Pillows, Flowers & the Weekend….

If you are anything like me, you tend to gravitate towards fancy things.  Shoes, fabrics, cars – honestly if you can slap the prefix “expensive” on it, there is a strongly likelihood I have had an improper crush on it at one time or another.  Don’t get me wrong, I love me some inexpensive stuff but often a certain level of detail, craftsmanship and quality are put into items with a higher price tag.

For example, you can find some great inexpensive and mid-range fabrics on the market.  However, they don’t have the weight, stitching or luxe feel in the hand as a higher priced fabric like a JAB velvet or a Romo linen.  So imagine my surprise when I ran across these two pillows at Crate and Barrel and its hipper sister CB2….

The large striped pillow is from CB2 and is made from a really beautiful light weight open weave linen.  The pillow cover and the feather insert total $29+ tax.  In turn, the cut velvet pillow is from Crate and Barrel and is beautiful in person.  The pattern reminds me of something from Beacon Hill or Romo and the colors are rich and muted.  At $39 for the insert and cover, it is a steal.  A quick calculation reminded me that I rarely am able to find a 24×24 feather insert for that price, let alone a pillow cover, so I bought 3.

Yes, I know paying $200 for 6 pillows may seem excessive to some, but a yard of the fabric alone would be around that of and then factor in labor plus the cost of the insert and you are now looking at spending that much on one pillow potentially.

So using “new shopping math”, I took my well-earned savings and picked up some fresh flowers at the grocery store….

People bag on carnations but I think they are the workhorse of the cut flower world.  Keep them monochromatic and add in some floral berries and you can create a pretty but modern center piece for less than $10.

I am off to repack since it looks like I am making a quick trip home to Michigan next week.  So tell me, what is your “secret place” for stellar cheap finds?

Have a great weekend!

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Talking Out Loud: Interview with Author Samuel Park & Give Away

I love seeing my friends succeed in their chosen professions. I have been lucky enough to have college classmates achieve fame in professional sports, acting, politics and now writing. My friend Samuel Park, currently an Assistant Professor of English at Columbia College in Chicago, has just published his first full-length novel.

The book, This Burns my Heart, begins the day before the main character’s, marriage, as a mysterious and handsome doctor approaches her for a date. She declines the invitation, choosing instead a world that leaves her trapped with suffocating customs. In a post-war South Korea torn between past and present, Soo-Ja struggles to find happiness in a loveless marriage—and to carve out a successful future for her only daughter. But in a land where wives have no rights and mothers own little, her only hope for survival is to remember the lessons of the four tenets of Confucian tradition: perseverance, strength, loyalty and grace.

The book has been getting rave reviews from industry and mainstream press and was recently selected by The Today Show as a must read. Samuel, or as I call him “Sam” was kind enough to carve out some time to conduct a quick interview with me about the book, his approach to writing and how literature and design are bound…..

Congrats on your first book, This Burns My Heart. I really love how the story paints such a vivid picture through history using food, sights and landscape. When designers need to immerse themselves in a particular aesthetic, they create mood boards to help them evoke a certain “mood”. Do writers have a similar process? What do you do to help you get into the mindset of the place(s) you are writing about?

I like to read descriptions of places in history or travel books, and I love looking at period photographs of buildings, clothes, and food. In essence, I want to experience what a character sees and hears, so that I can create the character from the inside out. This Burns My Heart is set in Korea in the 60s, and so I tried to enjoy movies and pop songs of the time. I tried to have tunnel vision and eliminate anything that didn’t have anything to do with the place (Korea) or the
time (60s). Kinda like doing a google search for two items, and you live your life in that and avoid everything else for a year. I think that gives the work a more pure aesthetic.

Virginia Wolfe wrote a whole book about having space (A Room of One’s Own) but I am curious if you have a special place that you have created in your own home or elsewhere that you like to write in?

At the time that I wrote This Burns My Heart, I was subletting a friend’s condo–she had impeccable taste, and I wrote most of my novel sitting at a dining table that looked very much like this one.

