Tag Archives: decorating

Best Bets: Using Books as Home Decor

When we moved into the Chophouse about a year and a half ago, we were basically starting from scratch. We had moved around so much previously that we had accumulated very little furniture, and what we did have was in desperate need of replacement. Since then, we’ve been slowly figuring out how to fill up all this space.

Roommate moved in and brought his furniture, then moved out and took it away again, so we’re in the strange position now of having a completely bare living room, while at the same time being ready to put the finishing touches on most other rooms. In just about all of our rooms, those finishing touches are going to include books.

Books should fit into a living space organically, without dominating the room.

Incorporating books into design is nothing new, and there are any number of ways to go about it. Sites like Book Decor and Books By The Foot will even sell you books in bulk to suit any design aesthetic you like, from goatskin covers to shelves arranged by size or color, or even books wrapped in custom covers. Just don’t try to actually read them though, since they’re selected solely for appearance and may not even be in English.

We see this as a tacky, slothful solution, and prefer a more organic approach. Books should say something about their owner, and need to pull their weight in any design scheme by actually being functional. If it’s not something we’d want to pick up and idly look over on any lazy Sunday afternoon, then it’s just not worth having around.

Aside from the library of novels in our home office, we’re envisioning a few choice vegetarian cookbooks living in the kitchen. It’s nice to have some fresh ideas for dinner close at hand, and trying to double check something on a smartphone while three burners are going and your hands are sticky is never a good idea.

The wine rack in our dining room has shelf space on it as well, perfect for a couple of cocktail compendiums and a book or two on wine. After all, no home is really complete without a copy of Imbibe! or The Modern Drunkard, is it?

We’ve got some stubborn empty space atop the wardrobe, and we’re thinking the bedroom would be the ideal spot to house a collection of the Harvard Classics or a vintage encyclopaedia set, easy enough to acquire on eBay. We’ve also got two nightstands and have been thinking of a floating shelf or two, which would be perfect for stacking a couple first edition hardbacks.

Of course, we’re still pretty far away from putting finishing touches on the living room, but there’s no end to the possibilities. Here’s a few we think we could live with throughout the house:

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Best Bets: Decorating With Flowers

Years ago the Chop spent a couple of months out in Seattle, and perhaps the biggest point of culture shock in the Emerald City was the near-universal habit of buying fresh flowers regularly. Maybe it’s a direct result of the mostly dreary weather there, but Seattleites go around buying flowers like Parisians buy baguettes.

As a city, Baltimore is not particularly floral. We tend to buy most of our flowers in connection with funerals or anniversaries, and even with a recent increase in the presence and awareness of urban gardening on public and private lots, the vast majority of that soil has been given over to vegetables. Flowerbeds in public parks and flower-potting in streetscapes remains minimal.

Daffodils look great in Cylburn Arboretum... or in your living room.

We grew up in a house where fresh flowers were seldom present. When they did appear indoors, they were always meant to sit in the same heavy crystal vase on the dining room table. Over time, they began to achieve the same effect as a Christmas tree; they were around to mark an occasion and they had a great effect when first placed there, but with each year that went by and each day they sat in the same spot they were just too easy to get used to, and were eventually overlooked almost entirely.

Now that we’ve got a house of our own with plenty of space to decorate we’re discovering that flowers are the best way to keep the home looking fresh as time passes. If the warm weather we’re enjoying recently has you thinking floral, here are a few tips to get the best of your buds.

  • Buy different flowers each time. Daisies are nice, but if all you ever buy are daisies, you might as well just buy a picture of some daisies and be done with it. You’re better off just going for whatever is in season, or whatever has been marked down for a quicker sale. This way you get variety without having to think too much about it.
  • Have a few different vases handy. It’s best to have about 1 vase for every room in your house where you might put flowers. If you have a studio with a kitchenette, 2 is enough. If you’ve got six rooms plus a good size bathroom and a screened porch, get as many as 8 vases. They don’t need to be expensive, and a few of them should be plain and understated for moving from room to room. (Thrift stores are a great source for plain vases.) Make sure the sizes and shapes are different to accommodate different flower varieties.
  • Flowers in each room, not every room. It’s just too much work to keep flowers trimmed and watered in every room at the same time. Keeping them in one room at a time minimizes work while maximizing appeal. Dress out the table for dinner guests, or put them in the bedroom on date night. Try to keep them in the room in which you’ll derive the most enjoyment from them in any given week.
  • Make buying flowers a habit. Perhaps no one loves flowers more than the Dutch, and in the Netherlands flowers have a regular spot on the shopping list next to bread and milk. We in Baltimore would do well to be on a first name basis with our neighborhood florists, or make the flower cart a regular stop on our weekly trips to the grocery store or farmers’ market.
  • Don’t be afraid to grow your own. It takes good timing, a little knowledge, a lot of work, and a bit of luck to grow flowers from seeds. If you’re not possessed of all of the above though, you can still grow flowers successfully, barring a garden-digging dog or any neighbor kids running roughshod over your yard. Nurseries and home improvement stores have thousands of types to choose from, and will be happy to help you find the best type for you. Most places even sell flowers in biodegradable, plantable pots keeping the work required at a minimum.

