Thursday, October 28, 2010

Brit Grit: Iconic British Designs

There's a British icon in my family. My brother is a proud owner of an original 1960s Austin Mini Cooper. He treats it like his first-born and spoils it like a baby. It is so tiny even in the small and crowded streets of Manila, and when he drives it around children on the street shriek at him, "Mr. Bean!!!" This iconic car is so small that when my brother takes it for a ride to somewhere more than 30 miles away, my mom would say a prayer. She is deathly afraid a bus will fall on him, car and all. Well, this car is a celebrity. It is quite rare, especially in a city like Manila, and when you drive it around people in other cars and on the street stop and stare. My mom is afraid that left in the parking lot, somebody could literally carry it away.
Above: My brother's Mini Cooper at a car show.

Made by the British Motor Corporation and its successors from 1959 to 2000, the original Mini, is truly a British icon. There is so much personality and a sort of dignified quaintness about this small car. It ranks right up there with Julie Andrews, Kate Beckinsale, Emily Blunt and ofcourse, Daniel Craig.

When I think British in design, I don't quite think in terms of British colonial. That theme is so overused that there is nothing foreign nor exotic about it anymore.  There is so much more to UK design. Victoria Beckham's (tight), pleated, folded and draped minimalist dresses are so classy and elegant. Celebrities wearing them are utterly transformed and Posh-ed up.
 Above: Drape Front Fitted Dress from the Victoria Beckham Autumn/Winter 2010 collection. (

Brits are also good with designs that are slightly off-kilter. Refined yet with just the right touch of eccentricity (Rod Stewart?) For those really into punk eccentricity, British designer Vivienne Westwood interprets her creations for the home. She designs rugs and wallpapers in collaboration with top companies.
 Above: 'Squiggle' collection wallpaper by Vivienne Westwood for Cole & Son (

For a more sedate modern look, Paul Smith is my favorite. I once passed up on a wildly colorful scarf, and regret it to this day. Then I discovered this pattern used on an area rug--even better! The trademark curved lines in different colors makes such a statement piece underfoot. Who says art is just for the walls?

Above, top to bottom: Multi Original Swirl Long Scarf by Paul Smith (, Paul Smith Swirl Rug (

For other British finds, online store MyDeco ( brings goodies by up and coming British designers stateside. The styles are lightly modern and contemporary and just a touch offbeat. All items below from

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

British (Countryside) Invasion

Crisp autumn air, falling leaves multi-hued in gold and crimson, soft brown rolling hills, and in Southern California of late, serene foggy mornings and afternoon showers. My trench coat was out and about for a week, traipsing under the cloud cover and making the pretense of London-ish weather complete.

Out there in stores, furry and feathered forest creatures, twigs and leaves translate the season's autumn theme. Somehow, somewhere in between the whimsical gardens of Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland and the mysterious woods of the Pacific Northwest in Twilight, the fascination of flora and fauna never left. Warm and cozy cable knits, faux furs, plaids and tweeds add sartorial allure.

Could it be an English urban countryside revival? No, because timeless designs like this never go out of style. Think of innate simplicity that is relaxed, but not casual, pared-down to only the most luxurious and classic essentials. An understated palette hinting of moody bogs, misty mornings and afternoons in the woods. We are not in Cotswald, and this style is not about frou-frou florals in a multitude of colors and a hundred tiny things. There is just the barest of necessities, selected for comfort and style. A contrast of old and new; something that looks like it's been to a dozen other houses, through several generations, is paired with something totally modern and shiny.

Top: Modern patent orange leather chairs meets a weathered-look farmhouse table ( Bottom: Traditional wing chair re-sculpted into more modern proportions covered in urban gray. The tree stump side table adds a touch of woodsy whimsy (

Products shown above: Top to bottom: Bird with flowers desert plates, Metallic leaf desert plates, Winter trees drinkware, Faux fur throw, www. Cashmere cable knot throw pillows, Faux mink throw pillow, Cashmere cable knit throw,, Sketched birds throw pillow, Cast-resin antler wall decor, X-based stool,, Bedford collection tweed pillow,

Monday, October 25, 2010

Eat Up: Serving Up The Dining Experience In Style

I am addicted to Daphne's Greek Cafe. I always order the same thing--the Gyros Plate. I just can't get enough and never tire of their gyros with fire-roasted vegetables, taboulli, pita bread and the tangy lemon-chicken soup. It's wholesome comfort food! One Friday for lunch, hubby and I were at Daphne's once again, and we decided to take our lunch outside. The weather was beautiful and even though there were no views of any sort, the sunny, balmy day was enough to add to the experience. You know what they say, "Food tastes better outside." If you're particular about your food,  you'll know that this is true with the exception of  some restaurants with really lackluster food that even the spectacular views cannot do anything. This is when they say, "You're just paying for the ambiance."

