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Today’s Toile: Artisans Retool a Classic Fabric

Pierre Frey's "Les Travaux de la Manufacture" Toile

Pierre Frey's "Les Travaux de la Manufacture" Toile

Though the word “toiles” conjures up visions of fabric dotted with romantic scenes of maidens, cherubs, pagodas, and military or fabled heroes, the actual translation is simply “cloth.” Toiles du Jouy originally referred to linen or cotton cloth manufactured in the French town of Jouy-en-Josas beginning in the 1760s. Located close to Versailles, the Oberkampf factory manufactured toiles for the royals. Deemed Manufacture Royale by Louis XVI and Legion of Honor by Napoleon, Oberkampf toiles were extremely popular.

In The Decoration of Houses (1897), 19th-century tastemaker and co-author Edith Wharton notes the 18th-century French transition from heavy dust-collecting silk brocades to washable, simpler toiles. She describes the pattern: “Absorbing the spirit of Chinese designs, the French designer blent mandarins and pagodas with Italian grottoes… and French landscapes.” She continues, “The little scenes were either connected by some decorative arabesque, or so designed that by their outline they formed a recurring pattern.” Toiles were often printed in one color on a neutral ground, but not exclusively.

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Pantone: The 20th Century in Color

Photo: smartfurniture.com

While I’d always been interested in history, it wasn’t until I got to college that I fell in love with it. A special course on the 20th century actually led me to make the subject my second major.

That course was taught by one of the top professors at the university I attended. What made him different was that he didn’t focus on dates, names, or places. Those were all essential to learn, but even more important, the professor told us, was to see the big picture. To trace how different things came together to push movements and people forward. To understand where we’re at today, you’ve got to understand the ways in which we’ve evolved.

This seems to be the shared goal of Leatrice Eiseman and Keith Recker, the color-connoisseur authors of Pantone: The 20th Century in Color (Chronicle Books, 2011). The Pantone Color Institute is considered one of the highest authorities on color; Recker is a trend consultant there and Eisemen is the executive director. Together, the pair has compiled 208 pages of vibrant photos and rich narrative, detailing how color thrived and developed from 1900 to 2000. It’s a fascinating progression to follow.

Pantone: The 20th Century in Color breaks down the hallmarks of each decade and matches them with 80 different official Pantone color palettes. Trends in fashion, travel, art, furniture, technology and films are accompanied by explanations of their significance, making it simple to grasp each trend’s relationship to the colors associated with it, and to the relevant social and political history playing out in the background.

From the jewel-toned lamps of the 1900s, decked in Chinese violet and Victoria blue hues, to the bright purple, red and orange colors that technology giants like Apple began using for their products in the 1990s, Eiseman and Recker have done an exemplary job of painting a vivid big picture of the role color has played in all aspects of culture throughout the decades.

For more on color, consider:

Guide to Historic Paint Colors
Color Trends 2012: Top Forecasters Weigh In
Eve Ashcraft’s 6 Inspirations for Choosing a Color Palette


Viva La Outdoor Fireplace

Installing an Outdoor Fireplace

Photo: fireplacesolution.com

It’s January and, while some of the country is buried in snow, people in more moderate climates are still enjoying the great outdoors (like we are in Southern California). The warm and sunny days still turn into chilly nights, however, making amenities like an outdoor fireplace both desirable and popular.

In fact, a good majority of homes here have some form of outdoor fireplace, from fire pits and Chimineas—Mexican-inspired, freestanding fireplaces made in clay, ceramic, and metal—to more extravagant masonry installations.

Installing an Outdoor Fireplace - Patio

Photo: shutterstock.com

Last summer, my parents decided to jump on the outdoor fireplace bandwagon and had one built. It was my mother who actually designed the “Montana-Dunes” stucco fireplace (pictured above), complete with handpicked “wild horse” stone bricks that she purchased by the pallet from a nearby supplier. It has a tall chimney, stone mantle, and to support logs for burning, it features a grouping of desert-colored fire rocks instead of a standard grate. A large metal Gecko graces the front.

My dad did his part, too, adding outdoor lights around the rim of the mantle. When dusk falls, it’s truly stunning. The soft glow of the fire rocks is reminiscent of sitting in front of a beach fire. The fireplace is definitely the focal point of a backyard that also includes a custom-bricked patio, outdoor kitchen, and swimming pool.

An outdoor fireplace, like the one my folks built, can be pricey (they paid around $5,000); the more extravagant, the more expensive. But anyone interested in adding an outdoor fire feature in their backyard today can do so easily and affordably. Both Chiminea-style fireplaces and fire pits can be found in a variety of styles and designs from $100 on up. The one shown, right, is from Northern Tools + Equipment and is on sale for $79.99.

