Valentine’s Day Catnip Pouch (For the Makers)

catnip pouch for Valentine's Day


Last night I saw a post on the For the Makers blog, with cute Valentine’s decorations for the cloth pouches that come in their subscription boxes. They show the pouches holding candy, but I thought it would be fun to fill one with catnip. If you want to make your own refillable catnip pouch, here’s what you need:

For the Makers catnip pouch supplies

First embroider the heart using a simple backstich, then fill it in if you want to. Be careful to only sew through the top layer of fabric!

Embroidering the heart

Next, tie the ribbon to the drawstring to pull them through the top of the pouch. You have to cut the slit open a little bit with scissors to get the ribbon to go through.

Drawing ribbon through the pouch

To finish up, fill the pouch with catnip and the shredded paper from your box. It crinkles and gives the bag a nice texture for the cat to play with. Close the pouch tightly with a bow.

Finishing the pouch


catnip pouch


Book Review: Decorate Workshop: Design and Style Your Space in 8 Creative Steps (Holly Becker)

Decorate Workshop, cover

The rooms shown here are mainly in a kind of rustic modern style: eclectic rugs on worn hardwood floors, classic modern chairs around a thrift store table, an artful blend of vintage and homemade knick knacks. Becker’s taste in rugs and lamps is divine. The usual hipster trends make an appearance – chalkboard paint, fauxidermy, etc – but they don’t overwhelm. (And at least Becker, bless her heart, doesn’t spray paint all her picture frames the same color, so points for that.) At a glance, the rooms have a lively homey look that seems achievable – but take a closer look and there are quite a few expensive pieces in the mix. Not saying one couldn’t do it on a budget, but Becker clearly has more resources at her disposal than, well, me: ‘Maybe your project is small, you simply want to replace your current bathroom sink, add a new shower curtain and paint the walls.’ I can manage the shower curtain but the rest would take me quite a while. But if you’re wanting to tackle projects beyond arranging furniture and hanging art, this book will help you.

The format includes some lined pages with questions that you’re meant to answer in the book itself. For example, the page for ‘What do you enjoy doing in these rooms?’ has fill-in options for the bedroom, the bathroom, etc. It also includes unsexy questions meant to keep you on budget and avoid potential pitfalls. Normally I loathe books that include the dreaded words, ‘make a list’ – but I might actually give these a try, because they do seem useful and geared towards a practical outcome.

Decorate Workshop, questions

As for the rest of the text, I’m pretty sure Captain Obvious was the uncredited ghost writer. There are a lot of clichés along the lines of ‘you won’t know unless you try’ and ‘the more you do something… the better you will get at it.’ And just in case you’ve spent the last twenty years in a coma: ‘a blog is a web log, or an online journal…’ The resources section is meagre, but will serve well for those readers who can’t find their own way towards West Elm or Crate and Barrel. It’s all fine really and certainly nothing I’d disagree with, I was just hoping for a little more.

However, this book is worth buying for the lovely big photos. I picked it up with the intention of a quick thumb-through, and ended up turning the pages slowly, absorbed in all the little details of the rooms. This is what you buy BOOKS for, what you don’t get in a blog. It’s similar to her other book, Decorate, but it’s more about a structure and process rather than a collection of ideas. Get both if you can.

Decorate Workshop, cover

This is a nicely printed paperback book with a neat dustjacket that folds open to reveal a photo collage on the inside. The paperback format reinforces the idea of a workbook that can be written in, but the professional layouts and Debi Treloar’s excellent photography make it so pretty that I hesitate to do so. The quality is higher than most of the hardback decor books I’ve received lately. It’s not for the coffee table, but it would definitely make a nice gift for someone thinking about decoration, or moving into a first apartment.

Book Review: Young House Love (Sherry Petersik)

Young House Love, cover Young House Love, lamps
Young House Love promises “243 ways to paint, craft, update & show your home some love.” This is a good basic book of simple home crafts, written in an unpretentious style that will especially appeal to people who feel intimidated by the prospect of decorating. It’s written for homeowners, but apartment-dwellers will find plenty of projects here too.

The first thing I noticed about this book was the text. This isn’t simply a book of fancy photos with teensy captions sprinkled about – the Petersiks share details about their home, their lives and evolving taste in decor. I especially liked the part where they talk about how when they first got their home, they painted every room a different color just because they could. Ultimately they settled on a more cohesive color scheme. This book captures their ideas at a particular point in their lives, and I’ll be interested to see how their perspectives might grow or change five or ten years down the road.

