Monday, August 23, 2010

Buy It For Looks, Buy It For Life: Selecting Coffee Tables

I love that line from Moen faucets. It makes a lot of sense.

I grew up amidst the most unique furniture. In my grandmother's house, there was a long, heavy coffee table, made of solid hardwood, stained so dark it was almost black. Its base had a small cabinet with sets of doors on either side of the table; a perfect hiding spot for a small child. Atop this massive table sat a great yellow ceramic lion. It belonged to my grandfather, and was the most treasured piece of art in the house. It occupied nearly three quarters the length of the table. It sat there like a sentinel, older than any of the grandchildren,  who were expressly forbidden to touch it. It lorded over that coffee table, so that no legs could be put up on it. In my grandmother's house, this table, and the sculpture on it, was a showpiece in this big, beautiful house in the country.

Meanwhile in the city apartment where I grew up, my parents favored light, cane furniture more suited to the heat of the tropics. The chairs were woven cane pieces, and if you sat on it with your bare legs, the weaving left their marks on the back of your legs. My parents went all out, decking the place in head to toe cane. My favorite piece though, was the coffee table. It was a big square box, hinged on one side. It was woven cane on the outside, lined with wood on the inside. In it my mother kept her precious photo albums. When closed I could sit on it or just put my legs up. It was light, unpretentious and functional. It was not the kind of expensive piece you would have to stay committed to, yet it lived long enough to make its way into the suburban house we eventually moved into.

Eight years ago I bought a relatively cheap pine coffee table. It was chosen first for its low price point, second for its safely rounded corners, and only third, if at all,  for its looks. It sat right smack in the middle of the living room of our first home, and upon delivery day,  my one year old daughter immediately discovered that it was the perfect height for her to grab on to for balance, as she practiced walking around it. What made it more perfect was its big, fat turned legs and rounded corners. It was squat and low, not at all graceful, yet sturdy enough to not tip over. Nothing expensive sat on it, save for a plant and a few books. As the kids grew, they brought with them toy cars and pencils, and all sorts of things that bang and scrape. Like an inexpensive pair of jeans, it was the sort of thing that you would allow the wear and tear. All are welcome on this table. Today, it sits content in our family room, bearing the dents, scrapes and marks of life and use. My kids distressed it for me, and I think its just beautiful. I don't think I will ever get rid of it. It's no heirloom piece, but there are too many precious memories attached to it. 

On the subject of coffee tables and anything else, I stand heavily by "form follows function." Furniture, even the most beautiful ones, should be able to stand up to moderate use. When selecting a coffee table, consider several things before making that purchase. Besides style, some questions to ask are: 

    What is the right size and height for my space?
    What material is best for kids?
    Will I need to store things (books, magazines, small objects) in/on it?
    How long do I plan to keep it?

Here are some of the best, for every form and function.

There is no doubt that no corners means safety for kids. The bonus? Round, oval, or elliptical tables stimulate gatherings, and adds curves and contrast to the straight lines on the rest of the furniture.

Top to bottom, l-r: Dot coffee table,, Metropolitan round coffee table,, Kitaro round cocktail table, Gibson cocktail table,

For Storage
Doubling as storage, these clever tables keep magazines, books, blankets and other items hidden from view yet within reach.  

Top, left and right: Sliding top coffee table and detail,, Bailey cube,

Glass allows light to pass through it and therefore looks light and airy for small spaces. It is relatively easy to maintain and safe for young ones as long as the glass top is framed.

Above: Tanner coffee table,

Large Scale
Large, voluminous spaces call for scale and drama. Imagine a huge pot of long stemmed blooms in the middle of this, surrounded by an assortment of rare and interesting books.

Above: Balustrade salvaged wood coffee table,

A fresh alternative to the standard coffee table. Add a tray to perch plants, books and even drinks on it. 


Above: Norah ottoman,

Monday, August 9, 2010

What's Your Design Style?

My eight-year old daughter's bedroom is bright and vivacious like her, painted in a chic yet audacious Tiffany box blue in honor of her love for (now plastic) bling. The dad balked at the color when it was being rolled on the walls and called the hot pink lamp trimmed with crystals 'tacky.' Of course, I said. How could he know? The point was that her bedroom was all decked out in details that define who she was at the moment. This is a concept often missed when as grown-ups we attempt to design, decorate and furnish our spaces, not in terms of who we are, but in terms of the image of us that we want to project to the world.

Ultimately, our rooms should be decked 
out to impress us, not the people 
we think we'll invite into them.

As a result we end up with rooms that speak nothing of us. When our goal is to hastily fill a room to the rafters with every single thing we think it's supposed to have,  the room either looks like a corner in a furniture showroom or a hodgepodge of things that do not even go together. The rooms in our house must be personal, with an intimate connection to who we truly are. To be enjoyed for years, each item and element must be carefully selected. As somebody once told me, "Do not bring it home unless you're in love with it." Ultimately, our rooms should be decked out to impress us, not the people we think we'll invite into them.

Everybody has a style preference. Some are savvier and know immediately that they are 'minimalists,' or 'eclectic,' while there are some who are less articulate about what they like. Nonetheless, a simple exercise of looking at your current possessions or picking out a sofa can tell you a lot about your personal style preference. 'Personal' is the operative word here, because it is possible to like more than one style but there will always be one that you will be happiest living in the most. For example, I really adore the spare minimalism of a Zen decor, but I don't think I can live with the inherent emptiness of a space decorated as such. I like it, but I wouldn't want to live in it. See? Two different things. Understanding this helps prevent not only design mistakes but the countless impulsive purchases that will inevitably end up being donated or garage-saled.

