January 29, 2015

What do You Want to Know? How to Begin a Decorating Project

I know decorating your home can be overwhelming and I get a lot of emails asking for advicefrom the novice who wants to learn how to begin to the person who has a passion he or she is considering pursuing as a career. This questionin its many formshas been asked so many times that I thought I would answer Tina from Oregon's specific question for this series.

Tina: "I love so many things that I find it almost impossible to make decisions. I've bought things that clash in color, don't fit in my room, or just look totally wrong. I think I have a good sense about what I like I just don't know how to make it all work. I think I need to start at the beginning. How do you do that?"

I'll break it all down...

1. Start with a plan. I don't care if you're a novice, semi-pro, or full-blown professional. You HAVE to have a plan in place to begin. One of the ways to create a plan is to simply write down your objectives. What do you want the room to do for you? How much can you spend? When do you want the job completed? What changes can be made now or later? How much can you spend? Then start having fun writing down all of your favorites. What colors do you like? Do you prefer lots of pattern or very little? The point is to look at your decorating job from a practical point of view before getting caught up in the sometimes overwhelming process of putting it all together. Warning: If you are working with a professional, she/he should have started with this step.

2. Be Realistic. We all want things we can't have, but that doesn't mean we can't dream. I always told my clients to write down anything and everything they could dream up and put it on a wish list, then pull out the things that can be achieved within their budget. Why? Because there are a lot of things that can be done on that wish list. You'd be surprised at the decorating that can be done for little or no money. For example, if you've been dreaming about turning your dining room into a library, office, or craft room, you can achieve this goal by simply reworking and repurposing the furniture. No one says you have to have a dining room table in the center of the room and you certainly don't need a matching dining set. Nor do you need to use Grandma's china cabinet to house china. Stash books, office, or craft supplies on the shelves instead.

3. Create a Style File. I'm a big believer in the visual. Especially since most people can't really see the room they're trying to create. Pinterest is a great resource for decorating ideas and projects and you can create your own dream home board online. Vision boards (the old-fashioned kind of Pinterest board) can still be used. Tear out magazine photos of anything and everything that appeals to you and collect these photos on a bulletin board or in a scrap book. Notice how all of the elements work together and zone in on any patterns. Do you notice that you prefer chrome to brass? What about finish styles....do you like vintage looking items with an aged patina or clean, simple lines without much fuss? Or perhaps you like the mix of old and new. Make notes and keep your ideas in one place.

4. Form follows function. What does this mean? Never sacrifice the comfort of a room for style. I can appreciate different styles of rooms and think they're all beautiful, but that doesn't mean I want to live in them. Your rooms have to work for you. It doesn't matter how good something looks if it's not comfortable to sit on or practical to use. You need to feel, touch, and sit before purchasing. It also has to be practical. Don't buy something merely because it's beautiful. Ask yourself if it's something you really need or could live without.

5. Good design. Does the overall look or design of each piece work? The arms, legs, back and cushions should work well with all of the elements within the room. If the back of a piece of furniture is going to stand out or sit on display in a room, it should have a finished and attractive back. (This is called the furniture’s “profile”) Don’t overlook this important detail.
6. Location and scale. Pieces placed beside one another should look as though they belong together. That’s not to say that you’re trying to achieve a “furniture showroom” look, but rather cohesiveness between each piece. Pay attention to furniture heights, styles, colors and patterns. Does each piece relate to the architecture in the space? Every element, whether fixed or non-fixed, impacts your choices. Furniture should also relate to the people who use it; this includes accommodating special needs such as height or weight.

7. Now you're ready. It's time to start putting it all together. Budget your money wisely and purchase your big ticket items (sofas, beds, cabinets/chests etc.) first as these will get placed in the room first and should be bought according to comfort and longevity. There are plenty of trendy items you can buy in smaller form such as pillows, lamps, and even inexpensive art that will allow you to change up your style without having to decorate from scratch.

And finally, practice. Gather fabrics, paint chips, samples of anything you can get your hands on and group them all together. Does it work? Is there something missing? Is there too much pattern or not enough texture? Have you selected, moved, or used furnishings that are going to get the job done?

