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becki’s gorgeous home redesign: what she learned along the way

I recently redesigned my entire living space (a project that’s not for the faint of heart). I relocated from a cozy Victorian to a sleek, modern condo, and all of the overstuffed furniture and copious collections of books and tchotchkes I’d collected over the years suddenly looked worse than out of place in my new home.

Now that I’m done, I have a space I love that’s full of calm vibes, neutral tones and – best of all – no clutter. I thought I’d share a few of my favorite tips from what turned out to be a trickier process than I could ever have imagined:

Styling books: Stack books horizontally from largest to smallest (max of 3), but when stacking vertically, put the tallest books in the middle and shorter on either side. It gives the group a finished look, without looking too perfect. Also, if you have a lamp on a table that needs some added height, try stacking a couple of coffee-table books underneath.

I went with a very neutral palette for our new place – there’s almost no color to be found. To counteract what could easily have been a stark space, we used all kinds of texture to add warmth and dimension. Raw wood coffee tables, chunky woven poufs, nubby linen pillows and that amazing Moroccan souk rug (oh Rugs USA, how I love you). It all adds warmth without visual clutter, which was exactly what I wanted.

Tables: Table sizes were the trickiest thing to manage. Luckily, coffee tables can be custom made…did you know? Hire a designer: they are magic. And when no side table on the planet seemed to work in my living room, Restoration Hardware came to my rescue in a huge way with the perfect side table. So simple and stylish, it takes up almost no space, and blends in so perfectly, it’s like it was always here.

A sense of humor: Even though I call this my “grown-up house”, because it does feel very adult, you have to have a bit of fun in any home. Like the giant ceramic tiger I rescued from my mother-in-law’s house – he brings a bit of levity to a serious space. As do the brass animals on my mantle, and the dog portraits on my wall.

Lamps: I completely and totally underestimated how much fun I could have with lamps, but they’re one of my favorite things in this new space. Don’t be afraid to go a little crazy with colors and styles that seem out of the box.

Overbuy: If you’re not working with a pro (and really, you should be…they’re amazing), always overbuy accessories, making sure you can return what you don’t want. Have extra lamps, books, knickknacks, clocks, throws and pillows on hand, so that you can play around with your space and see what works. Trust me – you won’t know until you’ve tried a few options.

But really, the smartest thing I did? Enlist the help of a designer. Particularly if you find a local design store you love (if you’re in Portland, I can’t say enough about Manor Fine Wares), you’ll likely find that their in-house designer works for an incredibly reasonable price, and will save you infinite amounts of anxiety.

Are any of you contemplating a home makeover? What’s keeping you from taking the plunge? ~ Becki S.

PS: If you’re curious, you can check out more pics right here.

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panini-schamini: do you have a kitchen gadget that always lets you down?

The other day, I got a wild hair and decided to make myself a grilled PB&J for lunch. Sure, I could have just opted for a regular old frying pan, but I thought I’d go for gold. So, I unearthed my Le Creuset panini pan from the nether regions of my kitchen cabinet (no doubt banished there for good reason), got it smoking hot, popped my sandwich inside, and ended up with this:


Not exactly the delicious, satisfying lunch I had in mind. If anything, it conjured more of a gag reflex than hunger pains. As I scraped the sorry remnants out of the pan, a series of flashbacks of prior mishaps appeared before my eyes. In reality, this panini pan has plagued me since the day it arrived. I didn’t return it after the first stick-tastic catastrophe, thinking it was just a fluke, or I was doing something wrong. A year later, I’ve determined there’s just no amount of grease sufficient to prevent this pan from destroying everything it touches. And, as you might expect, clean-up is – well, not a breeze. But I spent so much money on it…you know how it goes.

We all have them. Those appliances, gadgets or tools in the kitchen that we absolutely despise. Something we probably shelled out a good chunk of change to buy, with hopes of it transforming our culinary lives. Only to discover, once we put it to use, that it’s an utter horror to have around. Yet for some reason, you just can’t bear to throw it out.

As for me, I’m finally ready to admit defeat. I’m sending this pan off to my local Goodwill, complete with the residual PB&J crud I couldn’t free from its clutches, where some poor sap will undoubtedly discover it and think they’ve hit the thrift store jackpot. That is, until they get it home.

Please…tell me I’m not alone. Do you have any gadget wreckage cluttering up your kitchen? –Becki S.

