Tag Archives: Modern

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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The World’s Best Cocktail Shaker

We don’t do a lot of showing off here at the Baltimore Chop. We like to err on the side of humility, and conspicuous consumption just isn’t our style. Last weekend though, we came across so fine a thing that it absolutely must be shared with the internet at large. Hey, if other bloggers can show off pictures of their crummy cats and dogs and children, then you can indulge us, for once, in showing off what’s truly important to us.

We made a trip out to Home Anthology last weekend. We tend to think of mid-century modern furniture the same way we think of tattoos: very nice for some other people, but not quite for us. We won’t be bringing home any Scandia chairs or clear lucite tables any time soon, but we did find this little gem which is absolutely perfect for our home bar.

We’ve been looking for an ideal shaker for almost two years now. Nothing we’ve seen in that time has been quite right. Where everything else on the bar is new and stainless, it was crucial that the most important piece of hardware be glass and preferably vintage, to avoid being too well-matched and add a little cachet.

So far every brand new shaker we’ve found has been too expensive, and each vintage one we’ve seen has been just too tacky, with drink recipes or corny little jokes on the side. This beauty, with its understated etching and stainless rim strikes just the right tone for a drink to unwind, a nightcap, or a full on cocktail party.

With a tight-fitting two piece lid, a 32-ounce capacity, and a heavy bottom this baby is perfect for mixing up a Spring round of Lemon Sticks for company, or stowing in the fridge and draining off its contents ourselves.

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Chop Style: Baton-Type Umbrellas

Well, when it rains it pours, and it’s certainly been pouring here in Baltimore lately. This being only the second week in March, there’s going to be plenty more rain yet to fall this Spring. We don’t care what Marty Bass or Tom Tasselmyer has to say about it, it’s going to rain. Long and hard. And if you listen to the Chop instead of some inconsequential, trifling TV weathermen, we’ll have you dodging raindrops in style.

Time was when a gentleman was expected to carry a gentleman’s umbrella. For looking dapper while you’re soaking from head to toe, it’s damn near impossible to top Gene Kelly in Singin’ in the Rain. No one has even come close in nearly 60 years. But while his jacket may be overdue for a comeback, his umbrella certainly is not. Your umbrella is not your grandfather’s walking stick. It doesn’t need to have a crooked handle made of African rhino horn or hand-carved mahogany. It doesn’t need a four-inch spear at its crown or a paraffin-dipped canvas shell. It doesn’t even need to cost more than $20.

This look was flash as hell in 1952, but needs a little updating for the 21st century.

While we typically recommend clothing and accessories made to a certain standard, and styled a little more elegantly than what passes muster on the street, we just can’t see any sense in buying a fancy umbrella for several reasons. A walking stick style umbrella is the bow-tie of a rainy day. It’s great for dandy old men, but it’s got no place over the head of a modern, stylish man under 50. When you take it out for a rainy night on the town, you’re going to have a few and forget it in the bar. If not, some other drunk is going to steal it. And they may be doing you a favor, since those things are big and clunky and spill water everywhere and catch the wind and jam mechanically and only really look right when you’re wearing a tie or overcoat anyway.

Instead of thinking of the umbrella as a potential fashion accessory, we’d encourage you to think of it merely as a tool to keep the rain off your head. It should be as efficient and understated as possible, which is why we swear by the baton-style umbrella. Pound for pound they provide just as much surface area, with just a fraction of the size and weight. An umbrella can only keep you dry if you bother to carry it, and it’s much easier to carry a baton with you even when you only think it might rain that day. If it’s not raining, you can stow it away in your messenger bag or failing that, just jam it into your back pocket.

This Ultra Mini model from Samsonite is a perfect example, and at $16.95, is generally available in department stores and other shops. Just keep the color neutral and hold it right-side-up and you can’t possibly go wrong.

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Chop Style: Messenger Bags

It recently occurred to us than since we now own a laptop, we’re going to be in need of a bag in which to carry it if we want to take it with us next time we go a-traveling. After all, the TSA is good for more than just groping your grandma and stealing your souvenirs… they also excel at breaking electronics.

We didn’t want to end up with something that looks more like a big, ridiculous piece of luggage, and we’re not too keen on briefcases either, since no one is mistaking us for a businessman anytime soon. So a messenger bag makes for a natural choice.

Besides, we’re also seriously considering buying a bicycle when we come back in May, so a decent messenger bag may end up serving double duty by toting a computer, as well as keeping hands free on a bike. With that in mind, and since we’ve already gone on record as saying fuck leather, we’re probably going to end up with one of the following options. Fendi and Ferragamo they ain’t, but they’re all solid choices for getting around Charm City.

Ben Sherman canvas messenger: $89.

Ben Sherman

We like this Ben Sherman bag, but probably not enough to buy it. We’re mostly including it here because we like the brand and it’s a solid choice for anyone on a tighter budget. It’s probably not worth its price tag, but is likely better than anything else you’ll find at that price. On the plus side it’s well designed and neutral, appearing both modern and classic at once. The downside is that you’re looking at cheaper construction and material than is ideal. The lower grade cotton canvas may fray or open up, and we’d bet the faux-leather lining won’t last long at all. $89.

Fossil 'Ranger' messenger bag: $168.

Fossil ‘Ranger’

A lot of people give Fossil no love, deriding their stuff as cheap, trendy, what-have-you. We’ll grant you that the watches and clothing leave a lot to be desired, but compare this bag to the Ben Sherman above and you’ll see immediately what an extra $79 buys you.