I love writing on glass; I don’t know why, but it was a great workspace for me. I also prefer to write on a dining table instead of a desk–a desk feels like work, whereas the dining table feels like
play, like fun. I also love to spread myself out, and have all my
research, dictionaries, and notebooks open in front of me, which is
why a four-person dining table came in very handy!

The gorgeous environment that my friend created for her home was
incredibly inspiring to me. It made me feel really good and happy, and
when you feel good, you’re more likely to maintain the day-to-day
discipline necessary to create.

For my revisions, I did a lot of them while sitting on the fabulous
Troy sofa from Crate & Barrel.

I found it to be incredibly comfortable–ideal for a writer, because it has deep cushions, allowing you to easily spend many, many hours there. When I’m drafting my novels, I like having a hardback chair and a work surface to write
on. But when I’m revising, I love the comforts of a soft pillow behind

I have never met a designer who doesn’t look back at most of his/her projects and wish to tweak it in some way. Essentially, no designer ever sees a room as “done”. Is that the same with writers? Now that the book is done, do you ever revisit it and wish you could tweak a passage or flush out an idea?

Oh my gosh, constantly. Just the other day I was fantasizing of rewriting my book for the paperback, which comes out in March and we’re in the middle of finalizing. And actually, even for the hardcover, my editor had to pry the manuscript out of my hands before publication. I’ve learned, though, to take that energy and put it into my next project, my next book, and to accept that a book is never finished; you just stop working on it.

While I love reading a good book, I also love decorating with them. I  love how books can provide an instant sense of who a person is when they are displayed. So if you could have any three books on display on your coffee table, what would they be and why?

I would have the following three books……

I love looking at picture stills of Merchant Ivory films, the way they capture the emotions and the feelings of their characters. Together, they were absolute masters of combining aesthetic beauty with psychology acuity.

I’m also a huge fan of Hitchcock, who was a brilliant storyteller.  Not a day goes by in my writing that I don’t use an image or idea or concept taken from one of his films. He was brilliant at using physical metaphors to convey states of emotion, and writers sometimes have to rely on such descriptions in order to escape verbal clichés.

I find Vermeer’s world incredibly appealing, and if I could live in it, I would! I suppose what it says about me is that I’m fascinated by natural light–I love, for instance, to see sunlight streaming in through my windows, and how it catches certain objects during different times of the day.

As designers, we design for other people but as a writer do you write for yourself or with an audience in mind?

I write for a combination of both. If I only wrote for myself, my books would not get published. If I only wrote for my audience, my books would be dull and uninspired. If you’re not personally invested in your material, the reader notices and pulls away. And by the same token, if you don’t care about pleasing the reader, then the craft suffers, and the scaffolding of the book falls apart. Before I write a book, I ask myself, where do the two meet, where’s that intersection?  What is the kind of book that I would personally enjoy writing that *also* happens to be the kind of book readers like to read?

Your book’s main character is based on your mother. What would you say, if anything, was the scariest aspect of writing a book with a protagonist that you knew?

It wasn’t scary because it wasn’t a straight-out memoir. If it had been, I probably would’ve worried more about my mother’s reaction. What I did was to turn her life into fiction, and that gave me a lot of freedom.

I always end all my interviews with a variation of the same question. Your book chronicled your Mom’s journey to live a fully realized life.  So what lessons have you learned from your Mom on trying to live your life “out loud” or in an authentic way that will be true to yourself?

In writing about my mother’s journey, I learned to be *incredibly* appreciative of the freedoms that I have. As a woman in 1960s Korea, she had very few options in terms of how she spent her day.

In terms of living “out loud,” I learned, in promoting the book, that the best way to be is really to be yourself. The cliché is true! People absolutely crave authenticity, and I found that the more I acted like myself, the more appreciated I was and the more connected to me readers felt. I was trying too hard in the beginning to be distant, serious, and almost aloof, because I thought that’s what
readers expected from a writer. But we’re in an age of connection and friendship (real or virtual), and people want you to be likable–and I’m a naturally accessible, warm person. It turned out that I was hiding/repressing what would turn out to be my biggest selling points!