A good designer and or architect will talk to the client and find out, through a series of conversations that lifestyle, personal tastes and cultural background that should all be factored in the design of a home. In residential contracts, the job is not to sell a design, but to find out what the client truly likes and translate this into a beautiful home styled to be enjoyed for many years.

Here, some of the most common style preferences, translated in design terms. Find yours and keep them handy for those trips to the store.


Formal, and classic. You like period pieces; heavy wooden furniture with a lot of detail such as curved and turned legs, multi-beveled edges on tables. Oriental rugs, gilding, heavy upholstery and mostly neutral colors. White walls and dark floors. Heavier, ornate drapery.

Below: A traditional wing-chair in traditional 18th century French Regency design.
Lorraine Chair from


Simplicity, subtle sophistication, texture and clean lines help to define contemporary style decorating. You prefer sleek, modern pieces with minimal patterns and adornments. Furniture legs are straight. Simple drapes without tassels or fringes. Black, white or neutral ground with bold splashes of color.

Below: Sophisticated yet relaxed and uncontrived.
Madoxx Chair from


This style can go in a lot of different directions. The photo on the left shows a relatively spare, clean almost Swedish cottage style. The one on the right is a more common country cottage style with a lot of varied patterns and colors.
If this is your style you like relaxed, antique, distressed, 'Shabby-Chic' furniture. You like the traditional look yet less formal.. Quilts, chintz florals, lots of pastel colors. Cozy and comfy and collected. Rustic, handmade.

Right: This French Provincial chair in medium wood tone and rush seat is very country-typical.
Avignon Armchair from

To be continued:
Mid-century modern style, Global-Eclectic style

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Hello Yellow! Painting Your Rooms in Yellow

Some say that there is no cheerier color than yellow. Yellow is the color of the sun, lemon, sunflowers, butter, and all things bright and happy. Varying intensities of yellow can take on different styles;  buttery-yellow in a country cottage, bright and slightly acidic in a mid-century modern. 

Like anything else, the color yellow can be used strategically in moderation to brighten up a room or to emphasize positives in d├ęcor. Small doses of bright yellows added to rooms add punch, catch the eye, and make rooms feel lively. Believed to strengthen overall well-being, the lively characteristics of yellow will work for the atmosphere of the house when used in moderation. Trepidated? Proceed but practice restraint. A shy lemon yellow on a tiny paint chip can suddenly turn taxi-cab on the wall. Buy a test quart and try it before proceeding.

Such a strong color can tend to dominate a space, so when repainting consider all the other elements in the room such as floors and furniture and trim. Yellow walls look best with trims in pure or pale, creamy white. Also as it is a warm color, adjust the intensity you pick with the amount of light and warmth the room is already receiving.

Here, some bright ideas.

The past is looking bright! President Thomas Jefferson's dining room at his 1769 Monticello home near Charlottesville, Virginia,  was repainted in a yellow so bright it suddenly looks hip and modern.
Photo credit above:

Bright buttery yellow make the shell collection pop. Popular during the 80's and 90's, these sunny yellows have their roots in 1820's England.

Try: Farrow & Ball 'Dayroom Yellow' No. 233

Below: Paeonia Wallpaper,
Photo credit left:

It's just a touch, but the yellow on this door is brazen and unexpected. Very bright yellows increase in intensity when applied on large areas, so use sparingly. 

Try: Benjamin Moore 'Sun Porch' 
Photo credits: Right,, Below,


Entryway/foyer passages are brief, so here you can afford lots of drama. 
Try: Farrow & Ball 'Babouche' No. 223

To sun-drench a living room in warmth. This yellow will bring eternal spring to any space.
Try: Benjamin Moore 'Dalila'

This yellow can  make a kitchen seem larger. (Bonus: Researchers say yellow boosts metabolism!)
Try: Ralph Lauren 'Goldfinch' No. VM 30

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Sofa for Pets and Getting the Right Tan

What is the best sofa upholstery for people with pets?

If the cat or the dog rules in your home and are allowed on the furniture, you need one that will hold up to it. Cats and dogs shed hair, and ridding the sofa of them can be a nightmare. Claws can get caught on loosely-woven fabric. There are going to be dirt marks.

The best solution? The highly-recommended choice is leather. Hair slides right off, and there are no threads or loops  that can get pulled. There might be tiny holes, but none so big enough to be noticeable.

The second  best choice is microfiber. If you can live with a synthetic material sofa, this is a good choice. It holds up really well to dirt marks and stains, clean-up is easy and the non-woven nature of the fabric makes removing hair a lot easier.

Top: Klein  Sofa with Chaise in microfiber, Right: Leather Anson Sofa,

How to pick the right 'tan' or 'beige' for walls

Picking a neutral color such as tan for the walls may seem like the simplest choice, but certainly not the most fool-proof. Tan and beige are tints of brown. The color brown is just a mix of two complimentary colors: red and green or yellow and violet, or blue and orange. Each one gives a very different kind of brown, and so are the tans and beiges extracted from it. Commonly, a tan can have either have yellowish or a pinkish cast. Consider the color of furniture and cabinets when selecting the right one. Light wood stains such as cherry and caramel look better with a yellowish tan. Darker and redder stains such as mahogany, umber and dark oak look better with pinker tans. 

Photo credit, top:

How to select furniture for a small space

Scale is probably one of the most important elements of design. Just like a wrong-sized dress on a woman, scale can make or break a look. For a small space, filling it with a jumble of tiny furniture and accessories is not really the best solution. To make the best impact when there isn't a lot of space, using pieces on a bigger scale makes each thing feel important.