Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Bring Downton Great Hall to your Great Room with CHAIRS


- Downton Abbey Great Hall photos
- Chair-arranging guidelines
- 13 photos of great Great Rooms built on chairs
- Shop for chairs by price range

What we truly love about Downton Abbey’s great hall may not be the awe-inspiring, Jacobethan architecture, though we can’t help but notice that first, given that it screams at us from all sides.

But looking beyond these august bones to the hall's flesh, we find an arrangement of chairs at its heart, making an otherwise hollow space feel rather cozy and welcoming.

The great hall is similar in position and use to our present day great room—the hub of the home. But there’s no sofa anywhere to be found at Downton until you make your way into either the library or the drawing room. 

It’s chairs all the way, and it’s a look anyone can achieve in any room size, in any decorating style, at a variety of price points. Actual furniture pieces used in the Downton great hall switch out from season-to-season (a castle full of furniture gives you that option), but the overall feel remains the same. 

Why even consider more chairs instead of a sofa?

The biggest reason is simple: Most people prefer to sit in a chair by themselves, laying claim to their own space. Have you ever noticed your chairs almost always fill up first? Even when entertaining another couple, who should have no qualms about sitting next to each other, they usually gravitate toward chairs.

Sofa space is generally the last to fill. And if one brave person does pass on an empty chair to claim a sofa corner, chances are no one else will sit there unless they have no other choice.

Other arguments in favor of chairs only:
  • Creates better traffic flow in the space
  • Encourages conversation
  • Energizes the space with a more dynamic look

While I wouldn’t suggest anyone go out immediately and trade in a sofa for chairs, it’s worth considering when it’s time to replace or reupholster the beast. Look at how you use the room first and consider what a new arrangement would do for you.

A group of chairs will probably cost as much as—if not more than—a single sofa. But you may already have chairs you can work into the mix and thus limit your initial expense. But any old chairs in any old arrangement won’t likely work. It requires planning. How many chairs are right for your space? Two? Three? Four? More?

Check out this digest of arrangement options to help you decide what will work in your space.

Parallel placement calls for clones

  • Use with either two or four chairs, identical in every way.
  • Makes the most of an exceptionally small or narrow space.
  • Center the parallel arrangement in the space available, or flank a window or fireplace.
  • Works best with armless chairs or those with straight, narrow arms.

If you have room for only two chairs, position so they face each other, with a small table or ottoman in between. Accessorize with floor lamps and smaller side tables as space allows.

Conspicuous Style

If you have room for four chairs, position each one facing another, but with the table centered in the conversation area, as in this photo. You may have room for narrow side tables between each of the two adjacent chairs. Floor lamps remain a good choice.

Symmetry works, and that’s a good rule to fall back on, but it’s not the only way to pull up your chairs.

'C' is not your average arrangement

  • Use with three seating pieces, two of which are identical and one notably larger.
  • Gives a classic look on a small scale.
  • Works best against a wall or across a fireplace, media cabinet or window wall.
  • Anchor with an area rug.
Found on Hello Metro
The larger seat—in this example, the upholstered ottoman—serves as the backbone of the C and the smaller pair of chairs as its "arms." The smaller pair should have seats more narrow and shallow than the larger piece, but seat height should be similar. A mix of leggy and skirted pieces provides contrast and interest. Usually it’s the pair that has legs exposed and the larger, backbone piece that sports heavy upholstery, but it works the other way around, too, as you see here.

You can either add a small, rectangular coffee table at the heart of the arrangement—no wider than the largest chair—or do as this homeowner did and place identical candlestand tables at the side of each facing chair. I love the styling of the ottoman as a seat on the side facing the conversation area and as display space on the opposing side. The artifacts are intriguing and so add substance as well as weight to this anchor piece.

x or + = times or plus?