Thank you Sam for such a well-thought out and awesome interview!  As I said, I loved the book, so much so, that I am giving away a copy to one lucky reader.

For your chance to win a copy of This Burns My Heart….

1) Leave a comment with the words “Book Me”.

For an extra chance to win, tweet a link of this give away and leave a second comment.

The give away will close November 22!

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Thanksgiving 2011 Table Breakdown

Thanks for all the kind words about this year’s Thanksgiving tablescape!  As I said, I made this made specifically with ME in mind.  This was the table I always imagined for my own dinner and I am happy I was able to create it this year!  Surprisingly, there are not that many elements and many are available at large big box stores.

So let’s  break it down…..

Place Settings

The gold charger was a score from Walmart during their holiday clearance sale for one dollar per charger.  The purple dinner plate is from Crate and Barrel and was picked up at the local outlet for $3.99.  The salad plate was found at HomeGoods for $6.99 for 8.  The napkins are my favorite linen napkins from Crate and Barrel for $4.99 each and the napkin ring was a clearance purchase from West Elm for $0.98 each.  Silverware (not seen) was rolled inside the napkin and is my everyday cutlery.  On top of the salad plate is a small ear of dried Indian corn picked up from the grocery store for about $0.75 per ear.

Tablecloth & Glassware

You may remember the glassware from last year’s Thanksgiving table.  They are the Luster Glassware from Pier One which go on sale repeatedly throughout the year ergo I am sure I didn’t pay full price.  The tablecloth is Ralph Lauren and was a great find at HomeGoods for $14.99.


The centerpiece is a cornucopia shaped basket from Michaels that I light sprayed with bronze paint.  The basket was $12.99 but I used the ever-present 40% off coupon to get it for around $7.  Inside the basket, I used a variety of gourds, herbs, fruits and flowers including a large succulent cutting to anchor the centerpiece.  Pumpkins were staked to one side to add visual height and interest.

Candlesticks, Wreath & Salt-n-Pepper Shakers

All of these components are part of my core decorating “kit”.  The candlesticks are part of my ever expanding collection of thrifted crystal candlesticks that I use for various decorating vignettes or dining events.  The actual candles were bought from Ross Dress for Less for $4.99 for a set of 6.  The wreath was recycled from last year’s Christmas decorations and augmented with live florals and berries.  The pheasant salt and pepper shakers were a purchase from eBay last year that I love using for their sculptural quality.

And that’s it.  I wasn’t kidding when I said there were not many elements to the table!  If you wanted to get a similar look, here are some options, all of which you can order from the web…..

Credits: 1/2/3/4/5/6/7/8/9/10/11/12/13/14

Even with the table set, I feel I am still behind the ball!  So are you ready for Thanksgiving?    If so, what is your secret for an organized and chaos free holiday?

Speaking of secrets, I have one to share with you later today.  I will be announcing who won the Shabby Apple Dress Giveaway!

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Tuft Love…..

Something about tufted furniture makes me weak in the knees.  Chesterfields make my heart flutter.  Tufted ottomans make me giggle like a school girl.  Actually to be upfront, alot of things make me giggle like a school girl especially the word “jiggly”.

(tee hee hee.  jiggly.)

Okay, I have recovered now, so back to the topic at hand.  I am starting the search for a sofa for a couple I just signed on as clients to help decorate their first apartment together.  I don’t know why, but instantly when I see this couple, I think tufted sofa/Chesterfield.  Classic, regal but also effortlessly cool, a Chesterfield or tufted sofa would be a great piece for their first apartment.   I am positive it would be used for years to come.

Here a few shots from my inspiration file…..

Here is peek at a few tufted sofas and Chesterfields from various retailers that i quickly sourced.  They range from $1700 to $3000……

1. Macys // 2.  West Elm // 3. Crate & Barrel // 4. Jonathan Adler // 5. Room & Board  // 6. Z Gallerie

If they had the space, I would totally get them the Z Gallerie Chesterfield.  Yummy brown leather and overstuffed, it is the ultimate indulgence when it comes to timeless furniture.  While they may not have the space for the sofa, they may have the space for the Chesterfield Chair…..