The leather here is genuine, and covers the whole bottom of the bag. The strap is made of the same canvas as the body, as opposed to woven nylon. The closure is mechanical, and not the magnets found on the Sherman or the velcro on even cheaper bags. The interior comes with a dedicated laptop pocket (which is the whole point of this post, eh?) as well as standard zip and slip pockets and is lined with canvas. The Sherman bag has ‘multi-function’ pockets and is lined with…??? Again, maybe not Louis Vuitton caliber, but a very solid bag for the money. $168.

Jack Spade wool felt snap messenger bag: orig. $335.

Jack Spade

Update: The website is now showing this bag as ‘unavailable’

Wool marks a big step up from canvas, and this 80% wool blend, leather lined number from Jack Spade is (ahem) almost worth its ridiculously high price tag. Lucky for us, it’s been marked down significantly, and Jack Spade is offering an extra 25% off even on sale items with the online code 25off until 1/17/11. That’s enough to make it very competitive price-wise with the brands above. We’re kind of torn between this and the also-on-sale soft waxwear folded messenger which is made of waxed canvas and is actually cheaper than the Fossil with both discounts. Wool: $335 $175.88 Canvas: $255 $133.88.

Commuter Bag by Sketchbook.

Sketchbook ‘Commuter’ Bag

Finally, we come to our only option that’s not made in China. A Twitter follower turned us onto the shop of Etsy seller Sketchbook yesterday, and we’re suitably impressed. The design suits us both aesthetically and practically, and you’ve got to love anything that’s 100% natural. Nothing in here but wool, cotton, leather and steel. You’ve got to cut out a hell of a lot of middlemen to get something of that kind of quality for this price, but that’s the great thing about an Etsy find. We imagine there are few things more satisfying than having someone ask ‘Who made your bag?’ and answering ‘Amber Jensen from Minneapolis.’ Plus with a current availability of one item in each color, you can’t get much more exclusive. $140


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The Chop Announces the Death of Voicemail

Some of you may know this already. Some of you may be scoffing and cluck-clucking and clicking away from this page.

Still more of you may be shocked. What’s the meaning of this? Voicemail is alive and well. I just left a bunch of them this morning. Well, people still play vinyl records and sit through the Latin Mass, but you know what? They’re both dead, and so is voicemail.

This kind of technology is about as current as voicemail.

Either way, it’s got to go on record.

Most people have no idea how to leave a proper voicemail. Some of you don’t even know how to check your voicemail, and those of you who do know often don’t bother. Of the few who do bother, most of you do it only to get rid of the little icon on your phone screen, and we suspect you’re not even listening to the messages you receive. With the ubiquity of cell phones, you’ve already seen who called and guessed or found out what they wanted.

The Chop remembers a time when there was no such thing as a voicemail. Even then we hated leaving messages on “answering machines”. Most of the messages we’ve heard in life have consisted of half umms… and uuhhhs…. and any one that contains a phone number has to be listened to a minimum of two times. Enough already.

As slow as we were to embrace text messaging technology, we go on record today as embracing it fully and happily.

As of today, the Chop is not leaving any more voicemails for anyone. If you can’t answer your phone, we might hang up and send you a text (since this seems to yield better results anyway) or we might even just give up and call someone else. Likewise, don’t leave us any more messages. Just text. Seriously, we’ll get right back to you.

You don’t even have to wait for the beep.


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The Chop Endorses: The Dizzy Cocktail Glass

Whew! Well, that was a hell of a Halloween, don’t you think? We had a blast going out all weekend, but if there’s one thing we regret it’s got to be that we did so much reveling out on the town, there was scarcely any time left for imbibing at home.

We’ve finally got the dining room done. As in finished. As in ready to eat. The last step in that process involved (yet another) trip to Crate and Barrel where we found one of our new favorite things ever: the Dizzy Cocktail Glass.

The Dizzy Cocktail Glass is available at Crate and Barrel for $1.95 each.

We weren’t even really shopping for cocktail glasses, but we picked up six of these on a whim. As you know, we’re big on the double old-fashioned (DOF) glass, and we’ve already gone on record as being against stemmed cocktail glasses.

The Dizzy Cocktail is 4″ tall, and 4″ in diameter at the rim, which makes it appear to be about the same size as a DOF glass, but with the V-shape of a cocktail glass. It’s even got the same heft and weight in the hand as a DOF, thanks to the knot of glass that serves as the foot. (Which means less drips and drops when you’re holding it in your hand.)

This ‘foot’ is not your traditional glassware foot, but manages to serve the same purpose while looking much more modern and stylish. No matter how cold you mix your drinks, your furniture will stay dry and safe without the need of a coaster. The name ‘Dizzy’ might have been a poor choice though, because these glasses are very stable on the bar. It would take the same force and effort to spill one of these as with any other type of glass… they won’t tip over easily.

At 8 ounces, we feel they’re the perfect size for a straight up cocktail, and will even leave you a bit of room around the rim. They’ll also support a drink which calls for crushed ice, and can even pull double duty as an attractive dessert or appetizer dish. (Think shrimp cocktail, crab salad, or gourmet ice cream.)

The customer reviews on the C & B site all unanimously rave about these glasses, and with good reason. Most of them neglect to mention the best part though: the Dizzy glass is hand-blown and costs $1.95 each. Let us repeat that… $1.95!

At that price you can’t afford not to buy one. Drinking from this glass will make your cocktails more enjoyable, and by encouraging you to mix cocktails more often they’ll ultimately make you a better drinker at the end of the day. It’s not just any glass that can say that.


Crate and Barrel has locations at Towson Town Center and Annapolis Mall, as well as several DC area locations.


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