Decorating your home doesn't happen overnight so be patient with yourself and the process.

If you have a decorating dilemma and need advice, the first five people who email me (beautifulliving@msn.com) a question will have their question answered. And for those of you who definitely know that decorating was something you were born to do, you have until January 31st to save $200 on my CDP course here!

Happy decorating!

January 28, 2015

Super Bowl Wings (a.k.a. Marmalade Wings)

Whether or not you plan to watch the super bowl this weekend, these wings are simple to make and delicious to eat anytime! I basically mix two ingredients together and bake them until they're extra crispy, but you can make them however you wish. I've even included a spicy dipping sauce if you want to turn up the heat! Enjoy.

Marmalade Wings

2 1/2 - 3 pounds chicken wings, cut into wing and leg sections if not already pre-cut
1 cup orange marmalade
1/4 low-sodium soy sauce
1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper (optional)

1.  Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees.
2.  Spread wings out onto a foil lined pan.
3.  Mix together marmalade and soy sauce in a large bowl.
4.  To coat chicken wings, you can either pour the sauce directly over the wings or dip them into the bowl first, and then use any remaining sauce on top.
5.  Bake for approximately 45 minutes depending on how crispy you want them.


For years, I mixed the marmalade and soy sauce together without really measuring the amounts. You can add more soy sauce if you'd like. The more you add, the saltier the chicken will taste which is why I don't add salt to this recipe. How smoky or sweet do you want you chicken wings to be? This will determine whether you add more marmalade or more soy sauce.

If you want to add some heat to the wings, add 1/4 teaspoon of crushed red pepper directly to the sauce before coating. Again, you can vary this amount slightly depending on how hot you'd like your wings.

Spicy Orange (Dipping) Sauce

1/2 cup orange marmalade                                                                                            
2 tbsp. chili sauce                                                                                              
1 tbsp cider vinegar                                                 
1/2 tsp dry mustard

Bake wings with a little olive oil and salt until crispy. (See above.) Mix ingredients together over low heat. Remove and let cool before serving. OR use this as a sauce instead and double the ingredients.

Photo: Robyn Lee

January 27, 2015

Snow Day....I'll Take It

Dante is braving the storm. The Blizzard of 2015 isn't going to measure up to its historic prediction (Are the weathermen EVER going to get the forecast right?!), but as long as I have a snow day with my family, I'll take it.

Michael is in Providence, so he's getting lots of wind. Kate, who has lived through some epic storms here in N.H., wonders what all the fuss is about in Boston. Family and friends on the Cape are getting pretty good gusts, but I think the more you're prepared for a storm, the less of an impact it has. I'm certainly glad that they put public safety above being "right", but if I were a New England weatherman, I think I'd be a little embarrassed at this point. It snows when it's not supposed to and the amount predicted is so far off, it's laughable.

Alas, we have another (supposedly) 17 more hours to go and it's coming down at a pretty good clip right now, so that 24+" they've predicted may come true.

Text with Kate yesterday...

     Me: It's supposed to be bad so make sure you have candles etc.
     Kate: oh okay thanks
     David: Kate tomorrow is going to be a typical blizzard for us but Boston will not be able to handle it. The sidewalks will not be plowed etc.
     Kate: Thanks father I'm going to get everything I need today so I don't have to go out tomorrow

A little while later...

     Kate: The line in the grocery store is so long that it goes to the back of the store and goes around a loop. It's easily 100 people deep
     Me: Got an email from your school about emergency preparedness. T will stop at midnight and all public transport will cease. It's a big deal and the city will take longer to recover than we will.
     Kate: Ugh Massachusetts sucks at moving snow. I'm just going to stay inside the whole time. Too bad if I was home I'd probably go outside haha

The conversation continued with all the things she may need, including emergency cupcakes, and the fact that she may lose power. My nephew messaged me that he contacted Kate (he lives in the city, too) making sure she was all set and to let him know if she needed help. My niece (also in the city) offered her a place to stay. They're sweeties.