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our no fail hostess gifts: part 2

Megan Barone: Yummy smelling body butter or candle
My favorite hostess gift of late? Something from Pacifica; either a body butter or soy candle, depending on the host/hostess. I discovered their yummy smelling and nourishing body butters on a trip to Hawaii, and have been obsessed with all of their scents ever since. There really is something for most everyone in their line, as the scents run from guava (perfect for my 10year old niece) to Coconut (my favorite) and earthier, unisex scents like Sandalwood and Juniper. And they just happen to be all natural, cruelty & GMO free, and made in the USA. Best thing, however, is being able to conveniently pick up those hostess gifts while running around town. You can find Pacifica products across the US and Canada at Whole Foods and Sephora locations.

Katie Donbavand: Mermaid bottle opener
My favorite part of any party is always the last few hours. Your shoes are kicked off, the dawn is peeking over the horizon, and everyone (and everything) is mellow. It’s the perfect time (if your host is game) for a hand of cards and one last beer. My standard hostess gift has you covered for the last, dwindling moments of the party. Combine these dazzling, silver playing cards from Kikkerland ($11) with this fantastic, cast iron mermaid bottle opener from Fishs Eddy’s ($19) and your hostess will always be ready to entertain those last few stragglers.

Becki Singer: Feather tray
If you’re planning ahead, these gold-plated feather trays from Vanillawood (a favorite local shop of mine) are my latest obsession. The tiniest size is just $32, and is one of those little luxuries she’ll treasure. It’s perfect for catching her jewelry next to the sink or on her nightstand. For the last minute, I read recently that Ina Garten frequently gifts her hostess a pound of coffee from a favorite micro-roaster and a bag of homemade (or bakery-bought) granola. I love the idea of not interfering with their serving plans for the evening, but instead making sure they have a delicious breakfast the morning after. Happy Holidays! –Becki S.

Ginny Figlar: Monogrammed mug
My go-to gift right now is Anthropologie’s Homegrown Monogram Mug for $8. I bought one for myself this Spring, and have since bought others as thank-yous and gifts for my daughter’s preschool teachers (filled with fleur de sel caramels … yum!). You can go with first name initial, last name initial or both, or spell out a word like “joy.”

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is there such a thing as soft organic sheets?


Organic fabrics can be tricky business. Sure, they’re processed without chemicals, and the cotton is grown without pesticides. But the results can be fabrics that are either paper thin or burlap thick, with a texture to match. When I set out to find a pair of organic sheets, I knew I had my work cut out for me, but the idea of not having all of those chemicals rubbing around on me while I sleep was appealing, even to a girl as un-environmentally friendly as me.

After spending way too much time reseplaceing the best options, I settled on a set from Charles P. Rogers, and they’ve completely changed my opinion of organic cotton. These beautiful sheets are soft and luxurious, with just the right amount of thickness to keep you warm, but thin enough to drape well and not wrinkle too terribly. They wash beautifully, and the fitted sheet actually holds on to the corners of my gigantic mattress. At $140 for a Queen set, they’re not the cheapest option on the block, but in the world of organics, it’s actually very reasonable. And a good set of sheets is one of those investments whose value can’t be quantified – there’s just nothing like it.

Next thing you know, I might even insist on organic cotton tees! Well, maybe not quite yet. –Becki S.

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steal this idea: chilewich’s genius chargers


With the holidays coming up, I’ve been debating all of the various ways I could dress my Thanksgiving table. I always dream of being the kind of girl that uses chargers – they have this way of making a table setting look instantly glamorous and elegant, no matter how ordinary your dinnerware. But really, who has storage space for a set of plates that aren’t really plates, that you use only once or twice a year? Moreover, who has energy to hand wash one more round of dishes at the end of the night?

Leave it to the geniuses at Chilewich to come up with the solution. Their Dahlia placemats look absolutely amazing under even the simplest white dishes. The metallic tone is the perfect touch of glam for a holiday table. And the best part about these beautiful mats? They’re plastic – so they can be wiped off, rolled up, and stashed in the tiniest corner of your kitchen cupboard until next year. Though really, they’re so pretty and polished, I have a feeling I’ll be using these year-round…which is definitely more than I could say for those chargers. Plus, at only $8 each, they won’t break the bank.

I’ll be using them to top a classic white linen tablecloth and set off my white dinnerware from West Elm – with a beautiful red apple on everyone’s plate (these gorgeous candles from DL & Company would double as excellent favors/gifts for your guests, if you’re so inclined) and a few mercury glass candlesticks, this year’s Thanksgiving table will be stunning, with hardly an ounce of effort on my part. –Becki S.

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