Winter/Holiday 2012

Even though the design on this side is more formal, tweaking the contents of the sconces with the seasons keeps it from looking static, and takes only about ten minutes.

How to Give Your Fireplace Mantle A New Look

If you'd like to update the look of your mantle, here's how to go about it: 
  • Decide what approach suits you and the room. If you want a formal, traditional look, consider a symmetrical arrangement with one or more pairs of items, such lamps or candlesticks, placed on either side of a large focal piece, as I did in the great room. If you like informality, create an asymmetrical design, as in the family room. You can still use a pair of items, just don't put them on either side in a mirror image, and use an odd number of things in total.
  • Consider what, if anything, will hang above the mantle. Think beyond the expected large mirror or painting. I like maximum flexibility in the family room, so I keep the space open and lean a mirror, tray, plate or painting against the wall, instead of hanging it.  This allows me to use objects in a variety of heights, and easily change them.
  • Coordinate the mantle with the rest of the room. It's a good place to repeat color used in furniture or other accent pieces, or to use something from a collection featured elsewhere in the room.
  • Use a combination of materials, including metals, glass, ceramics, art, etc. to make the display more lively and interesting. Vary size, height, texture. 
  • Include one or more types of organic materials. Place a trailing plant to spill over the edge of the mantle (one of my favorite things to do), and also use something upright, like flowers or branches.  I also use dried grasses sprayed with metallic paint, which makes them last forever. 
  • Layer and overlap objects.
  • Use "lifts and levels", a merchandising term that refers to placing props in a display to create areas of different heights that add interest and create a focal point. You can use a small stack of books, for example, to do the same thing when your design needs height, or you want a smaller object to be more prominent. 
  • Consider scale. Don't use things that are too large or too small for the space. If you want to display smaller items, cluster them so they read as a single, larger object. Placing them in front of a larger object such as a plate helps with the illusion, and is a way to use layering to solve a design problem.
  • Repeat color, materials, shapes, etc to create rhythm and build a theme.
  • Use contrasting color, materials, shapes, etc. to make individual pieces stand out.  
  • Use a variety of textures, rough, smooth, shiny, matte.
  • Experiment, but practice a little restraint. A few well-chosen things are preferable to a crowd. When you're shopping in your home or in a store, don't be limited by the original, perhaps utilitarian use of the item. Re-purpose it as decoration. There are no horses in our house, but next to the family room mantle hangs a brass and copper currying comb from England, another gift from Uncle Bob and Aunt Joanne.
  • Stand back and check the composition of your design, from time to time. You can't tell how well you've done unless you look at the mantle from a distance. I like to leave the room and do something else for a while so that I have some objectivity when I look at the mantle again. 
Start thinking of your fireplace mantle as a little stage, and see what productions you can create. Have fun with the process and change the display with the season to keep it lively and interesting.

Friday, February 22, 2013

A Funky Old Pre-Raphaelite Screen

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was a group of young artists who worked in England, beginning in the late 1840's. They were rebels, the bohemians of their day, who favored a natural approach, instead of the stiff, formal, artificial look that they said began with Raphael. Their subjects were drawn from poetry, myth and history, and often were placed in natural settings which they detailed with great care. The founding members of the group included Dante Gabriel Rossetti, John Everett Millais and William Holman Hunt, who later were joined by Edward Burne-Jones and others.

It was a work of Burne-Jones, "Love Among the Ruins" based on a poem by Robert Browning, that lead me to discover the Pre-Raphaelites. The painting was used in one of the posters for an exhibition at the National Gallery in Washington, DC on "The Treasure Houses of Britain", that was opened with much fanfare by Prince Charles and Princess Diana.

Because of my interest in British design and art I was desperate to go, but there I was, stuck at the office in San Francisco, or so I thought. Then I had an incredible stroke of luck. Several of my clients were public rail systems, and on occasion I would go with them to the risk management section meeting of their trade group, the America Public Transit Association (APTA). One day I got a notice that the next meeting was going to be in Washington during the time of the Exhibition. So I got my wish and was able to see everything, including "Love Among the Ruins", which is how my love affair with the Pre-Raphaelites began.

Over the next ten years as I made frequent trips to England to find insurance for my rail transit clients, I would add vacation time and explore. I visited as many museums and stately homes as I could manage, and bought postcards of the Pre-Raphaelite paintings I saw. Eventually, it became a large collection, sitting in a box. One day I decided to do something with the postcards so that I could see and enjoy them, so I decoupaged them on to three panels of an old screen that I first covered with wrapping paper in a William Morris design, since he was their frequent collaborator. Then I affixed the postcards with Mod Podge and put the panels back in the wooden frame. The result was my funky Pre-Raphaelite screen, never a great art project, I admit, more of a memento that I kept in my office. When it was time for a change, I removed the Pre-Raphaelite panels, repainted the screen and moved on. Today I still have two of the panels, but they're very much the worse for wear. The other day I found them in the closet under the stairs and decided to bring them out for old times sake. 

For the time being they're in the hallway outside my office, and I'm enjoying them again, funky, old and tattered though they may be.

There's one more chapter to the story of "Love Among the Ruins".  After the Exhibition it went back to Wightwick (pronounced whit tick) Manor in Wolverhampton, home of the Mander family, and now a National Trust property renowned for its Arts and Crafts and Pre-Raphaelite works. I'd always wanted to see the painting in its intended location, so when I was in England about five years ago, I decided to drive up from London. It isn't a long trip as the crow flies, but with the horrible afternoon traffic I wasn't able to do it in a day, and wound up spending the night in Warwick. 

The next morning I got to Wightwick at opening time, only to find out it was closed to the public that day. When I told my sad story to a woman at the gate, she took pity on me and my profound disappointment, and phoned one of the current family occupants of the house, Anthea Mander Lahr, who very kindly gave me a personal, though naturally abbreviated, tour.  The house was breath-taking, and to a pre-Raphaelite aficionado, a mecca because everyone's work is there, including art, stained glass, fabrics, tile, tapestries and more. And there in the Great Parlour was my old friend, "Love Among the Ruins", looking as haunting and beautiful as I remembered, and very much in its rightful place. 

PS- Later I learned that at the time, Anthea was married to John Lahr, son of Bert Lahr, the cowardly lion in the 'Wizard of Oz'. When she died in 2004, she was described in her obituary as "much beloved". If she was as kind to others as she was to me, I can easily understand.