  • Requires four chairs, all identical or two matching pairs.
  • Chairs form either an “X” or a “plus.”
  • Looks best when arrangement floats in room, but doesn’t have to be centered.
Chesapeake Home
The four-chair arrangement is by far the most common when replacing a sofa because, as I said before, symmetry works. This photo illustrates the “plus” version with identical chairs. Note that each chair is perpendicular to the one on either side. Place a square or round cocktail table in the center of such a grouping, no wider than an individual chair.

Found on Lisa Mende Design
This photo shows the “X” variation, where chairs are placed at broader angles on two opposing sides. The arrangement also works with a square or round cocktail table or ottoman in the center. With either variation, placing a small end table next to one or two of the chairs looks great, but more than two will appear cluttered.

Southern Living
A pair of floor lamps is again the lighting of choice in this arrangement. When working with two pairs of matching chairs, place them across from each other, as above, or…

Jeffers Design Group
…each pair on opposite sides, as shown here. I find this room particularly interesting because of the difference in size between the two pairs. I think the similarity in upholstery makes it work, as well as the wood arms and brown pillows on the smaller chairs, which add to their visual weight.

If you go with something like this, make sure your centering ottoman or table is no larger than the SMALLEST chair. This one borders on too big but is diminished in size because it recedes into the matching shelf color.

Found on Lisa Mende Design
Rules are made to be broken, and this grouping of four different chairs in an “X” shows how to break it so it still works. The arrangement coheres because the chairs are balanced in size and color. Two are beige and two are darker, and each chair is placed across from the one it most resembles.

The addition of side tables and other accessories helps make up for any differences in visual weight. This photo also illustrates that an “X” arrangement can handle a rectangular centering piece as long as it’s no wider than 1.25 times the width of the smallest chair.

I prefer the collected appearance of this arrangement to a matchy-matched look. How about you?

Steve's Blinds and Wallpaper
Here’s another variation on four different chairs—the same style but different in color. Each hue is a similar intensity, so it all balances. A drum pendant has been used in lieu of floor or table lamps—an excellent option that works like an exclamation point and adds to the visual impact of the space.

Circle the wagons—er, uh, I mean the chairs

  • Works best with odd number of chairs--3, 5, 7, etc.
  • Works with mix of chair styles in compatible scales.
  • Works well if the room is roughly square with multiple door and window openings.
his is a concept we’ve all seen used in shabby-chic designing, like the kitchen table and chairs above, but less frequently in living area settings. The principle is similar but the scale is larger.


Start with a round table or ottoman and divide up the space between the chairs. This example shows three identical chairs, though you can imagine it would work just as well if all were different but visually about the same weight.

Better Homes and Gardens

This is a good arrangement if you like vintage furniture and your collection includes no two pieces alike. These seating pieces are a mix of styles but unified by slipcovers in the same fabric. The chaise in position by the window is a interesting touch and brings the total to that desired odd number.

It’s okay to mix club chairs, wood-framed armchairs, armless slipper chairs and even dining-style chairs, as long as the scales are compatible, as in this photo. Seat heights and depths don’t have to be identical but should be close. The look is eclectic and classically casual.

Someone who can pull together a space like this knows her stuff. And now that includes you, too!

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Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Trade in your coffee table and get bunchin'

Let’s face it: coffee tables can be pricey, and they look odd parked anyplace besides in front of the sofa. If your perfect coffee table for one home is rectangular, it's almost guaranteed your next home will cry out for round.

So what’s a thrift-conscious boho mama to do?

Eschew the traditional coffee table for versatile “bunching” tables, poufs, ottomans and stools. Why?
  • These are good things (to quote Martha) that come in an endless variety of style, color and price.
  • Move them where you need them when you need them.
  • If you tire of them in place of the coffee table, simply repurpose them by a chair, next to a bed, or under a console table.
  • Some are even built to weather a move to the outdoors.

See for yourself...