Text with Kate today...

     Kate: The power never went out. This storm is a dud it's just a little windy this is nothing!

And a little while later...

     Kate: Looks like I have plans today! (In response to a text from her friends: "Do you guys want to go for a walk later? I hear there's an insane snow fort in the Boston common lol." "There is?!?! Yes! We can have a snowball fight!!!)

And so you have it. The Blizzard of '15....so far.

Stay tuned...

January 26, 2015


I love mixing old with new, rustic with modern, and lighting is no exception. I found these lovely pendants and I wanted to share. After looking around my house, I realized that I have taken my love of everyday baskets to a new level, I now covet wire baskets. I have one in a bathroom, the bedroom, two in my living room, and one in my den/office. I think wire adds an architectural element to a room without crowding in. Case in point, the fixture you see above resembles a birdcage. Because of the design, it allows the light to dance around a room, but also becomes a distinct design element within a room. This would work well in a kitchen over an island or breakfast bar, or even over a dining table in the right setting. Find it here.
This fixture offers a similar look. But instead of the defined lines you see a blurred linethe fixture is still very distinct and the light is still allowed to cast its glow, but it's more subtle. You could use this pendant just about anywhere. The overall design is more adaptable to a variety of styles so mixing traditional with modern is easily achieved. Find it here.
This last piece is simply a work of art. I would use this in a more modern setting, but I could also see it used in a country kitchen if done correctly. A bit more pricey than the others, this is the art in the room. Find it here.
Lighting Inspiration

January 23, 2015

Enjoy Your Weekend!

For the last few weeks, I've been visiting this Starbucks on Beacon Hill. It's actually my favorite. I know all Starbucks are ultimately the same, but the architecture is really beautiful and the baristas know how to make a really good vanilla latte. (The one in Tribeca makes the best I've tasted so far.) But this weekend, I'm going stay at home to catch up on some housework I've neglected since moving Kate into her apartment. I'm not completely done. I still need to replace a lamp, find an upholstered desk chair, and a few baskets, but that will happen over time. (Photos are coming....soonish.)

Read my snarky post about Starbucks here. I'm a total convert.

Here are some links that you may like...

14 stylish desk accessories.

7 food trends you may or may not want to try.

One mantle three different ways.

What is writing hypnosis?

Just in case you haven't seen it yet... watch Taylor play Santa.

I love to watch other Husky personalities. Check out this guy who definitely doesn't want to go in his kennel.


January 22, 2015

Writer's Block (1000 Words)

Not for me. My fingers have been flying across two sets of keyboards. So far so good.

I've taken on an incredibly ambitious writing project2 books, one fiction and one non-fiction (with a third that I actually started first) but I'm not thinking about the very big picture, I'm just thinking about those 1000 words each day. The rest will take care of itself.

So what exactly is my process when it comes to writing fiction? For me, it's always been about the story. I write about relationships; the push and pull of human emotions. Characters are already forming in my head when the words pour onto the page, but I don't get caught up in the details in the beginning. Names come to me organically. Places are real even if they're not mapped out. Plot lines happen over time and as the story carries me forward.

Non-fiction is a different story. I've been writing in this genre for so long that it actually feels like I'm cheating. I'm a bit more analytical with the details. Chapters/subjects are written down, ideas are formatted and formulated, and pages are written in no particular order but they definitely have a purpose.

I haven't been this excited about a project in a long time!

When people ask me what my goal is, I tell them it's to finish what I've started. That's all. When and if I complete something to my ultimate satisfaction then I will determine what happens next... at least it will determine the direction I intend to take.

And I'm happy to say that I will have exceeded my goal of 1000 words a day this week!

Photo: Writer's Block notebook found at my local bookshop, The Toadstool Bookshop.

DIY Art 2: Apartment Living

It's hard to remember which art project we started first, but this Hogwarts letter was certainly the easiest. After clarifying the correct wording from the book, I got on the computer to search for different clip art. I had originally placed the crest on both pages, but we decided it was too crowded. I created the whole letter in MS Word with regular margins and used their Chaucer font, and then printed it on parchment paper. If you'd like a copy to personalize yourself, just email me at beautifulliving@msn.com and I'll send you the Word document.