Regardless of whether you install a masonry outdoor fireplace or a standalone unit, be sure to check with your city and county to find out ordinances, codes, permits, and licenses that may apply. Also be sure to check with your homeowner’s insurance company to see if building one would necessitate changes to your policy.

For more on fireplaces and outdoor living, consider:

Create an Outdoor Dream Kitchen
Planning Guide: Wood Decks
Gas Fireplaces: A Showcase of Design and Innovation


Tankless Hot Water Heaters: Should I or Shouldn’t I?

Tankless Hot Water Heater

Photo: rinnai.com

Whether you are building a new home or retrofiiting an older one (like me), take time to evaluate the hot water system. After all, estimates say that as much as 30% of a home’s energy budget is consumed by heating water.

My new “old house” came complete with an old and rusted gas-fueled tank-style water heater in the attic that was dying… well, dead. The question was not “should it be replaced?” but rather, “should it be replaced with a similar model or a new tankless system?”

Related: 12 Ways to Put Your Home on an Energy Diet—TODAY! 

A traditional water heater continuously heats water in the tank, regardless of whether it is being used. By comparison, the newer tankless designs heat water only when there is demand for it. Less stored water to heat means less cost—and let’s not forget, a more compact, wall-mounted design.

I did some research on water heating in general and tankless hot water heaters specifically, and here is what I learned:

Size Matters: Tankless hot water heaters are available in room or whole-house sizes. Calculate how many appliances or fixtures need hot water in order to determine the best size unit for your home. For me, a whole-house system was needed.

Gas-Operated Tankless Water Heater Diagram

Gas-operated tankless hot water heater diagram.

Fuel Type: Hot water heaters are available in either electric or gas (natural and propane) models. If you are considering electric, check for voltage and amperage requirements. The gas version will need some electric to operate, but venting will be the bigger issue.

Location: If you live further north, your ground water will be colder than if you reside in the southern or western part of the country. The temperature of the water will affect the speed and flow.

Know the Flow: If you think you will need to run the dishwasher while someone else is showering, assume a larger gallons-per-minute (GPM) rate will be on order to meet your overall water needs. Take into account water usage, too: A bathroom needs less water than a kitchen, a dishwasher less than a shower, and so on.

Look into Rebates: Many utility companies offer incentives, and you may benefit from state tax credits as well. Investigate both to ensure that you’re eligible and if so, that you reap the full benefits.

Understand the Payback: In general, a tankless hot water heater will cost you more upfront—between $800 to $1,150 (plus installation)—compared to a traditional tank water heaters at $450 to $750 (plus installation).

Balance the cost of your unit with your ongoing operating costs. According to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy website, tankless water heaters can be 24 to 34 percent more efficient than a traditional tank-style water heater, depending on a home’s daily demand for hot water.

For more on energy-saving home improvements, consider:

Installing an On-Demand Hot Water System
Five Simple Ways to Save H2O at Home
Smart Water: Faucets, Heaters and Systems


Eve Ashcraft’s “The Right Color”

Eve Ashcraft The Right Color

Photo: shutterstock.com

If you’re anything like me, standing in front of a sea of paint colors at the local home center can be an angst-ridden experience.  Sure, I can spot colors that I like, and even whittle them down to the few that work best with the furnishings and materials in the room.  But when it comes to settling on the right hue, shade and intensity— and how it will read in natural and artificial light (and in what type of artificial light—LED, CFL, or incandescent?)—I can actually start to feel beads of sweat forming on my brow.

Eve Ashcraft The Right Color - Jacket

Photo: amazon.com

That’s why color experts like Eve Ashcraft are held in such high regard and why her new book, The Right Color—Finding the Perfect Palette for Every Room in Your Home (Artisan Books; Copyright 2011; Hardcover $29.95), is a welcome addition to the paint/color library.  Having worked with Martha Stewart on two of her paint collections and countless corporate and personal clients (one even asking her advice on the right shade for his porcelain veneers), Ashcraft is considered one of the foremost authorities on color today.  And lest you think the book is too academic or high-brow for the average consumer, think again.

Related: How To: Choose a Paint Color

In The Right Color Ashcraft provides an inspiration-packed, consumer-friendly approach to working with color; from the basics of color theory to insights on how best to use color to define space, enhance light, and accentuate ceilings, trim, furnishings and art.  She dispels color myths in “Breaking the Color Rules” and offers coordinated palettes for every room of the house, from entry rooms to powder rooms, including examples of her own personal case studies.  In addition to helping readers choose the right colors for individual rooms, she also shares her expertise on creating colors that flow from room to room.  In short, everything you need to know to think like the pro herself.

For an excerpt from the book, check out this slideshow featuring Eve Ashcraft’s 6 Inspirations for Choosing a Color Palette.  And be sure to look for Ashcraft’s new collection of paints—Eve Ashcraft Color: The Essential Palette—manufactured by Fine Paints of Europe.