An only child isn't necessary a lonely child

Urban Outfitters
If you like the uncluttered lifestyle, then just one buncher--a knockout style like this one--may be the way to go. Unencumbered by tchotchkes it’s easy to move to either end or center, depending on where the guests are. You can also scoot it out to accommodate legs or in to stay handy when hubby wants to stretching while having his coffee. I like how this one mimics the sofa in reverse with a wood top and teal legs set against the teal-upholstered sofa with wood legs. The asymmetric arrangement adds to the modern esthetic.

Identical twins work in tandem

Two seems to be the most common choice for bunching tables, probably because it most closely equates to a traditional coffee table space-wise. The mirrored pair shown here reflect the variety of color and texture that surrounds them—textiles, wood, leather, brick, metals—in this mid-century modern/industrial space.

Towson USA
A more formal space can also rely on bunchers. Both of these rooms use two identical tables, but each one sends out a completely different vibe. And that’s not the only way to play this game.

A two-seater convertible takes you for a ride

Better Homes and Gardens
These two guys are those inexpensive storage ottomans with upholstered lids that flip to reveal a tray. I like how one is seat up and one is tray up here, as well as how the green repeats throughout the room—including in leaves on the pillows—to create a nature vibe. Calming, gorgeous AND functional!

Peter Piper picked a pair of perfect poufs!

West Elm
I like just saying pouf! Another fun thing about these soft-sided ottomans is the variety of fabrics available. The regular pattern of the bold black-and-ivory chevron poufs in this room work with the varied-width black-and-white striped rug to make sure this neutral living room is never boring. A tray on top keeps glasses from tipping over and looks on-trend.

Richard Davis
These colorful poufs, done in a weave of sari threads culled from fabric-weaving looms, pull together all the colors in the room and look darned comfy to boot. I especially like the nearby tufted floor pillows in the same colors as the sofa pillows. I can picture a tween studying here with a book or laptop open on the poufs. See more photos of this home designed by Karen Davis of Marker Girl Home at House of Turquoise.

Fraternal twins don't look alike but hang together

Found on vtwonen
Using matched bunchers guarantees a coherent look, but mixing and matching is very much allowed. This metal cage-style table looks great paired with a small wood stool. That both stool and sofa are white and the red of the table is repeated throughout the room tie it all together. The stool can double as an extra surface for a drink or book or as a perfectly sized seat for a younger family member.

Kissing cousins spread buncher love too

Better Homes and Gardens
This combination of ottoman and table works because they’re similar in size and shape. The orange table ties into the pillows, and the red throw ties into the rug. It also keeps the white ottoman from disappearing into the white sofa. The arrangement wouldn’t be nearly as pleasing if we switched out either element for the round wood garden stool (foreground left) or the rectangular basket (background left), though those two might work with each other because of their similarity in color.

Does that help, or are you now thoroughly confused? There really are no rules. Just look at a lot of photos to develop your eye, then experiment. 

Three can also be good company (and I don’t mean the TV show)

This arrangement has an interesting 3-2-1 proportion-thang going on: one sofa on one side (as far as we can tell), two chairs facing it, three identical bunchers in the middle to make the divide interesting. I would say it works better with matching tables in this case because the chairs match as well.

Austin Interior Designers & Decorators/Scheer & Co.
But even with three, the tables don’t all have to be the same. If you can take your eyes off the incredible view, witness that two of these identically shaped tables are metallic and one is white. All are the “Martini Table” sold by West Elm, which comes in a variety of one- and two-tone finishes at $149 a pop. So much for the idea you could opt for bunchers to save moola.

Knockoff Decor
But wait: Where there’s a will, there’s a way. This similar-looking table was made by DIY blogger Kristi Murphy from an IKEA bowl and planter, connected and spray-painted, for much le$$. Here’s the tutorial. My suggestions: Bolt the two pieces together rather than glue (or bolt AND glue), and try to find a tray or plate for the top for a neater appearance.

And speaking of planters...

Better Homes and Gardens
Garden stools aren't just for the garden anymore. These two identical rust-colored stools look great punching up this space. Their Asian design connects them to the foo dogs of the same color. One rust sofa pillow and a rust band down the inside length of the draperies bring the vibrant accent full circle in this otherwise neutral room.