Young House Love, stencil art

The projects themselves are a mix of fresh and same-o. I really liked all the DIY art and framing options, which included sewing cardstock, geometric paintings, silhouettes from photos and maps, abstract art using silverleaf and tissue paper, stenciling, shadowboxes, etc. There are also multiple projects for headboards, mirror embellishments, pillow decoration, furniture makeovers and uses of wallpaper. There are loads of inexpensive projects, and many that won’t take more than an hour or two on a weekend. Most are pretty simple, the kind of thing you can figure out just by looking at a clear photo of it. The blog tends to have more photos and details than the book does, but there’s enough info to get you started. The back has an excellent resource list.

There were a few I didn’t care for – a faux fireplace, anything involving chalkboard paint – but overall there are more hits than misses. This is a good solid book of projects, but I do have a feeling this book will get more hype than it deserves for being ‘Decor Craft 101’. It’s not a must-have if you already own a bunch of books of this type, but it’s a fun addition and very beginner-friendly if you’re just starting out.

This isn’t a coffee table book and the production values could be better. Mine arrived with dented corners, and the matte white cover doesn’t seem like it’ll wear well. This is a thick volume printed in full color, but some of the photos are poorly lit and a little grainy, giving it an amateur look. Since the focus here is different craft projects rather than stunning roomscapes, it’s not that bad. It would still make a nice housewarming gift, especially if you include supplies for one of the projects.

Book Review: 100 Ways to Happy Chic Your Life (Jonathan Adler)

Jonathan Adler 100 ways to happy chic your home, coverThis book is a collection of tips for leading a vibrant, “Happy Chic life” full of grand parties, fabulous friends, kitschy movies, exotic vacations and of course the vibrant decor style that has made Jonathan Adler famous. His advice includes:

  • Imagine a world where you’re president.
  • Bestow a moniker on your domicile to give the impression that it’s been in the family for decades, even if you moved in last week.
  • Nap in odd places.

There are lots of more practical and inspiring items on the list, but I like these because they’re free and I can do them without having to move the cat off my lap. I was a little ho-hum about #14, “Make your own decorative objet d’art”, until I realized the page folded out to reveal step-by step directions for a macrame owl. Up until twenty minutes ago, I never knew I wanted to make a macrame owl, and now I’m wondering where I last put the twine! Other fold-outs include making valentines, a paint-by-numbers watercolor, a cross stitch monogram and string art.

Jonathan Adler 100 ways to happy chic your home, macrame

In addition to many photos of interiors, artwork and architecture, there are pages of lists that include films, music, books, artists, designers, etc. – enough to keep you Googling for hours. There’s also glossary in the back that will help you understand the next time someone says, “I need some glunge mantiques to zhoosh up the neo-Neoclassical tableau on my mothic étagère.”

Adler’s writing style is quirky and charming, which makes the name-dropping and opinionated bits more endearing than not. Still, not all the advice will apply to everyone. Homeowners will get the most out of it, especially if you live in a climate to take advantage of the tips for outdoor living. Then there’s #97, `Turn a closet into a guestroom.’ Nevermind that my “guestroom” would not be suitable for anyone taller than the average six year old, but who actually has extra closets?

But this is a fun book and I do feel more energized after reading it. It would make a fabulous gift for anyone who needs a little more Happy or Chic in their lives – and don’t we all!


Review: Cupcakes and Cashmere

The thing I love best about this book is its name. Cupcakes and Cashmere brings to mind a frothy femininity, a combination of childlike delight and sophisticated luxury. I am always up for defining my style, reinventing my space and entertaining with ease, so this book shot to the top of my “must preorder” list. Emily Schuman’s blog is a charming combination of fashion, decorating, cooking, and all the usual blogging arts. This seemed like a sure thing!

Alas, it’s the kind of book you give an awkward preteen so she learns to put on eyeshadow correctly without looking like a raccoon. (Except it also talks about spiking Kool-aid with tequila, so don’t actually give this to a kid.) The advice is painfully basic. If we didn’t know that evening sandals are more formal than sneakers, Ms. Schuman lays this out in a chart for us. We also learn how to put on our lipstick, blow-dry our hair and paint our nails. (“I usually try to do one [coat] down the middle and one on either side,” she coaches.) Perhaps in a future volume she’ll share secrets on tying our shoelaces or brushing our teeth.

Well, perhaps I’m being unkind. I’m obviously not the intended audience for this book. The photography is lovely, if a touch blurry. I was pleased to see a section on handwritten thank-you notes, and I enjoyed the section on posing for photographs. The colors are soft and lovely throughout, as you’d expect from the pretty pictures on the blog. Ms. Schuman comes across as a sincere girl-next-door who genuinely wants to help bring out the best in others. I also liked that this book isn’t overly brand conscious; you won’t come away feeling like you have to rob a bank if you want to live the lifestyle presented here.

