Tips & Trends – Strange Closets people, homes, travel and stuff Mon, 29 Apr 2013 17:29:23 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Design Dilemmas: The wall behind the flat screen TV Thu, 01 Sep 2011 18:14:08 +0000

Dear Readers, figuring out what to hang on the wall behind, above and around flat screen TV’s has always vexed me. Currently, I have three Chinese screens, which I bought several years ago at the now shuttered Bucktown store Wow and Zen. I like them well enough, but my aesthetic has continued to evolve, and frankly, I’m bored of them. What’s stopping me from changing them? Inertia and lack of imagination. Advising other people how to resolve their design dilemmas seems so much easier than solving my own. I’d love to do something really interesting and over-the-top (or at least something). Any ideas? Sincerely, Confused in Chicago.

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What glows within? Sun, 28 Aug 2011 17:38:50 +0000

I’m drawn to the mysterious glow emanating from these homes. What’s happening behind those walls, and how do I score an invitation? I can practically smell the incense, and it’s easy to envision seances, dancing and chanting. In fact, the answer is likely far less exotic, but lighting can make a very powerful statement in home decor. If colored bulbs aren’t your thing, try adding dimmers to all your lamps and overhead lights. Dimmers are an inexpensive way to transform a space, at least in the evening, and as an added benefit, using them may help conserve electricity.

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Trends: Stags, skulls and taxidermy Tue, 15 Feb 2011 04:09:14 +0000

Despite the fact that stags, skulls and taxidermy often hang on walls, the hot home design trend has legs. Just flip through nearly any shelter publication on the newsstands, and you’re more than likely to spot some antlers. As evidenced by the latest issue of Field & Stream Magazine, even the manly, outdoorsy types have embraced the look we design-o-philes bravely pioneered. Also check out the cover of this recent Monsieur (above), which I found to be so hilarious that I bought a copy despite the fact that the text was written in French.

Continued . . .

Field & Stream’s rad cover

What do you think about taxidermy and skulls in decor? They never seem to go away, do they? It’s our perception of them that changes. They’ve been rustic, retro and edgy, and now they somehow appeal to hipsters, movie stars and high-class decorators. Restoration Hardware even gave them their own category – Animal Motifs. Do you dig ’em? If not, on what grounds do you oppose? Ethical or aesthetic? If ethical, are you opposed to faux doe?

Moose Antlers in Cast Resin (a Restoration Hardware Animal Motif)

Z Gallerie Ram Head

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Birds and decor Mon, 24 Jan 2011 07:16:35 +0000

To woo a mate, male bower birds decorates their nests with all manner of objects, including vibrant berries and flowers. Interested females will visit many competing nests, often returning for a second look by comparison. It appears that bower birds even use the rules of perspective to arrange objects in order to emphasize or deemphasize certain attributes of their nest. Humans hire architects and designers for that kind of thing, but nobody (yet) is suggesting that birds outsource the task. And now it appears that some birds use nest design for purposes other than mating.  Wired Science recently reported that the strongest, most aggressive kites used more plastic in their nests than weaker kites while younger and older kites used the least.

Humans decorate for many reasons too. For status, to create a refuge, to create art, and I’m sure in at least some cases, to attract a mate. Perhaps that’s why birds have been such a hot trend in the design world since I started paying attention a few years ago. (For all I know, birds have always been a hot design trend). What is about those birds that makes them so irresistible? At this point, my perch might have too much bird merch (see below), but what do you think? When it comes to bird decor, how much is too much? Regarding evidence that birds actually decorate their nests, tweet, tweet, tweet? *

Please enjoy this musical selection while you peruse this post’s photos, amusing captions and captivating reader comments:

Image (top): Discovery News

If you liked this post, you might also enjoy these classic SC posts:

This trend is for the birds (an early post)

Trend Report: Birds not migrating anywhere (I was mystified that birds were still hot two months after the first post)

Trend Report: Who likes owls? Me neither (On one hand, decorating with owls is fine. On the other hand, I don’t like it).

