Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with History, Home and the Best Irish Icing Ever!

Background of lush green clover leaves

 
 

Celebrate the start of springtime, the Irish in all of us and the color of the year all in one month!

 

March Madness may be about basketball for some, but for me, it’s about color and new beginnings and lots of good food and fun.
 

Here are my three favorite St. Patrick’s Day highlights for the history geek, the home decorator and the cook.
 

A Wee Bit of Irish History

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Learn about the legend and lore of St. Patrick, how the City of Chicago uses 45 pounds of vegetable dye to go green for St. Pat’s Day, and some key Gaelic phrases to back up that “Kiss Me, I’m Irish” button.

 

Bring the Outside In: 7 Easy Ways to Go Green at Home

Home plant

 

Find out why green is one of the best colors to bring into your home, and 7 easy and inexpensive ways to take advantage of this multifaceted color, not just at St. Pat’s Day but the whole year through.

 

Spiked and Spiced: The Best St. Patrick’s Day Cupcakes

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Dig in to these delectable homemade cupcakes made with stout beer, or a cake mix version with added punch and spice. Both are topped with a scrumptious booze-laced icing that will make sure those Irish eyes are smiling!

(Shamrocks photo credit: © Swapan – Fotolia.com)

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How to Create a Spa Bathroom

Spa Bath FB post
Sunday nights are for relaxing. (At least I think they should be!) What’s better than retiring to your own spa oasis, having a nice long soak in luxurious bubbles, and just enjoying the moment?

If we follow our 5 senses, putting together a pretty good facsimile of a spa experience is quite doable. Here’s a video explaining it all, and I’ve put some notes and resources below the jump. Or, if you’d like the thumbnail, here’s an infographic/cheatsheet.

1. SIGHT

Two major themes here: decluttering the vanity surfaces, and creating a soothing color scheme.

When it comes to beauty “stuff” — all of our lotions and  potions — I get it. There can be a lot. And if your bathroom is on the small side, storage can be an issue. If your beauty care items have a home, put them back when you use them. That one simple act alone can make a huge difference in reducing visual clutter.

If you find you have a lot of things you use daily that don’t have a permanent residence in your bathroom, get creative with storage. There are a lot of inexpensive but stylish ideas out there. Here are 10 organizing ideas under $10 each.

Next, let’s talk about color. Think about your favorite spa. What colors did you see there? Chances are, the color scheme was designed to inspire a sense of calm. That usually means a monochromatic (one color) scheme in neutrals (white all the way up to taupe) or blues and greens. (For tips on how color affects the human mind and body, check out this infographic.) A monochromatic scheme is less stressful because the brain has less to process, fewer contrasting colors to process.

Whatever your color of choice, bring it in with paint on the walls, the shower curtain, window coverings, rugs, and of course towels. Here’s how I turned my guest bathroom into a more spa-like space for under $100.

2. TOUCH

Here’s a designer tip: whenever you’re using a monochromatic color scheme, your room needs varying textures to keep the design from being bland and boring.

In your spa bathroom, bring in texture through soft, luxurious towels. Buy the best you can afford, start with just a few pieces and build up your inventory if you have to. Because I see good towels as an investment, I want to know how they’ll perform before I plunk down my money, so I purchase a wash cloth from each brand I’m considering and I use them. Really use them and wash them a few times to see how they do. Then I can purchase more pieces of what I want.

Other ways to bring in different textures: the shower curtain; a soft looped cotton rug underfoot or a gel mat by the tub; floral arrangements; a loofah scrubber or mitts; a natural sea sponge; and/or a luxurious robe. (Seriously, isn’t that the best part of some spa treatments?)

A more ethereal texture: bath products. Yes! The silkiness of bath oil, whipped body butters and bubble bath all count towards the sense of touch. They also bridge the way to the next sense …

3. SCENT

(I think I said “smell” in the video, but “scent” sounds nicer.) Of course here is where the core of many spa experiences is found. I love going to my local Aveda spa where they give you a choice of aromas to incorporate into your treatment. So pick up a few of these elements in a variety of scents to cover an array of sensory needs from de-stressing to energizing.

  • Scented candles
  • Reed diffuser
  • Bath products
  • Essential oils

Here’s a quick aromatherapy tutorial to help you decide on your perfect scents.

4. SOUND

One year for my birthday I treated myself to the spa at one of the big-name casinos here in Las Vegas that had great reviews online. I was already familiar with other spas in their chain so I had every expectation it would be a great experience. Wow was I under-impressed with the sound environment! I could hear jackhammers, cars, and every other treatment going on since the walls didn’t go all the way up to the ceiling! It was totally distracting.