So are you a fan of tufting or do you think it’s better left to club rooms and law offices?  Leave a comment and tell me your favorite tufted piece of furniture.

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Halloween Tablescape Breakdown…..

Sorry for the delay in this posting.  I meant to do it on Friday but even the best laid plans get interrupted with that little thing called “life”.  So take my humble apologies and let’s get crackin’…..

The Halloween tablescape was inspired by Edgar Allan Poe’s poem, “The Raven” which in turned inspired the individual aspects of the table from plates to flowers.

Gargoyle Place Card: Dollar Mart – I love placing a little something in the center of my place settings whether it be a flower, candy or in this case a little statue of a gargoyle.  They were purchased for $1 at the Dollar Store.  If your community doesn’t have a Dollar Store then try Amazon or  The Oriental Trading Company for similar statues.

Dinner Plate: HomeGoods –  The plates were a find at HomeGoods for $3.99 per plate.  Similar plates can be found at West Elm, Wayfair and Z Gallerie 

Flatware: Sur La Table – these pieces were bought last summer on clearance for $1.99 per utensil.  Similar pieces can be found on Ebay or if you have a budget Dolce Tableware currently has this beautiful olive wood flatware set.

Feather Charger: DIY – I knew I wanted black feather chargers for each place setting but could not find anything that exactly matched my mental image, so like any good bloggers, I opted to make my own.  The chargers are stiff black poster board and three different types of feathers.  A full tutorial will be up on the blog this week on how to make your own.  However, if the thought of being covered by glue and feathers doesn’t entice you, then check out these feather chargers from Z Gallerie and Cadeaux.

Napkins & Napkin Ring: Crate & Barrel/Pottery Barn – The linen napkins were picked up at the Crate and Barrel outlet for $1.99 a piece but can still be purchased in stores.   The napkins rings are part of Pottery Barn’s caterer box series which is also available in stores and online.

Wine Goblet: Dollar Store – So I have to be honest, I cheated on this aspect of the table for effect.   The black wine glasses I originally sourced for the table from Target didn’t photograph well.  They were too shiny, too dainty, too modern for the table but at $32 for 6, they were definitely the budget friendly option.  With time short, I opted to pull my artistic license card.  A quick trip to the Dollar Store produced 6 cut glass goblets plus gloss spray paint from my supply closet produced the look I wanted for the budget.  However, since the glasses were spray painted, they are not food safe, so they would need to be swapped out once the libations started flowing.  If you are looking to reproduce the look of the black goblets, try options from Eden & Eden or Ebay.

Centerpiece: The centerpiece is a combination of white orchids, purple mums, feathers, tinted carnations and dried flowers.  The urn is a vintage trophy I already owned and use as decoration .  Using the orchids as my base, I cut floral oasis, soaked it and inserted it around the orchids.  Taking cues from nature, I grouped my flowers into large clusters and inserted them in the floral oasis.  Black feathers were used to fill in any gaps and to reinforce the table’s raven theme.  The centerpiece was not cheap but not expensive at $50 with $27 of that for the orchids, but I think of orchids as an investment since I am reusing them throughout the house.

Ravens: Dollar Store – The black ravens (or crows if you want to be specific) were found for $1 each at the Dollar Store.  I touched them up with black floral spray (which I love since it is lighter than spray paint and dries very quickly).

Candelabra & Candles: Owned – I already owned the candelabra thanks to my Valentine’s Day tablescape but you may not have recognized it since it was pink.  Thanks to two thin coats of black spray  paint, I was able to get a gothic candelabra free!

Chair Slipcovers: Dollar Store – I found grey and black netting for $1 a package at the Dollar Store.  One package was the perfect amount to slipcover one chair.  I took a small section of black ribbon from my stash and tied to each side to secure.

So unless I missed something that is the Halloween table setting.  As usual, I tried to stay true to my fabulous on a budget motto and give some inspirational ideas you can use throughout your own entertaining.  As mentioned, check back later in the week as I show you how to make the feather chargers I used for the table for less than $5 each!