Peacocks and feathers: Trend or omen? (the post that started a religion)

* WTF?

Even I was surprised by this one. Good job birds.


Jayson Home + Garden

Jayson Home + Garden

Jayson Home + Garden



Pottery Barn

John-Paul Philippé framed bird sketch at West Elm.

Design Within Reach

I bought this bad boy at Jayson Home + Garden a couple years ago.

Ducks count.

The den.

Ditto the den. It’s a robin.

Of course, here’s Batman. Fighting a bird. Again. This is a vintage trading card – classic ephemera. Adam West is very big right now.

No birds post is complete without a reference to Alfred Hitchcock’s classic film. Although I have framed a number of Alfred Hitchcock movie posters over the years, I have never framed a “The Birds” one. But frame one I may.

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Design and the age of Ophiuchus (the new astrological sign) Fri, 14 Jan 2011 06:15:09 +0000

Over the last couple of years, I’ve assembled quite a collection of snake prints, including a vintage German educational chart from the 60’s that hangs in the bedroom and a gorgeous antique print I stumbled across at Scout. I thought it was just a personal quirk, but lately I’ve been noticing more snake imagery in popular culture (see below), most recently a limited edition poster signed by artist Yann Legendre depicting a trippy, Medusa-like woman (above), which I saw at the CB2 at North and Clybourn. (Do you like the print?). I thought about writing a post about seeing all these snakes. Snakes: Is sssssomething in the air? But believe it or not, I thought it seemed a little too new age-y. But then I read that the Moon’s slight gravitational pull on Earth coupled with changes in the Earth’s magnetic field have shifted the dates of the existing astrological signs and created a 13th sign, Ophiuchus. (Check the details for yourself). As my favorite cooking host Ina Garten might say, “What could be more new age-y than that?” Actually, this “new information” has all been known since, like, two years after they first formulated the whole concept 3000 years ago, so it’s much ado about nothing. I don’t even believe in astrology. Having said that, it’s funny that Ophiuchus’s symbol is a man wrestling a snake. Nov. 29 – Dec. 17. It’d be really cool if that were my sign, but alas, it’s not. Is it yours? If so, how do you feel about it? How about snakes? They’re cool, no? More importantly to all you astrology buffs, what does this portend for the world?

I may not be who I thought I was; and I may not be an Ophiuchus (above); but by God, I’m going to be the best Virgo I can be!

I bought this print at Scout. Isn’t the frame perfect?

I bought this print at Ipso Facto in Three Oaks, Michigan.

I bought this a few weeks ago on Ebay, because I thought it was cool. Just think, somebody born on its cover date, March 1st, always thought they were a Pisces, but they’re actually an Aquarius. The old me tended to befriend Aquarians, but does the new me still like the old Aquarians or does the new me like the new Aquarians, or another sign altogether?

Recent New Yorker cartoon.

One of the first things I saw after landing in Honolulu a few weeks ago.

I’m not the only one with appreciate snakes. Remember Neil’s Open House? (above and below)

Mark and Jeri’s house is as eclectic and cool as they are. Naturally, I love their front foyer. Click here to see the whole place, including the intriguing hand written note from Katherine Hepburn, which Jeri framed and hung in the second floor hallway. What did it say?

Beth Robinson-Juhas is a huge influence on me, and I have no doubt it’s where my snake obsession started:

Paxton Gate in San Francisco.

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Trending: vintage photographs Fri, 22 Oct 2010 03:10:56 +0000

One of my prized possessions is a 30’s-era photo album, which I found nearly intact at Old Sau’s Resale and Antique Shop on Lincoln Avenue just after I first moved to Chicago in 1997. Its black and white photos chronicle the friendship of two young couples who travel, picnic and celebrate the holidays together. A large, gray-haired woman wearing a long house dress and round wire glasses appears from time-to-time sporting a stern, almost scowling expression, but I love her anyway. I like to imagine that tough is her schtick and the whole family loves her, but she was probably just mean. As I flip through the embossed album’s black pages, summer turns to winter, babies show up and everybody starts to fill out and look older. I wonder what happened to them. And what about the missing photos? Did they just fall out over the years? Were they snatched up by family and friends? Or did they get scooped up by somebody like my friend Albert Tanquero, a vintage photography dealer?