That’s when I realized the power of sound to transport us to that sacred zen place of bliss. Don’t skimp on this sense! Bring in a CD player, your smartphone or tablet (be sure not to get anything too close to the tub!) and play soothing music. Put together your own playlist, pick up a compilation CD (I always find them at Target), or listening to one of the spa/relaxation stations on your streaming music service.

5. TASTE

The final spa element that you can replicate at home is taste. Spas are famous for their flavored detox waters and teas. Make yourself a pitcher of flavored water. Simply slice up some fruit of your choice, add some herbs if you like and place it all in a pitcher with some good, pure water. Chill for at least 1-2 hours to let the flavors infuse. Some traditional combos: cucumber-mint; lemon-mint; and blackberry-apple. Of course there are no rules here — use what you like best!

In a pinch, pick up one of the naturally flavored waters widely available at supermarkets. Make sure there is no added sugar.

So there you have it! The 5 easy steps to make a spa at home. I’d love to hear how you’re incorporating these elements and senses into your spa night routine. Please leave a comment over on the Facebook page and be sure to follow my master bathroom board on Pinterest.

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7 Ways to Refresh a Room in 15 Minutes or Less

Time is relative. Fifteen minutes may seem like an eternity if you’re stuck in traffic and late for work. Or, it may seem like the blink of an eye when you’re in the zone working on a project.  It’s the same quantity of time, and it will pass whether we are sitting still or moving fast.

When decorating your home, you can make an enormous difference in a room just 15 minutes at a time. So without further ado, here are 7 ways that you can start to refresh your entire home. Simply set a timer and work for 15 minutes. You might be amazed at what you can do.

Who says there’s no time to decorate?

 

1. Clear some clutter

Cluttered table

Sometimes refreshing a room is like the old adage, “you can’t see the forest for the trees.” Meaning, there’s just too much stuff in the way of seeing the room and its features and furnishings.

I’m not saying you’re going to completely de-clutter and organize your entire house in 15 minutes. But what can you do? Maybe it’s just cleaning off the kitchen table or the counter. The room will look and feel better instantly!

Nearly every decorating plan starts with cleaning and decluttering—removing anything that is not used frequently, belongs somewhere else, or gets in the way of the room’s purpose. Examples might include shoes, toys, magazines, papers, clothes, dishes and glasses, or even furniture.

Look at your room with an objective eye. What really doesn’t belong there? Unless you belong on a show about hoarding, chances are if you slow down and look at the room from a new, fresh perspective, you’ll see lots of items that can be removed.

When in doubt, ask a neighbor or friend what they see as clutter in your room. (Or try my Clutter Clearing and Organizing audio course.) There’s a great Polish proverb, “A guest sees more in an hour than a host in a year.” Sometimes we just get comfortable with all the stuff. Pare it down and let the room breathe.

 

2. Let there be light

Lots of lights

Light is one of the most overlooked elements of interior design, and yet it’s one of the easiest to acquire and manipulate.

Light makes a room feel larger, brighter and fresher, so take some time to assess the lighting situation in your room. If the room has a window, wash it inside and out to let in more sunshine. Open any shades or blinds during the day to maximize natural light. If there are window treatments, are they too heavy, dark, or outdated for the room? Just taking down drapes—even if you don’t have anything to replace them with just yet—can have a dramatic impact on a room.

Then look at the light fixtures and lamps in the room. Is there enough light to move around the room at night, or if there are no windows? If not, add more lamps to the mix. Check the maximum wattage stated on each fixture and lamp, and install higher wattage bulbs to bring in more light.

 

3. Rearrange the furniture

Room arranger w arrows

Arranging furniture in a room is a lot like a puzzle. And once we think we have it figured out, we keep it that way. For years. (I’ve certainly been guilty of this!)

But what if there was a different way? Switching up the furniture arrangement can shift the feeling of a room in an instant.

Before you start moving anything, play with the arrangement on paper. Create a scale drawing of your room on a piece of graph paper, measuring the walls and noting any doorways and windows. Then measure and draw shapes to represent the furniture pieces and place them on the room drawing, playing with different layouts until you find one that feels right. Pay attention to traffic patterns and how the room is used, and try to create “zones” for each use. I’ve created a design tool that makes it super easy to try this designer trick. You can get it FREE here.

And, it may be that the current arrangement is the best for the room, and that’s great! At least you’ve looked at other options.

 

4. Get your group on

Grouped items

Have you noticed most of these tips so far have been fast and free? #4 follows that lead with a “use what you have” approach to accessorizing your room.

Shop your house for accessories—objects, candleholders, vases, picture frames, figurines—that have a common, unifying theme or motif. Maybe they’re all red, or they’re all ducks or apples or sailboats. Chances are there’s a collection of something hiding in plain sight around your home. Bring everything together and display items together on an end table, dresser, sideboard, console.