Better Homes and Gardens
These three babies are three times the fun. Though each is slightly different in shape and size, all are white and latticed. Think how many uses you could find for these--inside or out, grouped or separate.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Think pink for fall décor and get the jump on spring

Found on Habitually Chic
Recent New York Fashion Week news included more than a few predictions that pink will be VERY chic come spring, largely based on Carolina Herrera’s collection of pretty-in-pink designs (right).

So why not get the jump on the fashionistas and incorporate season-suitable shades of pink into your boho home décor for fall? It could be what keeps you going through a long-dreary winter of slippery streets, subzero temps and short days.

First let’s clear the air.

I confess to a love-hate relationship with pink, so I get it if you don’t immediately want to jump on the bubblegum bandwagon. When we moved into our condo a few years back, EVERYTHING was pink, circa 1985. Mauve, to be exact—a sort of sandy, fleshy, indistinct pink that reminded me of chewed-up, spit-out and tramped-on gum.

We had…

· Mauve carpet throughout—kitchen and baths included
· Mauve tile at the two entrances
· A brighter pink figured tile in the guest bath
· A paler-than-mauve-but-still-pink tile in the master bath
· Mauve cultured marble counters in all baths
· Pale pink toilets
· A pale pink bathtub
· Pink draperies in all rooms
· Pickled-oak bathroom cabinetry with a pink undertone

We still have most of the bathroom pinks, though we got rid of the carpet and toilets. We replaced the HVAC, windows, ALL flooring, appliances and light fixtures. We hope to wipe out the rest of the cemented-and-nailed-down pink as soon as our finances catch up, so the remaining pink and I have called a truce for the time being.

And honestly, it’s not so bad now. Turning down the volume made a huge difference, as well as turning up the adjacent hue where we were still stuck with mucky mauve.

I may even be ready to add some pink back into our design mix. Here are four sumptuous interiors I could live with year-round because of how they capture’s pink’s around-the-clock moods in just the right saturation and hue for fall.

1. Rosy midnights

Martha Stewart Living
Who says I couldn’t learn to love drama? Any shade of pink paired with grays and/or black stirs the pot in a tantalizing way. Have a gray sofa? Then your living room can take on any colorway with just a change-out of accessories. But who would want to lose this good-for-the-complexion shade? I love the artwork, as well as how the textured white lamp and its black shade pop against the rose wallpaper.

2. Salmon-hued dawns

Found on Pallet Furniture Plans
Another gray sofa sends this shabby-chic parlor off to a shimmering start. The geometrics in the throw pills add energy to the arrangement and provide a fun contrast to the fussy style of the settee. I like how a few of the books on the tray pick up the same pinky-dawn color in those pillows. And how ‘bout that teeny typewriter. I soooo want one! The backdrop for the wall photos is a recycle pallet, and the coffee table is a repurposed industrial cart. Learn more here.

3. Paris pink mornings

Found on Paris Nights and New York Lights
November gray skies or October sun, this room has what it takes to jolt my day into a java-induced heaven. And I’m not just talking about the coffee sign. Everything here says Paris down to the sweet, coco-colored miniature French poodle. Of course, the association of pink and black with Paris is all in our muddled western heads—an addled leftover from the Bell Epoque era that no one in France gets. But who cares? I like it!

4. Berry-licious afternoons

Bathrooms & More Store
That chair and ottoman are calling out to me and the stash of unread e-books in my tablet. Anything Jane Austenish will do as long as it comes with a cup of tea to carry me over afternoon’s drowsy-time hump. The fuzzy pink plaid throw repurposed as a dresser scarf and puddled onto the floor is a yummy touch. I also love the different greens in the dresser versus the lamp, both drawn from the wallpaper. If you’re not a wallpaper fan (me neither), transfer the print to the chair and accessorize from there.