The Vintage Bazaar co-founder Libby Alexander created this wall collage in her and boyfriend Ryan’s West Andersonville apartment. Click here for their Open House.

Vintage photos are still widely available in thrift stores*, but good ones are getting harder and harder to find. Dealers like Albert are selling them for top dollar on Ebay and collectors are squirreling them away into their private collections. While it’s still possible to find a box with $1 photos, Tanquero says most are priced between $8 (“Eight dollars it the new $5,” says Albert) to hundreds of dollars for highly sought after subjects like African Americans, gay interest and military (particularly WWII). But people collect subjects that appeal to them. Regional photography is hot with some locales, like Atlantic City, more valued than others. A small black and white photo of two piglets sitting on a velvet Victorian sitting chair priced at $175 was much admired at an Allentown, Pennsylvania photo show Albert recently attended. “Everybody was raving about the piglets,” says Albert. “I should have bought it.”

Photograph: Nathan Kirkman for Chicago Home + Garden

But how do I display them in my own home?

In a recent Chicago Home + Garden article (Still Life, July – August 2010) vintage photos are pinned thick to the walls, different eras overlapping each other. It’s visually striking, but if that look’s too chaotic for you, the decorative possibilities are endless. Imagine a grid of vintage photos spaced an inch or two apart as an accent wall. Or the same look on all four walls with a writing desk in the middle of the room. Or framed. Or scattered on a table as a part of a vignette. That one’s easy. I tried it. (top photo and below). This trend’s not here yet, but I think it’s coming. What do you think? Do you use vintage photos in your decor?

For more information about vintage photography, Albert recommends the following blogs:

Square America


House of Mirth Photo blog

Swapatorium2 on Flickr


Please also check out Albert’s engrossing Flickrstream Albert’s EYE and his Ebay store. Albert and his partner, Jim York, also use photography and ephemera in their stationary company The Found. Their latest line of photo booth cards are really beautiful. It’s not often that a greeting card strikes the appropriate romantic note (heartfelt but not too sweet nor too sappy), but these are perfect.

Photo booth cards from The Found.

My own vintage photography decor experiment. Also top photo.

Design Rules: Family gets framed, and strangers get scattered on the table.

* In Chicago, try Brownstone Antiques, Broadway Antique Market and Edgewater Antique Mall.

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Design Rules: Context is king Thu, 07 Oct 2010 02:13:50 +0000

Last week I wrote about the perplexing array of products in the Neiman Marcus home department, and my friend, KitchenLab and design in a bag‘s Rebekah Zaveloff left a thoughtful comment about the important role context plays in shaping our perception. “I kept thinking, it’s all about how pieces are put together and the context of collections and the power of someone who understands merchandising. I saw a lamp, rug or side table that if I viewed them in the context of Jayson Home or ABC carpet I’d love it, but assembled with all these other pieces, they didn’t hold my interest.” She’s so right. I overlook all kinds of amazing, many valuable, finds at garage sales and thrift stores simply because I can’t help but associate things with their environment and merchandising (or lack thereof). The inverse is also true. I’ve bought far too many perfectly merchandised but way too expensive pieces that looked positively pedestrian when isolated in my place: furnishings, accessories, rugs and candles. Lots and lots of candles. Making generally accurate snap judgements based on context seems like an evolutionary winner to me, so responding to spectacular merchandising is probably hardwired. Maybe that’s why I love Kartell’s gnome table when I otherwise despise gnomes. Sure, there was something I liked about them before I knew they were Kartell but only because I’d seen them pop up in gorgeous magazine spreads (thanks to Kartell). And to tell you the truth, I wanted one a lot more intensely when I realized they were so pedigreed. What’s up with that? Einstein famously theorized that time was relative depending on the speed of the observer, and I’m pondering a similarly revolutionary (but design-centric and less math-y) theory of context. Stay tuned. In the meantime, please consider the following questions when formulating your (much appreciated) comments:

a.) Do you ever wonder what influences your own aesthetic preferences?

b.) The gnome table – that’s cool, right? Or have I been seduced? Is it high design or a joke on the consumer?