Displaying similar items together gives them more presence and makes the room more personal. Visually link smaller items together by placing them on a tray. This is a heart display I put together for Valentine’s Day a few years ago.

 

5. Update with textiles

Pillows on sofa 2

One of the easiest and fastest ways to change the entire look and feel of a room is with fabrics.

Look around your room. What fabric elements could be changed, either by bringing in something new or swapping them with something from another room? Think about:

  • Drapes
  • Area rugs
  • Toss pillows
  • Slipcovers
  • Throws
  • Table coverings
  • Shower curtain
  • Towels

As a bonus, updating the textiles also means bringing in new (or more) color, texture, and/or pattern.

 

6. Add life … literally

green plant

Live, leafy green and/or blooming houseplants (not silk plants or cacti) are great additions to nearly any room. Their green color is automatically calming to the eye, and they produce oxygen. Plus, they are relatively inexpensive and can easily fill a large area—like an empty corner— if need be. Or, opt for one or two smaller plants placed around the room. If you don’t have much of a green thumb, ask your florist to suggest a hearty variety, or add a self-watering tube like an Aquaglobe®.

Fresh cut flowers are also a great decorating secret. Their color, life, texture and fragrance can be elegant or fun, indulgent or whimsical. And with most supermarkets now selling flowers, they’re convenient, too!

To get the most from supermarket bouquet, be sure to re-cut the stems when you get home and make sure the vase is scrupulously clean to prevent bacteria from killing the blooms prematurely. If it’s a mixed bouquet, consider making smaller arrangements and tuck them all over the house, in the bedroom, bath and kitchen for example.

 

7. Alter the art

Blank art

Art can set a mood, reinforce a theme, or be just plain wonderful to behold. Like light, art is often an afterthought in a room’s design plan, but it deserves much more attention.

Art is also fairly easy to swap from room to room and season to season. Think of your rooms like a gallery with an ever-changing collection. Look around your room. Does it currently have or need some art? Is there a focal point piece, for example over the bed or fireplace? If so, is there another piece in the house that could be traded out to give the room a fresh look?

Anyone who’s followed this blog knows that at holiday time, I love to change up the art all over the house. Here’s a quick and easy seasonal tip: Use the same frame and mat, but swap out the image. I’ve gotten a lot of mileage from some simple silver frames in the guest bath, with a rotating display of everything from calendar pages to greeting cards and trip photos to scrapbook paper.

Children’s art is also a great addition to any room, and can be updated as the child creates new masterpieces. Nearly anything can be art!

A few tips about displaying art:

  • Be sure to hang it at eye level. Not too high and not too low, although most folks hang their pictures much too high. Look at magazines and home catalogs to get a feel for placement.
  • If there’s any doubt about how high to hang something, make a template of the art piece with some newspaper or kraft paper and tape it to the wall, then stand back. How does it look and feel in comparison to what you’ve seen in magazines or on design shows?
  • As a general rule of thumb, the top of the frame should be no more than 6 ft. from the ground.
  • Or, hang up on hanging art and use a gallery ledge instead. By far the easiest way to swap and rotate your favorite works of art.

What’s your favorite 15 minute life or design hack? Share your comments and stories on the Facebook page!

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Nature-Inspired Color Schemes

Hot Pink Hawaii

Sometimes the inspiration for a color scheme is just outside the door. Mother Nature has a way of knowing what colors just work together, doesn’t she?

Recently I had the chance to visit the botanical gardens at the Kaua’i Marriott Resort at Kalapaki Bay on Kauai, Hawaii. The gardens are the largest on the island and include a massive koi pond—also the largest on Kauai. In between rain showers I wandered along its paths and although not everything was in bloom (I missed the fragrant tirare flowers by a few days) I was stuck by the vivid hot pink and green color scheme of many of the flowers and plants.

From a tropical variety of geranium (top left) to the fuchsia-into-purple leaves of the ti plant (bottom right), the vibrant color is set off by lush greens. A pink ornamental banana plant (top right) offered a change from the usual yellow variety. An interesting variegated leafy plant (whose name was not identified, lower left) showed that pink and green are a natural and effortless combination.

I could see this combination in a fun powder room or a teen girl’s bedroom. Mixed with warm gold and black accents, it could also be the basis of an eclectic living room!

 

Hawaii koi 2

As I was leaving the gardens, I had to stop and marvel at the variety of color in the koi pond, from creamy ivory to golden yellow and striking fiery orange, all set on a backdrop of deep blue. It’s a very rich palette, perfect for an elegant dining room or even a bedroom as it combines the calming qualities of blue with the cheeriness of orange.

So the next time you’re stuck on a color scheme for your home, get out of the house and see what nature might inspire in you!