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Friday, September 25, 2015

Friday's favorites will spice up your fall gatherings


- 6 new fall tableware finds from Anthropologie
- 6 ways to decorate with artichokes
- Easy and yummy tomato vegetable pasta soup                   

FINDS to finesse your fall boho table

Find #1: Collaged Majida Runner
 by Los Angeles studio All Roads Design. Cotton, dry clean only, 90 by 16 inches.

Find #2: Ridged Rondure Mug
At six inches in diameter with a capacity of 12.25 ounces, this makes an elegant soup mug in either pink, green or grey. Glazed stoneware, hand wash.

Find #3: Francophile Dinner Plates
In 10 colorful designs so fanciful you'll want one of each. Of course, I featured the "Cat Teapot" design here, but there's an Eiffel Tower, flora and fauna, birds, monkeys, cupcakes--and more! Follow the link to see all available designs. These would make a KILLER shelf or wall display. Stoneware, hand wash, microwave safe. 10 inches in diameter.

Find #4: Sketched Silhouette Serveware
Designed by ceramic artist Diana Fayt, using symbols from personal narrative and folklore, reminiscent of scrimshaw. Stoneware, hand wash recommended, microwave safe. Platter, pasta bowl and pitcher sold individually or as a set.

Designed by Molly Hatch, an artist-of-all-trades who creates everything from furniture to jewelry to pen-and-ink drawings to idiosyncratic ceramics like these. Stoneware, handwash. Bowl, small/large cake stands, and platter each sold separately.

Find #6: Woodland Picnic Dessert Plate

Six designs by London-based artist Cornelia O'Donovan, who draws inspiration from her home country’s rich history of folklore and poetry to create an abstract dreamlike quality in her work. Her delicate motifs evoke tales of Celtic mythology, medieval gardens and transient moments of beauty. Each of these intricately-designed plates features a recipe printed on the back. Stoneware, dishwasher and microwave safe, 8 inches in diameter.

FUN with no-fuss artichoke centerpieces

Behold the humble artichoke. Surely you've seen them in the grocery store at least (though plenty of clerks have asked me what they are as I'm checking out). 

Maybe you even like to eat them (if you know how to cook them). I usually buy mine marinated to add to other dishes. Maybe you've never tried them. Regardless, you can still use them to make super-easy, striking decorations.

Easy idea #1: Simply choose an attractive bowl and lay the artichokes in it. Place the bowl on any table or counter. The petals will open a bit and the color will fade some, but they will dry beautifully and last for several months. They look pretty this way on their own, or paired with pomegranates when those are in season (mid-to-late fall).

So present them fresh and green from the market for your special event, then enjoy them throughout the season as they dry. Toss them when they become too brittle, dusty or faded. Turn occasionally so they dry evenly. 

Easy Idea #2: Instead of or in addition to a bowl, lay one on each diner's plate. Pass an empty bowl and have guests add "their" artichoke to the arrangement, which then gets placed in the middle of the table or on a nearby buffet. Pretty-pretty!

Easy idea #3: Put each artichoke in a decorative cup, candleholder or vase and place at each tablesetting or scatter down the length of the table.

Easy idea #4: You don't have to add anything to the mini-arrangements. But if you want to, try fresh flowers from the grocery, something from your garden, or even something from a nearby field or roadside, like queen anne's lace, goldenrod or dandelions. Fresh herbs, such as rosemary, lavender, sage or thyme, also will hold up well and are often available in the produce section of the grocery year-round.

Easy idea #5: What a sweet and easy take-home gift these would make, if you're so inclined.

Easy idea #6: If not, just rake in the compliments when your table, like this one, looks like Martha Stewart stopped by to style it for you.

And keep those artichokes to mix in with more decor at Christmas.

FOOD for the soul = This. Soup. Now!

This is my favorite soup! It's simple to make (so says hubby Chris, the official Lawson family cook) and so healthy. Beautiful to look at and even MORE beautiful to eat! Usually I want some crusty bread with my soup, but this soup is filling all on its own, thanks to the beans and pasta.