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Benjamin Moore Tarrytown Green (you complete me) Thu, 19 Aug 2010 00:57:13 +0000

Do you like the wall color in this image from West Elm’s website? I love it. In fact, I love the whole room, which feels fresh, sophisticated and comfortable. But it’s the Benjamin Moore Tarrytown Green paint (HC-134) that now plagues my thoughts. I’d like to live with it for awhile, but I’m not sure where to try it. Painting the living room is a pain (corners and moldings galore), so I’d rather not use it as a lab. I’m planning to convert the guest bedroom into an office, but I’m not sure Tarrytown Green is the right hue for the smallish dark room. Maybe the dining room? What do you think about HC-134? Am I just a little punch drunk in love? Or does this color have staying power?

If you like this post, check out the first two posts in the soon-to-be classic green trilogy: The Mysterious Case of Hunter Green and Trend Report: Kelly Green.

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Peacock Feathers: Trend or Omen? Fri, 13 Aug 2010 03:15:28 +0000

Within a 24 hour period last summer, I spotted fine examples of peacock taxidermy at both artist Gail Potocki’s condo and artist Michele Stone’s house. Not more than a few months later, I marveled about seeing yet another peacock at stylish stylist Martha Muholland’s Wicker Park duplex. Shortly thereafter, I visited Geyer Morford at Schumacher in the Merchandise Mart, and he showed me a number of the company’s wall coverings, including one made of peacock feathers. Then things got weird. During a visit to Harbor Country, Michigan, my friend Janis and I stumbled upon a peacock farm located behind the curiously named Pops Noze, an antique mall / lawn ornament purveyor, which might be the most crazy and amazing place I’ve been since I first visited Zaps Props last winter. The colorful birds were fighting, beating their wings and jumping around. And while they’re quite beautiful in person, they appear less regal when they’re walking around, eating and getting on with the business of life. And that’s not all. When I booked the Jane Hotel in New York City recently, I had no idea there would be two stuffed peacocks hanging prominently in the lobby, one of them of the rare white variety. I told my friend Mike Hines about the peacock nuttiness when I visited him at his west side floral design business Epoch Floral last week; he chuckled and mentioned that he’d recently created a simple arrangement of peacock feathers in a vase. I responded that it would be strange if he still had them, and guess what? See photo below. Is seeing so many peacocks just a coincidence? Or am I a cutting edge trend forecaster who’s just realizing that peacocks are going to be the next big thing? Or is it something stranger – an omen of some sort? What do you think? Have a great weekend.

An arrangement at Epoch Floral.

Martha Muholland’s Wicker Park duplex.

Michele Stone’s North Shore home.

Schumacher’s opulent peacock feather wall covering.

A Michigan peacock farm.

The Jane Hotel in New York City.

The Jane Hotel in New York City.

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The return of the abacus Tue, 27 Jul 2010 02:40:48 +0000

Mathematics is not my forte, but I’ve spied four abacuses within the past three months. Which begs the question, why now? Why here? Is this some wildly improbable coincidence? Or the beginning of a new trend in home decor? Given enough time, finer minds than mine will no doubt solve these and other vexing questions. My interest lies in the more philosophical questions this cluster of abacus sightings poses. Is it nostalgia for a simpler time that makes them so attractive? Or perhaps we can sense the accumulated energy of the people who used them? If so, then why does the new CB2 version look so darn good? Are they inherently more beautiful than calculators? Or any piece of technology? Will a crafty person someday create a wall collage with the used iPhones they collected from thrift stores and garage sales? Is any of this adding up?

Top image: Although she’s not an abacist, food and prop stylist Johanna Brannan Lowe did use an abacus in the decor of her Buchanan, Michigan home.

Ipso Facto


Architectual Anarchy

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