The most frustrating, but beautiful, artwork we created were these photos on canvas. Kate's roommate had made these before and assured us it was super easy. It wasn't. At least for us. To get these 4 canvases, we went through 10 total. You'll need:

1.  One 8x10 (or smaller) painter's canvas for each piece, which we bought at Job Lot for 1.99 each.
2.  One jar of Mod Podge.
3.  One foam paint brush. We had several on hand.
4.  Printed pictures of your choice. Kate found this art online and we printed it on a laser printer using all-purpose paper, not photo paper.
5.  A brayer especially designed for Mod Podge. This is optional, we didn't start out this way, but I grabbed one at our local art store for 9.00 when we got desperate. (I've enclosed the link to a kit. The brayer is actually the large rolling pin.)

I think the pigment of the art she chose was so intense that it made the paper hard to work with. Her roommate had never used any art saturated with so much color, we think that was our problem. Here's how its done.

1.  Prepare your canvas with a medium layer of Mod Podge. Make sure it's covering the entire surface evenly.
2.  Optional: Lightly spray the back of your paper with water. If you choose to use cover stock or other weights, you will not have to do this. The benefits of working with regular paper is that you'll be able to see the texture of the canvas, which is the look Kate was going for.
3.  Lay your paper art side up (dry side up too if you've misted it with water) and carefully position it into place. You do have a bit of time before it sets up, but work quickly if you can.
4.  Working from the center out, smooth the paper to get rid of any air bubbles and allow it to adhere to the canvas.
5.  If you use a brayer, start working with your hands first and then roll the brayer over the entire surface with even, steady pressure. Kate actually rolled on piece then entire 20 minutes and it's the best one out of the four.
6.  Let the canvas dry for 15-20 minutes.
7.  Once it's dry, add another layer of Mod Podge directly over the art. Let dry completely. You may choose to add more Mod Podge depending on the look you're going for. We only used one top coat.
8.  Paint the sides or edges of your canvas after it's completely dry. Kate painted the canvases ahead of time and we found out the Mod Podge wouldn't adhere as well.


If you see a few bubbles while your canvas dries the first time, hold tight until you've added your second layer. We noticed that some of the bubbles deflated after step 7.

If, however, you see a lot of bubbles or wrinkles while it's drying the first time around, you have time to remove the paper and scrape off any remaining paper and Mod Podge and still re-use the canvas. We did this several times.

When we showed Kate's roommate what we did and she showed us what she did, I noticed her paper was smaller, meaning it didn't take up the entire 8x10 canvas, and there wasn't much pigment. She used smaller photos and quotes instead. This is why I caution you when using pictures that have a lot of pigment in them.

I hung each of the pieces you see above with Command Velcro strips. I love using these for lightweight pieces of art.

1.  I simply laid out my design (if hanging more than one) on the floor to make sure I liked the design. The quartet of HP art could have been arranged a number of ways, but we both agreed this was the most attractive.
2.  I started with the HP art on the lower left and placed it above her desk where I thought I wanted it. Then I drew a chalk line around the entire piece.
3.  I continued until I had all four pieces in place. I used a small picture level as well.
4.  Once you're done, stand back to make sure you like the overall look.
5.  Then simply place the Velcro tabs (I used one on the top left and bottom right of each picture) and transfer the same measurement over to the wall. When you place them, try to give yourself at least a quarter inch margin so you won't see the strips from the side.
6.  Once they're up, simply place the art on the wall lining up the strips. It's okay if they're not perfect because the strips are large enough to work. Use your level again for accuracy and then press firmly into place.

Good luck!

You may also like this DIY art project.