Tomato Vegetable Pasta Soup 
Serves 4-6, 30 minutes prep time

  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 zucchini, grated with the large side of a box grater
  • 2 carrots, peeled and grated
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 4 ribs celery, chopped
  • 1 bay leaf, fresh or dried
  • 1 15-ounce can of chickpeas
  • 2 roasted red peppers, chopped
  • 1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes (Marzano variety is best. We usually buy whole/peeled and crush as they cook.)
  • 4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1/2 pound of oricchiette ("small ear") pasta 
  • 1/4 cup store-bought pesto sauce
  • Salt and pepper
  • Grated Parmesan (or Romano) cheese
  • Heat a soup pot over medium-high heat with the olive oil. 
  • Add zucchini, carrots, onion, celery, bay leaf, salt and pepper, and cook for 7-8 minutes.
  • Stire in the chickpeas, red peppers, tomatoes and stock. Cover with a lid and bring to a boil.
  • Stir in pasta and cook to al dente, 6-7 minutes.
  • Turn off heat and stir in pesto. If the soup gets too thick, stir in a little water. Taste to adjust your seasonings. 
  • Remove the bay leaf and serve. Provide grated cheese for guests to add individually.
Be sure to top with cheese. It gives the soup an extra kick and an extra layer of texture. 
This is one of Rachael Ray's "Yum-o" recipes--good and good for you. Bookmark it on-line here.

That wraps it up, but since it's the First Friday of Fall...

Go ahead and check out of the office early (tell your boss I said it's okay) and have an f*ing-good weekend enjoying these favorites.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

5 bedrooms that wax poetic over fall

John Keats' poem To Autumn celebrates the rich ripeness that's synonymous with fall: the fall harvest, the fall of life, and now, these five fall-toned bedrooms.

My apologies to Mr. Keats if it looks as if I take his poem lightly. Nothing could be further from the truth, and I grant he'd find himself comfortable in any of these rooms. I know I would.

1. Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness 

Martyn Lawrence Bullard/Architectural Digest.
I love the bedside lamp with the tall, narrow copper shade, as well as the bronze Hindu statue on the opposite nighstand. The gold velvet of the bed upholstery reminds me of a ripe Bosc pear--one of my favorite treats of fall. I never would have thought to pair strong, burnished golds with pale minty greens, but it comes together so beautifully here, thanks to the artwork and the area rug that emulates its curves.

2. Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun

Gary Riggs Home Interiors
So many geometric patterns and texturings going on here, but they all work so well because of the accent neutral palette. My favorite part is the yellow desk chair and the yellow zebra pattern on the end-of-bed bench.

 3. Drows’d with the fume of poppies

These two photos, above and below, are opposite sides of the same bedroom in the New York row house owned by Kevin McLaughlin, cofounder of J. McLaughlin. The unusual four-poster bed with the disc-like turnings lends an exotic look to the room, shored up by the curling patterns in the wallpaper, the carvings in the mirror, and the bright ikat draperies. Stripes, plaids, ikat and paisley all work together to create a warm, harmonious room. See more photos of this home here.

4. Barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day 

Moises Esquenazi/House Beautiful

Who says pink and purple aren't autumn colors? Just watch a few sunsets and you'll see them against a dusky sky much like these blue walls. The striped chair is pretty darn cute, but the jewel-toned paisley sheets are my favorite. They bring it all together. See more photos of this Los Angeles bungalow owned by designer Moises Esquenazi over at House Beautiful.

5. Among the river sallows borne aloft

There's something so cozy and relaxing about a tone-on-tone room. This one makes me want to curl up for a nap under that luscious faux fur throw. It's about as close as I'll ever get to owning a mink coat.

Tune in tomorrow for 'Friday's fall favorites: finds, food and fun'

Just a few odds and ends that caught my eye, a favorite recipe and a simple craft. Maybe you'll see something to help you make the most of your autumn get-togethers.

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