Well, I say, there's no reason you can't have both. The interior of any Daphne's is as basic as they come; comfortable, clean and unpretentious. However, I like that they have large prints of Mediterranean views and architecture. Since I really, really like the food, when I'm there it's enough for me to look up at those prints in between forkfuls of gyros. Eating is multi-sensory experience and this experience can be heightened when not just gustatory delights are involved. A great view, a cool breeze, dappled sunlight, a table under a tree, candlelight and music and good company--when added to the food, make dining even more pleasurable.

You know what they say, "People eat with their eyes first." This is a simple way of saying that all of our senses are involved in the whole dining experience. Simple things such as fresh flowers on the table and beautiful place settings can make our dining rooms more inviting. On HGTV, I like Michael Chiarello's rustic dining table under trees with a vineyard in the background. I also like Giada de Laurentiis garden bistro style dining overlooking the Pacific.
Wish I was there: Michael Chiarello entertaining guests al fresco.
Photo credit above:

Serve It Up With A View
If your dining table is positioned by doors or windows looking outside, emphasize the view! Frame a pair of sliding or French doors with drapes that do not cover the view. A garden or a patio is the perfect place to enjoy a lazy breakfast--all you need is a bistro set--a small table and a couple of chairs.

Lighting Is Important
Also,  light up your food! I have seen way too  many tract homes and condos where the chandelier or pendant lighting  cannot be centered over the dining table because of poor planning during the home's construction phase. I just hate this! It's a simple problem that can be solved. An electrician can come in move the fixture for you so it hangs in the middle of your dining table. Dining chandeliers should be approximately 30 to 34 inches above the table top, for a standard 8 foot ceiling. Make sure to have dimmers installed too.

Use Colors
Warm colors such as orange and red are known to improve appetite. These colors are often psychologically associated with hunger and a desire to be full. One wall painted a deep red is enough to infuse your dining room with richness. Dining rooms are gathering rooms, it is where we bring our friends and families together. For this purpose, earth tones, such as those found in natural woods, convey a sense of warmth.  Tans and browns make us feel safe and grounded and known to stimulate opening up, which is good for conversation.

Above, left: A red accent wall spices up a dining room, Above, right: Lunch is served with a view.
Photo credits above:

Mark the Space
If your dining room is in one big great room, mark the space with an attractive area rug. If wall space allows, anchor the dining room set with artwork. This clearly delineates the space.

My mother said that one of most memorable dining experiences of her life was on a boat floating on a canal in Bangkok, Thailand. These 'market boats' are piled high with tropical fruit and vegetables, fresh, ready-to-drink coconut juice and delicious local food cooked from floating kitchens located right on the boat! While standing on the 'dock', you can shop for wares and food. The small flat boats jockey for position, expertly paddled by ladies ready to stop and bargain at a moment's notice. It's colorful, noisy, totally touristy but great fun. It's a total package.
Food for sale at  floating market in Bangkok, Thailand

You know what they say, "You are what you eat." What I mean by this is that if you like simple, casual food most of the time, don't have a totally formal dining room where you're always afraid the hot sauce will spill on the expensive, starched table cloth. If you have a large family and weekend brunches have a way of always turning into a party, invest in a long table or one with leaves that you can add on as needed. If you like to barbecue, make sure you to have tables and chairs outside because barbecue is meant to be eaten al fresco.

Above: Two different styles, both equally gracious and inviting.
Photo credits above:,

The French philosopher Voltaire said, "Nothing would be more tiresome than eating and drinking if God had not made them a pleasure as well as a necessity." So, check out your dining room. It's time to turn that table you've been using as an office desk into a place to enjoy food in. Thanksgiving is just a few weeks away. There's still time!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Fright Night

I am on the fence right now whether or not to decorate my front porch for Halloween. To decorate would mean going beyond the usual Jack-O-Lantern. Meanwhile, thick, copious spiderwebs have started appearing on the doorways and porches of neighbors' houses. Scarecrows and skulls appeared on front lawns. I'm a little tempted. At Jo-Ann's I found some neat witch's brooms along with feathered owls and crows, and I had this idea of creating a witch's house look; something a little different from the usual.