 

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The $100 Decorating Challenge: Guest Bath

Guest bath before

Recently I was collecting towels from the guest bathroom to launder them, and I looked around the room. The tub was still sporting its Valentine’s Day shower curtain and valance (shock! horror!) and it just seemed … jumbled with accessories. Cheerful colors, but it felt disjointed.

Ah ha! It was suffering an identity crisis.

The guest bathroom has evolved over the years culminating with new Italian porcelain flooring that I had installed last November. But I hadn’t updated other elements of the room to flow with the feel of the more sophisticated, spa-like floor.

I’ve known for a while that I’ve wanted to update the shower curtain. The “everyday” ensemble that is usually in place from March to October is one I made nearly 20 years ago. But it never really fit this tub and shower enclosure which is a foot taller than the standard 72-inch shower curtain. So I was determined to find drapery panels that I could use as a shower curtain, since they would be longer and would still conceal the basic vinyl shower liner.

On a recent trip to Target I found “the one” – a design and color that inspired a more tranquil, spa-like feel. Done and done. I gave myself $100 out of the house kitty and embarked on a “$100 Decorating Challenge.” The drapes took nearly half the budget, but their style (and importance in the room) was well worth it.

I replaced nearly every decorative element in the room. After a thorough cleaning and decluttering (most of the accessories went bye-bye), I purchased the new drapes/shower curtain, plus a shower rod, accent paint, bath products, wastebasket, wash cloths, tub mat and rug. I ended up spending $109—a $10 clearance rug was the perfect texture and color and I just couldn’t pass it up, even though it put me over budget. (The tax deduction for the items I donated to Goodwill as part of the decluttering will more than cover the overage.)

Other items such as the towels, artwork, candles and accessories were brought in from other rooms. Here’s the after photo!

Guest bath after

I love it and I hope my guests will, too. Here’s a tour of the room ….

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In addition to the drapery panels ($24.99 each, Target), the shower curtain rod was updated to a brushed nickel finish ($12.99 Home Goods) to coordinate with the grommets in the panels. I also hung the rod just outside the tiled enclosure and found it gives a more polished look to the tub area. The wall color stayed the same, although I will probably update it within the year.

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The vinyl liner remained, but a fluffy new tub mat ($9.99, Bed Bath and Beyond) will feel cushy stepping out of the shower.

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Guests will enjoy new luxe body wash (and a basket of amenities I stashed under the sink).

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The area over the toilet was a confused mess of decorative shelves and knick-knacks. I removed the small shelves, painted the shelf a shade called “Twig” ($4.99, Target) and added simple white tealights from my inventory. Then I hung a poster I found in France in 1993, that had been hanging in the garage. The artwork adds just the right drama and color.

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Across the room, I re-used the existing brushed nickel frames (and hung them more securely and straight!), replacing the images with pages from an old Paris calendar with dramatic black mats from another room. The white bath towels I already had on hand, while the hand towels are borrowed from the master bath.

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The tired orange rug (that didn’t wash well the last time I laundered it) has been replaced by a super soft rug ($10, Home Goods) in a shade I’d call “Malted.” It’s not white, it’s not tan – it’s like the lightest whisper of the hue in the shower curtain.

Vanity top: before

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One of my favorite transformations is the vanity top.

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The colors for the accessories were chosen from the Paris calendar prints. Alstromeria in tall, slender vases frame the sink and are a lovely addition when I have overnight guests.

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When I was cleaning out the linen closet, I found a bunch of fancy soaps that I’ve received as gifts or picked up over the years. Unwrapped and piled into an apothecary jar, they are the perfect accessory for a spa-like bath. The jar also brings much needed height, whereas in the “before” photo, there was no variety in the height of the vanity accessories.

With the jar, I’ve grouped a Himalayan salt candle and whimsical porcelain dish to use a jewelry tray.

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New, fluffy white wash cloths ($2.00 each, Home Goods) sit in a pretty silver and mother-of-pearl bowl from the kitchen, while a silver-framed greeting directs guests to bath necessities.

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I’m glad this art glass soap dispenser fits with the new decor. It’s possibly my favorite thing from the “old” guest bath.

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One thing absent: tissues! I could not find a suitable tissue box cover, so I’m keeping the tissues under the sink. (Anyone who visits my house is now on notice!) If I find the right box cover at a good price, I’ll add it later. But for now, I like the look of the candles on the shelf!

My goal for this room was to create a tranquil yet functional space for overnight guests to feel like they’re in a hotel. I think I achieved that. This is the new “everyday” look, although I’m already thinking how to add a bit of holiday color for the Christmas season. What can I say? I’m incorrigible on that count.

So how about you?? Is there a room in your house that could use a $100 makeover? I hope these changes will inspire you to create a look that is uniquely you, reusing what you can and shopping smart! Please post your challenge room and results on the Facebook page!

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