Quick Tip: Master Bathroom Remodeling on a Budget

Several master bathroom ideas for inexpensively creating a home spa feel.

Master Bathroom Ideas

Photo: Benning Design Associates

The master bathroom is quickly becoming one of the most popular getaway rooms in the house. People are incorporating high-tech options like mirror-mounted mini televisions mounted and MP3 stereo systems in the shower. And spa elements—including showers that double as steam rooms, Jacuzzis and decadent soaking tubs, mini-bars and warming trays for towels—are all common master bathroom ideas nowadays.

“People are spending more time in their baths because it’s a retreat from busy lifestyles,” says Susan Marinello, Principal Design Director of Susan Marinello Interiors in Seattle, WA. “It makes sense that they want the spa elements that help them to relax and rejuvenate.”

Although the sky’s the limit, you can have a luxurious master bathroom even on a budget. The key is knowing where to cut corners and where to splurge. “I wouldn’t compromise in quality of plumbing fixtures,” Marinello advises. “You don’t need high-end, but high-quality is essential. There’s nothing worse than a poorly functioning shower set-up. If your bath isn’t functioning in a luxurious way, or your shower set-up is poor, or your sink faucets don’t flow properly, the entire bathroom fails.” Some simple master bathroom ideas for luxury on a budget include:

  • Marinello suggests using all one material for clean simplicity, but it can be porcelain or ceramic tiles instead of marble or another expensive natural stone.
  • “There are some really low-cost tricks you can use to create a spa environment,” says Los Angeles interior designer Leslie Harris. “All lights should be on a dimmer, and a sound system or even an iPod if you can’t wire for speakers goes a long way towards creating a relaxing environment.”
  • Install electric heating pads under the flooring material. “You can just heat a three-foot by three-foot pad in front of the vanity or shower and really enhance the bathroom experience,” Marinello explains.
  • Don’t forget the little luxuries, such as fresh flowers, wonderful soaps and body scrubs, scented candles, and a few super-fluffy towels.
  • Be sure the colors are natural and soothing blues, greens, and gold are perfect. Harris also suggests other touches of nature: a window garden or photos of the mountain getaway of your dreams.

Dissecting Friday the 13th and Other Household Superstitions

House Superstitions

Photo: shutterstock.com

For centuries, people have viewed Fridays and the number 13 as omens of bad luck. And when the two combine on the calendar, it’s double the trouble.

Of course, I’ve never bought into this idea; after all, I was born on a Friday the 13th (during a full moon at that!) and I think I turned out all right. Still, it’s worth examining the Friday-the-13th legend, along with a few other household superstitions that may interest all you handypeople and homeowners.

Friday has been considered unlucky since at least the 14th century, when Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales associated the date with bad fortune. Old wives’ tales mark Friday as a day of inauspicious beginnings—some sailors are still reluctant to begin voyages on this weekday. Then there are the religious beliefs: that Jesus was crucified on Friday, the same day of the week Abel was slain by Cain and Adam was urged by Eve to eat the forbidden fruit.

An ancient Norse myth may be responsible for the bad rap the number 13 gets. According to the story, the 13th guest at a dinner party arranged for the blind god of darkness to shoot the god of joy and gladness. Another dinner party of mythical status also featured a troublesome 13th guest—the Last Supper, where the guest was Judas.

According to numerologists, the prejudice against 13 might be due to its relationship with 12—a “complete” number. There are 12 months in a year, 12 zodiac signs, and, according to some, 12 apostles of Jesus. The addition of one, supposedly, throws off the balance of 12. That’s when, in some people’s minds, bad things happen.

While many claim they don’t buy into the notion of Friday the 13th being unlucky, it’s obvious many out there would rather be safe than sorry. Numerous high-rises lack a 13th floor, airports skip the 13th gate, and hotels don’t have a Room 13.

But while the bad-luck connotation of Friday the 13th is prevalent today, other superstitions have been forgotten. Before you begin your next project, take a look at this list of omens people used to take quite seriously:

- Carrying a hoe into the house is bad luck. If you do so, undo your mistake by carrying it out again walking backward.

- The space beneath a ladder is Satan’s terrain. If you must walk there, cross your fingers.

- Never pound a nail after sundown, or you risk waking the tree gods.

- If you give a steel blade to a friend, make him or her pay you a penny to avoid cutting the friendship.

- Nail an evergreen branch or horseshoe (points-up) onto new rafters to bring good luck.

- If you give a knife as a housewarming present, that neighbor will become your enemy.

- When first moving into a new house, enter with a loaf of bread and a new broom. Never bring an old broom into the house, or you’ll bring your past in with you.

Just an FYI for all of you DIYers. Best of luck on your future projects—if you buy into that luck stuff, anyway.


Carpeting

Here are a few tips to help you choose the best carpeting for your home.