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Gold Mirror Vignette

Have you ever acquired something thinking that it would be perfect for a specific purpose only to find that you were off base?  Well that sorta happened to me, but this story has a happy ending.

I found a fantastic gilded gold mirror on the street while walking my dog Scruffy.  Actually Scruffy found it and for that he earned an extra Milk Bone.  Truth be told, I have a thing for mirrors – partially because I am vain but more so for their light creating qualities.  A room with a mirror instantly feels lighter, brighter and bigger in my opinion.  So when Scruffy found the mirror sitting on the curb with a “free” sign taped to its front, I all to happily picked it up to carry home thinking it would be a perfect addition to the master bedroom.


It just didn’t work with my room.  I was bummed and the mirror was relegated to the garage aka “purgatory”.  Fortunately, I met with my dear friend Gina this weekend to do our monthly bonding over thrift stores and baked goods.  Luck would have it that she needed lamps and I was showing her my collection in the garage when I saw the mirror.  I asked if she needed a mirror and then barraged her with several follow-up questions when she said yes.  Reason being that I hate giving stuff away to friends to only have them take it and never use it.  I would rather give an item to charity than have it sit in a friend’s version of purgatory.  After she promised with her first-born, did I let her take the mirror.

Well I am glad I did, because she sent me a picture yesterday of how she used it in her home.  And let me tell you, it looks WAY better in her house than it did in mine…..

I love everything about the vignette Gina created in her entrance way from the console table to the mirror to the adorable set of tiny antlers.  The pale blue walls are the perfect backdrop for the vignette and really highlights the pieces.  The  gold mirror is the perfect “pop” of unexpected and pulls the whole vignette together in my opinion.

Aside from the mirror, I am loving the Asian-inspired console table.  While console tables like this are not anything new, I think the milky-white color and distressed nature of the table make it fresh and interesting.  More so, its combination with the mirror is a nice mixing of styles.

I also love how Gina has propped and styled her vignette using a variety of keepsakes as well as every day items like her rain boots and husband’s briefcase.  It’s these personal touches that keep it from looking like a store showcase….

For those of you wondering, Gina was also kind enough to give me a complete breakdown of all items she used in the vignette:

Asian console: Nantucket Home in Chico, CA
Hurricane: Crate and Barrel –  unity candle from our wedding
Foo Dogs: Past Perfect
Mother of Pearl Box: The Breakers at West Palm Beach
Mirror: Courtesy of Scruffy Lake
Frames and mats: Cheap Pete’s
Antlers: BellJar San Francisco, CA
Eiffel Tower pic: taken when we were in Paris in 2008
Rembrandt shell etching:  print from Legion of Honor – original currently on view in Dutch & Flemish Masterworks exhibition
Flowers: From my friend Courtney (that’s me!!)
Brass bucket used as umbrella stand: From my parents – no idea where they got it
Hunter boots: Zappos
It’s really satisfying to see something that was once considered trash be used in such a great way!  And it also means I don’t need to take Gina’s first-born — so it’s a win-win for everyone because let’s be honest, what the hell was I gonna do with a baby?  I can barely keep Scruffy alive……
Do you have any treasures that were formerly trash?  Shoot me a pic of them at lifeoutloudmail@gmail.com
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Marimekko Shop at Crate & Barrel Now Open

The long-standing relationship Crate & Barrel has shared with Marimekko has gotten even stronger.  The two have collaborated to create an online shop as well as store-within-stores at select Crate & Barrel stores.  If you are lucky enough to live in New York you can visit Crate & Barrel’s Broadway store to take in all of Marimekko’s technicolor print glory.  In addition to the Manhattan location, other stores in Los Angeles, Chicago and San Francisco (yah me!) will be opening shortly!

The line will range from fabrics by the yard to outdoor furniture, so all y’all print loving peeps can now finally get your dose of happy textiles.  Personally, I am most excited for these things from the line…..

Do you have any favorites from the online shop?  Share them in the comments section or on the Facebook page!

Okay, I am off to enjoy my last full day in Palm Springs!