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The Do’s and Don’ts of Christmas Lights

We’re forgoing any Christmas decorations this year. Call it an austerity measure. Call it Grinching. Call it (most accurately) laziness. With the amount of traveling we do every year, and not knowing when we’ll next be home for the holidays, it didn’t seem prudent to invest time, effort and money in decorations that may not see the house-front again for another 3 or 4 years, especially with no wife or children to share in their enjoyment.

With Christmas just 10 days away, we’re guessing that everyone who’s going to decorate already has, so we may be a bit late with this, but we’re certainly not too late to judge the good, the bad, and the ugly as far as Christmas lights in Baltimore go.

We’ve noticed that the vast majority of inner-city rowhouse dwellers are disinclined to decorate at all, and most will only bother with a tree if there’s a Santa-aged kid in the house. It pains us to admit that the County’s got it all over us as far as decorating goes, but no matter which side of the city line you’re on, you can’t go wrong if you’ll follow our advice to the letter.

This house on Peacock Lane in Portland is a masterpiece of taste and understatement. It's warm, welcoming, and wonderful.

Do: Use white lights. When you light your house, the idea is to show off the house not the lighting itself. Colored lights have a way of clashing with each other, and with the features of most houses. With white lights, it’s nearly impossible to go wrong. They can be accented with small strands of red or green lights if you’re really craving a little color, but white effects the soft, warm glow that makes a home look most inviting in the dead of winter.

Do: Work with the symmetry of your house. If you’re going to light up the door, be sure to light up the full length window next to it. Any architectural features like gables or overhangs should be lit, otherwise you run the risk of an incomplete aesthetic. If you have an attached garage, that should be treated as part of the house as well.

Do: Understand that less is more. Resist the urge to compete with your neighbors or add just one more ‘finishing touch.’ Too many lights, wreaths, bows, etc. can go from festive to cluttered very quickly.

Do: Take note of what your neighbors and others are doing. If someone with a house style similar to yours gets it right, don’t be afraid to borrow some of their ideas. Just because you’ve always done it some specific way, doesn’t mean you can’t try something new this year.

Do: Place your tree in the front window. This isn’t mandatory, of course. Some people will want to set up their tree in a non-fronting room. If you’ve got the room and the right windows (bay windows, picture windows) placing the tree at the window will serve to bring the inside out a bit and make the whole effect that much more unified, cozy, and inviting.

Yes, there is actually someone's house under there.

Don’t: Buy any of those giant inflatable snowmen. Just look at the picture. Even with only one of those, your house is a considerable fraction of being that ugly. All those inflatables that light from the inside and require you to run an air compressor half the night are always, always, always tacky. The first Clark Griswold who ever bought one of those probably thought he was pretty clever, but now that Wal-Mart is moving them by the truckload in every town in America they look more ridiculous than ever.

Don’t:Put a bunch of wire statues all over the yard. All those little deer skeletons are junky and trite. One look at them and all we can think is “Welp, that’ll be in a landfill somewhere sooner or later.” That’s not the thought you want in your head at Christmas time. Also, along the same lines, we’d like to mention that we fully endorse natural wreaths and trees.

Don’t:Light deciduous trees. If you’ve got an evergreen, go ahead and light that. Most types of bushes and shrubs are good for lighting as well. Once they lose their leaves though, deciduous trees look dead and have no symmetry. Lights tend to look more like they’re tangled than neatly strung.

Finally Don’t: String all purple lights and football decorations. Christmas is supposed to be about the little baby Jesus. It’s not about the little baby Ray Lewis. Harbaugh, Reed, and Flacco are not the three wise men. The Yinzers in Pittsburgh may have a memorabilia-based economy, but as Baltimoreans, this kind of thing is beneath our dignity.

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