January 21, 2015

Roasted Vegetables

I love roasting vegetables, especially this time of year. I think roasting brings out the natural sweetness of root vegetables and they're so quick and easy to prepare. Serve these vegetables with a roasted chicken or all by themselves... a nice glass of wine, some crusty bread, and you'll be in carb heaven! I have prepared a variety of vegetables a few different ways, but the addition of maple syrup and balsamic vinegar in this recipe definitely adds more depth to the dish.

Roasted Vegetables

1½ pounds whole thin carrots
1½ pounds sweet potatoes, chopped into 1 inch squares
2 red or sweet white onions, sliced thickly (I prefer Vidalia)
1½ pound russet potatoes, chopped into 1 inch squares
⅓ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tsp. sea salt or Kosher salt
2 tsp. freshly ground pepper
1 tsp. fresh chopped rosemary
1½ Tbsp. fresh chopped thyme
1 cup pure maple syrup
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
  1. In a large bowl, combine all of the vegetables. Add the oil, salt, pepper, and herbs; toss to coat well. (You can also do this directly on your roasting pan and which is what I usually do.)
  2. Place the vegetables on a large roasting pan or two baking sheets; spread evenly.
  3. Place in the oven and cook for about 45 minutes. You can flip or toss the veggies about half way through if you'd like. Check if they're done by piercing the veggies with a knife.
  4. While the vegetables are cooking, combine the maple syrup and balsamic vinegar in a pan and bring to a boil.
  5. Reduce the heat and simmer slowly until it has reduced by about half and is nice and thick.
  6. Once the vegetables are ready, lightly drizzle some of the syrup over them and return to the oven for 5 more minutes.
  7. Serve warm or store in the refrigerator until ready to use.

I have used maple syrup on vegetables before (it's great paired with winter squash) and I will typically coat the vegetables with the maple syrup as I would the olive oil. So if you'd like to leave out the balsamic vinegar or don't have any on hand, try this method instead. You can also drizzle less of the maple/balsamic glaze, so use as much or as little as you'd like.

This is a hearty serving (serves between 4-6 people depending if you're serving as a side or a meal).


Photo: Mark H. Anbinder

January 20, 2015

DIY Art: Apartment Living

Kate is all moved in. What we thought would take us a couple of hours took all day....again. So the after photos won't be on the blog until I can get back in there and take some decent shots. However, I thought this week I would share some of the art projects we did. Kate is a book lover and I needed a fairly large piece to hang above her bed. But instead of one large piece, I chose to use two for more impact.
I had two framed pieces of art in my studio that I had used for classes for years. I probably purchased them at TJs or Home Goods many moons ago. I liked the frames more than what was being framed, so I came up with the idea of framing book pages because we were adding color through textiles, accessories, and paint. Now let me preface this by saying that even though we bought a used copy, Kate and I both had an extremely difficult time defiling a book. In fact, she wouldn't touch it, so I did all the dirty work. 
I started by ripping down the binding to make tearing pages easier. Kate was in charge of finding the pages she wanted prominently featured and my goal was to find some that were text-heavy. I laid out the art (you can see the botanical underneath, then started on the outside making sure the pages lined up with the edges. I played around with the design before I actually secured them to the cardboard. I started to use watered-down glue, but quickly switched to double-sided tape. (Just two pieces per page, top and bottom.) I wanted the look to be more organic so I left corners free. Once the edges were done, I split the difference and continued down the middle. You can actually see what the glue does to the paper in the very centernot pretty.

Now I had to fill in the empty spaces with more pages making sure to line up each one to the other. As you can see, I started placing the end pages underneath and switched it up for the two middle rows. When it came time to add the important pages, I knew I wanted one more layer. You can get as creative as you'd like after this stage, but it's very important to have some symmetry in the design when you begin.

Knowing I wanted the center page to lay on top, I started with the end pieces and laid them out the same way I began. To keep it from looking too symmetrical, I placed two additional pages diagonally across from one another. I placed the last pages of the second frame in the opposite direction, so when hung, you would see a "v" formation which you will eventually see in the final reveal.

Art can be expensive and when your budget doesn't allow you to buy much. Creating art can be a great way to not only make your home or apartment beautiful, it can allow you to splurge on those big ticket items and really personalize your space.