The real issue is that Ms. Schuman is not extraordinarily good at any of the things she writes about. She is pretty and dresses well, but she hasn’t got the experience to walk other people through a top-to-bottom makeover. Her makeup and hair look fine, but she hasn’t got any pro tips to share. The simple recipes are undoubtedly delicious, but she’s hardly a chef. (“Summer pasta with tomatoes, basil and brie” sounded so promising, but the instructions are basically: cook pasta. Add tomatoes, basil and brie.) The author simply is not an authority in any of these areas, nor does she have that special spark that can make a novice perspective fresh and enchanting. She gives instructions where she should be giving insight and advice; this book is all what and no why. There is a play-it-safe timidness throughout.

By the way, cupcakes do make an appearance towards the end; they’re made from a box mix. “I always keep one yellow and one chocolate on hand,” she confides. I think that pretty much sums it up!

Review: Living in a Nutshell: Posh and Portable Decorating Ideas for Small Spaces

Living in a Nutshell cover
I’m no stranger to small spaces, having spent much of my adult life in a string of shoebox apartments from Boston to Osaka. There’ve been several books about decorating small rooms, and my main criticism is usually that the author and I have different definitions of ‘small’. (I’m looking at you, Better Homes & Gardens.) The advice is usually given by someone who does not really understand what it’s like to live in a small space day after day and is only guessing at what might be helpful for those who do.

Janet Lee’s book is a refreshing change. The spaces shown are genuinely cramped with few architectural merits – finally! This isn’t one of those glossies that hype small-scale minimalism by showing off white-on-white rooms with a murphy bed and a wall-to-wall view overlooking Rio. It is likely that at least one of the 100+ ideas in this book will work for your space if you give it a chance.

Living in a Nutshell, inside

Now, this isn’t for the faint of heart. The colors are vivid; if you like Jonathan Adler’s Happy Chic books then you’ll love the colors here. If you were hoping for something more neutral… well, give color a try anyway. Many people stick with pale tones thinking it’ll make their tiny room look bigger, and buy small neutral pieces that won’t overpower. This results in a perfectly fine room with as much personality as a dentist’s office. If you’ve done your best but your little home still looks wilted, get this book. Even if you don’t want to do every project, it might spark some ideas.

Still, I have mixed feelings about this one. Though quirky and vibrant, there’s a kitschy shallowness. Part of me says it’s not pretentious because nobody will really believe your logo-stamped jute rug came from Hermes or that Louis Vuitton monogrammed your filing cabinet. Anyone who takes it too seriously just isn’t cool enough to get the irony, right? But grown-ups with aesthetic influences that extend beyond pop culture and designer labels may find the couture tributes a little trite.

The styles are on trend, barely. The Hollywood Regency details work, and your hipster staples are covered: repurposed paint-by-number art, Pantone boxes, letterpress blocks, etc. Spray-painting trophies is apparently a Thing now. But I’m pretty sure that ornately framed posters of chandeliers were on their way out when Moraccan motifs began to replace damask print, and everyone who wanted a Keep Calm reminder has twelve by now. And surely chalkboard paint is over – or is that wishful thinking?

You’ll pick up some good tips if you read the text, which is a shame because the smug writing starts to wear thin by page 8. It’s written like a collection of perky magazine blurbs, and there’s only so much of that I can take in one sitting. I half expected to see weight-loss tips and horoscopes in the back. Special hints are highlighted in chartreuse boxes that say, “Look, there’s more!” As much as I tried to unsee them, I was begging, “Make it stop!” by the end of the book.

Living in a Nutshell, Look there's more!

The subtitle is “Posh and Portable Decorating for Small Spaces.” Portable? It’s been awhile since I had a landlord who’d let me paint the living room black; many small spaces are rented and some of the ideas just aren’t practical. Two different look-there’s-mores tell us to apply fabric to wall/cabinet surfaces and “peel it off without a trace” when we move, but neither example does this. One involved removing stucco and wallpapering, and the other involved sanding and mod podge. If the starch idea is good enough to mention twice, why wasn’t it used once?

Still, do check this one out if you like what you see in the preview. The book itself is prettily hardbound and delightfully arranged. It’s a thick volume that feels good to hold and look through. The printing could be a touch better, but the images pop and the text is easy to read. This is definitely a gift-worthy book and would make a perfect present for a budding fashionista or someone moving into her first apartment.

Update: Adding a star. Several times I’ve found myself thinking, ‘now where did I see that idea for…?’ and it’s been this book. Also, I forgot to mention that the resource section in the back is brilliantly useful. The author shares all her secrets: both how to make the projects and where to buy everything else.

Review: Advanced Style

Finally, a book that celebrates the poise and vivacity of women who have spent decades refining their personal style! This is one of the better `book of the blog’ types that I’ve received, but you certainly don’t need to be familiar with the Advanced Style blog to enjoy the book. The women in this book look amazing, and I don’t mean `for their age’, I mean just totally amazing in general. I wouldn’t be surprised if this turned out to be the freshest and most inspiring fashion book of 2012.