I want to do something other than, but I have to admit that the spider web effect seems to be the cheapest and easiest trick on the block. For some spare change, it definitely creates a mood. Here are two good examples of that. I noticed that in both pictures, there are dried leaves strewn on the stairs and the front lawn. My magnolia tree just dropped a heap on my front lawn--maybe I should just use that.
Photo credits: Left:, Below, top:, Below, bottom:

Not scary enough? I found this website called Grandin Road. They have some pretty macabre and scary items that take the fright factor up a notch. Check these out.
Below, top to bottom: Life-size Cloaked Grim Reaper, Martha Stewart Lighted Skeleton, Glowing Cloaked Halloween Woman, Halloween Spiderweb with Set of Two Spiders, Set of Two Blood Ravens, Hanging Halloween Cocoon Man, Life-Size Halloween Mummy,

If you are planning to go out there and stock up on decor, the best time to go is when stores have slashed down prices. This is usually one to weeks before and after Halloween. Consider these ideas:
--Be original and creative and think beyond the ordinarily spooky. Subtle, clever ideas are sometimes the best. Check out this photo:
Photo credit below:

--An economical way to go is to get one big item that makes an impact than dozens of tiny little things.
--Check out dollar stores such as Dollar Tree and Big Lots for bargain items.
--Try to purchase items that you can use year after year. Store them properly in cardboard or plastic containers.
--Hand-crafted, DIY items like silhouettes, never fail. You can do a lot with some black card stock, scissors and Duck tape. Check out these photos:
Photo credits:

Happy Halloween!

Hi Ceiling!: Ceiling Treatment Ideas

I once took a Child Development course and I remember our professor saying that babies get bored having to look up at a boring ceiling when they are flat on their backs on their cribs for the most part of the day. I could not agree more. Human babies are sensual beings too, and I guess they cry (complain) from the lack of visual stimuli when they have to lie down and look at a boring old ceiling. This is why we install colorful and interesting mobiles in their cribs; so that they would have something to look at and wonder about.

There is no doubt that the white plaster ceilings which most people have are terribly boring. I grew up in houses with dark wood beams on vaulted ceilings in the living room, and so for myself I made a mental note to one day install wood beams on my ceiling. They just add so much character and charm to the room. It adds a sense of dimension to an otherwise flat surface, as well as balances the ceiling with the visual weight of what's going on on the floor.

In the old days, ceilings weren't always so one-dimensional. Early Greeks and Romans used lime stucco for ceilings, on which low, medium and high reliefs were applied. Fifteenth century Italians preferred plaster and in the 19th and 20th century, stamped tin ceilings were all the rage.

If we really think about it, the ceiling is just another 'wall,' that must not be overlooked when considering the total design of a room. There is a lot of linear space and volume out there, which means a lot of room to interpret and extend the design and ambiance going on down below.

Here are some of the most popular alternative ceiling treatments.

Pressed Tin
Historically, tin ceilings were introduced to North America as an affordable alternative to the exquisite plasterwork used in European homes. Tin ceilings are now widely available in a variety of styles and designs. They come in pre-finished and ready to paint varieties.
Above: Sample of Americana tin ceiling panel from The Tin Man (

Coffer Ceiling
Coffer ceilings add grace and elegance to traditional and contemporary settings.
Contemporary Drop Ceiling
This treatment is great for contemporary and modern settings. In some designs, light can be added to the coved part of this ceiling for another interesting dimension.
Painted Ceiling
This is the easiest to do. DIYers can instantly update their ceilings with just a can of paint. If you are more adventurous, you can paint stripes or have an artist faux paint a mural.
Wooden Beams
Adds a rustic and Old World feel.

Here are photos I've taken of some great ceilings in familiar places.
 This gorgeous drop ceiling treatment goes with the sleek modern vibe at Aria Hotel in Las Vegas.
 Tourist never fail to jaw-drop as they look up at the Murano handblown glass flower-festooned ceiling of the lobby at the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas.
 Classic Palladian design: Coffers and skylight cap the dome of the rotunda at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles.
 Scandinavian design: Painted hardwood ceiling at Vikingsholm Castle in South Lake Tahoe.
 Arts and Crafts/Mission style: Beams at the Union Station in Los Angeles.
Neo-Rococo style: Delicate plaster ceilings at the Wynn Hotel in Las Vegas.