Carpeting

Photo: prlog.com

When considering putting carpets on your floors, there are some things you should know:

How they’re made. Carpets are made in one of three ways. Woven carpets are made with the tufts woven into the carpet backing. Tufted carpets have fiber loops (or tufts) inserted into a prewoven backing, while in non woven carpets, the tufts are bonded to the backing.

What they’re made of. Carpets are made of wool, a blend of silk and wool, and cotton, as well as a wide variety of synthetic materials, including acrylics, nylon, polyester, and polypropylene olefin (for indoor-outdoor carpets). Wool carpets are expensive, cotton inexpensive, while the synthetics vary, depending upon the quality. Natural fibers tend to stain more easily than the artificial ones. Most good quality carpets, regard­less of the fiber used, will hold their color and wear for many years.

Rugs vs. Carpets. Area rugs can be used in countless ways (for example, to define areas, add color or pattern, or to deaden sound). But the use of an area rug is really a design decision. Wall-to-wall carpeting, on the other hand, can be a principal flooring sur­face, and it’s wall-to-wall carpeting that we’re concerned with here.

Most wall-to-wall carpeting, regardless of its manufacturing process, is termed broadloom carpet because it leaves the factory in rolls of varying widths, typ­ically 9, 12, or 15 feet. A padding is laid beneath the carpet, then the carpet itself is attached to the floor at the perimeter of room, most often using a tackless strip.

Carpet needs to be laid in a relatively dry setting, since all but olefin carpets tend to absorb moisture. But the decision about what kind of carpet to use tends to be a very subjective one. Many people feel expensive wool carpets convey prestige; others swear that top-of-the-line nylon is indistinguishable and more durable, too. Look at the options and arrange for estimates from a carpeting contrac­tor. The balancing act of price, availability, texture, color, and pattern should bring you to your decision.


Kitchen Cabinet Doors

These are the factors to consider when giving your kitchen cabinet doors a facelift.

Kitchen Cabinet Doors

Photo: Teri Turan

Don’t miss Cabinet Door Styles: What’s Yours?

Whether you’re buying new or upgrading the kitchen cabinet doors you already have, there are a few things to consider before you start your project.

New or Re-faced
Perhaps the least expensive option in a remodel is to replace existing kitchen cabinet doors. This means the boxes that contain the shelves and drawers remain in place, saving demolition, construction, and purchase costs. Only the fronts of the cabinets are replaced, which usually involves new doors, face frames, and hardware. If you’re happy with the layout and the number of cabinets you currently have but want to give them a new look, this may be the right way to go.

Material Choices
You’ll need to decide whether you want all-wood, wood veneer, or laminate doors and face fronts. With veneer cabinets, a thin ply of wood is applied to a substrate of plywood or a composite material like particle board (plywood is better, but more expensive). Laminate kitchen cabinet doors are often fabricated of polyvinyl chloride sheets that are heated, molded, and applied to a substrate to give a seamless appearance.

If the cabinets are still in good shape, you can change the look of your kitchen just by changing the color of the walls and re-surfacing or re-painting the cabinets. Cabinet re-facing, which involves replacing the veneers, is more expensive but still saves 50 percent over a complete remodel. As long as your cabinets aren’t laminate or melamine, you can re-paint them yourself. De-grease them with a citrus oil-based household cleaner, remove the doors and hardware, and apply a primer-sealer first though you might still have to sand them down before painting. New drawer and door pulls will make a huge difference as well.


Reblooming Amaryllis

Reblooming Amaryllis Bulbs

Photo: shutterstock.com

Far from a one-time treat, forced amaryllis bulbs in a pot, with their big trumpet flowers, are one of the bright spots of winter.

Since amaryllis are native to tropical environments, they love lots of water and humidity. To mimic those conditions, give your plant—foliage intact, flowers pruned—as much light as possible. Water often and fertilize twice a month.

Once the frost threat has passed, put your amaryllis outside for the summer in a sunny spot until the weather chills. Bring it indoors to induce a dormant period, keeping it in a dark place for eight weeks, withholding water. Then put it in a sunny window and provide lots of water.

Related: It’s Bulb Planting Time!

Keep your fingers crossed for another bloom. Unfortunately, if the foliage appears first, then you have a stubborn amaryllis. Fertilize more frequently and try again next year.

Residents of tropical or subtropical zones can use amaryllis in the garden instead of messing around with the finicky potted bloom. Again, wait until the threat of frost has passed, but this time, stick the bulb in the ground in a sunny, well-drained spot and add some fertilizer. Clumped together, the tall stalks and six-inch flowers make for an enviable addition to any landscape. The plants will bloom in spring.

For more on gardening, consider:

The Winter Garden: Hedge Your Bets
It’s Bulb-Planting Time
Bulb Planting and Lawn Care