This book is 98% photos, page after page of lovely women wearing the most beautifully put together outfits. There’s a range of looks from quintessential elegance to total bohemian. What’s striking is how much of the wearer’s personality shines through. Usually when I look at street snaps, I’m focused on the clothes and haven’t got much interest in the wearer. But the women in this book seem like they’d be good for conversation over a cup of tea. I wish I knew more about them, what their homes look like or what paths their lives took that made them get through the years and looking more vibrant and beautiful than woman half their age.

The book itself is somewhat small for a photo book but thick and printed on good heavy paper with a nice sheen. The headings are set in a typeface that can be hard to read, but those with imperfect sight will be pleased to see that most type has been set quite large for easy reading. Overall it’s an easy book to look through.

Personally, I’ve never been a very conservative dresser. When I was younger, people would tell me, `wear that while you can,’ meaning that one day I’d be working in a cubicle somewhere in a navy suit with pantyhose and 2″ pumps. Now in my 30s I find myself looking for style inspiration from women my age or older who aren’t content to spend the rest of their lives shopping at LL Bean. Am I supposed to give up on personal style now that I’m all grown up? I didn’t think so, but having this book of concrete examples to the contrary is certainly an inspiration.

Unlike most fashion books, this one will make you feel good about getting older. This book would make a wonderful gift for anyone interested in fashion, young or old.

Design*Sponge at Home (Grace Bonney)

Design Sponge at Home, cover

If you still think that wallpaper that mimics bookshelves is clever and just need help deciding between the Bertoia wire chairs and the Danish Modern wood ones, this is your book. It’ll even give you ideas for stenciling your accent wall and wrapping your gifts in reclaimed maps. But even though I bought this book shortly after it came out, I’m already starting to find it dated.

Credit where credit’s due: the production is beautiful. The cover is striking, you’ll definitely want to leave it out on your Noguchi coffee table. It’s a thick, heavy volume, with full color throughout. The photos on some pages are a little small, but they’re printed clearly and arranged well. Text is laid out well and easy to read – not always the case with interior decorating books. The first part of the book shows homes, the middle has projects and tutorials, and the last part has Before & Afters. There’s also a useful list of resources and a glossary in the back. The design and organization of this book are impeccable.

The featured homes show off an eclectic style that will be familiar to you if you read the design blogs. You’ll see every trend that was hot in 2011: chevron, vintage globes, lots of teal and grey, reclaimed wood floors, DIY woodblock prints, chandeliers, white-on-white, etc. What’s great is that these are real lived-in homes displayed by people just like you and me.

That’s also the problem. You start off feeling a pleasant kinship: “Hey, I too collect mercury glass and blanc de chine. This book is awesome.” Flip through a bit more and you’ll pause your Eames rocker, “Wait a minute, isn’t that the same Polaroid camera I just bought at a yardsale? And wow, I have that same Hayden Harnett satchel. ” Slog through 196 pages of this and message becomes clear: we’re all shopping at the same places, vying for the same vintage finds, tackling the same DIY projects. Sure, each home is its own quirky self. But to the casual eye, one snowflake looks an awful lot like another.

So let’s move on to the DIY section. Did you know you can make cake plates by gluing a saucer on a candlestick? Unless you’ve been living under a DIY rock this past year, I bet you did. You probably already have a fair understanding of what can be made from a reclaimed wood pallet, and more bunting and homemade wreaths than anyone has a right to possess. Even so, there are some neat projects, like a glass dome full of butterflies that only takes $300 in supplies – but it is beautiful. A disproportionate amount of the tutorial section is dedicated to floral arrangement, but it also includes slipcovers and… well, that’s about it. Slipcovers and flower arrangement.

Design Sponge at Home, butterfly dome

The Before & Afters are my favorite part. You can’t go wrong with a B&A, they’re fun if they’re inspiring and funny if they’re disastrous. This has a little of both and does not disappoint. I wouldn’t have minded if this section were bigger. Make sure to give this part a flip-through if you see it in a bookstore.

“Now wait just a minute,” I can hear you say. “We’re not all like that. I don’t have any chandeliers and I have never painted a single thing with chalkboard paint. I don’t read this Sponge Therapy blog or whatever it’s called. I just want decorating tips.” In that case, you’ll miss half the fun of this book. You may be better off looking at a decorating book that isn’t written by bloggers or designers du jour. But don’t ask me for recommendations, I can’t think of any.

Design Sponge at Home, inside

I’m not sad I bought this book. I fully intend to give it a careful read five or ten years from now and have a good laugh. By then I’ll see which ideas stand the test of time, the things that may be overdone and ubiquitous now but still have longterm resonance. For now, this will just sit on my bookshelf – real, not wallpaper.